Tuesday, June 30, 2015

by Karen Barnett

“I do it MYSELF!” My toddler knocked away my hand and yanked her shoe onto the wrong foot.

“We won’t need meals delivered after his surgery. It’ll be fine.” The woman’s smile did little to obscure the dark circles under her eyes.

“I don’t need Jesus. I’m doing okay on my own.” My friend folded her arms across her chest.

Pride often keeps us from accepting help, even when we desperately need it. Is it a fear of looking weak and foolish? Or because we think we can do everything better ourselves?

I’d never realized I struggled with pride until I was paddling on Monterey Bay. Or should I say I was trying to paddle.

On a similar outing two years before, I’d had the time of my life. The water had been glassy-smooth, and otters had frolicked right up to my boat. This time the wind whipped the waves into high swells. As soon as I launched, the bracket under my foot popped loose and slid out of my reach. I was paddling with nothing to brace myself against.

Karen Barnett

I didn’t think it would be a problem. Paddling is about using your arms, right? Apparently it also uses your legs. After ten minutes, I was tired. After 20, my back and core muscles were a quivering mess. At 40, I knew I was in trouble. Could I even make it back to the beach? The wind was blowing me backward toward the rocky part of the shore instead of the sandy cove from which I’d launched.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I finally signaled for help. I imagined the young staff person on the beach was laughing at the overweight tourist who couldn’t figure out how to get back.

She rowed out and threw me a tether. “Don’t worry, I’ll tow you in.”

 Towed, like a broken down car. I hung my head and gripped the line. This wouldn’t have happened if I were in better shape. Younger. Smarter. A huge swell knocked my kayak sideways. I couldn’t hold onto the rope and keep my boat in line, too. After this happened several times, the girl sighed. “Sit tight. I’ll go get another guide to help me.”

I’m so pathetic I need two rescuers. I clung to a long strand of kelp to keep myself from being washed further down the beach.

 A lump grew in my throat. I couldn’t let myself be dragged back to shore like harpooned whale. I’m strong and capable. After a few deep breaths, I turned the boat toward the surf. Ignoring the stabbing pain in my back, I dug the oar into the water and pushed the craft forward. The waves knocked me around, but I managed to flounder my way to safety.

The guides looked up in surprise. “You didn’t need to do that. We were coming for you.”

“I know,” I panted. A tiny part of me took pride in my accomplishment. Even with a broken boat, high surf, and aching muscles—I’d taken care of myself.

A larger part of me was embarrassed. What if I’d been knocked into the rocks? What if I’d capsized and my spent muscles refused to cooperate? Why couldn’t I wait for the promised rescue?

 Many of us struggle with accepting help. God even had to teach the apostle Paul about pride. We don’t know exactly what “thorn” the Father had given him, but when Paul asked for it to be removed, God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul turned all of our self-sufficient boasting on its head in the lines that followed. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

When I am weak, then I am strong? Admitting my weaknesses and asking for help—that makes me strong?

Yes. Because then, as Paul stated, “…Christ’s power may rest on me.”

When I demand to be self-sufficient, when I refuse assistance, when I shrug off rescue—I’m doing everything in my own power. My power is pretty pitiful. The kayak taught me that.

But God’s power? I’d like a little more of that, please. Wouldn’t we all?

Abingdon Press, June 2015
***

Beyond the Ashes: Golden Gate Chronicles 2
Where better to rebuild and face one’s fears than in 1906 San Francisco, a city rising from the ashes? Ruby Marshall, a young widow, is certain she’ll discover new purpose assisting her brother Robert with his cancer research, but she doesn’t anticipate finding new love. Dr. Gerald Larkspur dreams of filling his empty home with family, but he’d always hoped it would be a wife and children. In the aftermath of the great earthquake, the rooms are overflowing with extended family and friends left homeless by the disaster. When Robert’s widowed sister arrives, the close quarters seem close indeed. Ruby and Gerald’s fledgling romance is put at risk when Gerald develops symptoms of the very disease they’re striving to cure. Together they must ask—is it worth a second chance at love when time might be short?

Bio: 
Karen Barnett is the author of Beyond the Ashes, Out of the Ruins, and Mistaken. Named the 2013 Writer of Promise by Oregon Christian Writers, Karen lives in Albany, Oregon, with her husband, two teenagers, and three adorable dachshunds. Connect with her here:

Website: http://www.KarenBarnettBooks.com 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenBarnettAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarenMBarnett
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/karenbarnett/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/KarenBarnett

Thursday, June 25, 2015

by Melanie Dobson

Howard Books, June 2015
Some people wake up one day with an idea and decide to write a book. They publish, sell thousands of copies, and then they’re done. They never feel compelled to write again. Some days I wish I could stop writing. Stroll through a museum or a park without etching every detail into my mind for reference. Enjoy a dinner out without eavesdropping on conversations for dialogue clips. Or savor a sunset or a river cruise without wondering how I’ll describe my experience later in paragraph form.

It’s annoying. Obsessive. I can’t stop though. Writing is integral to who I am.

I started writing when I was seven. I would journal about pizza nights, visiting Grandpa and Grandma, and what my best friends said at school. When I was nine, I wrote my autobiography. It was short and typed with splotches of Wite-Out smeared across each line.

When I was eleven, I started a novel—a mystery about an old house and some detective kids. About fifty handwritten pages into it, I quit because I didn’t have a clue where it was going. But I fell in love with the creative process, and I knew I wanted to write fiction.

In sixth grade, I wrote a weekly newsletter for my class. By high school, I was writing for the school newspaper and yearbook. And when I graduated, I wrote articles for my hometown newspaper to help pay for college—a journalism degree, of course.

After college, I pursued a career in public relations and wrote hundreds of press releases and nonfiction articles. Not long before my 30th birthday, God prompted my heart to begin writing fiction again, and so I began to write in small chunks. Ten minutes before breakfast. An hour at a coffee shop or while my girls napped. For as long as I could stay awake at night. Then I thought about my next idea as I ate lunch, pushed the stroller, and shopped at the grocery store.

I wrote three complete novels (and edited them multiple times) before my first novel was acted on by a publisher. Together for Good was inspired by the failed adoption of some of our best friends, even as we were struggling to finalize the adoption of our oldest daughter. It was my way of trying to make sense of how God could use a heart-wrenching situation like a failed adoption for His good.

It took seven years from the time I began writing fiction as an adult until my first novel was published. Then I was contracted to write Going for Broke about a woman addicted to gambling. Eventually, I began writing historical fiction as well.

Melanie Dobson
I’ve been writing 1-2 novels per year for more than ten years, and I am grateful to be able to share the stories that God has put into my heart. He gave me this passion, the desire, and the dream. But even if I never publish again, I’ll keep writing the journal entries and stories and articles like I did as a kid. I can’t help myself…

BIO: Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of 14 historical romance, suspense and contemporary novels. Dobson and her husband, Jon, enjoy living in the Pacific Northwest with their two daughters. When she isn't writing or playing with her family, Dobson enjoys exploring ghost towns, line dancing and reading historical fiction.

You can connect with Melanie at:
Facebook: Melanie-Dobson | Twitter: @MelBDobson | Web: www.melaniedobson.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

by Melanie Dobson

Uganda Mission Trip
Several years ago God put a burning desire in my nine-year-old daughter’s heart to love on orphans in Uganda. My husband Jon and I had been wanting to serve someplace as a family, but we didn’t think we could go to Africa until Karly was much older. God, however, had other plans.

We met with the missions pastor at our church and shared that we thought God wanted us to serve in another country as a family. The first thing he said was, “What do you think about Uganda?” Karly cheered. Jon and I smiled. And our journey began.

We still had many hurdles to jump before we said a final “yes” to Africa. Miracles began happening. Jon’s boss said he could take three weeks off work. Money for our plane tickets came in unexpectedly. My dear friend Tosha said she could care for our youngest daughter since Kiki wasn’t ready to go to Africa (she’s scared of cheetahs…). And Karly and our 14-year-old friend Christianna (Tosha’s daughter) could take time off from school so we could spend two weeks before and then a week during Christmas break with children who don’t have families.

As God began piecing together our plans, none of us were certain exactly what we would DO once we got to Uganda. We aren’t doctors, teachers, or professional speakers, but we were willing to do whatever He asked. And God used the unique gifts of our entire team in ways we could never have imagined.

During our three weeks, we spent time at six different children’s homes, and God was able to use our seemingly random talents–the widow’s mite we offered–in fun, unexpected ways.

Karly used her love of creativity to teach kids how to make rubber band bracelets and other crafts, her
love of people to make locals laugh, her love of babies to hold and feed newborns for hours, and her hard work this fall to make enough money to buy Christmas gifts for 120 kids.

God gave Christianna the perfect tools needed to teach kids and their caregivers how to bake an American cake (over a fire), blow bubbles and make crafts with dozens of kids, sing beautiful songs, design a creative T-shirt that people both at home and here love, and make friends all across Uganda with her infectious smile.

Jon used his hands to wash dishes and move firewood, his heart to love on children, his technical abilities to play music through all sorts of sound systems, and his computer skills to answer questions and encourage people who work with computers.

Melanie Dobson
And me? I was at a loss for a few days as to how God could use my skills. I love to coordinate trips but I wanted to do more than just organize our team’s schedule. Then at our first children’s home God prompted me to cut out simple hearts from construction paper for the 50-plus kids. The children loved the hearts and the stickers and coloring pages we brought, and I loved playing Uno and other card games with them. When the older kids found out I wrote books, they quizzed me on writing, and at “Bless a Child” event for children with cancer, the teacher asked me to teach creative writing to children who don’t have the opportunity to go to school. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” dozens of times and folded laundry and kissed hundreds of children on the head and told them that God loves them. And, oddly enough, He used all of our love for dancing to teach children across central Uganda how to do the Macarena and Cha Cha Slide. We never imagined that God would use this seemingly random skill to open doors, but the African people love to dance and it was pure joy for us to dance with them.

Most of all, God used all of our hands to grasp the hands of orphans and our laps to cradle the smallest ones.

We aren’t doctors, but God used us to bandage wounds and get medication for people who were sick.

We aren’t teachers, but God used our little team over and over to teach.

We aren’t professional speakers, but we quickly realized that serving in Africa means speaking sometimes in front of hundreds of people, encouraging the adults in their hard work here and sharing Jesus’ love with the kids.

When we said “yes” to what God clearly put together, he paved the road before us. He showed us when to act, when to pray, when to speak, and when we needed to say “no”.

Howard Books, 2015
We ended our time in Africa with grateful hearts. We met so many wonderful people–friends for a lifetime–and developed a love for Uganda’s children. In spite of our fears, we are so glad we allowed God to weave together our time there, in His perfect way.

Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of 14 historical romance, suspense and contemporary novels. Dobson and her husband, Jon, enjoy living in the Pacific Northwest with their two daughters. When she isn't writing or playing with her family, Dobson enjoys exploring ghost towns, line dancing and reading historical fiction.

You can connect with Melanie at:

Facebook: Melanie-Dobson | Twitter: @MelBDobson | Web: www.melaniedobson.com

Sunday, June 21, 2015

In honor of the first day of summer and visits to the beach that I wish I could make, an old favorite poem by Amy Carmichael, missionary to India. Enjoy.

The Shell

Upon the sandy shore an empty shell,
Beyond the shell infinity of sea;
O Savior, I am like that empty shell,
Thou art the Sea to me.

A sweeping wave rides up the shore, and lo,
Each dim recess the coiled shell within,
Is searched, is filled, is filled to overflow,
By water crystalline.

Not to the shell is any glory then:
All glory give we to the glorious sea.
And not to me is any glory when
Thou overflowest me.

Sweep over me Thy shell, as low I lie;
I yield me to the purpose of Thy will,
Sweep up, O conquering waves, and purify,
And with Thy fullness fill.

(This post first appeared March 31, 2013)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It struck me one Sunday at church that so much of what annoys, irritates, and generally drives me nuts about my life (my husband would say that isn’t a drive, but a short putt), would be fixed by my forgiving them ...

For simply not being God.

There is only one God, and I am not Him. Remember last week—I am the Lord, and there is none other.

This doesn’t stop with what I expect God to do for me. It extends to what I expect my fellow fallen human beings to do for me, as well.

Let me say right up front that I’m not talking about making excuses for, or otherwise enabling, abuse. People who have experienced abuse need to be reminded of that—the people who do hurt to you deliberately, or neglect you deliberately, need to be held accountable by someone, even if not by you. I’m talking about the thousand small things that can happen in a day ...

Other women from Bible study who don’t call to find out why you missed.

Friends who seem so busy with their own lives, they don’t stop to ask how you are.

A co-worker who preens over some reward or bonus.

A husband who doesn’t kiss you goodnight, even after being away for weeks.

I’m ashamed to say, so many times my kneejerk reaction to all this is to whine about it—at least internally.

Sometimes, though, there are good reasons—again, I’m not talking excuses here for sinful behavior—for why people act the way they do.

In the case of women’s Bible study, there are two classes, morning and evening, and we’re a growing church. People come as they can. There’s no pressure put on anyone for any of it, and for that I’m glad. I’m sure most of them, if they think of me, just figure I’m in the other time slot.

And friends—yes, we are absolutely all so busy that some days we forget to stop and make eye contact with our own children, let alone anyone outside the four walls of our homes.

The co-worker—don’t we ourselves want the freedom to rejoice openly when God blesses us in this way?

The Lord tells us to sorrow with those who do, and rejoice with those who do—there’s no caveat about being off the hook if our jealousy tells us the other person is really just bragging. Only God knows that person’s heart. (He is God, and I am not!)

The husband—in this case, mine was exhausted, sick, and barely remembered getting to bed. I was also sick and exhausted, and as I reminded myself, even more vulnerable than usual to perceived hurt. In other situations, it may be his pattern of showing affection. We all can be effusive in some ways but not others.

I have to constantly focus on the truth that while God intends the Body of Christ to serve and bless each other, there’s no one person, or group of people, who will not at some point fail us, who will always meet my needs. Sometimes God just has me wait. Sometimes He just wants me to look up and see that He is Lord, and that ultimately every need gets met at His hand.

It’s His hand we look to, then, not those of our husband, children, and friends. Love them we do, and rightly, but they are not God.
My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
And my refuge, is in God.
(from Psalm 62, NKJV)
This post first appeared March 24, 2013

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 2:10)

Humble myself?

What in the world does that mean?

I find myself being humbled all the time—good intentions gone awry, a snarky comment I regret the moment it leaves my lips, my children spilling some juicy piece of our life story to total strangers. There seems no end to the situations God provides for me to learn humility. Why do I need to go to the trouble of doing it for myself?

But that verse tugged me by the heart a few years ago and whispered for me to pay attention, there was something deeper to be learned.

It’s one thing to accept those little (or not so little) humbling moments as they come, something else entirely to maintain an attitude of humility before the Lord. Easy, too, to speak of maintaining that attitude, then refusing to consciously take the path of humility when more subtle opportunities present themselves for it ...

... like, when I’m taken to task for something I don’t necessarily think was my fault. Humble myself.

Or when a stray comment by a friend hits a tender area inside me, and I’m struggling to not be offended. Humble myself.

When someone else reaps a blessing that I’ve prayed, waited, and/or worked for ... humble myself.

When I come across a lesson I’m sure I’ve learned a hundred times before ... humble myself.

It all boils down to choice. Choosing to overlook an offense. Choosing to consider that I just might have something God wants to correct in me, even if I don’t see it, because He’s the only righteous Judge. Choosing to ... humble myself.

Only God knows the whole picture of why blessings are bestowed here, and seemingly withheld there. (He IS God, after all!) And only He knows the ultimate purpose of whatever lesson or process or experience is laid in my path.

He is God, and I am not.

But in that is reassurance. Who better to leave the management of the universe to—or of my own small life? And if I choose to humble myself, whatever that may look like, then He promises when the time is right, He will lift me up.

That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
That there is none besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.. (Isaiah 45:6)

Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel:
I am the Lord your God
And there is no other.
My people shall never be put to shame. (Joel 2:27)

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head. (Psalm 3:3, all NKJV)


This post first appeared March 17, 2013.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

by Cynthia Ruchti

Abingdon Press, May 2015
Seven years ago, I didn’t know how to answer people who asked me, “Why aren’t you published yet?”

“Nobody wants me” didn’t sound like a professional answer. Neither did, “I don’t have this figured out yet.”

The truth was I’d been writing professionally for more than 25 years for a daily scripted radio broadcast. I’d had magazine articles published and wrote for a monthly newspaper column. I’d attended writers’ conferences and taken online courses and practiced, practiced, practiced.

By that time, I had completed three novel manuscripts and collected ideas for half a dozen more. I’d networked, studied, pitched, entered contests for the unpublished, finaled, and prayed.

The one thing I hadn’t done was quit. But don’t think I wasn’t tempted. In fact, in 2008, I almost did. And I thought my quitting was noble. I prayed, “God, nothing’s happening here. If You don’t want me to pursue publishing a novel—or many novels—then I will lay it down. This is too much work and takes too much time if Your Hand isn’t in this. I’d rather give up my heart’s desire than disappoint You. So, tell me. Show me. If this pursuit pleases You, Lord, I’m all in, no matter what it costs. But I need You to show me.”

He did.

 A month later, I had a book contract and my dream agent.

One would think all my writerly concerns would be over after that kind of direct answer to prayer. I wonder what I might have done if I’d known I’d signed up for a fresh batch of concerns, some of them larger than any I’d known before.

In that quiet way God has of shouting profound truths to our souls, I’d “heard” Him tell me long ago that if I would persevere, He would respond. It sounded like this: “If you will press through, I will bless you.”

Backed into a corner, up against a wall of doubts, facing what looked like insurmountable obstacles, or the collapse of an idea, I’d hear that nugget of divine poetry. If you will press through, I will bless you. 

Soon it became routine—a soul-fortifying routine—to press through. Blessing lay on the other side of perseverance. The stories would fill many books. And maybe will, before I’m done with my writing assignments from Him.

 I was notified of a new review the other day and popped over to the blogger’s site for what I thought would be encouragement to start my workday. It was a reviewer who had read other books I’d written and enjoyed them. This particular book, however, she did not enjoy. And she said so publicly, which she has every right to do.

Those who commented on her blog said things like, “So glad you warned me not to buy that book.”

“Thanks for the heads up. If you didn’t like, I wouldn’t either.”

“You just saved me time and money. Thanks.”

Not what an author wants to hear. I allowed myself a brief moment to mourn the review that not only wasn’t positive but had influenced others to run for the hills if they see a book with my name on it.

What else could I do then but press on? I had deadlines to meet, other books to connect with readers waiting for them, articles to write. And extended grieving over a bad review is injurious to health. So I pressed on.

Within minutes—no exaggeration—I was alerted to another review. You can imagine how hesitant I was to take a look. Same book. Completely opposite reaction to the story. Mourning minutes earlier, I was now laughing at God’s sense of humor in so quickly bringing me past the “press through” part to the “bless you” part.

Within an hour, I’d gotten a phone call that made the word blessing seem inadequate.

 It was no mistake that I was led to write on this subject. I needed the reminder as much as anyone else. So much of the writing life depends on perseverance, overcoming, clinging to the Overcomer, wading through the “press through” to get to the “bless you.” With that, I’ll say thank you for spending these moments with me and go back to pressing through on the edits for my fifteenth book.

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope through her novels, novellas, nonfiction books and devotionals, drawing from 33 years of on-air radio ministry. Ruchti has 15 books in print and has received numerous awards and nominations. She serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers and speaks frequently for women’s groups and serves on her church’s worship team and Creative Arts team. She and her plot-tweaking husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren. To keep up with Cynthia Ruchti, visit www.cynthiaruchti.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook (CynthiaRuchtiReaderPage) or follow her on Twitter (@cynthiaruchti).

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