I is for Ideas and Inspiration

Where do ideas and inspiration come from? For me, it comes from being around people who are similar to me – artists. I find joy, inspiration, and encouragement from people striving to create – whether it be writing, sculpting, singing or playing an instrument. Art in all forms digs down deep into my soul and starts a fire that cannot be quenched until I begin to create myself.

During conference last week, there were no shortages of talented people from which to draw inspiration. Like our St. Davids Sanctified Ukulele Band. (For video – check out the St. Davids Christian Writers Facebook page) Yes, ukuleles…and a guitar and a stray washboard. And singing. It is hard to squash down your own talents when surrounded by the beauty and talent of others. Especially when they are so crazy and quirky as this bunch.

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The ukulele band in action.

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On the surface this doesn’t look like a quirky person…except she isn’t a blonde.

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And Roberta’s hair is NOT normally curly.

Where do ideas come from? Teachers and mentors who provide instruction and encouragement to keep chasing your dreams. Bob Hostetler’s keynote speech began with a story about NOT fulfilling your God given talents. His story-telling was so poignant and soul-searching that I knew I would be challenged and provoked for the rest of the week. And I was right.

Bob continued to inspire me in his Non-Fiction class over the next three days. He used countless examples of non-fiction writers who shine in their craft, giving me ideas of where to submit my work, how to hone my work and even how to sell myself.

Cindy Sproles not only taught a devotion class that encouraged me to excel in my writing skills, but also spoke with me personally about a devotional book I’m working on. She opened up her heart and expertise to me, but more importantly, she inspired me with her own work (New Sheets), which is a book that is similar to the book I want to create. With her insight (another good “I” word!) I felt like my dream was possible. (not “I”mpossible)

Now that I’m back in my “normal” life setting, and not surrounded 24-7 by these inspiring people, I must find inspiration and ideas from my everyday life. Like this piece of artwork I found while walking.

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Or this awe-inspiring architecture of God’s house.

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Or the sun streaming across this meadow.

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As I assimilate myself back into “normal” living, I strive to find inspiration from God’s world around me and cultivate the ideas He has ingrained in me.

 

 

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Wisdom from a Conference (and the Word)

I attended St. Davids Christian Writers Conference last week in Grove City, PA. Every morning (bright and early at 7:30) we had chapel. It’s a simple set-up and anyone who is interested pitches in to help with music, prayer and a sermon. Our theme this year was “Press On” and I thought I’d share with my readers some of the great and inspirational messages I received this week through these chapel sessions.

One of our most beloved members, Harry Bohrs, started off our week with a study of Philippians 3:14 – I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Harry encouraged us to not rest on our laurels, but to keep pressing on towards our goals. Too often we can just keep the status quo and be bogged down in the everyday tasks. But how are we moving towards the prize for which God has called us? It is a “holy obligation” to study the Word and to train ourselves for His purposes. We can become depressed or forlorn at the lack of progress. In order to build self-confidence in ourselves and in our work, we must continue to trust God and press on – keeping our faith intact at all times.

On Friday, Fara Pienosky graced our pulpit with her words. Fara has been through a lot in the last several years including a very painful divorce. After this devastation she quit public speaking, quit writing and was mad at God for a long time. Her speaking at chapel this week was her first time back in front of people – a testimony in and of itself.

Fara focused on Isaiah 54:10 – Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. 

Her message was simple: Even when the mountains move – God remains. He remains loyal and He remains constant. His covenant never fails. Although she seemed broken by the events in her life, she was able to regain her footing with God by her side. She memorized and surrounded herself with this verse from the Psalms: Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. (36:5) 

You see… He is above the mountain that has fallen. He is above all things. He does not need to stand on these things – He stands alone.

Finally, in our last chapel (we did have a commissioning service on the last day by Jim Watkins as well), Don Hasselman encouraged us to look to the Psalms again. This time with Psalm 139. To summarize – we can’t hide from God. He is the God of eternity – do you know what “never” means? At the end it says, Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Or, in other words, help me to press on. Keep me moving. Bring light where there is darkness.

At the end of the week, our conference director Jim Watkins encouraged us further with his commissioning to keep moving forward in God’s strength. When even we feel weak, He is our power.

(By the way, I won’t even go into our key note speaker’s speech at the beginning of the week. I’ll just say this: If you ever have a chance to meet Bob Hostetler – DO IT. Read his books, hear him speak, and get to know him. You will not be disappointed.)

I know I am inspired by these speakers to find God’s strength and His purpose for my life. When life gets me down or pushes back I intend to press on.

Keep striving to thrive. Keep pushing and pressing forward. Your time is now and God is with you.

 

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Mini Post Monday – Breaking Me Down

I wondered aloud how far down God would take me. I was finally at the writing conference I so needed to attend and yet I had been sick and home issues had plagued me for the entire first day. The class I had taken overwhelmed me, my laurels (that I had been resting on) were called into question and I felt out of my league. During a break, I cried on my bunk and whispered, “I know I need to be broken God…but how far?”

For months I had been working my businesses, being busy-busy-busy, and had little time for God. He had tapped me lightly on the shoulder day after day and I would oblige with a quick prayer, maybe read a chapter of His word or take ten seconds for “meditation,” but I had never really given in to Him. And I had struggled in almost every aspect of my life as a result. I felt that small, quiet voice saying, “Come to me and I will give you rest,” but I kept on at my frantic pace, filling my spaces with so much noise in hopes of drowning out His words.

I KNEW I needed Him, but I kept putting it off. “I’m busy today Lord. I’ll get to You tomorrow. I know You’re there and I’m grateful. Thanks.” And I would scurry off to my “jobs.”

I worried. I fretted. I had intestinal issues from the stress. Headaches from the anxiety. I didn’t enjoy anything. This is a pattern for me. If you read my blog – you know this. I fall into this pattern where I think, “I can do it!” …And then proceed to try and do it ALL.

I can’t. Why do I try? Because I’m scared of what He might call on me to do. Can you relate? If I busy myself with my own tasks, He can’t call on me to do bigger things. Things I’m scared of. Things I might not be qualified for (even though He would qualify me).

Eventually, He breaks me down. This time…it was DOWN. Far into a pit. I’ve been spiraling for about two months. No one really sees it except my husband…we keep it all to ourselves, don’t we? The deep dark secrets? But it comes out eventually. We can only hold it in for so long.

Then I came to this writing conference. A Christian conference. On day one, I became convicted by the very first speaker. He told of a story about making a choice – doing God’s work or doing our own. If something we’ve written speaks to just ONE person – shouldn’t we do it? Isn’t that our purpose? He said to give God your writing AND yourself.

I had been giving neither. I’d only been giving to myself and I’m a poor gift giver. At least, compared to Him.

Writing is not a JOB when it’s done for the Lord. It’s a MINISTRY. But HE chooses. Not me. Not you. HE CHOOSES – when we let Him.

It’s a “holy obligation to train” said our chapel speaker. It’s important to PRESS ON and KEEP THE FAITH. I had been keeping the faith for sure… but not that God would provide. Not that He would HELP…just that my end result – my death – would be good, but not that I could do something for Him while I was here.

It’s hard to write this. I feel like a failure. But I’m not. I am God’s child and He expects, and wants, me to get up and try again. This time with Him as my true guide, my loyal friend, my ever present help and my eternal savior. It might not be easier with Him…but I think it might. I’m not sure I can give it all to Him…it’s a hard thing to let go, but I want to try. I believe He has things for me to do…a ministry to complete. And I want to do it.

I think.

I am broken down, but I am being built back up…stronger than before. In His strength.

WRITER’S UPDATE: After I wrote this the following happened: I spoke with an editor about a devotional book I’m considering writing – she encouraged me greatly and I feel empowered to move forward, I spoke with at least three people who had similar stories to mine and were starting over (again), and I won First Place in every contest I entered my writing at the conference. God HAS A PLAN. He builds us up EVERY DAY…sometimes we just don’t notice. Keep the faith.

 

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H is for Hatred of Halloween

I was having trouble coming up with my “H” for the A to Z Challenge this week (Check out my original post here and let me know if you’ve accepted the challenge in the comments below so I can read your stuff!) so I thought I’d do a repost of this blog I wrote awhile ago about my hatred of Halloween. I know it’s not quite fall yet and no one wants to be thinking about those holidays, but… well, here goes anyway.

Originally posted 11/01/14

I hate Halloween.

I know many of you would think “Well, that makes sense since she’s a Christian and it isn’t really a Christian holiday”, but that’s not it.

It’s the masks.

I remember when I was younger, after a hardy night of my own trick-or-treating (which I also really didn’t enjoy. A suffocating mask, wigs that itched, and always wearing a coat due to the cold so you couldn’t see my costume anyway. Plus, my Dad always “checked” the candy for “razor blades” – in my adult years I understood it was just so he could have first pick of my candy…), these two ADULT people came into our home with masks on. My parents LET them into the house without knowing who they were. What other time does this occur except on Halloween? I mean, come on. Here were these two complete strangers standing in our kitchen while my parents tried to guess who they were. I thought they had gone insane, but they were getting a total kick out of it. The masked weirdos didn’t say a word – they would just shake their heads yes or no.

“Do we know you?” Yes nod.
“Are you friends?” Yes nod. (THANK GOD)
“Are you related?” No nod.

On and on it went until my Dad finally guessed Larry and Gerry – our next door neighbors – and he was right. They laughed about it as they stripped off their creepy masks.

What the heck!?! My little ten-year-old mind couldn’t wrap itself around this odd tradition. Totally creepy.

Today scores of young people invade our town begging for candy in their ghastly costumes and I hide in my house. It’s just not right. When we first got married my husband couldn’t wait to hand out candy to all the little beggars. I sat mutely beside him on the porch with a scowl better than any mask could create. I mean, this people could be scoping out our home for a late night invasion and I wouldn’t even be able to identify them! And we gave them candy to boot!!

I’m sure I scared quite a few youngsters with my tight-faced frown, but they have no shame. Some came back around for seconds.

“Hey. Didn’t you come by here about 20 minutes ago? No? Hmm…”

It’s the single weirdest holiday out there in my opinion. Some people think it’s weird for a bunny to lay eggs… I think it’s weird to give candy to masked children who’s parents will later come back to rob you.

But that’s just me.

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Uses for Salt – Wisdom from the Word

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13

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Many of us have heard this familiar Bible verse. It goes on to talk about being the light of the world. I think we often focus on the light part, but not the salt. Perhaps that’s because we’re not sure all what salt can do. We utilize this seasoning so much (in almost every savory dish we make) that we’ve forgotten what exactly it means to be the “salt of the earth.” So I wanted to look at all the ways salt can be used.

Here are 8 ways to use salt in your life – both your daily life and your spiritual life.

1) As a seasoning and a preservative. Obviously, we use salt daily to flavor our meals, and too little can create bland food. I believe God wants us to be “salt” to help flavor the world with our Good News. Without it – our world is bland and there is no hope. In addition, back in Jesus’ day, salt was used to preserve food. This “salt of the earth” wording may indicate that God wants us to help preserve the world until His return.

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2) Fire Management. Did you know that salt can be used to put out small grease fires just like baking soda? It deprives the fire of oxygen and, therefore, snuffs it out. Don’t you think this is another way God wants us to use our saltiness: to tamp down the fires of evil in the world?

3) An exfoliant. Salt is utilized in many scrubs for hands, feet and other body parts. It can even be used to clean a stainless steel sink, pots, pans and much more. Being “salty” may mean we are required to sharpen one another (like iron sharpens stone – Proverbs 27:17) and keep each other “clean” by scrubbing away the bad parts that stain our lives.

4) A sponge cleaner. Many people use salt to clean sponges. When a sponge is left in saltwater overnight it comes out cleaner and smelling fresher. An added bonus: It helps extend the life of the sponge. That’s the kind of life we can expect when we are the salt – a clean, long-lasting, fresh-smelling existence! We’ll be ready to soak up everything we can get our hands on!

5) Prevent weeds. Yep, that’s right. Salt will prevent weeds from popping up in your garden. That means, as Christians, we can help others to prevent the “weeds” in their lives from popping up (and ours too!) by sprinkling a little salt every now and then.

6) Keep flowers fresh. Adding a little salt to the water in a vase with flowers will help the flowers to stay fresher, longer. It will also help the color to remain bright and vibrant. As the salt of the earth, we can help ourselves and others remain steadfast in Christ and keep that brilliant, colorful hope alive.

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7) Eliminate excess suds. Have you ever put too much soap in the washer and suds started coming out all over the place? It can be a mess to clean up. Salt can cut down on the amount of suds created. A lot of times we take on too much fluff (or suds) and are blinded or overwhelmed. The “suds” overflow and we spend a lot of time trying to clean it up. Adding a bit of “salt,” or God’s word, will help us to get rid of that sudsy fluff and back to a more balanced existence.

8) Clean your greens. Saltwater can help wash away any dirt left over on fresh-picked garden greens. There is nothing worse than having some fresh, delicious and healthy food ruined by nasty dirt. I think this one relates best to churches. We so often have nice, healthy congregation, but they can be sullied by a little bit of dirt. If our members try to be the salt on a daily basis, it can wash this dirt away.

These are just some of the many ways salt can be used in our daily and spiritual lives. I’m sure you could think of some more! Feel free to share your thoughts in my comments below. Remember to be the light AND the salt for God’s kingdom today.

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Mini-Post Monday- Beach Reflections

This past week we spent some time with our extended family Amy, Dwayne and their two daughters (our god daughters). It was the first time for us to vacation with children and the first time for us visiting Cape May, NJ. It was a fun week and we had terrific weather (couldn’t have asked for nicer truly). I was chatting with Amy and she asked me if I got any “inspiration” for my blogs or other writing. I did. And here are a few small snippets from our week.

1) The first thing I noticed about vacationing with children is that you drink less alcohol. We didn’t drive too many places, but I didn’t feel right drinking in front of the girls. Here was one reason: At one of the first places we went to eat there was a drink menu. I noticed that the alcoholic drinks all came in fancy glasses of all shapes and sizes. Martini glasses, fancy margarita glasses and all different ones. But the “regular” drinks all came in the same glass – a plain, clear tumbler. The girls sometimes got small plastic ones with lids, but typically the soda, water and what-not came in boring glasses. What must young people thing when they see all sorts of crazy concoctions with fruit dangling off the side and the drinks are all pretty shades and some even look like smoothies! What fun! I’m sure they’d like to try them. It kind of makes me wonder: did I really ever want to drink or was it the glasses that lured me in?

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2) We noticed a strange phenomenon while on the beach one day. Cape May’s beach slopes down gradually away into the surf. I sat on top of the little hill one day watching my husband splash about further out in the waves. As I got tired, I lay back on my blanket the crashing of the surf changed to a dull roar – almost like thunder. It was the oddest thing. I had my husband, John, and Amy try this and both decided it was different. None of us could figure it out. I’ve tried to look it up and all I can come up with is that it’s some Physics thing (perhaps my father-in-law could explain it) that has to do with sound waves.292288448_cape-may-beach-13) Our oldest God daughter (6 years old) was a little skittish about getting into the surf. Her mom helped her the first day by holding both her hands, with her back to her mom’s knees, and standing right along the beach as the waves crashed just inches from their feet. Eventually Miss Megan decided they could take a few “baby steps” towards the water as she saw John and I enjoying ourselves (and not being swept away). Pretty soon many baby steps were made and they were knee deep in crashing waves with her giggles permeating the air. The laughter of a child truly experiencing something for the first time is one of the best sounds you’ll ever hear. Pure, unadulterated JOY. We laughed every time she laughed. She repeated the process with me the next day and it was even better for me as I held her two tiny hands in mine and experienced her laughter reverberating against my knees. I hope she will remember this moment… not sure if she will, but I think her mom got a few photos and some video so we can relive it as she grows.

There was so much more to this vacation (porch sitting and watching vacationers of all sizes, shapes and colors walk by, figuring out the lights off in the distance were Rehobeth Beach, taking Megan mini-golfing, Naomi not quite adjusting all week – but still having moments of joy, the Victorian houses that complete the Cape May look, and spending time in the pool) and I’m so blessed to have had this time with these special people in our lives. It isn’t about finding something to write about though – it’s more about experiencing it and then writing it down to have forever.

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G is for Giggles and Goofiness

Here is this week’s installment for my A to Z Challenge. If you are interested in participating – the “rules” are simple (it’s really just about getting motivated to blog so just do that!) check out my original post here and let me know if you’ve accepted the challenge in the comments below so I can read your stuff!

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As you’re reading this, I’m on my way back (or am back) from a vacation with some of my favorite little girls (our god daughters). We were invited by their parents to spend a few days in Cape May, NJ with them (separate hotel rooms though for our own sanity). Right before we left, we spent a few hours with the adults to plan out our route, decide on who was taking what and how much room we’d have in our car for added supplies. The bonus for any time spent with their parents is time spent with these two goofy girls.

Megan is six now and is starting to be a little too grown up for my taste. I want her to remain young and silly. The good news is her sister, Naomi, helps her retain that goofy side that I love so much. Naomi (or Pickle) is at that stage that she’s not sure she wants us around, but as time wears on she starts to warm up and the giggles are easy to come by.

Before I knew it she was demanding that I put on the TV for her (“Here’s the ‘mote control Sue!”) and gibbering (another good “G” word) about all sorts of things. (We understand about… 30% at this point. But she every so helpfully repeats herself if we don’t respond quickly enough!) While their mom and I tried to come up with plans for the vacation week, Megan would come sit beside us like the little adult she is and pretend she was involved in our plans… then quickly figure out that hanging out with little sister was the better place to be. Soon they involved their dad in a game of “Carry me!” around the house and giggles bounced off every surface. (While poor Dad grimaced carrying his not so little anymore daughters on his shoulders…)

Finally, we all gave in to their demands and started playing Naomi’s favorite game: “Run” She runs from one wall to the next, giggling with delight. It’s like that old adage that you can buy expensive toys, but they love the box more…except this girl doesn’t even need the box!

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The best part was this: I sat at the kitchen table by the “starting” wall and I would tell Naomi, “Okay…ready? One…Two…Three… GO!” Off she’d run giggling with unrestrained goofiness. When she came back – and caught on to the idea – she’d count with me. Me: “One…”, Naomi: “One…”, Me: “Two…”, Naomi: “Two…”, Me: “Three…”, Naomi: “Tree…”, Me: “Go!”, Naomi: “Four…” (Hey she knows her numbers! And she was counting on her fingers the whole time too!) But then she’d realize I’d said “Go” and she’d squeal and race around the corner, giggling with each step. (She caught on quicker when sister entered the race and knew there was no “four.”) I found myself giggling (quite unseemly for a 41 year old) along with their antics.

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I’m sure that vacation will hold the same type of goofiness (I’m writing this ahead so I’m not sure yet… but I can almost count on it. Be sure to check for posts down the road about the actual vacation!) These two little girls are only six and two, but I’m looking forward to a lifetime of goofy giggles with them!

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