Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Get to Work!

One of the tenets of Christianity is that belief in Jesus Christ, not works, secures our salvation. This comes as a big relief to me personally. Over my lifetime, the Oh, nos! have far outnumbered the Atta girls! If God were keeping score (which thank heavens He isn’t), I wouldn’t get a toe inside the Pearly Gates. I am all too happy to read Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith … not of works …,” and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

BUT … there are those other verses that let me know, I can’t just claim this promise and go happily on my way. For example, if you read further in the second chapter of Ephesians, verse 10 to be exact, you’ll find there’s a proper response to accepting this incomparable gift: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” And in James 2:17, the author essentially tells us faith without accompanying good deeds “is dead.” 

My blog posts, while often having an inspirational message, aren’t usually quite this “preachy.” But an event this past weekend at my church inspired me to reflect on the relationship of faith and works. For the past three springs, New Covenant Methodist Church has organized an activity called Sent Out Saturday. Members devote a Saturday morning to helping with various needs around the community. Usually this involves performing a lot of manual labor—cleaning, repairing, painting, sprucing up—for organizations or persons incapable of getting it all done themselves. 

Just look at this impressive group!
And they're all smiling ... at eight in the
morning...on a Saturday!
When this program began, around thirty people gathered to be “sent out.” This year, over ninety showed up to help! What a thrill to see this growth—to see so many give up a Saturday morning to help people they didn’t even know. And what thrilled me even more was that many of these volunteers were families with children of all ages. By example, moms and dads taught their toddlers to teens that if faith is genuine, it will reveal itself in love and concern for others. 

No, task was too big...and no worker too small!
Okay, I’m just going to go with the preachy thing and make a suggestion. Even Christians can sometimes find themselves in the doldrums. I certainly do. If you find yourself in such a state, help someone. It doesn’t have to be in a big group or with a lot of fanfare. Just look around … in your family or at your workplace or in your neighborhood. A need, however small, will soon present itself. To steal an old milk slogan, helping others truly “does a body good.” And sharing the good news of Christ doesn’t get any more effective than this!

If you need proof that serving others can make you feel good, check out these smiles.

How many volunteers does it take
to open a bucket of paint?

A pretty mother/daughter duo!

More teamwork!

Some jobs are best tackled alone.

There's always a need for good organizers!

Men and tools--an unstoppable combo.

Taking a little time out for fitness.

Sprucing up the Exodus House courtyard for spring.

Getting ready for the summer campers at Shiloh Camp.

And mulching at Shiloh.  Volunteers also sent to
the homes of Meals on Wheels clients and helped
with cleaning and repair chores.




     


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Nothin' Says Lovin' Like _____

I was scrolling through Facebook when a link posted by Southern Living Magazine caught my eye. The picture of a vintage recipe box tripped my memory button and brought to mind another such box—a bright yellow one with an apple painted on it. It had belonged to my mother-in-law. I guess the picture and recipe box put me in a vintage mood because as I searched through my own pantry for the little wooden box, I caught myself singing, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven…”

I smiled because it’s a catchy little jingle. The person who came up with a tune and words that would stick in anyone’s mind for over fifty years is an advertising genius. Also, I smiled because it provided the inspiration I needed for a Valentine’s Day post. 
Pillsbury first aired this ad campaign in the 1950s. At that time it was assumed every young woman wanted to snag herself a man and the fastest route to capturing his heart was through his stomach. Once she accomplished that feat, she could continue to show her devotion—and show off her domestic skills at the same time—by baking  “a very special cake.” 

Of course, this kind of thinking has undergone some alterations through the years. First came the realization that while baking might have pleased your fella, it didn’t necessarily guarantee him a long and healthy life. In the seventies I worked with Dale, a lady from Mississippi. She’d been raised in the time-honored tradition of sending the man of the house off to work with a hearty meal under his belt. For years she’d risen early and fried bacon and eggs for her hubby and made him biscuits. Not ones from a (Pillsbury) can, mind you, but light and flaky, made-from-scratch biscuits. Dale had taken great pride in lovingly performing this duty every morning until … her husband developed an ulcer and heart problems. Crestfallen, she’d listened as the doctor explained to her the ill effects of too much fat and cholesterol in the diet. Adding insult to injury, the doctor had added, “Lady, you’re killing your husband.” After that, Dale lovingly sent her man off to work with a bowl of corn flakes under his belt. But somehow it just wasn’t the same.

Another change in thinking came when women’s goals became redirected. Those old Pillsbury ads were targeted at women, but today many ladies are more interested in landing a fulfilling career than a spouse. And in many marriages, the husband might be found in the kitchen as often as or maybe even more than the wife. That’s a good—no,  a GREAT  change! No rule says only women can experience the joy of preparing something good to eat for her loved ones.

But while traditions or ideas might undergo alterations over the years, some things never change. And one of those is the desire to be loved and have that love expressed either in words or actions. On the off-chance “something from the oven” doesn’t make your heart go all a-twitter, I want to know what does. What says or demonstrates “lovin’” to you? Whether in a friend, family, spiritual, or romantic relationship, what’s your favorite way to be told or shown “I love you”?  Please share either in the comments below or on Facebook. And from my heart to yours ...

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!













Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Word for 2019: Hope

Two years ago I abandoned the traditional but—for me—futile practice of making resolutions and replaced it with another strategy for improvement: choosing a word on which to focus during the coming year. 

So far, this plan has served me well. In 2017, I chose the word balance, and I think I did a decent job of allotting time for development of mind, body, and soul throughout that year. Joy was the choice for 2018, and focusing on it reminded me to look beyond temporary problems and recognize the many reasons I had to be joyful. 

This year, my word is hope. I decided on it a few weeks ago when—as my Sunday school class was studying the Old Testament—I realized how critical God’s gift of hope is. We were covering the years before and during the Babylonian Exile, and—to make a centuries-long story way too short—God’s chosen people once again found themselves in desperate straits. After enjoying a golden age under the reigns of David and Solomon, the Hebrew people grew defiant toward God and His laws. They slipped into a decline that ultimately resulted in defeat and diaspora. 

At that lowest of low points, God knew exactly what was needed: hope. He gave a message of hope to Jeremiah to pass along to the dejected people. What a challenge that must have been, and yet the prophet rose to the task. 

In the past, Jeremiah had chided the people for their disobedience, but now it was time to renew their broken spirit. God provided Jeremiah with the perfect words: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘… plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:1   

No matter how many times I read or hear this verse, I always experience a shiver of excitement—a “thrill of hope”—because I believe it applies to God’s people today as much as it did back then. If hope could get the Jewish people through seventy years of captivity how much more can it get us through our times of personal and shared adversity? If our hope is in God, we will discover the tiniest flicker can light the way through the deepest darkness.

Praying you experience health, happiness, and the light of hope in God in 2019! 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Gift of a Second Chance

In my novel Some Form of Grace, I describe a scene where the residents of Transformation Place are attending the annual Christmas party. That scene was inspired by a very special event that takes place for Exodus House residents, graduates, workers, and volunteers each year. A few years back those parties took place in the community room at Exodus House. It was a fun, riotous, and crowded affair. That small room was bursting at the seams with excitement ... and people!

Wesley United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City came to the rescue. They generously opened their doors and volunteered to host the party in their fellowship hall. I was privileged to attend this year's event, and I can attest it is still fun and riotous and buzzing with excitement. But it it waaay less cramped.

Dedicated people work tirelessly to ensure the success of this party as well as the continuing success of the Exodus House ministry. Among them are the sponsor churches: Wesley UMC, Yukon UMC, Choctaw UMC and UMM, Seminole UMC, New Covenant UMC in Edmond, Blanchard UMC, St. Andrews UMC, First UMC of Edmond, New Hope UMC, and Church of the Servant UMC. There are also some very special individuals I'll identify in the pictures below.

Hopefully, my photos captured at least a smidgeon of the happiness and loving spirit that was evident throughout the celebration.

Church of the Servant and the Angel Tree
project provided this bounty of gifts for
residents and their children.











                           
Tony Altizer, Facility Director at EH, instructing his "elves" on delivering the gifts
    
EH Site Director Robin Wertz, 
enjoying her role as Master of Ceremonies for the night ...


                              and enjoying opening her
                              own gifts















Gifts Galore!
(And food! I forgot to get a picture of all the food!)









This young lady nearly died of suspense while waiting
to open her presents, but thankfully 
she survived!


Sara, a recent EH graduate.
Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like
a new hat and coat and her 
radiant smile.



Rev. Stan Basler and volunteer Sherry.
As a former prosecuting attorney in Oklahoma, Stan
saw firsthand a justice system that wasn't working.
Exodus House Ministries in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are
the result of his vision for something better.



Exodus House volunteers from Seminole UMC (love that sweater!)



and Blanchard UMC


A volunteer from Wesley UMC on the left, 
and on the right, Kristen Harlin, 
Executive Director of
Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries and
a tireless supporter of Exodus House.


Jay and Kim are past residents of EH. Now they
own a successful business, and Jay serves as a
mentor to current residents.


EH volunteer Kathy Sewell from New Covenant UMC
in Edmond has been instrumental in remodeling
two apartments at EH (she has her own tool belt!) and
mentoring many of the occupants of those apartments.
Her love of God is reflected in her love of EH residents.



"...I thank the Lord and my sponsors for the way
my life has changed."
A thank you note from an EH resident. 


Robin beautifully expressed her gratitude to all those who faithfully support the ministry of Exodus House, thanking them  "for believing in second chances and believing in us, for being a true light in each of our lives, for giving us an opportunity to be and have success in our lives, for restoring families." 

When you think about it, the story of Christmas is summed up in those words:
belief, true light, restoration, and 
God's gift of a second chance for all humanity
 offered through His Son.

Wishing You a Blessed Christmas!







Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Unusual List

On some blog post way back when, I coined the word "oblogation" and defined it as a blog post one feels obligated to write. Since this is Thanksgiving eve and since Facebook friends are posing the question, I feel an oblogation to write about some things for which I'm thankful.

#1  Plumbers - Yes, right at the top of my list are those everyday      heroes who daily prevent, ameliorate, or repair disasters somewhere in the country. This week started out with a busted outdoor water faucet, which resulted in some soggy indoor carpet. A call to Red Beard Plumber had the faucet fixed within three hours of discovering the problem. I call that a minor miracle, and even more of a miracle, the bill wasn't that bad!


#2  Good Neighbors - While the faucet was repaired within a few hours, the wet carpet was going to be another story. An appeal to neighbors produced two big fans which have the the carpet almost dry at this point. I'm very thankful to have lived in the same neighborhood for almost thirty years, surrounded by kind and helpful people.

#3. Walmart - I know, I know. I'm well aware of the fact that some people refer to the mega-merchant as "hellmart" and would rather shop in hell than place a toe into one of its cavernous stores. But I'm sorry. Sometimes Walmart just can't be beat for convenience and economy. This year my daughter and her family will be visiting her in-laws, which means a low-key Thanksgiving for Bill and me. I'd planned on grabbing a couple of to-go turkey dinners from nearby Cracker Barrel, but when I called today I learned they were completely out of Thanksgiving fare! I perused the list of restaurants open on Thanksgiving and while there were some, the prices ranged from $30 to $60 ... per person! I don't consider myself particularly cheap, but really, how can one person possibly eat $60 worth of turkey and dressing in one sitting? Determined not to repeat the Chinese restaurant fiasco from a few Thanksgivings ago, I set out to hunt down my own turkey (dinner). And where did I find it? Yep, good ol' Wallyworld. Turkey and all the fixings in one convenient box. (I'll let you know tomorrow how it tastes.)

#4.  Running Water - The busted faucet was no sooner solved than we discovered a leak in our yard irrigation system. A diagnosis from the repairman resulted in the water being shut off for several hours. Many absent-minded attempts to turn on the water reminded me that there are places in the world where people don't have the luxury of indoor plumbing and have to haul to haul their water long
distances by foot.
     

Yes, it has been a fun week. But despite the many inconveniences, I recognize that's exactly what they are--inconveniences. Not irreparable disasters, not financial calamities, not losses of property or life. Would I want to repeat this week? No. But I definitely look on it as one of those blessings in disguise. It made me stop to consider and appreciate all the everyday miracles I too often take for granted. And for that I'm truly thankful.


Happy Thanksgiving!



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Survivalist Writing


Writing for pleasure, profit, persuasion? Sure!

But writing for survival? Hmm...



Check out my guest post on on the Southern Writers blog, Suite T.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Soundtrack for SOME FORM OF GRACE--THE MOVIE

Music can be a great source of inspiration for writing.
Even if they know the possibility is beyond remote, most writers must at some point dream of their obscure little novel making it to the big screen. As they write, they envision how a scene might be played out and who would be playing the parts. I’ll admit I do this. And I often go further, imagining the music that would be playing either in the background to enhance the mood or as an integral part of the scene, conveying the overall message of the book. Sometimes, I already know the perfect song to accompany a scene, and it loops in my head as I write. Other times, long after the scene has been written, I’ll hear a tune or lyrics and think Yes! That’s exactly what I wanted to get across.

Music served as a great source of inspiration as I was writing Some Form of Grace. Ever since it’s completion, I continue to hear songs that would be the perfect accompaniment to different scenes. If you’ll indulge me my little fantasy, I’d like to present the soundtrack for Some Form of Grace—the Movie. 

My initial plan was to identify a scene from the book and provide a link to the song I connected to it. But then I feared that might spoil the plot for those who have not yet read the book. And I felt that it might make the experience less personal for those who have read it. Maybe the scene you’d pair with a song is different from my selection. Maybe the song/scene carries a different meaning for you. After all, that’s one of the beauties of literature and music!

So here’s what I propose. If you’ve read the book, think about how you would match it to a particular scene. If you haven’t read it, hopefully the “soundtrack” will spark some interest to do so. Either way, give yourself time to listen and meditate on the music. I think you will find it gives a lift to your day.

The songs here are listed in no particular order. After you’ve listened to them, I’d love to know which scene you connected to a particular song. And if you have a suggestion of your own, please share!
(Sorry for the ads, but I couldn't afford to purchase the rights to all the songs. 😆) 

"Chain Breaker" - Zach Williams 

"Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" - Chris Tomlin

"Fear is a Liar" - Zach Williams

"No Matter What"- Ryan Stevenson

"Feliz Navidad" - Jose Feliciano
"Merry Christmas from the Family" - performed by Montgomery Gentry (I know, it's a strange choice, but it fits.)
"Grace Flows Down" - Sandi Patty
"Redeemed" - Big Daddy Weave

"Grace Got You" - MercyMe

 "It is Well with my Soul" - performed by Hillsong