Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When the Children Pray, A Miracle called Rain

RAIN . RAIN . RAIN. Yup, that's what the need is. Something called Rain.

No rain. It is January. The weather is like spring. The sky is clear. The grass on the hills is dry, the lakes are at 33 percent of their capacity, a meager snow pack in the mountains, there's no food for the cattle in the hill country, the farmers have crops and orchards they may not be able to irrigate come summer, the northern California communities are starting to get alarmed, water conservation is becoming a reality, farmers are irrigating tree crops in winter, unprecedented, never been done before. It is starting to look like summer in the dead of winter. Concern is growing to alarm.

The water situation in California is dire.
An announcement: It's official: Worst drought on record.
Season total so far: 4 inches rainfall.
Normal season total in January: 18 inches rainfall.


I gather the children at my church to tell them the story of Elijah. I tell them why it didn't rain for over three years... not even a drop of dew. I explain how the hearts of the people turned hard against the Lord. That God wanted their attention. I bring it home. I show newspaper pictures of Lake Oroville with its barren basin, looking like a puddle of water at the bottom of a steep canyon. Time to learn how real prayer works, the reason I have chosen this story. It is a teachable moment. Do we have the faith? First, private prayer, the children and leaders getting our hearts right before God. Next, we gather in a circle, children and leaders. I explain that we are going to pray, in faith believing. We begin to pray. Three children ask God to send rain. One says, "We don't want it to be like when Elijah lived. We don't want the people to turn away from you. We need rain. Could you send rain?" I ask God to send us an abundance of rain. We leave. Will God answer our prayer of faith? I knew it was a risk. Yet. It was in my heart that God wanted us to do this ... together.

No rain the next day...and the next day, and the next, and next. Then a few sprinkles--but not much. I pray and I pray, and I pray some more. Please, Father God, won't you send us some rain. I want God to perform a miracle just for the children, and for everybody else in California. I pray several times a day. Other people in the State are praying, I read about it in the paper. I ask Facebook friends and Twitter contacts to pray.

I wake up to clouds on Wednesday, it's Awana children's club day. That morning the rain begins to descend. It starts to pour, and pour. By evening, it has been a steady rainfall. My heart rejoices. I can't wait to connect the dots with the children.

I gather the children to tell them the end of the story of Elijah. They learn about the contest at Mount Carmel. We see the prophets of Baal crying out to their god to send down fire. Nothing happens. They plead, beg, cut themselves. Nothing. nothing... Elijah stands up. He repairs the altar. He says to dig a trench around the altar. Precious water is poured, and poured some more, over the sacrifice--streaming down the altar into the trench. Elijah prays a simple prayer before the people and the godless prophets of Baal. He asks God to show his presence by sending fire to the sacrifice. Fire bolts down from heaven--consuming the sacrifice, the stones, and even the water in the trench. The people see the might of God. They fall of their faces. "The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God," they acknowledge. A rain cloud appears in the distance. Elijah declares, "Hurry down the mountain for I hear an abundance of rain. The rain pours, and pours, and pours. God has answered.

The children and I speak of our own miracle, the rain God has sent. We pray, our words thank God for the rain. His answer to our prayers. We ask for more rain. God sends some more in the weeks to follow. Our faith has been stretched. We see in living color what God has provided. Not only the children, but the adults find that their faith has been strengthened.

Since that day, when we asked for rain, northern California has received approximately seven inches of rain. There is grass on the hills. Lake Oroville is at 45 percent capacity. There's a deeper snow pack in the mountains and some runoff for the lakes. The plants look refreshed. The drought has eased, at least to some extent, the situation less dire.

No, California isn't out of the woods and the drought will still affect us. There will be conservation measures, and less crops in agricultural regions. But. But, it certainly is better than it was. I"m glad the children prayed.  

Thank you, God, for answering the faith of a child.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Love Story in Reverse: Miracles Still Happen

I have this friend who has struggled with her marriage relationship for as long as I have known her.  Not a first marriage for either of them, but the first Christian marriage for both of them. Their religious belief is what brought them together initially, the opportunity for a better second marriage, becoming the focus of a union based on Christian living. But, as is often the case, it was not easy. There were the children from both marriages and its stressful dynamic. There were the unresolved issues from their first marriages, a carry-over from the hurt and rejection they both had experienced. Greater than these areas was a lack of understanding on how to make love work for them. One partner seemed to dominate the relationship and the other had some areas that needed attention as well. Several times they went to their minister for counsel, independently and also as a couple.

They both wanted the marriage to be successful and to bring them happiness. But happiness seemed to elude them. They went through job losses, family troubles, and financial crises. Life was hard. Then it came to a point that one summer she left him, not for someone else but because something had to change between them. The love was there in a remote place hard to access. The impossibility of it all had created a deadness deep inside her, and I assume, deep inside him as well.  He missed her, wanted her to come back. People at church didn't know what was going on. He seemed lost without her. With his promise to try to work on their relationship and to be more attentive, she came back a couple of months later. They recommitted their purpose together.

Those of us from the outside looking in could see a spark being rekindled. We saw them both trying. He became more gentle with her in his speech, more demonstrative by putting his arm around her as they sat in church. She was less to complain about him to her friends, less to voice frustration with him. They led in a children's ministry and made it blossom, keeping their stuff to themselves as they worked together side-by-side, choosing to be united in front of others. It couldn't have been easy with their personalities and past history. He was the more vocal in public, expressing his desire to be the man God wanted him to be--and meaning it. He would ask difficult questions about living the Christian life, about how to let go of the things that hinder, to move in the direction of a man who is an authentic seeker of God. It was good to watch. I saw in her this same desire, to be a woman after God's own heart. She would talk to me about her wishes in the spiritual realm. However, something was still was elusive in their relationship. They couldn't seem to connect on an emotional level, to feel things as one, to be in harmony.

Valentine's Day, 2014, ushered in a new beginning for this couple. She told me about it in person a couple of weeks later. We were talking about other church-related topics. After I remarked how I have seen positive changes in both she and her mate, I asked her how they were doing these days. She began to share a story with me. We were like sisters, sharing a joy after the days of sorrow have passed. Here is her story.
She walked in the door in the late afternoon on Valentine's Day, weary from her work. The first thing she noticed was the table set all fancy like with candles, nice dishes, and a bouquet of flowers. The house smelt delicious and her husband was busy in the kitchen. He greeted her with a hug and smile and then returned to cooking dinner. The music was playing as they ate by candlelight. This was different than ever before. There was something about him that was extra attentive. After they ate, he said to her, "Why don't we dance?" They turned up the music and began to dance. Tears began to flow. He asked her why she was crying.
"This is what I've always wanted," she said to him while nestled in his warm embrace.
"I know you have. But I never knew how to give my love to you, how to show you," he replied, his voice expressing regret.
"What happened? Why now?" She asked him.
With softness in his eyes, he replied, "Last night when we were singing that song about love with the children at church, my heart was touched. And then, that lesson that Jennifer gave for Valentine's Day explaining the different types of love, somehow, while she was talking about Agape' love, I finally understood it. I can't explain it, but suddenly I knew what was missing, and saw how I didn't know how to live out my love for you and was keeping myself from expressing it to you.  It's like something clicked. I knew I needed to show you how much you mean to me. I want you to be happy."
My friend turned to me and smiled. I was so happy for her. I knew how much she had longed for his love and to rest in it (to feel secure in it), and how she had prayed for years that something would change between them. I asked if I could share her story in a blog as a way to encourage others who are discouraged with their mates and marriage. She nodded. As in many things, the wait may be long but that isn't necessarily the end of the story.

Miracles still happen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Olympics & The Heart of a Champion

An Olympic Champion. 
I always enjoy the Olympics. I've watched them through many seasons of life, starting with my childhood. I have my favorites in the select group of Olympic champions. Thanks to the internet, I can enjoy revisiting their moments of triumph, and those other times when I thought they should have won, and they didn't, their performance so lovely it brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my soul.

One observes the heart of a champion, a desire within like a flame that refuses to die, increasing in brightness as it gains it's strength--despite setbacks and disappointments. We saw a few of these in the past two weeks. They persevered regardless of major physical traumas from past competitions and some failures that mentally would have to be overcome. They arrived, loaded for bear! Ready to compete as an overcomer, a champion; one who is not easily deterred.

It is also hard to see champions fail, or lose their edge. Yet, their flame is still lit and glowing. It will always glow brightly. It's in their blood, the heart of a champion. They live in our memories like fond friends. We enjoy seeing them on t.v. or whenever we get a chance. Some will live on forever. I respect their courage, fortitude, and achievements.

Thanks to all the hardworking families, who sacrifice to support their children's dreams; a dream that is nurtured and developed until one day they shine brightly on the world stage. Those of us sitting at home in our places of ease, do not know the true cost and joy of a champion's pursuit of perfection. It started with a belief, that grew to a desire, was flamed into a dream, developed through time and tears, and blossomed into an olympic champion.

Thank you. You are talented, persevering, and beautiful. We appreciate you and your hard work and the effort with which you reach to the stars. Carry on!

#The Olympics #Olympic champion

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Character is as Character does

Character: You can't manufacture it. You must cultivate it.
I guess I'm a little old fashioned.
There are some things I miss, living in this day and age. I miss the old days when a person's word was their bond, when a handshake meant good faith that each person would keep their agreement. I miss people being honest, valuing integrity, and honorable in action and deed, when lying was considered a sin and not part of doing business, covering one's tracks, as in the end justifies the means. I dislike the term "I lied," spoken so easily and frequently by people from all walks of life, who don't think twice about the lies they tell to make the story jive for their benefit.
My parents raised us to be people of character.
My parents were intentional about their responsibility in raising us to be good stewards with our lives. They followed the golden rule and the ten commandments in their own lives, and they expected the same from us. I learned to believe in a wrong and a right with few gray areas. Although it sounds harsh by today's relaxed standards, I don't believe it was. In fact, living with a sense of propriety was sensible, practical, and important, allowing a framework for making life's choices.
As a teenager and then as a young adult, I began to form my own character.
It came down to choices. It is still about choices. It will always be about choices. Every day we make choices. The choices matter. To develop character that has staying power, one must figure out the parameters that will become the boundaries for the way each will live out their life. Without these boundaries, compromise is swift, it is around every corner at work, in every school, and part of every kind of entertainment. A guard must be erected within one's thinking. This is necessary to keep one's mind clean, one's habits appropriate, one's business honest, one's behaviors circumspect. A Christian should care about their character since it is attached to Christ's name. It takes on a greater meaning. God wants us to be people of his way, and his way is just and pure, loving and kind, forgiving and strong.
Suggestions for building character:
1. Look at the guidelines found in the scriptures. The Ten Commandments' guidelines are a starting point.
2. Determine that you will choose to live honestly and with integrity (even when it is challenging).
3. Choose like-minded friends who live in a similar way. Stay away from people who negatively influence you or bring you down.
4. Remove yourself from areas that lead to compromise, addictive behavior, or deceitful practices.
5. Do the right thing, even if you have to go it alone. Stand by your principles (know what they are).
6. Don't cheat, brag, or self-promote; don't devalue others, put-down others, or act with prejudice.
7. Humble yourself, tone down the over-reaching pride, be grateful for the gifts you've been given.
8. Help others, often, and with little thought for self. This is a beautiful character trait!
9. Self-assess frequently, keep yourself in check, notice warning signs...those little temptations.
10. Strive to be kind in word, action, and attitude. Bless others by caring about them. 

A farmer must plant the seed in fertile ground. He cultivates the ground, then plants the seed in the tilled soil. The farmer waters the seed, he removes the weeds, he adds nutrients to the soil. The farmer prunes when needed, and encourages sunlight to reach the plants for abundant growth. The crop is harvested after all this has been completed, after much effort, time, and expense has been incurred. The same is true for character. It is developed, nurtured, lived out. It will have a good harvest when the cycle is completed. People of character stand out. They are believed and not doubted. They are honored and not despised. They have depth beyond their peers. Character matters.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Writing Basics: Proofreading and Book Editing Tools

Writing is an adventure!
Looking back on the last two years gives me the right to say that! Starting at nothing and moving toward something started me on an unknown and winding journey. I can look back now and say, I really didn't know what I was doing when I first started out. All I knew was I wanted to write a book as a way to share my thoughts. Before that, I wanted to write, but it was more for the purpose of writing's sake, not for the purpose of sharing a heart-felt message.

My newest venture in this unknown land, is in the area of editing and proofreading.
Quite by accident I landed at The Christian PEN, an organization whose purpose is to help Christian authors, proofreaders, and editors develop their writing skills into marketable services. I signed on as a way for self-development, professional development that will help me become acquainted with this side of the business, and to improve my editing skills (and knowledge of language constructs). I quickly enrolled in a proofreading class already in progress. I also signed up for their Christian PENN conference plus another Christian Writers conference since they dove-tail together back-to-back. My purpose in joining up was to get better at what I do as an author, and, maybe, even down the road, incorporate proofreading and editing as a side-income.

Like any job, you have to have the right tools, the tools of the trade.
We are five weeks into the class. The message comes out loud and clear. You have to do it right, use the right reference tools, and double check your work. The Chicago Manual of Style is the style guide of all style guides, the one used for secular work. The Christian Writer's Manual of Style is for Christian books. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is the standard reference tool of the professionals. It is the right dictionary to use. Dictionaries don't all match in word spellings (really!). The Associated Press Stylebook is the reference tool to use for article writing. All of these reference tools should be the most recent edition. For Christian writers, it is also important to note that scripture quotes must be carefully checked for wording, punctuation, and citings. Familiar passages are easy to quote incorrectly. Just because it can be found on the internet does not mean it is quoted correctly.
It helps to know your stuff!
Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide, is a newly published book that will be a great asset to any serious writer. I can already tell that it will come in handy and is user-friendly. It is written by the founder of The Christian PEN. She has done us a favor by giving us a handy dandy book that is practical and helpful.

I will include a link to Amazon.com should you wish to hurry on over there right now to purchase one of these books.   "amazon.com "

Love Hunger is Universal

What do you need? What do I need? What is the greatest need we all have as humans?
You need love. I need love. We all need to be loved. It is our greatest need.

People can meet that need. Some will love us. The fortunate ones are loved from the moment of their birth. Their family is crazy about them. Some are not so fortunate.

Back in the 1980s, I remember when my son was in the hospital for two weeks. He was in the pediatric unit with his legs strapped up in traction. In the room next to us there was an infant, a baby about two months old. This baby was born with multiple birth defects. His hands and feet were bound in wrappings and it was mentioned to me that he had hydrocephalus as well. The room where he lay in a crib was always dark. Never once did I see a visitor or family member in his room. The on-duty nurse would care for him, but no one held him for more than a few minutes at a time. Rarely was he taken out of the room. The little guy seemed abandoned, unwanted, and he seemed to receive only the basics of care. It made me wonder the particulars. It bothered me. I felt it in my maternal heart, that he was being withheld from bonding with an adult, as if his little life didn't matter. We need love to survive. He needed love. That was the point. The neglect of one so young hurt me to watch. Some have known so little love.

There is one who meets our love-hunger need. It is Jesus. He meets our need to be loved regardless of what the world around us should imply about our worth and value. Jesus walks with us. He talks with us. He listens to our woes and celebrates our joys. Jesus caries our burdens and lifts our cares, even when we are too weary to ask him to do that for us.

Jesus loves you. He always will love you. You can count on his love. It never fails. Never, ever fails. You can take that to the bank!