Empowered by the Spirit (freebies and a giveaway!)

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32 Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels ...

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They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32

Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels as though your heart is on fire? When the hope wells up and overflows? When emotions are high and everything feels possible?

When you know—just know—that God is near?

This verse from Luke kept running through my mind as I read Suzanne Eller’s new book, The Spirit-Led Heart.

I have always connected closely with the idea of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because I go to a Pentecostal-ish church and we operate by the Spirit, seeking after Him, not making excessive plans for the service but instead trying to connect and follow the Spirit. Maybe it goes back to the early, exciting days of my faith, when God opened my eyes to see Him in new ways, and I devoured books like Catherine Marshall’s The Helper. Whatever the reason, the minute I heard the name of Suzie Eller’s new book, I knew that it would be one that would be important to me.

When I had the chance to be an early reader, I jumped at it, and even so, it exceeded my expectations. It’s one thing for someone to inspire you, and Suzie is one person I watch and learn from. She’s the real deal, and I’ve learned to trust her guidance because I’ve seen how she truly lives her faith and always points people back to Him. She tries to never get in the way but to do her part and then get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

But it goes deeper than that. This book woke up my spirit again. It reminded me why I love my God like I do. It reminded me of how the Spirit enlightens and informs and encourages and empowers. And it made me realize how much I was shortchanging myself by not embracing the Spirit in every step that I take.

It showed me that I may be walking that road to Emmaus, just as the disciples in the book of Luke, and I may be talking about God, but so often I find myself oblivious to Jesus’ presence and forget that He is RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW.

Here’s the promise: that God is near. And WITH GOD, all things are possible. The gift of the Spirit isn’t something for a select few—it’s a treasure that we can open again and again, every single day. It will shape every moment and change the way we live.

When I finished reading, I asked Suzie if she would consider allowing me to design my May prayer prompt calendar around themes from The Spirit-Led Heart. Graciously, she said yes.

So this month, as always, I’m sending you a prayer prompt calendar to help jump-start your prayers for the month. But this time it feels different to me. The gift Suzie gave to me when I read her inspired words is impossible to measure or quantify, but it was huge. By offering this calendar to you, I hope that I am offering you so much more than another colorful piece of paper. And when I recommend this book to you, I hope you believe me when I say this is not a lukewarm recommendation. I’m not supporting the book’s message out of obligation or charity. I’m involved with it because it changed things for me, and it has the potential to do the same for you.

So right after you download the calendar for May, I hope you’ll click over to Amazon (or your favorite bookseller) and order a copy or two. Ask God to show you who you should share them with. Give yourself this gift and let the book open up discussions about the Holy Spirit with your friends and family.

DOWNLOAD THE CALENDAR HERE
and then read on to enter a GIVEAWAY and get some awesome freebies!

If you order the book before May 1 (the release date), Suzie is offering some awesome pre-order bonuses on her website.

  1. Two chapters delivered immediately to your inbox so you don’t have to wait to get started reading
  2. A gorgeous printable Spirit-Led Heart Manifesto
  3. Be entered to win full registration fee to Suzie’s fall women’s retreat (I’ve been and it is awesome!)
  4. And, of course, the printable 30-day Spirit-Led Heart prayer calendar designed by yours truly (which you can get anyway since you subscribe to my newsletter)

The details of how to get your downloads are on her website, too.

Also, I’m giving away two copies of this book! To enter to win, simply tag a friend on Facebook below my post about this and say why you want her to read the book or download the calendar. If you’re not on Facebook, print an extra copy of the calendar to share with a friend and comment below this blog post telling me you did so. If your name is drawn, I will mail you twocopies of the book (one for you and one for your friend), along with print-outs of this month’s prayer calendar. Deadline to enter is May 5 (date randomly chosen because 5 is the number of grace), so be sure to comment now so you don’t miss your chance to enter.

Lord, I pray for every person reading this prayer, that they may come to know the fullness of the power of Your Spirit. That they might embrace it and see You. I ask You to banish their fears and let them be confident in Your love. I implore You to empower them with supernatural power—inspire them, heal them, lead them, inform them. Love them as only You can love. Amen.

Your answer may already be right next door

I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway! It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it. But can I let you ...

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I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway!

It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it.

But can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think I began to know what the gift really was until about ten years after I got it.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:11, NLT

Many of you have already heard some version of this story. In 2007, my husband and I decided to buy the house next door to the one my sister lived in. We weren’t looking for a new home, but this old house being put on the market by her elderly neighbor was everything we hadn’t realized we wanted until we saw it. On top of that, it was cheap. It needed tons of work—all-new electrical, ugly shag carpets removed to reveal hardwood floors, lots of wallpapers stripped and walls painted. But we knew we could renovate it, sell the old house, and make a profit. So we got to work. My dad and I rebuilt the kitchen and everyone in the extended family pitched in in some way. This new house was so much better suited for our family of five and my home office, and we felt God’s peace there.

We were certain God was in this.

And yet the old house would not sell.

Our credit card balances rose steadily, as did my stress. I’d sneak downstairs in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of the financial disaster we were facing, and I’d cry along with the Psalmists. The bank wouldn’t refinance our mortgage, but my grandmother had loaned us the money to buy the new house—and she decided we didn’t need to pay her back. It was a gift. The house was a gift. (Spoiler alert: as amazing as that is, this isn’t the gift this story is about.)

After many months on the market but hardly any showings, we finally had one scheduled. As I vacuumed in my bedroom, I got real with God. “Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t sell this. We are going to be in real trouble.”

And, without even a hint of hesitation, God spoke to me. “Pray for the woman who will someday buy your house.”

I sat down on the bedspread in silence and awe. I’d heard from God. I knew I could hold on a little bit longer to help her, whoever she was. So I prayed. As I wrote my mortgage check every month, I mentally gave it to God. “This is my offering. I’m doing this for her.” I knew I could manage to go a little bit longer without selling the house as long as I knew God was in it, that He was at work. I believed with all of my heart that was true. So I put more stuff for the house on our credit cards, worked more, and prayed more.

And yet nothing happened for a long time. So we moved. We were declined when we tried to refinance our first mortgage. We anointed the house and prayed for all who would enter it.

And nada.

As we neared the two-year mark, a woman who’d looked at the house earlier came back with an offer that, while low, was one we had to consider. Even so, we couldn’t make it work—until our realtor waived his commission, we got a first-time-ever tax refund, and my mom gave me the rest so we could pay off the bank, at least—never mind the credit cards. Less than ideal, surely, but we felt we had to say yes.

I was like a sulky teenager. Even though I should have been rejoicing, all I could see was that it hadn’t happened like I had planned. And then I saw what God had done during that time in the life of Rosanne, the woman who bought the house, and I realized that He really had answered me. He used our house to answer so many of her prayers. And because I was praying for her instead of focusing on myself, I got to be part of it . When I really looked at the situation, I got to see what God really did.

There’s a lot more to the story, and you can read a little more here; it also became the basis for my first book, Praying Upside Down.

For years, I’ve been talking about this—about how sweet God is, that He brought Rosanne and I together as friends, that He cared enough about her to go to such lengths to provide just what she needed. And how He used the experience to launch my writing career.

But you know something? I was wrong. Maybe not completely, but I guess it’s safe to say, at the very least, that my understanding was woefully incomplete.

In late June, my dad went into the hospital with what we thought were AFib issues. After a few weeks, with my sister and I flying down to Florida for alternating weeks of being with him, surgery revealed cancer—everywhere. It was bad, and Dad didn’t have long. I was in Florida when the surgery happened, but by the time we realized that Dad was likely not to recover enough to come home by means of a regular mode of transportation, my sister Kerry was with him. As a nurse, she understood the situation intuitively and she made the call to have Dad flown back to Indiana via a med flight.

Because I lived next door, it was easy for me to oversee the setup of a room at Kerry’s house and to coordinate with the doctors on this end. I met the oxygen delivery people, set up hospice care, and arranged for delivery of the hospital bed, rolling tray table, and so on. I bought privacy curtains and all the random things we’d need to care for him there.

When Dad got here, he wasn’t doing very well. He was trying to recover from his surgery, deal with a pleurex drain, and the cancer was causing him a lot of pain. From the beginning, he needed someone with him at all times.

It was horrible. And yet it was the best possible scenario. I could walk across the driveway in my slippers, carrying my own coffee, and sit with Dad while he watched the Today show and dozed. While I was there, Kerry could shower and throw in some laundry. I stayed on the days she worked, and on her days off I came home to do my own work—switching off shifts to accommodate our various appointments. Our families shared meals, our kids could come see their Bebop in between activities, and Kerry, her husband Doug, and I took turns sleeping on a futon in Dad’s room each night.

For years, I’d believed that the whole story about selling my house was about seeing God’s answers to prayer, about a new friendship, about giving me insights and the opportunity to write about them. Still true. However, during those tumultuous and overwhelming three weeks before Dad died, I saw the true gift in it all: God was establishing Kerry and me next door to each other so that we would be able to care for Dad like we did. My dad kept saying, with a sense of wonder in his voice, “It’s so neat what you girls are doing here. Who would have thought it would work out like this?”

God knew. Ten years ago, He looked down the road and saw that the only way we could get through the incredibly exhausting and emotional time coming up was exactly the way we did. Side by side, helping each other out, seamlessly interchangeable.

Such a beautiful gift, and one that was planned years ahead of the need.

This is what is so amazing about our God. Nothing is wasted. He sees beyond our immediate needs and He puts answers in motion long before we even know to ask.

Sometimes it feels to me as though God has stopped answering prayers. And then He nudges me, points my thoughts in a new direction and lets me really see: The answers haven’t stopped. Some are still coming. Some look different than we expect. And some are only partially fulfilled—so far. There may still be layers yet to be revealed.

None of what is happening is a surprise to God. We just need to keep hanging on, confident that our God will keep giving to us good and precious gifts. And remember—we don’t necessarily need to look far and wide to find them—they may be waiting for us right next door.


To enter to win this sterling silver charm bracelet—hand-crafted by yours truly with blue and green stones and beads—leave a comment below. Tell us about a gift you remember that God gave you, a gift hidden within a gift, or simply leave a comment or prayer request. I’ll draw names to select a winner one week from today.

A month of gifts—and Talking to Jesus

If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh ...

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If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer, by Jeannie Blackmer.

I’ve written two books (and countless blog posts) about prayer, but it had been a while since I spent any focused time in prayer. So the other morning I searched high and low for my journal, which had gotten put away weeks ago and forgotten. After I found it and sat down in the quiet, I felt heavenly light shining down on me, and I just knew the Holy Spirit was there with me, and my eloquent, holy words tumbled over themselves as they poured onto the pages…

Except that wasn’t how it went at all.

I had nothing. NOTHING. I don’t feel like I’m in a “crisis of faith,” and I’m not mad at God, and I do believe prayer is important. But I sat there and my mind was a complete blank.

That day, my 17-year-old son was home with another headache. Three days in a row of missed school. I got the emailed updates of his grades, and he’s falling behind. When I try to remind him to do something, or—heaven forbid—inquire in the slightest way into his life, he snaps, “I’ve got it, Mom.” The truth is, I know he doesn’t have it together as much as he thinks he does. I do think he is capable, and I believe he has the best of intentions, and he is a really awesome kid. But I also know he gets stressed when he gets behind, and the stress triggers more migraines, and he misses more school, and gets farther behind, and so on. We went through this last semester (not a good experience) and his older sister has been battling migraines since she was 15, so even though my worries are for him (and her), they come with a bunch of residual stress for me. I’m the one who has to call in to school, get homework, negotiate doctors appointments and prescription refills and have my son take out his frustration on me.

On top of that, he had a bad wreck a couple weeks ago. Thank God he was OK—just some burns from the air bags—but he totaled the car. We had to find time to drive an hour to sign over the title and then find a replacement vehicle. The past few weeks have been busy and stressful, with a sale of the paintings my dad, a professional artist, left behind when he passed away this summer. Work deadlines. Lack of writing time. Financial decisions to be made. Several speaking engagements. Some travel.

It’s not all BAD stuff, just a LOT of stuff. I’m emotionally exhausted. Physically worn out.

And I sat there in the quiet feeling like a failure. Have I learned nothing? Am I a hypocrite? Why couldn’t I pray?

I looked at the pile of devotional-type books on the table beside me, and I picked up a brand new one, Talking to Jesus. Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s easier to read about prayer than to actually pray? Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I started reading. As you might imagine, I love the topic of this book, so when I was given the chance to write a review, I jumped at it. However, I wondered if it would truly be a fresh perspective on prayer—after all, that’s how my books have been described, too. But I immediately discovered this is a different approach from mine in several ways:

  1. This is centered around the idea that prayer is nothing more than a conversation with Jesus—and because of that, any of the conversations people in the Bible had with Jesus qualify as prayer—and can be the basis for your own prayers.
  2. As Jeannie tells the stories (which all come from the book of Matthew), she fictionalizes each as a way to help the reader put herself in the story.
  3. Each short chapter (about 6 pages) ends with a few related scriptures for reflection as well as a few observation questions to help you apply the concept to your own life. The book is not long and intimidating; it’s a good size for a personal study or devotional workbook.

Jeannie’s motivation for this book was trying to find ways to pray on behalf of her teenage children. As she searched the Bible for tips, she realized some of the New Testament stories were about parents approaching Jesus on behalf of their children. As the parent of three children who are now 24, 21, and 17, believe me—I can relate to Jeannie’s desire to come to God on behalf of my kids (can’t you?). And I began reading right when I was faced with doing just that. But the approach isn’t limited to praying for your kids. It applies to all kinds of situations—facing doubt, praying for friends, feeling burnt out, having trouble forgetting… It’s comforting to be reminded that these same problems were faced by people in the time that Jesus was walking the earth. And to remember that just as Jesus answered them, He will answer us.

So that morning, I let these conversations others had with Jesus serve as a stand-in for my own prayers. And I felt a little less empty. A little more sure.

Because I was reminded that I don’t have to bring the faith to my relationship with Jesus. He has enough for both of us. All I have to do is show up.

So let’s pray together. My prayers are for my son (because that’s what’s been on my heart lately), but your prayer requests can be about anything.

Leave a comment below with the basic info about a prayer request you have, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of this book. Keep your comments vague to protect the privacy of those you’re praying for, but let’s go together to God and lift up these needs. Also, would you take a moment to pray for the comment before yours? It’s easy—all we have to do is talk to Jesus. Because it is in those interactions that we get to see who He really is. And we come to believe that He will do all He says He will do.

I’ll announce the winner next week… and tell you all about the sparkly bauble I’ll be giving away instead of a book!


Jeannie Blackmer was the publishing manager for MOPS International where she helped create more than 20 books for moms. Now she writes full-time and runs the blog for her church, Flatirons Community Church outside Denver, CO. She has spent the last 3 decades professionally writing everything from articles to press releases, and ads to several books. She has a passion for storytelling and spending time with her husband and three sons who are in their 20s.


 

A month of gifts—and when my greatest obstacle is me

I know Christmas isn’t about things, but it’s also true that anyone who knows me knows that I love to give gifts. So that’s what I’m going to do this month… offer giveaways every week. Just because :-). This week we’ll kick things off with a guest post from my awesome friend Kristine Brown. At ...

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I know Christmas isn’t about things, but it’s also true that anyone who knows me knows that I love to give gifts. So that’s what I’m going to do this month… offer giveaways every week. Just because :-).

This week we’ll kick things off with a guest post from my awesome friend Kristine Brown. At the end, I’ll tell you how you can enter to have a chance to win a copy of her book.


When My Greatest Obstacle Is Me

I stood on the other side of the auditorium door, just steps away from the moment that stirred in my heart just weeks before. I had seen the flyer advertising open auditions, and I wanted to be in the school play more than anything.

There was just one small problem. This wasn’t a play. It was a musical, and I couldn’t sing. At least, that’s what someone told me once, and once was all it took for the words to stick.

I thought I’d moved beyond that self-defeating thought. For the past three weeks, I’d planned and practiced a ballad taught to me by a family friend. A ballad I would be expected to sing by myself in front of total strangers.

I committed to follow through, to open the door and step into whatever happened next. But now, so close to that moment, the doubt came flooding back like a raging storm set to destroy.

I’d like to say I marched with confidence onto the stage and sang my heart out, not worrying about the outcome, but that wouldn’t be true. After staring at the back of that door for a few minutes more, I turned around, walked straight to my car, and drove home. I’d let myself become my greatest obstacle.

“And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’ But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.” Acts 12:13-16 ESV

Rhoda knew what it took to stop the ugly voice of doubt from invading her thoughts and causing her to lose confidence. Just a young girl, Rhoda served in the house of Mary. Many believers gathered there that night for a massive prayer meeting. Peter had been arrested by King Herod, and Christ’s faithful followers came together to pray for his safety.

When Rhoda heard Peter’s voice on the other side of the door, she knew it was him. They’d been praying for his release all night, and God answered their prayer! No one in the house believed her, but that didn’t keep her from opening the door.

“They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so…” Acts 12:15a

From the actions of this innocent servant girl, we can learn an important truth.

We stop words of doubt from invading our thoughts by insisting on God’s promises.

Inside each one of us, there’s an unsure teenage girl still waiting behind the auditorium door. Every day we face circumstances where words from the past creep in and try to build an obstacle inside our very hearts. It’s hard to stay positive when negative words plant seeds of doubt, causing us to lose faith in what we know to be true.

Rhoda’s story brings hope when we’re tempted to give in to self-defeat. So let’s join together today and insist on what God says to be true. We are worthy. We are loved. We believe.

And with the promises of God in our hearts and minds, we become our biggest ally instead of our greatest obstacle.

To enter a drawing to win a copy of this book, leave a comment below. Share with us one of God’s promises, a truth that you hold onto when times are rough. And then, if you would, pray for the person who commented before you. I’ll announce the winner next week.


Kristine Brown is a communicator at heart who teaches about God’s powerful, relatable Word. She is the author of Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan and founder of the non-profit organization, More Than Yourself, Inc. You’ll find Kristine’s weekly devotions and Bible study resources at kristinebrown.net. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Rush, Rush, Rush (and why that’s a good thing, in this case)

Months ago, when I asked for ideas in my Prayer Prompt Calendar Contest, my friend Jayme Mansfield mentioned her forthcoming novel to me. You could tell she is an artist, because the themes in her historical fiction book are all things that lend themselves to an interesting visual approach. Her novel, RUSH, releases November 1—just a few days from now—and ...

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Months ago, when I asked for ideas in my Prayer Prompt Calendar Contest, my friend Jayme Mansfield mentioned her forthcoming novel to me. You could tell she is an artist, because the themes in her historical fiction book are all things that lend themselves to an interesting visual approach. Her novel, RUSH, releases November 1—just a few days from now—and you can buy it on Amazon or wherever you prefer to purchase your books. The story is based on the life of her great-great-grandmother in the 1893 Oklahoma Land Run and the themes are so relevant to our busy lives today—living in the moment, having the guts to take risks, independence, carrying heavy burdens, starting over, comfort, courage, restoration, tenacity. I had a lot of fun putting this together. I hope you’ll check out her novel, but even if you don’t, I think you’ll relate to the prayer prompts inspired by it.

Click here to download the November calendar.

In other news…

1. It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of speaking events and tons of wonderful people I’ve met. This busy season of speaking kicked off with a weekend retreat with Suzie Eller for the launch of her new Come with Me Devotional. I met some wonderful new friends and will be sharing posts from them on my blog in the upcoming weeks or months. It’s so inspiring to be around people who are not just talking the talk, but truly walking the walk. These are some amazing people, and the love of God shines through them so very brightly.

I’m scheduling other speaking events for next year now, so I hope you’ll reach out to me if your church or writing organization is interested in talking about prayer or creativity. In the meantime, you can find me at the Lew Wallace Author Fair on November 25th at the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, IN.

3. Can I just say that my dad was an amazing man? He was so much more than simply a talented artist, but as I’m working through his paintings in preparation for a final sale, I’m blown away all over again. If you live in the area and want to see what paintings and prints are available, come to the Rob O’Dell Studio in Ladoga, IN on November 18, 2017, from 1-8 pm. This graphic is small, but here’s a sneak peek at some of his artwork.


4. It’s been five years since I went to Italy to learn about writing from Elizabeth Berg. Facebook had to remind me several days in a row. I’ve put my essay, Amazing Grace, which won the inspirational writing category of the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition, into a PDF ebook format. The essay itself is on my blog (here) or you can download the ebook if you want to see more of the photos. The essay is all about God’s grace, and how he wooed me back to Him when I was struggling after losing my mom.

Someday I’ll write more about losing my dad. It’s so hard, but somehow it’s a completely different experience. Maybe I’ve learned that it does me no good to fight it? Because I really can’t change it, and the loss WILL change me. Now I know that all too well, unfortunately.

Because we can always use some brain candy

When I remember to save them, I’m going to start sharing some completely random articles that I have enjoyed over the past month. Here are a few I think you might like.

What the Brain Looks Like When You Pray—I love scientific evidence to show how prayer really does change things—if nothing else, it changes me. This is about how the ritual of prayer or meditation, regardless of personal faith, affects our behavior.

How to Keep Leading When You Feel Like Falling Apart by Kristine Brown—Great article about how to keep serving even in the midst of loss, tragedy, or turmoil

Why I Am a Progressive Christian by Philip Gulley—He’s made a couple statements I don’t completely agree with, but overall, I love what he has to say. Such a simple, clear perspective on thoughts close to my own.

Check out this brilliant ad concept—love it when people turn something upside down.

Last but certainly not least…

I had my Prayer Prompt Journals professionally printed and can now sell them through my website! I’m clearly biased, but I think they’d make great Christmas gifts for your prayer group, teen girls, Bible study friends, or lots of other people. People at my speaking events have really loved them so far. They’re similar to my prayer prompt calendars. Each spread is filled with creative prayer prompts and room to write your prayers. They’re $10 and you can find them here if you’re interested.

Hope your November is filled with many, many good things—evidence of God all around you.

Make me strong again

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. ~1 Timothy 1:15-16, ...

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Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. ~1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV

My friend (and pastor) Nathan is kind of how I picture Jesus. Cowboy boots, faded jeans, and crinkly eyes—the kind of crinkles that come from smiling so much. He lights up when he sees you. Everything about his demeanor is wide open. He walks through a room and people lean towards him, like flowers turning towards the sun. He exudes warmth and acceptance. And wherever he goes, whether he’s having dinner at Applebee’s or sitting with village elders in Afghanistan when he was deployed in 2005, the conversation turns to Jesus. It doesn’t feel contrived. It just is who he is. It’s what his whole life is about.

But Nathan tells a story about how years ago he didn’t know how to evangelize. And he prayed, “Jesus, take what is least in me and make it the greatest.”

Whenever I talk to a group about prayer, I usually say this: I’m not teaching you because I’m so good at this. I’m not an expert. I think God put me here, though, so I could tell you it’s OK not to be perfect. It’s OK to mess up, to forget to pray, to get busy and distracted. Because I’m the poster child for those things. But if anything sets me apart at all, it’s that I don’t beat myself up. I just try again. And again. And again.

As I was working on a message for an upcoming event and read the scripture above, I was thinking about this. Which made me think about Nathan. I didn’t pray for God to use my weakness, but he did. And I started wondering what else God wants to use of mine—what flaws, what failings, what untapped potential. I want to say, Lord, take what is least in me and make it the greatest. But what a scary prayer.

What if He wants me to talk to strangers? Travel to a foreign country or scene of a natural disaster? What if he wants to send me into the jails? What if people don’t like me? What if I have to say hard things? What if I mess up? What if my teaching is wrong? What if … well, I don’t even know what He might want.

And to this control-freak personality type, that is a scary situation.

But God reminds me that I’ve done this before. I’ve written devotions in my church bulletin that I eventually signed with my own name. I started a blog, where anyone in the world could read about my faith (even those closest to me, with whom I didn’t really talk about these things). I’ve written two books, which have gone out into the world, to people I’ll never know about. I’m being invited to speak and teach groups of women about prayer. I’ve never been a gifted speaker, and yet I keep finding myself in front of rooms of people. I don’t like to be wrong, and yet I openly tell people about all the ways I’ve acted wrong—against God, to make it that much worse. My books are all about the “upside down”-ness of what Jesus taught: Let the children come. Walk the extra mile. Do your good deeds in private. The least shall be the greatest.

And I think He uses my less-than-perfect self to reach people. I feel like I’ve been on the right path, but lately the path has felt less defined. I’m not exactly clear where it’s headed, and it’s become hard to follow. Frankly, I’m tired of barging forward and pretending I know what I’m doing. I’m tired of taking my own ideas and implementing them. Sure, I pray about most of these things, but for how long have I taken the lack of resistance to mean that God is telling me to move forward? I don’t want to do that. I want to err on the side of caution. Doing things on my own power is wearing me down, and I feel less than whole. I feel this burgeoning potential rising up, but I don’t yet know where it’s leading me.

I’m trying to learn how to wait for true direction and yet be open enough to respond without hesitation when I hear God’s voice.

A couple weeks ago, I attended Suzie Eller’s “Come With Me” retreat celebrating the launch of her new Come With Me Devotional. There’s no way to capture the breadth of the messages I heard that weekend in a short blog post, so I won’t try. But here’s the shortest possible version: Jesus is saying, “Come with me.” Wherever it leads. He’s asking us to come back to the purest and most stripped-down, authentic version of faith possible. Listen closely. What is your invitation? What is He inviting you to do?

I’ve stepped out in faith before, and God always leads me to a better place. He makes me stronger. More refined. Better. It’s not always fun during the journey, because sometimes I find that I have to change. I have to let go of my self, put aside my ego, and spend time in uncertainty. But I emerge from those seasons stronger, feeling closer to God and more fully me.

I want that. I need that.

And the reason I’m telling you all this is because I think some of you might want it, too. I don’t think this is just for me. Let’s pray this together. Take a deep breath…

Lord, take what is least in me and make it the strongest. Whatever that means, wherever You lead, no matter what is required. Help me trust that You have my best interests at heart, and that whatever You do in me will also be used to show others who You are. Your power will be multiplied. My faith will be expanded. Your desires will be fulfilled. And You will be magnified. Amen.

Will you share what you’re hearing? Tell us where God is leading you? And let us know how we can stand beside you in prayer? And will you also consider following Suzie Eller on a 21-day adventure to discover where Jesus is leading you? Learn more here.

A victory in the battle against fear

Today, I’m happy to feature a guest post from Kelly Balarie for her new book, Fear Fighting. I got the privilege of reading this early and endorsing it. This is the really short summary of what I had to say: In spite of everything—our failures, our fears, our worries, our attempted control of our own ...

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Today, I’m happy to feature a guest post from Kelly Balarie for her new book, Fear Fighting. I got the privilege of reading this early and endorsing it. This is the really short summary of what I had to say:

In spite of everything—our failures, our fears, our worries, our attempted control of our own lives—God loves us. He adores us. And if you don’t believe me, read Kelly Balarie’s Fear Fighting. You’ll walk away believing that God is on your side. That you’re not in the battle alone. Kelly is known as a “cheerleader of faith,” but she isn’t just standing there shouting “Yea, God!” This is a woman whose stories are exuberant and passionate and hopeful—because she knows what she’s talking about. She has lived with fear, faced countless challenges, and learned that God is the answer to it all. I think every single one of us can benefit from her encouraging insights and practical tips. In fact, as I was reading, I kept jotting down the names of people who should read this. And you might as well add your own name to the list, because there’s something in here for you. I’m sure of it!

And now, here’s a post from Kelly (because ya gotta love another Kelly, right?). The book releases today and I hope you will hop on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your favorite bookseller and buy it right now. This is going to make such a difference to so many people. It was even featured on the Today Show recently as one of their favorite things! But even if you don’t pick up the book today, please pray for it to end up in the hands of the right people, for people to face down the fears that are holding them back.

Also, before you go, please leave a comment below to enter a drawing for one a copy of this book. Just give a shout-out to one person you know who is brave, who faces their fear in any large or small way and inspires you or other people. If you want to share basic details about a fear you’re facing, that works too, and know that I will pray for each one of you who leaves a comment below. I’ll do the drawing one week from today. Thanks. Enjoy!


I was SO angry at myself. Again, I was not trusting God. While I had prayed and prayed, I just couldn’t believe He’d help me move this massive barrier out of the way. I couldn’t imagine how He’d do the impossible – for me. Sure, I wanted to believe that things could change – and I knew I should believe – but, when I saw the reality of everything around me – I couldn’t. I just kept doubting things would end okay.

And, then began what I like to call the Fear Cycle. It goes like this, in a mind: I’m doubting -> I’m not faithful -> Now God will leave me -> I won’t do well if he leaves -> I will certainly fail -> Now I am even more doubting -> Now I am even more not faithful -> And now, even more he will leave me…. (you all get the picture). It keeps circling until you find yourself in the barren dry tundra of Alaska, cold and without any comfort. Alone, and ready to die. Afraid, and feeling anything like a Christ follower.

This is where I found myself one evening. I sat at the dinner table hunched and chomping on a salad, one I was certain was missing something from it – maybe fried onions??? Either way, everything looked bleak. Still, trying to be a good mother, despite feeling like a bad Christian, I whipped out my tried-and-true nightly question. It’s my way of getting my family to talk about their day, so I have some iota of what is going on.

“Tell me the best part of your day and the worst part of your day?”

My husband went first. “The best part was…and the worst part was when I used an overly ‘stern voice’ with you, son.”

Thank goodness, I came up with the idea to ask this question, because no longer than a split-second after my husband’s response, breakthrough arrived. It sounded like a 5-year olds’ voice. He said, “Daddy, that should actually be the best part of your day. Because it’s a big celebration that Jesus forgives you.”

And, Boom! It hit me.

What is the deep fear that I am a horrible mom, Christian, woman, writer, sister, daughter or (fill in the blank), is instantly healed by the letters – G.R.A.C.E.

My sons’s words remind me – every time I am at my worst I can celebrate Jesus is always at his – B.E.S.T.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Cor. 12:9

I love this! If we fall into his best gift, His forgiveness, He resurrects our mindsets again in our true identity – Him.

Where do you need celebrate that Christ is always at his best, even when you are at your worst?

We don’t have to go alone, wandering to some far off tundra where we sit in our anxiety and worry, but we can choose to receive God’s best and move to a place of new found freedom. We can go to the place where faith begins to return.


 

About the book, Fear Fighting, Awakening the Courage to Overcome Your Fears: Author and speaker Kelly Balarie didn’t always fight fear – for a large part of her life, she was controlled by it. Yet, in her book, Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fears, with God, Kelly charts a new course. Join Kelly on the journey to go and grow with Christ’s bravery, the Spirit’s counsel and God’s unending love that squelches fear. This book reads like a love letter from God, while offering practical heart-calming prayers, anxiety-reducing tips, and courage-building decrees that will transform your day. www.fearfightingbook.com

 

About Kelly Balarie: Kelly is both a Cheerleader of Faith and a Fighter of Fear. She leans on the power of God, rests on the shoulder of Christ, and discovers how to glow in the dark places of life. Get all Kelly’s blog posts by email or visit her on her blog, Purposeful Faith. You can also find a variety of resources for your fight against fear here.

 

A different beautiful

Today, I’m giddy about welcoming my friend Marcia Kendall to my blog. I sometimes have the privilege of reading and reviewing books for other writers, and this one came to me recently. I knew it would be really, really good, but I hadn’t found time to review it yet, so I asked Marcia. And in her ...

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Today, I’m giddy about welcoming my friend Marcia Kendall to my blog. I sometimes have the privilege of reading and reviewing books for other writers, and this one came to me recently. I knew it would be really, really good, but I hadn’t found time to review it yet, so I asked Marcia. And in her kindness and usual giving spirit, she wrote this for me. Enjoy.


I read A Different Beautiful by Courtney Westlake in less than twelve hours. These sentences from her introduction are the reasons why:

But when my husband, my son, and I welcomed our daughter into our family, our world was not turned upside down.

When something is turned upside down, it falls apart.

But not our world. Our world was shaken up. When you shake something, only the strongest pieces remain standing. The weak pieces fall to the wayside.

And through this, we came to realize how unimportant those weak pieces were that fell apart and fell off—pieces of our lives that were not priorities, that didn’t matter. 

Her honest stories brought me into her world. I realized that something as simple as painting her daughter’s nails required a safety negotiation in her mind.

This book taught me about harlequin ichthyosis and the special care it requires. Courtney’s explanation of how they lovingly serve their daughter, Brenna, reminded me of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. This made me question what in my life would remind people of that…this proved to be a very challenging question.

Her story is not an easy one as you will come to understand after you read about the crisis she experienced at Christmas shortly after her daughter’s birth, but it is a story of faith and of hope:

A few days after Brenna was born, a family member said to me and Evan, “I haven’t talked to God in years…but I’ve actually been praying for Brenna.” In that moment, I began to feel my worry transform into a faithful trust in God’s purpose for her very significant life. 

With each [blood gas] draw, there came a very slight improvement. It was so slight that it was not much to base any hope on, but that’s the thing about hope: we always reach for it no matter the circumstances. 

Faith doesn’t necessarily come from answered prayer or miracles or met expectations. No, what I have found is that faith comes from trust in God’s will and God’s greatness regardless of what the world tells us we should believe. And sometimes we must fight every day to maintain that trust as the world pushes against it. 

Boldness-1

And I think many of us who have experienced tragedy or grief can relate in part to the moment we must face the realization that we did “everything right” but things turned out differently than expected.

We did everything we knew to do to deliver a strong and healthy child, and our daughter was still one of the sickest babies in the NICU. We did everything right, and we still faced so much uncertainty about being able to take our baby home. 

When I picked up this book, I expected a memoir. What I didn’t expect was to be taught how to live in a more beautiful way. Courtney did something that is rarely seen, she taught the reader simple, concrete ways of how we can be more sensitive to visual differences. This is something that is important for all of us, and I immediately put the book down and taught my own children.

And while she is an effective teacher, she is also a humble one as she wrote of her own defensiveness, “I failed to see the real issue at hand because I chose to become defensive instead of exploring the heart of the matter.”

For our family, we now know a different beautiful, a beautiful that the world might struggle to see or understand, but those of us who know and love Brenna have gratefully been given the gift of understanding this different beautiful.

This kind of transformation comes from the personal choices we make in our lives. Every time we decide to write our story as one that is positive and good, every time we turn a setback into a comeback, every time we choose to praise and be grateful even in the hard, and every time we meet another person’s eyes with kindness, that’s when we are learning how to truly live a life of celebration.

I recently read a tweet, “Think how different we and the world would be if we approached every new situation with two goals: listen and learn.” I suggest we start with this book.

Here is my favorite line from the book, “The Lord has a narrow focus…one focus. Our hearts.” Well, Courtney Westlake, your heart is certainly beautiful.


courtney-different-beautiful-photo-smallCourtney has been writing since she was young, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Writing became the way she processed a whole new frightening and beautiful world as her family learned how to care for Brenna…and learned how to truly celebrate this difficult and wonderful life. She began this blog in 2011 when Brenna was just four days old, after she had been diagnosed at birth with a very rare and severe skin disorder. Her children’s book That’s How You Know was released in 2013.

You can read more about Courtney here and more about the Westlakes’ story here. If you’re interested in having Courtney speak at your event, read more information here. And if you buy the Kindle version by August 31, it’s on sale for just $2.99!

Searching for that elusive bigger room

The dream resurfaces, time and again. And it’s never quite the same, but it goes something like this. I’m in my house (which never looks like my real house). And there’s a door that I’ve forgotten to open, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it. So I open it and am absolutely amazed because there’s ...

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The dream resurfaces, time and again. And it’s never quite the same, but it goes something like this.

I’m in my house (which never looks like my real house). And there’s a door that I’ve forgotten to open, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it. So I open it and am absolutely amazed because there’s a whole wing to the house that I didn’t know about.

Sometimes there are bedrooms with lots and lots of closets and I start brainstorming the possible uses of all those rooms. Once in a while I discover a wing that looks almost exactly like the second floor of my grandparents’ house, but with additional bathrooms with giant showers. One time it was a beautiful writing room—sort of a screened in, second-floor porch with white trellises and wicker furniture and art on the walls and a peaceful wooded view. But most of the time—on its own or in addition to the other rooms—there is a ballroom. A great big, beautiful room. So large that I am shocked by the sheer volume of space. Shiny hardwood floors. So very much potential.

Imagine my surprise when I set foot in that ballroom—fully awake, although completely exhausted—last week. This ballroom exists on the 2nd level of the Ball State University Student Center, which is where we held the Midwest Writers Workshop this year.

I’d seen the room before, as an undergrad at Ball State 25 years ago. I think I was looking for a different room on that floor, where I was interviewing to be an arts and crafts counselor at a summer camp in northwest Pennsylvania. (Even then I wasn’t much of a kid person, but I really wanted to spend a summer not at home.) But for some reason, that room has stayed with me. In my dreams it’s dark and shadowy, unused. Last week, it was full of light and voices and smiling faces.

A quick, highly professional and scientific Google search tells me that in dream interpretation, discovering a new room has to do with expanding your territory, trying something new, branching out in a new direction.

Fitting, since that was what the Midwest Writers Workshop was about this year, on multiple levels. After more than 40 years, MWW is becoming a stand-alone, nonprofit entity. We’re expanding our tent stakes, now offering a membership organization, webinars, and various events throughout the year. I credit MWW with all of my so-called writing success because it feels like I’ve taken advanced courses in publishing, in all aspects of the book proposal and querying process, and in honing my craft. I knew how to navigate through these past few years because of what I learned at MWW. And I found my people there. A wonderful, inspiring group of writers who are exceptionally talented, but even so, are somehow even better at being friends than at writing.

A couple years ago I joined the MWW board and have loved being on the inside of the planning process. But this year was something new because for the first time I was officially part of the faculty. I got to stand in front of people—once, I was even in the ballroom—and pretend to be a real writer. (You don’t have to argue with me. I do know that I’m a real writer. I’ve published two books, so this writing thing is definitely real.)

Even so, there are times that I feel like an imposter. I love to write and I think I’m good at it (some of the awkward sentence constructions in this blog post notwithstanding). And yes, I’ve had the privilege of writing two books that a publisher believed in enough to publish them. But I’ll confess that I’m still a bit starry-eyed when confronted with people who have had more success than I have—they’ve been doing it longer, or written more books, or sold more copies, or simply are better writers. I feel good about what I do, but like any artist I harbor insecurities about my craft because it’s so personal. When I write, I feel as though I am most fully me, so when someone doesn’t like my writing, or when I don’t meet sales goals or have a monumentally huge blog following, it feels like I have failed. Like I’m somehow not enough.

Which is why last week at MWW was so good for me. As faculty, I taught some sessions. I got to talk about inspirational writing, creative book structures, and creative marketing and branding ideas. I realized that the content came naturally to me. That I have learned some things along the way.

And I saw a few people listening to me the way I’ve listened to so many others over the years. Taking notes. Eyes wide, intensely watching. Hesitant to ask questions, but hanging around in case there’s more to talk about. Treating me as though I have “made it” simply because I have two books to my name.

I felt legitimate. Accomplished. Like I had finally expanded into that shadowy, unknown space and become somehow fuller, more present, more real. The truth is, yes, I’ve accomplished my goal of being published, and not everyone can say that. In reality, whatever we achieve, most of us will probably never quite feel we’ve done all we were meant to do. Through MWW, I’ve learned that we aren’t competing with each other, but we’re better together simply because we share this love for writing and we’re pursuing it together. If we’ve been published, it’s because the stars were aligned or the timing was right and we happened to actually get a contract. We’re not better than those who don’t yet—or maybe will not ever—have one. At every stage, there’s more to strive for and tons of work required. And yet, as hard as it can be to reach the place where we finally feel accepted, the bottom line is that it’s the process that’s more important than the destination. We don’t write for money or fame, clearly, but because of the people we get to know and the chances we have to discover who we are and what we were designed to do.

Today, on the official release day for Designed to Pray, my overwhelming emotion is gratitude. I am humbled by the support so freely offered to me. And, although I’m happy with the rooms I’ve inhabited so far, I’m excited to see what will come next. Because there are endless possibilities, numerous other places to go. So many new rooms to explore—whole wings to discover.

And not only in my dreams.

Why you shouldn’t pray like I did

“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm. When I ...

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“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm.

When I started praying that way, it didn’t feel like my idea. I believe God placed the idea into my mind. It happened during a time of prayer—I told God I was scared and didn’t know what I’d do if this went on much longer, and I got an instant thought-reply: Pray for the woman who will buy this house.

Like so often when God seems to speak, it was simple, direct, and not exactly logical. Over time, I discovered layer after layer to it. That I was to pray for her, not them. That things in her life had to line up before she’d be ready. I slowly discovered that praying this way helped me to understand that I was part of something else. That it took the focus off of my needs and made me more like Christ (although still far, far from coming close to Him). That praying this way and learning to care about her made it possible for Tim and I to be more generous when in the end we lost money in order to close the deal. After the house sold and I met Rosanne, the buyer formerly known as “that woman,” I learned that there were so many things that God did during that time.

Layer upon layer. God was faithful in the way He worked out the situation. He answered my prayers, and He answered Rosanne’s prayers, too. I love telling this story. (A side note: Having the story published in my first book answered yet another prayer.)

But here’s the problem with it all. I can’t promise God will answer you the same way He answered me.

I am sure He will answer. I am not sure when (it might be a very long time, or it might happen before I finish typing this sentence). I am not sure how He will answer (yes, no, maybe, not now). I am not sure what lessons He might want you to learn in the process, what people He wants to become part of your life, what decisions you will have to make, what sacrifices you will feel the need to offer. Although I believe God will be right there with you, I can’t even promise that you will see, hear, or feel Him.

So by all means, yes, pray for the woman who might someday buy your house. But, also, go to God with honesty. Be real. And spend some time listening. Maybe this is exactly what God wants you to pray, but maybe He has something else in mind for you. Something different—and yet better, because it is perfectly meant for you.

That’s why I get uncomfortable. It’s not wrong to see my story as a lesson and pray the way I did. But I am just afraid that people will see it as a magical answer, a formula. If I do this, then God will do that. But it really doesn’t work that way at all.

He is the reason this all worked. He is the reason I prayed the way I did.

The only credit I’ll take for everything that happened is this: I listened.

I don’t want to discourage you; instead, what I hope this post will do is encourage you to go back to God. To ask for your own, personal answer. To seek His direction. To ask Him what He wants you to do.

And then? Do it. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t apologize or make up excuses. Don’t wonder if you’re crazy for thinking you heard God. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hear from Him.

Pray, and listen.

Pray, and put one foot in front of the other.

Pray, and ask God how to please Him.

Pray, and thank Him for His goodness.

Pray, and ask God to strengthen your faith.

Pray. And wait. Trust Him, and believe Him when He responds.

And know that, whatever comes, God is in it. Know that, however large the obstacle, God can overcome it. Know that, however long you have to wait, God knows what He is doing.

Allow yourself to believe that He has something in store for you.Perfectly tailored to fit your needs. The right size, the right solution, the right timing.

And allow Him to do His thing. Whatever it looks like, however it sounds.

Because God is the one who turned my prayers upside down. And the One who made everything right. He is the One who came up with the crazy solution, and He is the one who enacted it. He gave me hope, and He provided the hope.

And He is the One who will do the exact same thing for you.

Only thing is, it may look completely different.


Tell me—What are you struggling with right now? Leave a comment and rest assured that I will pray for you.

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