Author Archives: inkspots53@hotmail.com

Redeeming Ruth: A Story of Love and Hope

I love adoption stories. Reading or hearing about families that are formed or enriched by opening their hearts and homes to a child gives me hope for the world in general. Adoption, to me, is the ultimate example of sacrificial love..

Meadow Rue Merrill and her family did just that. In 2004, Meadow and her husband welcomed an abandoned 17-month-old girl from Uganda into their family. Meadow had always dreamed of traveling to Africa and “adopting a beautiful brown baby”. When Meadow and her husband met Ruth, they had three young children, the youngest also 17 months old, but they began thinking adoption could become a reality. However, this child came with complications. She had cerebral palsy and could barely lift her head, let alone sit, walk or run. And, though she was in America, she had to return to the orphanage unless she was adopted quickly. The Merrills made the commitment to give Ruth a home and embarked on the adoption journey.

Meadow began writing her family’s adoption story in 2006 with the hope that their adopted daughter, Ruth, could one day add her voice. That was not God’s plan.

It took Meadow 10 years to write Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores. The result is a beautifully powerful story of a family forever changed by a little girl with an engaging smile and boundless potential. Meadow’s book is part spiritual memoir and part family drama. It also reflects Meadow’s journalistic roots. Her retelling of her trip to Uganda and the many complications that threatened to halt the adoption capture the reader. We feel as if we’re making the journey with Meadow.

In an essay written as she was completing the book, Meadow said this about welcoming Ruth into her family:

“Was raising Ruth hard? Yes. It was also the most unexpected, amazing, life-affirming, heart expanding experience of our lives. Because Ruth could physically do nothing for herself, our new routine—and our three older children’s—involved daily sacrifice. Yet, loving and serving Ruth filled us with joyful confidence that we were living out God’s will, expressed throughout scripture, to share his love with others. Our purpose was to love Ruth, and we did. Completely.

Meadow Rue Merrill

Then, without warning, Ruth died in her sleep after a mild illness. Not only did we lose a beloved child, I lost my trust in God. How could he allow this to happen? Here we had deliberately sought to obey God, and he had broken our hearts.

For months, I struggled to pray or read my Bible—once familiar practices that had often strengthened and comforted me in the past. For me, there was no comfort, only the aching question of who was to blame for Ruth’s death: us? or God? If us, how could I forgive myself? And if God, how could I trust him?

Discovering a hidden, underlying cause for Ruth’s death—something we could not have anticipated or prevented—slowly helped me let go of the guilt I felt. In the weeks and months that followed, I gave myself permission to feel and express the anguish of having lost our precious Ruth. I needed to mourn, but I also needed to be comforted. For those who trust God, grief is not the intended legacy of life. Love is.”

Redeeming Ruth is a book about hope, perseverance, unconditional love, and God’s healing power. If you read one spiritual memoir, biography or travel story this year, choose Redeeming Ruth. Your soul will be enriched and your trust in humanity expanded.

At this point, I would normally offer to give a copy of Redeeming Ruth to one of my readers. However, a copy of this book will be placed in the hands of a dear woman in our community who has fostered and adopted children here in America and has opened her heart to orphans in Honduras.

For You — ‘Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives’

“And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to Bloom.” Anais Nin

I would love to give every woman in my life a copy of Everbloom: Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. Instead, I’m going to share bits of it here (and give away one copy) in hopes that you will give yourselves this gift of life-changing stories.

This beautiful collection of essays and poems, written by the women of Redbud Writers Guild, is dedicated to:

“…all women who have yet to find freedom in Christ in order to embrace their story and share it with the world. We believe in you, and we pray this book will help you ‘walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.’ ” (Hebrews 4:16 from The Message)

Every story and poem in Everbloom picks up a thread in the analogy of a tree – roots, trunk, branches and blossoms. Just like the women of the Guild, they are diverse and rich in story. With vulnerability and sensitivity, they point the way for all of us as we experience loss, fear, joy, confusion — life.

From a lovely essay by Bronwyn Lea titled “No Story Wasted”:

“I went into motherhood expecting a time of spiritual drought. After years of vocational ministry and a rich spiritual diet of study, prayer, and witnessing the Spirit at work, I anticipated that maternity leave would mean switching from go-go-go to idling in neutral.
I did not expect God to shop up in the nursery, whispering to me that the tenderness and love I felt toward my baby was just a fraction of how he felt about me. How her dependence on me was just a fraction of my dependence on him.
The Spirit met me in the silent spaces. In the wild and surprisingly solitary clearing of motherhood, God showed me an artesian well I hadn’t known was there and whispered “Plant yourself here, my thirsty one. Blessed is the one who walks with me: she is like a tree planted by streams of water, she yields fruit in season, her leaves do not wither.”

And this, a piece by Sarah Rennicke about feeling displaced as her career took her far from home. It is entitled “Untangled”:

“Following Jesus requires my all, not pieces scattered here and there, given then taken away because it doesn’t feel right. He calls for complete devotion, but allows the freedom of struggle as I mourn what I have given up in the process. For me, it was familiarity, belonging, and the way I laid out my days. But of course, the best way to push up from the ground is to lay down my life, hand him my heart, and have trust he will settle me where it will be for his glory and my gain.”

And “When a Baby Dies”, words from PeggySue Wells about the loss of an unborn child:

“We buried Violet Trust on May 1. We took pictures of our tiny daughter; my favorite is the photo of her next to my wedding ring. We tenderly swaddled her in the cloth Estee prepared and wrapped her in Leilani’s white satin blanket. After we placed her in the casket Josiah had made, the box was only half-full. Estee and three-year-old Hannah brought out a basket of gifts they had made for the coming baby. Lovely created yarn dolls, bead necklaces, and carefully colored pictures filled the wooden box to the brim. Holly added dried flower petals. Violet was nestled in a box filled with gifts of love from her family and friends.
Nothing was left to do but nail the top on the casket. The ringing of the hammer sounded devastatingly final. We read aloud poems and Scripture friends had sent to encourage our hearts. We prayed and sang worship songs.
Everything within me protested as we laid Violet in her final resting place. I didn’t want my baby to be cold, wet, or alone.”

I met the members of Redbud Writers Guild at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the spring of 2016. But I’d actually stumbled upon these women in writing groups here and there over several years. They were writers of intent whose generosity and faith in the goodness of a giving God drew me to them. During the past year, as a member of this sisterhood, I’ve been inspired, encouraged, challenged, humbled and admittedly, sometimes intimidated. But mostly, I’ve felt nurtured and accepted for who I am – a wife and mother living in a rural community, a one-time newspaper reporter turned blogger, and a writer who aspires to inspire by using the gift of writing.

You can read more outstanding pieces by subscribing to The Redbud Post. This month, my essay on our son’s collision with anxiety is a featured post.

Please leave a comment to win a copy of Everbloom. A winner will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.

For the Love of a Tea Party :: Thistle Farms Changes Lives

There was a party in Nashville, Tennessee, this week and I really wanted to be there. I would have brought the tea cups.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, on a trip to see my sons in Nashville, Tennessee, I ran across a quaint little café on the northwest side of the city. Thistle Stop Cafe sits in a corner storefront on Charlotte Pike. With giant purple thistles painted on one the side of the building and a huge metal thistle sculpture on the other, it’s hard to miss.

The café serves wonderful breakfasts and lunches, as well as specialty coffees and teas. A display to the side of the coffee counter offers Thistle Farm’s natural bath and body products, handcrafted fair trade items and books.

Photo: Thistle Farms

The food and the service were both delightful, but the most remarkable feature of the café was the lighting. Hanging from the ceiling were chandeliers made of china tea cups.

I rarely make a trip to Nashville without stopping in the café, but when I visit the city this weekend, I’ll have to pass. The café is closed for remodeling and expansion and will reopen this summer. When it does, my tea cups (which I’ll deliver on my visit) will be hanging from the ceiling along with thousands of others from throughout the country and around the world.

More important than my need for a great meal, or my appreciation for the intentional work of the company, or even the beautiful tea cup chandeliers, is the mission of Thistle Farms — to heal, empower and employ women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. The women who cook and serve and create the body care products are doing a healing work, living out the ministry’s motto “Love Heals”.

Founder Becca Stevens, right, helps prepare a display of skin care products made and packaged by the women living and working at Thistle Farms. (Photo: Thistle Farms)

As for the party I missed, Thistle Farms hosted a concert and celebration marking 20 years of dedication to its mission. Founder Becca Stevens, country singer Reba McEntire and the women of Thistle Farms gathered at the historic Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville on May 3 to honor program graduates in an event that raised funds for the ongoing work of Thistle Farms.

“This week’s event celebrated work that is firmly rooted in the belief that love is the strongest force for change in the world. We do this by providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners.” Founder Rev. Becca Stevens

Last year, customers and donors of Thistle Farms helped make the following possible:

  • 59 women survivors employed by Thistle Farms, earning over $1m a year in salary and wages
  • 9,215 nights of safe, supportive housing provided to women recovering from life on the streets
  • 14,100 hours of counseling and therapy for survivors, ensuring their physical and mental well-being
  • 40 organizations across the country replicated our housing model, currently offering 185 beds for women seeking sanctuary from the streets
  • 24 shared trade partnerships around the globe, supporting the economic freedom of more than 1,700 women

These words from the father of a young woman healed at Thistle Farms express the heart of this project:

“Knowing Rachel had a safe environment for her journey, gave me, as her father, the comfort and confidence to continue on my recovery journey, which I began during her incarceration. Once a week I now attend two 12-step programs for parents and families with addiction, Al-Anon and Families Anonymous. The strength of the Thistle Farms program provided a secure environment for Rachel, which helped me to pursue my recovery from co-dependence. We were on parallel journeys to recovery.”

My china tea cups belonged to a dear friend who has survived three bouts with cancer and to my step-mother, who passed away last summer at age 88. They’ll be wrapped in newspaper and placed in a box along with half a dozen cups I purchased at a thrift store run by a domestic violence agency in my hometown. Profits from sales at the thrift store help provide services for survivors of domestic violence and their families. It seems appropriate that they should be hanging in a space where women are finding hope and healing.

A God Who Wastes Nothing

I sliced my thumb today. A pretty solid gash from a freshly-sharpened knife instantly covered the peppers I was chopping for a breakfast scramble. I ran to the sink to inspect the wound, letting my son clean up my mess and take over the chopping.

“Is it as bad as that time in Nashville?” he asked. Ah, yes — the time I sliced open my thumb when visiting him in Nashville. A much bigger cut caused by a porcelain knob that broke off in my hand when I turned on the shower, that one called for a visit to an emergency care facility. I won’t give you all the details, but I was in the shower, he was at work and I had no idea where the nearest facility might be. I pulled on my “big girl pants” after nearly passing out on the floor and found directions on my phone. Six stitches later, my gauze-wrapped thumb and I drove across the city to visit him at his work site.

It’s what moms do.

I rub my fingers over the numb spot on my right thumb and remember that day. It was exactly five years ago this month. I wrote about my visit to Nashville at an important time in my son’s life for Topology Magazine. I’m writing about him again — this time for an entirely different reason.

I first shared our son’s journey through anxiety, panic and depersonalization in a post for Amelia Rhodes’ book Pray A to Z.  An expanded essay is featured in this month’s Redbud Post.

I’m honored to be part of Redbud Writers Guild “a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith.” Each month, guild members submit essays to be considered for The Redbud Post. This month’s theme is “Perspectives on Mental Health Issues”.

When I wrote the essay, our son was climbing out of a season of debilitating anxiety. He had moved home after five years of living in Nashville and was receiving therapy to overcome a condition that was taking over his life.

Six months after beginning treatment, this is our son today. Recently, he traveled alone six hours round trip to visit the city where he hopes to relocate, a big deal when we remember there was a time when even leaving the house was a struggle.

I’ve shared my son’s story with his permission because we both are praying that it will help others traveling the same road. You can read about “A God Who Wastes Nothing” on The Redbud Post.

The first time I sat with our son while he was experiencing a panic attack, everything in me wanted to wrap my arms around him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass. Anxiety and panic are all too familiar to my son’s generation. It’s estimated that at least half of young women born between 1980 and 2000 suffer from an anxiety disorder and a third of young men. Our adventurous, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic in his early 20s. (more…..)

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Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is a beautiful anthology of essays and poetry by authors from The Redbud Writers Guild. It’s now available for purchase here and at book stores. I’ll share more about this lovely book and give away a free copy on May 12, but you can order copies now for the mothers in your life. It would make the perfect Mother’s Day gift.

 

Five Minute Friday :: Sing A Song of Ascent

I haven’t done this for awhile, but I’m diving in today to write for five minutes flat on the word “Sing”. Find more five-minute essays or join the conversation here.

I cannot. Sing, that is. I warble along with songs on the radio or on my I-phone and I put my heart into worship on Sundays, but singing solo is just not my thing. And believe me — you wouldn’t want it to be.

I camped out in the Psalms of Ascent during Holy Week (Psalms 120-134) and I couldn’t help myself. I lifted my voice to chant holy songs that have carried words of praise, cries of lament, choruses of gratitude to the ear of God for thousands of years.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Verses like these prepared my spirit for the darkness and the beauty of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. When our gathering of believers burst into song on Easter, I was ready and willing to sing with abandon.

As I read the 15 Psalms of Ascent, I thought of David, author of several of them and “a man after God’s own heart.” It is from his seed that Christ descended. His lifelong journey was filled with song. He was a man wont to celebrate with undignified abandon when filled with the joy of his Lord.

David Crowder expresses David’s joy in one of my favorite praise songs, “Undignified”. Enjoy.

I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King
Nothing more that’s hindering, there’s passion in my soul
I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King
Nothing more that’s hindering, there’s passion in my soul

I’ll become even more undignified than this
Some may say it’s foolishness
But I’ll become even more undignified than this, oh yes

 

 

From the Bookshelf: Susie Finkbeiner’s Pearl Spence Stories

One of my favorite things about reading good books is sharing them with others. A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs by Susie Finkbeiner are works of fiction I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Author Susie Finkbeiner

Susie, an author from West Michigan, has a way with words, to say the least. I’ve read all four of her novels: My Mother’s Chamomile, Paint Chips, A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs. The first two are contemporary novels. A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs are two in a trilogy featuring the young protagonist Pearl Spence. The third book in the Pearl Spence trilogy, A Song of Home, will be released in February 2017. A Cup of Dust is a moving tale set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl era. A Trail of Crumbs continues Pearl’s story as an unthinkable tragedy strikes her family, causing them to leave their home and move to Michigan. There, Pearl’s father hopes to find find work and make a new home for his family during the early years of The Great Depression. I’m featuring both of the Pearl Spence books because…….well, you’ll want to read both of them!

In my assessment, a good story allows you to inhabit another world, to feel the emotions and action as if they were your own. Through 10-year-old Pearl’s eyes, we are transported to an era and welcomed into a family with real challenges. I was grabbing tissues 10 pages into A Trail of Crumbs. The hardships experienced by Americans living in the dust bowl of the west and the depression of the 1930s are given skin in Susie’s books, without sappy sentimentality but with gritty reality. By the end of A Trail of Crumbs, the impact of her family’s hardships show in the maturity we see and hear in Pearl.

The author considers her novels inspirational fiction. There is a definite thread of hopefulness based on Pearl’s growing faith in A Trail of Crumbs. Wise words from Pearl:

“Some of the best things we do ain’t remembered by anybody but God.”

Both Pearl Spence books include a collection of questions for reading groups at the back. They serve to enhance the reading of her wonderful tales.

I’ve asked Susie to respond to a couple of my own questions about the first two books in the Pearl Spence trilogy:

1. You mention in your Afterword that the story of Pearl’s years on the farm near Bliss, Michigan recaptures part of your childhood. Was it always your intent to have Pearl escape the Dust Bowl by moving to Michigan? And is Pearl in any way modeled after yourself as a child, or perhaps a family member?
I knew that I couldn’t keep Pearl and her family in the Dust Bowl regions for more than one book. It seemed I’d exhausted the Oklahoma part of the story and knew she needed some different scenery to continue her story. Bliss, Michigan became the town they moved to, modeled after Blissfield, a real town in southeast Michigan where my grandma grew up.  You know, Pearl is a little bit of me and a little bit of who I imagine my Grandma Pearl was as a child. But most of all, Pearl has become her own person. She grew as I wrote her, maturing and surprising me so many times along the way. She’s a very special character to me. I already miss writing her.

2. Your treatment of religion and Biblical truth is handled delicately, not forced on the reader, but a definite thread in your stories. I know you read a lot. What author has given you the best example for writing a faith-based story that appeals to everyone?

Thank you for saying that. I work hard to keep a light hand when writing, especially when my Christian worldview comes into the narrative.  You know, this may come as a surprise, but I learned how to weave Biblical themes into a novel by reading Steinbeck. The man knew his Bible and added threads of it throughout his stories. East of Eden is the perfect example of this. Now, I can’t speak to Steinbeck’s spirituality (in fact, I believe he was more of a humanist than anything), but he never apologized for working a little theology or a Bible story into his fiction.

3. Who do you hope will read the Pearl series? Your books are not classified as young adult, but how have young adult readers responded to the stories?

I’ve been surprised at all the various folks who have picked up Pearl’s story! My readers range from thirty-something stay at home moms to eighty something retirees. From ministers to guys who work with my husband. This range of readers is more than I ever could have hoped or imagined and I’m beyond grateful! A few young adults have read it. I only know because their mothers have told me. I haven’t been able to get much feedback from them so far. I’d love to sit down with a few young readers to get an idea of what they thought.

I’m delighted to offer a paperback edition of A Trail of Crumbs to a reader chosen from comments left here. Currently, both A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs are available as Kindle downloads at bargain prices.

 

 

 

Just a note: My Springtime gift to you is book recommendations! I’ve been reading a lot over the winter and there are several wonderful titles I’d love to highlight (and a few to drop in your lap). Susie’s novels are the first two. Look for more in the coming weeks. ~ Ingrid

 

When Your Little Sister Turns Out To Be Your Hero

My youngest sister doesn’t look like a strong woman. A “do-rag” covers her shiny bald head and these days she’s tipping the scales at just over 100 pounds. She isn’t much of a threat to anyone or anything.

Or is she?

Just after my ninth birthday, around the time I was getting used to the idea of having a new step-mom, our family of three little girls expanded to include a fourth. As far as I was concerned, my blonde-haired, hazel-eyed step-sister was a special gift sent just for me. I happily assumed the role of “little mother.”

But, by the time I reached the hormonally challenging age of 13, I was wearing annoyance like a huge placard that read “Stay Away”. I was the oldest sister and I didn’t have time for playing with dolls or pushing my little sister in a swing. My world was “me” and to escape my younger siblings (which by now included a baby brother), I hid out in my room. A lot.

The summer my horse-loving little sister fell off her pony and suffered a severely broken elbow jolted me out of my self-absorption. A pin was inserted in her elbow and she was in the hospital for days. Who did she ask for? Me — the big sister who hadn’t given her so much as a glance for a couple of years. I was the person she most wanted at her bedside. At 16, I took my seven-year-old sister seriously and spent a couple of nights in a chair by her hospital bed. Seeing that skinny little blonde kid sleeping with her arm in traction, I realized she’d developed a case of hero worship. I didn’t feel worthy.

Once I knew what was at stake, I tried to pay more attention to my little sis, mostly at my convenience. I was amused by the fact she wanted to do whatever I was doing. Dress like I dressed, grow her hair long like mine — hers blonde, mine brunette.

The depth of my tomboy little sister’s devotion was on display when she let a hairdresser pile her hair in elaborate curls and donned a very girlie dress just so that she could be in my wedding. In photographs from the day, she looks a little uncomfortable, but she’s smiling at me like I’m a queen and she’s the princess.

We grew up, the two of us. Marriages, kids, careers. Slowly, the nine-year gap shrank. In time, we joined forces in the task of keeping our aging parents healthy and happy. Like bookends, we learned to hold it together and frame the sometimes challenging dynamics of a blended family.

We also became friends.

When we lost Mom last year, the friendship we’d cultivated was our strength. The two of us tag-teamed, covering the many decisions and responsibilities of arranging for Mom’s funeral and moving Dad to a nursing home. Our siblings helped, but most things passed through us. Our bond was strengthened.

Then one evening, I received another wake-up call from my sister. She’d found a lump in her breast. Cancer.

As a survivor of breast cancer myself, I was tempted to tease her about following in her big sister’s footsteps. Somehow, it wasn’t funny. She’d been there for me in my own collision with cancer; hers seemed more real. I wanted to protect her. She’s my little sister and my friend.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother (sister) is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17, NIV

What do you do when the playing field is leveled by cancer? You pull up a chair. Click To Tweet

So, I sit beside my sister while drugs drip into her body, attacking cancer cells and killing every other good thing that her body produces, and I’m amazed at how brave she is. With surgery and reconstruction part of the plan, it will be months before this journey ends.

The irony is, the year before her diagnosis my sister agreed to lead a Livestrong class at our local YMCA. The mission of Livestrong, founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, is “to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.” Her class of cancer survivors has become her own support team. Fit and healthy in every way, my sister is tackling cancer head-on. She’s determined to beat it. I believe she will.

Funny thing about hero worship – it goes both ways. My baby sister is my hero. And she’s the strongest woman I know.

Invitation To A Feast: Bible Studies That Study the Bible

Recently, a handful of women from my church joined me in reading and discussing Lysa TerKeurst’s book “The Best Yes”. Though our numbers dwindled over the six weeks we met, those of us who remained at the end agreed that our time together had been well-spent.

TerKeurst is a New York Times best-selling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She’s a popular, gifted teacher and ministry leader. We were entertained, challenged and informed. And in some ways, we were changed by engaging through her book and the accompanying DVD-led study.

So why, as leader of this study group, do I feel like these women were short-changed?

As only God can do, I’ve received some gentle conviction in recent weeks over where I go — and where I lead others — for the study of God’s word. At the very least, I’ve been stopped in my tracks while I think about His desired path for women who want to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not sorry that we read this book. Nor do I feel we were misled in any way by the God-inspired wisdom offered by Lysa Terkeurst. I do, however, feel I misled the women by advertising the group as a Bible study. We discussed my “false advertising” in our first session and the women graciously forgave me. But in the end, it was as if I’d invited the ladies to come for bread and wine and served them chips and cola instead.

Tasty, but not as good as the real thing.

I’ve participated in women’s Bible studies for years, as proven by my library shelf full of Beth Moore, Priscilla Shire and Jennie Allen study books. I’ve read (and studied) many wonderful Christian books about topics that interested me written by spiritual leaders I respect, both men and women. Most of them have led me to a fuller understanding of scripture.

Here’s the thing. At least one of the women in our little gathering appears to be a “baby Christian” and I got the distinct feeling she was attempting to digest savory doctrinal commentary, when what she really needs is pure, simple food. Namely, the word of God.

Don’t we all?

My concerns are backed up by Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin. Her essay in Christianity Today, “Let Bible Studies Be Bible Studies”, addresses this very issue.

“Churches must distinguish clearly between what is Bible study and what is something else because the average churchgoer may not be able to on her own. Knowing they should study the Bible, earnest Christians sign up for what we have labeled a Bible study, assuming that it is,” says Wilkin.

In her opinion, biblical illiteracy is pervasive in our churches, in part because we fail to point out the difference between pure Bible study and book study. Her church has become intentional about precise terminology when offering studies, with an emphasis on pure Bible study.

Moving forward, our church will do the same.

When a disciple of Christ desires to understand their choice to follow Him, going to source materials should be the first step. A well-versed Bible teacher can help by setting the table and joining in the feast, utilizing commentaries and even various translations to aid in the understanding of scripture.

In her excellent book “Women of the Word”, Wilkin says this about the value of intentional Bible study:

“Sound Bible study transforms the heart by training the mind and it places God at the center of the story. But sound Bible study does more than that — it leaves the student with a better understanding of the Bible than she had when she started.”

Reading and discussing good Christian books can enhance our application and even our understanding of scripture, but reading them should not be a substitute for studying the Bible itself, word by word, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15:16

 

 

 

 

When Faiths Collide: Finding Myself in Ash Wednesday

I stood in line for the symbolic smudge of ashes on the first day of Lent, unprepared for what that touch to my forehead would to do my heart.

In the glow of candlelight, tears spilled unbidden. And there she was again, standing at the altar. Skinny, smiling shyly as she posed in her white communion dress, mousy brown hair peaking from beneath a froth of netting, white anklets scrunched above black patent leather shoes. Ardent in her practice of a faith that formed her, the girl’s eyes glowed with the joy of taking her first communion. Her first confession.

Her first receiving of the ashes.

Did she know that five decades later, she’d stand at another altar and her heart would bust wide open, full with the joy of taking back the precious meaning of the ashes?

I turned away from Catholicism as a high school senior, lured by the popular youth group and upbeat music offered by my friends’ non-denominational church. I wanted guitars and games, not incense, chiming bells and Latin liturgy. A copy of The Living Bible went with me to college. My Catholic scriptures were left behind on a bedroom shelf.

An outdoor wedding ceremony officiated by the pastor of that non-denominational church set me on a path toward spiritual awakening and growth. Women in the church mentored and encouraged my still-ardent love for Jesus, and I learned to share Him with others. In years to come, pastors from various denominations and other churches contributed to a deepening faith that sustained me through trials — divorce, loss, cancer.

The security of a faith built on decades spent living out God’s Word among His people allowed me to listen when a gentle ripple of longing began to surface. In the beginning, I couldn’t put a word to the yearnings that bubbled in a quiet corner of my soul. I love my church. I’m in deep agreement with the doctrine and theology of our evangelical protestant beliefs and practices. But, like a lamp lit by a low-wattage bulb, my rock-solid faith lacked some of the glow that burned across the years from the altar of that little Catholic chapel of my childhood.

Then, last summer I met two faithful women doing a work of revival at a Catholic retreat center, and the yearnings slipped into place.

Beauty, symbolism, tradition, corporate prayer, holy seasons. I had shed them like an ill-fitting coat in my youth. Now, I felt the loss of their weight and warmth.

I soaked up the joy of those women doing a work for Jesus, offering to add a work of my own to their revival project. As we talked and planned, I recognized and understood what shined from their eyes when they spoke to me of tradition. Of miracles, healings, sacraments. Of a church history that, in many ways, all Christian faiths share.

It was familiar because it was part of me.

My stepmom passed away shortly after these women completed their project. It was inevitable that my grieving was bound up by their unwavering commitment to The Church. And by my stepmother’s. Her collection of Catholic icons, prayer books, rosaries, holy medals and other symbols of faith passed through my hands. They gave weight once again to what I’d known and lived, to the faith that formed me.

You can turn from one good thing and replace it with another. But can you wipe away the imprint that one thing left on your soul? Or can you acknowledge the stirrings and make space for them to be welcomed in the now?

Our evangelical Christian church chose to observe Ash Wednesday for the first time in many years. Dipping back into the dust of a tradition that lay at the foundation of my faith brought me face-to-face with the ardent little Catholic girl who was the Bride of Jesus.

Her eyes still glow.

“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” Genesis 3:19b

 

 

 

Trusting God for the Outcome: A Mother’s Prayers

I’ve been reminded that a mother is only as happy as her happiest child. We’d rather experience illness or unhappiness ourselves than to see our children struggle. I’m learning to trust God has a plan as we walk alongside our son in his battle with anxiety, panic and depersonalization. I share this very personal story on my friend Amelia Rhodes’ blog today.

I will never forget the first time I sat with my son while he was experiencing a panic attack. Everything in me wanted to hold him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass.

When he was in his early 20s, our adventurous, confident, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic. It came out of nowhere. He had moved from Indiana to Nashville, TN, and was enjoying the city with all its new experiences and friendships. Though he’d had periods of mild depression in the past, anxiety and panic were something new. The first time he experienced anxiety was confusing and frightening, but it passed and he lived mostly anxiety-free for the next five years………(read more)

While visiting Amelia’s website, check out her beautiful new book “Pray A to Z”. Amelia has taken her own desire to be intentional as she prays and developed a useful and inspiring tool to guide us in our prayers. My blog post today is one in a series on topics covered in her book.