Saturday, March 31, 2012

Three Books for Thee

I sometimes feel like a dunce when I am asked to list my favorite foods, shops, authors, or in this case, books. My brain stutters and I have a tough time answering. I think it is because I don’t want to be held to any proclamation--my favorite dinner today could be my least favorite next week. And having a favorite implies that you are categorizing all the others as “second-best” (like when one of your children insists you have a favorite child and wants you to name him or her out loud).

I will put aside this neurosis for today and name my current choices for books that have informed, challenged and inspired me.

Hands down, Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy is one of the best books I have read. Don’t be put off by its length--it will hold you in its grip until you finish. When I began the book, I knew only a little about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a bit of his writing, some misinformation from other theologians, and from a great 2000 film, Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace). Too often we can easily dismiss people because they do something we see as wrong, or hypocritical, or even stupid, instead of looking at the whole picture of that person’s life (I once heard someone say that the sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin was a “jerk”).

Bonhoeffer was a complex human being who loved God fully, openly, and sacrificially. He became a pastor and theologian against his family’s wishes. He is described as lovable and difficult. As a 37 year-old, he falls in love with a 17 year-old. He and his family knew the dangers of Hitler long before the rest of world and he tried tirelessly to inform the outside world. He believed that a true Christian must love God and seek justice, and was horrified by German churches’ passivity regarding Nazism. Bonhoeffer, after living in safety in London for two years, returned to Germany to conduct a seminary in secret, and was constantly harassed by the Nazis. Through his well-placed family, he became a spy within Abwehr, a German intelligence agency that was actually the center of the resistance) and was later executed by the Nazis in 1945.

Metaxas does a masterful job of handling a very complex, compelling story, managing to weave Bonhoeffer’s developing theology, deep love for God, and his own humanity throughout a text that informs about Hitler’s rise. This book convicted and challenged me about my own faith and the need for ever-growing obedience to our call as Christians, which must include compassion, mercy and sacrifice for others.

Two other books that are well worth the read are Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, which will enlarge the reader’s understanding of the other war in WW II, the war in the Pacific, as the author unfolds the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini (another complex individual with amazing resilience--and whose later life is just as difficult and then transformed!); and, because I love art and story, David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, my favorite book (and a gift from my sister Ann for my birthday last June!) of 2011.

This is a fabulous, excellent, get-the-artsy-juices-flowing book: you will learn more about French history in the 1800's, side by side with American history, (rather than how we learned in school--in isolation from other countries); you will want to run, not walk, to every piece of art and sculpture you have seen by Sargent, Cassatt, Healy, Catlin, Saint-Gaudens, because you have learned the back-story of many creations; and you will wish you were at the Exposition in Paris in 1889 when Thomas Edison was the rage, the Eiffel Tower was new, and 6,000 pieces of art were on display, and something new called a toy car by Peugeot was displayed.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Yes you can because I believe you can...

From time to time, I do a little teenager bashing over on Tony C Today. Much of it can be easily justified by something stup...excuse me...ridiculous my own teenager has said or done (I can no longer use the stupid word by decree of Mrs. Tony C). Having a teenage girl coupled with an approaching terrible two's toddler gives me greater understanding of the plight of Job. As a matter of fact, there are days I'd rather sit around and scrape scabs to open wounds than listen to one more lame excuse trying to justify the funky smell emitting from a certain person's room or the lack of appropriate attire that coincides with current weather patterns. AGGGHHHH!

But that's not my direction a matter of fact, I'm going a completely different way...hopefully for good. While on vacation two years ago, I managed to get in some long overdue casual reading. Oh, I read a lot daily, but keeping up with the world today requires reading or watching or listening to a plethora of daily casual/leisure reading often takes a back seat...or would toilet seat be more accurate. I digress...

One of the books I was determined to work through was Do Hard Things by Alex and Brent Harris. I had heard and read good reviews about the book and the premise that teenagers are tired of the low expectation placed on them as a group from society. Interesting....but I needed more information.

Wow! Starting with the Forward by none other than Chuck Norris, this book grabbed and convicted me. The book is not complex, yet it challenges the core belief in most adults today that teenagers are a lazy bunch looking for the path of least resistance in life. You find yourself quickly on the battlefields of WW II where the fate of the world often was in the hands of 17 or 18 years old on both sides of the fight. There are examples from Biblical times up to present day of teenagers making major impact in the world.

Also, Do Hard Things is a book on faith. The authors proudly testify about the impact Christ has made in their own lives. The book won't keep your teenagers out of trouble. Instead, it challenges both them and you to put God at the center and strive to achieve their fullest potential by...well...doing hard things.

Recent ESPN the Magazine article titled Do Hard Things

I've got to admit, the book has had a profound impact on the way I view and deal with my own teenager. Even though I hold her to high expectations (or so I thought), I still place limits on her ability to make a major impact for God and for herself in the world....and it's not just limited her. Working with youth at church can often be frustrating and painful, but now I see that I create a lot of the negative feelings I have because my own actions and words project low expectations from the get-go.

Read this book. If you have children, work with youth or if you've ever been a this book! I'm very glad it was suggested to me (thanks Rosie), and I listened. Be warned  your toes might get stepped on like mine did...but in the's well worth the self-reflection and renewed faith that everything will be okay when the kids of today get their chance to run things. We should expect that from them.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Library…A Lifetime Oasis

This week, on Kingdom Bloggers, we each have a chance to share three books that are favorites of ours, beside the Bible.
I once accompanied my husband on a business trip to Kansas. I was left to explore the area when he was busy .I spent my days visiting the local Library. My friends laughed. They were like “huh?... Didn’t you go to visit any local sites?…the Shopping Mall?” It didn’t make sense to them.
I love to read. I am one of those people who hope that books never stop being made, as I love holding a literal book in my hand.
From early on, the Library was a refuge. Our house could get very noisy with 6 children. We lived in 4 rooms, so privacy was a misnomer. The 3 other apartments held a slew of relatives. People walked in and out of each other’s apartment, even without knocking.
I remember walking to the Library on Saturdays. (And yes I walked many miles, even in the snow…just kidding!!!). There, we would climb the creaky stairs to the upper room, where we listened to stories introducing us to various characters and bringing us to faraway places.
I smile at the pride I felt when I could print my own and therefore qualified to get my very own Library Card.
I devoured books then and I do the same now. I visit our local Library at least 3 days a week. My hobby is also visiting Libraries across CT.
My preferred genres are varied.  Here are some books from recent times.
My first favorite is a series. I cannot separate each book as they weigh in on the whole story. It is called The Redemption Series by Karen Kingsbury. It is about a multi generational family…the Baxter’s.
She is a Christian author with mostly fiction books. Up until reading her, I had leaned heavily towards nonfiction books… particularly Biographies. With her books, I have taken a turn to enjoy fiction books.
One thing about her books, that sets them apart, is that she expresses Contemporary Christian living in an honest manner. She does not explain away problems or sugar coat them. Rather she talks about real life issues, while ultimately offering solutions of faith through Jesus Christ. Her books could be an excellent tool to reach non Christians.
I have read pretty much all of her books. Not all of her series match this one, yet she does have a lot of excellent stand alone titles. One in particular is Divine. It is a very difficult book to read. Yet, as a Christian Author, she again delves into some very real and hard life issues.

My second choice is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. In the book, she offers writing advice, in a practical way. She can be a bit irreverent at times yet she is very funny…helpful and encouraging to authors. This book makes writing seem doable and even fun.  The main take away from this book is to be an observer of life and to carry index cards around, so as to jot down ideas/observations that you glean in your everyday life.

My third choice is again, not one book but a 2 book set by Jill Austin. They are titled The Master Potter and the Master Potter and the Mountain of Fire. They are allegorical writings.
In them, Jill takes the main character, Forsaken through her journey towards wholeness. She includes heavenly and satanic forces that battle for Forsaken’s soul, until the Master Potter rescues her, giving her a vision of a bright destiny. Eventually, Forsaken’s name is changed to Beloved. In the second book, the journey continues as, Beloved deals with some very important life issues such as, unforgiveness, suffering, illness, a need for miracles as well as a moral failure of someone close to her.
I was drawn to Jill Austin’s Books after hearing her testimony, I found her to be an authentic Christian. She was at once serious and yet hilarious. To me, she exemplified living a Christian life with passion and fearlessness. Sadly, she died a few years ago, unexpectedly. If you can get any of her teaching Cd’s I would recommend them too.
Well…that’s all folks!!!
I remain…
A Lover of Books who says NO to Kindle!

Linda Maynard


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Power of the Glad Game by Jenna Vick Silliman

After lunch, if the weather was nice, I took my nursing baby Michael in arms, and our book of choice, and we sat out on the back lawn on a blanket. Daniel, age 9, Valerie, age 7, and David, age 5, listened with rapt attention. This was our favorite part of homeschooling—reading aloud great stories.

Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter, one of those children’s classics, was our book of choice. I’ve read it several times now, but I first read it in 1991. (Later I saw the movie and it was lame—nothing like the story!) Pollyanna, orphaned and taken in by her spinster aunt, changed the world around her, simply by her lifestyle of a positive outlook. Pollyanna played The Glad Game.

The Glad Game is played by replacing any negative thought with a positive one. If it is raining, you choose to be glad your flowers are getting watered. If you twist your ankle, you say, “I’m glad I didn’t break my leg.” If some food is served that you don’t particularly care for, you simply think about how glad you are that it isn’t a mud pie or a bowl full of worms or something you would never want to eat.

Pollyanna always had something to be glad about. When she was a small girl, her preacher daddy showed her all the things collected in the missionary barrel. He told her she could always be glad she didn’t need the crutches. She grieved the loss of her father, but honored his memory by practicing what he preached. He taught her to live by the Bible and how there are over a thousand Scriptures on being glad, joyful, happy, rejoicing, giving thanks, and being grateful to a good God.

That little story permeated my being. I soaked it up like sweet maple syrup on a pancake. I used to be critical, perfectionistic, negative, melancholy, often downcast or depressed, and struggled with self-pity. Reading that simple story was a turning point. As I began to practice the powerful glad game, I began to experience joy, gratitude, and thankfulness for every little thing. At first it felt kind of silly or child-like to constantly think about what I could be glad about. However, isn’t that what Jesus taught us? He said we are to enter His kingdom as little children. Children delight in little things, like dandelions going to seed, a rainbow, or finding a penny.

I am a different person today. Now I am full of gratitude and hope and joy. I am one of the most optimistic people you will ever meet. My attitude is far from perfect, but I don’t sweat the small stuff any more. I like to see my life through rose-colored glasses. I know the glass is half full, not half empty. The enemy tries to get us to focus on the half empty part of the glass. He wants to distract us with negativity, critical thoughts, lack, and complaints. We enter God's gates, His very presence, when we have thanksgiving in our hearts. (Psalm 100) The Lord inhabits the praises of His people! You wanna be close to God? Play "The Glad Game" and see what a difference it makes.

Now my favorite thing to do is worship the Lord for all His good gifts. I LOVE LIFE! Rejoicing always and celebrating the abundant life of Jesus is what LIFE is all about. Jesus said that is why He came to earth! (See John 10:10) Man oh man there are SO many things to be GLAD about!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Always the Nerd

I never used to see myself as nerdy. Now I think it totally describes me. On one hand, I was told by this prophetic type one time, with his finger sticking in my face, "You think too much." And yes, that's true. Sometimes you can think a thing to death. I've been doing that for several years about writing a book but that's not the topic this week.

I rarely read for pleasure - the last book I read for "pleasure" was The Glass Castle by Janette Walls. I had been told by a friend that this woman's life had been so messy but it was nothing compared to mine. Seriously, I am not sure about that but I did enjoy the book a lot. I think that was about four or five years ago that I read it.

Actually right now I am reading three books that aren't for school. To say it is pleasure reading might be a stretch. They are Miraslov Volf's Allah: A Christian Response, Lodahl's Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur'an Side by Side and Rob Bell's Love Wins. Not exactly easy reading. I recommend all of these books for their ability to enlighten and cause one to think. Volf gives you much to chew on from a theological perspective but is not an easy read for the less theologically minded. Lodahl is not as challenging but equally enlightening and thought-provoking.

In our world, with the conflicts we see every day, it is good to get the right information rather than the political hype and lies. Both Lodahl and Volf are solid CHRISTIAN theologians. Volf, currently at Yale Divinity, is from the former Yugoslavia, and is the son of a Pentecostal preacher. Lodahl, currently at Point Loma University (a Church of the Nazarene school) is a leading theologian in the Wesleyan Holiness movement. Both attempt to bring some sanity to the lies and distortions we find abundant as we come to grips with the challenges of a post 911 world.

Then there is Rob Bell.

I love Bell's Nooma videos. I had heard so much about his book - mostly criticism that I wanted to read it for myself. So far, it has made me think and remember, I like that.

If you want to know my all time favorite author - at least from a theological perspective it is Walter Brueggemann - again, he isn't for the faint of heart. He challenges me constantly. Amazon has 71 books listed by Brueggeman; I've read maybe 10 plus I have his commentary on Genesis (EXCELLENT). I have a long way to go on my Brueggemann reading list. Most recently I read Journey to the Common Good.

Yes, my reading list is heavy - Bell is the easiest read. But this is what I love. This is what makes Joyce tick. These are the things that God has been using to feed my mind and my soul and transform me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kingdom Bloggers Book Club

I read a lot – about a book a week, or at least 50 books a year. Of the other Kingdom Bloggers, I know Kerry Luddy (Saturday’s writer) reads about the same amount. Some of the others are readers too, and we’re still encouraging Tony C to make it through, “See Spot Run”. We know he can do it.
This week we are celebrating a book (aside from the Bible) that has impacted us. Perhaps some of our picks will challenge others to pick up the book and further the book’s impact and as you read along with us, share what books have impacted you.


I read almost every type of genre, and I try to mix it up for my reading pleasure. I enjoy many Christian authors, and books on kingdom living but sometimes I need time to process new ideas so I switch up my reading to fiction or biographies. And, I’m always learning so I read books which will increase my knowledge in whatever I’m currently interested in. Over the years the topics have varied from crafts to writing to cooking to science-related discoveries. Choosing only one book is hard (even though I suggested the theme) so I’m going to cheat, and choose 3 books – a kingdom living book, a fiction novel and a teaching book on writing.

I lead women’s ministry for many years and often we would read a book with an added group Bible study. This is how I became familiar with Beth Moore. The format of her studies didn’t work for our group structure until she came out with a shorter study (about 6 weeks) with a shorter DVD teaching series (about 30 minutes). It’s called, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. I read it because I have to as the leader but it gripped my heart more than any other book had until that day. I read a lot of Christian books but often I don’t finish them – the first half or two-thirds are all you need to read because after that it gets repetitive. I believe Beth Moore’s book was the first Christian book I read cover to cover.

Did it apply to me? Not exactly and at the same time, absolutely. I used to be a rigid Christian believer – judgemental and unwavering. By reading the book, my spirit opened up and I became compassionate towards other believers caught in sin. Not only did I become more compassionate towards others but I learned valuable lessons to protect my own walls from crumbling and allowing myself to be deceived into sin. This book is a MUST read for any believer.

A fiction novel that impacted me the most was Barbara Kingsolver’s book, The Poisonwood Bible. The book is set in the Congo, in the 1960s (some of my facts could be wrong – it’s been more than a decade since I read the book). A Baptist minister and his family – wife and 3 daughters move to the Congo to evangelize the people there. Great purpose but the execution was bull-headed, cocky and ineffective.

What I loved about the book was that I loved and hated some of the characters. Unfortunately, the missionary man was one of the characters I disliked but at the time I read it, it touched a nerve – do we evangelize the gospel, or the Western culture? I give this book two thumbs up and all my fingers and toes.

Finally, the book that makes my top #1 for education and learning is Stephen King’s book, On Writing. I was regular contributor to my church’s monthly magazine before I read the book but after, my writing improved because it was streamlined and more succinct. Who knew a horror story author would teach me so much. It is practical and realistic. It is geared towards fiction writers but the writing principles Stephen King suggests are universal no matter if you write business letter, memoirs or fiction. If you are a writer (or want to be) then do yourself and your readers a favour by reading this book and put it into practice.

Have you read any of these books? What book(s) make your top choice?

Sunday, March 25, 2012


He took a deep breath focused his eyes straight and spread his arms for balance. With each trembling step he could feel the earth sink and sway. Little by little he forced one bare foot in front of the other. He dared not look to the right or to the left—only straight. His legs were wet cement, but he trudged ahead. A light breeze tickled his shoulders and he thought it would knock him off his feet—but instead it sent a shiver down his spine. The wet cement set hard. He was stuck.
All sound muted, black spots fluttered before his eyes like the thousand butterflies in his tummy. His world tilted and started to spin—he was going fall…He just knew it.
He released the air held captive since his first step and then inhaled, slow and unsteady. His eyes started to wander first right a few inches and then darted back to center, and then left and then straight ahead again. He inhaled deep and squeezed his eyes shut to hold back the sting of salty tears.
He couldn’t turn around. He’d come too far and besides that, there wasn’t enough room… because, he was too scared. He couldn’t go forward. There was nowhere else to go. It was the end of the line. I can’t do this…help. Please help.
The voice was more of an echo at first, bringing him back from the dark hole he was spiraling into. And its familiarity gave strength—enough strength to open his eyes and continue to breathe.  

 “I –I can’t.”

“You can. I’m here.”

The words chopped through chattering teethe. “But—I don’t know how—I can’t—I’m scared—I never—will you—can you—what if….”

“Don’t worry. I’m here. I’ll catch you…jump”

“Will you catch me? Come closer. Don’t move. Are you ready? Are you sure? Don’t drop me.”

“I will catch you. I’m right where I should be. I’m ready. I’m sure. I won’t drop you—ever. Trust me--jump.”

Still scared, he sucked in a shaky breath and took one more step…into a flurry of wind and speed and splash and cool water and warm arms—and out of fear.
He jumped and learned: even if he couldn’t swim, even if it was over his head, even if he was scared to death—all he had to do, was trust, and take one more step. Dad wouldn’t let him drown but would catch him every time, and…he had time of his life.
And now years later, when his mind fogs dizzy and his world tilts and spins out of control, when he feels like it’s then end of the line…he drifts back to that day and listens for his Father’s Voice and when he hears…I’m here. Trust Me. Jump—he simply lets go and falls into his Heavenly Father’s arms.
And then…he has the time of his life.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doing the Jonah

I wrote about Jonah on Kingdom Bloggers in February. Jonah again came to mind as I sipped some tea the other day, pondering which of the several dark times in my life could I share (most involve other people and I believe in treading carefully when publicly incorporating into our life stories what others may have done to us or we to them).

I have done what I call “the Jonah.” Jonah was a prophet in Old Testament times who tried to run away from what God wanted him to do. It is a laughable activity, trying to run away from the God of all creation: “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

It was just after my college graduation. I had longtime plans to move to England and try to find a job that fall (I have dual citizenship). I really did not have much of a plan, nor did I put a lot of prayer time into a discernment process. But, God was speaking. He cares about His children and, if we are listening, he is dropping clues all around us about His existence, His love, and His direction.

He gave me several clues through people and situations that the direction I was headed was not where he wanted me to be. My mother, a believer, was opposed to the trip, and we had some arguments over it. Of course, I thought she was all wet, and trying to rain on my parade of independence.

My mother did not think something terrible would happen if I went, she just doubted that it was the right time for this: I should stay in the U.S. and get a job here. She was disturbed that I was giving up a great paid summer internship for my trip that could have led to a permanent job: the company would not hire me for it, knowing I was moving to England that September.

Deep inside, through that summer, I felt a little niggling doubt about my trip. But I ignored it, telling myself that surely God wanted me to experience the “abundant life” Jesus talks about in the New Testament (that was my newbie Christian interpretation of “abundant life”). London would be a cool place to live, and I would be out of boring northern Connecticut. Why should I do a reversal on plans I had in mind for a year?

So, I left. I did “the Jonah.” Nothing terrible happened to me. But, I remember waking up one morning feeling strange, like my creative spark had fizzed out. I had always been writing and suddenly found I could not write a word. I knew God had not left me because of my disobedience, but I felt an absence. That was worse than my not being able to find solid work, or quickly running through my money. I enjoyed living with my aunt and hanging out with my cousins, but when you know you are not acting according to God’s will, even the enjoyable can’t convince you otherwise.

I made choices during the trip that I regret--ironically, I made them at the time because of the notion that one should not have any regrets in life, so try as many things as possible. What a lie that is, that traps many in its snare!

I returned to the U.S. just a tad older, but definitely wiser. I had learned how important prayer and discernment is to all of our decisions and choices, but also that even when we make mistakes or turn our backs on God, He waits for us. He may arrange a storm or two to get our attention. He may allow us to stumble. And when we turn back, He helps us back up and points us to the right path.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You don't have to act like a Roman even in Rome...

The sights, sounds and even smells are unmistakable. My eyes seemed to constantly scan the scene unfolding as my walk through caused a better yet an eruption...of emotions buried deep from days gone by so long ago.

But, was it really that long ago? My sense of a workable timetable seemed skewed. I had last set foot here in...maybe...yes, in 2002! That had been only four short years ago, but so much had happened since that last visit making the time frame seem more expansive than it actually was. My fourth, no make that fifth, visit to America's version of the City of Lights was vastly different, however, and despite the adrenaline flow, my state of mind was far less stoic or business like than the prior four trips. This time I was truly excited to be here with my wife, family and friends.

I was back in Las Vegas...

There is no other city in the world like Vegas. I had returned to Hawaii, where I had lived at one time, with my new bride just a few years prior and enjoyed ever single moment. But the Aloha State didn't harness any of the dark, almost mocking, ghost of lifestyles past that Vegas did. My last trip here had been eventful in a number of ways. First and foremost, I had left the town that breaks most with a wad of winnings. Five figures worth to be exact. Only one of my prior four trips had resulted in me leaving money behind, but never had I been that hot. It didn't seem like I could lose as I rolled winnings into more winnings. My last visit had seen me depart full of self-admiration and even arrogance.

Despite the high note in confidence and cash flow, things would take a decisively nasty turn upon my return home. My life would begin to be turned upside down in a number of ways and a number of times eventually resembling a snow globe with me at the center of the blizzard-like scene. Chaos reigned in my life. I lived loose and not free...nothing is truly free. Anything worth having comes with a price, and my way of living was paid for with intense loneliness, overwhelming guilt and crushing weights of anxiety.

As it all swept back over me like a rush of invisible locus swarming to engulf me, my love took hold of my hand. "Are you okay?" she quietly asked with genuine concern. "I'm fine. Just a lot of demons still lurking I guess," I tried to be reassuring. Not quite fully understanding the magnitude of my response yet sensing a hint of despair in my voice, she took tighter hold of my hand and inched a little closer to me as we walked. Instantly, a calmness fell over me, and I whispered a quick prayer for protection. Father, you know where I've been and the things I've done, and I gave those to You years ago. I know I've willingly put myself in this situation, but I ask for Your guidance, for strength, and your protection. I refuse to let Satan beat me down with things of the past. We are here to have fun, but only as You see proper. Thank you for loving such a mess of a man like me. In my Savior's name I come to You with this prayer.

As we moved deeper into the labyrinth of buzzing and blinking and clinking and clanking, I felt more at ease. My goal was to just come here with family and friends and have a good time. The marketing slogan proclaimed, 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,' but apparently that advertising company isn't aware of or fails to acknowledge an omnipotent God that transcends more than the fear of loose lips or unflattering headlines. The real trick is to make sure nothing happens that I wouldn't want Him to see...which encompasses in fact everything.

Everyone around me in our group chatted and took in the magnificence of the world-class resort. A billion dollar establishment that set on a row of similar such establishments and stretched 3.8 miles. Real estate and revenues worth more than the GDP of many small countries. All designed with one thing in get you to put your quarter into that slot...repeatedly.

Despite my initial foreboding demeanor, I started to relax and let go of any dread that tried to linger. As we approached the back end of the enormous casino, we approached the very spot where it had all gone down. To the group, it was just another instrument of the gambling, but to me it represented a time in my life when beating the man foolishly seemed more fulfilling than
pleasing the One. As I stood staring into the enormous sports book, a calmness blanketed me.

I looked at the people sitting and gazing almost lifelessly at the Big Board. Endless odds and propositions filled the large center display floating among what seemed an endless number of screens constantly feeding updates, scores and highlights. A mecca for most any sports enthusiast, gambler or not. A small swell of pride formed as I realized that I had come here and beat the odds, but it was quickly deflated by the lasting memory of what it had cost me in the long run. Money can be the root of evil, but the love of money truly is the root of all evil. I was looking directly at some of that love mixed with unrealized delusions.

Thank you Lord for delivery me from my enemy. As I continued on, my group was unaware of the brief internal strife that had left as quickly as it had appeared. Somehow, my love was far to attuned to my inner workings not to sense the brief uneasiness of the moment. "You still okay?" she said so softly. " Yes, I am. Thank you," squeezing her hand just a slight bit more. She probably received my acknowledgement as mere politeness, but it was intended on a completely different scale...and God knew exactly what I was thanking her for from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

OK…What’s Barbra Streisand, a set of Rosary Beads, A Friend and the Lord Got to Do with It?

We each, this week, are sharing a time that we were at the brink of darkness and what brought us back.
When I thought of my testimony, I thought of one of my memories of my mom, when she was in a Nursing Home. The Recreation Director shared with me how much she enjoyed my mother. It seems my mom went to the Catholic Mass, the Jewish service and the Protestant service as well. She told Sister Zena that she wanted to “cover all the bases.”
I could see how the mosaic of faith expressions that my mother had, mirrored by own experiences with various belief systems, years later.
Ahhhh…the 60’s. Flower children…peace signs…peace rallies. That didn’t describe me. Rather, I was a scared, unwed 17 year old pregnant girl.
Denial…pretending…hoping…didn’t change the facts. I was with child.
I had tried unsuccessfully to miscarry my child in gym class. I thought the pummel horse would do it.
No, he hung on for dear life.
The celebration of Christmas Season came.
The seductive spirit of suicide whispered to me. “It’ll be easy…no more pain…you won’t have to face anyone…you slut. You who everyone thinks is a goody two shoes!”
As I formulated a plan, another voice spoke. “Do you realize that if you go through with your plan, you will not only kill yourself but you will kill the baby that you carry?”
It was as if I was smacked in the face with reality.
As much as self hatred vied for position, compassion won the match. I could not kill my child.
Pretending became an art. Trying to become invisible, as I grew in size…impossible!
Day of reckoning came. Good girl image annihilated. Shame and relief on the same day.
Hiding became an art. My bedroom became my oasis…just  me and my baby. He was all I had.
Mononucleosis…brilliant! That will be the story line. No friends to bother me…shhh…secrets…guilt…shame…swirled around me..
A friend, Loretta barges in, ignoring my request to be alone. I’m at once happy and then angry at her.. A gift… rosary beads? What for?...Sparkling and beautiful they were…hope ascends…God, do You still remember me?... Oh no…remembering now, You are an angry and punishing God…aren’t You?
A hot sweltering day in June…my sister, a nurse verified I was in labor. She was a Godsend; as I was off the charts with fear…Compassionate doctor…will never forget him.
Panic sets in…why are my parents here in this dark room?…why are they smiling?...I touch my belly…noooooooo…where is my baby?...they are still smiling…Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh…GONE!
Following the path of “the right thing to do”, I sign the papers…@ 17…how could I truly understand the legalities. Another mother will have him…the cost for my sin? …It’s too hard to think straight.
Babies crying…dreaming of babies needing me…scornful voices in my head saying that I deserved this fate…”see what happens to a ”so called” good girl”
“Go on” they say…”Put it behind you”…”Think of a future”…folks who meant well.  Did they know that was impossible?...I could barely put one foot in front of another.
Losing my son was a death without a public acknowledgement or a funeral.
Christmas arrives again…nothing about the season is welcomed by me. The babies are still crying and they are reaching out to me. Grief and sorrow consume me…it’s tentacles wrapping tightly round me. I again, was convinced that suicide was reasonable
Out of the blue, Barbra Streisand shows up. Not in person…but in the spirit of the season. So unclear to me still…where did her Christmas Album come from?...a coincidence?…hardly. God knew that music would bypass my pain and deliver me from temptation…so over and over like a hungry bird, I listened to her songs…was it the words?…was it her voice?..No matter…a glimmer…a sliver of Light poked into my darkness with authority and force and infused me with strength to go on.

So my Protestant friend...a Catholic Rosary...a Jewish performer and the Lord
Helped me to...
for Him and for Me

Linda Maynard

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jenna's House Story by Jenna Vick Silliman

I married for love, not money, and after twenty years of marriage Cliff and I were as happy as a couple of clams at high tide. However, one thing we lacked—a home of our own. We’d never been able to save the money for a down payment.

Our first rental was a tiny mobile home, like a cabin, nestled in pine trees of a town in northern California, Petaluma. I planted flowers, made curtains, and settled in just like it was forever. Our budget was like a shoestring frayed at both ends, but I learned to “make do or do without.” I kept singing a line from “Danny’s Song”, “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya Honey!”

After having three children, we moved to a larger rental, a tract house in Rohnert Park. It was shabby, but Cliff boasted, “Jenna can make ANY house a home.”

On Sunday drives, Cliff pointed out houses with a level driveway to play basketball. I liked the homes with lots of windows and flowers around them. I’d comment, “Doesn’t that blue one with white trim look nice?” At Christmas, with a longing too deep to describe, I admired the homes with a lighted tree in a big picture glass window in the front room. Cliff and I dreamed together—after all, dreams are free! Our conversations often began, “If only we could buy our own home…”

Our landlord remarked, “You guys have my house looking so nice, I’ve decided to sell it.” So we moved to another rental. In 1997 we were renting another place, and the owners decided to move back in. We had six children then, so it was difficult to find a place we could afford to rent that was big enough for all of us. Often owners would not want to rent to a big family.

Once I had a vivid dream of a house with a white porch that seemed so real I was ready to serve lemonade. When we drove around and looked at rentals, my kids teased, “There’s no white porch, Mama, so that can’t be it!”

We finally found a huge, mouse-infested old rental way up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Bakersfield, California. The place had been vacant and up for sale for years. I took on the challenge of making it homey, and after a year we had it looking quite nice. July 1, 1999 the phone rang. The realtor informed me the house had sold. We had 30 days to move. I was six months pregnant with our seventh child and it was 98 degrees. I couldn’t believe it. I paced and cried and prayed—mad at God. I yelled, “God, I can’t do this! I just can’t move again and again!”

We had no money and nowhere to go.

We ended up temporarily moving into a room addition our friends had built onto their home in Sequim, Washington. It took us six weeks, but we finally found another house to rent in Sequim. Then another hit, after less than a year, the owners wanted to move back in—so we had to move again.

The situation seemed impossible. We had seven children and could not find another rental. We’d sunk thousands of dollars into renting, investing in nothing, with nothing to show for it. Our three-year-old son had already lived in five houses! Every day we checked the papers and found nothing. I locked myself in the bathroom and turned on the bath to drown out the sound of my sobbing from my children. The words of Jesus came to my mind: “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” In despair I cried out to Him, “Help me, Jesus! I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

The next day I visited a wise older woman, Marian Trebon, and asked her to pray for us. She peered into my eyes and asked, “Do you and Cliff pray together?”
I mumbled, “Well…yes, of course we pray…um…sometimes. We pray together before we eat.”

She shared how she and her husband daily prayed aloud together and gave every concern to God. She raved about time after time they experienced amazing answers to their prayers and how there is incredible power in prayer when a husband and wife pray in unity. She also shared how we as God’s children should go to Him with child-like faith, full of trust and ask Him for whatever is our heart’s desire because He delights in giving His children good gifts. She read in the Bible the words of Jesus, “You have not, because you ask not.” She concluded, “You and Cliff pray your hearts out!”

My dear friend infused me with faith. I rushed home and told Cliff all about it. We made a prayer date for early the next morning. We held hands and prayed about every specific detail of what we wanted in a home.

“Dear Heavenly Father, our family needs a home. We’d like a big, solid house with an acre of land. We’d like four bedrooms, an office, and a mother-in-law cottage. We want to live some place rural, yet still close enough to town so that Cliff’s mom will come and live with us.”

Then I thought, why not ask for everything we’d really like? I quickly added, “And we’d like a blue house with a white porch, a level driveway to play basketball, a big kitchen with a window that looks out on the back yard so I can watch my children play, lots of windows, a water view, and a view of the mountains, too. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

About a week later, I read this ad in the local paper, “4 bed, 3 bath. Quality older home in good condition. Over 3,000 sq.ft. Close to town on one acre.” I dialed the number with shaky hands and made an appointment for first thing that morning. I wrote down the address and realized it was only half a mile from the main street in Sequim, but in a rural area! As we pulled in front of a big gray house with a mother-in-law cottage next door, I said, “This is it.”

We piled out of the car and walked around the house to the back yard—which the owner said we could feel free to do. In the center of the back lawn, the kids scrambled up into a huge cherry tree. I had a cherry tree in the yard of my childhood home! Then I saw the kitchen window facing the back yard. I smiled and whispered, “Home sweet home!”

The owner arrived and said, “Hi, my name is Chuck Little. You can call me Grandpa Chuck. I’m a retired realtor. For fifty years I’ve helped folks find homes. I like your family and you need a home.” He explained how we could do a lease option. He’d reserve a third of the rent each month and give it back in two years for a down payment to buy the house.

Choking back tears I asked, “Are you making it easy for us to buy your house?”
He said, “Look, I’m 74 years old, and once in a while, I feel like doing something nice. Some things you just know God meant to be.”

Our home is the answer, down to the last detail, to our specific prayer—with an acre of land near town, yet in a rural area. There’s even a little water view of Sequim Bay, and on a clear day, we can see the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Baker. Yes, there are lots of windows, an office, AND a level driveway for basketball!

Cliff pointed out, “The place needs a paint job. If we do the work, will you supply the paint?” I took a deep breath and added, “And may we paint it blue with white trim and a white porch?”

He responded, “Sure!”

We’ve now lived in our blue house with a white porch for almost twelve years—longer than I have lived anywhere. In the summer, you might see us eating cherries on our porch swing or playing basketball in our driveway. At Christmas time, you might admire our beautiful lighted tree in the big picture glass window in our front room. Dreams do come true. What is your heart’s desire? Find a prayer partner and pray your hearts out!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Free Falling

I am a realist.  I think sometimes I come off as if I don’t have faith, or I’m not as spiritual as some because I just like to tell it like it is…  If I hurt, I hurt.  No sugar coating, "glory hallelujah everything is fine" from me.   Sometimes I wish I could be less like this… I read Merlin Carouther’s Prison to Praise when I was younger but somehow or other, I’m more like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof.

I’m more willing to tell my details too.  May not be wise and certainly isn’t the best route for most of us, but… it’s me.  One of the biggest compliments (at least in my mind) is for people to tell me I am real.  Now that doesn’t mean if you don’t tell the details that you aren’t real.  It’s just I am either stupid enough or brave enough (there is a fine line between these two) to tell details.

I’ve said a lot in my blogs about these times, these struggles, the pain, etc.  I have found that it has been good for me and from what I hear from readers, many have been blessed and helped too.  When I am in pain at the end of my rope, about to slip, I write.  My writing serves as a prayer.  Writing however, is a newer approach for me.

There have been times, when I’ve let go of the rope.  I used to think you had to have white knuckle faith and persevere - holding on to the end of your rope.  I remember writing about this before here on Kingdom Bloggers.  I remember it sort of had a mixed review.  People thought maybe I lacked faith then too I think.

A lot of people don’t want to hear that you can sometimes let go and go into a free fall.  Trust me, it is scary, even terrifying but you know what? You never hit the ground.  I think sometimes when we are at the end of the rope we hold on in our own strength thinking we have to be strong, we have to have faith, etc., etc. and in reality, we can let go.  Why?  Because Jesus wants us to know that when He said He’d never leave us or forsake us He meant it.  You can let go and Jesus will catch you. 

Okay, here’s the skinny on one of those times.  Several years ago I went through a house fire, serious illness in the family, being without my family through Christmas, death of a grandchild (story starts here), son seriously ill, false accusations and investigation at work, and a very serious problem in our marriage – all these things and more – in less than a year.  I finally gave up.  Formerly the “spiritual spark” in my church, I dragged myself there and sat on the floor during most of the service as if I were Job sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  

It was horrible.  No one truly understood – some would come and try to “raise my hands.”  Some would pray – some would just shake their heads – most loved me anyway – one dear woman sent a card to me in the mail without her name (I knew who it was anyway) every week for almost two years… I lost a tremendous amount of weight as everything in my life also disintegrated because I was starving myself and by all accounts, I looked terrible.  And I almost died. I was free falling.

But Jesus never left me.  He sat in sackcloth and ashes with me.  He never stopped loving me.  Even though I almost died several times, I didn't die.  He walked with me through the dark night of the soul.  I didn’t crash and burn.  I never lost faith – I had to stop – I had to grieve – I had work to be done inside.  

Right before I finally let go and started falling the Lord spoke to me and said I had things in my life that had to be dealt with, He said it would be difficult, but He also said, I’ll never leave you, I'll be there all the way  – I thought it was sin.  Why is it our mind always goes there – I thought what did I do?  I couldn’t imagine what it might be – it was sin, but it wasn’t my sin.  The sin had been committed against me by a neighborhood pedophile when I was about 8 years old.   If you haven't read my series on Sounds of Hope about this time in my life, it actually starts here and goes forward.  You'll read about a child bride of 16 who marries an abuser and what God has brought her through...lots of details, painful details.

I’m whole because I allowed myself to free fall so Jesus could catch me.  I am free because I was willing to go through the dark night of the soul and be honest about hurting.  It was hard.  Foolishly I thought it was the only time I’d go through such an experience.  I thought dark nights of the soul were a onetime deal – they aren’t.  So when I am not always seeming to be “happy” and full of faith it’s because I’ve learned the value of being real and honest. 

As the Spiritual says …
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
Nobody knows but Jesus

Sometimes I'm down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I'm almost to the ground
Oh, yes, Lord

And yet, I stand today as a testimony that you never free fall without being caught by the Lord.