Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quick note

I'm still here but incredibly busy with many ministry projects. I'll be back to posting on Monday with good news about what is happening here in my little corner of God's great big world!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Opportunities

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

As I read 1 Samuel (I’ve just gotten to the introduction of David) I can’t help but think one of its messages is to warn us of the corrupt temptation of power and fame. Saul could have been a noble warrior and king, but no, he let his head swell after victory and praise and then pride and greed clouded his thinking. Funny how a little bit of success and recognition can go to your head and make you think you are more important than others. I don’t want to get all political this morning but if I could I would make 1 Samuel assigned reading for our present national leaders. No doubt there’s a few swollen heads in D.C.

I’ve confessed in the past how much easier I find it to walk the Walk among strangers and newer friends than alongside friends I’ve had a while who know me not as a Christian but as the wild and crazy gut next door. It is a weakness I’ve been working on and I think I’m making progress. Word is getting out that I’ve become very involved in our church and its ministries and I’ve been overheard having God conversations with neighbors during recent neighborhood gatherings. Now it is time to, as Emeril would say, to kick it up a notch.

Our church encourages us to organize neighborhood congregations. I’m not entirely sure what the role of a neighborhood congregation is, I think it is to provide a network for us to call upon in times of need as well as a gathering for community prayer and Bible study. But whatever it is, I’m about to get neck deep in one. A month or so ago a neighbor who also attends our church mentioned her desire to start a neighborhood congregation. I offered to help. Nothing has been said since until yesterday when I found an email from her – she’s ready to get started. I gave her the dates I’m available in March to begin work forming this congregation and later today I’ll begin reading about what I’ve signed up for. Whatever it is, though, I believe it is good for me to do. It’s nice how God gives us the opportunities to put into action what we profess to believe. Some may say such occurrences are tests of our faith, but I see them as opportunities to live in God pleasing ways.

Indeed, Walking the Walk and Living the Word gets easier every day. All thanks goes to Him who gives me strength and courage in answer to my prayers.

Don’t forget, if you can watch FamilyNet television on your cable package I’ll be on EveryDay with Marcus & Lisa tomorrow sometime between 11:00 – Noon EST.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Born With It

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

My friend Richard and I had lunch yesterday and, among other things, talked about how the churches we attend today are so different from those we attended as youth. We agreed how much more we love churches that go out to find seekers wherever they may be, rather than the traditional stoic church in which you were frowned upon if you did not show up dressed in your Sunday best. I honestly remember overhearing someone say she didn’t think “we” ought to allow hippies (this was in the ‘70s) to come to church until they cut their hair and put on a suit.

What folly it is, to use the church to separate ourselves from others, to hold ourselves up high as if we are superior to the unchurched. Isn’t there ample warning against this kind of conduct in the Bible? I think in reference to the Pharisees? Yet we do it anyway, look down on the sinners, failing to see that the very act of doing so is in itself a sin.

Like Richard said, we don’t “commit” sin, we have sin; it is part of our blood and bones. Therefore, we cannot become clean, or without sin, by washing our hair, dressing ourselves up, stopping smoking or drinking, lusting for others, telling lies, and ridding yourself of any other vice you might believe you can conquer.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t strive to conquer your vices, instead it is only to remind you that you cannot make yourself to be without sin. You cannot rid yourself of what you inherited from Adam, you were born with sin.

So what can you do? Simple – remember this: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast, (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I enjoy meeting with Richard, he is far better read in the Bible than I am, and I benefit from his wisdom as he reacts to the things I, usually in ignorance, say. Just yesterday I found myself explaining, justifying, an opinion when he smiled and said, “I’d like to hear what you think after you read the writings of Paul.” That’s what I love about the guy – he has hope for me.

An update on the ministries I’m working with – I have my first “assignment,” to meet with a non-profit that is bringing Bible study into public schools. I’m not yet sure how they operate, I assume they sponsor Bible Clubs, and I’m eager to learn more. I’m meeting with two leaders and nine students for breakfast this Friday to hear what the teens think about the work of the ministry and their own God stories. I’m excited just thinking about it.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Washed

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Much of my Bible reading leads to self-examination, a time to consider the ways of my youth, make a list of my transgressions so that I might go about righting them, and make decisions about how I’m going to conduct myself each day forward.

Sometimes my memories take me to places where I’d rather not have gone, to dark recesses where what hides in corners threatens to take away any peace, comfort and joy I’ve since enjoyed in my life. In moments when facing those corners I sometimes wonder how can it be that God would love me, save me, and let me be with Him.

Yesterday I read Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

I know that today I am standing on a rock. I know, too, that I have done nothing to become deserving of this firm place to stand. I am here but by grace. That is what propels me forward every day now - the knowledge that no matter how wretched I have been, how deep into the mud and mire I may have sunken, Jesus held out his hand for me. He was willing to let me be with Him, if only I would love him and choose to follow him.

This morning I finished reading one of the workbooks for the Stephen Ministry class I’ll attend tonight. I underlined this sentence: “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves - do what it says.”

So I begin my Monday washed clean of mud and slime, forgiven for the dark things I have done, filled with love and a burning desire to do as Jesus would do, and I face the day with a plan to do what the Good Book directs me to do. And as I go, I know also that it is only by the strength God gives me in response to my constant prayers that I do not slip back into the pit. Thank you, my Lord; you comfort me.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Nudge

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Today’s is going to be a short post – I’ve got to run out to get Baby Girl from a sleepover and I’m writing this as I post it rather than during the night before, which is my custom. I didn’t write last night because instead I attended a long meeting, one Sponsored by the Community Outreach organization at our church.

Community Outreach (CO) is just what it sounds like: it is a body within the church organized to put volunteers into action in places of need within our community. Not only has Community Outreach formed its own ministries, it serves other ministries not founded in our church, providing volunteer support, funding, and professional services to help the ministries fulfill their missions. Community Outreach is one of the entities with which I volunteer.

I attended last night at the invitation of the Director of CO, to be introduced to the leaders of the various ministries that come under the CO umbrella. I have offered to write for these ministries, developing stories about their missions in order to convey to the public what they do, how God is touching lives through the ministries, and of the need for still more volunteers.

What I didn’t know about the meeting was that a speaker was there to give a talk about fundraising. Do you remember how I wrote a few weeks ago that I was pondering a job in the fundraising field, but wasn’t sure if that is what God wanted me to do? And how I decided to forge ahead with my writing career, even though I thought I needed to get a job, hoping book sales would be enough to allow me to dig deeper into the volunteer roles with the ministries? You can imagine, then, how tuned in I was to what this guy had to say.

Guess what he said: to succeed at fundraising in a tough economy such as what we have right now a ministry has to be able to articulate its story in order to inspire people to give during challenging times.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Do I get to continue as an author, AND help with fundraising? Not only help one organization, but many? I can’t tell you how deeply stirred I was when all eyes and smiles turned toward me when I was introduced to the ministry leaders as the one who was going to help them articulate their story. Before I could sit down many eager hands were reaching out for my card.

The only way God could have gotten my attention any better would have been to snack me upside the head.

I asked you to pray for me that God would turn me around if I were not doing what he wanted me to do. I, if I may be so bold, believe my and your prayers have been answered. Not only has God not turned me away from this path I’m on, I’m pretty sure he’s nudging me right along to make sure I continue to follow it.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Transformation

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’ve begun to think of many Bible verses in short, easy to remember phrases. For example, I’ve boiled down Proverbs 4:20-27 to this: “Guard your heart, look straight ahead, and do not swerve.” I don’t mean to reduce the Bible to Spark Notes, but I’ve never been very good at memorization so have had to rely on mental tools like this to help me. At the very least, if I’ve been able to remember a few of these and then find the occasion to repeat one to someone one day, I’m still spreading the Word. I never thought I’d do that, spread the Word, but as I said on Tuesday, I’m being transformed by the renewal of my mind, And none of the credit is mine, of course. We all know to whom the credit goes – God, our Father.

I’ve heard the term “fruit” rather often in the last few weeks, sometimes in reference to tithing and other times in reference to the prosperity that comes to you when you are a Christ follower doing God’s work. You and I speculated ten days ago that perhaps the surge in publicity I’ve received recently is the fruit God has allowed to bloom in my life. Well gosh, now He is filling my storehouse to overflowing! Next week I appear on another FamilyNet show, EveryDay with Marcus and Lisa. FamilyNet is owned by InTouch Ministries, a Charles Stanley enterprise. This show reaches 24 million households! I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to talk to so many about my books, which really is my opportunity to talk about God-centered families. Thank you, Lord; I pray I serve you well.

Speaking of transformation – let me tell you this. There was a time when if I spoke with others about my feelings and attachment to God it was never with enthusiasm, but always embarrassment. I often said things like “I love Jesus, but…” and went on to explain, in a very self-indulgent, intellectual way, why I was not acting like a Christ follower should. One of the things I’ve been worried about recently is how to naturally begin to talk about my new relationship with God, to share my love and enthusiasm for Him in a way that was both comfortable to me and listenable to others. This subject came up the other night during the Stephen Ministry training. After all, our goal as caregivers, aside from lending counseling services, is to eventually introduce our care receiver to the Ultimate Healer.

Our Instructor said, “Don’t worry about it. If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, God will show up when he is supposed to.” I stored that away, hoping it would indeed be the case.

Yesterday I got a surprise call from a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in two years. She wanted to meet me for lunch. We weren’t at the table for more than fifteen minutes when, surprise, God showed up. We had never spoken about God before but then suddenly there we were doing just that. She even said she thought God brought me into her life for a purpose and that is why she called me about lunch; she wanted to talk about something she knew I would understand.

I know I’m rambling, please forgive me. What I’m trying to get to is this: I’ve learned that God is everywhere you look, if you have the desire to find Him. Amen.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ruth

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

An interesting thing about Ruth, according to my supplemental text, The Bible for Blockheads, is that she was dark skinned. Moab is now known as Jordan, and at a glance you can see that Jordanian people are much darker than Jewish people. So the Ruth-Boaz marriage was an interracial one. I wonder why there is never any mention of that detail when the Ruth story is told? It is commonly referred to as the greatest love story of all time. It seems the love between Ruth and Boaz would be even more revered if it were known that not only had they overcome the differences in their class status and the past adversities of their nations, but racial barriers as well.

I’ve always been disconcerted about churches that weren’t integrated. I understand there might be stylistic differences between historically black and white churches and people may have a clear preference about in which style they wish to worship. But I’ve been in churches where I know people of different races would not have been welcomed, even as a brother in Christ. How does one reconcile that, to be a Christian and a racist too?

This issue, to not be a racist, is so important to me that in the last ten years I’ve chosen the church I attend in part based on whether or not it had a diverse congregation. My church today is White, Asian and Black, the latter two representing an impressive percentage of the overall congregation. To me it is a clear sign that the doors are open to everyone who wants to come there to worship.

In retrospect, maybe this is one of the reasons why I became disillusioned with the church years ago. The Southern Baptist church I attended was 100% white and had nothing to do with the nearby church that was 100% black. Our preacher even spoke down about those who attended the Methodist church next door! From the pulpit no less!

An aside: I’ve always admired the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their “anyone who comes” policy. Now there’s an integrated church.

So the story of Ruth teaches me two things: first, God is indeed color blind, and second, the problem I had with the churches of my youth was really an issue I should have taken up with men, not God. It was men who set the pace for the color of the church, not God. How short-sighted of me to separate myself from God because the people in his church were so imperfect! What else was I expecting? My youthful ignorance becomes more apparent to me each day.

So I am admitting I turned away from the church because I could not find a perfect church, instead I always found churches filled with flawed people. I laugh at this indiscretion of mine now as I remember what a good friend told me recently, “If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it because YOU will certainly mess it up.”

How right my friend is. I am but a sinner, a man of many flaws. But now I am also a Believer and a Follower, and a student of His Word. As my ignorance falls away, so to do I turn away from my sinful ways. And now I also find great comfort in my church, for there I find other flawed men like me who have come together to say thanks and give praise to the One who loves us anyway.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Never too far gone

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I finished reading Judges and will begin Ruth later today. I’m looking forward to Ruth; it is a story I am familiar with. It tells us one does not enter Heaven by blood or tribe of origin alone, that one with no connection to those led into the Promised Land but who have faith and a pure heart may also be with God. That’s good news because so far in the Old Testament is has seemed (to me at least) if one were not of Israel he had no place in Heaven. I think Ruth was a sign of things to come, a symbol of the news Jesus would spread, that all who come to Him are His children.

What did I get out of Judges, other than realizing Samson was a judge, something I had never heard? I learned that no matter how far we fall into moral decay, and no matter how often we fall, we are never too far gone. God always loves us and will answer our calls for Him. We see that over and over again in Judges - the people of Israel turning away from God and toward paganism, becoming detached from Him who had saved them, and when oppressed to their limits with pain and suffering brought on by none other than themselves, they remember God and return to Him. And each time he allowed them to come back into his fold.

How wonderful it is to realize that we cannot condemn ourselves beyond the point of forgiveness, that we can be washed clean again no matter how badly we soil ourselves, if we are truly repentant when we return to God.

You might recall I mentioned that I volunteer with the Movers and Shakers, the ministry that collects and then distributes donated furniture to needy families. A few Saturdays ago while waiting for the rest of the crew to show up, I had the chance to talk with the Director of the ministry. As it turns out they are in need of cash donations (to rent warehouse space, delivery trucks, etc.) and want to hire a fundraiser but have no money to do so. I stored that away hoping that when I finish the work I’ve already signed up for with all the other ministries I’m working with, I can give my time to the Movers and Shakers in a fundraising capacity.

You might also recall that a few months ago I had wanted to go into fundraising as a new career, but I’ve begun to believe that I should continue to write so that I may also continue to serve these ministries I love so much. I’m confident God will take care of the book business for me so that I can continue to serve. If that were not the case then it is a complete mystery to me why I see needs and hear requests for help everywhere I go, and discover I have the time and ability to lend help.

Before sitting down to write this post I read two Verses that will be on my mind the rest of the day: Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), and Be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2). That’s plenty to think about, smile about, and be grateful for, I think.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Seeds

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Well the media tour and annual Valentine’s party are over so it’s time to get back to the normal daily grind. Thanks for bearing with me as I posted book excerpts last week; I appreciate your thoughtful comments. If you’re interested, click on these links to hear a few of the radio interviews from the Valentine’s Day promotion:

Dr. Alvin Augustus Jones (scroll down until you find a link to my name and book cover)
http://www.dralvinjones.com/

WHBC-FM
http://www.mix941.com/pages/3094568.php

Dr. Pat
http://www.thedrpatshow.com/guests.php?guest=1097

To bring you up to date with my walk, I’ve continued with the Stephen Ministry training (in fact, I have a class tonight) which includes a good deal of reading about combining counseling skills and spiritual guidance. One afternoon as I sat reading my attention turned to my old psychology books from my graduate school days. Wedged in between books about depression, psychopathology, family therapy and more, was one titled Pastoral Care and Counseling. I had forgotten I owned it and couldn’t remember when or why I bought it in the first place.

It was a moment of irony: I was training back then in a completely secular environment; not one word was said about God being the ultimate healer. Yet for some reason I found myself led to purchase a book about Christian counseling, although I never read it. Now I’m preparing to become a Christian counselor and of all the professional books on my shelf that I could use as resources, today I see that there is only one that I will choose to read. I guess sometimes seeds are planted that take a while to grow.

Last night Jill and I attended the third and last membership class we had to take before we could apply to join our church. That sounds weird doesn’t it – apply to join the church. About five years ago after visiting this same church I walked out determined not to go back after hearing that one had to attend three classes and then be interviewed by an Elder in order to become a member. What kind of church was that, I thought, a cult? I’d never heard of such a thing. Where I’d come from you could fall off a turnip truck drunk and dirty but if you wanted to walk down the aisle and join the church you could and everyone would celebrate your decision. Yet, as irony would have it again, in two weeks Jill and I have an appointment for our interview with an Elder.

You see, first I realized you didn’t need to be a member to attend the church. Anyone can come whenever they wish, drunk, dirty or otherwise. And second, I realized what it means in this church to become a member – there are expectations to be met, and I don’t just mean tithing. Members are expected to serve the church and the community, expected to reach the unchurched. Members are expected to be tools for doing God’s work, and members are expected to admonish their brothers who are not fulfilling their duties as a member of the church.

Wow, becoming a member is serious business. And why shouldn’t it be? We’re only talking about your eternal life, or your eternal death.

When the interview sign-up sheet came around to Jill and I, I happened to be scanning over the workbook we were using to help us understand what we were agreeing to as we took our last step toward becoming members of this church. My eyes went to one sentence: The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 John 2:6). I underlined it, and then signed Jill and me up for a meeting with an Elder.

This morning as I began working on this post I looked over the notes I wrote down last night. I saw that the last thing I wrote was this: I used to listen but I did not hear. Now I hear, and I see.

Yes, sometimes a seed is planted that takes a while to grow, but grow it will if for the glory of God.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Friday, February 13, 2009

For Jill

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Today is the day before Valentine’s Day, the day I celebrate the wondrous gift God sent to me, my beautiful wife Jill. To make the occasion I’m posting the introduction to the first book I wrote for her, “Why I Love You”:

One of life’s great experiences is falling in love so deeply one cannot imagine ever being without the other. Whether a first love, a new love, or a rekindled love, we universally experience the wonderful feelings that come when we find that special person - the intense feelings of attachment, the euphoric passion, the promise of a happy future together. Some of us find one true love and keep that partner for a lifetime. Others have love that eventually fades, but remain ever hopeful of finding a new and longer-lasting love one day. Some have not yet fallen in love and are searching for the person that will fulfill their romantic dreams. No matter where we are in our lives or what else may occupy our time, we all wish to have someone to love, someone who will love us in return.

When it comes to falling in love there are, I think, two kinds of people. The first is one who has a well-laid plan by which they seek a partner that possesses certain preferred qualities and characteristics. Upon finding such a person, they pursue a cautious and measured courtship, waiting for signs of reassurance before giving in to feelings of attachment, never taking too much risk, slowly and incrementally revealing more about themselves, until a respectable time has passed and a sense of comfort has been attained, before ever coming near uttering those three powerful words, “I love you.”

The second kind has no such plan or patience for caution. They will think nothing of the risk being taken when investing in someone, nor will they bother to proceed carefully, but will choose instead to reveal everything about themselves to whoever wishes to know them. These are the people who believe in serendipity, who trust their feelings and are led by their heart, who are on a relentless quest to find, earn, and keep love in their lives. These are the people who do not tiptoe into love, but instead know only to dive in, head first, with abandon. I am one of these people.

Exhilarated by the dive, I like it when my heart pounds so fast and strong that I can feel it in my chest and hear it in my ears. I enjoy the hope that swells inside, and I look forward to discovering what promise the relationship may hold. I don’t stop to think about what I am doing, but instead choose to feel my way along, not knowing if it will last but trusting to gain something worthwhile from the experience, giving of myself what I can and hoping for my affections to be returned. Sometimes I have been rewarded, and other times not. Sometimes I have been disappointed and hurt. Sometimes, regrettably, I have done the disappointing and hurting. Yet, through it all, I have continued to approach relationships in the same way, head first, without hesitation, hoping each time to find the relationship from which a lasting love would grow.

I have been in love more than once. Although at times I have been heartbroken, I have few regrets about these failed relationships because each of them, from high school infatuations to relationships of my adulthood, has fulfilled a special need in my life at the time, helping me to discover more about myself and improving my understanding of intimacy and commitment. For me, each relationship has been another step in the journey to a more meaningful capacity to truly love someone. I have learned much along the way.

I have learned that love is like a diamond, hard and durable, yet if handled carelessly, can cleave into worthless fragments. A relationship must be cared for and nourished if it is to remain whole. Care and nourishment may take many forms, like sending love letters, bringing home flowers, or planning romantic evenings together. Care and nourishment can also be simple, like speaking from one’s heart and telling the other of the love that is inspired within you. I have learned that love involves risk, and it is only after taking risk and finding that no harm will come that a deeper love can grow. I have learned that love involves work. It brings with it challenges and compromises, and it sometimes brings tears, but with the desire to carry out one’s commitment with passion and persistence, it is work worth doing and even more love is the reward. Above all, I think the most valuable lesson I have learned is that love cannot go unexpressed. Signs of love must be demonstrated and words of love must be spoken if love is to continuously flow with vigor. It is this lesson that has brought me to write this book.

Recently and unexpectedly a great and wonderful blessing has visited upon me, and the next time —the last time—has come. I have met a woman, a woman who reminds me each day why I enjoy being in love, a woman who is teaching me more about loving than I have ever known. She gives me acceptance, kindness, and grace that compel me to better myself for her enjoyment. She pleases all my senses, stimulates my mind and my passions, and encourages my ever-increasing hunger for her company. She lets me love her the way I want to, and welcomes all that I have to give her. She tirelessly shows her love and enthusiasm for me. I have told her of my many weaknesses and trespasses, and she has not retreated from me. I have revealed to her my fears, and she has comforted me. I do not know how I became so fortunate, but I know that I am.

It is because of this woman that I, for the first time, now question myself and my past relationships, worrying that the way in which I have conducted myself leaves me suspect when I tell her how I feel about her. What if I cannot adequately express to her what she has come to mean to me, or why she is different from those I have known before her? I worry that I cannot say something original to her, or do something for the first time with her, that I will be unable to make it clear to her and to others that this time it is different. Out of this worry comes a determination and resolve to do the only thing I know how to do, but to do it better than ever before, and that is, to just dive in. So it is with this book that I fearlessly walk to the edge and declare to her that I want to be with her—now and always. When I first place it in her hands, it will be with this book that I tell her, “I love you, and I want to tell you why.”

It is true, Jill is my greatest earthly blessing – she has done so much to help me become who I am today. I will love her forever.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Dream Come True

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

This story, taken from my book “Mom’s Little Angel” which was released on Tuesday, is called A Dream Come True and is found on page 141:

One morning Felicia and her husband sat at the breakfast table, out of ideas and money and physically and emotionally exhausted. Seven years of trying to conceive a child had passed, they could no longer keep holding onto their dream. Parenthood was beyond their reach, they reluctantly admitted to one another. Felicia cried, realizing she would never walk her own child to school.

Felicia became hopelessly inconsolable, alternating between sadness and anger and wondering why her prayers had not been answered. She eventually went back to college to finish the degree that had been put on hold while saving their money to try and have a baby. She needed something to distract her mind from her disappointment.

Six months later, Felicia woke up not feeling very well. Hoping it might be just a short-lived bug, she went about her morning as usual and then reported to work. As the day wore on, however, she began to feel worse and worse. Growing concerned and not wanting to make her husband sick too, she called the doctor and scheduled an appointment later in the afternoon.

The doctor checked her over and found nothing, but drew some blood just to be on the safe side. Felicia went home feeling no better and settled onto the couch for some rest. Sometime later, the phone rang and stirred her from her nap. “Hello,” she answered.

”You, my dear,” her doctor said, “are pregnant!”

In January of the following year, a blue eyed child with ten fingers and toes was delivered to the loving, and almost still disbelieving, mom and dad. Felicia held her newborn daughter against her heart and thought of all the things she had once hoped to do with a child but had stuffed away in a box of abandoned dreams. She smiled. Now her dream of walking her child to school each morning would come true.

Five years passed and on a beautiful morning mother and daughter walked hand in hand down the sidewalk, both with brown pigtails bouncing in the warm autumn air after each happy step. Tonya’s little pink backpack was loaded with pencils, crayons and paper, her shoes were tied tight, and she was convinced she wore the prettiest outfit anyone had ever worn to their first day of school.

Tonya looked up at her mom and giggled and beamed with excitement. They had been talking about this special day for weeks.

Felicia smiled back at her beloved daughter, squeezed her hand and said a quiet prayer of thanks for the blessing of being given such a precious child. She hadn’t just been dreaming about this day for weeks. She’d been dreaming of it for years.

P.S.: A sweet post script to this story is that Felicia was blessed twice more. Like I said on Monday, God works mysteriously at times, but his work is always good.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

True Gift

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

This story, taken from my book “Mom’s Little Angel” which was released on Tuesday, is called A True Gift and is found on page 113:

Although Penny obediently endured what she believed were the most boring Sunday School lessons ever, she often tuned out the finer details of the lessons and thought instead of the coming summer and the goings on among her eighth grade classmates.

In spite of her best poker face, the Sunday School teacher always saw through Penny’s feigned interest. Anita, the teacher, knew her daughter well and little escaped her observation. That is why whenever she could she brought the most recent Bible lesson into the real life of her family, demonstrating through her actions what she believed Jesus would do in a similar situation.

Yet, in spite of her mother’s uncanny ability to find a perfect opportunity to practice what had been preached, Penny was never moved as greatly by her mother’s example as had been hoped. More than once Anita was disappointed by her daughter’s failure to remember to give a portion of her monthly allowance when the offering basket was passed among the pews.

It was springtime and Penny had been saving most of her allowance to purchase something special for her mother on Mother’s Day. Although she knew her mom was disappointed that she gave so little of her allowance to the church, she was certain that would be forgotten when the gift she planned to purchase with her savings was presented. Her excitement grew as the special day neared, anticipating her mother’s delight at the gift she would soon receive.

The day of the shopping trip came and they took the train into the city. Anita loved to take the train. To her it was another chance to meet interesting people, maybe even make a new friend. More often than not when the train arrived at their planned stop, Anita and some person, who minutes before had been a total stranger, would be laughing and talking as if they had known each other all of their lives.

On this day Anita and Penny sat directly across from two women, a middle-aged daughter and her elderly mother. It didn’t take Anita long to learn that the mother was suffering from dementia and Glenda, the daughter, had recently left her job to care for her mother. They were headed to a clinic where they could buy medications at a discount. Even then, Glenda confided, the cost still presented a real hardship.

As the train approached the station nearest the clinic, Glenda and her mother prepared to depart. Anita turned to Penny and whispered, “I know what I want for Mother’s Day.”

“I’ve already picked something out,” Penny said, excited her plan was nearing the moment when it would come to light.

“Penny, it is better to give than to receive. If you would let me give the money you’ve saved for my present to these people, it would be better than anything you could buy for me.”

“But Mom….”

“It will mean so much to me, Penny, and even more to them.”

Reluctantly Penny reached in her jeans pocket, pulled out a few folded bills and handed them to her mother. When the train stopped Anita stood and reached for her new friend’s hand. “My daughter and I want to give this to you,” she said.

Glenda burst into tears when she looked into her palm. “I can’t take this,” she said.

Penny looked up at her mom; she was crying too. Something about the expression in her mother’s eyes and the smile on her face suddenly spoke to the adolescent. She finally heard what her mother had been trying to teach her. “Yes you can,” she said, turning to Glenda, “it is our gift to you.”

Tune in tomorrow for “A Dream Come True.”

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Answered Prayers

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

This story, taken from my book “Mom’s Little Angel” which was released today, is called Answered Prayers and is found on page 55:

When she was a little girl Margaret hated to attend church. Whether it was the scratchy Sunday dresses and too tight patent leather shoes, the boring big people sermons or, later, the personal philosophy that required she not believe in anything that couldn’t be empirically proven, Margaret resisted her mother’s attempts to keep her involved in the church. The willful daughter made it clear it was against her will when she did attend, and when she began living on her own she planned to never step across a church threshold on her own accord.

Although her mother, Pauline, was disappointed, she did not give up hope. She believed that one day her daughter would make room for God in her heart. She prayed and waited for that day to come.

Years passed and one day Margaret’s lack of faith seemed reinforced as she sat at her mother’s hospital bedside holding her frail hand, taking care not to disturb the tubes and needles that pierced her thin veins. Pauline winced as each painful spasm surged through her weak body. Cancer ran through her veins and her blood work was all wrong; the new medication wasn’t working and a bone marrow donor hadn’t been found. Where was God then, Margaret wondered, how had he turned his back on a woman who had always shown so much faith?

Pauline, as if able to read her daughter’s mind in that moment, gripped Margaret’s fingers. “Pray with me,” she whispered.

“Why?” Margaret asked.

“Because it is what I want you to do with me,” Pauline said.

Margaret knew it wasn’t the time to debate with or disappoint her mother so she bowed her head and listened. As she had anticipated, her mother said a prayer asking God to comfort and guide her doctors, to be with the other patients in the hospital, and that in her own life, his will be done.

Margaret, thinking the prayer was finished, opened her eyes and sat up, only to hear her mother go on.

“And one more thing, God. Please be with Margaret and take care of her when I’m gone.”

Suddenly tears flooded Margaret’s eyes. She had never confronted the reality that her mother might not survive; she had held out hope a bone marrow donor might be just around the corner or the next medication adjustment would do the trick. Before she realized what she was doing, she closed her eyes again and prayed, “Please God, save my mother.”

Over the next few days Pauline’s cheeks turned pink again. New tests confirmed an unexpected but welcomed improvement in her health. Sooner than anyone had hoped, she was released to return home and there she continued on her way toward full remission.

And every night since that evening alongside her mother’s hospital bed, Margaret has said a prayer.

Tune in tomorrow for “A True Gift.”

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Father

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

As I mentioned last week, I am very busy each day this week promoting my book “Why I Love You: 100 Reasons” for Valentine’s Day. With numerous radio interviews and a few book signings in the Atlanta area, I am pressed for time so will post excerpts from my books each day this week.

Today is my birthday (49 and can’t believe it; I feel so young). It is also my father’s birthday so it is fitting that I share with you an excerpt from “Thank you, Dad,” the second book I wrote to honor him. Enjoy…

“The things my dad has done for me over the years are indeed numerous, and regrettably I’m sure I can’t recall them all no matter how hard I might try. Yet I often smile when I recall how my dad kept our bicycles and go-cart in good working order, showed me how to hit a curve ball and cast a lure, worked with me on a Boy Scout project to earn a coveted merit badge, and taught me how to do things for myself as we tinkered with the car or the house on weekend afternoons. He also patiently taught me to drive and years later, as I gave my own children driving lessons, I remembered his laughter as I once drove his pickup truck into a ditch.

There are, I think, a few universal hallmarks of a good parent: unconditional love, unfailing support, endless affection and concern. Perhaps there are also a few additional hallmarks of a good father: self-sacrifice, perseverance, and forethought. These are the characteristics that distinguish my dad in my heart and mind, and the stories I tell about him.

Of all the loving gestures, caring interventions, personal sacrifices and life lessons I could thank my father for, the one thing I think means the most to me, and for which I am immeasurable grateful, is that he continues to do those fatherly things for his children. My dad lives to be a good father to my siblings and me. It is something he seems unable to stop worrying about, something about which I hope here to begin to convince him that he has succeeded.”

I wrote this book in December 2006, two years before I woke up determined to begin a faith journey. Yet, even then, I felt the Hand of God in my life; I ended the book with this as the Acknowledgment:

“A book about giving thanks to parents would not be complete with also giving thanks to my Heavenly Father. I confess, I sometimes succumb to human nature and think to myself it was my research, talent and perseverance that resulted in my success as an author. The truth is, however, years ago I was lost and in despair, and I had not an ounce of experience in creative writing. One evening in a prayer I asked for help and then did my best to go forward with hope.

Soon certain events began to transpire - like a friend telling me of a successful little book that eventually inspired me to write; my introduction to Janet Lankford-Moran, the photographer who helped me complete my first book; meeting Ron Pitkin, my publisher, who coincidentally but not known to me until later, was the publisher of the successful little book that got me started in the first place; and then there are all those events in my life that have been the fabric with which my stories about love, faith, forgiveness and duty are woven.

And now my book about thanks, the only one that has closed with a testimonial such as this, is in your hands. Coincidence? Serendipity? Chance? I think not. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Thank you God.”

Yes, God works mysteriously at times, but his work is always good.

Tune in the remaining days of this week for excerpts from my newest book, “Mom’s Little Angel: Stories of the Special Bond Between Mothers and Daughters,” which is released tomorrow!

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Friday, February 06, 2009

On the Air

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Follow-up: Not too long ago I asked you to pray for my prayer partner, C. We chatted over a cup of coffee yesterday and I learned that the reason for her prayer request is being attended to. Thank you, and thank you God. I love this community of Believers!

Tomorrow I get to serve in one of my favorite ministries, The Movers and Shakers. It is a group of volunteers who go out in the community to pick-up donated household furnishings and appliances, restores them, and then delivers them to families in need. I’ll never forget the first day I volunteered for this ministry, the day we delivered three beds to a home where three children had no beds and were sleeping on the floor. Watching them jump with joy as we set up the beds touched me deeply; I think it was the experience that turned me back to serving others rather than pursuing my own interests.

Gosh, I’m so much happier now!

I am very busy each day next week promoting my book “Why I Love You: 100 Reasons” for Valentine’s Day. I have numerous radio interviews, two live television appearances, and a book signing in the Atlanta area. I also have two ministry meetings. I hope you can see I’ll be pressed for time all week. I also hope you won’t mind that in order to save myself some time I will post excerpts from my books each day instead of new blog content. I promise you will find each story is worth your time.

In case you happen to be in the area of one of the radio stations and can listen to the interview, here is my schedule beginning tomorrow and going into next week (all times EST, adjust accordingly):

Saturday at 2:00PM with Darla Shine on Happy Housewives Club, a nationally syndicated radio show, 100+ stations

Monday at 7:17AM on WGUF-FM, Naples, FL

Monday at 8:10AM on KXYL-FM, Abilene-Sweetwater, TX

Monday at 9:00AM on WHBC-FM, Cleveland, OH

Monday at 9:30AM on KYXY-FM, San Diego, CA

Monday at 1:00PM on WICC-AM, Easton, CT

Tuesday at 10:40AM on WFSH-FM (The FISH), Atlanta, GA

Wednesday at 8:10AM on WCBQ-AM and WHNC-AM, Raleigh, NC and Southern VA

Wednesday at 9:00AM, WTHU-AM, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday at 11:00AM, KSBJ, Houston, TX

Wednesday at 1:00PM on The Dr. Pat Show, a 30 minute
segment on a nationally syndicated radio show

Thursday at 7:00AM on Good Day Atlanta, FOX-TV

Thursday at 9:20AM on WMGI-FM, Terre Haute, IN

Thursday at 11:15AM on KKNW-AM, Seattle, WA

Thursday, 6:00-8:00PM at Barnes and Noble, The Forum,
Peachtree Pkwy., Atlanta

Friday at 7:38AM on Sirius Satellite 161 and FamilyNet
Television (national distribution)

BTW, it’s worth pointing out, I think, that I’ve NEVER had this much exposure in my seven years as an author. Wasn’t it I who wondered on Wednesday if God was revealing his plan for me?

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My Chair

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Between times spent in an unexpected veterinary visit (old age is taking its toll on our third child), a longer than expected wait at the car hospital, a 2.5-hour trip with Jill to meet her graduate school advisor (she’s beginning her Masters degree this summer; I’m so proud!), and a pleasant but unplanned meeting to discuss forming a Visual Arts ministry with another photographer at our church, I found little time to write yesterday. Not much to share with you today but this little story:

I’ve been thinking a lot about my post yesterday, wondering if indeed I’m being selfish and unrighteous in hoping God is blessing my writing career so that I may continue in the ministry work I’ve undertaken. It was on my mind all day, right up until when Jill and I had to attend a meeting with Linley’s grade chair at her school (thank goodness she wasn’t in trouble, just a planning meeting). We entered his office to find he was one chair short; I said I’d stand. No, he insisted, and he went in search of a chair.

When he returned with a chair for me he put it down and then with a methodical approach arranged it just so. I finally sat down and looked straight ahead and guess what my eyes landed on – a poster displaying Proverbs 16:3, which reads, “Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed.”

Wow. I never understood before what people meant when they’d say they hear from God all the time, but now I’m getting it. When I ask, he answers. How sweet is that!

Finally, just because it flatters me (I fall for it every time, it’s a weakness), I’ll share a portion of an email I received earlier: “I got ‘Mom's Little Angel’ in the mail yesterday and can't put it down. I think you need to include a box of Kleenex with every book!"

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Best Result

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

For my Stephen Ministry training (I know that story is told in Acts; I haven’t read that far into the Bible yet but am eager to get there to see who Stephen is) I’m reading a great book, “Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life,” by Kenneth Hauck. Of course it is a book about Christian counseling but it is also a book about service, and delivering service to others in a distinctly Christian way. One of the many sentences I highlighted is: All Christians need to put their priesthood into action – ministering to each other and the rest of the world.

You might recall I’ve stated I’m thinking about going back to work, believing I should be earning as much money as possible during these uncertain times. I’ve been praying for guidance about what to do because becoming employed again will have direct impact on the time I can spend writing and caring for my family. I’ve been asking God to show me a sign; I’ve wanted him to paint an arrow at the fork in the road so I’d know which way he’d have me turn.

A funny thing is happening. Whereas I’ve had almost no positive response to my job search, my writing business seems to be on the upswing. Traffic to this blog and my website has grown over 125%, Target has given me five spaces on a shelf in the Inspirational section (more than any other author they carry!), and Sourcebooks, the new licensee to the exploitation rights of my books, is thinking so out of the book about how to increase sales it blows my mind. Indeed, book sales have recently begun an upward trend.

And my phone now rings nearly every day with a new request for my volunteer help, and my email box is brimming over with updates on projects I’ve taken on through the ministries at my church.

It may all be a coincidence, but I’m starting to think I see an arrow painted on the road up ahead.

A few days ago I walked into the Community Outreach office of our church and offered my services. Within minutes a wonderful person said I was an answer to her prayers, and then she said a prayer of thanks for my gifts, my offer, and asked for the success of my books so that I could continue to give myself to the ministries. I started crying, I was so moved by her sincerity. Wow. Not only do I think I see a directional arrow, I’m hearing things too! It’s like she was my own personal navigation system shouting “Go this way!”

So I’m wondering, is it okay to pray for financial success if my motive is to enable myself to continue investing deeper in the volunteer ministries? Not to mention that the more the books succeed, the more money there is for Jill and me to give away.

I don’t know. But I do know that my heart leaps at the thought of reaching out to others in a God-honoring gesture, be it through my books or volunteer efforts or when opportunities arise as I move among people day to day, while the thought of curbing these activities to go back to work 8-5 makes my heart sink.

Today I lean on Proverbs 3:5-6 : “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Like I said, I don’t know the answer to my question; I don’t know if it is pleasing to God if I pray for monetary success. Honestly, it feels selfish. Yet it is what I’m doing – for I can see that there is so much work to be done in our community and elsewhere, and I just can’t seem to keep myself from helping to do it.

I hope I’m walking along a straight path, His path. Don’t pray for my success. Instead, please ask God to turn me around if I’m headed down the wrong path. That is the best result I could ask for.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

33 Days

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

There’s a bad bug creeping through our house and no one is sleeping well. We all sound like groaning steam locomotives leaving the station as we crawl out of bed. Yet life goes on, albeit a better idea to crawl back in the bed!

I just read Psalms 15:1-5 and rather than write it all down I want to focus on the few words that jumped out at me (paraphrased greatly): “He who keeps his oath even when it hurts will never be shaken.”

I have been writing about my faith journey since the beginning of the year. That’s only produced 19 posts to this blog so far, but in my life that is significant. I’ve never talked about God for more than a day at a time, but here I write about Him each day and when I’m not writing I am doing things in His service. And I’ve begun to experience a wonderful transition in my life; as I get closer to God I also get closer to others. As I give more of myself away, I gain in multiples here on earth and life in eternity to boot. I am happier than ever and have a clear vision about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life – exactly what I’ve been doing in the first 33 days of this year.

From the notes of encouragement I now receive almost daily, I know that many people remember my family and me in their prayers. For them I am thankful. The following is not at all to boast but to reassure you your prayers are leading to God-honoring results. Since January 1st I have:

Prayed every day, often several times a day. Sometimes it seems I never stop praying.
Been touched again by the desire to serve; I’m now involved in six Christian volunteer efforts and loving it.
Joined the Stephen Ministry and am only two months away from becoming a Christian caregiver.
Begun, for the first time ever, to meet twice a month with someone to talk about God over lunch.
Asked for forgiveness from some of those I’ve offended (and there are more still to get to) and have received forgiveness (powerful!!!).

Thank you all for helping me to arrive to this place. And to think there are eleven more months in my journey; just imagine where I will go. I’m excited about being, becoming, where I will eventually arrive.

Going back for a moment to the verse above, I have not yet faced a situation where my new found oath has been placed into jeopardy, but I know that either God’s tests or the Devil’s temptations will rise up and greet me one day. When that time comes for me to face that pain I know that the foundation I’m building between now and then will stand firm. I will not be shaken. I cannot; I can’t go back to the way things used to be, back when I was lost.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Distinctively Christain

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

Thinking back to what I wrote on Friday about the tendency of men to become self-righteous, I’ve tried since to put into words how one can live a distinctively Christian life without falling into the trap of frowning on those who are not living a Christian life.

I think it is important to first realize that all men, not just Christians, have this weakness, the desire to see themselves as better than others. What else explains why the upper class frowns on the lower class, white men frown on black men, the educated frown on the uneducated, why pretty girls are cruel to unattractive girls? Admit it; we all have the desire to set ourselves apart in a way that makes us feel superior to certain others. The self-righteous Christian is just another manifestation of that human weakness; self-righteousness is not a fundamental flaw with Christianity itself.

A friend and I were discussing this last night during a Super Bowl party (God is indeed everywhere!). He too has seen some Christians turn away from other Christians who had become known to have committed “bigger” sins. He reminded me of a Biblical principle I had once heard Meagan discuss, and that is that all sins are equal in God’s eyes.

I occurred to me then that perhaps one way to live distinctively Christian is to live without scorn for others, for there is no sin they could have committed in the past or might commit in their future that is worse that the sins I have already committed and haven’t yet committed.

Notice I said “haven’t yet committed.” I know where I am weak. God hasn’t cured my weaknesses nor reduced how tempted I am by certain sins. But He has told me how to handle myself when confronted by my weaknesses.

I am a sinner and I will sin again, but not nearly as often as I once did and when I do it will be followed by shame and prayer, not celebration and anticipation of doing it again.

Psalm 25:7 says: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.”

In a nutshell that means, I think, it is not our sins but what we do about the sins we’ve committed that endears us or separates us from God. I’ve chosen to fall on my knees.

And I’ve chosen to remember that one of the biggest sins I could commit is to opine that others are more sinful than me. I shall not, or I will surely loose my place in the Kingdom. That I cannot do.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!