Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Light of the World

Wishing you time to sit with Jesus in front of the lights today.

"In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness ... the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Luke 1: 4-5a;14 

MERRY CHRISTMAS from my heart to yours.

Cross references:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Devotional Carnival - Jesus

The winner of the novel "The Mountain Between Us" is Pam Cason - congrats Pam! 
Email me your address and I'll get it in the mail to you.

Today is the 22nd and I was aiming to have all my Christmas preparations completed by today. And I very nearly do.  But I ran into two glitches, of a similar vein.

A box of gifts I ordered from Amazon has not yet arrived at my door. Since I was sick the better part of the last twelve days, I did much of my shopping online this year. (Not to mention the one time I tried to drive to Target to buy gifts, I would up in a car accident!) And since Jesus and both of my kids have birthdays in the next seven days, there's a lot of gifts in that box still needing to be wrapped.

Another box was delivered on time, only the shipping company didn't give me their customary knock on the front door letting me know a package had arrived. My kids and I headed out the front door to go to a "Happy Birthday to Jesus party" at a nearby church, only to run smack dab into a giant box containing my son's new bike. Did I mention the box had a picture of the bike right on the box?  Yes, so now my son knows what his big present is. 

"Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life ...."  I keep praying that.

So I'm not done yet, but I am done with all I can do for now.  And I'm turning my attention to Christ. I thought what better way to do that than with a devotional carnival? I hope you'll join up!

Here's what you do. Write a blog post about Jesus - the Son of Mary, the Messiah, the Light of the World, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the King of the Jews, Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace - anything at all about your Lord such as his birth, his teaching, his death, his love, his resurrection, anything. Offer a key verse at the top or bottom of your devotion. Try to keep it under 700 words.

Once you post it on your blog, come back here to add your post URL with Mr. Linky so we can all read it and reflect on the beauty of Christ.

On Monday 12/27 I'll choose a participant to receive a copy of my book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know. So you have until then to link up and enter to win. By the way, if you're not sure what to get a girlfriend for Christmas, may I suggest this book with a tin of hot chocolate or a coffee shop gift card - they look so cute packaged together!

Thankful for Immanuel.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What a week!

Whew, has this been a week. Up and down it went. My precious nephew was born after a somewhat difficult delivery. And he's so cute with dimples!  Then I got sick with a head cold.  Plus, my grandmother fell and fractured her pelvis. My husband got promising news about a promotion at work, and on the same day I got in a car accident. I came through the accident fine, only to strain a muscle while lifting a crate of winter clothes down from the attic yesterday.

Oh, and I had to make 46 gingerbread men cookies for my son's class party on Friday.  That took a while. And thankfully I only decapitated a few of the spicy men before delivering to the class party.

By Thursday I started declaring aloud, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life!"
It helped.

It also helped to join some friends Thursday night for a Christmas party.  Matt and Chris' house is beautifully decorated for the holidays every year, but this year I fell in love with what they did in the entry hall. I even took pictures so you could see it. Walking in the front door is like stepping into an enchanted forest:


And looking back at the front door:

And here's the view into the dining room, you've got to see what they do over the table!

Yes, that is a Christmas tree hanging upside down from the ceiling.

So today a new week begins - Christmas week!  And I am declaring Psalm 27:13, "I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living."

Under 2 days left to complete all my holiday preparations by the 21st. I think I'm going to make it.
Leave a comment telling me how close you are to ready, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the novel The Mountain Between Us by my good friend Charles Martin.

Thankful for God's protection and grace, and the blessing of friends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ready for Christmas

If you've come over from my devotion and would like to read the chapter in my new book it's based from, click here. You'll find the table of contents, introduction, and Always RSVP chapter followed by a few Bible study questions.

To be honest with you, I was convicted writing that chapter. The story Jesus tells about the people too busy and distracted with the things of life to answer the call feels like it could easily be a story about me. 

Not just me before I came to Christ, not just me a decade ago, but me today. And especially at this time of year, as ironic as that is.

Whenever someone asks me if I am ready for Christmas, I run through a mental checklist to determine my answer:
  1. Is my tree up and decorated?
  2. Have I sent out holiday cards?
  3. Have I finished shopping?
  4. Are the gifts wrapped?
  5. Do I know what I'll wear for the occasion?
  6. And what I'm cooking?
Sometimes I'm able to answer "yes" to those six questions - depending on what week of the month it is - and breathe a sigh of satisfied relief.  Only to realize come December 25th or 26th that I've missed something important along the way. It's over and done with (all but the cleaning up and exchanges to be made) and somehow something rings slightly hollow.

It's then, when things settle down, that I wish I could go back and do things differently - ensure that my spirit and not just my household was ready for the day.

I'm tempted to ask if anyone else knows what I'm talking about.  But based on the story Jesus told, I'm guessing someone can relate. So here's your chance to do things differently this year - it's only December 14th now.

I recently heard of an old world custom that calls for all Christmas holiday preparations to be completed by St. Thomas Day, December 21st. That way the last few days of Advent could be given to focusing the heart, mind and spirit on the Christ of Christmas. Perhaps you'd like to try that tradition this year.

Or maybe you could commit to doing a handful of Christ-centering activities between now and Christmas Day. Exactly what those would be or what that would look like for you may vary but some examples might include:
  • Commit to a consistent quiet time - start or end each day with the Word of God.  
  • Give generously to someone in need.  Anonymously.
  • Pick up that Bible study or Christian book/novel you've been meaning to read, and read it.
  • Serve at a soup kitchen.
  • Write Jesus a letter.
  • Go caroling in your neighborhood with a couple friends or family - and invite those you sing to, to join the group for the next house. Print out a couple copies of the lyrics off the Internet.
  • Read the Christmas story in the gospels.  Or read one entire gospel.
  • Write your own account of Christ's birth in your own words based on the biblical account.
  • Go prayer walking through the park or snow and come up with 25 things to thank Christ for. Thank Him as you walk.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Sleep in sleeping bags around your Christmas tree and reflect on the conditions surrounding His birth.
  • Cook or deliver for Meals on Wheels.
  • Put the most inspiring Christmas carols on repeat. Dim the lights, close your eyes and soak in His presence as you sing.
  • Do that last one in the hot bathtub and thank Him for washing your sins clean.
  • Choose one night to go without out electric light - use only candles - and reflect on the One who is called the Light of the World.

Let's not let this month be a whirlwind of preparation absent of reflection. Let's fully, spiritually, intentionally anticipate the arrival of Christ the Lord. If we concern ourselves with more than tying the perfect package bow, I think we'll find the gift our hearts really long for. And come Dec. 26, we'll feel full.

I'd love for you to share your ideas or plans for ensuring your heart is ready for the spiritual celebration of Christ's birth.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

In search of a meaningful life

I saw a post at Donald Miller's blog today that resonates, since I've read a lot in Ecclesiastes this year. He posted a excerpt from the book Besides the Bible – 100 Books That Have, Should or Will Change Christian CultureIt's a collection of essays/reviews which will be released this month by Biblica.  Here's Miller's share-worthy essay:

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

Essay by Donald Miller

In 1942, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, along with his parents and pregnant wife, were taken by Nazi soldiers into the concentration camps, where his family would eventually be killed. Frankl survived the camps, including Auschwitz, and in the most dire of human circumstances realized a personality theory involving man’s need for meaning—a theory that would contend with Sigmund Freud, who was alive at the time and positing that man’s primary desire was not for meaning but for pleasure.

Tested in the concentration camps, Frankl realized no amount of torture could keep a person from living a fulfilling life, if only they had three elements working for them: a project in which they could contribute, a person to love, and a worthy explanation for their suffering.

His finding interestingly mirrors the Teacher’s search for meaning captured in Ecclesiastes. The Teacher argued that one should find enjoyment in his work and in his wife, that one should fear God, and that while, technically, meaning is hard to prove, experientially it is possible within this framework.

Frankl rightly argues meaning is experiential, and his three elements provide a recipe, if you will, to experience that meaning. His emphasis on worthwhile suffering stands in contrast to an American culture obsessed with comfort. One might say our lack of suffering fuels a cycle of meaninglessness.

What makes Frankl’s argument so important for the church is its invitation to suffer for the sake of the gospel, indeed, to suffer for something worthwhile, thus providing a sense of meaning to life. Christian leaders, then, should not try to make their congregants more comfortable, but call them into challenges that, by necessity, involve discomfort and even suffering if they are going to shepherd their congregants into more meaningful lives.

Frankl’s book is no more religious than the Teacher’s essay on meaning, and yet both have a masterful religious subtext, delving into the complex nature of fallen man, resistant against exposition at odds with their intended purposes.

Frankl’s book has now sold more than twelve million copies and is considered one of the ten most influential books in America. He died in 1997.

Thought to ponder: Does my life feel meaningful & worthwhile? Why or why not?

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Giftings

As promised, I'm here to report the winner of this week's giveaway ... Congrats to Terri! Email me your address, Teri, and I'll send you It's No Secret.

My top three gifts according to that questionnaire were:

   1) teaching
   2) tie between leadership and knowledge
   3) tie between wisdom and faith. 

And that's pretty on target with what other questionnaires have revealed.  Sometimes encouragement or shepherding shows up in my top three or five too.

The first time shepherding showed up, I thought "No way, not me." Then I led a few thousand people in a daily online Bible study of the women of the Bible for 10 weeks and loved it. That's where my shepherding kicked in - the project included my teaching/knowledge/wisdom/leadership gifts for certain, but it really all started just as a way to help women get consistent with reading their Bibles. To shepherd them through the process of forming that habit.

If you want to delve into this deeper - getting a better understanding of what your gifts are and what exactly that means for you - I can recommend the book Discover Your God-Given Gifts by Don and Katie Fortune. I used it several years ago. It contains a questionnaire and covers 7 categories of gifts, explaining them quite well.

And if you want to try another one free online, go here. I've done this one in the past too.

As always, if you mentioned a prayer request in a comment here this week, I have prayed for you.  And if you would, please pray for my sister-in-law who is in labor right now. Thanks, friends.

Thankful that prayer affects our circumstances.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spiritual Gifts

In my devotion published today, I looked at what a gracious giver God is. He gives us physical life, eternal life, family, mercy, peace, wisdom, joy, grace, rest, His spirit, guidance, a spiritual inheritance and more!  This is a God who provides -- often lavishly.

I'm wondering which of His gifts you need or long to embrace today?

Another thing God gives each of us is a spiritual gift - a gift, passion or talent placed within us by Yahweh Himself to benefit others.  And, when we use or "give" that spiritual gift He has given us, He is glorified, others benefit and a portion of our purpose is fulfilled. That's a win-win-win.

As a young woman in college who'd just met Jesus Christ and encountered this notion of gifting and calling, I desperately wanted to know what gifts God had placed in me. How did He want me to serve Him? What was I hard-wired to do?  Where would I excel - how could I help the body of Christ?  I prayed soooo many prayers asking these questions, and pleading for Him to show me the answers. I constantly reminded Him I wanted to serve Him, but I didn't know how.

The answers to my questions were all there, I just couldn't bring them into focus yet.  As a teen I longed to work in an airport because I loved the atmosphere and the excitement of travel. In college, I decided to major in journalism, where I learned to write.  A professor asked me to volunteer as an editor for the school newspaper, so I did. A couple years later, my church  needed volunteers to work in the church bookstore - I happily agreed to do it. I was doing a ton of reading anyway. Then, after graduate school where I learned to research, the university in my town asked me to teach public speaking classes for them.

Today I am a Christian author, editor of  P31's Encouragement for Today devotions, and a traveling speaker for women's events across the country.  It's all there. God prepared me each step of the way, only I didn't fully know it at the time.  I couldn't back far enough away from my own life to see the big picture coming together.

One thing along the way that did help me get some of that big picture perspective, and glimpse what my gifts are and are not, was taking spiritual gifts questionnaires.  If you've never taken one, or it's been several years, I encourage you to take one today.  Here's a link to one to try.  Just answer the questions quick and honest. 

It's important to know your God-given strengths and your weaknesses. And remember, He can shine through both of those. So go take the questionnaire - it will likely take you 20 minutes or so.

Leave a comment today telling me which gift of God talked about in the devotion you need, or tell me  your top spiritual gifts based on the questionnaire or experience. On Friday I'll announce a winner to receive a copy of my new book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.

"In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly."  ~ Romans 12:6-8, NLT

Grateful for God's gifts. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The drum

Shout out to my new friends in Warner-Robins, Georgia.  Had a great time (and a great steak!) with them Monday night at the Christmas banquet.  I stood onstage beside a half lit tree, which is better than the "naked" tree that's been standing in my living room for over a week now.  That's OK because my message was about majoring on the essentials this Christmas season. (Note: tree decor is not essential.)

I'm over at Karen Ehman's blog today talking about The Little Drummer Boy and giving away my book, a magazine subscription to the P31 Woman, and a gift card to Barnes & Noble. Pop over there to read it, then come back here and - for another chance to win my book - leave a comment telling me what your "drum" is. 

If you don't know what your "drum" is and you're trying to figure that out, you can still comment here to enter.  Just fill out this online spiritual gifts questionnaire, and report back here what it identifies as your top 3 spiritual gifts.

I'll draw the winner on Friday.

Meanwhile, here's the video of The Little Drummer boy from the animated classic that first made me fall in love with this song as a child.

Off to do an interview with Renew FM in New England, then WPOS in Toledo, and then make some cocoa before decorating my tree.  I hope last year's strands of lights still work ...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Winner & An Invite

Here’s what I’ve learned, write a message like last Wednesday’s devotion and two things will happen.  A LOT of people will relate and respond.  And you will also quickly encounter some unexpected opportunities to put what you say into practice.

I’ve also learned sometimes God’s peace is just there when you need it – you don’t even have to ask for it.  Other times, asking is necessary – but then it floods in like a river.  And occasionally, you have to ask and keep on asking.  I don’t think that’s because God is hesitant to supply it, but because we are hesitant to trust it, to fully trust Him with the situation.  Especially when we can’t see Him at work.

I’m hopping off the computer and to get dressed for a Christmas banquet I’m speaking at tonight in Warner Robins, GA. If you happen to be local, a few attendees are sick today and seats are now available for this sold out event.  So first pray for those ladies to feel better, then call Southside Baptist and ask if you can come!

The winner of the book It’s No Secret from Don’t Overthink is commenter #50. HD email me your address and I’ll get the book out to you.

Here are your random numbers:

50	Timestamp: 2010-12-06 21:33:12 UTC

But I prayed for each and every one of you that left a comment or request. 

So take comfort in the fact that God is on the scene. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Don't Overthink

 The winner of the monogram giveaway from my last post is commenter #17 - Allison Morrison.
I'll be back Friday to post the winner of the book in today's giveaway.

In my teen years I experienced some highly stressful situations, and developed the tendency to ruminate. (I also had it modeled for me by a loved one.)  Ruminations - a fancy word for overthinking things or dwelling on our problems and all their possible causes and effects - are very compelling.  

When you're in the middle of ruminating, you feel you absolutely need to continue in order to figure things out.  You feel you're gaining insight or preparing yourself for the next move. The obsessive dwelling feels necessary and makes sense to the person caught in it's grip.

If you do this kind of thinking much, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

In reality ruminating wears you down - emotionally, spiritually, sometimes socially, and often physically.  I'm so glad I've learned how to stop this type of thinking in it's tracks.

The professor I quoted in today's P31 devotion, Dr. Lyubomirsky, emphatically states, "If you are someone plagued by ruminations, you are unlikely to become happier before you can break that habit. I will go so far as to say that if you are an overthinker, one of the secrets to your happiness is the ability to allay obsessive overthinking, to reinterpret and redirect your negative thoughts into more neutral or optimistic ones."

She has done years of research on this, and poured over the research of others on happiness and rumination.  And her conclusion mirrors what the Bible teaches us in Philippians 4:6-9.

Once again, ancient truths from the Bible prove real and relevant today.

So how did I stop ruminating? First, I became aware of it when it was happening, which was usually late at night when there was nothing else happening to distract me from such thoughts. Perhaps by God's grace, I began shivering when I'd followed the negative thinking for too long. The shivering caught my attention - I was powerless to stop it (unless I stopped the thoughts) and usually I wasn't even cold.

The shivering became my cue I was ruminating, and that became my trigger to pray it out to God, ask for His help and peace, and then let it go.  If I still couldn't get my thoughts off the problem I'd put them onto God by listening to christian music, journaling my blessings, or reading a book or the Bible.

Those sound like pat answers, but they're not. They're power-filled answers.

 “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing.

Then the God of peace will be with you.” ~Philippians 4:6-9

The God of peace is now with me.  May He also be with you today. Let's both turn each worry over to Him to deal with. Leave a prayer request or a statement of thankfulness in the comments here and you'll be be entered to win a copy of my new book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know.

 Grateful for God's Peace.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday Giveaway

Girls, it's cyber Monday - the best day of the year to find fabulous deals online.  And I've got one to share.

Two summers ago I met Hillary at P31's She Speaks conference and instantly liked her. She makes me laugh, plus her kids are so cute I could smooch their cheeks for hours - but she might feel the need to call the cops if I did that.  I missed seeing her at She Speaks this year because she was busy birthing a beautiful baby girl and launching a new business.

She has combined her love of cute gifts and personalized items to create Mint Julep Monograms -- an online monogrammed boutique. She offers original gift ideas for babies, teachers, girlfriends, bosses or family members.  What could be better than giving a custom, personalized gift this Christmas? 

How about giving it at little or no cost to you?


Mint Julep Monograms is offering 15% off your entire purchase, plus free shipping today.  Just use the code CYBER15. But wait, there's more ... Hillary agreed to give away a $30 shopping credit to one of my readers this week! So let me tell you how to enter, and gain multiple chances to win!

For your first entry, follow this link to visit Mint Julep Monograms and comment here telling me which item is your favorite. For additional entries, do one or more of these and leave another comment for each:

• Tweet, blog and/or Facebook about this giveaway

• Follow me on twitter (@ RachelOlsen)

• Follow Hillary on twitter (@theothermama)

• Follow my blog - you can use the button in my sidebar

• Follow Hillary's blog where she sometimes talks shop, sometimes post pics of her adorable kids, and sometimes writes funny posts.

• Purchase a copy of my book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know for your sister, teacher, co-worker, women's ministry director, or friend. (You could tuck it in a personalized tote from Mint Julep's for a sure-to-be appreciated gift!) Or just buy a copy for yourself - I'll be blogging on it in the new year.

If you're not from the southern half of the United States, you might not understand the deep-seated desire many southern gals possess to monogram everything from tote bags and towels, to aprons and charm bracelets. I can't explain it; I can only confirm it's true.
And I'm so glad Hillary stands ready to help us gals out with cute stuff.

Whether or not you're from the South, I think every woman would enjoy giving or receiving a swanky, colorful, personalized gift. So enter to win - I'll draw and post the winner on Wednesday.

Thankful for the kindness of friends like Hillary.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Giveaway

UPDATE: Here are your random numbers: 63 Timestamp: 2010-11-28 01:00:34 UTC
That makes commenter #63, Misty P, the winner.  Please email me your address, Misty.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Leave a comment below sharing something you are thankful for today and you'll be entered to win a drawing on Saturday for a copy of my book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know. If you've already read it, this copy would make a terrific gift for a girlfriend.

I ate a full Thanksgiving meal last night (see last post if you're wondering why a day early) and have I got a new recipe for you! It's so good - seriously good  It sounds like it wouldn't be but it is, and it tastes like dessert! It's a butternut squash casserole - stay with me, I promise it's sweet and delish.

It would be great with a Christmas meal, or with roasted chicken any time of the year.

It starts with a jar of organic butternut squash puree from Williams-Sonoma.  And right now, you can get a $12 jar of this for just $5.99.  Check your local store or follow that link and buy online.  Here's the recipe:


1 jar Williams-Sonoma organic butternut squash puree
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs. all purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp orange extract
1 tsp vanilla extract


1 cup crushed vanilla wafers
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425 F. In large bowl, combine the jar of puree, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, orange extract, salt, flour and melted butter. Pour into a small 4-6 cup casserole dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until set.

In medium bowl combine crushed wafers, melted butter and brown sugar. Sprinkle over top of cooked casserole and return to oven to brown about 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!

To wrap up, let me restate one of the power verses from today's devotion. Psalm 107:1: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." I found a touching poem that does that - could be read aloud as a Thanksgiving prayer. Try each reading a stanza around the table.

I Thank Thee

O Thou whose bounty fills my cup,
With every blessing meet!
I give Thee thanks for every drop—
The bitter and the sweet.

I praise Thee for the desert road,
And for the riverside;
For all Thy goodness hath bestowed,
And all Thy grace denied.

I thank Thee for both smile and frown,
And for the gain and loss;
I praise Thee for the future crown
And for the present cross.

I thank Thee for both wings of love
Which stirred my worldly nest;
And for the stormy clouds which drove
Me, trembling, to Thy breast.

I bless Thee for the glad increase,
And for the waning joy;
And for this strange, this settled peace
Which nothing can destroy.

 ~ Jane Crewdson (1860)

Thankful for my blessings both bitter and sweet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I need your help

Yesterday afternoon, shortly before heading into the university to teach for 3 hours, I found out we'd be eating spaghetti on Thanksgiving. Not turkey and stuffing, but noodles and sauce. I know. But my very pregnant sister-in-law is cringing at the thought of turkey, and craving marinara.

I can roll with this change in plans, I thought.  I'll just make a Thanksgiving dinner at my house on Wednesday, and then we'll all eat Italian there on Thursday.  Problem solved.

By the time I was done with class and dinner last night, the thought of producing a whole Thanksgiving less than 24 hours later -- I need to go grocery shopping, do some cleaning, cook all the food, and the kids will be home by noon -- overwhelmed me. Plus I have half a day's work to do for Proverbs 31.

When I'm overwhelmed, I sleep.  I went to bed last night at 7:50 PM.

It's now 4:00 AM and I'm up, ready to produce Thanksgiving. Here's the menu:

Turkey - I will do a fresh breast in a crockpot
Cranberry sauce - I like it with whole berries
Butternut squash casserole (got recipe from Williams & Sonoma)
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Sweet Potato casserole
Deviled eggs (as appetizer)
Pumpkin pie
Sparkling cider

You see what's missing from this starch and carbfest?  Yes, a green veggie. Can you help a girl out and offer me a good veggie recipe in the comments below? Maybe something with broccoli or green beans??

And, I want to be polite and recipe-reciprocal, so you can pop over to LeAnn Rice's She Cooks site today and get one of my family's favorite recipes: Glazed Chocolate Chip Sweet Potato BreadMmmmm.

Thanks, girlfriend!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Devotional Carnival - Gratitude

Last week I heard a woman say Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday.  Thanksgiving, really? How could Thanksgiving possibly out-trump Christmas? I wondered.  She explained, "I like to cook and to gather the people I love around my table. The house smells good.  Everyone is relaxed and happy.  And I know that everything will fit, nothing will have to be wrapped, taken back, or exchanged for another size."

I was glad she said that - hearing her talk increased my own appreciation for Thanksgiving.  Lessening my tendency to make it a pit-stop on the way to December 25th.  But I noticed she said nothing about the joy that comes when you take time to count your blessings, realize where you've been fortunate this year, and thank God for it all. That's what makes this carb-loading holiday so sweet to me.

It awakens me to God's grace.  His goodness.  His gifts.

Oftentimes, hearing other people talk about what they are grateful for helps me to see my blessings and find my gratitude. So I've been looking forward to this month's devotional carnival all month. The topic is, you guessed it, GRATITUDE.  I even pushed the carnival back a week so we could run it right up to Thanksgiving Day.

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.
 ~ Psalm 105:1

And that's precisely what I invite you to do. Write a post sharing your thankful thoughts, your gifted tidbits, your cornucopia of blessings, or your feelings about God and His greatness. And post your link here. Share with us in this season of gratitude what you are experiencing of God's loving-kindness, and in the process, we'll lift each other's spirits along with the name of God.

And let me just say, for the record, I am thankful for you.  For every one of you who take the time to stop by here.  To read. To ponder. To comment. To encourage. To participate. Or just to silently "amen" something said. You enrich my world.  Blessings to you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Opportunities to Bless

For all you who decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International this week after Monday's devotion - I'm rejoicing with you, that child, the child's family, and Jesus!

For each of you that prayed for a child in need this week - I add my prayers to yours and thank you!

For those who wanted to sponsor but can't swing it financially at this time, I have a solution.  Two actually.  The first is, you can make a one-time donation to Compassion International in any amount. Don't let Satan tell you it has to be a big amount before you give!  These one-time gifts help. And when you follow the link to the site, you'll see you can even choose what your donation will do.

Me with a young boy in Quito, Ecuador
The second idea is to partner with my friends over at Dayspring and for just $2 or $3 dollars create a Christmas card to be given to an Ecuadorian child.  When you follow that link, you'll see what to do but basically this is what will happen: "You design the card, Compassion will translate it, DaySpring will print it, and a team from both organizations will travel to Ecuador to deliver all the cards in person to unsponsored children of Compassion International just in time for Christmas!"  How great is that?!

Create your card by Nov. 29th to participate in this.

I've been to several Compassion projects in Ecuador and I have seen first-hand how much these kids cherish cards and letters. It's so rare for them to receive one.  Think how excited you feel when a hand-addressed small envelope arrives in your mailbox and you know it's a personal correspondence and not a bill or junk mail.  Multiply that excitement times 3,000 and that's how these kids feel about getting personal notes that speak hope and love to them!

It makes them realize they are not forgotten people.
Not forgotten in your sight, and not forgotten in God's sight.

And now to announce the book winner ... but before I do, let me just give you a heads up that a devotional carnival on the topic on gratitude will begin here on Friday and run through Wednesday of next week so I hope you'll join in.
The winner of a copy of It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know is commenter #8 as chosen by a random drawing.  That's KYM - congrats Kym.  Email me your address.

 Here are your random numbers:  8 
Timestamp: 2010-11-18 03:00:16 UTC

May God continue to move in our hearts concerning the poor. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lending to God

Welcome if you are finding this post from this devotion on lending to God.

To enter to win a copy of my new book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know, simply follow this link to Compassion International, and choose a child there to pray for today.

me & a sweet Ecuadorian girl
Leave the child's name and county in a comment below and you'll be entered for the book, as promised in my devotion at P31 today. I trust you'll both be blessed as you pray today.

What are others saying about the book? One my favorite reviews simply says, "I totally loved, loved, loved this book!! Once I opened it, I couldn't put it down! Rachel is so down to earth and REAL about her struggles and failures, that it felt like she was writing my story."

I hope you win!

Thankful for a God that is known as The Father of Compassion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chewing on Thankfulness

I'm feeling ready for Thanksgiving.  Which is good because it's only about two weeks away. 

(Anyone besides me feel like time is speeding up?)

In truth, this whole year has been a Thanksgiving of sorts for me. Not that I've eaten roast turkey and stuffing with any regularity - although I have fallen asleep in the recliner watching football a couple times -  but that I've tried to continually notice and give thanks for the good things in life. In life in general and in my life, both big and small.  Perhaps you noticed I've ended many of my blog posts this year with a line of thankfulness. I'm finding gratitude a powerful thing.

So here's a quote I've been chewing on of late - one that you might want to chew on as you celebrate Thanksgiving at your table.  It's by Francis Frangipane:
"When God give us less than we desire, it is not because He is teaching us poverty but He is teaching us thankfulness.  You see life, real life, is not based on what we amass but on what we enjoy. 
At the core of our lives God seeks gratitude."

I highly recommend adding that thought to your mulling spices this month. Read Luke 12:15 as you do. 

Thankful that when my thoughts grow confused, or my priorities become skewed, 
God's Word always points me to what is real.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writers, "Haters" and Hope

Earlier this week I posted about the NaNoWriMo project happening this month.I signed up and began posting my word count totals for the (non-fiction) book I am working on. 

I also started  following the #nanowrimo hashtag on Twitter.  So every couple of minutes - night and day - someone tweets about their current word count, or their current plot twist, or their current procrastination technique .... it's interesting, fun and motivating to see all these other people attempting what you're attempting at the same time.

A few days back I noticed a change in the #nanowrimo tweets. They started talking about the "haters" in the media who said this project was a waste of time.  I ignored it awhile - if I followed every tweeted link with this hashtag I'd never get one word of my own written! When the discussion persisted, I tracked down its origins.  It was this article by Salon's Laura Miller - pop over and read it.

When I read the article I had mixed feelings. One one hand, I agreed with some of the points this sharp if a bit snarky woman made. As a writer, as a reader, as an editor - even as a woman somewhat riding the edge of this year's nanowrimo bandwagon.  I'm sure many of these quickly written novels will have plot holes and poorly developed characters - but that's what the rewriting process is for. EVERY writer must revise their first draft.

Besides, a flawless novel in 30 days isn't the goal or the point. The point is in attempting it.  In the discipline of making yourself stay with something difficult for 30 days.  In the process of the journey. And in the pleasure of trying to scale this mountain "together."

Mostly, I was saddened that she'd just kicked in the teeth a community project aimed at helping people try something new, nurture their creativity, or fulfill a goal they've long held. What's the matter with her? I wondered. She's a writer herself.  Exactly when did cynicism become the calling card of today - making snarky tear downs applauded?  When did it become a crime to try your hand at something, to be a beginner, an amateur.  To find out what you're good at and what you enjoy through trial and error?

I also came across Seth Godin's assessment of laziness this week and couldn't help wonder if the type of attitude displayed in the Salon article drives our fear-based laziness. Seth wrote:

"I think laziness has changed. It used to be about avoiding physical labor. The lazy person could nap or have a cup of tea while others got hot and sweaty and exhausted. Part of the reason society frowns on the lazy is that this behavior means more work for the rest of us.

When it came time to carry the canoe over the portage, I was always hard to find. The effort and the pain gave me two good reasons to be lazy. But the new laziness has nothing to do with physical labor and everything to do with fear. If you're not going to make those sales calls or invent that innovation or push that insight, you're not avoiding it because you need physical rest. You're hiding out because you're afraid of expending emotional labor."

Then I came across this rebuttal article to Salon's and I wanted to stand up from my office chair and clap. I wanted to thank Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times for being both a clear, critical thinker and an affirmer of courage and hope.

Hope is a precious commodity. And I for one want to be sower of it. Call me a freckle-faced Annie, but I'd prefer to believe the sun will come out tomorrow.  I'd prefer to keeping writing this manuscript I'm working on with the belief that - no matter the outcome - it will be worth the ride. And I prefer to dream that perhaps the next NY Times best-selling novel will be written by someone whose Tweets I read this week.

Thankful that with God, hope is always available.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mountain Between Us

If you read my devotion, you might assume that any review I write of a Charles Martin book is going to be glowing. That I’m not capable of giving you an unbiased review because I know the author personally. And think he’s pretty great. You may be right; maybe my review should be taken with a half shaker of salt. But read on and decide for yourself - I think I’m pretty fair with this one.

First thing I have to say is: Read this novel TO THE END. Seriously, you have to finish this one or you will have missed the whole thing. Just trust me on this and finish it. All the way. Don’t judge it until you’ve read to the last page.

Second, DRESS WARM when you read it. Here is where I’m totally honest about my good friend’s new novel. I didn’t want to read it until the end. Several times I wanted to put it down, take a hot shower, and never pick it up again.

You see, Charles’ previous novels were set in the south. In fact, he’s known as a talented southern fiction writer, which he is. Charles can paint a southern setting like Renoir paints a dancer. I’ve always felt that the locations in Charles’ novels function like an additional character. You feel them, and they come to life. You get to know their intricacies. Because you’ve read it, you’ve been there.

This novel is no different in that sense. Only Charles set the majority of this story in Utah. Snow-capped Utah. Here’s what he said was the impetus for that, and the plot of  The Mountain.

       Survival Stories from Author Charles Martin on Vimeo.
(BTW, Rick was not the guy with Charles on that NC mountain)

I’m a southern girl, and a cold weather wimp. I do not like feeling cold, and I get cold easy. Rick says in the winter I regularly take his breath away in bed – with my icy feet. Several of my girlfriends also reported this novel making them feel chilly. So climb in a Snuggie, settle in by the fire, and sip a cup of hot cocoa when you read The Mountain Between Us.

Another thing you should know is I’m also a medical wimp. I spent one day after graduation as a dentist’s assistant. One day, y’all.  By the 6th tooth extraction I was on the floor with my head between my knees. I cannot handle needles, broken bones, cuts that need stitching, or even cuts that don’t. I would rather clean every toilet in every bathroom in my neighborhood for a month than watch or hear about medical stuff like that. And one of Charles’ characters gets badly injured - twice. In the snow-capped Utah mountains. (Speaking of bathrooms, they don’t have those in these mountains – can you imagine?!)  Now you understand why I wanted to stop reading.

But I’m so glad I didn’t. Because the ending is touching and unexpected. And worth the forty cups of cocoa I drank.

Rick read the novel in the week he was serving as summer camp counselor to a group of six year-old boys in a cabin with no air-conditioning. In the sweltering North Carolina sun. So he loved the snow-capped mountains. Rick said he also enjoyed reading the main character’s systematic approach to dealing with the crash, the cold and the wounds. Well, he would.

And that’s why I think this novel is perfect for you and your husband both to read. Even if he is a non-believer. Even if he doesn’t tend to read novels. When was the last time you two read the same book and could talk about it over breakfast, or on a date night? I’m betting he will love the adventure/survival story, and you will love the love story. This novel has both running through out.

And I can guarantee you that every married woman on the planet in her right mind would wish for her husband to read pages 231-232. In fact, I think every mother would want her young adult son to read it too. That part will preach, as we say here in the south. Powerful truth there about purity, integrity and faithfulness. This story, as all of Charles’ tend to, subconsciously teaches our hearts about love.

                Themes from Author Charles Martin on Vimeo.

Charles is known for love stories. And female book clubs everywhere adore him! This novel, however, I felt was more of a man’s novel than a woman’s novel if there is such a thing. But that is precisely its strength in my eyes. If Rick hadn’t already read it, I’d be buying him a copy for Christmas and wrapping it up along with a voice recorder gadget.  I’ve already passed my extra copy on to my brother-in-law.

Don’t be thinking you won’t enjoy this novel too because I said your man probably will. Spend some evenings or a weekend finishing this book and I’m willing to bet you won’t soon forget The Mountain Between Us – its setting, its characters or its love story. And that’s my honest review. You can check out 54 other reviews of The Mountain on – from men & women, from believers and some who may not be - they’re all pretty much glowing.

Now pop over to She Reads for more info plus chances to win two copies – and a cashmere scarf to keep you warm while reading, plus several copies of Charles Martin’s other novels!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What will you write this month?

Anyone out there participating in NaNoWriMo?

Not heard of National Novel Writing Month? It's a program that encourages you to complete a novel by November 30th - along with lots of other would-be novelists.

During the month of November, thousands of writers will work toward the goal of completing a 50,000-word novel. The ideal participant has been described by NaNoWriMo organizers as anyone "who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved."

The idea is that the short deadline actually makes the task more manageable. The "kamikaze approach" is supposed to force participants to "lower ... expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."

NaNoWriMo was launched in 1999 by founder Chris Baty and his friends. That year 21 people gave it a try and six completed novel-length manuscripts. Last year, 167,150 writers participated worldwide, with 32,178 achieving their goal. Sound insane to you? Or like a dream come true?

Well here are Five Reasons Why You Should Consider Participating according to book editor Marjorie Kehe of the Christian Science Monitor.

1. If you think about the goal as 1,667 words a day, it doesn't seem quite as daunting. And 50,000 words is more or less a perfect length for a short novel: longer than a novella (defined as 40,000 words or under) but long enough to more or less measure up to "The Great Gatsby" (about 197 pages).

2. Officially participating in NaNoWriMo means that you will be working as part of a global community. More than 175,000 writers across the planet are expected to participate this year, all linked together by the NaNoWriMo website. In some cities, NaNoWriMo participants will even meet up in groups.

3. There is a huge celebration planned at the end.

4. It must be fun or people wouldn't keep doing this. Last year NaNoWriMo organizers estimated that more than 60 percent of the writers registered were repeat participants. "Making big, messy art is a fun, reviving experience, and once you've done it once, you tend to want to do it every year," Baty told Writer's Digest.

5. We all have a novel hiding in us somewhere. Will there ever be a better time to set yours free?

So go ahead and give it a try. If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, what are you waiting for?  Be an artist this month! Enjoy the messy, creative process. Then, after the holidays, you can go back to prune or polish what you wrote. Or maybe you can have your book bound by Kinko’s and give it to friends and family for Christmas (along with a nice gift card perhaps).

To officially participate, you'll need to register with NaNoWriMo. Their free software will track your progress. I’m thinking of hopping aboard with my non-fiction book.  Not quite the same, but I may join in anyway.  This is geared for mid-length novel writers but you could join in writing anything – a young adult novella, a children’s book …

So what will you write about this month?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Truth IS …

I have a devotion running today with Proverbs 31 Ministries called Joining the Geek Squad. It’s about Daniel becoming a part of the Babylonian king’s pack of advisors.  And how the wisdom of God preserved him there when things got dicey.

You should know I don’t consider the term “geek” derogatory.  Note, I married a professor. And I’m just as likely to read a research article in an academic journal as I am to read Better Homes and Gardens. I’ve even been known to read Matthew Henry’s Commentary poolside.

Poke around this website and you’ll find I refer to myself as “a word geek who has fallen in love with the Word Made Flesh.” After all, He is the source of all grace and wisdom. And the amazing thing is, He’s willing to share it with us!

I’m sometimes asked why I wrote my new book It’s No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know, and that’s the reason.  More specifically, Jesus’ comment to His followers in Matthew 13:11 propelled me.  He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you.”  I was captivated by the notion that God was willing to share His secrets with me. So I set out to discover what they are.

It's No Secret front coverAs I dug through the Bible I found many such secrets – biblical teachings that run counter to what our gut or culture tells us about successful living.  The word secrets used here is translated from the Greek musterion, which means a sacred hidden truth that is naturally unknown to human reason but is made known by revelation of God. (I probably read that poolside while the other moms wondered what hefty reference book I was toting now.)

These God-sized secrets contain the keys we are looking for—answers to the issues of modern life, such as exhausting schedules, unpaid bills, relational conflicts, and unmet expectations. So I selected twelve of them I felt were particularly pertinent to women today and wrote the book.  I would’ve included more secrets but the other moms assured me they don’t like toting around 3 lb. books.

The truth is, the secrets contained in the pages of my book are nothing new or hidden at all. They’ve all been wrapped within the Word of God and the person of Christ for thousands of years, readily accessible through the ages.  But each generation of women must encounter and apply these truths for themselves.

As we do, we not only uncover the uncommon wisdom of God, but we also uncover our truest selves.

**So here’s your chance to snag a copy of the book and find out the secrets.  My publisher David C. Cook is giving away a copy of It’s No Secret today on their Facebook page.  All you have to do is follow this link and once there, post to complete the sentence: My favorite place to read is ______________ .

I think you know where I like to read.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goals and how to reach them

Last week in my published devotion and corresponding blog posts I encouraged people to make rest a priority. And as means to that, to declutter their bedroom and treat it as an important space. As a sanctuary of sorts for body and soul. I heard from many - via blog comments, Facebook, emails and tweets - that they were going to do so. I wonder if they did.

In fact, it got me thinking about the purported link between writing down goals and achieving them. And between making a goal public, and then making it happen. Would telling me they were going to do something create an extra sense of motivation or accountability? What about commenting on FB versus just giving it a thumbs up "like"?

I've seen multiple references - even in published books - to a 1953 Yale University study proving a link between writing specific goals down, and future success. Sometimes it's claimed to be Harvard study rather than a Yale study. But the thing is, the study didn't take place  - at either university. It's a myth.

What isn't myth is a study done by Dr Gail Matthews at Dominican University that did find a strong correlation between writing down goals - actually spelling them out - and reaching them. I know when I write out my to-do list, I accomplish more than when I just hold the task list in my head. And I'm not really a list-writer type by nature. But is that true of big goals too, like opening a restaurant, or losing 50 lbs., or writing a novel?

What do you think?  Will writing down, "I will write a novel during NANOWRIMO 2010" actually help you start and complete a novel next month?

What if you don't write it down, you just talk to your friends about your plan to do it? Earlier today I came across this video clip about the effect of verbally telling someone your goal as opposed to keeping it to yourself or keeping it on paper. It's only a couple minutes long - check it out.

So, apparently, it is helpful to write goals down but not necessarily to tell someone about it.  I wonder if that is true of each of the 4 classic personality types.  Maybe it depends on who you tell?  Like if you tell your sister you want to drop 50 lbs, versus if you tell your local Jenny Craig consultant. What do you think?

Have you found writing down your goals to be effective in motivating you to achieve them?  What about telling people what you plan to do, has that usually helped or hindered you in achieving your goal? What works for you in real life when it comes to reaching your goals?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fabulous Bedrooms

We’ve been talking about two of my favorite things this week on the blog: Great Friends and Good Sleep! Deep thanks to each of you that participated in the devotional carnival. It’s such a pleasure to visit your blogs and read your posts and get to know you, I’ll post the winner of the prayer journal at the end of this post.

In January I wrote a post about food writer Mark Bittman’s NY kitchen. I was surprised at how small and modest it was.  Then I did a follow up post with multiple pics of small kitchens showing small can be fabulous.  That post still gets multiple hit every single week!

So in similar fashion, I thought I’d ask you which of these beautiful, relaxing bedrooms is more your style?  Tell us which one of these you’d most want to rest in. And if you’ve been decluttering your BDR as I suggested this week, or thinking about sprucing it up, maybe you’ll get some inspiration here.





 interior bedroom decorating, Delman shaker Bed, Pottery Barn

Cozy bedroom




I like so many of these – I want to spend a couple nights in each!  But the first one and the last one are closest to my bedroom style. My BDR is not quite as shabby-chic rustic as the first and not quite as modern minimalist as the last. But like these two, I like a warm mostly neutral color scheme and lots of textures on my bed, windows and floor … with a hint of romantic glamour. Which of these rooms caught your eye?

The winner of this month’s devotional carnival prize, according to’s true random number generator,  is participant #18.  That’s Kelli Zaniel based on Mr. Linky’s list.  Congrats, Kelli – send me your address and I’ll mail you the prayer journal.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sleep Solutions

(If you’re just now popping over from yesterday’s P31 devotion – welcome! – and be  sure to read the post below this one for my top 6 tips to better rest.)

Several years ago I made a big investment in better rest, and it's been one of the best decisions I’ve made.  Our mattress needed replacing.  After weeks of research I bought a mattress made entirely of latex rubber from an online company on the other side of the country.  My mattress arrived via Fed Ex in 3 boxes about the size (length and width) of a baseball bat. The boxes were small but very heavy - I drug them up the stairs. 

The company warned me not to open the boxes anywhere except where I wanted the mattress to go.  Once I cut those boxes open I realized why … my vacuum-packed rubber mattress came out like a jack-in-the-box, instantly reaching full size! It was wild, but oh so comfortable.  Before buying I read testimonials from customers saying they had cut their vacations short because they missed their latex mattress so much.  As a fun-loving, travel-going girl, I couldn’t fathom that.  I’m still not cutting my vacations short, but now I know what they mean.

Of course you probably can’t buy a new mattress today (and I bet you’re not so sure you’d buy a rubber mattress online if you could) so what are some simple things you can incorporate in your routine tonight to invite rest?  Many were mentioned in yesterday’s comments.  I’ll share & link some of my favorites.

Liquid Warmth. Sip something warm – milk, tea, hot cocoa – as long as it’s caffeine free. Try an herbal tea. Many, like mints and chamomile, have a mild relaxing effect.  I like Sleepytime tea.  On this same note, there are natural herbs you can take to help you unwind for sleep as well.

Bubble bath. Or a mineral salts soak. It relaxes muscles. It also raises your body temperature, inducing sleep as it drops when you get out. A hot shower can do the same. Throw some aromatherapy in for extra relaxation.  Here’s a couple inexpensive bath soaks I like, available at most drug stores. Want a custom-scented bath product? Try an e-tailer like Cleanse Your Soul.  Want to know my latest obsession? This Coconut & Papaya Body Wash.

Dim lighting.  Our bodies are designed to respond to the setting sun by slowing down and resting. Instead we turn on lights and stare into bright screens! Put the computer away before bed.  Turn off the TV. If you read before bed, use a small book light. I put many of the lights in my home on dimmer switches.  You can even put a lamp on a dimmer with one of these from Home Depot. Candle light is especially relaxing, why do we use it so rarely?

Soothing Sounds.  I play instrumental music frequently once I’m ready for bed.  I have a small stereo in my bedroom that holds 2 CDs.  It will play one, the other, or both back to back. I switch out the CDs every few weeks. I have lots but some of my favorite sleep CDs are an Ocean waves CD I’ve had for years, a thunderstorm one, and  Santorini Splendor.  I also have this one that is supposedly scientifically based. Lots of people sleep with a fan on for white noise to quiet their mind –I have a ceiling fan. There are even online places to find soothing sounds like or pzizz.

Bottom line is between this list and yesterday’s you can make some major strides towards better rest. You’ve just got to make it a priority.  Stop treating it as a nuisance – giving it last place on your list. And recognize that rest is God’s gift to us – one with which we can give honor back to Him. Need more convincing?  Try this article.

As for who will be settling in with a cup of herbal tea  and my book after a relaxing bath …. the winner is Maria S.  Maria, email me your address so I can put the book in the mail for you. If you didn’t win, I trust you will receive the gift of better sleep.  And the book is on sale this week at P31 if you’d like to read it. I’d be honored if you’d spend a few of your evenings with me via It’s No Secret.  :)

Did you declutter or make any changes last night?