Friday, August 26, 2011

Hello Irene

We interrupt our normally scheduled blog post to bring you this update:
Hurricane Irene has arrived in Wilmington.

Thankfully, she has weakened - noted evidence of answered prayer.

I last left my house around 4:00 pm today for a quick ride over to Wrightsville Beach in between squalls. I wanted to peak at the surf.  They are not evacuating the barrier island this time, though they do have a curfew tonight.

The skies looked menacing and the surf was definitely kicking up. The pictures below don't do the sight justice.  But they were the best I could get in the rain and wind gusts - the wind blew my tightly Velcro'd Nike visor off!

First, here's the status of bread in Wilmington grocery stores right now:

A favorite ocean-front restaurant all boarded up.

We passed some guys riding the wind on skateboards with umbrellas and bed sheets for sails. Yes, they were going the wrong way on a one-way street but Irene was only blowing one direction.

Some shots of the beach. It was hard to keep my lens dry. You can't see it but rain is falling.

This black dot is my visor that blew off while I was on the pier and landed by the dunes.

Rick went after my hat for me, proving chivalry is not dead. The wind is pelting him with rain drops and sand coming off the beach.

Here's the Intercoastal waterway, already looking pretty full. I wondered if it was high tide.

Here's the marsh that backs up to my neighborhood - it was also looking quite full at 5:oo pm.

The rain is picking up outside now and it's dark out. I understand half of Wrightsville Beach has already lost power tonight.

Hopefully we will sleep peacefully through much of the storm. I'm just happy I'm not sleeping there -this particular yacht decided to drop anchor in the middle of the waterway and ride out the storm there.

I'm normally all for southern hospitality but I'm hoping Irene doesn't overstay her welcome. And I sure hope she plays nice while here. 

Praying for the Northeast!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Are you a Book Finisher?

"After all, tomorrow is another day."

That's the closing line from what famous novel?

Ms. Scarlet could tell you.

Here's what I'm wondering today: Do you tend to read your books all the way through to the end?

Or do you tend to stop part way and never finish?

If you tend to stop--why?  You get bored, busy or distracted?  Does it bother you not to finish?

And does your answer to the question change depending on whether you're reading fiction or non-fiction?

A Teletext survey of 4,000 Britons found that almost half of the books they bought remained unfinished. I'm guessing their American counterparts aren't much different. But you tell me, are you typically a book finisher or a book abandoner.

I'll tell you in my next post if I'm a book finisher or not. (What do you think?)

Meanwhile, if you are a book finisher, you'll probably recognize some of these Best 100 Closing Lines from well-known books.  If you're not a book finisher, pop over and see what you've been missing.  :)

And thanks for answering my nosey questions about your reading habits.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Need to Learn

It's one of my favorite times of the year - Back to School.

I love this time mainly because I have a big crush on books, learning and cute professors with leather patches on the elbows of their sweaters. Well, really just one certain professor with said sweater.

But I digress.

The prospect of a new semester holds promise. It's that promise of expansion and growth that excites me. Each January and August (the two "new year" times in my life) I look for some way that I can intentionally grow or expand.

Last Spring I went to college not as the teacher but as a student for a change. I took a fascinating course on the Psychology of Religion.  I'd take that class again in a heartbeat. And the experience has me thinking I might audit some more courses at the university. I'm even thinking of teaching a new course myself next fall - a course on food.

I'm also planning to try a new hobby. I do this every few years.  A couple years ago it was cooking.  I'm not sure yet but this year it might be Zumba.  Anyone tried it?

Did you know it is fabulously good for you to keep learning new things? Sudoku. Ball Room Dancing. Knitting. Writing Poetry. Indoor Gardening. Anything.

So tell me, what do you plan to learn this year?

Here's a video to inspire you.

Is there a class you will attend, or a hobby you might take up? Will you delve into a new Bible study or maybe extreme couponing? ... What might you try this school year?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Blocks Your View?

Are you living with the cross of Christ in view as Paul encourages?

That's a profoundly challenging question. As a believer, my knee-jerk response is, "Of course!" But
I've been reading C. J. Mahaney lately and thinking about the cross (the Gospel of Christ). I've realized while I go through my days with God firmly planted in my mind, that's not quite the same thing as living with a view of the cross.

Mahaney outlines three things he believes pulls our focus away from the gospel: subjectivism, legalism and condemnation. You can read about those in Mahaney's words in his book Living the Cross-Centered Life. I'm going to walk through them here in my words.

1) Subjectivism = basing our view of the unchanging God on our fluctuating feelings.

Our feelings will always fluctuate. Let's face it, they rise and fall with our circumstances, our moods, our hormones, our health, our hair-cut ... they aren't stable. 

Our feelings about God can easily rise and fall too. We see a prayer answered - we get warm feelings about God and increased faith results.  Then we get sick and can't seem to get well again despite praying - negative feelings ensue and our faith decreases.

We wonder if God hears us, or if He cares. And we decide He must not.

I believe a marker of spiritual maturity is the ability to pull our faith out of the hands of our feelings. To preach the truth about God, from the Bible, to ourselves no matter how low we feel when the preaching begins.

2) Legalism - basing our relationship with God on our personal performance.

This is a shift from experiencing grace to seeking to earn it. We slip into legalism when we want to deserve God's forgiveness - when we try hard to be worthy of it. Or maybe, when we try so hard not to need it that we fall into perfectionism.

I wrote about this in one of the chapters in my book It's No Secret - it's been the most popular chapter based on reader feedback. Apparently a lot of women have a tiny little issue with perfectionism. I know a thing or two about that.

As we grow in our faith, we come to dislike sin.  That's great!  But we must be careful not to come to dislike grace in the process.  I believe a marker of spiritual maturity is a lavish welcoming of God's grace.

Mahaney writes, "Legalism is essentially self-atonement for the purpose of self-glorification and ultimately for self-worship." When you put it that way, C.J., ouch.

3) Condemnation - focusing on our sins more than on God's grace.

You've heard the saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees." Meaning you are too close to the thing to see it in proper perspective.  This happens when we fixate on our sin.  We obsess about our inability to live up to Jesus' standards, rather than turning cartwheels over the fact that in all the ways we fall short, God's grace covers. 

God isn't interested in our punishing ourselves over our sins. He is interested in our turning away from sin towards His grace and love. His love towards us abounds!

Not just in an "Aww bless her heart, she's such a mess" kind of way but in a "I'll go to the ends of the earth - to the cross even - to redeem you because you are my prized possession" kind of way.

If God holds nothing against me, why would I hold it against myself?

I believe a marker of spiritual maturity is staring less at my faults and more at the cross. Forgiveness is constantly there for the believer. We don't have to atone for our sins - Christ already has.  Somebody wave a white hanky and shout hallelujah at that!

What is blocking your view of the cross?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Today my toes will stride across the sand of Sunset Beach, NC. (Home of The Mailbox). My family and I are meeting my friend Zoe Elmore and her husband there for a little late-summer get-away.

I love to walk the beach, but only on the part close to the water -- on the sand that's been hard-packed by the surf. Running on the loose shifting sand gave me the worse ankle injury of my life!

Are you looking for some solid, stable ground on which to place your foot? Or your marriage, or your home, or your career?

Me too. This morning I found it. Or rather I found directions to it.  Actually, I found it and it was pointing back at itself.  Take a look:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” ~ Matthew 7:24-27 

The Hebrew understanding of the word "hear" isn't just the physical act of hearing. It's not even the more intentional effort of listening. No, the Hebrew conception embodied within the word "hear" is to hear and respond.

The biblical act of hearing isn't complete until we've responded to it.

If we have "ears to hear" as the biblical idiom goes, we don't just perceive what God is saying. We don't just listen to the sermon. We don't just cognitively understand what the Bible teaches, we hear it, believe it and endeavor to live it.  We respond to the truth.

We build our house on it.

We bank on it.

We source our lives there.

And when we fail to do that, we risk a crash according to this passage.

This has me thinking, how much Bible knowledge or scripture understanding do you and I have, but do not respond to?

How quick is our responsiveness? 

Looking back, the greatest times of growth in my life as a Christian correspond with the times I've been the most responsive to God's truth.

Scripture study and Bible memorization are terrific disciplines. They're critical to growing in Christ. But they're of little good unless we allow them to transform us. We have to respond.

If you're feeling spiritually sluggish or stuck, consider: How responsive have I been to God or  scripture lately? Have I yielded to what He's asked of me?

Let's be responsive today.

I know that's easy for me to say ... I'll have my toes in the surf.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Story Lovers Alert

If you follow me here or on social media, I'm guessing you are a non-fiction reader. As heretofore I've been solely a non-fiction writer. (Did you like my casual use of that fancy word?) What you may not know is that I love reading fiction as well. Right now I'm reading 3 different novels.

Do you read fiction too? I'd love to know what types? Romance? Historical? Contemporary Women's Fiction? Suspense? ... 

One day I just might write a novel. You'd read it, right?

Well, for all my fellow fiction readers out there, I know a survey you won't want to miss. Sound off on what fiction you like to read in this quick survey for Thomas Nelson and get a free eBook download in return, plus the possibility to win $10,000. 

Count the zeros, girls - there are four of them there!

So pop over and take this survey for Thomas Nelson. I did and I'm about to go figure out which novel to get as my free download.

Meanwhile, do you know about She Reads? It's P31's fiction division and I've just joined the ranks of the fabulous women that run it. Every month we feature a new novel & author and do a fun giveaway. If you love Christian fiction - or you'd like to wade into the fictional waters with a well-recommended novel - check us out. You can even discuss the novels with other women in our new discussion forum.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aging brings a Gift

Here’s the thing. (When a post opens like that, you know I’m letting you into my thoughts mid-stream. So just try to track with me here.) Two weeks ago I marked another birthday. I don’t feel as old as I seem to inevitably be growing.

Aside from that little exercise in cognitive dissonance, I’m OK with it.
A couple years ago I made a new friend.  She is ahead of me in life.  She moved to my town having just retired (from some really cool jobs like being head honcho at a little television station called the Food Network. Oh and also the one that starts with an H and ends with a V). I must say, God gives me spectacular friends. 

wish my nails looked this good

When I told her 40 was approaching on my horizon, she insisted my 40’s would be my absolute best decade. I had my reasons for doubting her – my hips and thighs namely.  But I decided to listen and trust what she had to say. Because I’ve discovered that wisdom truly does come with age.

Let me pause here and be clear, you can age without gaining much wisdom.  It happens to some, and I think that’s a bona fide shame. It’s equally true you don’t have to live through a multitude of decades to gain wisdom. It’s there for the asking.  Free for the seeking according to the Bible.

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

“Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you, and make you wise.” Prov. 1:23

But age – or more accurately, TIME and EXPERIENCE – affords us perspective we don’t have when we’re young.  And perspective lives right next door to wisdom.
A few months ago, Sarah Martin at She Seeks asked me to share a piece of advice with the twenty-something set that frequents their blog. In writing that post, I realized how time and experience brings perspective, and perspective, wisdom. Hop over there if you want to read what I wrote.

Back to my wise friend who worked in TV. (I warned you this post would be rather stream of consciousness.)  She told me that in your 40’s you shed a lot of the self-consciousness and doubt that tends to plague us in our 30s.  She said our careers hit full stride in our 40’s.  And we become more comfortable in our bodies – even though they don’t look like they did in our 20’s – and with our decisions. We embrace our strengths more and worry less about our supposed weaknesses (those things God or life didn’t afford us).
That sounds really good to me. So I’m choosing to embrace my age.  I will welcome my 40’s. And my 50’s. And my 60’s. And my 70’s. And my 80’s should God allow me to live that long.

I don’t know where on the timeline you are, but I encourage you to embrace it, whatever number it is. Celebrate your years of life and the wisdom they bring. And share your wisdom with others. 
It’s a gift.

“Gray hair is like a crown of glory; it is attained in the path of righteousness.” Prov 16:31

Are you dreading or embracing aging?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Being Memorable

A stranger recently remarked, “You look like Rachel Olsen!”  I wasn’t sure what to say in response. It wasn’t a question. I didn't know how to categorize and file that comment.

Was I being recognized?  Or mistaken? 

There is some small thrill in being recognized – in being remembered, being memorable. Plus, there is satisfaction in possessing a strong sense of self – in knowing who you are to the extent that others know it too.

“I am Rachel Olsen … I think,” I replied, wondering if there was some other Rachel Olsen that I happen to look a lot like. After all, people constantly tell me I look familiar to them.
I’m not sure why this is. I have a feeling that means I’m mostly average. Not exactly forgettable, but not specifically memorable either. Or maybe there are just a lot of 5’3” pale-skinned brunettes walking about.

Turns out she had heard me speak at a church in town but hadn’t had a chance to see me up close. Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest. He came in third place. Knowing that, I smiled at her and struck up a conversation.

Women often go to great lengths trying to make themselves look, well, memorable. I suspect we all do that to some extent. And I reckon we always will. 
But today I realize it’s much easier to be remembered for what you said.
 “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Prov. 31:26

Or, to be memorable for what you do.
“She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable.” Prov. 31:17-18b

“She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.” Prov. 31:20
“She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.” Prov. 31:27

"Let her deeds publicly declare her praise." Prov. 31:31b

It's not only easier, it's pleasing to God. 

So, go be memorable today.