What are you doing to keep things simple this holiday? Share your comments below.
This photo booklet from Family Fun Magazine is easy to create and has printable instructions for you.
What’s On Your List?
Have you ever misplaced your shopping list? I have. Many times. I’ll dig in the bottom of my purse, run back to the car to look under the seat, panic, and turn every pocket on my clothing inside out finally resigning myself to rely on memory. However, when I get home I’ll have to start another list for the things I forgot.
At this time of year, it seems I’m even more infatuated with lists. Christmas is coming, so I’ve started my gift-shopping list. Sometimes, I’ll make a day after Thanksgiving sale list that might help in shortening the gifts-yet-to-buy list. That is, if I can snag some doorbusters in the sea of elbows and shopping carts without a black eye or a broken toe.
The list of lists goes on. I’ll make my Christmas card list and a holiday to-do list, and eventually a thank-you card list. In time, there are little papers everywhere. On my desk, on the refrigerator, between the cushions of the sofa—enough lists to make a person need to write a list of places to look for the lists.
List-making can become an obsession. I confess that sometimes I complete a task that isn’t on my list, then I write in on and cross it off just for the satisfaction of having completed something on the list.
A recent e-mail from a friend gave me another perspective on the value of lists. She mentioned a book she had read in which the characters made a list of twenty things they would like to do, a checklist of things to learn and explore. They put their lists in a scrapbook binder. It reminded me of the movie “The Bucket List” where Carter makes a list of things he wants to do before he kicks the bucket. It also reminded me of the movie “Up!” where Ellie makes an adventure scrapbook of all the places she would like to go. Later as a widower, her husband Carl completes “My Adventure Book” for Ellie by finishing her list.
In the same e-mail I mentioned, my friend sent me a list of some of the things she would like to do, with no deadline, just things she’d like to achieve in this lifetime. Some are things that she could do today, and some are things that will take some strategic planning to make happen. This kind of list sounded so much more inspiring to me than grocery lists or to-do lists. It takes list making beyond the mundane into the realm of imagination, creativity, and life-long goals. I like that. And I like a list that isn’t a throw-away paper.
I love to dream and imagine what I might do, so I was itching to make my own list. But I wondered how I could reconcile my desire to make lists and dream big dreams with God’s purpose for my life. Was there some way my personal dreams could intersect with God’s purpose for me? Or would I have to toss out recreation or hobbies in favor of devotion to Christ?
As I did my personal Bible study the morning after I received the e-mail, a study question asked me to write down my primary purpose in life based on Philippians 3:7-11. In this passage, Paul talks about everything that he once thought significant being considered rubbish compared to the value of knowing Christ and being one with him. As I considered the passage, I realized that it isn’t that goals such as learning to sew or visiting the ocean are nonsense, nor that lists ought to be discarded. Instead, I think it means that in the greater scope of things, my relationship with Jesus Christ matters more than any of those other things. It means that the number one item on my list ought to be living a life that pleases God and brings him glory. It means that I need to base my choices on that goal and seek God for wisdom in my decision-making. And it means that my hobbies, aspirations, and dreams are fine, so long as they don’t get in the way of that primary purpose.
Dream your dreams. Make your lists. But remember to put your relationship with Jesus at the top of your list. It’s the only item on the list that matters forever.
This article also appeared in my "Habits for Quality Living" column in Wisconsin Christian News.
As I think about giving thanks to God, sometimes my thankfulness is so shallow. My kiddie pool of thankfulness goes as deep as, "Thank you Lord for my house, my car, my bank account...". But I overlook God's grace as deep as an ocean. I overlook the patience of my loving family and the incredible gift of their support. Today as I splash around in my wading pool of superficial concerns, I'm reflecting on how much the stuff doesn't matter. Day-after-Thanksgiving sale...not even going to look at the ads. Computer repair guy...take all the time you need. I'm taking a step deeper and looking for the real blessings that God has given me, and I'm swimming out towards the whitecaps in search of something worthy of deep gratitude.
I'm praising God for Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation. I'm thanking God that I live in a free country where I can boldly proclaim that I love Jesus without fear of imprisonment. I'm giving thanks that the struggles I experience right now are nothing in light of the glorious future that God has planned for me in heaven someday.
What are you thankful for today? See if you can dive below the surface of material things and possessions to look for lasting blessings.
Now, imagine that you’ve been plunged into a deep spiritual darkness and you aren’t sure how or why it happened. It’s as if someone turned off a switch and left you fumbling and wondering when you’d find a small beam of light.
Cec Murphey writes about these times when it feels like we are waiting on God in “When God Turned Off the Lights.” We may wonder, how does a man of God, a pastor who has been a faithful follower of Christ find himself wondering where God went? Readers will discover that no Christian is immune from the possibility of going through a spiritual blackout.
I finished reading my free advance review copy of the book recently and at first I felt like the darkness was long and drawn out for the reader, as though we were never going to get to the hope or solution. But then I realized that this brought me into the author’s darkness and helped me understand it much better. As the book progressed, I felt a sampling of how Cec must have felt in a time in his life when God seemed absent. Frankly, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the sense of abandonment. I didn’t like waiting. I didn’t like the long unanswered requests for light from God. However, I liked the book very much and I was very glad to discover hope and joy along with the author.
One thing that inspired me about the book was that Cec Murphey kept pursuing God. He kept reading scripture, kept praying, and kept attending church even when his feelings didn’t line up with his faith. He used his time of spiritual emptiness as an opportunity to grow and learn. Anyone who feels as if God has turned his face away, and who feels the despair of spiritual darkness needs a copy of this book.
I’m giving away my free copy of the book. I did a random number drawing and the blog reader who wins the book is the reader who goes by the identity:
If this is your ID, please send me an e-mail with your mailing address by the end of November to win your free copy.
When God Turns Off the Lights Blog Tour Gift Basket.
On October 22, all bloggers who featured Cec's book on tour this month drew one name from those who commented on their blog posts and entered that name into the grand drawing. And the winner is: Stephanie Shott who commented on one of my blog posts. Yay!
I was so thrilled that it was one of my readers! Enjoy the goodies Stephanie.
You have just 4 days to post a comment on any of my October blog posts to be entered into my monthly book drawing. This month's winner receives a free copy of Letitia Suk's "Rhythms of Renewal". How to comment
I'll announce the winner on the blog so check back to see if your name was drawn.
I've heard many warnings about the H1N1 Influenza vaccine lately and the R.N. in me needed to know if the facts I'm getting in my inbox are all true. I'm getting message that concern me. Folks, you have to do the research on this. The data is out there. To save you some time, I'll give you a few links if you're uncertain about what your family should do, but then you need to research it for yourself and be informed. If you're anti-vaccine, please hear me out and do the research to be sure you understand it all.
I'm getting e-mails that say the campaign to get people to take the vaccine for H1N1 is based on hype and scare tactics. Please, think about statistics before believing that. I'm getting more fear messages from those who don't believe in vaccines than I am from the CDC. The CDC isn't getting a thrill from scaring people. They want to save lives. Doctors and nurses want to save lives! Really, they do.
Why is this flu different from others? It's affecting a different demographic--the young and healthy. In the normal flu season, we're more concerned about the elderly and the immune compromised. This flu is taking the lives of healthy children too. A doctor friend commented on my post today and her comments confirmed what I saw on the news tonight. Some healthy kids have needed ventilators during their recovery from H1N1.
So, if you'll bear with me for a few minutes, let's answer some questions about the vaccine.
1. Is it safe?
I've scoured the web and cannot find evidence that the vaccine is deadly. Here's a report that quotes the CDC. In this report, as of last week, only one person has had a severe reaction that led to death. This reaction was later determined to be related to prior health concerns.
On the other hand, as of this week, the CDC reports that 5000 people have died of the virus or complications from it and over 400,000 have become ill. Those are just the cases that are reported to the WHO. Here is this week's World Health Organization report on the virus.
When we weigh out the minimal numbers of people who have had any sort of severity in a reaction to the vaccine to the number who are seriously ill or who have died, how can the risk of getting vaccinated outweigh the risk of getting sick?
2. What about the supposed mercury in the vaccine?
These concerns come from the ingredient Thimerosol which is in the injection form but not in the nasal form of the vaccine. Thimerosol contains trace amounts of mercury. So trace in fact that it can be declared mercury free. Here is a detailed report about Thimerosol.
I researched the amounts in the vaccine and there is more mercury in one serving of "safe" tuna fish. In fact, there is twice as much mercury in regular tuna than in the vaccine. See this fish report.
Some of the single doses that they are administering have NO Thimerosol in them and thus no trace mercury. Reports of dangerous levels of mercury in the vaccine are meant to inflame panic and are distorted to promote fear.
3. How does this vaccine differ from regular flu vaccine? And why can't it be given in one shot?
It could be given in one vaccine, except that the flu vaccines were already being made when the H1N1 problem came up. So a second vaccine had to be made. The vaccine is manufactured the same way as regular flu vaccine and is just as safe. The only difference is that in contains the H1N1 strain of the virus. The CDC has extensive information on this.
Also note, the nasal vaccine has a weakened live virus and the shot has an inactive form of the virus.
4. I've heard of people getting sick after the vaccine. Why should I get it then?
If you get full blown influenza right after the vaccine, it is likely you were already exposed to it before you received your shot. It takes 2 weeks before you are protected after receiving the shot. If you get sick in the meantime, you'll need to see your doctor for ways to lessen the effects of the virus just as if you weren't immunized.
If you get some mild flu-like symptoms, this is a rare, but normal side effect. Remember it's way better than getting the real thing. I've had influenza twice and as a healthy person, I was miserable! It's not an easy illness.
5. Should I get immunized?
That's up to you to decided for yourself and your children. Study the CDC website and look for answers to your questions. Talk with your physician, especially if someone in your family is high risk due to chronic problems. I'm choosing to have my kids vaccinated when they administer it at school. My husband and I fall in the lowest risk category, so we'll pass on getting the vaccine until those who are at high risk have all had a chance to receive their vaccine.
Weigh it out. Think it out. Consider what I've said and study it for validity. Study the other things you've heard. Then make your choice based on being fully informed of all sides of the issue.
Thanks for listening. And be healthy.
Michelle Rayburn, R.N.
I remember fondly the days when my grandmother would let us set up elaborate tent kingdoms in her living room using card tables, chairs, and every quilt we could find. Then she’d get down on her hands and knees and play in our blanket houses with us. Sometimes, she’d take us camping for real in a little pop-up tent trailer and she’d sleep on a miserable lawn recliner in the middle of the camper while the cousins and I shared the beds. I have pictures of my grandmother riding my bike and sitting on my brother’s motorcycle. But now, she’d say those are the things she “usta-could” do. As she approaches ninety, life is different.
Last month, after 65 years of sharing the same roof with Grandpa, they slept on opposite sides of town. It wasn’t by choice. Grandma needs more skilled care than the family can offer right now, so she’s had to move to the Christian Care Center across town. My husband’s grandparents moved into an assisted living center just weeks ago too. And my other grandparents are nearing this season of life as well.
It would be easy to be drawn into my own hurricane of busyness without thinking about my aging loved ones. But as I watched the autumn leaves swirl in my front yard this week, nostalgia brought me back thirty years to another autumn when we moved away from my grandparents’ hometown. Grandma started a little game with my siblings and me. When a visit ended and we climbed in the Volkswagen for the trip back up North, we’d try to touch her last before she could touch us last. If we could yell “touched you last” and slam the car door fast enough after touching her, we’d win. The giggles erased the sadness of saying goodbye and made it something fun instead. As she aged, Grandma couldn’t chase as fast, and sometimes she’d try to get us with her cane instead of her hand. We usually won. Now, I often let her win, but we still play the game.
I may touch her last with my hand, but she has touched me last with her life. So, as the leaves swirled and the memories floated around me, I picked up a pen and rummaged for stationery. In these days when most of my communication takes place with a mouse and a keyboard, I wrote a real letter to my grandpa and grandma and wondered why I so seldom write to them. After I signed the letter, I inked my finger and placed a print on the paper. Next to it, I wrote, “Touched you last.”
David, the Psalmist wrote, “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:17-18). Grandparents have so much to teach us, so many stories about God’s faithfulness, but so often they’re forgotten amid our busyness. I realize that many of my readers don’t have grandparents anymore, but when we look around us, there is no shortage of wise elderly people.
Notice how David asks God not to forsake him. There is a loneliness that accompanies growing old, a sense that the world has moved on, that it has abandoned those who no longer actively participate in the community. David reminds us of the need to be remembered in our old age, as well as the need to tell about God’s power and might. It’s a two-way street. The elderly need to be remembered and honored, and the young need to hear what their predecessors have learned along the way so that they can carry on in faith.
This month, I urge you to remember those who are in their autumn of life. Make time for a phone call, a letter, a visit to someone who would be honored by your attention. And now, I have another letter to write, to my other grandpa and grandma.
Article reprinted from my "Habits for Quality Living" column in the October 2009 issue of Wisconsin Christian News
Medical AND political thriller? You bet! Liam Roberts is a debut novelist with characters who are bent on unraveling the genetic code...and applying it to the simmering situation between Christians and Muslims.I was intrigued, so I requested the free review copy of The Y Factor. I admit however, that I was skeptical. I figured Roberts would have a difficult time equaling well-known authors of thrillers. He's an unknown, writing under a pseudonym, published by a publisher I'd never heard of. But, within the first couple of chapters, I was hooked.
When your sons are engaged in the very real war in the Middle East and they tell you to keep a low profile, slapping your true name on the cover of a novel about Middle Eastern tensions isn't the smartest course to take. But what is a writer to do when he has a story that must be told? An idea that refuses to die, that will engage readers and do what great stories do...make them re-visit their opinions?
You invent a pen name. Something like, oh, Liam Roberts.
Roberts knows the technology and unrest of which he writes. A computer whiz by day, he has close family members fighting in the very region in which his story is set. His love of technology led to the question: what if technology allowed us to know something that would significantly impact the situation in the Middle East?
What if you got an e-mail from a friend that sends a chill of fear up your spine? What if you thought that friend was in grave danger, the kind only terrorists can create? What if you hadn't heard from that friend in weeks? Rumor has it, he's vanished. In The Y Factor, computer scientist Eric Colburn receives just that sort of message. Fearing what may have happened to his friend Hamdi, who has been working on an international genetics project in Cairo, Colburn and his girlfriend Alana, another mutual friend of Hamdi, decide to put their skills to work the genetics research company.
What follows is a mind-blowing series of events that kept me turning pages late into the night. From the moment the drama unfolds, Colburn, Alana, and another co-worker named Joey demonstrate the reality of living in mortal fear. The book gives the reader a glimpse into the world of al Qaeda and the violence that is a way of life in some countries. I'm not sure what the actions of al Qaeda are really like, because I have no connections to the middle east. However, 9/11 stands as evidence of the brutality that simmers in the hearts of some men. Liam Roberts has captured this well in The Y Factor. I left me feeling like I ought to be watching over my shoulder.
This book is well written. Roberts' style reminded me a lot of Ted Dekker especially in Dekker's Blessed Child. I seriously wondered part of the way through if Dekker was writing under a pseudonym. The medical aspects of the story reminded me of Randy Ingermanson's Oxygen.
The violence in the book is handled tastefully, and there are so many examples of good Christian conduct in the business world in the book. So at first, I was thinking it would be a great read for teens and adults alike. But there is just one part I wish could have been avoided. Like a fabulous movie with one objectionable scene that could have been left out, there was one scene in the book when Alana is held in captivity that pushed the book off my list of recommendations for teens. Assault is reality, I know and it wasn't a rape. But either way I suggest parents use their judgment. The scene disappoints me only because the rest of the book is such an example of morality and good conduct despite the violent reality. Eric and his girlfriend agree not to be intimate until marriage and that's a great message for young people. Plus, the gospel is woven throughout the entire story line without it being preachy. That's an accomplishment for a writer.
I highly recommend this book to readers, both male and female, and I'm looking forward to other books by Roberts. Y factor should stand for yes factor in my opinion.
You'll find Liam Roberts on the web at his blog http://y-factor.net/folder/.
This week, after getting just a few hits per day since it started, my blog activity suddenly increased when another blog found the site and linked to one of my posts. I found links on Twitter that day to that post too. Ironically, it happened on the same day that I saw the movie "Julie and Julia." Why is it ironic? In the movie,which is based on a true story, Julie Powell starts a blog and when her readership, which is usually her mother and her best friend, expands and someone she has never met comments on her blog, she high-fives her co-worker and does a happy dance. Eventually, a lot more people discover her blog and soon she has interviewers calling as well as book editors with offers.
I'm not saying that's what is going to happen with my website (not that I would object either), but the movie lit a spark of hope in me as I considered the idea that God might have more in mind for my dots than I could ever imagine. Sometimes I push my hobbies and interests, my faith and my church activity, my housework and my writing all back into their little corners, ignoring the way God has woven them all together. And sometimes I cram everything into confining parameters, ignoring the reality that God has no limits.
I'm not sure what will happen with the site, but it was fun seeing the spike in interest. Maybe it's just a fun little side trip. Maybe it's a link to an even bigger plan. In the meantime, I'm delighting in the joy I've found in this reminder that God has a picture for my dots.
What are your dots? What hobbies do you have? What are your dreams? Share your comments on how you have seen God make connections between your faith, creativity, and everyday life.
Who is Mary DeMuth? An accomplished writer, Mary’s parenting books include Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, Building the Christian Family You Never Had, and Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God. Her real-to-life novels inspire people to turn trials into triumphs: Watching the Tree Limbs (2007 Christy Award finalist, ACFW Book of the Year 2nd Place) and Wishing on Dandelions (2007 Retailer’s Choice Award finalist). Find out more at www.marydemuth.com
Interview with Mary
Where did you get the idea for the book?
I wrote the series of stories based on hearing friends of mine talk about their Christian homes that appeared great on the outside, only to hide abuse on the inside. This really bothered me. Daisy became the inciting incident to explore three people’s stories relating to authenticity and hiding. In book one, Daisy Chain, I explore a teenage boy’s perspective to a family in crisis. In book two, A Slow Burn, I examine what would it be like to have deep, deep mommy regrets enough to want to be free from them. In book three, Life in Defiance, I tell the conclusion of the story through a battered wife’s perspective.
I am not a teenage boy. Nor am I a neglectful mother. And I’m not a battered wife. But I’ve interacted with folks who are. It’s for them that I wrote these stories.
What are the major themes of the book?
You’re never too far from God’s grace and love and forgiveness. That God is a pursuing, redemptive, relentless God. He loves His children, even when they run far, far away. That Jesus comes to us in surprising packages, and sometimes we’re so bothered by appearances that we miss Him.
What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I had to figure out how a drug addict acted and thought. I had to research what drugs do to a person, particularly the lure and the trips they take folks on. I had to get into the mind of a drug addict, which wasn’t easy for me, someone who is terrified of drugs. I created Defiance from my head and my two-year stint in East Texas.
With which character do you, personally, identify most and why?
That’s really hard. I see myself in all of them. When I feel guilty about my parenting, I relate to Emory. When I feel like an outcast, trying to do the right thing, I understand Hixon and Muriel better.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
That God is bigger than our sin, our regret, our hopelessness. He takes delight in intersecting the darkest of circumstances. He is there, available.
Book Review of A Slow Burn
Review by Michelle Rayburn
This is the first book by Mary DeMuth that I’ve read and I’m sorry I haven’t read one sooner. Her style is different from some of the syrupy sweet stories that I’ve grown tired of. She has a way of crafting words into pictures that resonate in my mind and draw me deeper into the story. She comes up with unique ways to express things like, “The porch had an incline a marble would love.”
DeMuth doesn’t wrap things up in shiny little packages that look nothing like reality. Instead, she presents a realistic story with plot lines that look more like the way things happen in our own lives and in the lives of our neighbors, grit and all. Her writing reveals a deep understanding of the shame of a secret.
A Slow Burn is the story of a woman who needs grace but can’t seem to accept it when it’s offered. Emory Chance lives in a swarm of regret that has consumed her. Her daughter has been murdered and a she has left are questions. In Emory’s story, DeMuth gives a voice to the power of forgiveness, and she doesn’t paste Jesus on at the end or stick him in a token chapter. Instead, she weaves the love of Christ throughout the book in the form of a man named Hixon.
Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down, but at first I was a little bit disappointed with the ending. Without spoiling the story for the reader, I’ll go as far as saying that I longed for more closure. It’s the 2nd in a 3-part series, so I’m sure there’s more to come. There were other elements that I didn’t like about the end. Mostly because I’m too used to “they lived happily ever after” endings. But the more I think about it, the more beauty I see in this ending, the beauty of deliverance.
A Slow Burn is also on tour at these blogs. See other reviews by readers.
If you're a reader and you've read a book by Cecil Murphey, comment below and tell us which book you read and what stands out for you from that book. Or if you're a writer and you've heard Cec speak at a writers conference, read his advice on a blog, or been encouraged by him in any other way, tell us about that experience.
I'll forward a link to Cec so he can read our comments as well.
by Cec Murphey
If you sincerely desire to follow Jesus Christ, life won't always be easy. Many times the Bible promises victory, and you may need to remind yourself that there can be no victory without struggling and overcoming obstacles.
In my book, I used the image of God turning out the lights because that was how I perceived the situation. I felt as if I walked in darkness for 18 months. We all interact differently with God, and my experience won't be the same as yours. Even so, most serious Christians have times when God seems to turn away or stops listening. And we feel alone.
Perhaps it's like the time the Israelites cried out to God for many years because of the Egyptian oppression. "God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise...and knew it was time to act" (Exodus 2:24 NLT). God hadn't forgotten, of course, but from their perspective, that's how it must have seemed. It may seem like that to you if you're going through your own form of darkness.
Here are a few suggestions to help you:
1. Ask God this simple question: "Have I knocked out the lights by my failures? Have I sinned against you? After you ask the question, listen. Give God the opportunity to speak to you.
2. Don't see this as divine punishment (unless God shows you it is), but consider the silence an act of divine love to move you forward. This is God's method to teach you and stretch you.
3. Avoid asking why. You don't need reasons and explanations--and you probably won't get them anyway. Instead, remind yourself that this temporary darkness is to prepare you for greater light.
4. Say as little as possible to your friends. Most friends will want to "fix" you or heal you and they can't. They may offer advice (often not helpful) or make you feel worse ("Are you sure everything is right between you and God?").
5. Stay with the "means of grace." That is, don't neglect worship with other believers even if you feel empty. Read your Bible even if you can't find anything meaningful.
I chose to read Lamentations and Psalms (several times, especially Lamentations) because they expressed some of the pain and despair I felt.
6. If you don't have a daily prayer time, start one. Perhaps something as short as three minutes--and do it daily. Talk honestly to God. It's all right to get angry. (Read the Psalms if you're hesitant.)
7. Remind yourself, "I am in God's hands. This is where I belong and I'll stay in the blackout until I'm ready to move forward."
8. Pray these words daily: "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12 TNIV). Some versions say "secret sins." These are failures and sins of which you may not yet be aware. One of the purposes of your darkness may be to bring those hidden problems to light.
9. Ask God, "What do you want me to learn from this experience?" You may not get an answer, but it's still a good question. Continue to ask--even after the lights go back on again. If you're open, you will learn more about yourself and also about God.
10. As you receive "light" about yourself while walking in darkness, remind yourself, God has always known and still loves me.
When God Turns Off the Lights Blog Tour Gift Basket.
Gift Basket Includes:
When God Turned Off the Lights
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Select Dark Chocolate