books for Black Friday (or why sitting by the computer today is such a better use of your time)

So, Black Friday, huh? You are doing precisely the kind of shopping I would do on this day–cyber shopping! The only kind an introvert like me would consider on such a crazy day.

Really though, I am probably going to craft fairs in Wisconsin with my wonderful mother-in-law today, because that is where we are as you read this. We are in scarily close proximity to the Mall of America, though, and that is where my daughters and exchange student daughter will ask to be dropped off tomorrow. Key words–dropped off.

But YOU are looking for cyber deals, and I have one for you today! It just happens that my new book, Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World. is releasing TODAY! (Yes, drum roll, trumpets, whatever sound effects you believe are appropriate. Probably medieval horns. Feel free to make them.)

Hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving and start the Christmas season with giving thanks for the One who came to be one of us to save all of us.

Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World–
Kindle version– 

Don’t Forget to Pack the Kids: Short Term Missions for Your Whole Family:

everything is a big word

A couple weeks ago, our lead pastor summed up a message by asking us to contemplate something we were grateful for that day. Not too difficult, right? There’s got to be something.
I thought about it. And thought. And thought some more. (And thought til my thinker was sore?) Yet the only thing I could think was “I can’t think of anything I’m not thankful for.”
Now, let me set this straight. On the Pollyanna spectrum, I land somewhere near “slightly less sarcastic than Oscar the Grouch.” I do no do sweet gushy, and I do not generally write all my multiple blessings on Facebook, though I appreciate those who do. (I did it once for November, and I just don’t usually do things twice. Unless it’s read Pride and Prejudice.) This to explain–there has been some pretty stinky stuff in my life. I will spare you the details but let the record state, there is PLENTY not to be so uber-thankful for.
That’s why it surprised me that I sat there trying to pinpoint one things I was grateful for in my life and all I could come up with was “everything.” Every stinking, great, sucky, fantastic, painful, fabulous thing. It’s not like I haven’t understood before that God works everything for good. But in that moment, I realized I had reached some kind of state of not just peace but joy about my past and all that was in it.
I have scars. Some are literal, others figurative. Because of that, I have eyes that maybe act like little scar-seeking missiles, lasering in on where others are walking wounded.
I have sight to look beyond someone’s issues to where their wounds are. I have vision for healing that can happen in a life that looks hopeless. I have eyes to look at a wrong someone has done to me and see that, in the big picture of all that has gone before, this is so minimal. I have scars that allow me to offer hope. I love that reality.
Somewhere, somehow, I have gotten past the “thank you God for using all that junk even though I wish I never had to go through it” to “Thank you, God, for all the stuff.” Just thank you. Because without the stuff, I would be half the person I am. Maybe not the good half, either. And I’m finally getting to like what He’s made.
What about the sucky, painful, stinking garbage of our past or, perhaps, our present? Are those things making something of you that you can look at and say, “I like that”? If so, give thanks. Not everyone is happy with what they’re becoming. (Let’s face it, not everyone should be.) But if you can be? It’s a blessing beyond imagination. If you can look at the world through eyes of love, grace, and acceptance that runs deep, you’re blessed I’m not talking merely superficial acceptance as in “Hey, let’s tolerate everyone’s beliefs and not offend anyone and coexist.” I mean down, deep, dirty grace and acceptance because you know where you’ve been, and you know after that, no one is beyond hope and help.
Thanksgiving. Usually, we fill that with all the things we’re thankful for that are blessings in our lives. I want to throw down a challenge this year. What about the things that don’t look like blessings? Try giving a different kind of thanks this year. A “Thank you, God, for everything.” No exceptions. No loopholes. Just thank you. What do you suppose might happen this year?

Murder Mysteries and Sunburned Bikers–the World of Barbara Derksen

Today I’m featuring another author who has a unique work in life as well as diversely interesting books. I’ve read one of them, as well as the prologue of Shadow Stalker, which definitely gets your attention! 
About Barbara:
Watching the expressions on the faces of her readers, as well as answering questions about her characters, is what drives author and speaker, Barbara Ann Derksen to write yet another book and another. Her favorite genre is murder mystery, but each book brings forth characters who rely on God as they solve the puzzle in their life.
Barbara’s devotionals are sought after each year when she publishes a new one that reflects what God has placed on her heart. From Straight Pipes, her first, to More Than Bells, Preparation for Prayer, the latest, Barbara’s devotions take people to the place where God can touch their heart and leave a lasting impression. Some men return to her book tables at their pastor’s request because the books are used as launch pads for men’s bible study. 
Born in Canada, Barbara lived in the US for 12 years. There her writing surfaced as she worked under contract as a journalist for six years with over 2500 articles published in newspapers and magazines. Meeting and interviewing people, digging for the hidden gems in their lives, made those years informative as well as instructive. 
With 17 books to her credit, one currently inactive and awaiting revision, each one surpasses the last, according to her readers. They look forward to discovering the new characters in a new series Finders Keepers. Book One – Shadow Stalker – was released in 2013.
Writing, however is simply a tool to be used in the ministry she shares with her husband. With his gift of music (he sings country gospel), Barbara and her husband operate CatchFire Ministries, a ministry to bikers through Christian Motorcyclists Association. They travel for four to five months every summer in the US and the rest of the time in Canada where they seek to inspire, encourage and invite people into a deeper ministry with Jesus Christ. They also minister at Veterans Homes and churches along the way and are about to begin a ministry to Juvenile offenders incarcerated at Manitoba Youth Center. The mysteries include a gospel message that opens her readers to the possibility of reading books written from a Christian World view and supply funds for CatchFire.
Though Barbara has many interesting stories, I loved this one the best:

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?

In my ministry with Christian Motorcyclists Association, I once took wiper rags with the gospel message into a Hell’s Angel encampment. I passed them out, with a smile, to all the bikers assembled. Another time, I took fresh, cold water to bikers in a Sons of Silence camp. God uses me, a woman, in this hard core biker environment, to get their attention and, based on the reaction I got, He succeeded. One biker jumped away from me saying, “I can feel that God thing happening.” I didn’t have to say a word. I’ve also been dubbed the Spray Lady for hosing off 1000 or more hot, sun-burned bikers at another rally.

And her latest book–Shadow Stalker: 
An ominous shadow hangs over her, as Christine Finder, alias Melissa Rompart, visits the brutal slaying of her parents most nights in a dream. The threat of discovery propels her to search for the whereabouts of the killer to see the man brought to justice. In the meantime, the killer stalks her mind while she operates Finder’s Keepers, an agency that searches for the people her clients hire her to find. Nathan Brent is only four years old and missing. Will she find him in time or will the killer find her first?

To read an excerpt of Shadow Stalker and/or order it, go to: 

of dancing cats and banjo strumming llamas

More conversations go like this than you might think.

Still sworn off of Facebook. Yeah, after the initial “I don’t know what all my friends are doing/ I don’t have any outlet for all my wittiness/ I don’t know what’s happening in the world because all my news comes from Facebook” panic (whew!), it’s kind of nice not to have somewhere to show up to all the time, even though I can come in my pajamas.
What were your thoughts on last week’s post about learning to be quiet? Have you had any experience in turning off the noise?
One of the reasons so many of us become noise addicted is that we are actually afraid of not being available 24/7.
Witness this Real Conversation with My Daughter. Which daughter will not be mentioned here:
Me: Can you put your phone away for dinner?
Child Who Must Not Be Named: But _____ is going to text me back.
Me: So, can you answer her later?
CWMNBN: But she’s going to text me now.
Me: But why do you have to answer right away?
CWMNBN: Because she’s texting me!
Me: You don’t haver to answer the minute she texts you.
CWMNBN: Yes I do.
Me: Why?
CWMNBN: Because she texted me! So I have to answer!
Me: Why?
CWMNBN: Blank look of confusion mixed with concern over my mental well-being.
Though the dialogue appears pretty pointless on the surface (and trust me, it was), the thing I took away from this interchange (other than her phone) is that we now have to teach younger generations that they are the master of their own availability. In order to teach this, we must know it ourselves.
A few things I do to remind myself that I control my own availability to the world:
  • I refuse to get email on my phone. If i’m out, I’m out. It takes minutes I don’t need to use getting fifty message and then deleting 49 of them as garbage. Almost no one needs a response that fast. If anyone does, he really should have emailed me yesterday. If I know something of importance is coming and I’ll be out for a while, I’ll check. Otherwise, nope.

  • Similarly, notifications are turned off on my phone. Do I actually need to know immediately with an accompanying “ding” that someone just “liked” my picture of a cat dancing to “Eye of the Tiger”? No, I do not. (Plus no, I have never posted such a photo. And never will.) Bells and whistles and quacks (yes, have quacks) on my phone telling me the world is paying attention to me may feel validating, but really? They’re just noise. Noise that gets into our psyches and demands our allegiance while creating stealth stress. I don’t need it.

  • I try to block all my appointments in one day. This is tough for an introvert. By the end of a day full of interaction with all those PEOPLE, I will probably need a cup of warm tea, a fetal position on the couch, and a Jane Austen marathon on TV. BUT—I know that one day is the day I choose to be available. I CAN choose it on other days, but I do not have to. It’s freeing. Just don’t expect me to add a trip to Walmart onto it, because THAT would send me screaming into traffic.

  • I give my kid the car. Really. See, if she takes my car to school for seven hours, those are hours I simply cannot be available to be anywhere but at home WORKING. (Or playing online jigsaws. Or doing twelve loads of laundry. Or dancing to 70’s disco on my kitchen table. But work is really the best option here, right?) It’s genius.

  • I never answer my home phone. Never. If you have that number, sorry. Eventually, I’l get your message. Although to be completely honest, I never remember to check those either. If my husband were to up and die anytime soon, I guarantee those messages would NEVER see the light of day. Only he remembers to listen. Entertaining as it would be to annoy a telemarketer with completely made up scenarios in which I might buy his product, I save a LOT of time by not even walking over to the phone. Done.

Bottom line, you are the master of what you choose to pay attention to.
What about you? How do you retain control of your own availability? Comment with your tips and thoughts.

puzzles, trivia, facebook, and careening planets

I am going to be scarce on Facebook this month. Not my author page—that’s still busy and would love visits from you and anyone you send there!
But my personal page is going to be pretty quiet. There are a few reasons for this. One, it’s National Novel Writing Month, and if I’m going to really compete for the big bucks, I’ve got to get 50,000 semi-coherent original words written by November 30, midnight, Central Standard Time. I suppose I might be able to get away with telling the website I live in Hawaii and buying a couple extra hours, but really, you know the saying “Nothing good happens after midnight”? True of writing as well. I shudder to think what might end up written on this keyboard by 2am.
I’m not writing a novel, but I am writing as many articles and posts as I can, so that still counts. In fact, this blog post counts, so if it’s longer than usual, you’ll know I’m padding that word count.
But that’s not the main reason I’ve chosen a Facebook fast. And while I’m at it, total confession. Also a Jigzone and Sporcle fast. (Online jigsaw puzzles and trivia quizzes, respectively. Highly addictive.) And car radio.
A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon about learning to be quiet and listen to God. The problem with that idea is, we simply don’t know how. We are a people who can’t sit through a dinner without responding to a Facebook notification on our phone. We can’t drive one hour without music on our car stereo and/or a movie playing in the backseat.
We live in a ceaseless, endless noise and clamor of opportunity and options. And somewhere, despite the nagging truth that we don’t actually like the noise, we’re terrified that if we unplug, if we are not 24/7unavailable, if we don’t take every opportunity that jumps in our line of vision– our validity as people is up for question. If enough people didn’t like my status yesterday, I’m just not worth my space in the universe.
Heaven forbid we not fill the silence. We have become a people who cannot survive without distraction, but it’s destroying our ability to be still. To breath. Listen. Live. Quietly before God.
In his book Margin, Dr. Richard Swenson argues,
Because life has now shifted to exponential terms, the issue of limits has suddenly become an important one. We coast along . . . Then, suddenly, we hit our head on the ceiling. Previously, there was abundant margin in the world system, and we did not have to worry about limits. We could grow, expand, and waste as much as we wanted without worry. This is no longer the case. We have met or exceeded limits in scores of areas but don’t know how to pull back. How do you slow a careening world when the throttle is stuck wide open?”
We’re careening. I’m careening. And I don’t like it. So I’ve decided to slow it down. I’m fasting from the electronic distractions that suck my time and my presence. I want to be present. To God, and to others. It seems appropriate for a time of year when we’re supposed to focus on what we truly appreciate.
I want to be quiet. I want to listen. I’m not good at it, but I’m going to try. Most of all, I want to allow enough quiet to face the questions God has for me, and the dreams he dreams for me.
What keeps you from finding your quiet space to listen? What helps you? Maybe we’ll talk about some of those ideas another week.

the swan and the peacock

My baby went trick-or-treating this year. My baby is seventeen. And I have no problem with that.

I imagine, based on a lot of argument I see in cyberspace, that she was not appreciated everywhere she went. I don’t know what the appropriate age is when neighbors cease to see you as a kid. I know I haven’t. That’s what mattered to me most that night, I guess.

Oh yes, I also see her as an adult. I see the sophisticated sense of humor, the compassionate concern for real world problems, the coming alongside her parents as a partner more every day.

But I also see the little girl playing dress up, and the Disney-watching princess. I see the fear of being sent into a big world still feeling like a little girl. I see the need to hold on to childhood traditions as childhood itself flits away. I feel the need as well.

It’s not about the candy. OK, maybe it is when it’s a full-sized Three Musketeers. Who can blame a kid? (Especially when I’ll take half of that.) It’s about being a kid. It’s about remembering all the other Halloween nights and all the other costumes and all the other friends, some gone and some remaining at your side, who have traipsed those streets with you over the years. 

It’s about a moment in time when you can pretend you’re someone else. In this case, you can pretend you’re something other than a hatchling adult, teetering on the edge of an unknown future.

She knows next year she will be the adult handing out the candy. She knows it. I know it. Just tonight, let us pretend it isn’t so. Let us play dress up one more time. Let mommy see her princess (or swan, as it was this year) in Neverland one more time. Then, tell us it’s time. But not before.