Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What Encouragement Looks Like

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, as in fact you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

It’s a rarity when we can mark a moment in time other than the date on a calendar. That moment that signifies a line in the sand, an about-face, a change of heart or a significant start.

Meeting Cindy was such a time.

Sitting amongst like-minded aspiring writers, Cindy, an accomplished author and public speaker, shared her enthusiasm for the written word. She shared her personal journey, but she didn’t make it all about her, as some might. Rather, she created a homey atmosphere where you imagined it was just the two of you sitting across from one another, sharing a cup of tea.

And her point? If she could succeed, so could you. But, what got me? What etched that day in my memory so that nine years later I can still recall the details? She personally told me I could write. She wasn’t granting me permission to write. No, she recognized me as a writer and called me out—called forth the dream God planted in my heart long before that moment—and I couldn’t hide any longer.

For years following that writer’s seminar, I’d often say to my husband, “I wish I could call Cindy and have her mentor me.” Since she lived but a half an hour from our home he’d answer, “Giver her call.” And I’d quiver in reply. “Oh, I can’t do that! She’s a real author.”

By the time we were reunited four years ago, I’d published my first children’s book and was a contributing writer for two blogs other than my own. And, two years ago, we spent quality time together at the New England Christian Writers Retreat. It was there, I finally understood her true calling. Yes, she is a brilliant wordsmith and talented public speaker, but encouraging is her strongest gift.

Paul mentions the ministry of encouragement in Romans 8:6-8:   

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Cindy definitely has the encouraging gift. And if you think she encourages me only because I attended her events, think again. For here she is, encouraging my heart at my own book debut this past weekend:

L to R: Carol Nicholls, Cindy Secrest-McDowell, Dawn Aldrich, Wendy Coy
And not only is she encouraging my heart, but see those other girls? They’re writers, too, and she’s pouring into their dreams, watering the seed that God’s planted within them.

We all need people like Cindy in our lives. In fact, I believe Paul commissioned all believers to practice and desire encouragement so that we might uplift one another in our faith journey. And, wouldn’t that include recognizing the God-given talents and gifts in others and calling it forth?

L: Akintunde Sogunro, author of Mama Stitches and one God's allowed me to mentor

Do you have an encourager in your life? Are you and encourager to others?

My pint-sized encouragers and that little girl? Man, can she write!
I’d love to hear your stories. Why not encourage our hearts and share your experience below in the comments section?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Unveiling Invisible Jenny May

My second book, Invisible Jenny May, (2015, Halo Publishing International)  finally launches in two days! The invitations have been sent, food, balloons and books are ordered. Now I sit and wait.
Jenny May has rattled around in my head since July 2009 that she's more of a person than a book character, so forgive me if I refer to her as a living being. She began as a true story my husband's Aunt Clevie shared with me at the breakfast table one hot Alabama morning. Soft and low, almost whisper-like, she started.
"When I was a little girl, I had a long black braid down the middle of my back. I put on my favorite dress and a white apron with deep front pockets. I'd walked down to Granny's house who made the best southern tea cakes.
Fillin' my pockets Granny would say, 'Now I'm fillin' your pockets. You go on back and share the wealth. There's enough for everyone to have some.'"
After breakfast, I scribbled this bitty story into my journal before I forgot it. It rolled around in my imagination for months. I wrote at least ten versions until my writers group, my editors, my young audience (ages 4-8) and I were pleased.
Now Jenny May has settled into a story about a middle child who feels invisible. Invisible Jenny May does everything right, but despite her good deeds and notable actions, no one in her large family notices her. No one, that is, except Granny. With a little help from Granny and some "magic" tea cakes, Invisible Jenny May discovers the "magic" to visibility.
So today, I am happy to finally unveil Invisible Jenny May to the world! A signed copy can find its way to your home by ordering on my website, where you may indicate to whom I should sign the book. Otherwise, you may also order through Halo Publishing International, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Invisible Jenny May is also available in Kindle and Nook versions.
Enjoy! May you discover the "magic" God's placed within you.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Boredom is Okay

In the 1970’s summer vacation meant: staying up late, sleeping late, beach bumming, Bible camp, and eating ice cream…lots and lots of ice cream. If we were bored, our mothers would offer us plenty of chores or look over their cat-eyed frames with one raised eyebrow and say, “And what are you gonna do about it?”

So what did we do when we got bored and we’d watched enough reruns of The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Captain Kangaroo, and all the Looney Tunes Cartoons you could stomach?

We played.

That’s right. We played unorganized games with neighborhood kids like us; sometimes made-up games with silly names and rules that changed. We pool-hopped around the neighborhood, rode bikes to the corner store for ice cream, candy and soda (fully loaded with sugar), played school and house, colored, painted with water colors, drew pictures, read books, and of course we did our household chores.

As teenagers, we spent days and nights at our best friends’ houses, took drivers ed classes and drove our friends to the beach as often as we could afford the gas and our work schedule permitted.

That’s right, we also worked. We worked wherever we could find a job—the local grocery store, department store, fast-food restaurant. Work was a right-of-passage at sixteen. It meant we were gaining independence from our parents, earning adult money and taking on adult responsibility.

I passed this training-out-of-boredom onto my children. Early on they learned that boredom is okay. I was not responsible to fill up their boredom hours, they were. They used their imaginations and abilities to fill their lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer as was fitting and according to parental boundaries. 

(Struggling with over-scheduled or bored children? Join me at the Christian Children's Authors blog for the rest of the story).

Monday, August 3, 2015

I Thought I Knew What Love Looked Like

If you are joining me here from by design ministries, then Welcome! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you are blessed by the words you read.

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"The one who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I too will love them and show myself to them." John 14:21
"Most live life with love gone much unsaid." These narrated words from a new BBC series pricked my heart as I thought about all the years I withheld my love from my father; repressed my childhood affection from the one who walked away and yet returned with a repentant heart. We'd lost so much time play-acting our roles as father and daughter all those Saturdays of my youth, that when he returned in my college days, I didn't know what to do. Showing affection was awkward, at least, and risky. I allowed the fear of rejection to build an impenetrable fortress around my heart, keeping everyone at arm's length, especially my father.

We lived most of the rest of his life with love gone much unsaid until God took hold of my heart about nine years ago. That's when God pried open my soul and revealed to me my earthly father through His eyes. For the very first time, I was able to accept him for who God created him to be, and honor his traits in me without shame. But it wasn't enough to only ponder these revelations. God challenged me to forgive my father face-to-face and to speak my love out loud to him (talk about fear and risk!). God worked on me for seven months before I gained the courage to risk it all and face my father. And I'm glad I did.

While God had restored my love for my earthly father, that love was far from that innocent, untainted love between a father and his daughter. My heart yearned for that which was lost from my childhood; a type of love that now only God himself could restore, for my earthly father passed away last winter. My father and I had left no words unsaid and he knew I loved him and forgave him. I thought his passing had restored all lost love between us and ended my father journey, but recently God taught me differently; that I could not possibly know what a father's love looked like (or felt like) without experiencing it first.
Recently, I stood amongst a few others while the leader of the small group climbed upon a chair next to me, placing me in the posture of a young girl and her father. He then recited my personalized Scripture as though God were reading it himself:

"I cherish you with an unending, undying love. I pull you near and hold you close with my absolute, dependable kindness. Though your world is shaken and the familiar be removed, still my love for you remains - my boundless, unending, immovable love. My covenant, my word, my promise of peace also remains, for I AM tender, gentle and compassionate towards you, always." (Jeremiah 31:3, Isaiah 54:10 personalized)

In that moment I felt four-years-old again, standing beside my earthly father, protected and encircled in his love. God stirred my heart like never before, lavishing His love on me in such a way that words cannot adequately explain. Not only was it a time of restorative love of an earthly experience from my childhood, but more so a God-gift and spiritual breakthrough of experiencing the depth of God's love for me as my heavenly Father.

Jesus said, "A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34 NIV). In the past, I've read how Jesus loved and tried to love as he did, but I could not offer the full extent of his love until I experienced it firsthand. This teaching by Mark Fee in his First Loved to Love seminar blew me away. I'd spent decades trying to love my father as Jesus had taught me, but I hadn't experienced that type of father-daughter love from my heavenly Father at all. I hadn't even asked for it.

The exercise that helped me experience God's love firsthand that day was by personalizing a love Scripture, like the one above. I then read it aloud several times, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal God's heart for me through the Scripture. I recorded our silent conversation and meditate on it daily. I've found it more effective when my husband reads it to me. 

All these years I thought I knew what loved looked like, but God is showing me so much more. He is showing me how high, how wide, how deep is His love for me.