November 15, 2018

Just a Little Leaven - Tracy Krauss


Life has been busy - perhaps overly so, and much of that is my tendency to take on too much. Yes, I did retire from teaching public school full time, BUT I took on a part time teaching position at an online school, I decided to take on some substitute teaching, and then I got the bright idea to produce and direct a Passion Play in our community next Easter. Add to that my own writing and publishing, leading worship at our church, and my new and enhanced duties with InScribe - and 'retirement' is busier than ever!

I'm not really complaining - I have always been one who thrives on activity and who likes to be 'productive', but I am realizing I have to be very intentional about taking time to rest, and spending time communing with God, not just go through the motions. These are lessons I learned the hard way after my heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery last year and which I thought I had well in hand. However, I feel myself slipping back into old habits, which I believe contributed to my health issues in the first place. 

Habits come in many forms. Some are physical things we do: indulge in foods that are not healthy, overeat, let the exercise routine slide, stay up too late watching Netflix and thus sleeping in in the mornings. If this sounds like ‘confession time’ then you’re correct! But I noticed a very subtle shift in other ways as well.

Some of you may have read about a miraculous picture God gave me before my heart surgery which mirrored exactly the clogged arteries that needed to be bypassed. In my vision, they were labelled FEAR, DOUBT, ANXIETY, and PRIDE. I believe that the physical surgery I underwent had spiritual implications, too, and I began to claim that all fear, doubt, anxiety and pride were bypassed in my life.

I can quite honestly say that this has been the case now for almost eighteen months. In fact, I have taken pride in the fact that I’ve felt almost zero stress or anxiety since that event. And therein lies the problem…

Yes, pride had very subtly crept back in, and anxiety soon followed. All the activity I mentioned at the beginning was suddenly weighing on me. Of special note is the ongoing website issues that InScribe has faced as we try to get our new site up and running. I began to see a parallel in what I was doing in the physical (ie: eating poorly, not exercising etc.) mirrored in my emotional state. Stress was back, bringing with it fear and doubt. That darn devil! How dare he?

I’m thankful that I have discerning friends. Karma Pratt, (who happens to be working on the website) texted me out of the blue at just the right time with some scripture she felt the Lord had for me. After talking with her and praying I suddenly made the connection between all that had been going on in my life, and my reversion back to ‘stress mode’. I’d let a little bit of negativity back in and it didn’t take long to multiply.

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” comes to mind. Once we let even a small amount of ‘leaven’ in, it soon tries to take over. This is true in the physical realm, the emotional realm, or the spiritual realm.

PS: I am happy to report that I am back on track health wise, and I am humbly releasing all my commitments – including the website – to God.  

Tracy Krauss writes - among other things - from her home in northern BC.   Visit her website for more: http://tracykrauss.com
 - fiction on the edge without crossing the line - 


November 13, 2018

Writing Obstacles as Object Lessons by Wendy L. Macdonald


The biggest and most pervasive obstacle to my writing life is also a blessing in more ways than I have time to elaborate in one blog post. I wish I could say I didn’t suffer angst over the recent arrival of a string of interruption-shaped obstacles.

My first response was: Really, God? What were You thinking?

Thankfully, I'm hooked on quiet times with God. No matter how lousy or lazy I feel, I show up to read my Bible, pray my prayers, and listen for His morning message. It’s gotten to the point that the worse I feel, the more intrigued I am about how He’s going to lift my dry bones out of the ditch.

He always revives me—always restores me.

His word is hidden in my heart so I won’t give up on my life, or give up on my writing life. I need it daily.

What I’ve learned from my recent struggle to find time to write is that He is able to multiply the little bits of opportunities I do have. I’ve become more flexible with jumping into a project when a small window opens. I’ve learned to say no to new stuff if I am too busy with old stuff.

One-day-at-a-time writing has enabled me to meet my deadlines for both blogs I contribute to. Plus, I have a weekly podcast I produce for HopeStreamRadio I’m amazed how God has not only helped me get them done in time, He’s helped me write deeper while I wade through the flood waters of a busy life. 

I can’t take the credit for any of this because it’s God who enables me to keep writing. There are people praying about my situation. They know the details that nearly derailed my writing. And whenever I’m tempted to give up, I think to myself: God will encourage me if He thinks I should keep blogging and podcasting.

Sure enough, within twenty-four hours of thinking this trustful thought, the Lord sends me a blessing through my quiet time and/or through a reader of my Facebook page etc. He reminds me He has given me a job to do. His heart-hugging encouragements make the discouragements worth suffering through.

And that’s just it: Obstacles offered to God become object lessons for our faith.

When writing isn’t easy, it’s easy for God to draw my attention to His chalkboard. When I look up, I get a one-on-one faith lesson. How good is that? I now understand what He was thinking when He allowed an obstacle course of interruptions into my writing life in the first place.
What was He thinking? His thoughts were busy building up a faith that’s more precious than a gold medallion stamped onto a book.

Bring on the obstacles; my God won’t leave me stranded on the roadside of this writing life.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, 
who have been called according to his purpose.
 Romans 8:28 NIV

The hard places press me closer to Christ when I trust He’s in control of my life.

I’m nosey-to-know if you have any tips for writing during a season of unpredictability. 

November 12, 2018

Book Review of Eleanor Bertin's Lifelines by Sharon Espeseth

Eleanor Bertin signs each copy of her novel Lifelines with her own quote: "Never underestimate the powerful influence of an ordinary godly life." Eleanor' confesses that her protagonist, Anna Fawcett, is modelled after her own mother, who lived an ordinary but fruitful life.

Anna lived life as a calling to be an example to others and to speak the truth, even though it might be inconvenient to those who receive it. A "young" senior, Anna was a caregiver, friend and confidante to many.

Because Anna makes herself available to others, we meet an interesting cast of characters. First on the scene is Dr. Robert Q.M. Fielding, a  biology professor at Red Deer College, who has moved next door to Anna. Presently, he survives on fast food. Robert is vexed with himself for a number of reasons--and right now, for his accepting a dinner, no, make that a supper invitation from the widow next door. This woman lives in the bungle beside his with her "twenty-something" son, who was born with Down's syndrome.

What on earth would they talk about? Robert wonders as he walks toward Anna' front door and contemplates an evening of making conversation "with this simple woman and her son."

Robert is greeted cheerily by Anna Fawcet and ushered into the homey living room. To his surprise, he quickly discovers Anna, the widow of a farmer, is an avid reader and has a large and eclectic collection of books. To his delight, he discovers Anna is also a marvellous cook and her seemingly dependent son enjoys baking, hence the yeasty smell of buns coming from the kitchen.

Anna is delighted to have a biology professor with whom she can discuss her concern about Darwin's theory on "random chance evolution" and other thought-provoking topics.

Through Anna, we meet Amelia, who is single and pregnant; Joan, a bristly neighbour Robert has encountered briefly; a few of Anna's friends from church; a verbose doomsday-seeking neighbour who is ill; and several of Professor Fielding's co-workers from the college.

Skillfully moving these interesting and disparate people around on an imaginary stage that is her first novel, Bertin develops a compelling story that establishes her theme. "Lifelines"--be they life before birth, connections with others, the plight of the differently abled, the meaning of life and faith, or the way life evolves for ordinary folk--all unwind in their own way, spinning toward an unexpected, but satisfying conclusion.

November 11, 2018

Unexpected Obstacles by Carol Harrison

Speaking at retreats, events and camps gives me an opportunity to share stories from the Bible and real life experiences and sometimes share stories or books I have written as well.

A few years ago I was asked to speak at a weekend mother/daughter camp in Northern Saskatchewan. I had the privilege of speaking at this event two other years and knew what to expect. The age range could be from six to eighty. The weekend had a theme based on the summer camp theme from that year and I would need to prepare, write and speak three messages.

This year the opportunity to connect with mothers and daughters came with a small built in obstacle - a short time of preparation since I would be filling in for the intended speaker who had become ill. I trusted God to provide the messages on the theme of Surrender and said yes.

I wrote an outline about living intentionally with three headings: Retreat, Rough Road, Restoration.
In the second session of rough road I wrote these words, "Accepting each day as it comes, knowing God is still in control. Our day starts, things spiral out of our control, the day ends unlike what we planned."

As I wrote and planned my breathing became more laboured. My asthma flared up - another huge obstacle. I used my medication and my home nebulizer but they brought only minor relief at first. My husband wanted me to call the camp and tell them I could not honor my promise to come. I was sick. I refused. With only ten days until the retreat I did not want to leave them scrambling to find yet another speaker. I kept trusting God to help me breathe.

It became apparent that this obstacle loomed larger than it first appeared. Nothing eased my breathing enough to make my husband comfortable with me driving over two hours away from the city by myself and then speaking. I also knew my room would be upstairs which added to the concerns. Yet I trusted that God had a plan for this opportunity to share during this weekend. I just did not know what it should or could look like.

My oldest daughter Lorilee agreed to attend the event with me and do the driving. She could also help monitor my breathing and be a voice of reason to help me quit being stubborn and seek more medical help if necessary. I loved the idea of attending together and then I realized this opportunity could take on a different look. We could speak together, sharing from a mother and adult daughter perspective.

The camp director loved the idea. My husband and I loved the idea. My daughter warmed to it and I sent her the outline and notes I had written even as fear of doing something like speaking to a group for the first time filled her mind. We spent a week working together on messages and object lessons. We prayed about my health, for open hearts of all attending the weekend and that we would speak the words God wanted us to speak.

We retreated into God's Word and then to the lake for the weekend. We had bumps in the road for timing and health but we were available for whatever God had planned. The obstacle turned into an opportunity to hear my daughter share details of some tough stuff she had gone through as a teen and young adult - details I never heard before. We shared how these tough times had affected us individually, as a family and in our mother/ daughter relationship. Then we talked about God's work in our lives with each other and the weekend's participants.

When I wrote about the rough road I did not know that God would use the obstacle of my lack of breath in a way to  strengthen my relationship with my oldest daughter as we both surrendered to him.

 We closed the last session with these words "As we leave our time of retreat and go out to live intentionally to be all God plans for us to be, let's remember these verses from Ephesians 3:20,21
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen."



As a speaker, published author and storyteller, Carol Harrison is passionate about mentoring people of all ages and abilities to help them find their voice and reach their fullest potential. She shares from her heart, telling stories from real life experiences and God’s Word to encourage people and help them find a glimmer of hope no matter what the circumstances. She believes we need to continuously grow in our walk with God and lives out her storytelling passion by speaking at women’s events and retreats, Bible Camps as well as school assemblies and church events. Carol is a wife, mother of four adult children and grandmother to twelve. She makes her home is Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.


November 10, 2018

Embracing the Season by Sharon Espeseth


Later Fall Near Our House
It's autumn, "later autumn," I call it. The leaves have fallen and natures colours appear muted compared to the more colourful days preceding. The sunrise surprises us with a palette of pastel. A walk feels good, if you bundle up. 

I have seen many Novembers and I'm writing this on my birthday, which calls for reflection. The signs of my times tell me I also am in the "later autumn" of my life. The colourful days of raising children, teaching, managing the household and family, shopping, and travelling are vanishing. 

Hank asks me what I want.

After 43 years of marriage, the Norwegian and I don't always exchange gifts, but this birthday Hank asked, "Do you need, or want, anything?"

"No, I don't really need anything," I said, chuckling. 

"Jewellery? A new pair of earrings. . . ?" he asked.

Id love a new pair of earrings," I said, in light of this being a special birthday and Hanks offer to celebrate with me. 


What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asks Bartimaeus.


Unsplash

While Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" he shouted. 

When others tried to silence him, Bartimaeus cried out all the louder. 

Jesus stood still and said to his disciples, "Call him here."

"Take heart, they said. Get up he is calling you." Bartimaeus quickly threw off his cloak, jumped up and came to Jesus.

Jesus asked, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Without hesitation, he answered, "My teacher, let me see again."

 "Go." Jesus said. 'Your faith has made you well." (Bible reference: Mark 10:46-52)

Just as Hank asked me what I wanted for my birthday, Jesus asks us what we really want him to do for us. Our answer would be more serious than a pair of earrings, but my story is a reminder that Jesus wants us to consider what we are asking for. 

Learning to embrace this season of our lives





As we get older, my husband and I are facing more health problems. Hank, my senior by a few years, faced the first onslaught of the aging process. Being a couple, when life slows down for one, it slows down for both. Adjustments are needed. 

Hank and I pray about our health, especially Hank's health, but, as Hank's doctor says with a kindly smile, "I can't make you 21 again." Were both trying to reset our minds regarding what we can realistically do. I've been slower than Hank to accept our new limitations. Since we cant change what is, we need to change our expectations, and to pray for strength and guidance from there.

Last spring when I became ill with depression, again, and neuralgia, which was new, we faced obstacles in managing the basics. My doctor advised me to curtail all activities, including writing and music. Of course, I still wrote, but it was Morning Pages, for me alone. I still sang, but it was in the basement on my own. I needed to rest. Hank and I leaned on God, on each other, and on our family and friends. 

I feared something would happen to Hank. I feared being on my own after all these years. God assured me he still had "plans to prosper us and not to harm us." (Jeremiah 29:11)

Like Bartimaeus, I needed to throw off my cloak of doubt and fear and to ask Jesus to give me fresh insight as to how I must walk during this season of my life.

A message from The Message

Eugene H. Peterson in his "Introduction to Proverbs" in The Message says, Many people think that what's written in the Bible has mostly to do with getting people into heaven. . . It does have to do with that, of course. . . It is equally concerned with living on earth--living well, living in robust sanity."

Proverbs 3:5-6 in The Message says, 

                                              "Trust God from the bottom of your heart,
                                               don't try to figure out everything on your own.
                                               Listen for God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go,
                                               he's the one who will keep you on track.


With God's help and his Word to guide me, I am learning to embrace this "later autumn" season of my life. He "has not given (me) a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7) 

As Eugene H. Peterson might say, I plan, with Gods help, to live well and "in robust sanity" during this season of my life. I am learning to embrace life and what is!

November 08, 2018

The Gift of Depression by Karma Pratt


I don't know why. Depression is a strange beast in that there's no "valid" reason for what you're feeling. Feelings of sadness, malaise, lethargy, exhaustion make it difficult to accomplish the simplest tasks. It's like struggling to get out of bed with a soggy, heavy blanket wrapped around your head and shoulders. It's impossible to move and often it feels easier to just lay back down. And it doesn't make any sense.

I have struggled with depression for a long time. For many years I was my own harshest critic, continually blasting myself for not being capable of "pulling myself together." I embraced the "just try harder" mentality and failed at it so often. What a mess. Now I am kinder and gentler to myself. I offer myself the same kind of compassion that I would not hesitate to give another. 

The gift of depression is this: My experiences allow me to come alongside others who are struggling and be present for them. When nothing's making sense, it helps to know that you are not alone.

I've had many ups and downs over the years, but in the fall of 2016 I entered into a spiritual depression, a dark night of the soul. At the time it was very difficult to see past my own inertia. I knew what I needed to do on a day-to-day basis, but had no drive or ability to accomplish even the simplest task. I also knew enough about depression by then to know that I needed outside assistance, and I self-referred for mental health services. It was during this period that I was diagnosed with major depression. 

It took a long time to wade through the darkness, to gain enough strength to toss off that soggy blanket that was burying me. I could not do it on my own. 

When I felt most alone, that's when God was closest. In the midst of my difficulty He was there making a way. He surrounded me with praying, Christ-centered people at a time when I wasn't able to pray for myself. He gave me lifelines to cling to and opportunities to heal. Prophetic words were spoken over my life in that season that I continue to live out. Watching God's grace unfold in your life creates a calm presence that overcomes the darkness. 

Looking back, I believe God planted me in that darkness in order to show me who I am in Him. He needed me to know in my heart that I am His. The road is long and often difficult. The path is uncertain at the best of times. In a world of uncertainty, the one thing worth clinging to is the certainty of our sovereign God. 

The obstacle that once held me captive - depression - has become a way to shine a light for others. I am equipped to come alongside other people and say with complete honesty, "I hear you. I see you. I understand you." Life is hard, but we can do hard things. Together we will continue to lift up those soggy blankets and let the light in. 



I believe it's critically important to know who you are in Christ. Change will be fleeting and insubstantial if you do not know in your spirit that you belong to God. If you struggle with depression, know that you are not alone. There is help to be found. Our temporal problems are no problem for our eternal relationship with Jesus. Repeat after me: "The blood of Christ is in me." 

For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God - Ephesians 1:7 (GNT)

Struggles and doubts will not cease to be, but we can rest assured that the peace of God is for us too. There's hope to be found in the darkness, and strength to be found in numbers. You are not alone. 



***

Karma writes from the golden house in Northeastern BC. You can connect with her online at redraincoatcreations.com