The Impersonator

elviselvis impersonator

I opened the mailbox and rifled through the collection of papers waiting to be opened.

Bills, bills, junk mail, bills…I stopped when one brightly colored advertisement caught my eye.

Clutched in my fingers was the smiling face of Dolly Parton.

dolly

I scanned the ad, admiring the bright, glossy sheen. Dolly Parton was coming to my hometown? Why hadn’t I heard about this? Miss Islands-in-the-Stream-I-Will-Always-Love-You was coming to my city next week? Why wasn’t this being blasted from every television and radio station in town?

I’m not a mega fan of Dolly’s, but still, someone of her acclaim should be welcomed with more than a flyer. No fanfare or hoopla?

I studied the flyer again and that’s when I caught it. “Dolly Parton” was in big, bold letters. Underneath in teeny, timid font was the word “Impersonator”.

It went on to list the lady’s name and accolades, but I was no longer interested. With a shrug of my shoulders, I tossed the flyer in the trash, wondering how the venue could possibly fill the number of seats available in only a week.

Why did I toss the flyer? Because no matter how wonderful the impersonator was, no matter how talented or how close she looked or sang to the legend, she was not the real Dolly Parton. I was interested in the actual artist…not an imitation.

Fake is never as valuable as the real thing.

I spent a large portion of my young adult life being a poor imitation. No, not a Dolly Parton impersonator (although I can manage a killer imitation of Julie Andrews). No, I’m talking about something much more serious. I was a people pleaser. I lost myself, my worth, and the girl God had created me to be because I foolishly thought approval equaled love. It doesn’t.

approval stamp

Living for approval, for that stamp of acceptance from your peers will turn you into an imitator. Oh, you might be a great one. You might be able to sound and look like the real thing. But just because something looks like the real thing doesn’t mean it is.

How many of us are giving up our status as a diamond in the King’s crown, only to spend our resources pretending to be cubic zirconium instead? Anyone who knows the difference between the two can easily tell you the diamond is infinitely more precious. Why do we spend our lives trying to be something we’re not? The simple answer…we don’t see our own worth.

real versus fake

For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].” (Ephesians 2:10 AMP)

When we live for approval, when we become plastic people, or worse yet imitators of plastic people, we are throwing away the beautiful purpose designed for us before we were ever born. What a tragedy.

potter

The world already has a Dolly Parton. But there is only one you. Only one person with your unique fingerprint. Only one person with your unique blend of talents, skills and quirks. Don’t throw away your worth trying to be an imitation.

Jesus didn’t just die for Dolly Parton. He died for you. Know your worth in His eyes. Your destiny depends on it.

only one you tulip

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False Evidence Appearing Real: When the Lawnmower Stole My Mother

My super hero son didn’t understand.

Mowing the grass

I climbed on the lawn tractor to chop down the rapidly growing grass surrounding our home. Nate watched. He blinked. Frowned. I thought he didn’t like the noise the large piece of machinery churned up. Oh, but his frown sprouted from so much more.

Over the clatter of the tractor, I heard high-pitched squeals of laughter. My two girls were doubled over with giggles. What was so funny? I glanced behind me to see my three year old son running towards the moving tractor as fast as his chubby little legs could carry him. His face was puckered into a scowl. He held a broom in his hand and was charging towards the metal monster, a look of death and determination in his eyes.

Think Braveheart, if you will. braveheart

The little stinker was preparing to attack the mower with a broom. I had to gas it all over the yard to escape his blood-thirsty tirade. It suddenly hit me what the problem was…he thought the big metal monster was trying to take away his mom.

I burst out laughing until rocks started raining down on me. My little hero was chunking stones as fast as he could, desperate to defend his poor mother.

Needless to say, that was the most adventurous mowing experience to date.

It must have been confusing to see a noisy, thundering metal monster whisk his mother away. Even more baffling was the way the vibrating beast kept circling the yard, refusing to spit his mommy out. So little Nate had done what any valiant soldier would do—attack.superhero nate

I thought the whole thing was pretty cute until those rocks started pelting me.

It’s endearing to watch a scenario like this play out from an adult’s viewpoint. Not so much from a child’s perspective. Nate reacted on a gut level out of fear. The assumption he made was the same one each of us make, often on a daily basis. We lash out with knee-jerk reactions based on partial information and false assumptions.

Put another way…we live and make our choices based on false evidence that appears real.

fear false evidence appearing real

Poor fellow. From his knowledge of the world and his childish experience, the tractor was loud, noisy and scary. Even worse, this metal beast stole his mommy away. Surely she was in danger. Surely something terrible was going to happen. Anything that loud must be dangerous.

But he was wrong.

He didn’t know what I knew. What he saw as a disaster, I knew was a necessity. What he thought was dangerous was actually much safer than letting the grass grow and snakes infest the yard. I could see the big picture. He only understood a tiny portion of it.

When our circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, when are shaking in fear, when we let our emotions spiral into negativity and ‘what ifs’, we need to remember that we only see a tiny splinter of God’s plan. He is writing our stories. We shouldn’t assume we know the ending based on the problems of page one.

My crime-fighting son nearly hurt himself running at the mower with that broom. If I hadn’t zoomed out of his reach, he would have thrust his weapon into that running mower, and, well…I shudder to think of the outcome. When we live in fear, when we make knee jerk reactions based on partial information, over-active imaginations or our ricocheting emotions, we end up doing a lot of damage. To ourselves, to others and especially to our walk with God. The peace of God cannot dwell with negativity or fear. The two are polar opposites.
pug in blanket

Fear is normal. It’s real, but don’t wallow in it. Don’t allow your thoughts to set up residence inside its cold grip. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than false evidence that appears real.

Sometimes, it even resembles a metal mowing monster.

Do you struggle with fear? What do you fear the most? Have you developed techniques to fight those metal mowing monsters away? I would love to hear!

5 Ways to Bust Up Homeschool Blues

Some days, homeschooling is a total joy. Other days are pure hair-pulling frustration. Tears. Giggles. Broken pencils. 100s. Red marks. Some days I feel like supermom. Most of the time, though, I feel like I’m groping my way through a fog, praying I’m not scarring my children for life. (By the way, have you ever wondered why there aren’t many home schooling atheists? My theory for this anomaly is because after a few weeks of home schooling, most of us are crying out to God for deliverance.)

homeschool comic

After closing in on our second full year of taking the plunge, we have finally found our sweet spot. My kids and I have discovered our individual learning and teaching styles. I know my children’s fears, their dreams, what motivates them, and they, in turn, know me. Despite the ups and downs, it’s a rewarding endeavor. Incredibly rewarding, even if we had to learn some things the hard way. Homeschooling, just like anything else, is a cycle of successes and failures until you learn what techniques work best for each individual child.

Something that has been crucial for my own children is this: they need variety.

Routine is very important for success, but there are a number of things we’ve employed within our schedule that keeps each week exciting, our days more vibrant than sitting in front of a computer or writing in yet another workbook.

We started off with the normal routine breakers: taking our lessons outside on pleasant days, planning fun field trips to science museums, caverns and plays. We scheduled pottery classes, and my kiddos favorite—I enrolled them one day a week at the 4-H center’s all day science class for homeschoolers called SEEK.

The problem is, these big activities only account for a handful of days within our school year. What about the rest of the year? What about things we can do within our daily schedule to mix up the monotony?

Here are five of my kids’ favorite boredom-busters.

  1. Attitude of Gratitude Board attitude of gratitude board

Every month, I pick a theme for our large dry-erase board. Sometimes the month’s theme is “Things that Make Me Giggle”. Other times, it’s “I feel loved when…”. We’ve done “What makes me afraid…”, “Today I’m thankful for…”, and “Today I will pray for…”. Each day, the girls write their answers on a post it note and stick it to the board. After we have collected thirty answers, they get to pull a card from the reward jar.

Our reward jar is full cards that say, “Trip to Menchie’s frozen yogurt”, “Mom will buy you a new book”, “shopping trip”, “movie night”, etc. My kids love it, and it’s a great way to have them identify both their blessings and their own emotional make up.

  1. Cooking Night

Every other month, I give my girls twenty dollars and they know what to do…cooking night! They must work together to plan a healthy meal menu that covers the basic food groups (and a meal they can personally prepare). I drive them to Walmart and they purchase all the needed items to create their fabulous meal. kids cooking

That night, they are in charge of the meal creation and clean up. They love it! Then, their Dad gives them a grade based on taste, staying within their budget, and nutritional value. (For a job well done, we reward them with frozen yogurt.) It teaches them how to plan and prepare healthy meals, how to stay within a budget, how to cook, and more importantly, they have  to work together. (A significant feat for any siblings.)

Raising children is all about teaching them how to be independent, functioning, loving, God-fearing adults, right? What better way than an exercise in practical living.

  1. Random Act of Kindness day

Once a month, we pick a random act of kindness for some unsuspecting person. We’ve done things like visiting someone at the hospital, or decorating and mailing cards to shut-ins. I’m excited about this coming month’s act of kindness: the girls are going to meet our mailman and trash pick-ups workers outside and give them candy and thank you notes for their service.

Here’s the most important rule: they are not allowed to tell anyone about it. No self exultation allowed. (And each time, I remind them of Proverbs 27:2. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”)

  1. Surprise Pick

Every Friday I announce a “surprise pick” for the day. Some Fridays they get to skip a dreaded subject and trade it out to play mine craft. Other days we make cookies, or the girls receive a much desired computer game or book. Sometimes it’s something as simple as renting a Redbox movie they’ve been dying to see. It’s their reward for a week of hard work.

  1. Theme Days and Dance Parties

My kiddos love theme days. Just like spirit week at public and private schools, I let them schedule in themes. Sometimes it’s girly-girl day, crazy hair day, or their favorite…nerd day. And my kiddos stay in character. All. Day. Long.

beth nerd daycallie nerd day

And never underestimate the joy of an old-fashioned dance party. Drop everything and dance! Our family’s favorites are Toby Mac, Mandisa, Britt Nicole, LeCrae and Hollyn. dancingWhether we take five minutes to get out the wiggles, or spend an hour sweating through our jumps of joy, what better way to get refocused than praising our Savior?

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good plan for each and every day…homeschooling or not.

I would love to hear from you. Are you a homeschooling family? What tips or tricks have you applied to keep the homeschool routine fresh and fun?

Unquenchable: The 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference

I don’t know where to begin.

For starters, I’ve been to several writers conferences. All of them were inspiring and beneficial. All of them taught me something valuable and allowed me to meet other writers, but Mount Hermon is different.

mount hermon unquenchable

Never have I been at a conference that is so incredibly organized, yet feels so laid back and unscripted. The familial, intimate atmosphere permeated every single workshop, worship service and the times in between. The entire conference was Christ-centered and deeply moving.

In short, I was changed…for the better.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of Kathy Ide and her “Promising Beginnings” contest, my registration was completely paid for. I can never thank her enough. Not only were my writing skills sharpened by leaps and bounds, God spoke to my heart in profound ways and I was able to form friendships with some of the most talented and humble people on earth.

mount hermon 2mount hermon meet and greetmount hermon nancy rue

This year’s theme was “Unquenchable” and the keynote speaker was Carol Kent, carol kent a dynamic woman with a heart-rending story. Carol reminded us that we will be tested on the words we write, oftentimes feeling like a firestorm of authenticity. Trials are a certainty and will be varied in their look and intensity, but God always delivers—sometimes from the fire and sometimes through the fire.

I learned the basics of writing nonfiction from Alice Crider, how to write fight scenes from Ben Wolf, writing to pierce the heart by Bill Giovanetti, creative marketing from Marci Seither, starting a podcast with Kathi Lipp and how to plan a book launch with my amazing agent Janet Grant (pictured on the left), mount hermon janet grantKathi Lipp and Lisa Wingate. One of my favorite workshops was “Creating Conflict” with Love Inspired editor Elizabeth Mazer.

And the friendships forged—what a delight! From sitting at the dining table with Francine Rivers, chatting with Lisa Wingate and Robin Lee Hatcher, meeting the adorable Nancy Rue (who I want to be when  I grow up) and my amazing roommate Eli Rose (right) mount hermon eli rose , who has the most inspiring life story I’ve heard, I was laughing with delight at their fun-loving personalities and kindness. (When Kathi Lipp offers to drive you to San Jose to buy clothes because the airline lost your luggage,  you know you’re among God’s people.) I found my sister-separated-at-birth. Sarah Bennett (pictured left) mount hermon sarah bennett and I clicked, perhaps because we both like to laugh, or maybe because we are both the most sarcastic people on the planet.

Did I mention Sarah Sundin, Tim Shoemaker, Vicki Crumpton, Linda Howard, Sherri Langton or a hundred others who made the conference so incredibly special? I can’t even list them all here, but the friends I carried home in my heart are deeply loved. An extra special thank you to Robin Lee Hatcher, who so kindly sat down with me and looked over my current manuscript, encouraging, correcting and guiding to help me write the best story possible. Robin, you are a treasure! mount hermon robin lee hatcher

The skits were hilarious, the music and worship powerful, the camp beyond beautifulmount hermon, but perhaps the single defining moment for me occurred while Mick Silva was speaking.

He made the statement, “Our failures only matter when we allow them to prevent us from embracing Christ’s sufficiency—or from allowing Him to embrace us.” Mick reminded us that in order to write to change lives, we must be brutally honest. He also addressed the danger of being so passionate about writing it becomes our idol. Idols, no matter who or what they are, only give weak doses of love. Books improve life but they shouldn’t replace life.

mick silva quote

When Mick finished speaking, I walked outside and wept.

Perhaps I was exhausted. Maybe I was overwhelmed with all I was taking in. Perhaps I cried because his words stirred something deep inside me. Or maybe it was the realization that in my own writing, I’m still not being as honest as I should be.

As I lay in my bed that night, I scribbled down these words: “The things I am desperate to hide are the very things God can use to set someone free.”

These words have now become my life song.

Thank you, Mick. Thank you, Mona Hodgson. Thank you, Kathy Ide. Thank you, Janet Grant. Thank you to the amazing people I met at Mount Hermon. I pray our friendships continue to blossom and flourish.

Most of all, I thank You, Jesus. May the words of my mouth, the words of my pen, and the meditation of my heart be ever pleasing to You.