The Bell Ringer

red bucket (2)

We heard the bell ringing across the parking lot before we saw the red bucket and the Santa-capped volunteer sitting in front of Walmart. My son knows the drill. His chubby fingers lifted towards me.

“Money, Momma?”

I smiled and sighed inwardly, reaching into my purse to scrape for loose change. I had already given out most of it to other bell ringers throughout the past week. Still, I was proud of my little guy who loved to drop change into the charity collections. Give to the poor, pat yourself on the back for being a good human…all that jazz.

“I don’t have much, buddy.”

His lips puckered into a frown. “Money.”

I dropped a splattering of pennies, dimes and a nickel into his outstretched palm, pausing a moment to remove the Lego snatched in my quick sweep of purse plucking. “We have to hurry though, bud. We’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it in.”

“Okay. Bucket?”

“Yes. You can take the money to the red bucket.”

He happily skipped forward as my mind scanned the list of items on my shopping list. Wrapping paper, gift sacks, milk, eggs, sugar, caffeine in all forms—

“Aren’t you just the cutest thing?”

I glanced up to see my son wasn’t interested in the bucket at all, but in the matronly bell ringer sitting beside the bucket drop. Her ebony face was wreathed in a wide, warm smile. Nate was grinning at her.

“Money!” nate 2015

He opened his fist and showed her his treasure.

“Yep. You got a whole handful, big boy. Put it right in that bucket.” She cackled with delighted as he struggled to get the coins to fall into the narrow slot. Looking back at me, she winked. “He’s got a bit a silver on his teeth, don’t he?”

She must have seen the two silver caps on the bottom of his front teeth. I smiled. “Yes, ma’am. He’s so cool, he’s four and already has a grill.”

Throwing back her head, she laughed loud and long before sobering. “Reminds of my own boy when he was that age.”

“Oh? How old is he now?”

Her eyes misted into wistfulness. “He’s grown but,” she swallowed hard, “he’s bad sick. He’s got a disease that’s slowly killing him. He’s had surgery after surgery.” She looked up at me. A glossy sheen covered her large eyes. “Doctors aren’t sure if he’s gonna make it or not.”

Suddenly, my urgent to-do list and oh-so-important schedule didn’t mean much. I reached for her hand and squeezed. “How can I pray for you today?”

holding hands_unsplashWe sat outside chatting for long moments, covering her son and family in prayer. Before we left, Nate gave her a hug around the neck. She laughed with delight and offered him a candy cane in return.

Once again, my son reminded me of a beautiful truth. We departed, and although her bucket wasn’t full, my heart was.

Jesus didn’t come to redeem our to-do lists. He doesn’t care about how much money we drop into buckets for our own feeble “atta boys”. He died for people. The best way we can honor Him this season, and every day, is to let that same Love, His love, spill from our hearts and splash onto the needy and broken lives around us. Sometimes those lives might not be full of sweet grace like our little bell ringer. Sometimes they might be a cranky Ebenezer Scrooge. That’s okay. Scrooges need Jesus and love too. to do list_unsplash

“How can I pray for you?” is a little question that yields tremendous results. Probably far greater results than checking off our to-do lists ever will. Let’s focus on loving people and not the need to-do. God’s agenda is always far greater than our own.

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Fleas and…Thanksgiving?

I recently heard this funny little story at an event where I was singing:

There was a little old lady who woke up one morning to realize she only had three hairs left on her head. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because I can braid my hair today.” So she did.

baby mirror

The next day she woke up and only two hairs remained. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because today I can part my hair.’” And she did.

The third morning she awoke and looked in the mirror to see only one hair remaining. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I can put my hair in a ponytail today.” And she did.

The fourth morning, she woke up, looked in the mirror and, yes you guessed it, had no hair left. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I don’t have to fix my hair anymore!” 

Praise is a choice. It’s all about perspective. So many times we get focused on what we can’t have, on our limitations, we fail to see the tremendous opportunities God has placed in front of us. Sometimes He redirects us in a new way, setting our feet on an unforged path that will ultimately bring more honor and glory to Him. Some of the greatest adventures and rewards come when we are willing to embrace that step, or leap, outside of our comfort zone.

Consider Corrie Ten Boom. corrie ten boom 2She and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a German death camp during World War II. They entered their new barracks and were horrified to discover the bunkhouse was overrun with fleas. Fleas everywhere! Corrie began to cry but Betsy responded, “We are going to stop right now and thank God for these fleas!” Corrie, of course, thought she was crazy. But at her sister’s urging, they both bowed their heads and thanked Him for…fleas.

Over time, Corrie wondered why the rules were so lax inside their bunkhouse. No guards came to check on them inside and because of that, they were able to conduct a Bible study every night. Many women were saved as a result. Later, Corrie was shocked to discover the reason no guards ever came into their bunk house…they were terrified of the fleas!

Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that refines us, grows us stronger, forces us to learn lessons we never would otherwise, allows Him to work things out for the greater good. And it reminds us of our dependence on God. thankful 2

I praise You, Lord, when I’m hungry or thirsty, for it reminds me to hunger and thirst after You.

I praise You, Lord, even when I’m in pain because it reminds that I have a Savior who knows exactly how I feel and has purchased victory over sickness and death.

I praise You, Lord, when I’m exhausted because it forces me to stop and rest in You.

I praise You, Lord, for the disappointments that pepper my walk. They remind me that pursuing goals and personal satisfaction is not my main goal in life. But seeking You is.

Try it. Praising Him for the hard stuff will open your heart and spirit up to His touch in ways you’ve never experienced before.

So what are you thankful for today?

Cover reveal…

Drumroll…

Some of you have seen it since it has hit Tyndale’s website, along with Goodreads, Amazon, and several other sites, but for those who haven’t, here is the cover of my upcoming release “Engraved on the Heart”, available June 1, 2018.

engraved on the heart cover photo

I love freedom fighters and those in the Civil War were among the very finest. Please pray for God’s divine favor as Keziah and Micah’s story is released. I pray God will use it to touch the hearts of people who are struggling with the lie “I am worthless”. May the truth of the cross set them free.

The Power of Pronouns

Last year I took a fascinating class at the national American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was taught by Carrie Stuart Parks, an author and forensic artist and was titled “Don’t Lie to Me”. The premise of the class was how language can be an identifier to recognize deception. When I realized I was sitting next to a bonafide FBI agent who was absorbing the information to teach to new recruits, I admit I felt a little thrill. lies

I’m learning the same stuff FBI agents know.

Coolness.

One thing Mrs. Parks brought out was the importance of pronouns. Honest people take ownership for their actions and feelings. “I came home at 6:30. I threw in a load of laundry and then took a shower.” People who have something to hide (or don’t want to admit to something), either change “I” for “you” or omit pronouns altogether. If asked about his evening, a deceptive person might say, “I guess I came home around six or so. You know you’re tired if you come right in, take a shower and go to bed.” Notice the difference? Not quite as direct. A little less ownership is involved.

These subtle signs are called language bumps.

pronouns“Consider this statement by a husband who claimed his wife was killed accidentally: ‘I picked up the gun to clean it. Moved it to the left hand to get the cleaning rod. Something bumped the trigger. The gun went off, hitting my wife.’ ” (http://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=4294971184) Notice how he dropped the use of “I” when it came down to accountability. He doesn’t want to hold the blame. Whether it was because he couldn’t deal emotionally with his guilt, or whether something more nefarious was at play, this guy inadvertently distances himself from admitting he is the one who squeezed the trigger.

What am I getting at here?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words, of speech, of our tongues to heal or destroy. Just as lack of pronouns can signal deception, I think they can also inadvertently cheapen affection. Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of typing, “Praying for you” to friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. But how much better would it be if I were to add the simple pronoun “I”?

“I’m praying for you” is far sweeter than “Praying”.
“I’m lifting you up to our Father” is so much stronger than “Hugs”.

“I love you” is infinitely deeper than “love ya”.

See what I mean?

love of Jesus crossI want to be authentic. I want to take ownership of my emotions, my motives and treatment of people. I want to love them the way Jesus does. He never shies away from loving with complete abandon. He displays His affection with lavish, scandalous splashes of delight.

Speak life. Own your emotions. Love like Jesus. You’ll find your words will be a healing balm to more people than you could ever imagine.