faith, Family Fun & Fitness

30 Days of Forgiveness: Healing Power

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

(Ephesians 1:7-8, NIV)

Michael Rowe was part of a drug gang in New York. In 1992, he and two of his friends killed another drug dealer. 

He was arrested and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He used this time to better himself. He earned his GED, then went on to get his associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree. He married his girlfriend and fathered three children with her. 

In September of 2006, Michael was working in prison when he glanced up to see Anthony Colon, the brother of the man he killed. Anthony had been there to visit another inmate, unaware that Michael was there.

Michael tried to duck out of sight, but it was too late. 

Anthony had seen him. 

Michael’s heart sped up, and his mouth went dry as he wondered what Anthony would do to him. Would he yell at him? Cuss him out? Spit on him? Start a fight?

When Anthony approached him, Michael tensed. But the other man held out a hand and said to him, “I’ve been praying for you. I forgive you. I was praying for a chance to see you again and tell you that.”

Years later, the two men are friends. After being released from prison, Michael went to work with Exodus Transitional Community Center, the same organization where Anthony volunteers. 

God, help me to accept forgiveness when it’s offered, and to grant others that same mercy. Teach me to be gracious in giving and receiving forgiveness. In the name of Jesus the Messiah, I pray. Amen.

If you liked this story, you might also like the sweet second chance romance novella Believe in Me, by Mishael Austin Witty. Available now on Kindle for only 99 cents!

Family Fun & Fitness

30 Days of Forgiveness in June: Love Is Kind

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

(1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV)

Ellie lived with her grandmother, who regularly criticized her from the time she was small. 

“Nana always seemed to have a list of reasons why things didn’t work out for me. In junior high, she told me I didn’t make the cheerleading team because I wasn’t pretty enough. In high school, she said no one asked me to prom because I was too fat.” 

Ellie spent years accepting her grandmother’s painful words. Like many kids and teenagers, she simply believed that when an adult tells you something, it must be the truth. She never thought to question it.

Then she shared with a college friend the painful things her grandmother would say during their daily phone calls.  

“I still remember his face when I told him about it. He turned to look at me, and there was such compassion in his eyes. He said, ‘That’s abuse. Love is kind, Ellie, and you deserve love.’” 

For Ellie, it was the first time anyone had ever stood up for her. She’d never had that validation, and it made her think there could be people who loved her simply for being herself.

“I started working with a counselor not long after that. She helped me see myself as a precious child of God. It took years to work through all of the verbal abuse, but I eventually forgave my grandmother. I didn’t want to carry those wounds with me for the rest of my life.”

God, when the people in my life aren’t kind, help me to remember that You speak love over me. Let me feel the warm embrace of Your love every day. In the name of Jesus the Messiah, I pray. Amen.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d like to invite you to join my free private Facebook group where mothers can connect for support and encouragement in the Lord.

If you liked this story, you might also like the sweet second chance romance novella Believe in Me, by Mishael Austin Witty. Available now on Kindle for only 99 cents!

Mommy Memoir Mondays

Mommy Memoir Mondays: A LOVE LETTER FROM GOD (Book Review and Giveaway)

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One of the things I love best about being a mommy is the fact that I get to share things with my children – important things…like books and God…and books about God! Those are my favorite.

So, when the opportunity came to review this new children’s book from Ideals Publications (a Guideposts company), you better believe I jumped at it. The title alone was enough to draw me in. What could be better than A LOVE LETTER FROM GOD?

love letter from God

I opened this book up and eagerly started reading – before I even showed it to my two little girls. And, the very first page had me questioning the biblical truths contained inside it.

Oh, the first line, “I love you, My child! What more can I say?,” was true enough…but the second line (“To Me you are perfect in every way”) gave me pause. Perfect? Really? Um, not so much. That was why He sent His Son to die on the cross for us because we are all tainted by Original Sin from the very beginning.

I mean, yes God loves us as we are, but (as my pastor is fond of saying – see, I don’t disagree with everything he says!) He loves us too much to let us stay that way. That’s the Gospel. And the use of the word “perfect” here just waters that down, in my view.

But, thankfully, the rest of the book is solid. So, I read it to my little girls (adding in a small caveat at the end of that first page), and they enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, the five-year-old asked me to read it again and again…and that’s always a good indicator of a winning children’s book, in my estimation.

amanda loves God

Then, after we’d read this book a couple of times, the five-year-old was inspired to compose her own love letter back to God, which I thankfully had the foresight to record. I took the audio, added some pictures, and made this little YouTube video of Amanda’s love letter to God.

Somewhat questionable doctrine behind that one line notwithstanding, this is a delightful, charming children’s book that introduces them to God’s love in an accessible way. …And it might even work to inspire a love response in their hearts, as was the case with my five-year-old. Moments like that are priceless, and for that reason alone I think this book is a treasure.

So, I’m happy to announce that the good people of FlyBy Promotions have not only sent me a review copy of this book, but they’ve given me the opportunity to give away a copy of this book to one of YOU. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post by 11:59 PM WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 7th, 2015, and you’ll be entered to win.

About the book:
Author P.K. Hallinan
Illustrator: Laura Watson
In this story, the author supposes what God might say in a personal letter written to a child. The unconditional and unlimited nature of God’s love is revealed through simple and lyrical language. Rich and textured illustrations, along with heart-shaped die-cuts, will make this uplifting book a family favorite. It is a great message for little ones on Valentine’s Day, or for everyday inspiration. Love Letter from God will remind children of God’s eternal love and how He demonstrates that love through everyday miracles and by the wonder of His presence. Thanks to the colorful and touching illustrations of Laura Watson, children will also learn how to appreciate their own individuality and how to use their unique gifts to be a blessing to others.
About the author: 

P. K. Hallinan has been creating books for children since his wife first asked him to write for their two boys more than 30 years ago. Today Hallinan writes uplifting stories about holidays, relationships, and life values. “When I started this project, I felt that God told me to ‘Just let children know how much I love them.’ So I asked Him to speak the words Himself, through my heart, and I would put them to paper. And I believe He did this. This book’s message reinforces the presence of God in a child’s life by showing how God manifests Himself at every moment of every day,” said Hallinan.

Click here to view the official website!

And be sure to check out this special offer!

For the month of January, every book from www.idealsbooks.com with the word “Love” in the title will be 20% off! Be sure to Search “LOVE2015”  for a complete list of books.

Promotional Code to apply at check out is LOVE2015

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Friday Free-for-All, Writing

Friday Free-for-All: God’s Sense of Timing

Friday Free-for-All

I found out yesterday that another story I submitted to CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL was rejected (because one of my Facebook friends posted about her acceptance notification). So far, with them, I’m batting 0 for 5. My point? Don’t come to me asking for advice about how to break into that series of books. I obviously don’t have the answers. 😉

Last night (as I was driving home in my car with the low gas light blaring at me with a bag full of Pull-Ups for my girls that I took from my mother because we didn’t have the money in the bank to get any at the store), I thought about that story. I’d written about how my husband and I always count the bunnies we see as a sort of good omen…but “omen” isn’t really the right word. It’s more like a little love note from God, saying, “Hey. I love you. I’ve got your back. Don’t worry.” Around our house, if it’s a “bunny day,” it’s a good day.

So, I’m driving and complaining to God about how there STILL doesn’t seem to be money coming in, and I’m STILL not getting accepted by CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL, when everyone else I know is… blah blah blah. (What did they have against my bunny story, anyway? You DO want me to be a writer, right? Where’s the pay-off?) Boo-hoo. Wah! BLECH!

At that precise moment, there, on the side of the road, I see a HUGE bunny rabbit. Not like “Harvey” huge, but bigger than the ones I normally see. And I smiled…and then I got angry at myself…and then I cried tears of brokenness and repentance. I’m fussing and complaining and doubting God, and there He is…dropping me yet another little “love note”: Hey. Speaking of bunnies…Remember Me? I love you. I’ve still got your back. I’m not going to let go. Stop doubting and worrying. Believe Me.

And I started thinking: Maybe millions of people weren’t meant to read that bunny story. Maybe it’s only meant for me and my husband. But, since this is my blog, I thought: Hey. Why not post it here, so at least someone can read it. Not that I’m expecting fame and fortune from it…but I want others to be blessed. I want to point others to God, more than anything else. And, maybe I’m wrong, but I think this little story does that pretty well. So, here’s my latest CSFTS reject:

Counting the Bunnies

The call came in just before 9 PM, jarring me out of an exhausted slumber. Groggily wiping the sleep from my eyes, I glanced at the caller ID. If I didn’t recognize this number, no way was I answering the call.

My father’s cell phone number glared back at me. I sighed and tapped on the cordless handset’s “Talk” button. “Hello?”

“I hate to ask you to do this, but do you think you can go over to the house and let Carrie out to go to the bathroom?”

“Right now?” I asked, half-asleep.

“Yes. I’m still up here at the hospital, and it’s been hours since I was home. She really needs to go out.”

I nodded, knowing how pointless it was because he couldn’t see it. “Okay, sure. I’ll go right over.” What else could I say? I grabbed my car keys and purse, kissed my husband, gave him last-minute instructions for getting the girls into bed, and rushed out the door.

Driving for once without the distraction of two screaming kids in the backseat, I decided to use the time to voice my frustrations to the one person (besides my husband) who would let me express myself honestly without judging me. “I don’t understand why this is happening. I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired, and I want things to get back to normal!” I prayed out loud, punctuating each phrase by slamming my palms against the steering wheel.

As rough as the day had been, the previous weeks had been even harder. Just nine days after my mother had major heart surgery—valve repair and a double bypass—that only improved her heart’s functioning to 40%, instead of the 60% they were hoping for, her mother had a stroke, rendering her incapable of even answering her phone. My mother and I were the ones who found her and called 911.

Mom was still unable to drive and my father had to go in to work very early, so I was the one who had to make sure Mom got to the hospital, and then later to the rehab facility, every morning so she could be with Grammy. And then I went back to Mom’s house and made sure I let her dog out to go to the bathroom and ensured that her cats had enough food and clean litter pans—every day, all while trying to take care of my four-year-old and two-year-old daughters.

I was tired—physically, mentally, and emotionally. And, to be honest, my spiritual life was suffering as well, my time with God having been reduced to these screaming, crying temper-tantrum diatribes in the car on the way to my next responsibility. There was no “quiet time” for me anymore; only chaos and cacophony.

That Saturday night, though, a wonderful thing happened as I drove toward my parents’ house to let the dog out yet again. A rabbit hopped across the path in front of me, far enough away that there was no danger of me hitting it, but close enough that I saw it definitely was a bunny rabbit.

I gasped and sighed in relief. The bunny was safe. Smiling, I glanced up into the darkened sky, tears streaming down my cheeks. “Thank You, God.” It was a “bunny day”.

I’m not sure when I first started noticing bunnies in yards, or on the street, and equating this with “having a good day”. It was certainly before I was married, maybe even before my husband and I started dating. I know it was part of our normal dating routine—counting the bunnies we saw as we drove.

He was working as an over-the-road truck driver when we first started dating, so any time we got to spend together was precious. For this reason, he’d drive me to work and pick me up, giving us some extra time each day he was in town to talk and get to know each other better. It was on one of these trips that I told him about the “bunny days”. I think I caught a glimpse of two together in the same yard. Pretty soon, he was looking for them too. He’d pick me up from work and proudly announce with a big smile on his face, “I saw three bunnies today, so it’s definitely a very good day!”

Where we live, squirrels are all over the place, but rabbits are much less common and, because of that, they’re much more special. My husband and I are both animal lovers, so it’s natural we would get excited about seeing these cute little furry critters at either the start or end of every day. Each one of those bunnies we counted was even more thrilling than the previous one, and because we were doing this together, it became one of “our things”—and it still is today, ten years later.

During that decade, a lot of good things have happened to us—we got married (obviously), we both got higher-paying jobs, we bought a bigger house, and we had two beautiful, healthy baby girls. A lot of bad things have happened to us too, though—I had a miscarriage, my mother-in-law died eight months after we were married, my husband also lost both an aunt and an uncle, my job was eliminated, we were foreclosed on twice, forcing us into bankruptcy, and then my mother and grandmother got seriously ill at the same time, so now we’re coping with that. But, through it all, I keep seeing bunnies and counting them, and so does my husband.

Those bunnies have become bigger symbols to us over the years. More than just cute, furry little animals, they’re emblems of God’s provision and blessing. Bad things creep in, sometimes daily, but so do the “bunnies”. By counting physical bunnies every day for so long, my husband and I were training ourselves (without really knowing it) to count the figurative bunnies, the blessings that come with each new day that help to ease the pain of the trials. They’re there—always—you just have to learn to look for them.

And you know what I’ve discovered? The more you search for them, the more you’re going to find. Even in the midst of heartache, agony, and earth-shattering loss, the “bunnies” are there, just as God reminded me by having the physical bunny cross my path that Saturday night as I drove to my parents’ house. I saw it. I counted it, and it reminded me that God is always with me, and His blessings are always available to me, no matter what’s going on around me. All I have to do is look for them, count them, and thank Him.