Words of intention…

Just a month or so ago I received a lovely hand-written note from an eighty-six year old woman who reads my books. She’s corresponded with me for years, offering encouragement and often a bit of good-natured pressure that I should finish the next book. Her latest letter was jotted on a plain piece of notebook paper, and she offered an apology for that, remarking “It is so hard to find good stationary these days.” And all I could think was, what a shame because there is something so very precious about a hand-scribbled note.
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When we were dating and in the earlier years of marriage, Danny and I used to leave little notes for each other. From him, a short but affectionate scribble left on the breakfast table, or from me, a little reminder of my love on a folded scrap of paper tucked into his jacket pocket.
When’s the last time you wrote a letter or message to someone? I admit that I don’t do it nearly as much as I used to. And I know that I should. But life is hectic. We get busy and forget the little things. Still, isn’t that part of what makes them so special? Isn’t it a huge deal that someone would take the time to find paper, a pen and physically pledge feelings in written form?

Words that Last

Danny’s has been working on the second half of his manuscript about a brigade of Texans during the civil war. A few weeks ago, he began studying an original set of letters by a gentleman from that group of soldiers, and he asked me to help him transcribe one of them. The two pages were written in pencil, making the script particularly hard to read. As I slowly spoke aloud this man’s message home to his wife, I found myself overcome with emotion. His penmanship was so full of flourish, giving the sentences an impression of warmth, despite the practicality of the instructions he offered her. He described briefly the circumstances he and the men were facing, then he carefully offered her advice for the period of his absence: who to call on for help with certain tasks at the farm, how and when to plant. But there was something tangible in that beautiful script that almost gave the words life. And I nearly wept when, at the end, he included a message to their five-year-old son that he expected the boy would have progressed in his studies enough to read to him from the newspaper when he got home. And I knew that this soldier never did return from that terrible conflict.
John 13-34
Still, his letters survived because the man’s family kept them, safeguarded them, cherished every one. The written word—in this case, the hand-written word—had worth far beyond its face.

The Beginning

Have you ever seen images of the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Isaiah Scroll is the largest and perhaps the most preserved. It contains almost all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the Book of Isaiah. That’s 50+ columns on 17 pages of parchment, all of it handwritten with exquisite care. It is hard for me to imagine the painstaking care that it must have taken to create. But isn’t the word of God worth it? Over centuries, man has taken His words and transcribed them over and over so that they might be shared with others. In medieval times, monks and nuns worked as scribes to copy the Bible and other religious texts.

Why

In 2013, researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer conducted experiments into the effectiveness of students taking longhand notes versus typing on laptops. They concluded that the “the relative slowness of writing by hand demands heavier mental lifting […]in turn tending to increase conceptual understanding, application, and retention.”
In an article by Dustin Wax on Lifehacks, he explains that the brain is divided into sections that respond to different stimuli such as visual information, auditory information, emotions, verbal communication, and so on. Studies, he said, showed that when students write notes versus not writing notes, the students all retained about 40% of the material provided in lecture, but that the students who took notes retained more of the key information. So the process of writing helps to fix the important stuff in our mind.
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But what if there’s more to it than that? What if there’s a psychological connection between the physical act of writing and the impact of the words on the writer?
So what is it about the written word? It seems that regardless of the science behind it, the hand-written word has some sort of effect not only on the writer but on the recipient of the word.

Action

I’ve continued to struggle recently with forgiveness. Danny and I have had a very tough time over the last year as we became embroiled in litigation with our neighbors. And I know I’ve failed to hand over the anxiety and worry to God completely. I tell the Lord I’m giving him my worries, then I snatch them right back out of his hand. And just when I think I’ve come over the hump with letting go of my rancor and anger, there it is again to weigh me down.
So I contemplated the act of the written word. Of God’s word to us in the Bible. Of handwritten notes between loved ones. Of the psychology of writing by hand. And I decided maybe I was being called to something else.
In an article I wrote earlier this year, I described a blog post about forgiveness. The writer said that saying the words out loud was a step. So I thought maybe for me writing the words would be a step. The idea popped into my head over a month ago that maybe the action of writing those words, “I will forgive,” and then, “I do forgive” would have an impact on me…
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… yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hesitated each and every time. I clasped hold of my anger and hurt and refused to truly contemplate relinquishing it. Yet the Lord continues to remind me.
Today I had a conversation with a friend about a book on money and finances. She said part of the premise was to believe things will work out. And she told me the book suggests writing out your needs and believing they will be met and being grateful. And of course, it struck me that this too was another sign.
I must write down my needs and believe they will be met.
So I’ve done it… I’ve written them out. Almost like a list. Or even more like writing lines when I was in school. Over and over, the specific intent to forgive. To let go of anxiety. To be free of the imprisonment of my angst.
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It hasn’t changed me… yet. I still feel angry. I’m hurt and unable to forgive. But I am also grateful for all that I have. Even through the storm, so many beautiful blessings have fallen into my life. The Lord exalts me with His word, with beautiful friends, with signs of encouragement and with the strength to write… and eventually to forgive.
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God’s Recipe for Manna?

I’ve been mulling over a sign I’ve seen on one of our local churches for a few weeks now:

God hasn’t forgotten the recipe for manna.

I wasn’t sure right at first why it kept catching my attention.  We know from the book of Exodus that when the Israelites escaped Egypt they endured hardships and grumbled, even suggesting they had been better in slavery if they would only starve in the desert.  So the Lord told Moses that he would rain down bread from heaven.  For some, the message of the manna tells of obedience and that’s an important lesson of course.  But as I thought of that church banner, my heart was focused on the faithfulness of God.   What is his recipe for manna?

just as much

We lost my sister suddenly about nineteen years ago this coming Thanksgiving.  It was my first year of marriage and my husband and I were out of town with his family.  Meanwhile, my family was gathering at my parents’ house.  A undiagnosed aneurysm took eighteen-year-old Cori that afternoon with all of my family there.  All but me.

Circumstances were such that I couldn’t get back home until the next morning.  I was devastated when I heard the news.  I remember screaming and throwing the phone.  I spent that evening crying in bed, clutching my rosary and wondering how this had happened and begging God to help me.

My mind was hazy and my heart lost as I board the airplane early the next morning.  But the moment I stepped off the plane, His strength bolstered me, cleared my mind.  He nourished me with “just as much” as I needed to take care of my family in those days of laying my sister to rest.

Unequivocally, it was Him, not me that saw us through that.  Because I was a broken soul, so lost in my grief that I would have had no ability at all.  But he was my manna in my hour of need.  But too, He made me the manna for my family.

And I thought of this, of the manna that nourishes our souls daily.  Sometimes without us even knowing it.  Because there is never, ever a day that he fails to rain down for us.  But sometimes we are as the Israelites, grumbling about what we don’t have when we have only to look up to see the truth.

My husband and I have had a rough year.  We’ve been embroiled in lawsuits within our community that pitted people we once considered friends against us.  We moved here to our lake home seeking a community to which we could enjoy his retirement years.  In some ways, it began to seem like our bane instead of our dream.

I’ve been using my new series as a cathartic release for my anxiety, hurt and my anger.  And it’s helping, but the one area I’ve had the most trouble with is my anger.  And because of that, I’ve found it hard to offer forgiveness.  In fact, I’ve rebelled the idea of forgiving.  I’ve held my fury in my hand and shaken my fist towards the heavens in abject rejection of forgiving the hurts… but lately, I’ve felt this little whisper in my ear that I have to let it go.

So God provided the manna.  Earlier this week a post appeared on Faithful.live with a big banner that said: “as we Forgive those who trespass against us.”  And I wept as I read it because I knew that my Lord was speaking to me.  And after that I pronounced in my heart that I forgave those who wronged us (if you read the article you’ll understand that I haven’t yet forgiven them.  But I’ve opened my heart to God’s grace so that I will eventually.)

Copy of Copy of -I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.-

I’ve realized more lately how blessed I am to have my husband by my side.  We’ve often joked over the years that we take turns if one of us isn’t feeling well or has a bad day, the other picks up the slack.  But isn’t that His gift, to give us our helpmate in times of need?  Again, the manna in the form of a partner for our lives.

And now that God is working on my heart, I know that now my husband and I can work together so that we can both reach the point of forgiveness.  And so that someday soon, we too will discover the peace that can only be had by our Lord within our hearts.

So today the lesson of the manna is twofold.  One, that I should always try to be open to receive whatever nourishment he provides.  But also, just as importantly, that I should accept God’s calling that I be His manna.

candace

God Doesn’t Do “Un-Pretty”

This is my first blog for “A Pen and A Prayer” and it isn’t the one I originally thought I was meant to write.  But something began to move on my heart and I’m going to run with it.

Last month I placed my Rawley Family Romances Collection into Netgalley, a portal for readers to request and review books.  Now many people say authors shouldn’t read their reviews, especially bad ones.  Still, I’ve often found that I can learn something from a meaningful review, even a negative one.  At the end of my month-long run on Netgalley, I received a review from a reader who didn’t finish the book.

“I got through most of the first story. I liked the characters and the premise and got vested into the story. What set me off was actually the terms the author used to describe heavy people. I didn’t really care for it and when it occurred a second time, particularly to describe a character I was starting to like, I decided to not finish the book.”

I didn’t have to wonder what she meant.  I knew immediately which character and verbatim which terms I’d used.

You see, the Rawley Family Romances Collection is a bundle of the first 3 books about the Rawley Family.  I actually wrote the first book when I was in high school, then revised it and published it fifteen years later.  My world was very different from when I first created that story to when I put it out into the world. And just as different today.

He took a step forward, and a short, pudgy woman came from behind him.

That line comes from All for Hope, the original, first Rawley Romance.  The “short, pudgy” woman wasn’t the main character.  She’s on the sidelines, key to the story but certainly not the star.  And why would she be?  She’s not slender with a nice bust and gorgeous hair.  No, she’s just the “short and pudgy” one, right?

I can remember sitting in class in high school uncomfortable and nervous as all teenagers are when two guys, a few years older, start making conversation.  They laughed and joked and seemed to want to include me in things.  It took at least a few weeks for me to recognize the word they were hissing under their breaths when the spoke to me.  That was when I discovered that “Fats” was the name they’d give me.  And I will never, ever forget that moment.

So you see, when I referred to Meg Rawley as “short, pudgy” it wasn’t that I was making fun of persons with extra weight.  It was a self-deprecating reference to me.  That was how I saw myself.

But that’s not how God sees me.  To Him, I am beautiful because He made me to be beautiful.

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But it’s easy to forget that these days.  We, especially women, are so obsessed with our appearance.  We work and toil to look better, to stay young, to stay slim.  And yet deep down inside I think so many of us are constantly hissing those ugly words to ourselves.  It’s almost as if we are seeking to remind ourselves that we aren’t worthy on some level.

But God tells us that isn’t true.  We can be made beautiful, not with makeup or diet fads or fine clothes and jewelry.  It is only through Him that we can discover the inner radiance that creates true beauty.  And that’s something that no one can sell us or give us or tell us.  We have to learn that for ourselves through Him.

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I’ve struggled with my weight since my teen years.  And I eventually ballooned to nearly 250 pounds at one point early in my marriage.  I remember my husband once telling me that I needed to learn to love myself.

What?  Love myself?  Pfft!  I’m too busy loving him, my family, my friends.  Who really loves themselves anyway?

Listen, learning to love yourself isn’t easy to do.  Whether it’s your looks, your past, your vices, etc. we all have some reason to find ourselves unlovable.  And it’s funny how it works, at least for me.  When I see myself as “un-pretty,” I mentally feel unhappy, depressed, anxious.  And when I’m worried and sad and emotionally wrought, I tend to feel unattractive.  So clearly the physical and emotional aspects are very closely related.

Still, God’s love for us is perfect.  He sees our weaknesses and our faults, but we are His children.  His adoration for each precious one of us cannot be overstated.

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I haven’t learned this lesson.  The fear of being un-pretty, un-lovable, un-worthy seeps into my heart at some point each and every day.  I am working on it and will probably do that for the rest of my life.  And sometimes, when I look in the mirror I can be pleased with the person that my God in Heaven created me to be.  And for that reason, I can also try to take better care of myself, not in the sense of losing weight to look better, but to live better.

As part of that growing process, I eventually wrote a story for Meg.  And in it she still struggles with her body image and with loving herself.  All for Family gives just a snippet of that journey and how she eventually learned to love herself as much as others loved her.  Because just like that reviewer, I had come to truly like Meg in the first Rawley Romance.  And don’t we all deserve love?

Don’t ask me, just ask God…

~oOo~

A few years ago I attended a talk by Liz Curtis Higgs and each attendee was given a “Ta da” Bookmark and Mirror decal.  If you don’t know the story of “Ta da”, I’d encourage you to look her up because she can tell the story much better than I can.  But gist of it is this… each morning before starting your day, look in the mirror, throw up your hands and say “Ta da”… because God made you in his image and made you beautiful!  It truly does make for a wonderful start to your day.  Do any of the things I’ve talked about here strike a chord with you?  Leave a comment below and I’ll send a few of you a “Ta da” Bookmark.