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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy 2012!

I love Christmas and the whole holiday season... except when it winds down and the tree is gone and the lights are gone and January blahs set in.

So to combat the letdown, our family has collected a nice amount of snowmen and snowflakes~ mostly handmade creations~ to decorate. And I spend some free time at the computer this week, looking back and praying and dreaming into the New Year.

The last handful of years, I've prayed about a word for the year. Each time, God has given me a wonderful word: Peace. Love. Contentment. Those were the words for the last three years. They heralded in very tough, very painful years of struggle, challenge, and discontentment.

But they also prepared me for what was ahead long before I knew what I'd meet on the path before me. I've learned peace in the midst of career and family chaos. I've learned to love when that word meant a cross. And I've learned to be content when life gave me plenty of reasons to rail against contentment.

Not that I've arrived. I think maybe all the tough lessons are because I'm a little stubborn. Okay, a lot. And that's why such beautiful words have welcomed in such tough days. And such amazing opportunities.

The word for 2011 was Contentment. I've looked back to see last year was a series of medical non-answers, lots and lots of hours spent working on two books, and the reality that God was there in the midst of it all.

I remain hopeful that the word for 2012 will come with some lessons that challenge and stretch me— some of which fall in the category of "good" and not all "painful."

My word for 2012 is Family. Not the word I was looking for, but it fits perfectly with what God has been doing in my life all 2011. After a stressful stretch of almost all workdays, school days, and hospital days, it's time to reorient and rest. It's time to focus in and laugh with the four people that mean more to me than anything. Then focus out and serve. Maybe even do both at the same time.

We had planned to ring in the New Year with a weekend full of family, fun, and friends. We started with a sleepover last night. Then finally starting work on our doll house today—the one we bought last Christmas and dreamed about how we'd have it put together, lights installed, and decorated by this Christmas.

Tomorrow we were headed to the High Museum, out to a favorite restaurant, and then on to a friend’s home to play games and usher in 2012.

But the chorus of coughs and sniffles going on behind me today says God had different plans for our New Year's weekend. I'm praying we can knock what appears to be sinus infections away and still manage to go out to eat.

But if not, we'll definitely be celebrating family and rest by welcoming in 2012 sound asleep. ;-)

So for the healthy ones out there... Enjoy ringing in the New Year a little extra for us, okay? Have a fabulous time laughing and loving and remembering and dreaming.

For those of us not able to carry on with plans as usual... Enjoy ringing in a New Year where God has already gone ahead and is preparing both us and the circumstances around us to see and know that He is God and He is good.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! May 2012 be a year filled with the love of God, the hope of Christ, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. And may you be encouraged and strengthened as you receive from God and overflow to all of those around you.

Happy 2012! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Time for a Vacation

Life's tough. We all experience that. So I did what all wise women do when life heats up to a boil... escape.

Okay, maybe not all of us do that. Some go shopping. Smart ladies pray. (I'm praying someday I'll be one of those smart ones.) I daydream about escape. Especially when my body doesn't cooperate and falls apart, my wonderful children decide today's not the day for wonderful, and writing is akin to swallowing tacks.

In October, I finally stopped daydreaming about escape and took a cruise with my hubby and some writer friends.

It was the best medicine for all that ailed me. God was gracious and gave us this blessing of time away, time with friends, time to float in the huge blue ocean. Time to laugh. Time to think.

I came home realizing yet again, that I need that kind of time more than once a year. If I were rich, I'd cruise three or four times a year. But I'm not rich and I have school to teach, kiddos to love, writing to do, martial arts for needed exercise.

But I do need time with friends, time to laugh, time to just be. And time to hear God before the need to escape kicks in.

I'm not quite sure yet how to do that, but I'm praying and trusting God's not done with the lessons learned on Caribbean waters.

For now, when my health is still a struggle and my kids and I are human and not always wonderful, I think I'll watch these videos (soon to come, they're still upside down and in need of editing) and stare at these photos below... and remember.

God is good.
He delights in His creation~ even me on a bad day and funny, tiny, electric fish in the ocean.
He has a good plan that includes trials and tough days.
He loves me. And you.

Amy, David, and Biggs in Jamaica.

Me snorkeling for the very first time!

Dear friends, Sharon Hinck and Trish Perry. They are two of my favorite authors of all time.

Isn't God amazing! This is a view from the dining room somewhere in the Caribbean.

Cruising with friends is the way to go! So many laughs, learning, and love shared amongst this amazing group of writers.

God is so good! And I'm no longer wishing for an escape. I love being home and my kiddos, and I love being a writer. Still wish I could bring Jamaican deep blue water home with me. ;-)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Answers, finally!

I'm soooo excited! After months of not knowing the extent of damage or cause of my ICU trip in July, I have answers. My pulmonologist reviewed the breathing tests I had today and said my lungs were fine, pretty good in fact. As we discussed numbers from my ICU visit, he admitted I "could have had blood clots that passed quickly."

Yep, God sure did something big in healing me.

In addition, we exchanged ideas about what could have caused these blood clots. He agreed I most likely have sleep apnea and that sleep apnea could cause my higher pulmonary pressure numbers, which in turn could cause blood clots. BUT the pulmonary numbers aren't high enough to warrant a diagnosis now or treatment besides what I already knew to do.

My doc also agreed that staying hydrated and exercising were the best things I could do to remain healthy. That and do a sleep study to prove I have sleep apnea and start using a C-pap.

He also explained the pain I'm still having in my chest. After some poking around and a series of questions, he felt confident the pain was caused by joint damage to my ribs where the rib and cartilage join. He also said to stop the routine of push ups I'd started doing again. Guess hand weights will have to do until my ribs heal.

My best connect the dots for what happened is that a martial arts injury to my shoulder also caused the rib joint damage. That benched me from physical activity. When I don't exercise, I don't drink enough water. Then the night before my ER stay I'd had two cups of coffee and ended up so dehydrated I had no tears even with all the pain. The missing link was the sleep apnea adding to this perfect storm and increasing my pulmonary pressure and thus the blood clots.

But if I stay hydrated, exercise, and start using a C-pap, there's a very good probability I'll stay healthy and no more blood clot worries.

THANK YOU soooo much for praying~ during the ICU visit and all the non-answers and resulting doctor visits with no answers~ you kept us sane and hopeful and as pain free as possible. Thank you all again for praying for healing and for wisdom... and answers. God is so gracious to have given a "Yes" to those requests.

I've lived the power of prayer and I'm forever grateful you all were a part of this journey. Thank You!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back to Normal... Not

I've experienced the craziest, most pain-filled, most joy-soaked week in my life. It all started with stabbing pain in my chest Saturday at 4 AM. I couldn't breathe well and the pain spread to my shoulders and back, up my neck and into my head. I finally gave up my stubbornness and woke my husband. Then I told him I was going back to sleep.

He insisted we go to the ER.

One of the ICU nurses said if he hadn't forced me to go, I likely wouldn't have woken up the next day.

Long story short, I had another attack just as they were releasing me from the ER that was so much worse than the first. My husband was terrified. I would have been if I could have thought of anything else but the pain.

They sent me for a CT scan that a doctor said was lit up like a Christmas tree with blood clots in my lungs in all four quadrants. No wonder I couldn't breathe. Pulmonary embolism was the diagnosis that earned me a trip to the ICU.

When the pain finally subsided, my kids were terrified along with my husband. So was I. But instead of giving in to fear, my youngest stuck by my side and made me get well cards. She's still making me cards today.

My husband and older two daughters decided to pray instead of worry. My girls prayed with the families of two other ICU patients and encouraged them. Later Saturday night, David heard a code blue in the ICU and noticed a woman crying outside a room near mine. He ended up praying with her when the doctor came out to say her husband had passed away. Had David not been there, she'd have faced that news alone. When the doctor told her of her husband's death, she praised God for her husband's life and the time they had with him. I want to live like that. Please pray for Donna and her two children (10 and 12). God is holding them, but prayer makes a difference that defies explanation.

I know that from experience. Prayers carried us through a long day in the ER, a frightening stay in the ICU, and enabled us to see so many God moments.

In addition to the privilege of praying and watching my family share God's love with strangers, another God touched moment happened on Saturday afternoon in the ICU. My youngest daughter wouldn't leave my side the whole time she was there. But she was freezing. One of the ICU nurses warmed up a blanket, wrapped it around her, and sat her back on my bed. She wasn't even old enough to visit the ICU, but the nurse not only allowed all three of my girls to be with me but took the time to make sure they were comforted and cared for.

The next day, Sunday, I had a second scan done and the doctors were shocked to see my lungs were clear. Their only explanation was that the first CT scan was wrong. My family and I know better. We know God choose to heal me. I went home the next day.

I went from almost dying Saturday morning because of a pulmonary embolism to walking out of the hospital Monday with no blood clots at all. I'm home and so thankful for another day with my precious family.

At the same time my heart is heavy for Donna and her family. Even as we pray comfort for them in their huge loss, I can't forget how she choose to praise God during one of the most difficult and painful moments of her life.

I don't know why God healed me and took Donna's husband home. What I do know is Donna believes God is good. How can I not agree?

Life in my home is back to "normal," and yet it's not. We're keenly aware that my family could be going through what Donna's family is. We won't waste the gift of another day.

Every pain I've struggled with since coming home, another ER visit with no answers, and the normal squabbles of family life remind me that this world is not my home. Even so, each day is a miracle. Each breath is a gift. Thank You God!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Title Help and Something for You

I'm doing a new thing today and praying it will spark some ideas from you creative geniuses out there. Yes, I'm talking to you. ;-)

I found out yesterday I need two new titles for my Mennonite Romantic Suspense books due out in April and October of 2012. So, I'm asking for your help.

I'll post the story blurbs with original titles. The awesome publishing team at Harvest House loved the titles but heard from some bookstore accounts that the titles are overused in the marketplace, so we need something fresh.

Here's where you come in.... please give the information below some prayer and thought and start listing out your title ideas. If I send your title suggestions to my publisher and they pick yours, your name will appear in the acknowledgements with my eternal gratitude and you'll receive a signed copy of the first book when it releases.

Sound good?

Here's a little about the stories:

In Plain Sight

A female police officer’s assistance to a Mennonite runaway forces her into the middle of an escalating battle between two communities and the big city violence she left behind.

Nowhere to Run

Hiding among the Mennonite community fails to protect a female police officer and places everyone she loves in the crosshairs of a dangerous stalker.

I can't wait to see your creative genius! Thanks so much for helping.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Art of Sacrifice

God has a sense of humor. Sometimes I say this with a smile, sometimes it's a bittersweet reality. Right now I'm living in the latter part of that sometimes.

I've recently finished my first contracted novel of this year and turned it in, then turned right around and started working on my second book. This is not optimal writing time, but it was a gift and opportunity straight from God.

When I first began this writing journey, I wrote a book about forgiveness thinking I knew what I was talking about and it would be easy.

I'm pretty sure God chuckled.

I can now join Him in that because I learned the hard way that there is nothing easy about writing, especially when God uses your book to teach you a deeper truth. A truth that's sometimes painful.

I can laugh now because I see what God did in my heart, my life, and my work, and in retrospect it was worth every tear. God brought beauty from pain and joy from despair. He also created books that I'm proud of and that He used to touch hearts and draw people into a place of healing.

You'd think after a number of subsequent books I'd learn. Apparently, I'm still in kindergarten.

You see, I've tried to write books about chocolate and friendship. God closed that door.

I tried to write the first book of this new series without really bleeding on the pages. God said no.

So I did what most kindergarteners do, I pouted and tried the whole, "I'll do it by my own self!"

Yeah, I know. You all had no idea how mature I could be. ;-)

God is a perfect parent and thankfully doesn't laugh at me nor leave me to my own devices and plans. He's wooed me slowly and subtly and in some not-so-subtle ways regarding the next lesson.

I thought book two was going to be about fear, what happens when faith fails. God allowed me to go forward on that premise but then started putting books in my path that challenged me to go deeper.

So I started playing around with the idea that maybe this book was about sacrifice versus selfishness and how God can use both. Maybe even that there's a deeper picture, an echo of the real life we're called to live. There's a part at the end of the novel that is clearly a huge spiritual and physical sacrifice so it meshes nicely with this idea.

But that wasn't enough. God had to make it personal.

First my pastor had to go and talk about how we are called to a life of death, the way of the cross, to lay down our wants and rights and plans without a fight for the cause of Christ. For something bigger than ourselves. Sacrifice. To follow Christ means to follow Him in death, so that life, real life, is what He lives through us.

Then I read in Sacred Parenting this morning a line that laid my selfishness bare. "While we find it easy to 'open up' a spiritual gift, it's not so easy to lay one down on God's behalf."

Ouch. That stepped all over my best laid plans for a book that didn't require my blood, sweat, and tears.

There were hopes and dreams I had for this section of my journey that I'm having to lay down. One of those is a story that didn't turn my world sideways and pound my heart to pieces.

But even as I wrote about this in my journal this morning, I realized there was a purpose. I may not always get to see the reason God asks me to lay something down, but I can trust His heart.

He's never taken me through the fire for nothing. A book with fire in it that has God's fingerprints and my tear stains all over it is a gift. A sacrifice of love to a God who's given me everything.

An opportunity to fly in the face of "normal" and easy and instead choose an adventure that will change me, grow me, and draw me deeper into Christ.

This call to sacrifice is hard. It's death. I didn't ask for it. I don't often want it. But it's the call of the cross and the Christ of the cross. To lay it all down without a fight or a two-year-old pouting session and trust the heart of the One who walked this path first into a horrific death and life-giving resurrection.

There is an art to this call of sacrifice. A surrender full of grace and peace and hope. A trust like Job's that says though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him.

I just happened to look up to the left of my monitor to see a writing verse God impressed on my heart four years ago: 2 Samuel 24:24 "I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

I think God is chuckling again. This time I'm joining Him at the beginning.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Listen Up!

Lately God has been doing something I've never experienced before. And it's happened so often, it's almost funny.

My girls think so. I'm not so sure.

It all started with a normal activity: reading a book. It's a wonderful book, but I've read it off and on for a while now. So I didn't think much of it, except that what I read was a good thing to remember.

Here's a highlight from Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas: "Viewing ourselves as ancestors as well as descendants represents a vitally important spiritual transformation. The sacred journey of parenting changes our perspective. We travel from 'me' to 'us,' from individual to family, and we begin to understand the difference we can have on future generations.... Sacred parenting calls us to focus our brief lives on what will create the most impact for future generations."

See, great writing, great way to start with day with my kiddos.

So we get ready, eat breakfast, and then read from a book we're studying as a family. The book is another John Ortberg book, When the Game is Over it all Goes Back in the Box.

He's talking about life rules and the biggest lesson life has to teach is "the absolute necessity of arranging our life around what matters in light of our mortality and eternity."

I don't know about you, but I got a little shivery and wondered what exactly the Lord was trying to tell me.

This message being repeated happened again on the same day. This time it was about speaking words of life. I'd read in Ephesians 4:15-16, 29-32 and then opened a prayer book and was surprised to see the theme of the prayer was about learning to speak life.

I told the girls later I felt like I was living one of Jesus' parables where He spoke saying, "Verily, verily I say to you..." In other words: Listen Up!

We talked about how when God speaks, we should listen. And when God repeats Himself, we should pay close attention- VERY close attention.

I have to be honest here. I didn't think much about these two things as the busyness of our homeschooling day took off and we had martial arts class that night. In fact, I ended up in bed exhausted by eleven. I seldom see my pillow until one or one-thirty in the morning.

So God in His infinite wisdom and grace saw that I needed another dose of His verily, verily.

This day, the girls and I read in the devotional 101 Cups of Water about fearing pain. "The truth is, I have perfect circumstances today because the Architect of my circumstances is perfect and does all things well. What I have today is exactly and precisely what I need- not necessarily what I want, but certainly what I need. And that's the point: sometimes pain is what I need."

We read in Romans 5:1-4 about rejoicing in suffering because suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces character and character, hope.

Unlike most days, we then read a second, totally unrelated devotional called A Woman's Path to Inner Beauty by Ginger Garrett. This has been a wonderfully encouraging devotional, one I'd encourage every Christian woman to spend some time reading and relishing.

Today's devotion was, you've probably already guessed, about finding God in the darkness. I loved this part, "We fear what lurks in the night. We fear the loss of goodness and hope. But in truth, God uses darkness to create, to call forth new life, to astonish us with His creative passion."

Ginger also talked about how Leonardo Da Vinci masterfully used shadows and darkness to focus the viewers' eyes on the light, to make light brighter.

We mulled over how darkness and suffering are tools in God's hands, for our good.

And one of my girls said, "Isn't this the second time God has repeated Himself to you? You'd better listen up, Mommy." She said it with a smile and in love, but it got my attention.

Later that day, a thorny issue arose. And in the midst of it, I cried out to God about how I've never been able to overcome my anger in this situation and I had no idea why He kept putting me in the same situation day after day but didn't show me how to change my attitude and my words.

I know, I'm a bit of a blockhead sometimes. Thus, God repeating Himself.

All the sudden, God whispered the word "Forgiveness," and I got it. The past few days' repeated messages all flooded back and I saw that God had prepared me for this very moment. To view it in light of eternity, to build up with my mouth and not tear down, to see how He uses suffering and darkness to mold us and make us more like Him.

I got up from that prayer and mended a relationship and loved someone dear to me in a way I hadn't been able to before. It became a sacred moment.

In a powerful way, God showed me how to run to Him and see His Word and His teachings come to life.

I'm pretty sure God smiled. Even though He had to repeat Himself a few times. Okay, more than a few.

All this to say, when God repeats Himself...Listen Up! He has something important to show you. It could matter more than you know.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Well-Ordered Heart

You know the saying, "When you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." Well... I finally have some good things to share and some thoughts on a FANTASTIC book titled The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg.

First the good news... my sister has been home from the hospital for almost a month. God showed up in mighty ways and my sister who wasn't supposed to leave the ER for months went home two weeks after you all started praying for her and my family. That's the power of prayer! Thank you all sooo much for praying and sending cards. You were the hands, feet, and encouragement of Christ to my family.

More good news...Earlier this month, I signed a contract with my new publishers - Harvest House - for a two book romantic suspense series launching Feb/March of 2012. So those of you looking for a new book... it's coming! ;-) Keep praying. ;-)

Now for some book musings. This morning my daughters and I finished a chapter in the book The Life You've Always Wanted, and I couldn't shake the thought, "I should blog about this."

So here I am. I hope to make a sustained habit of it. ;-)

John Ortberg says, "There is a quest worthy of our devotion. It is the quest for what might be called a well-ordered heart."

Augustine suggested a well-ordered heart is to "love the right thing, to the right degree, in the right way, with the right kind of love."

To pursue a well-ordered heart, Ortberg talks about Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Then he asked some questions that sent my mind whirling.

"What would it mean for us to wake up in Jesus' name?" My answer, probably not the pillow over my head groan that usually greets my alarm clock.

"What would it mean for us to drive in Jesus' name?" I read this question and my children giggled. Then they told stories to each other about how I fuss at slow drivers and don't have a good attitude and how I talk to people on the road who can't hear me. They each have a favorite story they tell in between peals of laughter. I won't repeat them here. You'll have to ask my kids sometime, because I'm not sure what they're talking about.

"What does it mean for us to watch TV in Jesus' name?"

This question resulted in a long discussion. I tend to watch crime shows on TV and explained to my kids how I watch them because I love the justice that's inherent in those types of shows. But their question was, "Do they scare you?"

They know all too well that there are nights I come up from my office after having written a suspense scene or after having watched one of my favorite shows and my heart is racing and I'm sure some sniper outside has a bead on me.

They think it's funny. I guess the way I tell is. But is that watching TV in Jesus' name? I have to admit, I don't think so. That fear doesn't cause me to love Jesus more or depend on Him. It just makes my imagination run wild to places it shouldn't go.

However, I don't think it means I give up all TV. For me, watching TV in Jesus' name means inviting Jesus to watch with me and listening to His thoughts about what I'm viewing. If something is presented that the Bible speaks against, I turn the TV off. But if not, I think Jesus cheers when justice prevails. I certainly do.

What does it mean to do household chores in Jesus' name? How do I work in Jesus' name?"

These two questions hit home too. Ortberg said in response to chores, "To respond in Jesus' name would mean reflecting on how fortunate I am to have a nice place to live. It would mean recognizing that this task can help me remember that I am not the Messiah, and the earth won't stop spinning if I have to take some time out to fix something."

My girls just said, "Oh. Yes. I need to think like that." Me too.

Ortberg's comments on work, for the girls: school, were insightful. He talked about how to work in Jesus' name involves viewing people as people, to treat them with kindness, maybe even to say a prayer for each person we encounter.

The conclusion we came to was that having a well-ordered heart means we have to be intentional about how we think and act. We have to be quiet more and prayerful more and focused on us less. We also discussed how we can't do this in our strength or determination.

We need Jesus. After all, it's in His name, in His character, by His strength we're to live.

So how would you do life "in Jesus' name?" What would you do differently than you have been doing?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hurting with those who hurt

My younger sister, Heidi, has had a tough seven months. She got married in May of 2010 to her high school sweetheart—the only good thing in a series of life-threatening things. Then a few weeks later, she had the first of three brain surgeries.

She almost died after the first one.

Then she had an elective surgery and the surgeon nicked her intestines, causing her entire thoracic cavity to become infected in addition to septicemia, an infection of the blood.

She’s been in ICU since a few days after the surgery in January. The last update we received from my mom was hopeful. An ICU nurse said there was an antibiotic to treat the antibiotic resistant infection my sister was suffering from.

The nurse lied. 

What she did may have seemed like a kindness, but it wasn’t. It gave false hope. It got my mom’s spirits up, only to be crashed a week later when there were more pockets of infection found and she heard the truth about how no antibiotics can help my sister.

The doctors have no idea how long Heidi will be in the ICU or if she’ll ever leave.

I’m telling you all this to ask you to do something differently than one of my sister’s nurses did. I’m asking you to hurt with the hurting right now in a way that will give true hope and peace.

Please pray for my sister, her husband and son, my mom, and my family. I’m five hundred miles away and feel helpless. But I know we’re not. Prayer is powerful and can change everything.

If you want to go a step further and comfort someone who is struggling and afraid, below is an address for my sister. We’ll be sending some cards to cheer her up and let her know we’re praying. Would you consider doing that too?

Heidi Little
Baptist Hospital East, room 337 ICU
Louisville, Ky. 40207

Thank you for listening. Thank you for praying. We appreciate that more than words can express.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weakness and Strength

I finally know why 2010 was such a difficult year. But the answer isn't encouraging... it's scary.

I spent a few hours yesterday in a new endocrinologist's office to learn that the explanation for all the injuries, severe muscle fatigue/pain I live with, and the lack of concentration has a name. Grave's disease.

There's no great treatment for this auto-immune disease either. I could have my thyroid removed. Or have radioactive iodine treatment to kill my thyroid. Or take pills that could possibly cause hypothyroid, a condition I've experienced that made getting out of bed all but impossible.

I spent last night crying. I live with diabetes, another auto-immune disease that makes life a challenge. But I've done things my doctors said I could never do. I've given birth to three beautiful and healthy children. I've lived complication-free a decade longer than they said I should. I've kept my eyesight.

And I've known for a long time it wasn't anything I did, but the grace of a loving God that enabled me to live and do more than survive.

That same God has been graciously close to me today. He started by showing me verse after verse in the Bible where God uses the weak things to show His glory and strength.

These verses were a direct response to the pain I got out of bed with this morning.

God was near when I talked to my children about Grave's disease and answered questions about what happens next.

The reality is I don't know. I could go into remission and possibly be free of injury and muscle weakness and dogging fatigue.

Or not.

But God spoke clearly this morning to my heart. I can live in fear and push beyond my abilities to accomplish what needs to be done.

I can despair and give up.

Or I can lean into God no matter what the circumstances and experience how the joy of the Lord is my strength.

I think I'll choose option three.
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