Love starts at home…

With Valentine’s Day nearing, it seems only fitting to talk about “love.” St. Valentine was a Christian saint and martyr who died as many martyrs do because he refused to renounce Jesus. As legend has it, Valentine also cured a blind girl and sent her a message before his execution signed “your Valentine.” Another legend purports that as a priest, Valentine used to defy the Roman emperor by performing Christian weddings to keep men from going to war. No matter, we all know that love is important to God. It is mentioned over 550 times in the (NIV) Bible; we know that “God is love” (John 4:16) and from the Gospels that Jesus told us the most important commandments are to “love God with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our soul” and “to  love thy neighbor as oneself.”

So how come it’s not so easy to love all of the time, and in fact, can be very difficult?  Some of you know that my husband and I have a blended family of five children (and now two grandchildren). Just recently my step-daughter came home from Australia where she was going to school and working as an au pair. She and I had often butted heads, as they say, in the past; this was the child who, two weeks prior, refused to be in our wedding (I forget what she was mad about – I don’t even think she remembers as it was over eight years ago…and luckily she changed her mind on our wedding day!)  But as we both have grown since then, we had gotten to a good place in our relationship when she left over two years ago to be abroad. Still, change is hard, especially as you get old and set in your ways! I am choosing to be loving – even when I don’t feel it – because I know that this is how God wants me to be. And I realize that love must begin at home if we are to ever show it to strangers – the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the orphaned.

As St. Paul so eloquently writes, “Love is patient, love is kind; it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; Love never fails.” 

Is there someone in your life – friend or family member – who you might take for granted or even hold a grudge against? I think we must look at the people, especially those who live with us…as worthy of our love, and take action to do and say loving things every day to stay in spiritually fit condition when it comes to following that all-important command of Jesus. For every person is a child of God, so in loving others, we truly are loving Him…and also realizing He loves us at the same time.

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day to all!

 

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I Still Have a Dream…

I have been working lately on putting together a “vision board.” It seems to be all the rage (even though many motivational coaches and speakers have really been talking about how a person’s future success is, in part, determined by his or her goals, mission and vision for many years, namely a few that I’ve heard including Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and The Success Principles.) Over the years I have written down my vision, mission, goals and a plan to achieve them but looking back it seems I always fall short of them…so I figured it’s time to do something different and embrace a visual vision board complete with pictures (I have already tapped the Triple A magazine for all of the places to which I want to travel!)

Today seems like an apropos time to bring up dreams and visions as it is the anniversary of the death of US reverend and political leader Martin Luther King, Jr. who made famous the line “I have a dream” in his speech by the same name. King was an advocate for peace as was our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…who, by the way, I discovered in planning my own keynote speech last fall, was not only a visionary of course, but a planner! In my keynote speech at the 10th Annual Vine & Vessels Christian Writers Conference in Georgetown last year, I employed Bible quotes to get across several of my points to the writers assembled. My topic was “Pen to Purpose” and several of my key points involved purpose, passion, perseverance, platform and planning. I found that Jesus Himself said in His talk on the ‘Cost of Discipleship’, “Which of you, wishing to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost to see if he has the resources to complete it? Otherwise, if he lays the foundation and is unable to finish the work, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This man could not finish what he started to build.’ Or what king on his way to war with another king will not first sit down and consider whether he can engage with ten thousand men the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:28-31)

Sometimes I struggle between planning and striving to reach my own dreams to become an internationally renowned author, speaker and book coach – or at least being able to do continue these callings I believe God put on my heart and write contemporary suspense novels based on Bible stories to better get across God’s messages to readers today – and “letting go and letting God” so to speak, relying on my faith in Him “Who can do all things.” In writing this, I realize it takes a whole lot of both – both planning and faith to carry out God’s will and purpose in our lives.

So just for today, I still have a dream, I will keep relying on God to help me fulfill it, and I will finish my vision board and plan for 2019 to help make it a reality. I pray that each of you has a dream in your heart as well and works hand in hand with God to make it come true!

 

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Faith Not Fear

Have you ever been snow skiing before and stood at the top of the mountain looking down…and realized it’s going to take every ounce of faith you can muster to get to the bottom? It’s been awhile but the snow we had here on the East Coast the past two days (which was beautiful I might add) reminded me of all of those times I’ve been skiing and all of the times I had to draw on my faith – in myself and in God – and ignore my fear that I might break my leg or worse yet, my neck – to get to the bottom of the slope and feel all of the joy that came with that experience.

But that pales in comparison to big life decisions where it takes every ounce of faith to plunge forward and not get stalled and stuck in the quagmire that fear can cause. I was also reminded of the “breathe in faith, breathe out fear” response to life as I was finishing the final edits of my newest book coming out this June titled, “The Jealous Son,” a modern-day novel based on the story of Cain and Abel. In it (spoiler alert for those wishing to stop reading  here and remain in suspense about the entire novel) the main character Eliza Trellis (a contemporary Eve) gets pregnant at the age of 47 and, of course, is shocked and fearful (after having lost her youngest son at the hands of her oldest) to have a baby this late in life. In the Bible, several women have had to put aside their fears and draw upon their faith in God’s plan for them when faced with getting pregnant unexpectedly: Eve with Seth, Sarah with Isaac, and of course, Mary with Jesus our Lord and Savior. But just think how humanity would have suffered had these women not gone forward in faith!

I have learned in the Twelve-Step Program that FEAR is usually just an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” In almost every instance in my life where I have been doubtful or anxious about the future, it has been the case that I worried about an outcome for nothing, letting fear get the best of me instead of having faith – which robbed me of my peace and joy. With the upcoming March for Life in our nation’s capital on Friday, January 18, I urge everyone to stop and pray for all women with unwanted or unexpected pregnancies…that they don’t give into the fears that plague them but have faith and courage to do God’s Will and choose life so that they may experience all of the joy that a child brings. And I pray for each one of us in our every day lives to be obedient, patient, grateful and faithful in our ever-loving, all-powerful God and in His plan for each one of us, even though sometimes we stumble and struggle along the way.

The women in the Bible had angels to guide them not to be fearful but to be faithful. We now have Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit, to guide us. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John (14:26-27): “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” How comforting…that, like the freshly fallen snow, our slates are wiped clean and we get a new start each day…and all we have to do to experience peace and joy is to breathe in faith, and breathe out fear.

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When you wish upon a star…

Last night my son got out the new telescope he gave his four-year-old daughter (my granddaughter) and we all took turns looking at the stars in what was a very clear night sky. It was lovely and now as I look back, I see how fitting it was since yesterday was the feast day of the Epiphany when the wise men followed the star to find where the baby Jesus lay. Back in those days there was no ‘Google maps’ (or even paved roads for that matter) and it was challenging to find directions, but I’ll bet also amazing to follow this glorious star God had provided as a guide.

Have you ever wished upon a star, as the song in the Disney classic Pinocchio encourages us to do? I never really looked at the full lyrics until now…
“When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true.” 

Being a dreamer, and someone who can be “extreme” in my wishes and dreams, I like the song lyrics because they speak to my heart. But I also reflected today that wishing on a star is not enough to make my dreams come true – that I’m not a character in a Disney movie but a real girl living in a real world where I know I have to work with God to make my dreams come true. The word “fate” caught my attention in the song…and I believe that we need more than fate but faith in God…and in ourselves. And more than that, we need to put in time and effort. Sure, to have a dream come true usually takes a lot of hope and faith in God, and He can perform miracles as He has done in the past. But as the prophets and saints tell us, we also have to act on our faith…that “faith without works is dead.” As Saint James says in the Bible, What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2: 14-18)

 

I pray that you have the faith to wish upon a star…and then, if they are in alignment with God’s Will and you work hard, all of your dreams come true!

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New Year, New Adventures!

new yearI love New Year’s Eve because it is always a time to reflect back on the past year…to take stock and be grateful for the good (small victories, improved relationships, new people, places and things) and learn from the bad (our shortcomings, mistakes and failures). And more importantly, it is a time to look ahead and plan to make the coming days, months and year a little bit better and brighter.

I believe it’s all about renewing our commitment to fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives (or if we’re still unsure what that is, to finding out!) It’s about setting priorities and then “girding our loins” as Saint Peter says in the Bible, or setting our sights on discovering  God’s will and preparing ourselves to do our best to carry it out.

A tall order? Yes. And every year I, like you, have the best of intentions. Yet still I make New Year’s resolutions to do better in all areas of my life – physically, mentally and spiritually – because otherwise I am just being lazy.

So how can you and I help build the Kingdom in the coming year? I believe by doing our very best to carry out our calling – in my case, being the best author, speaker and book coach…and the best wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend I can be, realizing there will be pitfalls on the journey but having faith God will see me through them as I climb upward and onward.

I look forward to the scary yet exciting challenges that await me in 2019 including launching my newest novel, The Jealous Son, a modern-day murder mystery based on the story of Cain and Abel. I hope God works through me and my words to reach readers with His message…and that I can inspire and help other writers to become successful authors as well. I hope God works through all of us to carry out his works here on earth.

So take a deep breath and as the New Year approaches let us pray with Isaiah that we “…go forth in joy and be led forth in peace” and know that “those  who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

God bless you and yours in 2019 and Happy New Year!

 

 

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Being vulnerable…

Have you ever felt vulnerable and had someone take advantage of you or hurt you? It’s hard to trust again or sometimes to even love again after that. But get up we must and learn to forgive, let go, and somehow, to be vulnerable all over again…because the opposite is being bitter, closed off, hardened…and we all know that’s not how God wants us to be.

I was reflecting that perhaps this is why Jesus came to earth as a baby…the most vulnerable of all creatures. From his birth people were out to “get” him – those against him couldn’t stand his true power; they were basically jealous or insecure. And Jesus the man remained equally vulnerable – gentle, kind, giving, no matter how much he was ridiculed, spat upon, beaten and eventually killed.

Sometimes we are wrongfully harmed through no fault of our own – by people who don’t consider our feelings or who are out to “get” us, usually because they are jealous of us or feel insecure. I believe He calls on each one of us to follow His way…to look outside of ourselves and our feelings to meeting the needs of others, even when to do so means showing compassion and forgiveness, usually to those who hurt us, whether intentionally or unintentionally – to turning the other cheek.

During these last few days of Advent, as people get more stressed and frantic, I hope I keep my focus on the baby Jesus, knowing He was a vulnerable human being who went before us in suffering, and yet called on us to be like Him – and promised if we walk in His ways we will end up coming Home to Him and finding true, lasting glory.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

I hope each of you reading this find true spiritual guidance in these last several days of Advent…and have a peaceful, joyful and blessed Christmas!

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Make Room…

Everything seems to be heightened this time of year as we prepare for the Christmas holiday – joy and cheer as we experience the Christmas spirit – but also anxiety as we get ready by shopping, wrapping, decorating and spending time with friends and family. For me (and I’m sure for others) my emotions this time of year seem to be on a roller coaster ride. While my intentions are good, as Christmas Day looms closer I feel my anxieties increase, robbing the little bit of joy and peace I may feel at times. For example, Sunday morning in church (just yesterday in fact) I felt a surge of joy as I listened to the readings at Mass and gazed at my grandchildren, attending my church for the first time. Then, hours later, they’re running around and I’m yelling at them to stay out of my kitchen.  I wonder if, like the inn keeper in Bethlehem, I too would have said “no more room!”

So how, in the midst of all of the chaos, can we make room in our hearts for what’s most important…joy, peace, love, God? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Get Rid of Resentments

This is a prime time of year for getting frustrated, hurt or angry – with the person who butts in front of you, doesn’t say please or thank you, doesn’t like your gift, doesn’t invite you, doesn’t consider your feelings, doesn’t bother to help…the list can go on. Expectations are a ready source of resentments and the holidays, with all of their traditions, gift-giving, family gatherings and such, provide the perfect storm for heightened expectations. Instead of getting hurt, mad or frustrated, I need to remind myself to pray for the person causing me harm and try to take the focus off of me and my feelings and place it on the Lord and His Will for me.

  • Be Thankful

Being thankful shouldn’t end at Thanksgiving. But this is also the time of year when money may get tight as we shop ‘til we drop – and if we get bad news of any kind financially, it can really send us over the edge. If you’re in that category (as I have been recently) it’s time to take the focus off of our lack or our problems and be grateful for all that we do have – a warm house, friends and family to celebrate with, enough to share. A heart full of gratitude usually doesn’t have room for anything else.

  • Set Priorities

How important is it really that you don’t give or get the exact perfect pair of socks or (fill in the blank)? How important is it that the cookies burned a bit, the tree is leaning ever so slightly, you don’t like your hair and makeup in the Christmas photo? How much more important is it that you have room in your heart to enjoy the fact you have someone to give to (or give to you), someone to bake cookies and decorate a tree for, take pictures with, et cetera? With only fifteen days until Christmas, pat yourself on the back for progress made, focus on necessity (and acceptance!) and let the rest go.

  • Pray and Meditate on His Word

To meditate I usually need to read something first, and what better book to read than the Bible this time of year? Of course it’s not a good time to try to read it cover to cover, but maybe to focus on the Christmas story itself – on how Mary and Joseph had to put up with a lot of bad news, chaos and worry – but how they overcame all of it to feel the love and joy of their newborn baby, our Lord and Savior, which made everything else insignificant in comparison.

This year I pray I can get off the roller coaster ride, walk in peace, joy and love, and remember the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist:  “Prepare the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed.” (Is 40:3-5)

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