Friday, May 8, 2015

The Lion and the Mouse

Jennifer & one of our friends
A few weeks ago, my friends and I held an event to help some of the people who live in tents and under bridges in Murfreesboro. My dear friend and hairdresser left her posh salon--on one of the busiest hairdressing days of the year--and set up shop in the smoking section of a dated hotel to offer haircuts to our friends. 

Throughout the afternoon, we heard lots of interesting stories from lots of interesting people. As Jennifer said, "When I put my hands in people's hair, they just start talking." And as Jennifer always does, she listened. We left that day completely spent, but hoping our new friends felt a little more refreshed and a lot more loved.

Then today, when I went to see Jen for a haircut, she told me an interesting story. Her adorable daughter (a high school senior who had also come to help that Easter weekend) ran out of gas a few days ago. Emma Claire coasted to rest on a steep embankment at the side of a busy intersection and called her mom for help. 

Stranded and waiting, Emma Claire watched people pass her by, some staring, some glaring at her audacity to slow the traffic on a Friday afternoon. Jennifer arrived soon thereafter, but then realized that the car was sitting at such an angle, even when gas was added, it still wouldn't start. So Jennifer and Emma Claire set out to push it to level ground. 

That's when a van pulled up. And Jennifer immediately recognized the two passengers walking toward her. Jennifer had cut Kristen's hair on Easter weekend while her boyfriend, Sean, watched in anticipation of the new look. 

"How many people have offered to help?" Sean asked, listening to their predicament. "Nobody has." He answered his own question, knowing the feeling all too well. 

Then together, they pushed Emma Claire's vehicle to level ground and got her on her way.

It reminded me of Aesop's story of the lion and the mouse

When we give, we will be repaid, even--or especially--in the most unlikely of ways.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Songs

When I started my car the other day, Steven Tyler was warbling over a catchy riff. I, admittedly, like me some Aerosmith and instantly recognized "Love in an Elevator" (common side effects of the 80s & 90s). 

As I took a breath to sing along, something struck me, and . . . well, I reached down and changed the station. As soon as I did, I knew what--or rather who--it was that struck me. 

I heard, "Your love is like radiant diamonds, bursting inside us, we cannot contain. Your love will surely come find us, like blazing wildfires, singing Your name. . . . " 

It was Needtobreathe, with probably their most beautiful song ever, "Multiplied." (If you have to choose between reading this post and listening to that song, by all means, listen.)

God's love had come to find me, to remind me that in that moment--in every moment--I had a choice. I could choose the insta-love in an elevator, an empty, entertaining distraction, grasping and gasping for fleeting satisfaction. Or I could dig deeper and find a love like radiant diamonds. A love that we cannot contain. The love that will seek us out, never go away, and never grow old.

I'm not talking about sex versus purity. Or the negative effects of the "devil's music." I'm not saying don't make banana pancakes with Jack Johnson or shake it off with Taylor Swift. (I enjoy doing both on occasion.) 

This is about so much more than that. It's about how we fill our lives, our eternities. It's about that invitation that you respond to every single day.

Who are we listening to? 

Who are we singing along with? 

Whose messages are sinking into our souls?

Do we fill our heads with the brash, cheap, temporary love (that isn't really love at all)? A pining for popularity? Superficial beauty? Stuff? Do we cheer louder for our sports teams than we do our God? (Thank you, Pastor Allen.) 

Or do we change the channel and fill our souls with love everlasting? Generosity. Truth. Kindness. Compassion. God's Word. Things that make a difference for eternity.

What's your station tuned to? What music are you allowing to fill your heart, your soul, your life?

The choice is ours. And we make it every. single. day.

Choose well. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Words to Dream On

One of the huge perks of this business is having author friends. The people you meet at conferences and chat with on Facebook are the same people who create amazing products that you wanna run around telling everyone about. 

One such friend is Diane Stortz, with her latest adorableness, Words to Dream On.* (She also wrote The Sweetest Story Bible.) 

I mean, c'mon . . . the cover! I knew I loved this book before I'd even read the first word. And once I held it in my hands, well, let's just say that you need this book in your library. Like, now.

The thing you'll love about Diane is that she spent many years of her career as an editor in children's Christian publishing. She knows what works. She knows how to speak to children. And she's going to make every word matter. As a mom, that speaks volumes to me, because I have limited time and money and bedtime stories to spend with my children. I want to make them count.

You can see for yourself that the interior is just endearing. It pulls you in. The illustrations feel modern and vibrant, but there's an earthier chalkiness that I love too. 

Still, what you're going to appreciate the most--besides the obvious sharing of God's Word with your children--are the multiple interactions provided with each story, for each bedtime. 

  1. There's, of course, the Bible story, with perfectly simplified phrasing, like this one from the story of Moses: "One mommy, Jochebed, didn't do what Pharaoh wanted. She hid her baby boy at home, but after three months he was too big--and noisy!--to hide any longer." (Do you know how difficult it is to explain the scary stuff of the Bible to kids?! She's done it. Beautifully.)
  2. There's a Bedtime Blessing, giving the theme or lesson that your child will walk away with. (To me, this sort of doubles as a topical index. Say you're having a bully issue. You know you can flip to the story of David, with the Bedtime Blessing, "God will fight for you.")
  3. There are Words to Dream On, a short but applicable Bible verse, perfect for memorizing.
  4. And a Sleepy-Time Prayer that's a quick, sweet message for kids to read or repeat to God that helps them to internalize and pray about the message of the story.
If you're looking for the perfect Bible storybook, or just a meaningful book to share with your kids, this is it. Gorgeous illustration and design, words that matter, messages your kids will understand--this Bible storybook is no less than the title promises, a dream

*I'm not sure why CBD has the description "Imitation Leather." Unless I'm missing something, this is a regular hardcover book, and I wouldn't want it any other way. :)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Teen Moms Matter

When I first met Tricia Goyer, I was the editor on a picture book she had written, followed shortly by the teen nonfiction book, My Life Unscripted. That book revealed a common thread between editor and author: we had both had babies when we were teenagers. 

I've followed Tricia ever since. From her bazillion books that she's written to her ever-growing adoptive family to her help with Teen MOPS and the founding of a pregnancy crisis center, she is a woman on a mission from God. (No Blues Brothers joking here. She is for real.)

One of those missions--one that we both relate to all too well--is to be a resource to teen moms, to remind the world that teen moms matter. And one of those resources is her latest book: Teen Mom: You're Stronger Than You Think.

Please, take a minute to read from Tricia herself about what a difference we can make in the life of a teen mom. Tricia and I are living proof that teen moms--and the way that we treat teen moms--really do matter.

I had my first baby when I was seventeen. It was hard, but I can’t imagine how a young mom who’s living in New York City feels these days. Have you seen the posters plastered all over the subways in the media? One shows a crying baby and reads, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate from high school because you had me as a teen.”

While it’s true that having a baby as a teen is hard, choosing to have the baby IS a good decision. It’s a selfless, caring decision that will give the child a future, planned or not.

Instead of trying to shame a teen mom, what if you, me, we . . . supported her? Would her child still be a sad statistic if there was a group of men and women who educated her, inspired her, and offered her hope?

That’s what happened to me. A group of older woman came alongside me. They taught me about being a mom. They made me feel as if I had value. They saw my child as a gift. They painted a bright future. Because of them, my confidence as a mom grew. My confidence as a woman grew. I married, and I birthed two more children. Where are those kids now? My oldest son is a college graduate with a great job, a wife, and a child. My daughter spent time in Europe teaching English and is getting married this year! My younger son is in college and getting straight A’s. Not only that, my husband and I have adopted three little ones and are in the process of adopting four sisters! I also mentor teen mothers, just as those women mentored me.

I could have been a statistic, but instead a group of women offered to impart hope into my heart. Now I impart hope into others, not only through mentoring, but through books. I’m forty-one years old, and I have thirty-seven published books from publishers such as Harper Collins and Random House. I impart hope through parenting books and even through my novels. In fact my new release, Teen Mom: You’re Stronger Than You Think, challenges young moms to discover herself, the reason for her life, and be more than just a statistic.

Maybe today . . . or tomorrow . . . you might have a young women come to you for advice after she discovers she’s pregnant. Don’t point her to a NYC subway sign. Instead, here’s a few ways you can help:

  1. Remain calm and loving. Your young friend most likely feels alone, frightened, and extremely sensitive about her pregnancy. The most important thing you can offer is your continued friendship.
  2. Show God’s love and forgiveness. Your young friend was looking for love by giving herself intimately to a guy. Now she might feel ashamed and unworthy of love at all. Point her to God, who loves her unconditionally.
  3. Celebrate life. She may consider this baby a “mistake”—a barrier between her and “normal” life. Lovingly remind her that no matter how the baby was conceived, he or she is a gift from God.
  4. Be available to share . . . and to listen. Your young friend has many big decisions to make, and although you can’t make those decisions for her, you can be available to help her consider her options. Share information you’ve discovered on fetal development and on the physical and emotional trauma of abortion. Most of all, be willing to listen to her deepest concerns.
  5. Find help. Your young friend is most likely in need of more answers than you can give. Visit a local crisis pregnancy center with your friend, or call CareNet for help at 1-800-395-HELP. Encourage her to tell her parents and to seek the counsel of a pastor or youth pastor.
Yes, the young woman and her baby in your life will face a hard road ahead. But with your help, encouragement, and gift of hope you can help her to also blow the teen pregnancy statistics out of the water.

Just trust me: you'd be surprised at the impact those five simple things can have on a teen mom's life. And I'd like to add two more to that list:
  1. Take a copy of Teen Mom to your church, small group leader, local high school or pregnancy center. Someone there needs to hear these words.
  2. Download this free printable and share it with those same groups. 

A teen mom may not have the strength or perspective to make it through, to see that they are valued children of God. But we can, we do, and we should. Please, join us in reminding teen moms that they truly do matter.

(See Tricia's original post here.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Abundance of Our King

Honored guests at The King's Feast
Several weeks ago, I told a friend, Scott Walker, about an idea I'd had for years: treat the homeless to a nice dinner, complete with clothes, haircuts, makeup, gift bags. I called it “The King’s Feast,” because all are welcome at the King’s table.

I’ve since learned that you don’t flippantly share ideas with Scott Walker. He takes you seriously. And he just might make it happen.

Within a week after leaking my idea, Scott messaged me (on my birthday!). A church wanted to provide dinner for the homeless. “Wanna help me with this?” 

My reply: “Are you SERIOUS?!”

I had so many things I wanted for these people: clothes, food, undies, socks, gift bags, fast-food gift cards, haircuts, nail polish, makeup, nicely decorated tables. 

However, we only had about two weeks to pull it together. And I was traveling five of those days. If it could be done, there was no way I could do it alone. So I sent a wish list out to the people of the Kingdom, asking for items that could help—if only temporarily—to raise our guests’ perspectives above their current situation.

I needed SIXTY of everything. Even the $5 gift cards alone, in quantities of 60, would be a $300 purchase. But I would ask . . . and hope for the best.

Sunday school classes started collecting. Friends started mailing checks. And I received five gift cards from someone I don't even know in Fulton, Mississippi! (Where is THAT?)

We received gorgeous ladies’ clothes, men’s dress pants, khakis, and golf shirts, shoes, purses, jewelry. We had enough to clothe a hundred women, and we were only expecting eight!

Still, underwear is so expensive. I knew some would have to go without.

But Greenhouse Ministries and a generous friend came through in the nick of time. When the event was over, we donated a dozen extra pair back to Greenhouse Ministries.

And there was no way we could gather 60 Bibles for them all.

But B&H Publishing donated 70!

The gift cards were a total luxury. I knew we wouldn’t have enough.

Yet after collecting all 60, a donor walked into the event with 5 more—5 more than enough!

Even with all the clothes we had, there was no way we would have the right sizes for all sixty guests.

Not only did the guests take all the clothes they wantedwith loads left overthey were also treated to a $10 gift certificate at Greenhouse Ministries Garden Patch Thrift Shoppe.

Barnabas Vision (who had started the whole thing by providing hotel rooms for our guests) donated backpacks for us to stuff as gift bags. “I only have 40 here,” David Coggin said, handing them over.

And somehow, after packing 60 bags, we had 16 left.


But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” They said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:16–21)

Silly, silly human that I am, in all of my running and begging and gathering, I had forgotten the whole point of it all. Supplying the needs of sixty people is nothing to our King. With a moment's notice, five loaves, and two fish, He had fed five thousand with a prayer. 

And He's still doing it today. 

(Check out WSMV's coverage of the event.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Latest Release: Fireproof!

This month marks the release of my second collaboration with Michael Catt, Fireproof Your Life for Teens. (The first collaboration, Courageous Teens, won Christian Retailing's BEST Award. So pay attention! ;)

If you don't already know him, Michael Catt is Senior Pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. You may know him better as the executive producer of the films Flywheel, Facing the GiantsCourageous, and Fireproof. (And HEY, I sacrificed several tears picking out those clips to share. Click the links. Watch 'em.) 

The success of the film Fireproof, it's safe to say, surprised everyone. This little film, coming out of a Baptist church in Georgia, was produced with "a dozen professionals, 1,200 volunteers, and a budget of $500,000." (It was written, directed, and produced by members of the Sherwood family, Stephen and Alex Kendrick.) So when it pulled in $33.4 million at the box office and became the #1 independent film for that year, people sat up and took notice.

The popularity of the film made it clear: we are continually seeking ways to protect our faith from the fires of the world around us. If you've seen it, you know that the film focuses on marriage. But in his book (for adults), Fireproof Your Life, Catt showed us how to be fireproof in every aspect of our lives: faith, decision-making, relationships, money, eternity

But really, is there any time in our lives when our faith is more under fire than our teenage years? 

Fortunately--for me, for you, for our teens--B&H Kids recognized the power of speaking that message directly to teens, and Fireproof Your Life for Teens was born. With this tool, ayoung people struggle to learn who they are, they can forge an indestructible identity by remembering whose they are.

They can be fireproof. 

In the teen version, we use key scenes from the film, straight-from-the-Bible examples, and real-life applications to make sure these young people walk away with the message fully ingrained so that they can step out into the world with the protection they need.

In life, no doubt, the fires will come, but with some faith and guidance, we can all learn what it takes to be fireproof.

Know a teen who could use a little fireproofing? :) Comment below, and I'll choose one person to receive an autographed copy!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Warm Up Your Winter

This hyacinth bulb warms my desk.
(It was only $2 at Aldi!)
I was born in March, when everything is bright and colorful and new, so dark and dreary and dead just go against my instincts. In the past, winter has often turned me into quite the bear--grumpy and lethargic, wishing for spring. But lately, I've learned a few tricks to make it through. Maybe they'll help you too.

1. Buy winter clothes you love. Hubby, the outdoorsman, is always telling me to "just dress warmly," which may seem like common sense to everyone else. But I confess: I hate bulky coats and maiming mittens and hair-messing hats, and often I run out of the house without them. While this may seem like a no-brainer, I'm hoping that I'm not the only one who needs this reminder.

We can easily and practically combat the cold by buying colorful cold-weather accessories--gloves that fit well, a cute scarf, and a snug, fun coat. And then, of course, you have to wear them. I keep my gloves in my coat pockets so I don't have to think about them and my scarf on the hanger with my coat. Everything's there, easy to grab. You'll look fabulous on the outside--which will no doubt lift your spirits--and be toasty on the inside too.

2. Sit by the fire. Three years ago, we moved into a house with a fireplace, and it has made all the difference. When I'm bone cold, there's nothing like a wood-burning fire to warm me through. Don't have a fireplace? Find one! (Seriously. I've done it.) Does your coffee shop have one? What about a hotel lobby or restaurant? Go order a cup of something warm and relax. You'll be amazed at how a fire warms you, both physically and emotionally.

3. Grow something. Something green brings a little life to the dead of winter. When all of those paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs go on Christmas clearance, buy one (or three). Place it on your desk or kitchen table where you can soak up the green and revel in its growth. I can't wait until the hyacinth on my desk fills my office with the fresh scent of spring. 

4. Citrus up! Hubby's grandparents send oranges and grapefruits every Christmas, forcing me (thankfully) to partake in the benefits of citrus fruits each winter. The high doses of vitamin C not only protect you from those winter colds and flus, but they contain lots of fiber, promote healthy vision, and have other benefits that will last you well beyond the chill of winter. And it seems that the lasting aroma of a freshly peeled orange has its benefits as well. 

5. Step into the light. More than anything, it's the gray of winter that gets me. But I've found that something as simple as keeping the blinds open in my office can make a difference. Be aware of the amount of natural and artificial light that you're getting each day. Natural light is the best. This article notes that "an hour's walk in winter sunlight was as effective as 2 1/2 hours of artificial light." So on those warmer winter days, bundle up and take a walk. If you're needing more of a jolt, you may even want to try light therapy.(Harvard Health recommends 10,000 lux to be effective.)

6. Keep hot drinks handy. Hot cocoa warms my soul. And for that reason, I have a jar of homemade cocoa mix sitting on my kitchen counter. Starting in October, we keep a jug of apple cider in the fridge, ready to be poured in the kettle and infused with cinnamon sticks. Hot tea, coffee--whatever warms you up--keep it stocked and on the counter for convenience. It'll warm your hands and your heart.

7. Read a book. Fill that extra indoor time with brain-stimulating activities, like reading, crosswords, board games, or Sudoku. It'll keep your brain active and happy all winter long. Plus, that book can take you to a faraway place, where the sun is shining, waves are crashing, and the smell of coconut oil fills the air. 

Just remember, since December 21, the days are only getting longer. But in the meantime, keep your inner bear at bay by warming up your winter. Your loved ones will thank you for it!

What do you do to brighten the winter days?