Highly Valued

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.
Acts 20:28, NLT*

Let’s face it, church is a collection of sinners saved by Jesus’ blood, plus those still fumbling toward saving faith. Some are easy to love, but most of us have sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, or other sources of irritation.

We’re in the process of spiritual growth, and what God sees in us is not always visible to those looking through human eyes. But He’s building us into the Body of Christ, and into His Temple.

He sees value in us. Enough that Jesus died to redeem us.

He commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35) He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done first, and He offers the Holy Spirit within us to produce that love for one another. We just need to choose to obey, even when it’s hard.

Is there someone in your church who’s impossible to love? Pray for him or her. Regularly. If you ask God to grow His love in you – and persistently choose to cooperate with Him – He’ll surprise you.

Most times it’s not that extreme, but may we remember to ask what He sees, instead of focusing on what we see. May we remember the high value He sets on us – as individuals and as His flock.

God our Shepherd and our Saviour, we dare not dismiss any soul You love. Please help us see what You see, and grow Your love in our hearts for each member of Your Body. Show us what You see in us, as well, and help us surrender fully to Your cleansing and growth.

Matt Maher’s song, “Instrument,” made a powerful difference in my life during a very difficult time in my own church life.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN

The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RNThe Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN (Spire edition, 2009)

I picked this book up years ago from a sale bin ($3 well spent) for reference “someday.” The cover offers help to “manage hot flashes, increase your energy level, understand hormones, reduce mood swings, and live with new purpose.”

What it doesn’t say is that this is a book for Christian women. I was delighted to find, along with the practical physical information, advice that integrated the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Each chapter addresses a relevant topic with compassion, humour, and a sense that the author and/or the women she quotes have “been there” and survived. Chapters end with health tips and a quick checklist where readers can make a note of the one thing that impacted them most in the section. So often we finish a book like this and have already forgotten the things we meant to put into practice.

The book includes tips on vitamins and natural supplements that may help manage various symptoms, always with the caution to consult with a health-care professional before making any changes.

My favourite part of the book focuses on how we may need to change our thinking (and the way we talk to ourselves) – renewing our minds as Romans 12 instructs. New to me was the candid assessment of how long it takes to regularly practice a new thought pattern before it becomes habit. Most of us give up way too soon.

Prayer is also mentioned as an integral part of a healthy journey through menopause. My favourite line:

My personal prayer for this season is to have a heart of contentment and an attitude of surrender at all times. [page 72]

Women struggling with specific symptoms may find help in the nutritional, exercise and supplement information. They’ll definitely find encouragement, a laugh or two, and reassurance that they’re not alone. And that menopause is not a sickness – it’s a natural part of life.

Danna Demetre has a background in health care, personal training and fitness. Her stated mission on her website is “transforming lives: body, soul & spirit.” Visit dannademetre.com for more about the author and her books, and to explore the free content she offers to help women find balance in their lives.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Guest Post: How Busy is Too Busy?

How Busy is Too Busy?

Steph Beth Nickel

A few months ago I came across Jonny Diaz’s song “Breathe.” (If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to check it out on YouTube.)

There’s a difference between hitting the ground running in the morning and go, go, going until you collapse into bed at night and having a full schedule.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

How do you set a reasonable schedule and avoid becoming too busy?

Here are some questions to ask:

Do I get to the end of the day and experience a sense of accomplishment?

When bedtime rolls around and we’re focused more on what we weren’t able to accomplish than what we got done, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our expectations. There’s only so much any one of us can do.

Do I schedule time for those activities that “recharge my batteries”?

Sometimes it isn’t about doing less but instead, doing those things that energize us. Taking a walk with my hubby after supper, even when I don’t feel like it, is usually a better option than watching “one more episode” of a TV program. And if I plop in front of “the tube” for hours, I feel drained. If I, however, pick up a book—or two or three—I feel as if I’ve accomplished something, even if said books are fiction.

And speaking of TV and books …

Can I read for leisure or watch my favourite TV program without nodding off?

It’s a pretty good indication that our days may be just a little too full—or that we need to add physical activity to our schedule—if we fall asleep during our downtime.

Am I too busy to exercise?

I know it may seem impossible to include exercise in our day, but it’s important to remember that regular physical activity usually makes it easier to think clearly and work more efficiently. Plus, it will likely help us sleep more soundly. Bonus!

And don’t forget that exercise doesn’t necessarily mean spending endless hours at the gym or running for miles every day. Find a physical activity you enjoy (swimming, biking, joining a recreational sports team) and keep at it, and watch the changes happen.

Do most of my meals come from the freezer or the drive-through at my local fast food restaurant?

I am definitely averting my eyes and humming as I share this thought. I have big dreams of planning the week’s menu and shopping for necessary ingredients on the weekend, but it just doesn’t happen. One day. One day.

Does my house look like a bomb fell most days?

My home will never, ever, ever get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. However, I do want to do better. And for this to happen, I have to schedule “hometending,” as one of my friends calls it. In order to add sufficient time each day, something else has to go—but not necessarily downtime.

Do I consider time with family and friends just one more thing to scratch off my To Do list?

If we feel like spending time with the important people in our life is an inconvenience and keeps us from doing what we feel we should be doing—or what we truly want to do—it’s time to rework our schedule and possibly, take a closer look at our priorities.

Do those things I feel called to do (like writing a book for instance) keep getting pushed to the bottom of the list?

If there is a dream that just won’t go away, it’s quite possible the Lord has placed that dream in our heart. There will always be responsibilities that seem more important that divert us from pursuing the calling. We may think it isn’t realistic or that we could never actually do what it is, but I encourage you to set some time aside. Really pray about it and “get your feet wet.”

Do you feel as if you want to write a book? Read books on the writing craft. Attend a workshop or a conference. Connect with a Facebook group for writers. There are dozens, if not hundreds. But most of all, you’ll have to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), remembering that first drafts are often much different than the final version.

No matter what your calling, ask God to open the doors before you—and be willing to walk through each one.

Do I set aside time to study the Bible and prayer each day?

As Christians, this is the key question. If we are not studying God’s Word and praying regularly, our agenda will never fall in line. If we don’t have time to pursue our First Love, it’s a guarantee that we are too busy.

Scroll down to the comments form to share your thoughts.

Tweetables:

Let your priorities guide your schedule.

Don’t forget to schedule downtime.

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

It’s All About Him

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
Romans 11:36, NLT*

If our lives were fiction, we’d each think we were the main character.

Some of us are passive, some active, but we’re each affected by the circumstances and individuals around us. Our minds process, evaluate, react, and scheme, as we try to make the best lives we can for ourselves and for those in our care.

That doesn’t mean we’re selfish, although sometimes we are. Each of us is the point of view character in our own story, and it’s easy to slide from there into thinking that it’s all about us.

Paul reminds us of the truth. It’s all about God.

We – and the rest of creation – matter. What He made is “good” and “very good.” (Genesis 1)

But He didn’t make us for us. We were made for relationship with Him, designed to only be complete in Him.

He intends us for His glory.

What does that mean?

Just like “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1, NIV**),  our lives, lived in loving submission to God and in reliance on His power, demonstrate that there is a Good Shepherd. There is hope, forgiveness, healing. There is an ultimate authority who defines good and bad, who can rescue and rebuke… and who would rather restore than condemn.

God our Creator and Sustainer, You alone are worthy of all honour and glory. Forgive us for those times when our perspective revolves around ourselves. Help us remember we’re to live for Your glory. Shine through us to bring glory to Your name.

Let Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship,” remind us of our focus today.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

**New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: Out of Circulation, by Heather Day Gilbert

Out of Circulation, by Heather Day GilbertOut of Circulation, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2016)

Katie McClure is the only one in her family who wanted to follow her father’s footsteps into the FBI. Instead, she works in the library in a rural Appalachian town and lives in an apartment that’s only steps away from her mother’s house.

When masked intruders invade the library with guns – and call Katie by name – her mother hires a handsome stranger to protect her. Ace Calhoun claims to be a freelance bodyguard, but he has ulterior motives for getting close to the McClure family.

Katie and Ace are appealing characters, even though Ace is deceptive. This is a novella, not a full-length novel, yet there’s time for character development, a budding relationship, and of course the mystery.

Out of Circulation is book one in Heather Day Gilbert’s new Hemlock Creek Suspense series. The McClure family is Katie, her sister and brother and their mother. Their father is dead. I hope the series will follow Katie, since I found her easiest to relate to. I’m also hoping her brother will move back home and resolve his resentment toward their father.

Heather Day Gilbert is also the author of the Murder in the Mountains contemporary suspense series and a Viking historical novel, God’s Daughter. For more about the author, visit http://heatherdaygilbert.com/.

[Review based on reading this novella in the romantic suspense collection, Smoke and Mirrors, from my personal library. Out of Circulation is now available as a stand-alone book.]

Novel Research: the fun and the strange

“What’s the strangest tidbit you discovered in researching your novel?”

That’s a question I like to ask other writers in interviews. Or, “what’s the most interesting thing you learned,” or “what was the most fun to research?”

Today I’m asking myself those questions. Writing suspense novels means most of what I research is unpleasant. Sometimes I even wonder if someone in a uniform will show up at my door to take away my laptop. I try to get the difficult topics out of the way first, so I can reward myself with the lighter things.

So… here’s what I’d call the most fun… and the strangest:

Heaven’s Prey: most fun: definitely the racing. In the name of research, I attended the movie Kart Racer, about a boy learning to race competive go-karts. Much later in the process, I discovered a slew of online videos on driving tips and engine sounds.

Secrets and Lies: most fun: spending a day with my husband, visiting the Centre Island Park where Carol and Joey picnicked in the novel.

Paddleboard and sailboat as seen from Toronto's Island park.

Carol and Joey may have seen views like this.

Without Proof: strangest: causes of small plane crashes. In all seriousness, plane crashes are not funny. People get hurt or killed, costly damage happens. But setting the tragedy aside momentarily, some of the circumstances of these accidents are highly amusing. My favourite, I think, is the crocodile incident as described below:

A passenger brought aboard a crocodile hidden in a sports bag. The crocodile escaped, causing a panic among passengers who all rushed to one end of the plane. This caused an imbalance in the aircraft which led to loss of control and a crash.
[source: http://www.planecrashinfo.com/unusual.htm]

The article at the PlaneCrashInfo.com site is lengthy, but it’s an interesting history of unusual accidents from 1933 to 2010. Some are sabotage, others are stupidity. If you’re so inclined, there’s a lot more things to check out on the site.

What about my new series? The crime and health resources would give spoilers for the books, and they’ve been neither fun nor strange so far. One thing I’ve been looking at is dory photos, to find out what the boat looks like in front of the Green Dory Inn. (The boat’s not seaworthy, and the owner has turned it into a flower garden.)

Oh — and what I think may be the most fun research? I’d like to know what the best chocolate dessert is in the Town of Lunenburg, and where it’s available. Who says research can’t be hands-on?

Taught by Trouble

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
Romans 5:3, NLT*

When trouble comes, or something goes wrong, how often do we respond this way? Or do we react instead, taking it personally? Like it’s one more thing to fight.

Paul writes these words in the midst of teaching about the right relationship and peace with God that we’ve received, the “undeserved privilege (verse 2)” we’ve been given through Christ. He highlights God’s great love for us, and our hope of salvation.

In this context, it’s easier to see that he’s not asking us to somehow celebrate hardship.

He’s giving us a different perspective on what’s happening, and showing a healthier response than our natural one.

If salvation life is all about relationship with God, then problems and trials are opportunities to practice depending on Him. They keep us from drifting back to trusting our own strength. They develop our faith by letting us prove His faithfulness and power.

They may be meant for harm, but God can use them for good. I’m learning to pray “use this” or “help me pass this test” – when I can notice what’s going on before instinctively reacting in battle mode.

God our Rock and our Refuge, grant us spiritual sight to recognize the deeper realities in the trials and difficulties that You allow in our lives. Help us choose to rely on You, so that You can grow our endurance, our character, and our hope. Draw us deeper into relationship with You, for our joy and for Your glory.

Hillsong United’s song, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” reminds us where to place our hope.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Echoes, by Kristen Heitzmann

Echoes, by Kristen HeitzmannEchoes, by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House, 2007)

In this conclusion to the Michelli Family series, we follow Lance and Rese’s story (and their house full of family and friends) but the main plot introduces us to Lance’s sister, Sofie, and child protection worker Matt Hammond.

You could start with this book, but you’d miss the chance to know the characters better. I recommend starting with book 1, Secrets.

Echoes is perhaps the heaviest read in the series, because of the emotional abuse certain characters have suffered. As with the other books, we have flawed, human characters finding their way toward wholeness.

We also have the struggle to see God’s goodness while seeing the pain people cause. And we see an interesting example of intercessory prayer in Lance, who’s still trying not to mess up. Sometimes God burdens him to pray, and sometimes that prayer results in healings. But it’s never something he can initiate on his own, and he doesn’t want anyone saying anything about “his power” – he knows it’s not his, it’s God’s.

This series is the first I’ve read of Kristen Heitzmann’s fiction, but her website assures me there’s more where these stories came from. For more about the author and her work, visit kristenheitzmannbooks.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Heart”wings” Blog

Just letting you know about a blog for Christian women: Heart”wings” began as a private Facebook group and has grown into a public blog as well. The writing team posts Monday through Friday as follows:

Monday Memories
Tuesday Testimonies
Wednesday Words
Thursday Thanks
Friday Focus

For a healthy dose of Christian fellowship, pour yourself a refreshing drink, navigate to HeartWings Blog, and get acquainted.

Remember and Rejoice

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Romans 5:11, NLT*

New Christians are so vibrant and full of joy. Whatever our spiritual “age,” let’s think about what relationship with God means:

  • no dread, or fear of punishment
  • no hopelessness about our lives
  • confidence to approach God with our needs (see last week’s post)
  • peace in our spirits
  • forgiveness and cleansing from our sins
  • changing character and behaviour
  • hope of heaven
  • the Holy Spirit’s presence with us each moment
  • access to God’s wisdom
  • spiritual eyes that are learning to see what He sees
  • healing for our hurts
  • usefulness to the Master

And more…

Some of these things are still developing. We haven’t fully arrived, but it’s so good to be on the path with Him.

More than any of these things, relationship with God means we have Him, and He has us. Let’s take time today to rejoice in this wonderful relationship.

God our Maker and Redeemer, it’s beyond wonderful that You have brought us back into relationship with You through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Forgive us for getting used to this great gift and not seeing the wonder of it. Teach us to rejoice in You, and make us contagious, so that others will want to know You too.

Big Daddy Weave’s song, “Redeemed,” reminds us of what we’ve gained.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.