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Writer Friends

Looking over books on my shelves, I pulled off 14 books whose authors I know, some more personally than others. Two are members of BookCamp: Julie McGhghy and Laura Lynn Hughes. Some are in our Heartland Christian Writers group: John Walker, Joyce Long, and Linda Sammaritan. Two I know from churches: Gretchen K. Engel and David Lantz. Callie Daruk is a blogger; so is Peter Heck. Richard J. Sherry I know from Asbury College; and Hilary McDowell I met in Ireland. Three I met at writers conferences and webinars: Marlene Bagnull, James N. Watkins, and Mary E. DeMuth. One is my husband, William B. Coker, whose three books I’ve edited and prepped for publication.

I know these authors

I could have added one by our son and another by a grandson with the help of his brother. Proud of these family members who made time to write and publish. I’m sure if I searched further I’d find other books by authors I’ve known through the years.

As I consider this search and find, the thought surfaced that many books have introduced me to their authors who have become like close friends. The first book I read by Francine Rivers was The Atonement Child; and since I am thoroughly pro-life, I wrote to her. Rivers surprised me with a warm letter that I’ve kept. Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s books have a special place on my shelves and in my heart. I was a teenager when I first read The Diary of Anne Frank and she introduced me to a young girl’s view of Hitler’s Nazi regime.  

Then there are numerous devotionals I’ve collected and read, some more than once. I gravitate to the classics, such as those written by C.H. Spurgeon, Thomas R. Kelly, E. Stanley Jones, Hannah Whitall Smith, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, and Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. Recently two authors, Bob Hostetler and James N. Watkins, have compiled devotionals from writings by Samuel Logan Brengle and Thomas A. Kempis, among others. I’m grateful for the contributions these author-friends have made to my spiritual growth. They could do the same for you.

Welcome New Year

New

Getting into a new year is like opening a brand-new box of crayons. You expect the colors you want to use, but the tips are pristine; and you might be surprised with some new shades not seen before. With a new year, you have the same-ole schedule, and yet expectations are heightened to the point of anticipating surprises that border on hope.

I’ve looked forward to the end of 2021 for several reasons. One is because I’ll be finishing books I’ve been reading all year. December 31 marks the completion of going through The One Year Pray for Life Bible (NLT) promoted by Joni Eareckson Tada. Without any reservation, I can say I’m proud of this accomplishment: reading the whole Bible in one year. Each day included an Old Testament passage, New Testament passage, in order, along with a Psalm and a few verses from Proverbs. Only a few days out of 2021 did I have to double-up on reading the prescribed selections. I will also complete a book of prayers: Jesus Every Day: A Journey Through the Bible in One Year by Mary DeMuth. She selected a verse or two from Scripture each day and then composed a prayer. These have been heart-warming and spiritually strengthening. I recommend both books, along with Mary’s podcast: Pray Every Day.

If I were to do inventory, I could report on lessons learned about myself. One proved itself late one night: I am insistent but not persuasive. I can insist that Bill do something, but that doesn’t persuade him to do it. How’s that for a laugh? I thought I had a new technique, and while new it was not effective. He won. Now I take that as a slight win for me also, for I found out something about myself and can value that lesson.

So what do I hope to see happen in the new year? What could be the best gift for us all is that Covid would die a quick death. Too many of our family are reporting positive with this new strand. Aren’t you tired of this pandemic? I know your answer; it’s the same as mine. We want to be back to normal. But our son told me that normal is only a setting on the dryer. That so, I want to experience a day without news of someone else I know who tested positive for Covid. That would be a sweet gift. To know that we are healthy, experiencing the best we can be would welcome in the new year.

Advent: Adding joy, love, and Light

We’ve heard that joy and happiness are different. But what marks their distinction? The source.

Happiness is often associated with surface conditions. Joy is internal and can exist even when life has gone sour.

Happy thoughts and feeling cheerful can come on unexpectedly, but joy is a choice, a deep-felt glow. Henri Nouwen wrote: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

We see why it’s so appropriate that joy is one theme of the weeks of Advent. We have waited to celebrate His birth, and we now wait for His second Advent. We anticipate with joy His return and the culmination of history – His Story.

Love is the fourth candle of Advent. “God so loved the world that He sent His only, beloved Son” for our redemption. Love is the motive behind the gift of the Christ Child and then on to His life of service, His cruel sacrificial death, and His unexpected resurrection. The babe, wound in cloths, wrapped in love, lay in a feeding troth that early Christmas morn. The God-Man left His glory above to arrive by unnatural means, virgin-born, to live among, serve, and die for the creatures He made in His image.

The Christ Candle, lit on Christmas Eve or Day, doesn’t have a theme, only His glorious redeeming name – Christ – Savior, Messiah. All the other candles revolve around the Christ Candle and alert us to His character of hope, peace, joy, and love. These candles are lit only to show forth the Light of the world who is Jesus.

This day after Christmas; rejoice, for we find our hope, peace, joy, and love in Christ and none other. May the new year find your fulfillment in Christ as His presence fills your days.

Peace: Second Sunday of Advent

As I think of the word Peace and its meaning, I have scattered references and thoughts. As the second Sunday of Advent focuses on “peace,” the second candle is lit in the Advent wreath in church and homes across the nation and around the world. Peace often has an elusive meaning.

Most every evening we watch reruns of the TV show “MASH,” and they speak of peace talks. These affirm that communication often comes before solutions of peace, whether it occurs between nations or individuals. There is the hope that peace will come out of these talks.

Attaching some meanings to the word Peace, I think of calm after a storm, release from stressful situations, being settled into a routine that works, and restful sleep. Just this morning I awoke out of a dead sleep and saw Bill, fully dressed, staring at me from the foot of the bed. My first thought was not peaceful, but awareness of breakfast not being ready. Up and at it through a foggy mind not ready for the start of the day. Peace came later when we sat at the table and Bill offered the blessing.

Jesus came as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The angels announced his birth to lowly shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). But we note that those who first received the announcement (Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds, Joseph) were troubled and had to be told, “Be not afraid” (Luke 1:11, 30; 2:10; Matthew 1:20). Fear and peace do not co-exist. Then Zechariah’s song included a request for God “to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79), a fitting plea from us today.

As I read Psalm 125, it closes with “May Israel have peace!” At first I questioned the exclamation mark behind the word peace, for it emphasizes what’s active, not calming. Yet peace can be in an active voice, directing us to work at what will accomplish peace in our ordinary lives. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May we also pray and work for peace daily.

In today’s mail, we received a creative homemade Christmas card featuring a dove. Its title: “Peace on Earth.” The inside greeting: “Wishing you a calm and blessed Christmas filled with the true peace of Christ the Lord.” Thanks to Terri & Rick.

“Hope” First Sunday of Advent 2021 ~ Guest blog post by Kim Hock

Good morning, I’m Kim.  Walking into a season that we know as Advent, longing and expectation captivate us. Our hearts may sense a variety of responses…often the focus is on the goodness of this season, yet for some this season may bring heartache and pain and the anticipation is not welcomed. Together we can enter, bringing whatever we carry into this season and we turn our eyes to the hope of the gospel.  Paul invites us to understand hope as beyond us and within us at the same time when he offer “Christ in you is the hope of Glory.”  (Light the candle.)

I was asked what is hope to me? And I often think of hope as a peaceful, positive, wonderful feeling or experience…when in reality hope can actually be dangerous and painful as I hope for things that feel risky and impossible. I have no assurance that what I hope for will ever come to pass…yet if I do not hope, even though dangerous, I will live in despair. 

So…Hope for me is experiencing the brilliance of humanity as it fights to survive a microscopic killer with adjustments, solutions, and vaccines. 

Hope for me is experiencing the brilliance of humanity as it fights generations of injustices and trauma by confronting it over and over on behalf of people long silenced and offering something different to instill hope in others. 

Hope for me is entertaining the ideas that we might do better in this world with ourselves, with each other, with God.  

Hope for me is being captivated by watching my children experience life in ways I never did or could, make decisions that bring them harm and joy, and find their glory even when it is not what I once thought was their glory. 

Hope for me is being in awe of the creativity of humanity in the midst of times of disconnection, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction. 

Hope for me can be reckless, dreamy, and full of desire. I wonder what you desire today, and what do you bring into this day as deep longing…could it be there without your judging whether it is good or bad?

Will you join me in prayer:

God of hope. God of wonder. God of majesty

You are beyond us, yet within us

You are the very presence of life in us and we carry the weight of your death. Maybe our hope today can reflect the invigorating life and colors of fall while at the same time ushering in the death of winter. 

From the microcosm of cells pulsing and moving through our bodies right now, to the creation of the world outside of us…all chorusing together in a crescendo of life…beauty for our eyes and ears to take in with wonder.

We come before you as your creation, in your image, with all you created bursting at the seams to be seen and known. Our realization of this comes with an understanding of all we are not at the same time. We are known to you, yet not what you envisioned; we are loved by you, yet cannot love the way you wanted; we are light to the world, yet we cast shadows everywhere we go; we are beings of desire and hope made in your image, yet we continue to encounter despair, ignoring the very desire you embed in us. May we know your enduring love in the presence of our humanity.

Would you remind us of your hope…your desire that lives in us. Would you awaken our hearts to understand what longing is, that we might step in at risk…to long, to desire, even when it is painful or makes no sense? We judge the world you created, yet judge ourselves even more harshly; and somewhere in this conundrum is your sweet welcoming of us and all you have created within us to be your very glory. How can that be? Would you capture us with your outstanding presence so we might be captured with ourselves and with those around us each day…maybe as this happens we might catch a glimpse of your hope in us. As we breathe in a moment of silence, would you turn our gaze to the world outside these walls…might you nudge us to be captivated by all of you in it, even the parts we might not typically welcome as your creation. Silence

Oh God of hope, from whom all blessings flow…the weight of your sacrifice with the backdrop of hope is matchless. There is no encore as you are ever present as a seal of love on our hearts. There is no hope without you and we embody the very glory that is the hope of Christ.

God of hope. God of wonder. God of majesty

Let us not lose sight of you…the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen

Connections bring meaning

RR Track.blue.JD

“Connections.” I like that word for its varied usage. That’s why I chose it for the theme of my blog. And Julie Duncan’s photo of the blue railroad speaks to that theme with beauty and creativity. To add another metaphor, connections are like the string in a pearl necklace that keeps it all strung together.

Earlier this week a friend asked me to pray for a relative in the hospital. I felt honored for her to ask me. We connected with each other in a time of need, but more importantly, we connected together with our Father God who met that need. In addition, my friend had recently moved to be closer to her family. Another connection now being used by God in His timing.

During the marketing aspect of the publication of Bill’s books, I have connected with family members and friends. Some of these I’d not heard from in a long while and they from me. We’re blessed to re-connect. We’ve learned what’s going on in our lives, and found reasons to rejoice.

October’s emphasis for passages in The One Year Pray for Life Bible, was on loneliness. “In our age of connectedness, where social media friends and followers abound, chronic loneliness is growing.” This malady has increased lately for those facing the changes that age brings. “God created us to live in relationship with him and in community with each other.”

Because we lead busy lives, friendships suffer. An article in November’s issue of Reader’s Digest, brought confirmation. In “How I Learned to Make Friends Again,” the author, Billy Baker, discovered that friendships had grown distant. He quoted Richard Schwartz, a psychiatrist, who wrote in his book, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century: “People are comfortable saying they are depressed. But they’re not comfortable saying they’re lonely, because you’re the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.” Can you identify? Baker re-connected with long-time friends, and they all appreciated their time together.

During the Covid pandemic, I found social distancing the most difficult mandate to handle. It meant forced isolation, and loneliness followed. However, on the good side, I learned Zoom and now connect monthly on Zoom with my three sibling, for each of us lives in a different state. My two writers groups – Heartland Christian Writers and BookCamp – found Zoom a distinct advantage so we could continue to connect.

Back to my beginning, I’m grateful for how God has connected me with family and friends over the years. Let’s stay connected, for it brings meaning to this adventure called life.

I Connect with Our Dog Jules

Jules, relaxing in the sunlight, an undistracted moment.

The other night we watched our dog Jules chase the shadows in the setting sun streaming from the dining room windows. Jules is fascinated with light and shadows, distracted from everything else going on in the room.

Every morning Jules meets me at the bathroom door as soon as she hears me open the drawer that holds my makeup mirror. She’s ready for the show of light reflected from either the window or the sink’s overhead lamps onto the mirror and then onto the door, walls, and floor. She sits patiently while I finish doing my hair and makeup, but as soon as I pick up the mirror, she’s alert.

When Jules is focused on light and shadows, nothing else distracts her. She’s intent on getting the best show. Our connection is that I’m also easily distracted when at work – writing or cleaning house. Whenever Jules sees light and shadows, that distracts her from whatever she was doing at the time. Whenever I see a You Tube post or an Instagram notice, I’m distracted from my work and want to watch, for entertainment sake. And generally one photo on a friend’s Facebook page leads me to another and more. I know I should get back to work, but the distraction is more appealing. It’s shear discipline to continue what I’m supposed to be doing.

In a blog post last May, I wrote about being “distracted or dedicated.” My closing paragraph included the following: So I’m back to that ugly word “discipline.” It’s a matter of being dedicated to the best even when I enjoy something good.

Jules and I get distracted, but she also teaches me about the importance of focus – sticking to something without being pulled away by what at the time is less important yet entertaining. That links me to what the apostle Paul had to say about focus: “looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race” (Phil. 3:13, NLT). I join with Mary DeMuth who prayed: “Jesus, enable me to focus on the things that really matter in light of eternity…to finish well.” (Jesus Every Day).

What Could Have Been, but Isn’t

anonymous tourists showing us passports on street on sunny day

My dad looked forward to retirement because he wanted to travel. Where? I don’t know, only to visit places he’d not seen. But he developed lung cancer, had two lobes removed, and died at age 74, basically from the treatments.

Retirement for me came a short while before I had planned, but I welcomed it. Bill had retired four years earlier, in 2008, and I retired in 2012. In between those years, Bill was hospitalized for 24 days with Legionnaire’s disease, a type of pneumonia. Now he has Alzheimer’s disease, and I’m convinced that the pneumonia and its treatment had some effect on his memory loss.

Unlike my dad, we didn’t have specific plans for our retirement years. But I do know that I did not anticipate reckoning with a husband bound in a fog of loss remembrance. Presently I want him to understand directions and explanations I give, but that isn’t in his mindset.

What could have been is not possible now. And yet it doesn’t mean the good life is not in our sights, because our life does have meaning and purpose. If I were to judge our lives, comparing it to what we had, that would be unfair. It’s different now, not bad, to say the least. It’s good, not better, to say the most.

What Bill and I had then has now become a treasury tucked away in remembrance. And as my friend Everett said, “Memories are to be shared.” While I may recite a long-ago or even a more recent incident, Bill may pretend to know, but it’s lost in his memory bank. That doesn’t mean I quit bringing up memories, but it does mean I can’t expect the give and take of sharing.

I’ve not written this to engage in a pity party for me, Bill, or others in like situations. Reminding ourselves that life is a matter of acceptance, of being in the moment, we can be satisfied with life as is. Love makes all the difference, for we know God is in our midst. “Immanuel–God with us” is a reality. We rejoice for each day as God’s gift for us―to know Him better and to spread the Good News to others. What could  have been, isn’t, but what we do have is God’s good plan, and I give Him thanks.

Be Home Base

Guest Blog Post by Rachel Wedding-McClelland (earlier photo of her sons)

I needed this reminder today. Perhaps some of my other mom friends do, too. When mothering sons, heed this advice:

Be home base

You are home to him. When he learns to walk, he will wobble a few feet away from you and then come back, then wobble away a little farther and then come back.

When he tries something new, he will look for your proud smile.

When he learns to read, he will repeat the same book to you 20 times in a row because you’re the only one who will listen that many times.

When he plays his sport, he will search for your face in the stands.

When he is sick, he will call you.

When he really messes up, he will call you.

When he is grown and strong and tough and big and he feels like crying, he will come to you — because a man can cry in front of his mother without feeling self-conscious.

Even when he grows up and has a new woman in his life and gets a new home, you are still his mother: home base, the ever constant, like the sun. Know that in your heart, and everything else will fall into place.

Quit My Day Job? Labor Day 2021

Recently Bill stopped by my desk while I was on the computer. He asked, “What are you doing?” With one word, I said, “Working.” He repeated that several times, yet as a question: “Working? Working? Working?”

It may seem strange to Bill that what I do on my computer is called work. After all, when he’s on his computer most of the day, he’s playing solitaire. So what is my work? Since this is Labor Day 2021, the subject of work is a good topic for a blog post. Right?

For many years I dabbled in writing, never calling myself an author. That’s because while I’ve had articles published in magazines, I’ve not authored a book. Most of what I wrote came under the headings of devotions or personal experience articles.

The one assignment I’ve been most proud of came from a friend, a board member, I’d met while working on staff at Good News magazine, an evangelical voice within the United Methodist Church. By accepting that invitation from Helen Rhea Coppedge, I contributed to The Woman’s Study Bible, published in 1995 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. I wrote annotations for the books of Numbers and Amos along with eight topical notes. I had the privilege of reporting to the editors Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley.

We had recently moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Bill pastored World Gospel Church. While doing the research and writing for this study Bible, I volunteered at the local Crisis Pregnancy Center. Not working for pay, but getting to write most days. A few years later I went on staff at the CPC, but still got magazine articles published.

Bob Hostetler, literary agent, in answer to someone’s query: “When can I quit my day job?” he wrote, “When you’re making as much money writing as you are at your day job.”

This fits me how? I retired in 2012 and we moved to Indianapolis in 2017. I began my dream job in earnest. That’s to get Bill’s messages in print. Currently he has two books on the market―Words of Endearment and Prayers for the People―and a third book, The Scandal of Christmas: Advent Reflections on Four Unlikely Figures, to be published before Thanksgiving this year. That’s my work, yet the money earned goes back into the work.

Bill never said he wanted to write a book. So how do I get his words published? Literally, behind his back. In our study/office, our desks are on opposite walls. He’s playing on his computer and I’m working on my computer.