Inspirational thoughts and random writings from the alumni and friends of Quad-Cities Christian Writers Conference.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

True Confessions of a Pastor's Wife

By Gail P. Smith
I have a confession to make.  It's kind of embarrassing to admit because I've been a Christian since I was 9, have been in church all my life, SS teacher, choir, the whole nine yards.  But here it is:  It's tough for me to set aside time to read the Bible and pray.  It’s hard enough to make that commitment once a week or even once a month, never mind trying to do it every day. And man, can we come up with excuses.

I should know.  For years I figured since I was so busy doing things for God, teaching Sunday School, working in the nursery, singing in the choir being a pastor’s wife, for Pete’s sake, that I assumed didn’t really need to spend a lot of time with God actually asking His opinion about what I was up to.  After all, it was good stuff done for my church, family  & friends.  Just a quick "God," should do it, right?

It’s not that I never read the Bible or studied it.  I was in BSF for over 15 years and I wrote my own curriculum for my middle school SS students.  But to take time each day, just me and Him,  hearing God’s voice by reading His word and talking to Him in prayer.  Well, obviously I didn’t have time to do that. If I did, how would I ever get all my good works for Him done.

I’m not proud of that attitude.  I’d been taught better, but it took a crisis in our lives for me to realize that though I thought I was helping God out, my works for Him, were really nothing.  Just busy work. Only by God’s grace and mercy did He choose to overlook my self-centered failings and use it to His glory anyway. (That's how much He loves His children.)

I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one who's had problems putting the busyness of doing ahead of the quietness of seeking. 

So now here we stand on the eve of the New Year, when life feels like it’s giving us a chance to begin again, I want to share things changed when I began to figure out how to daily/faithfully seek His presence.  I love to help you begin a conversation with God that will never end.

My home church preacher once said, “Never fall asleep without having read God’s word that day.”  I heard this back in the 1970s.  Then one day, I heard it with my heart heard it.  "Okay, let's give it a try," I thought.  I sat my Bible by my bed and at bed time, if I hadn’t read it before then, I grabbed it and at least read something right then.  A tiny baby step, but guess what—God allows baby steps and even holds your hand as you take them!

Another bigger, step occurred much later.  This time I was studying an Old Testament story of King David.  Seems he needed some land on which to make sacrifices to God and made a offer to the land’s owner, Ornan (story & scripture after post.)  Ornan wanted to give the land to David.  David’s answer is what God used to really pierce my heart:
“I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:22-24)

Did you ever feel you could almost hear God saying "Ahem?"
I realized that for all those years of struggling to seek God in a personal quiet time, I thought it should cost me nothing.  I somehow thought the time I spent with God would be “spare time” leftover from when I had done everything I wanted/needed to do.  I was offering to God only “that which cost me nothing.”  No sleep loss, no newspaper not read, no TV show missed—I had to ask myself was I really unwilling to give up ANYTHING to better know and love the One who died for me?   Suddenly I “got it,” and I saw the need to make a change.

The next time I woke up early and didn’t want to leave my nice, warm bed (I live in Iowa and that can be a BIG deal,) I said to myself, “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing,” got up, put on a robe and opened my Bible.  And guess what—God was there waiting for me and He wasn’t even mad about all the times I’d missed.  In fact, He was just dying to bless me, to know me, to love me and be my friend.  When I gave up trying to keep all my time, my life for me, and give Him nothing, I found in His presence more than enough to make up for any “loss.”

So I write you today, at this incredible time of year, with a new beginning just around the corner, to share the offer God makes to us all.  "If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me."(Jer. 29:13)  And believe me, there is no better way to start than by treating yourself to time with your best Friend, your Savior and Lord, Jesus. Let this be the year you stop doing so many things for God and start becoming who God designed you to be  It will be the beginning of the best years of your life. 
God promises to meet you where you are today.  He's waiting for you.

Because there are lots of other things that have helped me in my quest to spend time with God each day that I’d like to share and this post is too long already, I invite you to visit my personal blog.  In the coming days I will be sharing more things I do to make connecting with God each day exciting, fun and a true meeting with my dearest Friend.  The link is:

 One Bible story that changed me:
1 Chronicles 21:22-24

 22 Then David said to Ornan, “Grant me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build an altar on it to the LORD. You shall grant it to me at the full price, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.”

 23 But Ornan said to David, “Take it to yourself, and let my lord the king do what is good in his eyes. Look, I also give you the oxen for burnt offerings, the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat for the grain offering; I give it all.”

 24 Then King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27

By Lisa Lickel

Did you know that, according to many traditions, this is the third day of Christmas? The real meaning behind the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” follows: From 1558 until 1829 Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. During that era, this carol was written as a catechism. Each element in the carol has a religious point which the children could remember. The third day of Christmas is a gift of Three French Hens. The Three French Hens represented Faith, Hope and Love, from First Corinthians 13.

Sing with me!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a Partridge in a Pear Tree (JESUS).

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Two Turtle Doves (OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS), and a Partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

…And so forth, through day Twelve.

Pretty nifty, eh? A secret code and repetition, the true mother of learning.

If you’d like to know more about the meaning of the rest of the song, check my blog (to be published 12/25/11):

From Lisa Lickel, author of A Summer in Oakville, with Shellie Neumeier

Monday, December 26, 2011

Journeys to Joy

By Helen Knueven
Psalms 16:11 Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
For the wise men, Christmas was a journey to the manger as they followed the star that led them to the baby Jesus.
For the shepherds who were greeted by angels that night – Christmas also became a journey for them as they followed the angels instructions and found Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus.
Christmas was a journey for the angels, too, as they trekked the heavens proclaiming God’s message of peace in Jesus Christ to the shepherds.
The journey resulted in great rejoicing for all of them. We can read in the Bible how each one of these groups praised God with great joy because of His wonderful gift.
May each one of us find ourselves on a holy journey this season; to bring our gift to Jesus, finding His presence in unlikely places and conversations as we seek to honor our King.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What Does Glory Look Like?

By Rolie Grady

A month ago I took a trip to Wesley, Iowa…my hometown.  It’s not a big spot in the road.  The population is close to 400, down from the 600 level when I lived there forty years ago.  But size isn’t important.  It’s the people that make a place special.

Last month I shared a few stories about my friend, Toots Youngwirth, a wonderful lady who departed for heaven on November 13th.  It was an honor to attend a celebration of her life.

 But why bring up the topic of death in December?  It’s because I discovered that beginnings and endings of life have a lot in common.   In fact, they often overlap each other.  In the case of Toots, a great granddaughter was born two days before she died, and her death came the same day as her youngest daughter’s wedding anniversary. 

The church parking lot was packed with cars sprawling in every direction during the visitation.  I found a place in the long line of people who wanted to affirm Toot’s life.  The sounds of laughter and talking were everywhere, especially around the family members.  I said to their son, Tom, “The Youngwirths have built an empire in Wesley, and it’s a given that the king and queen should reign forever.”  This empire came from sharing love and compassion with the whole town.

The actual service was filled with scripture about Christ’s burial, resurrection and the promise of new life with Him.  Near the end, the choir sang the song, “I Believe” during communion.  When they came to the phrase, “every time I hear a newborn baby cry”, an infant began (almost on cue) to wail and kept going until the end of the song.  No sounds of silence there.

Afterwards I went to the dinner at Wesley’s Community Center.  So many personal touches provided a warm welcome.  The paper placemats were a drawing of St. Joseph’s Church done by Dawn, Toot’s daughter.  A little menu attached to each placemat read “My Funeral Dinner” – Catered by Jumbo (her nephew).  Scalloped potatoes/lots of ham, Cole slaw (with Wesley Legion dressing), Corn, Homemade Bread (made by Jumbo), Bars, Coffee and Milk.  It was so like Toots, who cared for every detail.

There was even a drawing at the dinner!  When Johnny and the family arrived from the cemetery, they told us the wrapped boxes were crafts Toots had made, and they wanted to give them away.  The glory of Toots, the person, was still being shared with all her friends and family.

So what is glory?  It’s the amazing essence of a person’s life.  Sometimes it gets noticed while the person is alive.  Other times we stop and ponder after it’s gone.

In the middle of a dirt-caked stable, God sent fresh life.  Jesus was filled with the glory of the Father.  Like any good mother, Mary had to wonder about this birthing area.  Yes, it was greatly lacking in warmth and ambience, but it was the perfect backdrop for sinners….one that anyone trapped in darkness could relate to.

When sin’s ugliness is exposed, we long for light.  When the darkness finally disappears and loneliness is erased, we realize what’s been missing.  It began in a tiny package. 

Every Christmas I hear a newborn baby’s cry pierce the night.  The seeds of eternal life.  Light swallows up the darkness, and all is well.  That’s what glory looks like to me.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jump On

By Kristi Paxton

We Americans love our band wagons. Recently we’ve all sported “support our troops” bumper stickers, mall sales and signs in our yards. I have a suggestion for a new band wagon: Support Our Teachers.

A substitute teacher myself, I don’t even pretend to have the guts and passion to be a full time teacher. But I have a privileged spot, spying on behaviors of teachers and students of all ages. Here is what I witness in all grades, one through twelve:

1.       Kids don’t begin to know the meaning of respect.
       2.       Rudeness is the flavor of the day.
3.       Teachers bend over backwards to try new techniques, providing separate daily plans for several styles of learners.
4.       Kids ignore the teachers, talking out loud to their friends while the teacher tries to teach.
5.       Parents blame their child’s problems on the “teacher’s lack of effort.”
6.       Kids play with cell phones, using computer “research time” to mess around on Facebook.
7.       Kids wait for a few good students to do all the work, and then quickly dive in to copy all the answers at lunch or study hall. I worry about their shrinking out-of-use brains.
8.       Most teachers spend at least part of their meager earnings to buy “fun lesson supplies” or treats for their students.
 Parents beware. Our students are good at telling us what we want to hear. They make elaborate excuses for their poor performance. They blame the “lame” teachers or claim “boring” lessons. The fact is, someone has spent her precious evenings or weekends (and some of her own money) to come up with exciting lessons to spark a love of learning. Students are too tied up in their own egos to pay attention. They sit bored, sleep during class or spend their time entertaining classmates.

A young teacher friend of mine was hired four weeks into the school year when the fifth grade teacher quit to become a firefighter. She jokes that “he’d rather run in to burning buildings once in a while than face a roomful of fifth graders daily.” (Not to mention that it is currently popular in this country to appreciate firefighters.)

So I have a challenge for all of us. The next time we attend a parent-teacher conference, let’s thank our teachers for not giving up on our children. Let’s ask if our kids are disrespectful at school. If they are, let’s do our best to fix it. Our kids won’t die without a cell phone, Facebook or electronic games.

Let’s tell our teachers what we’ve been telling our soldiers and firefighters: “Thanks for what you do.” After all, they will help our children become nurses, doctors, lawyers, engineers or teachers. Teachers who go into battle every day, trying to make sure our children succeed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Empty Spaces

By Jeannette Doran
There is a longing in the human heart that only God can fill. Yes, we often spend time and energy trying to fill this space with things other than God, which cannot satisfy. This can take us time traveling through dark places, clouded with sadness, to learn that our hearts were made for God alone and only in God will one find a lasting joy beyond understanding.

       I find a certain beauty in empty spaces, in simplicity of design, such as in the clean lines in architecture and furniture and in the beauty in a Japanese floral arrangement of three flowers, where less is often better than more. As my eyes look over the December fields, I find a resting place in this vast stretch of land in the loveliness of the empty field clothed in white snow.

        Advent speaks to me of empty hearts waiting for the coming of God. It’s a quiet time of longing and desire for God alone; a time to let go of all the clutter and the whatnot that does not fill us or bring joy. Days, when we learn to seek God in the empty spaces and moments of our daily life. This time prepares one to attentively watch and wait in silence for the quiet coming of God into our empty heart.

     God’s presence will be found by the seeking heart. The heart that understands God hides in the moments of our day. We find God in the grace of the moment as we continue to look and seek in faith.  All of our advent days can be focused on seeing God in these moments with new eyes of faith.

    When the soul enters into a deep stillness, God’s image is imprinted in the innermost center. Just as the sun is reflected on the pure white snow, deep within our souls we are called to reflect the image of God. As when the sun shines on still waters a mirror is created of the sun, so when our soul rests in stillness, God enters undisturbed. As Wisdom tells us “When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt Your all-powerful Word.” (18:15).  When any annoyance is allowed to penetrate one’s being, the soul’s experience of God is obscured. The psalmist invites us ‘to be still’ so that we will behold God. We see in the natural world that a pure crystal pool of water will mirror the beauty around it only in stillness. If even a tiny pebble drops into the water, the ripples will hinder this image from appearing.

        In the human soul, when any commotion is allowed to enter the center of our being, the face of God is covered and one will not know God’s presence. Our God dwells in peace. When we allow negative thoughts to linger in our minds we cloud the image of God in our hearts. God’s image is formed in the depths of our being in profound stillness. “Be still and know that I am God”, Psalm 46 invites us.

        In the empty spaces of our day, of our lives we can search for and cultivate intimacy with our God, Who is always with us present in our inner being. When our days become too crowded, it is time to take a moment to look at our inner desires, our longings. What am I really seeking? What will bring me inner quiet and peace?

        Advent is a time for seeking and waiting for God to be birthed in our inner being. Only God present in our lives can bring us the true joy of Christmas. May we each learn to deepen our search for intimacy with the God of our desires and be clothed with the joy God so longs to fill us with this Christmas and always.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Jesse Tree

By Lisa Lickel

I introduced the Jesse Tree to my new church this year. The congregation will be involved in Advent by making and presenting the week’s ornaments and verses each Sunday.

What is a Jesse Tree? For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Jesse Tree is the story of Jesus’s family from Genesis through his birth. It’s a great way to make looking at less familiar Bible passages less scary for those who are a little nervous about reading it. December 6 this year, 2011, represents the tenth day in Advent. At our church, we’re up to Joshua and the Hebrews ready to enter to the Promised Land. The passage is from Joshua 2: 1-21, which tells the story of Rahab who, although not a Hebrew, was faithful to a God she had only heard about, and was rewarded by being an ancestor of Christ. The ornament for the day is a rope.

Background: The Israelites were ready to enter the land that God had promised them. They sent two men into the land to find out more about the land. Rahab hid the two men in her house and then helped them to escape when the king wanted to kill them. She knew that God had promised the city of Jericho to Joshua and the Israelites, and she believed that God is a powerful God. In return, the Israelites protected Rahab and her family. Rahab hung a red rope from the window in her house so that the Israelites would remember to protect her.

The readings of the Jesse Tree are written for the whole family. When my children were growing up, they looked forward to the morning ritual before school of getting the day’s ornament for the tree and reading the passage. I made them each a Jesse Tree of their own when they married. You can find out more about the Jesse Tree, find patterns and readings, on this web site:

From Lisa Lickel, author of A Summer in Oakville, with Shellie Neumeier

Thursday, December 1, 2011

By Charis Seeley

I’m only 23, but sometimes I worry about the younger generation. The average teenager sends over 100 text messages every day. Most of them use abbreviations so much that it creates a language filled with three letter words. The only single letter words in the English language are ‘A’ and ‘I’. When I receive a text filled with single letters and numbers that replace words…. I want to send them back to elementary school English class.

Never mind trying to get teens to read a book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a teenager squeal about a movie series and how they “Can wait to find out how it ends!” Meanwhile, they seem unaware that the movie they loved was based off a novel series. I can’t help but wonder why they haven’t read the books.

The Hunger Games is a series like that. By the end of March, you can bet there will be scads of teens excited for the second movie, eager to find out what happens next, but not willing to pick up a book. And I’ll hopelessly hang my head. Authors no longer face the challenge of keeping their reader out of other books and in theirs. They have to keep them away from the TV, computer, movie theater, game console and cell phone. It’s a daunting task. Most of the time, at least.

I was grocery shopping a few days ago when I overheard a daughter talking with her father. She looked about 15 years old. They were talking about the upcoming Hunger Games movie. “Please, Dad? I want to read it.” “Why? I thought they were making it into a movie.” “I know, but I want to read it.”

I was so happy to hear a young person excited about a book that I almost stopped to thank her. I hope there are more kids out there who also value reading books and knowing the difference between to, two and too. 

Maybe these kids aren’t as bad as I thought.