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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Life’s Mysteries

By Robin Steinweg

 Some things are a nagging mystery to me.

1. Why, after years of home-educating my sons and scouring about for questions to ask, do I finally have plenty—now that they’ve graduated?

2. Why do people spend so much time wondering whether the chicken or the egg came first? Or why a chicken crossed the road? In an election year, it’s rather shocking to pass a knot of adults on a street corner having a serious natter about the habits of poultry. And yes, I realize “serious natter” presents a contradiction of terms. You see? It’s a day for mysteries, and it’s a mystery to me why I juxtaposed those two. 

3. And my most recent, most burning question: Why, when both my sheets and my towels are 100% cotton, do my line-dried sheets grow soft, snuggly and fresh, while the line-dried towels grow stiff and stubbornly snuggle-resistant?

T-shirts? Soft. 100% cotton. Blue jeans? Stiff. 100% cotton. Unmentionables? Shush!

What do I do when I have a burning question involving a Life Mystery? I do what I taught my student/sons to do. I researched. I discovered there are several camps concerning dryers and lines.

Camp One is opposed to using dryers and claims that if you use less detergent, pour vinegar in the rinse water (never fabric softener!), and shake your laundry vigorously before hanging on the line, the items will be tolerably soft. You will be environmentally responsible.

Camp Two suggests using vinegar in the rinse water, shaking vigorously, hanging laundry on a breezy day, bringing it all in while slightly damp, and using the Air Dry feature of your dryer for the last 5-10 minutes to fluff it all up nice and soft. This is considered fairly green.

Camp Three says, “Seriously?” And throws the whole load into the dryer. A nod might be given to vinegar replacing fabric softener. But who has time these days to run outside every fifteen minutes to see which items are slightly damp, and bring them inside in shifts, as they get there? And what about bird bombs? And allergens clinging to fabrics that will come in close contact with sensitive noses?

I could find no answer to my basic question as to why 100% cotton sheets grow soft when hung out, while 100% cotton towels grow stiff.

But while I researched, the clock ticked away. And though I righteously jumped on Camp One’s wagon, I thought better of it, and I joined up for Camp Two. Until I reconciled my day’s schedule with the clock. I said, “Seriously?” Tossed some white vinegar into the rinse dispenser, and threw my towels and my jeans into the dryer. After all, the birds are flying bombing raids and the breeze is laden with pollen. Camp Three’s lookin’ good. In which camp are you?


Tuesday, May 22, 2012


By Sharon Wilhite

It was winter in the 1940's as the four boys took off for an afternoon of adventure on ice skates exploring the frozen vastness of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Hours into their fun, terror settled in as blowing snow created white out conditions. Too cold to stay out on the ice without moving until visibility returned, the boys debated which direction was home - each confident his decision was the right one. However, only ONE direction was the RIGHT one; three others would lead them miles away to an icy death far from home. The oldest, a boy scout, convinced the others that only his compass would faithfully point them in the right direction - not their own instincts.
Continually checking their progress against the needle pointing north, they eventually arrived safely back at their own shoreline.
The old gentleman relating the story slowly draws a box out of his pocket, opens it, revealing the original compass used in his tale; a sixty year old reminder of the meaning of "trust."
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5,6

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


By Marie Tschopp

Scripture reading:  Mark 5:24b-34

Have you ever wanted something so badly, you were willing to do anything to get it? 


Florence* did.  For twelve years her menstrual bleeding wouldn’t stop.  In Biblical times, women on their periods were considered unclean—just like lepers.  Florence was not allowed to touch anyone, and no one was allowed to touch her.  Her husband most likely divorced her long ago.  If she had children, she couldn’t hold them, kiss them goodnight, or wipe away their tears.  Friends probably pointed fingers and whispered cruelties about a sexual sin causing her condition.


Florence went to several doctors who took her money, abused her body, and stole her hope.


The slow dripping of blood took its toll.  Side effects from anemia manifested—pallor, headaches, and heart arrhythmias.  Florence was tired, so very tired.  And desperate.


Then she heard Jesus was down by the lake.  Jesus—the prophet who made the lame walk again, gave sight to the blind, cast out demons, healed lepers, and raised the dead.  She thought, “If I could just touch the hem of his garment, I would be healed!” 


Against Jewish law, Florence elbowed her way through the crowd and, when Jesus was within reach, she stretched out her hand and grasped hold of his robe as if her life depended on it, for it did.   All of a sudden, she felt different.   The bleeding stopped.  Headache, gone!   Her cheeks flushed pink.  Gone was the fatigue, replaced with a surging energy she hadn’t felt in 12 long years.  Florence let go of Jesus’ robe and watched him walk away.   


Suddenly, Jesus stopped and scanned the crowd.  Florence knew he was looking for her.  What was he going to do? 


“Oh, no!” she must have thought.  She broke the law.  Would he take her healing back?  Florence threw herself at Jesus’ feet.  Trembling, she poured out her story. 


In some scripture readings, we hear Jesus call a woman, “Woman.”  Not here.  He called Florence “Daughter.”   After years of being ostracized from her family, Jesus accepted her as part of his own.   He told her that her faith had healed her, and that she should leave in peace and be freed from her suffering.   


Today, Jesus makes the same offer to us—If we are willing to go to him, reach out, and grab hold. 

*Name given by author, not Scripture

Friday, May 11, 2012

Surrounded by Conspiracy

By Kathryn Lang

It IS a conspiracy. The technician that was at the house would neither confirm nor deny it, so I know THEY are out to get me. What are the odds that my main internet connection would go out and when I plugged in my back up air card it was ALSO not working? They planned it that way – I know they did.

I discovered that the THEYs of this world often cause a lot of the chaos that inhabits my world. Listening to my children . . . I am they. So, no matter who your THEY may be or what the conspiracy is that is keeping you from your purpose, there are some things you can do that will get you through.

Tips for Getting Through the Conspiracy and Beyond the Reach of They

- Smile! Nothing throws off the conspirators faster than a smile. The power of the smile will pour through your body and on to anyone that it encounters. Taking the time to smile will break the clouds – even if just for a moment.

- See beyond the moment. Not getting on the internet allowed me to focus more time on my family and on editing my novel, RUN (WARNING! Shameless plug . . . RUN will be available in bookstores later this month). I quit looking at the lack of internet access and found the possibilities that it offered.

- Review the situation and adjust for the circumstances. At the end of the day, I got more done that I ever did with the distraction of the internet. Not having the option made me realize that I need to adjust how I utilize that particular tool.

Maybe it was a conspiracy . . . by maybe instead of THEY plotting the annoyance, it was God planning the opportunity. I have found that what some see as a log in the road is often just a redirection down the right path.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Signs of Life

By Nerola (Rolie) Grady

Spring is more than a season.   The earth becomes a quick change artist, revealing its color to a winter starved audience.   It’s that period when we’re surrounded by extravagant beauty if we dare to look.  A time to shed those TV dramas and walk out your own reality show with Jesus.

“Behold, I make ALL things new,” He said.  My challenge is to follow Him around and receive with an open heart.    It began yesterday when errands turned into fun as I watched a young couple stop traffic so a mama duck and her eight babies could cross the road.

Another surprise awaited me that afternoon when I stopped by my neighbor’s house.  She was laying out goods from her mother’s house for a garage sale.  “Make me an offer on anything you like,” she said.  My eyes landed on several sturdy pots and pans.  We quickly settled on a fair price, and I walked home with an answer to prayer…cookware that doesn’t leak!

Can God rejuvenate ordinary routines too?  I wondered while tackling a box of 10-year-old medical bills.  It wasn’t easy to revisit past illnesses while  updating our personal records.  But two hours later, I felt tension leave as old notices disappeared into my paper shredder.  Another step towards freedom.

What about potential crises?   Heavy storms threatened my relatives in northwest Iowa yesterday.  They hunkered down for several hours in the basement.  Thankfully there were no injuries, only anecdotes as my great niece shouted, “Gustnadoes, Mommy, gustnadoes are coming!”

Like first buds, life shows up in small packages.  But given time, it will quickly fill empty spaces and produce a fragrance that is irresistible.  This month I hope you too will be showered with Heaven’s delights….so much that joy replaces any lingering remnants of winter.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Birthmarks & Book Covers: Judging a Book By Its Cover

By Gail P. Smith

In the airport the other day I picked up a copy of a book by an author I really enjoy, Lisa Scottoline.  I read her non-fiction My Nest Isn’t Empty It Just Has More Closet Space last year and really loved it.  I was anxious to try out what she’s more well-known for, her fiction. 

One thing I must remember is that when a book says on the cover “You won’t be able to put this one down,” sometimes, it’s true.  This book grabs you right from the first chapter and doesn’t let go until the end.  I really enjoyed it and if you like a fast-paced, well written action/mystery, you will too.

 But that’s not what I want to talk about today. 

From the first page:
“Melly sat alone at the end of the table, sorting her fruit treats into a disjointed rainbow.  She kept her head down, and her wavy dark blond hair fell into her face, covering the port-wine birthmark on her cheek, a large round blotch like blusher gone haywire.  It’s medical term was nervus flammeus, an angry tangle of blood vessels under the skin, but it was Melly’s own personal bulls’-eye.” 

 I flipped back to the cover and took a closer look at the child in the cover photo.  Hmmm, no birthmark there that I could see.  Certainly not a large one, which is described in another spot in the book as “like a plum.”  This did not set well with me.

I have a tiny bit of experience with birthmarks.  Our first grandchild was born with a very large strawberry mark, hemangioma.  It was not like the character’s birthmark in the story.  Vallarie’s mark was mostly invisible by the time she was five years old.  But for the first few years of her life it was very visible.   I don’t know that she was ever teased but we frequently heard, “What happened to her face?”
That’s when I began to notice that you never see children with birthmarks portrayed in our country's media unless it’s a story about getting rid of the birthmark.

I kept reading Save Me; as I mentioned, it was hard to put down. But as I read, one thought kept nagging at me, “Why didn’t they use a photo of a child with a birthmark on the cover?”

Melly’s birthmark and the reaction of other kids to it is one of the main plot points that set the story in motion. Her family has already left one school to escape bullies. Now she is teased about her face at a new school and it is a pivotal motivation for what happens, plus introducing bullying into the story.  It is not an insignificant part of this intriguing mystery.

Why then, did the publisher choose to use a photo of a child with a perfect face on the cover?  After Lisa Scottoline worked so hard to convey in an entertaining and compassionate way a message against bullying and the value of accepting and appreciating people who may not look exactly like us, wouldn't the cover of such a book be an ideal place to make that point by using a kid who actually had a birthmark, like "Melly"?

Vallarie about 6 months
Maybe the “Mellys” of this world feel self-conscious because even when they are portrayed in a positive light in a book, they still aren’t good enough to grace the cover of that book.  Maybe the kids that bully them have never had a chance to see an imperfect image in a magazine or TV show in our culture that tells kids everywhere that all their value is in how they look.

 Miss Scottoline’s character, Melly, is a gifted, sweet, funny, and compassionate little girl that you can’t help but root for.  It’s as easy to forget she has a mark on her face as it was to forget the mark on our own granddaughter.  I feel it’s a little insulting to Melly and all the thousands of children like her to choose a perfect face for the cover over a realistic one.  After all, how many times have you heard, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

I would never want to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I think the publisher, St. Martin's Griffin, missed a great opportunity to encourage and affirm all those imperfect "Mellys" out there by letting them know they are worthy of a book cover, too. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Hymn Sing

By Marvin Ferguson

The contemporary Christian church muscians were ready to perform. On stage, behind a transparent plastic screen, the drummer parked himself behind a set of drums. Two guitarists stood on each side of a keyboard player. A trio of two ladies and a gentleman held a microphone up close to their mouth. And a lead guitarist greeted a standing room only crowd.

A mixed audience filled every seat in the church. In this music celebration they joined in the singing by reading every word on the big screen, occasionally standing and clapping their hands to the beat of a favorite tune.

The words resonated with old familiar tunes in 21st century America that people identified with in a modern day culture. They call it Contemporary Christian Music.

However, as I sat back in my chair to join in the celebration, my mind flashed back to a recent concert I attended at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It was a Hymn Sing with many old favorites from a by gone era: Nothing But the Blood Of Jesus; His Name is Wonderful; Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus; Great is Thy Faithfulness;  and the lists goes on. We were hoping that the singing would go on all night. Inside that church, safe from the outside dark world, we didn't want to leave.

Like the words in most country music songs, these old time gospel favorites told a story. Each word in the lyrics touched our hearts. And as I looked around the room into the faces of many Christ followers, I sensed a story from each one of them as they shed a tear on a smiling face.