When We Pray

its-just-8When I was in first grade my friend Stephanie was diagnosed with a rare disease. Now, I don’t remember what it was called, but I know that at the time I didn’t realize how serious it was. I remember, though, that she had to undergo bone marrow transplants and that she had more than a few close calls.

She’d missed a lot of school in first grade. If memory serves, we sent her handmade cards to cheer her up and prayed for her during class (I attended a Christian school). I missed her, though. Stephanie was always pure sunshine. She always had a beautiful smile on her face and her dark eyes were kind.

Our teacher told us one day that Stephanie would come for a visit. A brief one, but still, she was coming. We planned a bit of a party. We all looked forward to seeing her.

But as the day neared, we learned that Stephanie might not come after all. That she wasn’t well, not strong enough for the visit. I was so disappointed. I sat at my spot at the work table and asked God to please let Stephanie come. I prayed every day that she’d be all right. And I prayed that she’d be able to be at our party.

That is the first concrete answer to prayer that I remember.

I’ve prayed for Stephanie many, many times since then. God has blessed her life by letting her beat all the odds. She’s doing well, sharing her pure sunshine and beautiful smile with everyone around her.

Stephanie was my first answer to prayer.

I could list for you hundreds and hundreds of answered prayers I’ve experienced since then.

My brother-in-law and his family raising enough money for him to receive a radical treatment for his M.S.

Winning the heart of the man who would become my most excellent husband. 

The gentle passing of someone I loved.

When I think over the times when God has answered my prayers and the prayers of others, I am reminded of one very important truth:

God listens.

And even when those answers are vastly different than I would have expected, I still have reason to be grateful. Because God is el roi. The God who sees me. Who knows me. Who hears and acts in my life and in the lives of others.

God listens.

Prayer matters.

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My good friend Amelia recently released a book called Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray img_20161126_115325.jpgfor your Community. As I read through the Scripture verses and the prayer prompts, I was reminded of all the times God has honored my prayers and I was moved to joy and thanksgiving.

I would LOVE to share that joy with one of you. I’m giving away one copy of Pray A to Z. All you have to do to enter this give away is comment below. I’d love for you to share a time when you saw prayer answered in your life. Let’s use this to encourage and lift up one another!

I’ll draw a winner next Monday (12/5/16).

*Please note: This giveaway is only for those living in the continental United States.

If you can be anything be a peacemaker

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I spent the weekend deep in fever and soaked in herbal tea. What resulted was a small thought about making peace. After several attempts at writing them down, the best I could do was this feeble effort at a poem. Still, it’s a look into my heart for this uneven and heated election season. This is a sort of love poem for those who claim Jesus. I hope you feel my love and hope in these small thoughts.

If you can be anything
Be a peacemaker.

Make peace
The way your great-aunt
Made chocolate pies.
Light and sweet.

Make peace
The way your grandpa
Made rocking horses.
Strong and sturdy.

Make peace
The way your child
Makes birthday cards.
Shiny and pure.

Make peace
The way your God
Makes each day.
New and lovely.

If you can be anything
Be a peacemaker.
And you will be called
Children of God.

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A Rare Gift

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A few weeks ago my husband took me to the symphony. The man knows how music feeds my soul. He’s good to me.

That night we were to hear a whole lot from Mozart, a French horn concerto by Rosetti, and a cello concerto by Boccherini.

They had me at cello (get it? See what I did there?).

I love Mozart. I do. And these pieces were bouncy, delightful. I couldn’t help but smile all through his pieces. The Rossetti piece was also lovely, the French horns were flawless, soulful.

But it was the Boccherini concerto for cello. That was the winner of the night.

The cello soloist (Daniel Hass) stepped onto the stage carrying his cello like it was just another part of him. He wasn’t awkward in carrying it like I would be. It was as if lugging around an instrument that was half his height and double his width was the most natural thing in all the world.

He was young. Like, half-my-age young. The age of my nephew young.

He played to perfection. He held back nothing, putting in all his power and emotion and energy. He played as if his whole life were leading to him playing that music for that audience on that night.

He gave us a gift.

I wanted to jump up on that stage and grab his 19 year old face into my hands. I wanted to look him in the eye and say, “You are a rare gift to the world. Don’t squander this.”

But I didn’t want to be 1. creepy, or 2. kicked out of the symphony.

Thank goodness for having learned restraint.

Since that night I’ve been thinking a whole lot about rare gifts. Among us are painters and teachers and writers and accountants. There be gardeners and cooks and housekeepers and singers. Those who are natural hosts and encouragers and jokesters.

We are a varied bunch, humans.

And I think of what we offer as if our whole lives were leading up to this moment, this day, this happening.

We give each other gifts when we smile or help out or write a poem.

I want to take your hands in mine and look you right in the eye and tell you, “You are a rare gift to the world. Don’t squander this”.

You are a gift. Give freely and with much love.

You are a gift.

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Reluctant voters, less than sparkly candidates, and the Kingdom of God

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Let’s have a bit of a sit down. Is that all right with you?

These are wild times, wouldn’t you agree? We’ve got a nation of reluctant voters trying to decide between two candidates that aren’t so sparkly. On the daily I read article titles and status updates that smack of the-sky-is-falling.

It’s enough to get my anxious little heart all fluttery with worry over tomorrow, the next four years, the next thirty years.

Hm.

Shoot.

Jesus definitely has something to say about worrying about the future, right? Don’t worry about tomorrow…today’s got enough trouble of its own. 

Friends, can we leave off staking our lives on this election? It’s not good for us. It’s junk food for the soul. It’s a distraction from what we’re to be about.

Should we be informed? Heck yes! Obsessed? NO WAY! And it’s getting far too easy to be fixated on what he/she said or what emails were released or how he said this or that horrible thing.

And can we pretty please stop breaking relationships over it? I’m tired of reading status updates which invite people who disagree to “unfriend” them. The other day I read a status that read, “I will never, ever be friends with anyone who votes for Hillary”.

And that was from a Christian woman.

Have we completely forgotten who we are?

Before we bear the title of American, we have so many other names.

Beloved of God. Child of the Most High. Follower of Christ. Dearly adored. Image bearer.

And before our citizenship was in this nation (or any other if you’re visiting this blog from outside the U.S. … by the way, HI!) we have a home first in the Kingdom of God.

Ahead of president or governor or mayor or senator, we are under the reign of The Creator. He is our King, our Lord, our Savior.

Our only savior.

Sunday morning as I drove to church in the wee, pre-sunrise for worship band practice I felt cynicism creeping its way into my heart. I shook my head and prayed that it would go away. It’s not natural for me, cynicism isn’t. It aches, drags me down, makes me despair.

“I don’t want that for my heart,” I prayed.

I went inside the church building, rehearsed for the morning services and caught my breath. Sometimes it’s just nice to refocus the heart.

But then during the service, I caught the words of a few of the songs.

One name is higher, One name is stronger than any than any grave, than any throne, Christ exalted over all…

Jesus, You have rescued us…”

“The only king who reigns forever, who is like our God?”

And then this stanza from a hymn I have dearly loved since I was a little girl:

“This is my Father’s world, oh let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the Ruler yet.”

Peace. Comfort. Relief.

We are God’s dearly loved. His glory is found in red-orange-yellow leafed trees and in the smiling face of someone we love. He is mighty to save, to transform, to forgive. His mercy is new every single day. He has but to speak and His creative work is made. He breathes life into us and comforts us in our suffering.

He knows who will win this election. He knows what will happen in reaction to it. And, know this, He is making all things work together for our good and for His glory. 

Don’t worry about tomorrow. He holds the moon and stars and our hearts in His hand.

They’re gentle, His hands, and full of healing for His kids.

We are His.

And we are loved so much that our hearts could burst.

Let’s love each other.

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It’s Just Words

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If you watched the presidential debates last night you may have witnessed a few odd things.

First, how awkward it is that they’re allowed to roam around the stage. As my grandma always said when I paced, SIT DOWN! You’re making me nervous!

Second, what was with the disposable cameras? I mean, it’s going to cost a hundred dollars to develop the film from just one of them. What is this? 1999?

Ahem.

Anyway, you might have also noticed the words, words, words, words of the debate. So many words. Threats and insults and accusations. They bopped from one to another.

All the words.

After a certain amount of time was spent on the 11 year old words of a certain candidate, said candidate asserted that “It’s just words”.

Hm. Interesting.

I pondered his comment, letting it settle into my mind.

It’s just words.

What’s the harm in words?

They don’t mean anything, these words.

They have no power.

It’s just words.

Now, not only is that the world’s worst poem, it’s also false. To say that words are impotent is to err. Words hold power, meaning, depth. They have the ability to speak life and death.

And the words on that tape? They’re ugly, terrifying, bad. And, just to be fair, words from the other candidate have been damaging as well. The words each has used have divided, manipulated, deceived.

What each have said in their lives have put a strangle hold on this country and even through the world.

It’s just words.

And words can and have changed the world. For good and bad.

This past weekend I was at Breathe, a Christian writer’s conference in Grand Rapids (I’m on the planning committee and love it deeply). If there’s one thing all those at the conference could agree upon it’s that words matter.

All weekend I tuned my ear to eavesdrop on the conversations around me. This is a sampling of what I heard:

“I think your writing is important, don’t quit.”

“I am SO GLAD I met you.”

“You’re doing a great job.”

“God is doing amazing things in your life.”

And on and on.

It’s just words.

But those words built up, inspired, encouraged. Those words served as a liturgy to weary writers who may have been discouraged and afraid. Those words worked as a balm to their souls.

It’s just words.

But those words weigh much more than we often recognize.

It’s just words.

So choose them well.

It’s just words.

Yeah, but words spoke the world into being. Raised the dead to life. Spoke forgiveness and grace and love.

It’s just words.

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Mr. Fuzzington — Inspired by Robyn Orme

So, I’m sorry I’ve not blogged in a long time. I’ve been busy getting things ready for the Breathe Christian Writers Conference this weekend. Ironically, I’ll be presenting on blogging. Ahem.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this story that I wrote 5 years ago during a short story challenge I did. If you’re looking for a heartwarming story, this ain’t it. But if you need a little giggle to get you through this crazy day, this might do the trick.

I hope you enjoy it!

Susie Finkbeiner

Today’s story is inspired by Robyn Orme. Robyn works at Great Lakes Christian College. Here’s her story idea…

9 year old dog. Modern American home. The child he has loved and cared for is leaving for college in another state.

Mr. Fuzzington

Okay, first of all, I hate my name. When this lame brain family adopted me my name was Marco. Mysterious, handsome, exotic Marco. But no.

“I can’t call this cute little puppy Marco,” the mother of the family said. “That name’s just too grown up for him.”

Uh. Hello. She didn’t think I was going to grow up? Now I’m the butt of all the canine jokes in the neighborhood. I can barely go outside to do my “business” without hearing the neighbors bark “Mr. Fuzzington, you sure are Fuzzy.”

Now, I know, it’s a pretty dumb rip. But you try pooping when someone’s calling you Fuzzy. You…

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The Work of Your Hands

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It doesn’t get old, cutting the strip of tape on the box and pulling up the flaps, scrunching up the layer of packing paper off the top to reveal stacks of your book.

Your book.

The one you cried over, stressed over, almost gave up on but didn’t. Careful as can be, you wrap your fingers around the spine of one and lift it up. The cover is even more beautiful than it looked in the email the publisher sent, the texture is more pleasing. Without thinking, you hold the book against your heart, embracing the story that came from such a depth in you.

There’s nothing like it, holding your story. The work of your hands.

My friend and fellow author Jennifer Lamont Leo recently opened the box containing her first published novel.

Untitled design (12) You’re the Cream in My Coffee (which released on Thursday) is a purely delightful book. I should know, I had the pleasure and honor of endorsing it. I do believe that you, dear friend, would very much enjoy it.

When I saw this picture of Jennifer on Facebook, I got all misty eyed, thinking of how she must be feeling. The absolute and dizzying joy, the relief, the excitement. I mean, look at her face! Can’t you feel her delight?

I know I can. And it makes me so very happy for her.

I don’t know what your “thing” is. Maybe it’s running marathons or knitting baby blankets. Perhaps you’re a musician or an accountant or a web designer or a poet. Whatever it is  you do, I hope there are moments of joy in the doing.

Sure, there are moments which find you with head on desk and a heart full of doubts. There are times when you feel the exact opposite of joy. You probably feel worn down to the core some days.

But I hope there are other days when you look at the work of your hands and marvel. Not so much at what you have created. More at what a pleasure it is to have that work to do. Because it was work given to you by the One who crafted you in His hand.

And when you sit in awe, holding the work of your hands, remember this:

When the Creator, the Father God formed you, I have no doubt that He held you and felt the joy of having you as His own.

He delighted in the work of His hands.

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Jennifer has very generously provided a give-away of her debut novel You’re the Cream in My Coffee! Just complete the action steps in the Rafflecopter link to get more entries into the drawing. I’ll announce the winner next week! Feel free to share this post so your friends can enter, too! 

NOTE: This giveaway is only for those living in United States. If you happen to live outside the US of A, the ebook version is just $1.99. Thanks for understanding.

Click here to enter! a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Remember This

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We went for one last swim in the river the night before school started. The kids ran into the water at top speed, tripping over their own feet and falling into clumsy dives, splashing for all they were worth.

They did underwater headstands and skipped stones (which ended up being more like plunking them out into the middle of the river). They competed in swimming races and built wonders out of wet sand.

I stood, waist deep, watching all they were doing. I felt like Mary, pondering and collecting in my heart that which these children of mine do.

“Mom! Watch this!”

“Did you see that?”

“Look what I found!”

I watched, I saw, I looked. And I told myself over and over, “Remember this, remember this, remember this”.

Remember the hike through the woods where we found the baby snakes and the bright green frog. And even remember the bee stings and the hugs and kisses that followed.

Remember the trip to Wisconsin where we ate lunch overlooking the polar bears and the way your girl’s eyes grew round at the opportunity. Remember the museums and the walks and the gardens. And remember how the boys still hold your hand because they want to be near.

Remember the books read together. New ones and classics. Remember the talks you had after reading, the lessons you all learned together about what it means to be human and family and friends.

Remember this. Remember this. Remember this.

And don’t forget the sweetness of being told you’re loved by a sincere eight year old. Remember the way you marvel at your (nearly) ten year old’s courage. Soak into your memory the way your children speak of Jesus with such assurance and confidence.

And commit to memory how really, really good life can be even in the noise of our culture and the tugging at our attention. Even in tragedy and pain, an edge of beauty often contrasts with the darkness. Sometimes that lovely edge is made of the memories of  long snuggles and shared giggles.

Remember this.

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Grandma Moses, Late Starts, and Joy in the Work

SusieFinkbeiner.com

The other day my family and I visited the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin. We saw art from Bouguereau, Picasso, Calder, and ancient pottery and coins from Rome.

We also saw quite a few nudes which caused one of my 8 year old boys to declare that the art museum was a “plaza of nightmares”.

Ah, buddy.

On a mission to avoid a room with life sized naked lady statues in a circle, I lead the kids to a dim hallway lined with paintings. We looked at each and discussed the materials used, the era in which it was created, the style.

Then I turned and gasped. There in front of me was a painting by an artist I greatly admire. MTE1ODA0OTcxNzMxOTQ0OTcz

Grandma Moses. (Can we just take a moment to reflect on how adorable she is?)

It’s not her work that I admire so much. I like her paintings just fine, but her craft isn’t what endears her to me. It’s her story and her words that make me love her.

Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78 years old.

Let that sink in a minute. 78 years old.

And she became one of America’s most famous folk artists.

Do you want to know what she said about her late-found art?

“If I hadn’t started painting, I would have raised chickens.”

Seriously. Adorable, right?

I wonder if she’d have found as much satisfaction in the raising of chickens as she did in the painting. Part of me thinks she may have found pleasure in work, whether it be spreading feed or paint.

Soon my lazy and restful summer will end, school will begin and so will my new novel. My mornings will be a rush of getting kids ready for the day and out the door and dropped off at school where they’ll work hard at learning. While they’re gone, I’ll be tapping away at my keyboard, creating a story. Then, afternoon will be me getting the kids, helping them with homework, making dinner, cleaning (maybe), getting them to bed, and working on the novel while they’re asleep.

So. Much. Work.

But I intend to find joy in it. Satisfaction. Pleasure. At the end of each day I want to shut my eyes with the knowledge that I did my best and with the hope that I brought Glory to my Creator even if in a small and imperfect way. If for some reason I can’t see that in the day I spent, I have the hope of a fresh start in the morning.

And, like Grandma Moses, as the years go I hope to be able to say,

“I look back on my life like a good day’s work, it was done and I am satisfied with it.”

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Permission to Rest

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The plan was to start writing the first draft of a novel this summer. I’d write hard and fast so that, by fall, I’d be able to get to editing. I felt the stress and pressure of needing to get going on this book, due March 1.

The plan was to go full boar.

But here I am, summer nearly spent, and I’ve not written more than a chapter of the book.

You know what? I’m okay with that. I feel good about that.

In these months of rest I’ve had the leisure to spend long afternoons reading with my kids. I’ve had luxurious jaunts through the sprinkler and rides on the swings. Time has been free and easy, just right for spontaneous get togethers with friends or long conversations with my daughter. We’ve enjoyed swims in the lake and  fireworks and baseball games.

And I’ve not been the slightest bit rushed to get back to the writing. I’ve not been in a hurry. I’ve not felt anxious.

I’ve given myself permission to rest.

In just a few weeks I’ll get back to writing (once the kids are in school). On September 6 I’ll get up early (yowch), drop the kids off at school (sigh), and find a quiet place to tap away on A Song of Home, the last novel in the Pearl Spence series. I’ll work hard, hard, hard to get the story down and right and to do it justice. I’ll have to say “no” a lot and ignore social media a little. I’ll be all in.

But not now. Now is a time for me to breathe easy, to let this story grow in my dreams and my heart before it gets hurled on the page.

Now is a time of rest.

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How about you? When have you had a time of rest? What is it you do to relax and breathe? I’d love to hear from you. It’s been so long! Seven months have flown by without a Susie blog here. Thank you for allowing me time to let this field lay fallow. I told myself that I wouldn’t start blogging again until I missed it. Well, here we are. I’ll be blogging here on Mondays and will start posting video blogs on YouTube soon. 

 

 

A letter to my 19 year old self

Hey, Happy Birthday.

You’re me half a lifetime ago. I’m 38 now. It seems old to you, I know. But it’s gone by in a snap for me.

So much happens to you before you become me. You have a lot of really great days. You accomplish quite a few things. You fail more than you succeed (believe me, one day you’ll be okay with it). There are more than a few surprises coming your way (both good and bad).

Right now the world seems wide open to you. Your dreams are big, huge, multi-colored beauties. You dream audaciously.

Most of those dreams will fall away. It will hurt when they go, but they have to in order for other dreams to rise to the surface.

Don’t be afraid to let go. It frees up your heart and your hands for what’s coming.

I remember our 19th birthday. You think you have life pretty well figured out. You’re set. All you can see if happiness.

I hate to tell you this, but you’re in for a rough couple years. There will be days when you feel completely alone. On those days, remember that you are loved. You’ll think that God is done with you. He isn’t. Oh, trust me. He isn’t. You’ll wonder if you’re strong enough to forgive. You are, but you’ll need to keep remembering Jesus as you forgive not once or twice but over and over again.

You’re going to mess up some. You’ll do stupid things. Say hurtful words. Damage relationships. You won’t just stumble. You’ll full on topple end over end.

Nope. I can’t tell you what choices you shouldn’t make. I won’t tell you who to avoid. You have to go through all of that to become me.

What I can say is this: Remember grace.

Remember grace.

Oh. And I will tell you another thing. Buy stock in L’Oreal. You’ll be buying enough hair dye in the future to keep that company thriving.

Enjoy being young. It doesn’t last long.

Don’t dread 30. It’s the best decade yet.

Stop hating your body. Life is far more than jean size and smooth skin.

Don’t listen when someone tells you you’re too sensitive. Sensitivity is your super power.

Keep your heart open to love.

And remember grace.

Starbucks, Hard and Fast Work, Chatty Friends

IMG_20131022_125932I showed up at Starbucks for my dose of caffeine. My intention was to start working, hard and fast, first thing. 8:00 am on a Monday morning.

It was going to set the frantic pace for this week.

And I was going to start with a wonderfully profound blog post.

But then a few friends walked in.

They sat at the table next to me, letting me do a few things while we chatted.

We caught up, talked about our weekends, what sermon we heard at church, talked about watermelon (yes, really…watermelon).

Now it’s 9:11 am and I’m just starting to get to work.

But I don’t feel anxious about it. Not one bit. In fact, I realize how much I needed that hour to gab with a few of my friends.

I’m choosing to give myself a little grace. I’m choosing to see the slower-than-expected start as a gift. I’m deciding to be grateful for how this morning turned out to be different than I expected.

Sometimes we need to allow for a breather. Especially at the beginning of the week.

I hope you find a chance for a breath today. Sometimes when we get so caught up in our busy-ness we forget to live.

 

 

 

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