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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Leanna's fav's #6: Unexpectedly Grateful: Becoming a Writer

In celebration of the upcoming first birthday of Lines from Leanna, we are celebrating with Leanna's Favorites this week and the most popular posts of the year next week.  

This is the story of my "writing roots"; it's how I became a writer.

The first meeting of the new Blue Springs Garden Club was tonight. My entire day had been crazy from beginning to end, so, of course, I was late arriving. The speaker had already started and I was trying desperately, but failing miserably, to make an unobtrusive entrance. As I slipped into the room where we were meeting, something on one of the end tables caught my eye. It was a copy of "The Clay Papers", my first book. I smiled and hurried to my seat. "What a kindness to not just remember that book but to display it!" I thought. It felt like a secret blessing from one friend to another. I was thrilled. Remembering all that book meant to me was completely distracting. I'm afraid I missed quite a bit of what the speaker said as I thought about the stories in that book and how I became a writer.

In the mid 90's the internet was still young. People were just beginning to have computers in their homes. It was already clear that much evil would come from this new technology and it seemed like a good idea to reclaim the technology for the Kingdom. I offered a brand new kind of service. It was an email prayer ministry for our church. People signed up and I began by sending out a verse and a little prayer starter. Before I knew it, the sentence was two, and soon became a paragraph. As you can imagine, one paragraph became two and things grew from there. 

Everything changed when I started taking pottery lessons a few years later. I was so moved by the lessons that I would think about them all the way home. As I drove, the lessons began to take shape as little stories. I would type the stories and send them as an "email extra". Pretty soon, I had an entire series. People began to make comments like, "You should put these in a book." That seemed like something that only very super-special people did, but not something that someone as common as me would ever do. 

When the pottery classes ended, I continues to write little stories about my everyday life. Before I knew it, there was a pretty big stack and I couldn't decide what to do with them all, so I started a notebook. You can guess what happened. Of course, I filled that one and started another notebook of little stories.  

Looking back, it makes me laugh. I was going to a Physician Resource Council meeting and, for some crazy reason, I stuffed a manila envelope with stories and slipped it into my suitcase. I wagged that envelope all through the meetings for several days.  In one of those crazy God-orchestrations, Susan Stevens, the editor of Physician magazine came to speak to us and was having lunch with us that last day. I was strongly impressed to give them to her, but thought I would probably die if I did. Finally, I summoned every bit of grit I had and just said I had brought some little stories and wondered if she would take a look. She was so gracious that she made my clumsy approach seem like the most reasonable action I could have taken. I cannot begin to tell you how hard it was to leave that envelope in her hands. It felt like I had cut my heart out and handed it over. Those stories were "me" and I was terrified of what she would say. 

The good news was that she could not critique them until she had read them, so there was no way I would have to face her after she'd gone through the packet. A week or so after I returned home, a letter came that looked very suspicious. I had a feeling it was "the letter". You know, the letter I'd been dreading and longing to receive. It was, indeed, the letter from Susan Stevens. I had to read it over and over to be sure. She said she had loved my stories and she had picked out two years' worth of stories for the magazine. She planned to use one each issue. Two years. I was shocked and thrilled and crying and laughing and astounded. In her letter, she called me a "wonderful writer"! I couldn't even say the words, "I am a writer."  That seemed too mysterious and wonderful to imagine, but a real editor had really said I was a writer, so maybe I really was.   

As you can tell, it turned out that I really was a writer. I wrote for Physician magazine until budget cuts cancelled it. I've written for other magazines, and newspapers, written multiple Bible studies, and finally wrote that book about the pottery lessons. These days, I'm astounded by the frequency and the sheer volume of writing I'm doing. 

What sweet memories that little book on the side table brought back! The thing I'm grateful for today is not just that I've become a writer. I'm thankful for the journey that brought me to this place, all the people who gave me a chance , all the encouraging words along the way, and those precious people who have not only read the words I've written but seen them as valuable. Thank you. 

Leanna's fav's #4: Maggie's Big Adventure

In celebration of the upcoming first birthday of Lines from Leanna, we are celebrating with Leanna's Favorites this week and the most popular posts of the year next week. 

This was such a dramatic event that the story is still precious to me, years later.

Thursday is Maggie's big day.  It's PLAY DAY!  Maggie goes to day camp at the vet's office, and she loves it!  Today, when I dropped her off, the assistant had a little fumble with her collar.  "Oh, don't let Maggie get loose!" the secretary said.  We all had a good laugh, remembering her big adventure. (It wasn't at all funny at the time, though.)

It happened like this...

When my son was in high school, headed to Georgia Tech, I began to worry about how I would manage with the upcoming empty nest.  I did what any sensible middle-aged mama would do.  I went back to work, ran for alderman, and bought a high-maintenance dog.  Maggie is an 11-pound Shih Tzu who thinks she is queen and that everyone should pay homage to her.  She can dance like a ballerina, walk on her hind feet like a lady, sit, shake, high five, stay (sorta), and roll over.  I think she can count to three, but maybe not.  She can also herd cows.  (We happened on that by accident, but it's a story for another time.)

In a stroke of a true silliness, my office manager at the time (who owns Maggie's full sister) and I decided they should have Sister Spa Day.  Maggie and her sister would go to the vet for grooming together.  What fun they would have! Or so we thought.  The first trip went fairly well, but not too long after we started this, the two girls went with Aunt Judy to the vet.  Unfortunately, Aunt Judy opened the van door and Maggie saw her chance.  Did I mention Maggie LOVES to run fast?  Maggie jumped out and started running.  She ran across the street and into a field, where she ran and ran.  Suddenly, she spied another field with trees across yet another street.  This particular street, however, was one of the busiest streets in town and it was the busiest time of day.

That second field was exactly where Maggie wanted to be, so she headed out at top speed, dragging her leash behind her, with Miss Judy and the vet's office employees chasing along, desperate to catch up.  Maggie, who has no idea about cars, darted in front of a car, racing across the street.  The first car slammed on the brakes, stopping exactly on the loose leash.  Maggie gave a giant tug, broke free, and kept going.  She was not letting anything keep her from the next field of fun!  As she scooted across the second lane, oncoming traffic screeched to a halt.  Yep.  You guessed it.  Three car pile-up and Maggie just made it past.  She was still running.  (If you were in one of those cars, please don't tell me.  I'm just glad you were safe and thank you for not hitting my wayward dog!)

Unbelievably, Maggie made it to the second field, where she raced around and into the tree line.  Not another sign of Maggie.  By that time, I had left work to search for my dog.  Before long, patients and their families were out helping me look.  Not a sign of the little scamp.  I looked for her until I finally had to get back to the office, then searched again after work until dark.  I was not at all comforted by the people who stopped by and told me the coyotes would eat her during the night.

It was pretty awful to go home to my empty nest without my Maggie. My mama (who lived with me) was as pitiful as I was.  We were both trying hard not to cry, and doing a poor job of it.  Later that evening, I began to pray for Maggie.  She'd never spent a night outside before.  She'd never been alone before.  I couldn't imagine how scared and lonely she must have been.  Not to mention how I was feeling.  "Lord," I prayed, "Please tell someone how to find Maggie and help them to find her."

The next morning, a friend called to say he and his wife were bringing me a dog.  My first thought was, "Good grief! I only lost my dog yesterday.  I'm not ready for another dog!"  There was something so cheerful about his greeting that I paused and asked, "Which dog?" What sweet words followed!  "Your dog," he said.  "I'm bringing you YOUR dog!"  I could hardly believe my ears!

That morning, he had awakened and had known how to find her.  A former pilot, he used aerial photos to examine the area and found a little shed in the woods.  He and his wife drove there, and she walked down the path, straight to the little shed.  You guessed it! Maggie had spent the night (maybe the entire time) on a mattress on the floor of the shed.  She was waiting to come home! She was stinky from the mattress, but didn't even have leaf litter in her fur.  She was unharmed and she was safe.

To this very day, when I look at my big friend, I always think, "the seeker and saver of dogs."  I will never get over how my prayers were answered when the exact way to find my dog was exactly what he decided to do and exactly how he found her.  He's my hero and the answer to my prayers.  I often wonder if he realized that his plan was divinely inspired.

You know, a lot of energy was expended seeking and saving my lost dog, but there are countless people who have also lost their way.  For one reason or another, their desire to be free and their need to run have taken them where they never expected to be.  There is One who came to seek and to save the lost, and those lost ones are a high priority for Him.  The good news is that there is a plan to find them, and we are the hands and feet to carry it out.

Perhaps you are the very one who will seek and bring to safety a lost soul.  How can that happen?  When you know what needs to be done, do it.  Just do it.  That's what my hero did.  He saw a need, recognized a solution, and did what it took to get the job done.  Returning a lost dog is a wonderful thing.  Returning a lost soul... now that is priceless.

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Leanna's fav's #2: Lesson of the Fig Tree

In celebration of the upcoming first birthday of Lines from Leanna, we are celebrating with Leanna's Favorites this week and the most popular posts of the year next week.  I had such a hard time picking the posts that had meant the most to me that I'm posting my favorite devotionals in the morning and the stories that mean the most to me in the evening.

This was the first-ever post for the new blog. It was exciting, frightening, and the "one" that started it all.
What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.” (Luke 3:9 MSG)

The fig tree at my home has been there for decades. When I first moved there, it bore a few figs, but gradually the yield was less and less. After a few years, there was essentially no yield at all. As the fig count waned, my frustration with the tree grew. Nothing I did helped it. Finally, I just cut it down, nearly to the ground. Imagine my surprise a few years later when Sam, my farm worker, said, "Hey, have you seen that tree you cut down? It's loaded with figs!"

I am not an expert on trees, but it seemed clear to me that all the non-productive parts of that tree needed to go. A severe pruning (to the ground) saved it.

It's easy for us to allow dead wood to accumulate in our lives, isn't it? It's not so much that it looks dead as that its non-productive. When I prune, I lop off the branches that look diseased, but also the ones that don't bear fruit. In our lives, it's not just the sin and hurt (diseased branches) that need to go. Those things in our lives that do not make us more like Jesus or demonstrate the love of Christ to a lost and dying world may need to go too.

Just about anything can be deadwood in our lives. I have a friend who says she didn't have time for Bible study until one day she realized how much time she spent reading the newspaper every morning. When she stopped beginning her day with the news and started it with the Good News through Bible study, she found she had plenty of time for God, and now has a life that bears much fruit for him.

Just about anything can end up being deadwood because it keeps us from doing what Christ intended. Internet browsing, Pinterest, Facebook, shopping can all be good things. They can also be time-stealers that keep us from something better.

What is the deadwood in your life? Take a serious look at your life today and at all the activities you include. Does it make you more like Jesus? Does it demonstrate Christ to a world that is perishing? If not, it's time for some pruning. Choose today to have a life that is "green and blossoming", then do whatever it takes to get there.

Pray today for pruning that yields a tremendous harvest, both in our lives and that of our loved ones.

(c) Leanna Hollis 2013

Leanna's fav's #5: Yeast: Least in the Kingdom

In celebration of the upcoming first birthday of Lines from Leanna, we are celebrating with Leanna's Favorites this week and the most popular posts of the year next week.  

And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. (Luke 5:37 KJV)

Grapes are just grapes until they come into close contact with yeast. With just the right conditions, grapes can be transformed and preserved because of the interaction with a single-celled organism that is usually only 3-4 microns in diameter! For those who don't like metric, that 4 microns equals 0.00015748 inches. That's mighty small!

The super-tiny yeast can make a super-large effect that has an amazing result. Being LARGE is not necessary. In fact, Scripture tells us God is fond of using "the least". Bethlehem was the least town in Judah, yet it was the birthplace of our Savior. The least part of Peter's shadow healed the sick. The apostle Paul described himself as "the least of the apostles", yet he carried the gospel literally throughout his world. Jesus, when He allowed the children to come to Him, said, "...he that is least among you all, the same shall be great." (Luke 9:48 KJV)

It's true. The least likely instruments are often the most powerful and effective in the hands of the Master. The simplest, most humble person, in the hands of Christ, can be used to change the world. God takes delight in the unlikely - people like you and me.  

Do you feel tiny and insignificant? Good! God can use you mightily! Does it seem that you have nothing to use in the Kingdom? If God can take a single-called organism and transform a vat of grapes into vintage wine that will have a richer flavor as the years go by, He can use you to make a difference in your world! 

Today, pray that God will use us, as the least likely, to make a great difference in the world. Pray, too, that He will bring truth to our loved ones in the least likely of ways and using the least likely of messengers. Pray that unexpected truth will yield that much-anticipated redemption for which we yearn. 
Link to last night's fav:

Leanna's favs #3: Waiting that's Worth It

In celebration of the upcoming first birthday of Lines from Leanna, we are celebrating with Leanna's Favorites this week and the most popular posts of the year next week.  

Seeing their faith, He said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you." (Luke 5:20 NASB)

Let's put ourselves in the place of these four men for a moment. They had watched the man on the stretcher from the time his paralysis began, hoping he would improve. They were clearly trying to help, so they had likely helped him throughout his illness. When they heard about Jesus, a little seed of hope had begun to grow. When they heard he would be teaching in Capernaum, hope emerged full grown. I don't suppose they were worried about his sins being forgiven. They had sacrifices for that. What they were hoping for was physical healing. 

Their hoping became action when they gathered up that stretcher-bed and carried him to Jesus. After the near-miss of the crowded doorway and the excitement of the rooftop entrance, their expectation must have been astronomical. They were looking to Jesus to see what He would do.  

Jesus did they last thing they were expecting. He forgave the man's sin, then got into a heated discussion with the Pharisees. They must have been thinking, "Wait a minute!! What about his paralysis? He still can't move!"  Just for a moment, they must have grumbled, "A lot of good it did to bring him to Jesus!"

They grumbled because all they knew of their story was the events of verses 19 and 20. They could not see what would happen by the time verses 24 and 25 rolled around. They only saw part of the story.  The part they were seeking was just around the corner. 

What if they had said, "If that's all you are going to do, Jesus, we are out of here!"?  It's likely there would have been no healing for their friend that day. It may have been surprise or some experience with the ways of Jesus, but for whatever reason, they all held still and waited. As they waited, it became clear that Jesus had never lost sight of the paralyzed man. Jesus had planned to heal all along, but He would use the healing to demonstrate His authority and the power of God within Him to all those gathered. 

Imagine the joy of those men as their disappointment proved temporary! Jesus did heal! They would not be carrying  a stretcher back home that day. Their friend was jumping and laughing with great joy. They all were!

Perhaps you have waited for God to move for such a long time. Maybe it seems He has done everything except what you have asked Him to do for your loved one. It could be that you have "a few more verses to go".  Maybe He wants to accomplish a greater purpose and a more complete victory. Don't give up hope, dear ones. Hold firm until all the healing is done. 

Pray today that we will persevere until every one of our loved ones has experienced the healing only Jesus can bring.  
Link to last night's fav:

Leanna's Favs, #1: The Blazing Fire

In celebration of the upcoming first birthday of Lines from Leanna, we are celebrating with Leanna's Favorites this week and the most popular posts of the year next week.  I had such a hard time picking the posts that had meant the most to me that I'm posting my favorite devotionals in the morning and the stories that mean the most to me in the evening.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I've enjoyed writing them and selecting them.

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?” But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.” (Luke 3:15-16 MSG)

What a word picture! Despite all the years of waiting, the people were still anticipating their Messiah and were wondering about John. "Maybe he's the one," they thought. John did not give those rumors time to get started. "Nope. Not me," he said. He went on to tell them a little about Jesus. I wonder what they thought when he spoke about baptism by fire. It is such a vivid idea in my mind. A blazing fire and somehow being lowered into it but emerging (hopefully) unscathed. It brings Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to mind.

When John explained his metaphor, he painted a beautiful picture, didn't he? The idea of igniting implies that the tender is ready and the fire is laid. Jesus is coming, John explained, to ignite the fire in our hearts with the Holy Spirit. It will give us "kingdom of God life" in our hearts and change us completely. We will be fresh and new. Here's the wonderful part that would be easy to miss: the Holy Spirit is coming to stay, to live within our hearts, and Kingdom life (the life God desires for us) is available permanently.

The pilgrims who walked the Emmaus road with Jesus described the experience with these words, "Our hearts were strangely warmed". In the presence of Jesus, that fire of the Holy Spirit burned within them and made them different.

The fire is laid in our hearts, the tender is ready. How bright is that Holy Spirit blaze? Are we keeping the fire stoked with Bible study and obedience to the commands of our Lord? What a wonderful thing it is to be cleansed, changed, warmed by the fire of His love!

Pray today that we would keep the fire burning bright with our faithfulness and that our loved ones will see that fire in us and want it for themselves.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Waiting on Jesus, part 24: monuments to the miracle of grace.

He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Child, arise!" And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat. (Luke 8:54-55 NASB)

To Jesus, that dramatic miracle of healing was one part of a day filled with miracles. That little girl was equally as important, equally as precious as all the other people who received miracles that day. She was as important to Jesus as Jairus and his wife. 

To Jairus and his wife, however, that two-word miracle of "Child, arise!" was the most amazing and important thing they had heard in their entire lives. When Jesus took their hopelessly dead daughter by the hand and helped her to sit up, restored, everything in their world changed. Their understanding of God, of Jesus changed. For the first time in their lives, they knew the Almighty. God had invaded their home and their hearts and turned everything right side up. 

Their miracle of grace was more than having their daughter restored. The God they had worshipped and to whom they had sacrificed all their lives knew their names, cared about their heartaches, and was willing to do the impossible for them. From that day forth, every time they looked at their daughter, they experienced that miracle all over again. Her life was a monument to the miracle of grace she and her parents had received. 

We, too, were condemned to death by our sin and given new life through the blood of Christ. We, too, should be monuments to that miracle of grace. Our lives should reflect the grace and glory of God in such a way that all who see us will be utterly amazed at what God has done in our lives.  As we face the trials of life, even the utterly hopeless moments of life,  the evidence of grace and the hope we have in our Lord should be clearly visible to those around us. We should stand as a road sign, pointing the way to God. We should serve as evidence of the power of God, but do we?

Selah. Pause and consider. 

If people look to us for the evidence of God at work, what do they see?  Can they find enough evidence to support a decision to believe?  We may be the only true disciple of Christ some people will ever know. Are we a monument of the grace of God for them?

Pray today that the evidence of God's grace in our lives will be so clear that our loved ones, as well as those with whom we have contact, will be drawn to Christ by what they see in us.  
Link to last night's post is here: I got a little side tracked on Friday Night with Friends. Instead, here's a little story about my daily fig. "It wasn't long before I walked to the barn one morning, paused at the fig tree, and thought, "Give me this day my daily fig.""...