Saturday, December 30, 2017

Facing a Storm and Remembering My Source of Help and Strength

When Sam died in early November, I knew the coming days would be different, and dreaded the first holidays. He'd been a part of every celebration and had joined my family for coffee and a piece of pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving and Christmas since 1989. It was one of our traditions.

This year, we skipped the pie. Ryan and I ate chocolate cake, and drank milk with our dessert instead of coffee. We didn't want to erase the previous years, but we needed to make fresh memories, and we did. 

Our ears still listened for Sam's footsteps on the stoop, but we treasured the reminiscences and talked about the good times. Being without Sam wasn't as hard as I'd expected because the memories are sweet.

I dreaded the first winter and the first cold snap with single digit temperatures, too. I wasn't sure I could manage all the farm work and preventive maintenance without him. As it's turned out, I learned more from Sam than I realized, and, so far, I've handled every challenge. 

Although I've had livestock for nearly thirty years, I've never taken care of "everything" without either Sam or Ryan. Even last year, as his health failed, Sam participated in as much as he could.

I've missed the strong arms that lifted bags of feed out of the truck, carried hay bales, shepherded horses. I've missed Sam as resource to answer questions and reassure me of my competence. For the last eight days, Ryan's been home, and he's done the heavy lifting. Today, he'll return to Atlanta and his routine and I'll be on my own again. 

Single digit temperatures are almost here and the horses will need extra care. For a few minutes last night, panic threatened and soft grief was nearly overshadowed by hard, gripping fear. 

What if the water lines froze? 

What if the horses don't cooperate with the plan? 

What if ... 

I imagined all the possible problems, but I couldn't see many potential solutions. I prayed and pondered, but I still fretted.

Ryan just smiled and hugged me. "You'll be fine, Mama. We'll get it all set up before I leave." 

I awakened early today. Last night's concerns threatened again. This morning, however, I remembered two verses I learned as a child:

"What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee." Psalm 56:3 kjv

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 nasb

Duh. If God is with me, and He is, why should I fear? If He will give me all the wisdom I need, and, according to James 1:5, He will, why should I fret? It's time to trade fretting for faith and fear for courage. 

This morning, that's exactly what I've done. I've stopped rehearsing my fear and started embracing the wisdom and help that's promised. I've remembered my resources and the One who's provided them all. I've chosen trust and faith.

Regardless of the circumstances that come our way, we don't face them alone. We don't have to manufacture solutions. Our God stands ready to help, so let's be sure to put our trust where we say our faith is. 

Today, Ryan and I will make our morning trek to the barn, as always. We'll check our supplies, pick up anything that's needed from the farm store, and go about our routine. Before we're done, we'll be ready for the weather to come. It won't be because I'm competent for the challenge. It'll be because God can handle whatever comes our way, including single-digit weather. 

He is able. Especially in a storm. 

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Intentionality: Changing Wanna Be into Got'er Done

My word for 2018 is INTENTIONAL. It's my first-ever "word of the year," and there's good reason for my choice. Stated goals are great, but they'll never be achieved without an intentional effort to reach them. describes intentional as something "done with intention or on purpose." An intentional act is a deliberate one done with a specific goal in mind. 

The last two years of caregiving took quite a toll on my lifestyle, including diet and exercise. I gained more than 20 pounds. That wasn't the fault of the care-receiver, of course, but cooking one meal was easier than separate meals for each of us. After a while, I cooked what Sam would eat and ate that, too. I realized at the time it was a bad idea, but I wasn't deliberate about making a better choice. 

In 2018, I want to be intentional about healthy diet and exercise choices, with the hope that weight loss will follow. Those twenty extra pounds have to go, plus a few more.

Over the last year, I did what had to be done. Time with family and friends, as well as recreation, took a back seat. It was a precious time and I'm grateful for it, but it was also lonely and hard. As in all caregiving, breaks were few and far between.

In 2018, I hope to be intentional about rest, recreation, and (most important) relationships. 

Because I need the accountability, I'll start blogging after the New Year about everything from recipes and healthy living to travel, leisure, and fun. Well, I'll begin as soon as I have a new name for my lifestyle blog. My first five choices were already taken, so feel free to make a suggestion.

The lifestyle blog will be weekly, but Lines from Leanna will continue as a daily faith-based blog. Faith won't be emphasized, but it will underscore everything in the new blog, as well, because faith infuses every area of my life. Isn't that what discipleship mandates?

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the importance of intentionality in matters of discipleship, as well. Do we want a closer relationship with Christ in 2018? Do we want to see God's Hand at work in our lives? To follow His leadership? To embrace His peace, love, joy? If so, we must deliberately choose a walk of faith that includes daily quiet time, Bible study, Scripture memory, and active efforts at forgiveness and love. 

Today, let's take a close look at our lives and the areas we hope will be different in 2018. Have our changes failed to be effective, or have we effectively failed to change? Intentionality is the key that turns "wannabe" into "got'er done." Feel free to adopt my word (intentional) as your own. 

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all the things shall be added to you." Matthew 6:33 nasb
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Thursday, December 28, 2017

How to Set Goals You Can Achieve in the New Year

No matter our age or economic status, we can have a better, more Christ-filled, 2018 than the year just past. Change doesn't come by chance, however, but by choice. If we want greater accomplishment for the Kingdom of God, we must make a plan and stick with it.

People often ask how I "do so much." The answer is simple. I pray about my schedule, prayerfully make a plan, and diligently follow it. There are plenty of "efficiency experts" willing to teach the "how" of organization, but, today, I'm sharing my own personal technique. 

I use a "paper" planner on a daily basis, always with two-page Month-at-a-Glance pages, as well as separate pages for each day. I keep a small sticky-note pad and a pencil in the planner for quick notes and updates. (The pencil allows erasures rather than strike-throughs.)

Everything goes in the planner, including grocery lists, things to do, scheduled meetings and events, and actions I want to be sure to accomplish. Call a friend, mail a letter, even things to ponder go on the calendar. It takes less than five minutes every day, but it yields big rewards over the course of the year.

The planner I used in 2018 was soft-bound and easy to carry. Unfortunately, they aren't available this year, so I've gone back to a brand-name planner/organizer. It's bulky and inconvenient, but has the tools I need. 

I chose to sacrifice the comfort of size for the convenience of tools.

A detailed planner allows me to review the past months and accomplishments, consider changes, and make new plans as I go along. If you don't have one, invest a few dollars in an organization tool that will help you all year long. 

I used my 2017 planner to identify areas on which I'll focus in 2018. First, my digital outreach faltered during the last half of the year. The demands of caregiving were unrelenting, and left little time for social media management or digital expansion efforts. This area is a prime focus for me in early 2018. 

Caregiving also made intense attention to my fiction manuscript nearly impossible because of the constant demands. This year, I'll finish long-overdue edits and fine-tune the story. Because of time constraints, this goes to the top of my to-do list. 

Digital outreach is a significant part of my ministry effort, and fiction is (I hope) a potential revenue source to help fund ministry. (I am peer-to-peer funded, and have to raise all my own support.) These two areas may not sound very "missional," but they make my ministry possible, and are in need of significant attention.

Once I identified my top three concerns for 2018, (ministry, fiction, digital outreach) I considered goals and actions to be completed in order to move from where I am to where I want to be. 


1. Expand digital outreach 
2. Use experiences in Middle East to minster to Middle Easterners living in U.S.
3. Expand prayer ministry and coverage for missionaries 

   - New website should go live in the next few weeks. It will be a one-stop
     experience, and include blogs, e-courses, prayer calendar, upcoming events,
     and opportunities for participation and service. (There'll be a big learning  
     curve for me, but it'll be worth it.)
   - At least one major event for women, in addition to those already scheduled.
   - Renew acquaintances in the Arabic community. 
   - Connect with new Arabic pastor when he arrives and discuss ways to help.
   - Include Global Outreach board members in daily prayer lists.
   - Increase efforts at virtual prayer walks. 

1. Publication of first novel.
2. Monetize writing through blogging.

   - Complete edits on my first novel.
   - Prepare a proposal for my manuscript and turn in to agent.
   - Expand my knowledge about writing and blogging by attending conferences 
      and taking courses online.
   - Start a new blog designed around healthy, fun living with intentional profit-
     making efforts. (ads, affiliate links, etc)

I also include personal and family life in the goals and actions program, as well as the other areas of my daily life. 

If you take a close look, you'll see that my actions include those that can be accomplished quickly (include board members in daily prayer) and those that will require most of a year to accomplish (a major event for women). 

As I tackle each major action, I'll make in-depth to-do lists. For example, to accomplish the edits on my first novel, I'll first need to review my "technique" books, and study two new books on writing. Then, I'll set aside time to work from home, block out my schedule (no meetings or speaking) and write. Each day will have goals and actions of its own.

Not everyone has the same "life areas" as mine. Perhaps your "areas" are Christian discipleship, family, and organization/ clutter-control at home. Write them down, set goals, make lists of actions to be done in each area. 

Use the goals and actions you've listed to make a "to-do" list and schedule it in your planner. Make them realistic. Volunteer with one ministry for a few hours a few times a month rather than overextending. Start small and work toward more. (We can always use help at Global Outreach.) Clean out and organize one drawer a day, in addition to all else you do, rather than try to do an entire room. 

Once you've made your to-do list, get started. Check off each action as you accomplish it, and carry anything undone to the next day. 

Do you want 2018 to look exactly like 2017 or would you like to accomplish more, make a bigger difference in the world, be more like Christ in December than you are in January? If we want a different year, the time to chose it is now.

What's your goal for 2018? What actions will you take? 

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans." Proverbs 16:3 niv
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In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Choosing Our Legacy: Why a Look Back at 2017 Matters for 2018

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Choosing Our Legacy: Why a Look Back at 2017 Matters for 2018

A few years ago, I started a new tradition of an annual belated Christmas letter. I meant to write it yesterday, but Ryan and I were having too much fun to stop. This morning, I've paused long enough to look over the past year, remember the good things, learn from the hard, and look ahead to 2018.

2017 was a good, but kick-in-the-gut hard, year. 

One of my most important tasks was caregiving.

Sam (my beloved employee, neighbor, and friend) grew increasingly frail and moved out of his home of 60 years into mine. I worked from home to care for him. The most difficult thing I've ever done was stay in place 6,500 miles away as his body failed us. I'm grateful I could be back home with him at the end.

I learned how the body of Christ is supposed to function.  

Caregiving was one of the hardest tasks I've ever done, and would've been impossible if not for the incredible help of the body of Christ. Friends from a variety of denominations and communities helped in sacrificial ways. We worked, wept, grieved, and rejoiced together, just as Christ said we would, and it was beautiful.

Ministry began to feel like home.

Decades of medical practice were an odd preparation for a prayer-and-outreach missionary, but I began to find my rhythm. For years, my contacts on LinkedIn endorsed me as an event planner. Their endorsement didn't make sense to me, until this year. Four Whisper Gatherings, a Blessing Bag party, and a Jordan brunch later, I've begun to understand. 

I love big-impact events, as well as small, intimate ones.

I stopped apologizing for being a writer and a blogger.

For the first time ever, I said these words, "I'm not through writing this morning, so I'll be later coming to the office." They made sense to me but, to my surprise, they made sense to everyone else, too. I started describing myself as a writer, even before I signed with a literary agency and won a national writing competition.

I stopped apologizing for down time and rest.

There's a time to work and a time to rest. The long stretch of caregiving nearly defeated me until I learned to find rest where I could. A friend came to my house many Sunday afternoons and taught me a skill I'd long needed. She'd declare a two-hour moratorium on care-taking. We spent the time chatting, laughing, painting rocks, and having fun. Even Sam knew how important those few minutes were, and encouraged them. My friend trained me to snatch rest in a way mere words never could. 

Because of caregiving, I didn't have as much time with friends and family as I wanted, but I'm making up for lost time now.

My son, Ryan, had less mama-guidance through the hard loss of this past year, but he loved well and grieved well. While I was in the Middle East, Ryan took time off work to spend with Sam, and I was never more proud. Ryan dressed him, fed him, laughed and reminisced with him. He stuck it out, even when Sam was too drowsy to respond. The eulogy Ryan gave at the memorial service was full of wisdom and respect for the man who helped me raise my boy.

I saw persecution because of Christ up close for the first time. 

"We've counted the cost..." Two people I love looked persecution in it's ugly face and chose continued obedience to the call of God. They're now preparing to flee for their lives because of that choice. 

I'm more concerned about the persecuted church than ever before, partly because I believe our turn is coming. I'll be more involved in this area in 2018 than ever before and, probably, more involved with the refugees in our area.

The love lavished on Sam (and others) was more important than the list of accomplishments, even though that list was long. 

The first prayer retreat, then the first Whisper Gathering, were followed by three more Gatherings abroad. Hundreds of blog posts were rewarded with hundreds of thousands of views. I started learning a new language, spent more than six weeks in the Middle East, embraced a new culture, spoke countless times, and served hundreds of Saturday lunches to the homeless and needy. More than 500 blessing bags were packed and distributed by Outreach Ministry volunteers. Daily prayer and emails for missionaries continued. While I was working from home, I wrote a daily "update" and prayer email for my co-workers at Home Office. 

None of my accomplishments would've mattered if I'd failed to love my neighbor as my self. 

Loving God and loving others are the two laws Jesus considered most important, and they should be most important to me, as well. This past year, they were. I wasn't perfect at loving, but I tried hard and repented when I failed.

Hindsight is a valuable tool, if used correctly. My 2017 was informed by the successes and failures of the years past. 2018 will be, too. A careful look back allows us to see our joys and our regrets more clearly, and plan accordingly. What activities and attitudes should we keep? Which should we remove?

Today, let's take a few minutes to consider the past year. Where were our successes, our failures? In what ways did we love God and our neighbor? How can we improve in 2018? 

Our days on earth are numbered, and considerably shorter than we realize. If our legacy in 2018 is to be different than 2017, we'll need to choose that difference from the start. How can we love more, forgive more, serve more? 

Set a goal, make a plan of action, and get started. Change the world, one act of love at a time.  

"But now abide faith, faith, hope, these three, but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 nasb
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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What to Do with the Day After Christmas

After Christmas: Sales. Travel. Taking down. Putting away.

The week between Christmas and New Year's is an odd jumble of not-holiday, not-quite-regular days. I've never known what to do with them. 

When I grew up, we always took the tree down right after Christmas, so I'm usually ready to move on, to "get Christmas behind me." Today, I passed my tree on the way to the coffee pot with that phrase echoing in my head, as if Christmas was a bad cold from which I need to recover. 

The nativity of Jesus is not something we should "get over." It's the pivotal moment that split history into before and after. Jesus' arrival changed everything. It destroyed the ritual of sacrifice for sin, because Jesus became the permanent sacrifice. The Christ-filled manger brought God to us and provided a way to have God in us. The indwelling of the divine is not a condition from which we convalesce. It's persistent, pervasive, and permanent. 

The birth of the Christ child should have been so real to us yesterday that it changed our today. There's only one way for the reality of Jesus to remain as strong, as pertinent in our lives.

We must choose it.

Yesterday must inform today, and all the days after because Jesus in the manger wasn't passing through. He came to dwell with us.

Today, let's choose to live every day like we did yesterday - full of love, generosity, and service to others. Let's honor Christ with more than words, more than one festive day. Let's live like Christmas all year long. 

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14 nasb
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Advent 2017: The God-invasion That Changed Everything

Merry Christmas Eve!

Rise and shine came early this morning so I could finish some last-minute cooking before we head to my church's morning Christmas Eve service, then to Christmas with my family, and back to another Christmas Eve service. 

The house is quiet and I'm pondering what Mary and Joseph's Christmas Eve was like so many years ago. They didn't know it was Christmas Eve, of course. All they knew was they'd been traveling for days. They were probably tired of the journey and the crowds. Who wouldn't be?

The last few miles must have dragged on for what seemed like forever. 

As a first-time mother, Mary's labor probably took a while. If she delivered Jesus during the hours before midnight, contractions likely began well before the end of their travel. 

They were first-time parents with increasingly frequent contractions, still on the road, and, when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, no room in the inn. I wonder if Joseph panicked, if Mary was afraid, if they struggled not to complain or speak harsh words. I wonder if they were, instead, so certain of God's plan that peace filled their hearts. How did they pray?

When someone directed them to the stable-cave, they must have heaved a sigh of relief for the promise of shelter from the night and privacy for the delivery. When the baby came, did Joseph know what to do? Did he find someone to help him? 

We don't know those final details, but we know there was a long, tiring journey, a disappointing arrival, and a delivery of their first-borne in a most unlikely place. In a moment, though, God, wrapped in the flesh of an infant, invaded their world and everything changed. The Redemptive One drew so close, Mary and Joseph could feel His breath and kiss His cheek. 

Angels sang. A star shone bright. Shepherds rose to their feet and ran to find the newborn King. 

Emmanuel, God with us, had arrived. 

The Long Awaited Savior was here.

The dividing point of history, when man no longer had to work his way to God, because God had made His way to man, had finally come. 

That beautiful, world-changing moment is why we celebrate two thousand years later. It's why we rejoice, sing, give, love, and hope at Christmas time.

Christ has come. Life is made new.

As we celebrate around the table with friends and family, give and receive gifts, sing carols, and listen to the Christmas story one more time, let's be sure to remember the reason for our festivities. 

Welcome to our world, sweet Jesus. We're glad You came.

Merry Christmas!
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