Coming to our {Summer} Senses // Friendships & A Giveaway!

Sheltering Tree

We have a sheltering tree. Its double-trunk supports wide-sprawling branches, offering respite on these sweltering days in the South.

 

Friends are like that, too.

 

When we feel we’re being bombarded by the unexpected, wayward children, or a million little things⎯all at once⎯we find comfort in a friend’s touch.

When we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to thinner, prettier, more successful, Mary-like women, our friends are there to pull us out of the muck and speak truth into our lives.

So, last week, three friends came over for lunch. There was no agenda other than to catch up, encourage one another, and offer respite through lots of laughter, good food, and raspberry lemonade.

Centerpiece

 

Friendships⎯like trees⎯grow, mature, and blossom in a variety of ways.

 

FriendshipsFor instance, when I think of Edie, the Lily-of-the-Valley tree, better known as Sourwood, comes to mind. This tree offers beauty in all seasons. In Spring, white fragrant pearly clusters of flowers bloom profusely. In Autumn, its red leaves gloss over like shiny waxed apples. Regardless of the season of life, she finds herself in⎯joyous or downright tough⎯Edie exudes Christ. But there’s one particular characteristic about the Sourwood tree that reminds me of her. This tree is a tremendous source of nectar for bees to produce honey. Over the last 9 years, I’ve seen her selflessly pour herself, her gifts, prayers, and talents into other writers, such as myself. As God brings her own hard work to fruition, the work of countless others who have drawn wisdom and insight from her help also bring Him glory. And then they, in turn, help other writers, creating a beautiful circle of life.

Vonda’s qualities, although too many to mention (truly!) remind me of a well-loved evergreen tree called the Southern Wax Myrtle. Like the Sourwood, it too puts on a show year-round with its lustrous green leaves in the summer months and bluish gray clusters of berries in the winter. The leaves release a very aromatic scent when crushed, that smell much like a bay berry candle. Although you don’t hear Vonda complain, she sometimes carries a heavy load behind-the-scenes. But like the Myrtle tree, when she is at her weakest, “crushed” beneath the weight, there is a sweet aroma released from her soul. It’s not the fragrance of bay berry, but that of Christ. And like the Sourwood, the Wax Myrtle tree also supplies nectar for the bees. God has used both Edie and Vonda to bless a multitude of writers over the years. {Thank you!}

And then there’s Pea, aka, Dee Dee Parker. She’s my Weeping Willow tree. Her sickness earlier this year had me shedding many prayerful tears but thankfully they’re now induced by laughter. Much laughter. One interesting fact about the Weeping Willow tree is that it’s often planted by streams so that their braid-like roots will protect the bank from erosion. In the same way, Dee Dee’s prayers are woven throughout her day as she too seeks a water Source⎯Jesus. He is the only One who can ultimately refresh, restore, and renew those she lifts in prayer.

All three friends touch my life and the lives of many others in ways they’ll only know once they reach heaven.

I could learn a thing or two from these women when it comes to being a sheltering tree for others. This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for me in that department. Partly because of the new distance between me and most of my friends back in our old hometown. And in all honesty, the struggle to discover the balance for needing long stretches of writing time and life in general, is real.

But isn’t that what sheltering trees are all about? When struggles, storms, and hard situations enter our lives, we know we can find refuge beneath their branches. It is there we also find refreshment.

 

A sweet friendship refreshes the soul. Proverbs 27:9

 

Leigh Ann Thomas is a friend whose gentle spirit and tenacious love for Christ is evident in her life as well as her words. Her recent release, “Ribbons, Lace, and Moments of Grace…Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride” is no exception. I wish her book would’ve been available when our boys were getting married. Mothers of the Groom need a little inspiration (and a lot of coffee) too!

Today, I’m giving away a copy of Leigh Ann’s beautiful book to one blessed reader. If you are a mother of a bride {or groom} prepare to be inspired. If you know someone else in this role, inspire away by purchasing a copy for them. I can’t imagine a better gift.

Enter the drawing by simply answering the question below.  I’ll randomly select a name next Tuesday!

How has a friend touched you⎯refreshing your soul⎯in recent days?

 

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Coming to Our {Summer} Senses // A God-Glorifying Gathering and Giveaway!

Pool gathering

Summer is the perfect time for any gathering and especially so when it comes to sharing our faith!

As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of Lori Roeleveld’s book, Jesus and the Beanstalk: Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life. And apparently, I’m not alone. This gem of a book recently won the Director’s Award at the Blue Ridge Mountains Chrisitan Writer’s Conference. {Congrats, Lori!}

I’m slowly reading through Jesus and the Beanstalk because I want to savor every word, and well, I don’t want it to end. Just last week I came across this:

“Too many of us have adopted the culture of consumerism rather than the culture of discipleship. Growing up in Jesus is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. We are climbing the true vine, and only he knows precisely where any one of us is in that process. Finding the next hold on the vine is not an exact science because it’s about a relationship with Jesus, not a nine-step self-improvement program. Building character doesn’t happen because we read we should do it. God builds character in us in many ways and through a variety of circumstances.”

Then Lori shared the following suggestion:

“Ask God to direct you to activities that will give you faith in increasing measure. One way we bolster one another’s faith is through testimonies or stories of God’s intervention. Invite some friends for dinner and swap stories of times you’ve seen God at work.”

 

And there it was, right in front of me: Why not host a Swim & Swap party this summer?

 

For a full-fledged introvert, that’s an undertaking — a faith-stretching activity — but the wheels are turning. I see friends gathered around our pool on a warm Saturday afternoon. Very casual, nothing fancy. As the sun sets, we begin to swap stories as to how we’ve seen⎯and are seeing⎯God at work. I admit the planner in me wants to cover every base but I’m learning that some things just can’t be planned, like the moving of the Holy Spirit.

{Having said that, there will be grilled burgers, dessert, lemonade, and S’mores involved.}

Swapping God-glorifying stories is good for the soul--yours and mine. #soulfood Click To Tweet

 

I will praise you to all my brothers; I will stand up before the congregation and testify of the wonderful things you have done. Psalm 22:22

 

Our sense of hearing⎯and the power it holds⎯-is recorded throughout the Word:

 

  • Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.”
  • Acts 22:15, “For you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”
  • Genesis 3:8, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

I recently returned from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. Every night, a gathering in the downstairs lobby huddled around coffee tables and sometimes delicious treats, thanks to Diana Asaad {thank you!}. As I heard those around me share stories of how God was moving through the worship times and interactions with faculty/other attendees, my own faith-walk was strengthened and encouraged. After all, that’s what happens when we’re brave enough to swap our gospel story with another!

 

God-glorifying gatherings can happen in coffee shops, grocery lines, around a dinner table, or a campfire. They can happen anywhere two or more are gathered in His name and for His glory.

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Jesus and the Beanstalk Giveaway

Want to win your own copy of this faith-building giant-trampling book? Simply leave one way you’ve seen God recently move in your life, or in the life of a loved one, in the comment section. None are considered too small. One name will be randomly drawn next Thursday, June 15th.

Jesus and the Beanstalk

 

Love… One Sip At A Time // A Valentine Tea Party

Valentine Tea Party

Because love isn’t limited to one day on a calendar I decided to share a few pictures from my Valentine Tea Party earlier this week.

I began hosting tea parties in 2002, with the highlight being an annual Christmas Tea — sometimes two. One with long-time friends and another one with new friends I’d made that year. I separated the two due to space issues. Basically, there was none.

In December 2007, I hosted my last tea party. During that Christmas Tea, I received word that my sweet grandmother had been admitted to the hospital. She would die only a few days later. I grieved longer than first realized. There was no desire to host a Christmas Tea the following year…or the next, and on and on.

But this recent move toward the mountains ushered in a fresh desire to host more teas and simple gatherings. And so it begins.

The Valentine Tea earlier this week was small, intimate. I consider my writer/critique group friends first, writers second. We pray for one another, share in both victories and struggles, and support what God has called us to do by giving honest feedback,  grounded in love.

Writers Critique Group

Marcia Moston, Carol Roper, and Beth Saadati

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I hope this is true as I have more pictures than words today.

Valentine Tea Roses

Initially, I’d plucked a neatly wrapped bunch of non-Valentine flowers out of one of the grocery store floral buckets. I knew they would be pretty enough, maybe even save a few pennies. And then I spotted these trio-colored roses. I quickly put the non-Valentine bunch of flowers back (and okay, a few Yasso’s). The roses were worth it.

Valentines Day Yogurt

One favorite treat (I think) was the yogurt, vanilla-almond granola, and fruit in half-pint jars. I ordered these mini (and I do mean mini) red spoons from Target. {I just realized I forgot to tie a bow around the top. Oops!}

Valentine Tea Scrabble

A last minute idea was to add a fun element by spelling out the obvious. After all, I was surrounded by gifted wordsmiths.

I admit to feeling a bit inept in preparing for the tea. The to-do lists began weeks prior but I had to continually remind myself that perfection was not the goal of this gathering (or any, really) but rather, the celebration of friendship…and kinsmanship in spirit and in deed.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” -C.S. Lewis

Or too many reasons to celebrate with friends. -Cathy Baker

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day this week? Please share! 

 

3 Tips On Creative Brainstorming + An Interview with Dee Dee Parker

Creative Brainstorming

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein

It’s true, right? There’s an inexplicable synergy that takes places when two or more creative beings come together for a specific purpose. In fact, there are few things I love more than a good brainstorming session. Whether it’s with a group of ministry-minded peeps or with fellow writers, it matters not. A little later in the post I’ll share a few tips on how you can enjoy your own b-storming session.

But first…

When it comes to writing sessions, my go-to girl is Dee Dee Parker. She’s not only the other pea in our “strange little pod.” She is also one of the most creative people I know. So it’s only fair that I share her creative goodness with you.

In honor of our two peas status, I’m asking Dee Dee two questions. Let’s get started!

Me: Where do you find your creative muse?

Dee Dee: My creative muse, my inspiration, depends on what medium I am working in at the time. Inspiration for my non-fiction often comes after my morning devotions, Bible study, and prayer time with the Lord. A Bible verse will grab my attention and a devotion or article is born. My Appalachian fiction muse is often the elders of my hollow and mountain town. I overhear a conversation and an idea for a story comes about. The dialect is so rich here and the people have such a strong sense of place and deep faith that I will never run out of ideas. Of course, Cathy, you and I brainstorm often and that starts the creative juices flowing in many creative endeavors such as our Two Peas In One Strange Little Pod videos. 🙂

Me: What secret talents do you have? (I snatched this simple but insightful question from Edie Melson’s interview over @ Writing Prompts, Thoughts, and Ideas…Oh my!)

Dee Dee: I love to paint, especially watercolors! As a matter of fact stayed tuned for an announcement of my new project coming later this summer. I am very excited about working on the details of a card line with hopes it will be a blessing to you, and one you will enjoy sharing with others.

Thank you, Dee Dee!

{Stay tuned, fellow Blue Ridge friends…Two Peas in One Strange Little Pod Productions has one last blooper reel coming your way tomorrow!}

3 TIPS FOR STARTING YOUR OWN

  • Don’t be afraid to fail. Years ago, I attended a weekly ministry-driven brainstorming session. Ideas flew fast and furious. You see, the pastor encouraged us to remember that there was no such thing as a stupid idea. We knew we were in a safe place. It didn’t mean we used all the ideas. In fact, we used only a few, but one idea would spark another, and so on. I felt free to fail and through that freedom emerged ideas that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Edwin H. Land sums it up best: “The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
  • Move outside. Due to distance Dee Dee and I usually do our brainstorming sessions via phone but whenever possible, move your creative b-storming outside. Take a walk together, or go to a zoo or museum to get those creative juices flowing.
  • Know the rules. State upfront any guidelines you might want to observe, such as… there are no wrong/ foolish statements, or perhaps, no cutting remarks if you disagree with something that’s suggested, etc. Agree that you’ll take everything in, write it down, and allow the information to marinate before making a definitive decision. Rules and creativity don’t always go hand-in-hand but in this case, it’s actually freeing everyone to be their best creative self.

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blogDeeDeeblueDee Dee Parker infuses wisps of Southern grace throughout both her writing and speaking. She is the author of a children’s book, Josie Jo’s Got to Know written to benefit breast cancer research. She has contributed to numerous anthologies, such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, Clothes Lines and Christmas Presence. Dee Dee writes for Christian Devotions US, Guidepost books, Guidepost.org as well as Focus On the Family’s Clubhouse Jr. magazine. Her first Christmas novella has landed in the hands of her agent and she eagerly anticipates its publication in the near future. Dee Dee lives snuggled among the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains with her husband Jim, a retired minister, and their spoiled Schnoodle, Greta.

Talk about creative! Today’s featured image is courtesy of the talented Paul Foreman of Mind Map Inspiration. Visit his site for mind blowing graphics as well as much inspiration!

3 Simple Ways to Love Your Neighbors this Valentine’s Day

When I think of biblical community done well, the Rhodes family immediately comes to mind.

I had the pleasure of getting to know them through a former church, and I’ve enjoyed staying updated with the many adventures God has taken them on over the years. I marvel at the openness of their hearts, hands, and homes.

Today, I’ve asked Kim Rhodes to share about some of the things they’ve done to extend the love of Christ on Valentine’s Day. {Thank you, Kim!}

The Rhodes Family

“We have been a part of many neighborhoods over the past 18 years of married life and with each place we have tried to get to know those that live around us. It always shocks me to find out that people living just a few doors down have never taken the time to meet or engage with each other.

“Sometimes the greatest influence you can have is to the lives of those that live in closest proximity to you.”

We value the unique advantage and connection we have with people that live specifically on our street or around us. One of my personal core values is “Open Home”⎯that everything we have is a missional tool that needs to be used. And so we truly believe in the power of an open home, always making space to invite people in through our front doors, not into our perfect life but into our messy, lived, and present life.

I remember at one dessert gathering we had after we moved into one of our new neighborhoods…two families engaged in conversation. Each of them had lived on the same street a few houses down for over 9 years and had never met each other. They engaged for the first time in our home.

Just recently we moved to a new city and state. And as I met our neighbor living next door, she was sharing about the families that surrounded us. She wasn’t quite sure of who lived in the house behind her because of the 15 years they had lived in their home they had never had a conversation with them. And this is not abnormal. This is shockingly normal for most streets and neighborhoods across the country. Somehow we have lost the value of opening up our homes, as well as our lives, to those around us.

One of the ways our family tries to engage our neighbors is to use holidays as times to go knock on their doors. We normally give them a gift or treat and then it’s always attached to a future invite of something happening in our home. We have found this to be something very low pressure. It allows us to engage others through an offering of a gift, and an invitation to a future time of connection. It’s that simple. There is no pressure. The worst scenario is we are able to say hello and offer a gift. The best scenario is that we get the opportunity to invite them into our home and they actually show up!

The past few Valentines Days we have used different gifts. We’ll be hitting up our new neighbors this Valentines Day with a single rose and and invite to a coffee and cobbler night at our home at a specific date in March. We’ve used Valentines day to give candy and invite people over to our “Jolly” Rancher and we’ve used Valentines Day to offer a single rose to our neighbors and just let them know they are “Loved” and that we would “Love” to have them over for dessert sometime soon.

Whether you live in an apartment or a large castle, everyone has the opportunity to open up their home and lives. My husband and I are both introverts and we’ve found it very easy to gather large groups of people engaged in conversation with little or no effort. We have found our biggest gift is giving space for those that come into our home to be able to find each other in their own stories and build a connection. In some ways our open home is a place of connection for people. And the connection and stories and life engagement that comes from those times are always beautiful and abundant.”

Thank you so much for sharing, Kim. Both you and Dave have impacted our lives and countless others. You’ve definitely inspired this introvert!

If you’ve been encouraged to think outside the box for the sake of the gospel, I’d LOVE for you to share about it in the comment section. 🙂 Thanks! 

Coming up this Saturday, Edie Melson will give us a glimpse into her one-on-one time with the Lord. And on Monday, I’ll share a simple but meaningful way to show L-O-V-E to the singles in your life on Valentine’s Day!

Writing Out Our Gratitude at Thanksgiving

by Cathy Baker

Some of my best memories are those that surrounded the holidays. For an only child, I was blessed to have a large family that gathered every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. I didn’t realize what a blessing I was experiencing until it was over, for the most part, after the passing of my grandparents.

We must grasp the power of showing our gratitude towards others while we can.

A few years back, Brian and I took time to brainstorm specific ways we’re thankful for those who would sit around our Thanksgiving table that night. We wrote both serious and funny reasons on slips of paper and put them in tiny Thanksgiving-themed bags. I printed off simple tags that read Why We’re Thankful for You, tied them to the bag, added their name, and used them as place cards.

After we finished eating that night, each person took a turn drawing a slip of paper from their bag and reading it aloud. It added a little more meaning (and laughter!) to our time together, and for this I am grateful.

{If I do it again, I may get everyone involved by writing down one reason for each person before the meal.}

Practically any place card can become a personal opportunity to show our gratitude. The tent-type works especially well. I’ve used these for tea parties before.

Thankfully, it’s not about our level of craftiness—it’s about finding simple, meaningful ways to show our gratitude towards another person—and there’s no better season to put our feelings into action.

I pray that you and those you love will have a very blessed Thanksgiving. 

 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 100:4