Writing about Thanksgiving and Food


If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes … (Matthew 6:25 MSG).

Food, food, food! Why does everyone make such a big fuss about food during the holidays? I’m always focused on food! Either I’m overeating, dieting, or trying to feed someone else. I can’t remember one day of my life that I didn’t focus on food at some point.

So, how can my worries about food help my spiritual focus? Over the years, I’ve discovered that my hyperfocus on food is often a warning sign for a much deeper problem than just trying to meet my physical needs.

Needs. While we were seminary students, I first learned how my own worry about food could actually motivate me to seek deeper spiritual insights.

At seminary, we lived on a much lower income than most of our family and friends. Often we didn’t have enough money for the food we needed for our family.

Miracles. God used that problem to capture my attention, and I saw Him provide in miraculous ways for some of my friends. Groceries would be left on their doorsteps. Money for food would arrive in the mail. Or they would discover some random source of free food, like day-old bread or vegetables discarded from the grocery’s produce department.

Tips. Intrigued by my friends’ stories, I began to ask to God to help me find ways to deal with our food needs. And I discovered many tips for stretching my food budget with recipe ideas and coupons. My friends and I found that we could all stretch our food budgets by sharing our resources. When we gathered together for a meal, each family would bring their menu contributions.

Manna and quail. In Exodus 16:4, “God said to Moses, ‘I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not’” (MSG).

I joked about identifying with the Israelites in the wilderness as God provided manna and quail for them to eat. But as I experienced God providing for my own family, like He did for His children in the Old Testament, I searched for more answers to my everyday problems in the Bible.

Traditions. Before my seminary days, I never thought about asking God to provide for my family’s needs, especially our food. Yes, we taught our children to express their thanks before our meals. But my prayer of thanks usually came after I had purchased groceries and prepared our meals.

So, I examined our mealtime prayers and Thanksgiving blessings. Could they simply be a family or religious tradition? Had I ever offered my mealtime prayers with a heartfelt gratitude for God’s blessings?

Diets. I still struggle with worry and my spiritual focus on food from time to time. Even now, as I try to eat a healthier diet, I realize that I must stop and ask God for direction every day–sometimes moment-by-moment–as I seek answers to my problems and needs.

As I prepare to enter into this season of Thanksgiving once again, I pray that I will remember this promise from God’s Word.

… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:5-7 NIV)

What stories about food come to mind as you prepare for this Thanksgiving season? Have you recorded them?

So You Want to Write a Book

photoHave you ever experienced that awkward “oh” followed by the nodding of the head and a slight pitying glance cast your way right after you tell someone you are writing a book? Maybe it’s just me. But it happened more often than not when I shared this little secret of mine: I wanted to be an author. But not only did I want to be, I was trying to be.

Now that my third book will soon hit shelves, those pitying looks have changed to looks of surprise and some pretty fun conversations. I continue to get contacts from friends, friends of friends, and strangers asking, “How do I write a book? Will you help me?” Originally, this overwhelmed me. A lot goes into writing a book. Where do I even begin to teach this? How do I know who will be dedicated to pursue this to the end? Major shout out to the mentors who took time to teach me. The sad truth is that not everyone who wants to write a book or says they are writing a book will ever finish it or see it published.

So how do you avoid falling into this category of a “wanna-be” or “wish-I-had?” No formula is perfect, but this worked for me and this is what I give people who ask me how to start. I had a lot of missteps. I spent a lot of money on training and books. Lost a lot of sleep. Cried a lot of tears. Wondered if I could really do this. Fell in love with characters and settings. But the bottom line is…I tried. And I’m still trying. My writing journey is still a work in progress. But I am always willing to help those who try. My guess is, if you are taking the time to read this, on some level you are serious about making your dream a reality.

  1. How bad do you want this?
    • Know that this is a long journey. How bad do you want it? Have others affirmed this gifting in you (other than your mom)?
    • Ask why this story should matter to others.
  2. Learn how to develop a story.
    • Buy books. Take classes. Do writing exercises. Join a writing group.
    • Write a couple of short stories. Study dialogue, plot, character development.
  3. Brainstorm your idea.
    • Determine what research needs to take place
    • Buy books on the topic/Check out the library
    • Write down your ideas/get something on paper
  4. Start writing.
    • Most companies won’t look at your work until you are finished. Finish the book. Write, rewrite, write again.
    • When you are finished, research publishers that print in your genre. Look into agents that represent your genre.
    • Purchase tools on writing a book proposal.
    • Pray; and be ready for rejection. If this is something you really want and others have affirmed, then keep going
  5. Connect with other writers in your stage.
    • Local writer’s groups are a great beginning, and there are also some online!
    • Develop relationships with people who love story.
    • Ask people to critique what you have, and request honest, tough feedback. Then change your work accordingly.

Prayer + Passion + Perspiration = Success

Keep writing!

Six Promises When Words Fail Us


What do we do when we don’t know what to say or pray?

Where can we find the words to express our thoughts and emotions?

What can we do when life places us in unbearable circumstances? Where can we go? Who do we run to? What should we cling to when we’re drowning in a sea of our sorrows? And what can we advise others who may be walking through a difficult life crisis?

My younger sister Leslea just endured another health crisis that led to life-threating surgery. My heart aches for my little sister. A single mom of three, Leslea has experienced so many unbearable tragedies and losses in her lifetime–the tragic death of her youngest child, breast cancer, and now major heart surgery. And as her older sister, I often do not know how to respond to her overwhelming needs.

As a writer, my words often fail me when I don’t know how to respond to a difficult issue. And when a friend or family member faces a tragic loss or painful failure, mere words seem inadequate to express my emotions and concerns.

Now, after surviving many trials and crises in my own life, I do know who to turn to when a crisis hits close to home. And I know who I can cling to when I’m overwhelmed by confusion and doubt. I have discovered peace and rest in a storm.

Are you searching for the words to express your thoughts or your faith? God’s Word offers us the promises we need to encourage others.

  1. Help. The Lord promises to help us when we don’t know what to say or pray. “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26 NIV).
  2. Hope. The Holy Spirit offers promises of hope, even if we never understand why these things happen. “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13 NLT).
  3. Assurance. God’s Word provides the assurance that Jesus will bear our grief and carry our sorrows. “He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours” (Is 53:4 NIRV).
  4. Peace. God’s Word can speak peace to the storm ravaging our dreams. And He promises to throw us the lifeline of His Word. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7 NIV).
  5. Confidence. We can have the confidence to know that in Christ, we will survive. And we can expect Him to provide the power we need to overcome any circumstance in our life if we trust Him with the situation. Healing and hope for the future can be found in Him. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14).
  6. Rest. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NOG).

Show, don’t (just) tell! As you tell others of your faith, don’t forget the power of your story. As we share our own faith stories, we invite others to see, feel, and experience what we have experienced.

Are you facing a loss, a failure, a decision, or some other difficult situation? I pray these promises from God’s Word will also give hope to you and others who may be suffering under a heavy burden.

Remember, the Lord knows your needs—even better than you do. He understands. And He wants to assure you of His presence right now and in all the days of your life.

I lift my friends up to you, Heavenly Father. I pray they will give you their heavy burdens. I thank you for your promise of rest and peace.

The Lord answered my prayer about one important concern the weekend before my sister’s heart surgery. Leslea had asked me to take her to church as she prepared for her surgery. She had been unable to attend church for years because of her job schedule. But since she was unable to work, she was free to attend church.

Since I live in a different state than my sister, I prayed that God would lead us to the right church service that Sunday. And the Lord met all of our needs that day with the perfect church, sermon, and worship experience. In fact, the words of a song, “My Heart Is Yours,” expressed Leslea’s prayers in ways I never anticipated.

How has God’s Word helped you through a difficult situation or as you responded to someone else in crisis?

How to Make Offers They Can’t Refuse

clapping peopleI’ve learned a terrific lesson about social networking this summer.

If you offer, you receive.

Recently, I’ve turned my LinkedIn contact list into a fertile field of opportunity for spreading my brand by offering help to others. Sometimes, the offer is to write a guest post for a contact’s blog, or to be a last-minute guest for a radio show, or to send a free copy of one of my books because of a mutual interest. I don’t make the offer until a person I’ve invited to connect with me accepts the invitation, and then, instead of just filing their acceptance email away, I take the time to compose a personal note making my offer as a service to them.

That means I only look to connect with people who share an interest of mine, and if they accept my invitation, I then think of a personal way I might contribute to their goals. By asking first how I can help, it reminds me that my writing is my ministry, my God-given gift, and that when others succeed with my help, I’ve made a difference for them. It helps make writing not quite the solitary endeavor it tends to be, and it allows me an avenue to actually build relationships with my contacts. In an age of electronically linking up with people all over the country and the globe, any personal interaction stands out; suddenly that contact in my address book has a personality and we have a tiny bit of shared history. That’s good for people and good for business.

But the big surprise I discovered was how easy it is to offer help, and how grateful people can be. Thanks to my offers, I’ve found new ways to reach larger audiences:

  1. Though I stopped writing my own blog years ago for lack of time, I’m now providing occasional guest posts for three bloggers in the pet dog category. Each time I guest, my host includes links to my website and mentions my best-selling girl-meets-dog memoir Saved by Gracie. I interact with blog readers and expand my brand as they in turn learn more about me. Sweet!
  2. I tell every radio host I connect with that I am happy to fill in last minute if they need a guest. I’ve gotten two interviews that way – with only a day’s notice! Both programs were recorded and played to large markets. I publicized air dates on my social networks, and since they were podcasts, my – and the hosts’ – audience can continue to access them. Score!
  3. Likewise, I offer to speak at any service group’s weekly gathering (think Rotary Club) about my new project to encourage people to #getoutsidehappy! While my message promotes getting outside for greater health and happiness, it also heightens awareness of my books. I make a few sales at the gathering, but what means even more to me is spreading useful information to help people improve their lives. Win-win!

Do you use social networking to offer help?

Dreaming Isn’t Only For the Young (Why Age is Just a Number)


What are your dreams? Have you given them up because you think you’re too old to accomplish anything of worth?

Well, here’s a little reality check for you:

  • Sarah Bernhardt was 78 when she acted in her last stage performance
  • Sophocles was 89 when he wrote Oedipus at Colonus, one of his dramatic masterpieces.
  • On the day of his death, at the age of 78, Galileo was said to be planning a new kind of clock that would tell time—in minutes and seconds, not just hours—using a pendulum swing instead of movement of water or sand.
  • Robert Frost was 88 when his last volume of poems, In the Clearing, was published.
  • Winston Churchill was 79 when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Igor Stravinski was 84 when he completed his last work, “Requiem Canticles.”
  • Charles DeGaulle was 75 when he was reelected president of France.
  • Pablo Picasso produced 347 engravings in his 87th year.

And last, but certainly not least:

  • Grandma Moses received her last commission as an artist when she was 99.

Obviously, age was just a number to such high-achieving artists and world-changers.

Closeup of message stones on white background.

Closeup of message stones on white background.

And don’t forget one of the superstars of the 2008 Summer Olympics, Dara Torres, who was the oldest female swimmer in the history of the Olympic Games (at the relatively young age of forty-one). She came away from the games with three silver medals. Not bad for a gal who was called “Grandma” by all the young swimmers in Beijing!

Torres, whose memoirs are appropriately titled Age Is Just a Number, won the first of her twelve Olympic medals in 1984, a year before Michael Phelps was even born! She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at fourteen, and has retired from swimming and has come back three times, She’s also the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics (despite sitting out 1996 and 2004).

Torres is a role model for staying fit, aging gracefully, and pursuing your dreams. Dara’s dream of an Olympic comeback first hit her when she was months into her first, hard-won pregnancy. She returned to serious training while nursing her infant daughter and contending with her beloved father’s long battle with cancer.

Talk about an inspiration!

So what’s stopping you? Has Satan lied to you and told you that you’ll never amount to anything, because you’re “over the hill?” Do you feel worthless because you haven’t pursued something God has laid on your heart? Do you think it’s too late?

It’s not, my friend! God gives us dreams for every stage of our lives, and His grace continually makes all things new. So tell the devil to back off! Claim the truth that God is for you, and that He is the author of dreams.



Note: This post is an excerpt from Dena’s book about aging gracefully (and with a sense of humor), Let the Crow’s Feet and Laugh Lines Come (Barbour). Used by permission of Barbour Books. 

Finding Your Voice

find your unique voiceAbout ten years ago, I started thinking about publishing a book. After writing my way through twenty years of various marketing and development ventures, telling many wonderful stories of others along the way, every now and then I’d start to think I had something to say. My own story to tell.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to say it. I’d spent all those years adapting to the voice of others, setting aside my own ideas, submerging myself in a particular client’s mindset and style in order to honor their voice and tell their story well.

Somewhere along the way I lost my voice.

I started second guessing what I should sound like, who I should be. Eventually I shaped this ridiculous concept (based on the comparison and envy of other folks) of what I should be, what I should sound like. And that image, that false representation of me, is the one I carried to the outside world.

Now trying to share my own story, I imagined I needed to mimic somehow those popular writers who had scores of people following them. So I tried hard to fit in, to sound like I should. But my words leaked out flat and predictable with this stiff journalistic bent.

Because that’s the sort of thing that happens when you silence your authentic self.

Thankfully since those days I’ve learned a lot about finding my voice. I’ve learned to trust my uniqueness as this is the very thing that makes me me. This unique combination of my quirks and passions, my own style and feelings and beliefs, these are the very things that set my words apart from the millions being shared daily.

I don’t know that I can pin the discovery of my voice on one particular experience, and I don’t dare suggest there’s a magic formula that suits us all. But I would love to share three of the things I’m learning along the way in the hopes they may somehow encourage you.

1. Be an original.

When we lack confidence it feels easier to imitate others, but its flat hard to pretend to be something we’re not.

So wherever you are, whatever you are writing or thinking about writing, I’ll encourage you to confront any false voices that try to convince you that you have to have it together out of the gate. Because you don’t.

Take this moment and give yourself permission to no longer compare or pretend or perform.

Then, take a deep breath and commit this day to start relaxing into your unique you. Practice, practice, practice being yourself; your true voice will eventually emerge.

 2. Value your life experiences.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve walked some hard days. Maybe you’ve faced a loss, an illness, or a dysfunctional relationship? Maybe it was a crisis of faith or a dire financial situation? Whatever it was, I bet it was dark and lonely and didn’t make a bit of sense.

Here’s the thing: we can’t be afraid to say what it was like in the dark.

These life experiences often act as a catalyst, gifting us the ability to reimagine these hard days in a way others can relate to them. While we might not be able to change the way it was there in the dark, we can change the story we tell ourselves (and others) about those days.

As dark as it was, your journey to the other side holds the potential to stir a fresh hope for the person still stuck.

 3. Take risks.

I’ve never been naturally courageous, but I have learned this: if I want to make a difference in this world, there are times I’m going to have to be brave.

Sharing your heart will feel risky (because it is), but an unhealthy caution will stall your voice.

Too often we don’t realize how very close we are to finding our voices.

Give your voice the room it needs to grow. Explore, pursue, and practice until your true voice becomes your natural default.

Be an original, take risks, and don’t be afraid to dream big.

Your voice is a unique and unforgettable mixture of your own personal style, perspective, and message. Surrender to it. Shape it as needed, yes, but don’t be afraid to share it.

Going Deeper: Where are you in your journey to find and use your voice? Share your thoughts and observations in the comments below.

Want more? Click here for a free 10 Tips for Finding Your Voice printable.

What Breaks Your Heart?

broken heart dreamstimeAndy Stanley, in his teaching series entitled “Re:Solution” asked a powerful question when he asked, “What breaks your heart?”

The point of the question is this: You were designed by your Heavenly Father who has given you unique gifts, talents, experiences, etc. and when He did, He also designed you for the purpose He placed you here at this time in history to fulfill. (Sounds kind of like this book, On Purpose For a Purpose which you may have heard of. #ShamelessPlug)

What breaks your heart is tied directly to your calling.
Does human trafficking and slavery break your heart the most?

Does social injustice break your heart the most?

Does seeing children struggling in poverty break your heart the most?

Does the decline of healthy marriages and families break your heart the most?

Does domestic violence break your heart the most?

Does lack of medical care to those most in need break your heart?

Obviously, these are all tough, tough issues in our world today, and our hearts break with each one. We know that none of us can do everything. We also know that all of us can do something. So, what is it that breaks your heart the most? Perhaps it is something not even listed above.

As Andy asked this question, and as I considered the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, it became so clear to me that what breaks my heart the most is …

Seeing people remain in shackles that keep them from the abundant life Jesus came to offer. This enslavement shows up in the the following ways:

People striving so hard to experience freedom through their self effort to please God..

Husbands and wives trying so hard to make marriage work in their own power…

Parents living with shame and guilt over what their children choose…

Children grasping to find acceptance from parents who never can never be pleased…

Family members estranged from one another over past offenses…

Pastors or other Christian leaders using shame and guilt to motivate change from those sitting in their services, reading their books, or attending their conferences…

Men, women, adolescents and even children in bondage to addictive behaviors, substances or acts.

When it all comes down to it, I realize what breaks my heart the most is seeing people live with the heavy shackles of legalism disguised as “Sold-Out” New Testament Christianity. That’s what breaks my heart.

But what gives me HOPE in the heartbreak is the awareness that through Christ in Shelley, I can be a carrier of light and life into the world. I can be a voice of grace and truth to my generation. I can be a teachable student on a journey who invites others to join me.

Being self-aware enough to know what breaks our hearts can help us when we’re trying to determine our next step, our next move, our next project, or perhaps the next blog post. 

Becoming aware of what truly breaks our hearts can also lead us to the hope we can offer others whose hearts are broken as they live through the experiences that break yours. 

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this question and articulate what breaks your heart the most, but don’t stop there! Once you’ve written these down, consider the hope you can now offer through your life–vocationally and relationally–to those who need you and are waiting for you to show up in their lives.