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?

Writing: Dreamers, Please Apply

Writers are dreamers. The two activities – dreaming and writing – work together. Of course, writers can be incredibly practical, churning out how-to manuals or crafting detailed textbooks. Writers can plan, strategize and develop logical plots within their stories. At their best, dreamers are innovators and so are writers. They are grounded in reality, even as they reach for what could be. Consider the following three characteristics of writers, and you’ll understand why dreamers need to apply for this job.

1. Idealistic – Even the cynical writer spewing a critique of society on the page is an idealist at heart. If you desire to express your ideas to change the world in some way, if you hope to educate or inspire your readers, if you think you have an insight to share, then you possess at least a touch of idealism.

When you hope to capture the attention of people with the force of your ideas without the benefit of the sound of your voice or the expression on your face, you must be a little idealistic or else you would not bother to try.

2. Futuristic – Writers look to the future even when they write about the past. Of course, science fiction writers take us to the future we have yet to create, often inspiring inventions once technology catches up with their imagination.

However, all writers reach into the future, crafting words to entertain and exhort readers years after the ink is dry on the page. Words can live on as text on the screens of tomorrow and as quotes on social media platforms not yet developed.

If you dream of a better tomorrow and believe you have a positive contribution to make, you just might be a writer.

3. Optimistic – You need faith to be a writer. You must believe that your manuscript will find a publisher, and your book will find an audience. You need to believe you are making a difference when you are spending quality time typing words in solitude.

Writers stay motivated with little feedback, persevering against the odds for the privilege of spreading their thoughts, beliefs and knowledge with others. Writers concern themselves less with making a living than with sharing their life with others.

Writers find the ray of sunshine on the cloudiest of days. They keep a spring in their step even when they feel at a loss for words. They believe in their dreams and the best of writers help others believe in their own dreams, too.

Are you ready to become a writer?

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!

Do You Want to Change The World?

signing declarationWriters can be agents of social change.

I was reminded of that truth after hearing a keynote address at a conference for animal humane workers. The speaker, Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, discussed the importance of social change to transform communities in order to improve our treatment of animals. But her words could also be applied to what traits writers need to cultivate to do their job well; in fact, I felt that Amy’s characteristics of social change makers accurately described many of the writers I know. Here are Amy’s six key traits; do you see yourself in any of them?

Social change makers:

  1. Collaborate across sectors. In my own writing, be it the fiction of the Birder Murder Mysteries or my best-selling memoir Saved by Gracie, I draw from many fields of expertise. My sources are birders, dog owners, psychologists, trainers, sociologists, scientific researchers, conservationists, biologists and historians, to name just a few. To be effective, writing has to draw from the world of knowledge.
  2. Are inclusive. Writers want their message to reach wide audiences. To do that, we keep an open mind about who might benefit from our work, and we rejoice when a new market presents itself as one that we might engage productively.
  3. Build empathy. For any piece of writing to succeed, it has to appeal to the heart of the reader. Having something meaningful to share is the first step of the writing process.
  4. Choose curiosity over judgment. The best writers try to see the world with fresh eyes to uncover what is true. Judgment can shut down avenues of investigation that might just lead to new revelations that will transform myself and my readers.
  5. Check assumptions. Writers make careers out of questioning assumptions. Sometimes, we even turn them upside down in the course of our creative process and/or production. The result is new perspectives and new ideas that can often improve readers’ personal or public lives.
  6. Learn from those they serve. Whether it’s hearing about new conservation efforts to protect bird habitat, or effective approaches to increasing animal adoption, or the need for more transparency about mental illness, every bit of research I’ve done for my books has not only taught me more about the world and the people and creatures in it, but how I myself can better connect with and serve my readers by passing along what I have learned. On a regular basis, I hear from readers about the ways my writing has affected them, and it guides me as I plan my next project. Without that feedback, my writing lacks focus, not to mention effectiveness.

Given these shared characteristics of writers and social change makers, I find myself considering my own work as a potential agent for change in the world; I won’t be the first author to do so, nor the last. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” may have come from the pen of English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, but it expresses a timeless truth.

What will your pen accomplish today?  

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?

Four Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills


I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. ~Ernest Hemingway

“Are you listening to me?”

Has anyone ever asked you that question? Or maybe that thought pierced your heart and mind, as you felt the sting of someone else ignoring or rejecting you?

How important is listening to you as a writer? How do you know what your audience wants or needs if you don’t listen carefully to them?

Consider these four ways to improve your listening skills.

  1. Resolve to be quick to listen. Many times, people who come to us for help, just need us to listen. James 1:19 offers this advice, “Understand this … You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT).
  2. Decide to be available. Jesus gives us an example of a wise counselor who made Himself available to listen. “The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30).
  3. Desire a discerning heart. Not only does Jesus listen, He discerned the needs of others. When His disciples came to Him after their ministry tour, Jesus observes their need for solitude and rest: “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).
  4. Choose to be quiet. Proverbs 17:28 reminds us, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (NIV).

At times our failure to listen before responding can provoke a negative, emotional response from our loved ones or friends, who may need our help. In fact, Proverbs 18:13 warns us, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude” (MSG)

What can we offer others with our response, after we listen to their needs?

  • Grace, not criticism or judgment. Romans 2:4 reminds us, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (NLT)
  • Companionship. We must encourage others to be dependent upon Jesus, not co-dependent with us. Jesus promised His followers, “I’ll be with you … day after day after day, right up to the end of this age” (Matt. 28:20 MSG).

So, the next time someone comes to you for help, I hope you ask yourself this question first: “Are you listening … Really listening?” (Matt. 11:15).

How have your listening skills helped you as a writer?