Dandelions and Spiritual Gifts

dandelionhand1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

When my children were little they’d run into the house, their knees scuffed, their cheeks smudged with dirt, and their hands stuffed full of dandelions. A gift for me. They’d smile when I’d pull a vase from the cupboard and treat those weeds with the same care as I would a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses.

One day, one of the neighbor girls came in with my daughter and handed me a fistful of flowers. After hugging my daughter and adding yet another vase full of yellow blooms to my collection, I tried to encourage the neighbor child to take her bouquet home to her mommy. She pouted, shook her head, then proceeded to stuff her fist toward me again. “My mommy just throws them in the trash.” Stunned and not knowing what else to do, I took the flowers from her and gave them the same special treatment I’d given the bouquets from my daughter.

It made me wonder how many times, like her mother, we have refused the gifts God has given us. How many times have we missed the blessing God wants to bestow on us? When we’re asked to be a substitute for a Sunday school class, do we turn away? Do we shrink back from an evangelistic effort because we’re afraid? Do we refuse to sing in the choir because we question our ability?

How often have we thought of someone, even felt led to call them, encourage them, and perhaps utter some of God’s truth in their ear? But we never do. Aren’t we missing the blessing–the gift that comes back to each one of us when we do God’s will?

Do we miss out on what God has in store for us by doubting our faith? Do we ever wonder if God is in control? Do we doubt His ability to meet our needs? Do we question His ability to perform miracles (through us and for us)? Faith is a gift.

How many times, like my neighbor, have we thrown God’s gifts into the trash and never looked back? Because of our disregard for the gifts He wants to give us, we’ve never witnessed the joy on God’s face—the same joy I saw on that little girl’s face when I took her flowers and set them in a place of honor at my kitchen table.

From that day forward, until the little girl’s family moved away, she brought me dandelions. If God sees He can trust us with one gift, He will provide another, and another. He will multiply our blessings because of our faithfulness and willingness to step out in faith. Sometimes this means having to face our fears, but remember, if God has ordained it, He will help you achieve it.

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Artist Sharpening Artist Series, Part II, Lecrae

Boasting, by Lecrae

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Listen to the music here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ec7ofMOqVM

When I first heard the above song on the radio, it got me. I welled up and blamed it on my hormones the first time, but then it happened again. And, again.

I realized I couldn’t keep blaming it all on my hormones, or else my husband would wise up and figure out I use “hormones” as an excuse not to do the laundry and vacuuming, on occasion. I can’t have that now, because those chores suck to the 10th degree and what not.

So, no, it wasn’t the hormones. It was the truth behind the lyrics.

“If this life has anything to gain at all
I count it lost if I can’t hear you, feel you,
’cause I need you. Can’t walk this earth alone.”

Sometimes I ask myself why I strive to gain the things in this world. The question applies whether it’s with my work, my writing, or whatever else I put in my sights. Is it a gain for me and only me? And if so, at what cost? If I let my faith trickle out to garner that success, even if it’s only a slow trickle, what will the win feel like when I’m left empty inside?

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“So in times that are good, in times that are bad,
For any times that I’ve had it all I will be glad.
And I will boast in the cross. I boast in my pains.
I will boast in the sunshine, boast in his reign.
What’s my life if it’s not praising you.
Another dollar in my bank account of vain pursuit.”

I often ask myself, what’s more important? The money and posturing that may go along with doing things the world’s way, or just keeping who I am in check.

“Tomorrow’s never promised, but it is we swear.
Think we holding our own, just a fist full of air.
God has never been obligated to give us life.
If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight.”

Our lives, our families, and even our talents and desires have been given to us as gifts. It’s easy enough to squander the impact of that premise as we come to feel it, but I fear we often completely forget the entire premise as well. Especially when we strive to have our way with what’s been given to us.

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“So now every morning I open your word and see the Son rise.
I hope in nothin, boast in nothin, only in your suffering.
I live to show your glory, dying to tell your story.”

This is pretty much all that’s needed. Doesn’t seem so hard. Thanks for putting a sweet beat to it, too, Lecrae.

Keep Those Cards and Letters Going!

balloon bouquetImagine that you’ve just had your first book published, and the Amazon reviews are decidedly mixed. Maybe you’re even getting some downright negative comments about your work, and you just can’t help but take it personally.

Then, at the moment when you’re considering never subjecting yourself to such pain and anguish again, the doorbell rings.

“Somebody thinks you’re pretty special,” says the delivery guy, handing you a balloon bouquet tied together with five pieces of scrumptious Godiva chocolate. “I’ll bet this makes your day.”

It does because the sender isn’t your mom or your spouse (though you’d never turn down their gifts, either). It’s a reader you met first on Facebook and then in person at your book signing. Over time, your relationship has progressed from mere acquaintances to true bosom buddies. And today, no matter who else in the whole wide world she could be thinking of, she’s thinking of you.

How amazing, the way we live and breathe and move in each other’s hearts and minds and souls! And how lovely when we take the time to let each other know.

“I absolutely love your book!” your friend writes in her note. “The story about the mother and son forgiving each other touched a nerve with me—in a good way. You nailed it. Thank you.”

My opening example was necessarily extravagant, which you can blame on my fixation with Godiva. But if you’re wishing right about now that your own doorbell would ring, why not practice the Golden Rule? You, too, can develop the habit of blessing writers with emails, cards, and similar kind gestures.

You are likely already Facebook friends with your favorite authors. You may also follow them on Twitter and communicate via Goodreads. You’re networking with a wonderful group, some of the most generous and sensitive people anywhere. Plus, you’re positioned well to begin supporting, lifting up, and appreciating these folks in easy, tangible ways.

Keep a running list of writers you’d like to bless. When you have a spare minute, choose a name. Have fun putting together a couple of sweet paragraphs in an email, a link on your Facebook page to a blog post the author wrote, a photo of yourself reading the author’s book, or a care package.

Jot down notes as you read a new book, to remind yourself later precisely what you loved about it. Authors especially enjoy hearing from a reader whose life was touched by the work. Instead of saying, “I learned a lot from your book,” say, “I particularly loved your advice on how to romance my husband and am putting it into happy practice!” Specific always trumps general.

Most authors these days are overjoyed to get an enthusiastic Facebook message or email from a reader, but I don’t know a single one who wouldn’t adore a handwritten card or letter. A small gift of special meaning can be memorable, too. I recently found an inexpensive wall hanging with the quote a writer friend of mine had posted on Facebook. I packaged it up and sent it to her with a note of good cheer. She loved it!

Remember, authors aren’t book-cranking machines; they are real live people. Their feelings get bruised. They suffer fatigue, illness, loss, and relationship problems—not to mention suffocating deadlines.

Sometimes, the friendship extended to an author isn’t about a book. Sometimes, we reach out to others in our writing community because of good old-fashioned love. Not long ago, a fellow writer sent me a gift for no reason, except that she saw it and thought of me. I don’t know about you, but even to imagine that a treasured friend spots a plaque with a humorous saying and is reminded of me gives me goosebumps.

So tell me, have you received wonderfully thoughtful notes or gifts from your fellow writers? Any tips you’d like to offer to those who want to keep those cards and letters going?