Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmas Memories Part 2 - Music Makes Christmas Merry & Bright

"The earlier the better!," I say, but there are those who snarl at even the thought of Christmas melodies lilting through the air before Thanksgiving. A cashier at a grocery store I frequent said she tires of Christmas music after about two weeks. WHAT? How is that even possible?

My Christmas playlist begins October 31st (unless I can sneak it in earlier without my husband knowing. He's one of those not-before-Thanksgiving types.) The moment the first note sounds, my heart leaps and lightens.

My head-over-heels love affair with Christmas music rewinds all the way back to my earliest childhood memories. Joyous songs always filled the air in celebration of the season with church, school, parades, as well as, in our home. On Christmas Eve each year, my mom or dad would load up the stereo turntable with multiple Christmas albums. From Bing Crosby to Dean Martin, from Andy Williams to the Boston Pops, music filled that magical night as we lay in our beds anticipating the arrival of Santa, the presents, and family gatherings.

Falling asleep listening to Christmas music is probably my most favorite Christmas memory of all. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Go Tell It On the Mountain, The Little Drummer Boy, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, O Christmas Tree, The First Noel, Parade of the Wooden Soldiers... the list could go on and on! Nothing makes my heart smile like the musical sounds of Christmas.

To this day, I still get to experience, in a nostalgic kind of way, that same child-like joy playing my parents' Christmas albums. Listening to them takes me back to precious memories filled with great times with mom and dad and other family members no longer here to celebrate with.

After retrieving the vinyls from my parent's house, I needed something to play them on. So, for Christmas that year, a Crosley turntable and stereo system was under the tree. I was like a teenage girl again on that Christmas morning when I got my first real stereo for my bedroom. I was ecstatic!

And as long as I'm able, I will play these treasures over and over and over again.

What role does music play in celebrating Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, in your household? What songs do you play over and over? Carefully crafted hymn melodies with the Christmas story scrolled through them are timeless and will forever stir our hearts. It's these songs I will never tire of. It's these songs I want to fill the air with in our home.

It's the music, filled with truth and grace, love and joy, peace and hope, that adds so much in making all of our Christmases merry and bright. 

Christmas Memory-Making and Stress-Relieving Tip: Turn off the TV, and turn on the music. Fill the house with the sounds of Christmas in a memorable, unforgettable way for your family, friends and all of those you love. Sing or hum along with the melodies as you busy yourself with the chores of the season. I bet you'll find yourself smiling more and a little less stressed.

My Pleasure, Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 27, 2017

My Christmas Memories and Ways to Make Good Ones for Your Kids

Christmas Memory Lane is where I love to travel back to this time of year. It's not that I don't love Christmas in the moment, I do. But drawing from a well full of joy from my childhood enhances my Christmas experience today. So, as the countdown to Christmas begins, I thought it would be fun to take a sneak peek into what Christmas was like for me growing up in a small, suburban town in the midlands of South Carolina, and I hope my memories will bring back some good memories for you too.

In the 60's at 2815 Wilton Road, where our streets were still unpaved, and the backyard was my playroom of choice, my parents knew how to make Christmas magical and wonderful for my little sister and me. Decorations were always aglow with lots of lights, tinsel, and fake snow.

One of my earliest Christmas memories is kneeling beside my mom around our living room coffee table. This table usually held a large family Bible, but during Christmas, a very tiny, colorful manger scene was put out on display. Not for being told, "Don't touch!," but rather the opposite. It was for little hands to hold and play with.

My mom was a great story-teller. She filled hours of our childhood reading books and telling us stories. She's the one who made the little manger scene come alive with the power of story from the greatest Book ever written, the Bible.

That tiny manger scene quickly became one of my favorite pieces of the season. Each Christmas, after it was unpacked and safely in its endearing spot, I would get on my small knees, eye-level with all the characters, and tell the story of Jesus' birth, not only in my mind, but out loud I'm sure. I could place the donkey, cows and sheep anywhere I chose, and the shepherd boy with the lamb on his shoulders was always placed where he could see the newborn King with ease. The itty-bitty baby Jesus in the manger was snuggled tenderly between Mary and Joseph with the angel right behind them. Then, I would march the wise men into the scene bearing gifts from afar and place them in their positions of worship. With child-like awe and wonder, I would repeat the story over again and again.

My very wise mom understood the importance of story and play, and because of her, I learned the true story of Christmas at a very early age.

A Christmas Memory-Making Tip for Parents and Grandparents: Find a safe, non-toxic, non-breakable manger scene with movable pieces for tiny hands. As you tell your young children or grandchildren the story of the birth of Jesus, use the characters to bring His story to life. Tell it often. Ask some simple questions to see what they are learning. Then, give them the freedom to play with the pieces. Every once in a while have them tell you the story of Christmas using the manger scene characters. Hearing the story from a child's perspective is not only precious, but it can be quite entertaining.

I would love to hear about your Christmas memories and tips as we move through the most wonderful time of the year!

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A "Barn Girl" and Proud of It

About two decades ago, my best friend gave me a nickname that has stuck - Barn Girl.

It all came about at one of our Together For Him concerts (a singing ministry we were a part of). I can't remember the exact incident, but after I spoke up without reservation about something, she said, "You're such a barn girl."

Well, I wasn't raised on a farm or in a barn, but my maternal grandparents were farm people and I had cousins who lived out in the country. We visited often, and I have fond memories of visiting, riding their horse, playing hide and seek around the barn, and the smell of hay and the animals.

Over the years, my friend has continued to use this endearing nickname to describe my boldness to speak up, or my where-with-all to get 'er done, in a plethora of situations. Maybe I should have been raised in a barn.

But, after the lesson this past Sunday, I'm proud to own it!

It was an ah-ha moment for me as my husband was continuing to teach about the appearances of Christ in the Old Testament in our Sunday School class. One of the appearances took place on a wheat threshing floor belonging to Ornan, the Jebuzite (I Chronicles 21:14-15). As my husband unpacked the incredible scene and began explaining the significance of Jesus Christ standing on this particular threshing floor with Ornan, the place where the wheat was separated from the chaff, I took notice of the place where the owner would store the wheat - in his barn.  

It was all a foreshadowing of Christ standing on His threshing floor as the Judge with His winnowing fork, separating the wheat (the saved) from the chaff (the unsaved) and placing His wheat in His barns. 

Now, there's so much more packed into this lesson that we don't have time to get into here, but at this point, I began to beam! I realized that being a Barn Girl is quite the compliment and not just a friendly tease. I can wear my nickname and smile because Christ, who separates the wheat from the chaff, keeps His children (His wheat) safe and secure in His beautiful barns and storehouses. How cool is that?

Now where did I put my boots?

My Pleasure,
Melanie, aka Barn Girl

Monday, July 31, 2017

Do You Open Your Bible Out of Obligation or Expectation?

For years as a young follower of Christ, I opened my Bible because I was supposed to. I checked it off my "Be a Good Christian" to-do list and felt better about myself, at least for the moment.

Now don't get me wrong. Opening my Bible was never a waste of time or energy. I was developing a life discipline, but without expecting God to speak, I was just spinning my wheels.

As the years have passed, and I continue to grow up in the faith, tasting more and more of His delectable truth for myself, I now know God has something for me each and every time I open my Bible.

I want to read to see what my Father has to say to me.
In this moment.
Right where I am.

Reading the Bible out of obligation produces boredom and discontentment.

Reading the Bible with expectation produces great satisfaction and fullness of joy.

Soaking in the Word of God is the most important thing we do as disciples of Christ.

Why? Because Jesus is...

  • our Bread of life. (John 6:48)
  • our Portion. (Psalm 119:57)
  • our Sufficiency. (Matthew 6:25-34)
  • our Deliverer. (2 Timothy 4:18)
  • our Strength. (Psalm 46:1)
  • our Help. (Psalm 46:1)
  • our Breath. (Acts 17:25)
  • our very Life. (John 6:63)
And oh, so much more!

Without God's Word, there are no words, no life, no hope, no joy, no peace, no salvation.

His Words are eternal. So, why do we continually run after and feast on temporal, unsatisfying, tasteless morsels?

Pay close attention to what you feast on today: social media, books, gossip, the news, movies, reality shows, the Internet...

Let's walk away from the useless, empty words the world has to offer and meet God in His Word with great expectation. 

To help you with this, I would like to personally invite you into the conversation. To join the discussion, join The Red Carpet, Girls Only private Facebook Group (sorry guys!) on my author page @writermelanieshull. This will be a space for encouragement to stay in the Word of God, for real conversation, and where you can post what great things He has shown you so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine (Romans 1:12 ESV).

I. Can't. Wait!

My Pleasure,

Thursday, July 27, 2017

God Speaks, Even Through Numbers

In a blog post sometime ago I wrote about how, at random times when I glance at a clock, the digital numbers 11:11 appear. It shows up on the car clock, the cell phone, the microwave, the clock by the bed, on the TV. It's become almost comical with me and my husband as to how often I look up and the time is 11:11.

The biblical meaning for the number 11 is disorder or chaos. Over 10 years ago, a magazine called 11:11 was given to me to examine. It's focus was all about the importance of self: self-awareness, self-meditation, self- reliance, etc., which is totally opposite from the teachings of Christ.

In Luke 9:23 Christ says, to follow Him we must deny self and take up our crosses daily. 

After God specifically told me we were going to begin a magazine called Living Real, in the parking lot after a writer's conference I had attended, the appearances of 11:11 on clocks began to grab my attention. I believe God has been affirming through these numbers that Living Real Magazine is my call and walk of obedience to counter chaos.

Our Bible study class on Sunday mornings is studying the appearances of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. One of our three teachers is focusing on how God speaks through numbers and the Hebrew language. Numbers have significant spiritual meaning just like words do. It's all so amazing.

This past Sunday morning, as I was listening and thinking through God's perfect, infinite wisdom, I thought, "Since God specifically gave me the name of Living Real for the magazine, I wonder what the numbers corresponding with the letters of our alphabet would mean?"  

I began scribbling...


172 is made up of all prime numbers, which is another lesson in itself.

Then I added the prime numbers together.  

 1+7+2 = 10

I was absolutely blown-a-way! Living Real = 10

The spiritual meaning of the number 10 is Jesus Christ!

To take it a step further, the total number of letters in Living Real are 10!

10:10 - Jesus Christ, perfection 
11:11 - disorder and chaos (The author of confusion? Satan.)

Jesus always counters confusion.

God didn't have to give me the title Living Real for the magazine, but He did. And He never does anything randomly or without purpose. Until Sunday, I had never thought about the spiritual meaning of the numbers embedded in these words, but God knew. He also knew when He spoke them to me He would not only affirm, but blow me away 10 years later.

I'm beyond words.

How has God blown you away lately?

My Pleasure,

Please visit our website at livingrealmag.com and follow us on Facebook @LivingRealMagazine.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Follow My Blog and Be Entered to Win The Red Carpet Journal

Why The Red Carpet Journal?

 "What's said on the carpet stays on the carpet," she said, laughing as she introduced herself to the newcomer. "It's the rule for everyone who attends Bible studies at the Shull home."

It's my pleasure and my husband's to provide a safe, open and transparent space to encourage one another, equip the Body of Christ, and grow up in our faith. 

Many tell me, "If you ever replace the carpet, you cannot change the color." 

It's humbling to know that so many hearts feel safe and at home on the red carpet each week. 

Unlike Hollywood, it's not ourselves who are on display, but the radiance of God's glory (Hebrews 1:3), His Son, our Escort, who guides us along The Red Carpet walk called salvation. We seek to make Christ famous - one step, one life at a time. 

Because of over 30 years of in-home disciple-making and the red carpet's impact on so many, I felt the nudge to develop a resource tool for group or personal study, sermon note taking, journaling and doodling; pages to trace God's hand working in and through our lives. A place to write out Scripture, record petitions, prayers and praise. It's an extension from my heart to yours. 

And, yes! It's available NOW on amazon.com. 

If you choose to purchase or if you are already using a pilot copy this summer, please write a review on Amazon. I would be so appreciative and grateful. Search for The Red Carpet Journal by Melanie Shull and click on "review this item."

Here's a sneak peek inside!

1. Every 10 pages, there's a beautifully designed Scripture page.

2. The journaling pages are wide lined so any style handwriting feels at home.

3. The S.O.A.P. method for studying Scripture is also provided.

My prayer is that God will use this journal to align our steps with His, drawing many closer to His heart.

If you are not already a follower of my blog, please go to the sidebar, submit your email address, and you will be entered to win a copy of The Red Carpet Journal.

Drawing to be held on August 1, 2017! 

My Pleasure,

Monday, July 10, 2017

From Bitter to Sweet: When God Changes Our Tastebuds

Moses' leading the great Exodus is one of my favorite accounts in the displaying of God's power and authority, love and grace, mercy and forgiveness to a stubborn people whom He has purchased, redeemed and set free.

In Genesis 15:22-27, after the children of Israel have passed through to the other side of the Red Sea, over dry land while massive walls of water are kept at bay with the breath of God, they begin to complain.

They have been walking in the wilderness for three days without drinkable water. Their only water source is bitter in the land of Marah (meaning bitter).

Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. Crying out to the LORD, He asks Him to provide drinkable water for them.

God shows Moses a tree.

What? God's answer to the bitter water problem is a tree? 

Moses had to be thinking the same, but He didn't question. Although God's instructions of what to do with the tree isn't noted, Moses was moved to throw the tree into the waters. In doing so, the bitter water became sweet to the taste. 

Not only was it now drinkable water, but it was...




God didn't remove the source of water, but He changed the taste of the water.

There are so many layers of truth in just these few verses, but the one for today is:

God doesn't have to remove the bitter to make it sweet.

God didn't dry up the bitter water supply and produce a new supply for the people. He answered the cry of His people, inserted His power, and the taste of the water changed.

Isn't that how God works in our lives? It's not that He removes what tastes bitter or bad, He inserts His power into what seems bitter and stirs the waters, making them sweet to the taste.

God may not change our circumstances, but He can change our tastebuds. 

God wants us to taste and see that He is good in ALL things. He is our refuge, our happy place, when our souls are thirsty for relief (Psalm 34:8).

The Lord waits patiently for us to cry out in our time of need because our cry signifies that we know He is the only one who can do the miraculous in the midst of our bitter situation.

How about you? Are you struggling for relief in the midst of something bitter tasting in your life? Cry out to Jesus, dear one. He is interceding on our behalf to the Father just as Moses interceded on behalf of the children of Israel. God can change what is bitter to sweet if we'll just allow His hand to stir the waters of our souls.

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Feeling Stagnant? 3 Steps to Keep the Writing Waters Flowing

Do you ever have days, weeks, even months where life seems stagnant; not moving; standing still; even a little smelly?

I do.

Life can be difficult, and when we allow it to become stagnant it can be quite the chore to push through to allow the rivers of life to flow again.

Like a mountain creek clogged with trash and debris, a writer can also become stagnant. This past week has been a stagnant week for me. I've written some, but I feel as though the flow of words is at a stand-still. This isn't the first time this has happened, and I know it won't be the last.

My stagnant state seems to always be connected to my spiritual condition. How about you?

When we find ourselves in a "funk" and can't seem to shake free, here are some steps to take:

1. Pray and Repent.

Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2).

Confession is good for the soul. It gives the Spirit freedom to loosen and wash away what hinders our flow of freedom through Christ Jesus. He's always faithful to show us where we've lost our way and to restore back to us the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12). We just have to ask.

2. Search the Word. 

My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your Word (Psalm 119:26).

In our stagnant state, our spirits can become dry, longing to be resuscitated. We may not always know where to land, but when our hearts are seeking Truth, we always finds Him. Our spirits may be pricked through a conversation, a book, or through nature, but however He uncovers our awareness of our need for Him, God always draws us to Himself through the pages of the Ancient Words for life-giving refreshment.

3. Retreat and Renew.

He leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life (Psalm 23:2b-3a).

Sometimes, we just need some quality alone time with our sweet Jesus. Personal retreats are priceless for renewing our spirits. To align with His ebb and flow, we must carve out time to relax and settle into the rhythm of His heart. There's nothing more soothing than allowing Him to row us through the river of life.

Dear Jesus, What is causing me to be stagnant? Search my heart. Bring to the surface anything that is hindering my walk with You. Restore, renew and refresh my spirit as I retreat with You. Clear out what's clogging up my heart so Your grace, mercy love and words can flow freely again into the hearts of others. 

In the powerful name of Jesus, I pray. 

My Pleasure,

All Scriptures are from the Christian Standard Bible version.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Heartbeat of Home

Why spend one evening a week with five precious high school girls? Because the heartbeat of our home is seeking to make Christ famous.

One life at a time.

We're called to know God, to love Him deeply and to bring Him glory with our lives. Young people need us to pour what we've learned about Christ into them. Sharing life experience mixed with the truth of the Word is the best way to impact the next generation. We're told to disciple, mentor and teach God's Truth to the generation coming behind us, because if we don't, who will?

Here's how we're doing discipleship this summer. We're soaping in God's Love Letter daily, aware of the fact that we carry the aroma (a sweet scent) of Christ wherever we go, and we're marking down His faithfulness in our lives with stones.

Soap, Scents and Stones - 
A summer GROW experience 

I provided the girls with a preview of my new journal called The Red Carpet Journal since I'm hosting them on my red carpet. I introduced them to the S.O.A.P. method of reading Scripture. Each week we take a few verses, S.O.A.P. through them, and then I assign more verses to S.O.A.P. through the following week. The girls and I come together to share our stories, intentionally looking for God's hand and any new truths we've uncovered from God's Love Letter from our personal study.

The first week we met, my intentions were for us to meet five or six times during the summer, but they blew me away when they said they wanted to meet every week for consistency. WOW! Who knew these beautiful heartstrings of Jesus would want to stay connected all summer long? 

Because of vacation, camp and Vacation Bible School, we've missed a couple of weeks, but we are back on this coming Sunday evening, and I can't wait!

We've eaten pizza, made our own smoothies, and this week, we'll play the card game "Spoons." I'm loving getting to know these girls and their hungry hearts to be all God has created them to be. 

What's the heartbeat of your home? Are you using it as a tool to disciple hearts? If not, why not invite someone to gather with you around your table to talk about the greatest Love Letter ever written? Invite someone over for a cookout or for coffee. By pouring God's grace, love and mercy into others we're being obedient in drawing attention to His Son, thus making Him famous, one life at a time.

My Pleasure,

Monday, June 5, 2017

Conversations Over Chicken Salad, Watermelon and Sweet Tea

What's more southern than chicken salad croissants, watermelon and a large glass of sweet tea? Not much!

There's also nothing more delightful than to open your home to women who love to gather in true, southern style.

Excitement dripped all over the red carpet in my den as women arrived in anticipation of our Summer Book Club 2017. The book selected is Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise H. Jones. She is a true southern author with a flare for unencumbered realness.

Set in the quaint town of Franklin, Tennessee, Denise grabs your attention from the get-go. As Scarlett Jo Newberry (the larger-than-life pastor's wife) sports a flashy neon wardrobe on her prayer walks around the neighborhood, we observe her uncanny ways of uncovering secrets hidden behind closed doors and hearts. This little town is buzzing with intrigue, sadness, humor and much needed healing.

Why a Summer Book Club?

After the fall and spring seasons of intense Bible study, I like to lighten things up a bit in the summer. I choose a book which is a fun read, but also directs us to the Word and steers the conversation.

A Summer Book Club provides the opportunity to use spiritual gifts like hospitality and encouragement. I love crafting an atmosphere where calm and peace melt away the stresses of the day to day, and I enjoy watching the stress leave as people walk in.

Inviting women into a safe place to shed their facades, offers a sense of release to be real with one another. This brings me joy.

The presence and power of Christ filling the room, inviting us into deeper intimacy with Him as we open His Word and pray for one another, always leaves me in wonder and awe.

We need each other to bounce life off of. We need someone to hold us accountable along our salvation journeys. I cannot think of a better way to equip and encourage than to open up our homes to those eager to learn how to love God deeper and serve Him better.  Why not start a Summer Book Club yourself? Southern style, of course. Bless your heart.

By His Grace Alone,

If you would like to order Secrets Over Sweet Tea, go to reclaiminghearts.com or christianbooks.com.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Serving Up the Perfect Blend

"How do you like your coffee?"


"Khaki? What does that mean?"

"Oh, you know some sweetener and just enough cream to change the color from black to khaki."

That's what I tell people when they ask how I like my coffee.

When I order coffee in the drive-thru, they usually ask if I want them to put in the additions. Sometimes I say yes, but only if I have first figured out how many creams it takes to make their brand of coffee khaki and how many sweeteners it takes to serve up the perfect blend.

The right temperature, plus the right ingredients, stirred with the right strength?

Mmm.. makes me smile every time.

Another perfect blend was poured out and served up when...

some girlfriends and I met this morning at Panera. I was expecting just two of us, but another joined, and it couldn't have been sweeter. While the aroma of coffee wafted across our table, the sweet aroma of friendship permeated our hearts with giddiness of joy. We were like little girls who haven't seen each other for days, laughing and catching up.

Connected as sisters in Christ, we are also connected as wives and moms, lovers of the Word and seekers of His heart. Our conversation quickly turned to deeper things. The spiritual, eternal. Things that will not be shaken. The things that will stand firm 'til the end when Jesus returns. As each of us shared our lives and heavy hearts, we discovered we have this burden in common - a brokenness for this generation of children, teenagers and young adults, as well as their parents, struggling with the evil bombarding them on all sides and at such deep levels. 

Believers, not just non-believers, are struggling with:

  • Children dealing with gender identity issues.  
  • All ages involved in pornography. 
  • The drinking of alcohol and justifying it. 
  • Marriages disintegrating before our eyes.
  • Depression and anxiety, even in little ones.
  • Suicide being rampant among teens and college students.

We further shared our concerns over how technology has and is luring our children away from their innocence, drawing them into screen addiction earlier and earlier. Social media, cell phones, I-pads, computers, even drones... You name it, our kids (and we adults) have it. It has opened a door to evil like never before, and we the parents have invited it in.

Now don't get me wrong, much good has come from technology too. I get that. But enticing children before they are able to process what can show up on their "secured" screens is playing with fire and refusing to admit you smell smoke. And I'm just as guilty as the next parent.

We must protect ourselves from the evil coming through the doors of our homes, schools and churches. Yes, we trust in the One from Whom our Strength comes from, Who is our Shield and Protector, our Help in times of trouble. But Jesus also expects us to act on our faith and battle the evil infiltrating our minds and the minds of our children.

The questions is, "What are we doing about it? How do we address these deep, dark issues with our children and each other in a godly, loving manner, not with judgment, but blended with grace and Truth?"

This is where we, the Church must take the lead. We must be teaching straight-up Truth from the pulpit and throughout our age appropriate classrooms. We must sense an urgency and act accordingly.

We, the parents must take responsibility for teaching Truth to our own children and not just leave it to church staff and volunteers to bare the load. Truth must be taught in our homes, around the dinner table, in the car, and at play. When we get up in the morning and when we lie down at night, our minds must be set on things above (Colossians 3:2), constantly being renewed (Romans 12:1-2) in the Truth of the Word, all the while pouring Truth and grace into our children. Train them in the principles and ways of God. (Proverbs 22:6)

Let the word of God dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16 ESV).

We must also live Truth and grace out before our children of all ages because parenting never stops. We are our children's safe space on this earth as long as we live. It's our responsibility to pray for protection over our homes, and to guard our hearts against the evil of this world coming at us at a record pace with the Truth of God's never-changing Word.

Being honest enough to bear one another's burdens, hurts and struggles brings us closer together, strengthens our fellowship in the Lord and our stand against the enemy. It brings us to our knees in prayer and praise and petition; another perfect blend served up before the Lord. 

My friends and I ended our time together agreeing to pray for each other, our marriages and our children ranging in age from 3 to 27. Specifically praying for their hearts to be guarded and protected from the enemy's snares and entrapments. For a covering over our families of grace and love, and to give us wisdom in how to teach our children well, when and where to set boundaries for them and for us, and to love and encourage them with our words and actions.

With the right temperature (attitude), mixed with wisdom and stirred with the love of Jesus, we can serve up a life-blend of grace and truth - an aroma of worship that's pleasing to the Lord, satisfying to the soul, and an aroma that will make the enemy flee.

Would you like a cup?

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What Can The Final Four Teach Us About Resurrection Day?

I love sports. I love competition.

And, I love my SC Gamecocks!

Both our men and women's basketball teams made it to the Final Four, with our Lady Gamecocks winning the 2017 NCAA National Championship game.

#GamecockNation is so proud!

March Madness was filled with amazing surprises, busted brackets, unbelievable buzzer endings, tight scores, great athlete stories, and so much more. There were even coaches giving God glory for their successes. How awesome is that?

The day after the confetti has fallen and the trophy has been given, some hearts go home filled with joy while others leave with heartache. But through it all, all teams can hold their heads high. Each accomplished great things in getting to the Final Four; some making it for the first time in their school's history.

Now let's take a look at another Final Four which changed history and lives forevermore.

We are quickly approaching the final four days of Jesus' life in The Women of Easter book study by Liz Curtis Higgs. We are moving through the last weeks and days leading up to the crucifixion and Resurrection Sunday. As I reflect on the history making final four days, from the Last Supper through Resurrection Sunday, I am reminded there were those who walked away after Thursday and Friday (Jesus' death and burial) full of defeat, heartache and deep sadness.

Who wouldn't be sad? Your closest friend, Teacher, Miracle Maker, Healer, etc... someone you've done life with 24/7 for three years is gone. The One you knew to be the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah, murdered on a criminal's cross and buried in a borrowed tomb. How devastating!

All hope seemed lost. Their joy deflated. Only fear and questions remained.

Little did they know, Sunday was coming! Behind the scenes was a ferocious fight for freedom like nothing anyone had ever seen or imagined. Soon, the Champion would emerge - conquering sin, death and the grave. Jesus would resurrect, having bridged the gap between the Father and His children, and opening up an eternal new way of life called Redemption; salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Sin has lost and LIFE has won!

The Final Four gives us much to hang on to:

- Never give up hope. In Christ alone, our hope is found. 

- Even when we don't have answers, Jesus is still the answer.

-When fear, worry and doubt creep in, proclaim the name "Jesus" and they will flee.

Want to know more about Jesus' amazing Final Four days? Go to the "Fab Four" Gospels.

Matthew 26-28
Mark 14-16
Luke 22-24
John 13-21

Can't wait to celebrate The Champion on Resurrection Sunday!

Lift up your heads! Easter's coming, people!

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Five Tips for Writers Who Think Everything Has to Be In Order In Order to Write

I know my writer friends out there are yelling at the screen right now, "Just write! You'll never have everything in order; just do it!"

I struggle with sitting down every day and putting words to paper, or digitally speaking, words to screen. I feel guilty because the daily needs my attention: laundry needs folding, dishes need drying, closet clutter needs organizing, dinner needs to be cooked. Not to mention, my family needs me, and I love being available for them.

Then, there's the plethora of thoughts and ideas swirling around in my head. A sort of wrestling match, sending this writer into the chaos of deciding what to write about. It's difficult to call all thoughts to a halt in order to pin down one idea to be developed into a blogpost, an article, or book project. If it was left up to me, I obviously would never get anything written. 

Writing requires discipline, and we all know most creative people aren't what you'd call very disciplined or structured. Our minds are always thinking and creating. (Note: I'm speaking in generalities of course.)

Good intentions do not get the job done. I may have good intentions of doing laundry, but after stepping into the laundry room I decide it has to be reorganized before I can even turn on the washing machine. In order to wash the clothes, the laundry room must be in order.

I may begin to prepare for dinner and notice the dry rack beside the sink is full of dishes needing to be put away. I have to have my kitchen in order before I can begin a meal.

So, when it comes to writing, it's no wonder I struggle. Writing is my intention, but if my writing space is in disarray I must put everything in order in order to write.

A clean space provides calm so I can work.

Once I'm in the zone, though, I'm all in. I've been known to not even realize someone has walked into the room, called my name several times, fixed their lunch, eaten and washed their dishes. I'm totally locked into what I'm doing, and it would take a freak of nature to get my attention. My family has learned it's futile to speak to me when I'm blogging, emailing, or writing. I don't hear them, therefore I don't respond. I know; sad, but true.

Here are 5 tips for those like me who think everything needs to be in order in order to write:

1. Just write.

Write thoughts, ideas, fragmented sentences... whatever comes to mind. Just start.

2. Enjoy the process. Don't rush it.

Ideas will eventually settle into something concrete. 

3. Don't edit as you write.

Editing is the last of the process. If you edit as you go, it can hinder thoughts and slow the process down. 

4. Good writers are always reading. 

Read a lot. Reading other writers' works always stirs up ideas and ways to communicate better. 

5. Take frequent breaks.

Every 45 minutes or so, move around, go for a walk, do a household chore. Stepping away clears the mind and reenergizes the spirit. Walking away will bring us back. 

Everything does not have to be in order in order to write. If it were not so, no words would ever be penned.

I'd love to know what tips have helped you. Please comment below.

Happy writing!

My Pleasure,

Monday, March 27, 2017

National Adoption Month - In Sweet Memory of Baby Judah

All my life, my parents loved to share mine and my sister's adoption stories with anyone who would listen. Even as our mom was nearing the end of her life, she loved to tell everyone around, "I had to buy my two girls."

Because she had dementia, she told our stories to the same people over and over, but I didn't care. I never stopped her. I just let her grin and tell as I swelled with pride of belonging and being deeply loved by the wonderful parents God chose for us.

I love to hear other adoptee stories. With every adopted child I meet, I feel a strong connection. Each story is unique and filled with great anticipation and intrigue. From open adoptions to closed adoptions, every story is worth telling again and again.

One of those precious stories belongs to Judah Kelly and his forever family, Scott, Mandy, Becca, Jared and Lizzie. Ten months ago, baby boy Judah brought long awaited joy and light into this sweet, loving, blended family of five. (Blended because three children and their dad were left behind when their mother passed away from cancer, and later the dad would remarry.) Their new mom, Mandy, adored her instant family, but longed to experience a newborn to hold and love as well. After several heartbreaks when adoptions fell through, Baby Judah came home to his new family. Soon after, my daughter had the privilege of photographing Judah, and I got to tag along.

The Kelly family was ecstatic over this little guy and how the Lord had granted their heart's desire with the honor of being his parents and siblings. He was the precious piece God created to make their family complete.

Then, on Tuesday, March 20, 2017 around 1:00 am, baby Judah, along with his nine-year-old sister, Lizzie, and his parents, Scott and Mandy, were gently escorted into the Father's presence as a devastating house fire took their lives, leaving behind his older brother and older sister.

For 10 short months, baby Judah brought the sweetest of smiles, deep belly laughter, and even deeper joy to his forever family. His forever family gave him the gift of family, unconditional love and so much more. I remember the smile on his mother's face as she held him the night Scott was ordained as a deacon, and how it was so contagious you couldn't help but smile back through tears.

Today is my 55th adopted day, and I choose to celebrate it by remembering Judah, my newest, littlest adopted friend:

Through tears today, we remember you, precious baby boy, along with your parents and sweet sister, Lizzie. We celebrate your life and the impact your family had on so many people, especially those in our church family. Many prayers were lifted on your behalf even before we met you.

We celebrate your entrance into heaven where only the fullness of joy exists. Knowing you're there though, doesn't mean we won't grieve hard for you. But, because of Christ, we are not without hope. We are clinging to the One we trust to do what's best to bring Himself the most glory and us a greater good. 

Your family hurts, but God will heal. Oceans of tears will continue to fall, but Jesus will catch every one of them. Many already miss holding and rocking you, but God's gentle arms will hold them tight and rock them, too. 

You have arrived at your final home, little one, with your Heavenly Father who has, and is adopting, a much larger Forever Family. He created you, loves you beyond compare, and chose to tell His story powerfully through a brief chapter - yours.

Until we see you again...
Hug Jesus for me! 

My Pleasure,

Photography credits: Madison Shull Photograph (Facebook)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When Life Hits Us Hard, God Hugs Us Tighter

Have you noticed every time the book of James is delved into, tragedy, hurt and pain come roaring in like a lion? Should we be surprised? The enemy is roaming the earth seeking whom he may devour, and what better time than when we are side-swiped with a tragedy to tempt us to turn away from God, the One who made us, knows our hearts, and loves us most.

Several years ago, my husband's men's Bible study group studied James in depth. Many hearts endured heavy pain and suffering during that time. Now, as our pastor is preaching through the book of James, trials and tragedy seem to be magnified. The enemy is roaring at our church family with much pain and sorrow. Just when we settle into the heart of the Word, seeking to understand truth in times of suffering, the enemy cranks it up a notch, sometimes several notches, placing more pain and suffering onto our already heavy hearts.

Spiritual warfare is real. The battle for our minds is intense. But, we belong to Christ and will not be shaken in our faith. Jesus is our Rock, our strong tower and our source of strength.

This morning, our church family's heart shattered over the deaths of four precious family members lost in a tragic house fire: a dad and a mom (both strong Believers and leaders), a bubbly little girl who made you smile every time she bounced into a room, and a precious, adopted 10-month old baby boy. We also deeply hurt for the two siblings, ages 12 and 16, who escaped the flames and a mother-in-law who is in the Augusta Burn Center.

How do we even begin to process this horrible event? What do you say to the family members and friends? How do we cope?

In my quiet time this morning, the focus verse was Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

As I continue to mull over the writer's words, I believe God is already, in this very moment, comforting and holding our broken hearts in His gentle, but mighty hands, and He is catching each and every tear falling from our eyes. I also believe we're being called to be still and know who God is, and to remember He is a good Father in ALL things. This is what needs to be foremost on our minds to battle the darts of doubt and fear the enemy may throw at us.

I quoted in my last post, God is attracted to the brokenhearted. (AnnVoskamp) If there's ever a moment to run into the arms of Jesus, it's when we experience the unimaginable, the unbelievable weightiest of heartaches. When we draw near to Him, He draws even nearer to us, cradling us in His loving arms like a tender-hearted daddy comforts his child.

How do we still our shattered hearts?

With the Word. Psalm 46 is a great place to camp out during any time of trouble to focus on Who God is:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (vs.1 ESV).

Because God is our refuge and strength...

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (vs. 2-3)

The weight of grief can feel like the earth is giving way under our feet, that our sorrow is more than we can bear, like we are drowning in the roaring foam of the sea. But, our God is here holding us up and giving us strength, courage and grace in the midst of it all.

As we still our broken hearts, may these words of our heavenly Father bring comfort, peace, and strength:

"You are My servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; 
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
 I will strengthen you. I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 
"Fear not, I am the one who helps you"
(Isaiah 40:10, 13 ESV, emphasis mine).

With a broken heart, I cling to Christ.

My Pleasure,

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Broken Hearts Attract the Broken Heart of God - Reflections from The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Never be afraid of broken things because Christ is redeeming everything. ~Ann Voskamp

Soaking up The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp has stretched my thinking about how and why our hearts break. It has changed the way I pray for people and myself. My actions and responses toward others have taken on a fresh perspective by viewing brokenness in our lives as a necessity to becoming Christ-like. The difference in the brokenness of a Believer and that of a non-believer our response to it.

Ann, without the fanciful 'e', (how she describes her name) gets me and I love getting to know her. Maybe because my middle name is Ann, also without the fanciful 'e', or because I've been in the depths of depression and despair. I've also learned how healing comes through the sacred art of giving and receiving forgiveness and grace. The brokenness Ann wrestles with gives all of us courage to stand tall and to not be afraid of the broken places in our lives.

There really is comfort and peace knowing Christ is redeeming ALL things broken.

Much has crashed around me (and in me) in recent months. As I'm walking the devastating path with a friend through the ravenous pain and heartache of divorce, my heart breaks as well. In listening to countless others pour out their pain through floods of tears, my heart aches for them - my sisters in Christ. So many hurting. So many hearts broken. And still others with unspoken broken. (Ann's words)

A reoccurring theme throughout The Broken Way is this: We cannot really love one another without really suffering with one another.

In my experience, the Church has long avoided real suffering with Her real people. Many people put up barriers to keep people out of their stuff while some avoid other people's stuff so as not to have to have to get involved. I know I'm guilty of both. How about you?

Beautiful masks, bearing the phrase, "I'm fine!", are the Sunday fashion of choice for many. Passing by someone going in or out we may ask, "How are you?" and their pat answer is, "Fine. How 'bout you?" But are we or they really fine? By our not being honest with each other, the Church is losing impact on the community around Her. Didn't Jesus say we will be known as His disciples if we love one another?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 NKJV).

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2 NKJV).

I've learned through my own broken places that it's in the exposing of the dark spaces where the light of Christ shines brightest to root out, redeem and restore as His Light of compassion is absorbed. But if we aren't willing to also bring the Light of our suffering into the suffering of others, how can we claim to really love one another?

When the Holy Spirit is released to search deep into the dark places of our hearts, He exposes the sin roots entangling our hearts, stifling our joy and influence for Christ. When roots of sin are exposed, opportunity is given for faith to be tested and strengthened. Exposure reveals Who we truly believe Jesus Christ to be and how we see ourselves. It can be sobering and soothing all at the same time.

Broken open hearts attract the broken open heart of Christ. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3 NKJV).

No one understands brokenness like Jesus. Anything we've gone through, He has gone through it on levels we will never comprehend. For example, grief. Nothing shatters a heart like grief. Whether it's grieving a loved one who's passed, a marriage that's ended, a miscarriage, a prodigal son or daughter, a relationship of any kind. A loss of anything sacred, stings. Grief is deep and grief is real.

He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV).

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; (Isaiah 53:4 NKJV).

Have we carried the griefs and sorrows of the entire human race? It's impossible and a brokenness beyond our comprehension. It's all I can do to carry mine and those in my inner circle. But, by not bleeding our brokenness into the brokenness of each other, we are not functioning as the Body of Christ. He also knows we cannot bear the heavy heartaches alone, so He calls us to release our suffering into His suffering so He can carry it for us. What compassion! What amazing love!

From grief to relief. That's the Jesus I know, love and serve.

Our hearts reflect real Christ-like compassion when we co-suffer with others. Don't ever be afraid of your brokenness or the brokenness of another because Christ is redeeming all broken things.

How are you walking The Broken Way today? Are you co-suffering with another believer? I'd love to hear from you.

Oh, and I highly recommend The Broken Way to read and definitely to live.

My Pleasure,

Monday, February 13, 2017

Who Are You With?

As parents, we are constantly asking our children with questions:

Who are you going to the movies with? Who's going with you out to eat, to the mall, the game, the concert? Who are you riding with? Who's riding with you?

Even Facebook asks us when we post a picture of ourselves, family or friends, Who were you with?

With questions are of utmost importance because who we're with implies what kind of atmosphere we're in, who our influencers are, and how we're perceived by others.

Who we spend time with shapes who we will become.

God knew before time began the people I would spend much time with. Besides the godly influence of my family, God planted our family in the middle of a church with some extraordinary musical people to influence me and help me along in my musical development.

One family in particular had three daughters, one of which was my age. I was totally drawn to her and we became best friends. Music connected us. I loved to watch and observe her piano playing technique. We were a piano duo by the time we hit double digits in age. All through school we sang, played instruments and learned from each other. Growing up with her benefited me greatly and helped shape me into the Christian musician I am today.

 But of most importance, Who is with us defines who we belong to.

God makes a powerful with statement to His chosen people through the prophet Isaiah:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10 ESV).
  • I am with you. I am your God.
No need to fear. No need to fret. God is with us.

In December we were all focused on the name of Jesus, Immanuel which means God with us. Sometimes though, we forget God is with us 24/7, 365 days a year and not just in December when we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.

The with-ness of God has been displayed over and over in my life and in the lives of others around me. This past Christmas, God with us proved faithful and true when a life-long family friend passed away early Christmas morning. She was only 51 years old and the middle daughter of the family I mentioned earlier. This beautiful, stunning picture of health sat beside me on Christmas Eve as we sang the carols of the season under the flicker of candlelight. God is proving His with-ness to this family every single day.

God explains His power of with-ness when He states:

  • I will strengthen you.

Do you feel weak, discouraged, uncertain of the the future, unprepared to move forward? We don't have to go it alone, people. Our purpose is not to fix this life, but to lean into our Shield of faith. God already fixed what was broken through Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection. Because we are His beloved, we never walk into any circumstance unprepared or unarmed. His strength shines through our weaknesses.

Remember the first verse to this song you possibly learned as a child?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. 
Little ones to him belong. They are weak but He is strong. 
(Public domain)

Weakness is a good thing. (Whaaaat? Did I just say that? Yes, I did.) 

Through our weakness, God proves His faithfulness, and our trust in His faithfulness gives us strength.
  • I will help you.
God promises further that we need not strive in our flesh to be like Christ, but lean in again to Who He has given us to be with us - the Holy Spirit. He has provided all we need to live life to the full- in utter glorious abundance, through His power, strength, and help. We are never alone.

  • I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
We weren't made to stand on our own two feet alone no matter what anyone tells you. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps infers taking responsibility for our actions. True, but we cannot do life alone. We were created for trusting God to hold us up and carry us through.

Self-help books, self-sufficiency, self-starters, self-made. They all have one thing in common - SELF. I don't know about you, but that's a lot of pressure on human imperfection. No, thank you. I gladly choose Jesus to do life with - the One whom I can count on not to fail me, leave me or forsake me.

And I'm so grateful He desires to be with me.  How about you?

My Pleasure,

Saturday, January 28, 2017


My daughter was sitting at our kitchen island the other day and said, "Mom, you have to watch this proposal on You tube."

Madison knows me well. She knew that every sentimental nerve ending stretched across my hopeless romantic heart would ignite and cause me to tear up.

And, she was right.

The salty liquid trickled down my cheeks as I watched this beautiful expression of love.

Much thought and intense planning went into pulling off this young man's offering of himself to the love of his life. It was so sweet. His love for her was undeniable as he anticipated the fairytale-like walk-through-the-woods to ask her to marry him. With hidden cameras rolling and tons of pictures draped between trees with string and mini clothes pins, he led her through a time-line of moments of their life together right up to the present moment.

He intentionally saved one particular picture for last. One of her grandfather whom she treasured and adored, and who had passed away before this special event could occur. Including the memory of this beloved man in this moment meant the world to her.

Then he pops the question. "Will you marry me?"

Yes. She said, "Yes."

A perfect proposal. The perfect response.

Recently, on The Red Carpet, my book study friends and I were sifting through the metaphors and beautiful word pictures Ann Voskamp uses to describe the Lord's Supper in chapter three of The Broken Way. We shared social media hashtags we had created from what we read to use as conversation starters. The hashtag I shared was #ThePerfectProposal - a prelude to our perfect communion union.

Through the author's detailed description of The Last Supper, and her stressing over and over again, the miracle is in the breaking, we were given a gift as we gazed around the table with fresh eyes.

What does she mean the miracle is in the breaking?

Jesus talked about His death with His disciples. The breaking of His body and the spilling out of His blood would happen sooner than they realized.

Jesus was born to die - for them and for all of the human race. He stepped out of heaven and into skin, came to earth and tabernacled among the people before paying the ultimate price for all sins for all time.

With the burden of the cross weighing on His mind and His shoulders, He would bow humbly, with the joy set before Him, and offer Himself to the Father, the only perfect sacrificial Lamb, to redeem the world and satisfy the sin debt.

At the first Last Supper, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread to each disciple saying, "This is My body which is broken for you. Take and eat in remembrance of Me."

Then He poured out the wine into their cups and said, "This is My blood, spilled out for you. Drink it in remembrance of Me."

Every time now I come to the Lord's table, I will never approach it again the same. Christ broke, bled, and died for me and for you. He bowed in holy humility and offered to exchange His good brokenness for our bad brokenness. (Voskamp)

It's The Perfect Proposal - offering us a life that's fully redeemed, rescued, and re-purposed. We just have to say, "Yes!," making an eternal vow to being part of His Bride - the true Church for all eternity.

As we approach the Lord's Table of Bread and Wine, Jesus asks us to remember His proposal and promise of exchange, and to remember our vow, our promise back to Him by receiving His broken good in exchange for our broken bad. Receiving is remembering - placing our hands into the scarred hands of the Bridegroom and saying, "I do."

The miracle of our communion union is in His breaking and ours. This is the mystery of oneness with Christ. Broken and given. He breaks and gives Himself completely to us. We break and give ourselves completely to Him. This is how we are called to really live until He comes again to receive us (His Bride) for the most amazing wedding feast that will last for all eternity.

To live in a broken world, with our broken hearts, we must live cruciform (the shape of Love) and gift our cross-shaped selves for others. Cruciform people are the true church people. The Church mirroring the cross of Love. Lots of little cross bearers standing side by side, arms stretched out, with eyes fixed on the Bridegroom, for the joy set before us. In His power and strength we press on holding one another up through our weaknesses, pain, heartache, and brokenness. Even the gates of hell cannot stand up against Her. 

On Sunday our local church body will be remembering The Perfect Proposal.
I can't wait to remember the day He proposed to me! How about you?

My Pleasure,