Debbie Macomber, faith

REST: My Word for 2023.

Some of you are aware that I’ve chosen a word for the year ever since I read Debbie Macomber’s One Perfect Word in 2011. For those who are new to the idea, it’s basically a meditative practice. By asking God to reveal the perfect word, we then spend 365 days pondering its meaning in our life, a form of Lectio Divina that we can employ as we study, listen, ponder and pray while also delving into God’s Word. I take this process seriously, as I have seen the difference in my life since I began the practice. For instance, when I chose the word Possibilities at the beginning of 2021, I had no idea two seemingly “impossible” things would become a reality for me that year. I was finally able to write the children’s book on grief that I’d be unable to pen in the previous nine years and I met and married the man God had asked me to pray for in 2018.

For whatever reason, I failed to choose a word last year. I’m not sure what one might have been fitting. The first half of the year could have been AWE as we took several trips. Not only was I in awe of the beauty of God’s creation as we traveled, but I also basked in the companionship and love of the man at my side. The second half could hardly have qualified for that same word as our summer plans for golfing and hiking trails were sidelined by weeks of debilitating arthritis pain for Nick when he went off a medication that may have been affecting his kidneys. In August, we were hit hard by Covid, spending our first anniversary next to each other on the couch in mutual misery. Mid-September brought my cancer diagnosis, followed by an October surgery that eradicated the disease. I barely had time to heal before holiday preparations. At 3:00 a.m. on Christmas morning, I woke up coughing so hard I couldn’t sleep. The cough is still with me, along with an overwhelming fatigue.

Imagine my distress and consternation then, when I repeatedly felt led to the word REST during prayer last week. REST? This is a word both Nick and I resisted. Hasn’t there been enough “rest” for both of us? Weren’t we eager to plan more trips for 2023? To add an exercise regimen that would increase our stamina and improve our health? Yet the word rest implies couch time instead. I didn’t want the word REST to be my word for 2023, and Nick wasn’t interested in hearing it either. Neither one of us had previously led a “restful” life. Was that part of the problem? Was God trying to tell me something?

Instead of concentrating on healing from surgery in October, I’d been determined to be prolific in my writing, working on my next book. I was certain God was on the same page, having helped me write the most difficult chapter the week before surgery.

I was wrong. Post-surgery, I found myself tired, unable to string coherent sentences together. I looked to my second go-to; reading. Except instead of enjoying mindless fiction, I found myself reading books about God’s design for marriage. In between cancer diagnosis and surgery, I’d filled a book of prayers for my husband, discovering how praying for him helped me. I picked up another book about blessing your husband. And then another. Soon, I realized I was studying God’s design for marriage. You’d think having previously been married for 34 years I would already know everything there was to know about marriage. Yet it pains me to admit I had not been the most Biblical wife in my first marriage. It was only after developing a personal relationship with God in 2012, I discovered just how much I didn’t know about being a Godly wife. I’d vowed that if God ever brought someone else into my life, I would pray with him, cherish him, and we’d grow in faith together. I would strive to be the Proverbs 31 wife. Both Nick and I have been in AWE of the difference a God-centered relationship makes.

It does make sense that God would guide me to study marriage, since he is leading Nick and I to co-write a book about having a praying partnership with your spouse. This is what I do before I write non-fiction books; study the topic. I read more than sixty books on creativity before writing mine, three dozen on grief before my grief book.

What then to make of that arthritis pain and shared illness? What might God be trying to tell us through all of it? How could he use illness and pain for his good? It was during the time of forced rest that Nick and I added a daily Bible study to our morning prayer time. We’ve gone through several Max Lucado studies, currently Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear, based on Psalm 23.

Why REST as my word? Had we not already learned enough about being still? Does that mean another year marked by illness? I wondered these things in the middle of the night, sitting on the couch, coughing too much to sleep.

REST.

REST IN ME.

I went to the Bible then, searching for verses with the word “rest” in them.

God will give you rest. Exodus 33:14 “And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” Mathew 11:28-30 “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

We are to be still before the Lord. Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”

We are to rest through faith and obedience. Proverbs 19:23 “The fear of the Lord leads to life and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.” Jeremiah 6:16 “Thus says the Lord ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls.

It seems then, rest seems to have less to do about a physical call to the couch and more about an action to deepen our relationship with God, to find rest in Him. Resting in Him restores our souls. Wasn’t that exactly what Nick and I had done during the forced rest of Covid, when we began studying the Bible? With this word, God calls me to trust him, to follow Him. To rest in Him.

REST. The perfect word for 2023.

Debbie Macomber, faith

Choosing a Word for 2021

I can’t remember where I heard about the practice of choosing a word for the year, but I’ve done it every year since 2011.

Until 2020, that is. Rereading my journals this weekend, I noted the last time I’d chosen a word for the year was January 7, 2019, when I chose Selah, which means pause. I never did settle on a word for 2020. Maybe because there would be no word for the year we’ve had.

For those who are new to the idea of choosing a word, it is basically a meditative practice. By asking God to reveal the perfect word for the year, we then spend 365 days pondering its meaning in our life, a form of Lectio Divina that we can employ as we study, listen, ponder and pray while also delving into God’s Word.

I take this process seriously, as I have seen the difference in my life since I began the practice. Over the next few days I will be taking time to pray, ponder, and prayerfully discern what word God wants me to concentrate on in 2021.

As part of that process, I re-read Debbie Macomber’s One Perfect Word, taking copious notes.

This wasn’t my first exposure to the book. In fact, I can tell you the exact date I first read it, because I blogged about it on March 8, 2012:

“Yesterday my daughter Elizabeth called her house shortly before noon to inform me that the surgeon had, indeed, found cancer in Jacob’s lung. No bigger than a lima bean, the cancerous growth meant that, just six months after his treatment, Jacob’s Wilms’ tumor had returned. He will now be facing additional treatment that likely involves a stem cell transplant and stronger chemotherapy drugs.

Time stopped as I stood there holding the phone, long after Elizabeth had hung up.  I was startled out of my reverie by a slight movement from the couch. I looked down at the little boy staring up at me; my three-year-old grandson, Jo-Jo, bleary-eyed from having abruptly woken from a nap by the ringing phone. As if in slow motion, I sat down beside him, pulled him close and sobbed quietly into his back. He struggled a little against my tight embrace, and I loosened my grip, kissing the top of his head. “I love you,” I whispered hoarsely, and a little voice whispered back “I love you, too.”  Then he pulled back to look at my face, and I forced a gentle smile, lightening my tone, “So, how about those corn dogs Grandma promised? Should we go get them?”  He nodded his head, jumped from my lap, and ran to get his shoes.

I remember not wanting to face David, knowing how close he and Jacob were. I wanted to give him just a few more minutes of not knowing, to protect him from the news for just a little longer. Instead of heading home, I drove to my sister’s consignment store.

There was a parking space right in front, and I couldn’t see any shoppers through the window. Jo-Jo was quiet as I pulled him from the back seat. Stepping inside the doorway of the store, I saw the two smiling faces of my sisters Denise and Pat as they looked up from their lunch. “Mary!” one of them called out in welcome.

“It’s back. The cancer is back.” I blurted out, and they left their chairs to come hug me. Joseph, clinging to me like a little monkey, was hugged inside their embrace. Joseph, I thought to myself as I buckled him in again. Nearing four years of age, and facing weeks without his mother as she stays in the hospital with his older brother, he’d suddenly become Joseph.  It would forever be the first time he’d told me he loved me. It would also be the last time I called him Jo-Jo.

The library was our next stop. Joe still clung to me, uncharacteristically quiet. The stairway down to the children’s room seemed longer than usual, and I prayed my sister had returned from her lunch. Angie, who had become Angela and my best friend after our mother’s death, came around the corner from her office area. She knew as soon as she saw my face. We hugged, and again I began sobbing; poor Jacob. Poor Elizabeth. Poor Ben. Poor little Joe, who silently observed the adults around him crumple one by one.

Bolstered by the collective strength of my sisters, I was ready to face David. But he must have already known.

My husband stood on the porch. Joe ran ahead of me into the house. David held his arms out to me, and we clung to each other for a few moments.

I don’t remember either one of us saying anything. What could we say? David’s agony was palpable as we embraced, mirroring my own. Having gone through cancer treatment himself, David and Jacob were comrades, sharing a special bond. David retreated to the back yard and began raking. I retreated to the house to watch the children. The sharp pain David began experiencing in his shoulder that night never did abate, and would eventually move to his chest. We would later learn the shoulder pain was likely the first in a series of small heart attacks, not muscle aches we attributed to the yardwork. But we didn’t know that yet.

I just went through the motions the rest of the day, unable to stop thinking of Jacob, Elizabeth and Ben. Katie, at 12, seemed to intuitively know what I needed; she made Joe’s corn dogs and pizza rolls for the girls. Emily kept hugging me. Even Matt, 18, hugged me several times. The girls played as usual, Joe joining them. Several times throughout that afternoon, I picked up a pen and pad of paper to write, but to no avail. Words wouldn’t come. Instead, I picked up a book that had been recommended to me by a friend that very morning. I began reading Debbie Macomber’s “One Perfect Word.” The book pulled me in, despite, or maybe because of, the anguish I was experiencing. In it, Macomber discusses how concentrating on one single word each year has become a tool for God to work in her life. In 1999, her word was BELIEVE. She shared how belief can become a lifeline when grief or tragedy strikes. I read those passages several times. Macomber uses C. S. Lewis as an example. While grieving the death of his wife, Lewis wrote about belief in the face of fear in his book, “A Grief Observed”:

‘You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it…Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.

I had to ponder this for awhile. If I believe, truly believe, that God has a purpose and a plan for everything, then this trial has to be for a reason. My marriage has never been as good as it has been since David’s cancer, my faith never as strong as it has been since my mother’s death. But to know a child, an innocent child, is facing something that knocks grown men to their knees! What purpose could there be in that? I continued reading, searching for answers.

I found an answer I needed in the story of Annie Beiler, founder of Aunt Annie’s Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels. Annie had tragically lost her nineteen-month-old daughter in a farming accident.

Anne coped with the loss of her beloved daughter as best she could, but inside, something cold had begun to grow. Depression set in, and with it, a crisis of faith. In an article she wrote, ‘Had it not been for God’s grace and mercy, and the wonderful godly husband who loved me as Christ loves him, I never would have climbed out of depression. I believe Angela was sent to me and my family for many reasons, but a key purpose was for me to become the kind of person that Christ wants me to be.

Even before Elizabeth and Ben returned from Iowa City, e-mails were arriving in my inbox: family and friends asking what they could do.

I think of that rope that C.S. Lewis mentions, the one that Elizabeth and Ben must hang onto in the coming days. I think of the friends, the loved ones and even the strangers who care about this little boy and his family. I think of the little boy himself, who wakes from surgery, pulls out the IV lines, and even amidst his pain, asks when he can buy his sister a toy from the gift shop. This little boy who trusts with a childlike faith, whose life is the epitome of the goodness we all search for. I look to my family for assurance that they will be there, and they protectively circle around me, embracing me. I turn to friends, and their answering prayers are lifted to the heavens. In the darkness of these days, I reach out and feel the rope. It feels thick and strong. I tug tentatively. Why, Lord? Why this little boy? Why?

I step out in faith, and the rope holds.

When I wrote those words in March 2012, I had no idea how much I’d need that rope twenty days later, when I would discover my husband had died sometime during the night, three days after coming home from the hospital following heart stent surgery, or again, in August 2013, when we lost Jacob.

Now, just days before the end of a year that has been tough on everyone, I am reminded of how One Perfect Word was the one perfect book for me to have on my end table that fateful March day when we’d discovered Jacob’s cancer had returned. How it helped tremendously to know parents who had lost a child survived, and eventually thrived. To read words from C. S. Lewis that I would turn to repeatedly in the coming months, that I still turn to when facing tough situations. It was no coincidence that Debbie Macomber’s book was sitting there, waiting for me. It was exactly what I needed.

It is no stretch of the imagination then, to believe that a God who cares enough about me to guide me to the perfect words back in March 2012 can lead me to the perfect WORD for 2021.

Book Launch, Called to Be Creative, creativity, Debbie Macomber

Book Launch!!

“I devoured this book. Each chapter is filled with encouragement and inspiration. If you’re looking for something to feed your creative soul, this is it.”
Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author

It’s the end of my book launch week, and it’s been a whirlwind of activity. Launching a book in a pandemic is a totally different experience. Typically, when one of my books is released, I like to get out to bookstores and libraries to do programming and book-signings. I had a “Legacy of Creativity” workshop planned in conjunction with the release where I would give out “magic pencils” (you’ll have to read the book to know what a magic pencil is)  to attendees. I purchased thousands of them on eBay in anticipation. Everything has either pivoted to online or is postponed, so I pivoted too, offering some of those pencils inside packets of notepads that will be given out in select bookstores, as prizes for drawings, and for upcoming events.

packet with notepad

I’ve been interviewed for some blogs, enjoyed some creative reviews from launch team members, and recorded some podcasts ahead of time. I love doing podcasts and radio shows!

I did one with John Reynolds of “Art Imitates Life”

A “Faith & Grief” podcast with Shelly Craig of Faith & Grief Ministries, which was more about my Refined By Fire book, but we also talked about how creativity can be a healing tool for grievers.

I was featured as a guest on “The Culture Buzz” radio show with John Busbee

My local library in Dubuque, Iowa, also interviewed me on their podcast. 

Despite pivoting my own work programs to online, this is still a learning curve for me. I did my first two Facebook Live videos in conjunction with this book, but apparently didn’t do whatever I was supposed to do to download or save them. They still exist, but only on my Facebook Pages, so I shared them on my “Called to Be Creative” Facebook page, which is less cluttered than my other pages. So if you missed the “Great Woods Unboxing” video or the Launch Day “Tour of My Creative Space” CLICK HERE to see them on my Facebook Called to Be Creative Page. While you are there, Like my Page!

I held my first ever Virtual Book Launch, in conjunction with my publisher, Familius, and the River Lights Bookstore. I had a wonderful turnout and it ended up being a great deal of fun.

Launch Party

This was my most fun book to write. I enjoyed interviewing creative people for the “Creative Sparks,” coming up with jumpstarts for the “Ignite” activities at the end of each chapter, and I even enjoyed all the research I did to convince the reader that they have it in them to be creative. That I could write about my mother and the creative legacy she left was just icing on the proverbial cake.

I’m thrilled to have a foreword written by Rebecca Schweiger, founder and owner of The Art Studio NY and author of Release Your Creativity. 

You can purchase a copy of the book at your local bookstore or through Workman Publishing.