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.

Called to Be Creative, contest, Debbie Macomber, giveaway, writing

Happy Blog Birthday! A Gift for You~

wordpress

I began this blog eleven years ago, in June 2009. I was 49 years old. Four of my eight children still lived at home. The youngest would turn six that summer and my oldest had yet to turn 30. My husband David had survived cancer and our marriage was the best it had ever been. Determined to write another book before I turned 50, and spurred on by a supportive spouse, I’d made the decision to chronicle the history of couponing and refunding, a topic I had lived and breathed since 1979. Aware of the importance of a “platform,” I  began blogging. The original title of this blog was “Mary Potter Kenyon: A Housewife Writer Dishes on Writing.” That somewhat old-fashioned, probably politically-incorrect housewife moniker was abandoned a few years later. A month after my initial blog posting, on July 4, 2009, encouraged by my husband to “begin already,” I spent a good ten hours at my kitchen table, frantically writing while drinking copious amounts of coffee. I completed an outline and what would become the first two chapters of  Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession

Three years later, failing to have sold the completed book, I would lose the man who inspired it. Three days after coming home from the hospital following a heart stent surgery, David died sometime during the night.

Signing a contract seven months after his death, the book that had been his idea in the first place appeared in our local Barnes & Noble window in the summer of 2013. Which just goes to show you; dreams can come true, but not always in the way or the timing we’d choose. Still numb with grief, I was devoid of emotion when I first spotted the display, valiantly attempting to feel what I was supposed to be feeling as an author whose book had just been released.

barnes and noble

Occasionally, I succeeded. I am reminded of this when I see photos of me taken at various book-related events; when my smile is genuine and reaches the eyes.

I signed five more book contracts in the ensuing six years. Coupon Crazy had been my husband’s idea. Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage was our love story; a marriage revitalized by caregiving through cancer. Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace chronicled the losses of mother (2010), husband (2012), and grandson (2013) in the space of three years. It was just as much a story of faith as it was of grief. Neither of those books would have been written without my relationship with David, or the loss of him.

Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink, co-written with my long-time friend Mary Jedlicka Humston, was a turning point for me as an author. The subject matter, female friendship, while not directly related to grieving, still included details of how our friendship dramatically changed following my husband’s death.

At times I felt like I was a spectator, watching her enjoy what I had not been able to with the release of each of my previous books; books that would not have existed without David. It felt like both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because, as a co-author, I could vicariously enjoy what I had missed. A curse, because what I’d lost became all the more obvious, the loneliness heightened as I observed what it was to share one’s success with a spouse. When her husband Jim graciously brought flowers to both of us at a reading, I had to turn my face away lest he see the tears that were not his doing.

Expressive Writing for Healing: Journal Your Way From Grief to Hope, was a perfect companion to the expressive writing for healing workshops I began doing five years ago. While it’s debut in April 2018 fell through the cracks of my increasingly busy life (I was working on another book, looking for a new job and about to face a big move), I can honestly say it was the first book released since 2011 that I’ve experienced no residual sadness upon it’s release, which is interesting, considering the topic was, once again, grief-related.

So we come, full-circle, some eleven years after this aspiring book author’s feeble attempt to build a platform. A sixth book to be released since that day in 2009 when I began blogging. A book that began as a file folder labeled “Creativity” in early 2011, has come to fruition nine years later. And while grief does make a cameo appearance,  (creativity is proven to be a healing tool), I feel nothing but excitement for the book that #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber endorsed this way: “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.”

FM - Called to Be Creative - Cover_r3 (1)

Called to Be Creative is for anyone looking to reignite that tiny spark inside of them and invite creativity into their lives through simple, everyday practices. A certified grief counselor and a Program Coordinator for Shalom Spirituality Center, Mary Potter Kenyon walks you step by step through the process of exploring your true potential in this inspirational guide to embracing your innate creativity. With in-depth research from the most notable creative authorities, insight from creative pioneers, her personal experiences, and small activities to kick-start your own creative revolution, Kenyon offers you everything you need to live a more creative life.

This book feels every bit the celebration my blog anniversary deserves. And there are two ways my blog readers can join in on the celebration. One way is to enter a drawing for a free signed advance copy of Called to Be Creative. To enter, simply comment beneath this blog post. One winner will be drawn on July 28

The other way is to enter a Goodreads giveaway for a copy. You can actually do both, to up your odds of winning.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Called to Be Creative by Mary Potter Kenyon

Called to Be Creative

by Mary Potter Kenyon

Giveaway ends July 20, 2020.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Bible verses, faith

The Word

“I haven’t chosen my word for the year yet,” I lamented to the group of women who attended my Women’s Christmas program Sunday night. I began the practice of choosing a word for the year after reading Debbie Macomber’s One Perfect Word in 2011. In the book, Macomber discusses how concentrating on a single word has become a tool for God to work in her life, and in the lives of others.

one word“I know what my word means, but I don’t know what word encompasses the meaning,” I continued. “I want to learn how to just live in the moment this year, to just be, but I don’t want the word BE. It has to mean relax, revel, appreciate…” My voice trailed off. Most of these women were strangers. They couldn’t know how impatient I was, how I struggled to entrust the daily workings of my life to God.

A woman who was sitting nearby smiled broadly. “I know the word. It’s mine for this year. I learned it in Bible study this week. It means to relax, to reflect, to love, to listen. It’s used over seventy times in the Psalms.”

I could barely contain my excitement. I loved reading the Psalms.

“What is it?”

“Selah. The word is Selah.”

I’d never heard it. How could I not be familiar with what sounded like the perfect word for my year?

Turns out, the NIV version I use doesn’t include the word in the text, but as a footnote. Nor do Bible scholars agree on the Hebrew word’s meaning. Some say the implied meaning is a simple musical “rest” or pause. More scholars tend to go with the term meaning “pause and reflect.” And that’s exactly how my Everyday Life Bible, Amplified Version, with notes and commentary by Joyce Meyer includes it.

Psalm 32:7 You are a hiding place for me; You, Lord, preserve me from trouble, You surround me with songs and shouts of deliverance. Selah (pause, and calmly think of that)!

A third interpretation would include both the others, and claims the meaning is “lift up, exalt, and magnify” The Lord.

Pause. Reflect. Rest. Lift up, and exalt The Lord. This year, I want to pause and reflect before I speak, write, or schedule programs and events outside of work. I want to rest in the Lord, allow him to guide me in all my endeavors. I also want to include restful activities; quiet mornings alone, nature, shared moments with the people I love. I want to lift others up. And I most definitely want to exalt and magnify the Lord in everything I do.

selah

Selah. I found my word for 2019.