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New Year’s Resolution?

A trip to any grocery store or warehouse club tells us a new year has begun.  year. In December, shelves loaded with Christmas candy and holiday baking items greeted us. Now, a towering display of protein bars, vitamins and muscle-building shake mixes fills the front of the store. And almost every aisle boasts nutritious snacks, diet drinks and other items designed to appeal to those in New Year’s resolution mode. Social media now allows us to share our once-private pledges with the world. Declarations like “I’ll work out twice a day,” “I’ll lose 50 pounds,” or even “I won’t touch fats or carbs” fill my news feed along with pictures of the lifters, squatters, runners and dieters on my list of friends and followers. Christians, of course, are just as likely as others to post these year-opening promises and to make others that sound more spiritual: “I’ll read the Bible through four times this year” or “I’ll memorize 15 Bible verses every week.” But what about service? Where does it fit on our resolutions list? Deuteronomy encourages us to give God the firstfruit offering. For many believers, this means at least a tithe of our income belongs to God. But couldn’t we extend the idea of firstfruits to our ministry to others as well? Instead of waiting for pleading letters or posts from your favorite nonprofit or other service organization, calendar some activities now. Does the local homeless shelter or food bank need people to serve or pack meals? Such ministries typically have many offers of help in November and December but few after the feel-good holiday season has passed. Local schools are back in session and (after appropriate background checks) often welcome volunteers. And what about summer mission trips? Committing to one now instead of later will give you plenty of time to gather both needed funds and prayer support. If you’re a teen or have teens, I want to take a moment to recommend two student mission-sending organizations. My family and I have served with both. Awe Star Ministries designs its mission trips around the rite of passage concept in which students take a definite step into adulthood. The trips place an equal emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. During the trips, small groups of students work through materials designed to help them walk out what it means to be a man or woman of God. Awe Star offers spring break, Christmas and summer mission trips ranging from 10 to 35 days in length. Summer teams, ranging in size from 20 to 30 students, depart from Dallas after four days of training. Each serves in a different country (this year, teams will travel to Mexico, Peru, Panama, and Suriname) and...

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Prayer from an Empty-Nest Mom

Dear God, I said lots of goodbyes this past year. And this year has started out much the same. I guess that’s the way it’ll be from now on, won’t it, Lord? Goodbyes with the start of every new college semester and the end of every college break. Goodbyes with summer mission trips, internships, and visits to faraway friends. Goodbyes with new job opportunities. Goodbyes after holiday visits. Goodbyes as more of our family moves out of state. Goodbyes as they start new jobs. Or marriages. Or other adventures yet unknown. When our five were younger, our house overflowed with shouts and giggles and messes and dirty clothes. And those times late in the evening when, for what seemed like the first time all day, no one was moving or crying or needed me to do something RIGHT NOW? I lived for those. And yes, God, I confess that I didn’t always appreciate the constant pressing-in, the rounds of questions, the brother-sister and sister-sister bickering. The coughing, nose-running, feverish-and-miserable trips to the pediatrician. The difficulty of navigating a grocery store with three or more helpers. The effort it took to buckle and unbuckle carseats. The challenge of keeping a newborn and toddler quiet and happy in the library while the older three made their choices. (Yes, for a few years, we brought along a double stroller to fill with children and books). What burdened me then has become cherished memories now. And so in this season, God, as my nest grows more and more empty, will you teach me to cherish the hellos? Because if they didn’t come home, I wouldn’t get to say goodbye. If they hadn’t wanted to see us for Christmas, I might not notice my empty bedrooms today. If they didn’t love our family traditions, I might not have a home to undecorate. If I didn’t love them so much, I wouldn’t miss them the way I do.                                                                               So in this time and at this moment, Lord, I thank you for the goodbyes as well as the hellos. I thank you for the silence. The peace. The ability to work at my desk uninterrupted. The ease of considering the likes and dislikes of only two people when planning dinner or a trip to the store. And I thank you for the promise of so many more hellos and goodbyes in the days and, as you allow us, years ahead. My focal word for this year is...

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Words with Friends: Dan Walsh

Dear Friends, It may not look much like Christmas here in Mount Dora, Florida, with temperatures in the 70’s today–but we’re celebrating anyway. Tomorrow morning is our little town’s annual Christmas parade. And my friend Dan Walsh, whose recent release, Keeping Christmas, is set in Mount Dora, has two appearances here this weekend. Saturday, December 5, from 1 – 3 p.m., he’ll sign copies of his books at our wonderful hometown bookstore, Barrel of Books & Games. And Sunday evening, December 6 from 6 – 8 p.m., he’ll participate in the Christmas Book-tactular at the Donnelly Building in Donnelly Park. If you live in the central Florida area, I encourage you to come out and meet him and the other local authors. But since many of you don’t live here, I thought we’d take some time today and get to know Dan and Keeping Christmas. (Read my recent review here). I first met him a few years ago when he was just making the transition from busy pastor to full-time novelist. But I’ll let him tell you about that.                 Welcome, Dan. For those readers who don’t know you, could you give a little background on how you came to the writing life? I know yours is quite a story! Thanks, Marti. I do have an unusual story. Let’s see if I can share it in a paragraph. After serving full-time as a pastor for over two decades, I was experiencing some burnout, so I began writing a fiction novel to help me unwind and relax. After completing it, I polished it up and began the effort to get it published. To my shock and surprise, it was picked up almost immediately by an A-list literary agent, who had a contract with a major publisher in two months. That book, The Unfinished Gift, sold very well and won two Carol Awards. This led to more book contracts and eventually I left pastoring (at the twenty-five year mark) to write novels full-time. Keeping Christmas is my fifteenth novel and I have already released book #16 (Rescuing Finley) on Nov 19. Yours is the story of which so many writers dream. Of course, I was especially interested to read Keeping Christmas because the novel is set in my wonderful hometown of Mount Dora, Florida. How did you choose this location, and what research did you do? When I got the idea for the story, I initially thought to locate it in a northern town. But two years ago, my wife and I visited Mount Dora during Christmas time and fell in love with the place. We had never seen a town so devoted to the Christmas holiday before, especially in Florida. Add in...

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When God Writes the Story

Many years ago and in a far-off land, a young couple celebrated their marriage. God had given them both the idea to adopt a child, and they looked forward to the day when that would happen. “We’ll have children first, and then adopt,” they told each other. So, after about a year of marriage, they asked God to grant them a child. They waited. And prayed. And waited. And visited doctors. And prayed. And waited some more. Because God had a story to write. And then, through an amazing series of events, He brought them just the right daughter at just the right time. She was born in a hospital a few miles from their home, and they were able to hold her when she was only hours old. They brought her home from the hospital the next day. A few months later, they finalized her adoption. Ten months later, after more prayers and waiting, God, like all good writers, added a twist to the story. He gave the couple another little girl, but not through adoption. The two sisters grew up as best friends. And they both rejoiced when first one, then two, then three more siblings were born into the family. The oldest daughter always knew she was adopted. She always knew she was special, too, and that God had chosen her for the family who loved her so much. They celebrated “Adoption Day” every year, when she received special presents, including her favorite, the one she called “’doption Mickey Mouse.” As that daughter grew, she developed a love for anyone who felt left out or abandoned. As a twelve-year-old, she raised more than $1200 for a local crisis pregnancy center, wanting to help others give the gift she and her parents had received. Even during her time in college, she considered adopting a teen but decided to wait. Not so many years ago, that grown-up daughter celebrated her own marriage. Like her parents, she and her husband also dreamed of adopting one day, although they didn’t know how or when. After almost six years of marriage, they began the process to become foster parents. “We’ll get a sibling group,” they told their parents. “And we’ll only get children who are available to adopt.” They waited. And prayed. And went through training. And waited. And prayed some more. Several months later, God, like all good writers, added a twist to their story, too. One special girl was already a part of their lives. A student at the school where the grown-up little girl taught, she wasn’t available for adoption. She wasn’t part of a sibling group. But she did have a need—several of them, in fact. As the young couple...

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Review: Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me: I love Christmas. As soon as the Thanksgiving dinner is cleared away, our house undergoes a tinsel-and-tree transformation as we prepare for the Christmas season. We make large pans of fudge and (with a nod to my Ohio roots) hundreds of peanut-butter-chocolate Buckeyes. We bake dozens of cookies. We even wrap all the paintings on our walls in Christmas paper—an inexpensive holiday tip borrowed from a physician’s office years ago. So it’s no surprise that I also love Christmas books. This year, I’m excited to share the latest release from my friend and fellow Florida author Dan Walsh. Keeping Christmas: A Novel is a story to which I can relate. Not only does it take place in my beautiful hometown of Mount Dora, Florida, but the central characters are empty-nesters—just like my husband and me. Christmas looks different to us in this stage of life than it did when our five children were small, and it does to Stan and Judith, too. Their three children are grown and gone, with families of their own—and none of them can make it home for the holidays. All the couple has left are their memories and a box of what they call “The Ugly Ornaments,” lovingly crafted by their children through the years. Stan, an avid fisherman, seems eager to embrace their new lifestyle. After all, this is the Christmas when he and his best friend plan to buy their dream rig, the fishing boat of their dreams. But Judith has more than a bit of trouble moving beyond her loneliness and into the wonder and beauty of Christmas.    Walsh, as always, does a masterful job of creating characters about whom we care. This time, he weaves the threads of their lives into a beautiful tapestry with more than a hint of compassion, love, and Christmas magic. Include this book on your list of books to read—and give—this Christmas, and watch for my coming interview with Dan about Keeping Christmas along with news of a Christmas contest. If you live in the Central Florida area, be sure to visit charming Mount Dora on December 6, 6-8 p.m. and enjoy an in-person visit with Dan at the 2015 Christmas Book-tacular. Maybe I’ll see you there!   (FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel free from the author. I was not required to post a review or a positive response.) Find a local Christian bookstore where you can purchase Keeping Christmas. Find this book on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or at Christian Book Distributors. Read Marti’s article about Christmas in Mount Dora in More to Life Magazine (page 60).    ...

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A Different Kind of Grandma (Letter to my almost-grandchild)

Dear Grandchild-to-be, What can I say? What can I say to you who have endured pain I can’t begin to imagine and lived a life I can’t possibly understand? What do I say to you for whom we wait? I want to hold you close, to call you my very own grandson or granddaughter. You’re the first one (and firsts are always special). I want to see you taken away from wherever it is you need to leave. I want to promise you safety. I want to say you’ll never hurt again. But I can’t do or promise any of those things. I’m a different kind of grandma, and this is our story. Yours and mine. More than 400,000 children throughout the United States wait in foster care, some of them (for all sorts of reasons) ineligible for adoption. Many have suffered abuse. Many have PTSD or other types of emotional trauma because of the life they’ve endured. Sweet grandchild, you know you’re in this group. But you’re so much more. You’re a person. You’re someone with hopes and dreams and needs and desires. You care about the people in your past—even (and maybe especially) the ones who have hurt you. You don’t know what to expect from the future, but you press toward it anyway. You accept help from many who want to give it and some who don’t. You push against rules even when you know they’re right. You don’t always understand what you do or how you feel. And, deep down inside, you wait. You wait for that moment when you know you’re home. You’re right. I’m not your grandma yet, and you may never choose to call me that anyway. But I can tell you this: you are loved. Your almost-parents have endured paperwork and more paperwork and red tape and training and inspections and lectures and self-doubt and more paperwork and more red tape and awkwardness and questions and paperwork and more paperwork and more red tape, all in pursuit of you. I hear the longing in their voices. They can’t wait to bring you home. They know the road ahead will have plenty of bumps, maybe huge potholes or lengthy detours. But they want to travel it with you. For you, they don’t want to be just one more stop, one more waystation. For you, they want to be Mom and Dad—no matter what the legal system calls them. As your almost-mom, my precious daughter, told me, “Even if we can only have this child at home a few years, at least we’ll give them a family to come home to.” That family is ours. And we’re waiting—   with so much love,...

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