Friday, August 28, 2015

So, You Want to Write a Blog . . .


2 Corinthians 3:3
You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Over the past four years of blogging at Meditations of My Heart and Martha's Daily Devotions prior to that, I've fielded numerous questions from would-be bloggers who are seeking advice about how to go about beginning, and continuing, a viable, intriguing and engaging blog.

In light of this, I thought I would share some of the tips I've been generously been given by fellow bloggers, what I've found from my own experience to be true, and what I've successfully put into practice.


  • What is your passion?  Yes!  If you cannot define a passion for a subject in your life, your blog will droop like a sail on a calm sea.  Ask yourself what activities you enjoy the most.  Are you into cooking?  Homemaking?  Arts and crafts?  Photography?  Religion?  History?  No matter what you love do, make that the center of your blog.  You will attract other like-minded individuals who will help you expand your presence in the vast, and sometimes overwhelming, world of social media.
  • Okay, I've defined my passion.  Now what?  Set yourself a writing/posting schedule to which you will adhere.  Consistency is especially important when you are getting started as a blogger.  I post twice a week, but I know many bloggers who post considerably more often than that.  You have to consider what's reasonable and comfortable for you.  Set realistic goals that fit with your lifestyle and obligations.
  • Keep it short!  The ideal length for a blog post is, in my opinion, between 350 and 700 words.  Let's face it - folks today are busy!!!  They may love your writing, but will often forego reading your post if it drones on and on.  Remember, your intent is to build a base of loyal followers, not discourage their interest.
  • Include photos/images.  Obviously, if the intent of your blog is to showcase your photography skills, this is a no-brainer.  Each time I post, I either use an image from Google, my husband's photos, or some of my own.  Attractive images will definitely enhance your message.
  • Compose at least a day ahead of your scheduled post.  Serious bloggers (and writers) edit!  Give yourself breathing space between the composition and the actual publication.  You will thank yourself later!
  • Befriend and interact with other bloggers.  There is nothing more deflating for a blogger than to have no comments in his/her comments section.  If you enjoy someone's blog, write on their tablets from your heart, in love and support.  To have friends, you must be one.
  • Don't give up!  It may take a while for your blog to get noticed on social media.  Try sharing with friends and family first and encourage them to share on their own personal feeds to spread the word.  You can also create a Facebook page where your blog regularly appears and invite your friends to join you there.
Bottom line:  Remember to write not just in ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.  If He has given you the gift of writing, He will make it happen.

~

If you already pen a blog, what advice would you add to this list?

Prayer:  Father, let us remember Paul's words that every letter we write may be a message from You.  May our words written in ink be an indelible and incredible inspiration to those who read them.  Bless all those who currently blog and who long to do so.  In Jesus'name, we pray.  Amen.

Meditations of My Heart will be on temporary hiatus until Tuesday, September 8th.  Wishing God's blessings for each and every one of you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When God Removes People From Your Life


Please join me in giving a warm welcome to fellow Christian author and blogger, Patricia Holbrook.  This devotional is an excerpt from her newly released book, Twelve Inches - Bridging the Gap Between What You Know About God and How You Feel.  Today, we're giving away a copy to one lucky reader.  Leave a comment to enter, or if you're in a hurry, simply say, "I'm bridging the gap!" in the comments section.  For more information about the book and to read some of the endorsements, click HERE.

Judges 7:7
The Lord said to Gideon, "I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home."

It was Friday night.  I absently stared at the TV, thinking about how lonely I felt.  Looking through my phone book, I knew that the options were not good.  The friends who would be available on a Friday night would quickly offer me a tour back to my life before Christ . . . Places I knew not to visit anymore.

My new Christian friends were all busy with their husbands and family.  I was me, my TV . . . and . . . my Bible.

I glanced down and picked it up.  A new Christian.  I had heard that Jesus was all I needed, but was unsure of how to let Him fill the void.  My weekends had been busy for as long as I remembered, filled with friends and many invitations.  However, several months earlier, I had attended a retreat that forever changed my life.  I surrendered my life to Christ that beautiful September morning and experienced an unprecedented joy and peace.  I spent the following weeks and months on a spiritual high, attending a new Christian discipleship class, prayer meetings and various church functions.  I had made several new friends, but the were, well . . . new.  And most of them were married, anyway.  Loneliness filled my heart on the weekends.

That particular weekend was the hardest of all.

As I held my Bible, tears streamed down my face.  One of my best friends of eight years had turned her back on me.  We attended college together.  I was the friend who would not leave her when her dad tragically died.  I left my family at Christmas for the first time in 23 years and jumped on a 12-hour bus trip to be beside her that first Christmas after her dad's accident.  I invited her to live with me when she decided to come back to town.  We had a great time together for a year.  But as I made the choice to follow Christ, she ended our friendship in a very hurtful way.

That was the last drop in the bucket.

"Jesus, I thought you would fill my life, not empty it!"  I cried out.

It was there, lying on my couch, that I heard Him whisper in my heart for the first time.

"I am preparing the soil for new sowing.  For a new harvest."

It was then that I saw it.  I had a vision.

As in a dream, I saw a large, bare field.  The soil showed places where trees once stood.  It was desolate-looking.  Ugly, even.  Then I saw seeds coming down from Heaven, falling inside each hole on the ground.  And finally, I saw the same field, green and full of beautiful, tall trees.

"Behold, I am making all things new," I heard.

Twenty years have gone by since that day . . .

And I behold the harvest.

I can close my eyes and see the faces.  My husband, our two daughters, and wonderful, faithful friends throughout the years, planted in the field of my life.  Besides one very best friend from my youth and my immediate family, they are all new.  They have all been planted by Yahweh's faithful hands.  And they have flourished and yielded fruits of joy, peace, love, patience . . . true friendship.  True love.

I stand amazed.

The vision was hard to believe at the time when loneliness filled my days.  When God removed what I thought was true love . . . and those whom I considered real friends.  He plucked them all, one by one, and left me wondering whether I'd ever feel loved again.

But before He planted a new harvest in my life, He had to teach me to make Jesus my all in all.  He wanted to become my very best friend.

Instead of giving in to the feelings of loneliness and depression, I sought His face.  I made the Bible my greatest companion.  I woke up in the middle of the night to talk to my Savior and started serving Him at church.

And before I realized it, He started planting beautiful new seeds into my life.

God showed me that, just as He gave Gideon victory over mighty enemies with a small army of faithful servants, His children don't need 10,000 soldiers to win life's battles.  When God is in control, He weeds out the unfaithful, and fills in the void in our lives with the 300 faithful few.  In.  His.  Time.

Gideon was afraid of not having enough.  He couldn't see how he would defeat his powerful enemy with such a small army.

You may not see how your life can continue without a particular person.  Or how you can give up your old friends and still have joy.

I challenge you to trust Him.

Trust that He is weeding out the unfaithful, cleaning out the soil, preparing it to yield a new harvest.

All He needs is your heart.  Your surrendered trust.

I promise that one day you'll stand amazed, as you contemplate the lush green fields that Yahweh will plant on your current bare land.

As you give yourself to Him, believe me:  He will give it all back to you.

Pressed down, shaken together and running over.

Because that is the kind of Friend He is.

Just trust His pruning.  Trust His plucking.

He only cuts out what doesn't belong, anyway.

Friday, August 21, 2015

One Hurdle at a Time



Matthew 6:33-34
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I am a cheerleader for four years in high school.  Though most people in those days don't consider cheering to be a sport, it requires constant physical workouts and daily discipline on my part to keep my legs strong and supple enough to successfully execute the repeated Russian split jumps we have to do.  And all that determined exercise pays off in the most unexpected of ways.

A new physical education teacher introduces our all-girl class to track and field.  One of the first challenges she poses for us is the hurdles.  I'm supposed to clear that???  I think as I regard my short legs dubiously.  As I anxiously await my turn, the coach notices my apprehension.  "It's not as hard as it looks, Martha," she reassures me.  "Just focus on one hurdle at a time.  You can do it."

One hurdle at a time.

Those are the exact words I hear from my husband, Danny, just the other day.  He knows these are trying times for me what with my mother being in the hospital, my grown children needing assistance in one way or another, and the unexpected delays in the release of my next novel.  He knows I'm stressed because I'm looking at the what-ifs down the road instead of tackling whatever problem is in the here and now.

And when Danny reminds me of Jesus' admonition in Matthew 6:34, I realize I've been centered on worry, not on the Lord as I should be.  It's a humbling revelation to say the least.

So I think again about all those hurdles situated around the quarter-mile track and recall the words of my teacher:  "Just focus on one hurdle at a time."

One hurdle at a time.

I take her advice, and you know what?  I clear every last one of them!

And with Jesus' help, I'll continue to clear each and every hurdle life throws at me.

~
What hurdles are you facing today?  Do you trust Jesus to guide you through?

Prayer:  Father, help us to remember that worrying about the future robs us of our joy in the present.  Let us cast every care upon You, knowing You will help us leap over every hurdle in this life.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Love All Around!



John 13:34-35
A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Hi, World!

My name is Alexandra Nancy.  I won't be four weeks old until August 23rd, but already, I love my big sister, Virginia Rose.



She seems to understand me just like Mommy and Daddy do.



So gentle with me, so happy to be near me, she makes me feel right at home in my new life here on earth.



Even when I poke her in the nose, she takes it all in stride.

I am one fortunate baby sister; I can state that as fact!



There is love all around.

Love all around!

~

How are you spreading Jesus' love all around today?

Prayers:  Father, Your beloved Son, Jesus, invited the little children to come to Him.  He understood better than anyone their ability to embrace the love of others and to love others in return.  May we all be as innocent children when it comes to loving our neighbors as ourselves.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Friday, August 14, 2015

God is Our Stronghold



Psalm 37:39
The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

Two Saturdays ago, I get the call every adult child of an aging parent dreads.

"Martha!  I've fallen!  I think my leg is broken!"

"Mom!  Why are you calling me?  You need to call 911 right away!"  I say frantically as I thank the Lord she has her cell phone on her person when this happens.

"But all the doors to the house are locked," she laments.  "How will they get in?"

"It doesn't matter, Mom.  If they have to break down a door, they will!  Do any of your neighbors have a key to the house?"

"No, none."

"Then call an ambulance, and let the emergency crews handle it!"

My husband, Danny, hurriedly researches names of friends close to Mom, hoping to dig up a phone number.  He is successful, and after a hasty plea from me to Valerie, she and her husband head for the house and arrive about the time the EMTs are getting Mom into the ambulance.  They make sure she has her purse and some personal items.  And the house?

As it turns out, my mother did something unprecedented.  She locked the door from the inside, but left the keys in the lock on the outside!  No break-in required!

Valerie locks up and returns the keys to my Mom.

And I am overwhelmingly grateful for God's foresight.

He was, indeed, my mother's stronghold in her time of trouble.

~

How is God being your stronghold today?

Prayer:  Father, we thank You for being our mighty fortress, our stronghold in times of trouble.  We ask prayers of health and healing for the elderly in our families, churches, and communities.  Bless them and keep them, Lord.  Surround them with Your loving kindness.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Postscript:  Mom had surgery for a fractured femur.  She is currently at a rehab facility where they are working diligently to get her strong and back on her feet.  She should be able to come home two weeks from yesterday.  Please keep Nancy in your prayers!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Our Father is at the Helm



Psalm 46:10
He says, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

These days have seen both tumultuous and precious times for our family.  We have grieved, we have rejoiced.  We have celebrated, we've been plunged into the depths of worry.  We have held anxiety in the palms of our hands, and we have seen how the love and presence of God have released our burden.

The one impression with which I'm left?  God is GOOD!

Today, I leave you with this poem I penned several days ago on my sister blog, Moments and Musings.  As immersed in God's Word as I try to be, I am a fallen human.  I don't always live up to my part of the bargain, but the Lord never fails me, even when I fail Him.  I simply had to share this again as it speaks from the heart He made to dwell within me.  May His blessings fill you with the peace which passes all understanding.

I Am the same
Today, tomorrow.
I am the joy
In midst of sorrow.
I Am the way,
The truth, the Life,
Comfort in
Your pain and strife.
Not forgotten,
Not mistaken,
You, my child,
Are not forsaken.
Soul awaken
To my plea
That by my side
You'll ever be.

~
When was there a time when God spoke profoundly to you and showed you the way to go?

Prayer:  Father, we say every day that You are in control and at the helm, then we too often take back our claim.  Loosen us, Lord!  Let us leave our burdens at the foot of the cross and be willing to go the distance with you, taking on that light yoke You have promised to us when we follow You.  All this we ask in Jesus' name.  Amen.


Friday, August 7, 2015

God Saw That It Was Good


Genesis 1:20-21
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky."  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.  And God saw that it was good.

The last Saturday before our granddaughter, Virginia Rose, starts kindergarten, my husband, Danny, and I take her to nearby Amicalola Falls State Park to see the renowned Birds of Prey Show held in the lobby of the main lodge.  She is so excited at the prospect of seeing the birds up close and personal, and we are, too.  We arrive about an hour early and are impressed by how patiently and happily Virginia waits.






As the time for the show approaches, Danny, camera in hand, makes sure he has a good seat for taking photos.  We instruct Virginia to take a seat on the carpet, which is soon flooded by a rush of children who seemingly appear out of nowhere.



The park ranger/bird handler, whose name is Heather, brings in five large black boxes, each one containing a single bird, and places them in front of the stone fireplace.  We hear the Barred owl before she removes him from his enclosure.  Virginia's eyes light up with recognition as she has heard the same sound in our backyard.






While Heather shows the birds, she describes the singular attributes of each one while we all look on in amazement.  I am particularly delighted when she removes owl two from its box, and it is the Great Horned, just like Reverend in my novels!  The most interesting fact I learned about this owl is its incredible strength.  Heather tells us that if the Great Horned were the size of a human adult, it could kill a black bear and carry the carcass up into a tree.  Amazing!



As she prepares to show off owl three, Heather ratchets up the drama.  She tells the children that she should be able to handle this fellow though he is the toughest of the bunch.  She warns them to cover their heads should he wrestle out of her grasp because he could attack.  Here is how Virginia reacts to the news!



Heather feigns a massive struggle with the creature still concealed in its box, and to everyone's delight (and relief) emerges with this:



A teeny, tiny Screech owl!  She sure had everyone over a barrel!



The next bird is one of my favorites:  The Red-tailed hawk, the character of Scout in The Glade Series.  This bird was raised from a fledgling on a farm where there were ducks and chickens.  Because of this, the hawk actually learned to quack and demonstrates his unusual skill for the audience.





Last, but certainly not least, Heather presents the vulture.



Whew!  Does he ever stink!  I posit that it's because the vulture eats dead animals, but we find out otherwise.  Vultures actually make a point to defecate on their feet to stay cool.  Who would have ever guessed???

When the show ends, Heather allows one more close look at all the birds with the exception of the Great Horned.  Here is the one Danny captured with Screechy and Virginia.


Meeting these birds of prey reminds me of the uniqueness and variety of every single creature God has made.  I am humbled by the work of His hands.  And I am thankful to be a part of this astounding creation which God calls 'good.'

~
Have you ever attended a wildlife show?

Prayer:  Father, we thank You for Your bountiful and beautiful creation in which we live.  May we always be respectful of all the plants and animals that share this earth with us.  In Jesus' name, we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled


Virginia trying out her new school backpack

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Our granddaughter, Virginia Rose, turned five on July 21st of this year.  This means she is entering kindergarten on Monday, August 3rd (Yes, school is year-round where we live, hence an early start date).  She is beside herself with excitement for and in anticipation of this new adventure.  While a part of me is happy because Virginia is, there is another part of this Gammie that is grieving.

Where has the time gone?  How can Virginia possibly be ready for such a dramatic change having just turned five?  She's never even been in a church nursery on a regular basis!  How will she adjust and acclimate to this new schedule, these new environs?

My heart, I admit, is troubled.  Having worked in schools for many years as both a paraprofessional and a teacher, I'm too well aware of the pressures placed upon children to perform and achieve.  All in the name of test scores.  While kindergarten may not harbor such onerous threats at first, the underlying current is there.  I'm not worried that Virginia can't grasp the concepts presented.  I'm concerned that, in the process, her creativity and spontaneity will be squelched.

Lord, my heart is troubled.

And I am fearful for my beloved Virginia.  Always outgoing and friendly, trusting and forthcoming, she is about to be hit by the baggage of twenty other classmates as they interact on a daily basis.  What happens when a child, frustrated because of an unsavory occurrence at home that morning, strikes her or another child in anger?  What then?  How will she deal with that?  How will the teachers?

Lord, my heart is troubled.

But You admonish me to be neither troubled nor afraid.

And tell me Your peace is sufficient.

So, Lord, I will pray for Virginia and trust in You to be with her in all things.

I have to let go and let You.

~
How did you feel when your oldest child or grandchild began kindergarten?  Or, how did you feel on your first day at school?  Please share in the comments!

Prayer:  Father, today we pray for all the children entering school for the first time and for their teachers.  Cover them with Your love and grace.  Bless them and keep them close to You.  All this we ask in the name of Your Son, Jesus, who invited the little children to come to Him.  Amen.

Was I Dreaming of a White Christmas?

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 There is no need to write you, friends, about the times and occasions when these things will happen.  For you your...