Planting Seeds

Renee Ann Smith —  September 16, 2014 — 5 Comments

Robert Louis Stevenson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap,
but by the seeds that you plant.”

~Robert Louis Stevenson~

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As you read this, our junior high & high school will be preparing to leave
for our field trip to Camp Iroquoina in Hallstead, PA.
My students will eagerly shake the dust of schoolwork off their feet
and focus on enjoying all that this beautiful camp has to offer.

And I’ll be busy planting seeds.

***Photo Backstory: I made this graphic from an iPhone pic snapped during last year’s trip. PicMonkey is my tool of choice for tweaking & adding text. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share.

I’m truly thankful that you stopped by today. Blessings, friends!

***Let’s be Twitter pals! If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!
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Evergreen: Life Flourishes

Renee Ann Smith —  September 15, 2014 — 8 Comments

I don’t think Christmas should ever be perfect.

Maybe because my most treasured Christmas memories seem to be the times when God helped me find joy in the midst of far from perfect circumstances . . .

***Like that winter during my childhood when I was sick for every holiday. Dad carried me outside to see the Christmas lights my brother and sisters had set up. On the way back in, he slipped on the ice and fell, cushioning me with his body.

And I learned that I would always be safe in his arms—no matter how often we failed to see eye-to-eye in later years.

***The first Christmas after my dad died, decorating our mother’s house because she hadn’t the strength. My sisters dragged an ugly Charlie-Brown tree out of the woods and gave it a makeover. The tree made my mother cry, and we cried with her.

And we discovered that we could cry and laugh and eat and live, even though we never stopped missing the one we had lost.

***That time I went Christmas shopping with my best friend of twenty years. She dashed around Walmart on a scooter, spreading smiles and laughter like a holiday elf, and we shared a joy made bittersweet by knowing it was her last Christmas on earth.

And I saw that breast cancer can’t stop a child of God from rejoicing in her Savior—or keep a determined woman from one last shopping spree!

I’m thankful for those Christmases. And also for the ones that were mediocre or boring or left me with a feeling that surely there was more to the holiday—or life—than this. Because they taught me that what our hearts long for will never be satisfied by anyone or anything on earth, by anything less than Christ Himself.

So for me a “real” Christmas is when we’re able to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child no matter what pain or problems plague our hearts.

And isn’t that why Jesus came in the first place? To fill up all those empty places inside us and make something beautiful out of our messy lives.

This is the truth that threads throughout Susan May Warren’s lovely winter novella, Evergreen . . .

Evergreen Susan May Warren“In the wake of good-byes, life endures. Even flourishes.”

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The story focuses on empty-nesters Ingrid & John Christiansen and their efforts to thaw the “chill that has settled over their marriage” by creating the best Christmas ever—even though their adult children are spread far and wide, beloved family members are struggling with heartbreak & abandonment & addictions, and their own hearts have grown cold towards each other & God.

As sad as Ingrid and John’s situation might be, the storyline that sucked me in & had me grabbing for the tissue box involves a beautiful lost boy named Romeo. His hungry heart & sweet spirit change every character—and reader!—he comes in contact with.

Though this novella is short enough to be read in one sitting, it’s impact will last long after finishing that final page and leave you with a few gems to stir your faith & warm your heart. 

And whether or not your church has ever tried to pull together a Living Nativity, you’ll vicariously enjoy the event at the Christiansen’s church!

Evergreen Susan May Warren“Maybe, however, you’re Mary & God is simply asking you to be willing to say yes to whatever He asks.”

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GIFT SUGGESTION: Evergreen would turn a gift basket into something special or be a great stocking stuffer. If you’re gifting a reader, you could pair it with an Amazon gift card or the rest of the Christian Family Series. Good for any age—my high school students LOVE the Christian Family books!

Purchase your copies of the novella at this link. ***Thanks to Susan May Warren & Litfuse PR for providing a copy for me to review.

About the author: Susan May Warren is the bestselling, RITA Award-winning author of more than forty novels, whose compelling plots and unforgettable characters have won acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. Susan May WarrenShe served with her husband and four children as a missionary in Russia for eight years before she and her family returned home to the States. She now writes full-time as her husband runs a lodge on Lake Superior in northern Minnesota, where many of her books are set. She and her family enjoy hiking, canoeing, and being involved in their local church.

Several of her critically acclaimed novels have been ECPA and CBA bestsellers, were chosen as Top Picks by Romantic Times, and have won the RWA’s Inspirational Reader’s Choice contest and the American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year award. Five of her books have been Christy Award finalists.

In addition to her writing, Susan loves to teach and speak at women’s events about God’s amazing grace in our lives. She also runs a writing community for authors.

Visit MyBookTherapy.com to learn more.

You can connect with SMW

***See my reviews of the Christiansen Family Series at the following links:

I’m truly thankful that you stopped by today. Blessings, friends!

***Let’s be Twitter pals! If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: I made these graphics from iPhone pics—of our church decorated for a winter wedding & my dear friend’s daughter playing Mary in our school chapel a few years ago. And, of course, PicMonkey is my tool of choice for tweaking & adding text. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Continue Reading…

Just In Time

Renee Ann Smith —  September 10, 2014 — 18 Comments

Beautiful in its time“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
~Ecclesiastes 3:11~

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This sweet family grew up in my garage. The local cat caused them much fear and anguish. Yet they stretched their wings and—using my driveway as a landing strip—practiced soaring & one by one flew away.

Now even the “empty-nester” Mama bird has moved on.

But a trace of their beauty remains.

I’m thankful for the simple beauty God sprinkles through our days & that you stopped by today. Blessings, friends!

***I’ll Tweet your post! I enjoy tweeting the posts and/or graphics of my visitors. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: I made this graphic from an iPhone pic, which I tweaked with PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Continue Reading…

Just Like Going Home

Renee Ann Smith —  September 7, 2014 — 22 Comments
I'm fourth down on the right: the small blonde child facing the camera

I’m fourth down on the right: the small blonde child facing the camera

 My childhood was marked by large family gatherings, like the Thanksgiving in this photo

I grew up in the same small town as the families of my dad’s three brothers & my mom’s two siblings. My cousins walked the halls of my school with me, and I seemed to stumble over at least one relative every place I went. At one point, of the twenty or so homes on our street & extension, about seven of them housed relatives—granted some were distant.

The presence of my extended family left me with a strong feeling of being loved and watched over, of being part of something good.

Some of my best memories involve family dinners—my four siblings, I, and my parents sitting around the table during those few short years when we were all home and healthy and happy How quickly the time has flown since those days under my parents’ roof.

I enjoyed my childhood, but I truly did not realize what a rare treasure it was until I began teaching. I teach high school English at a small-town Christian school, and I calculated that in our tiny community of 80 kids, 20% of them come from fractured homes &traumatic pasts. Unlike me, their childhoods include abuse, foster care, a parent in prison or on drugs, death of a parent, being raised by grandparents, no father, never met their father, or unhappily married parents who divorced. So they are highly entertained when I share stories from my growing up years!

I enjoy going home again in my mind. I think that’s why I’m drawn to books about large, chaotic, loving families facing life together even after they’re adults. I call it my Walton’s Syndrome.

The latest book to provide my Walton’s Syndrome fix is Deborah Raney’s charming story Home to Chicory Lane.

Chicory Lane is where Audrey & Grant Whitman raised their five kids. Now that those kids are grown, they’ve invested a large part of Grant’s retirement and much sweat equity into transforming their home into a bed & breakfast. The book begins as they’re ready to jump into the new world of innkeeping. However, little do they expect their first—nonpaying!—guest to be married daughter Landyn, who has run back home after a fight with her husband. Though shocked that the newlyweds have run into trouble after just six months, Landyn’s family rallies around her and her husband Chase in a beautiful way.

Because that’s life in the Whitman family—parents, adult kids, and grandkids, supporting each other through tough times with grace, humor & prayer. And then, as Grant says, “Learning to enjoy the lull between catastrophes.”

What I liked best . . .

  • The gentle flow of the story—perfect for a crisp fall day & a cup of tea!
  • The whole idea of running a bed & breakfast (My Lorelai Gilmore Syndrome!)
  • Getting to know the Whitmans & their adult kids (They’ll be featured in more books to come!)
  • Going along for the ride as Audrey & Grant learn to handle scheduling and preparing and unruly guests (even young beauty queens)
  • Seeing their daughter Landyn grow & change as she puts her life back together
  • Speculating on the future relationship between Link & Bree

My favorite quotes . . .

deborah raney quote“We’re just imperfect people trying to follow a perfect God. We try to be obedient to all we know of Him. And we have to trust that He’ll take care of the rest.”

Deborah Raney quote“The more we see Him work in our lives, the easier it will be to trust Him.”

What you should do next . . .

You can grab a copy of Home to Chicory Lane at this link. ***Thanks to Deborah Raney & Litfuse PR for providing a copy for me to review.

Deborah RaneyAbout the author: DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A VOW TO CHERISH, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have since won the RITA Award, ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, National Readers’ Choice Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. HOME TO CHICORY LANE released in August from Abingdon Press Fiction. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, enjoy life in Kansas. They have four children and five small grandchildren, who all live much too far away.

You can connect with Deborah . . .

At her website

On her Facebook page

On Twitter

So glad you stopped by to soak in some nostalgia today. Blessings, friends!

***I’ll Tweet your post! I enjoy tweeting the posts and/or graphics of my visitors. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: I made the quote graphics with images from my account at RGB Stock Photos & tweaked them with PicMonkey. Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. Continue Reading…

Heart Lessons

Renee Ann Smith —  September 3, 2014 — 20 Comments

Corrie ten Boom quote

“God never measures the mind. He always puts His tape measure in the heart.” ~Corrie ten Boom~

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“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~Aristotle~

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“We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider everything as moonshine, compared to the education of the heart. “ ~Sir Walter Scott~

I start school TODAY—if you’re reading this on Wednesday—and I’m excited and hopeful and just a little bit overwhelmed because I don’t feel ready. So I dug out this quote from a great woman of God to remind me where my focus needs to be. I’m privileged to be a small part in guiding the hearts of my precious students. May God bless our time together & never let me take that for granted.

And may Corrie’s words encourage you in whatever your day brings. Though things may not go as perfectly as you planned, it’s the heart lessons learned that matter.

Thank you for spending a few moments of your day here. Blessings, friends!

***I’ll Tweet your post! I enjoy tweeting the posts and/or graphics of my visitors. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: This is an “old” graphic that I created with a blank background & all the choices available at PicMonkey.

Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. (Follow this link for more Free Graphics.) Continue Reading…

Since God knows and sees all, He understands what we need before we ask, right? And if God planned our lives before the world began, isn’t it too late to ask Him to change anything now?

After reading Scripture and quotes from great Christian thinkers and wrestling with these questions, the answer I came up with is “Yes . . .

. . . and No.”

S. D. Gordon, a wise theologian said it this way, “Prayer does not influence God’s purpose, but it does influence God’s action.”

Does Prayer Influence God?

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In other words, every good and right thing, God has already purposed to do. But sometimes He waits for us to ask.

That’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done as it is in heaven.” They were asking to bring God’s will to earth.

Why would God ever wait for us to ask?

Here’s the illustration I came up with . . . Let’s think as caretakers or parents . . . 

When a baby is first born, communication is limited to wordless cries.

Does prayer influence God 2Most moms or aunties (me), try to anticipate the baby’s every need. Not only do we wish to avoid those crying jags that build to mind-boggling intensity, we also want to keep that baby we adore happy.

As the child ages, he/she figures out how to ask for things. So there comes a day, when even though mom or dad knows the child is thirsty or hungry.

They wait for their child to ask. This helps the child to develop communication and builds relationship.

At first, the child tapping the frig might be enough to show he/she wants a drink. But eventually we teach the child to say, “May I have a drink, please?” And even better, when they’re able to say, “Thank you, Mommy.”

The child learns that all good things—juice boxes and chocolate milk—come from Mommy and Daddy.

To take this illustration even further, there also comes a day when Mom stocks the frig and leaves it to little Johnny or Susie to make their own lunch. She anticipates their needs and buys all their favorite things. Then they’re free to dive into the goodies themselves.

But when special circumstances come up—they want some new food or they’re too sick to make lunch for themselves—they have to make their request known to Mom anew.

Here’s what Matthew 7:9-11 says in The Message:

“If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? You wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children.

So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?”

No illustration or metaphor fits biblical truth perfectly.

But this one helps me remember that prayer is communication with a Heavenly Father who wishes to give me all good gifts and helps me imagine how He views my supplications—all my supplications.

Rich & eloquent. Simply stated. Wordless cries.

No matter what form they take, the Bible assures us that our prayers touch God’s heart.

May that truth sustain us through our doubts and dry spells and any hard days of waiting for answers to our requests. Blessings, friends!

***I’ll Tweet your post! I enjoy tweeting the posts and/or graphics of my visitors. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: I used another iPhone pic of my niece’s garden as background. Of course, PicMonkey is my tool of choice for tweaking the pic & adding the quote!

Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. (Follow this link for more Free Graphics.) Continue Reading…

Not One Square Inch

Renee Ann Smith —  August 27, 2014 — 11 Comments

Christ is in control “There’s not a square inch in the whole of our human existence over which Christ does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

~Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) Dutch prime minister, journalist, statesman & theologian~

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“For from Him & through Him & to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” ~Romans 11:36~

“For everything, absolutely everything, above & below—everything got started in Him & finds its purpose in Him. He was there before any of it came into existence & holds it all together right up to this moment.” ~Colossians 1:16&17, The Message~

May these ancient words remind you that—
Even when it doesn’t feel like it—
God holds us, our loved ones & our world in His hands.
Blessings, friends!

***I’ll Tweet your post! I enjoy tweeting the posts and/or graphics of my visitors. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: I just had to share this view of our gorgeous Catskills, which I enjoy every day on my way to & from school. Isn’t God’s creation amazing? I snapped this iPhone pic last year. Now that school has begun, I can’t wait until the leaves begin putting on their fall colors! Of course, PicMonkey is my tool of choice for tweaking the pic & adding the quote!

Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. (Follow this link for more Free Graphics.) Continue Reading…

A Life So Small

Renee Ann Smith —  August 25, 2014 — 22 Comments

Growing older doesn’t discourage me. But sometimes looking back does.

My birthday was last week. I turned 53. And on that day I asked myself, what have I to show for my half a century on earth?

I’ve seen some of my personal dreams come true, and some die. But other than that, I’m pretty empty-handed.

  • I don’t own anything that’s worth anything.
  • I haven’t seen the wonderful places in the world around me.
  • I can’t claim any impressive accomplishments.

Mostly I’ve lived my life at school, giving my time and energy and heart to other people’s kids.

Twenty of those years were spent sacrificing to help start a Christian high school, spending day after day, talking about the grammar rules no one remembers and trying to drum up enthusiasm for authors long gone and coaxing . . . bribing . . . prodding reluctant students to channel their thoughts into words.

Working in the summers. Doing without. Eking the last bit of life out of everything I own. So I could teach at a ministry school.

Watching cars break down and clothes fray and fall apart and my body grow worn.

And losing some of my best friends and loved family because they moved on to Heaven ahead of me.

Watching the school I loved and gave so much fall victim a shaky economy and oppressive culture and struggle and weaken and eventually die.

Now being the new teacher on the block, starting all over again to build a program and a ministry and a life . . . at my age.

Easily overlooked . . . disdained . . . forgotten . . . 

Even now, when I say the words aloud, they pierce my heart.

I’ve lived small . . . my life is so small.

And immediately, I hear ancient words reassuring me . . .

“He must increase. I must decrease.” ~John 3:30~

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He must increase

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.“ ~I Corinthians 1:27~

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I am chosen.God’s words remind me that I don’t need to be noticed here, when I’m remembered, watched over, and cherished by Heavenly eyes. 

I find myself turning to Psalm 73 to commiserate with the guy who lost all hope—until He let God give him a new perspective.

Here’s Psalm 73 from The Message . . .

“What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything.
They have it made, piling up riches.

I’ve been stupid to play by the rules.
What has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what—
A slap in the face every time I walk out the door.
Still, when I tried to figure it out,

All I got was a splitting headache . . .

Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
Then I saw the whole picture.

You’re all I want in heaven!
You’re all I want on earth!

When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
GOD is rock-firm and faithful.

Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.

But I’m in the very presence of GOD—
Oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord GOD my home.
GOD, I’m telling the world what you do!”

I think that guy’s got the right idea! So I’m telling the world—

What I’ve learned in half a century is that  . . .

Christ’s hand in mine makes letting go of everything else

So very worth it!

Thanks for encouraging me with a visit! Blessings, friends!

***I’ll Tweet your post! I enjoy tweeting the posts and/or graphics of my visitors. If you’re on Twitter, I’ll follow you—if I’m not already. Let me know in the comments how to find you in the Tweet-world!

***Photo Backstory: I made these graphics from iPhone pics of my niece’s beautiful garden. Of course, PicMonkey is my tool of choice for tweaking the pic & adding the quote!

Feel free to Pin, Tweet, download & share. (Follow this link for more Free Graphics.) Continue Reading…