Tag Archive | Guideposts

The Best New Thing since Sliced Bread

Sliced Bread

I remember the first time I heard that expression. I was living in Chicago and working at Northwest Industries, Inc., the fifth largest corporation in Chicago at the time. Northwest was a diversified holding company with about a dozen companies making products that ranged from tubular steel (as in the Alaska pipeline) to underwear (Fruit of the Loom) and cowboy boots (Acme Boot Company).  I worked in the corporate office located on the 63rd floor of the Sears Tower. As a business analyst in the Information Technology Department, I was part of a team that was always trying to come up with more creative and efficient ways of analyzing data to predict, report, and hopefully enhance profitability. Frequently someone would claim that their idea would become “the best new thing since sliced bread.”

sliced bread photo

I always liked that expression because it was so tangible. When I was a pre-schooler, before my mom got a job outside of the home, my mom used to bake our bread from scratch, once a week, four loaves at a time. My job was to brush a little Crisco on the top of the loaves when they came out of the oven so that the crust would be nice and shiny. Mom usually sliced the bread for all of us, but occasionally Mom wasn’t home, and I would have to cut a slice by myself. I remember how hard it was to cut a slice evenly. Whenever I tried, the top would be just the right thickness and the bottom would come to a sharp edge. Looking back, I can see the real value in being able to have bread that is already sliced.

I still occasionally use the “sliced bread” expression. A few weeks ago it came to mind as I was reading a new little devotional book, 101 Moments of Hope by Edward Grinnan, the Editor-in-Chief of Guideposts Magazine. 101 Moments of Hope is a tiny book that came along free when I ordered a larger book by the same author, The Promise of Hope. I guess I might describe the junior size book as the best thing since sliced bread, or maybe a better comparison would be the best devotional reading since Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, another one of my favorites that I kept re-reading for four years straight. For a glimpse into the engaging style of Grinnan’s reflections, here’s one reflection from the “Winter” section of the book.

101 Moments of Hope

SALLY BROWN MAKES A BEELINE

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith…? [James 2:5 RSV]

cocker spaniel 2My little dog Sally Brown teaches me many things, and as usual I learn in spite of myself. The other day on my lunch hour I was impatiently walking her around the block (dragging might be a better word). I didn’t have much time, and I let her know it. But cocker spaniels have relentless noses.

Around the corner came a man – I’m tempted to say old man, but there was really no telling – dressed in a soiled and ragged overcoat, grubby strands of dark hair half-tucked up under a frayed watch cap, his eyes sagging and sad. I, a seasoned New Yorker, glanced away.

But Sally made a kind of scurrying beeline to him, her stubby remnant of a tail vibrating in excitement. It was an utter mystery to me why she picked out this sorry soul to greet with the joy of a long-lost friend. My hand tightened on the leash. I wanted to pull her back, but self-consciousness got the better of me and I slackened my grip.

Sally sat demurely, obligingly allowing herself to be adored and stroked by the grimy hands. She gazed up at her admirer appreciatively. His features softened, a spark ignited in his eyes, and he smiled. “You beeeaauutiful girl, you!” he exclaimed quietly. “Thanks for saying hello.”

He never looked at me. Quickly, he straightened up and was off. I stood and watched the man disappear down the street, wondering how he would have responded if it had been I who had stopped to say hello.

God, sometimes Your smallest creatures have the largest hearts. Help me to do unto others with a larger heart.

[Edward Grinnan, 101 Moments of Hope: Inspiring Thoughts for Everyday Living,
©2011, Guideposts, New York, pp. 10-11]

I’m about half done reading 101 Moments of Hope. I’m tempted to read more than one reflection a day, but I’m disciplining myself so that the book will last me 101 days. I can hardly wait to begin my devotional readings each morning with this little book waiting to be picked up. It’s the chocolate chip cookie of my devotional readings. To really mix my metaphors – see why I say it’s the best thing since sliced bread, or Jesus Calling, or a chocolate chip cookie?

chocolate chip cookie - split

Note: The book can be ordered online from Guideposts directly or from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other online bookstores.

 

Maria’s Story – Part 2

Another conversation with Abbey

Another conversation with Abbey

When I came home from playing the piano for the Women’s Worship Service at the county jail last Thursday, Abbey met me at the door. “Did you see Maria?” she asked. “Did Maria come to worship?”

“No, Abbey,” I replied. “Maria has already been transferred to the women’s prison in northeastern Wisconsin. That’s where she’ll serve her 13-year sentence for killing her little boy.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to see her again, Mom.”

“Even though I won’t be seeing her every month like I have for the last couple years, I won’t forget about her. And, like you suggested last week, Abbey, we can keep praying for her.”

“That’s right, Mom. I’m sure going to keep praying for her. I want God to keep her safe, and help her remember how much she is loved, and help her be an example of God’s presence in prison.”

“You know, Abbey, lots of people are praying for Maria. After last week’s blog post, several people responded on the blog saying they will pray for her. Others told me on Facebook, and some sent me emails. I told the chaplain in jail about all the people who are praying for Maria. The chaplain said she has printed out the blog along with the reader comments and she is going to mail it to Maria in prison. She expects Maria will be quite encouraged when she reads the blog and the comments.”

“That’s good. I hope she gets it soon. I bet the first few days in prison are especially hard for her. She is completely surrounded by strangers – the people she will live with for many years. I wonder if any of them will be friendly – like most of us dogs are.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, Abbey. But that’s something else we can pray for – that she’ll make some good friends quickly. That reminds me, Abbey. I just finished reading a book entitled 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without, and subtitled, How to Talk to God about Anything.  It was written by Rick Hamlin and was published this year by Guideposts in New York. It’s a wonderful book!”

“Oh, how I wish I could read. You talk about so many good books, Mom. Tell me about this one.”

“Well, there’s a separate chapter for each of the 10 prayers. The chapters are:10 Prayers

  1. Pray at Mealtime
  2. Prayer as Conversation
  3. Pray for Others
  4. Praying the Lord’s Prayer
  5. Praying for Forgiveness
  6. Pray through a Crisis
  7. Sing Your Prayer
  8. A Classic Prayer to Focus Your Thoughts
  9. Pray in Thanksgiving at All Times
  10. Pray Yes

“Each chapter is filled with stories from the author’s life or from other people’s lives about why or when that particular kind of prayer was extra important for them.”

“I bet that book was fun to read with all those personal stories.”

“It sure was, Abbey. It was very inspiring. Now that you and I are talking about praying for Maria, the chapter on praying for others (chapter 3) is very relevant. I’m sure God cares about Maria whether we pray for her, or not. But you know what really happens, Abbey, when we pray for someone? Listen to what Hamlin said in the middle of that chapter:

Prayer expands your world. You learn to care about people you would never have known otherwise, and you find out what makes them tick. You grow in your ability to love…[p. 53]

“We ourselves benefit, Abbey, by praying for others. And the person we pray for benefits, too. Later in this chapter the author talks about Bob and Lee Woodruff. Bob was the ABC News anchor who was seriously injured in the Iraq war.

You don’t go through something like that without being changed. For Lee she gained a new understanding of the power of prayer. When she was weak, when she was struggling, when she feared she was at the end of her rope, others were thoughtful enough to pray for her. They covered for her. They gave her strength. [p. 66]

“Wow! I get it, Mom. Just think of how Maria must feel if she knows that all of us care about her enough to pray for her. That must make her feel good, even though she knows she has many years of rough times ahead of her.”

“I think you’re right, Abbey.”

“Let’s see, God wants me to pray for others. That kind of prayer is a benefit to the person prayed for and it’s a benefit to me, too. Will you tell me about some of the other kinds of prayers in that book sometime?”

“I’ll try, Abbey. But meanwhile, we have a perfect opportunity to practice this kind of prayer by praying for Maria.”

“That’s true, Mom. AND, I can think of some other people I want to pray for, too. I’m going to start right now …”

Abbey eyes closed-praying

Spring Cleaning

Part of my mom's set of nut cups.

Part of my mom’s set of nut cups.

When I was a little girl, I really liked the week every year that my mom set aside for spring cleaning. The best time was the day we took all the beautiful things out of their places for washing. The three places that housed the most treasures were the china cabinet and buffet in the dining room, and the shelves built into the back of my parents’ closet.

Nothing made me feel more special than drinking hot cocoa from one of these cups.

Nothing made me feel more special than drinking hot cocoa from one of these cups.

First, we emptied the china cabinet, which held the most beautiful treasures: a porcelain set of nut cups, a blue and gold teapot, hand-painted plates (frequently used for serving cookies), crystal water goblets and sherbets, and an iridescent, porcelain demitasse set – that I thought was a child’s tea party set. (Mom reinforced that thinking by using those little cups and saucers to serve me hot cocoa sometimes when I was sick with a cold and needed something to brighten my day.)

Second, we cleaned out the buffet. That held the good china (which we used whenever we had company) and Mom’s collection of vases of all sizes, shapes, and colors. The vases would be well used again for cut flowers throughout the upcoming summer.

Third, we removed all the treasures from the closet shelves. That’s where we stored a wide assortment of functional and non-functional pieces: pottery pitchers, dainty one-of-a kind cups and saucers, a few Depression glass pieces, and a brightly painted pottery rooster.

Mom's prettiest teapot.

Mom’s prettiest teapot.

My mom and I worked together well. She handed me each piece, one by one, and I carried it to the kitchen. She told me the background of each piece as she gave it to me. Many of the pieces had been wedding presents. I remember her laughing when she handed me the colorful rooster and said, “People give the goofiest things for wedding presents. I just don’t know what they were thinking.”

When the counter was full of these dusty treasures, Mom washed each piece, and I dried it and carried it to the dining room table to continue to air dry. Then, we went back to taking out more pieces to be washed. When everything had been washed, Mom wiped down the shelves. We took a little break to be sure the shelves were good and dry. Then we reversed the process – I carried each piece to Mom for her to put back in its place. Everything was sparkling clean, and the treasures looked even better.

Last week I read about spring cleaning in Mornings with Jesus 2013: Daily Encouragement for Your Soul, one of the books I’m using for devotional readings this year. The scripture referenced was Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is – what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.”

Lisa Watson, the writer of this particular devotion wrote, “Spring has arrived and with it the never-ending pull to cast off the winter blahs, and to get my house in order by doing some serious spring cleaning. The Lord speaks of renewal as well, but He isn’t talking about our residences or any earthly pursuits. He is referring to the renewal of our faith; our commitment to our spiritual side, and a cleansing of our mind, body and soul.”

I’m thinking about what it means to do some spring cleaning of my soul. Perhaps it means I should take a day every spring to take out all the spiritual treasures I’ve accumulated over my lifetime, to dust them off and think about how God has taken care of me over the years and given me so many blessings – people in my life, experiences, opportunities . . . And to think about what God may be preparing me to do next, to “continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is . . . “

Mom's china cabinet. It's in our dining room now, filled with Mom's china instead of all the other treasures it used to house.

Mom’s china cabinet. It’s in our dining room now, filled with Mom’s china instead of all the other treasures it used to house.

Salty Cookies, Burnt Cereal, and Learning Curves

 

My mom worked in Madison during most of my growing up years.  She compensated for not being around home to supervise me as much as she would like by suggesting projects for me to do by myself, especially during the summer.

One project was learning to bake cookies. One of the first times I baked cookies all by myself, I must have misread “teaspoon” and “tablespoon.” I made some very salty oatmeal raisin cookies. Another time I forgot to take all the cereal boxes and crackers that were stored in the oven out of the oven before I preheated it. When I smelled smoke and saw a black cloud drifting out of the stove, I ran to the barn to get my dad. Together we ran back to the house. He put on thick work gloves, and pulled all the hot black smoldering boxes out of the oven. Fortunately, there were no flames.  Then my dad went back to the barn and I went back to mixing up the cookie dough. I was able to bake the cookies just fine in the well-preheated oven. When my mom got home from work, she was a little surprised at all the damage I had done by simply baking a batch of cookies, but she was pleased that I had run to get my dad before doing even more damage. She was also pleased that I had finished making the cookies. At least we had some good fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies to eat, even if we no longer had any cereal and crackers. There was a learning curve for baking cookies, but I mastered the skill well before I was in high school.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a learning curve for just about everything I’ve learned to do – from riding a bike to driving a car, from playing the piano for Sunday School to playing the organ for church, from designing a brochure to building a website. As a general rule, regardless of how good I may think my first effort is, the second time I do something is always better. That’s the learning curve.

The learning curve I’m currently mastering is writing and publishing a book. I’ve been writing a book about hospitality for a couple years. I’m very excited about this book. It’s based on the experiences Mim and I have had in being hospitable. We have welcomed literally thousands of people into our home – some as friends and family, others as bed and breakfast guests, assisted living residents, and seekers on spiritual retreat. The Bible says a lot about hospitality, and we’ve learned a lot about hospitality in our life experiences. The purpose of the book is to put all that knowledge together into a coherent message about the importance of hospitality in our lives.

Last year, as my book on hospitality was beginning to take shape, it suddenly dawned on me that I’m at the beginning of a new learning curve – the one for publishing a book. I decided I should try to gain some experience along this new learning curve before I actually publish my book on hospitality. The message of this book is very important to me. I want it to be the best book I can possibly make it. That means it shouldn’t be the first book I publish. The absolute law of learning curves has convinced me of that.

So, what should I publish as my first book?  I want it to be something good even if it is the first project along this learning curve. I quickly realized that there was an obvious answer to what should be my first book. I’d already written most of it. I’ve been writing a blog post every Monday for the past couple years. I have nearly a hundred reflections written. The theme that’s common to most of these reflections is finding messages from God in everyday life.

With the help of a friend, I selected 52 of our favorite reflections – one a week for a year for anyone who wants to read them at the same pace as the readers who have followed the blog.  I grouped the reflections around common topics like VALUES, PRAYER, MUSIC, JAIL, and a few other topics, to accommodate readers who would prefer to read a whole section of the book in one sitting. I tried to edit the reflections so that they flow smoothly from one to the next. Finally, I added a title and subtitle – Listening for God:  52 Reflections on Everyday Life. Currently, the same friend who helped me select the reflections is doing a final edit of the book for me. She hopes to complete her editing this week.

While she’s doing that, I’m deciding which independent publisher to choose to publish the book. Should I go with the independent division of a major publisher in the Christian book market, like Thomas Nelson or Guideposts? Or, should I take a more do-it-yourself route and do almost everything, except the actual printing of the books, by myself?, I went to a couple publishing seminars at the University of Wisconsin this past summer to help me make this decision. I’m learning all kinds of things about publishing – book cover design, interior page layout, e-book formatting, distribution channels, ISBN numbers, US copyright registration, and lots more. This is a fun learning curve to be on!

This week I hope to decide on the publisher and email my book to them. In two or three months, my first book will be published – a paperback of about 200 pages and an e-book for people who prefer to read books on their Kindles and Nooks.

I’m moving along the learning curve. Soon I’ll be able to get serious again about completing the first draft of my hospitality book. I’ve already set aside the second week in November for a week-long writing retreat at Christmas Mountain. I want to complete my first draft of this, my second book, while the publisher is finalizing and publishing my first book. Then I can study all the mistakes I made at the beginning of this learning curve, so that I don’t repeat them in publishing my second book. Anyway, that’s my plan. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

I’m sure there’s still a lot for me to learn along this latest learning curve, but I think I can safely say I won’t burn the cereal and crackers again. Each learning curve is filled with new adventures.