The Best Birthday Cake Ever!

When I was a child, I loved playing the game with notebook paper that gave you answers to life’s most important questions–well, important to an eight-year-old little girl.

It looked something like this. Remember?

We’d sit in the floor and ask all sorts of questions:

How many children will I have?

What kind of house will I live in?

What’s my husband’s name?

But life doesn’t always cooperate, does it? It’s full of surprises. Some good. Some not so good.

Last week for my husband’s birthday, I asked him if he wanted to go out to eat to celebrate.

“Nah. How ’bout making ground beef patties and mashed potatoes?”

“Yuck. Don’t you want something fancy like steak and shrimp? Want me to order you a birthday cake with lots of icing?”

“No, thanks. Just make a gluten-free dessert, so you can have some.” (I have Celiac.)

I did my best to cook his favorite meal, but something went waaaaayy wrong with his cake.

It fell.

It cracked right down the middle.

I tried to glue the broken pieces together with globs of cream cheese frosting, but I didn’t have enough, so I thinned it down.

The icing slid off the cake–

Which sunk on one side.

It was the saddest excuse for a birthday cake I’ve ever seen. 

After supper, I sliced a couple of pieces. “I don’t know what happened. I tried hard. I followed the recipe.”

I took a bite and stared at my husband.

It was the night of his 57th birthday.

I’ve known him since we were 15 and 16. He’s an honest man.

The cake looked hideous and yet–

“This is amazing,” I said. “I know it looks terrible, but–”

“Better than store-bought. Definitely.”

“I can’t believe it. It’s so tender and sweet.”

“Um-hmm.”

Later that night while I did the supper dishes, I thought about something.

The birthday cake resembled my life–maybe yours too.

Everything hasn’t gone the storybook way I thought I wanted, but my life is a beautiful combination of messy and sweet. 

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. Psalm 16:6 Click to Tweet. 

Has your life gone the way you thought it would? Which parts surprised you?

Right now, today, what’s messy? What’s sweet? 

Are you like me? Did it take a while to be grateful for certain things?

It’s a daily process, isn’t it? 

So much love,

Julie

 

 

 

The Big Blue Blob–Ruining My Friend’s Carpet

Have you ever done something really stupid? After your mistake, you wanted to crawl in a hole and hide.

Last Wednesday night at small group, Karen, our leader, welcomed me into her lovely home and asked me to put on a name tag.

It was our first meeting. Fourteen ladies. Some of us had never met.

I popped the cap off the blue PERMANENT Sharpie and dropped the marker onto her spotless, cream-colored carpet. The stain bloomed, deepening in color.

Panicky heat rose up my neck. “Oh, Karen, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that. I’ve ruined your carpet.”

This is how the stain looked (and felt!) to me.

 

“Julie, don’t you worry about a thing,” she said. “I have grandchildren. My house isn’t perfect. We’ll clean it up later.”

What else could she say? I’d ruined her Berber carpet! 

“Let’s work on it now before it sets,” I said.

Because if it doesn’t come up, I’ll never forgive myself. 

“We’ll do it later, after the meeting.” She hugged me.

But the one blue eye stared at me.

I couldn’t leave it alone. “Do you have any carpet cleaner?”

“Let me go check, sweetie. The carpet’s going to be fine and you are too. I promise.”

But it’s a permanent marker. 

She found a bottle of rug cleaner, but it didn’t help. She gave me a quick wink as the doorbell rang.

More faces. Multiple explanations. Gentle laughter.

The spot and I had become the center of attention.

Everyone offered suggestions on how to get THE PERMANENT BLUE STAIN JULIE MADE out of Karen’s carpet.

“Try hairspray or rubbing alcohol,” someone said.

Karen didn’t have either one.

Another lady offered to put her foot over it.

Such a big to-do about my accident.

A friend texted her husband and asked him to bring cleaning supplies. He showed up while Karen was teaching.

So… I … had … to … keep… waiting. I couldn’t absorb any of the teaching for stealing sneaks at the big, blue, blob.

Then Karen closed in prayer. When she finally said “amen” I dropped to my knees. With my right hand on the hairspray, I held up my left hand. “Please, Lord. Help me.”

Everybody watched expectantly.

Slowly, with alcohol and hairspray, the ugly thing lost its battle.

Glorious relief!

None of my new friends condemned me with words or looks.

Not one.

Two hugged me.

Have you ever known the sweetness of instant forgiveness? Click to Tweet. Please share what happened!

When others graciously forgive us, we’re able to forgive ourselves. Click to Tweet. 

Thoughts? Feelings? Comments?

Love,

Julie

 

 

Problems and Praying and Ironing

Last week, a close friend and I had a long talk–the kind where you open your heart and share your soul. We mentioned a few things we’d been praying about for years and decided that certain problems just drag into infinity.

“I remember thinking that by the time I turned 30, I wouldn’t have any more problems,” I said. “Isn’t that crazy?”

“Me too. Definitely by 40.”

“Do you think anyone actually lives that way? Without problems?”

“If so, I don’t want to meet them.”

“Don’t you wish we could take a giant iron and smooth out all the wrinkles in life?”

“Yeah, a wrinkle-free world. That’d be great.”

Later that day, our conversation about a wrinkle-free life gave me a strong desire to iron. My ironing board is upstairs in a spare bedroom.

As I began ironing, I remembered my grandmother’s old wooden ironing board across the hall, in my office.

When my mother was growing up, a teenage girl named Jimmie kept her during the day.

Mother loved Jimmie.

She said Jimmie’s skin was the color of eggplants–so soft and smooth. Jimmie used to let Mother touch her arms while she ironed.

(Jimmie and Mother, May 1938, right after my grandfather died.)

When Mother was six, Jimmy had a baby boy. Being an only child, Mother was thrilled. My grandmother let Jimmie bring him to work. Mother pretended he was her little brother.

The two of them sat under the ironing board while Jimmie ironed.

And every time Jimmie ironed, she sang hymns–deep, rich praise songs from the bottom of her soul. It was a spiritual thing, Mother said.

Jimmie didn’t live a wrinkle-free life. She had problems like the rest of us. 

Almost seventy-five years later, my mother still remembers Jimmie’s faith.  

And then something caught my attention on my grandmother’s ironing board.

A recovery rock.

An Al-Anon friend painted it for me a few years ago.

An unmistakable softness filled me. 

Peace doesn’t mean the absence of problems. Peace means believing God’s in control. No matter what. Click to Tweet. 

“… In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV Click to Tweet. 

Have you ever wondered if other people had problem-free lives?

Is there a Jimmie in your life–someone whose faith helps keep you centered?  

Thoughts on trusting God? 

Love,

Julie

 

The Life-Changing Power of Kindness and a Smile

Last Thursday my 79-year-old mother finally agreed to conquer her iPad fear. She’s had an iPhone for almost two years. An iPad would mean a larger screen. More user-friendly.

But she was eaten up by what-ifs. 

I’ve wrestled with what-ifs a bazillion times. Mother’s always been the one to encourage me.

On the way to Best Buy, we stopped for lunch. I said a quick blessing. “Thank You for our food. Please help us shop.”

And give Mother courage. 

“And Lord,” she added. “Will You please send us a nice salesperson? Someone who’s kind and smiles a lot.”

After I said “amen” she started backpedaling.

“Really, Julie. We don’t have to do this today. I know you’re busy.”

“You’re going to have an iPad. Today.”

“What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not smart enough? What if–”

“Baby steps.” I patted her hand. “Take a deep breath. You can do this.”

Inside Best Buy, a friendly-looking salesman approached us. “Hi. My name is Jeremy. How can I help you?”

I have a brother named Jeremy. Mother and I looked at each other. 

See. It’s gonna be fine. His name is Jeremy. And he’s smiling.

Jeremy helped us choose a gold iPad with a cute little stand. He didn’t act like Mother was a bother. Or stupid. He answered all her questions.

“Well, you ’bout ready?” I said. “Time to check out.”

She looked at me, big-eyed.

“What if I can’t–?”

“What if you can?”

“Mother, you’ve come this far by faith. No turning back.”

Jeremy, bless his sweet heart. 

He acted like it was perfectly normal for customers to talk about fear and faith at the check-out counter. 

He surprised her and downloaded three free apps – Kindle, YouVersion Bible, and AccuWeather.

Aren’t people like Jeremy at Best Buy THE BEST!

On the way home, we stopped by Starbucks for a quick lesson.”Look at you! Sitting in Starbucks with your iPad!”

“I’m faking it. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“Pretty soon, it’ll make sense.”

Her dark brown eyes met mine. “Okay. I think I can do this.”

She called the next day. “Guess what? I’m listening to Patsy Cline, The Plattersand Jim Reeves. They’re singing whatever songs I ask them to.”

Mother wants you to hear her favorite song, “Only You” by the Platters. Click “The Platters” above if you can’t see the video.

So many people have helped me do scary stuff–including YOU! :)  

What have you been afraid of? Was there a kind person like Jeremy who led the way? 

Fear shrinks our worlds. Faith does the opposite. Click to Tweet. 

Speak the words, “I can do this.” Faith soars and fear flees. Click to Tweet

Love,

Julie

The Dancing Queen Has an Aha Moment

Have you ever found the answer to a problem in a bizarre way? That happened to me this weekend. Saturday morning, I was stumped.

My problem just so happened to be about writing, but it could’ve been about anything.

Thinking too hard and drinking way too much coffee, I sat in my office staring at dozens of sticky notes. I couldn’t figure out how to fix the plot in my novel.

By 10 a.m., my brain already felt like this.

A knotted-up mess. 

Ever so gently, my word for 2016 came to me.

DANCE. Why don’t you dance?

Now? 

I can’t dance. 

I have to fix this problem.

Take a break. Dance. Let it go. 

I can’t. 

Work comes before play.

Always.

Those are the rules. 

Then four words came to me. Four one-syllable words.

Do you trust Me? 

Yes, of course but…

Then dance–the gentle thought brushed against my heart.

Don’t laugh, y’all, but I did.

I got out my chair, twirled around in my office (no one was home but me), and I boogied my way downstairs–

Like I was the room monitor, slacking off on my duty.

Then I did something really wild and crazy. I hopped into the car. Drove to the YMCA.

For 30 minutes, I played solitaire on the treadmill as though I had absolutely nothing better to do. 

I acted like a kid during recess and danced–mentally and physically. 

Guess what?

The best thing happened–

When I forgot about my problem, the answer came. I knew what to do! How crazy is that?

Back at home, I moved a few sticky notes around on my whiteboard and fixed my plotting issue. 

Sometimes trusting God means we let go, take a break, and dance. Click to Tweet

Is this an aha moment for you too? Or have you always known about the dancing secret? I bet you have! :)

P.S. If you have a minute, watch this video from 1978. “Dancing Queen” used to be my fave song back in the day.

If you can’t see the video, click here. It’s impossible to watch it without dancing!

Love,

Julie–the Dancing Queen 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heartfriends and Three Dancing Tips

I’m in love with my word for 2016, DANCE. I’ve been thinking about what it means to dance in life. With this idea twirling through my thoughts, I received an email from someone who reads my blog. Her name is Mary. She wanted to meet me.

The Old Julie would’ve politely declined.

What if we don’t click? What if it’s awkward? 

But saying yes felt right. Mary’s a writer and a storyteller. Sometimes it’s good to spend time with people who understand.

And my word is DANCE.

So I said yes. ;)

NOTE: I’m not suggesting we meet strangers on the side of the road! 

Mary planned to drive from Arkansas to Georgia, visit friends, and then head my way. She said she was up for an adventure.

I was too.

As soon as I walked into Starbucks, we spotted each other.

Right away, I noticed her beautiful silver necklace, and how her coat matched her shirt.

I glanced at my feet.

Brown boots and a black purse. “Oops. I meant to change purses.”

“Look at mine,” she said. “Twinsies!”

“Sisters of the heart,” I said. “I love your necklace.”

She touched the silver pendant and laughed. “I made it myself. The snowflake was a dollar.”

Just like that, we bonded.

We talked about writing and life. Then she surprised me with something I’ll never forget.

“Last night, I wished I had a present for you,” she said. “And I knew it was too early in our friendship to give gifts. Then I remembered something I had in my car.” She placed a wrapped present on the table.

Uh-oh. Gulp, gulp.

I don’t have anything to give her. 

I remembered my word. 

You can’t worry while you’re dancing. It’s impossible. Click to Tweet

“When you open it, you’ll understand.” Mary’s green eyes sparkled with anticipation. “I bought it several years ago at Goodwill, and forgot I had it with me. I wrapped it at 11:30 last night.”

I ripped off the corner of the present.

No words came.

Just a burst of unspeakable JOY.

“I love this song,” she said. “I’ve listened to it over and over. The CD’s in the back of the book.”

I cleared my throat.

Still couldn’t talk.

She opened the book.”Look at the inscription.”

Because I hope you ‘dance’ every chance you can in 2016.

“Oh, Mary. Thank you.”

“Consider it a gift from God.”

Dancing means we–

1. Trust our partner. 

2. Don’t try to control the rhythm–or anything else. 

3. Relax–even when we’re learning a new step.

If you can’t see the video below, click here. I hope you dance.

How do you plan to dance in 2016?

Have you ever risked forming new friendship and found a heartfriend? Click to Tweet. 

Love,

Julie

My 2016 Word–The Flip Side of Surrender

A couple of weeks ago, one word from a Scripture verse danced off the page, begging for my attention. Can you guess what it was?

“And David danced before the Lord with all his might…” 2 Samuel 6:14 (KJV)

As a child, I loved to dance.

I started taking ballet lessons when I was three. I came alive in the ballet studio–a wide open room with shiny wooden floors and mirrored walls.

But eight years later when I got my first pair of toe shoes, a fearful thought took root.

You’re never going to learn how to dance in these pointy shoes. 

So I quit dancing.

My mother spray-painted my toe shoes red. They hung in my bedroom for years.

Untouched but never forgotten.  

Yesterday while I thought about 2016 word possibilities, my husband dragged the Christmas tree outside and moved my pie safe back into place.

After days of rain the sun came out, and my wedding dishes sparkled. So pretty. Closing the doors to protect my china, I noticed my oldest child’s handprint.

She’s 34 now.

My hands used to be this small–

When I was a tiny ballerina–

Who stopped dancing because of fear.

Can I actually choose a fun word for 2016? Like  Dance

I always pick stoic words like Enough, Simple, Follow, and Surrender

What if the flip side of Surrender is Dance? 

Maybe when we let go of control, we’re free to dance. 

I bet when David danced before the Lord he didn’t say, “Don’t watch me. I’m a terrible dancer.” He probably danced with his heart and soul–with everything inside him. 

That’s when my word came to me with absolute assurance. 

My 2016 word for the year is DANCE.  

I danced to the pie safe, flung open the doors, and grabbed some dishes. 

Breaking all sorts of decorating rules, I mixed wedding china with my grandmother’s depression glass and set up a coffee station.

I filled an antique container with Sour Patch Kids. I love Sour Patch Kids! :)

I even lit a pink candle in the middle of the day.

In 2016, I’m going to:

* Use my wedding china.

* Light more candles.

* Bathe with decorative soap.

* Love people with my whole heart. 

* Most of all, I’m going to dance–not just with my feet, but with everything I do. 

When we surrender and live fearlessly, others are set free! Click to Tweet

Do you have a 2016 word? Do tell! 

Are you gonna dance next year?

For the full experience, watch this video below. If you can’t see it, click here.  She’s even redheaded!

** Let’s remember to pray for those in Texas and the Midwest who’ve been affected by the storms. My heart is with them right now.

P.S. Ballet pics from Pixaby. 

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Miracle–Healing of a Childhood Memory

Sometimes it takes years to be healed from a lie you’ve believed about yourself. Especially when it began in childhood. Over time, you convince yourself it’s not important because it happened so long ago.

I’d buried that terrible moment from the third grade until last Thursday night.

Karen, my friend from church, invited me to their small group Christmas party. All women. About ten or twelve of us. We laughed and talked, the way ladies do. After we ate, she cleared off the kitchen table. “Craft time!”

That’s when I remembered the day the lie–THE FEAR–was planted, 47 years ago.

“Ummm, excuse me. I don’t do arts and crafts.”

“Oh, these are easy,” Jackie, another friend said. “We’re making snowmen ornaments.”

My heart did double time. 

Please no! Not arts and crafts! Help! Help! I’m stuck! 

“No thanks. I’ll just watch.”

That day in the third grade, the teacher passed out brown construction paper. We were supposed to rip a camel out of our paper. No scissors or pencils were allowed.

About thirty minutes later, the teacher proudly displayed 26 camels on the bulletin board. She wouldn’t hang up my camel.

None of them. I tried over and over.

They weren’t good enough. And I wasted lots of paper. 

All these years, I’ve been afraid of arts and crafts. 

Inside Karen’s kitchen, everyone got busy.

Everyone except me.

Jackie placed a clear ball in front of me. “You can do this,” she whispered. “I’ll help you.”

My heart boom-boom-boomed in my ears.

I was eight years old again. 

Shaky hands.

Staring at a piece of brown construction paper. 

But Jackie was nothing like my third grade teacher. She smiled a lot and helped me. :)

First I poured something called Gleams inside my ball.

 

I swirled the paint around until my ornament turned white.

What if mine doesn’t work?

How’s this blob going to magically turn into a snowman?  

Jackie said to let it dry inside a Styrofoam cup.

“Now, it’s time to glue his stocking cap on and draw a face.”

A glue gun? I don’t do glue guns. Or draw. 

But I’d come this far.

So I did the next part carefully. So… very… carefully, and–

Ya’ll–

I made a Christmas ornament! My first arts and crafts project! 

I fell in love with his precious face–almost like he was my own newborn baby. 

Then Karen said something I’ll never forget. 

“Congratulations, Julie! You’re now an official crafter.” 

Me. A crafter! :) Who knew? I’d been one my whole life–I just didn’t know it!

Back at home, I found a special place on the tree for my creation. Looking right at me, he seemed to say,

“Thank you! You brought me to life.”

Sort of like what God did for me–through Karen and Jackie. 

A single act of kindness can set someone free. Click to Tweet. 

All sorts of miracles happen when we’re set free! Click to Tweet.  

Have you ever believed a lie about yourself? Maybe that you weren’t good enough? 

Lies can cripple us, but their power over us can be broken! 

P.S. Have you ever discovered you had a hidden talent? Awesome, isn’t it!

Snowman ornament from Pinterest--20 Dollar Store Christmas Decor Ideas on Browser.net 

Love,

Julie

 

 

Guarding My Thoughts–Frogs, Marbles, and Jewels

I’m a visual learner. Whenever I’m asked to speak or teach, I bring a giant bag of props. One of them is my Thought Box. I know this sounds goofy, but hang with me for a minute.

For most of my life, I chased almost every negative notion and fear that popped into my mind.

Unhealthy thinking. 

Guess what? There’s another way to live! Here’s what I’m talking about. 

My Thought Box represents my mind. 

It contains three things–

Shiny marbles, pretty jewels, and plastic frogs. 

I keep it on my desk. 

With God’s help, I choose which thoughts to dwell on and which ones to toss. I don’t like frogs, so they symbolize destructive thinking. Condemning froggy-thoughts are lies. And they leap from one bad thought to the next.

To the next.

To the next. 

I don’t have to listen to them anymore. 

Froggy-thoughts:

1. You’ll never measure up. :(

2. You’re not smart enough. :(

3. Depression took you under. How embarrassing! You should be so ashamed of yourself! (This could be ANYTHING you struggle with or ANYTHING in your past–not just depression.)

4. Uh-oh!!! You were supposed to follow Plan A, but you chose Plan B. You blew it! It’s too late to change! :(

5. You’ll never get it right! You’ll never be free. :(

6. God’s probably forgotten about you. :(

Okay, here’s the amazing part~~

God-shaped thoughts are like precious jewels and rock-solid marbles.

We can trust them.

They’re true. 

1. God is for me. He loves me. 

2. I don’t ever have to be afraid. 

3. God says I’m precious in His sight. 

4. God forgives me. 

5. I’ve been set free! 

6. I don’t have to be perfect! Jesus did that for me. Click to Tweet. 

Guard your thoughts. They have the power to build us up or tear us down.

What froggy-thoughts (lies!) pester you? 

What jewel-thoughts (truths) encourage you? 

“For you are God’s masterpiece. He has created you anew in Christ Jesus, so you can do the good things He planned for you long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 

“Don’t be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” 1 Chronicles 28:20 

“…We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No More Secrets–Defeating Depression

Last week, my post was light and airy and funny. Today’s different. It’s about clinical depression. If you’re struggling with it now, or if you know someone who is, I’m writing to you straight from my heart.

Because I care.

Because I’ve been there. 

Because there’s hope. And help. And healing. 

Clinical depression feels like the emotional flu.

You wonder if you’ve been dropped off in a strange, unfamiliar world–a place without color, or taste, or seasons. Without joy or anticipation. And you only experience one emotion. FEAR. 

The worst part–you think maybe God’s forgotten you.

Sort of like a certain tree in our yard. This morning, I noticed her dangling leaves, her thin, fragile arms.

I could relate. I used to be like this tree.

The first time depression hit, I was 34. I wrote about it here. After stumbling my way out, I thought, Whew. Glad that’s over. Maybe it’ll never happen again. 

But it did. In 2012. Almost twenty years later.

Both times, I prayed to get better quickly and quietly. On my own. Without help. So no one would find out. I was afraid I’d lost myself--the real me–and that I’d never find my way back home.

Remember the little tree in our yard?

With her on my mind, I drove through our neighborhood and noticed all sorts of trees. This one is small, but to me, her leaves are sparkling rubies. 

It’s how you feel when you begin to recover from depression. You’re small but hallelujah! You have leaves again. :)

You begin sleeping and eating and sometimes even laughing. You’re still afraid to glance over your shoulder at the minefield where you’ve been, but that’s okay. Baby steps. You’re learning to be gentle with yourself. To love yourself.

Then one day, the miracle tiptoes in–

In all its Glory!

You look in the mirror and there you are! Strong and tall. A tree full of leaves!

With God’s help, and medication, and prayer, and caring friends and family, I’ve been restored twice. 

I’m so grateful. How could I keep this secret to myself? 

My second depression story will appear in December Guideposts, “A Sliver of Light.” If you read it, here’s a P.S. I didn’t stop writing in 2012. I took a break, finished the novel, and signed with a literary agent. :)  I share a little more of what happened in this video below. If you can’t see it, click here.

If this post hits home, don’t keep it a secret. Get help. Today. If you know someone who’s struggling with depression, please forward my blog link. 

Thoughts? Questions? 

Love,

Julie