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Rita Klundt Posts

Featured Post

Hey Girl!

(This post was written almost a year ago. It’s been updated for 2023.)

It’s not surprising for me to wake the first morning after a writer’s conference with a “dream” book title in my head. It happens after Priority conferences as well.

Here’s the title I woke with this morning: Hey Girl! Find Your Pulpit and Preach It! Hmmm . . . I stretch and think that sounds like a book I’d want to read.

Sunlight slips through and around the curtain panels to excite my spirit and give me energy after two days of travel and hotels that didn’t deliver what their billboards advertised. “Thank you, Lord, for my comfy bed.” My eyebrows pull hard to lift my eyelids so that I can greet the day.

My husband, Roger, was grumpy, weary and ready for Heaven before we’d unloaded the car last night, so I feel the need to check that he’s still alive. His eyes are open, but I wait. Good. He takes a long breath and lets out a longer moan. Neither of us speaks. He’d been the driver and baggage handler for the trip. You Illinois gals who have gone to Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina (as a driver or a passenger) know all about the Appalachians where the interstate curves, climbs and falls like a carnival ride.

We made it home without incident. No milk, juice, eggs, fresh produce or bread. I need to get to the store. But first, I sit at my computer to document a bit of that Ridgecrest “high” and to save that title: Hey Girl! Find Your Pulpit and Preach It!

Great book title. Don’t you agree? The focus scripture could be: ‘“For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NET).

Four chapter titles are in my head within five minutes of waking. I roll over, and wouldn’t you know, five more chapter titles surface.

  1. You Have to Preach. (If you want to make a difference.)
  2. God has a Pulpit in Mind for You. (And it’s like no other.)
  3. There’ll be Detours. (But God won’t waste your time.)
  4. Found My Pulpit. Can’t find the Congregation. (Are you still facing the choir?)
  5. Is Preaching for Girls? (Yep. Check the definition.)
  6. What’s My Sermon About? (Finally. The right question!)
  7. Sounds Like a full-time job. (It sort of is, but with the best perks and paycheck.)
  8. I Messed Up. (God didn’t call you to perfectionism.)
  9. But . . . I Can’t Find the Restroom Without at Least One Friend. (Funny. Oh, how God loves to use funny.)

Now that I see the bulleted chapter titles on the screen of my computer, I wonder. Is this a book God would have me write, or is this an outline of what I need to be living?

“Practice what you preach” rings loud in my head. “When was the last time you led anyone to Jesus?”

The backspace key taunts me, “You and your grandiose ideas! That heavyweight title is for a writer who can sell tens of thousands of books. How many have you sold?”

I recognize the haughty voice as the coach of our opposing team, yet I’m tempted to delete the last hour’s work and go grocery shopping. I’ve already allowed the enemy to speak his losing strategy into my heart and brain where, at the very least, he will rob me of time.

“So what,” I answer. “Not today.”

I go to the living room where my Bible lays open at the place where Solomon asks God for a discerning heart. (1 Kings3:7-15). The story teaches and encourages the lowly of heart.

Lord, you know I’m not the soul-winner the chapter titles of this would-be book imply. Yet my life is good and I am blessed because you wake me in the mornings with thoughts of how much you love me. The enemy taunts and points to my weakness. He humiliates. You humble. You’ve had to rescue me from detours, and you’ve cleaned my nasty messes, yet you allow me a “pulpit” and a “congregation.” What other god would forgive me those things and then give more besides?  It would be better for me to spend the rest of my days inviting hurting people, one at a time, into gospel conversations than to write a book with a catchy title so that a million Baptist women might be momentarily inspired. I want my readers to be more like you, Jesus. Not more like me. Keep my ears tuned to your voice. Give me a heart like Solomon’s and help me put it to good use. Amen.

So now I’m wondering. Have you forgotten? Or have you followed up on that thought or idea you “woke” to because of something you heard at Priority 2022? Have you taken a detour from the road God had you on? Are you distracted by tourist traps and the tempting promises on billboards placed strategically by the opposing teams coach? Maybe you’ve seen the curves, climbs and falls on the road ahead, and you’re tired of driving. Like me, just thinking of a carnival ride makes you dizzy.

Never before in the life of Illinois Baptist Women, or in my life, has the need been more urgent or the call been more clear. Never before in my life have I been more equipped. And never before have I been surrounded by a community of women more ready to find a place to plug in, serve and support. I hope you sense that too.

Don’t let the preaching scare you. It’s as simple as telling your story and making sure you don’t leave out the part where Jesus was your hero. It’s as easy as saying to someone, “I’d love to hear your story sometime.” It works! It really works.

I may have hesitated or missed 90% of what I felt God wanted me to do since last spring, but my oh my, He showed me some of what God can do with my measly 10%.

Hope to see you at Priority 2023. I’d love to hear your story.

Hey Girl! Find Your Pulpit and Preach It.”

How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How timely is the arrival of those who proclaim the good news.” Romans 10:14-15, (NET).

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Featured Post

Diddly and Squat.

No strength of my own to stand strong or fight, and my voice doesn’t carry much punch.

Please, Word of God, speak while I hold still and pray. My heart and my soul feel the crunch.

The war rages on between Diddly and Squat, and I’m watching from square in the middle.

They pretend to serve truth for the good of mankind, but they dish out manure and piddle.

We voted them in, whether fraud or legit. We can’t trust either side with the facts.

They plot and make deals from behind heavy doors. Public speeches are meant to distract.

The words “hater and hypocrite” are screamed and abused. Who will answer to, “Where is the money?”

They hamper debate on their fat, pork-filled laws, and then laugh as though wicked is funny.

Are you hearing me, Lord? I’ve a lot more to say. I’ve a lot to get off of my chest.

The people you made in the world you created claim their book, not yours, is the best.

I talked with a friend and asked for his thoughts. He told me how he’s got the blues.

“I’m so angry,” he said. “Are you still seeing red? It’s clear we don’t watch the same news.”

The two of us nod and rattle our brains wanting wisdom and right to prevail.

Common sense would be nice. Give the POTUS a slice. He pretends that this sinking ship sails.

Do what you must, but in God I will trust and serve while the buffalo roam.

Pray for Diddly and Squat. They have way more to lose than a vote or political home.

Let the deer and the antelope play while you pray. And be to all folk a good neighbor.

Let never be heard that discouraging word. Do even your foe a sweet favor.

The sky will get cloudy and the capital roudy. Hold on to your mind and your scrupples.

Don’t let childern, misled, pay the price on your head. You’re the teacher and they are the pupils.

Wait! What do I read? It’s a message for me and the friend who will cancel my vote.

Good news from God’s Word, not telltale or lie. You’ll agree it is well worth a quote.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Philippians 3:2

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Featured Post

Peace and Good Will

“Peace on earth. Good will,” they say.

The Hallmark movies end that way.

But as for me, and at my house,

The creatures stir and we might have a mouse.

The stockings need hung and the cookies need baked.

Company’s coming. I’ve got beds to make.

The washing machine chose this season to die.

I forgot the pecans for Dad’s favorite pie.

The children are fighting. They don’t deserve gifts.

I should take it all back and not care who gets miffed.

I’m tired of hearing the same Christmas songs

About Santa and reindeer and bells that ding-dong.

I’d rather be taking a long winter’s nap,

But I’ve got to keep knitting this red and green cap.

I plan. I work hard for our holiday cheer,

But it’s wearing me down, year after year.

While others are laughing and merry and bright

I am sad, quite depressed, on this long winter’s night.

There’s got to be more than gifts, food and trees.

I wonder if something is wrong – with just me.

I would love to have quiet and time for myself.

I would love a retreat with a personal elf?

But the budget is busted. There’ll be no getaway.

I’m stuck in this house with bills that need paid.

Then out on the lawn I hear a strange clatter.

I spring to the door to see what is the matter.

“I’ll shovel your walk ma’am, for twenty-five dollars?”

The man is disheveled. His coat has no collar.

His hands are all red and cracked from the cold,

He sniffles and coughs like a virus took hold.

I step back not wanting to get myself sick.

“No, thank you,” I say rather rudely and quick.

He turns. Not a word. I feel guilty for sure.

But I’ve got my own troubles. I can’t be his cure.

I return to my knitting and cup of hot tea.

If he’s caused a missed stich, it will just have to be.

There’s the church Christmas program and that story to tell.

I’ll be so embarrassed if that doesn’t go well.

There are presents to wrap and a message to post.

I’m hoping that Fed Ex brings what I want most.

Is it too much to ask for new pots and new pans?

How many years I have cooked for that man?

My phone does a dance on the table with glee.

“Scam likely,” it says. Wish they’d leave me be.

Then what to my wondering eyes does appear?

But that man with his shovel. Had I not said it clear?

He is scraping away at my pile of snow fall.

He’s fast and effective. He’s smiling. What gall!

He won’t get a dollar. I spent my last cash.

Except for the bills that I hide in my stash.

I yank on the yarn and my knitting looks bad.

I lock my jaw closed. I am livid. I’m mad.

Let him shovel my walk. Let him clean it off fine.

He’ll come back to my door, but he won’t get a dime!

I’m sorry life dealt him a hard circumstance,

And maybe he’s working his very last chance.

I have a good heart. I don’t mean to be cruel.

But I’m nobody’s patsy. I’m nobody’s fool.

I stew in frustration, yet sense God at work.

Today’s not the day, but this deed I can’t shirk.

“So what do I do, Lord? What if this guy’s a thief?

Or an awful abuser who brings horrible grief?

Don’t ask me to welcome him into my home.

My rugs have been cleaned and my hair is uncombed.

I could write him a check, but then he’d know my name.

I’ll give extra next Sunday—if that’s all the same.

I will pray for him. Yes! What a good Christian does.

I will pray that he finds some warm socks and some gloves.

I will pray for his belly to be filled with good food.

And I’ll ask all my friends to pray for him too.”

My sidewalk and driveway cleared lickety split.

While I sat on my fanny . . . only bothered a bit.

He carries his shovel and crosses the street.

He turns to admire. Work. Thorough and neat.

Then he catches a glimpse of me pulling the curtain.

His lips move, “Merry Christmas.” Then he waves it for certain.

I had him all wrong. My attitude stank.

My lofty ideals in that moment lost rank.

I’m sorry, but sorry won’t cover my shame.

I had passed on my turn to do good in Christ’s name.

Forgive me, Lord. I took the wrong stance.

I’ll return him the favor if you’ll give me a chance.

I gave a quick look through my basket of knitting,

For a hat and a scarf to warm him and fit him.

I pulled from the closet a pair of men’s gloves.

The tag is still dangling. Never worn? Just because?

The man is so gracious, accepting my thought.

Few words came between us. I said less than I ought.

This won’t be a movie on Hallmark or cable.

No romance or hero or damsel unable.

Just kindness and industry given for free.

The night peace and good will was offered to me.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me – put it into practice – and the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4:9

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Featured Post

To Dream. To Dance.

I used to dream of monsters in the dark, under my bed.

I used to dance in fairytales with heroes in my head.

Dad said “No” to dreaming of some far-off, handsome prince.

Mom’s dance showed that trusting God is safe, yet great suspense.

I grew to dream of lovers, travel, jewels—amazing stuff.

I grew to dance with danger where too much is not enough.

I’ve struggled some with dreaming of what’s not and ne’er will be.

It’s hard to dance where Satan lies with small print guarantees.

I’ve learned to dream of freedom from the pain of sin and debt.

I’ve learned to dance in rhythm, living well with few regrets.

I sense my dreams are greater as my nights are growing long.

And my days for dancing shorter as my body grows less strong.

But this I know of dreaming, seeing Christ as Life and Lord:

My future’s full of dancing, and the dance but one reward.

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Featured Post

Go Ahead. Shine!

The stars are always out there, even in broad daylight. But they show up and show off best in absolute darkness. Night and day. That’s the way anyone would compare my sister’s ability on a keyboard with mine. Night and day. She plays the piano. I play with a piano.

There’s a whole long story from my childhood about having my musical talent overshadowed by my younger sister. I won’t bore you with it, except to say that I made it easy for her to shine.

Still, I love to play with a piano. I can’t believe I let a dozen years go by without a tuned up and ready-to-play piano in my home! Oh, we’ve had a piano for most of those years, but technicians and tuners told us she was a lost cause and could never be fully tuned without risking the need for replacing major parts and extensive refurbishing. Again, I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that a car in similar condition would be written off as “totaled.”

We’d had musicians (real ones who know how to “work” a keyboard) come into our living room and be drawn to our baby grand. I’d warn them. “She’s terribly out of tune.” They’d tap a few keys and grieve with us for a moment before closing the lid over her aged, but authentic, ebony and ivory. Others have tried to revive her, but no amount of talent or attention would bring her back to her days of youthfulness or usefulness. I played with her less and less.

Our baby grand died a slow and agonizing death. We didn’t care to have formal services or put an obit in the paper. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to have her cremated or carried to a “graveyard” —that unspeakable place where pianos have gone before her. So, we cautiously removed her wrought iron harp (the heart of every piano) and laid out the other parts of her body for a viewing. I grieved, then made plans. She’s a donor. Her shapely frame is set to become a bookshelf. Her harp will be the base of a conversation-starting coffee table. I hope to see her keys and strings become beautiful wall art and keep some memories alive.

We brought home a rescue piano a few months ago. She’d been left behind by a woman we never knew, an elderly church pianist. Her kids had no use for a heavy piano and no means to move one out of the old lady’s house. The poor Wurlitzer was stranded. Of all the things we can’t take with us, why not pianos?

Compared to the old baby grand, our new (gently used) piano takes no floor space at all. Great! But I saw the squiggly marks as I dusted and polished her up after the road trip to our home. It sort of made me angry, thinking one of the church pianist’s children or grandchildren had gone unsupervised and gotten ahold of a permanent marker. Then I saw them, like freckles. Stained into the wood with purpose. Random, yet consistent. Patterned in a way no child could have. The builder had put W’s all over her, like a signature, proudly saying “This one’s a Wurlitzer.”

Until last week, our new/gently used piano hadn’t seen a tuner since the 1980’s. Even fully tuned, she’ll never have the rich resounance of a baby grand. She doesn’t suit my taste as far as furniture goes, but year for year, her body hasn’t aged nearly as much as mine. She does what she was built to do without complaining. I’m thrilled to have rescued her. She’s in tune, and there’s no reason to think she won’t be around for a long, long time.

It’s good to have a tuned and ready-to-play piano again. Old songbooks and sheet music came up from the basement. Songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Old gospel songs that Mom and Dad used to play and sing. Classic hymns and favorite songs of praise. Yes!

The best part? The kids are grown and out of the house. They can no longer joke or compare me to better musicians. My husband doesn’t seem irritated by my stumbling over sharps and flats or notes that go way above or below the staffs and are hard for me to see, even with my glasses. I’m thrilled when he recognizes a melody. He sits in his recliner with the TV remote in his hand and listens until I finish all the verses and the chorus. Sometimes twice. He tells me he thinks I’m better after just a week of practice. How blessed I am.

An hour of piano practice every day for the rest of my life won’t make me shine, and that’s okay. But an hour of praise—every day this week? I already realize a difference. For sure, it’s brightened something inside of me.

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3 ESV)

Praising God keeps me sane. It keeps me encouraged and gives me energy to do his work. Praising Jesus has no prerequisite. Praising Him, in fact, is the prerequisite. What a waste to confess sin to any other god, one who can’t act on said confession. How futile to pray to any god who is not, and never will be worthy of praise. Only the God of the Bible is almighty, everlasting, holy and loving and proven to be faithful. We can’t take hold of what God offers us until we recognize The One True God for who He is, what He has done, and we tell Him so. Whether the words are shouted from a mountain top or as a fleeting thought from our deepest need, praise is where every honest-to-goodness prayer begins and ends. Praise the Lord!

How sad that I went so long without my favorite instrument of praise. With a musical instrument or without. With singing and dancing and raising of hands, or without. It takes no special talent or gifting to praise the Lord. Got no rhythm? You can praise the Lord. Don’t know treble from bass or accelerando from a cappella? Praise the Lord anyway. Can’t carry a tune? Still, praise the Lord.

Praise opens the door to fellowship with our creator and savior.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4 ESV)

The instruction to Praise God is given more often than any other instruction in the Bible. More than serving or loving or giving.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150:6. ESV)

If Jesus is your Lord, you should polish up some praise and shine.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1 ESV)

So go ahead. Be the one who shines your light into the darkness of this world. What are you waiting for?

“I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1 ESV)

So go ahead, because everything good begins and ends with praise and glory to God, the Alpha and Omega. When we don’t have the talent, time or temperament to do much of anything else, we can praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, the light of the world! Mention his name. Give him glory, especially in the darkness. Then watch him shine.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5 14-16 ESV)

God has “marked” you for something great. He signed and sealed you the moment you called on him and confessed your need to be lifted out of darkness. On that same day the Holy Spirit said, “This one’s mine.” His light is in you. So. Go ahead. Shine.

Featured Post

A Devil’s Tool

(Rhyming poems are for adults too.)

I’ve been caught by this tool of the Devil,

and suppose that you might have been too.

It sneaks through our thoughts to our actions,

then soon drives many things that we do.

As a sin, it gets little attention.

It can be really hard to ID,

But there’s evidence of its destruction

in everyone’s family tree.

As children, we might have been scolded

without hearing this sin called by name.

Maybe that’s why there’s so much frustration

when we want what another has gained.

Can you guess which of the commandments?

Is it two, four, six, eight or ten?

Here’s a clue:  This tool of the devil

makes us feel that we always must win.

We call it the big, green-eyed monster

and preach without offering grace.

Yet when we spend time with the mirror

we see all the green on our face.

The haughty and proud deny envy,

but if they would only think twice.

Beyond their material possessions,

would more skill or influence be nice?

You won’t hear me saying, “It’s easy.”

Instead, hear me cry, “Help me, Lord!”

I use up my time and my wages

and then want what another has stored.

When we do harbor envy or covet,

it’s disguised rather well as a need.

Our fam’ly and friends might not see it,

but God knows our pride and our greed.

He said to us, “Thou shalt not covet,”

not to punish, withhold or control.

For each of us personalized blessings.

More than needs, his abundance can flow.

Help us run from the good and the better

and to chase after all of God’s best.

Then His goodness should pour out on others.

Not hoarded. Not owned as a quest.

Oh – The list could go on – what we covet.

Some take this sad sin to the grave.

Where they want for the peace and contentment

of others, forgiven and saved.

The last of the Ten Commandments

should never be seen as the least.

When we fail to obey the nine others,

could covetous be the true beast?

So I ask of the Lord to reveal it

when He sees this sin in my way.

I can count on His tender reminder.

It’s something like this that I pray:

Now I lay me down to sleep.

I trust the Jones’ you will keep.

If all my stuff someone should take,

I’ll be content when I awake.

Thanks for your wise and clear commands.

Thanks for your strength and guiding hands.

Whatever circumstance I find,

help me not scheme for what’s not mine.

Help me to pray this every day,

for envy has a sneaky way.

I pray your mercy on this fool.

Help me avoid this devilish tool.

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Featured Post

A Belated Birthday and ThankYou

The young lady pictured with me here had a birthday yesterday, and I intended to send her this message, but my screen time got interrupted, and that didn’t happen. So I’ll tell her today, and you may as well hear this too. When you’re done reading, is there someone to whom you owe a belated birthday greeting or thank you?

Happy (belated) Birthday, Dawn!

I’ve been meaning to thank you for that session you lead during the 2019 mission trip to Hawaii—the one where you introduced a plan for reading the Bible. I know you didn’t create the plan, but you’d been living it. And that was clear. I thought about starting on January 1 of 2020, but then decided to do my own thing. It took me 18 months to get through the entire Bible, but I did, and that was a fruitful 18 months.

 Midway through 2021, I started over, in Genesis, and was doing fairly well, but got discouraged because I saw that I wouldn’t finish in six short months. Plus, I had let a lot of worry creep into my thoughts. My worry became anguish, the kind of anguish I hadn’t felt since my 1st husband took his own life over 35 years ago.

COVID didn’t help, but my anguish had little or nothing to do with that sort of virus.

Looking back at the last half of 2021, I was experiencing depression. There’ve been times when circumstances have dumped me into a depressed state, and then abandoned me there for a while. That’s probably happened to you as well. I fight and shake off the crap. But it’s the Lord who eventually lifts me up and opens the blinds. I get a good whiff of fresh air (nearly always in the form of scripture or song) and I’m on track again.

This past December, however, my spirit had been down so long that hopelessness threatened. I began to identify with friends who suffer from chronic depression in a way that I’d never been able to do before. Funny thing: One of them didn’t know it, but she was ministering to me as she labeled, even alphabetized, her struggle with anxiety and depression, then posted it online. I hope she’s better for that exercise! I know I am.

Hang with me. I’m close to the reason why I need to thank you!

My son and his family sent me a new Bible and a journal for Christmas. Guess what?! The Bible has a plan laid out for reading it though in a year. The SOAP plan!! And the journal … it’s got all the standard blank lines. Each turn of the page represents a new day and has these headings: Scripture – Observations – Applications – Prayer.

It was all I could do to wait until the New Year to start. But I did.

Dawn, it isn’t you who speaks to me every day. It isn’t you who lifted me from depression and gives me hope. It isn’t you who urges me to stick to a purpose and think on lovely things. But it was you who planted the seed.

Thank you, Dawn. The SOAP you told me about has been good for my body, heart and soul.

I think there might be sandy beaches in Heaven, like the one we enjoyed in Hawaii. And the pedicures will be free. If not, we’re taking some great memories with us.

So glad God gave you another birthday, friend.


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Featured Post

Come to the Stable

I was walking along with no place to go.
No invitation. No gifts to bestow.
I wouldn’t be seated at a table of friends?
My purpose in life seems a means to their ends.

“Come to the stable.” I heard a child say.
“I’ll be the Mary. I’ve a big role to play.
My costume’s pale blue, but the fabric’s quite plain.
Come to the stable, by the tall candy cane.”

So I changed my direction toward a noisy downtown.
Families and lovers. People mulling around.
The darkness between all the lanterns and lights.
Made my path to the stable on that chilly night.

No one seemed to notice, or they just didn’t care,
That I’d no invitation. No right to be there.
The wind brushed my face and I stopped where I stood
To close my coat tighter and pull down my hood.

I pass “Santa’s Village,” fake toys and fake sleigh.
Fake beard and fake laughter give the fat man away.
Crying toddlers, stressed mothers, bored fathers in line,
Adhere to tradition! Afraid to decline.

A man rings a bell near a bucket for change.
I drop in a coin for a smile. He refrains.
I don’t see a good reason for all of the fuss,
And my lips turn slightly to utter a cuss.

“Come to the stable,” the sweet girl had said.
But where is the show. I believe she misled.
Some pallets of wood shape a child-sized barn,
Held together with rope and pieces of yarn.

I tuck in my chin. The crowd dawdles around.
The actors move little without making a sound.
A farmer’s provided a couple old sheep.
A porcelain baby's pretending to sleep.

What is the attraction? What is the worth?
Oh, I’ve heard the story. A virgin gives birth?
I know about Santa. I sat on his lap.
And what did I get but a boat load of crap!

This Christmas is turning out much like the others.
Cold in a crowd and looking for cover.
My friends behave friendly without letting me in.
My family is busy. No time for their kin.

I’m longing for solace, not vain, empty chatter.
A real conversation before everyone scatters.
But this group, I'm sure, plays the same sly con game.
They want what I give without knowing my name.

I take a step back and then head for the street,
When the girl begins waving and shuffling her feet.
“Hey Lady! Don’t leave! You’ll miss the best part!
I’m telling the story. It’ll tug on your heart.”

Well the girl is a stranger. She don’t know what I’ve done.
Her parents look proud. I should high-tail and run.
When I was her age, I had what she’s got.
But a few short years later, my future was shot.

A part of me fears that she’ll end up like me,
But mostly, my thoughts are of how I can flee.
I should’ve known better than to follow her voice.
But something inside me won’t give me that choice.

Every part of my being says, “You don’t fit in.”
So I try. Appear casual. And put on a grin.
I stare as the snow falls and melts on my face.
Then I slide back my hoodie, defying my place.

These people will think I belong to someone.
A mother, a sister, an aunt who has come.
At the end of her story, whether Seuss or Shakespeare,
I’ll applaud and shout bravo, then quick disappear.

The microphone squalls when she clears her scared throat.
Her hands to her ears wrinkle pages of notes.
But her eyes keep on glancing and twinkling at me.
Enough that the guilt on my face she can see.

A few feet away, Santa shouts “Ho Ho Ho!”
All the children go silent and street traffic slows.
The girl gains composure and the kid’s play begins. 
So sad the performance. “No Room at the Inn.”

The story? I’ve heard it. I’ll hear it once more.
Her voice pure and honest, like others before.
“It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas,” I say to myself.
Remembering the words from a book on some shelf.

She’s reading the lines of a well-written part.
When her gumption kicks in with fervor and heart.
Her hands drop to her side with her shoulders upright.
She recites from her memory to the audience’s delight.

Is that moonlight and glitter, that make her face glow?
The young girl was right. She’s the star of the show.
I forget that my own feet and hands have a chill,
As the moment waves through me with comfort and still.

I’ll be honest. The story? While good, can’t be true.
That babe? He ain’t done what a savior would do.
Where’s the peace? The good will? He's had two-thousand years?
It’s a scam. A bamboozle for my cash and my tears.

Yet my hands come together for earnest applause.
And my heart skips a beat, for no reason. Just because.
“Halleluiah,” yells a man from the back of the crowd.
There’s a word I’ve not heard—in person, so loud.

I don’t understand what is happening tonight,
But I’m lingering. Content, with no urge to take flight.
“There’s coffee and cookies. ‘Cross the street,” the girl begs.
Her parents both nod, and I drop my head.

My senses return. I remember my place.
I’m the oddball. The weird one. A human disgrace.
“No thank you,” I say, without explanation.
The innocent girl too excited to listen.

“I’m drinking hot chocolate. It’s still got caffeine.
There’s no school tomorrow and it gives me good dreams.”
She assumes I am joining the cast and her crew.
Her eyes are stuck on me like paper to glue.

“Are you married? Did you put up a big Christmas tree?
Did you know that your eyes are the same color as me?
Do you have a job in a school or a store?
If you want extra cookies, I can get you some more.”

Between all her queries I barely catch breath,
But this child, with ease, grabs my soul at its depth.
This mini-adult says, “We’re so glad you came.
I’m Gracie Marie. Won’t you tell me your name?”

Well that was the Christmas my life took a whirl.
When I went to the stable and followed that girl.
I’m changed, now and forever, by a Savior, through grace.
I’m still odd. Still the weird one, but the Lord changed my face.

So come to the stable. Downtown ain’t the same.
But we’re easy to find, near the tall candy cane.
There’s coffee and cookies. Hot chocolate if you like.
It’s become my tradition. I’m the one to invite.

So come to the stable. Dress warm. It might snow.
I know it seems corny, like it’s put on for show.
But the Spirit of Christmas breaks through and brings cheer.
My daughter’s the Mary at “The Stable” this year.

A few people have asked if this story is true. Well, it's almost true. Her name isn't Gracie Marie, although I love that name, and the setting was not exactly as I described. What happened, in fact, didn't take place at Christmas time, but for sure, the girl, the lady and what they mean to each other are real. The story that would have been told in the stable that night can be found in the 2nd chapter of Luke.  We’ve let the reading of the Christmas Story become nothing more than tradition—a ritual without remembrance of what actually took place. A promise made to us, from the moment we chose to sin, is fulfilled. So, go to the stable. You never know who you will meet when you get there.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen …
Luke 2:1-20 (KJV)
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We’re Grown-ups Now

Who were you back in the third grade?

Were you the kid wildly waving a hand in the air because you knew the answer to the teacher’s question? Perhaps you were confident in your knowledge, and desperate to prove it. I was that kid sometimes, and I was persistent to the point of being annoying. Never the teacher’s pet. My heart goes out to the kid I see doing that today, as their arm grows weary and the palm of the opposite hand must offer support.

The occasional humiliation of having an incorrect answer lasted only a short while, and I was over it. There would always be a next time. I relied on those “next times.” I excelled whenever a teacher gave extra credit for participation. I’ve so much volunteer built into me that I should move to Tennessee. Some of my good friends won’t know what I mean by that statement, but I’m not asking for a show of hands here.

Or were you the child with elbows glued to your sides and lips sealed? The teacher’s view was of the top of your head. Your prayer life increased. “Please Lord, don’t let her call on me!” The teacher could usually tell when I hadn’t done my homework, because I could be that child, too. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Curry, used to take advantage of those moments to humble me and force a confession.

One or two of my friends always came to class prepared, but still slumped in their chairs and tried to hide in the crowd of twenty-two other third-graders. Did they not like the sound of their own voice? Did they lack confidence? I didn’t understand. They were smarter than me, prettier than me and less obnoxious. Why would they lessen their profile and try to hide. It made no sense to the third-grader me. Why would they assume a position of shame?

We’re grown-ups now, and I work at not making shallow judgements. I get that we were created with unique and surprisingly effective personalities. God is good that way. So why have I worked to quiet my enthusiasm, soften my tone and respond rather than react? Why are some of my friends taking risks so unlike their personalities would dictate? As grown-ups, we’ve found our place on either side of the middle. It’s not always comfortable here, but we’re not in the third grade anymore. The psychology of it is interesting and all, but I’m not prepared to raise my hand on that question.

But here’s part of the answer—I think.

We all seek to be noticed and known, but on our terms. Some risk being noticed for the wrong things. Some risk not being noticed at all. It takes time (for some of us way more than others) but eventually we become pretty good at weighing the cost of jumping ahead versus missing an opportunity.

The verse that sent me on this morning’s rabbit trail of thought is 2 Chronicles 16:9a:

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him…”

Does God call only on those with a hand raised? Of course not. Is he able to see through both confidence and insecurity? He is. Does he expect that we should have our answers prepared? Of course he does. But he’s running “to and fro throughout the whole earth,” to give support to that blameless heart. Can I fathom what it means to be “blameless?” No. But Jesus took the blame already and he knows my heart.

I wonder what tomorrow’s rabbit trail has for me. The God of creation WANTS to meet me there, and I didn’t even need to raise my hand.

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And … success!

The book is published. The book release party was a huge success. So what’s next? Book #3?

Hold on. I’m still basking in the afterglow. Real Life. Real Ladies: Short Stories from the Pew and the ladies who collaborated with me to see this project through deserve some extra time in the spotlight. The room decorations are packed and ready to go again. There is plenty of factory-wrapped candy to go for another round or two of book signings. Already scheduled. The fun stuff!

But marketing this book – any book – to strangers on the internet? Necessary, if anyone outside our small circle of friends and family is to notice our eye-catching cover and then read our stories, but not so fun. I’m tempted to call it done and move on. Book # 3 is calling. Her plot is thick with characters and surprises. She’s lived far too long between my head and my computer files. A little re-writing, and she too will be set for the spotlight. I’m sure readers will love her almost as much as I do.

A few more minutes to bask in afterglow, and then its time to get serious. Editing and marketing. Two of the ugliest words in my writer’s dictionary, but without them, I can’t spell success.

If you will check out this short presentation, I’ll be able to call it my marketing task for the day, spend the next few hours editing and then get back to my basking. These ladies and their stories have an effect on me. If it’s been a while since you read a story that made you say “Ahhh,” you gotta read the book!

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