Lighting Our Path

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

Summertime is full of outdoor activities. I recall camping as a little girl, and the most dreaded part was having to go to the bathroom in the dark. I would plead with my family members to accompany me, and off we would go. I remember screaming and jumping on the toilet if a mouse happened by. But the flashlight? I never let go. As an adult, when I took my kids camping, I was on my own if they were sleeping. While I was braver, admittedly, as an adult, I still had the heebie-jeebies. I would hang on to the flashlight tightly, using it as a guide that I would not let go of. Darkness hung around the light that helped me navigate branches or puddles along the path and brought me back to the tent safely. I only went where the light led.

In Psalm 119:105 (KJV), we are told that “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Have you noticed that, just like a flashlight in the night, we are most concerned about where our feet are currently, and where we’re going? Why are feet and path both mentioned? Simply put, our feet are where we are in life and our path is where we’re going with time, efforts, and sometimes uninvited events. God shines a light on our lives through His Word to highlight what is pleasing and what needs attention. Reading the Bible provides us with a light that helps us see ourselves as we are – right where we stand. He meets us where we are, in the midst of events spiraling out of control or stuck between unmoving issues in life. We may be deep in debt, bound to bad habits or, conversely, feeling pretty good about ourselves. It’s important to look at where we are in order to chart a path forward.

Then, He shines a light onto our path, leading us along a path that is illuminated by His guidance. There will be rocks and detours, but He’ll shine His Light through His Word. Just as a lamp’s light diffuses as it moves into darkness, our knowledge of the future will show our next steps brightly with a still unseen future. God has put us on a need to know basis.

Interestingly enough, there is no mention of the path behind us. Even though we are living with fond memories, regrets, or even consequences, the past is behind us. It is over, as He forgives us as we confess the bad and acknowledge the good in our lives. He lights both where we are and where we need to be.

Camping is fun, and I have great memories of it. I now camp at the Marriott without need of that indispensable flashlight. However, I still have God’s Word reminding me of an indispensable lamp that leads my life. I try to not look back but focus on today, tomorrow, and avoiding puddles.

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/Sallystapauthor.

20 Things to Do Before the End of Summer

By Jennifer Allen

writer Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen

Today I took my girls swimming for the first time this summer. Here it is, August, and I’m just now getting my girls, and their super-cute swimsuits, into a pool.

Believe me; I am experiencing serious mom-guilt over this. At the beginning of June I promised to give my girls plenty of opportunities to swim this summer, but somehow we made it to August without the wrinkly toes and tan lines that serve as a badge of honor on hot summer days.

Inspired by today’s visit to the pool I’ve been making a list in my mind. It’s a list of all the things I’d like to do before summer days are gone.

It is my hope that this list of ideas will inspire you to hunt for beauty, seize, not just the day, but the moments that make the days worthwhile, and open your eyes to the fleeting glory of summer.

No matter what, take it from me, avoid the guilt and Get. In. The. Pool.

20 Things to Do Before the End of Summer

  1. Catch fireflies and put them in a jar.
  2. Bite into a wedge of juicy watermelon, let it trickle down your chin and see how far you can spit the seeds.
  3. Take a child to a playground and take a turn on the swings.
  4. Run through a sprinkler. (Who cares what your neighbors think?)
  5. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone and savor each lick, right to the last, sweet drop.
  6. Let your toes get wrinkled in a lake or a pool.
  7. Take a walk in the morning and linger in the cool of the day.
  8. Take a walk in the evening and linger in the glow of twilight.
  9. Roast hot dogs and s’mores over a campfire.
  10. Read a book in a hammock or porch swing.
  11. Invite a friend (or ten) over for a cookout, use paper plates and revel in the joy of food and friendship.
  12. Read or re-read a book or magazine for pure delight.
  13. Make a list of all the things you wanted to do this summer. Pick one or two things and do them; release yourself from the rest. (Remember, next summer will come with fresh grace.)
  14. Pack a blanket and snacks and enjoy a picnic with your kiddos, your family, or friends.
  15. Savor the taste of corn-on-the-cob, vine ripened tomatoes, and fresh blueberries.
  16. Visit at least one garage sale, buy one thing practical, one thing beautiful, one thing just for fun.
  17. Pick a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace (it’s everywhere right now) and place it in your sill.
  18. Bring the makings for root beer floats to your next play date or Bible study.
  19. Grab your camera and spend a day or an afternoon capturing God-glory.
  20. Spend time thanking God for all the gifts of summer.

Why not make your own list? I’d love to see your ideas for savoring the last days of summer. Share your thoughts below. Let’s keep the list going.

Is It Time For a Vacation?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

I’ve been thinking a lot about vacations lately. It’s been years since I’ve taken an annual two-week break from work. This year is no exception. I wonder if this is wise.

I suspect employers began offering vacations to long-term employees as a reward for their service, expecting workers to return from their two-week sojourn rested and ready to work with greater effectiveness. Just as the weekend provides a short break from the workweek, a vacation provides a longer break from the work year. And we do need breaks.

Yet too many employees cram as much activity into their vacation time as possible. They come back exhausted instead of refreshed. They need to return to work to rest from their vacation. This is not as it should be. For these folks, their work prior to their vacation is wasted in anticipation, and their work after vacation is equally unproductive because they’re too tired to do much.

Then there are people like me. At most of my jobs, no one did my work while I was gone. I’d spend the week before vacation, trying hard to work ahead. Then, afterwards, it would take a couple weeks to catch up. For all the good my vacation did – and I actually rested on my vacations – the backlog of work when I returned quickly negated its benefits.

For the past fifteen years, a two-week vacation has been out of the question: the overlapping production schedules of multiple publications leaves me no time to take a long break. Instead, I’ve opted for shorter respites, an occasional long weekend, a day trip here and there, even time off during the day for a quick outing.

It’s a rhythm that works for me, but all the while I wonder what I might be missing by not taking a two-week vacation.

When was your last vacation? What did you do?

I Am a Writer

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

The words, “I am a writer,” are not easily said aloud the first time. We don’t know exactly when we’ve stepped over the threshold between being and wanting to be. We don’t feel worthy of a title that is nebulous. Our fingers and minds feel loose and clumsy as we venture into the world of words. We deny being a writer even though we find ourselves capturing images of children’s laughter in words, daydreaming about how to uniquely describe azure skies blotted with marshmallow clouds, or missing parts of conversations by attempting to remember a catchy phrase or thought before it flees. Like many others, I was “not” a writer. I dabbled. I wrote essays. I mused poetically. I studied skillful writing styles and voices as I read books.

After years of closet dabbling, I attended my first writers’ conference several years ago. I don’t remember how I heard about it, but somehow I found, registered, and showed up. I nervously gathered registration information, added it to my carefully prepared notes, and headed to the introductory session. I sat in a back seat toward the side of the auditorium. The last thing I wanted was to be noticed or drawn into conversation that would expose that I was a “fraud” in a room full of writers.

I looked around the room at a couple hundred people. Were they all writers? Some appeared studious in plaid, button down shirts. Others, in flowing and colorful garb, seemed to be at a reunion with other flowing writers, “Hey, I didn’t know you were coming.” Or “I loved your book.” The one that really got me was “I loved your latest book!” Oh boy, what did I get myself into?

The first session began, and the speaker immediately addressed my fear. I learned that we are writers simply by writing, not by anything else. For two days, I went to sessions and soaked up information about “the biz” – agents, publishers, editors, plots, and tedious rework. Despite hearing repeatedly how difficult writing is, I was energized and determined.

Not long after, a writing group started in Kalamazoo and I attended the first meeting. I waited anxiously as my writing was read aloud, followed by silence, and then uplifting encouragement. With prodding as I plodded, I published my first book and individual chapters in three anthologies. The camaraderie of writers fueled my writing. I’ve learned that while the task itself is quite lonely, the result of a project pulls together people with common experiences, causes, and interests. Writing provides encouragement, connection, laughter, and escape.

I’m now okay with saying “I am a writer.” I receive an emotional gift each time I learn that I’ve touched another with my words. I was bitten by a writing bug and am seeking treatment through words. My prognosis is that many letters will be arranged creatively on an ongoing basis.

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/Sallystapauthor.

Four Ways to Combat Summer Stress

By Jennifer Allen

writer Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen

It’s summer! While this fact comes with many good and wonderful things for us to enjoy, (For example: cookouts, camping trips, beach trips, vacation) it also comes with just as many things that can be incredibly overwhelming (For example: cookouts, camping trips, beach trips, vacation.)

So what do we do? How do we make it to fall with our heads and our hearts intact? One thing that helps my family and me during a hectic summer season is to remember the Four P’s of Summer…

No. 1: Pray: When life gets busy, prayer is often the first thing to go.

As summer stress creeps in like the tide, invite God in through prayer. Ask Him for wisdom, peace, and perspective. Ask Him to be a part of your day, your schedule, your activities. Ask Him to be at the center of all your hectic events as well as your moments of peace and rest.

No. 2: Plan: Grab your calendar, your spouse, your family, and together begin to make a plan for summer. Look at everything you have to do, need to do, want to do, and be realistic. What can you realistically do this summer? What can wait for another time, another season?

Once your plan is set, do your best to stay in the present. Enjoy what’s happening now. And when your plans go array (because they will go array) ask yourself this question: Are you controlling your plans or are your plans controlling you? Because summer days are fleeting and they are meant for joy. Don’t rob yourself of the joy by falling prey to your plans. Choose a plan that works for you and your family. Search for what brings life, avoid that which burdens.

No. 3: Protect: Sunscreen is vital if we don’t want get burned. But how often, in the midst of summer stress, do we take the same precaution for our hearts? Hectic schedules can burn our hearts faster than noonday sun can burn our unprotected skin.

To protect your heart from the soul burning effects of a crazy summer schedule take time to nurture your heart with the things you love the most.

I know it may seem like you don’t have time, but even five minutes can make the difference between a heart that is healthy and alive and a heart that is parched and depleted.

Our hearts need protection too. Don’t let your heart get burned.

No. 4: Praise: No matter how hectic, frantic, or stressed you feel in the midst of your summer activities seek to keep praise and thanksgiving on your mind, on your heart, on your tongue.

I’ve seen, in my own life, the difference praise and thanksgiving can make and it is the best stress fighter I know. Summer comes with so much to be thankful for. Don’t miss it. Hunt for beauty. Hunt for joy. Hunt for reasons to praise.

Pray, plan, protect, praise and enjoy the gift that is summer.

Thoughts About Moving: Do You Leave Home or Take it With You?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

My wife and I are selling our house. It wasn’t our plan, but things change.

We had just finished updating most of it: new roof, furnace, windows, carpet, flooring, kitchen, and bathrooms. It was a three-year effort that methodically moved from one project to the next as our budget allowed. We planned to live the rest of our lives in this house, the place where we raised our kids and the setting of many happy memories.

So, why then, are we moving? The answer is simple: family. Our son and his wife live about an hour away. It was hard not to be closer to them; the pull was strong. Then our daughter and her husband, along with our grandson, moved, ending up a few miles from her brother. The draw was inescapable.

My wife and I discussed this. Then we asked what our kids thought. They liked the idea, but one instituted a ten-mile buffer, but then reduced it to five, which eventually disappeared. Our daughter-in-law liked the idea of us living next door, where their kids could walk to grandpa and grandma’s. She grew up with that and so did I. Alas, we will not be that close, but we will be within seven miles of each of our kids’ homes.

Now, as we plan and pack, I recall the things that happened here: the happy times, the struggles we overcame, the celebrations, the milestones, and the friends who visited. But these memories do not reside in this house, they live in our minds.

The house will stay, but our home will move.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect via social media.

Gilbert Goat

Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

One life lesson I’ve learned from my father is the value of listening. As I grew up, he always had time for me. If I knocked on his office door, he would tell me to come in, setting a book aside. If I approached him as he worked around the house, he would stop what he was doing. I always knew I had his full attention. By asking a question here or there, he would help me come to the right answer for whatever my dilemma was that day. Not by telling me what to do, but by sharing insights, asking questions, and applying logic. I would then continue with my day, feeling settled and confident with my decision. He would pick up his book or tool and continue his task at hand.

I’ve been trying to focus more on listening to people in my life. Too frequently, I haven’t. I’ve missed questions or conversation because I was distracted by my phone, a book, or a task. If I really want to hear a need, a question, or a statement, I’ve come to accept that multi-tasking doesn’t work. In order to really hear, I have to put my distractions aside.

A post by Sally StapAs I continue to work on my listening skills, one instance of successful listening comes to mind. My father loves to tell stories and one was about wanting a goat as a small boy. Through his words, I pictured a chain attached to their garage with a little collar ready. A water bowl was prepared to be filled religiously. However, his folks explained to him that a goat was not an option. Why had he wanted a goat? Why couldn’t he have one? I have no idea, but I heard his story. I had listened.

One Father’s Day, when I was an adult and he was a grandfather, I got him a baby goat. Dad was surprised when I told him my plan – confirming that he still had a goat desire before actually picking one up. I had read that goats calm horses, which we had five of at the time. Dad agreed, and we brought Gilbert home. Tawny brown, Gilbert was adorable with floppy ears and a dark stripe painted from nose to tail.

The kids had fun helping Grampa care for Gilbert. We learned that not all was perfect when Gilbert ate our horses’ tails off. Ragged and stringy, the poor horses’ tails lacked enough substance to swat flies from their faces. After preparing a separate pasture for him, Gilbert cried to the point that we got a second goat, Nanita, to keep him company. Nanita calmed Gilbert down and they thrived in their separate pasture, allowing the horses to grow tails again. We all had fun with the goats, and my father was pleased.

The gift of a goat was one that came from listening. I heard and responded. I have learned from my father that you have to listen to hear.

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/Sallystapauthor.

The Difference a Daddy Makes

By Jennifer Allen

writer Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen

A couple weeks ago my husband, Chris, had to be out-of-town for work. No matter how much fun my girls and I have when Chris is away there always comes a time when his absence begins to wear on us.

This time in particular, my four-year-old, Aletheia, seemed to struggle the most. By day four she was totally not herself. Despite my frustration with her behavior I knew she wasn’t being defiant or acting out-of-line. Instead, she simply missed her daddy.

Chris returned the following afternoon and the joy that filled my little girl’s face spoke volumes to what her heart had been feeling all along: there is nothing like daddy’s love.

After a few hours with her dad, Aletheia was back to normal, and even though our time apart from Chris was difficult I am thankful for the reminder of the difference a daddy makes.

If, as a dad, you are ever tempted to think that the role you play in your family is all about making a living, providing for your family, fixing this or mowing that, please, please remember that to the hearts of your household you are So. Much. More.

A father is designed by God to show, model, and display to his children what the love of the Father is like. You are your children’s first and best example of what a relationship with the heavenly Father is all about.

Your presence in the lives of your children matters. Yes, you may earn an income. Yes, you may provide. Yes, you may be in charge of a million things with a million people depending on you, but no job, or task, or living is more noble or important as the task of modeling Christ to the hearts and souls of your children.

I know there are those who have grown into adulthood without a loving father’s presence in their life. There are also those who are raising a family alone, with daddy nowhere to be found.

I have the utmost respect for you and your courage, your strength. I can’t change, fix, or take away the hurt I know you live with everyday, but perhaps I can offer you hope and a reminder of that which is true.

Our heavenly Father is a Father to the fatherless. He longs to be the dad you never had. He longs to be the daddy your children may never know.

As my family has recently learned, our earthly fathers make a huge difference in the lives of those who love and depend on them, but how much more of a difference does our heavenly Father make for all of us, both the fathered and the fatherless?

When we love Him, when we depend on Him, He makes the difference. The difference that makes us run to His arms and know there is nothing like the love of The Father.

Lightning and Life

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan

A few years ago lightning struck our house. It seems most of the energy was safely dissipated via a ground wire, as intended. Yet some took a variant path, following along the eave trough and blowing the downspout away from the house, before jumping to an unused underground cable and heading towards our prized maple tree. The telltale sign of the end of its path was mound of dirt over where the wire once was. The height and width of this trail diminished as it approached the tree, disappearing a few feet from the trunk.

I expected the leaves to turn brown in a couple of days. I braced myself to watch my tree die. To my relief, this didn’t happen. The tree lived the rest of that year and all through the next. A year and a half later, just as the leaves began to unfold in the spring, they stopped growing and turned brown. Within a couple days, my maple tree was dead. The likely explanation was the lightning damaged the root system enough to where the tree couldn’t recover.

Above the ground, the tree looked healthy and alive. Yet, hidden from view was a tree fighting for survival. Though it hung on for eighteen months, it couldn’t recover.

Such it is with life. Every action has ramifications. Yet if the effects are delayed, we can easily assume everything is fine. With an unwise action, the lack of an immediate consequence can lull us into assuming everything is all right and embolden us to repeat our reckless behavior. On the outside, everything may look fine. But what no one can see – what we may not even realize – is that on the inside we are wounded and moving towards death, be it literal or figurative.

We need to do what is good, even when we see no benefits from our wise actions or no consequences because of our unwise acts: we never know what may await.

Peter DeHaan is magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect via social media.

That Darned Need to Know Basis

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

Can you recall a time in your life when you had a “call-in” time window? Perhaps for jury duty or an appointment time you were told to call at a specific time. You find yourself waiting for the clock to move, or staying awake speculating on possible outcomes. There is no answer until the time window opens. You can have your pencil poised over your calendar, but you can’t write or plan or move forward. You have been given a time and you must wait.

I experienced that at Mayo Clinic the night before my brain surgery. I wanted to get to bed to have a good night’s sleep. Well, what I should say is that I wanted to get to bed to toss and turn. I couldn’t relax or set my alarm clock until I called a number at nine pm to find out when to report for surgery in the morning. Did it really matter given that I was having brain surgery at some time the next day? Not really, but the clock didn’t move and I was frustrated to know exactly what the plan was. I tried to call earlier, but there was no cheating. There was no answer until the appointed time, when I finally got an answer with the exact time to show up in the morning. I then set my alarm and tried to get some sleep.

Like those time windows in life, God knows the plan, but doesn’t share it until the time is right. One of the things that I personally struggle with most is God’s “need to know” basis. However, I have learned that fretting and worrying about future days only interferes with the quality of today.

As I worry, I find myself drifting away from God. I find myself focusing on issues and not my relationship with Him. I find myself drifting away from the joy of life in this moment and the people around me. However, as much as I’m sorry for the way I drift away, I am grateful for the way He pulls me back. Being pulled back reminds me of His love.

Oh, just for the record, what happens when the answer does come? I frequently find myself thinking, why was I worried?

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/Sallystapauthor.