Friday, December 2, 2016

Keeping Christ in Christmas!

Dear Friends,

Do you display a Nativity as part of your Christmas decor? As I meditate on mine, I am struck by how baby Jesus commands attention. His mother meets his physical needs, wrapping him in cloths, cuddling him. His earthly father protects him from unexpected visitors. Shepherds come to him, even while at work. Wise men bow and offer their riches to him. Even animals focus on this child who will become Savior of the world.

This year I had trouble placing my Nativity because we had rearranged the living room. The table I usually used was not available. So I placed the figures on a dining room sideboard, but there they didn’t show up well. I then put them on top of a writing desk, but they looked crowded. On to the mantle. Yes! I love this arrangement. And it puts Jesus front and center in my living room.

So I ask myself: Is he front and central in my life? Like the shepherds, do I focus on him even when at work? Like the wise men, do I dedicate my riches to him? Like Mary and Joseph, do I keep him at the center of my family life?

I always send Christmas cards with a manger scene, because I want to remind people that Christ is central to Christmas. But does my life remind people that Jesus is central in my life—every single day of the year? Let’s COMMIT to doing that:

C – Come to Christ every single day through Bible reading and prayer.
O – Open our mouths to share God’s love with others, to pray with them, to put in a good word for the Lord as opportunities arise.
M – Make ourselves respond in a Christ-like way to our families, colleagues, friends and neighbors. (Yes, it starts with a decision.)
M – Move our eyes from earthly circumstances to a heavenly perspective, to see things as God sees them.
I – Incline our hearts to the Lord 24/7.
T – Trust God to work all things together for our good.

If our lives shows these tendencies, we will do more to build the kingdom than any Nativity on a mantle or on cards.

Lord, help me to keep you front and central on Christmas Day and every other day of the year!

Before we open gifts, I always share with my family a memorized scripture, a prayer or an inspirational reading or thought. Please comment to share how you keep Christ in Christmas. Let’s inspire each other. (To comment, click on the link at the bottom of this post.)

Blessed Christmas to you!


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Birds of a Feather Touch Lives Together

Dear Friends,

            As I shook crumbs off place mats on my birthday morning some years ago, a flock of robins in the backyard caught my eye. Then I noticed two chickadees and, a moment later, two blue jays perched on the pines. For some reason, it was a good morning for birds, so I decided to have my devotions by my breakfast nook window and enjoy the show God gave me.

            What a show it was! Two finches visited, then a pair of nuthatches and several juncos. A blackbird, iridescent head shimmering, swooped by the window. All the while, robins continued to fly in and out of the yard, dropping to the ground now and then, heads cocked, hoping to hear the faint stir of a worm.

            The sight of a bird or two from my window is not unusual and is always a welcome diversion. But I had never seen so many types within such a short time. A stray sea gull sailed over the tops of the trees. A large flicker with his showy patch of red climbed a tree trunk, and I caught a glimpse of a hairy woodpecker a little farther back in the woods that border our yard.

            I grabbed the “bird book” to identify a mottled back-and-white feathered friend with a red spot on his head, backing down a tree trunk. Could it be a yellow-bellied sapsucker? Then came the tufted titmice. And all the while the robins continued to come and go . . . so many of them! Then a cardinal flew in. Wow! A most blessed birthday treat this was!

            The impact of the sheer numbers and many types of birds speaks to me of the impression the corporate body of Christ makes in the world. There is something about the witness of several  people “in concert” that provides more weight than a single person might. And there is the added effect of the different “types” of Christians.

            All around us are the “everyday” robins—nothing flash, just minding their own business, honest and diligent in their work. You know Christians like that who don’t make a big show of their faith—dependable people of integrity. Then there’s the one like the single flicker. Someone who comes into your life for a brief moment yet captures your attention with an outspoken story about how God has worked in their life.

            The finches are rather ordinary, some of them sporting reddish collars. All have short strong beaks ready to tackle the task at hand. They remind me of the many faithful workers using their ordinary talents and gifts for the Lord—teaching Sunday school, serving meals, visiting the sick. One bird looks as though he caught the splashes of a white paint brush—an odd fellow, not very attractive, just like the individual lacking physical beauty who has a heart of gold so precious to God and others.

            The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a rare bird around here and reminds me of the Christian who is not afraid to venture into new territories. Maybe he’s on an evangelistic campaign. The juncos visit in groups and speak to me of families. How exciting to watch the relationships of parents and children whose lives have been transformed. Choir members who sing of God’s love and grace come to mind as I hear the call of the cardinals.

            The pair of nuthatches following each other down a tree trunk reminds me that sometimes we need to go against the grain so that others will take note of our convictions. And what about those blue jays? They are a noisy, raucous pair. But they, too, are part of the bird family and add color and volume to the body.

            What I’m trying to say is, whoever you are, whatever your style, as a Christian you play an important role in the body of Christ. God needs your unique contribution to add beauty and diversity to it. We’ll never know this side of heaven how many hearts are touched by our corporate witness. What kind of bird are you? Join the flock in church on Sunday!

With a heart thankful for birds and other everyday blessings,


Upcoming Engagements:

November 5, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Shirley at BookFest, Deane Center, Wellsboro.
November 12, 1 p.m. – Friends of the Heart at Ladies Tea, Hilltop Christian Church, Newport, “Tea with Mary, Martha and their Psychologist.”
November 19, 2 p.m. – Friends of the Heart with Secret Sisters, West Gate American Baptist Church, Lancaster, “Tea with Mary, Martha and their Psychologist.”
November 20, 8:45 a.m. – Friends of the Heart at Thank Offering Service, Salem U. C. C., Elizabethville, “Offering Our Talents, Treasures and Time.”

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Riding the Millersburg Ferryboat into the 21st Century

On a sunny Saturday morning, my friend Diana and her granddaughter Elyse met my husband and me to ride the Millersburg Ferryboat, an operation that has certainly changed its mission over the last two centuries. I looked forward to a do-nothing day. We carefully walked onto the planks of the boat and settled on benches on the passenger deck. Diana asked that Elyse be fitted with a life jacket, so the captain obliged before assuming his position in the cabin. A few cars eased onto the ferryboat behind us, and we were off on our lazy 20-minute passage across the mile-wide Susquehanna River to what is called Crow’s Landing.

I hoped to see egrets, herons and other river birds, but evidently they too were off on a Saturday venture, because none were in sight. Frightened by the shadows of stones and reeds in the water as we skimmed across the top, Elyse clutched her grandmother. But she soon relaxed, and they went to watch the white paddles churn the water.

To me there’s nothing quite as relaxing as taking a ferryboat ride. A river breeze tickled the water and kissed my cheeks. The hum of the engine and the rhythmic pulse of the paddles soothed my soul. I was in another world, a place where I forgot responsibilities and deadlines and chores, a place without traffic and schedules. So peaceful.

As far as known, this ferryboat is the only all-wooden double-paddle stern wheel ferryboat remaining in the U.S. The oldest transportation system in the state, the ferryboat has been registered as a Pennsylvania state historic landmark since 1971.

 While it can carry four vehicles and 50 passengers, the mission of the ferryboat has changed. Until the 1930s, the ferryboat was an important link between Dauphin and Perry Counties, carrying cargo that included horses, cattle, lumber, grains and packages. Now it’s mainly a tourist attraction, serving a different clientele.

Our mission in life may also change. When we’re young, we may “know” what career path we want to walk, what size family we want to grow, where we want to live. But then life happens. We never marry. We suffer loss. Our career path derails. What now?

I have found God makes a way. He did that in my own life. I once lost a job but found a new career. I had a yen to write, so I enrolled in journalism courses, and before I knew it I became a “stringer,” a newspaper correspondent. How rewarding it has been to interview big people about little things and little people about big things. Once I got some experience under my belt, I wrote a book and then coauthored another with my Friends of the Heart, Kim and Janine.

I am still amazed at how the first half of my life—working as a business education teacher, serving as a director of Christian education—actually prepared me for the second half of life, that of a writer and speaker. I could not have planned it better. And the unexpected events along the way, especially the traumatic ones, matured my faith and introduced me to a God Who is bigger than my problems.

So don’t despair if life has surprised you. You will surely be surprised at where the journey leads, at what God Himself has in store for you.

Have a blessed October!


Upcoming Events:

October 4, 8:45 a.m. - Shirley speaking at the Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast, New Life Center, Millersburg, "Passing on Your Legacy."

October 22, 9 to Noon - Friends of the Heart leading Women's Retreat at New Buffalo CMA, "If Our Closets Could Talk."

November 12, 1 to 3 p.m. - Friends of the Heart at Hilltop Christian Church, Newport, "Tea with Mary, Martha and Their Psychologist."

November 19, 2 p.m. - Friends of the Heart at West Gate American Baptist Church, Lancaster, "Tea with Mary, Martha and Their Psychologist."

November 20 - Friends of the Heart leading Thank Offering Service at Salem United Church of Christ, Elizabethville.

December 18, 3 p.m. - Friends of the Heart at Thompsontown United Methodist Church, "Friendship: Got It In You?"

If you need contact information to make reservations for any of these events, just contact me through my blog.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Author Richard Rohr views the spiritual life in two stages, the first stage setting the stage for the second. In early chapters he discusses the common theme of stories about heroes and heroines, concluding that once they have slain the dragon (or whatever it is they’ve done), they find a deeper, resurrected life. Then the question becomes what to do with it.

According to Rohr, sin and failure pave the way to redemption. We must learn to heal, to forgive and to move on. I found the chapter titled “Amnesia and the Big Picture” hard to understand, but a later chapter made up for it and was well worth the price of the book. In “The Bright Sadness” Rohr writes: “There is still darkness in the second half of life—in fact maybe even more. But there is now a changed capacity to hold it creatively and with less anxiety.”

Rohr believes that there is always a “bright sadness” to authentic religious art, and he likens that to life itself. He writes of withdrawing our energy from fighting evil and instead looking for things we all share in common. He suggests concentrating on the Beatitudes rather than the Ten Commandments. The “bright sadness” comes from embracing and learning from our sorrows. Our own struggles are opportunities for growth, Rohr writes, and second half of life people are needed to help others see the big picture. In our mature years, people should want to know and emulate us.

I liked this book because it helped me to see my senior years in a positive light. Rohr did not sugarcoat the challenges, but he helped me to see that I can embrace the journey as I learn to live with contradictions. It spoke of who and what I want to be and gave me hope that I can achieve maturity as a person.

Notes, a bibliography and an index complete the book. This would make a great study for a group of seniors who want to get the most out of their remaining years.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Meet a Friend of Mine: Michelle Lazurek

Let me introduce you to my friend Michelle Lazurek. We met at a Wellsboro book festival several years ago and have stayed in touch. Leafwood Publishers just released Michelle’s latest book, An Invitation to the Table: Embracing the Gift of Hospitality. Last month Bill and I visited Michelle at her home in Coudersport. In the photo you can tell she practices what she preaches, for the table behind her is set for our dinner with her and her husband Joe. I asked Michelle to respond to the following questions:   

·         What motivated you to write a book about hospitality?

I was raised Roman catholic. However, at the age of eighteen, I became a born-again Christian. Upon hearing of my conversion to a Protestant sect of the faith, my parents were livid. After two years of constant fighting and verbal sparring, my parents threw me out of my home. A couple from my church heard of this and offered for me to live at their home in exchange for watching their children. I did this until I got married 2 1/2 years later. It was through that family that I learned what hospitality truly is—a calling to forsake the luxuries and conveniences of life, essentially mess up your life—for the sake of the gospel.
·         What is something surprising that readers will discover in reading An Invitation to the Table?

Often people think hospitality is inviting your friends over to your home and bringing out the fine china, making sure your house is spic and span and showing you have it all together. In the book I give practical tips on how to incorporate hospitality into readers' already busy lives.

·         What is one way we can practice hospitality that differs from entertaining? 

In Luke 9:1-6, Jesus gives instructions to the disciples he sends out: "take nothing for the journey." Sometimes hospitality is merely handing someone a tissue, holding his/her hand or opening your home to a stranger. In essence, hospitality is meeting the physical, mental or spiritual needs of those around us, specifically our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
·         While Christians may recognize they have a spiritual gift such as teaching, do you think they are as likely to recognize they have the gift of hospitality? If not, how might they recognize it?

Hospitality is one of the most underrated spiritual gifts. Because of the amount of perceived work involved in displaying the gift, I think people are less prone to recognize it. However, when they understand that hospitality is something we are, not something we do, it becomes easier to handle. If anyone enjoys something as simple as making people feel welcome at church, or more complicated such as giving a welcome basket to a neighbor or entertaining people in their home, they more than likely have the gift; they just don't recognize it for what it is.
·         How might readers use the end of chapter “Food for Thought” and “Group Discussion questions?

I wrote those for people to go deeper into this topic. Those sections are ideal for small groups, something I have a heart for. My heart is to help Christians reach their potential by going deeper in their walk with God. Those questions, along with the additional leader section, is designed for a small group setting so people aren't just reading about hospitality, but they are practicing it as well.

·         Can you give an example of a special blessing you received through practicing hospitality?

As stated above, I was blessed to live with a family who opened their doors to me when I had nothing. When a woman called my home one winter evening and said she had nowhere to go, I couldn't help but pay that blessing forward. Although it was difficult, I learned how to embody the gift of hospitality by blessing someone else with the gift I had received.


Thanks for letting me come on your blog, Shirley. You have been a blessing to me, and I hope I am a blessing to you as well. Michelle

Please note: Michelle is a speaker, award-winning author, pastor’s wife and mother. She is a member of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA) and has written for places such as Gifted for Leadership, The Upper Room and (In)Courage. Michelle teaches at various writers’ conferences, such as the Montrose Christian Writers Conference and the AWSA conference. Visit her at She would love to hear from her, and you can order her book there.

By the way, I was privileged to endorse Michelle's book and also contributed to the "Testimonies" chapter. 

Have a blessed September.


Upcoming Engagements:

10 a.m., September 10 – Friends of the Heart at Grace Bible Church, Orwigsburg, for a Secret Sister event.

Other events that may interest you if you live in the Millersburg, Pennsylvania, area:

10 a.m., September 17 - I would like to invite you to a Fall Women’s Brunch hosted by First United Methodist Church, Millersburg. Cindy Martz of Dalmatia will be speaking on “God is the Hero of my Messy Life.” Cindy has been an inspiration to me for many years, and she will surely encourage your heart. Child care is provided if requested when the reservation is made. The event will be held at the New Life Center, 346 Center Street, Millersburg, directly across from the firehouse. There is no charge; an offering will be taken. Call me at 692-2721 or e-mail me at to make a reservation for the brunch.

6:30 p.m., September 22 – You are also invited to an 8-week Women of the Word (W. O. W.) Bible study, to be held Thursday evenings at the New Life Center. We will use a video series featuring Andy Stanley on the topic of “Christian: It’s Not What You Think.” There is no charge; participants are invited but not required to cover the $11 cost of the study guide. Call me at or e-mail me (see above) to save a spot.