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Letters to the Lord: The Little Girls in the Room

The Little Girls in the Room—Praying with the Imagination

Recently, I did a prayer exercise called ‘Praying with the Imagination’ with my spiritual director, Letha.

If you’ve never heard of this exercise, the following may be a stretch for you. But stay with me for a minute.

Life has been challenging lately. That feeling of Just. Too. Much. Good stuff and bad stuff and lots of stuff in between. Several events have triggered knee-jerk reactions in me that sent me spiraling back to old habits of negative self-talk, what Eugene Peterson calls ‘Debilitating self-criticism’. I was feeling like Elijah, alone and exhausted on Mount Horeb. (I Kings 19).

So Letha had me imagine myself in a room with all these different voices. She asked me which ones needed to be shown the door for a while and which ones I needed to lean into and listen too.

As I sat in the silence, here’s the scene I imagined:

I’m in our den downstairs. I’m sitting on the blue couch and to my left, in front of the picture window, are two young girls with their hair in pig tails. At first I think they are young women, but the longer I look, they become girls. And they are both pitching fits and screaming at me. One is “Failure in France” and one is “Failure in Fiction”. They are so loud and distracting and so I finally say, “Stop it! Just stop it! We’ve already talked about all this many times before and it’s been settled. So leave!”

They keep throwing their tantrums, but inch toward the front door and finally they leave. Then in the quiet, I see myself, as I am now, at my age. I’m sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace and one after another, my family comes to sit with me, practically in my lap. And my arms just keep expanding so that they reach around all of them. And it is sweet and tender and safe. And I’m saying, “It’s going to be okay.”

And then Jesus is sitting behind me, holding me tightly, and He’s the One who is holding everyone in His strong arms, in His righteous right hand as it says in Isaiah 41:10. He’s the One who is holding us all, and He is gentle, and we are all okay.

Then Letha had me go back into the room and see if there are any other voices present and if so, what are they saying to me. Are there any other voices I need to hear?

And suddenly I saw two little girls—one was tiptoeing down the steps and peeking out between the banisters. She was “Joy in Writing”. I met her at the stairs, leaning down to her level. She had sad but hopeful eyes. She was begging me for time to finish creating my story.

Then another little girl ran in from the new sun room with happy, mischievous eyes. She was “Planning a Party”. And she wanted me to enjoy planning the rehearsal dinner, to take the time to do whatever was needed to make it FUN!

So I took both of the little girls by the hands, and we sat at the little table I use for tea parties with the grandkids, and we had a tea party. We laughed and enjoyed, and I looked over my shoulder and Jesus was smiling at us, His arms securely around all my family, pleased with me, winking, and saying, “I’ve got them, and you’ve got this.”

And so I will rejoice in my creativity and how God made me, and I will delight in finishing my story (deadline July 31) and preparing for the rehearsal dinner and wedding (August 6 and 7).

Merci, my precious Lord, for meeting me in exactly the way I needed today. Je t’aime.

Where do you need the Lord to meet you today?

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look around you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: Trust

Another summer break is just around the corner, and we have not booked a holiday apartment yet. Again. (It is already really hot here, but the school year in Austria isn´t finished yet). This year we desperately want to finally spend some time at the sea! Beaches, waves, wide open spaces!

We have already spent a few hours searching the internet (such searches are really exhausting and time-consuming). For 5 adults it´s not that easy to find something cheap AND nice. We are just one person more than an average family, and nobody likes to sleep in a kitchen corner. Croatia and Italy are our possible destinations by car. Our country has no coast, and the pandemic has caused changing traveling conditions. Although we can´t find a house directly at the beach, there is still something. If only we knew for sure that in a month it would still be possible to travel and that restrictions would not suddenly be imposed again! We don´t want to pay for cancelling. So we are watching the development a little longer. And waiting.

In fact, it has never really been certain whether you can start a journey or not. There are a lot of things that can happen anytime. This pandemic has unsettled us and shaken our confidence in planning the future — although our future has never been in our hands. It is sobering, but good, to see that God alone knows the future and that all our planning depends on him. We can plan and move forward, even if we don’t see anything. And we can remain open to His intervention. Be attentive to His hints.

The Israelites followed the Pillar of Cloud. When the Cloud rose, they moved on. When it settled, they set up camp — and never knew for how long. God knew what they needed and what was good for them. Only with the Cloud was it safe to travel.

God stood in Balaam’s way when he rode to Balak to curse Israel. Balaam himself was not attentive enough to God’s will. Only his donkey saw the armed angel who blocked their way. It was good that at least the donkey listened to God. This saved Balaam’s life and opened his eyes. I wish that I could also have a God-fearing donkey nearby when I am on the wrong path. But it could also be a broken car, if necessary. In any case, I want to remain steerable! Jesus says that we must let him lead if we want to follow him. That means giving up control.

TRUST.

We love being in control of our lives. Making plans. We want to know what will happen next. But — God knows better what we need. We must fix our eyes on Him, and not on our plans. I want to remain steerable, not only with my holiday plans. Be open to His suggestions. Do I really think I know better? Do I still want to force my own plans and make my life more complicated and stressful than necessary? I could save a lot of energy by looking at Jesus, trusting and following His lead.

I’m stuck in a traffic jam and late for an appointment? What’s the point of pulling up my shoulders, gritting my teeth and nervously looking back and forth between the traffic light and the clock? I have to accept the circumstances and make the best of the situation. Let go. And this also applies to other areas of life. As in the wise prayer: “God give me the serenity to accept things that I cannot change. The courage to change things I can change. And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.” Old, but still true and good. Something we have to practice again and again.

Sometimes God leads us down difficult paths that we do not want to go down. We dig our heels into the ground and refuse to go any further. But the good shepherd has a plan and knows what lies ahead. Perhaps there is a wonderful pasture just behind that dark, dangerous gorge! However, we do not want to go through the valley. We would rather stay and look for the last dried-up blades of grass. Will the sheep trust the shepherd enough to follow him anyway?

Do I trust God more than my own sense? More than my feelings? Even more than my experiences?

Is this Shepherd really wise, powerful, good and full of love? The expert for everything, including me?

Letting go and following is not easy for us. Children clearly have an advantage here! Peter and the other disciples were horrified when Jesus told them that he would suffer, and they protested. They wanted to protect him! They wouldn’t let that happen!

Here’s what Jesus says: “You have no idea how God works. Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You are not in the driver´s seat; I am. Don´t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” (Mark 8:34-37)

I know I can’t get everything I want.

But maybe it is still possible to spend some time at the sea this year?

How blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
One day spent in your house beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches.
He leads through lonesome valleys but also to cool springs.
All sunshine and sovereign is God,
generous in gifts and glory.
He doesn´t skimp with his traveling companions.
It´s smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
Psalm 84

I just made myself a cup of tea. It´s an Asian tea that happens to have proverbs on the tag.
God has a sense of humor: “Your true nature is trust” is written on it!

Hello, my name is Julia Kramer-Wiesgrill, and I am Austrian. I live in Hall in Tirol, in an ancient little town in the alps, but I was born near Vienna.
My husband and I came here to work at a small church and help in different tasks. We have three teenagers (15,17,19) and are very proud of them! I love reading and writing, going for a walk in the woods by my own, and I love water (creeks, lakes, the sea). I also love cats, Earl Grey tea and chocolate. I really like to learn and it´s the same with my spiritual journey, where I´m not even close to the finish line yet. God is so much bigger than I know and his love for me so much deeper and profound than I can imagine. He is the one who gave a new identity to me. I am his beloved child, no matter what! In knowing this I become free and courageous, because he is the one standing behind me, covering my back. 

Elizabeth encouraged me to follow my dream of writing and gave me some really helpful tips to actually get started some years ago! Now my first book (a children´s novel about friendship) will be published next year (in German)! I´m very excited about it! Elizabeth pushed me to start my own blog, which I did during the pandemic. You are welcome to visit my blog! https://juliakramer-english.jimdofree.com/

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Letters to the Lord: The Transfer Ticket

Two Crosses, the first novel I wrote way back in 1995, is on sale for $.99 as an e-book today. I thought you might enjoy reading the story I penned in 1994 that tells of the events leading up to receiving my first contract for my first book:

The Transfer Ticket

                A few weeks ago, I flew from Atlanta to Chicago to attend my first writer’s conference.  The conference took place in downtown Chicago, but I was staying an hour north in the suburbs.  So on Monday morning at six a.m., as rain pelted my umbrella and splashed onto my tennis shoes, I stepped onto the train and into the world of commuters.

                I had planned to take a bus from the train station to my destination:  LaSalle and Chicago St.  But the rain convinced me to catch a taxi on this first day. I was nervous enough about the conference.  I couldn’t deal with being late or, perhaps, getting lost.

                The taxi got me there in style.  But on the way home that afternoon, as the skies had cleared, I decided to take a bus back to the station.  Politely a student at the Bible College directed me to walk eight blocks in the wrong direction to catch the nearest bus.  My backpack was bulging with books, as I proceeded down the street into a neighborhood that looked rather questionable.  “There has to be an easier way to get a bus,” I muttered to myself after twenty minutes of walking.

                The next day I headed out again.  No rain pursued me, so I had no excuse to take another taxi.  Today I would find the right bus.  But no one was around to help me.  Everyone was walking very briskly in precisely the right direction.  I followed the crowd down to where I’d caught the taxi the day before.  Across the street stood the bus stop.  I quickly dashed across the street as a bus approached.  I knew I ideally needed to get on bus #56.  This was #57.  Oh well, I reasoned, that’s close enough.

                As I jumped on the bus, I asked the bus driver, “Does this bus go to LaSalle Street?

                “It stops at LaSalle and Washington,” was his reply as I desperately fumbled for the right change.  No one else seemed to be fumbling.  They looked composed, relaxed, assured.

As the bus lurched forward, I stumbled to a seat, still not having paid for the ticket. I took out my worn Chicago city map and studied it.  Always rather baffled by directions, I realized I was going east to the right road but that I would still have to walk 15 blocks up the road to get to the conference.

                I groaned to myself, “What a waste.  Now I’ll still have to pay for a taxi or either walk all that way and be late.”

                I managed to count my change and shuffle forward to drop the coins in the little black box by the bus driver’s seat.  The bus had stopped, and it was time to get off.  As I approached he asked, “Do you need a transfer?”

                “A transfer?”  I was dumbfounded.

                “Yes.  Where are you trying to go?”  His tone was more sympathetic than impatient, rare in these parts, I’m told.

“I’m trying to get to Moody Bible Institute.  Is there another bus to get me there?”  I felt hopeful.

                “Yes, just cross the street right here and catch the bus.  It will let you out right in front of the Institute at the corner of LaSalle and Chicago.  That’ll be 30 cents more please.”

                People were staring by now.  Desperately I sifted through my change.  If I could find 30 cents, I would have a transfer.  A transfer!  Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

                Fingers shaking, I located a quarter and a dime tucked in the corner of my change purse.  It rattled down into the box as the driver handed me a transfer ticket.  Elated, I slipped off the bus and into the crowd of pedestrians, whispering a joyful, “Thank you, Lord, for transfer tickets.”

                As I stood waiting for the next bus, I was overwhelmed by a thought:  God is in the business of giving out transfer tickets.  He does it first when we understand the concept of salvation.  He transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.  We are on the wrong bus going the wrong direction, but if we just ask (and often even when we are too ignorant to ask), He’ll give us a transfer ticket.  The charge isn’t 30 cents.  It is free, yet it costs our whole life.

                But God doesn’t stop with salvation.  Time and again in my life, I have thought, “You’ve really blown it this time, Elizabeth.  You’ll never get where you want to go in life.  You needed more education way back when, or a different job and now you’ve poured your life into these children, and you’ll never get back onto a career track…. You’re so far behind that you’ll never catch up.”

                I feel like I’m standing on the corner of LaSalle and Washington, 15 blocks away from where I want to be with no time to get there.

                Then God steps in with His transfer.  He gets me where I’ve been wanting to be (where He wants me to be) no matter how far away I am or on what bus I’m riding.

                There’s a verse in the Bible that has been quoted so often it seems to be cliché.  “And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good to them that love Christ, to those who have been called by His name.” (Romans 8:28)  We quote that verse to explain inexplicable tragedy, and it falls trite on grieving ears.

                But the verse is far from that.  Rather, it is intricate and rich in its promise of God’s transfer tickets to us, time and again in our lives.

                Have we ever stopped to think how vast and brilliant is the mind of God?  He does not panic when His kids all rush to Him at once for a ticket.  He knows He has a plan for each of us, and He knows what it is.  We in our bumbling cannot frustrate that plan.  We are His forever, and He will never run out of transfers.  He loves us and lives to accomplish His work through us.  He holds the map, and He will get us where we need to be.  On time.

As a perfect ending to this story, four months after I stepped onto Bus #56 in Chicago, I received a contract for my first novel from an editor I met at that writers’ conference.

~Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser

c1994

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: The 4th or the 14th of July?

I’m a citizen of two countries. I hold two passports. I speak two languages. And I celebrate two independence days. And I am the richer for it.

french flag against blue sky

Photo by Atypeek Dgn on Pexels.com

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I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to be French. On July 4th I celebrate America’s Independence and on July 14th I celebrate France’s.

And although there are many things that look different in these two lands, when it comes to celebrating, some things look the same. Each country has ruled that its Independence Day is a holiday, and each marks the occasion with some combination of family, friends, food, and fireworks.

fireworks display over building

Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

In France, at 9 p.m. on July 13, Paul and I leave our yard, cross the street, and walk down by the river where our little village and the neighboring village set off fireworks from an ancient bridge. On the night of the 14th, we drive up to the high hills behind our house and observe the fireworks exploding on the Fourvière Hill far in the distance.

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When in France, our barbecue looks like this, and we are most often with friends since our family is far away in the good ole US of A.

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When in America, as we were on Sunday, we had the joy and delight of celebrating with our older son, his wife, her parents (I call them our ‘out-laws’) and our four grandkids—with one more on the way!

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Paul manned the grill while the grandkids enjoyed slip-sliding in the small pool. Then, slathered in mosquito-proof spray, we gathered behind the house to eat yummy food and delight in each other’s presence. We even got to celebrate a lost tooth!

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But my citizenship, my real, deep down citizenship lies in that far-off country that sometimes seems so close, the one that has a thin veil, a liminal space between the now and the not-yet. The Apostle Paul said it best, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3: 20)

There is this piercing longing in my heart for that other world. And often, as I’m celebrating in one of my countries, I can hear that heavenly joy in the laughter of children and taste it in corn on the cob, lathered in butter, and watermelon so sweet and chilled that I shiver with pleasure.

I am so grateful for my two nationalities and for my heavenly citizenship which makes all the hard stuff and good stuff of this present time well worth it until we get to the not-yet.

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: Overshadowed

The Transfiguration: “ After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transfigured in front of them, and his clothes became dazzling—extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here. Let’s set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what to say, since they were terrified. A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” Mark 9: 2-7

Lord, sitting with this text one morning this spring, I was struck by some very powerful words: transfigured, dazzling, extremely white, terrified, overshadowed.

Strong words in a strange and striking account. I cannot truly imagine the scene—but I’m sure I, like the disciples, would have been terrified if suddenly Jesus started glowing and two other glowing figures appeared beside Him.

Would I fall to my knees, would I run away, or would I babble nonsense like Peter?

The words that stood out to me were: Listen! And Overshadowed.

Oh, Lord, how I need to be overshadowed by You, even as Your cloud overshadowed the disciples. Your presence descended on them and You basically said, “Shut up and listen to Jesus!”

So much of my thought-life is about me, Lord. It is hard work to turn my eyes upon Jesus and truly listen to Him. Even as I try, the needy little girl in me keeps yanking on my skirt, demanding attention, trying to turn the conversation back to be about me.

I need You to come again and overshadow all the junk in my thought-life so that I pay attention to Your voice, not mine. My voice is scattered and scared and babbling nonsense that I’ve grown to believe over the years. And I know that unless I replace the voices in my head with Your voice, Lord, I will spiral down into depression. Because those voices in my head, although they’ve been repressed and I’ve learned over the years how to quieten them, are still untamed. They become that roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

I think it will be a fight until I get to the other side, Lord. In fact, You promise it will be, that I’ll be battling those voices, those enemies that are not flesh and blood, for as long as I’m on earth. But You’ve given me the way to do battle: I let You overshadow me, envelop me in Your cloud of protection, and listen to You.

Please OVERSHADOW me again today, Lord, so that I hide in the shadow of Your wings!

“Oh, God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods. And with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed, I remember you, I think of you throughout the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you, your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63: 1-8

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: One Day in Your Courts

Once again I welcome Margaret Kirby as my guest blogger today. Her beautiful post gives us much to ponder alone with God.

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10).

I went through a period last year, and many of us probably did, where the vision of my mind’s eye, content with introspection, grew to know nearly every bend and fold in the rippling fabric of my mind. Thoughts which once hid in the corners and outer fringes slowly became familiar to me as I separated myself from my life and looked around. The whole world slowed and I finally felt as if I had found the pace my life was meant to be lived in. Now, over a year later, I can’t help but stop and think about where I was this time last year– moving slowly and savoring things I never knew could be savored. Where did that self go? The one who stepped softly on the flowerbeds of her life and remembered to breathe deeply? Now that it’s nearing the end of June, I’m thinking back to this past April and May when I heard the people around me saying “the world has picked up speed again whether we’re ready for it or not.” I know I wasn’t quite ready.

But the extremities, the vast change in the pace of my life from last year to now, help me see more clearly just what exactly happened between now and then. The onrush of social activities, getting to converse with friends in person again, and fill my schedule to the brim, all of these things left my mind feeling like a garment turned inside out. Rather than pondering my thoughts, rather than pulling them from the edges of my mind with care, I was simply saying them aloud to whichever friend felt fitting. And before my thoughts ever had the chance to really stick in my brain, they were already gone and my mind had switched to the next thing. Granted, I think our minds can handle a great many thoughts at once, and that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve learned. Indeed, we’re meant to share what’s on our mind or else no one will ever be able to draw near to us and love us– but I’m learning that a life where we only give our thoughts to those around us without first taking time to hold those thoughts within ourselves can be a strangely empty and numb life. Introspection keeps our vision alive to the kingdom of God around us.

As I sat down to read some scripture this morning and spend some time in prayer, I felt as though the Holy Spirit was telling me: “that’s why this time with me is so crucial– I’m the only one in the whole wide world with whom you can share your thoughts with and they won’t fly away from you.” Fellowship with Him is actually, by some mystical and inexplicable reality, solitude itself. He dwells within us. Sharing thoughts with Him is a more careful holding and stewarding of thoughts within ourselves — no other fellowship of person-to-person is like this. When we speak with other people, we inevitably have to let go of our thoughts or else we cannot share them, but with God, our thought-sharing is somehow entirely inward and contained, intimate and protected.

Time with Him in his throne-room, sitting around and talking about ideas with our Heavenly Father, choosing to search for the thoughts He himself has thought, and hearing the echoes of his responses to us in that hushed place is far more important than the exchange of thoughts over coffee with a dear friend, or a conversation with a loved one. I’ve been prioritizing the latter lately and I’ve felt as though I’m scattered in a million places, and maybe you have too. But there is One who wants to gather all our pieces up together and hold them for us. He wants to hear what’s on our minds, what’s troubling us or making us smile. All of our impressions about life, all of our wonderings and ideas– he wants to hear them and he will hold them for us in a way no one else can.

And, I can’t quite put it into words, but when I walk into his throne-room, the thoughts I once thought were so good and beautiful somehow melt from my hands to his, and even if I’m bringing harmful, bad thoughts, those slip away somewhere in all that melting and goodness slips in instead. When that happens, His thoughts mingle into mine and then I can’t quite tell which are mine and which are His to begin with, but somehow they’re all mine now to hold and own and they’re all so dear to my heart that I never want to let them go– that’s what scripture and prayer does to you. And it is a beautiful, wondrous thing. “So longing, I come before thee in thy sanctuary to look upon thy power and glory. Thy true love is better than life; therefore I will sing thy praises. And so I bless thee all my life and in thy name lift my hands in prayer” (Psalm 63:2-4).

Margaret Kirby is a junior at Samford University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English with a double-minor in Classics and Philosophy. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the Wide Angle editorial staff, and she sings in the A Cappella choir. Some of the things she loves most are the sky, old books, the smell of coffee, and the way food brings people together. She especially loves her Southern authors (mainly Sidney Lanier and Eudora Welty), and she also considers George MacDonald to be her grandfather in the faith. Her main purpose in life is to re-discover the magic of being a little child in the kingdom of God. So when she isn’t reading, writing, or singing, you can probably find her out gazing at clouds, wandering through forests, or looking for fairies.

You can find her on instagram @margaret.kirby.writing

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Letters to the Lord: Georgia Author of the Year Finalist

All I can say is “Thank you”, Lord. And Merci!

I had no thought of receiving this honor, especially since I was entered in the category of Literary Fiction with very talented authors from the general market–not the inspirational market. But on Saturday, as I lay sick in bed at a lodge in Western Kentucky (where I was supposed to be enjoying a family reunion), the news flashed on my phone: The Promised Land won the Georgia Author of the Year (GAYA) Finalist Award for Literary Fiction. I was shocked.

Even sweeter was reading the judge’s comments about the novel:

LITERARY FICTION

Finalist: The Promised Land by Elizabeth Musser
Elizabeth Musser’s The Promised Land revolves around three characters who, facing a metaphorical crossroads in their lives, venture toward a literal one along the Camino pilgrimage route in France: Abbie, dealing with the break-up of her marriage; her son Bobby, discovering his artistic ambition while on a gap year; and Caroline, coping with the disappearance of her best friend. In straightforward but agile narration, the novel explores how pathways, between strangers, between generations, can sometimes converge in unlikely places. The result is a quiet marvel of grace. Musser draws subtle connections between the characters’ lives in Atlanta and what they find in France—the Beltline as its own sort of French Camino—and uses those connections to weave a beautiful, heartfelt portrait of what it means to be a Georgian, a Southerner, an American, and, most importantly, a person in the world.

The week before I learned that The Promised Land won third place in the Selah Awards at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. Again I was so honored.

And earlier this year, The Swan House won the GOLD Illumination Award for Enduring Light Fiction.

ENDURING LIGHT CHRISTIAN FICTION

GOLD

The Swan House
by Elizabeth Musser
(Bethany House)

Lord, You know that we authors are fragile creatures, often doubting that our words have any relevance to the big old world out there. So it is always a huge encouragement to receive an award or or a positive review or a glowing letter from a reader. I’ve said it at least a hundred times across the years, Lord, but once again, every time I hear good news about my novels, it’s like receiving Your gentle, delightful hug.

And on all days, good and bad ones, I try to say ‘thank You, Lord,’ for allowing me to write stories of brokenness and healing, faith and hope, as a way to celebrate my love for You. Sometimes that is all it takes to send me back to my desk, heart filled with gratitude, to pen my next novel.

You will make known to me the way of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
Psalm 16: 11

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: Hilton Head Happiness

The week was everything I hoped for and more, and I was exhausted. When you have twenty-one people spanning four generations together, it can be. Joy and drama packed in together.

The second day as Paul and I were finally heading to the beach, our youngest nephew greeted us at the bottom of the steps with: “Sorry to bring bad news but Andrew just got stung by a stingray and it’s really, really bad.”

So instead of going to the beach, I headed upstairs to the condominium where my almost-thirty-three-year-old son sat in a tub of hot, hot water while his wife Lacy explained how he was playing Frisbee in the shallow water with all the cousins and landed on the stingray. She’d never see Andrew is so much pain. Evidently getting stung by a sting ray is one of the most painful things you can experience. Our younger son Chris had gone through this a few years earlier on a family beach trip to Hilton Head.

On our fifth day at the beach, Andrew’s six-year-old son, Quinn, also got stung by a stingray, and I came home from a shopping trip with my granddaughter to find him sitting in the sink in our bathroom, the only place where the water got hot enough to extract the poison. Andrew and Lacy were with him, telling him how brave he was as he howled in agony.

Quinn resting after his soak in the sink.

And so the vacation had had its ups and downs.

It had been filled with one-year-old Lena’s giggles as she began launching out on her own.

The three older grandchildren had each ridden their bikes with Mamie (me) to Harbour Town, our beloved favorite spot in the world, to have a treat at the bakery and then buy a special something.

Oops! Jesse’s stress relieving squeeze ball popped–causing, um, a little bit of stress!

I’d also had wonderful conversations with my brothers and sisters-in-law as we sat on our porch overlooking a lagoon and watched an alligator swim by.  

Paul and I had had special time with Andrew and Lacy (not only during the sting ray episode!) as well as with younger son Chris, (my eighty-seven-year-old father’s housemate for the past three years), engaged to Ashlee who was at the beach with us too.

There were several wonderful evenings where the cousins, as we called them, my father’s eight grandchildren, were laughing and playing games and being teenagers and young adults, and I and Paul and my brothers and sisters-in-law and my sweet father were laughing with our own sweet memories.

Daddy with his eight grandchildren, two granddaughters-in-law, and four great-grandchildren

And so the week had gone on, me spending time with each of my loved ones, joyfully. It was chaotic, of course, but delightful.

This photo is intentionally upside down=)

But then I snapped a photo on the last morning and got back in the car and drove blithely home not knowing that my life, already a bit complicated, was about to change forever.

(Actually the above sentence came to me on my last morning walk as a potential first sentence for a new novel. But that’s another story=).

Long bike rides and long beach walks; lovely hours of babysitting all four grandkids so that Andrew and Lacy could have a morning beach date; time to sit on Daddy’s porch with him and drink tea.

Time to shop with the girls…time to celebrate Andrew’s 33rd birthday…

…time to enjoy delicious meals cooked at the condominium and shared at the beach club.

I even made a discovery at the Harbour Town bakery that ties in perfectly with the novel I am in the process of penning–part of which takes place on Hilton Head.

And so, dear Lord, our week at the beach held moments of rest and rejuvenation for me in between a whole lot of times of sweet connection with my family members.

My cup overflowed with Hilton Head Happiness. And today, I simply say, “Merci!”

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: Less Is More

My guest blogger today is delightful Julia Kramer. I met Julia in Salzburg, Austria several years ago when Paul and I were speaking at a retreat for missionaries. Over the past years, we’ve found a mutual love for writing. I am always encouraged and spurred on by Julia’s words, and I know you will be too!

I’ve recently read a research about how our brain likes to solve problems by addition. It is much easier for our brain to add something than to subtract. Even if removing would be the wiser solution! Scientists told people to improve a little Lego building. The roof of the house was unstable because it was only fixed to one brick. But instead of removing the upper brick most of the people added another three bricks! Although they had to pay a small sum for it! Our brain prefers adding over removing. And you can spread that on other themes in our lives as well. Work, organizations…new problems cause new work teams, seminars, and equipment. But maybe it would be better to just remove or cancel something? I think this is a most exciting topic. For one I am interested in minimalism. And when you start going that way you soon recognize that it doesn’t stop with things but influences your whole life. (I remember the book I was reading recently: “There´s so much you don´t have to”)

Removing instead of adding is often very wise for our health, too. I found out that walking barefoot is much better for me than wearing my expensive health slippers. I feel my whole foot and try to balance my weight evenly. Because of my back pains I found out that a sturdy hard frame and mattress is better than an expensive high-tech product. And sitting on the floor is so much healthier than sitting in a relaxing chair. I like sitting cross-legged anyway and I recently started to combine my bible reading and my exercising: I sit on the floor each morning to stretch my legs and back while reading and meditating God´s word.

Reduction and simplifying is good for me. I’ve already learned that in some areas of my life while I haven´t even started to think about it in others.

I definitely prefer basics in my wardrobe and my kitchen. I like wearing the same turtlenecks all winter long. It´s easier to choose and I feel comfortable in it. And I like cooking easy and healthy meals from basic food without any preservatives or additions. And no supplements. Basics.

And our spiritual life? More bible reading and less spiritual books. I want to read God´s basic words and listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling me. Of course I also like reading books. But the bible is definitely my basic food and my personal time with God is essential and more important than any other input.

It would be interesting to hear what God would suggest me to remove from my life. Where do I carry too much unnecessary things and make life more complicated than it is? Where have I just gotten used to things and habits?

When Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim God´s kingdom, he told them to not take any equipment or luggage with them. No food, no money, not even a second shirt. They didn’t need any equipment because God cared for them. Everything they needed was already inside of them. Jesus provided for everything they needed. And they could rely on him and trust him.

In Psalm 37 it says that loving and trusting God is much better than being rich because God cares for those who love him.

It takes courage to let go of things and trust God to provide for our needs.

And sometimes it also takes brains and effort to think differently.

Where is less more?

Where is letting go needed in my life?

There is so much freedom in trusting God´s care!
Let´s get rid of our ballast and live simply!

“Less is more and more is less.” Psalm 37:16 (the Message)

“Don´t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment.” Luke 9:3 (the Message)

Hello, my name is Julia Kramer-Wiesgrill, and I am Austrian. I live in Hall in Tirol, in an ancient little town in the alps, but I was born near Vienna.
My husband and I came here to work at a small church and help in different tasks. We have three teenagers (15,17,19) and are very proud of them! I love reading and writing, going for a walk in the woods by my own, and I love water (creeks, lakes, the sea). I also love cats, Earl Grey tea and chocolate. I really like to learn and it´s the same with my spiritual journey, where I´m not even close to the finish line yet. God is so much bigger than I know and his love for me so much deeper and profound than I can imagine. He is the one who gave a new identity to me. I am his beloved child, no matter what! In knowing this I become free and courageous, because he is the one standing behind me, covering my back. 

Elizabeth encouraged me to follow my dream of writing and gave me some really helpful tips to actually get started some years ago! Now my first book (a children´s novel about friendship) will be published next year (in German)! I´m very excited about it! Elizabeth pushed me to start my own blog, which I did during the pandemic. You are welcome to visit my blog! https://juliakramer-english.jimdofree.com/

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Letters to the Lord: Perseverance

Have I shared with you the two words that are encouraging me this year? PRESS ON. The verse that they are taken from in Philippians says, “Brothers (and sisters), I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do. Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 
 
2020 exhausted us, broke us, called us to reach way down deep to find the resources to press on. It taught us another level of perseverance. Long before Covid came to my vocabulary, I wrote the following essay. Life and my book ministry have only gotten more complicated and demanding since this was penned in 2007, but I continue to put into practice the things I share below–with varying degrees of success=)! May you, like me, find joy in the journey as we press on…
 
Recently I received a short email from my agent:  “I’ve struck out with every publisher on your novel….”
I’ve been writing novels for 13 years now.  I’ve known that amazing thrill when the publisher asks, “How would you like to write a book?” and I’ve known the terrible disappointment when he says, “Your numbers just aren’t good enough.  We’re taking the book off the market.”  I’ve collected rejection slips as well as readers’ glowing letters, I’ve signed books at a crowded church event, and I’ve sat alone at a table at the front of a bookstore where no one stopped by to buy my book.
Ups and downs, ups and downs.  It reminds me of learning to post on a pony.  At the beginning, the rider just can’t seem to get it write—excuse me—right.  But eventually, instead of bouncing all over the saddle and getting very sore buns, she learns the rhythm of the pony, and she posts up and down, up and down, almost automatically.
 
06-09-riding greta (2)
 
I wish it were that easy in my career.  At times I find myself on a crazy wild stallion who is galloping uncontrolled into the wilderness with me holding on for dear life.  My emotions go all over the place.  One minute I’m excited about a new idea for a story or thrilled with the progress I’ve made on a chapter, the next I want to give it all up and hide my head in the sand, not with the horses but the ostriches.  
For me, perseverance is a lot about knowing what to care about.  Over the years, one of the blessings of persevering has been learning how not to care.  Yes, I care about writing the best book I can, I care about doing careful research, and I care about communicating well with my publisher and agent and readers.
But there are things I have to force myself not to care about: the list of best sellers when my book is not among them; the review of my book that is less than stellar; the sales that sag; the rejection, again and again and again of a manuscript.  These details are part of the writer’s life, but if I am not careful, the negative things can drown out the joy of writing and can almost paralyze me.  
That’s why I find myself going before the Lord on my knees and asking Him to help me make wise decisions.  How much time do I spend on marketing, how much money on conferences and books, how many websites do I visit?  Often, for me, I simply need to write.  I don’t need more information, especially since it changes every day in our cyber friendly world.  I need to do my part.  Write.
Over the years, I’ve developed a battle plan.  I protect the time I have to write by not answering the phone, by refusing to look at the emails first, by telling my friends that I am not free in the mornings because I am writing.  I’ve learned that instead of staring at a blank page, it is helpful to get up, stretch, and take a walk.  Let the inspiration come through nature.  In short, I do my part, I work hard, I entrust this fragile career into the hands of the Greatest Publicist in the galaxy, and I wait.  This is hard.
I also have a few trusted friends who will tell me the truth when I am discouraged.  They remind me of my calling, and they encourage me to seek God and keep going.  I have learned to hold my career lightly, being ready to give it up if God calls me into something else.  
So far, each time I have offered it back to Him, He has clearly shown me that for now I am to keep going.  Persevere.  On the good days when the words flow and on the bad days when I feel stuck.  On the days when an email brings good news and on the days when a phone call destroys my self-confidence.   
When people ask me what suggestions I have for the aspiring writer, I say ‘write, write, write and pray, pray, pray.’  This is what I do.  I cannot not write.  I keep going.  And I pray.  Long, long ago, God planted a seed in my heart, a desire to sprout a book.  As with all of God’s creations, He chooses to let us spend time underground, developing roots, tenaciously grabbing the soil until one day, we are ready to push our head out and offer up our creation to Him.  As I do this, each morning, I am reminded of why I write.  I write because the Word became flesh and spoke to my heart.  In my small way, I want my words to reflect His Word and call others into the wild ride of life in Christ. 
~Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser, October, 2007
 
greta-Mom 21-XL

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: No Words

Sometimes Spring takes my breath away and I have no words. Just a few photos and a verse that I need to remember today:

Consider the lilies of the field;
How they grow
They neither toil nor spin
And yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory
Was not arrayed like one of these.
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field
Which today is and tomorrow is thrown into the oven
Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore, do not worry…
Matthew 6: 28-31

Lord Jesus, please calm my anxious heart today as I trust You. And may I bloom for Your glory like the lilies of the field.

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her blog.

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Letters to the Lord: The Tree

 My creative and thoughtful and wonderful mother-in-law, Doris Ann Musser, is back with reflections about a tree that sits outside the retirement home in Richmond, Kentucky that she called home for a few years.    

THE TREE

YOU RISE ABOVE THE OTHER TREES AT THE CURVE OF 

STOCKER DRIVE…..TALLER…BROADER….MORE STATELY…..

….WITH BRANCHES STRETCHING OUT IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

      SOME REACH FOR THE SKY;

      SOME LOOK AT THE UNEVEN GROUND;

      SOME YEARN TO MOVE ON UP THE HILL.

MOST ARE BENT, GNARLED, CROOKED, MALFORMED…..

    …OF VARIOUS SHAPES AND SIZES.

THEY CLING TO YOU TIGHTLY AS

                IF STUCK WITH SUPER GLUE.

EACH HAS SMALL ATTACHMENTS DWINDLING FROM

LARGE TO MEDIUM TO TINY TO NOTHING.

      YOU GAVE THEM BIRTH;

      NATURE GUIDED THEIR GROWTH.

THEY STEM FROM A FIRMLY ROOTED, STURDY TRUNK….

TWENTY-THREE FEET, TWO INCHES.  MY HUG OF LOVE

FAILS TO REACH THE WHOLE WAY ROUND.

 ROUGH CHIPS CLING TO YOUR TRUNK. PROTECTING

 FROM STRONG WINDS AND SEVERE WEATHER. 

ALL TREES NEED ROOTS.  YOURS ARE UNIQUE AND

AMAZING, BREAKING FREE AND PUSHING UP THROUGH

THE SOIL LEAVING AN UNEVEN SURFACE. THE ENDS OF

THE  ELONGATED BUMPY ROOTS WITH RIDGES AND

VALLEYS MAKE WALKING TRICKY.

NOT A SCIENTIFIC FACT, BUT A STRING MEASUREMENT  

SAYS YOU FORM A SIXTY-THREE FEET IRREGULAR CIRCLE

AT THE ENDS OF THE ROOTS.  THEY DARE ME TO GET

CLOSE TO YOUR TRUNK WHILE DETERMINED TO BE SEEN

AS NECESSARY AND APPRECIATED PARTS OF THE WHOLE.

LOOKING THROUGH YOUR VARIOUS SIZED LIMBS AND

BRANCHES IS LIKE SEEING THE BRILLIANT SKY THROUGH

A GIANT SPIDER WEB.

SOMETIMES THE SUNSET FRAMES YOUR BEAUTY.

     SOMETIMES THE SNOW CLINGS TO THE UPPER SIDE

            OF YOUR BRANCHES; A BREATHTAKING SIGHT.

                         SOMETIMES GOD’S TEARS SOAK YOU

                                  WITH NEEDED WATER.

YOU BEAR NO FLOWERS, ONLY HUNDREDS OF HEALTHY

GREEN LEAVES IN SEASON. I WONDER HOW MANY

BIRDS & ANIMALS HAVE SHELTERED IN AND AROUND.

           YOU ARE BEAUTIFULLY BARE. 

HOW MANY RAGING STORMS HAVE YOU WEATHERED?

YOU ARE NOT SYMETERICAL LIKE MANY OTHER TREES.

SUCH AN IMPREFECT SHAPE ADDS TO YOUR LOVELINESS.

I QUESTION WITH SILENT RESPONSES…..

– WHAT IS YOUR REASON FOR BEING?

– ARE  YOU REALLY OVER TWO HUNDRED YEARS OLD,

                  AS I WAS TOLD?

– WHO PLANTED YOU IN THIS SPOT?

– WHAT’S IT LIKE…. A LIVING THING YET UNMOVING?

– WHY DO YOU FASCINATE ME?

– ARE YOU HERE BECAUSE GOD KNEW THAT ONE DAY

  IN NINETEEN HUNDRED NINETY-FIVE THERE WOULD BE

  AN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY  NEAR PLUS CONDO AND

  TELFORD RESIDENTS WHO WOULD FIND GREAT

  PLEASURE IN ADMIRING YOU?

DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE A BEACON FOR US?

WE SHARE MUCH.

       WE, TOO, ARE OLD.

SOME OF US MOVE AS DO YOUR LIGHTER BRANCHES.

     OTHERS ARE MORE LIKE YOUR HEAVIER BRANCHES;

                     .. NEEDING ASSISTANCE.

SOME ARE BENT IN BODY…..LEANING.

            WE HAVE WEATHERED STORMS.

OUR BEAUTY IS NOT AS FORMERLY BUT WE GRACEFULLY

                 ACCEPT AGING.

WE ARE BEACONS FOR THE GENERATIONS WE BORE

            AND RAISED.

OUR WOMBS ARE BARE; WE ARE FREE TO ENJOY

              THE FRUITS OF OUR LABORS. 

I AM ABSORBED, CAPTIVATED AND IN ANOTHER WORLD

AS I SIT ON THE BENCH CONTEMPLATING THIS

MARVELOUS STRUCTURE.

THANK YOU, SPECIAL TREE.

      BE QUIET MY SOUL.

         TURN AWAY FROM DISTRACTIONS.                                                                                                                              

                  SIMPLY SIT, LINGER, LOOK, LISTEN.

DORIS ANN MUSSER has been sharing her creative talents for 87 years, spanning the globe from Lewisburg, West Virginia, to Brazil, France, Haiti, and China, and back to Kentucky where she lives now. She has her one and only, Harvey, waiting for her in heaven, but remains delightfully busy on earth keeping up with her five children, their spouses, thirteen grandchildren, and twenty-two great grand-children at last count. She has friends around the world and loves all things Mickey and Charlie Brown.