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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.
 
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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
 
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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.

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Letters to the Lord: Weeping and Rejoicing

I wrote this over a decade ago, when Chris was home in France during a summer break from college. But it seems strangely appropriate now as we continue to work through all hard, hard things of 2020 and beyond. I am thankful that weeping and rejoicing can coexist in the beautiful paradox of God’s love.

They have come here to grieve.  And to celebrate.  Right now they are four.  Soon others will arrive and by this weekend, our house and yard will be overflowing with youth.  As it should be.  Again.

Beau is barking as he welcomes another student.  Chris is making pancakes.  The house is littered with backpacks and mattresses and empty milk cartons and plates with brownie crumbs.  The kids greet me with smiles and tears.  They do not differentiate between the two because life has caught them off guard.  

He died tragically, in a boating accident on the Lac d’Annecy at 2:30 on a Sunday morning.  A student from their class.  19. A childhood friend.  They grew up with him.  In the early morning hours, as the boat shot through the water in a 5 kilometer per hour zone, it struck a rock, was projected against a cliff and he and the four other young passengers were hurled into the water. Two survived.  Three did not.

All 19, all bright young students, France’s elite, celebrating the end of a grueling year of studies. Too carefree, too sure that life was before them, indestructible, invincible.

Ironically, at that same lake on that same night, a group of 15 young people from our church were camping out, singing praises to the Lord, sharing laughter and dreams and the Bible.  The noise from the impact of the boat against the rocks woke a few of them.  They heard the distant sirens and went back to sleep.

Paul and I had been in Montpellier for the weekend, rejoicing with friends at the marriage of their daughter.  Heading back toward Lyon, Paul driving and I in a semi-sleep, exhausted from a full weekend of visiting friends and the festivities that lasted into the wee morning hours, we heard of a boating accident on Lac d’Annecy.  I was thankful that we had already talked to Andrew on the phone, reassured that he had returned safely from the young people’s weekend there.  I dozed again.

Once back home, I immediately called the friend’s residence where Chris had spent the weekend.  The father answered the phone, speaking softly, almost incomprehensibly.  Finally he said, “I’m sorry.  I’m stunned.  I’ve just learned that one of Charley’s classmates was killed in the boating accident in Annecy.”  And that is how we found out.

Adrien.  Dead.

Years ago, when we first moved to Lyon, and Chris and Andrew started attending their new school, Cité Scolaire Internationale, Chris and Adrien had become friends.  I remember how happy we were when Adrien asked to attend church with us, and I remember the Sundays when we would drive to his house, tucked into the prestigious 3eme arrondissment of Lyon and Adrien would come out of the house, smiling, ready for church.

It didn’t last long.  Perhaps a few months.  He had other interests; life was full for all of our teens.

On other occasions there were parties at his house.  I met his parents, both dentists, so young and successful and kind.  And his two younger sisters.  A beautiful, tight-knit family.

Now they sit in that refurbished manor, with the manicured grass and the sunporch overlooking the pool, in a deep grief.  I imagine them there and I cry.  Life is cruel.

And our young people come to cry too.  They do not want to be apart, alone in their grief.  And so they wade through the heartache together, first at one house, then off to school, then to another home, then into town.  A band of friends, intercepted by death, brought together by death, bonded ever more tightly by tragedy.

Fidji has known Adrien from the time she was a little girl.  Charles, too.  They fluctuate from disbelief to rage to despair.  The students hug each other, cry, share memories and find themselves laughing hysterically at some long forgotten antic in which they and Adrien were involved.
   

Paul and I watch and pray, hold out our arms to hug them, suddenly vulnerable children again.  I bake brownies, I send notes on Facebook and I write.  Writing has always been for me a solace, a way to grieve.

I write because I cannot not write, because I want to remember this.  I want to remember the strength of the human heart in the face of tragedy.  Fresh faces, young, with the world in front of them, ripped in two by the unthinkable, holding each other up.
   

Adrien’s friends will all don light blue shirts on Friday for the funeral.  Held at the thousand-year-old St. John’s Cathedral, the funeral will be for the three young people who perished in the boat accident.  The church will overflow.  The tears will flow, overflow, too.

Last night, when Chris, Charles, Sam and Fidji arrived at our house, they were wearing black pants and white shirts, after having spent the evening serving a meal to the homeless at the Salvation Army post.  They were exhausted but giddy because, although the week was filled with grief, it also held a bright spot.  Fidji and two other young people from church had found out that morning that they had passed the compulsory tests allowing them to proceed from their first year of medical school to the second.  No small feat, basically meaning their grades were among the top 100 out of a class of 700.  Reason to celebrate.  An extremely competitive and demanding year ending with success.

And so they celebrate.  And cry.  And laugh.  And eat brownies.  And talk.
  I watch them there, drained and yet eager to try on life and I am thankful for the words of Scripture, so very concise.  So true.  “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Sometimes, oddly enough, life allows us to do that very thing with the same group of people.  Life is like that.  An endless roller-coaster ride.

I am thankful for another verse of Scripture.  “I will lift up my eyes to the hills; from whence cometh my help?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Questions?  Oh, yes, they abound.  Answers?  Few and even those are far from appropriate right now.

Weeping and rejoicing and lifting our eyes, we continue.

  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: Jill Steenhuis, an Atlanta Artist in France

We were destined to be friends and soulmates before we ever met.

Our dads knew each other, waving across the golf course at the Capital City Country Club in Atlanta. So I paid attention when my father said, “You need to meet the artist Jill Steenhuis. She grew up in Atlanta, rode and showed horses, moved to Aix-en-Provence in 1980 and lives there still.”

It took a long while to meet in person, but Jill and I started corresponding about twenty-five years ago, writing emails back and forth from Aix to Montpellier and then Lyon. We soon discovered many, many mutual friends in Atlanta and beyond, and most importantly, our mutual faith in Jesus.

And Jill became my ‘go to’ friend whenever I needed to ‘get into’ an artist’s skin in one of my novels. This was especially the case for The Swan House and The Dwelling Place. In the Acknowledgements I wrote: Jill Steenhuis, fellow Atlantan living in southern France and gifted artist, thanks for your thoughtful insights and advice about art and for helping me understand the artist’s inner eye.

For my 40th birthday, my parents gave me what is still one of my most treasured possessions: a painting by Jill.

It hangs above our fireplace in our home in Rochetaillee. This painting still takes my breath away every time I gaze at it. It captures my heart, embodying many things I love: France, nature, poppies, an old aqueduct, life in the moment.

Jill paints ‘en plein air’ like her beloved mentor, the impressionist artist, Paul Cezanne who lived and painted in Aix. In fact Jill’s art studio is designed almost exactly like Cezanne’s. Years ago, I had the privilege of finally meeting Jill in person and visiting her studio.

We’ve prayed for each other and cheered each other on across the miles and countries and years as the Lord has blessed the work of our hands. When Jill asked me for advice about publishing a book of her paintings and essays, I was humbled and delighted to get a sneak peek at this gorgeous book and wholeheartedly endorsed it.

From the back cover: To observe and contemplate Jill Steenhuis’s art (and her words, for she is not only painter, but also poet) is to accept an invitation to be inspired by the timeless beauty of nature that she  captures on canvas and in her writing. Returning to the pure and simple joy of daily things—of flowers and villages and budding trees—we taste and smell and feel the truth that is life. Jill is a magnificent artist in every sense of the word. Her work touches my soul. —Elizabeth Goldsmith Musser, novelist

With all of our shared history, imagine our delight to have a chance to have lunch together at the Swan Coach House in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

And we are especially ‘tickled pink’ to be signing our books together THIS Thursday at The Swan Coach House Gift Shop. If you are in the Atlanta area, I hope you’ll join us. It will be my first in-person signing in over a year, and I am THRILLED to be there with Jill.

Thursday, April 29, 11am – 2pm at the Swan Coach House Gift Shop, 3130 Slaton Drive NW, Atlanta, GA 30305

I’ll be signing copies of The Swan House, The Dwelling Place, The Promised Land, and The Long Highway Home.

Jill will be signing copies of her marvelous Art, Soul, and Destiny.

Whether you can meet us in person or not, be sure to check out Jill’s website where you’ll find her beautiful artwork as well as her beautiful soul.

I am so grateful for my precious fellow artist friend in France (and the US!)

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: Pressure-Washed

Oh, Lord, the sun is shining through our big, beautiful, and CLEAN front window in Flintstone, Georgia, and I feel hope. The house has just been pressure washed. And I’m delighted with the result. All the mold and moss, all the green and black stuff—whatever it was—is gone.

The outside of the house sparkles. And it smells. Like bleach.

I find this very humorous because all day yesterday at my father’s house in Atlanta I smelled the familiar and sweet scent of manure. Yes, horse manure. The smell I grew up with. But this time it wasn’t emanating from the barn behind my father’s house, but from the neighbors’ yard which is being completely redone.

But today, bleach. And it worked. I’d wanted the house to be washed for quite a while as I noticed the stains. I am a little in awe that it worked! In less than an hour, it was all done. By professionals. So often I try to get by without paying the money for professionals. Without ‘outsourcing’, as my son calls it.

But today, we paid, and I am thrilled. Even our little Eastern bluebird who is building a nest on the back deck seems okay. She stayed in the little birdhouse, and hopefully she will be content to keep coming back. (editor’s note; she has!=)

I know there are many spiritual analogies to this pressure washing theme. The first, of course, is that Jesus warns not to just clean the outside. Oh, yes, some of Your harshest words are to the ‘white-washed tombs’.

But what I’m thinking about is another analogy. How I cannot clean my own house, my own soul-house. I have to ‘outsource it’ to You, Lord. And when I do, the effect is immediate. You pressure wash my soul, a hard, eternal blast of whiter-than-snow bleach. You clean every part of me with that initial salvation pressure wash.

But boy, do I need to outsource the cleaning on a very regular basis. I need deep spring cleaning. Again and Again and Again. And I can never, ever, do it on my own. That will not work.

When the man came to pressure wash the house this morning, he warned, “We use bleach, so please don’t come outside while we’re working.” In other words, don’t get in the way of the professionals. Let them do their hard work, and then we can enjoy the beauty of it later.

Lord, I think I get in the way of Your work rather often. I try to help You along. I step outside with excuses or rescuing or shame when You are trying to strip it all away with Your Spirit’s blast. It can be harsh and hard, and it can hurt. Oh, yes. Confession hurts. Sanctification hurts. And of course, I have to take the initial step of ‘hiring’ You to clean me out.

But then, I must let You do it. I can’t clean myself, Lord. As my precious mother-in-law says, “Duh.” That’s the whole point of the Gospel. “For God so loved the world that He gave…”

You do the hard work, the blasting off of the sin. Then, and only after this, do I do the hard work of accepting Your grace, trusting that what You have done is enough. And walking in that cleanliness with confidence.

It’s like so much else in the Christian life, isn’t it, Lord? So many paradoxes. Yes, You clean us with one harsh and wonderful blast of salvation. And yes, I have to keep coming back to be cleaned again. Not for salvation, but for sanctification. For the daily doing of life.

And sometimes, that’s where I get tripped up. I fall back to trying to figure it out on my own, at worst, or at best, trying to help You along. Instead of accepting that You are God, and I am not and never the twain shall meet.

Except that we do. Another paradox. Somehow, after that first forceful blast, You live inside me. And we meet day after day after day. So that yes, I ‘outsource’ my help from above, and yet, I have the ‘outsourced help’ inside.

I love Your mystery. I love how You so often helped humans see Your truth by using analogies and parables.

So dear Savior and Lord, come again today and pressure-wash my soul for Your glory.

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.