29.7.12

Sweet Surprise


My sweet hubby surprised me on our twenty-third wedding anniversary with a trip to a bed-and-breakfast inn located in Hendersonville, N.C.

        Usually, if we go somewhere and need accommodations, I am the one who goes in search of the best buy, via the Internet. I’ll spend hours reading reviews (because while I want to be frugal, I still place high importance on cleanliness and quality).

        My husband did all the planning and made all the arrangements this time. His schedule doesn’t allow much time for frugal internet comparison-shopping. He just picked out something he thought looked nice.

Cindy Baer of Elizabeth Leigh Inn
        This inn was very nice! When we arrived, the innkeeper warmly welcomed us and gave us a tour of the beautifully restored Victorian home. Everything was gorgeously decorated with attention to the smallest detail.

Later, we enjoyed the innkeeper's freshly made, melt-in-your-mouth pound cake and home-made strawberry ice cream. The warm, summer air was perfect for eating on the large, wrap-around porch outside. Chirping birds and a bubbling water fountain added sweet peacefulness to our evening.

        Thanks to my prince charming, I felt like a princess. Spending time with him is always fun. I’m blessed to have a wonderful, Christian husband who has loved me enough to stick with me all this time. His love for Christ, love for people, and love for me blesses my heart immensely.

23.7.12

What Do Alan Gratz, Harold Underdown, Jessica Alexander and a Sunflower Cake Have in Common?


What do Alan Gratz, Harold Underdown, Jessica Alexander and a Sunflower Cake have in common? They were special treats this past weekend at The Writers’ Plot Conference at Furman University.

This was my first Writers’ Plot conference. Nine awesome, editors, authors, and agents shared their nuggets of wisdom. The problem was deciding which workshop to attend since we were only allowed three.

Edie Melson, Pam Zollman, and Jessica Alexander presented during the first session. I wanted to go to all of them but chose Jessica since she was presenting “Getting an Editor’s Attention.” Since she would be critiquing my manuscript later that day, I thought taking her workshop would be wise.

Jessica Alexander, editor at Peachtree Publishers and children’s book author, gave a humorous but educational reading of how not to get an editor’s attention. (Made note to self about not sending a dishtowel hand puppet, of a book character, to an editor).

Alan Gratz, Katya Jenson, and Diana Flegal presented during Breakout Session #2.  Again, tough choice but I chose Alan.

Author of five middle grade and young adult novels, he gave an outstanding presentation on plotting and pacing. I look forward to applying his “7-14-7” guide to the middle grade book I’m working on now. Writing scenes on index cards is another thing I plan to try.

Harold Underdown, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (one of the first books I read when I began writing), was our keynote speaker. He gave an inspiring talk about the need for writers to make promises to their readers within the first pages of their books. The examples he read made me want to go home and write something great. (Let me tell you, this is easier said than done!)

The last sessions of the day were taught by Pat Thomas, Vonda Skelton and Harold Underdown. Oh, how I wanted to go to all of them! I chose Underdown’s workshop on making your characters memorable. This was a great interactive class. We were given time to work on a character by applying the techniques Underdown discussed.

As mentioned earlier, I had a critique of my children’s picture book. It went well. The positive feedback and helpful hints will assist me in tweaking it (again!)

Throughout the day door prizes were given. Name after name was called (not mine) and each time the conference director would tell the winners they could choose any prize except the cake. A beautiful sunflower cake had been donated by a bakery in Greenville ("the bakery off Augusta") and it was to be the last, grand prize of the day.

Harold Underdown drew the winner of the cake and announced, “Sally Matheny!” Woo hoo! It would have been great if he was announcing my name as the next recipient of a publishing contract, but hey, the cake was the next best thing.

I told everyone who was drooling over my cake I would write a description of how it tasted. Here goes.

When I opened the box, the sweet aroma of sugar, married with butter, floated upward. My mouth watered as I gingerly lifted it from the baker’s box. Too beautiful to eat on a paper plate, a china dessert plate was retrieved. The knife smoothly sliced through the cake. Four layers of rich goodness  were united by scrumptious chocolate icing. Delectable.

How’s that? J




15.7.12

How God Used a Sixty-Year-Old Camp Blanket


God used a sixty-year old camp blanket in several different ways. Visiting my parents the night prior to a Vermont mission trip, I commented on the unpredictable weather forecast.

My mother asked if I wanted to borrow her “camp blanket.” I had never seen or heard of this camp blanket. She retrieved it and began to tell me its story.

When my mother was a little girl, her mom sewed tiny strips of cloth to the bottom corners of this rectangle-shaped, cotton blanket. Two additional strips of cloth were sown in the bottom of her sleeping bag. When her family went camping, her mother would tie the camp blanket inside the sleeping bag to keep her warm. The strips kept the blanket from getting all twisted up inside. What a great idea.

The thin cotton blanket would be perfect for travel in the car. Knowing how some passengers like it cool; I could cover up with it. Its weight would be perfect, not too light and not too heavy.

Why had I not ever heard about or seen this blanket before? My grandmother passed away when my mother was only twenty years old. I guess this was something she had held onto all these years. It held special memories for her. I was a rough-and-tumble kind of kid so my mama probably didn’t dare trust me with the blanket when I was young. At age forty-six, I guess she thought I was old enough to take care of it now.

Mama did ask me to be very careful with it, which I promised I would.

The blanket served its purpose very well and kept me comfortable while traveling. Each morning, I gently folded it up and placed it in a safe place.

One night, a lady on my team decided her Bible story would work best if she had someone to act out the part of Jesus. She had not planned on this and therefore, had nothing appropriate for "Jesus" to wear. Our volunteers had only packed shorts, jeans and shirts. I immediately thought of the camp blanket. It was a plain cream-colored cotton fabric. It would be perfect.

So, Jesus wore the blanket around his shoulders one night as the story about the woman drying his feet with her hair unfolded before the children’s eyes. They learned about a woman’s love for Jesus.

The last night of VBS, Jesus wore the blanket again. This time the story was told about how Jesus can cleanse us from our sins. The children learned about Jesus’ love for them.

Overjoyed after nineteen souls were saved, I didn’t really look at the blanket as I packed it away that night. It wasn’t until later my heart sunk as I saw the three-inch tear ripped on one side. I wasn’t sure how my mother would react. She had told me repeatedly to please take care of the blanket and now it was torn.

We came home Saturday night, too exhausted to unpack. Sunday morning, we shared our testimonies about the mission trip. My parents came to hear our stories, which included how God used the old camp blanket.

I didn’t mention the tear until after the worship service. I thought humor might break the blow and told Mama, “Jesus tore your blanket.” (It’s probably not ever good to blame Jesus for anything.) I told her how sorry I was it happened and I would sew it up the best I could. How my mother responded surprised me.

“Leave it,” my mother said with tears in her eyes. “I think my mama would’ve been happy to know how God used her camp blanket. Leave the tear. I want to remember how God used it.”

Now, I have another precious memory of my mama.

(If we will let go of all the things we hold dear, and give them to God, He will amaze us with what He can do with them and through them…more than we can imagine!)

8.7.12

How God Used Human Error- Mission Trip Miracle Story #2


       Someone made a big mistake, a costly mistake. She tried to make it right but was unsuccessful. Regrets and frustration have nagged her for a whole year.
        Two weeks before our mission team was set to go to Vermont, the missionary assigned as the VBS coordinator hit a snag. She discovered she would not be able to go on the trip. Asked to step in as VBS coordinator, I agreed.
        I had never been on a mission trip to this area. I didn’t know what the setup would be like or what we needed. I was informed the teachers would have a teacher’s packet and there would be a DVD to use for opening worship BUT the materials needed careful handling because they would be used for VBS in a N.C. church when we returned. Everything was on loan. And while there would be crafts for the kids, there would not be Bible story materials for the kids to take home.
        No problem. We would be careful with what we borrowed. I cataloged everything. Based on last year's numbers, we were expecting between 10 – 15 students total.
       The Bible teachers could hold up a picture and tell the story since there weren’t any take-home sheets, Bible cards, etc. We could make it work with a small group.
        I know I bugged the leading pastor of our mission trip to death as I texted my 101 questions.
        “Do I need to make nametags?”
        “No, I’ll pick up the sticky ones.”

        “I can’t locate the VBS DVD in the packet of supplies I was given. Do you know where it is?”
        “No. Call around.”

And so the texting went back and forth for over a week. It wasn’t until a few days before departure that the loaned DVD was finally located. There was mention of a poster needed to announce the VBS. I decided to wait until we got there to reduce damage in transit.
        Remember the lady I mentioned at the beginning? The one who made a costly mistake? She over-ordered VBS supplies for her church the previous summer. She heard we were going on a mission trip…didn’t know if it was something we could use...but if I wanted to come pick them up I could.
        My first question was if we had to return them (I surely didn’t want to try to keep up with two different churches' VBS curriculum!) She assured me the items were ours to keep.
        Expecting some used items, maybe a poster or two, or a few miscellaneous take-home papers, I was greatly surprised when I picked up the box of supplies.
        First, everything was the same theme and curriculum we planned to use on the mission trip. There were over 50 die-cut, adorable nametags. A huge, colorful, vinyl VBS banner greeted me along with a ton of take-home Bible study cards, storybooks for toddlers, and ABC salvation cards. Everything was brand-new and still in shrink-wrap. God had opened the floodgates! There was even a copy of the worship DVD!
        Joy swelled up inside me. If God was doing all this before we even left for our mission trip, how much more was He planning to do in Vermont? My mustard seed faith sprouted again. I could not contain my excitement! I shared, with anyone who would listen, about what God was doing. We now had gospel materials to put in the hands of children to take home.
        However, I thought God would send more than the expected fifteen kids. Why would He send all those materials if He wasn’t planning to do something BIG?

        He did! For those who missed the announcement last week—sixty-five different children and several adults came to our VBS. Nineteen chose Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior!
        I don’t know the lady who made the big "mistake,” but will someone please tell her God gloriously used it? It wasn't a mistake after all. 
       Isn’t God awesome? When we give our best and still fall short, God steps in with an amazing plan.          

1.7.12

Miracle After Miracle After Miracle!


Miracle after miracle after miracle…that was what I witnessed last week. My daughter and I came in yesterday from a ten day mission trip to Vermont.

     God did so many amazing things. I cannot begin to name them all, but I  joyfully share a few of these with you!

     Months before the trip our team was given a scripture:

  “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

     We were asked to give our fears about the trip over to the Lord. My fear was not in sharing the gospel nor was it venturing into an unknown area. My fear was that I would not travel well with the chronic neck pain I had dealt with for over fifteen years. I knew God wanted me to go so I gathered many prayer warriors to pray for our mission team’s work and specifically for my neck. I asked God to give me endurance and that He would make the pain bearable.

     My faith was the size of a mustard seed. I visited two doctors to prepare for the trip. I packed three ice packs, a heating pad, prescription and over-the-counter pain medicines, etc. Normally, after a three or four hour trip, I am in a great deal of pain. Quite often, migraines result. Our mission team would be on the road for ten hours the first day. I was taking a tiny step of faith that God would use all the items I had packed to help me endure the pain.

      Long story—short: God did more than I imagined! I only needed to take something for the pain the first day of the trip. And even then, the pain was not as bad as it normally is. I took one Tylenol the second morning. The remaining time, I never used the heating pad, never had to use the ice packs, and I never had to take any more of the pain medicine…not even on the whole trip home! 99% of the time, I was totally pain-free. It was nothing short of a miracle. Without a doubt, God heard the prayers and blessed me abundantly so I could better serve Him.

     Greater blessings came throughout the week. The mission team that went last year planted many “seeds.”Between 7 – 23 kids attended VBS last year. This year we had 29 on the first night. Sixty-five different children and teens came throughout the week. They had a deep hunger to hear about Jesus Christ. Satan tried to thwart our plans but he did not succeed.

     Nineteen children sincerely asked Jesus Christ into their hearts.

     Praise God, praise God! I am eternally thankful for the prayers lifted up for our mission team and for the people of Vermont. Thankful that God took my tiny mustard seed of faith and worked wonders so I could witness Him working in the lives of so many precious people. What an amazing week of God's miracles.