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Michele Howe is a reviewer for Publishers Weekly , FaithfulReader.com, Aspiring Retail, Foreword, TeenReads.com, KidsRead.com, among many others national and international publications. She has published over 1200 reviews/articles and has been featured on numerous radio shows across the country speaking on topics such as parenting and a diverse range of women's health issues. Her work has been published in MORE, FIRST for Women, Good Housekeeping, SheKnows.com, BettyConfidential, HelloWorld, Christianity Today, Discipleship Journal, Midwest Living, Parentlife, Fullfill, Christian Single, Single Parent Family, Focus on the Family, and Connections. She is a Single Parenting Columnist for Bizymoms.com and also does copywriting and manuscript reviewing for several publishing houses including New Growth Press.
Michele is the author of ten books for women. Her
book, "Going It Alone: Meeting the Challenges of Being a Single Mom"
(Hendrickson Publishers), provided hope and
practical helps for single moms new to parenting solo. She
has also authored "Pilgrim Prayers for Single Mothers" (Pilgrim Press) and a
third book of helps for single mothers titled, "Successful Single Moms"
(Pilgrim Press.) In addition to these resources for single mothers, Michele
wrote four separate titles combining real life stories with inspirational
prayer retreats. These titles published by (Jossey-Bass) include: "Prayers for
Homeschooling Moms," "Prayers to Nourish a Woman's Heart," "Prayers of Comfort
and Strength" and "Prayers for New and Expecting Moms."
Excerpted from Prayers for Homeschool Moms by Jossey-Bass released in April 2003.
One Step At A Time
Perusing the book shelves of friends' homes had become a hobby for Cassie. Ever since she and her husband Kurt decided that the private school where their daughter attended wasn't meeting the needs of their child in the way they'd hoped; Cassie scoured around for any book she could find on homeschooling. Since two of her closest friends had homeschooled from day one, Cassie knew where to go for both emotional and practical support. Still, Cassie felt the burden of developing a well-rounded educational curriculum fall heavy upon her shoulders. While Kurt agreed that homeschooling sounded like a viable option, he didn't feel he had the time to research their options. So the bulk of the responsibility fell to Cassie to set up the new program before the holidays were over.
Beginning January 16th, Cassie would be the teacher. Her part time position as the school librarian gave her plenty of know-how in locating needed resources. Yet Cassie lacked experience in organizing a workable plan....a doable system in the practicalities of educating her daughter. She would most definitely need the assistance of her good friends. Some days as Cassie poured over various catalogs she felt overwhelmed by the shear number of supplies on the market. A quick call to a friend usually calmed her down. Cassie believed that home educating, at least for the remainder of the year, would prove beneficial to her daughter. Husband Kurt agreed. Yet in the back of her mind, Cassie nursed niggling doubts. After one especially difficult afternoon of planning, Cassie retreated to her enclosed porch with Bible in one hand and journal in the other. Right now, I'm going to do business with God. I'm not getting up until I put on paper every reason we have for homeschooling. When the next bout of doubts come calling, I'll be ready.
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Phillipians 1:6
I must come you before in the deepest gratitude for I finally understand that you are the sole provider of my strength. Any confidence that I might possess stems directly from you. Thank you for graciously giving me the courage I require to take this momentous step. It's a rare thing for me to enter into unknown territory. There are moments, many of them quite frankly, when I am paralyzed by a sudden fear that leaves me frozen to the spot. I'm not certain I'm up to this challenge of educating my daughter. Yet there is another part of me that recognizes you equipped me to parent my child...even in this new way. I do believe that you are able to teach me as I begin instructing my daughter. Thank you for the knowledge you have given me. I would ask that you would continue to guide our steps and that we would bring honor to your name in all that we do. This new phase of life will usher joy I'm sure. I come to you, Father, rejoicing that as parents, we have this option. Thank you for placing us here, at this time, when so many others are choosing this same road upon which to travel. Let me be humble enough to seek out the help I'll need. I commit my family once again into your faithful hands. Be with me, give me your good words of wisdom and instruct me in the way I should go. Amen.
"The intelligence we have is a gift from God; the circumstances in which we find ourselves he controls. Obviously, we have to bring our intelligence as well as our faith to bear on those circumstances." Elisabeth Elliot in God's Guidance
Excerpted from Prayers to Nourish a Woman's Heart by Jossey-Bass released March 2003.
Fifty-three-year-old Catherine Wilson sat down with a huff in an unconscious attempt to expel the worries of the day. As secretary to the superintendent of the local public school system, Catherine came home daily one tired lady. It's not that she didn't enjoy her work. Catherine was a whiz when it came to organization, so this job was a Godsend. She was a natural with people too. Which might be why so many of her elderly neighbors came knocking on Catherine's door whenever they had problems understanding a new prescription, Medicare information, or just simple banking account inquiries.
After having been married for over twenty-seven years, Catherine just always assumed her husband would be unexpected heart attack, which claimed his life and forever altered hers. But the unimaginable had happened and Catherine was left forging a new life for herself, alone. The move into this new condominium complex for "older" adults was just the first in a series of life changes. While Catherine didn't really qualify for senior status yet, she knew the time would arrive when she'd be grateful for no more lawn care and home maintenance responsibilities. It was enough to keep up with her fast-paced position at school. Evenings were for taking care of chores, dinner, exercising, and relaxing.
Lately though, in fact every night for the past week, Catherine's doorbell rang within the first hour she arrived home. How Catherine had earned the reputation of "mother superior" to all these truly elderly men and women who were her neighbors, she couldn't fathom. It had all started out with one innocent offer to act as go-between for the seventy-eight-year-old single lady with the beginnings of Parkinson's disease. All Catherine really had done was to make a couple of telephone calls for her new friend. Then word spread that Catherine alone really understood the ins and outs of getting real answers to difficult medical questions.
Sitting back in her comfy sofa, Catherine sighed again. I wonder who'll be knocking on my door tonight? At least now, I feel like I've got family.... someone to come home to in the evenings. Maybe our friendships are somewhat lop-sided, I do the advice giving and they do all the taking. But I'm also certain I fall far short of the gratefulness extended to me each and every time I make the effort to serve.
"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Acts 20:35
Today I learned something. Ever since I lost my husband, I've been thinking of ways to make the pain go away. I've been focusing on keeping so busy I won't notice how alone I feel. Well, I've been wrong. No two ways about it. I can't run away from my hurt. I want to keep everyone at bay - push people away from me. I thought moving to a new home, a private place, with no one I recognized would be the answer. Wrong! Here, I've been placed in a position where I don't have the choice to say no. I can't let these folks flounder around without any help. I have to help them. Tired as I am, you're still forcing me to get out, move on, and heal inside. Should I be thanking you, Lord? I'm so emotionally worn out I don't want to get too close again. It just hurts too much. Then I look around and see the wrinkled brows, the stooped shoulders, and I realize I'm not the only one carrying a burden, mine's just internal.
Lord, help me to give even when I don't have it within me to do so. Provide me with that greater measure of compassion I've been running from. I need your touch of grace and your ongoing strength to work through me. Every ounce of my physical self tells me to run in the opposite direction, but your spirit calls my name. In the quietness of my heart, I hear you. Please help me do what it right. Let me be your conduit of tender love today. Amen.
"Be as friendly to the janitor as you are to the chairman of the board." H. Jackson Brown, Jr. and Rosemary C. Brown inLife's Little Instructions from the Bible
Over thirty years ago, an insignificant carryout store conducted business that was immensely significant to me. Dubbed "The Corner Store" with non-creative reasoning...for it sat on the corner of the intersecting roads behind my childhood home. I endearingly called this tender retreat "Buzzie's", named after one half of the counterparts who owned the tiny establishment. With coins in hand and summer breezes blowing through my hair...I whipped back and forth between the trees, zig zagging down the hill, through my yard, stopping short of the front door to the corner store. (I only went in the back door when I wasn't a ready customer).
With an energetic shove, the barroom style doors swung open and I burst (or swaggered in...I felt pretty invincible with coins in my hand). Instantly, sights, sounds, and smells engulfed me. At my left, were the individual size bags of potato chips amongst other crunchy munchies. To my right was the freezer chock full of frozen delights. Around the outer walls, various snacks and sundry were stacked high and low on the metal shelving. But my attention was focused on the wall directly in front of me. It held every child's version of heaven...the candy counter. Slowly, I'd bypass the tempting chips and flavorful ice cream to gaze in wonderment at the brightly packaged sweets. Row upon row of candy was neatly stacked in a slightly vertical position... "the better to see you with," I thought rather enviously.
My mouth would utter an automatic greeting to Buzzie and his wife Evelyn. But my mind was already reeling as I tried to make a decision and a torturous one at that.... Candy jingles would run through my head as I perused each eye appealing package.
Such an impossible decision for a girl of eight to make, so I composed my own method for narrowing down my options for the day. Had I eaten any chocolate that day? Had I chewed bubble gum or tangy taffy this week? When's the last time I tasted a peanut butter cup? On and on, I'd mentally list my most recent sucrose splurges. After several moments of mental calculation, Buzzie (or Evelyn) would sit back down with a sigh and tell me to let him/her know when I made up my mind.
Looking at my precious store of coins, I'd tabulate just how many items I could purchase...sometimes quality won over quantity. Sometimes not. With sweets in hand (and no less swagger), I'd bang back out the swinging doors and into the squinting bright sunlight. Taking refuge under a nearby willow tree, I'd eat my way to about ninety seconds of bliss. Wrappers were wadded up and thrown into the rusting burning barrel beside the store. Then home I ran...with a sugar high to propel me forward into an afternoon of bike riding, swimming, and tag.
When I gaze at that same corner plot now occupied by a bi-level home, I wonder how many other childhood constants have disappeared as well? The memories are all fine and good. But how do these same reminiscences effect me as an adult? If I take time to remember, really remember, how it was...I do admit to a mixture of the "warm fuzzies". Still, when I press further, I recognize how much even those bi-weekly trips to the candy store helped shape me. And to be honest, not much important happened while I was there. Sure, Evelyn tried to educate me and my friend Sarah on men and what they were really after... She thought we needed to know. After all, we were in elementary school. Or, Evelyn would have one of us girls be a lookout while the other helped her carry beer into the walk-in cooler. I guess I do recall how significant that particular event was because no liqueur license inspector ever saw us carrying those bottles. Evelyn constantly feared she'd be shut down if we were caught. So...we were careful. Other than that, this ritual of hanging out at the store didn't bring me any life long lessons.
Or did it? I must admit how important consistency and familiarity was to me as a kid. I was a worrier, I worried about this and that...well, everything came under my skeptical scrutiny. I know I was a pain to my mom when I refused to wear shirts with pants that weren't made from the same dye lot. But in my mind, everything had to be just so...it had to be. My world would not work if something didn't "fit"...perfectly.
Today, I look back and laugh. But am I so different now? Maybe the laugh is on me. Don't I continue to drive myself and those around me to create the world of my choosing? I still need order in my life. Hopefully though, when I begin listening to those little compulsive thoughts, I've grown enough to either ignore or refute them. No matter what age we are; life's pressures (both internal and external) will continue to aim stinging darts threatening to deflate our world. Some may cause us to explode like a punctured balloon. Others may inflict us with a slow leak whose tear is imperceptible. Either way, we're losing strength, stamina, (and the heart) needed for growing let alone thriving.
Which makes those poignant memories even more potent. I found childhood sanctuary in knowing some things would never change. Until of course they did. Then my "magical" thinking just lost its allure and a tender shoot of maturity grew in its place. Still, I'd never trade those childhood memories. Even the bittersweet ones. I can't honestly say my days as a youngster were carefree...I think maybe I cared too much. Today, when I see the new bi-level home standing where Buzzie's store used to...I'm not full of regret.
The Corner Store had its purpose, had its time. It helped shaped the lives of many little boys and girls, who like me, would come and buy their own little piece of temporal heaven. My hope is that those same boys and girls are now adults making their corner of the world heavenly by caring about that which lasts in life and doesn't evaporate within ninety seconds of indulging... I wonder, though, how many of us are still sweating over the little things when we've so much to be thankful for? I cannot fret over the "what ifs" of unknown tomorrows and still enjoy today.
Perspective is what I'm aiming for. Perspective and balance. Seeing what matters and thanking God for it. Understanding what isn't worth my time and asking God for the wisdom to walk away. Better still, entreating for insight to make a lasting difference in the lives of the little boys and girls who come to me expecting the sweet blessings of love and acceptance and having them not walking away disappointed.