Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fruit Snacks, Puppies, and Yoga?

Overwhelmed and staring at my to-do list on my MacBook, a Facebook notification slid across the top of the screen, informing me that my daughter updated her status. Clicking through, I giggled at her post. "I just wanna to eat fruit snacks and snuggle puppies."

photo from morguefile
I "liked" it. Betsy is a full-time college student and a teaching assistant. Like me, her days start early and end late. She was obviously overwhelmed before the day even got started.

With the curser blinking on my too-long to-do list, I considered shutting down my laptop, grabbing a super-size box of fruit snacks, an armful of puppies, and heading over to Betsy's apartment.

But then I got to thinking about those puppies. They would attack our fruit snacks. They would need to be let out...often. And even then, at least one would have an accident on the carpet. Betsy would blame me for bringing them over, for the work that didn't get done, and for the stomach ache after eating ninety-five squishy, sugary, fruit-shaped bites.  No puppies. No fruit snacks.

Back to that blinking cursor. Top of the list was, "write blog post."I tapped my fingers on the table, wondering about a theme. A little birdie flew by on the top of my screen.

Feeling #overwhelmed. Need to #relax. Check out my #yogaball video on YouTube.

Oooh! I already had my yoga pants on (versus my pajamas...I was ahead of the game) and my yoga ball was in the basement, next to the three foot-high pile of laundry. Tempted click over to the video and grab my gear, I recalled the last time I used my yoga ball. I was ten years younger. Did I really want to make tomorrow's tweet? #YogaBall #Fails.

Getting back on task and inspired by the theme that repeated across my laptop, I Googled "Overwhelmed Relaxation Inspirational Quote" which led me to a quote from St. Columba:

"My dearest Lord, be though a bright flame before me, be thou a guiding star above me, be thou a smooth path beneath me, today and for evermore."

I shut down the bright screen before me, clicked off the Youtube stars on the task bar above me, and exited the pathways of social media that stole away my time.

Focusing on Christ, I prayed St. Columba's prayer, and spent a few moments with the Lord.

St. Columba knew what he was talking about. The Irish abbot and missionary spread Christianity to Scotland without even a social media platform. Without a page to like, he founded an abbey on the Isle of Iona that became Scotland's influential religious institution for centuries. Without a twitter account, St. Columba was responsible for converting many to Christ and becoming a major Christian influencer.

I knew about St. Columba. A few years ago, my husband and I took a break from our overwhelming lives and electronic devices and spent a few days on the Isle of Iona.
Photo by Holly Michael

Photo by Holly Michael

photo by Holly Michael
On the Isle of Iona, admits the peaceful greenery and sheep, we strolled to Pebble Beach on the other side of the island. A local shop owner told us that pilgrims to the Island like to pick up one of the many round pebbles, ask the Lord for forgiveness of sins and throw the stone into the sea.

After releasing our pebbles that day, my husband and I walked back to our cabin. We spoke about the peace we felt-a kind of peace that only Christ could give.
Isle of Iona 
Whatever social media site led you to Faith, Friends...and Chocolate, thanks for stopping by. I pray this short read reminds you that Christ is the true source for peace in this busy world. Even puppies, fruit snacks, and yoga can't give us the peace that Jesus offers.

Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28 NLT)

Holly Michael enjoyed a writing career as a journalist, features writer, and a regular ghostwriter for a Guideposts magazine before authoring novels and nonfiction books. Married to Anglican Bishop, Leo Michael, Holly has three grown children; daughter Betsy and football-playing sons—Jake (NFL) and Nick (University of Louisiana-Lafayette). Kansas City, Missouri is home and she blogs at www.writingstraight.com
Contact her at www.HollyMichael.com or on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/AuthorHollyMichael  or Twitter: @HollyMichael 
Crooked Lines (Novel) 
True Paths (sequel to Crooked Lines, coming this fall)
First and Goal: What Football Taught me about Never Giving up. (Harvest House, coming this fall)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marcus of Rome: the Resurrection

Read parts one and two of Marcus's story here.

Ancient Jerusalem-
Sunday after Passover

Marcus leaned against the tomb. His eyes were heavy. His watch, the last watch, was almost up. The sky was just the tiniest bit lighter in the east.
He hopped up, paced. He’d fall asleep if he sat any longer. He just needed to get through one more hour. Staring at the sky, he prayed for time to pass faster.
To whom was he praying? He couldn’t answer that.
The Roman gods had never meant much to him, done much for him.
The Man in the tomb was obviously not a god, or He wouldn’t be dead.
So who was left?
Stretching his arms above his head, he locked them together behind his neck. As he thought, ideas chased each other in circles.
It wouldn’t be long now. Might as well wake the others. “Aulus, Gaius, Lucius. Up.” He nudged the sprawled bodies with his sandaled foot. They groaned and sat up, then dragged themselves toward the entrance to the sepulcher.
“I cannot wait to get to my bunk.” Aulus yawned.
“I want a huge cup of spiced wine first,” Gaius added.
Marcus ached to see Flavia again, but he certainly wasn’t going to tell any of them.
A brilliant white light filled the sky with a force so tangible Marcus and his men were knocked down.
Unable to speak or move, he sat among the trees, his weight back on his hands, mouth open.
A figure, clothed in flaming white, placed his hand on the stone and slid it aside as if it were a pebble. The Man walked out of the tomb and down the path out of the garden.
Marcus fell back on the ground, his hands on his head. Oh, the trouble he would be in. He was the commander now. Maybe not officially, but Decimus wasn’t here, and it would be his neck on the block. No one would believe him if he told them what he had seen. At the very least he had let the seal be broken, the body be stolen.
Female voices. No...Who was coming? Heart racing, he smacked his comrades, backed up further into the trees.
Peeking through the leaves, he saw three or four women approach the tomb. One peered inside and talked to the brightly dressed figure, then they all ran away.
“We have to get out of here!” He scrambled for his sword and jumped up. “Let’s go!”
“We have to tell the priests!” Aulus said.
“No one would ever believe this.” Gaius shook his head.
“Of course they would. Isn’t this exactly what they said would happen?” Lucius said.
“Yes, but no one knows it happened but us...” Aulus raised a finger.
“The priests don’t want this known. We could make a lot of coin here.” Lucius grinned.
Marcus backed away. “I’m...I want nothing to do with this.” He left the other three and headed straight for Flavia’s shop. The priests could try to keep this quiet, and they would probably even spread the story that the body was stolen, which would keep him safe from his superiors.
But the truth would get out eventually. Those women knew. 
He knew...what exactly did he know? The Man had been dead. The body had been in that tomb, and now it was gone. That tomb had been sealed, and no one could have stolen it.
The rest? The rest would probably be argued for weeks, maybe years. 
        Of one other thing he was certain. As his centurion had said, the Man he had nailed to the cross was more than just a Man. 
        And soon everyone would know.

He is not here, He is risen, just as He said. 
~Matthew 28:6

If you have any questions about Jesus, and what His death and resurrection mean for you, please feel free to contact me or any of us here at Faith Friends and Chocolate. We'd be delighted to introduce you to Him or just answer any questions you may have. You can also learn more here

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Marcus of Rome: Saturday

Read part one of Marcus's story here.

Ancient Jerusalem-
Passover Saturday

Marcus rolled over onto his stomach, but the shaking persisted.
“Marcus, wake up!”
Why couldn’t he be left alone?
“Marcus!” The voice grew louder.
“Leave me be!”
“Pilate has ordered the squad to report. Now!”
He groaned as he tried to push up onto his elbows. His head throbbed. He’d drunk far too much, far too late last night. But nothing chased the images from his mind.
“Why? Why can't he use one of the other squads?” He managed to push to a sitting position on the side of his bunk.
“It’s about yesterday.”
A weight settled on his shoulders as he looked into Aulus’s eyes. Why wasn’t this over?
He stood and pulled on his tunic, then his sandals. He grabbed the rest of his armor and gear and dressed as he exited the barrack of the Antonia Fortress. The late afternoon sun bore down on his back as they followed Gaius and Lucius toward the Praetorium.
“Where’s Decimus?”
Gaius scoffed. “No one’s seen him since we left yesterday. You’re senior officer. Guess that leaves you in charge.”
Perfect. He resisted asking why they’d been summoned. He’d rather not know until he had to.
They reached the portico, and one of the imperial guards asked for the commander. “He’s…occupied. He left me in charge.”
The guard glared at him momentarily, then escorted him inside.
Pilate dismissed a pair of servants then approached, along with several members of the Jewish ruling council. “The Jewish leaders have informed me that this Jesus’s followers heard Him say He would rise again on the third day.”
Marcus raised a brow. “He is most assuredly dead. I speared Him myself.”
 “They believe He may rise from the dead.” Pilate beckoned an attendant, who handed him a seal with Pilate’s insignia along with a flaxen bag. “You know His body. Make sure it’s there, then seal the tomb and have it guarded until tomorrow.”
Marcus trudged out to the rest of the squad, waiting on the portico. “We have to guard the tomb of the Man Jesus tonight. The Jewish leaders are afraid His followers will steal His body.”
Groans from the others.
Once again, they headed out of town, trailing the religious leaders. Once they reached the tomb, the four rolled the out of the groove in front of the opening, no small feat. Marcus and Aulus checked the Man’s body.
He stood before the waiting robed men. “I can attest to you that this is in fact, Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified yesterday.”
The men scowled. “Seal it up.”
The soldiers took a rope and stretched it across the stone. Gaius melted some wax and dripped it onto one end of the rope, then Marcus stamped the seal into it. They did the same on the other side. He looked to the leaders for approval.
With an almost negligible nod, they turned and left. Another squad arrived within moments. Marcus turned the tomb over to their commanded. “We’ll take the last watch.”
Maybe Flavia would be around, and maybe she would forgive him for not showing up yesterday. He wandered down the main road through the center of town looking for the perfumery she tended.
Ah, there. He slipped into the alley. Best to check that her brother wasn’t there first. He crept around the corner, along the wall to the doorway. Poked just the top of his head into the shop. No Flavius. He took a tentative step inside. The sound of her sweet voice reached him. She must be in the back.
He tiptoed into the workroom and found her with her back to him, mixing a batch of scent. He crept behind her and slipped his arms around her waist and muzzled her neck.
She jumped, squealing. “Marcus! What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you.”
She smacked his arm. “I'm angry with you. Where were you last night?”
The gloom from yesterday crashed down on him so hard he nearly stumbled.
“Marcus, are you all right?” She placed her hands on his chest.
He drew her to him. The warmth of her almost erased his gloom.
“What happened? Can you tell me about it?”
“When are you done here?”
“Octavia will arrive any moment, but don’t let her see you. My brother will hear about us. Wait at the oak tree outside the gate.”
He kissed her and ducked out of the shop.
Under the tree, he leaned back, reviewed the events of yesterday yet again.
As a member of a specialized team of five, he’d been part of many crucifixions. The Romans handed out executions as easily as the rich handed out alms. But almost always, slaves and pirates were the ones nailed on a cross. Those guilty of high treason. Roman citizens were usually exempt from this death considered so repugnant, so humiliating, so “atrociously cruel,” that Cicero said no Roman should even think about it.
Marcus himself had crucified—how many? Too many. He was part of the quaternio—the team of four that actually carried out the crucifixions. They were fast and efficient. He planned to be the next exactor mortis, as soon as Decimus retired. His grandfather was an exactor mortis. His was one of the squads that executed 6,000 of Spartacus’s rebellious slaves nearly 100 years ago. His grandfather said crosses lined the Appian Way for 130 miles.
It was in Marcus’s blood.
So why, then, did this one bother him so much?
Less than half an hour later, Flavia joined him. She brought a blanket and food. After spreading the fabric over the grass and setting out the food, she asked again about the events of yesterday.
He crossed his feet at the ankles and told her about the trial and the march to the execution site. “The others kept gambling and drinking. I’m usually right there with them. Watching men slowly suffocate, even slaves, is not something to do sober. But the wine just…soured in my stomach. So I sat and watched the Man. One time our eyes met, and I actually felt a chill crawl through my body. But I couldn’t look away. It was as if He could look right into my soul.”
She placed her hand on his cheek. “Are you sure you want to tell me this?”
He nodded. “At midday the sky darkened, as black as ink on parchment.” He shivered at the memory. “I moved closer to Him so I could see clearly. An hour later He cried out, but His words were hard to understand. I’ve picked up a good amount of Aramaic in my time here, but His chest was so compressed and contorted…. Clearly he was troubled, calling for someone.
“Decimus came over. He said, ‘The gods are not happy. He does not appear to be like the men we usually see, does He?’”
Popping a few grapes in his mouth as the memories rolled over him, he tried to allow his mind to sort them out before he continued.
“By this time the crowds had disappeared. The mockers had gone. A few women and one man were left. Then He cried out again. ‘It is finished! Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.’ I wasn’t really sure what He meant by that. Or who He meant by Father. But before I could think about it, the ground beneath us rumbled. I was about to lose my balance, and I grabbed Decimus’s arm. The earth shook so violently I thought it would open up beneath me. Decimus fell to his knees and shouted, ‘This must be the Son of God!’”
Flavia laughed.
Marcus nodded. “He’d had a lot of wine by then.” He wouldn’t admit it to her, but though he wouldn’t say the Man was a god, He did seem to be more than just a man.
“Then a messenger came from Pilate. Since Decimus was in no condition to receive him, I talked to him. The Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies remaining there for their holiest days, so Pilate ordered us to hasten their deaths. Which was not a problem. I was more than glad to get this one over and done with.”
She ran her hands through his hair and along his cheeks. “It’s over now, and you can relax.” She placed a chunk of cheese on a plate, along with another cluster of green grapes and an apple, then snuggled against his chest. “Will you finally get a few days off? It’s been so long since we’ve had some time together.”
He winced. “I have to stand watch tonight at the tomb.”
She bolted upright. “What? Whatever for?”
“Pilate’s afraid someone will steal the body.”
She sighed. “When do you have to go?”
He pulled her closer, grinning. “Not till early morning.”
At any rate, by the end of watch tomorrow morning, this should be over. Then he would never have to hear the name of Jesus of Nazareth again.

Join Marcus for the last portion of his story tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As Far as the East From the West

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

I’d done it again.

The one thing I’d promised God I wouldn’t do. I had great intentions, but my follow-through record was less than stellar. I hated to go to my heavenly Father once more and confess the same old thing.

I know, in my head, that God promises to always forgive us when we sin. All we have to do is ask. I know the scriptures that promise again and again that’s He’s gracious and filled with mercy. But I couldn’t help be worry that my continual stumbling in this one area might strain even His patience.

Before I started my prayer time, I opened my Bible. I always try to be on a reading plan, because it keeps me on track. But today I just flipped through the pages, more to avoid the prayer of forgiveness needed to be said, than to really find an answer.

But answer He did, in Psalm 103:12. He has taken our sins away from us as far as the east is from west.

As I stared at the verse, I felt the beginning of peace. I was able to continue with my prayer time and move forward. But in the back of my mind, that verse lingered. It seemed like an odd verse, using two compass points. I wondered why those two? Why not north from south?

I discovered the answer, and it’s intimately tied to the physical world that God created for us.

When a person is standing near the North Pole and walks north, the instant they hit the very most northern tip of the earth and take one more step, they are now traveling south.

BUT when a person begins at a point on our earth and begins walking east, even if they circumvent the entire globe, they are always walking east. To walk west, they must turn around and begin walking in the opposite direction.

God is like walking east. He is always true to His word and never reverses Himself or turns around and goes the opposite direction. We know He’s trustworthy and we can trust Him not to remember our sins.

This insight has given me so much peace. I hate to stumble again and again over the same thing. But I no longer fear going to God, confessing and asking forgiveness.

How about you? How have you found peace in God’s willingness to forgive over and over again? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Edie Melson—author, editor, and blogger—is a leading professional within the writing industry, as well as a popular inspirational speaker and mentor. She writes for military families and veterans. Her first book is Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle. Her second, from Worthy Inspired is While My Soldier Serves: Prayers for Those with Loved Ones in the Military  and debuts in May, 2015. She’s also the military family blogger for Guideposts at While They Serve.

Her popular blog for writers, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. She’s the Social Media Mentor at My Book Therapy, the Social Media Director for Southern Writers Magazine, as well as the Senior Editor for NovelRocket.com. Connect on Twitter and Facebook.