Called To Write 2014 – I’ll be learning and presenting


The countdown is on to my favorite writers conference. Called To Write Conference will be here in about seven weeks.

Called To Write was the first writers conference I ever attended and as I go back year after year, it keeps getting better. It’s where I first met Julane and Sara and Kathy and other writers who I love to connect with each year.

The conference will be April 3-5 in Pittsburg, Kan. Julane and her chapter have managed to line up some world-class presenters. Best-selling Christian authors Janice Hanna Thompson and Kristen Heitzman will be leading several classes. The other presenters include Kathy and myself. I’ll be teaching on writing for newspaper and I’m quite looking forward to it.

Besides the wonderful classes, the Called To Write conference focuses on a writer’s calling to serve God and minister to others through the written word. It is an amazing value for just $70.

If you’ve ever thought about being a writer, you will not find a more affordable, uplifting, instructive conference than this one. Please consider going – if you haven’t signed up al ready! Click here to register.

I’ll see you there!


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High rollers at the cattle auction


The crowd at the United Producers sale barn on Saturday. Notice the dog at the left.

The crowd at United Producers in Maryville, Mo., on Saturday. Notice the dog sitting at the left.

The air in the sale barn was filled with more than the aroma of cattle. A sense of anticipation hung over the crowd and a sort of energy as they took seats early, eager to see just what would happen.

The cattle market is – in the words of one analyst – crazy. Drought and an early freeze have caused the smallest herd of beef cattle in many years. As a result, prices for all kinds of cattle are at record highs. I went to visit my dad on Saturday and tagged along when he went to the cow sale at the sale barn near home.

The auctioneer calls out bids. The sign at top shows they sold for $2,500 each.

The auctioneer calls out bids. The sign at top shows they sold for $2,500 each.

Dad had sold a few calves recently, receiving the highest price he’d ever gotten for a calf. In true farmer fashion, he wanted to put the money back into buying more mother cows to have more calves.

Fifteen minutes before sale time, the curved benches of the sale arena started filling up. Nodody wanted to miss this because it felt like just about anything could happen. I sat among those hard-working men who were dressed in brown duck coveralls and muddy boots and thought of a recent visit with a crop farmer. He said you had to be an optimist in this business, otherwise you’d never put seed in the ground.

There was a lot of optimism at the sale barn and it became clear I was rubbing elbows with some high-stakes gamblers. In a matter of minutes, one man spent $137,000 on 55 head of Red Angus heifers. I overheard one guy on his cell phone, I imagine talking to his wife, say: “They’re high. It’s scary.” But his tone suggested it was nothing he couldn’t handle.

There was also this row of adorable future farmers.

Learning young

Learning young

The last cow of the sale, a nice three-year-old black Angus cross, was bought by an eternal optimist – 94-year-old Hugh Mires of Maryville.

It also inspired me to do something I’ve never tried before. I uploaded this video to You Tube. If you’ve never heard a livestock auction, it’s interesting to hear how the high rollers do business. If you have been to a sale, you’ll enjoy the familiar cadence.

PS SmallI was very careful not to scratch my nose for fear I’d bid and spend a year’s salary. You could say that I’m all hat and no cattle, until I can work up the nerve to join the high rollers.


True in 2014


“The 22 Most Embarassing Pages of the 1990 JCPenney Christmas Catalog” might be an unlikely place to find my inspirational thought for 2014, but there it was.

penney sweaterI was giggling at the acid washed jeans and turtlenecks. Then this picture came up and suddenly, it felt like 1990 again and I was in high school.

This sweater – or something like it – was my dream. Pretty, soft and pastel. Girls who wore sweaters like that were beautiful. The kind of girls who styled their hair and had boyfriends and went to homecoming. Not girls like me, who had frizzy red hair, who lived on a farm and rode the bus to school, who’s big social engagement was youth group at church.

That pretty pink sweater – I was convinced if only I had that, it would make me happy. But look at it now, nothing more than a joke on the internet.

I have been thinking about how easy it is to be deceived by lies, to become convinced that the lies are true. This book I reviewed spurred my thinking. Sometimes, people take drastic steps – make life-changing decisions – because they believe something that’s not true.

A few days ago as I surfed through Facebook, looking at everyone’s Chritmas pictures, I was feeling pretty bummed. If only this or that were different…

But then I clicked on that funny link and it made me think. What if “this or that” would no more meet my heart’s desire than an aqua-colored sweater would? What if I measure every thought that I take into my heart and only accept what is true? What if I make decisions and live every day based on what is eternally true?

True – that is my word for 2014. And how to know what’s true? Check out this verse featured in Our Daily Bread on Dec. 30: The one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then He said to me “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

Jesus said that He is the truth. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time with my Bible in 2014. Learning and believing what is TRUE.

Happy 2014!

Christmas Dipping


Making Christmas cookies and treats is just about my favorite thing of the season.

I’m baking things for my family and the office Christmas party on Tuesday. Saturday, I also had the chance to bake cookies for Jesus. Several years ago, some ladies in our church started a ministry to give plates of cookies to prisoners at the county jail. Many of the prisoners have written thank you notes. For these men and women who are at the lowest point in their life, to know someone thought of them  and cared enough to make homemade cookies really meant a lot.

This year, I felt compelled to share with them. Nothing fancy, just brownies and dipped pretzels (a personal favorite). And as I cooked, I prayed for the prisoners, that they would not just have a treat, but know Christ, who came to set the captives free.

almond barkWhen I opened the almond bark (What a strange name! I checked the ingredients, there is no almond or no bark in it.) I was delighted to discover that great innovations had been made in packaging. Instead of one solid brick that requires a hammer to break, it was packaged in a tray in neat little chunks, making it easy to select just what you need.

Almond bark is Christmas tradition. What is your favorite thing to dip in it?

Happy baking and dipping!

Hot Christmas Chili Peppers


My gardening philosophy is to always plant a chili pepper – because it will always grow. Even in the hottest, driest years, you can count on an abundant crop.


Hot Christmas!

This year, I tried something I’ve wanted to for a long time. I planted a chili in a pot on the front porch. It worked great to add some color and “spice.”

When fall hit, the little pepper was still going to town. I didn’t have the heart to let it freeze, so along with the geranium, inside it moved.

It’s still blooming and putting on peppers.

Considering temperatures dipped below zero last week and Sunday we got a few inches of snow, this little pepper is doing great.

Feliz Navidad!


Abiline – the prettiest little town


saddlesThis weekend was a special treat. I got to visit writer friend Sara Meisinger. As part of our fun-filled stay, she took me to Abilene, Kan., a little town abounding in history and character.

I was especially interested in the town’s shoot-em-up days of the cattle drives, when former Pony Express wrangler Wild Bill Hickock served as town marshall. We walked around downtown and these saddles were displayed in one shop window.

ikeWe visited a great local museum and took a walk around the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, where his boyhood home stands. After we got home, we stayed up late talking about the novels we’re writing and dreaming up ways to add some of this setting to the stories.

The song is right; Abilene is a pretty little town.

But my two favorite things about Kansas are my friends who live there.

And the sunsets.

kansas sunset2

Wife of jailed pastor in Iran stands for Jesus


naghmeh abedini

Naghmeh Abedini addressing the Missouri Baptist Convention in Kansas City.
Photo by The Pathway

KANSAS CITY – Naghmeh Abedini does not know if she will see her husband alive again. She is well aware that he may die inside the brutal Iranian prison where he has been held for over a year because of his faith in Christ.

Yet she assured messengers at the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting, Oct. 28-30, that she is not scared.

“You can’t fake this peace,” she said in a clear, confident voice. “It’s only found in a relationship with Christ. The dying world does not have that.”

I had the privilege of covering Mrs. Abedini’s appearance as a reporter for the Missouri Baptist Pathway. Having followed the news of her husband’s capture, I was struck by how young she is to be thrust in the midst of an international debate. She said one of her greatest challenges has been suddenly becoming a single parent and trying to explain to her two young children where their daddy is.

But the most striking thing about this beautiful young woman is her unrelenting faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Her testimony has pierced my heart.

Mrs. Abedini addressed the convention briefly Tuesday morning and then shared in-depth with women at the Ministry Wives Luncheon. (Watch the video here.) Born in Iran and raised in the United States, Mrs. Abedini said that she has always experienced some form of persecution since she was saved at age 9.

After her husband Saeed Abedini—an American-Iranian pastor whom she met while on a mission trip—was arrested for being a Christian, she reluctantly gained an immense platform. The campaign “Save Saeed” has garnered worldwide attention. As a result, she has been able to lead atheists and Muslims to Christ. She marveled that, as a young housewife, she addressed the United Nations in Geneva where 196 nations were represented.

Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini and their children.

Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini and their children.

“I told them the solution they’re all looking for to the world’s problems is Jesus Christ,” she said.

Mrs. Abedini’s boldness follows an experience in 2009 when she and her husband were arrested in Iran. An interrogator promised to release her if she said she was a Muslim. But if she professed to be a Christian, she would be tortured in prison. Fear threatened to overwhelm her in that moment.

“Is Jesus Christ that real to me? That I would go through torture and rape?” she remembers thinking. “He gave me the strength to say ‘I am a Christian.’”

Then, when her husband was interrogated, he told the captor about Jesus. “Saeed was never turned off by radicals,” she said. “He believed they were blinded and always tried to reach them for Christ.”

The man released the couple and her perspective on life changed forever. “The Lord taught me that our time on earth is in God’s hands,” Mrs. Abedini said. “Even through this, I’m not scared. I know my life is not in the hands of the Iranian government or radicals. I should have been killed years ago.”

Even so, her husband’s imprisonment has been very trying, especially for their two young children. “My whole life changed when he was taken,” she said. “Everything was taken from me, all my security.”

Mrs. Abedini’s uncle was executed in Iran’s Evin Prison, where Saeed is held. Saeed has been beaten several times and some of those who were arrested with him have died. Last week, his family learned that Saeed has been moved to an even more dangerous prison in Iran. His life is in immediate danger.

Even so, Mrs. Abedini has learned, as the Apostle Paul wrote, how to take pleasure in these circumstances.

“Don’t run from suffering. Allow it to show how weak you are,” she said. And in doing so, find freedom by falling into the arms of Christ. She urged the women at the ministry luncheon to surrender to the Lord. “He’s waiting for you as a woman to learn to let go. When you submit to God, He uses your life to reach the nations.”

Mrs. Abedini asked for prayers—for strength as she is serving in the public eye and for her two young children, to pray for Saeed to be released from prison soon and to pray for doors to be opened to the gospel. During his time in prison, Saeed has led 30 men to Jesus, and Abedini has been able to witness to the wives, some of whom have been saved.

“I can’t take any credit for it,” she said. “I hope you can see that it’s all Jesus. It’s all the power of Jesus.”

Learn more about Save Saeed or follow on Facebook

No new sweaters!


Just when I thought all the summer clothes were packed away and the winter clothes arranged in the closet – What is this? A whole other box of sweaters? Say it ain’t so!

As I “turned” the closet this fall, I was forced to face the warm reality: I have a lot of clothes. Especially sweaters. Even with regular purgings to send outcasts to the donation box, the drawers overflow. The issue has become especially apparent as winter clothes are bulkier than summer T-shirts and shorts.

An idea had been forming in my mind that firmed up today when I found that extra box – which included some cute bargains Kathy Gronau and I picked up on an impulse shopping spree during the Called To Write Conference. (As far as anyone else knows, we were working on our manuscripts.)

The truth is I have plenty to wear. The plan: Make it through the entire winter season without buying any new clothes.

It sounds easy, but I am well aware of my weaknesses. When passing through Sam’s Club, I always drop by those tables with tops on them. Bargains prove almost irresistable - passing up a cute dress for $7 would not be wise stewardship, I rationalize. Getting ready for work each morning becomes more fun if there’s a new outfit to look forward to.

After consulting with a friend, she pointed out how it is good to have something new each year to keep up to date, so I’m going to allow myself two new purchases.

I can already tell this is going to be tough. On the other hand, I’m excited about some of the other things I might be able to buy if the clothing budget is slashed to zero. (Obviously, I still have a ways to go to overcome my consumption habits.)

Susie-4028-EditPS 72Any advice on how to stick with the plan?

~ Susie

(Get used to seeing me in this sweater, because I won’t be getting any new ones for awhile.)

Football, forgiveness and fooling ourselves: Why our cries for justice ring hollow


My hometown has received national attention this week in tragic circumstances. As I follow the situation with a heavy heart, I realize this essay I wrote a year ago is very relevant.

Let’s just say it never happened.

Feel better now?

The NCAA ruled that more than some 100 football games Penn State played over the last 14 years essentially didn’t happen. How this is supposed to make up for sexual abuse against children, I do not understand.

The ruling is a convoluted stab at justice that reveals something about our culture. We’re intent on constructing barriers in an effort to insulate ourselves from the consequences of sexual sin. Yet we’re fooling ourselves as we ignore the behaviors and attitudes destroying us from the inside out.

Creating monsters

The NCAA, like all of us, is trying to say that they wish the abuse had never occurred. But since they can’t change that, they’ll try to make it seem like the football games weren’t played.

A statue is shrouded and removed from Penn State earlier this year.

We have a responsibility to protect children and administer justice to abusers, no doubt about it. In this effort, we paint sex abusers as the most vile of all creatures. We’re convinced that an abuser must be rotten to the core and incapable of ever doing anything good, like winning a football game. So evil, it would be obvious who they were. They could never be a neighbor or Sunday school teacher or family member, this thinking suggests.

It’s a dangerous step, because it blinds us to the reality that the capacity to commit sexual sin resides within each of us. Most of us will never, ever cross that line. The line, however, keeps getting blurrier under a haze of sexualized messages that barrage us daily.

Our courts, goaded by state legislators, take a hard line on child molesters. At a recent sentencing involving a religious leader, the judge said someone who covered up crimes allowed “monsters … to destroy the souls of children.”

This is a black-and-white stance in the courtroom, but here in the real world it’s more like “50 Shades of Grey” as the explicit book is a best seller, pornography is piped into every home and nudity is depicted on network television. Sleeping together on the first date is thought to be “no big deal” while waiting for marriage is so rare it’s considered freakish.

Not a chance

In this hyper-sexualized culture, it seems children hardly stand a chance. The church’s plea for purity is drowned out as hopelessly outdated. Many Christians, I expect, are reluctant to speak out because they feel they’ve failed in this area in the past. Yet, it is only in holding to the truth that we can truly protect the innocent from those who seek to destroy their soul.

We are right to be grieved for the boys who were abused at Penn State; they carry the scars all their lives. Yet I find myself thinking about the ordinary students at that college and many others. How many of them bear lifetime scars because of “casual sex.” The consequences of sexual sin don’t stop when a person turns 18, no matter what we’ve fooled ourselves into believing.

As someone who as has never been married, I know that it’s one thing to be disciplined in behavior, yet another altogether to be pure in heart. Our church teaching should emphasize the gifts that chastity and restraint offer for people in all stages of life. Purity isn’t old-fashioned, it’s the light for our future.

One thing the NCAA ruling does get right is that sexual sin doesn’t just affect one person. The effect ripples out to a whole community. The football penalty actually impacts students the most, taking away 10 scholarships among other things. Children and the innocent suffer when vows are deemed unnecessary, when the sacred is treated as disposable and when children are considered an unfortunate byproduct of recreational activity.

Which is easier?

In my toddler Sunday school class, we recently studied the paralyzed man who was carried to Jesus by his friends. Jesus saw his physical problem, but also the greater need of his heart and said, “Sons, your sins are forgiven.”

Then Jesus reads the thoughts of the Pharisees and asks which is easier: to make a man walk or to forgive his sins? To prove his point, Jesus then heals him and the man stands up – his legs whole, his heart healed.

Those words have echoed in my mind many times this week. What is easier: To take away football wins, or to take away sins?

The NCAA doesn’t have the power to forgive. Our problems won’t be solved by taking away football wins or issuing longer sentences for convicted abusers. Until we look beyond obvious crimes to see that pornography and promiscuity cause deep wounds will we be able to rise up and walk.

Sexual sins have broken many lives. God has the power to forgive sins and to heal our hearts.

As we, the people of God, go forth in the beauty of purity, may our chastity and restraint transform the very core of our culture.

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