Abiline – the prettiest little town

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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.

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Wife of jailed pastor in Iran stands for Jesus

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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!

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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

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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.

If I were a pioneer

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Fun week here on Pages From Stages! We each must imagine we had to live in a different time period.

My choice is an easy one – I’d be an American pioneer.

Since childhood – when I tried to make my bedroom look like a log cabin and I sewed long skirts for my Barbie dolls – I’ve been captivated by the frontier spirit. I would love to be part of settling a wild land and growing the nation.

Several years ago I read the book Pioneer Women which is a compilation of letters that settlers wrote to family back home.

These letters detail hardships that I never imagined, but also the great pride these women had in their endeavor. It drove home the critical role women played on the frontier of the United States. I think early pioneers survived only because of the sheer determination of these ladies not to let their families starve or freeze to death.

Another thing about settlers that I admire is their sense of community. They all pulled together for barn raisings and threshings at harvest. And I love the clothes, especialy the gloves, but not so much the bonnets and corsets.

PS Small
Would I have had the stuff it takes to survive on the frontier? I’ll never know, but it is fun to imagine.

~Susan

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Vintage green Crock Pot cooks up pork chops and rice

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Ain’t she a beaut?

My best Crock Pot - It just won't stop!

My best Crock Pot – It just won’t stop!

My mom had a Crock Pot just like this, in all its green glory. My dad bought this particular one at a farm sale. I snagged it because this size is perfect for cooking for one person. New styles of slow cookers are larger. They’re also complicated. Look at the simple beauty of this thing – one button, two settings. This appliance is still working great and will probably outlast me.

I’m looking forward to reading my fellow bloggers recipes this week because using a slow cooker is so convenient for a working gal, though I find I don’t have many ideas. Here’s a recipe I “discovered” one Sunday morning when I needed to come up with dinner for company.

Pork Chops and Rice

4 pork chops
1 cup rice, uncooked
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cups water

Pour rice into crock pot. Sprinkle with 1/2 onion soup mix. Place pork chops over rice. Pour mushroom soup over all. Sprinkle remaining onion soup mix over all. Add water.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

It’s a Crock Pot, not a rocket booster – you can just throw it all in there in any order. Of course, you can also use cream of chicken or cream of celery soup.

Did you have an avocado green Crock Pot?

Still got one?

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St. Joseph Downtown Library

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We’re talking about libraries and librarians this week and I’d like to show you around the St. Joseph Downtown Library. In a town full of neat old buildings, I think it’s one of the coolest.

 This photo shows the front lobby and circulation desk.

library lobby

Photo: St. Joseph Public Library

And here’s the view from the top of the skylight: Too cool!

Photo: St. Joseph Museum

Photo: St. Joseph Museum

I used to work just a block from the library and sometimes on lunch break I’d slip over to the reference room to read or browse books. My favorite part is the book balcony. The balcony filled with “stacks” is visible as you enter the lobby. And the floor is made of glass!

Photo: St. Joseph Public Library

Photo: St. Joseph Public Library

With my Kindle electronic reader, I don’t go to the library as much as I used to, but this summer I went to the kids section to check out some Laura Ingalls Wilder books. It was like visiting an old friend and we picked up right where we’d left off.

And when I needed photos taken, the Downtown Library was the perfect place for this writer.

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Photo: Ginger Mathes Photography

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The best writers conference I never went to

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I’m enjoying the Stitches Thru Time blog. I have the Monday Musings devotional today. I’ve found it especially timely for myself, so I’m sharing it here too.

Do you feel the excitement in the air? The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) annual conference begins Thursday in Indianapolis. I am looking forward to seeing friends and connecting with fellow writers.

Participating in a conference is an invaluable experience for a writer. But one of the best conferences was the one I DIDN’T go to.

In 2009, Becky Yauger was vice president and also staying home because of health reasons. She offered to lead some online discussions through the email loop for those of us who were stuck at home.

And boy, did I feel stuck!

A career change earlier in the year had failed to live up to expectations. I spent most of my days in an office all alone. Finances were tight. A relationship was unraveling. Paths that had seemed so promising had turned into dead ends.

road-ahead-G-Gawne-KelnarIn the midst of all this frustration, the dream of writing a novel seemed frivolous. I questioned if I should give up those ambitions for something serious. Something useful.

As Becky prepared us for the online “conference,” I decided to set aside those days in September to do something I’d never done before – a time of dedicated praying about writing. The Lord touched my heart during those four days four years ago in such a way it has guided my writing ever since.

Last year, I shared a little bit of that experience on the ACFW loop. Becky immediately emailed back to tell how much the conference-that-wasn’t-a-conference had meant to her as she recovered. She had no idea that it had helped anyone else. When we bumped into each other in the elevator in Dallas, we shared warm hugs and deep conversation.

I’m excited to go to Indianapolis this week. And overwhelmed and wondering what on earth I’m doing. But in those doubts, I think back to a dreary day in 2009. What I was convinced was a dead end had actually led right to God. Becky had been willing to serve the Lord even through her difficult circumstances, which blessed me immeasurably. It makes me realize sometimes I am called to minister through the yucky places to help someone else.

Whether you’re going to conference or feeling “stuck” in some way, I pray you’ll discover God’s leading. Perhaps He has us right where He wants us after all.

“The Lord will work out His plans for my life – for your faithful love, O Lod, endures forever.” Psalm 138:8

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For Labor Day – The best career advice I received

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The cow has four stomachs, I explained to my mom, and proceeded to describe the functions of each one. She patiently listened, then said, “You need to start taking some journalism classes.”

What she didn’t say – but clearly conveyed – was that it was time to think about what I would do for a job after graduation. While majoring in agriculture was certainly worthwhile, Mom knew better than anyone where my talents would best be utilized.

The next semester of my sophomore year at Northwest Missouri State University, I signed up for Introduction to Mass Media, discovering what Mom knew all along. I liked being a journalist. My first job out of college – and the next two after that – were at newspapers.

My present career as director of communications at the Agri-Business Expo Center allows for a perfect blend of my agriculture background and journalism experience. Knowing the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum has come in handy or time or two (such as while playing Scrabble), while newspapers and writing have put food on the table.

As we observe Labor Day, I’m very thankful for Mom’s career counseling.

 

 What’s your best career advice?

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Guest post on Petticoats and Pistols

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How excited am I to be hanging out with “the fillies” on the Petticoats and Pistols blog today.

I got to share about St. Joe – where the West officially started getting wild.

Pony Express headquarters inside the Patee House in St. Joe, MO.

Pony Express headquarters inside the Patee House in St. Joe, MO.

Stop on by the blog and see what you would add to the highlight reel for St. Joe. (Or if you agree with my description of Kansas!)

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