My intent all week long was to pop by with a blog post to update everyone on the latest goings-on at the farm. (We have a house chicken now - that demands an update.) But, per usual, the week slipped by without a peep. (Ha - did you catch that?) In the mean time, I'm thrilled to welcome Jim McNeely to my blog. He's an author, a pastor, a former magician, a musician... if ever there was someone with a unique skill set to make the world a better place, he's the man.
Jim's new book, Grace in Community: Real Life Grace from the Book of 1 John, is now available on Amazon. Enjoy getting to know Jim and how he uses his talents to share the message placed on his heart. ~Heather
My wife and I are musicians, and one of our favorites songs to perform is “God bless the Broken Road” made popular by Rascal Flatts. It has been a broken road, but it led me straight to Jesus. He really does cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
I came to Christ before we were married the summer after I graduated from High School, and through the help of a small local house church I dived deeply into a heavy discipline of study in the scriptures. I began my habit at that time of going very very slowly and deeply through a single book of the Bible, carefully observing and asking my own questions and reading everything I could find on the text in question. My book "Grace in Community: Real Life Grace from the Book of 1 John” is truly just an extension of this very long standing habit. I’ve never been as good at those year reading plans; it never soaks in like slow study for me.
I remember when I first met Betty, I was pretty much of the “bachelor until rapture” mindset. We met at a Christian coffee house where i was playing some songs I had written. She wanted to get together, and I said, let’s meet at 6 AM to study Romans together. I was such a romantic! Unbelievably, she showed up and we started plowing through the book of Romans. The next summer we were the only believers in a program at the university which housed troubled youth. I was smitten with her because she has this constant joy that never seems to stop. To this day I am in complete awe of her easy and wonderful relationship with God!
After four years (the delay was all me!) we got married. I remember that year we drove from Denton (DFW area) Texas to the Grand Canyon four times! What a crazy year! I was working as the city puppeteer at the Denton Public Library, and soon Betty was pregnant! I had to get a real job, and after a dismal failure at a sign factory (which felt like prison), I started doing children’s entertainment at daycares and schools, doing children’s songs we wrote, magic tricks, and storytelling. I did that for about 12 years! I was averaging around 30 shows a week, and even more during holidays. Adult crowds are easy to capture after learning to seize and control a roomful of five-year-olds! To this day I know how to project my voice, position myself on a stage, and pace a performance so I don’t lose anyone. I’ve yet to see anyone fall asleep in one of my sermons!
During that time I began working on a database to manage my entertainment business, and I started getting so interested in the database that I changed careers and went into database development. For a time I worked for a database consultancy, and then I went on my own and started my own custom enterprise software development company. We ended up with clients like Washington Mutual and Lockheed Martin and American Airlines doing large projects. I learned a lot about marketing ephemeral things like custom systems that didn’t even exist yet, and I learned to manage teams of people that were very smart and gifted. One of my employees went on to work at Sandia National Laboratory doing some kind of massive parallel computing with nuclear simulations. It was a great time but also a stressful time. Big corporate projects may be exciting to start, but they are, to say the least, often stressful to complete. It is not easy to carry a team of talented and expensive people and keep them constantly and consistently working and profitable without overloading them. Further, there was tremendous stress in my personal life which was probably linked to the number of hours I was working.
So I laid off everyone, shut the doors on the business, and took a job in Bellingham WA with a group of radiologists. I worked in a basement rescuing an old home-brewed database system and linking it with other medical systems, and all of this was a frequent if not daily challenge. The database itself crashed countless times and had to be reinstated flawlessly with people’s precious medical data. I worked there for 7 years until they purchased a nice standardized system and laid off much of the IT support for the older systems. It was during this time that I started my writing ministry at thereforenow.com and began writing The Romance of Grace.
All of this laid the foundation for my entry into ministry. I have been a serious believer for over 30 years, with an obvious call to full time ministry. I resisted the call because I thought that someone had to be a serious believer and work in the secular world, and that someone would be me! Also, I felt that I was too sinful and brash for vocational ministry. I probably am to sinful and brash! However, after 30 years, we’ve started a church in Lynden WA called Bread and Wine Fellowship, and I’ve published two Christian books which now have readers all over the world! I think that if I had not been a children’s entertainer, i would not have such a love for the children in our church and I would not understand how to grab the attention of people when I teach. I also think that if Betty and I had not run a business for all those years, we would not know how to think about running a church logistically. As well, if I had not labored for 7 years in a basement at a job I disliked, I don’t think I would understand the kinds of stress and disappointment that people experience in their careers and lives.
So it has been a broken road that has led me to this point. Our personal struggles and life challenges have all come together to forge a compassion and love of grace and mercy that have become the cornerstone of our ministry. I think most people are well aware of how far they’ve fallen short of glory, but they have not heard the good news forcefully pressed that there is a strong and unbreakable love which God bestows as a gift by His grace through Jesus that trumps everything. That is what we are excited to offer in our ministry, and it is really the central point of all of my writing. God, in Christ, truly loves us no matter what. He offers us unconditional and unbreakable love, if only we say yes to Him. This is the message of the cross, the message of the gospel, and the core message of the church for the last 2000 years. We are very excited to repeat this to our generation in a fresh way.
I love this time of year. There's something in the air when kiddos go back to school. Maybe it's the hint of fall, the promise of football games, or the reams of paper waiting to be filled with knowledge, but this time of year stirs my soul. It also makes me want to curl up with a good book.
In celebration of my favorite time of year, I'm offering a sale on autographed copies of my books, while supplies last. Here's the deal: I have a few copies of Waiting for You for $10, and several of my older titles for $7 each. I even have a handful of books that are slightly damaged from my move that I'm offering for $4. Shipping is $2.50 per book. Payment via Paypal. Offer good in the U.S. only.
Email me with questions or your order. Sale ends 9/1/14 or when I run out of books!
It seems the entire world is getting crankier by the day. Not to oversimplify the world's problems, but we seem to have lost the ability to get along, to love each other. Now more than ever, the world needs grace - grace from God and to show grace to each other.
Jim McNeely writes for Vox Dei, the Christian imprint of Booktrope. So I'm probably a little partial, but I think he shares that message of grace in a way few others can. I read his book Romance of Grace right before Vacation Bible School at our church. I found myself quoting it more than once that week, and every single person responded the same. From the five-year-olds to the 75-year-olds, people always got tears in their eyes when they realized just how loved they were.
Jim's new book, Grace in Community: Real-Life Grace from the Book of 1 John, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Where his first book showed us just how much we were loved by God, this one examines how extending that love to each other changes everything.
Jim's a multi-talented guy, fascinatingly so, and I look forward to having him as a guest on the blog so you can get to know him. (And so we can maybe even give away an ebook of his latest!) In the meantime, you should definitely check out his books or his website, thereforenow.com.
I've written several blog posts in my mind this week. This will be the first to actually make it all the way to the keyboard. Ironically, I'm not entirely sure what it is I want to say at the moment. I just know I need to write if I'm going to clear all the thoughts bumping around in my brain.
My first intention this week was to post pictures of my baby rabbits. They're too cute to not share. But then I was so heartsick over the news coming out of Iraq (and, quite honestly, the rest of the world), it didn't seem right to be posting pictures of baby bunnies when so many are suffering so greatly. I can't even fathom what the persecuted religious minorities are facing at the hands of ISIS. How do you talk about anything else, how do you function, when children are being beheaded? Late Tuesday night, or rather early Wednesday morning, I wrote a long mental post about the evil that runs rampant in the world today. Now more than ever, I don't know how people make it through without the love and hope of Jesus Christ in their lives.
As I lay awake Wednesday night into Thursday morning, my thoughts turned to my youngest son. Once upon a time, I had a series called "Friday's Mark" on this blog. My theme for the site at the time, inspired by Throwaway, was "Leave Your Mark" with the hopes of encouraging others to make a difference in this world. Now more than ever, this world needs people to leave a positive mark on it, so I'm working to revive the series. Since today is my youngest son's 10th birthday, it seemed fitting to re-launch the series with a post honoring him.
After my first son came multiple failed attempts at a second child. The doctor told us it was time to consider seeing a specialist or accepting that Dylan would be an only child. I'd had too many miscarriages to even consider going through more. Adam and I talked about it and decided that if God wanted us to have more children, He'd give them to us. About the time we decided to stop trying, we had son #2.
Fifteen months later, with our marriage in shambles and life in general at an all-time low, son #3 made his appearance. I was terrified. I knew I was in over my head and questioned how I'd ever manage to be any kind of mother to three children. (Alone, at that!) It seemed a cruel twist of fate that I'd been unable to have children for so long and now that everything was awful, we had a whoops on our hands.
Now, looking back, I say that Chris is living, breathing proof that God is smarter than me. The kid was a ray of sunshine from day one. (Aside from the fact that his pending arrival scared me enough to get my behind back into church - something my entire family desperately needed. Once we put God back in the center of the family, it's kinda crazy how everything fell back into place...)
Chris just makes the world a brighter place for his being in it. I know it's hard for him living in the shadow of two brothers who are both larger than life, but he still manages to shine. Sometimes, his pizzazz demands to be noticed - like when he went through the stage where he lived in lime green cowboy boots. Sometimes, he's the one quietly in the background doing what needs to be done with a strength beyond his years - like the moment when he knelt in the sand beside his lifeless brother to pray while we waited for paramedics. He was six and yet he was so very strong.
When Chris was four, I swore one of us wasn't going to make it through that age. His will was pure iron and his spirit of adventure was almost more than my nerves could bear.
He can sing like nobody's business with a natural talent I can't help but envy. He's scary-smart. In one breath he's demanding the world notice him, in the next, he's painfully shy and terrified they will. My youngest son is an enchanting paradox who keeps me on my toes, and the world will forever be a better place for the time he will spend in it. I'm sure of that much.
We were on our way home from celebrating his birthday tonight when I got the call that a dear friend had passed. We've only known him for a little over a year, but his impact on our lives has been profound. I'm surrounded by people who knew him better, who have more right to grieve than I, but I can't help this wave of sadness that's washed over me.
We knew it was coming; he's been so very ill. The last time I spoke with him, he told me he was ready to go. His disease was making anything more exerting than sitting in a chair too difficult, and his mind wasn't the kind to take sitting in a chair well. If ever there was a person I'm sure went to heaven, it's him. So I know my sorrow is for myself, for his family. But I sorrow still.
He was a kind and gentle man of great wisdom, who loved the Lord with all his heart and spent his life sharing that love with others. He truly left a mark on this world.
When we got home, I went to my bunny barn to peek in at the babies before dark. I figured if anything could keep the tears at bay long enough to help my son finish celebrating his day, the bunnies could.
And that, I guess, is why I post pictures of bunnies and goats and chickens and dogs snuggling cats while Rome burns all around me. Because I believe in finding the scrap of joy while there's one to be had. I believe the Bible when it said that Jesus would never leave or forsake us, and I feel those words ringing in my ear every time I look at a beautiful sunset or watch the miracle of life happen on my little farm.
I post bunnies because they make me smile, and the world could use more smiles.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.