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7 (of the many) Authors Who Have Influenced Me As A Writer

by C.S. Elston

 

C.S. Lewis

While the list is in no particular order, I thought I’d start with C.S. Lewis and his fantastic Chronicles of Narnia series because of both comparisons to my series, “The Four Corners,” and the fact that we share the same first two initials (although, I’m Christopher Scott – not Clive Staples.) The Narnia books were staples (pun absolutely intended) in my house when I grew up. “The Screwtape Letters” also blew me away in high school and books like “Mere Christianity” and “A Grief Observed” are works I recommend to everyone. C.S. Lewis has had as big of an impact on me as a writer and a person as anyone else on the planet. Absolute genius.

 

Dean Koontz

The “Odd Thomas” series is very popular and very fun. Koontz is another prolific writer with great commercial success. One of the more underrated books he’s written is called “Relentless” and may be a compilation of every author’s worst nightmares.

 

J.R.R. Tolkien

The entire Middle Earth saga (The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and “The Silmarillion”) is a breathtaking masterpiece. The Peter Jackson films are awesome, too. But, the books the movies come from were a revelation when they were written in the 1950’s. Tolkien made me realize that both the devil and God can be found in the details.

 

H.G. Wells

Novels like “The Time Machine, “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” and “War of the Worlds” captivated my imagination when I was growing up. Wells had a brilliant mind and he made me realize the importance of romance in stories that, on the surface, seem to have nothing to do with love but the deeper you dig the more you realize that’s what they’re all about. That’s not just a lesson on writing, but on life.

 

Richard Matheson – “Somewhere In Time”

Richard Matheson is another excellent writer who has had a lot of his books turned into movies (“Stir Of Echoes”, “I Am Legend”, etc.) including the well thought of “What Dreams May Come” which was both enjoyable and disturbing for me due to it’s distorted view of heaven. But, I first discovered Matheson when I saw the movie “Somewhere In Time” and loved it.  starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer. It was captivating to me. So, I read the book (originally called “Bid Time Return” but changed for marketing reasons to match the film title) and liked it even better.

 

The Stephen King & Frank Darabont collaboration

Stephen King is a brilliant and prolific writer. No question. But, I would argue that some of his best work is after it has been polished into a screenplay by Frank Darabont. This is how we got the movies The Green Mile (adapted from King’s serial novel of the same name) and The Shawshank Redemption (adapted from King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”). The latter is a particularly wonderful screenplay to read and my favorite movie of all time.

 

Harper Lee – “To Kill A Mockingbird”

This book (as well asthe 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck) made me want to write about real people and real problems. It also cemented, in both my writing and me as a person, themes of justice, redemption and truth. This is not only the greatest novel of the 20th century, it’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, novels of all time. I have to admit though, I wish they had left “Go Set A Watchman” in the drawer where it was kept for 55 years.

 

Of course, I could easily go on and make this list a lot longer.  How could I not include the likes of J.K. Rowling, Madeleine L’Engle, Arthur Miller, Richard Adams, Tennessee Williams, William Goldman, Chaim Potok, Diane Kinman, Shel Silverstein, Dante Alighieri, Richard Connell, Horton Foote, Nora Ephron, John Grisham, Michael Morris, John Steinbeck…? See how long this list could get? Too much for one post. Perhaps “Part Two” will be in order at some point. Until then, I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and reflections on some of the superb writers who have influenced me over the years. Happy reading…

 

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The Inspiration Behind “The Blue Phoenix and the Silver Foxx”

by Elaine Beth Doebereiner

Readers have expressed a curiosity about where I discovered the inspiration for my first novel. The truth is that the story was born from a dream I had at age 16. I was an aspiring writer in junior high and high school. The only thing I found time for was my poetry, however. I never forgot that dream even into adulthood. I tried several times to sit down and write the story that had been born in my mind. I would get 10 chapters written and then scrap it. Then, a year later, I would write 12 chapters and throw those out, too. The story was not good enough in my eyes. So, I took a long break from it but never stopped thinking about the characters that I had not been able to do justice. Created and birthed in my mind, I watched as they grew up and developed. Soon I was losing sleep thinking about them and their story. The characters had become like children to me and I believed it was my duty to give them life. So, I took the sleepless nights as a sign from God that it was time to finally write this story for real.

The initial dream that I had at 16 was basically just one short incident with one character. A young girl falling from a mountain top with the mission of saving earth. The scenery was vivid, and the girl was so real to me. I constructed the other characters and plot around this singular point of origin. Other constructs came to life as I realized, I have always wanted to make a difference in the world. I have always had this burning desire to help others. What better way to reach an audience then through a story where they can see themselves in the characters and experience what the characters feel? So, I set out to write a book that could be a beacon of hope and inspiration to the world.

I added in the bible verses because I saw them as favorites of the characters writing the journal entries. They serve to make the characters feel more connected to God as they find comfort in His Word and I wanted the readers to feel that same comfort. My desire is that my readers will know that they are not alone. God’s not dead. There is hope. Your prayers are indeed answered even if you don’t realize it at the time. They may be not answered in the way or the timeframe you think they should be but God knows better than we do. Be patient and trust Him. We all make mistakes and those mistakes do not define us, you just have to learn from them and move on. Its healthy to experience sadness, failure and all the bad feels. You cannot grow as a person, or in faith, or in spirituality without facing fear, going out of your comfort zone, and learning from life’s experiences.  If you need guidance or counsel, open the bible, the answers are there.

I also made the characters a hodge podge of people. Different genders, races, ethnicities, angels, humans, demons. . . a total mixture. This was purposefully executed in the hopes that I could convey the fact that it does not matter who you are or where you’re from, you can do the work of God and we can all do it together. We are all His children. We should love one another no matter who or what we are and regardless of the color of our skin. You can choose your own path no matter the manner of your birth or where you came from. You do not have to be perfect to do good things in this world. When you think that God is not doing anything to help the world, stop and think about how much he loves us, His creations, His children. He gave his only son to die on the cross so that we could live. He wouldn’t do something phenomenal like that and then just turn His back on those He sacrificed for. He places special people in our lives on purpose, events happen that shape us, and I believe that angels do walk among us, strategically placed to keep the balance and to help mankind. All you have to do is keep an open mind, be observant, be patient, and have faith.

What started out as just a dream evolved into hopeful inspirational ideals. I pray the world loves the characters and this story as much as I do and I hope it touches the hearts of many around the world. It would be such an honor to know that it helped people and made a difference in their lives.

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February Book Recommendations

by Andrea Elston

As a teacher, February was always the most overwhelming month. First of all, it’s the shortest month of the year with the most holidays packed into it! Secondly, at least where I taught, we had a “mid-winter break” in the schedule which made an already abbreviated month one week shorter. Finally, the 100th day of school usually fell at the end of the month as well! And the fact that it is also Black History month created an even more packed itinerary! At any other time of the year, I was searching for bulletin board ideas and supplemental activities to keep my kiddos entertained but come February I was wondering how in the world I was going to fit it all in and which event I was going to feature! Between Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, the 100th day of school, and honoring the men and women who helped shape the future of this great nation, I definitely had my pick! Although time was short to fit everything in, these old standbys always made the cut! If your plate is not already full, I encourage you to try and squeeze in one more item from this menu…Bon Appetit!

Groundhog Day: I always made time to read Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill. This is a girl after my own heart…instead of complaining about a problem, she goes right to the solution and isn’t afraid to bend the rules a bit while she does it! I also told my class about the 1993 movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Because I taught first grade, the PG rating was a tad too much for that age group, so I just gave them the highlights. We talked about the pros and cons of waking up and reliving one day over and over again, and then I had them choose a day from their past (not hard for a 6-year-old) that they would want to do over and over again. It was so cute to hear their stories that ranged from birthday parties to snow days, to Kindergarten graduations. Depending on the time frame, I’d either leave it at discussion or turn it into a writing project.

Valentine’s Day: I know you have a plethora of choices when it comes to books for this holiday, but please add Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch by the great Eileen Spinelli to your list. Even though this is a picture book, the theme is appropriate for any age and MANY lessons can be drawn from it. And if you can read it while eating a heart-shaped box of chocolates, it just makes it that much better!

Presidents’ Day:  If there is one person from the past I would like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with, it would be Abraham Lincoln. His historical interaction with Grace Bedell strikes a chord with me and I believe will with your children and or students as well. Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers by Karen B. Winnick highlights this relationship in a sweet and accurate way, even picturing a copy of the real letter from the sweet 11-year-old girl. Just like the above book, this literary work lends itself to SO many extension activities…or just serve to be a heartwarming story for bedtime, snacktime, circle-time, or History-time.

100th Day of School: Again, you have a multitude of titles to choose from for this special occasion like 100th Day Worries by Margery Cuyler, but I always added in Michael Frith’s I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words. Because I taught the littles, I would turn this book into a spelling exercise and have the kiddos write down all 100 words that the narrator taught his dog. If I was teaching older students, I would have them debate what the 100 most important words to teach a dog would be. Plus, it’s illustrated by P.D. Eastman which is always a bonus!

Black History Month: I usually read this book in January when celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but it would also serve to highlight the struggles needed to be overcome for African Americans in the mid-20th century. If you haven’t already, please do not miss the opportunity to read and discuss Goin’ Someplace Special by the amazingly talented and prolific Patricia McKissack. I always get a little choked up when I read the information at the end of the book that describes how Nashville’s public library board of directors quietly voted to desegregate all their facilities in the 1950’s. Being a semi-autobiographical story as well makes this literary work that much more , well…special, and the beautiful illustrations by Jerry Pinkney make it not only good for the soul, but pleasing to the eye as well.

 

 

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After Intermission

by Erin Shelby

Musical theatre is on intermission.

There isn’t much going on, in person that is.

The acting has arrived at a terribly long pause.

The singing is at an abnormally long rest.

The dancing has stopped.

The costumes are on the rack. Are they going to smell like mothballs when we’re ready to use them again?

In-person arts are on pause, for now, that is.

There are so many reasons why people are missing the performing arts. Why do people love the arts so much? What does singing and dancing and acting add to our world that we’re missing right now?

The arts are a community.

When theatre venues open their doors again, they will reveal themselves as community centers. Gathering places, if you will. Whether it’s to watch a play, see a musical, or go to the ballet, people use the arts to socialize. Relationships are formed in these places, and for some, it’s like a family. Everyone needs a place where they can go to be part of a larger community, and for some people, it’s the artistic places.

The arts are revealing.

In a world where loudness is often valued over quiet confidence, getting involved in an artistic production can allow people to analyze deep issues while exploring a script. The arts can be an equalizer for people of all backgrounds and personality types to come together around a common cause. Personally, I don’t thrive at a busy party or in an open-floor plan office, but in an artistic setting, I enjoy making connections with other people while we’re striving toward a common goal. No matter how you’re wired or how you would describe yourself, the arts can provide a place for you to create something beautiful alongside others.

The arts welcome you.

For now, the arts are mostly closed, but when this intermission is over, there will be a place for you. Community theatres will need people to fundraise, publicize, paint set pieces, help with props, sell tickets, and so much more. If you’re ready to play, the arts will welcome you.

That is, after this intermission is over.

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Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021!

by Andrea Elston

2020 is officially history and it’s hard to imagine that makes too many people sad. It was a tough one, in many ways, but there were also some great things that happened. For example, while we formed this company in the second half of 2019, it really started ramping up in early 2020. The first author we brought into the fold signed with us in April and we are thrilled to now have 14 members of the Shine-A-Light family with several others currently under consideration. We also published 14 manuscripts (not including the 4-6 freebies per month we have been putting on our site since September) this year and are excited about the 24 that are in the editing/formatting phases right now. Within our family, we are aware of 48 additional projects that are currently in the writing and/or development phases, too.

All of that makes the prospect of 2021 very exciting to us and we are intent on it being the year we build the support element of the family atmosphere. To aid in this process, we have reserved a private Facebook group and a new YouTube channel. We are hoping that the “members only” Facebook group can be a place where we are all able to communicate with one another and share ideas about how to promote our work. The YouTube channel will be a place to help us gain exposure. We would like to produce material that both private schools can use in chapels and educators in the classroom.

Speaking (or, writing) of exposure, we wanted to attend private school and homeschool conventions in 2020 but they all got cancelled due to COVID-19. We are currently signed up for an event here in Arizona scheduled for July, one in Tennessee scheduled for March and a third in April that will hopefully happen in Texas. There are others we also plan to attend in Florida, Colorado and New York. These conferences would be great exposure for Shine-A-Light as a company as well as for the whole family and their individual works. Please join us in praying that these opportunities are not taken away from us again this year. Especially now that we have built up a bigger inventory of great material and have so much more to offer.

Goodbye, 2020. You weren’t all bad. Cheers to 2021!

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The Reason for the Season

by C.S. Elston

By now, most of us have heard that Jesus was more likely born in early fall than on December 25th and that many of the popular customs associated with Christmas actually pre-date the holiday and were probably adopted from winter solstice celebrations by pagan populations that later converted to Christianity. We also know that we’re supposed to be full of “Christmas cheer” for three or four weeks as winter settles in but, instead, find ourselves yelling at each other in parking lots, spending money on things we can’t afford and tackling strangers in the toy aisle at Walmart. Perhaps, this is another argument in favor of social distancing. 2020 aside, what exactly are we celebrating and why are we celebrating it?

When in doubt, take it back to the basics and refuse to get caught up in the minutia. Regardless of when Jesus was born, the miraculous thing is that the Word became flesh. What does that mean and why does it matter? One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, put it this way:

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let’s look closely at the specifics behind Lewis’ statement. And, to do so, let’s go straight to a modern translation of the original source material. The book of John begins by telling us this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

~ John 1:1-5, English Standard Version

These five verses are packed with life-transforming information. First, they tell us that the Word was both with God and was God from the very beginning of everything. Second, they tell us that the Word is responsible for all of creation. Third, they tell us that the Word contains the life that is the light of humanity which is not overcome by darkness.

From the Garden of Eden to the moment of Jesus’ birth, humanity had proven over and over again that we could not overcome sin on our own. Left to our own devices, we were headed for death. We were headed for eternal darkness. We needed the life that is the light that would not be overcome. The light that is only in the Word. Later in that first chapter of John, God showed us mercy and gave us that light:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

~ John 1:14, English Standard Version

Lewis stated the importance of this event for us with precision:

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles

The birth of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in all of human history. God became man. Feel the weight of that statement. The Creator became the Creation. The highest being in existence descended into a world he created perfect because it had since been infected by sin and he knew that the sacrifice he was making was the one and only way to redeem it, to redeem us. We needed . . . and still . . . We need Jesus!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~ John 3:16-17, English Standard Version

 

Our good friend, Lewis, put it this way:

“In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him . . . “

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Praise his name! Fake tree, real tree, no tree . . . Who cares? All that really matters is that the miracle of Christmas is absolutely worth celebrating. The God of all creation loves us so much that he came down in order to take us back up with him, where he always intended us to be! And, even in a crowded shopping mall parking lot, the toy aisle at Walmart or, since it is 2020, surfing Amazon from your couch, the miracle and the meaning of Christmas should absolutely fill your heart with joy. It sure does mine.

And, it is with that joyous heart that I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

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Teamwork, Drive, and Winning: What’s Music Education Got to Do With It?

by Erin Shelby

In the Netflix documentary The Road I’m On, country super star Garth Brooks recounts his childhood and his rise to fame. He recalls a particular instance when his father insisted that Garth join something, anything. You have to be part of a team, any team, was his father’s directive. As a result, young Garth played high school football. Do music and sports seem like polar opposites to you? If so, consider these three things that sports and music have in common.

Teamwork

Anyone who’s played sports knows that it takes more than one person to win the game. Teamwork is critical, and this also applies to music. Soloists with attention-getting personalities often get the spotlight, but they don’t earn this praise alone. Back-up singers, dancers, drummers, instrumentalists, lighting designers, and vocal coaches all create the magic for the chart-topping celebrities we know and love. Students who have music as part of their education learn that teamwork is a must. Choir singers learn the art of the “blend” when each singer isn’t too loud or too soft, but just right. Band players practice alone and then come together as a whole to work on their sound as a group. Whether in choir, band, or orchestra, each music student is part of a larger team. 

Drive

Goals and desires are easy to have, but it takes drive to accomplish what you want. Wishful thinking won’t make things happen; action is required. In sports, if you don’t show up for practice, you’re destined to fail. If you show up with a bad attitude or a half-hearted attitude, your practice won’t do much good. The same goes for music. Each person in a group brings their abilities and desire to succeed. Talent alone isn’t good enough; you have to work for what you want. Choirs learn this together by practicing parts of the same songs over and over again to achieve the desired sound. A three-minute song takes hours upon hours to learn. Band members will refine the same section of music because a note is played too soon, or a rest lasts too long, or instruments sound out of balance with each another. Each person’s drive pushes them to create a work of excellence.

Success

The joy of winning is easy for bystanders to see. In sports, winning can come in the form of trophies or the number on the scoreboard. Those who stand on the sidelines may not know the frustration, fatigue, and effort that it took to make it happen. For musicians, wins are just as valuable, although they come in different forms. The applause and cheers from our audiences show that we created something good. The reward of knowing that we gave our best and created something worthwhile to is a reward in itself. Personal growth happens when we persevere through obstacles, and we often learn about ourselves along the way.

Young people will always need to learn about teamwork, drive, and success. These are enduring concepts that need to be passed on to each new generation. The importance of music education is three-fold: it teaches teamwork, it emphasizes the importance of drive, and it celebrates success. How can you celebrate these ideals in a young person’s life?

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Give Thanks

by C. S. Elston

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

2020 has been a crazy, difficult year. Is there anyone on the planet who disagrees with that statement? I doubt it.

Still, I have so much to be thankful for: a roof over my head, food to eat, a car to drive, an educated background, friends and family that I love and who love me back (including the most amazing wife a guy could ever dream of,) and, most importantly (yes, even more so than that beautiful, gracious wife,) the hope of eternity with my Creator. A lot of that probably sounds like obvious stuff but, it’s good for the soul to express it anyway. The Bible instructs us to give thanks for many reasons, but I will briefly focus on two.

First, it honors and glorifies God.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:11 (ESV)

Second, it puts our focus on the blessings in life and gives us a more positive outlook.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Quite simply, giving thanks is a healthier way to live than the alternative.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

It’s important to remember these things as we head into what might be the most difficult Thanksgiving holiday we’ve ever experienced. With that in mind, please allow me to end this on a lighter note and one of my favorite subjects: food.

We all look forward to the turkey. Well, most of us do anyway. A lot of people look forward to the desert, too. Of course, you don’t have to pick just one item to look forward to about the greatest American meal of the year (yes, even 2020.) But, if I was forced to, mine would have to be a side dish. No, it’s not the cranberry sauce or even the mashed-potatoes and gravy. The latter is high on the list, however. My favorite would have to be my mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole. So, I got special permission to share the recipe. It’s so good, it just wouldn’t be fair to keep it to ourselves.

Ingredients

2 cups of mashed Princella canned Sweet Potatoes — drain the syrup before mashing

4 tablespoons of softened butter or margarine

2 eggs

1 cup of milk

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Dash of salt

2/3 cup of sugar

Directions (part one)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine above ingredients. Mix well. Place in greased casserole dish and bake for approximately half of an hour. Remove from oven.

Topping Ingredients

6 tablespoons of melted butter or margarine

1/2 cup of chopped nuts

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 cup of flour

Directions (part two)

Combine topping ingredients. Mix well. Cover casserole with the topping mixture and place back in the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove and serve. This dish should take care of about 8 people. But, if you love it as much as my family does, you may have to drop that number to 6 . . . maybe even lower . . . I actually prefer this to most of the pies. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Should Christians Have a Gang Sign?

by M.N. Kollar

At first glance, this probably seems like a silly question. Are we drag racing against the Confucians at the closed ramp at the edge of town? Are we meeting with the atheists for a rumble behind the bleachers? I hope not, as I do not race, I certainly do not rumble, and I respect everyone’s belief system. That said, if you chose to challenge a friendly Wiccan to an arm-wrestling match then that’s on you.

So, let’s take another look at the gang sign question.

I wear my faith in my jewelry selection, prayerfully in my actions, and on display in my car. Sometimes the interaction is as blatant as someone asking me to roll down my car window so they could share a faith moment with me but other times it’s just a lingering look or a finger point to let me know that person acknowledged me on some deeper level. The question is, how do we address the times when other Christians cross our paths and want to engage?

Choosing to display my faith is a constant reminder to rise above the constraints of this world and also to not flip people off in traffic. Whether you wear or display your faith, there is a question that needs contemplating: are you a covert Christian? This is not meant for judgement from the outside but for conviction from the inside. One pastor put it this way to his congregation on a Sunday morning, if he followed them out to the parking lot would he know they were Christians? Would he know they were Christians on Monday morning if he stopped by their place of work?

In the real world it is not always appropriate to declare the Word of God in a board meeting. But the Word should manifest in our demeanor both in that same meeting and throughout the day. If you are in such a close walk with Jesus that someone may ask you how you keep your cool, then maybe it is the right time to let them know that it is the 24/7 influence of Jesus in your life that has you anchored.

As an aside, if you still have some work to do before people start wondering what that special something is about you, rest assured you’re in the same boat as most of us. But what a glorious summit to climb toward? Yes, your goal could be to become the person in your circle with the best hair, the biggest bank account, the whitest smile, the fanciest car or the fittest body. Those are fine goals but, then what? Beauty fades, cars rust, money can’t buy the most important things and bodies age. If we keep striving for that close walk with Jesus then we get to be a beacon to others while making our inner and outer lives amazingly radiant. That is something that will last. That is a goal truly worth striving for.

So, we are to walk like Jesus and to talk like Jesus. But then what? Well, then we need to connect, either with other people on the same journey or maybe with someone who is curious about the journey. Jesus was not a solo act. As we know full well, discipleship was central. There has been a great effort to build small intimate groups in the churches, and that is wonderful, but here we are talking about connecting in the every day.

How do Christians connect in the day to day routine of life? How do we lift each other up and let each other know that we are not just seen but acknowledged for our faith?

When you are wearing or displaying your faith and others have a moment to share their experience or just say how they like your cross, then that is clear and meaningful and wonderful. There have been times, just a gesture as someone drove past me, that left me wondering if that person was thanking me for letting them merge or if there was something more significant taking place.

The question now is, how do we use the few seconds at a traffic light, passing people in the mall, or standing in line at the cash register, to acknowledge the shared love of Jesus Christ? This brings us back around to our original question: Should Christians have a gang sign?

I like the idea of a variation of the ‘Three finger salute’. After a minimal amount of research, I have come to know that there are a number of like salutes already in circulation. So, we need a way to differentiate our salute from the Boy Scouts, the keyboard warriors (Ctrl+Alt+Del which is an old friend of mine) and various others. I like the three fingers and that is because it represents the Holy Trinity, but I’m not married to it in any way. I believe that the main thing is that we Christians have a way to acknowledge and lift each other up in the day to day.

I would love to hear back from anyone who has a thought or suggestion about getting Christians to see, really see, each other in the every day.

Leave a comment here or hit me up on twitter: @MnKollarW

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The Food of Fall

by C.S. Elston

Two of my favorite “F words” are “food” and “fall” – I truly love this season. The cool, crisp air of a sunny autumn day and the warm, comforting foods we start to crave feel like a glimpse of Heaven to me. So, I thought I’d share a few of the recipes I tend to turn to around this time of year. For me, one of the most cozy and comforting foods on a cold day is a hot bowl of soup. So, it’s no coincidence that three of the five recipes fall into that category. I say five but, stay tuned for a bonus 6th recipe – a delicious, post-pumpkin-carving snack.

Fall also tends to be when I’m trying to shed a few pounds from the summer BBQ season. So, I’m going to include a healthier version and a “cheat meal” version of the same recipes. Typically, the difference between the two is a minor tweak but, the lower calories help when you’re trying to slip back into the jeans that fit you in spring and suddenly feel just a bit more snug. This is particularly appropriate for some of us after the COVID-19 quarantine.

Without further adieux . . .

Spicy Chili

Healthier Version –

2, 20-ounce packages of 99% fat free ground turkey breast

2, 26-ounce jars of Ragu Tomato & Basil Sauce – light

1, 15-ounce can of black beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of red beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of pinto beans, drained

1 chopped onion

2 chopped tomatoes

3 cups of chopped mixed bell peppers

12 minced cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons of fajita seasoning mix

1/2 tablespoon of black pepper

1/2 tablespoon of white pepper

1/2 tablespoon of red pepper

1/2 tablespoon of dark chili powder

1 tablespoon of smoked paprika

*** Makes 12, 1 ½ cup servings

 

Cheat Meal –

3, 16-ounce packages of 80% fat free ground beef

4, 12-ounce bottles of chili sauce

1, 15-ounce can of black beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of red beans, drained

1, 15-ounce can of pinto beans, drained

1 chopped onion

1 chopped green pepper

1 chopped red pepper

1 minced clove of garlic

1 tablespoon of black pepper

1 tablespoon of white pepper

1 tablespoon of red pepper

4 tablespoons of fajita seasoning mix

2 chopped tomatoes

Brown the meat in a skillet, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Drain any excess liquid.

Add meat and all other ingredients to a slow cooker or a large pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the dish reaches preferred temperature and the vegetables are cooked to desired tenderness.

Serve in a bowl. If it’s a cheat meal, a little sprinkle of some freshly grated cheddar cheese won’t hurt most people’s feelings.

 

Shepherd’s Pie

 Healthy –

Canola oil spray

1 pound of 96% fat free ground beef

1 cup of chopped onion

2 2/3 cups of frozen mixed vegetables

2 cups of diced Roma tomatoes

4 russet potatoes, quartered and boiled until soft

½ cup of skim milk

2/3 cup of WW Mexican Style shredded cheese

¼ teaspoon of white pepper

½ teaspoon of black pepper

1 ½ teaspoon of salt

*** Makes 4 servings

 

Cheat Meal –

4 teaspoons of canola oil

1 pound of 80% fat free ground beef

1 cup of chopped onion

2 2/3 cups of frozen mixed vegetables

2 cups of diced Roma tomatoes

4 russet potatoes, quartered and boiled until soft

¼ cup of 2% milk

1/8 cup of melted butter

1 cup of freshly grated cheddar cheese

¼ teaspoon of white pepper

½ teaspoon of black pepper

1 ½ teaspoon of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a skillet to on medium and add oil. Brown the ground beef, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Add onions, tomatoes, frozen mixed vegetables, ¼ teaspoon of white pepper, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 5 minutes.

Mash potatoes with milk (and butter for cheat meals,) ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper.

Move meat and vegetable mixture to an oven-safe casserole dish. Cover with potatoes. Top with cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes until cheese is browned and bubbling.

Cut into four equal parts and serve.

 

Chicken Noodle Soup

Healthy –        Spray oil

2 Chicken Breasts – approximately 1 ¼ lbs.

1 large red onion, chopped

2 cups of shredded carrots

4 cups of celery, chopped

¼ of a cup of green onions, chopped

12 ounces of high fiber spaghetti noodles

3 quarts of chicken broth

½ of a teaspoon of dried nutmeg

½ of a teaspoon of dried sage

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

1 teaspoon of dried basil

1 teaspoon of dried rosemary

1 teaspoon of dried marjoram

1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of ground salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with pepper

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

*** Makes 8 servings

 

Cheat Meal –  1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

2 lbs. of chicken

1 large red onion, chopped

2 cups of shredded carrots

1 cup of red onion, chopped

4 cups of celery, chopped

¼ of a cup of green onions, chopped

12 ounces of wide egg noodles

3 quarts of chicken broth

½ of a teaspoon of dried nutmeg

½ of a teaspoon of dried sage

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

1 teaspoon of dried basil

1 teaspoon of dried rosemary

1 teaspoon of dried marjoram

1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of ground salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with pepper

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

Flatten chicken and cut into ½ inch pieces. Brown in a soup pot with oil (and butter if this is a cheat meal) and add onion, celery, carrots and seasonings when done. Continue cooking and simmering for at least 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and stir until it boils. Add noodles. Turn heat to low and let simmer until noodles are nice and soft.

Divide equally into 8 bowls and serve immediately. Put salt and pepper out so people can add to individual taste.

 

Open-Faced, Stuffed Bell Peppers

Healthy –

Canola oil spray

1 cup of uncooked brown rice

20 ounces of ground turkey breast

1 cup of chopped yellow onion

1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup of Weight Watcher’s Mexican Style Cheese

1/8 of a cup of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon of dried sweet basil

1 teaspoon of crushed oregano

1/8 of a teaspoon of black pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of white pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes

½ tablespoon of salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

1 cup of water

4 bell peppers (any color)

*** Makes 4 servings of 2 pepper-halves per person

 

Cheat Meal –

2 tablespoons of canola oil

1 cup of uncooked brown rice

20 ounces of 80% fat free ground beef

1 cup of chopped yellow onion

1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup of Shredded American Cheese

2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon of dried sweet basil

1 teaspoon of crushed oregano

1/8 of a teaspoon of black pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of white pepper

1/8 of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of Adobo seasoning with cumin

1 cup of water

4 bell peppers (any color)

Slice peppers in half lengthwise, removing stem ends, seeds, and membranes. Immerse pepper halves into boiling water for 3 minutes each. Sprinkle insides with Adobo seasoning and invert on paper towels to drain.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in a large skillet to medium. Add meat, garlic and onion. Cook until meat is brown and onions are tender. Stir in tomatoes, rice, Worcestershire, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender (15-20 minutes.) Stir in half of the cheese. Fill peppers with mixture from skillet and place in a large baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through and cheese is brown and bubbly. Let stand for 1-2 minutes. Serve.

* You can use cooked rice (in which case water is not needed when rice is stirred in) to save time.

 

Turkey & Pumpkin Chili

Healthy –

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen, chopped onions

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen onion and bell pepper blend

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

2 pounds of 99% fat-free ground turkey breast

3 cans (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes

4 cups of pumpkin puree

1 can (15 ounces) of tri-color beans

1 can (15 ounces) of kidney beans

1 can (15 ounces) of black beans

2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder

4 tablespoons of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

 

Cheat Meal –

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen, chopped onions

1 package (12 ounces) of frozen onion and bell pepper blend

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

2 pounds of ground turkey

3 cans (14.5 ounces) of diced tomatoes

4 cups of pumpkin puree

1 can (15 ounces) of tri-color beans

1 can (15 ounces) of kidney beans

1 can (15 ounces) of black beans

2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder

4 tablespoons of brown sugar

2 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions, bell peppers and garlic until tender. Stir in the turkey and cook until evenly brown. Mix in tomatoes, beans and pumpkin. Add in all the seasonings and the brown sugar. Stir it up while raising the heat until it begins to boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 20 minutes.

One of the Shine-A-Light authors is bringing her husband over for lunch in a couple of days and will experience the above chili for herself – with a twist. Instead of turkey we’re going to try it with pork for the first time. Actually, three kinds of pork. Shredded pork loin, diced ham and crumbled bacon. It will be new to all of us but, with bacon involved, it can’t be bad.

A week or so after the Three Pork & Pumpkin Chili has settled, it will be “Pumpkin-Carving Weekend” at my house. However, I secretly call it “Pumpkin Seeds Weekend” because eating the seeds we roast after the pumpkin carving is over is easily my favorite part of the event. So, I thought, as a bonus, I’d also share the recipe (modified from one passed on to my mom by her best friend from childhood, the late, great Sheila Williams.) Sheila was a delight, these seeds are an annual treat, and hopefully, sharing this recipe, in some small way, honors a wonderful human being who is at home with our Lord and experiencing so much joy that, if she read my earlier “Heaven” comment, I’m sure she’d tell me, “You have no idea!”

 

Best Pumpkin Seeds Ever!

Ingredients for every Cup of Unwashed Seeds

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon of melted butter

1 teaspoon of your favorite seasoning salt (Johnny’s, Lowry’s, etc.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Mix the seeds (I cannot stress enough how vital it is to leave them unwashed) and the other ingredients (again, portioned according to the number of cups of seeds – I usually have at least four cups, which means four tablespoons of butter, four teaspoons of seasoning salt and two teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce) in a bowl.

Grease a baking sheet (I just use a little spray oil – doesn’t take much because of the butter) and dump the seed mixture into it. Spread the seeds out into a single layer (or, at least, relatively close.) Depending on how many cups of seeds you started with, you may need to use more than one baking sheet.

Bake to desired crispness (stirring occasionally and sprinkling a bit of extra seasoning salt if you like them super salty.) I like mine rather crispy so, two hours, is a bare minimum. Again, depending on how many seeds there are, it can be three or four.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. I find it to be extremely difficult.

 

Happy Fall, everyone! Enjoy the crisp sunny weather and, especially, the food!

 

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A Cross In Your Car

by M. N. Kollar

 

Does having a cross in our car make you drive more Christian?

For me, it does and I’m about to tell you why.

First, let’s examine it from the vehicular perspective. When my husband drives my car, he always takes down the cross I have hanging from the rear-view mirror because it interferes his view of the road. He is a good bit taller than I am and it apparently hangs at just the right level to be a distraction for him. If you are going to have a cross in your car then it definitely needs to be somewhere that is not a distraction. Instead, it should be more of an interaction. I’ll explain…

There are times when I go over an extra bumpy patch in the road and the cross swings furiously. It can be a little much and it is at those times that I grab the cross to steady it. It took me a while to see the irony but, when I’m going over a very bumpy patch in life, I hang on to the cross of Christ and it steadies me. Now, the cross hanging from my rear-view has become a constant reminder that when I drive over those patches, it is extra important that I stay grounded and rooted in the Word so I can find calm and peace.

Let’s next take a look at the internal perspective. When you see the cross in your car it should be a reminder, but of what? Other than perhaps the aforementioned stabilization example, I think the answer to this question will be as varied and personal as everyone who ponders it. For some, it might just be a general reminder to drive like you would have others drive; let that person merge, leave that extra room… For some, it will be a constant prayer for intervention in a circumstance of pain in our lives. The silent sound that comes from us may be a song of praise for the favor we enjoy or a wail to Heaven for intercession. Either way, it takes that sound, that song, that wail away from the altar and into the world. That cross in your car can take your prayer show on the road.

Now, on to examining the external perspective. Do people have specific expectations about a person based around certain accouterments? Of course they do. Just think policeman, fireman, etc. You expect these people to be ready to assist when they are on duty and if you know someone is a public servant, even if they are off duty, then should a crisis arise, you would still look to them. This is the same thing with a Christian, except there is no off duty for us. It may not be a rushing river rescue but that kind word or that friendly smile may just be a life saver for someone.

Ever felt taken advantage of because of that cross hanging from the rear-view mirror? Yes. I have had that woman wave as she pulled out in front of me and I regrettably intoned “I wasn’t gonna let you in, lady.” For me, that kind of thinking usually just lasts a few seconds until I remember that she saw that cross and made certain assumptions about me. Those assumptions did not make me feel taken advantage of in the long run but instead, as my attitude transformed, made it clear to me that I was spreading the love and the Word. After all, despite my annoyance, I did wave back…with ALL of my fingers.

Give it a try. Put a cross in your car and see if you drive more Christian!

Please obey all traffic and safety rules but, on the off chance you are pulled over by one of the boys or girls in blue, then let me offer this scenario for your consideration:

“But officer, I keep my eye on Jesus and He keeps His eyes on the road. If I was going too fast then I guess you need to give the ticket to…yes…yes…I will take a breathalyzer…”

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Here We Go Again!

by Andrea Elston

 

Well, ready or not, the time has come for school…in some fashion…to begin. Whether you are setting your child up with a laptop at your kitchen table, or checking their temperature and making sure they have their lunch and their mask before sending them off to their socially-distanced classroom, school has started. I thought I’d share some of my favorite tricks of the trade and products that helped make my year a little smoother. These work in any learning situation…not just the traditional classroom.

Set a schedule and stick to it (as much as possible). Students of all ages depend of consistency. There is comfort in knowing what to expect…even if it’s just the fact that math comes first, or that the day will end with reading a chapter from Indian in the Cupboard . Of course, life happens, and kids learn they have to adjust…but in a world with so much uncertainty, a little stability goes a long way.

Set expectations at the beginning! Please do not take this to mean, go over the rules and then move on to the first lesson in your daunting curriculum syllabus! Take the time to teach the students (or your own child) what a successful year will look like in your “classroom.” I usually spent 2-3 days going over procedures before I ever even cracked a book with my students. This sounds like a ridiculous amount of time, but I found it was much easier to teach the kiddos how to avoid striking the match rather than try to put out the blazing fire 3 weeks into the year. I taught everything from when to sharpen a pencil to how a respectful conversation sounds with a fellow classmate or even an adult! (I am astounded at how some students speak to each other let alone adults!)

Finally, don’t get stuck on any one curriculum or program. If your school or learning environment allows for it, explore and supplement! There are SO many great resources out there! Also remember, teachers and parents ARE the curriculum. It is not the books.  My advice is don’t let the curriculum drive your teaching…let the curriculum support YOU in teaching. Students of all ages need to be nurtured and validated. Students are at school to grow not only academically, but socially and (depending on your institution) spiritually as well. It’s easy to skip over this in effort to “get through the book”. Your students will most likely not remember what grade they learned cursive, multiplication, or where to put a comma, but they will remember YOU. I never bought into the “Don’t smile until November” philosophy. I wanted my students to feel comfortable with me, trust me, and hopefully learn something from me! I was on their side from day one, and if I didn’t smile at them, how would they know that? Plus when you teach first grade, it is impossible to avoid smiling, or if I’m being honest…laughing out loud! Six year old students are just plain hilarious!

Having said that…here are a few of my favorite resources. Because the majority of my career was with the littles, the resources here are mainly for primary grades, but the sentiments above apply to any level.

Books:
National Geographic: You Read/I Read books
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: MaryAnn Hoberman (also the author of A House is a House for Me…super fun creative writing activity)
Choral Reading-Dr. Seuss (or any rhyming book), Frog and Toad, Amelia Bedelia, George and Martha.

*I cannot stress enough the importance of reading WITH your child, not just to your child. And not even listening to your child read to you. Find books to read with them so they can match your pacing and inflection.

Teaching numbers/counting patterns:

Students learn those mundane counting patterns the best if they are set to a rhythm or a song.

And as far as those pesky addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, sorry to say…flashcards are the best way to learn! I know it’s boring, but I found that repetition and memorization was the most sure-fire way to assure a strong foundation. Please don’t skip this step!!

Phonics/Reading Curriculum
The method I found to be the most effective was the Slingerland/Spalding program. If you don’t already use it, I would strongly suggest researching how you can implement it into your phonics program. I also really found value in the Reading A to Z-online-program (Or RAZ-Kids) as a supplemental resource!

Writing:  The Institute for Excellence in Writing is the best writing curriculum I worked with. This is a full-service curriculum…teaching kids to write starting at the Kindergarten level all the way through high school.

Websites I’ve used:
gonoodle.com (physical movement/coordination)
starfall.com (language arts)
ABCya.com (language arts)
IXL.com (math)
khan Academy for Kids (math)
junglememory.com (short-term, long-term, working memory support)

I sincerely hope these tips and resources are helpful, and many blessings as you educate the next generation in whatever capacity/role you find yourself in!