Greater is He that is in You

An uncommon post from me today- a Movie Review. I enjoy movies, but with my full time job and all of the extra projects that seem to find me, I don’t get to sit still long enough very often. This new movie, called Greater is one that I am happy to talk about!

There are so many reasons to go see it- For one, it is an “indy” movie made by, for, and about Christians. As important as Amazon reviews to online authors, ticket sales for movies like God’s Not Dead (one and two), The War Room,  and all of the other fine titles out there will guarantee that we have more of these gems to enjoy!

Secondly- if you or anyone in your family is a football fan- Here’s the story of a very determined “walk-on” who won’t take no for an answer. He’s the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. This young man from a small Arkansas town, Brandon Burlsworth, becomes an inspiration to all who know him. His never give up attitude and dedication to doing what is right becomes it’s own mantra. The Razorback coaches begin to tell the other players to do things “The Burl’s Way”.

Also- if you are the mother of a son, you will identify. It’s the classic struggle to hold on tight, and let go at the same time. You will feel for this Mom who sacrifices her own comfort to help her son get to where he wants to go to college, and then drives halfway to meet him for a special weekly rendezvous.

Lastly, if you have ever felt the pain of losing someone before you thought it was time, you will empathize with the struggle of Brandon’s older brother, Marty.  The journey through anger at the unfairness of life to the realization that God’s plan is much greater than ours will warm your heart.

Of course, if you follow Razorback football, you will know this story, and the time you spend watching this movie will be little bit of Hog Heaven. Watch for a cameo by a familiar former coach. Can I get a “Woo-pig” ?

 

A Day in Paradise

Everybody deserves a day in paradise–at least once.

Last weekend my daughter and I headed to Long Pine, Nebraska for a mini vacation in the Sandhills. Tucked away in a wooded valley near the edge of town is a cluster of cabins called Hidden Paradise—a perfect name for this little gem of a community.

creekHidden Paradise is unique in that Long Pine Creek twists and curves among the cabins reminding me of a lazy river at a water park, though this ride was created by God.

When my daughter first asked me to go floating with her, I’ll admit I was a tad nervous since I don’t swim and the resort doesn’t supply life jackets.

“What if I tip over?” I asked her.

“Stand up,” she answered.

Well, all righty then. If the water is shallow, I’m game. I agreed to the float and am so glad I did.

The first morning at the cabin was a bit on the chilly side, but being the brave soul that I am, I agreed to a mid-morning float. (The real reason was I didn’t want to look like a complete weenie in front of my daughter. But I’m sure the ear warmers I wore took care of that. Hey, don’t laugh. I have very sensitive ears. I can’t help it.) Fortunately for both of us, we had the creek to ourselves so no one noticed my fashion faux pas. I hope.

sand-hillsSo anyway, we grabbed our inner tubes and traipsed to the launch area and settled into the chilly water for a relaxing float down the clear, bubbling, sandy bottom creek. We bobbled along with the current, twisting and turning around the curves of the creek, floating beneath foot bridges that linked cabins to properties on the other side. As we floated along I gazed up at the Sandhills and overhanging trees. Decorative flags fluttered from cabin decks and flowering plants graced porch rails. Wild flowers and grasses sprouted along the sandy banks. Aah. A little piece of heaven.

(BTW, since my middle name is not Grace, I did manage to tip myself over getting out of the tube at the end of the float. So as I held my head above the water, I remembered my daughter’s advice and stood up. Hmm, that wasn’t so bad. The water was only knee deep.)

long-pine-creekWe floated a couple of more times that day and by afternoon the day had warmed up nicely. Thankfully we had one nice day on the water since the next day the temps didn’t get out of the 60’s, so we spent time hiking in a nearby park.

Hidden Paradise also boasts a very cool old railroad bridge transformed into a pedestrian bridge which makes an ideal spot to star gaze on clear nights. Though it’s a bit weird walking the bridge in the dark, it is an awesome experience.

railroad-bridgeWe spent our third and final day reading and watching chick flicks. A girl never outgrows George Strait in “Pure Country” or “Anne of Green Gables.”

So, that in a nutshell, is how I spent my days in Paradise, and I can’t wait to go again.

Where were you on 9/11?

My parents can tell me where they were when they heard about the moon landing. My mom remembers when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. My grandparents have distinct memories of December 7, 1941.

On September 11, 2001, I became one of those people who can answer where I was when I heard about the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history.

I was a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a small, state-run college in central Nebraska. I was 18 years old, and after a summer of feeling unsure about this new step into adulthood, I had finally found like I was settling in. I’d made new friends, gotten involved with a campus ministry, and felt like the world was full of possibilities.

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With my parents on my first day of college, about three weeks before 9/11.

The night of Sept. 10, 2001, a friend I had known since we were third graders at church camp hung out. We climbed to the top of a hill overlooking campus and sat in a brick gazebo, watching the lights of the city and the stars come out. The air was just turning cooler, and I remember he and I had a long talk about God, our futures, and what we wanted out of life. I don’t remember any of the specifics, but the one thing that has stuck with me for fifteen years was a feeling of peace, and certainty that all was right with the world.

The next day, the world flipped upside down.

I had an 8 a.m. class, and went to the computer lab to check my email when it got out at 9:15. There was a news headline about a plane hitting a building in New York, and I thought it was probably just some small Cesna with a poor pilot that killed a handful of people. I didn’t even click on the article.

A few minutes later, I went upstairs to my dorm room, and was greeted by one of my friends, in her bathrobe and pacing the hallway.

“Have you seen the TV?” she asked.

wtcwebI said I hadn’t, that I had just gotten out of class, and she pulled me into her room. There, on the TV, was the image that has been burned into every American’s brain since that day: the two towers of the World Trade Center afire, smoke billowing into the bright morning blue sky.

The rest of the day passed by in a blur. I called my parents, reached out to friends. Prayer vigils were organized, the Red Cross was taking blood donations, and professors hollowly lectured to classes whose minds were elsewhere. We might have been insulated in the heart of Nebraska, but everyone’s spirits were in New York City.

I wrote in my prayer journal later that day, “I have this horrible feeling that it might change life as we know it in the US. Are we going to war? Sweet Jesus, we need you to intervene and give this nation over to you. It doesn’t seem fair that last night was so wonderful and perfect, just talking to Phil on the hill and looking over Your creation. And then today this horrible terrorist attack happens.” I closed the entry with “You are an awesome God who right now is very busy listening to the prayers of others.”

I remember imagining that the US was going to war, that World War III was just around the corner. I wondered if all of the college boys I had just met would be drafted, and fight unknown enemies overseas. I (selfishly) wondered if I would become a spinster, because all of the men would die in combat.

Life has changed since 9/11, in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. My innocent childhood came to an abrupt end that day, and I learned what it was like to be an adult, to know that evil was real, that hatred drove people to do unthinkable things.

in-god-we-trustBut you know what? Although the world changed, God remained the same. He was and still is good. He is still the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. He wept with the families who lost innocents in the attacks, and grieved with those who went to war to protect our freedoms. He held the broken and the hurting in his hands. And He guided the military to seek justice against the criminals who planned the attacks.

Someday, when my children ask me where I was on September 11, 2001, I want to tell them my story. But instead of ending it with  the image of fire and smoke, I want them to know that evil doesn’t win. That the story didn’t end with two collapsed buildings, a burning Pentagon, and a downed plane in a Pennsylvania field.

They need to know that it’s been fifteen years, but we’re still here. That God is still in control. And evil never wins.

Traveling Wisdom

A few weeks back, our family road-tripped to Tampa, Florida, from Minneapolis to bring our son to college. Now, when you’re in the car for 60ish hours within an eight-day span, you have some time to think. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I collected along the way:

Have audio stories with you to pass the time. We brought along the Adventures in Odyssey Novacom Saga – 10 full hours of can’t-wait-to-hear-more stories. Adventures in Odyssey stories have long been a staple for car rides, and listening to this saga, 1/2 hour stories all centered around Novacom, really made the time pass!

Order your audiobooks early so they arrive before your travel date! I ordered The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings from our library. Problem was, they didn’t arrive before we left. Next time I will plan better!

We have a lot–I mean a whole lot!–of space in this country! Those who complain about overcrowding must fly from city to city. Ever drive all the way through Illinois? How about North and South Dakota? Nebraska? Pennsylvania? Those are all very wide or very tall states with miles upon miles of no people. Most every state we’ve traveled through is the same way.

God created many shades of nature green. Most of the road from Florida on up to Minnesota is framed by trees, and the rest with green-covered plains or hills. It’s beautiful!

Our country’s landscape is diverse and beautiful! Starting from the gentle hills of Minnesota, then driving through rolling hills of Wisconsin, plains of Illinois, mountains of Tennessee and Georgia, and water-framed Florida lands makes you appreciate the diversity and beauty of America.

Timing is everything! We were in the Tampa-St. Pete area days before Tropical Storm Hermine came ashore, flooding the roads surrounding the resort where we’d stayed. When we were there, the temps were hot and muggy, but not soggy.

You always meet someone you know. Doesn’t matter where we travel, I always run into someone I know, usually from back home. On this trip, we learned that my brother and his wife were in Nashville at the same time we were passing through. They were staying one more night, and we were just getting in town for a two-night stay. Naturally, we had to get together. But do you suppose we’ll get together back at home? Doesn’t happen often enough.

Now I did expect to see authors in Nashville, because we were there the final day of the ACFW Conference. But we happened to stop by the hotel just minutes after lunch began so everyone was behind closed doors.

Drivers in Nashville and Atlanta are crazy! (Sorry, but it’s true!) We drove through Nashville on a Sunday night where the speed limit was 70. Clearly that was only a suggestion as the majority of vehicles whipped past us, likely clocking in at 90 – 100. And I’m not exaggerating! Then in Atlanta, where there’s road construction and super-narrow lanes, drivers still zoom by as if we’re sitting still. I was pleasantly surprised with Tampa drivers. They seemed sane.

God loves painting sunsets. Three of the nights we stayed in Tampa, we took to the beach to watch God’s paintbrush color the sky over the gulf. WoW! is too small an exclamation. And then, even as we drove toward home, we watched more sunsets over the land. He sure delights in showering us with gifts!

There’s no place like home! The best part of a vacation is always coming home. While it’s fun to get away, traveling really helps me appreciate the place God planted me.

Up Close and Personal With the Clouds

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” Psalms 121:1 KJV.

Since I was a youngster, traveling into the hills of Arkansas has caused a distinct and very strong sensation deep in my core. My emotions are at their highest. I feel a strange mixture of elation and sadness.

A scientist might submit a physical reason. Maybe the thinner air, the change in barometric pressure affects me. I think there is more to it than that.

As a Kansas teenager coming to visit with my Mom and my sister, there may have been a premonition of where my future home would be. A sort of reverse deja vu.  Home

 

But, now that I have lived here for well over half my life, the feeling is stronger than ever. When we drive from our home in the lower Arkansas River valley and head north, that familiar stirring increases. Part of the attraction is definitely the fact that my husband is a native Arkansan, and he loves the mountains as much as I do. Our favorite day is spent navigating the roads that are marked as “crooked and steep”. The vistas around each curve bring out almost constant oohs and ahs. That is, when we don’t have our favorite songs turned up on the radio, prompting joyous sing-alongs.

We have now discovered a wonderful get-away spot, at a lodge on top of the tallest peak in Arkansas, Mount Magazine.Lodge We love it at all times of the year. It is always a full ten degrees cooler at the top of the mountain compared to the “mainland”. The food is great, and every room has a balcony with that incredible view.

But, remember, this feeling I have accompanies me each time I am in the mountains. Whether I am with other members of my family, or completely by myself. I don’t know whether I want to weep, or shout! What is it?

On our most recent trip, from my spot on the balcony, gazing into a cloud that was literally close enough to touch, I figured it out. As I released an exaggerated sigh that left my worries hundreds of feet below, I felt I could reach out and touch God. That’s why I love the mountains.  From a mountain peak, I could almost take one step and be in the arms of my Abba, Father. Don’t worry, I’m not considering jumping. God will bring me home in His time. But for now, a mountain-top experience can give me a glimpse of my heavenly future.

If you can’t find me, lift your eyes unto the hills. You just might see me up there.

Sunset

 

I Got This -God

A week and a half ago I headed to the ACFW Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. I packed my suitcase to the brim with everything I’d need, got my sheets ready for appointments, and somewhere along the way ended up dragging along a gut full of nerves.

Several things of note happened on this trip.

The first happened during the landing into Nashville. I was using my One Sheets (essentially back cover blurb and elevator pitches) to memorize during my flight for my agent/editor appointments. I’m not sure if anyone else is like me, but it is hard to concentrate when there’s loads of action going on around me. Suffice to say my memorization wasn’t taking, and so I bowed my head in prayer. When I opened my eyes back up and looked out the plane window I saw a full-sized rainbow across the window.

RainbowEven if you don’t believe in signs, this was a goose-bump moment for me. It really sealed for me that God had this.

I got into the hotel and up to my room too late to check in to the conference that night, and so I had to miss out on the genre dinner. This dinner is where some of the conference goers dress up in clothes that match their genre, such as period dresses for historical romance writers. I was really sorry to miss it, but had a great dinner with two of my Splicketeer team, so I felt as if I was truly blessed to have friends around to talk to and share a meal.

The next day we got to choose which continuing education class we wanted to go to. I chose Allen Arnold’s The Two Realms, because, well Realms. Allen started the class by informing us he had purchased and prayed over one hundred thirty notebooks. When he felt moved by the Spirit, he wrote down what God was telling him. Then during class he passed the notebooks out at random to everyone attending.

It was another God moment for me.

In the notebook Allen gave me was written: “With Me, you have all the time in the world. You are not late but right on time. –God

Okay, God. It’s been ten long years of learning to write and getting my stories down. But You’ve got it. The timing is Yours. Okay, I’ve got it.

Well, I still had nerves the whole time I was at conference. There were a few times I had to withdraw from everyone and just go somewhere quiet. I had three appointments, only one of which ended up with a request. I did get to brainstorm my brand and platform with the wonderful Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency. So I counted that as a win.

Kathy, Dawn, and Diane at the galaAt the gala, my nerves were really going crazy. I sat by two of my Iowa/Nebraska ACFW buddies, Diane Kenyon and Kathleen Anderson, who herself was up for a Genesis award. After Kathleen won and came back to the table it was my turn. When they called my name as the winner of the Speculative genre, I literally jumped. I vaguely remember going up to the stage and saying a few words. My inner concentration was on trying to keep my knees from buckling and collapsing to the floor.

I did get to watch the replay on You Tube, and realize I looked much more in control than I felt. It was an amazing night. And though I don’t have a contract yet for my fantasy novel, I’m making progress on building my platform. I actually have had a couple of people ask me where they can find my books.

Imagine that!

I can’t get there fast enough, but I know that God has this. He told me twice to make sure it got through my insecure brain. So, I’m taking that rainbow promise with a notebook message on the side to heart.

Yep. God’s got this. And what an amazing ride this last year has been!

The Hike of Your Life

Clear blue skies overhead, the sun shining bright, the air a crisp 65 degrees, and the scent of sun-warmed pine all around. It was the perfect day for a hike.

Our destination was Ramona Falls, a nine-mile round trip hike up Oregon’s Mt. Hood. My husband and I had been planning this trip for a while, choosing which trail to take, what gear to pack, how much water and food we’d need, and most importantly, how to not get lost in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

It was a spectacular trail for two native Nebraskans who are more used to fields of soybeans and corn than towering trees and mountains. The trail took us past boulders and creeks, meadows of soft green moss, and steep, rocky cliffs that had been sheared away by Mother Nature.

Steep inclineI enjoyed the first several miles of our hike, snapping pictures of the glorious beauty surrounding us. My husband walked ahead, alerting me of roots or rocks that we could trip on. He cautioned me when we reached a particularly narrow part of the trail that beheld a gorgeous view of the river below, separated from us by a few hundred feet of a near-ninety degree drop off littered with  fallen trees.

At one point, we reached a river crossing, criss-crossed with logs but no visible bridge. A native hiker we had met when we started out told us the bridge had been taken down earlier in the season due to flooding, but that we could shimmy across the logs to continue our trek up to the falls. It was exhilarating (and a bit scary!) to creep across that fallen log, see the swirling cold water of the Sandy River below, and make it safely to the other side, like a modern day Indiana Jones!

Of course, as we trekked ever higher up the mountain, fatigue began to set in. We stopped to rest more and more frequently, and I had to unlace my boots at one point because of a blister forming on my heel. We ate some energy bars and kept going.

Rocky riverBut after three hours of hiking, I’ll admit, I was feeling defeated. I had prepared my body all summer for the rigors of hiking, but the trail was taking it’s toll. I felt drained, my heel hurt, I could feel blood in my sock, and I didn’t know if I could make it another step. We had no idea how close we were to the falls, but we knew by the distance we had covered that they had to be close.

I sat down on a rock next to trail, and put my head between my knees.

My husband sat down next to me, and just said, “we’re really close, I know it. I’ll turn around now, if you want to, because going downhill will be easier, but I know you can do it.”

I was tired and in pain, but he was right: I could do it!  I got up and continued hiking and you know what? After about two more minutes of walking, we heard a sound through the trees: rushing water. The temperature suddenly felt 10 degrees cooler. And then just around the bend: Ramona Falls!

Ramona FallsThe sight of it took my breath away.

As I was writing this, I was thinking of 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  I don’t know about you, but I think a hike is more appropriate (and not just because I hate running).

Get a map: The Word of God is the best tool we have for navigating the trail of life.

Be prepared: Make sure your gear includes your map, plenty of prayer, and hopefully a good hiking partner (or two or three) to help you along the way.

Enjoy the scenery: The old Victorian term that “life is just a veil of tears” is not true! God has blessed you in so many ways, maybe some that are easy to see, like the majesty of his creation, or others that might be hidden, like stepping closer to see the differing shades of green moss next to a brook.

Watch your step along the narrow paths: Like the narrow parts of the trail, there may be times when you have to walk a narrow road, whether that means guarding your heart against something that is socially acceptable, or making unpopular decisions. It’s difficult to not fall off the edge!

IMG_4807Precarious crossings: Sometimes, God asks us to do things that make us uncomfortable, or that could be dangerous. But he always provides a bridge to help us cross, and He’s always got us in the palm of his hands.

Reaching your destination: The hike of life might be short or long. Even if you have a map, sometimes the end of the trail could sneak up on you. You never quite know when the  journey will end, but you need to keep going until you reach your Heavenly destination. The sight of it will take your breath away.

Giant tree

 

 

Facing an Empty Nest

These next few weeks are going to be tough ones, busy ones, filled with life changes. This weekend our youngest son heads to NDSU for his junior year of college, then a week later, we’re loading the car and taking our oldest son down to Tampa for his final two years of college. Sigh. It’s true, you blink and everything changes. Soon my husband and I will be left with an empty nest.

And that’s good.

As a parent, you want to raise your children to be independent. As much as you hate to see them leave the nest, you still want them to fly. And when that flight takes off with joy rather than dissension, you know you’ve done your parenting job well.

Still, it’s not an easy thing watching them fly away. It’s a scary world out there, with lots of bad choices to be made. And like me, they’ll make their share of them. And then there are those things beyond their or my control … when they’re living hundreds of miles away, I won’t be able to rush to them.

Rather, I will wrap them in prayer. He’s got this. He made them to fly, and he’ll give them wings to soar.

So while I’m sad to say “goodbye” I’m thrilled they’re finding their wings. And they know, they will always be welcomed back home again.

but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Find Your Wings, a beautiful prayer sung by Mark Harris

End of Summer- Endure or Enjoy?

Oh those dog days of summer. We’ve had enough of the heat. The back to school supply lists seem longer than ever. There’s nothing on TV but Olympics. Then there’s those crazy pop-up thunderstorms. Phew. Bring on the cool weather, football games, pumpkin spiced everything. We just have to hold out for a few more weeks.

A recent post on Facebook said, “It’s a good thing Shakespeare didn’t live around here. We would have never had Sonnet 18.” That’s the one that starts out “Shall I compare thee to a summer day?” They might be right about that, because where the famous bard lived, there are many dreary days in the winter and spring. Summer is probably a very welcomed break. But, I have a feeling that that poetic soul would have found a way to put a positive spin on even the hot summers in the American South.

It’s all in how you look at it.

This summer, in Central Arkansas, we have had several days of 100 degree weather. When the actual temps didn’t quite make it, the heat indexes made up for it. Steamy, sweaty, sloggy days. But, to break things up, God has been sending almost daily thunderstorms. This is not the norm here, as it is in the more tropical climates near the ocean. The clouds build to a crashing breaking point, and the sky bursts into refreshing showers of blessings. For a little while, we can splash in the puddles, watch our lawns soak up the refreshment, and praise the Father for having everything figured out.

At our house, we don’t have to deal with school supply lists anymore. In our community though, we have a day devoted to making sure all of the neighborhood kids get what they need. I volunteered on one of those steamy mornings to pass out gently used clothes while others provided backpacks full of pencils, paper and colorful markers. Snow-cones, happy songs, smiles, and even a contest for a free bicycle were the order of the day. Hard to grumble much that day!

And then, there’s the Olympics. Don’t get me started! What a joy to watch these young people who have worked so hard for so long enjoying the fruits of their labor. Yesterday, a famous swimmer started the day with a picture of his “death glare” as he waited for a race, and ended it with joyful tears as he stood on the podium listening to the national anthem of the country we all love. Amazing, and so inspiring to the rest of us who get weary  just getting up and going to work every day in the August heat. Our excuses sound so feeble, and their joy is so apparent.

So, look around. There is something to celebrate, even in the dog days. Like when the Disney photographer says,”Look down, and pretend there is something totally amazing and a little scary sitting on my toe.” You never know what you might see when the vacation pictures come back! Enjoy!

 

 

 

Life Lessons from the Olympics

Funny thing about me – I’m not a huge sports fan but I’m enthralled by the Olympics. I’m mesmerized by it all. Elite athletes, heart-soaring stories, the thrill of the chase. I’m held captive for a few weeks of the year. And I’ll admit it’s a nice switch from American politics which has even infiltrated our Canadian networks – but not during the Olympics!

My favourite events are horse jumping, diving, gymnastics and rowing events. But I actually watched a rugby game yesterday (yay, Canada!). And I’ve watched more volleyball than I ever have before. I’m beginning to think of myself as an armchair expert. Not! But I thought it would be fun to take a look at what we can learn from the Olympics so, without further ado, I give you…drum roll please…

Life Lessons we can learn from the Olympics

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From Diving: It’s all about the splash you make hitting the water – and not a big, frothy one. Nope, divers are supposed to slip in with hardly a ripple. The smaller the splash, the higher the marks. Life Lesson: It’s not about the initial splashy ‘ta-da-it’s-me-aren’t-I-great?’ moments, but more about the quiet coming together – letting the soft ripples of caring wash over those around you.

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From Beach Volleyball: The uniform disparity really annoys me. Why are the women wearing teeny tiny bra tops and barely there bottoms? If men can play competitively with baggy shorts and a long tank t-shirt, then women can too. Life Lesson: Women don’t need to underdress in order to be a success in life. They can compete with men on any level and still keep their dignity.

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From Water Polo: Seriously – not all sports are the spectator kind. Some things just needed to be experienced to be appreciated. Life Lesson: That conversation you’re having on your cell phone while commuting to work on the bus? The one where you’re revealing intimate details of your love life, arguing with your spouse, or berating your boss to a friend? Yeah, well, those conversations are meant to be private – not a shared experience with your fellow commuters.

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From Horse Jumping: You know those little ‘hats’ the horses wear? Kind of a hood that slips over their ears and across the top of their head? Well, that’s actually to muffle the noise of the cheering crowd so the horse won’t be distracted. Life Lesson: Turning a deaf ear to the noise of the world will help you focus on directing your steps where the Master will lead you.

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From Rugby: Oh my goodness, but this is a rough sport. I worked with a woman who belonged to a rugby league. Now I understand why she came in all battered and bruised every Monday. Broken fingers, a broken nose – even had to have her jaw wired once after a fracture. Oy. Life Lesson: You’re going to get knocked down…a lot…over and over and over again. The important thing is to get up and get back in the game…every single time.

Can you think of any other life lessons we can learn from the Olympics?