Monday, August 28, 2017

Remembering Betty Owens

     Church. Some love it, some hate it, and some are indifferent.

     In 1974 I was a 26 year old mother of five, moving to a new neighborhood. I was broken, flawed, and so shy, I hardly spoke. I hadn’t always been so broken.
     I had been attending Bethel Pentecostal Church of God since I was 14, but that year I decided to attend Victory Assembly of God, a small church closer to home in my new neighborhood. Attending Bethel and Victory were decisions that would be pivotal in my life. At Bethel, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ for the first time. At Victory, the course of my life was set.
     Betty Owens was the pastor’s wife at Victory. She would become my friend, mentor, and family. Looking back, Betty was flawed and broken too, but she hid it well, having overcome much because of her faith. She took me under her wing, encouraging me to get involved and develop in ministry within the church.
     The church grew and so did I. Betty believed in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Whenever I told her I couldn’t do something, she’d say, “Of course you can. I’ll show you and help you.”
     Over my thirty plus years in that church, many things happened. In 1974 my oldest child was 9 and my youngest was 1. My children grew up. I remember Betty during times when we didn’t have enough food, or I couldn’t provide Christmas, or pay for my kids to go to camp. Betty would rally the church to help. I was embarrassed sometimes, and Betty would tell me that’s what church people do.
     Betty was there for me during some of the most difficult times of my life – times when circumstances almost destroyed me. My struggles in a bad marriage. My divorce after 22 years. My 15-year-old daughter having a baby, making me a grandmother at 32. Another daughter giving a baby up for adoption. Another daughter rebelling and leaving home. Betty was my shoulder to cry on, my encourager, and she never failed to pray for me and my children. Or give us a lecture and a piece of her mind.
     Betty loved to laugh and have fun. She was often the instigator whenever our ladies group pulled pranks or got into shenanigans, and I have pictures to prove it. She coordinated all my daughters’ weddings, and Pastor Leroy performed the ceremony. They oversaw many of my grandchildren’s dedications.
     Because of Betty’s and Leroy’s example and support, I have children in ministry today.
     We got older – Betty and I. It happens. Even as her health deteriorated the last several years, she always managed to look beautiful. She was a classy lady. It grieved me to watch Parkinson’s destroy her body. In December of 2016, Betty went home to the Trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) she had dedicated her life to serve.
     That last week of her life while her children, Becky, Philip, Sheila and I were talking about Betty going to heaven and what would she be do there. I said she would help Jesus set up for the marriage Supper of the Lamb.
    Has your influence made someone a better person? Changed the course of their lives? Brought hope? 
    There will never be another Betty in my life. I can never repay her for all she was to me and my children. But, I, and every one of us, can be a Betty in someone’s life. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why I Write

It was 1981. I was in my early 30’s, a young mother of five children. I was active and involved in church with a life filled with crises. My marriage had hit bottom, my oldest child – a fifteen-year-old daughter – was pregnant, there was never enough money to meet our needs. The list could go on, but you get the idea. 

I loved Jesus. When plagued with despair and depression, times when my faith was shaken, I clung to God – sometimes by a slender thread. I remember standing in the church kitchen on a Sunday after our ladies had served food, set up and took down the fellowship hall. As president over our women’s group, I had been busy. In a quiet lull, my shoulders slumped with the enormity of the problems I was facing. 

One of the church ladies walked into the kitchen. I pasted a smile on my face and engaged in small talk. Few people knew everything, but most knew some of my struggles. Mary gazed at me with compassion. “You are such an inspiration, Leola. No matter what you’re going through, you never miss church. You stay strong in your faith.”

I thanked her. She left the room. I gritted my teeth, fought back tears, and mumbled, “I don’t want to be an inspiration anymore, God. I just want the pain to go away. I want to not hurt anymore. I want my life to be okay. Why? Why is all this happening to me?”

There have been a few times in my life when the spirit of God has spoken clearly to my spirit. He did then. He simply said, “Because of what I’ve called you to do.”

For years, I thought the “calling” God referred to was this thing or that thing. I’ve always been involved in ministry in the church. Years after God spoke that to me, I worked nineteen years in the ministry of Teen Challenge. Maybe that’s what God meant.

Do you feel called by God to be a writer? It was a dream re-birthed in me before I retired from Teen Challenge. I can truthfully say it’s what God has called me to do at this stage of my life. So why hasn’t my writing journey been what I anticipated it would be? Especially since God reminded me, “Because of what I’ve called you to do.” I know now that all my experiences in life, the good and the not-so-good, have set the groundwork for my writing. 

The voice of our writing is usually an extension of our life experiences. I write/want to write about real life issues Christians face. As my own experiences weave in and out of what I write, I understand that although God isn’t responsible for the things that ripped my heart out, He has used it to bring depth to my writing that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
I’m truly convinced God has called me to write. So why do I have so many days where I just flat out don’t want to write? Days I ask myself what’s the use. Who’s going to read my stories or books? 
You know what? The enemy of my soul tells me those things. I’m responsible to write. God gets it to whoever it’s meant for. 

God, I pray for those who are struggling right now. Whether it’s in their personal life or in their writing journey. Remind us of your faithfulness. Remind us that what you have birthed in us will accomplish your purpose if we stay true to the calling. Your love, your mercy and grace are sufficient. You reign over our lives in splendor and majesty. Thank you, father God.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Excerpt From "In An Eveningtide"

Can a woman who has loved a man her whole life forgive him for his betrayal? Can she bring herself to marry him knowing he has never truly loved her?

In An Eveningtide: page 184

Betty couldn’t sleep that night. She tried to pray and couldn’t. She was angry at God. All of her life, she had been the good, sweet girl. The people pleaser. Always doing for others. Why had God let this happen? Hadn’t she prayed her whole life about Josiah? Hadn’t she begged God to make him love her?
She hated Josiah for not loving her. But hadn’t she always known that?  She had lived in fear that he wouldn’t marry her. Now he wanted to marry her. Probably to help hide his affair. She would show him. She wouldn’t marry him.
She groaned, and bit her lip until she tasted blood. Who was she kidding? She couldn’t live without Josiah. She didn’t want to live without him. But the girl – the woman, whoever she was – if Betty ever found out who it was, she would tear her to pieces with her fingernails. What kind of person would try to destroy a good man like Josiah? Only an evil person.
Betty balled her hands and pounded them into her pillow. She was glad she lived alone as her sobs filled the air. She knew Josiah would never fall in love with an evil person. Whoever she was, she must be beautiful and alluring and sweet for Josiah to love her.  Even when Josiah was her husband, would she, whoever she was, still have his heart?
No, not if Betty could help it. She would be the best wife in the world. She would be everything Josiah wanted her to be. She would make him forget this other woman. He would love her. She would make it happen.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

In An Eveningtide

Friday, July 22, 2016

My New Book

I have not blogged in a while and for that, I apologize. I could give excuses, but, eh, why bother? I was lazy. I didn’t blog.

But – today, I am blogging. Why? Because I have a new book to promote. In An Eveningtide is about a nice, but prideful, evangelist – who doesn’t realize he’s prideful. The book covers forty years in the lives of Josiah Lathim – the evangelist – and Leah – a newly converted-to-Christianity Jewish girl who has a baby and a husband in Viet Nam – after their brief affair.

Think The Thorn Birds, a 1977 book by Colleen McCullough that was made into a television mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. The book covers sixty years in the Cleary family. My book In An Eveningtide is similar – sort of – but different – sort of.

I loosely based the book as a modern version of the story of David and Bathsheba is 2 Samuel. Why would I want to write a book about moral failure in a man of God – a minister?

I’m glad you asked.

I have been involved in ministry most of my adult life. I have seen, and known, men of God – ministers – who have fallen – men I loved and respected. I had more questions than answers when this happened.  The biggest question or concern I had was can a man of God be restored and be successful in ministry after moral failure?

I believe they can if they truly repent and vow to never go back to their failure. BUT! Although God forgives and restores, a chain reaction has been put in motion that does not go away.

I realize many people will not like my book. I may get harsh criticism, and honestly, it will hurt. But I wrote it. I felt God wanted me to write it. I hope you read it.

And God bless us – everyone!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Epic Fail Again On That New Year's Resolution To Diet

Every year I make a list of New Year's resolutions. Every. Year. And every year I fail at some or most of them. I always include diet and eating healthier, exercising more. The following is a cute tale I wrote for FaithWriters weekly challenge. Enjoy

TITLE: The Imaginary World of Edith and Joy
By Leola Ogle


Monday morning and I’m starting my usual beginning-of-the-week diet again. Those rascally gals, Edith and Joy, have already made wagers as to how many days I’ll last this time. I know Joy has faith in me, but that Edith! If she wasn’t such a glutton with an enormous sweet tooth, I’d be able to stick to a diet. Besides, she’s a real bully and I admit, I’ve always been a bit of a pushover. If I just had more backbone, I’d stand up to her.

If you ask my husband, he’ll say that Edith and Joy don’t exist; says it’s all in my mind. Humph! Not in my mind – somewhere between my taste buds and stomach. That’s where Edith and Joy live. 

Off to a good start this morning - oatmeal with fresh blueberries and skim milk. That flutter in my stomach is Joy doing her happy dance. I just love Joy; makes me feel good to make her happy. She’s that skinny girl in me trying to get out.

By ten o’clock my stomach’s rumbling, but I ignore it. It’s just Edith making her demands, “Hey, what about me?” Well, I’m the boss here. I will not succumb to her bullying today. Take that, you sneaky villain, I say with a smile. 

Diet goes hand-in-hand with exercise so I decide to watch the Olympics. Those sleek, athletic girls playing beach volleyball are an inspiration. I want to look like that, although I’ll not disappoint my Lord by wearing a skimpy swimsuit in public like they do. 

Fueled by this inspiration, I do a few jumping-jacks and torso-twists. Ugh! This is NOT fun. No more of that, but I promise myself to do some walking this evening. 

I better shut that pesky Edith up, though. That gal simply does not know the meaning of self-control, a fruit of the spirit. Maybe some apple with peanut butter will keep her quiet. She likes peanut butter, although she prefers it in cookies or those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s a struggle to pull my mind from the image of chocolate surrounding peanut butter, but I do it.

I sail on through to lunchtime feeling good about myself. As I dig through the refrigerator gathering salad fixings, I notice all those plastic bowls containing leftovers from the feast our family had after church yesterday. “Hm, some of that can be thrown away,” I say out loud for Edith’s and Joy’s benefit. “I’ll do that after I eat lunch.”

I love salads, and that’s no lie. I just wish they were more filling. I could throw some shredded cheese, avocado, walnuts, dried cranberries and a handful of M&M’s on it. Wait! What? I didn’t mean that about the M&M’s. Not sure how that slipped in there.

I watch the Olympic gymnastics competition while I eat my salad. My, oh my! I don’t think God created our bodies to twist and contort like that. Those girls fly in the air while twisting and turning and still manage to land on their feel. That certainly isn’t natural. I can’t help but smile. Just wait until they get to be my age. They’ll regret torturing their bodies like that. I’m sure they’ve injured joints and muscles that they’re just not aware of yet.

Sighing, I get off the sofa determined to clean out the refrigerator. I line all the bowls on the counter. Some I’ll save for my husband, some I’ll throw away. Mixed vegetable. Back in the fridge. Potato casserole. Back in the fridge. Meatloaf. Back in the fridge. Half a slice of banana cream pie. Back in the…now wait a minute. Bananas are healthy, aren’t they? And it’s only a half slice.

Rinsing the empty bowl and putting it in the dishwasher, I look back in the refrigerator. There should be a couple of leftover brownies that escaped the clutches of my grandchildren. Ah, yes, bless that Edith’s heart. I’m sure it was her that helped me remember that I’d hidden them in the vegetable bin. Clever of me!

Washing my hands after a restroom break, I’m stunned to see chocolate crumbs and yellow smudges around my mouth. That darned Edith; I can’t believe she tricked me into that. No worries, I just won’t eat dinner and get on the treadmill instead.

There’s my phone. “Sorry, Joy”, I mumble after hanging up, “my husband’s taking me out to dinner tonight. “Seriously, Joy, if you weren’t such a wimp, you’d send that Edith packing.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 - My Year in review

We are already several days into the new year of 2016; 2015 has come to an end. Some will say good riddance. Others will look back on 2015 with fond memories. Life, with all its twists and turns, happens. Our experiences are the sum of the all the good and the bad.

So how was 2015 for me? I’m glad you asked. It was a mixture of pleasant and not-so-pleasant happenings. But throughout it all, God was faithful, loving, and compassionate. He always is. A few highlights of my 2015:

In May, my mother-in-law, Shirley, went home to be with Jesus the Thursday before Mother’s Day. She had been ill for a while, but it was still heartbreaking. Her passing would begin an emotional journey for my husband that has still not been resolved. Sometimes we don’t know what wounds and unresolved issues are inside of us until circumstances reveal it.

The Sunday, Mother’s Day, after Shirley’s passing, our grandson, Judah, was born. He is beautiful and sweet-natured. We also had two great-granddaughters born in May and June within weeks of each other: Zoey in Ohio, the fifth child to my Air Force grandson and his Air Force wife. And Zoey in Phoenix, second daughter to my granddaughter and her husband. Two Zoeys make it Zoey-fabulous.

The Monday after Mother’s Day, I drove myself to the ER – my husband was in Prescott with his dad and brothers – with horrible pain in the right side of my forehead and eye that turned out to be shingles. I was admitted to the hospital that night in excruciating pain, and kept heavily sedated for the next several days. There was a possibility I could lose sight in my right eye because of shingles in that eye. Praise God – and that is a sincere, humble gratitude – that I didn’t.

Shirley’s memorial service wasn’t until June and held in beautiful Prescott, Arizona where my in-laws lived. It was a precious tribute to her – she would’ve loved every moment of it. Alas, crises and tragedies bring out the best and worst in people, and both things happened as a result of this memorial service. There are no perfect families. Toxicity resides in the best of people, but hateful cruelty spews from the heart of toxicity in some people. Only God can bring a spirit of love, peace, and forgiveness to hearts.

I attended my first ever ACFW – American Christian Fiction Writers – in September in Dallas, TX. We combined this trip with a visit by my husband, Jeff, and father-in-law, Phil, to family in Grand Prairie and Stephenville. God answered some of my prayers through this conference. I got to see/meet some favorite authors and people in the industry: Francine Rivers, Brandilyn Collins, Deborah Raney, Randy Ingermanson, Steve Laube, Chip MacGregor. I’m sure I’ve left out some names. I made new friendships. It was a treasured time for me.

Motivated by the conference, I had hoped to publish a book by the end of 2015, but it was not to happen. My life and wonderful, but huge family, can be overwhelming at times – especially around the holidays – and this year it seemed intensified. That’s my excuse/reason and I’m sticking to it. * happy face wink wink* But the conference seemed to point out that I should go the indie publishing route, and that is currently where I'm at with my writing.

I entered a contest with FaithWriters in 2015. My novel entry placed in the top 15, but didn't win. I appreciate the wonderful, helpful, and inspiring feedback I got from Deb Porter. She's a master at pointing out flaws and problem areas in your writing in a loving, encouraging manner.

In December, we got another great-granddaughter – a medical miracle baby – Isabelle. We thank God for a perfect, beautiful, healthy baby. Our family does babies very well. And my father-in-law, Phil, moved to Texas. We sure miss him, but will see him during the year.

So overall, it was a blessed year, fraught with some difficulties. My husband is still on a journey to resolve and reconcile some relationships – and because he is, I am also because I'm his wife and helpmate. God is so gentle and loving as He works in our lives. His mercies are new every morning and endure forever. We rest in the assurance that He has all things under control. We are blessed with a wonderful family and friends. 

I am believing God for a blessed and happy year of 2016. For God’s hand can be found in all that we encounter as we journey in our life on Earth. We are part of a destiny that is eternal.