Monday, December 5, 2011

Out, Out, Dark Spot!

Photo credit: sanja gjenero
Each year when spring bustles in, I have good intentions of spring cleaning. I remember my mom turning the house upside down and inside out, washing windows, cleaning carpets, and searching out every mote of dust like a blood hound on the scent.

But with the busyness of spring on the farm, all the extra school activities, and all the dust kicked up by the farm machinery, I rarely have the time or the desire to spring clean.

But come fall, it's a different story. I usually host both Thanksgiving and Christmas and when you throw in Justice's New Year's Day birthday and assorted gatherings of friends and church family, we have a lot of company between the middle of November and mid-January. So the house that looked "okay" in the spring is really in need of a deep cleaning to become company-worthy.

A few weeks ago as I hit the house hard in a yellow rubber-gloved frenzy, I texted back and forth with my friend, who happens to clean houses for a living. We were bemoaning the fact that we were stuck indoors on a warm, sunny fall day. God reminded me of another truth as I texted this sentence:

Thankful it's sunny--always easier to see the dirt w/sun shining.

Even as I typed, my heart beat faster at the truth of that statement, for it is always when we apply the Son to our lives that the dirt shows up. Every time I bow my heart in prayer, each time I immerse myself in the Bible, whenever I spend time studying God's truths, it is like a giant, cosmic spotlight shines into my heart and life exposing all the dirt lurking deep inside. The cobwebs of selfishness are illuminated. The crumbs of impatience stand out in stark contrast. The ugly, dirty sins of my life can't hide in the presence of the Son.

And, just like my house in the fall, when the dirt is evident, it makes it all the easier to sweep, mop, dust, steam, or wipe it out.

This holiday season as you prepare and clean our homes, let's commit to preparing and cleaning our hearts as well.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Monday, November 21, 2011

Never Be Satisfied

*Usually I write about lessons I learn from my kids. Sometimes God uses other critters to teach me.*

Sit. Stay. Shake. These are a few lessons I’ve taught my dogs.

Be aware of your tone. Say what you mean. Never be satisfied. These are just a few of the lessons my dogs have taught me.

I’m the proud "momma" to two pug-beagle mixes. Four-year-old Dulcie, with her chocolate-brown fur and white feet, takes after her beagle mother. She is intelligent, an insatiable chewer, and tracks every bird or mouse that traverses our backyard. Stella, at 2-years, takes after her pug daddy, not only in her caramel body wit black muzzle, but with her smaller, more delicate stature and her penchant for climbing onto any lap that remains still for a moment.

Their contrasting characteristics taught me more than a lesson in puppy personality. They taught me a lesson about God and His desire for relationship with His people.
 Each morning, the dogs slide from their beds, stretch, and head out into the backyard to relieve themselves, to sniff the air, and to patrol the perimeter looking for anything amiss. Most mornings, they re-enter the house into the fray of three elementary-aged children eating breakfast, completing morning chores, and preparing for school. The dogs always get their breakfast between 7:00 and 7:30, but depending on the crisis of the day, it may be on the earlier end or not until the kids leave on the bus at 7:30.

I never wonder where the dogs are or what they are into during time period. If I’m digging up misplaced homework; they’re right with me. If I’m fetching sports uniforms from the dryer; they’re right behind me. If I’m packing lunches for a field trip; they’re right under me. You see, they never leave my side because they are hungry. They don’t want to take the chance of missing what I have for them or worse yet, that the other dog might get a double portion. Their rich brown eyes follow my every move and their excitement and intensity is evident in the perk of their ears and the wag of their tails. In this, they are the same. I have something that they want and I’ve never let them down.
The contrast comes after they’ve been fed. With the kids gone, I settle into the schedule of a work-from-home mom. Dulcie, now satisfied, goes off in search of a soft bed, a warm chair, or a trash can left unattended. Stella, on the other hand, follows me from room to room, never straying far from my side. If I go to the laundry room, she makes herself comfortable on a pile of dirty clothes. If I pay bills at the kitchen counter, she curls up on the doggie bed in the corner and snoozes. If I move to my office, I hear her tap-tap-tap on the tile behind me and then her contented sigh as she sprawls in a patch of sunshine. Her belly is full, her bladder is empty, yet she stays beside me. She is satisfied in what I’ve given her, yet she still desires my presence.

God wants us to get to the place where we are satisfied, not only by what He gives us, but simply by resting in His presence. I believe in an effort to deepen our companionship with Him, sometimes God makes us wait on an answer or He seems silent in the face of our pleas. He knows that when we receive what we want, often we no longer seek His will or desire His presence. Speaking of the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy, and their attitude toward Him, God reminds them that He is their God, their Deliverer, and their Provider, but says, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” Perhaps God keeps us waiting for an answer or stays silent just awhile longer because it is only in those times of desperate seeking that we remember Him, and He wants the connection to last just a bit longer. Satisfaction allows us to retreat; desire keeps us pressing deeper into communion in every type of relationship—marriage, friendship, parenthood.

 I love both my doggie-girls, but in her choice to stay beside me all throughout the day, Stella benefits more from our relationship. I talk to her more, because she’s made herself available to me. Our relationship is closer and more fulfilling for both of us. She gets more belly rubs, head pats, and ear scratches than her absent sister. She is blessed with more treats. If a cookie crumb or a popcorn kernel falls from my hand, she is at my feet to retrieve it—oftentimes before it hits the floor.

Dulcie wants what I can give her; Stella just wants me. In her satisfaction with a small bowl of dog food in the morning, Dulcie misses out on an entire day of rewards and relationship from her master. Through her loyalty and constant companionship, Stella reminds me to stay close to my Master and to never be satisfied with the depth of any of my relationships.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Everything's Springing Up--Kittens!

So, you know April showers bring May flowers. But do you know what May thunderstorms bring? Kittens! There is just something about the atmospheric pressure changes of a storm or maybe the fact that ready-to-pop momma cats are snuggled in tight in the hay that cause kittens to crop up after a spring storm.

So, with all this rain this spring, it's the perfect time to announce a new arrival at our house. No, not kittens, but a book about kittens. Well, not just kittens, but cats of all ages and stages.

Recently available in stores and on-line, this newest addition to the Chicken Soup family of books is all about cats--the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of life with those clever, crafty, cuddly felines.

My story, The Truce, is nestled among 100 other cat-chy stories from people who love and learn from their cats--whether they want to or not.

So, even if you don't have new kittens popping up in your hayloft...or bushes...or doghouse...or window well, you can live vicariously through the stories in this heart-warming book.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Congratulations! It's a...


I've been expecting this little darling since last summer, so I'm so excited to share the news with you!

This little baby made a safe delivery on March 8, 2011 to all the places you like to buy books.

Here are the stats that I know you're dying to hear.

Name: Chicken Soup for the Soul New Moms: 101 Inspirational Stories of Joy, Love, and Wonder
Born on: March 8, 2011
Time: Anytime you need a short, enjoying read.
Measurements: Just under 400 pages, about 5" x 7" x 1", lightweight enough to fit in the diaper bag, purse, or hold one-handed during those 3 am feedings.
Proud Parents: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing and over 100 contributors, including me!

You can find my story of a lesson learned as a brand new momma on page 246. Noah to the Rescue recounts the harrowing story of the day I was locked in the nursery and how help came in the form of a very unlikely hero.

I hope you'll check it out.

Nikki Studebaker Barcus