September 8, 2017

Before and After the storm

Before a hurricane watch or warning is sounded in your area, prepare!

The previous post gave tips and reminders on preparing for a hurricane, so I pray you already have all you need to hunker down and wait it out – unless you’re in an evacuation area, in which case, evacuate! Storm surges and floods have the strength to wipe out buildings and bridges, and people are no exception.

Unlike most storms, hurricanes are not usually fast-moving. Some may make their presence known for days! Regardless of the length of time a storm hangs around, stay indoors until the wind subsides enough to be outside with no possibility of a sudden gust knocking you over or hurtling pine cones and debris at you like missiles.

Some ABC’s for after a storm:

• Assess any damages you’ve sustained.

• Be careful of downed wires, standing water, and damaged dwellings.

• Conserve bottled water, especially if told to boil tap water before using.

• Dial your radio to local news for storm assessments of your area.

• Encourage friends and family by letting them know how you are.

• Find out what damages need documenting and reporting to utility and insurance companies.

• Go help neighbors who have more than they can handle.

• Have a meal in mind before quickly opening the frig or freezer.

• If the threat of floods or storm surges caused you to evacuate, don’t go back until local authorities say it's okay.

• Just remember: Nothing is impossible with God! Everything IS possible.

• Keep on praying.

• Let go of anger, worries, blame, and regrets by giving them to God.

• Make today your focus.

• Notice what you CAN do, then do it!

• Observe the overall situation as realistically as possible.

• Pray, listen, and arrange priorities according to God's priorities for you.

• Quit thinking unhelpful thoughts such as “Why?” or “If only….”

• Remain as low-key as you can around kids, but be truthful.

Sacrifice praise to God.

• Thank God for every good thing that comes to your mind.

• Understand this is trauma! Do unto yourself as you'd do unto others.

• Verify each loss or damage with lists and photographs.

• Work as you're able to improve conditions around you.

• X each chore off your list to remind yourself that things do get better.

• Yes! You will get through this, and maybe even help others too.

• Zip valuables and paper in plastic before the storm begins. Someday this aftermath will end and new hopes and plans get started.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

September 7, 2017

Preparing for my umpteenth hurricane

At this writing, a Category 5 hurricane has aimed its entire force toward Florida, so we’ve been making preparations all week. This isn’t new for us. We’ve weathered so many hurricanes – from Camille in Biloxi to Matthew in Florida - I’ve actually lost count.

This time, though, my husband and I live in a 112-year-old house. Since a huge magnolia tree resides outside our bedroom window, we may need to sleep in our basement – a rare space in Florida, but I'm grateful we have one. Getting it and everything else ready, however, takes time, planning, and experiences, such as brushing my teeth with Pepsi, that have helped me know what tips to share! For instance:

If you’re in the path of Irma or any other storm, remove and store away lawn furniture, yard toys, garbage cans, and other outside items as soon as possible. Left outdoors these will become projectiles, hurling through space and into a roof or window. Also:

• Keep your prescriptions filled and medications with you.

• Keep a list of important phone numbers with you, including business cards from your insurance agent and others you may need to contact.

• Keep important papers and photos with you. You might also scan these and save to Google Photos. If you have a lot of photographs or scanned files, this will take a while. (My 3,000 photos took 3 days to upload.)

• Pack an overnight bag or large purse with the above items and plenty of cash in small bills. If the electricity goes out, stores won’t be able to swipe your bank or credit cards.

• Have at least a couple of jugs of water per person. This is crucial if you have an electric-powered well pump or if you live in a flood zone where water supplies will likely be contaminated.

• Pack your freezer with fresh water frozen in various sizes of containers. These blocks of ice take longer to melt than those bags of ice you probably won’t be able to find anyway. The freezer section of a fairly new refrigerator will usually stay cold longer than most coolers, plus water from home is safer to drink than melted ice from a bag.

• Stock up on canned goods, fruit, bread, and other foods that don’t require refrigeration.

• Cook up meat in your freezer, then refreeze meal portions that can be eaten if merely thawed.

• Have a battery-operated radio on hand. This is vital, so you can keep up with the storm’s progress, find out where to go in an emergency, and stay informed about conditions in your area.

• Stock up on flashlights and batteries of the correct size.

• Top off your gas tank. If electricity goes out, pumps can’t operate. Also, it may be a while after a big storm before gas supplies return.

• Back up your computer files. A flash drive will do, but I loaded my Word files onto OneDrive and Google Docs.

• Fill large pots and pans with water and cover. You might need this water to flush a toilet, wash up, and, yes, brush your teeth.

• Have a bag of charcoal and/or a filled container for a gas grill to use for cooking or making coffee. After several hurricanes with no coffee for days, we got a stainless steel coffee pot for campfire use – best coffee I’ve ever had!

Most of all, pray! Thank God for being with you. Let your family and friends know where you’ll be, and stay safe.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

If you have other suggestions, please add them in the Comments section below. Thanks and blessings.

August 22, 2017

A time to write and a time to be a sponge

When I asked a group of Christian poets and writers what one thing they need most in their writing lives, a common response was “time!”

The King James Version (KJV) of Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” and then that entire chapter goes on to put all sorts of usages of time into perspective.

As poets and writers in Christ, we also need to know, there’s a time to pray and a time to listen…

• A time to read and a time to study

• A time to revise and a time to edit

• A time to soak up everything around us

• A time to write again.

Keeping a notebook or laptop handy can help even snatches of time become productive. For instance, when I wrote inspirational romance novels, I worked out my best dialogue while hanging clothes on the line. Now, my best poems usually come when I’m watching wildlife from our deck, whereas insights for devotionals often arise after discussing the Bible with Christian friends. The important step then is:

Take a sec to write it down before that inspired word is forgotten!

These little writing times might not multiply quickly, but they do add up! For instance, commuting to work can be a good time to work out a plot or record notes about a new project. Washing dishes might provide time to ask, “What do I feel drawn to write?” then listening to the answer that fills us with the most enthusiasm, so we can hardly wait to get to it.

Interruptions can produce insights too, though, for, in God, no time is wasted. If words seem to plod along, it just might be time to take a break, elevate those tired feet, and get refreshed enough to write again.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017

August 17, 2017

Leaving every stone unturned to bread

Yesterday my Bible Study group discussed Luke 4 where we read about the temptations Jesus endured in the wilderness. Significantly, those tests of faith came immediately after His baptism in the Jordan River and immediately before His ministry began.

Each of those tests ultimately tempted Jesus to do something to stop the crucifixion – the final sacrifice to undo the works of the devil and remove every trace of sin inherent in every race of people. But the temptations began on a very human level of weakness – hunger.

After fasting for 40 days, Jesus became so close to starvation that Satan tried to take advantage of this weakened state. In the first temptation, he challenged Jesus by saying, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread,” Luke 4:3, English Standard Version (ESV.)

For one thing, if Jesus had done that, He would have been trying to prove Himself – something God doesn’t do throughout scripture. (See Exodus 3:14.)

For another, if Jesus had given in to hunger and temptation, the results would have been magic or sorcery, rather than the power of God.

Later, when the Lord turned water into wine and fed many thousands with a few little fish and a small amount of bread, He used what was there to perform, not magic, but miracles! He took something natural and real and expanded its potential – something we might pray for at every church picnic or potluck when we have less food than people!

Jesus wants us to reach out to others and feed His sheep without holding back in fear or stinginess, but He would never, ever tempt us to turn stones into bread! Why?

It would be a lie.

In the desert terrain where the temptations occurred, an abundance of wind-smoothed, rounded stones actually look like big loaves of bread. But rocks were not meant to be eaten. To make bread from stones means totally changing what something was meant to be into something that’s untrue to itself and to God’s creation.

Bread is what it is. We are who we are.

May we become our most genuine and truest selves in our lives in Christ.

May we become all God created us to be in The Way and Truth of Jesus’ Name.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

August 1, 2017

Write with salt, not sugar

Chemically speaking, various salts can be formed by combining a base with an acid. For example, common table salt (NaCl) consists of sodium chloride with neither element something you’d ever want to eat by itself!

There’s nothing sweet or saccharine about salt.

There’s nothing flowery in its inorganic matter.

Although people and animals must have some salt to survive, too much of this essential mineral tastes like ocean water or brine, which can make us gag!

Cliché though it is, a little salt goes a long way.

In light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13, however, that cliché brings hope. Figuratively speaking, the Lord said we’re to be the “salt of the earth,” a concise way of defining how we're to be, speak, act, and write effectively.

We might not feel as though we’re being effective or making any difference, but as we interact with the world through Christ-centered words, actions, and prayers, even a little saltiness goes a long way.

To get some ideas of how to sprinkle salt into our relationships and writings, let’s consider some of the power salt has:

Salt kills weeds.
The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur with nothing sprouting and no vegetation on it, Deuteronomy 29:23.

Purifies water

Then he (Elisha) went to the spring, threw salt into it, and said, This is what the Lord says: “I’ve healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land barren,” 2 Kings 2:21.

Adds flavor and seasoning
Is tasteless food eaten without salt? Job 6:6.

Salt also has the power to:

Keep food from spoiling.

Draw out infection.

Melt ice.

Those factual aspects and properties of salt gives us a few of its literal meanings, but sometimes we understand more by speaking or writing figuratively. That’s what Jesus did by calling us the “salt of the earth,” and what I aimed for in the following poem from my book, Outside Eden, published by Kelsay Books:

Shaking Salt

We want
We taste
We crave this old

Body cells
Electrical charges

never brackish

Our pores exude
Washers of wounds

Blood pressure
Bread leavening

Too much
Too little
ruins a thing

better tasting
Humor taken
with a grain

Plain speech

Salt of earth salt
of earth
You are the

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

July 10, 2017

Questions from an insomniac

During one of the several times I woke up last night, the idea for a book about sleep (or lack thereof) arose. I’ve since been doing biblical and online research on the topic, but I welcome your input as I want this investigation to include you and your concerns.

If thoughts come to you about any or all of the questions posed, please respond in the Comments section below.

1. What keeps you from going to sleep? (For instance, pain, medication, worry, caffeine, etc.)
2. Does anyone else in your family have sleep problems?
3. Once you’re asleep, do you wake up? How often?
4. What’s most apt to awaken you during the night?
5. How comfy are your bed and pillow?
6. Do you have a quiet space dedicated to sleep?
7. What helps you rest best? (For example, praying a particular prayer or recalling scripture)

Thank you for your responses to the above and anything else that might help those who have trouble sleeping as, reportedly, millions of us do!

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

July 6, 2017

Every Job A Parable

Pastor, author, and seminary teacher John Van Sloten investigates vocations in his insightful book Every Job A Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses & Astronauts Tell Us About God. Published by NavPress, who kindly sent me a copy to review via the Tyndale Blog Network, this book speaks of our Creator God, Who works in and through us in all kinds of work.

As the author of this highly recommended book explains, “The first step may be submitting to the fact that creation really is filled with the thoughts of God, that you are meant to grasp those thoughts, that work is a place where that can happen, and that none of this can happen apart from God’s Spirit illumining your way.”

Equally important, “For this process to play out in an effective way, we need to be very familiar with the God of the Bible. Without a deep knowledge of the God of the Scriptures (the Old Testament and the New) we won’t be able to recognize his signature moves in creation.”

For example, “Sanitation workers image a God who cleans and maintains his creation. Their work points to a central tenet of our Christian faith: that God is a God who cleans up our lives (justifies us through the humble, selfless, servant-like work of Christ) and then keeps them clean (maintains and sanctifies us via the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit).”

In the parables, Jesus used everyday jobs to illustrate deep spiritual truths, for instance, in His stories involving vineyard workers, judges, and farmers, the latter of whom know “they need to submit to and trust an entire ecosystem of outside forces” – all of which remain under God's care-filled management.

Then “the deeper we enter into an awareness of God’s presence at work, the more we will know him as the providential source of all things. As we experience him through our creativity, rationality, sense of timing, physical skills, or entrepreneurialism, we will be reminded that all of these good gifts – just like the sun and the rain – come from (God’s) gracious hand.”

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-writer and reviewer

Every Job A Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses & Astronauts Tell Us About God, paperback


July 1, 2017

What you need to know before quoting Bible verses

God’s Word belongs to everyone! However, copyrights of English translations of the Bible belong to the translators or Bible publishers unless the text is in the public domain. This means we cannot quote more than X number of Bible verses from most of the contemporary translations without requesting permission from the publisher.

Most translations of the Bible will let you know in the front pages exactly how many verses you’re allowed to use in one manuscript. To give you an idea, I opened my New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and saw we can quote up to 500 verses – IF that constitutes LESS than half of what we’re writing. The New Living Translation (NLT) and New International Version (NIV) also allow up to 500 verse, but those quotes must comprise less than one-fourth or 25 percent of the manuscript.

Regardless of the translation used, each must be acknowledged at the end of a quotation.

For example, here’s a quotation taken from The Jerusalem Bible.

“Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned,” John 3:16-18a, The Jerusalem Bible.

If you need to use more verses than the publisher allows, contact the company, describe your project, and request permission to quote your expected number of verses.

Another option is to find a translation in the public domain. With rare exception, this usually means an English translation published before or by the beginning of the 20th century since, by now, the copyright has most likely expired and not been renewed.

A quick search on the Bible Gateway website provided the following list of Bible translations in the public domain, which you can find in their online library – a real plus if you want to copy/paste large portions of scripture instead of retyping.

Some English Translations of the Bible in the Public Domain:

American Standard Version (ASV)
Darby Translation (DARBY)
Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
King James Version (KJV)
World English Bible (WEB - a contemporary translation)
Young's Literal Translation (YLT)
Reina-Valera Antigua (RVA)
Biblia Sacra Vulgata (VULGATE)

If you’re concerned about quoting scripture in your project, another option is to paraphrase, which is what I often do. Since quotation marks wouldn't be appropriate in such instances, I usually set the text apart with linebreaks and/or italics.

In my search on Bible Gateway for texts to paraphrase, I seldom seek translations in the public domain but am more apt to read at least a half-dozen or more contemporary versions of the many choices they have available on their website. Then I mix, mingle, and paraphrase those scriptures into a text I call “prayer-a-phrased” since I’m prayerfully counting on the Lord to give me discernment and whatever else is needed to be true to the meaning of the verses.

Why do I do this? I love it! I love the Bible in all of its English renditions. And I love translating passages of scripture into a poem, prayer, paragraph, or conversation that seems immediate, placing God’s Word in the now.

This process also helps me (and, hopefully, you as reader and/or writer) to internalize Holy Scripture, making it more “real” as though we’re there in person, experiencing the Bible as it unfolds. If, however, you’re unsure how scripture unfolds from Genesis to Revelation, I urge you to first read, read, read the Bible from cover to cover in several translations to prepare you for a lifetime of Bible-based writings in Jesus’ Name.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, with praise for God’s Word and many thanks to Bible Gateway

For examples of the prayer-a-phrases mentioned, see Bible Prayers and What the Bible Says About Love.

June 30, 2017

Studying God's Word together - Christian poet and writer Mary Harwell Sayler

Studying God's Word together - Christian poet and writer Mary Harwell Sayler:

" After prayer, we take turns reading the scriptures aloud, pausing at logical pauses in the Bible text, thinking about what we've read, embracing the silence, then sharing the insights God has given us and any footnotes the whole group might want to hear. "

'via Blog this'

June 15, 2017

What light do we shine?

As children of God, we’re to be light-bearers to the world – not unlike a lighthouse guiding people out of dangerous waters and into safety on shore. But what if our light flickers unreliably? What if it dims or has no more shine than a nightlight on a vast sea?

Isaiah 49:6 says, “I will make you a light to the nations, extending My salvation to the ends of the earth.”

A Light that reaches to the ends of the earth.... That’s one powerful light! And that’s what our writings need. But how do we get solidly connected to its energy, range, and luminosity?

By praying for the Light of Christ and constantly reading God’s Word….

This week a discerning Christian friend reminded me of a group I’d felt uneasy about and meant to check out but just hadn’t until she expressed concerns. A quick Google search uncovered claims of Christ’s return couched in “Christian” language and catch-phrases. If I weren’t familiar with the Bible, I might have been drawn in or fooled.

As Christian poets and writers, we cannot afford to be led away from God’s Word – not only for ourselves but for the countless people whom our writings influence.

Those childhood recollections we have from Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or religious classes in parochial schools gave us wonderful flashlights to illuminate our own Christian walk. But we need stronger light, greater power, and more and more of God’s Word if we’re to spread the Light of Christ with beauty, accuracy, and far-reaching effects throughout the whole world.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-writer and Bible reviewer

June 1, 2017

Branching out in Christ

“I Am the Vine. You are My branches. If you remain in Me, and I in you, you’ll produce much fruit. But apart from Me, you can do nothing,”
John 15:5.

As I read several of the many translations of John 15:5 on Bible Gateway, I noticed that the nouns remained the same: Vine, branches, fruit.

The verbs changed a bit, telling us to either abide or remain and then to produce or bear fruit. But, regardless of the synonyms chosen for a particular translation, the thought remains the same:

Jesus is the Vine.

And, we are not leaves who leave Him, nor are we leaves that turn colors and fall, lifeless, to the ground, leaving a mess for someone else to rake up!

Jesus is the Vine.

We are the branches.

A branch grows, expands, and, well-tended, becomes fruitful, but a broken branch – one that severs itself from the main vine – accomplishes the same thing in every translation:


Without Jesus as the base, the core, the root of our lives, nothing we do will be effective in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is The Vine.

We are The branches – ready to branch out!

May our lives continue to abide in Christ, growing spiritually and remaining ever fruitful for Him.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2017

May 24, 2017

WHO do you say I AM?

Long before the Caesars renamed Paneas to Caesarea Philippi in honor of themselves, the local residents worshipped Baal, Pan, and nature gods.

As Jesus walked through that place of pagan spirits, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?”

According to Mark 8, they told Him, “Some say John the Baptist. Others say you’re Elijah or one of the other prophets.”

Then Jesus said, “But Who do you say I AM?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah!”

How true, true! However, Jesus knew everyone expected that long-awaited liberator to free them from the Romans and other rulers, not offer freedom from sin! And so, He strictly charged His followers to tell no one.

Later, the Transfiguration took place on a mountain in that same pagan territory. This spectacular meeting with Moses and Elijah showed – literally, figuratively, and spiritually – the coming together of the Law and the Prophets in Jesus – The Word in Whom all things will eventually come together and be restored.

Meanwhile, Jesus had work to do. Three times He told His disciples what was about to happen to Him and how they too, as His followers, would suffer. Some of us, though, are slow to learn. For example, James and John responded to Jesus’ explanation of what to expect by asking for top positions on either side of Him!

Who does scripture say Jesus is?

Genealogies in the Gospels say Jesus is a Son of Abraham, David, and Solomon, but also a descendant of Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute in order to seduce Judah, and of Rahab, who actually was a prostitute, and of Ruth a Moabite, and of Bathsheba an adulteress, and, of course, Mary an unwed mother.

The Angel Gabriel said Jesus would be the Child of Mary and the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:23 said Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

At Jesus’ Baptism, God said, “This is My Beloved Son.”

The Gospel writer John said Jesus is The Word that spoke creation into being.

Scriptures also show Jesus as a teacher, a miracle worker, a wine-maker, a stretcher of food, a healer, a calmer of storms, a raiser of the dead, an exorcist, a servant to all, and The One Who suffered, died, and rose from the dead.

But Who does Jesus say He is?

The One Who came to undo All of the works of Satan, beginning with the Fall in the Garden of Eden

The Way to forgiveness and fellowship with God

The Truth about God’s love

The Life eternal

Do any of these words from God’s Word about Jesus Christ The Word speak to your current situation or worries? Do any of them offer hope for you, your loved ones, the church, the world?

Who do you say Jesus IS?

Mary Harwell Sayler
, © 2017