Monday, December 8, 2014

Looking for gift inspiration? How 'bout a book by Brenda. 
Order by Dec. 10 to guarantee shipment in time for Christmas.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tenacity Wins the Race

By Brenda Black

I tearfully watched as one after another of thousands of runners willed their wearied legs toward the finish line. Some ran for the first time a race that far and hard. Their grimaced lips and tear-filled eyes revealed the pain of the process and relief for its culmination. Some tested their endurance for the hundredth race, cruising past in steady strides, with experience breathing in and out as evenly. From the first timers to the Olympic qualifiers, each one reached their destiny powered by tenacity.

Half wincing, half intrigued, I witnessed a man pull nails out of a board with his mouth, in pursuit of a Guinness World Record. His tenacity demanded steely concentration, as well as tough teeth! In a room filled with photographers, judges and reporters, he never lost focus, but annihilated the nails and beat the clock as if he ate hammers for breakfast.

A young, female doctor who owns a brand new clinic is home on maternity leave, planning how she'll juggle a newborn and 8,000 small and large animal patients. She tells me she'll take her race one leg at a time and handle the tough test of dual commitment and a divided heart. She's filled with tenacious optimism and determined to balance family and career.

They all remind me yet again of the amazing potential of the human spirit and body when one puts his or her mind to something and compels the heart to follow. While their examples are inspiring, it is also humbling to think of how little I often expect from myself. A bit of pain or inconvenience and I might be prone to take the shorter, easier route. At the end of that decision, I have to wonder, did the short cut leave me more fulfilled or empty. Will I know that I left it all on the field and played this game of life to win, pushing the limits of my own human possibilities, if I never do the hard stuff or try something out of my comfort zone?

Stepping out in faith and fortitude takes effort. Marathon runners don't wake up on race day and go 26.2 miles without building up the stamina, one step, one mile at a time. Guinness record breakers know the target before they ever make the attempt, and they practice, practice, practice. Moms count the cost and factor in the blessings to be the best they can be for their babies, in spite of the tears and trials. After weighing the odds and looking to the prize, the tenacious go to work to see their dreams become reality.

How about you? What's on your radar or your bucket list? Have you decided it's time for a little self-improvement? The only one who can make it happen is you.
Take the first step. Keep the focus. Find the balance. Be tenacious and finish the race.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Life Lived Well

By Brenda Black

Funerals are not among my top favorite social gatherings. My ability to empathize deeply makes ministry to the grieving emotionally draining personally. Still, we count it an honor to be there for people when they need us most. Together, my pastor husband and I have counseled and comforted, preached and sung our way through a hundred sad gatherings and sorrowful good byes. How wonderful when those farewells can celebrate life more than bemoan death.

Recently, the mourners came in smiling, laughing and honoring a long and lovely life. Though little Ruthella fell shy of 5 foot, she cast a long shadow over her community and left a legacy. She lived life well for nearly 97 years. That's a lot of time. Time to be born and time to die. Time to plant and time to uproot. Time to tear down and time to build. Time to weep and time to laugh. Time to mourn and time to dance. Time to love and time to hate. Time for war and time for peace. Though she racked up decades of opportunities to do it all, she was content to just do what she did best, and bloom right where she was planted.

Her vast extended family remembered a woman who spent most of that time living, planting, building, laughing, dancing and loving on all of them. She chose kindness, forgiveness and gentleness, whether enduring hefty trials or just every day messes. According to those who knew her best, she never lost her temper, never raised her voice. She just took it all in stride with an easy-going demeanor. Perhaps her longevity was due to her passivity. She let a whole lot roll off her near-to-the-ground shoulders that could have weighed the little lady down. She resisted the temptation to retaliate. As a result, she wore grace as her garment instead of rage. Her pattern must be the healthy path to take. It obviously served her well.

It is a fact, that the opposite is true. A person filled with anger destroys himself and his reputation. Hot-tempered fools self-destruct from high blood pressure, heart attacks and ulcers. They poison relationships and create animosity and enemies.

Hate begets hate. Rage embitters and distances. But a quiet and gentle spirit produces peace and praise. Ruthella's example left a big, beautiful wake of grace.

Frankly, I'd like to live more in her tiny boots than walk in big, worldly shoes. I'm tired of the rage and rants in society. Everybody seems to have a bone to pick. At the drop of a hat, we come out with dukes up and fighting mad over any little thing. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I'd just like to see more of it devoted to good things. Maybe if we lived more like Ruthella and less like rebels, always with a cause, we'd live life well and others would want it to be long.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Never Too Old to Remember a Melody

By Brenda Black

More than usual turned out for the Sunday afternoon church service at the nursing home. Typically, our attendees are in the middle of sweet after-lunch slumber about the time we show up to sing a few songs and serve up the Word of the Lord. On this day, they came --in walkers and wheel chairs, with assistance and resistance -- to worship.

As I stood to lead the singing, it occurred to me the vast range of comprehension from one patient to another. At one table near the front sat three ladies I'd just met. One introduced herself no less than half a dozen times to my husband and myself, as if seeing us each time, for the first time --all in the span of about 10 minutes. To her left a misty-eyed darling rested her arms gracefully on the table. She did not know her name. She resorted to pat, memorized phrases to respond when she couldn't process our simple and kind questions. Next to her reclined a beautiful little woman, dressed in bright pink sweats and sporting a short-cropped, silver shock of hair that looked so soft, I wanted to stroke it. She said nothing, just stared straight ahead when I leaned in to welcome her.

We started off on an upbeat note with a song I thought they might recognize. Though we distribute hymnals, I've noticed very few of the residents open the books. Mostly, they just cradle them, sometimes fondling the pages with quivering fingers when I announce the selected number. But when the music starts, some in the room perk up. They mouth the words, and smiles cross their faces. Even the most non-responsive sometimes taps one socked foot or lifts a bent and frail hand heavenward. My heart melts. They know the words, they feel the rhythm, they experience for one blissful moment a touch of God here on earth.

My little friend met me one more time before we departed. Chances are pretty good she won't remember me the next time I see her, but she knew the melodies and the messages of those timeless songs. The precious lady in the middle may not have known her name, but she knew she was loved and that we cared. And I caught a glimmer in the eye of “pinky,” when I sang right to her. One time, she even grinned.

To my delight and off to my right, a sprite and alert resident, whom I had not met prior to the service, nearly bounced in her chair on some of the selections. She closed her eyes on others, slightly lifting her slender chin upward. Her face appeared soft and peaceful at times; joyful at others. I watched her recall from memory every word of every verse. When I left the service that day, I stopped to thank her for her sincere worship. We agreed and sealed it with a hug, that when all other memories fade, the words of a melody remain.

When I grow old and more forgetful, I pray that what's left of my mind will be filled with good music and meaningful lyrics. I'd like to think that someday, though I may not know your name or mine, I'll recognize an old song. And when I don't have much strength left in this faltering body, that some of the songs that have ministered to me all my life, will still be touching my soul when the lights are going out.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

More than Music from MercyMe

By Brenda Black

Nearly 3,200 fans ticketed their way through chain link fences to concrete benches, and chairs they would rarely occupy, for a concert at the 2014 Missouri State Fair. They came to hear award winning gospel recording artist MercyMe belt out hit after hit. A top act from this genre has not graced the MSF grandstand stage since 1997. Back then it was Sandi Patty, famous for her incredible range and lilting voice. But on a balmy night more recent, five men dominated vocal acrobatics, with lead singer Bart Millard holding notes to incomprehensible lengths and never faltering from pure tones and perfect pitch. Their talent worthy of State Fair exhibition.

The band has been around since 1994, but in 2001, the world sat up and took notice when they released an original crossover single, “I Can Only Imagine.” That song helped secure a double platinum certification on their debut album Almost There. Millard's incredible talent in both his vocal and song-writing abilities – he wrote “I Can Only Imagine” on a legal pad in one sitting – continues to take the band's sound to the top of the charts. They've released six additional albums, plus a greatest hits, with four certified gold. They had 13 consecutive top 5 singles on the Billboard Christian Songs chart, with seven reaching No. 1 status. MercyMe has eight Dove Awards, numerous Grammy Award nominations and just released their latest album Welcome to the New.

With all that talent and all those trophies, surely this music man must have a peachy life, spared from all difficulties. Think again. From under the spotlight, he exposed his soul, and proves once again that, to some degree, everyone is broken. Between upbeat, drum-driven songs and heartfelt, symphonic stories, the singer/songwriter with the brilliant smile and a voice like an angel shared personal testimony of hurt, abuse, grief and confusion on his life's journey.

Michael Ging, a 23 year old fan from Sedalia could relate, “My parents split when I was only three years old too,” he said. “Bart sharing about his life, the abuse from his father, and how God redeemed those hard days, brings home the point that God is real. He loves us and He is merciful.”

From the outside looking in, we quickly surmise that people on such platforms don't struggle. In a moment when it would be easier to keep up the image rather than be transparent, Millard tore down the curtain and talked about coming to terms with forgiveness, and how he looks forward to meeting his saved and transformed father one day in heaven. He confessed difficulty over losing a cousin killed on the job, and admitted rough spots in a marriage from unresolved issues. Bart got real and it made a difference to someone going through something similar. My guess is that there were about 3,199 others also touched by his words.

Sometimes encouragement comes through a song on the radio. I am more convinced than ever that God ministers through His gifted performers. The inspiration for those hit tunes may come from one act of kindness or one thoughtful word from one man or woman. For Millard, it came from a friend who told him over and over again, “You are holy, righteous and redeemed.”

Everybody is broken. We all need a Savior. We all need understanding and support and patience and healing. We may not all have a voice like Bart Millard, but we can get honest with one another and offer help and hope. The result will take us a little closer to the heaven we can only imagine.

Try it this week. Lift someone with a kind word of “I've been there, brother. I understand. And I know what happens when the 'Hurt and the Healer Collide.'” With “All That is Within Me,” I pray you are able to say “So Long Self” and let “The Word of God Speak” through you, because “All of Creation” calls us to “Move” for God's glory.

There is definitely more to MercyMe than just music. And there's more to you and me than what we let the world typically see.

(photos courtesy

Monday, July 14, 2014

An Open Letter to Missouri Farmers

By Brenda Black

To all my friends on both sides of the farming fence: to the conventional and the all-natural; to the multi-generational and the first-time farmer, we are in this together. I love the passion for getting back to the basics as much as the commitment to banish world hunger. I applaud the ingenuity, the tenacity and integrity of all of Missouri's Ag community. It takes dedication and sacrifice to be capable and humane stewards of land and livestock. Every one of you has my utmost respect.

Right now, we are living in exciting times in agriculture, where the challenges compel innovators to find answers. Those resolutions come in a host of forms from high-rise, glassed-in, urban gardens to rotational grazing. Some employ timed breeding and new seed technologies. Ideas come from fifth generation farmers, university think tanks and long-established allied industries. Health enthusiasts, city folks and country caretakers alike contribute to the success of agriculture.

While we each constantly and tirelessly work to do our best, there is a growing shadow of intimidation that seeks to undermine each and every one of us. Animal rights and environmental extremists want to mandate your every move. We have an enemy that wishes to see Missouri families ruined. That enemy would love to whisper in your ear that the Missouri Farming Rights Amendment is big ag vs. small farmers; conventional vs. organic. But in reality, the battle is ALL of US vs. the bullying tactics that include intimidation, big bucks, and deceitful, sensational propaganda. Outside entities steamroll states on the fuel of millions of dollars and the wheels of outrageous lies. And they put good people right out of business and steal their rights using the ballot initiative process to impose their radical views!

If you eat; if you wear clothing; if you drive a car; if you take a vitamin or take insulin to stay alive; if you read a book or feed a pet; if you have a heart valve replacement or play football, your life is dependent on agriculture. How much greater the reason to guard that which is fundamental to our well-being.
The fact remains that small farms, and organic agriculturalists are not exempt from outside influence and are at just as much risk as the conventional farmers if we don't collectively work together to eliminate such underhanded strategies to sway regulations. The Missouri Farming Rights Amendment is not about insulating bad players. It is about protecting ALL of Missouri's farmers from anti-ag organizations.

My encouragement is that you do not let the lies and scare tactics of outside influencers undermine Missouri's number one economic contributor, nor one of the fastest growing hobbies -- agriculture. Neither should we allow their underhanded, over-funded, misguided bullying to take away any of our freedom to operate with best practices and with good conscience.

If we succumb to their rich scare tactics, every one of us loses. We lose the right to raise our families as we see fit. We lose the right to grow food the way science and experience prove is beneficial. We lose the right to try new things OR go back to old ways. We lose the right to plant hundreds of acres or dabble with dirt on a small plot in our back yard.

The outsiders who want to control the way you grow your food, feed your family and live your life, are bent on an old and deceptive strategy – divide and conquer. The Missouri Farming Rights Amendment is for everybody in this state that just wants the freedom to operate without undue and unfounded interference. It's about working together to protect our land, livestock and livelihood, as well as our families' healthy and happy futures.

If we don't stick together, we stand to lose the things we value most – our farms, our freedom and our rights as Missouri families. Think before you vote and say yes to Missouri Farming.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bob - The Backyard Bodyguard

Meet my brave, new friend Bob -- Bob White.  I met him this week as he parked and piddled his way through my backyard and called sweetly his country song right outside my window.  He was so close, I could see his chest puff and his head tilt back with each delightful bellow of the quail's familiar tune "bob white...bob white."

Though I hear them daily in spring and summer, the shy little birds are typically out of view.  I was thoroughly enjoying the serene and seldom seen picture of one of God's precious creatures, when all of a sudden he darted as though startled. 

A few feet to the right, he stopped suddenly and began to cock his little black and white striped head and walk in a circle.  I was certain he had spotted a wiggly morsel. In short order, my eyes spied what he had already seen -- a black snake considerably larger than any old earthworm.  As he pondered the size of his prey, he continued his circulating intimidation.                                                                                                                     And I winced and shuttered and worried, just knowing I was about to see that beautiful little bird become the dinner instead of the diner. They eyed one another in an exchange of power and fear, with the quail's head ever tilting and the snake's coiled body arching higher from the grass with his every pass. 

Then, the dangerous dance ended.

The snake hastily flattened and took his rapid leave, with Mr. Bob White in hot pursuit. First I cheered... then I jeered... for Bob was chasing the black snake right toward me!  Of course there was wood and concrete and glass and insulation and well, you know, a house to protect me! Still, I didn't like the idea of that snake finding refuge somewhere near my domicile.

Enter, hero #2 -- Mr. Black just happened to walk into the room about the time I began shooting photos through my window.  At my prompting, he went back outside and interrupted the snake's planned route.

Bob took flight, safe and sound, and I heard him continue to call, letting me know he's not far and has become my new watch dog.  As long as I hear him singing, I'll feel secure.  And when he grows silent, I know I'll be thinking he's cornered another varmint.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I Couldn't Have Done It Without You

By Brenda Black

“I couldn't have done it without you,” he whispered in my ear as we held each other tightly in a moment forever engraved on my heart. My college graduate towered over me and I felt so small, so proud, so sad, happy, weary and wonderful all at the same time on this very special Mother's Day.

Just a short three years ago, I wept and cheered my way through his older brother's commencement. That didn't make it any easier this time around. But while I compare the emotional strain from the first to the last of my graduates, I can't help but count the cost it took to get each of them to such a destination. A thousand prayers, unending words of encouragement, the late night study tips and long-distance consoling, nor the financial support, will ever calculate the end value. Once in a lifetime experiences plus the beginning of life long friendships plus the solid, well prepared launch into adulthood equals worth it!

But back to that phrase: “I couldn't have done it without you.” Can any of us truly say we accomplished any of our greatest achievements by flying solo? I don't think so.

Parents, teachers, friends, spouses, peers, bosses and total strangers help us throughout our lives. Mom gave me life and instilled creativity, Dad taught me to drive and disciplined me. My teachers taught me how to read and write and a pony named Spunky taught me to love riding. My kids taught me patience and joy and one forced me to master the art of washing chickens while the other insisted I learn to hunt. My husband holds my hand through many a crises, loves me as I am and listens to my heart. I have editors that polish me and friends that challenge me. Yes, I am convinced, I couldn't have done much without all of these.

The month of May presents many opportunities to ponder the people in our lives who have co-piloted our destinies. Moms get thanked ceremoniously in an effort to make up for the millions of times we take them for granted. Children get applauded for their academic prowess and paraded through high school and college gymnasiums dressed in caps and gowns. But, hopefully May is not the only time we pause and give notice.

When my son spoke those words in my ear, his simple, loving, sincere sentence meant everything to me. Of course I trembled and choked back tears. I tried a half-hearted attempt at jokingly agreeing. Down deep, I was
simultaneously drowned and raised on a tidal wave of emotion. It meant the world to me!

Our words don't have to be many to say much. A special occasion is not necessary. Just once in a while and whenever you get the opportunity, tell the people in your life how much they've contributed to the person you've become. No one does anything great alone. But each one of us can do something great when we take the time to just say thanks and let others know how they've impacted our lives.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Going Up to Lay It Down

By Brenda Black

In case you haven't noticed, there's a lot of talk of God these days: Debate over His existence, creative license with His infallible Word, curiosity over His home in heaven. There are people irate about losing their God-given rights and folks who would hatefully blaspheme the Holy One without another thought. Why so divided, why so volatile? Quite frankly, the reason is because there is nothing new under the sun.

design by
When Christ walked the earth, the battles were the same. Power, prestige, tradition, land, money, and a man's reputation. The Pharisees rebuked Jesus for speaking the truth and fulfilling the prophesies they held most sacred because they were blinded by their self-importance. The Romans got nervous over crowds of commoners who might cause an uprising and challenge their dominance. At stake for both was control of the people.

Look at the subject matter of a thought-provoking movie “God's Not Dead” currently creating a stir. A professor of philosophy demands his humanistic authority and declares himself god of the classroom. Then search the news for updates from way out West and down South
, where landowners are in a showdown with the government over the right to free speech, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Ponder the following thoughts extracted from a pompous online post: “Secularism is advancing, despite your attempts to stop it. The world is becoming safer, more peaceful, better educated, and kinder, despite your attempts to stop this advance.”

Wow! What kind of a rock does a person live under who thinks the world is “safer, more peaceful, better educated and kinder”?

People have not changed. The powerful wield their way over the perceived powerless. The arrogant demand their superiority...until the down-trodden have had enough. Then there is an uprising.
And that is precisely why Jesus came – to create an UPrising.

"Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 'We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life' (Matthew 20:17-19)!"

He knew what lay ahead and yet He went up...up to Jerusalem, up to criticism, up to humiliation, up to crucifixion...and laid His body down for our sin. This sacrificial act flung open the door for division.
“'I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed (Luke 12:49-50)!'” Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit fire that cannot come until He departs and He symbolically speaks of His death as a “baptism” of sorts. The Christ already knows what His act of great love will do. It will make possible the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men. It will also force each one to make a choice, to take a stand.
“'Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division (vs. 51).'”

Of course, the message of the gospel is God's love and mercy. But not everyone receives this good news that would bind us all together in blissful unity. There are many who will not receive it; moreover oppose it vehemently. The division Jesus speaks about is the result of their free will, not His causing havoc.

Still, He went up. He Laid His life down for those who would believe and those who would plot for His cruel elimination. Then He conquered death and hate and injustice by throwing off the grave's chains and living again!

Good Friday is a day to remember the beginning of an eternal UPrising. It's a time to decide whether you're willing to lay it down and stand up. And Resurrection Sunday...well it's just that. A day to look UP and believe in the One Who laid it down and then rose UP!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shakin' in Our Boots

Boot scoot boogie has a whole new meaning in the Missouri boot heel lately. The dirt beneath farmers' boots may seem a bit less steady with earthquakes rumbling below the surface. Sikeston, West Plains and Festus were all rocked this past month.

While Missouri trembles, so does another “M” state at the opposite end of the Missouri River where a 4.8 magnitude quake tickled Bozeman this week. Some will claim that an earthquake in Yellowstone National Park could awaken a volcano that could wipe out the planet. And a teeth-rattling tremor in the Midwest could take out bridges from K.C. to D.C.

Should all this news have us shaking in our boots?

Earthquakes are not rare in Missouri. In the past year, the earth moved 118 times in the Show Me State. I remember feeling my first rolling sensation about a year ago. The New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) is the culprit, but she hasn't really shifted significantly since the winter of 1811-12, when three earthquakes, estimated at magnitude 7.0 or greater occurred. Though the fault line has slumbered for a couple hundred years, there is no reason to think she could not rouse again. In fact, some predictions say it is bound to happen within the next 50 years.

The NMSZ, located in southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois, is the nation's most active seismic zone east of the Rocky Mountains. Over the entire course, nearly 200 earthquakes occur each year. Most go unnoticed, but should a big one rock the boot heel back on her spur, it could be felt half way across the nation. According to Central United States EarthquakeConsortium, “Earthquakes in the central or eastern United States effect much larger areas than earthquakes of similar magnitude in the western United States. For example, the San Francisco, California, earthquake of 1906 (magnitude 7.8) was felt 350 miles away in the middle of Nevada, whereas the New Madrid earthquake of December 1811 rang church bells in Boston, Massachusetts, 1,000 miles away. Differences in geology east and west of the Rocky Mountains cause this strong contrast.”

Just because we haven't felt the earth move under our feet, doesn't mean we won't. Just because the geysers in Wyoming haven't spewed hot lava, doesn't mean they can't. But just because disaster is always a shake away, doesn't mean we have to live in dread or fear.

"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will fain from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:25-28)."

The best advice I've ever received came from a very wise woman and seems most applicable here. “Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” Isn't that the Christian's perfect plan? Know where you're going by knowing the Lord. And know that the destiny is perfectly unshakeable.

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Romans 8:22-24a)."

Be prepared. Be filled with peace. Be hopeful. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our god is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29)."

That's all we can really do since we are not the center of the universe.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pausing to Plant a Word of Thanks

By Brenda Black

Immersed in a sea of people, I pin-balled my way through a crowded corridor headed to a luncheon. My reason for being one among the masses – to attend the 2014 US Agriculture Outlook Forum. In a hotel in Arlington, VA, situated in the heart of US history, I rubbed elbows with the world. As I dined on tasty American cuisine, my eyes were opened to just how blessed we are to live in this country and enjoy affordable food. Not because of the plate in front of me presented with flare and a high price tag. My persuasion came from table conversation.

Over chicken parmesan, crisp zucchini and linguini, I chatted with an exporter from Sri Lanka and the senior vice president of one of America's largest chicken processing companies. They were pleased with the entree, of course. By way of introductions, they soon learned they were surrounded by cattlewomen and the conversation took an amiable turn toward protein competition and consumption around the globe.

We talked cuts and taste, price and production. We bantered over flavor and variety of options. But I fell silent when the exporter began to explain the true limitation of protein in his home country. When a friend at the table asked about by-products, he looked perplexed. We thought for a moment there was a language barrier that needed bridging. She took another run at it and asked “What do you do with what's left of the chicken?”

“All that's not eaten is the feathers,” he answered soberly. One family may dine on a half-pound chicken for a week. Everything but the feathers is cut into tiny pieces and thrown into a pot of soup. If a child enjoys two bites of protein, it is a luxury.

The VP chimed in to validate the minimal consumption. His company shrink wraps product for the Sri Lankan market that defy our “super size” mentality. Packages ship to sell that have a single chicken wing. That's all some families can afford.

My lunch took on a heavenly form and I felt thankful and blessed beyond words.

We take so much for granted. Our grocery stores are brimming with ample and affordable provision. Fast food drive throughs, convenience stores, family cafes and high end fancy restaurants beckon us from small towns to big cities. From farmer's markets to popcorn at the movies, we have choices. Food is available and variety attainable. Yes, we are blessed to be able to feed our families more than one bite of meat a week...thanks to the American farmer.

Once upon a time in this country, raising food was all about survival for the immediate family. These days it is about health and nutrition, variety and abundant provision. The faithful farmers come in all sizes and grow everything from snow peas to pigs, broccoli to beef. Farmers are a passionate stock and dedicated to the bigger picture.

Farming is rooted in history and tradition, but has grown to encompass tremendous diversity in order to meet consumer preference and price points. In a move from feeding only one's family to feeding the world, farmers have become more efficient, more conscientious, more conservative, more capable than ever.

Photo courtesy of
As spring arrives this week and the grass begins to green, notice the wheat fields changing hue. Appreciate the deep furrows of fertile soil turned beneath a plow. Savor the smell of a steak on the grill. And remember what a great blessing is agriculture in America.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Flight Attendant

By Brenda Black

The airline attendant ushered the pale and trembling young woman down the aisle of the plane. At 33,000 feet in the air, she weaved her way to an empty seat just across from me, where the stewardess cooly motioned for her to take a seat. In her hands, the weary woman gripped a paper sack that matched her pasty complexion. And everything changed that moment on the plane, headed from DC to North Carolina.

While a dark-haired lady to the woman's left pressed herself into the window and never acknowledged her same-row visitor, I reached across the aisle and patted the back of the 20-something, expectant mother. She sheepishly turned her head up and glanced slightly toward me, afraid to leave that little bag of safety. She ventured, “I don't think the baby likes to fly.” Then she resumed position, shoulders rolled forward, head bent and one hand braced against the back of the seat in front of her, while the other pressed the plane's standardized equipment against her quivering lips.

For the next several minutes, I tried to soothe the fear, embarrassment and discomfort of my new charge. I tried to get her mind on other things through quiet, small talk. I rubbed her back and handed her yet another bag. She wore a spaghetti strap, next-to-nothing blouse and finished her not-so-winterized outfit with flip flops on her feet. The tattoos on her arm grew bluer black while what little pink she had rushed its way to freezing fingers and toes. I'm pretty sure the piercing in her nose echoed a metallic ring as hard as she shook from being so cold. When she began to shiver uncontrollably, I took my coat and draped it over her exposed shoulders.

Once again, she gazed upwards with gratitude beyond measure. “Thank you so much,” she weakly said. And I felt at a loss for words. All that I could do was pray for this lonely, afraid, very sick and desperate woman who looked more and more like a little girl.

I tell this story not for self edification. I tell it because that encounter opened my eyes to the human condition that seems more and more prevalent. People are desperate. Many are indifferent. A few are compassionate. Which are you?

What would you do if someone in need were placed at your elbow? Would you cling to the window, cover your nose and never offer a kind word like the woman in the window seat? Or would you offer a friendly gesture, be a knight in shining armor, an angel in disguise, a friend in deed?

This time I got it right and I lovingly reached out and offered comfort to a stranger. But a million times in my life, I've failed.

The reward for taking the time to show tenderness came from a young lady named Camie. When I exited the plane, a warmed and calmer young mother looked up and smiled and said, “Thank you for your kindness.” And everything changed that moment on the plane, headed from DC to North Carolina.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Catch the Olympic Spirit


by Brenda Black

Wipe outs, crashes, skids, tumbles, collisions, and flat out nasty wrecks litter the snowy path to winter Olympic finish lines and “10's”. Many will have in common the brutal and bruised trade marks of an athlete in pursuit of perfection. Few will actually stand at the top of the podium. What could possibly be worth the pain? Why would anyone go through the rigors of training for one fleeting moment of fame? For each the answer will be unique.

Some athletes thrive on the rush of bitter cold air slapping their faces as they become one with the mountain and their ski boots. Others will say they were born to compete. Still many will claim their bent for pain and performance as a divine calling. The winners get the chance to tell the world why they beat their bodies into submission for the sake of a dangling medal and the spotlight. Most just return home to face the gym, the rink, the slopes again, and clamor to discover the secret ingredient of an Olympian gold medalist.

You don't have to travel across the globe to see that same spirit. It dwells in the hearts of contenders in all walks of life, not just Olympians. I've met hundreds of people in my lifetime who go the extra mile, give it their all and ever strive to improve at what they do. I've seen people in suit coats as well as sweat pants laboring intensely and bringing their best game. I've watched men in the pulpit live sacrificially to win the ultimate prize as well as witnessed students stay up all night to ace a more temporal final exam.

It's the human spirit that pushes us to press on. It's competition that fuels the desire to get ahead of the pack and not look back. And dangling in front of us, seemingly always out of reach, is the ultimate end that makes the journey worth every painful inch. The reward of a job well done.

I find the human spirit fascinating, the human mind mesmerizing and the human body remarkable when each is used to its full potential. Ironically, every one of us houses within immensely more than we ever utilize. And it takes the example of supreme athletes to awaken us to our own slumbering capabilities.
When we apply all of the God-given talents, sometimes we'll end up crossing the finish line in first. Other times, we'll go home with nothing but our efforts for a trophy. But always, the greatest satisfaction will be in knowing that we persevered and finished strong, no matter where we placed or how long it took.

May the Olympic spirit propel each of us to greater heights in our day to day lives. If we tap in to the talent within, reach deep for the resolve to be all we were born, called and prepared to be, there's no telling where such determination might take us. Whether you watched marathon broadcasts or visually nibbled on internet highlights; no matter whether you cheered for a single home-town hero or celebrated every champion, hopefully you felt anew the energy of endurance, the victory of fortitude.

The human spirit: Catch it, feed it and do something with it for good!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sunshine and an Open Gate

By Brenda Black

They bolted like school children released for recess, with tails curled up and over their backs. Weaned calves in a lot out back of the house provided my afternoon entertainment.Through the newly opened gate they darted as if hearing the starting bell on a race track. I giggled at their athletic antics. One would tear across the pen like she was making a great escape, only to charge a matter of a few yards before meeting the metal rungs of the corral – face to fence. In one swift spin, she'd turn and run again, this time with the rest of the herd in hot pursuit.

For several minutes, their game of tag and turn and sprinting continued. When the running waned, they stood head to head and practiced butting. If calves could smile, I'm pretty sure they were grinning from fuzzy ear to fuzzy ear with great delight. The mild and sunny day in the middle of a cold January was most welcome to the weanlings and offered up a healthy dose of doldrum-ending exercise.

It didn't take much to alter their routine and find it delivered such great joy. Sometimes all one needs is a bit of sunshine and a little more room to roam. Take me for instance. I get a bit stir crazy post holidays. I begin to feel cramped for space and eager to purge. It's like spring cleaning in winter when the Christmas tree comes down.

I broke an all-time record this year of leaving the greenery up all too long. It was Jan. 13, by the time I got everything packed away! Never in my life have I gone past the single digit point of the first month on the calendar when it comes to dismantling the holiday cheer. But travels and work and plain weariness had me postponing the dreadful chore.

Now that the Christmas ambiance is headed to the attic, my house seems quite spacious. In fact, I have yet to return many of my non-seasonal knick knacks back to their standard locations. I'm just enjoying the sunshine and the open gate. I feel freer and lighter and less constrained by so much stuff. I'm thinking of spring garage sales and wondering if I should just leave a lot of my things boxed up ready to affix price tags.

Life gets cold and cluttered at times. Like calves stuck in a pen where it's been snowy and cramped, we can feel constrained by symbolic fences that seem to close in on us in our homes and in our hearts.

What I haven't told you is that as much as I would like to blame the Christmas clutter for my claustrophobic feelings, it has more to do with worries that I'm struggling to turn over to the Lord. Bare walls and shelves seems to help when I feel like I'm going to suffocate from fearful thoughts of things totally beyond my control. So, for a few more days, I'm planning on enjoying the space and I'm not going to rush to fill it back up again. And I also intend to soak up the Son a whole lot more in the days ahead. For at His feet and in His light, can be found my joy and the perfect gate to freedom.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Year of Extremes Leads to One Step at a Time in 2014

by Brenda Black

The past twelve months proved to be a doozie of a dozen, offering up some of the most emotional, exhausting and exhilarating moments I've experienced in my five decades. I endured more surgeries than I've had accumulatively in my entire life, hit that big 5-0 the first day of summer, watched a family member struggle through a frightening diagnosis, earned three incredibly high honors in Missouri Ag, published my fourth book and began work on number five. I lost weight and it found me again. I turned grey and cringed. I celebrated 28 years with a sweetheart of a man and stood by helplessly as our baby turned 21. Through troubles and blessings, wonderful memories and days I'd sooner forget, I lived my life last year.

Mistakes and victories mark the journey. Words beautifully intended and those that never should have been spoken line and litter the path. Smiles and tears left wrinkles and stains on my face and in my mind. And it is now all behind. A new year is underway and the future looks like an untraveled highway stretched before me with unseen curves, hills and hazards; but also with breathtaking scenery, delightful surprises and leisurely side roads I'll learn of in time. It continues on and yet it just begins, this changing from past to present to future. And it's a good thing I know not all that awaits. I might never take that first step if I could see what lay ahead.

So I'll live each day as it comes just as Psalm 118:24 suggests: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I'll trust the Lord to meet me and provide my needs every day that the sun comes up, just as Jesus asked us to do when we He bid us come to the Father and pray: “Give us each day our daily bread.” (Luke11:3) No matter what comes, good or bad, I'll know that the experience is teaching me something necessary for the journey and that every step forward is a new opportunity to begin again as we're told in 2 Corinthians 4:16 when “...we are being renewed day by day.”

Maybe by the end of 2014, I'll be able to look back and see that another twelve months of extremes is the life for me. And for you! In all reality, it's the story for every one in humanity. Life is colorful, volatile, horrible, delightful, unpredictable, supernatural and incredible when we live it one step at a time.

May your journey be filled with more hoorays than heartaches, your days be more sunny than gloomy. May you know peace of mind no matter the trial; and be surrounded by love and laughter often and in great abundance! May you rest from well-placed labor and receive satisfaction for acts of integrity. May you experience thrilling adventures of unexpected pleasure as well as enjoy days of calm, smooth and predictable sailing. Above all, may you trust in the Lord every step of the way down life's highway.