4 free lessons from the Little Drummer Boy

daisiesAs I begin my new book project, I struggle with that voice that says, “You’re not good enough.” While I can’t quiet the voice, I can remind myself that this book is my offering to God. I’ve been thinking of the Little Drummer Boy.

My mother was one to listen to Christmas songs year-round, or at least starting in August. She would break out the Mannheim Steamroller vinyl and turn the stereo up to at least 7.

She loved the classics as well as electronic music. One of her favorite songs was the Little Drummer Boy. This song tells the story of a young boy with nothing to give the baby Jesus. With Mary’s blessing, he plays his drum.

Without fail, my mother cried every time it came on.

I seem to have inherited her Little Drummer Boy crying syndrome. Now when I hear the song, I remember her feeling so touched. It brings tears to my own eyes.

The simplicity of the story means each generation can learn from the little drummer boy.

Give now. Don’t wait to be an expert to give your best to God.

The little boy didn’t say, “Wait, I need to take some drum lessons and get better before I offer my song. I will come back in a few years.”

As I was talking to my husband about the song, he said he imagines the little drummer boy played the drum the way young children play drums, in a clumsy, charming way. The song doesn’t say, “Then the very best child drummer—a kid so good that had he been on YouTube 2,014 years in the future, he would have had 1 million views—played for Jesus.” It only says that he played.

Be a proud beginner.

As adults, we get caught up in looking like we know what we’re doing. How we look seems to matter more than what we feel and experience. How many new things do we avoid because of fear and the idea of “I don’t want to look stupid”?

Children are beginners at everything, even self-consciousness. They haven’t learned to be self-conscious.

What if we approached something new with an attitude of openness without worrying about how we look?

Remember it’s OK to look like a beginner. It means you are beginning something new!

Offer what you have with your heart.

The boy was motivated by his love for the Lord in this song. He could have gotten caught up in self-pity that he had no frankincense.

Whether you are offering a prayer, a smile, a glass of water or a devotional—do it with spirit and goodwill. Let your love for the Lord motivate you. Whatever you have to give, if you give it with love, it will be enough.

Be present to the moment of giving.

The boy wasn’t half-drumming, distracted by the score of a game. He focused on what he was giving.

How often are you present? All the time? Most of the time? Or like me, sometimes, here and there, when I am not distracted by ponies and to-do lists?

Think of a Japanese tea ceremony with its deliberate patience. Instead of tossing your offering in an off-hand way, present it with intention.

Center yourself and give part of yourself. The recipient of your generosity will feel your presence. You will gain more from the giving.

Give well.


Lord, let us give what we can now:

Smiles to the lonely,
Peace to the troubled,
Food to the hungry,
A hand to the stumbling,
An ear to those not heard.

If we don’t have big tithes
or fancy prayers,
time for overseas missions
or prayerful retreats,
let us give what we can now:

A kind word,
A welcome,
A thank you.

Let us be the people who turn around
someone’s day.

Guide us to become people who give
as you give:
extravagantly, excessively,

Tell me your thoughts!

How have you been blessed this week? What will you give out of love for God? What would you like to learn?

Tell the truth…to yourself

The practice of compassionate honesty with yourself and God will give you peace and wholeness. Like confession in the Catholic faith, or taking an inventory in the fourth step of 12-step groups, the act of looking at yourself with a kind and neutral eye will free you.

Think of something important that happened to you. When you tell a story about it, do you leave out the complications and dead ends, the hurt feelings and the confusion, and focus only on the success? Do you portray yourself as friendly, knowledgeable, calm and in charge?

Clean version, messy version

Tim, Gen and JennySaturday I had the good fortune to go to dinner at the Claysville Store with some people I hold dear, Tim Carson, Jenny McGee and her husband Dave, my husband and my son. Over fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, coleslaw and the best applesauce I’ve had in a long time, we traded stories about life before we knew one another. Did I mention the biscuits—and the chocolate banana cream pie?

Before I started in on how my husband and I met, my son asked, “What version are you going to tell, the cleaned-up one or the messy one?”

I laughed and said he would just have to wait and see.

When we tell our own stories, it’s easy to embellish who we were. We can make ourselves smarter, cleaner and stronger in the retelling. The cleaned-up version often makes us feel better. Why wouldn’t we slant our own stories in our favor?

Accept yourself, accept grace

Telling the truth about yourself and your experiences strengthens your well-being. How can God reach me if I’m caught up in myself?

Only in letting go of the good and the bad can I make space for grace, instead of grandiosity.

Honesty brings us closer.

You made a mistake? Accept yourself as human.

You had feelings of jealousy, anger, pettiness, lust, shame or fear that you wish you could deny? Accept yourself. Give your burden to God.

The truth is many times in my life I’ve seemed like a mess, a hairball looking for a drain to clog. The drain I clogged was the flow of love and positivity.

Through honesty to myself, to my journal and to God, I’m able to embrace all the parts of myself: the mess, the conflicting feelings and the memories.

I don’t always tell the messy stories. I have to choose my audience. But I tell the messy stories to the people I love.

So far, they haven’t rejected me. They might even love me more for it.


Lord, give us courage to be real with you.
Give us strength to admit our weakness.

The real stories might be painful;
you can heal us.

The real stories might be messy;
you can clean us.

You make in us a new life.
Let’s rejoice and live it!


Tell me your thoughts!

What story do you have in your life that has two or more versions? (If you appreciate messy stories, keep an eye out on this blog for news about my upcoming poetry book, Turn. It’s in the final stages of editing and design right now!)

Where judges aren’t welcome

An early love for judges

One of my favorite judges, Judy Sheindlin. Photo courtesy of Susan Roberts.
One of my favorite judges, Judy Sheindlin. Photo courtesy of Susan Roberts.

I started watching judge shows in high school. While my parents divorced during the summer between my junior and senior year, I watched the Newlywed Game and Divorce Court—back to back—religiously.

In the game show, raunchy newlyweds flirted to win washing machines. In the court show, couples described messy failed relationships, pleading to the cool sophisticated judge who gave them clean outcomes that didn’t always make sense: he gets the washing machine, she gets the dryer. I took comfort in seeing someone in control above the brutal fighting; I myself was living in the fray.

My internal judge and me today

Today chaos or insecurity triggers my internal judge who gives opinions on all aspects of my existence, including the way I pray and my creative process. It can get overwhelming. Instead of fortifying my self-image, the judge can become so destructive that nothing seems good enough.

This internal judge is almost certainly the voice that silences many people from writing at all. Before a song, story or prayer can be fully fleshed out, the judge squelches it.

A courtroom—not a mind or a private journal—is the perfect time and place for a judge. Judges make great editors, or list-makers for pros and cons, or researchers for the best washing machine. Much as I love them, judges don’t have a place in the early creative process.

Writing to deepen the spiritual experience

Spiritual writing is all about process. Results don’t matter. You only need to show up, put pen to paper and let the judge know you’ll call her later, if you need her. You won’t miss her. The divine presence will show love through ink and fiber, if you let it.

The practice of spiritual writing is a balm to heal and nourish my creative self. I face the water, put my hand in like a boat and let my work set sail. The spirit supplies the wind.

Upcoming Sunday School Class

As part of our church’s Christian Education hour, my friend, Resa Kerns, and I will offer a spiritual writing class 10 a.m. this Sunday, June 1, in the resource room (lower level) of Broadway Christian Church. It’s an 8-week class, and everyone is invited. Internal judges might tag along, but they won’t be listened to. In the space of spiritual writing, we will listen for God.

While I teach the class this summer, I will include some of my topics on this blog so you can follow along and try some writing on your own. No experience needed!

The pen is the path. As we write, we might be surprised by who travels with us.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” —Luke 24:31-32


Lord, when there seems no escape
from our fumbling, our fears,
our frantic chasing of the next goal,
our harsh self-judgements,
bless us with acceptance.

Let’s practice devotion.

May we accept what is real
and rest in your kingdom.

Tell me your thoughts!

How much rule does the judge have in your mind? How much rule does God have?

What you mean to me

lizardYou can find more reasons to stay put than move toward your goal.

It’s too hard. I don’t know enough. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I’m too old. I’m not experienced enough. There are already so many people doing it.

I’m scared.

And the biggest one, I’m not good enough.

Starting this blog at the beginning of the year with my first post, I heard my loudest inner critic say in a snide tone, “I’m not a good enough writer. I’m not a good enough Christian.”

It’s a risk to go for a dream. I’ll admit to you, I wasn’t sure what would happen. What if, instead of a place for us with light to grow in, this blog was a ghost town on the web, just me and some tumbleweeds with the occasional lizard running through?

Yet I felt I had to try. Under the voice of my inner critic, I heard a calling like a melodious whisper that I wanted to answer.

Seeing what happens

What happened exceeded my hopes! You, my beloved readers, made this experiment worthwhile. You passed on the word about the blog.

You stopped me for a quick visit about how you could relate to what I said.

You left comments that touched my heart and emails that I have saved in my journal.

You said, “I can relate.”

You strengthen me. You bless me.

I felt less alone. I realized that we’re working toward common goals of growing our faith, our compassion and our ability to enjoy life.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be giving thanks for you, my valued readers.

The critic comes every week. I hear that same disparaging voice with its prediction of failure and the assessment of “not good enough.”

But friendship and support are stronger, steadier, louder. The sense of togetherness affirms that I should keep going.

As hard as it is, as little as I know, as badly as I write, as much as I stumble and drop communion on my way toward God, I will keep going.

I appreciate you for coming with me!

Big Thank You Book Giveaway

Daily Guideposts 2014 bookAs a thank you, I’m giving away five different books. I wish I could give all of you a book and sit down with you over a cup of tea, but the budget wouldn’t allow it 😀

Comment on today’s blog and you’ll be entered in the random drawing!

You can leave a comment here until noon, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, when I will randomly pick the winner of the first book, Daily Guideposts 2014, a Spirit-lifting Devotional. A friend at church recommended this book, and I plan to use it in 2014.

The fun will continue with four more books to give away on social media with my Facebook page Genevieve A. Howard and Twitter @HowGen, so join me there!

Good luck and BIG THANK YOU!

Look More Attractive Instantly!

What if you lived with someone who said things like this to you a dozen times a day:

• You’re fat. You’re chunky. You’ve got blubber.
• Your clothes are boring.
• Your gray hairs make you look old. 
• Your double chin looks like a waddle.
• Your skin looks disgusting the way it’s broken out.
• You’re wimpy without any muscles.
• You’re gross.


Would you want to be with that person? I wouldn’t! Yet we’re often stuck with messages like these in our own heads.

It breaks my heart to see how many attractive people don’t feel attractive. Inside they’re trapped in a cycle of self-criticism and comparison that can last for years.

How do we stop saying these things to ourselves?

We can change.

Our lives aren’t grand beauty contests that never end, unspoken competitions where we always feel like losers. At least they don’t have to be!

Here are two powerful ways to improve your situation: kindness to yourself and attention to others. No diets or makeup necessary!

Change the brain

Positive thinking about our self-image rebuilds our resilience to the daily onslaught of Photoshopped images. Instead of comparing ourselves to photos, we identify unrealistic expectations. We let go. We move on.

With a new mindset, we accept our looks with grace. The majority of our time on earth is spent in decline. Our physical powers peak in the 20s and then we have 50 plus or minus years to come to terms with that reality.

Ecclesiastes says, Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity. (12:1,7,8)

Let’s go beyond the surface qualities of our flesh and look into our hearts.

Answer each negative thought with gratitude

For each nasty thought, say, “_______ is a blessing.” When you look in the mirror and think, “My body’s gross,” follow that thought with, “My body is a blessing.” As you work on this, the mean thoughts will wither away.  You’ll feel at home in your skin. When you feel comfortable, you radiate sensuality.

I know this works from experience. I was a chronic critical thinker about my looks starting about the age of 10. Although my appearance today is faded compared to 20 years ago, my mind and self-image are healthier. I feel better now about how I look.

I stay away from those who make me feel ugly. I’m blessed to be married to someone who compliments me on my looks. I work on accepting his flattering words where I used to discount them!

Stop looking at yourself, focus on your ability

Have you ever let the physical stop you from achieving something, such as, “I can’t start a relationship until I look a certain way.” This is untrue! You can love and let yourself be loved today, regardless of how white or crooked your teeth are.

What we look like doesn’t matter as much as what we can do for others. Most people struggle with how they look. Help turn the tide of a bad cultural habit where we worship false images. Strengthen the people around you with specific compliments about what you notice, like “That teal shirt makes your eyes look vibrant!” Your words will give them a little boost of energy. We can see and celebrate one another’s true selves in all our blotchiness and glory.

When you give your full attention to someone, you gain a beautiful quality. Attention is more valuable than appearance. We all need acknowledgement more than we need to look at a lady with ten layers of makeup or a man who recently lost ten pounds.  Care about others and they will glow in your caring.

Look more attractive instantly!

Kindness, confidence and vitality make everyone look better. Try it today and look more attractive instantly!

What do you do to quiet the negativity and enjoy your self-image more? Add your voice to the comments!

Tell that trash talkin’ opossum, “No thanks!”

Baby birds

What’s it like in your head? Is it an easy, relaxed place to be? At the end of the day, do you feel positive and excited for the next day or drained and discouraged, dreading what the next day will bring?

I have good news if you’re in the drained and discouraged camp: you can change your mind and change your mood.

Years ago, my mind was like a neglected alley, overrun by opossums eating out of knocked-down trash cans under dull yellow light. My thoughts were a daily toxic stream of unforgiving words and mean judgments directed toward myself. I could do no right in my own eyes. It was exhausting.

I cringe when I hear an adult say to a kid, “No! What’s wrong with you? You’re so stupid!” I know from experience that kids can be super recorders and replay hard words in their heads for a lifetime.

You have competing elements for your inner voice. One is a cruel self-critic, and sounds like a opossum that hisses and eats trash. The other is the voice of your spirit, less noticeable and more fragile. Like a fledgling songbird, it needs to be nurtured to grow stronger. The opossum can climb into the songbird’s nest and crunch its bones if you let it. Or you can feed the songbird until it’s strong enough to fly and carry your thoughts with it.

An old opossum message might have been I’m so stupid! What’s wrong with me?

If you find yourself thinking that, try following it with a songbird message of, It’s OK. Mistakes happen. I can learn from this.

You might think a opossum thought such as, I’m too fat/skinny/bald/hairy/old/young. Nobody likes/understands/wants me.

Your new songbird thought can be, So what? I’m going to try things and enjoy life regardless of my weight/hair situation/age. I’ll do what I can to be a blessing to other people.

Be a friend to yourself. Let your mind be a place of song and spirit. Tell that trash talkin’ opossum, “No thanks!”

Do you want to make or have you made a change in the way you think? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

PS—No hate mail from opossum lovers please! Called “America’s finest marsupials” by Logan Howard, I recognize opossums as creatures that deserve respect but all’s fair in love and metaphor.

Baby birds