Contact Me

If you enjoy my blog and would like to contact me, you may reach me at this email:

Some of my stories are published in:
A Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters (Adams Media, 2009)
Chicken Soup: What I Learned from the Dog (2009)
Love is a Flame (Bethany House, 2010)
Extraordinary answers to Prayer (Guideposts, 2010)
Love is a Verb (Bethany House, 2011)
Big Dreams from Small Spaces (Group Publishing, 2012)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's Not About the Paycheck

A couple of years ago, at a church social,  I was getting acquainted with an elder at a church. (Not our church.)
 After telling me about his work as a lawyer, he asked politely what I did.
I said that I was a freelance writer and a musician but I used to work in children's ministry.
He asked, "Did you get paid?"
I was a little surprised that he asked me that. I said, "as a matter of fact, I did."
The man's demeanor changed toward me immediately. He asked me several questions about children's ministry and listened respectfully.
I went home a little sad.
I wondered, would my conversation with the elder have ended quickly if I'd said, "No, I was just a volunteer."?
As a writer, I frequently get that same slightly condescending attitude about my writing. And yes, I still get the question, "Do you get paid?"
Honestly, I try not to get huffy, but why would someone ask that question?
That's a rhetorical question, friends. I know why. It means:
"You must know what you're doing if you collect a paycheck for this kind of work. Otherwise, you're just a willing set of hands and feet without any particular expertise."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But you'd think that people who worship and minister in churches and know scripture would be the first ones to realize that it is God who equips us for His work. And sometimes a paycheck is less validation of our work than simply knowing we're doing precisely what God wants us to do.

I like this quotation:
"God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called."
My work is worthy and my gifting, valuable even if it doesn't collect a paycheck.
Because HE has called me to sing, to play, to write, to work with children, to teach Sunday School.
God gives us special gifts and talents and helps us get proper training.  But it is His power that enables our work to produce fruit.
I've seen many volunteers who produce enormous harvests. And salaried workers who produce almost nothing.

Wouldn't it be great if, instead of getting the question, "Did you get paid?" someone asked, "Did you see fruit?"

Of course, there are hidden harvests that we will never see this side of heaven.
  1. But to receive a letter from someone whose life was touched by something I wrote.
  2. Or to get a hug from a child who felt loved and affirmed, and learned something about God's kingdom.
  3. To know I am being faithful to whatever task God has called me to.
Would you be able to attach a price tag to these?

It's nice to get paid for what you do,
but if God called you to do it. . . 
wouldn't you work at it regardless?

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." (Col. 3:23 NIV)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Finding My Voice

God blessed me with a wonderful singing voice.
By the time I was ten years old, I already had a mature sound: bell-like tones, accurate pitch, musicality, notes into the soprano stratosphere and flexibility like Lily Pons.
There was never any doubt what I would study in college.
I studied at Oberlin College Conservatory and went on to finish my Master of Music at the University of Michigan.
I never had trouble finding and developing a unique sound. People always told me my sound was distinctive and beautiful. (Most of them had no idea how hard I'd studied and practiced to develop my talent.)
For years I sang as my primary ministry at church.
Well, that was a while ago and my voice has matured to the point that when I hear myself sing (ouch), I kind of remind myself of a tomato that's sat in the fridge a mite too long. It's still tasty, but the loose skin and soft flesh shows signs of being past its prime.

But twelve years ago God called me to another ministry: writing.
My re-direction felt like this: imagine walking down a congested city street in Manhattan, horns blaring, pedestrians talking on their cell phones, street merchants loudly hawking their products. Then you turn a corner and instantly find yourself standing on a noiseless plateau overlooking the Grand Canyon.
That sudden, that dramatically different.
A different world.
Only, maybe not so different.
Because the noisy city street and the quiet, wind-swept Grand Canyon are both vivid sensory experiences.

Both the sound world (singing) and the sight world (reading) require skilled story-telling. 
And your story-telling must be distinctive to be remembered and cherished.

One of my pet peeves is reading a book with a generic style.
I've been to enough vocal student recitals where (it's usually sopranos) the voices all sound the same.

So how do you stand out?

 Lots and Lots of Writing
Finding your own unique story-telling voice isn't that hard. But it takes lots of writing before it begins to emerge.
I think it's because, at first -- just like the student singer --the writer is worrying about craft.
But when the elements of writing begin to sink in and become part of your automatic technique, then the writer relaxes and the unique voice is freed.

Lots and Lots of Reading
Singers listen to other singers. It helps them practice and begin to adopt certain style elements. I remember Christian vocalist, Sandi Patti saying that she went through certain style phases as she was developing her own sound. There was the Barbra Streisand phase, then the Karen Carpenter phase. If you listen to Sandi, you can hear bits and pieces of other famous singers in her voice.
Writers assimilate and adopt other writers' styles. Our "voice" is a product of the assimilation and amalgamations of parents' voices, siblings, friends, teachers, media, great (and not so great) books. We  can't help it. We're verbal creatures, and the more we hear and read, the more we unconsciously apply vocabulary, idioms, metaphors, etc. in our own communications. When I discovered JRR Tolkien's novels, I read them over and over. Now, when I write, I glimpse an occasional Tolkienese in my own sentences. That's okay, as long as his style doesn't hijack my own unique voice.

Find An Example
Discovering distinct authors voices by reading great novels is a great way to help develop your own voice.
The Bible also contains amazing examples of distinct voice. Try comparing the gorgeous style of Job to the no-nonsense style found in Leviticus. And the Apostle Paul's writing is completely distinct from that of James or Peter or John.

How about Jesus's parables? Concise, visual, relate-able. He's the Master story-teller.

Suggestion: try to write a "parable" each day for a month. Pattern them after Jesus's stories. Then go back and read your parables. I'll bet you'll see your distinct voice emerge more clearly by the end of the month.

Here's one of Jesus's concise parables:
"What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Luke 13: 20, 21 NIV Bible)

If God has called you to write, then He will help you find your "voice."
Stay close to Him.
Study His Word.
Study writing.
Practice writing.
It'll come!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rest Stops

We're on the road again.
Driving to San Diego to see the new baby girl, our fifth grandchild.
I love this route, mostly.
The part that I really, really don't like is the stretch --and I do mean stretch --from Las Vegas to San Bernadino.
I love road trips. There's always something of interest on the route, or something of interest to talk about.
And then, when you need to take a break, there is almost always a rest stop close enough that the distance doesn't push the limits of a human's capacity to "hold it."
The rest stops that stick in my mind are the truly horrible ones, the ones that make you shudder when you remember.
Then there are the really nice ones, the ones that offer some special aspect of rest that other rest stops --which are nice --lack.
The best "rest" we Nethertons remember was the one we took just outside Elko, Nevada.
We'd been driving all night. As the sun began to peep over the horizon, we pulled wearily onto the exit. Several other cars had stopped there for a snooze. We quietly set up our camp stove and pulled out bacon, hash browns, coffee from our cooler. As the food heated up, their delectable aromas wafted into our neighbors' parking spaces. Heads began to pop up, car doors opened, sleepy travelers climbed out and, after an envying glance at our breakfast set-up, headed into the bathrooms for a quick clean up.
We ate breakfast to the tunes of a lark, singing somewhere off in the desert scrub brush.
Wonderful memory.
Much needed rest.

Some of our rest stops provide little playgrounds, parks, running circuits, museums, spectacular vistas.
In spite of our need to get going again, I've wanted to linger and enjoy the pleasures of each individual rest.

I've noticed that every time I take a rest, it's different. Even if I go to the same rest stop, I don't experience rest the same way I did six months ago.

God provides us rests along the way, too.
If only we'll take them.
Sometimes, like the rest stop on I-70, we pass them by: too many miles still waiting to be covered.
He always offers them, though.
God is no miser, no heartless slave-driver.
All we have to do is cease. If only we'll make that decision.
He wants us to be well-rested and re-charged for each day's requirements.

The memories of our many journeys across this country have begun to blur in my mind.
But the rests along the way remain vivid.
Perhaps its because the places of rest provide my heart and mind a small piece of time to assimilate all that has happened thus far.
And to gain a clearer perspective about where I'm going.
Would I have been able to do that if I hadn't stopped?
Maybe not.

Take that rest stop, friend. It's for you.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28 NIV)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Geraniums and the Inner Life

Last month I put my big geranium plants outside.
I'd proudly nursed them along all winter by feeding, watering, turning, pruning.
I set them on the edge of our porch steps for all the world to see.
 I know, I know, that was dumb. Colorado being the way it is, I should've known.
The weather turned.
My beautiful geraniums choked, gasped, turned brown. And died.
I promised myself I'd go down to the local nursery and buy new ones.
But yesterday, as I stepped out onto our front porch on my way to get the mail, something little and green caught my eye.
By golly, a sprig of life had sprouted from one of my potted geraniums.
I ran for my pruning scissors.
Cut off the old, dead stuff.
Cleaned the debris away.
Sure enough, new life.
Green, moist life swelling from the old stalks.
That plant is hardy.

Sometimes a hard and icy spell threatens to freeze the life out of us.
But if the life within is hardy, well-rooted, nurtured by good soil,
we will recover and grow beautiful again.
Perhaps more beautiful.

My geranium plant probably wouldn't have survived its cold snap had I not carefully tended and nurtured it throughout the winter.
Just so, as believers, we need the constant nourishment and training of God's Word so that when hard times come, we'll be able to withstand the pressure.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.
He will be like a tree, planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of strife, and never fails to bear fruit." (Jer. 17: 7,8 NIV Bible)

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Weather Teaches Good Lessons

On a November road trip to California, we decided to take the southern route.
The northern route, (I-80) which passes through Wyoming is often swept by blizzards and road closures.
Yes, Utah (I-70) would definitely be a smoother trip.
We crossed the Colorado/Utah border and proceeded into the barren eastern parts of the state.
On a high plateau, just shy of Green River, we looked down and saw a huge bank of heavy white clouds blanketing the valley.
"Looks like we're headed into some fog," I remarked to Bruce.
"Yup," my husband replied.
Neither of us batted an eyelash. What's a little fog to seasoned cross-country travelers like us?
As the nose of our minivan headed downward from the high plateau, I remember thinking, "Goody, this'll be so scenic, with clouds swirling all around the red rock formations of central Utah."
I got my camera ready.

Then we met "it."
"It" was no cloud bank.
"It" was a blizzard.
A concentrated, swirling, horizontally-blowing, dense mass of white fury, directed at our car or any other vehicle that dared enter its death-dealing vortex.
We began to pray in earnest.

We drove blind.
Until we came up behind truck lights.
We followed those lights for one hundred miles, hoping the driver didn't veer off the road.
'Cause we'd have followed those little red lights anywhere.

Three hours later we felt ourselves vomited out from the belly of the white monster, tense, frightened, and sick to our stomachs.
We holed up at the nearest motel.

The next morning we were able to view the results of the storm.
Cars had spun out and slid down into ditches.
Tow trucks roared into action.
Police vehicles zoomed everywhere, searching for stranded motorists.

Man, had we failed to correctly read the weather signs.
Had we known what danger was approaching, we'd have stopped in Green River and waited out the storm.

Lacking discernment, we'd foolishly plowed on ahead. If we'd stopped in Green River and asked, someone probably would've advised us not to continue.
God, in His grace, spared us from catastrophe.

How many times have I plowed on ahead of God in the spiritual arena, as well?
It's so easy to think I can handle things without God's guidance.
I've been in a hurry and I just didn't want to wait another day.
So I took some big chances.

But I'm learning:
Ask people who know the conditions.
Be humble enough to take their advice.
Don't be in a hurry. (God never is.)
Learn to read the signs of the times.
Consult the map, God's book.

"Teach me knowledge and good judgment
for I believe in Your commands." (Psalm 119: 66 NIV Bible)


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shut Up and Pray!

I'm about to celebrate my 33rd year of marriage to my beloved.
We're doing great. We've weathered many things that could possibly tear a marriage apart:
These all tested the strength of our love and commitment.
Not to say that there aren't more challenges coming around the corner.

In the early years of our marriage, my beloved and I spent many hours in conflict over a certain philosophical difference. He wouldn't budge.
But he was wrong, I knew it. So very, very wrong.
So I pleaded, cajoled, argued, reasoned, nagged, came close to threatening.

One day the Lord simply impressed this on my mind: Dena, stop talking, and just pray for the man.

Now that was a novel thought.
It wasn't like I hadn't been praying about my conflict, or for a hundred other concerns in my busy life as a wife, mother, server at church, community volunteer, teacher, friend.
But there's a difference.
When you turn something completely over to God and covenant with Him that you'll "cease striving" and wait for His powerful working-out, you're taking a giant step forward in your walk of faith.
Not too long after that agreement with God to stop talking and simply pray, I began to see encouraging things happen. I don't know if my beloved changed, or I changed.

Wow! This shutting up and letting God do the heavy lifting is a cool thing, I thought.
Why not try this out on my kids, too? And the situation at my school, and the misunderstanding with my friend, and. . .
I learned a valuable lesson.
All that talking and nagging and reasoning and pleading and trying to control things my way:
these all revealed a deep lack of faith.
It wasn't as if the thing I was praying for wasn't a good thing.

But when you step back and commit to pray unceasingly for God's best, you're saying,"
Lord, I give up. I've tried. I've talked. I've done everything that I can do. I, I, I.
Please do whatever it is that You're going to do, in Your time, in Your way.

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions." (Eph. 6:18)
"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:16)
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding." (Prov. 3:5 NIV BIBLE)



Monday, May 7, 2012

God: the Great Comforter

Are you having one of those days where you feel discouraged, misunderstood?
Is there someone in your life who never gives you the affirmation you so crave from him or her?
Are you trying your darndest to do what God has called you to do, but no one seems to understand?

Don't give up.

I'm grateful that I have a loving husband who supplies with me with constant encouragement.
But in spite of his inspiration, he cannot reach to the deepest part of my soul and fix me when my discouragement is pulling me downward like the Titanic.

Only God remembers your earliest hurts.
He knows your personality intimately.
He's the only One besides you, who can travel into your brain, listen to the recordings of the cruel comments, the barbs, the insults that you've received, that you may have forgiven, but somehow can't quite forget.
He knows how the fresh hurts, combined with the old ones, create a dung heap that stinks up your soul.

He knows all this.
Yet, He still calls you to move beyond these wounds.
Yes, cry for a bit. Lick your wounds.
Then stand up and get going again.

Because God's enemy would love to see you get stuck in your hurt and discouragement.

Let God's Holy Spirit develop in you faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love. (2 Pet. 1:5-7)

Pour out your hurt to God
Find scripture that portrays your hurt and read it to God.
Examine your soul. Confess, if needed.
Ask for His comfort.
Ask for His strength and faith.
Worship Him.
Tell Him how you long to please Him in all things.
Thank Him that He will work out even this hurt for blessing and for His perfect will to be accomplished.

If you are the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, you can pray and be comforted by this scripture:
"I have chosen you and not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Is. 41:9-11 NIV Bible)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Do You know a Truly Humble Person?

Last blog post I talked about Moses and how he was the most humble man on earth.

We usually think of great leaders as having a "big head." Afterall, wouldn't you have to have an enormous ego to think you're qualified to lead a mega-church, or run a international corporation, or be a president of the United States?
The other day,  I spent long hours at a hospital as my friend had some heavy-duty surgery. The surgeon who performed the operation is know for his great skill. He's also known to have--shall we say-- a larger than life ego. But that said, wouldn't you need that to have the courage and confidence to cut into other people's flesh every day, and know that the outcome will be a positive one?

I think about singers and instrumentalists and actors and comedians: don't they all have big egos?

But Moses? Moses was a humble man.
And God spoke face to face with him.

And King David.
God kept the man humble for years.
First he was the youngest of Jesse's sons.
He tended sheep. Not a very kingly duty.
They didn't even consider him as a possibility when Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse's sons as King.
After he was anointed King, he spent long years serving, and then running from King Saul.
When he brought the arc of the covenant into Jerusalem, he danced like a fool in front of thousands.
(Anyway, Michal, his wife, thought he looked like a fool.)
When Shimei cursed him and pelted with rocks, David would not allow his men to kill him. He said, "If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, 'Curse David,' who can ask, 'Why do you do this?'" (2 Sam.16:10.)
Pretty humble guy, that David.

Why do we need to be humble?
Because it pleases God.
But why?
Because "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."(1 Pet 5:5)
Because God's way is always the best way.
And we bring Him great joy when we humbly admit that and obey Him.
God's plan will always lead us down the best path.

Moses knew that.
And so did King David.

Who is someone you know that's truly humble?