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Backward Encouragement

Even before I longed to become a published author, I wanted to become a stay-home mom. I would daydream about baking cookies with my kids in the kitchen, or reading books to them at night. Laughing with them on a family vacation, or having deep discussions cuddled in bed.

Never did I dream about the arguments, the bickering, the whining, the selfishness, the manipulation for power, the fight for control. Never did I consider the long-lasting effects of post-partum-turned-full depression, the mommy guilt inflicted by myself and society, the internal conflict when disciplining my children. 

There are some women who rock the role of “Mom”—at least it looks that way to those watching from a distance. But I think most of us would agree that being a mom is the most taxing job a woman can do. Nothing like having a child hang around to reveal our shortcomings: deficient in patience, abundant in anger. Lacking compassion, teeming with selfishness. Low on self-control, yet driven to control our children.

Suffice it to say, motherhood hasn’t turned out like I thought it would. And now, with my youngest halfway through sixth grade, I stand closer to the point in which my time of being the best influence in my children’s lives will come to an end. Considering I feel like I’ve spent much of that time messing up, it’s a depressing thought.

Where am I going with this? Well, this is actually supposed to be a post of encouragement. Back in November, when I wrote Light in the Darkness, I wanted to make sure I didn’t just talk the talk, but that I walked it, as well. Especially when it came to praying Scripture over me and my family. God had been making it clear He wanted me to work on what I said, how I said it, and tempering my initial emotional responses to different situations, so I took a couple weeks to read through Proverbs and write down any verses that spoke to me about words and tempers. (There are plenty of verses, mind you, but not all of them are applicable to my personal life.)

After jotting down the verses on 3×5 cards, I began to pray through them most mornings. I’m still praying through them. Actually, it’s more like craying through them, because I have yet to get to the third verse before I start crying.

I knew praying these verses wasn’t like saying some magical spell and *poof* my issues would disappear. On the contrary, I knew my challenges and “opportunities” to practice what I was praying would increase, so I was prepared for that. And I figured I’d be able to give you all a report on the positive results and encourage those of you who might be having similar struggles.

But I wasn’t prepared for still feeling like a failure three months later.

I thought surely by now I’d see some improvement. That I’d drop my kids off at the bus stop and come home with a light heart rather than a heavy one. That I’d keep my emotions in check when Hubby and I discussed the budget or vacation plans or politics (we have the same political view, I’m just a fatalist and he’s an idealist, so…). I suppose there are times I keep my mouth shut when I’d rather yell. Times I pause to listen when I’d rather speak. But it’s not often enough.

Okay, so how is this encouraging?

Because maybe you’re in the same boat. Maybe you’re praying Scripture over yourself and/or your family and you’re struggling. Maybe you’re trying to change in one or more areas and you feel you’re not getting anywhere. Maybe you figure this isn’t worth it and you want to give up.

I want to encourage you not to give up. Cuz I’m not giving up. Sometimes we have to dig in and fight over a long period of time in order to win a battle. Clearly, the devil doesn’t like what I’m doing and he’s determined to discourage me any way he can. (Usually that’s when we know we’re onto something good: if we’ve gained the devil’s attention.) But I refuse to pay attention to him this time. I will continue to pray Prov 16:24, that my words would be kind like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body (there’s a whole sermon in this one, given all we know today about the amazing properties of honey). I’ll continue to pray James 1:19a, my verse for the year (instead of a word for the year), that I would be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. And I’ll keep sharing my progress with you from time to time, even when it’s not going as well (or fast) as I’d like.

My hope is that by this time next year, I will not look, sound, or act like I do today. Not that I’ll have “arrived,” but I trust I will have taken several steps in the right direction. Because I only have a few years left to speak life into my kids; to love on them when they’re unloveable; to “direct them onto the right path, [that] when they are older, they will not leave it.” (Prov 22:6 NLT).

The Christian faith is not easy, contrary to what people outside the faith like to claim, but we’re called to persevere. God will not fail you or me. His words will not fail. And given what the world looks like right now, wrapped in His Word is the perfect place to be for our emotional stability, our sanity, our peace. So keep reading and keep praying. We will see progress eventually.

If you’re curious, here are some of the verses (NLT) that make me cry on a daily basis: 😉

Prov 10:11      The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain.

Prov 10:13      Wise words come from the lips of people with understanding.

Prov 10:19      Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (This one makes me smile through my tears.)

Prov 10:21      The words of the godly encourage many.

Prov 10:31      The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice.

Prov 12:16      A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted. (I add “and incited, and angered, and annoyed…)

Prov 12:18      The words of the wise bring healing.

Prov 15:28a    The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking.

Prov 18:13      Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish. (How many times I’ve proven this one true! 😦 )

Prov 18:20      Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction.

Prov 19:13b    A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping.

Prov 20:24      The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way? (Guilty!!)

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Light in the Dark

A Light Shines Best in the Darkness.-3

The above words came to me as I was praying last week about the mid-term elections. And it reminded me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:14-16, when He says, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (NLT version)

Rather than thinking, “Yeah, that’s cool. Heard it before. Christians are supposed to be the light, uh huh,” I stopped to analyze why light shines best in the darkness. What are its properties? What are the differences between light and dark?

When I think about light in today’s terms—in the forms of lamps, candles, campfires, etc.—I come up with a sense of calm, peace, warmth, protection, contentment, thanksgiving, joy, comfort. (How many more traits can you add to this list?)

But in view of Jesus’s command, how does the Bible see “light”? Away to Biblegateway.com I went, to do a quick study on when the word “light” appears in in the Bible. Aside from when it’s used in terms of weight, here are just a few verses I found (NLT version):

In Exodus 13, we have God revealing Himself as a pillar of light to the Israelites as they escaped from Egyptian captivity. Light implies guidance.

In Psalms 119:105, David says, “Your Word is a light for my path.” Here it implies insight & illumination.

In John 1:5, John says Jesus is the light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (can I get an amen?!).

In John 12:46, Jesus likens himself to light when he says, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” Light is salvation.

Philippians 2:15 commands us to “live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Light is innocence and purity.

1 Thessalonians 5:5 says, “For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night.” Light is our identity.

Ephesians 5:8 says, “[O]nce you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” Light is the Holy Spirit.

Did you catch that last one? When we make Jesus our Lord & Savior, the Holy Spirit—God himself—comes to take up residence within us. We have His presence. His power. His love. His light shining through us to a darkened world. He is the light we should bring everywhere we go, whether it be a physical place like the grocery store, or online like social media.

Light shines best in the darkness because it stands in stark contrast to its surroundings. And it can’t help but draw people closer because of that difference, because of its love, its promise of life.

Can we say our lives look different from the world around us? Do our lives exude love and a promise of life? Or have we allowed the world to influence our behavior and dim our light? How do we stand out in the 21st century if our lives look the same as (and in some cases, worse than) our non-believing neighbors?

You’re not going to like what I suggest. Not at first, anyway. It’s extremely simple, yet if it were easy, we Christians wouldn’t have such a problem. But the truth of the matter is that deep down, we don’t want to do this.

I’m not talking about trying harder. It has nothing to do with trying harder.

If we’re going to live out our faith and be a light that attracts others to Jesus, we must start by reading the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

The world tries to convince us it knows better than God on how to do life. And we are caving to those lies because we spend countless hours scrolling through social media that reflects the world’s values, and watching endless hours of entertainment that reflects the world’s values, which feeds our minds with those values, which skews our thoughts about God and His ways, which causes us to doubt Him (note: instilling doubt is how Satan got Eve to eat the apple in the first place).

And when we don’t purposely make the time to spend with God and read His Word, how can we possibly think we’ll have what it takes to know His heart or fight for what He values when we’re in the trenches of daily life?

Don’t feel like praying or reading the Bible? No problem. Tell Him. He already knows about it, anyway. 🙂 Unsure what or how to pray? Again, not a problem. Pray through the Scriptures. When I was in college, the youth pastor at my home church suggested we pray through the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) each morning. In those chapters, we have Jesus’s teaching about anger, adultery, divorce, revenge, loving our enemies, not judging others, generosity, the “Golden Rule,” bearing fruit, etc. I did this during my college years, and yet I still learn new things as a forty-something whenever I reread it.

Colossians 1:9-12 is also a powerful place to start: “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.”

And I can’t forget to suggest Ephesians 1:16-19… “I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. 19a I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.”

Are these not amazing words to pray over ourselves and our loved ones?!

If we’re sincere about changing our behavior and habits, God will lovingly ignite that spark in us to want to know Him better…and fan that flame that compels us to change our ways…and grow that fire into a personal testimony that encourages others in their struggles.

It’s time to shut off our TVs, put down our phones, and pick up our Bibles. Time to wear out our carpets and floorboards with prayer. Time to speak the truth in love, not anger; with compassion, but not concession.

After all, there’s a dark world full of lost souls God desperately loves, who, in turn, are desperate for a bit of Light. May we be ready and trustworthy to bring it to them.

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Do I Trust God at His Word?

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve entered my book in several contests over the last few months. Tinsel in a Tangle was the runner-up in the Selah Awards Debut Novel category (yay!), but I’m still waiting for the calendar months to flip a couple more times to find out the results of the others.

One contest, however, has nothing to do with my book. Some of you might be familiar with the magazine, Guideposts. Every two years, they hold a short story contest in which twelve winners are chosen to join their week-long writing boot camp in Rye, New York. I first heard of this contest about four years ago, but never bothered entering because short stories and I gel like oil and water.

But after a gentle-yet-firm nudging this spring from a woman in my Bible study, and feeling like I had a story in me to tell, after all, I decided to go for it. If I’m not one of the twelve winners, I’ll post my entry here sometime next month (I find out mid-August). If I am one of the winners…then I’ll let you know which Guideposts issue to look for. 😉

The point of this post, however, isn’t about contests and winning, but rather about losing…and how that’s not always the negative thing we think it is.

streamer-1194567_1920See, it was just a few days after I entered the contest when I indulged in a small-scale pity party. (I’m happy to say I’d barely gotten the streamers hung before I called it off, though the cake ingredients were out on the counter…) At that time, I had already learned the outcome of the Selah Awards, knew I had very teeny-tiny odds of winning the Guideposts contest (I never got a confirmation email from them, so did they even receive it??), and felt overwhelmed by the minuscule odds of winning one of the other contests…so, yeah, I was lamenting the fact I might never have it all-together to win a writing contest.

Because when we win a contest—whether it be in the creative arts, or music, or sports, or any other skill we’ve taken the time to hone—doesn’t that prove to the watching world that we’re good, maybe even exceptional, in that area? It definitely gives us a boost of validation, right? So, during my “party,” I figured if I never won at writing, then that meant I wasn’t exceptional—maybe not even good—and then I began to wonder (again!) if writing was what God wanted me to be doing—

—when He stopped my thinking in its destructive tracks and whispered to my heart:

“NOT winning a contest doesn’t mean you’re ‘less than’ in some way. It means you’re available to do and concentrate on what I have for you in that moment.”

Oh. Huh. Really?

On the heels of His whisper, I had to ask myself:

Do I truly believe God wants the best for me in all situations? Do I believe what Romans 8:28 says, that “…[He] causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them,” even when it feels painful?

Because if I claim to believe it, then I must conclude that not winning in the Selah Awards was God’s best for me in that particular situation.

This doesn’t mean I’ll necessary understand why that is, but if God is worthy of my trust and fealty, then it behooves me to believe He has the best in store for me, regardless of my emotions.

cropped-trust-in-godIn the case of this Guideposts contest, if I’m one of the winners, I get to go to NY for a week in September. A good boost for my writing. A bold “check” on the validation scale. Yet both my girls start new schools this year—one heads into high school, the other into middle school. This new chapter in their lives could come with a lot of emotions and anxiety and behavioral issues, and understandably so. Thus, if I don’t win, then I’m physically present that particular week to support my girls in ways that might seem mundane and unimportant at times, but which could be the “best” God has for me this September. Because maybe His best in this situation has nothing to do with me as a writer and everything to do with me as a mother. Or as a wife (Sept is the beginning of hunting season; gotta support the hubs). Or maybe even as a friend. Who knows? The possibilities are endless, really, yet I’m so good at limiting God to only what I see and know at any given time.

But when it comes down to my plans, my comfort, what I think is best, God isn’t about pleasing me. He’s about growing me. His best isn’t to make all my wishes and dreams come true, but to mold me into a woman who reflects more and more the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Yeah, my family will be the first ones to tell you I could use growth in all those areas!) God stands outside of time and knows which outcomes will strengthen my character and draw me closer to Him…and which ones would only serve to ratchet up my selfishness, jealousy, pride, etc.

So if I never win a writing or book contest, that doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. It doesn’t mean I’m not supposed to be writing. It just means God has something better for me, either down the writer’s road or in a different area altogether. And I pray I have the eyes to recognize it and thank Him for it when it comes around.Signature

What Do We Expect?

This started out as a Facebook post, but I changed my mind in the end. Did I take the coward’s way out? Maybe (although I did link this to my home page). FB is such a volatile place these days, I don’t want to add to it. But does that mean I stay completely silent? Sometimes, yes. This time, no. Will I get a backlash from some? Possibly. I have to take that risk.

First, let me say that what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is horrific. As I read the newsfeed in the privacy of my home yesterday, I sobbed for the futility in it; I cried for the families who have needlessly lost loved ones. I prayed–and continue to pray–God shows up in amazing ways; that His presence is felt; that His children in the area and beyond pour out love and support to those hurting families; that in the end, it will be shown that good did triumph over this evil.

But I do have a question in light of the following…

*Since the early 1960’s, we’ve slowly but surely taken morals, values, ethics, and the sanctity of life out of schools.

*We’ve torn apart the foundations of the family unit.

*We’ve taught children that evolution is fact…which means, to be consistent with this belief, that people are nothing more than random particles stuck together…which then means people have no real purpose in life.

*We’ve allowed children access to video games that desensitize them to the act of hurting or killing a person (video games the military uses to desensitize their troops in the case s/he must take a human life).

*We’ve allowed little kids access to pornography through the internet, as well as R- and X-rated movies (Deadpool, anyone? Fifty Shades of Grey? No, I haven’t seen them. I don’t need to, to know their negative effects on a developing mind)…which means seeds have been planted for a future addiction to porn, a desensitization to sex, and warped thinking about women and sex, as these children grow into adults.

*We’ve taught teens that if it feels right, do it; abstinence is futile; girls need to put out; guys need to act on it; and we turn a blind eye to the sex-fest that goes on in many colleges & universities (dare I say all?). We hide the statistical repercussions for such behavior–emotional, mental, physical, spiritual–and then wonder why marriages and other relationships are falling apart. To top it off, once these kids grow up and enter the work force, or even worse, should they land a government job, we then penalize them for the very actions we once condoned.

*We’ve glorified Hollywood and its on-screen actors, most of whom live broken lives off-screen.

*We’ve encouraged the love of Self above Others with the tsunami of social media.

*We’ve taught children that all truth is relative…which means, to be consistent with this claim, that for some people, adultery is considered allowable; it’s their truth. Rape is considered allowable; it’s their truth. Stealing & lying? It’s fine; it’s their truth. Murder? Why not? People are just random particles stuck together, anyway, and it’s their truth. On and on I could go. Does this sound harsh? Not if we’re being consistent with relative truth. Who has the authority to say these things aren’t allowable, if there is no absolute truth? “But it’s against the law in this country.” Says who? The government? Who sets up the government? Man? What is man? We just learned man is nothing more than random particles stuck together. Where do random particles get the authority to tell other random particles what’s considered right and wrong? Let’s be consistent if we’re going to claim relative truth.

(Er…guess I touched upon one of my hot buttons with that last one.)

Here’s my question:

Given this kind of upbringing, what do we expect these younger generations to look like once they’ve reached adulthood?

Hint: They won’t look like law-abiding, respectful, considerate people.

If the adages are true, that “you reap what you sow,” and “you are what you eat,” then the older generations have sown disrespect, a lack of accountability, a lack of self-control and self-worth, dishonesty, hypocrisy, promiscuity, a sense of hopelessness, greasy grace, among so much more…and the younger generations have eaten from that harvest. We’re beginning to see the results. It will get worse.

It could get better—if we start by re-instilling those morals, values, ethics, sanctity of life, and yes, absolute truth. It starts there. (And I would argue it actually starts before that–with the Church on its knees.)

But are we willing to make the sacrifices required, in order to weave those threads back into the fabric of society and mend the brokenness?

Getting Off This Roller Coaster

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I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster these last few weeks and months. I must be rising toward the peak today, because I feel excited and jubilant, though I couldn’t tell you why. Nothing has physically changed in my life. My circumstances haven’t changed. But my view of some things is slowly changing. Maybe that’s the “why.”

If I’m on a roller coaster, then two Saturdays ago, I was at the lowest point of the deepest plunge, a place I hadn’t been in a long while. Although I hadn’t planned to write that day, I ended up with a little bit of time after breakfast and thought I’d quickly write for 30-45 minutes and pound out maybe 500 words or so. They didn’t have to be stellar words. Just something to slide me a little further along on my WIP. Easy, right?

I couldn’t do it.

It took an hour to wring less than 100 c.r.a.p.p.y words from my cottage-cheese of a brain. And then…time was up. Had to move on with my day. Tears pooling in my eyes, I stood, gathered my cleaning supplies, and as I started for the master bathroom, I began to pray for God’s help—

Wait a minute. His help? He’d had the last hour to help me, and He’d remained silent.

Something black and rancid shifted inside me. I dodged it before it became a full-fledged thought. Couldn’t go there. That wasn’t “Christian.”

Then again, God knew all my thoughts, so what was the point in avoiding what He already knew?

“I hate You, God.” The words rasped against my tongue as the nylon scrubber grated against the porcelain sink. “I hate You. I thought I was a writer. Didn’t You and I have some kind of heart-to-heart a few months ago where You pretty much confirmed I was on the path You wanted me to be? Then why has it been almost a year since I’ve written anything of significance?”

Oh, sure, I’d brainstormed, I’d mulled around different ideas, I’d written a couple thousand words over the last ten months…but none of those things were enough to produce the next book.

Why, God?” Scrub, scrub, scrub. “Whywhywhy did You give me a desire to write but not equip me with the ideas needed to fulfill it? You could have taken away this passion—I’ve begged You so many times to do just that—yet still, crafting stories is how I want to spend my days. So what’s the deal? What am I doing wrong?”*

In one breath, I said I hated him, in the next I asked for forgiveness, in the next I begged for help. I tore myself down, compared myself to others, and shook my fist at God.

I had probably cried for at least two hours by the time I sank to the bedroom floor, my chest aching, my body so empty, it should have caved in on itself. “God, help me. Help me.” Over and over, I repeated those words, incapable of much more than that.

Then my phone rang. Swiping at tears, I rose to grab my phone from the bed.

My father-in-law? Calling me? A tiny part of me hoped he hadn’t dialed by accident, intending to talk to his son, instead.

“Hey, there,” I answered, pushing all kinds of “happy” past the tears clogging my throat. “What’s up?”

Now this is a man who I’ve respected all my life, the one who’d been my pastor throughout my childhood and college years, before he moved on into a new ministry. When he talks about God, I listen. And when he shares the things God’s shown him, I lean in closer.

You know what he said to me that day?

“Laurie, I just called because God wanted me to tell you something. He wants you to know how much He loves you.” My father-in-law’s voice broke with emotion. “He loves you. You can’t please Him any more than you already do right now. He. Loves. You.”

It took longer than it probably should have, but eventually, the weight of his words caught up with me.

There I’d been, throwing my little private tantrum, telling the Creator of the Universe that I hated Him, but instead of smiting me (or spanking me and sending me into a time-out), He tapped my father-in-law’s shoulder and said, “Laurie needs to know I love her.”

God loves me. My Abba—Daddy—loved me in that ugly state, and because of my father-in-law’s sensitivity to His spirit and his willingness to obey, Abba was able to wrap me in a hug that day.

There’s nothing like a Dad’s hug to begin melting a stubborn heart.

Jesus has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, so I don’t have “before Christ” and “after Christ” snapshots of how I used to live and how He changed me. But this…this comes close to it for me. To tell the Creator-God I hated Him, and for Him to hug me in return? I don’t ever want to forget that.

I’m done with this emotional roller coaster ride. I’m getting off and driving a stake in the ground. Yes, there will be days I’ll falter and succumb to the fog of depression; there will be times I take three steps forward only to take two steps back; but may I never retreat farther than this stake today.

God loves me.

If He can love a hater,

If He can love a BFF that denied Him three times,

If He can love a zealous Jew bent on destroying followers of the Way,

If He can love a king who committed adultery and murdered an innocent soldier,

If He can love a coward with a speech problem,

If He can love a drunk,

If He can love and welcome into Paradise a thief on a cross,

If He can love and hang out with the fallen, the imperfect, the hopeless, the broken,

Then there is nothing stopping Him from loving you, too.

Now it’s time for us to own it and move forward, ever closer to Him.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39, NLT

 

(*Just want to point out my messed-up theology back there. My knee-jerk reaction when I’m stressed or depressed is to think (incorrectly) that God won’t bless me if I’m doing something wrong. Hello! Fallible human being here. I’m always going to do something wrong. God doesn’t withhold or dole out blessings based on our (in)ability to get something “right.”)

That’s My Girl

Several years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to delve into the world of smartphones shortly after the iPhone 5 had been released. Cut to four and a half years and one battery replacement later, the antenna in my iPhone 5 finally went kaput last week. Though I can’t receive or make phone calls, I can still text and use Safari, so we were a bit slow to mosey into a Verizon store.

But it eventually happened, and my new phone arrived this past Friday. While I anticipated the FedEx truck rumbling down my driveway, I scoured Amazon for a new case. It was almost overwhelming, with all the choices available these days. Did I get another Eiffel Tower case…or maybe something with fairies? Those Christmas designs looked like fun, but several inspirational quotes had appeal, too.

This quote, in particular, stood out to me:

“You don’t have to wait to hear ‘Well done.’ If you do it right, you can know every day that God is smiling and saying, ‘That’s my girl.'”

I love that last part. Love the idea that God could be so informal as to say, “That’s my girl.” I know it in my head—that He’s with me every day, that He’s my friend (Romans 5:11)—but when Life takes a curve I wasn’t expecting, it’s hard for my heart to sense the reality of those intimate terms.

However. I do not like the part that says, “If you do it right…”

As a perfectionist and one who is sometimes overly concerned with making sure I’m following God’s will and doing it God’s way and careful not to step a toe out of line, I’m very much aware of my shortcomings and inability to do things right (parenthood, anyone?). How do we know if we’ve done things right, anyway? There’s no sign that flashes above us in reassurance. Sometimes He’ll whisper encouragement, but more often than not, all we can do is try to do things right. (I’m not talking about black and white moral issues. I’m talking about the gray areas. The areas where I can find examples for both sides of my argument/decision/situation, but it’s a matter of what God wants me and my family to do, not what He asked the Joneses to do once upon a time. Make sense?)

On occasion, my father-in-law has said, “The desire to please God pleases God.” And while that is a hard concept to believe when my head is full of murky, depressing thoughts, it gives me a sense of relief when I’m in my right mind. Plus, it correlates to parenting our children, doesn’t it? If my kids desire to please me, to obey me because they love me, that, in turn, pleases me. I’m far more understanding and patient with their blunders when I know their hearts are in the right place.

My heart is in the right place when it comes to following the Lord. I will not always get it right. I will lapse in moments of weakness, say and do things in moments of impatience or anger or when I’m on the defensive. But I’m trying my best.

So, I’m switching this saying around a little. Here’s what I think it should say:

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Image courtesy of Braelyn Germaine.

Now that’s something I wouldn’t mind splashed across my phone case.

But in the end, I went with a different inspirational quote that sums up everything in just a few words:

“If God is all you have, you have all you need.” John 14:8

What about you? Do you have a case that reflects part of your personality? If so, what does it look like? (I admit, I also went with the dancing fairy.) Or are you more sensible (as we all should be when toting around full-blown computer!) and use something like an Otterbox? If that’s the case, what would you rather see covering your phone? 😉 Leave a comment below–and if you have a brand you love, share that, too.

Did You Call Me or Not?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to become a published author before the age of forty. Never did I expect that dream to be such a thorn in my side.

Having grown up in a Christian home and coming to faith in Christ at a young age, I’ve long understood that God has a purpose for my life. That He has a calling for each of His children, and while the general calling looks the same—spread the life-giving news of love, forgiveness, and saving grace found in a relationship with Jesus Christ—He asks us to live it out in countless ways according to the unique gifts and talents He’s given us.

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Therein lay my problem. For over three decades, I have heard one story after another of writers feeling called by God to write, whether that was writing in general, or a specific book or series. But for me, I never felt called. I just knew I had a passion for it. On good days, I could write without worry, without second-guessing myself. On bad days, the doubts would creep in and I’d wonder if I was listening to my own selfish desires or if this passion was, in fact, from God. Oh, how I’ve wrestled with it. I’m sure you could find many posts on my blog under the “Writer’s Refuge” tab filled with my questioning, agonizing, pleading with the Lord to just tell me. Just tell me if You want me to write or not. I will give it up if You want me to.

Recently, one of my good friends and local writer buddies, Leah, started a new blog, justwriteinspire.com. Stoked for her, I visited the blog and clicked on the “About” page. The following is a little of what she had to say. (I’ve already shared this with her, so no worries I’m saying something that will hurt or offend her. 🙂 )

“While growing up, I never dreamed I would write. I wanted to be a singer and teacher–not an author.

“However…one day, a plot downloaded into my brain. I thought, someone should write that book. A year later, God planted an idea in my mind, ‘You write it.’ I fought the concept for years. I did not believe I could do it.

“God never gave up on me. He continued to whisper–over and over–‘You are a writer,’ until His words seeped, profoundly, into my heart and soul.”

~Leah, from justwriteinspire.com

At the time I read her words, the irony was not lost on me—how she had felt God’s calling in the area of writing when she hadn’t even been looking for it, while I had prayed for years and continued to question. But still, I smiled, genuinely happy for her.

Come the next day, dark thoughts had descended upon me, and I wasn’t smiling anymore.

I had planned to write that day after cleaning the bathrooms, but as I sprayed and scrubbed sinks and bathtubs, it occurred to me I didn’t have anything to write about. The characters in my two current WIPs weren’t talking, and I was plum out of ideas plot-wise. By the time I finished mopping the floors, I was a mental wreck. If I was supposed to write, why was it harder for me to make up stories than other writers? Maybe I was just fooling myself. Maybe I was a square peg trying to shove myself into a round hole.

So I cried. Hard. And I begged God to speak to me.

I. Needed. To. Know.

Did He want me to write or not?

In late March, I had been sharing my frustrations at Bible study about how my inner critic looks like Jesus, making it difficult for me to always know who’s talking: the critic or Jesus. Sitting beside me, one of my girlfriends promptly texted me this pic from Pinterest:

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I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it has been for me to see these differences written out so I can refer to them whenever I’m questioning the words inside my head. That day cleaning bathrooms, after reading how Leah had felt called to write her story, I remembered this picture and tried to reject the condemning, discouraging words rattling around inside my brain.

But I was weakening.

At last I fell across my bed, my chest aching in that deep way that makes you curl into a fetal position and sob from the core, sob without tears.

How?” I cried to God, glaring at the ceiling. “How can I fight these negative feelings about writing—how can I fight the devil’s lies and deceptions and attempts to bind me—when I don’t know if You want me to do this? How can I combat these attacks with Your promises if I don’t know You’re fighting with me in this area? I’ve wanted to write and be published since I was a kid. Have wanted to write to please You. So many others have felt called by You—why don’t I feel like You ever called me?”

I didn’t expect an answer right away. Hadn’t I pleaded with Him countless other times and received silence in return? Maybe if I kept an open mind and continued to lift up this specific prayer over the next several weeks, I’d recognize His answer…if it ever came.

But that day, God met me in my need, and almost before the question left my lips—“Why don’t I feel like You ever called me?”—a calm, comforting, gentle voice whispered to my spirit.

“Because it was what you already wanted to do. I didn’t have to call you onto a path you were already traveling.”

Oh.

Really?

In my case, yes, really.

And it makes me wonder if other believers can resonate with this.

Often in Christian circles, we get so focused on finding our purpose, finding our calling, our gifts, how we should edify the Church…but for the person who searches for that answer with a pure motive and comes up empty, this quest can be extremely frustrating and lead to feelings of inadequacy.

If that’s you…could it be you might already be on His path for you? Pray about it. Test it. Press into Him with an open heart. And be ready for when He answers.

Yes, I will still have bad days, moments when Negativity wants to tear me down and immobilize me. But now I can resist those thoughts and Satan’s attacks. Now I know writing is something God has called me to do.

And that dream of becoming a published author before the age of 40? Well, I signed a contract with my publisher a month before I turned forty, and my debut novel releases two months before I turn forty-one.

God’s timing is always perfect. And in this case, I’m thankful my timing wasn’t too far off. 😉

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