Tag Archive | #faith

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.

SaveSave

Advertisements

Too Much To Ask

Twenty years ago, I spent the summer before my senior year of college working with missionaries in Austria, after which I traveled to Heidelberg, Germany, where I studied for a semester at the university. God asked something of me during that time that has had a long-lasting impact on my life. It’s His question–and the results of my answer–that I wrote about in my entry to the Guideposts contest. I now share it with you. While it’s longer than my usual posts, I hope my story will encourage and maybe even challenge you in your own relationship with God.

***

Too Much To Ask

 

I cross my arms, my fingers digging into my biceps. “You’re joking, right, Lord?”

A valley unfolds down the slope before me, most of it in Austria, but a piece of it belongs to Germany. The grassy carpet rolls over the gentle hills, dotted with a house here, a barn there, a road winding along the edge of the mountains in the distance.

Since childhood, I’ve longed to take my place here in Europe. For the past three years of college, I’ve worked with that goal in mind; anticipated that sense of “home” in stepping upon foreign soil. And now God’s threatening to take it away?

My stomach twists and the ache grows in my heart.

I blame the missionary couple I’m staying with for the summer. Or maybe I blame their son, Josh. Maybe all three. They just had to tell me about Josh’s decision to pursue God instead of girls during his freshman year of college. Noble, right? More noble than I could have been as a frosh. I mean, I’m a good girl, but guys pose a definite distraction. Can you fault me? Trailing behind my dream of living in Europe is that of being a wife and stay-home mom—two roles that require a husband.

I’m hoping to find that husband in Europe. Preferably Germany, where I’ll be headed in a couple weeks’ time to study in Heidelberg.

“Yet You want me to date You instead?” I glare into the bright blue sky overhead. “For how long?”

Six months.

My jaw drops and tears bite my eyes. “That will take me all the way through February! I’ll have returned to the States by then.” I kick a clump of grass at my feet then turn from the view that had given me solace these last few weeks. “No way, God. You’re asking too much of me.”

***

Three days later, I’m still arguing with Him.

I’d like to pretend I hadn’t heard his voice, but you know what happens when you ignore God—you get swallowed by a whale.

What are you afraid of?

His gentle prodding comes as I push the mop across the dining room floorboards of the Schwaigmühle, a retreat house in northern Austria for family and church groups. Late morning sunlight slants through the windows, and I bat at the dust motes in the air with a scowl.

“I’m afraid this is going to kill any chances I have for finding my future husband.”

Don’t you trust Me?

The words ping my heart. Of course, I trust Him. But this is my love life we’re talking about. Sure, His mere breath put the universe in motion…and He orchestrated to perfection the fulfillment of history’s most prophesied events surrounding His Son…and He stands victorious already…and—

Okay, so He wouldn’t find a love life that hard to manage. Worse-case scenario, if I cross paths with my future husband during the months I’m dating God, He’ll arrange a meet-cute when I’m available again. Right?

“Fine, God.” Dirty water swirls in the bucket as I rewet the mop. “I still say You’re asking a lot, but I’m less PO’d now than I was before. Let’s do this.”

The next time I’m in Salzburg for my day off, I head to the little flea market, browse through the jewelry kiosks, and come away with a tiny purchase hugging my ring finger. The wedding band look-alike will remind me I’m “taken” for the next six months—and if it allows me a casual way to share my faith with others, so much the better.

***

Shortly thereafter, I leave Austria for Germany to meet up with the other American students in the Junior Year Abroad program. Some of them are seniors in college, like me. Plenty of cute guys abound, but a new peace resides in my chest rather than anxiety, and I enjoy getting to know them on a level that doesn’t include potential for romance. This is a type of freedom all its own. A God-given contentment.

I’m issued my living quarters and a smile spreads across my face. Rather than moving into a dorm room on the University campus, I’m given my own space in a large house along the Neckar River. My eyes widen when I behold the French doors in my room. Operational? You bet. And it leads to my own private balcony. Not only does it overlook the river right across the street, but I’ve got the perfect view of Schloss Heidelberg (the castle!) atop the hill on the opposite bank.

Best. Room. Ever.

One of the other American students, a lively girl named Vera, stays in a room above me in the renovated attic. We become fast friends and together end up exploring Germany’s culture and many of the surrounding towns.

Days stretch into weeks stretch into months. I hang out with God in the mornings, memorizing scripture and praying with more focus, and on Friday and Saturday nights, I spend time with either Vera and friends, or on a “date” with God. I journal. I listen. I bask in a calm and relief I’d never known in my previous boy-crazy state. My “wedding” ring draws questions, which lead to skeptical looks from some, but interest and further conversations from others. Snow starts falling by mid-October, almost two months earlier than my hometown in New England, and given I love the white stuff, I count it as another blessing.

I head to the local movie theater a few times, once to catch a German-made film and twice to watch movies from the US. In the darkened theater to view The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford, I sit with mouth agape at the large-ness of the Montana landscape. That one state is easily the size of some smaller European countries.

The United States is huge. And beautiful. And I’m a citizen. My chest swells with…American pride? Weird.

At the same time, something else nudges its way beside my dream to live in Europe.

It’s small. Fragile. And stubborn.

A desire to see the American West for myself.

I nearly snort out loud.

Me? Visit Colorado? Wyoming? Utah? Me, the girl who’s spent as much time aching for Europe as she has spurning talk of cowboys and Stetsons and John Deere tractors?

Yeah, that’s asking too much, God.

***

I travel with the local Campus für Christus—Campus Crusades—for a weekend retreat, where we join other groups from nearby towns and universities. I’m the only American, which makes me intriguing for that reason alone, and I catch the eye of an über cute German guy. Boy-crazy me would have responded to his flirtations with some of my own, but I’m already taken…and he seems to be, as well, if the wary vibes I receive from the girl at his side are any indication. Instead of focusing on him, God-dating me focuses on befriending the girl and in an unspoken way, easing any anxieties she might have that I’m after her man. My heart is light. Happy. Complete.

Christmas break comes all too soon—and with it the realization that Germany/Europe might not factor into my future as much as I’d always believed. That silly American pride keeps growing, as well as that idea of maaaaybe taking a trip out West after I graduate. Don’t know what that will look like, but the fact I’m even considering crossing the Mississippi River is cause for celebration…or alarm.

Still wearing my ring and seeing no prospective German husband on the horizon (I never did get that sense of “home”), I return to the States in time for the New Year then head into my last semester of college. Funny—the guys at college don’t hold the same fascination for me as they once did.

February 28th arrives, marking the end to my six months. Such a small span of time, really, yet dating God has strengthened me with new insight and confidence where my future love life is concerned. I decide I’m done chasing boys. It’s beyond time they chased me, instead.

Too much to ask? Nah.

On March 1st, I slip off my ring. Tarnish and corrosion have begun to set in along the cheap metal (hello, penny-pinching college student here), but I tuck the ring among my costlier pieces of jewelry for safe-keeping and sentimental value.

Several days later, I return home to spend spring break with my parents. On Sunday, I greet friends at church I haven’t seen in ten months, lingering in the foyer to catch up on their news and share my own. As the first chords of the worship team signal a start to the service, I step into the sanctuary and glance around for my folks.

Instead, I see him.

Alone in the front row, eyes closed and face lifted as he sings, stands one of the pastor’s sons. A few years older than me, he and I barely ran in the same circles in the high school youth group. I don’t even remember his name. And is that…? My gaze zeroes in on his hands.

He’s holding a black Stetson.

Six months ago, I would have wrinkled my nose in disgust.

But God’s done strange things in me over the last few months, and there’s an even stranger tug on my heart. I wonder—

No! Ugh. I can’t make it one week after I stop dating God before my boy-crazies kick in!

And yet…

My gaze wanders back to the pastor’s son.

It’s Your call, Lord. I slide along the row of chairs to join my parents as my prayer slides upward to Heaven. I’m not doing the chasing. Help me be content and wait for Your timing. I want Your best for me, not what I think is the best. Help me be patient.

The familiar hymn we’re singing drifts about me in a hug, and with renewed determination, I shift my focus from the pastor’s son to the backlit wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary.

***

Alice Walker once wrote, “Time moves slowly but passes quickly.” In a few blinks of an eye, twenty years separate me from those months I dated God. Half my life. Yet, the older I get, the more I appreciate the silver lining in having chosen Him over guys:

Regret-free memories of an amazing time in my life, memories that sweeten with the passing years.

As opposed to the cringe-worthy, boy-focused flashbacks from my high school and college days, remembrances of my time in Germany only ever generate a smile. Never does the face of an ex-boyfriend or an unrequited crush get in the way to smudge the mental images. My recollections remain warm, airy, positive. And as I have yet to return to Germany, the ability to cherish that unique period in my life means more to me now as an adult than it did when I lived it.

That pastor’s son I noticed from a distance? Poor guy had to jump through hurdles when chasing me, but we got married in May of 2000, a year after I graduated college. Two years later, we ended up making that trip to the American West—and by “trip,” I mean “move.” First to Colorado for several months, then Nebraska for several years, then Montana…where, as I drove over the state border in a car laden with moving boxes and two sleeping toddlers, that long-anticipated word pulsed in my heart: Home.

I was coming “home” to a part of the country that used to make me cringe.

Ten years later, we’re still here.

Who would’ve guessed?

Not me. Never me.

But God knew.

He knew, and He beckoned me, and I’m grateful I listened. I still have a soft spot for Austria, Germany, and the German language, but I don’t regret where life—God—has taken me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can reflect on the last two decades and testify that He is faithful “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Eph 3:20) All it requires is a little surrender on our part.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

***

IMG_2142

On a hill overlooking Grossgmain, Austria. That is not a fake view. The grass really looks that amazing.

IMG_2145

In case you can’t read my writing, the pic on the left, taken from the Alte Brücke, is the view of the house in which I stayed. The pic on the right is a closeup of said house.

IMG_2146

Greetings from my balcony!

IMG_2149

Although this is a postcard, it’s pretty much spot-on as to the view I had from my balcony. I walked across that bridge, the Alte Brücke, every day to attend classes.

***

It’s difficult to convey the depth of emotion I had to struggle through during this time in my life, as I’d spent many a childhood and teenage night crying into my pillow, my heart physically aching, despairing I would never make it to Europe. And then to have that dream realized…only to discover the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean…. Sigh. Lots of feels.

Despite knowing I’m where God wants me, despite the contentment I feel here in Montana, there are still times when I tear up, thinking of what never was, a BA in German that was never used. But then I wonder if God has some plans yet to come in that area. Time will tell.

Has God ever asked you to surrender a dream over to Him? Maybe He then gave it back to You, merely wanting to make sure you were willing to put Him first. Or maybe He took it and gave you something even better in return. Or perhaps you’re going through such a situation now, and you have no clue how it’s going to turn out. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it in the comments. 🙂

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

Getting Off This Roller Coaster

hands-1820675_1280

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:

IMG_7032-2

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.

meadow-680607_1920

 

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:

IMG_7022

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. 😉

Signature

The Writer’s Desert

This past November, I traversed into new territory when I signed a publishing contract with Clean Reads. Setting my sights away from the sparkling, intoxicating metropolis of Accepted Manuscript, I ventured down an unfamiliar, inconspicuous path: The Second Book.

Funny thing about this path. The Second Book doesn’t take two authors in the same direction. Some find themselves in a thick jungle, wrapped in an overabundance of words, swathed in the heat of a luscious plot that can’t wait to be written. Others enter the succulent haven of a coffee shop, drawing inspiration from the lives unfolding around them, tears splashing onto plastic lids, laughter bubbling up toward the ceiling tiles.

Still others, alas, take a journey such as mine and step into the barren wasteland of the Writer’s Desert.desert-790640_1920

 

Unlike an earthly desert, it stays cold here even during the day; the sun might shine, but it emits no warmth. The dry ground remains firm beneath my feet, unforgiving in its hard surface, wicking away what little optimism I had armed myself with when I first started this journey.

I thought I was prepared for it. I had my laptop for communication—you know, for those several rounds of edits expected from my publisher, and for that finicky thing called a platform I need to spend time thinking about. But more importantly, I had a canteen of liquid words—others’ words—that were supposed to keep my writing muscles limber and supple until I reached the other side of this empty landscape. Serving as one of several judges on a few writing contests. Swallow. Involvement with an online critique group. Gulp. Offering my help as a beta reader for two different manuscripts. Sip, sip, sip.

But while my muscles stay quenched with others’ words, my soul has become parched at the lack of my own.

Sure, I’ve come across an oasis now and then. Broad ideas for a new story here; a one-paragraph summary for another story over there. Scenes for a sequel to my book that releases in October. But for the majority of the time, it’s just me and my canteen of somebody else’s work.

Oh, and the devil.

He likes to come alongside me at those times when I’m stumbling across the sand and taunt me. Tell me I don’t have what it takes, because other authors—better authors—are thriving in the jungle and there’s a reason I’m stuck in the desert. Better authors are on book #20 after eleven years of writing, and I’m on book #2 after seventeen. Better authors always have ideas cooking on the back burner, and since I don’t, that just reaffirms I lack what it takes to be successful in this field. Better authors have better blogs, more followers, a larger platform, a stronger backbone, a more persistent nature.

Sometimes Jesus is able to edge the devil out of my peripheral vision. For a few moments of time, maybe even as long as a day, I breathe in His clarity. He’ll take my hand in his and with the other, he’ll point to the horizon, and whisper, “Do you see it?”

sunset-1331088_1920

And with my flawed incompetence wrapped within His limitless capabilities, I glimpse something hazy on that horizon, something shimmering with promise and strength, purpose and fulfillment. And—

Then the devil shoves his snout in my face and I lose hold of my precious Jesus.

Why is Satan’s voice so much louder than my Lord’s?

Why does Hate have a better grip than Love? Why does self-deprecation feel more comfortable than self-confidence? Why are lies easier to believe than the truth?

The devil, I’ve come to realize, has been leading me in unnecessary circles to keep me floundering in this desert so I don’t gain the promise on that horizon. I reached a certain milestone despite his lies when I signed that publishing contract a few months ago, and he hates it. He knows my fundamental desire—once the selfishness and narcissism gets pushed aside—is to write for the Lord, whether that’s in the form of a Christmas fantasy or inspirational romance, so what better way to keep me from accomplishing anything further as a Christian writer than to blast my negative qualities on “repeat” in this desert that offers no diversion to silence the noise? Wallowing in negativity is a stronghold in which I practically have a doctorate, so long did I once study it.

Once. Several years ago. I’m not where I was several years ago, and the Lord certainly doesn’t want me making a U-turn to head back there.

So this time, I’m on to the devil. I’m on to his pranks, his condemnation and discouragement. It might have taken me a few months to slough through his deception, but better that than several years. I’m learning to tune him out again; to trust, instead, the voice of my precious Jesus, and to believe what He sees as good in me. I’m taking steps toward that shimmering horizon, and while I’m not there yet—I still have weeks of travel through these cold, hard-packed sands—the oases ahead of me look more abundant than those along the trail of my last four months.

I’m confident I’ll be filling my canteen with my own words soon.

Signature