Tag Archive | Praise

Tinsel’s a Finalist!

30261707_870805173114442_9137794306675834880_nJust had to share my exciting news. So, I’ve entered a few book contests this year, and while the outcomes of most are still a ways off (I won’t find out how I did in one until next spring!), today my heart leaped in my chest when I found an email with the word “contest” in the subject line.

Tinsel in a Tangle is one of the finalists in the Selah Awards! *fist pump, happy dance, squeal of delight and all that jazz*

While I’m no longer slogging through that writer’s desert of last year, I still have my discouraging days, but I’m so thankful that every so often God blesses me with another dollop of encouragement to keep me writing. Whether it’s a reader who reached out on Facebook to tell me she LOVED my book (yes, it was in all caps), or a friend who shared her excitement over cleaning a client’s house and finding my book on the bedside table…or being a finalist in a contest.

Of course, winning in my category would be heavenly–not gonna lie–but I’m soooo excited to be a finalist. It represents years of endurance, hard work, tears, and tremendous self-doubt. It represents personal success of a childhood dream. It represents courage and pride (the good kind) in my work. So, I’m going to allow myself to bask in this for the next two weeks before the winners are announced. 😉

But even more than winning or losing in a few earthly contests, I need to remember that in God’s economy, when we’re accomplishing the task(s) He’s set before us (be it writing a book or screenplay or a medley of poems, be it changing diapers or chauffeuring kids to activities, be it standing in a board room with a powerpoint presentation or selling wares at a farmer’s market), when we work to His glory, there are no losers. Ever.

 

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Silver Lining

I don’t own a ton of clothes. Whatever half of the year I’m in (warm or cold), the corresponding clothes are the ones either dangling in my closet or stuffed in a bureau drawer. The outfits I don’t need suffocate in a plastic bin on the top shelf in my closet. The point is, no matter the season, every article of clothing I own is somewhere in the master bedroom.

So imagine my confusion the other day when I went to find a shirt I hadn’t worn in a long time–and it was no where. Not hanging. Not stuffed. Not suffocating. Wait–maybe it was hiding in my garment bag? I pulled out the bag, laid it on my bed… Nope, not there, either. Grrr… So I prayed. “Lord, you know exactly where that shirt is. Please help me find it.” (Because sometimes He’s the only one who has a clue about these things.)

Then I threw on a different outfit and went about my day.

A few hours later, I returned to hang the garment bag back in my closet, but I was standing at a funny angle (way too much stuff on the closet floor), and a couple of the hangers fell off my fingers and slipped inside the bag as I struggled to get them onto the rod. Frustration mounted inside me. Maybe more frustration than the situation called for, but really–could I not complete a simple task without it morphing into something complicated? So I unzipped the bag and reached down for the hanger and vest that had fallen. Hmm. Did I get everything that fell? What if more than one hanger dropped but I didn’t know?

Hey–what if that shirt I’d been looking for had fallen?

I reached down further, patting, searching–ah ha! Triumphant, I pulled out the very shirt I’d wanted to wear that morning. Of course, I immediately thanked the Lord–always nice to receive a quick answer to prayer–and then I paused. He had answered my prayer, had even used this frustrating situation in which to do it–because if it hadn’t been for the other clothes falling down inside the bag, I never would have thought to search for more.

This brough to mind some of those childhood memory verses. You know, the ones that stay with you for life?

“Consider it joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3.

“And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.

Oh, I know what happened to me that morning is a teensy, minor inconvenience on the grand scale of troubling circumstances, but it’s those minor ones that snarl me up the most. I think the point is God wanted to remind me that if there’s a silver lining on some minor inconvenience, shouldn’t I know by now to look for the silver lining on a major inconvenience? ‘Cuz He’s always got my back. Why do I keep forgetting that?

So the question is…the next time I’m frustrated, how long will I stay frustrated before searching for–and recognizing–God’s silver lining? How long will you? 😉

What is Christmas, anyway?

Picture courtesy of my sister at Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World

Picture courtesy of my sister at Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World

Merry Christmas.

Two simple words that generate not-so-simple responses.

To one heart, it brings joy; to another, it brings sorrow. One man smiles at the greeting, and another man gnashes his teeth. One house fills with excitement and gratitude while the house next door drowns in stress and envy.

Christmas once ushered in a time for rest and togetherness on dark winter days; warm drinks and once-a-year-treats enjoyed by the fire; laughter shared by families. Now the days of December overflow with busy schedules, haphazard visits to disconnected relatives “because we have to,” and the shout of advertisements pinging us on billboards, catalogues, FB, Twitter, email—all screaming for us to buy, buy, buy because, because, because.

Carols trill about peace and goodwill, yet people’s faces reflect frustration and strife. What was once considered the most wonderful time of the year has morphed into one of the worst times of the year.

Because ever so slowly, through the passing of decades and generations, we have taken Christ out of Christmas.

Take Christ out of Christmas and what do you have left? A day in late December where people buy stuff for other people because…that’s what you do on this holiday, right? People spend thousands of dollars and go into debt because…that’s what’s expected. Parents buy toys and electronics for their children, whose rooms already explode with under-appreciated “stuff,” because…that’s what society tells them to do. Why?

Take Christ out of Christmas and you have an empty, ridiculous day filled with wasting money on stuff we can get any other day of the year.

But keep Christ in Christmas and you have the next phase of God’s plan fulfilled. Done, because He loves us. Did you know that whole scene in the manger was planned before God breathed the world into being? Did you know He had you in mind when He sent His Son to live among us in a form with which we could identify? And touch. And hug. And look upon. See his eyes? They shine with unconditional love—for you. For me. See his smile? He smiles with patience and deep understanding—for you. For me.

God loved us before we even knew or acknowledged He existed. That miserly co-worker in the next cubicle? God loves him. That group that defies your morals and values? God loves them. Those terrorists with malicious intent in their hearts? God. Loves. them.

True, He doesn’t want them to stay that way. He doesn’t condone their selfish actions, their sin, any more than He condones mine. Yet He still loves us in spite of those things. And he yearns for us to know Him—not as a judge with hammer in hand; not as a genie to grant our wishes—but as a Father who wants the very best for His children.

Jesus gave up his deity for more than three decades to live among us so that we would have a visible picture reflecting in full the nature of the invisible God. And even though we can’t see Him with our human eyes, our spiritual eyes can experience His goodness, mercies, love, and presence every single day.

God's decorations on my decorations.

God’s decorations on my decorations in the form of hoarfrost.

Did you see the sunrise this morning? God did that. Did you notice the hoarfrost yesterday? God did that. Did you utilize some form of transportation on your way to work? Enjoy the game on your flatscreen TV? Text a friend on your smartphone? God blessed mankind with the minds to create those things. Did you take time to marvel at your child’s face before sending her off to school? Or wonder over your baby’s fingers before settling him down for a nap? God created those little ones, too. And they have worth–not because of what Hollywood says or what their friends think–but because God created them on purpose. And that which He creates, He loves.

Christmas represents God’s love for people when the Creator became the created—human limitations and all—knowing from the onset that His earthly path would take Him through the splinters of a cross before He could return to His rightful place of glory.

Because. He. Loves. Us.

That is Christmas. That is love.

Sacrificial. Selfless. Unconditional. “Even before he made the world, God loved us…” Ephesians 1:4a.

This Christmas season, may you somehow, in some way, through someone, encounter the joy, comfort, and peace that can only come from recognizing the Source of it all.

God Incarnate: Jesus Christ. Emmanuel: God with us.

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loves us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” 1 John 4:10 NLT; boldface mine

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:4-8 NLT; boldface mine

In the words of Taylor Swift: Shake It Off!

I’m not a huge Taylor Swift fan (I’m in my late 30’s and my go-to music are works by Yanni and the soundtracks to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, so you’ll have to forgive me), but while I might not agree with everything she does or says, I still admire her ability to keep her chin up in the face of criticism and I applaud her talent as an amazing singer and song-writer. Whether or not you like the twang of country or the beat of pop, her songs convey a relatable story and usually reflect a slice of her life. Several weeks ago at my writer’s group, I was introduced to one of her more recent songs, Shake It Off (thanks, Ashley!). It now has a place in my iTunes account. If you have never seen the video that goes along with this song, I encourage you to check it out here. It’s hilarious…and yet quite profound. Really!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song or won’t understand the lyrics because of the fast pace (cough—my parents—cough) (love you!), the gist of the song is this: Over the years, Taylor has been hammered and flogged by the press, tabloids, paparazzi, etc., who damn her in one breath, praise her in the second, and mock her in the third. She can either fold to their malicious talk and stew over every negative comment or she can…shake it off and continue to flourish in what she’s clearly good at—writing songs and performing for fans.

When I first heard the song and the reasoning behind it, I wondered how many of us need to shake off our own critics. How many of us would benefit from shaking off those voices inside and outside our heads that tell us we’re not good enough, or talented enough, or strong enough, or worth enough?

To take it to a spiritual level (because I’m a Jesus-follower and can’t help myself), it occurred to me recently that God wants me to shake it off—“it” being some false-teaching I received years ago from a brother in Christ when I still lived in Nebraska (yeah, sometimes I’m a slow learner). Now, in this man’s defense, he loves the Lord and has a heart to teach the Bible in an accurate manner. But because we’re all on our own spiritual journey, that means we’re not all at the same place in our faith and sometimes, we’re going to get things wrong. And this brother in Christ conveyed something inaccurately that caused the Bible to shrivel and whither in my life.

Suddenly I couldn’t approach Scripture the way I used to. Suddenly things I had believed since childhood didn’t necessarily make sense. I had a hard time applying positive, uplifting verses to my life, and all those biblical promises people talk about? I balked at them, certain that none of them applied to me since they weren’t written to me—they were written for an audience centuries ago.

Here’s an example to which some of you might relate: Many of us have heard people quote Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Are you smiling, Linda? You know where I’m going with this.) Okay, well, my brother in Christ told those of us in his class that this verse doesn’t apply to us today because it was a promise for the people of ancient Israel, not for the people of America—or any other present day nation (except, perhaps, for Israel :)). Oh, but how many times over the years have I heard this verse quoted by treasured brothers and sisters in Christ? And it always drove me batty. “You can’t use that promise for yourself!” I would want to shout out. “It doesn’t apply to you!” I kept quiet, of course, unless I was venting one-on-one with a trusted friend.

That is, until a few weeks ago when this piece of my past tumbled out in one of my counseling sessions (yes, I’m a Christian and yes, I see a counselor—who is also a Christian, by the way. I hope that liberates anyone else who feels like they could use advice and wisdom beyond the venting sessions with friends). With the help of my counselor, I realized I didn’t have to continue to hold onto these teachings when they had so clearly crippled my faith! We’re not talking baby faith, here; we’re not talking about the stubborn heart of a person who wants to do it “my way” and refuses good doctrine. Sure, I have moments of stubbornness and control-freak-itis, but those moments usually end with me crying out to God for His will and His knowledge. The point is my counselor encouraged me to shake off those bad teachings (not her exact words, but my mind did flit to Taylor Swift’s song as we talked). When I later reflected on the session, I felt like God was telling me I had hung onto those teachings for far too long, used them as an excuse to keep me shackled, and I needed to shake off those chains so I could progress down my path of faith.

When I said, “Okay,”—simple, right? Told you I’m a slow learner!—it was like breathing fresh air for the first time in years.That verse in Jeremiah? I came at it a different way and asked myself, “If I don’t think this applies to me then I’m essentially saying God doesn’t want me to prosper, He wants to harm me, and He doesn’t want me to have hope or a future.”  Um…let’s all give a resounding NO! That is totally, utterly false! God doesn’t seek to harm us—duh! We suffer at times because we’re a product of sin and we live in a sinful world, but it’s not God’s desire for us. God wants us to have hope and a future—both here on earth and later with Him in Heaven—for without hope, why then would we bother sharing the Good News with others? And God wants us to prosper…but His prosperity doesn’t look like the American dream, so let’s get money and fame and the world’s definition of success out of our heads. Instead, He wants us to thrive in our relationships with other people—as spouses and parents and friends and neighbors, etc.; He wants us to thrive in our gifting, whether it be teaching or serving or giving or leading; He wants us to thrive in our talents, wherever they lie; He wants us to thrive in our faith and our relationship with Him.

1 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Because God is active and living, His Word is active and living. It’s why different Bible verses pop out at us at different times in our lives; the same verse can be applied one way when I’m fourteen and a completely different way when I’m thirty-four, and yet another way when I’m seventy-four. So while we need to be careful about taking verses out of context and misapplying them, we also can’t stifle the Holy Spirit, for we never know how He’s going to use His Word to speak to us or a friend or a stranger.

…And let’s not underestimate His ability to grab hold of us through the refrain of a hit pop song!

What about you? Can you relate to my ramblings? Is there something you, too, need to “shake off”? I pray God would liberate you one step at a time like He continues to do with me.

Two Steps Forward…

Can I tell you a secret? I’m so excited this week—and God stands smack dab in the middle of it.

Back in November of 2013, our church decided to fast and pray over a period of three weeks for God to work breakthroughs in both the congregation as a whole and in our individual lives. Now, before you start biting your fingernails, I’m not going to get into all the nitty-gritty about fasting and the how’s and why’s and all that. That’s not what this post is about. Suffice it to say, you can fast from anything for any length of time—though preferably in an area of your life in which giving something up is going to sting a little; where you might need to lean on God’s strength to get you through moments of weakness. (Imagine that!)

So when our lead pastor urged us to begin thinking about what we might fast from, I naturally considered all the areas in my life that made the idea of a twenty-one day sacrifice uncomfortable. Um…all areas except food, that is. Long ago I had concluded that fasting from food was a ridiculous notion for someone as thin as me—and who tended to get the shakes when accidentally missing a meal (you know: on days when I don’t want to “waste time” preparing lunch because I have to pick up the kids from school in less than three hours and I have oh-so-many-things to accomplish before then!). And since I get the shakes, I shouldn’t skip meals on purpose, right? Right!

(Right?)

For years, I lived in complete harmony with my rationale; after all, one doesn’t need to fast from food in order to have a healthy relationship with God.

Unless, of course, God asks you to fast from food.

I might not have visibly slunk lower in my seat that day during the church service, but my stomach curled up in a fetal position and cried.

Seriously, Lord? You want me to fast from breakfast? But that’s my favorite meal of the day!let me play you a sad song on the world's smallest violin.  -Mr Krabs by batjas88

Whine.

But my mom says I’m already underweight! I can’t afford to lose any more ounces by skipping a meal.

Whine.

But, hang on, Lord. I run in the mornings. How am I supposed to run on an empty stomach and then wait until noon before replenishing my dwindling supply of nourishment?

Whine.

And wait!—there’s my women’s Bible study on Friday mornings, followed by my weekly stop at Wal Mart…and any other wayward errand I have to run. You know I get hungry watching Beth Moore…and sometimes I don’t return home to eat lunch until after one-thirty on those days!

Whine whine whine whine whine.

(Is anyone else playing the world’s saddest song on the world’s smallest violin?)

It might have continued in this manner had God not spoken through my thoughts: “Am I not the God of impossibilities?”

Well, yeah, Lord, of course You are.

“Don’t you think I could sustain you during the hours you’re fasting for Me? Even during a run? Even during Beth Moore and your errands?”

I…guess so. But—

“Then I think it’s time you stopped making excuses and trusted Me to provide for you. Besides, your faith could use a little more growth…”

You know what I did, right?

Yeah. I fasted from breakfast for three weeks. Nothing like making one more aware of God’s presence than when you’re relying on Him to give you strength and energy before, during, and after a 3-mile run.

But since I yearned for breakthrough in certain areas of my life, I wanted my fasting to reflect my earnestness. And I did need to exercise my trust and faith that God would carry me through the morning hours no matter what my schedule looked like on any given day. Three weeks later—not once did I have the shakes; and I don’t think I lost any weight (happy, Mom? 😉 ); and amazingly enough, most days I didn’t crave food, even come noon.

That God revealed Himself to me in awesome ways during those weeks would have been enough—but He didn’t stop there. Two days ago it suddenly hit me He’s been steadily blessing me with breakthrough throughout this last year in at least one of the major areas for which I cried out!

Because not only has He continued to sprinkle me with ideas for this blog which I stepped out in faith to start in 2014, but it was two days ago that I finished the first draft of a Christmas novel I had begun to write during the late spring of 2013. 97,000 words in twenty-one months. For those who have chugged out 50,000 words in one month for NaNoWriMo, twenty-one months might seem like an eternity. For me, it’s a record. A breakthrough.breaking-free It represents a bit of freedom from my perfectionist tendencies—a breaking free from suffocating demands and impractical expectations.

Most of all, this represents God at work in me. His answers to my heartfelt prayers remind me He listens. He cares. He loves. He’s pleased to bring me pleasure.

The Creator-God blessing His creation through creativity. May that which I fashion always bear His thumbprint.