The Baby and the Bathwater

You’ve probably heard the phrase “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. I recently heard that it dated back to a time in early American history when washtubs were used and baths were taken in order from oldest to youngest. This left the baby to be washed in murky water that could lead to mistakenly throwing out the baby when you emptied the tub. A quick search of the phrase’s beginnings show this to be nothing more than the product of someone’s imagination and the willingness of people to believe everything they read on the internet. Aside from it being wrong, this story is also quite disturbing. What mother would walk away from her baby in a washtub for a long enough time that when she came back she wouldn’t remember the baby was in the tub in the first place? It doesn’t make sense.

No matter its beginnings, the phrase does carry an important lesson, and one I have wrestled with this week. Usually on Saturday I post a devotional review of whatever book I’ve read during the week. Today, I finished the book I initially thought would be the focus of this week’s post. I liked the book’s story and characters. I would recommend it to fans of historical Christian fiction, but I wouldn’t recommend it across the board.

I don’t pretend to be perfect. I’m far from it. I’ve been told my own book is missing one word. I’m not sure where, but I trust the one who told me though she couldn’t remember the passage either. As careful as I’ve been, I know there have been errors in my posts too. Mistakes happen. I understand that. I’ve found mistakes in books by my favorite authors which were published by some of the big publishing houses. It doesn’t bother me.

But this one did. Aside from formatting errors, which happened a few times, there were also missing or incorrect words in various places. But even those weren’t too distracting. What took me out of the story more than anything was the author’s use of phrases or words that didn’t seem to fit the time period of the book. A few I couldn’t let go. I had to look them up. One actually could have been used, though I still have serious doubts. The others were words out of time and place.

So I have questions for you readers out there. Do you let the errors stop you from reading what would otherwise be a pretty good book? How would you want a book like that reviewed? Would you even want it reviewed?

Now questions for the authors out there. Would you want someone reviewing your book if they were going to include the above information? If someone had to say they liked the story but…? Would you want a reader to contact you with the errors? Keep in mind this would be out of a desire to help them become stronger writers, not to bash them.

And let’s round it out with a life lesson for all believers. How many times have we been guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water in our churches? When the going gets tough at church, and face it we are dealing with a group of people trying to function as one so there will be rough times, how do we respond? Do we pack up and move on? I’m not saying it’s never God’s time to leave a church, but it should not be our “go to” move every time something happens that we don’t like.

Or maybe you’re dealing with Christian people who seem to fail repeatedly. The temptation is to label them hypocrites. They aren’t true believers, and we don’t need to worry ourselves about them anymore. We spend our time and energy on those who get it right more often or at the very least fail in ways we find more palatable. There goes that baby again. Yes, there are true hypocrites, people who are willfully living in ways contrary to what they say they believe. They are nothing more than liars and fakes. But it’s good for us to remember there are sinful strongholds we all face in our faith. There are sins we may fight for years before we finally learn to conquer it. This doesn’t make us fake in our faith. It makes us weak. It makes us human. When we see someone struggling  (and the key word is struggling) with a sin or question of faith and belief, let’s not be so quick to slough them off. Let’s extend mercy and grace and love. Let’s help be the encouragement and example that can help them in their fight.

There are enough reasons to let go of certain things in our lives. Let’s learn how to celebrate the good and deal with the bad in godly ways instead of running or pushing away so quickly.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Guest Post

IMG_5853Each Wednesday I share a writing quote that either encourages or challenges me in my writing. Today, I’ve invited author Amy Anguish to share one of the quotes that means a lot to her. After you’ve read her quote, keep reading to find out more about Amy and her writing.

“I want to do something splendid… Something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead… I think I shall write books.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

As a girl just out of college with the dream of being an author, that quote resonated in my spirit. Over the last fourteen years, my goals have changed some, deepening along with my faith in God, becoming a bit more realistic in some areas, a little freer in others. But one thing remains. I love writing books.

I like to think I’m similar to her character Jo in Little Women, always a favorite of mine. Jo, when she starts writing, simply writes for the fun of it. It’s a thrill to see her name in print, to get those few dollars for each story published. But by the end of the novel, she has realized she can use her writing for so much more. She can use it to tell a beautiful story that will touch someone’s heart, and maybe even teach something.

I don’t know how much my stories reach people, but my goal with each one is to show that even though we as Christians have struggles in this life, God can help us through, and we’ll come out even better because of them. Life isn’t perfect. It’s messy and rough and sometimes painful. But God makes everything worth it. And if my books can show that to someone, as Louisa May Alcott said, that would be “splendid!”

An Unexpected Legacy tweakedMore About Amy’s Book:

“Smoothies brought them together, but would the past tear them apart?”

When Chad Manning introduces himself to Jessica Garcia at her favorite smoothie shop, it’s like he stepped out of one of her romance novels. But as she tentatively walks into a relationship with this man of her dreams, secrets from their past threaten to shatter their already fragile bond.  Chad and Jessica must struggle to figure out if their relationship has a chance or if there is nothing between them but a love of smoothies.

 

More About Amy:

Amy R Anguish

Author of An Unexpected Legacy

Amy R Anguish grew up a preacher’s kid, and in spite of having lived in seven different states that are all south of the Mason Dixon line, she is not a football fan. Currently, she resides in Tennessee with her husband, daughter, and son, and usually a bossy cat or two. Amy has an English degree from Freed-Hardeman University that she intends to use to glorify God, and she wants her stories to show that while Christians face real struggles, it can still work out for good.

 

Follow her at http://abitofanguish.weebly.com or http://www.facebook.com/amyanguishauthor

Main Character Monday: Charlotte Stanton

Book Cover _ Under Prairie Skies (Final) (1)Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is Charlotte Stanton from Under Prairie Skies by Cynthia Roemer. Thank you for joining Charlotte.

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

I’ve spent my entire life on the Illinois prairie. I can’t imagine traveling too far. However, I would enjoy visiting the mountains I’ve heard about out west. The prairie is flat as far as the eye can see. But I love it.

I grew up in Illinois too, and I’ve never seen the mountains out west either. But I’ve heard they’re beautiful. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life?  Which of them is the hardest to display?

Oh, I could use more of all of these traits. Given certain circumstances, I can be gentle and loving. Patience and self-control are definitely not on the top of my list of virtues.

What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

I love the story of Esther. Her courage and willingness to do the right thing, despite the dangers she faced, is so inspiring.

Doing the right thing even when it’s hard. You’re right. It’s a great lesson for all of us. What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

I’m ever so convicted by the book of James. He gives such practical advice on how one should live. If only I could put it all into practice!

If you could leave us with one message, what would you want us to know?

I want you to know that change it possible. That God can soften hearts and mold us into the people He wants us to be. Just as iron sharpens iron, he uses people to sharpen each other’s lives.

It sounds like you know this from experience. I guess readers will have to check out your story to get all the details!

Just for fun:

Sunrise or sunset? Sunset

Pie or Cake?  Cake

Tulip or Iris? Tulip

Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate

What three words would you use to describe Cynthia? Quiet, loyal, outdoorsy

Thank you Cynthia Roemer for allowing Charlotte to visit with us this evening. Please keep reading for more on Charlotte’s story and Cynthia Roemer.

BOOK BLURB FOR UNDER PRAIRIE SKIES

~ Beyond shattered dreams lies a realm of possibilities ~

Illinois prairie ~1855

Unsettled by the news that her estranged cousin and uncle are returning home after a year away, Charlotte Stanton goes to ready their cabin and finds a handsome stranger has taken up residence. Convinced he’s a squatter, she throws him off the property before learning his full identity. Little does she know, their paths are destined to cross again.

Quiet and ruggedly handsome, Chad Avery’s uncanny ability to see through Charlotte’s feisty exterior and expose her inner weaknesses both infuriates and intrigues her. When a tragic accident incites her family to move east, Charlotte stays behind in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the elusive cattleman. Yet Chad’s unwillingness to divulge his hidden past, along with his vow not to love again, threatens to keep them apart forever.

AUTHOR BIO: 

Cynthia Roemer is an award-winning inspirational writer with a heart for scattering seeds of hope into the lives of readers. Raised in the cornfields of rural Illinois, Cynthia enjoys spinning tales set in the backdrop of the 1800s prairie. She writes from her family farm in central Illinois where she resides with her husband and their two college-aged sons. Under Prairie Skies is Book Two in her Prairie Sky Series.

 

Contact Info:

 

Cynthia Roemer can be contacted at:

 

Website:  http://cynthiaroemer.com/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com@cynthiaroemer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCynthiaRoemer/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16785237.Cynthia_Roemer

Author Newsletter Sign-up: http://cynthiaroemer.com/

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=cynthia+roemer

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/under-prairie-skies-cynthia-roemer/1128471176?ean=9781945094446

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/cynthia-roemer

Dread and the Bad Haircut

haircut-834280__340Have you ever had a bad haircut? If you haven’t, you’re lucky. If you have, do you remember the moment of dread that comes before this experience?

You’ve signed in and are waiting for your appointment. Doubt flickers when the person who calls you looks like their own hair was cut with a weed trimmer. Still, you march bravely forward and sit in the chair. You show the stylist a picture of what you want. You’ve searched the internet for days finding the perfect style. You ask if this cut will work with your hair. You’re assured it will, and the stylist rattles off some simplistic description of your holy grail of hairstyles.

As the stylist picks up scissors to begin working on your transformation, she mentions something that doesn’t make sense.  No, you don’t want only an inch taken off. Your hair is down to the middle of your shoulder blades and the style in the picture barely grazes the shoulders.  On what planet is that an inch?

The tiny doubt you knew when you saw the stylist blossoms into dread. That dread is multiplied as you watch your haircut’s progression. How is this going to turn into the style in the picture? Can that even be possible?

The stylist you see in the mirror is the picture on concentration. And doubt. It’s the doubt that takes your feeling of dread to near panic. You know this is going south at an alarming rate, but there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t walk out mid-cut.  And there’s only so much hair you’re willing to lose.

Why did you come to this salon? Why did you agree to sit in this stylist’s chair? When are you going to learn? You give a weak smile. It’s too late anyway. You pay and leave. Once in the safe confines of your car, you pull out your phone and google how long it will take the bangs that are now two finger widths above your eyebrows to grow back. Then, you reschedule your family pictures for a couple weeks later than that. Next time, you’ll listen to that feeling of dread. Maybe.

Olivia, in A Desperate Love by Jessica McCarty, knows the feeling of dread that comes withMRP-A-Desperate-Love-360x569 poorly made decisions all too well. When her fiancé’s ship is attacked by pirates, Olivia mourns his loss while still maintaining the hope that he lives. When her father and mother decide it’s time she moves on into an arranged marriage, Olivia wants nothing to do with it. Desperation drives her to leave home in disguise. Her choice brings with it apprehension, but Olivia pushes through determined to do what she must to find her fiancé.

When her journey leads her to an inn filled with rough men, she feigns confidence and joins them in their gambling so she can glean information from them. She gets more than she bargains for when a strange offer is put on the table. Join the captain’s pirate crew to help them with a job, and the captain will help find her lost love. Instinct tells Olivia this isn’t a wise plan. She does it anyway.

In her time on ship, Olivia fights the demons of fear inside her, grows from skillful to masterful with a sword, finds bravery she didn’t know she had, and learns what life can be like when you allow yourself to lean on friends. But these revelations don’t keep the dread from popping up every time she’s faced with a new, less than moral choice. Olivia does her best to limit her involvement in the things she knows are wrong while living up to her end of the bargain she struck with the pirate captain. Learning to balance the two is the only way she can hope to save her fiancé.

Olivia faces her moments of dread after each step down the bad paths laid in front of her. While we may not face impossible choices with life or death consequences, I’m sure we’ve all known that catch in our spirit when make a poor choice and veer from the path God intended. It’s that feeling of heaviness that tells us we’re making a mistake. It’s God warning system for His children.

When Jesus was living on earth, He was able to show His followers how He expected them to live. When they made poor choices, Jesus dealt with it. When the disciples let fear steal their peace in the storm, He reminded them to have faith. When Peter denied Jesus, he went out and wept over his failure. When Jesus returned to them after His resurrection, He restored Peter. Jesus was with them to warn them and guide them back when they strayed.

We don’t have Jesus walking the earth with us, but He didn’t leave us alone. Jesus said He would send a helper to live inside every believer. The Holy Spirit would take up residence and work as our teacher, warning system, and the one to guide us back to the right path. When we make a sinful choice or a series of sinful choices, the Holy Spirit is there creating that feeling inside that tells us what we’re choosing is wrong. It’s a gentle nudge that if listened to can help us avoid painful consequences. That gentle nudge becomes a persistent sense of conviction when we stubbornly cling to our chosen path.

It’s not pleasant, but it can’t be. The Holy Spirit means to get our attention. He wants to keep us from sinful choices. It would be wonderful if we listened to the quiet prodding when we felt the first stirrings. Too often we don’t. Then, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of the sin we’ve let in. This dread or conviction is heavier because the situation demands it. But when we heed the warning and turn back from our sin, God restores and we are freed from the guilt and dread that weighs us down.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Writer’s Toolbox

tool-box-2124616_1280My son recently moved out. I now have an office to write in. It’s a room set up exactly like I want it. My office may be different than one you would design. I have a comfy chair and ottoman. You might prefer a desk. My chair faces the window. You might find that too distracting. I have three jars filled with various candies (one is chocolate, one is caramels, one is fruit flavored) to snack on when the urge strikes. You might prefer celery. (But really who would prefer celery?)

I have everything I need to write in my office. I have whiteboards to keep notes on. I officehave bookshelves full of the books I’ve read and my TBR pile. I’ve got a cork board with notes about potential reviewers pinned to it in a pleasing pattern of colored index cards. I even have a diffuser to fill the air with whatever scent I fancy that day.  I have everything I need to write productively.

But the smallest word in that sentence makes all the difference. I. My office is not set up for you. You might be completely uncomfortable in my office. You might stare out my window and fail to look back to the computer screen. You could fall asleep in my comfy chair. My office might not work for you, but it is amazing for me. It’s one of the best tools in my writer’s toolbox.

Some of my tools are meant for the writing part of being an author. I love the Write Track site. It encourages my competitive side and keeps me on target with my word counts. My tablet is great for researching information without coming away from what I’m writing on my laptop. I’m part of a writing group that encourages and critiques my writing. And I have shelves full of books dedicated to helping me become a stronger writer. I’ve found all of these tools helpful in my writing journey.

fallBut there are other tools I use too. I discovered the importance of these tools after receiving a contract for the publication of Faith’s Journey. These tools I’m less comfortable with, but my proficiency is quickly improving. These are the tools needed to market my book and grow my audience. My author page on Facebook helps me stay connected to readers and other writers. WordPress allows me to have my own web site and blog. Canva and Pixabay are amazing resources for designing publicity from social media advertisements to postcard invitations for book launch events. Social media sites I’d given little to know thought about before Faith’s Journey was published are now easily accessible from my phone.

I need all these tools and then some in my efforts to be a successful author. And I can’t just have them. I have to use them properly for each tool to be beneficial to me. It can be overwhelming. “I just wanted to write!” There are days that frustrated cry comes from my mouth. It’s usually after I spend an hour trying to develop the perfect advertisement or post only to have it not work out at all.  If I were more proficient with the programs I could accomplish my goals with ease. I’m not. But I’m not giving up either. I keep learning and as I do, each project becomes easier to create. I become more comfortable with the tools in my writer’s toolbox, and they enable me to do exactly what they were designed to help me do.

There’s a lesson here for living our faith too. We also have tools of the trade in our Christian lives. We have scripture, prayer, Bible study groups, small groups, church services, fasting, and fellowship. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Just as the tools in my writer’s toolbox can help me be the best author I can be, the tools of our faith help us be the people God would have us be. These tools can help bring us peace in our storms, encouragement for the days when nothing seems to go write, direction on what our next move should be, and correction when we stray from the path.

To grow as believers we need to find out what tools are available to us, and we need to learn how to use them. Some may feel more comfortable than others, but we keep learning and trying. Some tools may seem more useful for a time, but that doesn’t mean the others aren’t important. I can’t use my thesaurus to create a social media advertisement. That doesn’t mean my thesaurus is useless. It just means I need Canva for this project and my thesaurus for creating variation in my writing. Know which tool is best for which circumstance and don’t be afraid to use them.

Whether in writing or faith, we don’t have to rely on our meager abilities alone. To be the best we can be we need to learn and grow. We need to pick up the tools we’re given and use them to get the job done.

Trust Issues

tieAs a probation officer, my husband has to dissect his clients’ words in effort to find the truth in any given situation. Before that he spent years as an addictions counselor, another profession that requires carefully weighing what you hear someone say against what you see going on in their life. After over twenty years in these professions, this way of interacting with people has not filtered into his non-professional life. By nature he trusts. Optimism comes easily for him and with it a generally positive outlook on people and their motives.

I am my husband’s opposite. Well, almost. I would argue I’m not a pessimist but a realist. I see the negative outcomes as possibilities while still holding onto hope for and working towards the good. It’s a fine line, but that’s a discussion for another day. When it comes to people, I freely admit, I don’t trust easily. That task of weighing and dissecting words and their meanings that my spouse has had to learn comes all too naturally for me.

For some, like Nat Montgomery in Tie-Dyed by Amy C. Blake, experience teaches them not to trust. Nat’s grandma is the only stable thing in her life. Her mother is a functioning addict who has been in and out of her life since she was a child. Even when she was with Nat, her motives were often selfish. Nat doesn’t know her father. When her grandmother dies it feels like the only sure thing in her life other than faith has been taken from her. As she delves into a message her grandma left her, Nat if forced to question if she could even trust her beloved grandma.

Her grandma’s story plunges Nat into a dangerous quest for answers. Pains from the past mingle with the present pushing those around her to questionable and sometimes illegal acts. Nat’s lack of trust influences her to make poor decisions that could cost those she loves, and it keeps her in a state of confusion about those who seek to help her. When events seem darkest, Nat even questions the trustworthiness of God who has taken so much from her. For Nat learning to trust turns into a matter of life and death.

I doubt my instinct against trust will ever lead to a life or death situation. But there is another issue Nat faces that my own issues could lead me to if I’m not careful. When things go horribly wrong in her life, Nat doubts God’s ability to love and care for her. Is she worth God’s love and if not can she say for sure He does? For those who are a little less trusting, either by nature or because circumstances have taught them to be, the danger is in letting the storms of life erode your trust in the only One who is absolutely trustworthy.

How do you build trust that’s unshakeable? Know the one you’re trusting. God tells us everything we need to know about His nature. He gives us examples of times when He’s miraculously rescued people from circumstances, but He’s also shown us how He’s remained faithful to His children even when the situations remained the same. These examples and hundreds of promises have been given to us in His word. When we spend time in scripture finding out who God is and burying His promises deep in our hearts, we strengthen our trust. As hard times come we can hold onto the things we’ve learned. We can pray them back to God, and we can rest knowing He is the same God in our lives that He’s been throughout history. Each time He brings us through our faith is strengthened and our trust grows leaving it stronger for the next challenge of life.

By the Book: Try keeping a journal of God’s provision in your life. Detailing His work in your circumstances will provide a tangible reminder of who God has been to you for your next dark time.

Sweet Character

cake-1971552_1280“Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” Yousuf Karsh

I tried a new dessert recently. In the spirit of summer, the restaurant created something they called a chocolate smore’s cake or something equally as descriptive. I love a good dessert, and this restaurant has several. In fact, they have all my favorites. This was not one of them.

The moist, dark chocolate cake was a decent cake. But it was just cake. They added toasted marshmallows, a graham cracker, and chocolate sauce to it. The entire time I was eating it, I was developing the plan for how the restaurant could have made the dessert a winner. Instead, it was overly sweet just for being sweet. Really sweet, rich even, is great when the dessert’s quality matches the level of sweetness. This one was simply too sweet for what it was, a chocolate cake.

Sweet can work the same way in our writing. When we create sweet characters, who always do sweet things, and everything about their story is sweet, well, it’s just sweet. There’s no substance to get a reader hooked on the story. There’s no drama. There’s no growth.

The darkness is where the story comes from. We don’t have to delve into the twisted to accomplish this. Darkness can be defined as the thing that must be overcome. Maybe the character has been betrayed or abandoned. No matter what else is happening in the story their darkness to overcome is being trapped by those feelings. It could be a physical obstacle like the journey to find success. Maybe it’s a lack of faith. The roadblock in your character’s way can be anything, but it isn’t going to be sweet. It’s going to be difficult in some way, and through it your character will mature. They will learn about themselves and the world they live in. And just as importantly, they will become part of a story people want to read.

Trouble doesn’t have to bring destruction to our characters, and it doesn’t have to bring it to us either. While we may not relish going through the more dramatic parts of our personal stories, they are not without merit for the believer. Scripture promises us there is good for us in them if we let God work in us and through us. James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Pair it with Romans 5 which tells us trials leads to perseverance but then takes it further to explain that perseverance brings character which brings hope.  Being mature, complete, of good character, and full of hope are things I think we would all say we want. But the path to have them is through the darkness. It’s the testing of our faith that builds more faith in us.

Do I look forward to the next trial in my life? Not really. Most of the time they hit before the previous one is even finished. Sometimes I’d like a break in between. But that doesn’t seem to be God’s plan for my life right now. And that’s okay too. Because one day I pray others will be able to look at the story of my life and see how the darkness shaped me for God’s use.  They’ll look and see while the story may not have always been sweet, the end result was beautifully so.

By the Book: Do you fight God in the darkness or pray for Him to grow you through those times?

Where’s your Hope?

sara 1Sometimes loving hurts.

As a mother I’ve watched my children make choices that are not only wrong but can also have devastating effects in their lives. My instincts may be to protect them from themselves, but this isn’t always the loving thing to do. There are occasions when mercy is called for, but there are also times when we try to dress up our enabling actions as the more godly characteristic of mercy. When our children are so enmeshed in patterns of poor choices, whether they are sinful or just not the best route to take, we reach the point that loving them means stepping back and letting them face hard consequences. At times like these, loving hurts.

As a friend I’ve had to respectfully and lovingly disagree with choices or beliefs held by those closest to me. When their beliefs are not in line with God’s word, the loving thing for me to do is approach them about it. It hurts to love them when they choose to continue in the wrong direction, especially when those choices are harmful to them beyond spiritually.

As a wife I’ve experienced disappointment with my spouse. We’re human, and we fail each other. At times, those failings can be devastating to our ways of life, our emotional connections, or our trust. If behaviors are repeated we can pray for our spouse but we can’t make them change. In any of these times loving someone can mean hurt for us.

If loving others can cause such pain, how can we even stand to choose love? It takes hope. Just ask Amy Dawson from Camp Hope by Sara Foust. Her childhood was marked by events that told her love wasn’t worth it. Due to a couple special people in her life, Amy was able to choose love anyway by dedicating her life to run a camp for foster children who need a safe haven and a lot of love. It isn’t always easy, especially given her own issues, but she does it every summer.  At the start of her story we also see Amy has chosen to give love to another needy child by becoming a foster mother. Balancing both takes effort, but Amy is determined.

When the unthinkable happens and her foster daughter is kidnapped, Amy once again faces the pain of loving. Her friends and the authorities blame the only man Amy ever loved, and at times she considers him a suspect as well. Due to the kidnapping, she faces losing her foster daughter forever even if she is found. Authorities think the search is pointless believing her little girl is dead.  Amy doesn’t believe them.

Making it her mission to find her foster daughter Amy takes off into the wilderness with meager supplies and the prayers of her friend to carry her through. The challenges of the terrain, the need to determine who she can trust, the pain of her past, and her fears for her foster daughter all push Amy further than she can handle on her own. She has to let go and find her hope in God despite the circumstances.  Learning where her hope comes from allows Amy to continue opening her heart to love even when loving hurts and the outcome is unsure.

We can find the same hope in the times when it’s difficult to love and we’re doubtful of how everything is going to turn out.  Scripture doesn’t say God will take away all the difficulties we face or smooth out all the wrinkles in our personal relationships. What He will do is change our hearts and attitudes if we let Him. He will give us strength and peace that doesn’t make sense to the world around us. When we come boldly before Him and lay our requests at His feet, He listens. When we draw near to God, He promises to draw near to us. When we focus on Him and open our hearts to what He wants to do in us through the things we face, the circumstances may still be painful but we also begin to see Him working. We see the truth that no matter how long the painful situation remains in our lives, we are not facing it alone and it is not in vain. God will bring beauty out of it, for us and for those we love when we let Him. This is our hope when loving hurts.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both secure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:19-20

By the Book: Take time to learn God’s promises for us. Commit them to memory or write them on a notecard. Use them to draw near to Him and meditate on them during the painful times in your life. Let His words remind you of the hope you have.

Erasing the Caricature

caricatureErnest Mille Hemmingway once said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” It seems on the surface that all writers and possibly the most avid of readers have issues with telling fact from fiction! I assure you, we are completely capable, but we choose not to. Hemmingway’s quote tells us why.

Authors want readers to connect to their stories. If they don’t, the story won’t be read. A reader can be drawn to a plot, but if the people in the story are unrealistic, the reader will find a similarly plotted book with characters they can relate to. The people inhabiting our stories should inspire the same emotions as the people we work with or sit next to on the bus. They should be real in the depths of their emotions, their reasoning, and their actions.

Even the most unbelievable characters can be written in realistic ways. That’s why a hobbit or a faun can capture our attention. We know they don’t exist, but thanks to the talented author, they do for the space of the story. Likewise, the characters that should be believable can become cartoon examples of people. The villain that is nothing but pure evil without reason can turn into the next Snidely Whiplash. He’s bad. That’s obvious. But there’s no substance to him. He’s just a bad guy out doing bad things. The hero that has no struggles, doubts, needs, or failures is not only boring, he’s unattainable. Readers can’t relate to him, because there is no one in their lives that matches that level of perfection.

As writers, we need to pay attention to the people inside our stories. Do they have reasons for their behavior? Are they fleshed out or have they stayed card board cut outs? Readers don’t have to like the person we create, but they do have to be able to see them as relatable and realistic if we want them to keep reading.

Relatable and realistic are good things for Christians to keep in mind as well. We are supposed to show others the love of God and point them to the salvation He offers through Jesus’ death on the cross. But sometimes in our desire to be different for God, we end up putting on a show. We create a Christian caricature of ourselves by covering over our flaws, doubts, and struggles. We paste a smile on our faces when we’d rather be frowning. We say, “Have a blessed day” or “I’ll pray for you” as mindlessly as we put on our socks each morning. It’s not bad to want someone to have a blessed day to pray for others. But when we say them to say them, phrases like these turn us into cartoon copies of what real Christians should be.

While Christians do have an amazing amount of resources at our disposal from peace and joy in trials to the fruit of the Spirit, I haven’t met any yet that are adept at employing them successfully 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But I have met several Christians who would like you to think they’ve got it all together. Upon closer inspection we find that they don’t. The world sees this as well, and it waters down their witness.

So what’s a Christian to do? First we need to be willing to admit our failures and that there are things we don’t understand. We need to be real. If we can say and show the things we believe with sincerity (even if we mess up once in a while), then by all means, live it out. But if we’re only saying things or acting in certain ways because it’s what one expects a good Christian to be like, then we need to stop. We need to admit to ourselves that we’re not quite there yet in whatever way we’re falling short. And after that, we need to be honest enough, real enough to allow others to see our struggle and the path we’re taking to growth.

When the world can see people living their faith genuinely and openly admitting where they’re still growing and learning, the cartoon Christian is erased. A real Christian with a powerful testimony takes its place. The falseness fades away, and an honesty those in the world can respect comes into the light. It’s time to stop letting fear of failure turn us into caricatures of faith. It’s time to be real, living Christians complete with our flaws and a desire to see God work them out of us.

By the Book: Read Luke 18:9-14. Which man was real and which was reduced to a caricature by his attitude and actions? Take an honest look at which one of these men you most see yourself in.

Moving through the Fear

key-west-81664_1280Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a marriage seminar. The focus was how to handle conflict and get out of the cycle of pushing each other’s buttons. One of the goals was to show us that most of our arguments are not really about the thing we’re arguing about. For example, we might argue about whose turn it is to wash the dishes and be angry that the other person didn’t do it when they were supposed to. And while we might need to come up with a plan to keep this particular disagreement from happening in the future, the speakers encouraged the participants to figure out why we react as we do to this kind of situation.

Participants were encouraged to examine the types of reactions we have and what internal needs drive us. But our self-examination didn’t stop there. We were also asked to consider our strongest fears. I’m not talking about the fact that a spider can send me fleeing from a room. I’m talking about the fear of not having my needs met. The need to feel respected can lead to a fear of being mocked or ignored or simply not measuring up. The need for trust can lead to a fear of betrayal.

Whatever the need is there are opposing fears that come into play when we feel that need is not being met. Little things that might not otherwise get a reaction from us are suddenly a big deal because the fear buttons associated with our need have been pushed. Fears can cause us to react in unusual and sometimes damaging ways. Left unchecked fears can cause us to cling to things we shouldn’t, react with uncalled for emotion, or push away something we really desire.

Lucy Dixon and Tom Livingston from Carolina Mercy by Regina Rudd Merrick understand this principle all too well. After a promising meeting thanks to their mutual friends, Lucy and Tom return to their separate lives with the memories of the spark between them fueling their dreams of what might have been. But when their friends’ wedding gives them the chance to come back together again, a roller coaster ride of emotions begins.

Though they both feel that initial spark upon meeting again, Lucy and Tom both have fears they have to face in order to even see if a relationship will develop. Lucy struggles with knowing the right path for her life. She still has feelings for Tom, but she doubts his. She also fears what could happen if they were to get together since they are literally from two different places. Tom’s issues come from his past. His perception of how things were as he grew up have made it hard to see how past and present can both have a place in his life. He fears the perceived responsibility and weight of his family’s needs will be too much for Lucy. He doesn’t want to ask it of her, and he ends up keeping her at arm’s length.

When fear of physical danger is added to the mix due to a natural disaster, Lucy and Tom have to decide whether or not they can overcome all their fears and give their relationship a chance. Neither is an easy path, but learning to deal with fears never is.  It isn’t for Tom and Lucy, and it isn’t for us. But when we allow God to take us down His path for our lives despite our fears or doubts, the result is the peace and joy that comes with knowing we’re living inside God’s will.

By the Book: Has God ever asked you to do something that caused you to fear or doubt? Did you give those to God and move forward? How did God work in that situation?