When Truth Hides

background-2013633_960_720Truth is important, but sometimes it’s hard to find. We see polarizing stories on the news every day that threaten to tear our nations apart. Sometimes they even threaten to tear God’s people apart. But if we take a step back, we realize each side of these debates have often latched onto one small idea or event and run with it. Even our news sources have lost objectivity. It used to be “just the facts” and let the people decide. There is nothing objective about any news source today.

Each side twists and highlights the things that make them look better and the other side look like the devil himself. Each side has an agenda. The stories they cover, the issues they bring to light, may be important. People may need to know these things, but the way the stories are presented breeds hatred, discontent, and divisiveness. Each side claims truth. Each side has proof. Honestly, each side has people paid to make the “facts” work in their favor to push their agenda. That’s why each side can come up with data, polls, events, and numbers to back up their idea. If you know the right way to frame it, you can find information to back up anything you want. And that’s exactly what each side does.

But simple, honest truth being hard to find sometimes doesn’t mean that it’s not important. In fact, I think it makes it more important. No one understands this better than Sergeant Caleb Dockery in Her Place in Time by Stephenia H. McGee. When Lena shows up out of nowhere in the plantation house turned civil war hospital where he’s recuperating, Caleb doesn’t know what to think. She claims to be from the future. She claims to go back and forth between the two times by putting on a yellow dress. It makes no sense. She speaks in strange ways. Her manner and customs aren’t at all like ladies of his day. A lot of what she says and does is controversial and even scandalous, but is she really from the future? Her methods of nursing wounded soldiers lend credence to her claims. But she slips away unseen at times, and she’s admitted she doesn’t believe in the south’s cause in the war. Could she be a spy?

Even as Caleb wrestles with his doubts, he can’t deny he’s attracted to her, and she seems to be attracted to him as well. His doubts about her trustworthiness, her honesty, keep them at arm’s length. He can’t quite reconcile what she’s saying to be truth, and she won’t give her heart to someone who won’t trust her. What she’s saying seems impossible, too impossible to accept as truth. Besides, she’s still trying to figure out what is really going on and why it’s happening. The only question that remains for us is if either of them will find out the truth before they lose what God’s trying to give them forever. It all comes down to truth.

In an age where people try to dress lies and nuggets of truth as the complete truth, Christians are sheep in the midst of wolves. We need to take Jesus’ directive to “be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves” to heart. We can be part of the problem or the solution. It’s easy in today’s social media crazed days to spout off about everything that irks us. Even in those of us who find loving people easier than others can find our patience and acceptance stretched to their limits. We preach the necessity of loving everyone but then demonize those on the opposite side of the situational fence. We read a simplified post that agrees with our view point and forward it to all our friends, expressing disgust at anyone who dares see things from a different perspective.  In essence we’ve been neither wise nor innocent, instead becoming one of the wolves.

If we are to be wise, we need to start being responsible with the truth. When we see issues dividing those around us, we need to take a step back. Believers can’t hide their heads in the sand. We can’t ignore the things going on around us, but we can make sure all we say, do, and post falls under the umbrella of love and truth. We need to go beyond sound bites of media and seek out all the information we can get before choosing to speak. We need to seek God’s will before we choose to make a move.

In seeking truth and God’s will on how to respond to that truth, we allow ourselves to become wise while staying innocent. We refuse to be part of the problem. We allow room for healing in places where divisiveness once reigned.

By the Book: Do you seek truth instead of giving in to a knee-jerk emotional reaction to what you see or read? Do you seek God’s wisdom and way before you decide what steps to take?

See You Tomorrow

Write Stuff Wednesday will return tomorrow. It was one of those days when I got halfway through writing and then my home exploded into a noisy mess as my three sons and their cousin came in. I can’t focus with the noise. So, I’ll try again tomorrow.

Main Character Motivation Monday

why-1780726_960_720Spend a little time with a small child and you’re likely to hear one phrase repeatedly. Why? Why is the sky blue? Why did the light change? Why can’t I have ice cream for dinner? Any answer you give is not good enough. Why did you buy a hot dog? Because I was hungry. Why were you hungry? Because I hadn’t eaten. Why hadn’t you eaten? Because we were busy. Why? Why? Why?

For a small child there is never an answer good enough to stop the onslaught of questioning. Each answer begs a new why. It can be tiring and frustrating as a parent. It’s where the classics “because” and “because I said so that’s why” came from. Not a great answer, but I think all parents resort to it at some point. And as a much as it might work to stop the questioning child, we get in trouble when we take that attitude in our writing.

Characters need reasons. To be believable, they need reasons that make sense. Your character’s actions and reactions should stem from their personalities and their motivations. Our characters are no different than us. They are people who do things for reasons that make sense to them.

I’m passionate about writing, but I spend eight hours a day (nine if you include lunch break) being a receptionist. Why? It doesn’t make sense. If I love writing so much, why would I choose to use the best hours of my day doing something else? My motivation is the reality that since my husband’s unexpected job change came with a serious pay cut, I need to work so my children can eat. I’m just starting out as a writer, and if we lived on that income alone my children would starve. In light of my motivation, my decision to work suddenly makes sense.

I choose to write about books, faith, and life whether it is on this blog or in my books. Why? My faith makes me who I am. I have a firm belief that God wants me to encourage and challenge other believers in their own faith walks. I believe it was God who gave me a passion for reading and writing. I believe God wants us to use our talents and interests to minister to others. These things are my motivation for writing what I write.

Why do your characters do what they do in the ways they do it? If you can’t answer that question, study your character. Spend some time getting to know them. Their motivations don’t have to be complex. There doesn’t have to be some huge master plan driving their choices.

In my book, Faith’s Journey, Katie’s motivation was to escape the hurt caused by her fiancé’s betrayal. As the book progressed, her focus shifted to finding out how to recapture the faith she knew as a child and live it in her adult life. There were other smaller motivations within each scene, but these two played out through all of them. Her motivations, personality, and circumstances worked together in shaping her choices throughout the book.

Knowing a character’s motivation helps you stay focused on what’s important in your storytelling. It allows you to see with more clarity the things that slow your story down, the things that need cut no matter how well written they may be. When authors stay focused on the real story of our characters, the readers can tell a difference. Readers can become more invested in the character. They can understand them and relate to them with more ease. They want to know what happens next because each part of the story is building off the previous part. Knowing our character’s motivation is part of the process that deserves our attention.

Equally deserving of our attention is what motivates us in our lives. As believers, God should have the most important place in our lives. It’s easy to say but hard to live on a daily basis. Even when we do the right things, if our motivations are not in the right place, what we do loses its meaning. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” If we look at Matthew 6:1-4 God’s message is plainly stated. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. ‘Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’”
It isn’t enough to simply do the right things.  We need to search our hearts and know why we do what we do. We may be able to fool some people if our motivations are selfish, but we can never fool God. Serving God is only serving God when He is our motivation.

Shattered

dark-3061610_960_720I was involved with our high school theater productions for my three years of high school. I had (non-serious) dreams of one day being an actress. Of course, it might have helped if I was ever actually in a play. But I wasn’t. I got the courage to try out for one, the last one possible, my senior year. I didn’t make it. No, my experience was with sets and lighting. My friends and I built, painted, and lit up the stage for the actors. Once I even put together a vase.

This production involved a vase shattering as it hit the floor. We couldn’t take the chance that it would fail to break. So, I got to take the vase home, break it, and glue it back together again. It’s easier said than done. It has to break in big chunks that can be adhered together again. If the pieces are too small, it’s nearly impossible to get the vase put back together in a way that doesn’t look compromised. Even being as careful as I was, I’m not sure I would’ve trusted it to hold water.

Often that’s what happens when things are broken. They can be put back together again, but they may not work exactly like they were first intended. They’ve changed. Sometimes, it’s for the better. Other times, not so much. It really depends on who’s doing the fixing and what kind of shape the thing was in before it was damaged to the point of needing repaired.

The same can be said for people. There are things that come along and threaten to break us. Sometimes they do break us, at least for a time. They throw water on the picture we’ve painted for our lives leaving our carefully chosen colors to run down the canvas. Our masterpiece is destroyed. These experiences are different for each person. The loss of a dream, a job, a family member or a person’s health could be the devastating blow. Disappointment, hurt, or betrayal could be what it takes to push you to the breaking point. What devastates me might seem like a cake walk for you. What seems hard for you might be easy for me. It doesn’t matter if others might be able to handle it better. What matters is that we’re in pain. We’ve found ourselves in the middle of a mess that we have no idea what to do with.

These times are the focus of Sheila Walsh’s book, In the Middle of the Mess: Strength or This Beautiful, Broken life. And what Sheila has to offer believers is desperately needed, freedom to be transparent. Starting with her own story, her own failures, her own hurts, and honesty about how these things affected her life and still do, Sheila invites the reader to be honest about their own issues. Her ability to share so openly about things she knows can bring judgement in some Christian circles is inspiring. It allows the readers to see she believes the message whole-heartedly. That alone is enough to bring hope. Everyone wants to feel they are not alone.

But it doesn’t end there. Sheila weaves scripture and practical lessons on how to deal with life’s devastations into each chapter. She challenges readers to honestly evaluate themselves each step of the way. And she does it in a way that makes you feel safe doing so.

While taking a faith-based perspective and encouraging practices that are fueled by belief in God and the scriptures, Sheila doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the need to take other practical steps to help deal with the aftermath of the circumstances that threaten to destroy our lives as we knew them. It’s this binding together of faith with the practical and illustrating with real life examples that make her lessons powerful.

For those who have not ever experienced the proverbial “dark night of the soul”, Sheila’s book is one to read. She has taken concepts that are hard to understand when they’ve not been experienced and makes them relatable. With greater understanding comes more empathy and love. Judgement is lessened, and hearts can find the One who can heal as His followers pour out His love on those in pain. Hope is given, not necessarily for a change in circumstances, though Sheila does acknowledge our God is the One who can make that happen, but that we can know peace and joy and love even in our circumstances. This book points us to His answer for our own hurts and to help others as they search for healing in their hurts.  And God is the One who can put back together the broken in ways that make them stronger than they ever were to begin with.

Write Stuff Wednesday 10

typewriter-1170657_960_720“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

Writers may not speak the words, but what we type can go places our spoken words may never reach.  Our tongues are our keyboards. And I doubt there is a writer among us who doesn’t love words. If we don’t, we may want to rethink our chosen career paths. If we ever doubted it, words, our words have power.  This is true whether those words are written or spoken.

During a particularly difficult circumstance in my life, I received a text about a possible negative development in the situation. My body reacted immediately. Anxious feelings began to creep in. I felt sick. My phone screen lit up with a few simple lines of written word, and I felt defeated.

Written words were also what shook me from a life of relative security and plunged me into a place of pain and doubt during the most challenging time in my life. For months after reading a fairly short letter from a loved one, I struggled to control my fear that the other shoe was ready to drop on my at any moment, knocking me further away from what little security I had left.

But even as words threatened my well-being and changed my life, they were also there to hold me up. I found strength and peace in the middle of the mess. And while scripture was a source of life for me at the time, it wasn’t the only thing God used to encourage me. As I sought moments of respite from what had become my day to day life, I turned to Christian fiction.  I was surprised to find understanding. Some books broke down my walls and drew the hurt out from deep inside. Others empathized with my plight and pointed me to truths my mind was too tired to accept any other way.

The stories I read were amazing gifts. These written words worked to restore some of what I’d lost and point me to the One who could provide complete restoration.  Words had done a tremendous amount of damage, and words helped make it right again.

This is why it is important for writers, especially writers of faith, to choose their words carefully. Our fiction and non-fiction alike should be filled with the truth. Sometimes that truth is hard. In those times, we should take care to say what we say in love and with grace and mercy.  Truth doesn’t have to be compromised to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. People are sensitive creatures. We don’t ever like being told we’re in the wrong. But we can and should be careful that our attitudes are based in love. When we approach others with understanding and love, even a difficult message can hit its mark.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing sweet love stories or murder mysteries. Words that bring life can be sewn into the fabric of each one. Even fantasy worlds brought to life only by the author’s imagination can leave a reader with a deeper understanding of God. As writers, as lovers of words, we should strive to share life through what we write.

By the Book: What books have you found life in? As a writer, do you share life with your readers?

The Friend List

friendship-2156174_960_720 I met Craig at camp the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years. Living three hours away from each other, we only saw each other one other time, but he became my best friend. We wrote letters regularly, and I could tell him anything. God brought him into my life at a time when I needed that kind of friend.

I don’t make friends easily, and my grade school friends were going in directions that I couldn’t go in. We talked at school, but I couldn’t hang out with them anymore. I couldn’t go to them and get the kind of advice I was looking for. I needed someone I could trust that shared my beliefs. God brought me Craig. Though our friendship changed and eventually after we both married we lost touch with each other, that friendship will always have a special place in my life. God knew exactly what I needed through those years, and He provided.

God does that. It was never more than one or two at a time, but He always brought someone into my life when I needed it. At high school and outside of class I had Justin and Brian. I could talk them honestly. They shared with me. Though I know neither would have considered me in their best friend list, I did them.

The same goes for Jamie. God brought her when I needed a good girl friend. She was by my side through the last half of high school and into my early married life. She stood with me at my wedding. She could get me to loosen up and have fun better than anyone I knew. And she didn’t mind telling me when I was messing up. I needed that too. I’d had other girl friends in the past, but none were around as long as Jamie. I’m thankful God brought her when I needed her most.

Jodie was in my life when our children were young. As a mother with three small children and one not so small child at home, I needed someone who could relate to the idea that I was more than a mom, though it was my most important role. Our friendship allowed me to develop the side of myself that didn’t enjoy Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer. We had adult talk while our children played. We shared crafting hobbies and a love of books. God provided Jodie so I wouldn’t lose track of who I was outside of motherhood.

He hasn’t stopped providing. As a ministry minded married woman, I needed someone to confide in. It was especially true as a pastor’s wife. That’s when God brought Laura into my life. I actually met her through her husband’s time serving as chaplain in the youth camp I direct. We used to email almost daily.  Since she’s a pastor’s wife, I can talk freely and honestly with her and not worry about being misunderstood or judged. During the hardest time in my life, she was there. God knew I would have been completely lost without her strength and encouragement pointing me back to His truths. We don’t see each other much anymore, but I still count her as my best friend.

Now, as my children are quickly reaching adulthood, my husband and I find we need couple friends. God has blessed there too. While we have a few we see every now and then and love dearly, two have entered our lives on a more regular basis. Tom and Kim are not only church family but as our children marry in September, they will become real family. We met David and Reatha through camp, and we have been blessed to develop friendship outside of that ministry. I can’t imagine our lives without these two couples in them.

There are many more people God has brought into my life at just the right time. Some have come and gone quickly. Others have become life-long friends. Some are partners in my writing adventure, bringing with them encouragement and expertise. Some get me through my day at work with my sanity intact. I’m thankful for each one.

Charlotte Stanton from Under Prairie Skies by Cynthia Roemer would probably understand this sentiment well. Living on the Illinois prairie in the 1850s, choices for friendships were limited. She is closest to her sister, Esther and her father. When this closeness is threatened Charlotte begins to develop a jealous and hateful heart that destroys the possibility of friendship between her and her cousin Becky. But God doesn’t leave her to fend for herself. Like He did for me, God provides just what she needs though in an unexpected way.

As Charlotte gets water from the creek by her uncle and cousin’s empty cabin, she runs into a squatter. Knowing her uncle and cousin are due back any time to reclaim their home, Becky takes matters into her own hands and confronts the man. It’s not a great start to a beautiful friendship with newcomer Chad Avery, but at least they’ve met.

Misunderstanding, past hurts, and pride all conspire to keep friendship from growing. But a spark of attraction and respect keeps them coming back together. When Becky comes home and receives a full helping of Charlotte’s hatefulness, it’s Chad who pulls Charlotte to the side. He’s gotten a glimpse of what’s beneath the hostility, and he doesn’t want to see her give in to the nastiness he’s seeing directed toward Becky. He confronts Charlotte with the behavior in an effort to help her see what she’s doing to herself.

Chad’s words don’t magically work to change her, but they start the process. As they face life challenges, both have to take a look at what they’re holding onto versus what their friendship has to offer. Misunderstandings work against them. It’s up to God to work in both their hearts to prove their friendship is exactly what each of them needs.

Like in my own life, they have to find the truth in Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.”

By the Book: Who has God brought into your life at just the right time? Have you been that person for someone else?

Write Stuff Wednesday 9

hope“A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” Junot Diaz

Some days the words won’t come. It’s not a matter of them being hard to write or not being good enough. There are days I sit at the computer, and I can’t move forward in the scene I’m writing. My brain is too tired. My day has been too long. A whirlpool of thoughts unrelated to my writing spins in my brain until I’m seasick on dry land.

I’ve read that taking a brisk walk can help your brain think in different ways and wake it up a bit. I try that sometimes, if it’s cool enough outside. I’ve tried changing scenery. I usually write in my living room sitting on my couch. But if it’s nice enough, I’ll sit on my back deck with my computer and write. I write to music most of the time. So, I even try switching up the playlist from time to time.

There are occasions when these tricks work well, and I can continue on my merry way. My writing time is salvaged, and I accomplish my goals for the day. Other days, nothing helps. But, and I know this may come as a surprise, being a writer means writing. Each day I fail to pick up my pen or turn on my laptop, I fail to be a writer.

But nothing says I have to write the same thing every day. Nothing says what I write has to be grammatically correct, interesting, or written on my current project. There are days my writing consists of journaling my prayer to God. Some days my writing is a short story or even a paragraph unrelated to anything. These I file away as starting points for future projects. The point is not that I’ve moved forward on my current project, but instead that I have taken the time to write. In doing so, I have kept the discipline that will lead me back to my current project. So, while I may not have hope for that day’s writings, I retain it for tomorrow and the day after that. I have written, and that is what it takes to be a writer.

When I look at my life recently, there have been several “no hope” moments. There are scars from the past that interfere with the present. There are things weighing heavily on my heart that don’t seem to be changing no matter how much I bring them to God. There are frustrations over situations that never seem to change and desires that have gone unrealized yet remain part of the fabric of who I am. These are the things that left uncheck will haunt us, distract us, and discourage us.

Christians are not immune to these feelings. In fact, and this is just my opinion, when these things sink their claws in I think they’re probably more problematic in the life of Christians because we see how things would be working if sin hadn’t messed everything up. It’s the devil’s way of trying to hinder the work of God. If we’re haunted, distracted, and discouraged we won’t have the focus to do what God wants or live the way He wants us to. And that’s on the mild end of things. At their worst, those times tug on a young believer’s roots of faith. Sometimes, it pulls them up completely.

When we let these things sideline us, we are forgetting some important things. The quote above could be re-written for believers.   A Christian is a Christian not because she lives it well or easily, because she has amazing faith, or because everything she does is exactly what God wants her to do. A Christian is a Christian because, even when it feels as if there is no hope, even when prayer, fasting, and scripture reading don’t seem to hold any promise for changing things, you keep following Christ anyway.

We don’t follow Christ because it’s easy, and we don’t follow Him because of what He’s going to do for us. The Bible never promises our lives will be sunshine and puppies. In fact, it says we will face troubles. We will be confronted with situations or ideas that make it easy to doubt. We will face hurts that seem insurmountable. And even though we don’t want to, we will fail in our fight against temptation. But one of the changes in this new quote changes everything for the believer. It’s the part that says “feels there is no hope”.

No matter how dark things get, there is always hope for the believer. Hope is more than a wish. It is braided together with our faith. You can’t have faith without hope because faith is the evidence of things hoped for. You can’t have hope without faith because our hope brings us to faith. Hope is a powerful thing in our lives, and when it takes a beating our spirits do too.

But we have to hope in the right things. We can pray for our circumstances to change, but they may not. Our hope is not in the immediate removal of whatever circumstance has us tied in knots. It’s in the promises of God. He is with us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He forgives our sin, all our sin. We have a future in heaven with Him where everything will run the way it was meant to in the first place. He wants to use the bad stuff in our lives to make us more like Him and to help us minister to others. He offers us comfort and peace. These are just the beginning of the list of promises found in scripture. God and His promises are where we put our hope. And when our hope is in the right things, we have the way to fight the circumstances that threaten our faith. We become Christians who are Christians because no matter what we will keep following Christ.

By the Book: What have you placed your hope in?

Main Character Development

apple-464182_960_720Things we know about fairy tales:

  1. If there’s a step-mother, she’s evil.
  2. The prince ends up with the girl whether he’s done anything to deserve her or not.
  3. Good always wins.
  4. The good one is always very, VERY good. Like making friends with woodland creatures and

earning the help of fairy god-mothers kind of good.

We don’t read fairy tales because they’re full of suspense. The plots are pretty cut and dry. The good one is hated by the evil one without cause. The hated one either tricks the good one creating an issue the good one overcomes or the hated one simply makes life miserable for the good one until something is done to free her from her pain. Something happens and the good ones win while the bad ones get what’s coming to them. Of course, their consequences don’t come from the good ones. They’re too good for that.

It’s become popular in recent years to retell the old stories. Instead of the same old, same old, we get backstory on both the heroes and the villains. In the movie Ever After, we find that the step-mother is jealous of Cinderella and the road to happiness for Cinderella has some potholes. In Maleficent we find there’s more to Maleficent than simply being evil. There are reasons she does what she does. In Snow White and the Huntsman we find that the evil step-mother has abuse in her past that’s helped make her into the evil she is. And in the television show Once Upon a Time, well, I don’t even know where to begin. There are more twists and turns in that one than all the roller coasters at Six Flags. And each twist points to the fact that there’s more to the characters than simply being evil or good. There are hurts and triumphs in their lives. There are losses and mistreatments.

Due to these retellings, familiar characters have taken on new depths. You may not agree with the evil they do, but you can sympathize with the hurts in the villains’ pasts. You may cheer on the heroes, but you can still get frustrated with them as they act less than heroically in sticky situations. What were once flat characters, good is good and bad is bad, are now characters we can more closely relate to. And they don’t stay the same throughout the story like the original fairy tale characters. They grow and learn. They recognize their character flaws and work to minimize them. They develop.

Character development is a vital part of any good story. Just like real life, the things our characters face should push them to change. Sometimes the change is negative. Sometimes losses cut so deeply we begin to react out of pain. But that same pain in someone else can drive them to be a more caring and empathetic individual.  There are even going to be times when your character goes one direction for a while before something nudges them into doing an about face. It depends on your character and your story.

Take time to find out who your character is. An introvert reacts differently than an extrovert to the same situation. They have unique ways of looking at it. Their paths of growth will be one of a kind, created especially for them. Personality, past experience, race, gender, economic status, and geography all play a part in determining who your character is. Get to know them. Knowing what has shaped and what motivates your character will help you know how to develop them through their circumstances. It will allow you to take your characters from predictable and one-sided to realistic and intriguing.

We want to see why the villain became the villain when we read. We like to see that the hero has faults and is working through them. But how often do we take the time to do the same in real life? We should be constantly developing our character. It happens naturally when we interact with our world. Hopefully, we strive to develop it in godly ways. Scripture is full of reminders that we aren’t there yet, but we should be developing the attitudes that Jesus portrayed for us in His life and ministry.

At the same time, we need to recognize others are going through the same process. Instead of putting that preacher or teacher on a pedestal, we need to realize even our spiritual heroes have failures and faults. We shouldn’t idolize anyone, even our mentors. We all make mistakes, and we need to be able to be honest about them both in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.

And the villains in our lives? We need to exhibit patience, love, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit in our dealings with them. More than likely, they didn’t set out to be the villain in our story. No, you may not ever be besties, but you can find a lot of freedom in forgiveness. And understanding the whys sometimes makes offering that forgiveness a little easier. Take a moment to consider some of the things that made their character develop in the direction it did. Let that understanding help free you to react to them in a godly way.

Let’s put away our fairy tale definitions of the people in our lives and start taking the time to see the character development happening each day.

By the Book: Do you tend to see people in your life as only good or bad? Do you try to look beyond to the whys? Are you ever guilty of defining yourself by fairy tale definitions? Why is it important to understand you are not a one-dimensional character?

Pure and Undefiled Religion

givingSix months after I was born the Southern Illinois Christian Conference held their first summer camp. It was held at a local camp since the conference didn’t have a place of its own to use. That would quickly change. One family donated a large piece of land that would become the property of the conference after one hundred years being used as a Christian youth camp. After the first hot summer, my grandpa told the kids there would be a pond to swim in the next year. There wasn’t money for a pond. There wasn’t really money for anything since the camp was run on donations.

One night after dinner a couple men came knocking on my grandpa’s door and said they would like to build the pond for the camp free of charge. Campers still swim in that lake each summer. Cabins were built by a man who knew construction, and volunteers provided the labor to put them together. Every time there’s a need, people show up to help. Sometimes it’s just a handful of faithful workers, but the work gets done. We’re getting ready for our 42nd camp season now, and it runs like it has since day one, through love and labor of faithful volunteers and donations. It’s amazing watching God work to provide for the needs of the camp each year.

It’s that same spirit of coming together to watch God work through the faithful I found as I read Callie by Sharon Srock. Callie Stillman’s love for the hurting doesn’t seem to be a match for the pain she feels after unthinkable circumstances leave her shaken to the core. After all, it was her desire to help that put a toddler back in the home of his abuser. It was her lack of judgement that allowed that abuser to take the life of the little boy she’d come to love. And her guilt from that innocent life lost is what immobilizes her when Sam, Iris, and Bobbie come into her life.

God speaks to Callie’s spirit that something is wrong when she meets her granddaughter’s new friend, Iris. Even though Callie refuses to get involved, she feels God’s call to do so. With baby steps and a lot of wrestling with God, Callie goes from simply trying to find out what’s wrong to being fully immersed in the lives of this struggling family. But Callie isn’t alone. The core members of her Monday night Bible study are determined to be right there with her encouraging her and helping the family. When Callie shares with them the needs, they spring into action without a thought for what it will cost them. They simply love God by loving the family in a practical way, and their care opens the door for Sam, Iris, and Bobbie to experience life in ways they’ve been forced by circumstances to abandon.

It’s God’s love in action in the lives of those with needs. I’ve seen it in our church camp. Sharon Srock portrays it clearly for readers in Callie. And I’ve experienced it in my own life as God moves in people’s hearts to aid our family when we’ve had needs we couldn’t meet on our own. It’s a powerful testimony to God’s care and provision. It’s a blessing to both the receiver and the giver as God uses the act of giving to speak to their hearts and grow them in their understanding of who He is.

Jesus lived life ministering to those in need. He encouraged his followers to do the same. In Acts, the believers sold their individual belongings in favor of sharing all things and taking care of each other’s needs. The story of the good Samaritan shows us that giving goes beyond the boundaries of friendship and our individual houses of worship, reaching even to those we might see as enemies. James directs us to “look after widows and orphans in their distress”.  And Jesus’ own words tell show us his heart on the matter in Matthew when he tells us whatever we did “to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” A heart that listens to the Spirit when it says go or give is a heart that will leave a lasting mark, a testimony to God’s love to draw those in need into the arms of God.

By the Book: Do you take time to listen to the urgings of God when He’s directing you to go, to give, or to speak? What keeps you from it? Can you remember a time when someone else made God’s love real for you through their actions?