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?

 

Full of Character with Michelle De Bruin

FC-Hope for TomorrowWelcome Michelle De Bruin to today’s Full of Character Interview. Michelle is a new author with Mantle Rock Publishing. Her first book, Hope for Tomorrow, releases on October 23rd and is currently on pre-order on Amazon.
What character from the books you’ve read has impacted you more than all the others?
Almanzo Wilder, Laura’s husband. He is said to be a quiet, gentle man with a charming sense of humor. He also persevered through the difficulties of health challenges, losing a child, and farming on the prairies.
I’ve always loved that series. It’s always made me want to go back to that time, at least until I realize I wouldn’t have air conditioning! What character you created was the easiest to write?
Logan De Witt was the easiest. I wrote my dad’s personality into him. In a way, I grew up with Logan so know him quite well.
 What a sweet way to honor your father. What character was the hardest?
His mother’s character, Sandy De Witt, was the hardest. She required me to create a farm wife sort of character true to the early 20th century, someone very different from myself and the times we live in.
Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to or enjoy reading about?
I appreciate the rugged character of Elijah. He took a stand for God in the face of threats from a wicked queen. His faith changed the course of Israel’s history and earned him a place at Jesus’ side during the transfiguration.
Elijah’s story has always fascinated me. I even named my oldest son after him. Do you plan your characters and their backstories before you begin writing or are you as surprised by them as your readers?
I usually have them pretty planned out. I’ve discovered that careful development of characters early on leads to a better strategy for introducing the surprises.
That is definitely one way of developing a great story. If someone wrote a move about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?
Julie Andrews. She’s adorable as a deeply religious young lady who has the gift of teaching the von Trapp children how to sing, and of reminding the captain how to fall in love. Anyone with that much tenacity would go farther than I ever could bringing my character to life.
She is a wonderful actress. I want to thank you for participating in a Full of Character Interview. It was great to get to meet you in this way, and I look forward to reading Hope for Tomorrow. Readers, remember to pre-order your copy from Amazon so you have it the day it releases on October 23rd. And while you wait, check out Michelle’s website and social media.
Where to find Michelle De Bruin:

Write Stuff Wednesday: The Blank Page

notebook-1194456__340“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – unknown

There is nothing more daunting to a writer than the blank page. It’s before the story gets its start that the voices of doubt can be heard the loudest. Sure, those voices continue through the first draft, the edits, and even the final copy. I’m not sure they go away even after publication. But in that empty white space that begs to be filled, doubt likes to race in and take up residence.

What if my story isn’t good enough? What if I don’t have enough story to fill all the blank pages? What if I can’t find a publisher? What if I pour my heart and soul into this only to find out I should have stayed a cashier at the grocery store? What if my perfect opening line is a boring cliché? What if I get writer’s block? What if? What if? What if?

There are people with a desire to write and a story to tell that never do. They allow the “what ifs” to drive them from the path they’re on. Giving up before they even have a chance to start, they walk away and the world loses a story that could only be told by them. Even poor writing can be overcome. Classes and workshops can help shape and grow the ability to write. The only thing that can forever keep someone from writing well is if they never pick up the pen to begin the writing journey. To be writers we must face the empty page, take up the pen, and write.

The blank page can attack in other areas as well. In our journey as Christians the blank page is seen when God calls us out to something more, something unknown. Imagine Peter with his fellow disciples in a boat on the stormy sea. This wasn’t a luxury liner that barely feels the waves crashing against it. The disciples weren’t facing minor turbulence that threatened nausea. They were in a storm in a basic, run of the mill boat. Oars and sails were its propellers. It was largely at the mercy of the weather.

Waves threatened. Wind beat against it. The water churned beneath them. Just being in that boat would have been unsettling if not for the fact that most of these men were used to the sea. If you look at other scriptures, even being familiar territory didn’t stop the disciples from worrying when a storm threatened to capsize their boat. I’m not sure this storm would have been any different. Then, in the middle of this storm, Jesus approaches walking on the water. Impulsive Peter asks Jesus to let him meet Him in the waves. Jesus agrees. Peter begins to face his blank page and steps out of the boat. It doesn’t take long for him to realize the waves and wind haven’t stopped in deference to his act of faith. The blank page stares back at him as chaos swirls around him. Peter chooses to put down his pen, leaving the blank page for another time. He looks away from Jesus, and he begins to sink. It is only by the mercy of Jesus that Peter was saved from the sea he was so focused on and distracted by.

We can’t be too hard on Peter. We’ve been there. God’s Spirit whispers in our hearts asking us to do something, go somewhere, or speak to someone. He puts a purpose or ministry in our heart. He leads us to a place where continuing on means facing uncertainty. He asks us to have faith. Like Peter, we face our blank page of faith. The times are sweet when we can say we picked up the pen and faced the fears with obedience to God’s gentle nudging. But how often do we start off thinking of how wonderful following God’s path with be only to let the unknown swirl like chaos around us distracting us from what we know to be true? How often do we take our eyes off Jesus and start to sink until God in His mercy chooses to rescue us despite our lack of faith?

Whether it’s in our writing or our faith, it is time. It’s time to become what we dream of becoming. For the writer this means picking up the pen and putting words on that blank page. For the Christian, it means seeking God’s will and going boldly in the direction He leads even when it’s full of unknowns. It’s time to get past our fear of the blank pages in our lives and choose instead to fill them with the stories only we can tell.notebook-1194456__340