A Snake in the Path

forest-438432_1280I was a carefree kid tromping through the woods behind our house. I wasn’t oblivious to the dangers that lurked there. The tunnels running under the highway that cut through the woods were dark and damp and the perfect hiding spot for snakes. I came across a very large black snake one afternoon when I rode my bike down our well-worn trails. So I knew they were there. But it didn’t keep me from the woods, and I didn’t need anyone to accompany me on my treks down the path of the creek.

I can’t pinpoint when it happened or why, but somewhere along the way I lost that carefree kid. I still enjoy a hike in the woods. I prefer the trails at Giant City State Park though. They’re clearly marked and regularly used. In my mind that means less chance of coming across and unwanted guest. Even then, I don’t like hiking them alone. I prefer cooler weather for hiking, late autumn or early spring. Reptiles, if they’re out, are sluggish in the cold. I stand a better chance of a successful getaway, at least I can tell myself that.

There are several areas of life where I don’t proceed with as much abandon as I once did. I didn’t give jumping into the muddy pond at church camp a second thought as a kid. Now you can’t pay me enough to get in it. The health department approves it each year, like it has to for every beach. But now, Tantor’s words from Tarzan ring in my mind. “Are you sure this water’s sanitary? It looks questionable to me.” And don’t even get me started on eating food with suspicious origins. I want to know who brought what to the potluck, and I’ll gag if I see someone double dipping. I’m not about to eat that dip anymore.

It’s not that I live in constant fear. I don’t have any phobias, and I don’t let these things keep me from doing what I want to do. But it’s interesting to me that I now give time to things I never considered as a kid. Fears like these are manageable. They’re really more of a nuisance. Other fears can be crippling. Just ask Jake Porter.

Jake, one of the main characters in A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade, knows about the kind of fear born out of trauma that digs its talons in and doesn’t let go. He was always cautious and provided a balance to the reckless abandon of his childhood friend Lyndie. He was beside her every step of the way. He protected her and respected her freedom when her ideas could land her in a mess. Then, she moved away, and Jake knew his first taste of loss.

His desire to protect and caution served him well in the military until a disastrous mission changed his life forever. Dealing with PTSD, Jake retreated to the solitude of home to train Thoroughbreds and shut out the world. When Lyndie marches back into his life, Jake’s tentative peace is shattered. Lyndie hasn’t changed. Her spirit is as free as it was in childhood. Her passion for riding and his desire to protect conflict.

Though they quickly find friendship again, it’s not without difficulties. As Jake’s feelings start to go in a more romantic direction, his fears threaten to keep a wall up between them. He can’t lose Lyndie, and Lyndie can’t settle down. Jake has to deal with his past and his fears or face losing his love for the second time.

While most of us won’t ever deal with circumstances that lead to PTSD, we still let fear influence our decisions. As believers we are taught that God has a plan for us. We have a purpose, and whatever ministry God has for us to accomplish, He will provide the way for it to work out the way He intends. Our heads know this. Sometimes our hearts forget.

No one wants to fail. That’s a big fear factor for a lot of people, myself included. The first time I gave Faith’s Journey to a professional author to read and tell me what she thought, I was terrified. What if she said it was awful? What if she told me I was wrong, that God wasn’t calling me to write anything because I couldn’t write? And if she did think it was worth something a whole new set of worries developed. It meant I was ready to send it to publishers and agents. What if I sent it out to everyone I could and no one wanted it? I knew that feeling from other projects I’d worked on, things that I believed in that no one I spoke with wanted to take on. But this book was different. This was the dream. I’d wanted to write Christian fiction for as long as I could remember. If no one wanted the other projects, their rejection stung but it wasn’t my first love. If no one wanted to take a chance on Faith’s Journey, it would be devastating.

I had a choice. I could let my fear keep me from going forward with what I felt in my heart God had called me to do, or I could work through my fear and send my manuscript out. More than I wanted success, I wanted to be a good steward of the passion and ministry I felt God had given me. Even if that meant no one wanted my book, I had to put my fear aside and send it. I queried a few agents and publishers. A few said no and that stung. But it made it sweeter when Mantle Rock Publishing said yes. In His time and in His way, God has brought me to where I am today. My first book has been out almost a year. In March the sequel arrives. And I’m currently working to wrap up Katie’s story in a way that will be honest and encouraging for readers.

None of this would have taken place if I hadn’t moved out of the place of fear and done what I felt God would have me do. It was mine to move when God said move and to trust God with the outcome.

More or Less

It’s getting close to that time of year when stores entice customers with pastel colored jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. I know we haven’t passed Valentine’s Day, but I’ve already seen a few Easter treats taking up residence near check-out counters. I love Easter candy. It’s better than chalky conversation hearts and blobs of peanut butter cups that are supposed to be hearts but somehow lack that tell-tale shape.

My favorite confections by far are made by Cadbury. Mini eggs are addicting. And for a long time it wasn’t spring until I had my first crème egg. I like the caramel ones as much if not more. But as I’ve aged and developed a few stomach issues, I can’t enjoy these treats in abundance like I used to. A full-size egg makes me queasy. The person who came up with the bite-sized versions deserves a Nobel prize. They took everything I love about a crème egg and put it into a perfectly proportioned miniature version that doesn’t offend my tummy’s sensitivities. Add cute packaging that resembles a dozen eggs, and you’ve got the best Easter treat on the market. It’s perfect when I want to enjoy a favorite treat without feeling sick after.

I’m learning bite-size can be great for a lot of different things. Since Christmas, I’ve enjoyed two books made up of three novellas each. I love to read, but I also have a lot of demands on my time.  I work 40 hours a week as a receptionist. Local ministry needs take up time. I have a family and a writing ministry that both need my attention. There are times I want to be able to sit down and enjoy a good story in a sitting or two, and all of these things prevent that. Or they did until I got my first compilation.

My most recent foray into the world of multiple novellas in one book was just what I needed. To Have and to Hold is, according to the cover, a collection of three autumn love stories. Each stands on its own. Love Takes the Cake by Betsy St. Amant is a sweet story about a baker (see what I did there?) who has been less than lucky in love. But her luck may change when she’s thrown together with a difficult bride’s best man to plan the desserts for all of the wedding festivities.

The Perfect Arrangement by Katie Ganshert is a fun story about a chance meeting and a friendship that starts by accident. It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, with the main characters developing their friendship through email. And though they don’t find out that they’re mortal enemies, they do have a few roadblocks in taking the next steps in their relationship. The story leaves you with a smile on your face and a list of old movies you need to watch.

Becky Wade wrote the final novella in the set. Love in the Details brings former flames back together in order to help plan a friend’s wedding. Two broken hearts that never healed and a secret reason for the break up mean neither of the main characters can move on and trust is fragile to try to move forward. There’s no escaping a hard look at their real feelings for each other as they work together to make the day special for their friend. And neither can deny the love they still feel for each other.

All three stories were the perfect length to let myself dive into them without worry over having to set them aside in favor of other activities. All three gave me the time of relaxation and enjoyment I look for in a good book. Am I going to abandon full-length books in favor of shorter compilations in the future? No. There is a depth that can be achieved in story and character development only when time is given to it. There is something comforting about following a loved character through various seasons of life as you read additional books in the series. I will always make time for full-length novels and book series.  But I guarantee I won’t turn away a good collection of novellas like this in the future either. There’s a place for both in my reading life.

There’s also a place for this type of thinking in my spiritual life. Busy lives pull us in many directions leaving us exhausted and unable to think clearly. Too often we may be tempted to neglect time in God’s word because we can’t dive in deep.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

From books to apps on our phones we have a variety of devotional materials at our fingertips. We can find them on any subject we desire. They’re bite-sized nuggets of truth from God’s word to turn our hearts and minds to Him. Using them can help change our attitudes for the day ahead or convict us of sinful behavior from the day we’ve finished. They can foster praise and worship in our hearts as we go about our day. And they’re perfect for us when we need a little reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

We also have books that serve as guided studies for us. They may lead us through a subject or scripture and expand on a theme. They present questions and allow us time to participate in the learning process. They take us deeper than devotions, but they tend to be lighter in the actual study part with a heavier focus on explanation. More time is required, but we will come away with a bit more complete understanding of the subject.

But we don’t have to stop there. We shouldn’t stop with what someone else tells us about scripture, whether it’s a devotion, sermon, or book. We have the scriptures at our disposal. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us to testify to the truths contained in God’s word. Devotions and books are wonderful tools, but there is something special about diving deep into scripture on your own. A good study that leads you to search out the context and meaning of a scripture for yourself is invaluable. As with the books mentioned above you a participant in the learning process. Because you are uncovering the truths for yourself, they become part of who you are. To dig deep into a passage and find out the answers to who, what, when, where, why, and how, to understand the words in the context of the surrounding scripture, and to ask yourself “what does it mean for my life” are all powerful elements of study that will change the way you live.

It’s amazing to know whether I have time for a little or a lot, there’s always a way to spend time with God.

If you’d like to read To Have and To Hold you can find it here:

Heirlooms of Faith

I have a favorite cookie recipe passed down from my grandma. I have a handkerchief collection in an old candy box passed down from my great-granny along with all the stories she told me about the origins of each one. I also have several pieces of her costume jewelry, though the jewelry box I played with as a child was destroyed when a basement where I had it stored flooded.  I have my mother’s class ring and a charm bracelet she had growing up. I have things from each of the women in my family, but none have been passed from generation to generation. As far as I’m aware we have no family heirlooms.

I love the idea of a family heirloom. An item so treasured that it passes from generation to generation like a baton in a race. I can imagine the stories and secrets the item would share with each owner. I love the idea that the one possessing the item adds their personal chapter in the tale before passing it on to a new owner.

It’s this continuing story that weaves together the lives of several women across several generations in The Christmas Heirloom, a book of four holiday novellas written by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade. Each author’s novella is a story of love that takes place during the Christmas season. Each story is from a different time period but they all focus on the women of one family and a treasured gift, an amethyst brooch, passed down from mother to daughter after its first gifting from an elderly woman to her caretaker.

The stories of loss, hope, and love are enough on their own to bring both laughter and tears. Each novella is worthy to stand on its own. Each is enjoyable. I loved watching each woman’s life and love develop on the pages.

But it adds depth to each woman’s story to see how the brooch plays its part in their lives and makes them a single chapter in a story that is bigger than their individual part in it. The history the individual stories give to the ones that come after bring depth to their themes. True, an author can use well-placed back story to fill in the blanks, but it falls short. It’s like reading the Cliff’s Notes instead of the whole book. You don’t get a chance to connect with the characters that way, and the whole point of The Christmas Heirloom is connection. The brooch comes when each woman is ready to connect with the love of their life, and it connects them to their family’s past like a treasured heirloom should.

I may not have a family heirloom rich with stories to pass on to my children, but the idea of the heirloom brings to mind a scripture my mother shared with me tonight in our nightly prayer time. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

It’s not a physical treasured item passed down from believer to believer. But just as the brooch in the story reminded the women they were part of something bigger, this verse reminds me there were others before me and there will be others after me. We are part of the same family as adopted sons and daughters of God. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we gain more than forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with God, though that is more than enough. We also become part of a story that is much larger than ourselves, and the Creator of the universe is its author. Each believer’s story is unique but intricately woven together with the story of every other believer. It’s a connection we too often fail to realize can bring understanding and depth to our own chapter of the story.