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.

Roads and Choices

path“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who attended high school in the United States that has never read “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Students across the nation and through the years have written essays on the poem and its meaning. Experts have written the same, likely with more finesse and insight. But whatever Frost’s deeper meaning, the actual incident of choosing a path found me and my husband on our way to a local Mexican restaurant to meet friends. It went something like this:

Our car zipped through the intersection heading north.

“What are you doing?” It was time for passenger seat driving.

“I’m going to the restaurant.”

“But you didn’t turn. You’re supposed to turn right at the light. Turn onto Wall, then Grand, then you’re at the restaurant.”

“Or I could go straight up to Grand and turn right. Go down the road a little bit, and I get there just the same.”

“Yes, but that’s not the way we get there.”

“Maybe it’s not the way you get there. But it’s how I get there.”

“But it isn’t right. You went the wrong way.”

You’re right. It’s not as poetic as Frost’s choice of roads, but we, of course, made it to the restaurant. I don’t think it was any quicker to go my husband’s way, but I don’t think it took longer either. There were pluses to his way. There were merits to my way. Contrary to what I indicated in our discussion, there was no right way to get there. There wasn’t even a best way. There were just multiple paths to reach our destination.

And isn’t that what Frost’s poem is really all about? Isn’t that what writing is about?

In March my first book, Faith’s Journey, was published. It was something I’d worked years to accomplish. I published with a traditional publisher, Mantle Rock Publishing. I wrote my manuscript in the evenings after working a full-time job and getting dinner for my family. I wrote on the weekends when I didn’t have to work my day job. I sent out query letters to multiple publishers. I didn’t use an agent, though I queried some of them as well.

In November, my friend Brenda Gates published her first book, Anna’s Song. She wrote it while caring for her elderly father and taking care of her family. She considered traditional publishing, but chose instead to self-publish. She went through all the necessary, professional steps to assure the highest quality book, and the result is a wonderful book I loved from page one.

Other authors work only on their writing. Some work only through agents. A few began writing and ended up with publishing companies. Some authors self-publish while others go the traditional route. Our paths are different, but the destination is the same. As with anything, what the end results look like will vary greatly depending on what went into the journey. But however different our basic paths to reach it, the basic destination is the same.

We all belong to that unique group of people known as authors. We’re all moving at different speeds. We all have personal messages and styles. But we can still come together and support each other because we have one thing in common. We are authors. It’s great to have a group of like-minded people to belong to.

And it’s wonderful to know that our writing isn’t the only place to find it. As believers, we are all part of the body of Christ. We have been given different talents and gifts. God put s a passion for different ministries into our hearts. We all have the gifts of scripture and prayer to help us grow in our faith. But we don’t all grow in the same way or at the same speed.

I have heard God speak clearly to me through Christian musicians. Others seem to draw more from listening to the messages of great theologians. Hearing God’s voice comes easier for some when they’re sitting silently in nature. Whatever way God speaks to you, it’s okay. As long as the message is supported by scripture, it’s still God’s message for you.

I have a heart to see women grow in the faith they already have. My mom’s passion is for spreading the gospel to the lost. I know some who have a heart for the little ones in our lives and others who serve the teenagers. It’s okay. There’s a need for each of these things, and God uses our different personalities and interests to fill those needs.

There are multiple roads in our wood of faith. There is one out there that is uniquely yours. You aren’t meant to walk down mine. God didn’t design me to go down yours. Our individual paths may look different, but we are still called to come together in support and encouragement of each other. We have something greater than our differences holding us together as one. We are Christians, and our faith brings us together.

By the Book: If you have one, what does your writing path look like? What about your path of faith?

Looking for Direction

glassesToday was filled with the stress of making choices. It started with ordering new glasses. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not. Do you know how many choices there are? Metal frames or plastic? Type of lens? Scratch resistance? Anti-glare? Bi-focal or regular? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Those choices are easy, coming down to how much I want to pay. But choosing frames? That’s a different story.

I decided to go bold, at least for me. My frames are thin and non-descript, almost invisible. I wanted a change. So, instead of being in and out in minutes, I stood for over forty minutes in front of the displays taking awkward looking selfies in anything that didn’t make me immediately snarl and pull the frames from my face. Then, I sent the best ones (frames, not selfies, I’m horrible at taking selfies) to six trusted family members and friends for their feedback. Thank goodness they all pretty much agreed, with the exception of my daughter who tried to steer me in the direction of the boldest frame I had tried on. I assured her I wasn’t quite to that stage yet, and I went with the consensus.

I placed my order and went on with my day. Imagine my horror as I stood in the aisle of Wal-Mart looking at dry erase boards, realizing I faced another choice. The board I wanted came with the option of white, black, or wood trim. After another fifteen agonizing minutes, the wood framed one ended up in my cart. Two choices in an hour? I was exhausted.

Choices are hard sometimes. I tend to be laid back about most things, not really caring about what to have for dinner or what my husband and I should do on date night. But choosing the glasses I have to wear for the next several years or the dry erase board that will either bring together everything or look mismatched in the office I’ll set up once my oldest son moves out in five months? That’s a different story. I have to make the right decision or I might regret it. At least in the grand scheme of things the decisions I faced today are minor.  Anne Carty isn’t so lucky in Keeper of Coin by Mary Kay Tuberty.

Anne leaves her family in Ireland at her father’s insistence. As the most frugal daughter, John believes she is the best option for making the trip, finding employment, and sending for the rest of the children. Anne believes her older sister should make the trip first, but she bows to her father’s wishes out of respect for his authority. She arrives in America and makes her way to St. Louis where things don’t go exactly as planned. Her father has hired a man to oversee her funds and help arrange passage to her uncle in Oregon. Anne has reservations about the man’s integrity, but again, she defers to her father’s decision.

When plans go awry, Anne has to choose whether or not to stay in St. Louis or keep trying to reach Oregon. Anne likes her life in St. Louis. She has friends, an adopted family, and a man who is quickly winning her heart. But her loyalty is to the promise she made her father, and she pushes aside her desires to fulfill his wishes.

After her older sister joins her in St. Louis, both girls believe saving for the other children to join them will go quickly, allowing Anne to fulfill her promise and choose the life she desires. It isn’t to be. A thief steals the fare for the next child’s trip. Their uncle in Oregon is surprisingly silent on bringing them from St. Louis. And to top it off, their parents aren’t taking care with the money the girls work so hard to send due to famine conditions in Ireland. Though Anne receives wise advice from many encouraging her to consider that her father cannot know what’s best since he’s not in America and has no idea what life is like for her, she still chooses time and again to honor her pledge. It leaves her and those she loves wondering if she will ever feel free to choose the life and love she desires.

I can understand Anne’s struggle to honor her parents and still make choices that work with her new life. I wouldn’t want to face the same decisions. She could’ve used a neon sign directing her path. I know I’ve wished for one. I desire so much to make right choices, godly choices. Sometimes my paths are clear, but not always. I’m sure we’ve all been there. We wait for God to tell us clearly what to choose, but He doesn’t give us a burning bush or even an audible voice. What are we supposed to do? How are we to decide?

Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us a starting point. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”  Trust. It is  a simple word with huge implications. Trust is when what we believe about God turns into action. Do we believe He has a plan for us? Do we believe He loves us? Do we believe He wants us to live inside His will? Do we believe God is a big enough, powerful enough to let us know if the choice we’re considering is definitely not in His plan for us? If so, then we can proceed. It may be that God’s plan can be accomplished in many ways, and the right thing for us to do may be to simply choose.

But what if it’s not? That’s where the rest of the verses come in. Lean not on your understanding. Don’t trust in yourself, that you know best. Turn to God. Go to Him. Know scripture to gain understanding of what is and isn’t inside God’s will. If your plan includes anything contrary to scripture, it can’t be what God wants. God doesn’t want any of us living in sin.

In all your ways acknowledge Him. Are you praying about your decision? Are you asking for His guidance and wanting in your heart to do things the way God wants them done? Are you remaining open to His leading, even if it is contrary to your desire? Do you end each prayer with the same desire that Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane? Not my will, but Your will be done.

He will direct your paths. It’s right there in the Bible. If you’re going in a way contrary to His plans for you, God will show you. If we do our part to seek His will and His way, He will direct us. It may not be as clearly spoken as the plan Moses received. But we will hear His quiet voice speaking to our spirit if we are going the right way. If we are open to His plans, He will close and open doors for us as we go. He will nudge us away from choices that would be detrimental. And He will work through our choices to accomplish His will when the specifics of those choices are left to us to decide. And if we make a choice God doesn’t want us to make? When I’ve seen my error and sought His forgiveness for going in a direction He told me not to go, my God is big enough to redeem even those choices and put me on the right path once again.

By the Book: If you’ve been struggling to make a choice, have you given it over to God? Do you trust Him? Are you open to seeking His will, His way? If so, listen for that small voice and look for the opened and closed doors.

For Every Action

Actions have consequences. It sounds like a “no duh” statement, but think about how much time we spend trying to convince ourselves they don’t. Hard lives and hours in the sun leave us wrinkled, but there’s always Botox. We like to eat what we want, when we want it, but we don’t like being fat. Enter the next miracle weight loss pill requiring no changes in diet or exercise. Maybe you’ll even have some liposuction. Got a quickie wedding when you were too wasted to realize what was going on? Get a quickie annulment and make it go away.  Break the law? Get yourself an expensive lawyer and get off scot-free.

Even our children are subjected to the mindset that says I can do what I want and not have to pay the price. Some young athletes don’t put the effort into their education that’s necessary to stay eligible to play. But if you’re a good enough athlete, that’s okay. You’ll miraculously pass anyway. A child misbehaves in class, and we let it slide because discipline is taboo. Instead, we reward behavior that should be seen as fundamentally right and then wonder why things go south when the rewards are cut off. Parents buy their children out of trouble instead of letting them feel the pain of their actions. We’ve even divorced them from damage to their reputations due to their choices. A person who cheats on things isn’t a cheater. The habit of lying doesn’t make you a liar, and a life of stealing doesn’t make you a thief. Those are just things we do. They don’t make us who we are, and it’s wrong to insinuate otherwise. We’re teaching them what we’ve been taught; what you do doesn’t matter because there are no lasting consequences.

Only there are consequences.  And those consequences can be far reaching. Psychologist Taylor Martin, the main character from Shadows of the Past by Patricia Bradley understands this well. Taylor not only teaches psychology, she puts it into practice as she helps law enforcement solve crimes through profiling. Taylor looks at the cause and effect relationship to determine how victims and perpetrators are related. What actions spurred on which reactions which in turn led to the crimes committed? Taylor puts the pieces together to find the unknown criminal.

The process becomes a matter of life and death for Taylor when a stalker’s obsession turns violent. Unmasking the criminal and making sense of how everything weaves into the history of her family is made harder when suspects’ actions muddy the waters. Scott, a former student, seems harmless enough, but early life choices led to alcoholism which in turn left him in vulnerable positions. He soon finds himself suspect number one in not only Taylor’s stalking case but murder as well.  Is Taylor’s gut reaction true or is it a set up? And if it is a set up where is the true danger hiding and why? Taylor struggles with lining up the correct actions and consequences in time to catch a killer and keep from becoming the victim of a murder herself.

A failure to correlate our actions to our consequences may not invite a murderer into our circle of acquaintances like it did for Taylor, but it can take us into places we don’t want to be both physically and spiritually. The Psalms and Proverbs are packed with warnings to make godly choices, and neither book shies away from the idea that choices have consequences. In fact, many times, David and Solomon were very firm and descriptive in their explanations of the results that follow poor choices.

One of results is the damage of our witness. We become associated with the choices we make.  In kindergarten at my children’s school, they had to memorize a verse that I hope has stuck with them as much as it has me. Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” It’s a truth even children can understand, but we can use it as a tool to measure our own grasp of actions and consequences. It’s as simple as asking ourselves one question. What did my actions today say about who I am?

By the Book: Think about some of the choices you’ve made in life. What were the consequences of those choices? What do your daily choices say about you? Is this what you want the world to see when they look at you?