In It Together

Today I had the opportunity to share in a special celebration. This morning I spent time at a local library with an author friend of mine who was launching her first book with a reading and signing. Nine months ago, it was her sharing in my book launch. It was an honor to share in her day as she did in mine.

Over the last couple of years she and I, along with the other members of our local writers’ group, have stood beside each other in the ups and downs of the writing process. We’re all in different stages, and we each have our own goals and focus. It doesn’t matter. Each member of the group has their own writing strengths and weaknesses. We’re there for each other to encourage each other when the writing gets tough or we find ourselves frustrated and discouraged. We energize each other for the next step. We learn together. And on days like today, we cheer each other on and share in the joys of success.

Writing tends to be a fairly solitary endeavor. It is made much sweeter knowing there’s a group of people in my corner cheering me on and picking me up when I fall.

gates2This feeling is something Anna Marie, the main character in Anna’s Song by Brenda Gates, hasn’t known since her mother and father disappeared without a trace. When her twin sister goes missing too, Anna Marie feels more alone than ever before. Refusing to give up on her sister and confused by mysterious and seemingly impossible clues to her sister’s whereabouts, Anna Marie begins to find people in her corner though she is unsure how she feels about their involvement.

When Anna Marie slips into the past her hopes of finding her sister grow, but the road to finding her isn’t a guaranteed success. And it definitely isn’t easy. Plunged into the middle of the Civil War, she faces dangers and obstacles she is not prepared for. But in these times, Anna Marie also finds what she’s missed in life. She finds people taking the journey by her side. They encourage her to be her best self. They hurt with her when she’s in pain. They teach her about herself and faith through their examples and words.

If she never makes it home and even if she never finds her sister, Anna Marie finds something that makes the sweet things sweeter and the tough things easier. She finds what friendship and family should be, and it makes all the difference.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. Not just for Anna Marie in Brenda’s book. Not just for writers and the writers’ groups they belong to. It’s supposed to be this way for believers too. Actually, it’s supposed to be this way especially for believers. 1 Corinthians 12:26 encourages us with these words. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”  This is just one of several instructions followers of Jesus are given in how we should interact with one another, and each scripture comes back to loving each other the way God loves us.

When we find this in our churches and with the believers in all areas of our lives, we experience one more amazing gift from God. Allowing God to use us to be this for others makes us the gift to them. Both work in our lives to ease the burden of hard times and increase the joy in the good. And it makes all the difference in the journey of our faith.

 

Change and Hope

hopefortomorrowI drove down the narrow tree-lined road and past the trio of houses from my childhood. They looked the same way they’ve looked for years. But they’re not.

I live in the same place I lived when I was a child. I don’t mean the same neighborhood or the same city. I mean I live within a couple miles of the home I lived in until I was five, and I live across the field from the home I lived in from the time I was six until I got married. I walk down the same road, past the same houses, that I used to ride my bike down when I rode to my grandma’s house. It looks the same. But it’s not.

The houses are still there. The flower gardens still bloom in the spring. The roads still rise and fall and twist and turn as they always have. But everything has changed. The houses on that narrow tree-lined road are filled with people I don’t know. My grandparents and aunts and uncles don’t call them home anymore.

At one time I knew everyone on the road by my house. My other grandparents, my great-grandmas, a slew of great-aunts and great-uncles, and family friends that had known each other for years filled ninety-five percent of the houses along the road. I trick-or-treated down that road without coming to the house of a stranger. There are still some I know. A few family members still live there. But I no longer know a majority of the families living there.

The changes wouldn’t be visible to someone who didn’t know the area personally. What’s outside is similar enough, but what’s housed inside is vastly different. Those are the changes that make a difference. Those are the ones that give the neighborhoods a completely different character.

Some changes are like that. They leave what’s on the outside untouched, but the internal changes affect everything. It’s a lesson Logan De Witt is confronted with when he returns to his childhood home in Hope for Tomorrow by Michelle De Bruin. With his father’s unexpected death and no other males in the household, the responsibility of keeping his family’s farm running for his mother and sister falls to him. It’s a duty he’s more than willing to accept even though it takes him away from the church he pastors.

Arriving home, Logan is greeted by the familiar. The farm, the work, and his home are all as he remembers. But the people are not left untouched by the same grief he faces. When the town’s new teacher arrives to board with Logan’s family the toll their father’s death has taken on his sister becomes glaringly apparent. Instead of finding solace and friendship with the new woman in the house as Logan expects she will, Tillie’s internal struggle is vented in her direction. The more the internal bitterness is given space in her life, the less she acts like the sister Logan remembers.

Logan finds himself in a life that looks like it used to on the outside while struggling to make sense of the truth that life will never be the same again. Financial struggles, discontent in his home, fear to love and possibly lose that love, and this new, unwelcome side of his hurting sister combine to make Logan’s transition to this new reality rocky at best. And even if the storms cease, the real substance of their lives will never be the same.

Change is inevitable. We can fight it, or we can grow through it. We are not meant to stay the same. God sent His Son so we can be different. He wants us to become a new creation. He wants the old, sinful things to pass away. God’s desire is for those who believe to develop the mind of Christ.

God doesn’t really care about our outer packaging. Just like with David, God looks at our heart. He wants us to seek Him first. Our priorities, beliefs, and actions should be shaped by His word. When these changes take place, they may not be noticeable just from a look, but it’s the inside that makes us who we are. What is in our hearts determines our character, and our character determines our actions. These are the changes God desires. These are the ones that will make all the difference.

Main Character Monday: Lucy Dixon

regina1Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is Lucy Dixon from Carolina Mercy by Regina Rudd Merrick. Thank you for joining me.

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

Oh my. I’ve been a lot of places already! Dad and I visited the British Isles a few years ago, so I can mark that one off the list! I was born in Atlanta, but my dad was a plant manager and we moved around a lot. Before we came to Kentucky, we had lived in Silicon Valley in California, and then in Chicago. We saw a lot of the US. Kentucky was home, though. It was where I went to high school, where I learned that being a Christian was more than just going to church, and where I met my BFF Sarah Jane Crawford! But if I could pick any place? Probably Australia. Mainly because it’s the farthest away, and the idea of visiting the Southern Hemisphere in our winter – their summer – is intriguing. While I’m there, can I go to New Zealand, too?

I don’t see why not. I’d love to visit New Zealand for purely geeky reasons. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. But anyway, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life?  Which of them is the hardest to display?

You’re going to start meddling, now. Here are the ones I usually (can I underline that usually?) find easy to display: love, joy, kindness, and faithfulness. The harder ones? Peace, patience, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Not that I’m ANTI any of those things. They’re just the ones I have to work on. Especially, right now, patience. Have you MET Tom Livingston? He’s adorable, but let me tell ya, he’ll try a girl’s patience and self-control! I know he’s got a lot on him, but seriously? To not call me for EIGHT MONTHS? Okay, now I’m having trouble with peace and gentleness, too. Grrr.

Eight months would try any girl’s patience! What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

I have two, actually, and they are SO not surprising for a girl. Esther and Ruth. Esther, because she didn’t question what God had in mind for her, she just obeyed. I want to be more like that. Ruth? I love Ruth because she was loyal, and submitted herself to both God and her mother-in-law. I’d love to have a mother-in-law like Naomi. If a certain sheriff’s deputy would get in line, I could have that. Don’t get me started!

What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

Acts. For one thing, I’m a very active person, and the book of Acts is the story of how the church started. Reading about Pentecost, and Paul’s conversion and missionary trips are fascinating to me. I guess I love it because it tells me that we’re not supposed to just sit around and wait for someone else to share the love of God and the free gift of salvation that Jesus made possible, but we’re to be out there, in our daily lives, showing and telling what He did for us! There are so many ways to do that!

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

After my dad died in an accident, and my best friend had moved away, I realized that home wasn’t a place, and that if I’m going to make major changes in my life, I need to seek God’s guidance. I need to be fully engaged in prayer and scripture, even when I’m a little angry with God. God is good, all the time, and guess what? He just wants me to do the next right thing and trust Him.

Just for fun:

Sunrise or sunset? When I’m visiting Sarah in Murrells Inlet, SC, I’m all about a sunrise. It’s gentle, and the colors are muted. The smell of sea and marsh are so alive, but in a comfortable way. I love it here.

Pie or Cake? Pie. Especially pecan. Maybe I could make that for an event coming up . . .

Tulip or Iris? Tulips are interesting because they are pretty exotic and don’t last long in the south, but I prefer Iris. They’re stately without being too fancy.

Chocolate or Vanilla? Ha! Did I just snort? Oh, sorry! Uh, Chocolate!! The darker the better, and if you want to pile chocolate on top of chocolate, that’s okay. When I get to pick sundae toppings, I’ll pick chocolate ice cream (or fro-yo, or custard), then top it with hot fudge sauce and Heath bits. Death by chocolate!

What three words would you use to describe Regina?

Loyal, Creative, and Unexpected.

Thank you to Lucy and Regina for agreeing to this interview. I’ve loved reading Lucy’s story in Carolina Mercy, and it was a pleasure getting to know her better through this interview. Keep reading to find out more about Carolina Mercy and author Regina Rudd Merrick.

Book Blurb:

She’s always gotten everything she’s wanted. He thinks he has to give up everything.

Her best friend’s wedding is foremost on Lucy Dixon’s radar. Her biggest concern is once again meeting Tom Livingston, who has ignored her since an idyllic date on the boardwalk of Myrtle Beach the previous summer.

At least, it is her biggest concern until tragedy strikes. Where is her loving, merciful God, now?

When Tom Livingston meets Lucy, the attraction is instant. Soon after, his mother is diagnosed with an untreatable illness and his personal life is pushed aside. His work with the sheriff’s department, his family – they are more important. He knows about the love of God, but circumstances make him feel as if God’s mercy is for everyone else, not him.

Can a wedding and a hurricane – blessing and tragedy – bring them together?

 Bio:

Regina Rudd Merrick is a writer, church musician, wife, mother, former librarian, and reggrateful follower of Jesus Christ. Having lived most of her life in Western Kentucky, she dreams of the sound of crashing waves and sandy beaches. Married to her husband of 35 years, she is the mother of two grown daughters, and the keeper of a 100-year-old house where she lives in the small town of Marion, KY. She is the author of three books: Carolina Dream (Apr. 2017), Carolina Mercy (July 2018), and coming in Feb. 2019, Carolina Grace in the Southern Breeze Series.

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.

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?

 

Love is a Verb

DC Talk rapped some very wise words when they told us “Luv is a verb.” So, their spelling may have intentionally left a little to be desired, but the message is clear. Love isn’t a feeling. Love isn’t something that just happens. Love is a choice, and love is an action. Love is something we are all called to exhibit in our daily lives. Active love changes lives.

No one knows this better than Anna Hartwell in Safe Refuge by Pamela S. Meyer. Growing up in a wealthy Chicago family in 1871, Anna has had opportunities others haven’t. She’s seen a lack of love in action in her family and the man she’s been promised to marry since birth. Her mother reaches out to those she considers less than herself only when it will promote her standing in society. Her sister is young, but often distracted by the trappings that come with a life of wealth and social standing. But Anna is different. Through her church and personal relationship with God, Anna has seen real love. Anna has had the opportunity to realize those her parents consider lower class and less worthy have simply not been as fortunate financially. Anna’s heart is soft to the needs of others, and she reaches across the lines to befriend and help those in need.

When tragedy strikes her family and all of Chicago in the form of the Chicago fire, the differences between her family’s version of love and real love becomes even more apparent. Anna experiences the results of love in action as her family flees their hometown for Lake Geneva and finds people willing to give of themselves to those affected by the fires, whether rich or poor. These examples strengthen Anna to keep giving of herself without reserve to the neediest of the refugees despite her own loss. And when her family’s whole world is turned upside down with devastating news, Anna learns what unconditional love really is. For Anna, love is what changes everything.

It’s a lesson we can all stand to take to heart. God is love, and His love is unconditional. His love prompted the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for people who had and would continue to reject Him and His ways. His love reached out to the unlovable. His love moved to change the lives of those the rest of the world would have considered unworthy. His love didn’t condone sin, but it also didn’t alienate the sinner in the desire to purge him of his sin. He loved the people to the truth, and that love changed hearts and lives.

The call to live lives of radical, active love is found in Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:40 which encourage us that whatever we do “To one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them” we did it to Jesus. There are countless verses about bearing with each other in love, carrying one another’s burdens, sharing each other’s joys, taking care of the widows and fatherless, and caring for all those in need. But Jesus gave us more than His words. He gave us His example. To the ten lepers, He gave healing even though only one would ever thank Him for the gift. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus gave mercy and encouragement to go and sin no more. To the woman at the well, He gave her the truth of her sin wrapped in the softening blanket of hope. To Peter, Jesus gave forgiveness and restoration. The 5,000 received enough food to fill their bellies so they could focus on the teachings that would fill their souls.

And for us? Jesus gave His live in exchange for ours to pay sin’s debt. He gave it before we ever loved Him, before we ever knew Him. He gave it without reservation. He gave it to us, the creation that is so much lower in standing than the Creator. He gave it without regret to people like us who, even after being forgiven, would continue to fail Him and forget Him more times than we will even admit to ourselves. He gave to show us that love is a verb.

By the Book: Study the life of Jesus. How does it teach us love? How are you showing others love in your daily life? How good are you at putting love into action unconditionally?