By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Tag: encouragement

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?

Real Character Monday

I need your help. Think about your favorite book characters. What makes them your favorites? Do they share a common trait, talent, or temperament? Do all your favorite characters herd sheep or make origami? Do they all come from the deep south or from the wilds of the Alaskan wilderness? Do you favor the blonde hair, blue eyes, and golden tan of the stereotypical surfer? Maybe you prefer auburn hair and green eyes?

If you’re like me, your favorite characters are probably not chosen because of any of the criteria above. Instead, you choose your favorite characters based on, well, their character. Maybe you choose your favorites because they are shining examples of what a believer should be. They have unshakeable faith in the midst of challenging circumstances. They choose the right path, even when tempted toward the wrong one. They are champions of the faith, and you can’t help applauding their ability to live God’s way on every page.

Maybe these are the characters you are drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I am not. I actually find them a little discouraging. We all know those believers in real life who seem to have it all together. In our heads we know they have to mess up sometimes, but we never see it. Everything they say and do is the perfect extension of their faith. I’m happy for them. Really I am. I’m glad they have it all together. But that’s not my life.

I mess up all the time. I’m not proud of it. I don’t want it to be that way, but I don’t have it all together. Being around the people who do or who present the public picture of perfection only serves to highlight how far I am from where I should be. Why can’t I seem to get it together like they have? I love God. I have faith. I want to be the person He wants me to be. So, what’s the problem? It can be discouraging in real life, and I’m not drawn to it in the characters I love either.

I want to read about characters I relate to. I want to be encouraged through reading about God using someone who gets as much wrong as they get right. I want to see God using the willing person, even if the willing person is sometimes guilty of rushing ahead of God or being hesitant to move at all. I want to see God redeem a sinful past or present when the character has repented of their sin. I want to see God working in the life of a character who sometimes struggles with their faith when the going gets tough. I can relate to these people, and I find it encouraging. Their faults seal them in my reader’s heart.

But don’t I want to read about people who exemplify the same wholesomeness and holiness as the heroes of faith from scripture? Yes, I do. That’s why I’m drawn to the flawed character. I love the one who struggles with too much ego and impulsiveness only to be tempered through trials like Peter. My heart aches for the one who has to deal with painful, guilt inducing consequences of previous sin and still keep moving forward in their faith like Paul. And as mad as his actions make me, I can’t help finding encouragement in the fact that a man who would sleep with another man’s wife, connive to cover up his sin, and then arrange to have her husband killed when he’s too honorable to comply is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart. David became one of the most adored kings of Israel, even though he acted despicably during the whole Bathsheba incident. And looking past their failures, you can find why he and the others are heroes of the faith despite their imperfections.

When Nathan confronted David with his sin, David was heartbroken. Psalm 51 describes the depth of pain he felt over his sin and how intense his desire was to be purged of that sin and reconciled with God. When Peter’s eyes were opened to the way he betrayed Jesus in denying Him, Peter was distraught. He wept over his sin. He longed to be restored. Paul didn’t hide from his past sins. In fact, he claimed them as an example to others. He listed his spiritual pedigree that should have set him apart as holier than thou, but reminded his readers that those things were not of God at all. They were against God and worthless in respect to the real relationship with God that he came to have.

These are the reasons such broken failures are faithful heroes. Their desires for godliness were strong even when their flesh was weak. These heroes didn’t have it all together, but they had faith. They had repentant hearts, and they desired to move past their failures and let God use them. God honored that desire in their lives. And since He is the same God today that He was then, I find encouragement in their stories knowing He will do the same in my life. That’s the kind of character I love, and that’s the kind of character I want to be.

By the Book: Which true stories of the faith do you find most encouraging? If someone wrote a book about your life, what kind of character would you be?

Nature Speaks

For my husband, I believe it was the first time he saw the ocean. Our family went to South Carolina on a rare family vacation, and I can remember his face the first time we went to the beach. Being from southern Illinois, he hadn’t known what to expect. The beauty of the beach, the size of the ocean, and the sound of the waves were beyond what he’d imagined.

After listening to her describe them, I believe it would have to be the Rocky Mountains for my mom. When I tell her I don’t understand her fascination with them, she tells me it is only because I have never seen them. She may have a point, but I’m not wavering in my choice.

If I were to choose that one place that caught me unprepared for what I was going to see, it would be the Smoky Mountains. I know it isn’t the rugged grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, but there is a beauty that cannot be denied in the Smoky Mountains. We passed through them on the way to Charleston, South Carolina for that family vacation to the beach. We have hills, trees, and cliffs in southern Illinois. They’re beautiful, and I love them. But seeing the Smoky Mountains rise up in front of me, covered in vibrant greens took my breath away. I’ve gone back through the area a couple times since then, and it still amazes me. One day, I intend to visit in the fall. I love fall. And I feel at peace even imagining myself wrapped up in a blanket on the front porch of one of the cabins nestled high in the mountains, drinking hot cocoa and looking out over a riot of colors for inspiration as I write. I can’t imagine anything better.

That feeling of contentment and awe was instantaneous for Sarah Crawford as she set eyes on the beaches of South Carolina in Regina Rudd Merrick’s novel, Carolina Dream. Being one to call Kentucky home, she first experienced that feeling on a family vacation. Returning years later to get more information about an unexpected inheritance, those feelings only intensified. As she spent her days walking the beaches and enjoying nature in the area surrounding the southern mansion her family inherited, Sarah was amazed time and again by the beauty she saw and the contentment she felt.

Even in the midst of difficult decisions about how the family should proceed with the inheritance of the mansion and a portion of a real estate business, Sarah could find peace in her surroundings as she met with the One who created the landscape she enjoyed. As partnership grows to friendship and friendship teases the possibility of a more personal relationship with the real estate firm’s other partner, Jared Benton, time spent together on the beach and mansion grounds helps draw them together. No matter what is going on or what questions Sarah wrestles with, God uses the serenity of His creation to encourage her to not only seek Him but to also listen to what He wants her to hear.

It doesn’t matter where we are, God can use His creation to bring us closer to Him. I don’t have to be in the Smoky Mountains to feel His presence, though I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to experience that feeling of complete amazement at what He’s created. Right here, in southern Illinois, even in my own backyard, I can enjoy the presence of God and get to know Him better through His creation. There is a single tree, apart from the woods behind our home, that brings out that feeling of peace and contentment in me every time I pull up in my driveway or look out my kitchen window. I’m not sure why that tree is so special. Nothing happened there. It’s just a regular walnut tree, but I can’t deny there is something about it that speaks to me.

God’s creation was meant for that. Job 12:7-10 tells us nature knows exactly who its creator is. And we think we’re the smart ones! There are several scriptures about nature praising God. I think it’s this unheard song of praise that we respond to whether we realize it or not. One of my favorite nature scriptures is from Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” When we look at the world around us, we see the kind of God we serve. We get to know Him better. We see more of what He values. We can stand in amazement at His awesome creativity, provision, and power.

Knowing the One who created everything our world, it’s no wonder we often stand in awe as we drink in the natural world around us. It’s not surprising that we feel contentment and peace. And when we take the time to acknowledge His hand in each of these amazing scenes of beauty, we will also begin to feel His presence right where we are.

By the Book: Where have you found yourself in awe of God’s creation? Thank Him for those experiences, but don’t limit yourself to times when you can travel to new places. Take time to get to know God through His creation in the place where you live.

Together in the Journey

In less than a month, I’m going to the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference. I’ve been to other conferences, but this will be my first one as a published author. In some ways, it feels different. But if previous conferences have taught me anything, it doesn’t change as much as you might expect.

I remember my first conference. I had passion for writing and a manuscript ready to go. What I didn’t have was a published book. I struggled with feeling like I might not belong. Could I stand up and say, “I’m a writer”? Whether they had books or articles in their writing resumes, other attendees were published. Would I feel unworthy of being there with them?

I didn’t need to worry. From the first session of the first day, the speakers made it clear we were all there because, published or not, we were writers. In fact, the main speaker made us own it out loud. And it wasn’t just the speakers. Other attendees were friendly and open, sharing their experiences and encouragement. They didn’t parade their publishing successes in front of the newbies. They never hinted at being real writers while the rest of us were wannabees. They accepted all the new comers into the fold. We were all writers. Some were just a little further along in the journey than others. That acceptance meant a lot to me.

I know I’m not at the end of my writing journey. I’ve just taken another step forward. As next month’s conference nears, I look forward to continuing to learn from those further along the writing path. I’m eager to find encouragement in speaking with those who have more than one credit to their name. And maybe, I will have the opportunity to make others feel as welcome as I was at my first conferences. Maybe I’ll get to be the one to help them own the fact that, published or not, they are writers.

These lessons that mean so much to me in my writing ministry mean even more in my spiritual life. Hebrews 10 impresses on believers the need to gather together in order to encourage each other and grow in our faith walks. Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians all speak about each believer being gifted to grow and encourage other believers and to work together to reach out to those who aren’t in relationship with God. The book of Acts tells multiple stories of believers coming together with one purpose and God accomplishing great things through their unity and willingness to work together. The message is that we are meant to work together under the single banner of faith in Jesus. Like the conferences I’ve attended, our churches are filled with a variety of people at different stages of the journey. Each of them is in a different place. Some have been living lives of faith for a long time. They’ve experienced things the rest of us are only starting to discover. Others are just starting out. They don’t know much more than the basics that sin separates us from God, Jesus died to take our sin’s punishment, and believing this is the way to find forgiveness and begin a relationship with God. Some don’t even know where to start.

And just like I was at the first conference I attended, there will be people in our churches who doubt they belong. They will look at the spiritual superstars and feel like they simply don’t measure up. They will fear others seeing them as less Christian and less worthy of being there. Some may even let that fear or a misguided word keep them from being part of the group of believers.

Let’s protect what God has given us. None of us is “there” yet. We need to keep the correct perspective. There are others further along the journey we can learn from. There are others just starting out that can find acceptance, encouragement, and greater understanding from us.

Being accepted into the writing world solely on the basis of having a passion to write meant a lot to me. It gave me the confidence I needed to keep trying, even when I failed. Acceptance by other believers in our spiritual lives, based on faith in Jesus instead of how proficient we are at living the way we should, can be even more powerful. It can give us the confidence and tools to keep living out our faith. And when we fail, it can give us the strength we need to start again.

By the Book: Thank someone who helped you in your walk of faith. Give God praise for putting that person in your life. Ask God to show you how to encourage someone else in their walk.

© 2019 By the Book

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑