Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: growing faith

Right Stuff Wednesday:New Growth

grape hyacinth“No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.” The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis

I have a flower garden in my front yard. Well, technically it’s true. I have a spot dedicated to growing flowers, but my roses are dead. The trees growing in them saw to that. And I’m pretty sure my hydrangea has decided against life this year. I knew better than getting plants that need constant care and attention. I’ve never been good at remembering to feed, water, and prune my flowers. Due to lack of care-taking most things I plant end up dead.

In fact, the only thing even close to growing in my garden is a sprinkling of grape hyacinth. Even these grow outside the borders of the garden. And they come up each year through no help from me. They are remnants of a garden past.

Before the rose bushes and hydrangea I had the brilliant idea of planting a bulb garden. I love tulips, iris,and daffodils. Not only are these beautiful flowers to look at, they are also flowers you can plant once and not have to replace each year. For a non-gardener it was a definite bonus.

I planted my garden and waited until the next spring, eager for the bright spots of color. Nothing happened. My mother assured me it can take a couple years for bulbs to really take root and grow. The next year brought only a couple flowers. The third year offered no more than the previous two.

It was around year four I decided bulbs were just not meant to grow in my garden. I dug them up with a vengeance. I pulled each bulb from the dirt and tossed it into my yard. Then, I planted my roses and hydrangea. Good riddance to the bulb garden that wouldn’t grow.

Imagine my surprise when the next year, my bulbs began to come up. A few rogue bulbs must have hidden beyond my spade in the garden’s soil. Grape hyacinth and crocus peeked from the dirt in early spring. And outside the garden’s borders? I didn’t think I had planted that many flowers! It baffled me.

In the years the bulbs were planted in the garden, I weeded and watered the spot. I made sure the area had adequate sunshine. I thought it was everything my bulbs needed, but I was wrong. The soil had settled. Left on its own the ground I expected to grow my bulbs became their tomb. Little could get through the packed dirt. My bulbs needed the soil surrounding them shaken up. Only when I loosened the dirt did my bulbs finally begin to grow.

Sacrifice, change, adversity. These are events in our lives that often cause fear and anxiety. The unknown (or the known we perceive as negative) seems far beyond our control and the idea that the end could mean unavoidable disaster is unsettling to say the least. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The circumstances in our lives may very well cause pain. They shake loose the dirt around the carefully constructed garden of our lives. They leave us wondering if it would be better to simply start over. But God is a master gardener. He can use those times in our lives to get to the seed of faith within and get it to grow in ways we never imagined.

God promises to use all situations in our lives to bring good if we will let Him do His work. It may sound cliche because we hear it so often, but this scriptural promise is truth. It’s not saying God will make the rain disappear and allow only rainbows and sunshine. The rain is needed as much as the sun. And God knows how much of each will create the perfect blossom in our lives.

If you wonder how this can be true, take a look at David. Hunted at times by the current king and later his own flesh and blood, there were definite storms in his life. But in those times, God was shaping David into the leader He wanted. David’s heart of worship was poured out in the creation of several psalms during these times. Not only did these words bring peace and hope to his life, but they’ve survived centuries to bring the same to our lives.

Look at Esther. She was plucked from her people and subjected to a beauty contest. The prize was marrying a difficult king she didn’t love. Though she found favor with him, her people were threatened with genocide. She had to go against the required royal protocol and put her own life in jeopardy in order to bring her fears to her husband’s attention. The end result? God used Esther to safeguard the nation of Israel. He used her to unite the people in prayer. He used her to show His chosen people He would be with them wherever they went.

These stories are only a couple of the many from the Bible and our lives that bring to life the truth of the scripture we hear so often. They give us hope when life gets tough. They remind us that this is how our garden of faith grows.

Write Stuff Wednesday: What I Need

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” –Virginia Woolf

An author friend of mine used this quote on Facebook this week as she shared about her new space dedicated to her writing. It caught my attention, and so I did what any good author does. I borrowed her quote for my blog post.

On a side note, Linda Fulkerson has four fun and creativity inspiring adult coloring books for writers available on Amazon. If you enjoy coloring, quotes, coffee, or a combination of the three you’ll enjoy her books. I have one myself and have pulled quotes from it for Write Stuff Wednesday more than once.

Anyway, back to the quote at hand. I think it resonated with me because of my own writing journey. Starting out I wrote in my room, lounging on my bed. With a house full of kids, it was the only place I could call mine. Even sequestered in my personal space, the noise of television, music, game systems, and arguing children chose to disregard my very real walls of separation. This was initially the reason I started writing to music, a practice I continue to this day.

As my family grew up and my children started working, I moved from my room to the living room couch. I had to contend with my kids’ frequent trips to the kitchen for snacks or into the utility room to do their laundry. Trying my best to block out everything that was not writing I plugged in my headphones and kept my eyes fixed on the computer screen as much as possible.

My bedroom and living room writing arrangements were less than ideal. I did the best with what I had available because I had to write. In September, things changed. My oldest son married and moved out leaving his bedroom empty. Tonight I write this post from my office. It houses everything I need to write in peace and comfort. The simple act of having my own space has increased my productivity and given me greater opportunity to keep my writing business organized.

My office makes up the corner in an L-shaped trio of rooms. The other two belong to my two remaining sons. If you have teenagers, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that I still have to deal with noise, but that’s okay. The difference is amazing.

My biggest struggle in writing has changed along with the changes in my family. Now, instead of a room of my own, I deal with lack of funds. Teenagers are expensive. I have no choice but to work a full-time non-writing related job to help pay the bills. There are nights when I come home too tired to write. There are nights when no matter what I do I can’t make enough time to write on my work in progress, blog, market, and continue to learn about the business of writing. If only I had the funds to stay home and write full-time. How much more could I accomplish? How much faster would projects be completed?

It’s frustrating and discouraging. But still, I keep going. It may not be the way I pictured it, but I’m getting to do something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl. I’m getting to carry out the purpose I’ve always felt God had for me. And if what I do encourages or challenges one person in their faith, then it’s worth all the difficulties.

The decision to keep on despite the hurdles is one that I find I have to carry into my faith walk too. I want to be able to spend my time in ministry and not just my writing ministry. There is so much I’d like to do, but I have to weigh each thing carefully due to a lack of time. But the issue is more than a simple shortage of time. It’s about my expectations versus God’s reality.

I want to be stronger in my faith. Spiritual growth is important to me. An increased and deepened prayer life appeals to me. I know how I’d like those things to happen. I’d like to be able to spend more time in detailed study of God’s word and enjoy closeness with Him that naturally springs for my time with Him. It happens that way sometimes, but it’s not been my experience the majority of the time.

My faith has grown and my prayers have deepened more often through the devastations of life. I’ve felt closest to Him when I’ve had no choice left but to lean on Him completely. I’ve learned first-hand the truth in “counting it all joy” and considering “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Though I never sought to go through hard times, I’ve seen God do pretty amazing things in my life because of them. I just had to keep on despite the frustrations and disappointments.

Whether in faith or in writing, it’s important to remember reality may be different than the dream. It’s not a reason to give up when frustration sets in. We choose to keep going because what we’re doing means more to us than what we’re going through. One day maybe we’ll have the room of our own and the money to go with it. Until then, keep putting pen to paper and faith into action.

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

Faith for the Fire

fire-2915539_960_720“Amazing how fire exposes our priorities.” –Sherlock in BBC’s Sherlock.

Wait. This bog is about books and faith. What in the world am I doing quoting a television show, especially one that, at times, dances across the line into trivializing faith? The quote is good. Think about it. REALLY, think about it. How many of us have staunchly stood up and promised we’d remain loyal to our faith even in the face of danger or death? But would we?

We’ve heard stories of believers asked to renounce their faith or die. In the ones we hear, the believer holds firmly to faith. It’s inspiring. I hope that if push ever came to shove, I would be as bold. That I could be like the three boys who were thrown into the fire because they refused to kneel to a golden image or Daniel who kept praying even though he faced the lion’s den.

But then I stumble in the smaller things, and it leaves me wondering, not about my faith exactly but about what I’m holding onto. I’ve recently started listening to “Home” by Chris Tomlin. It’s an upbeat song about how the troubles in life open you up to the realization that we are not made for the world as it is. We were made for God’s perfect creation that will one day be restored. We were made for heaven, a place where we can be fully in God’s presence. It speaks of wanting to go home. I sing along and look forward to that time. Well, I did until a fire showed me where I fail.

The other day, I found a lump that as a woman over forty, I knew I had to have checked out. My head told me it was nothing. It was sudden and painful, two factors that are actually considered good. Most of the time, I handled the wait for my mammogram well. But at times the worst case scenario entered my mind. Family history and the memory of my aunt’s battle with cancer would sneak their way into my thoughts. I believe my God can heal anything, but it doesn’t mean He chooses to do so every time. Cancer takes the lives of believers every day, ones with undeniable faith in God.

How did I handle the uncertain times? I decided to simply spend time in worship. No matter what, God is ultimately in control. Even the difficult times can bring us closer to Him and shape us into someone who lives and loves more like Jesus. I turned on the music and started to sing along. Home started playing. At first I was fine. Then we reached the chorus, “Oh I want to go home.” I couldn’t sing it. The only thought that ran through my head was, “But I don’t want to go now.” The relatively small fire of uncertainty over my health showed me how much I still hold on to the temporary. In my heart I know God holds my kids in His hands. I know that He loves them more than I do. But I want to see with my own eyes how they grow. I’ve given them to God, but do I struggle to keep from taking them back?

As uncomfortable and downright painful as life can be, it’s known. There’s something to be said for accepting what is known over the unknown no matter how good it’s supposed to be. We haven’t experienced it yet. Though our hearts and faith tells us it’s going to be beyond our wildest imaginations, it’s still the unknown. We struggle, I struggle, and it took one short-lived fire to show me the truth.

It’s much the same way with Cara Westling in Plummet by Brandilyn Collins. Cara has escaped an abusive situation with her daughter and started a new life in Idaho. When she immediately lands a job, she’s grateful. Though she struggles with self-esteem after what she’s been through, her faith is intact. She knows God is right there with them, helping them move to a better place in life. He’s going to see them through.

Then the fire starts. One week into her job, her boss murders a woman practically in front of her. She balks at his insistence that she help get rid of the body. When he asks her what her daughter will do without her after she’s convicted of murder, she sees it as the threat that it is. She is the new nobody in town. He’s a powerful, respected man in the community. Cara feels she has no choice. She helps him. The flame becomes a blaze as one choice leads to another down a path she can’t seem to escape.

I got the impression that if it had been Cara and no one else, she would have claimed God would help her through whatever came. She would have said no to her boss. It was when her daughter was thrown into the mix that Cara struggled. Suddenly the faith she claimed didn’t seem strong enough to stand under what would come. It was trial by fire, and Cara found her guilt growing with each new demand from her boss.

Of course, looking at trials by fire from another direction, both for Cara and ourselves, we see God uses them to grow our faith. When we finally make the godly choices we should have made in the beginning, our faith gets stronger. It’s easier to keep making the right choices in the future. That gives me hope. Maybe one day, mine will be strong enough that nothing will keep me from being able to sing, “Oh I want to go home.”

By the Book: What priorities would a fire in your life expose?

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