Crooked Calendars in 2019

calendarChristmas gifts added several things to my writing space this year. I got a new lap desk to use with my lap top, almost a necessity since I refuse to write at an actual desk. Although it arrived a few days after Christmas, I received the latest edition of The Christian Writers Market Guide. And even though it couldn’t be wrapped up in a shiny box under the tree, I was also given membership in ACFW. Now, if I can just find time to use the site to its fullest potential, it will help me in my writing journey.

I asked for all of these things because I believe they will be beneficial to me as an author. But there is one gift, or maybe four depending on how you look at it, that has already started helping me in more ways than I originally hoped it would. I spent part of the day after Christmas hanging four dry-erase wall calendars on my office wall behind my writing chair. Four? Yes, four. If I wanted to track that many months at a time, why didn’t I simply get a planner? I’m horrible with using planners. I start off with great intentions, but I fail before I’m out of January. Dry erase boards are different.

These four calendars help me track a quarter of the year at a time. And I put them up for a specific purpose. One of my goals for 2019 is to improve in my marketing ability. With a full-time non-writing job, it’s hard to keep on top of things. With purple representing people scheduled to be guests on my blog and orange showing times I’m scheduled to appear on other people’s blogs, a quick look at my calendars can give me all the information I need to determine where I need to step up my game and where I’m doing alright.

I also don’t have to find my calendar every time I want to record something. I grab a marker out of the marker basket hanging on the wall and fill in as much or as little detail as I want. A planner is always a bit inconvenient. You have to carry it with you at all times or go find it every time you need it. I don’t have time for that. Besides, I’m notorious for losing things. I can’t count the number of times in a week I have to grab my spare keys because my main set is not where I thought I left it.

I asked for these four calendar boards for these reasons, but they’ve also proved useful in an unexpected way. If you actually look at the boards hanging on the wall, you can see the boards on the right are about ¼ of an inch away from being level. I purposely hung the bottom right one that way so it matched the top right one. I figured it would bother me less that way! But originally, all four boards were meant to be straight and level. I measured each one with a tape measure and pencil. I even measured multiple times before drilling the holes I needed in the wall. My first attempt left me feeling pretty good about my abilities. I placed the calendar on the hooks, and it lined up perfectly. The second one deflated my ego a bit as I realized I’d miscalculated somewhere. Maybe I stepped on the end of the tape measure with more pressure and forced it further into the carpet? I don’t know. But it’s a little off.

Why didn’t I use a laser level to project a beautifully, perfectly straight line on my wall to mark my drilling spots? It makes sense. It would have been nice. My calendars would all be straight. There was just one problem. I don’t own a level. The tool I needed to do my job efficiently and completely successfully was missing from my tool box. The result is a functional wall of calendars that would drive some people crazy due to ¼ of an inch.

When I look at my calendar, I’m reminded how important the proper tools can be. In writing this doesn’t mean I can’t write without the physical tools like my wall calendars or my lap desk. These are frills that make things easier, but they aren’t the tools that will improve me as an author. Taking time to learn from and network with other authors who are farther into their writing journey can help tremendously. Reading books on the craft of writing and the marketing side of writing will help equip me to be more proficient and efficient in what I do. Taking part in local writing groups, interacting on ACFW boards, and attending conferences are all tools authors have available to do their job and do it well.

As we come into a new year, I want to become better about using the tools I have as a writer. But more important than that, I want to apply the lesson to my faith walk. I’ve been given all the tools I need to live a life of faith that will add up to hearing “well done good and faithful servant” when my time on earth is done. There are churches on every corner, apps let us take the Bible with us everywhere, devotions and Christian living books are easily found on every topic, Christian radio can fill our cars and homes with praise, and guided journals provide easy ways to track our ups and downs. But all of these are just the extras. They aren’t the tools we have to have. They are the tools we use to make the journey a more pleasant experience. They help us, but just like my tape measure and pencil were not the perfect tools for hanging my calendars, these tools alone are not the perfect tools for growing my faith. When Jesus went back to heaven, He promised help in the form of the Holy Spirit to live in the heart of each believer. The Holy Spirit teaches and corrects us. I need to commit to listening to His quiet voice with more consistency. God gave us prayer as the way to communicate directly with Him.  It’s a powerful tool that too often gets relegated to the equivalent of rubbing a genie’s lamp and making a wish. I need to be vigilant to fashion my prayers and my reasons for them after the examples given in scripture. And that’s the final tool I need in my toolbox of faith, God’s word. Without scripture we can’t get the full picture of who God is. Scripture is able to cut to the heart of the matter and show us where our motivations fall short of our loving God. It is God’s word to us about how to live like Jesus lived. It gives us encouragement, strength, comfort, and correction. It doesn’t stop at leading us to salvation. It provides the instruction we need to live a life of faith and walk in close communion with God.

Have I been using these tools the way God intended when He gifted them to me? Do I study His word, listen to the Holy Spirit, and pray with the motives of His will being done? I have all the right tools. I need to use them. What about you?

By the Book: Read the following scriptures referenced in this devotion. Matthew 25:14-23, Luke 22:41-42, John 15:26, Acts 1:8, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16

Write Stuff Wednesday: Writer’s Toolbox

tool-box-2124616_1280My son recently moved out. I now have an office to write in. It’s a room set up exactly like I want it. My office may be different than one you would design. I have a comfy chair and ottoman. You might prefer a desk. My chair faces the window. You might find that too distracting. I have three jars filled with various candies (one is chocolate, one is caramels, one is fruit flavored) to snack on when the urge strikes. You might prefer celery. (But really who would prefer celery?)

I have everything I need to write in my office. I have whiteboards to keep notes on. I officehave bookshelves full of the books I’ve read and my TBR pile. I’ve got a cork board with notes about potential reviewers pinned to it in a pleasing pattern of colored index cards. I even have a diffuser to fill the air with whatever scent I fancy that day.  I have everything I need to write productively.

But the smallest word in that sentence makes all the difference. I. My office is not set up for you. You might be completely uncomfortable in my office. You might stare out my window and fail to look back to the computer screen. You could fall asleep in my comfy chair. My office might not work for you, but it is amazing for me. It’s one of the best tools in my writer’s toolbox.

Some of my tools are meant for the writing part of being an author. I love the Write Track site. It encourages my competitive side and keeps me on target with my word counts. My tablet is great for researching information without coming away from what I’m writing on my laptop. I’m part of a writing group that encourages and critiques my writing. And I have shelves full of books dedicated to helping me become a stronger writer. I’ve found all of these tools helpful in my writing journey.

fallBut there are other tools I use too. I discovered the importance of these tools after receiving a contract for the publication of Faith’s Journey. These tools I’m less comfortable with, but my proficiency is quickly improving. These are the tools needed to market my book and grow my audience. My author page on Facebook helps me stay connected to readers and other writers. WordPress allows me to have my own web site and blog. Canva and Pixabay are amazing resources for designing publicity from social media advertisements to postcard invitations for book launch events. Social media sites I’d given little to know thought about before Faith’s Journey was published are now easily accessible from my phone.

I need all these tools and then some in my efforts to be a successful author. And I can’t just have them. I have to use them properly for each tool to be beneficial to me. It can be overwhelming. “I just wanted to write!” There are days that frustrated cry comes from my mouth. It’s usually after I spend an hour trying to develop the perfect advertisement or post only to have it not work out at all.  If I were more proficient with the programs I could accomplish my goals with ease. I’m not. But I’m not giving up either. I keep learning and as I do, each project becomes easier to create. I become more comfortable with the tools in my writer’s toolbox, and they enable me to do exactly what they were designed to help me do.

There’s a lesson here for living our faith too. We also have tools of the trade in our Christian lives. We have scripture, prayer, Bible study groups, small groups, church services, fasting, and fellowship. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Just as the tools in my writer’s toolbox can help me be the best author I can be, the tools of our faith help us be the people God would have us be. These tools can help bring us peace in our storms, encouragement for the days when nothing seems to go write, direction on what our next move should be, and correction when we stray from the path.

To grow as believers we need to find out what tools are available to us, and we need to learn how to use them. Some may feel more comfortable than others, but we keep learning and trying. Some tools may seem more useful for a time, but that doesn’t mean the others aren’t important. I can’t use my thesaurus to create a social media advertisement. That doesn’t mean my thesaurus is useless. It just means I need Canva for this project and my thesaurus for creating variation in my writing. Know which tool is best for which circumstance and don’t be afraid to use them.

Whether in writing or faith, we don’t have to rely on our meager abilities alone. To be the best we can be we need to learn and grow. We need to pick up the tools we’re given and use them to get the job done.

Write Stuff Wednesday:Work in Progress

journal-3398214_1280“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” – Robert Cormier

My son decided he wants to write a book. Yesterday he came home excited. “Look what I got for my book!” Out of a nondescript plastic shopping bag came a beautiful journal. Brown leather with a strap to hold it closed. Very classic. Very nice. Very costly. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit jealous. My husband says I have a journal problem. I say 25+ journals, and very few of them filled, is not a problem. And yes, I can always use more. But that’s a story for another time. The focus of this one is my son’s journal.

As I thought about his new journal and the story he wanted to create on its pages, I began to wonder if he would hesitate in the writing. Would he mistakenly believe that the words he put on the paper should be the perfect words? Would he allow room for error in that beautiful journal?

With encouragement in mind, I did what any good parent who loves to write would do. I wrote him a note. It was short and to the point, speaking of the writing process. It said not to be worried about having to get it “just right” before writing. It was okay to have words marked out. Those markings are not the ugly signs of failure.  Rather, at the end of his writing journey he will come to see them as beautiful because they show dedication and growth in his writing. They will show how much improved the final work is from the original. They are the mark of the work in progress, and they are part of what will enable the finished product to be as strong as it can be.

It’s important to remember the same thing can be said about each of us. Salvation begins the process of God setting us apart as His own. It renews our relationship with the Father and sets Him up as the Lord of our lives. But this is a process. Becoming like Christ is not a once and done kind of thing. We are a work in progress. We will make mistakes. We will sin. But that doesn’t mean the work God is doing is ruined. It doesn’t mean God can’t continue to use us and mold us into the people He would have us be.

When we fail and come to God with a heart that understands the wrong we’ve done and desires to turn away from that sin, God promises forgiveness. It doesn’t erase that sin from existence. There may even be consequences we have to face, but we can have assurance that God has forgiven.  It will not be counted against the final work in eternity.

Sometimes our failures have less to do with sin and more to do with misunderstanding. We seek God’s will and move forward, but there are times we may find ourselves off course of where God actually desired us to go. It doesn’t mean God’s going to throw out the work He’s writing with us. He’s going to nudge us back in the right direction. When we’re honestly seeking to do God’s will in our lives, we don’t have to worry about “what if I heard wrong”. We can’t mess up in such a big way that our Editor can’t fix the manuscript.

Philippians 1:6 promises believers that we can be “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” God isn’t done with us yet. We are a work in progress.  And just like the marked out sections of a written work in progress, one day we will be able to look back on the manuscript of our lives and see how God used the marked out sections to make us stronger, more faithful, and more like Him. That day, we will see the finished work, and it will be beautiful.

Write Stuff Wednesday 5

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“Wanting to be a writer and not wanting to be rejected is like wanting to be a boxer and not wanting to get punched.” – David Barr Kirtley

 

 

 

We’re sorry. It’s tough to get past those first few words of a rejection letter. Sometimes, that’s really all the letter includes. We’re sorry but we can’t use your submission at this time.

I understand the need for brevity and even form letters. Publishers and agents are swamped with submissions. A form letter is simply the easy way to go. The point is made, the deed is done, and the publisher or agent can move on to the next submission in their inbox.

On rare occasions the author is given more information. Maybe there’s an uplifting word about the writer’s style or voice or plot. These kind comments are prefaced with how sorry they are but they can’t use your submission at this time. They are followed with the reasons why. Maybe the style isn’t quite the right fit. Or maybe they just published another work similar in theme to yours. Whatever the reason, the good comments are meant to ease the author into the rejection, make it less jarring.

I can appreciate each style of rejection, but I do appreciate those that have taken the extra care to elaborate on the whys. Of course, whichever method is employed the result is the same. You’ve been rejected. Technically, your work has been rejected, but it doesn’t feel like that. Writing is a personal business. And no matter which way it comes, rejection hurts.

But we have a choice with each rejection. We can let it paralyze us in our writing, or we can learn from it and use it to improve our craft. This may be easier when we receive more than a form letter, but even then, it can be done. We can step back and look objectively at what we submitted. Is there something missing that we can develop? Did our manuscript need to spend more time with an editor before being submitted? Maybe it has nothing to do with the writing. Did we take the time to match up our work with the right publisher or agent? Are we lacking the platform they’re looking for that somehow makes us less of a gamble to publish?

Embracing the hard stuff is never easy, but it’s often the way to growth. It’s true in writing, and it’s true in our Christian lives. According to Romans 12:3, believers have all been given a certain measure of faith. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to accept God’s plan of salvation. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) Faith is also listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit. Other verses tell us that faith can grow. And we all want more faith, right?

Growing up in church, I’ve heard people express the desire for God to grow their faith. It’s an admirable desire, but I think that often they don’t understand what their asking. How does faith grow? Through having to be used. Why does it have to be used? Because something we don’t understand, don’t like, or can’t accomplish comes our way. 1 Peter 1 discusses how trials make our faith stronger. Romans 5:3-4 states, “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.” Hope and faith go hand in hand. Time and again scripture references trials to bring us more in line with who God would have us be.

Our nature is to fight against trials. We try to distance ourselves from hurt, disappointment, and failure. But that’s not the way to growing our faith. Peter had to look fear in the face and step out of the boat having faith that Jesus would allow him to walk on water. Sure, Peter looked away and started to sink. But what did he do? He cried out to Jesus. He returned his focus to the one who could save him, and Jesus did just that. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) Peter didn’t quite make it to the big leagues of faith that day, but he took the first step. He saw Jesus allowing him to do the impossible. And when he got distracted and started to let the trial interfere with his faith, Peter got to see Jesus step in and save him.

What a great experience for Peter to cling to in the future. Later when God would tell Peter to do something, don’t you think Peter thought back to that day? Don’t you think he remembered how he did the impossible and even when he failed Jesus was right there to lift him up? His faith grew that day. And that faith would strengthen him for what was to come. Peter chose to embrace the trial and let God grow his faith the second he stepped out of the safety of the boat and onto the stormy sea. Will you?

By the Book: When trials come do you choose to let them drag you down or do you cry out to God with a heart willing to accept the pain to grow your faith?

 

 

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.

Granny’s Way

Katherine Angeline Winterstein Robinson McGowan was my great-grandmother, and she was a force to be reckoned with when you came alongside her stubborn streak. Growing up, Granny told me stories and taught me to embroider and quilt. I was the favored one who could go through her souvenir handkerchief collection and her jewelry box whenever I wanted. But when it came to cleaning, even I ran into her iron will.

While cleaning her living room, Granny insisted I was vacuuming her floor incorrectly. What she wanted would take twice as long, serving no real purpose. I told her this, but it did me no good. Granny insisted her way was the only way. So, I did the only reasonable thing. I waited until Granny left the room and completed the task the way I had started it. Of course, Granny never found out I failed to complete my task her way.

Maybe we’re all a little like Granny sometimes. I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to write. As I experienced more writers, my desire to write grew. I wanted to do for others what my favorite authors did for me. As I matured in my relationship with God, I knew He wanted me to use whatever ability I had along with my passion for writing to minister to others. I can’t tell you exactly how I knew, but I knew.
You’d think there would be freedom and maybe joy in finding out what God has for you. Instead, I knew frustration. I couldn’t see why God would clearly show me the path I was to take but not let me live it out. Sure, God used my writing in my home town ministries. He used it when I taught Sunday school and summer camp classes. He used it when I wrote lessons for our youth group. God never stopped using my writing, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it or in the time frame I wanted it to be in. I was as set in my ideas as my Granny.

At times, I questioned. Had I misheard? Did God have something else for me to do? And if so, why would He have given me this overwhelming desire to minister through writing? In these times, I gave my dream back to Him. God was faithful to give it back with encouragement to keep going. He reaffirmed my path every time. I kept learning and growing, both as a writer and a believer.

What I thought would happen in my early twenties is finally coming to be in my early forties. In thirteen days my first novel, Faith’s Journey, releases. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see God moving this dream to fruition. But it’s more than that. God has given me an extra gift. He’s shown me why this didn’t happen before.

As do most twenty year olds, I had the world figured out. I had felt what I thought was the deepest depths of pain. I’d lost people I loved. I’d had disappointments. But in reality, I had only been refined in the flames of a candle, maybe a campfire, the kind you roast marshmallows on. Hot? Yes, but nothing compared to the heat and destruction of a raging wildfire. Child’s play when placed side by side with the fire needed to refine metals like iron.

It wasn’t until my late twenties and into my thirties that I experienced this type of refining. All my childhood lessons of faith became more necessary to life than I’d ever thought possible. They weren’t unimportant before that time, but after, I realized how much I took faith for granted. I needed God in a more tangible, undeniable way.

This new understanding grew my faith. It provided a deeper understanding of what it means to live by faith. My refining had nothing to do with my writing, and they didn’t have to change it. But as I dealt with these experiences in my life, I was shown something that has impacted my writing. Through other believers, I came to understand that I can hoard the things God has done in my life or I can share them. In sharing the pains, lessons, and joys, others can benefit as I have benefited from those who came before me.

I had a choice. God wouldn’t force the issue, but His desire was clear. Use what I experienced to minister to others. This doesn’t mean every circumstance I write is something that happened to me. Every character is not someone from my life. My novel is fiction. The people and situations are products of my imagination. But the lessons I have learned, the joys I’ve had, and pains I have known can find their way into the pages I write. The scriptural truths God has used to keep me going as I’m being refined can be a source of encouragement for others who are going through their own refining process.

This is why God’s path to my destination looked so different from mine. This is why it had to take time. The story was not ready. I was not ready. I may have known where He was leading, but I couldn’t see why the path to get there was so long. I thank Him for each painful fall and strength sapping climb that has brought me to where I am today. I pray that as I continue along this path, I will hold tight to the lesson I have learned. It’s not simply His will. It has to be His will, His way.

By the Book: Read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and consider what it means to say whole-heartedly “Your will be done”. Read the story of Abraham after God promised him a son. What happened when Abraham went after God’s will in his own way rather than God’s way?

Out of the Ordinary

Have you ever watched God work out the impossible in your life? I’m not talking about death defying miracles, though those count. I’m talking everyday situations God moves in to leave His mark on the events.

Recently, someone stole my checking account information. It’s horrible to realize someone stole your private information. It’s worse when they overdraw your account leaving returned check fees to pile up. But it’s awesome to know, God intervened.

It was the day after a holiday at work. Because I wasn’t feeling well and we weren’t busy, I was allowed to leave at noon.  On my way home, I stopped for orange juice to get some extra vitamin C. My debit card was declined. Confused, I checked my account. It was overdrawn, and returned checks were just waiting for two o’clock to earn hefty overdraft fees. I called my mom to see if I could borrow enough from her to cover the checks. I raced to her house, raced back to the bank, and deposited the money just in time. While I waited for the deposit slip, I checked my account details. Scrolling through charges, I saw a company my family has never used. I pulled to the front of the bank and went inside to speak with someone about the fraudulent charge. I spent the next several hours on the phone with half a dozen different people reporting the fraud and getting our accounts straightened out.

The reason I share this is because God intervened. When someone needed sent home, I didn’t have to be chosen. But I was. If I hadn’t had respiratory issues, I wouldn’t have stopped for juice. If my card hadn’t been declined, I wouldn’t have known about the overdrafts. Without my mom loaning me the money, I wouldn’t have been able to avoid extra charges. Without time as I waited for the deposit, I wouldn’t have immediately found the fraud and been able to go sinto the bank to fix it. And all of this happened at just the right time to allow me to fix it without missing work or having to put it off longer leaving my account vulnerable to further theft.

God worked every detail out in the best possible way. I’m thankful for that, and I give Him the credit for it.

In terms of the bigger picture, that is one of the small things He has done. There have been so many others in my life from smaller daily occurrences to more drastic life-changing times.

Sometimes, it’s all God. Other times it is God working through His people, but it’s still God. However, we shrug it off, attributing it to luck or karma. God intervenes, and then, life goes on like nothing has happened. Why?

Becky Hollister experiences something like this in Under This Same Sky by Cynthia Roemer, though her realization comes after devastation that threatens to keep her from seeing God’s intervention. After losing her family, Becky’s world is changed. Her carefree life on the prairie is interrupted with uncertainty and fear. At one point, she approaches the town, and her feelings are summed up beautifully. “At last, Miller Creek appeared in the distance, serene and peaceful, as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place.”

Becky’s experience left her changed. It left her life changed. Yet, everything around her went on as usual. The discrepancy was difficult to process, as it should be in those situations. She faced something horrible, and her faith in God was tested.

Should things like that go unnoticed? Whether it’s devastation like she faced or seeing God at work like I did, shouldn’t it make a difference in the world around us?

Too often, we’re guilty of being the town. We experience God moving in our lives working things out, but we go on living  “as though nothing out of the ordinary” has happened. Throughout scripture God’s people celebrated and remembered God’s hand at work in their lives. They set up twelve stones after crossing the river as a testimony to what God had done. They celebrated the Passover each year to remember their deliverance. David wrote Psalms of praise honoring God for His interventions. Time and again, the people remembered and celebrated God’s work in their lives.

What happened when they failed to remember? Abraham and Jacob took matters into their own hands and wreaked havoc in their families. The ones God delivered from Egypt lost their chance to enter the Promised Land. The nation of Israel was taken captive by other nations again and again.  They forgot the God they were supposed to be serving.

It happens to us too. When God touches our lives and we don’t take the time to praise or remember, we begin to forget Him. We begin to think we accomplish it all on our own. We don’t think we need Him as much, and our witness suffers. In Matthew, Jesus says to let our light shine so others see our good works and glorify God. In John, every time the people saw a sign, it says they believed because of it. All throughout the New Testament, we are called to glorify and praise God because of what He has done and is doing in us. The reason is two-fold.

Remembering strengthens our faith. It helps us see Him when the devastating things happen. It also shows God to those around us. It’s time we start letting others know when “out of the ordinary” things, when God things happen in our lives.

By the Book: Consider all God has done for you, even in the messes. Praise Him and share that praise below in the comments. What He has done for you may be an encouragement for someone else today.

Beginning to End: The Journey

It never occurred to me that people don’t know how books get from an author’s mind to the bookstore. It sounds simple. Step one: Write a book. Step two: Get it published. Step three: Begin the sequel. If only it were that easy.

Even the writing is an exercise in patience and dedication. It starts with an idea. Maybe it’s a scripture, a place that draws a story out of you, or a situation that makes you wonder what comes next. Whatever the inspiration, it is the beginning of the journey. Some authors go from this point into a highly organized method of mapping out characters, settings, and plot lines before they begin typing the story. That’s not how I work. I don’t plan. I just sit down and write.

Whichever method is employed, there’s a lot of work in writing a book.  Authors have to move the plot along realistically, keep characters acting and reacting within their personalities and motivations, and create believable dialog and situations for the characters. Sometimes, an author gets stuck. The struggle to find the best words and actions to move the story in the desired direction can be frustrating. With perseverance, hopefully, the author finishes the story. Time to move on and start the sequel, right? Wrong.

Now remembering research lessons from school becomes important. Grabbing a computer with a good internet connection and the newest copy of the most suitable market guide, the author spends hours researching publishing houses and agents. When the most promising ones are found, the author researches the specifications for sending their manuscript to each one. Some want a query letter giving a brief synopsis of the story. Some want sample chapters. A few want the complete manuscript. They all want what they want, delivered in very particular ways down to length of submission and font size.

Once a publisher is found (either directly or after securing an agent), there are contracts to read and sign, rounds of edits to complete, the cover design process, and marketing plans to develop for the finished book. Even these steps contain multiple parts. It’s a long process from the idea to the shelf at your local book store. But the finished project makes the journey worth it.

That’s how it is with a lot of things in life. It’s a journey to get to the desired outcome. It’s good to remember this when we consider our spiritual lives. It seems a lot of people believe once they’ve accepted Jesus’ death and resurrection as the payment for their debt of sin, that’s all there is to it. Their sins are forgiven, and they can go about life as usual. But that isn’t what God calls us to.

Yes, God wants our relationship with Him restored through Jesus’ sacrifice. He loves us enough to offer us a way out of an eternity separated from Him. But the key word is relationship. God doesn’t just call us to be saved. He calls us into relationship. He calls us to be and make disciples. He calls us to live the way Jesus lived and to serve others as we “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).  He calls us to love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbors as ourselves. He calls us to be different, to be sanctified.

Sanctification is being set apart for a particular use or purpose, to be made holy. It is something God has done and is doing in those who follow Him. It is what He wants for us, and like many life-changing things, sanctification is a process that should continue throughout our lives.

When we accept God’s gift of salvation, it’s immediate. Scripture says we are a new creation and the old has passed away, but we don’t often live that way. Sometimes, we don’t even know what it means to be a new creation. The Spirit lives in us, guiding and empowering us, and living like Jesus is impossible without the Spirit’s help. As we spend time in God’s word, the Spirit teaches us more about what it means to be set apart for God’s purpose. Even with the Spirit strengthening us, the pull of our old ways of living can be strong. It takes time, effort, and God to help get us to the desired outcome. The process of learning to be who God made us to be is not easy, but don’t give up. The finished product makes it worth it.

By the Book: When did you last take the time to ask God what He wants for your life? Read Philippians 2, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, and Matthew 22:34-40. Ask God to show you how to become the person He made you to be.

Life Designed

Faiths JourneyFrom the first word to the last period, authors pour creative energy, time, and mental ability into each scene. They know their characters intimately, making relinquishing their work to an editor difficult. Beloved scenes could be drastically changed. Even waiting for cover designs can be brutal.

Creating characters and places from nothing, writers can tell you the backstory of each character even if it doesn’t end up in the book. They know what events shaped their characters’ behaviors. They have detailed physical images for each one in their minds. The writer knows every hair, freckle, and physical habit of their characters. Turning them over to the cover designer can bring on a case of nerves.

Will the designer understand the feeling of the story? Was the character described well enough to create the correct mental picture in the designer’s mind? Will the designer be able to create an image that draws prospective readers to pick the book up off the shelf?

A well-designed, interesting cover has drawn me to a book. Other covers have left me void of any interest in the book. So, when it was time to hand over Faith’s Journey to the cover designer, my excitement over growing closer to seeing my book in print was tempered by questions over whether or not the design would fit my expectations.

I shouldn’t have worried. The finished cover complemented the look and feel of the story and also the main character, Katie, better than I hoped. The background photo looks like it could have been taken in Katie’s back yard. The color scheme is perfect. Katie’s personality was captured in a single shot. My expectations and reality were perfectly balanced.

This isn’t always the case in publishing or in life. We have ideas of what our lives should look like and where the future will take us. We dream of perfect marriages and fulfilling careers. If life works the way we imagined, we live in peace. But that doesn’t happen often. Instead, we lose that promotion or marriage isn’t the fairy tale we hoped for. Maybe the parent we thought would always be there dies too soon. Or little ones we hoped would fill the rooms of our dream house with laughter are never born.

Whatever the disappointment, our dreams are washed away and replaced with a picture we didn’t expect. The colors are wrong, and our warm romance feels more like a cold psychological thriller. The temptation is to lash out at the One who let our dreams shatter, blame God for our hurts and disappointments. We tend to join Job’s wife in complaining against our circumstances rather than saying, with Job, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

Scripture is clear that because of sin’s effects in our world, even believers will face trials and troubles. But if we let Him work, God promises that He will work for our good in every circumstance. Consider Joseph. I doubt he dreamed of being attacked and sold as a slave by his family. And just when things started looking up, he gets wrongly accused of rape and thrown into prison.

Joseph could have harbored resentment toward God. The favored son never expected his life to turn out this way. But he didn’t. Instead, Joseph continued to serve God. He continued to use his God-given gift to help others, and God painted Joseph a new picture. At the right time, God worked out Joseph’s release from prison and placed him in favor with the pharaoh. Promoted to a place of importance in Egypt, Joseph was in the position to extend forgiveness to his family and save God’s people from drought.

It was a different picture than Joseph imagined for himself, but God’s picture was a more incredible work of art than Joseph could have accomplished on his own. It may be hard to see when we’re looking at the ruined remains of our dreams, but if we wait patiently, faithfully, one day we will see God has taken that canvas of our lives and created the perfect picture. We only have to trust the designer.

By the Book: Read the story of Joseph. Choose a meaningful verse from it or another encouraging promise of God. Write or type it onto a sheet of paper and add your own design to make a beautiful picture reminder of the work God is doing in your life.

Adulting is Hard

Adulting is hard, especially when you’re a person who has made being socially awkward an art form. Being a responsible member of society, whether or not you like what is required of you, can be uncomfortable. Normal adulting situations like paying bills instead of going to the movies or working when you’d rather sleep are easy enough. It’s when situations veer into social arenas that problems arise.

Recently, I went to a visitation without my social butterfly husband. Twenty years ago, I would have skipped adulting and stayed home. But the grieving family means a lot to me. So, I went. As I stood in line questions plagued me. Are they going to be offended that I didn’t wear a dress? What if I say something stupid? Do I hug the person or shake their hand? What if I go to hug them, and they want a handshake? How long should I stay?

I revisited those questions a few days later when I attended a friend’s wedding alone. The sanctuary was almost full when I entered. Standing in front of everyone, completely under-dressed, again (I really should invest in a nice dress for these occasions!), I scanned the pews for a place to sit. An elderly lady motioned me to her row. That’s how I found myself sandwiched between complete strangers. If that wasn’t uncomfortable enough, there was no receiving line. Great news, right? Wrong. Instead, the new couple dismissed each row, greeting every guest. No ducking out to avoid potential embarrassment. That’s when those anxiety driven questions started again.

At this point, I’ve reached my quota for adulting. I’d love to tell you I don’t have to adult anymore for at least a year. Not going to happen. With my first book coming out, I’m going to be thrown into a whole new set of adulting situations. Book launch events, advertising with social media, and talking about myself and my book with others on a regular basis are way out of my comfort zone. The idea of these things is great. The reality that I have to be an active participant in them brings a little more anxiety. The promotion side of publishing is definitely the least comfortable part of the process for someone like me, but it is necessary. So, I have accepted the fact that the near future will find me adulting yet again.

There is truth in the idea that growing up is hard to do. We gain freedoms as we age, but with them come responsibilities. We can’t limit ourselves to doing whatever we want, whenever we want. Part of growing up is learning to do difficult things, because they are the right things to do.

This applies to our spiritual lives too. When we first come into a relationship with God, it’s enough that He loves us and provides forgiveness for our sins. But we can’t stay in that place forever. We are reminded to keep growing in “the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We do this through time spent in God’s word. Hebrews 5:12 even cautions us to not be content to stay spiritual babies.

Our increased understanding provides great encouragement and freedom, but, as with physical maturing, it also brings extra responsibility. When we mature as believers, we can’t be content to simply know and feel the things God shows us. We are called to be “doers of the Word” (James 1:22). Sometimes what we are called to do is easy. Other times, God calls us to things that go against our own desires. It’s hard to forgive. It’s hard to love the unlovable. Sometimes, it’s hard to pray “Your will be done” and mean it with all of our hearts. But allowing God to work in us to do the hard things is what growing up in our faith is all about.

By the Book: What are you doing to grow in your faith? If you don’t already have one, consider joining a Bible study or hosting one yourself. There are a lot of good ones out there, and the accountability of a group can be helpful to stay on track.