Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: hope

Write Stuff Wednesday with Hope Toler Dougherty

Today’s guest post comes from Hope Toler Dougherty, author of three (soon to be four) contemporary Christian romances. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Hope, and the quote she shares today is very pertinent for the times we live in.

“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” Jane Austen

I saw that quotation painted on a bookstore wall in a Utah airport on my way to a mission trip in Montana. My fiction writing journey was in its infancy. My first novel consisted of several chapters in a word document, but I knew it was a love story. At the time, I didn’t admit to reading romance, and while only a handful of people knew I was writing a book, they didn’t know it was a love story.

 Not knowing where God was leading me, I wrote that quotation in my journal. It nudged me toward appreciating love stories. It suggested that everyone has different tastes—horror, science fiction, dystopian, fantasy, and, yes, romance—in reading and in writing.

At my first writing conference, I discovered I needed a tagline (I’m not sure that’s true now because about the only place I use mine is on my business cards.) Remembering Austen’s view, I considered it a bit before writing “Trading guilt and misery for God’s grace and mercy.”

The tagline is a good description of my stories to date. My main characters grow from a place of guilt or discontent or anger or fear and learn to enjoy God’s grace and mercy in new-found freedom of God’s love.

We can also adapt Austen’s quotation to our present age with the uncertainty and ever-changing status of the Coronavirus situation. I’m holding onto God’s peace because I’m sure He’s sovereign. I’m sure He isn’t in Heaven wringing His hands muttering, “Oh, no. What’s going to happen next?” He wasn’t surprised by this world-wide outbreak.

I’m not buying into the panic served up with every update flashing across my phone screen. I’m resting in the peace of my certain salvation.

Let other people dwell in misery and worry. I’ll hold on to God’s peace, and I’ll share it when I get the chance.

Hope’s bio: Hope Toler Dougherty holds a Master’s degree in English and taught at East Carolina University as well as York Technical College. She’s a member of ACFW and  RWA, and her novels are Irish EncounterMars…With Venus Rising, and Rescued Hearts. A native North Carolinian, she and her husband, Kevin, look forward to visits with their two daughters and twin sons. 

Social media links:

http://hopetolerdougherty.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AUTHORHOPETOLERDOUGHERTY/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13941031.Hope_Doughertyhttps://www.pinterest.com/hopetdougherty/https://twitter.com/HopeTDougherty

https://www.instagram.com/hopetolerdougherty/

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hope+toler+dougherty

Purchasing links;https://www.amazon.com/Irish-Encounter-Hope-Dougherty-ebook/dp/B00XD3NMI8/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=irish+encounter&qid=1585055339&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
https://www.amazon.com/Rescued-Hearts-Hope-Toler-Dougherty-ebook/dp/B074SXJLH4/ref=sr_1_11?dchild=1&keywords=rescued+hearts&qid=1585055383&s=digital-text&sr=1-11

Hope’s new novel, Forever Music, will release in May.  College professor Josie Daniels is good at nurturing. Attorney Ches Windham is good at keeping secrets. When their lives intersect, sparks fly, changing hearts and lives forever.

What I’m Reading: An Aria for Nick

At the risk of sounding like I’ve become the president of the Hallee Bridgeman fan club, today’s review is for An Aria for Nick. (I’m not sure that’s a thing but wouldn’t it be great if your favorite Christian authors had fan clubs? Someone should look into that.) Other than Kristen Heitzmann, I don’t think I’ve reviewed any other author’s books as frequently, but I’m always looking for a good deal and a great story. Hallee’s books often fit both categories. Besides, I’ve reviewed books one and three in the series. It only makes sense that I should go back and take care of book two! Let’s take a look at An Aria for Nick.

Sometimes life doesn’t go like we planned. Events beyond our control seem to conspire against us, or our own choices land us in the middle of consequences we never imagined. Aria and Nick understand this better than most.

Aria’s love for Nick never got a chance thanks to Nick’s stubborn refusal to entertain the idea that a girl like Aria could be interested in a boy like him. He makes sure of it when he enlists in the military.

Aria is just as headstrong. She pursues friendship with Nick throughout their school years and through letters during his time in the military. Maybe one day, Nick will see how much she cares for him. Only that day doesn’t come. Instead, Aria is met with the news that the man she loves has been killed in the line of duty.

She’s lost her hope of love with Nick, but her losses keep coming. Aria’s dream of playing piano professionally are lost when her wrist is injured. The situation leaves her no choice. Aria must find and live a new dream. This new direction puts her in contact with brilliant scientists as she works to develop nuclear technology. It also puts her in the crosshairs of the enemy when she discovers a plot to use her technology in a terrorist attack on the United States.

Aria doesn’t know who to trust. When the man she loved comes back from the dead as the one entrusted to protect her and stop the attack, Aria’s world is turned upside down. Aria and Nick must work together and trust each other in order to prevent nuclear destruction. This is made more difficult as their insecurities and the hurts of the past wreak havoc in each personal interaction. Though the feelings they shared in the past are reawakened, Aria and Nick have to choose whether to embrace those feelings or ignore them without the assurance of what each choice will bring to their futures.

Nick and Aria aren’t that different from me and you. Sure, our one true love probably didn’t come back from the dead. And most of us are probably not brilliant nuclear scientists. But when you remove all the physical trappings of the story, you find a reality that speaks to each of us. We love to plan what our futures will look like. We’re encouraged to do it from the time we are young. Don’t believe me? Did you ever have to write a “what I want to be when I grow up” essay? Our childhood is all about preparing us for the future, and we are pushed earlier and earlier to decide how we want that future to look.

Sometimes that life doesn’t go like we think it should. Events beyond our control throw us off our path and onto other foreign ones. Choices we’ve made have consequences with far more impact than we imagined possible. Even in the times when we end up at our originally planned destination, a look at the path that brought us there shows a drastically different road to success than we dreamed we would take.

When we realize this, the temptation is strong to give in to fear, doubt, hurt, and anger. As believers, we have a different option. Trust. We can’t trust things will work out the way we want them to. We can’t trust that the hurt is finished. But we can trust that God is in control. He knew the path our life would take, the good and bad choices we would make, and the ending destination before we were even born. The Psalms tell us He had every one of our days written in His book before we’d even lived one of them.

He doesn’t promise to end all the bad or surprising things in our lives. We live in a decaying, sin-marred world. Horrible things happen. The unexpected happens. But God does promise that He will be beside us in each thing we face. He will give us strength and peace and hope. The hope is that whatever happens, He will make us more into His image as we go through it with Him leading the way.

Fear and doubt no longer color our decisions. Instead, we move forward in confidence knowing God is by our side no matter what the future holds.

Right Stuff Wednesday: Grief and Love

Hobbit Home“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring

It doesn’t seem right, but I think there is a lot of truth in this quote. On the surface it seems like a great quote to encourage keeping perspective. There is bad, but there is good too. Let’s look to the good. But the quote is more than an attitude adjustment.

Love is mingled with grief. We see it more each day. I’m not going to argue whether or not it’s really worse. The argument could be made that it’s been bad all along, but our ability to broadcast it to the four corners of the globe have made it more noticeable. It doesn’t matter which it is or even if it’s a combination of both. What matters is that love and grief are walking side by side in this life.

Some of the grief in our lives is self-made. Sinful and simply bad decisions bring consequences that we didn’t think would ever happen to us. Our lives aren’t immune to the results of other people’s actions either. Sometimes nature takes center stage in hurling grief onto our paths. Natural or self-made, grief is grief. It would be easy to focus on it and let ourselves be sucked further under into our grief. It’s easy to play the victim and cry “woe is me” and determine there is no way out of the hurtful place we find ourselves.

Please understand, I’m in no way diminishing the pain or disappointment or loss anyone has faced. These griefs are real and cutting. I know. I’ve faced them too. The problem comes when we choose to continue living in them, letting them paint the landscape of our lives. I believe there is more for us than the darkest times in our lives. It’s in the most painful times of our lives when true love (and I don’t mean the romantic kind) becomes the sweetest.

Little acts of kindness, unearned and unexpected, bring light into the darkness grief tries to shroud us in. When done in godly love, they can bring peace, hope, and moments of joy one can cling to as they work to rise above the darkness. They can remind us we are not alone. We are not fighting alone. We are not hurting alone. It’s why Romans 12:15 instructs us to share in each other’s joys and hurts.

Reaching out to others in active, godly love is also a great reminder to us that we have another who understands what we’re going through. Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. He understands our temptations and hurts. Jesus knows disappointment. He understands betrayal. He has felt what it’s like to be utterly alone. In our griefs, it is the love of God shown through others that brings the comfort of knowing know matter how we may feel, we are not alone.

It’s sad to say, but sometimes it takes the grief to move us to compassion. Think about the days following true tragedies. Many can remember 9/11. It was a horrible time of loss for so many. Fear was rampant. But so was love. People gave of themselves and their resources to be there for those in need. Families spent more time together. It didn’t take away the pain for those who suffered loss, but they knew they didn’t stand alone.

It happens every time there is a natural disaster. The people around are mobilized to help. Our sense of what it means to be human and compassion move us to help in any way we can. Sometimes it’s as simple as listening to someone’s grief. Other times it involves taking action.

When we get into step with those walking through times of grief, God’s love shines a little brighter in their lives. Their grief may remain, but for a moment it may not hang so dark and heavy over them. How great would it be if it didn’t take the times of grief for our love to sweeten someone’s day?

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.

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.

Shattered

dark-3061610_960_720I was involved with our high school theater productions for my three years of high school. I had (non-serious) dreams of one day being an actress. Of course, it might have helped if I was ever actually in a play. But I wasn’t. I got the courage to try out for one, the last one possible, my senior year. I didn’t make it. No, my experience was with sets and lighting. My friends and I built, painted, and lit up the stage for the actors. Once I even put together a vase.

This production involved a vase shattering as it hit the floor. We couldn’t take the chance that it would fail to break. So, I got to take the vase home, break it, and glue it back together again. It’s easier said than done. It has to break in big chunks that can be adhered together again. If the pieces are too small, it’s nearly impossible to get the vase put back together in a way that doesn’t look compromised. Even being as careful as I was, I’m not sure I would’ve trusted it to hold water.

Often that’s what happens when things are broken. They can be put back together again, but they may not work exactly like they were first intended. They’ve changed. Sometimes, it’s for the better. Other times, not so much. It really depends on who’s doing the fixing and what kind of shape the thing was in before it was damaged to the point of needing repaired.

The same can be said for people. There are things that come along and threaten to break us. Sometimes they do break us, at least for a time. They throw water on the picture we’ve painted for our lives leaving our carefully chosen colors to run down the canvas. Our masterpiece is destroyed. These experiences are different for each person. The loss of a dream, a job, a family member or a person’s health could be the devastating blow. Disappointment, hurt, or betrayal could be what it takes to push you to the breaking point. What devastates me might seem like a cake walk for you. What seems hard for you might be easy for me. It doesn’t matter if others might be able to handle it better. What matters is that we’re in pain. We’ve found ourselves in the middle of a mess that we have no idea what to do with.

These times are the focus of Sheila Walsh’s book, In the Middle of the Mess: Strength or This Beautiful, Broken life. And what Sheila has to offer believers is desperately needed, freedom to be transparent. Starting with her own story, her own failures, her own hurts, and honesty about how these things affected her life and still do, Sheila invites the reader to be honest about their own issues. Her ability to share so openly about things she knows can bring judgement in some Christian circles is inspiring. It allows the readers to see she believes the message whole-heartedly. That alone is enough to bring hope. Everyone wants to feel they are not alone.

But it doesn’t end there. Sheila weaves scripture and practical lessons on how to deal with life’s devastations into each chapter. She challenges readers to honestly evaluate themselves each step of the way. And she does it in a way that makes you feel safe doing so.

While taking a faith-based perspective and encouraging practices that are fueled by belief in God and the scriptures, Sheila doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the need to take other practical steps to help deal with the aftermath of the circumstances that threaten to destroy our lives as we knew them. It’s this binding together of faith with the practical and illustrating with real life examples that make her lessons powerful.

For those who have not ever experienced the proverbial “dark night of the soul”, Sheila’s book is one to read. She has taken concepts that are hard to understand when they’ve not been experienced and makes them relatable. With greater understanding comes more empathy and love. Judgement is lessened, and hearts can find the One who can heal as His followers pour out His love on those in pain. Hope is given, not necessarily for a change in circumstances, though Sheila does acknowledge our God is the One who can make that happen, but that we can know peace and joy and love even in our circumstances. This book points us to His answer for our own hurts and to help others as they search for healing in their hurts.  And God is the One who can put back together the broken in ways that make them stronger than they ever were to begin with.

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?

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