Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: Living faith (Page 1 of 3)

What I’m Reading: Wrestling for My Life

Ever have one of those times when you find challenge or encouragement in a completely unexpected place? I found both as I read Wrestling for My Life by Shawn Michaels. For those scratching their heads, wondering if they should be familiar with the authors name, let me help you out. You probably aren’t.

For starters, the book is nonfiction. The nonfiction reviews I post are few and far between. I really have to get something from the book to include it. I tend to stick with fiction.

Plus, the author is a professional wrestler. Yes, you read that correctly. No, you do not need to read it again. Shawn Michaels is a well-known professional wrestler. But please don’t let that fact deter you from reading this review.

You now know something about me that I rarely, if ever, talk about in my writing/reading circles. I like watching professional wrestling. But before you start with the typical list, let me clarify some things.

I know the matches are predetermined. That’s why it’s called sports entertainment.

There are characters and story lines I do not like and cannot support. I generally fast forward through those or check my social media pages when they come up.

I’m not a fan of the scantily clad wrestlers either. But, in a lot of ways, I’m kind of immune to that. My son was a competitive swimmer for several years, and there’s a lot of scantily clad in that sport as well. If they’re scantily clad and overly sexual, well, I simply don’t watch.

I like wrestling for the story and the athleticism. I’m amazed that some of these huge people can move the way they do. I know I can’t do the things they do. And, as a writer, I’m intrigued by the wrestler in the ring and the person outside the ring. In fact, it was this dichotomy that inspired a new book I’m writing. And the writing of the book led me to Wrestling for My Life.

Another thing you may not know about wrestling is that there are Christians in the wrestling world, just as there are Christians in Hollywood and nearly every other profession. In the interest of writing my story to accurately portray what it means to be a faith-living Christian in the wrestling world, I bought Shawn Michaels’ book. I wanted to hear it straight from someone who was known for living it.

What I found was not only a lot of ways to develop my character, but also encouragement and challenge in my own faith walk. Shawn Michaels wrote a very down to earth book about what it means for him to live his faith in a profession where faith isn’t part of the plot. He wrote honestly about the path that brought him to see his need for God, the struggles he has faced since embracing faith, and the joy he receives from keeping God a priority in his life.

Where some celebrity Christians seem to gravitate to a fad version of faith, Shawn Michaels seems completely grounded in the Word. The passion with which he speaks of taking time in God’s Word each day challenged me to look at my own Bible reading habits. The openness with which he tells of what comes after the newness of faith wears off was an encouragement that we all face these times. The humbleness I saw when he acknowledged his past mistakes and even the ones that came after his conversion are a clear reminder of the hope we have as believers.

In the end, the story of Shawn Michaels holds up a mirror to my own life. He works in a profession where faith isn’t prominent. In many ways, the job may even work against faith. Still, he navigates it with his faith intact and shines a light where other people wouldn’t be able to. He’s making a difference for God in the arena where God has placed him.

My job and the groups I’m part of are not antagonistic towards God. We’re everyday people in everyday circumstances. Those I work with know of my faith. They know there are things I won’t do, places I won’t go, and things I won’t say because of my faith. But after reading Wrestling for My Life I have to take a long hard look at my life and ask myself if I’m living out my faith with as much consistency and shining that light as brightly as this down-to-earth wrestler does in a professional world that’s designed to lift up the man instead of his God.

Where have you found unexpected challenge or encouragement in your faith?

What I’m Reading: Great River Romance Series

Don’t judge a book by its cover. We’ve heard it a million times. We get the deeper meaning. What is on the outside can be misleading. We need to dig deeper to what’s inside. Often we find ourselves surprised at what we find. It’s an awesome message to remind us to give others a chance when an unpleasant demeanor might otherwise turn us off to a person.

I have a feeling, the origins of the phrase really did have something to do with judging literal books as worthless simply because their covers were less appealing. I get that. I’ve walked past many books without a second glance because I’m not drawn to their covers. What’s inside may be the most amazing story ever written, but it will take a name I recognize or someone else giving a great review for me to look beyond the unattractive cover and pick it from the shelf. Authors and publishers understand this. To draw people back to a good story, they occasionally update covers to keep them fresh and relatable for the current generation.

A well-done cover can wield more power than a title, drawing the eye and creating an immediate emotional connection with a reader. A great cover paired with an equally catchy title is a match made in book sales heaven. If the words between the covers spark as much interest in the reader, you’ve just created a repeat reader. That’s what happened when I first saw the Great River Romance series by Kari Trumbo.

I began with Whole Latte Love. It was on sale, and I loved the cover. I’m also a sucker for titles with cute plays on words. With the cover, title, and sale price working in its favor, I took a chance. I’m glad I did. My days are filled with the stress and frustrations of being a caregiver to my elderly grandmother who has dementia. I needed a story I could enjoy while staying away from heavy subjects that would weigh down my mind.

Whole Latte Love was the perfect choice. It was easy enough and interesting enough to read it straight through.  I stayed up later than I should have the night I read it, but I’m not complaining. The story left me with a positive, rested feeling. And I was ready for more.

Want Ad Wonder, Check out Crush, and Central Park Paradise were added to my online cart the next morning. All four books have coordinating covers, but Want Ad Wonder is my favorite. It is the cover that first brought Kari Trumbo and the Great River Romance series to my attention.  I love the colors, and there is something about the guy on the cover that I found more interesting than the ones on the other three. Maybe it’s because you see more of his face, get a little more of his character from the picture.

I didn’t take time analyze the whys. I had three more stories to read. Building off characters introduced in the previous books, each one focused on a specific couple or possible couple with former lead characters making reappearances in each book. The threads of friendship tie each of these books together making their stories more enticing for the readers.

The last three books in the series were as enjoyable as the first, from front cover to last page. I found these books when I needed a light escape from the daily grind, and they were the perfect choice. I judged these books by the covers, and I’m glad I did. The covers are a perfect match for the stories told inside.

By the Book: We encourage each other to look beyond the rough exteriors to what lies inside, but in our own lives we should strive to be better. Scripture tells us what we hold in our hearts is what comes out in our lives. When the Holy Spirit has control, it’s His fruit we should see in the way we live each day. What does your outer life say about what you truly value? Does what you say you believe show in your daily life? Every day in every way we want others to be able to judge our book by its cover.

Life of Pie

“Worshiping God is for all our moments, but we often divide our devotion to God. Compartmentalizing life like slices of pie, we offer Him one slice and keep the rest for ourselves.” – Holy in the Moment by Ginger Harrington

I love the way Ginger creates such an understandable, vivid image. I picture a sweet, tangy lemon pie covered in meringue with perfectly toasted peaks. I see my knife’s point cutting it, first into fourths, then eighths. Each piece exactly the same size. Each piece ready for those waiting to savor that summery flavor.

Reality varies from my perfect slice of pie dreams. The pieces aren’t ever exactly the same size. One is invariably smaller, or at least it always seemed that way when I was the only girl with two older brothers vying for the best piece of whatever dessert our mother made to accompany supper. Were we the only children who suddenly became scientists, measuring each dessert offering with perfect precision, paying attention to height, width, and depth in order to ensure all were equal? Could we be the only ones who judged the separate components of the dish to make sure the piece we grabbed wasn’t the one that was overdone or underdone but just right? That it had the perfect amount of chocolate chips or nuts? It was of vast importance to feel like what we received was equal if not better than what our siblings received.

When my own children did the same, I realized desserts don’t cut evenly. There is always a fraction of an inch difference. What each child was given was essentially equal whether they wanted to believe it or not. Hopefully, I’ve had an increase in manners since childhood and don’t demand the “best” for myself but instead give those I’m with the first choice. In inconsequential things I hope I think of others more than self. I pray it happens in the truly important situations too.

But it’s about more than my attitude toward others. Ginger’s quote makes me consider whether I do the same to God. Do I hoard my time, allotting Him only what I feel I have to spare? Often I’ve looked at ideas like these and thought they pointed to the Sunday morning Christian. Through the week, they may be good people, but they reserve all thoughts of what God might want for Sunday morning services. Their work and faith don’t intersect. Their family and faith don’t work in cooperation on a daily basis. Faith is only wielded when it benefits. “Children obey your parents”, flows from the tongue with surprising  ease considering it’s the only time His word is really given place in their Monday through Saturday lives.  

When I looked at the idea of worshiping God with our lives, I would consider the Sunday morning Christian and walk away with a false sense that the message wasn’t for me. I believe my faith should enter into every decision, my values, and the way I conduct myself every day wherever I am. As a Christian writer, I have a strong belief that my God-given talents and passions can be put to best use when they bring glory and honor to the Giver of those gifts. That being the case, I must be fine. Message received and applied. Right?

Not necessarily. When I stop to consider the actual pie and the way my siblings and I painstakingly reviewed each piece to find the absolute best, I’m struck by two truths that are not easy to swallow. The difference between what is and what should be tends to get stuck on the way down.

My siblings and I painstakingly judged each piece of dessert looking for the absolute best. Do I spend that same amount of effort giving God my absolute best at all times. He’s not the God of leftovers. He’s not the God of good enough.  He gave His all for me, and I should look to do no less for Him. Galatians 2:20 states it this way, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Am I guilty of neglecting Christ in me during any part of my life? Have I forgotten the direction in Philippians chapter two that I should have the mind of Christ in all areas of my life? Have I made myself of no reputation in order to look to the needs of others before myself? Have I adopted the heart of a servant faithfully in each thing I do?

Then there are also the slices of the pie. We want to make sure that God is in each slice of our life, but we don’t want to forget one important fact. The whole pie is God’s.  Each and every slice is a gift He’s given us to bring honor and glory to Him. Whether or not we do that, it doesn’t change the truth. Our lives are His. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 puts it this way. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Our work life, church life, home life, friend life, and any other slice of our lives are to bring God glory not simply because it’s a way to give back the love He’s given us, but also because they all belong to God to begin with. He put us together. He wrote our days before we were born. He is the one who bought us back from sin with Jesus’ death on the cross. God and His love is not just the reason we do, they are the reason we are to begin with. Do I make the conscious effort every day to remember that truth and consider how it should change my outlook, priorities, and actions? I know I do sometimes. But can I say I do all the time?

In light of these truths, I think I need to revert to my childhood and study with equal intensity the pie of my life to see where God wants to grow me. How about you? 

Mothers and More: Favorite Characters

Erin Davis (1)Mother’s Day is almost over. Tomorrow there will be no more breakfasts in bed. There will be no cards and gifts. The blatant expressions of love and attention shown on this day will become a distant memory to give us strength through the year as those we love try our patience.

Everything about today seemed to revolve around the women in our lives who have had a hand in making us who we are today. I’m doing an author challenge on Instagram, and even today’s assignment called attention to moms. Today participants were to post a picture about their favorite mom characters. I’d love to say I posted one about the mom in my own book, Faith’s Journey. I couldn’t do that.

Unlike my own relationship with my mom, Katie’s relationship with her mother is tempestuous. It’s been that way since Katie was a little girl, and the continued discord causes a great amount of frustration for Katie when she returns home to care for her injured mom. Sharon McGowan is not my favorite mom character.

No. My favorite mom character from my books isn’t the mom at all. Gigi B, introduced in Grasping Hope, is the grandmother of Katie’s best friend. She has the style of Helen Mirren and the sass of Flo from Mel’s Diner.  She is fun and outgoing, never hesitating to be herself. But she is more than just stylish fluff. She’s a godly woman who loves those around her in word and deed. Her wisdom is the kind that comes from walking with God faithfully through the years, and she doesn’t hesitate to share it with those who need to hear God’s truth.

She may not be the main character in my books, but she is a character that means a lot to me. I don’t write people in my life into my books. The characters are all their own, and they’re products of my imagination. However, Gigi B does have real life inspiration thought it’s not found in my grandmother. (My grandmother is wonderful, but she is not a Gigi B!) My aunt has been that kind of person in my life. She’s always been in my corner, and she’s a ton of fun to spend the day with. She is a loving, giving woman full of life who loves God. She’s always been stylish and outgoing, two things that will never be said about me. And I’ve learned a lot from her.

My aunt may not be Gigi B, but she is the type of person I wanted the character to be. Honestly, she is the type of person I’d like to be in my life too. Not the stylish or extroverted parts (though a little help in the style department couldn’t hurt). Those are great, but they don’t make my aunt who she is inside. And though it sounds cliché, it is what’s inside that counts.

What’s inside is a heart that loves God and loves others. My aunt is a woman who will hurt with you, laugh with you, and pray for you. If she can help, she will. She exemplifies living faith. And she’s not the only one. God has blessed me with a godly mom, grandmothers, and others throughout my life who have shown me what it means to live for God each day. They are the women who encourage me to be the type of woman God would have me to be. And I am thankful today and every day for their example that spurs me on to become more Christ-like each day.

What I'm Reading: All Made Up

television.pngYou can keep Survivor, though I watched the earliest seasons. I have no desire to watch The Voice or American Idol and never have. And I will definitely pass on The Bachelor. Don’t even get me started on everything that’s wrong with that one! I will admit to a brief fling with King of the Nerds, The Mole, and Full Metal Jousting. I would probably still watch those if their ratings had been high enough to continue the shows.
They weren’t, and so my foray into the world of reality television runs along the lines of The Worst Cooks in America and the Great British Bake-off. Zumbo’s Just Desserts was a really fun one too. But my personal favorite, now only available in reruns, was Cupcake Wars.
I loved the set of Cupcake Wars. I loved the themes the contestants had to work with. The creativity and seeing the giant displays come together at the end were inspiring to this amateur cupcake baker. The unique flavors and even the failures caught my interest and inspired me. I loved everything about the show except that it had to end.
No matter how much I enjoyed it, I know Cupcake Wars, along with all the other reality shows are less than real. The outcomes may not be rigged from the start, but there are plenty of other scenarios played up for the viewers. Drama equals ratings and ratings equal sponsors. Every disaster, argument, and failure are highlighted for the cameras. Time is warped. Planning periods are non-existent making the feats of contestants seem next to impossible. All of it works to draw the audience in, but it should leave us questioning the moniker of “reality” television.
These issues become part if the drama in All Made Up by Kara Isaac. It’s challenging enough to give this contemporary Christian romance its needed conflict when producers of a romantic reality show cast a down-to-earth, faithful farmer as it’s bachelor looking for love. Caleb Murphy is a last minute replacement, and his morals and personality aren’t exactly the stuff of exciting television.
When make-up artist Katriona McLeod is drafted to stand-in for a sick contestant, the drama is raised a notch or two. Katriona’s past with Caleb creates equal part romantic sparks and tension on the set. It’s the only thing producers can consistently count on, and her walk-on appearance doesn’t walk-off after the first episode as originally planned.
Katriona and Caleb have enough confusion and hurt to work through on their own. But determining what’s real and what’s made for television isn’t easy with lights and cameras following your every move. The question is whether or not they can be real enough with each other to deal with their past and have a second chance at love once the cameras stop rolling.
The superficial setting of All Made Up doesn’t keep Kara Isaac from diving into heartfelt conversations between Katriona and Caleb. What results is a fun, encouraging story about being real and finding love.
By the Book: While entertaining, reality television is less than real. Every conversation and situation is engineered to create the perfect picture for the viewers. That’s fine or television, but it’s damaging when the same attitudes are adopted in our faith. We want to be examples of Christ-like living to those we come in contact with. That’s kind of the point of being labeled “Christian”. But we are also called to be real, honest, and humble. While we don’t want to flaunt our sins, failures, and struggles like a badge of honor, we also don’t want give an image of perfection in our walk. We aren’t perfect. We know it. Those around us know it. When we hide our flaws, even with the good intent of showing God’s love and power in our lives, we end up doing the opposite. Not only do people know we’re being less than honest, they also end up believing God is less than He says He is. If He wasn’t, why would His people have to protect Him in this way? I don’t know about you, but I connect more with the believers in my life who are honest with me about the things they’ve been through. Their testimonies of how God has worked in and through the circumstances of their lives speak to me and encourage me because I know I’m not the only one. Romans 12:15 instructs us to rejoice with those who are in a good place and weep with those who are hurting. God’s desire is for believers to be family for each other, helping each other. We can only do this when we put aside made for television Christianity and embrace Christianity in real life with all it’s ups and downs.

What I’m Reading: All Made Up

television.pngYou can keep Survivor, though I watched the earliest seasons. I have no desire to watch The Voice or American Idol and never have. And I will definitely pass on The Bachelor. Don’t even get me started on everything that’s wrong with that one! I will admit to a brief fling with King of the Nerds, The Mole, and Full Metal Jousting. I would probably still watch those if their ratings had been high enough to continue the shows.

They weren’t, and so my foray into the world of reality television runs along the lines of The Worst Cooks in America and the Great British Bake-off. Zumbo’s Just Desserts was a really fun one too. But my personal favorite, now only available in reruns, was Cupcake Wars.

I loved the set of Cupcake Wars. I loved the themes the contestants had to work with. The creativity and seeing the giant displays come together at the end were inspiring to this amateur cupcake baker. The unique flavors and even the failures caught my interest and inspired me. I loved everything about the show except that it had to end.

No matter how much I enjoyed it, I know Cupcake Wars, along with all the other reality shows are less than real. The outcomes may not be rigged from the start, but there are plenty of other scenarios played up for the viewers. Drama equals ratings and ratings equal sponsors. Every disaster, argument, and failure are highlighted for the cameras. Time is warped. Planning periods are non-existent making the feats of contestants seem next to impossible. All of it works to draw the audience in, but it should leave us questioning the moniker of “reality” television.

These issues become part if the drama in All Made Up by Kara Isaac. It’s challenging enough to give this contemporary Christian romance its needed conflict when producers of a romantic reality show cast a down-to-earth, faithful farmer as it’s bachelor looking for love. Caleb Murphy is a last minute replacement, and his morals and personality aren’t exactly the stuff of exciting television.

When make-up artist Katriona McLeod is drafted to stand-in for a sick contestant, the drama is raised a notch or two. Katriona’s past with Caleb creates equal part romantic sparks and tension on the set. It’s the only thing producers can consistently count on, and her walk-on appearance doesn’t walk-off after the first episode as originally planned.

Katriona and Caleb have enough confusion and hurt to work through on their own. But determining what’s real and what’s made for television isn’t easy with lights and cameras following your every move. The question is whether or not they can be real enough with each other to deal with their past and have a second chance at love once the cameras stop rolling.

The superficial setting of All Made Up doesn’t keep Kara Isaac from diving into heartfelt conversations between Katriona and Caleb. What results is a fun, encouraging story about being real and finding love.

By the Book: While entertaining, reality television is less than real. Every conversation and situation is engineered to create the perfect picture for the viewers. That’s fine or television, but it’s damaging when the same attitudes are adopted in our faith. We want to be examples of Christ-like living to those we come in contact with. That’s kind of the point of being labeled “Christian”. But we are also called to be real, honest, and humble. While we don’t want to flaunt our sins, failures, and struggles like a badge of honor, we also don’t want give an image of perfection in our walk. We aren’t perfect. We know it. Those around us know it. When we hide our flaws, even with the good intent of showing God’s love and power in our lives, we end up doing the opposite. Not only do people know we’re being less than honest, they also end up believing God is less than He says He is. If He wasn’t, why would His people have to protect Him in this way? I don’t know about you, but I connect more with the believers in my life who are honest with me about the things they’ve been through. Their testimonies of how God has worked in and through the circumstances of their lives speak to me and encourage me because I know I’m not the only one. Romans 12:15 instructs us to rejoice with those who are in a good place and weep with those who are hurting. God’s desire is for believers to be family for each other, helping each other. We can only do this when we put aside made for television Christianity and embrace Christianity in real life with all it’s ups and downs.

Right Stuff Wednesday: Making Rainbows

“Finally the Rainbow Fish has only one shining scale left. His most prized possessions had been given away, yet he was very happy.” – The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

It’s easy to get distracted by the things we don’t have. According to the society I live in, I don’t have a lot of worthwhile material possessions. I’ve never owned a new car. I’ve never been to Disney World or Ireland which are the two very different places topping my dream vacations list. I have doors in my home that need replaced, not to mention the flooring and a couple ceilings with water damage. My emergency savings consists of a prayer for God to keep emergencies away just a little while longer.

The tricky thing about material possessions is that rich and poor are all in the eye of the beholder. Even down the road, there are those who are far worse off than my family. My home doesn’t leak (mostly). I have running water and electricity. I have a television and internet. My car may be well-used, but I own it. My clothes may be old, but I have warm clothes for winter and cooler ones for summer. If I need a gallon of milk, I can empty my change jar and go buy one. I have all I need and then some. To some people I am beyond rich in my possessions, and you don’t have to go to a third world country to find those people.

If these things are the things I prize most, I’m missing out. God has blessed me, but it goes far beyond whether or not I own a television or a car. God has given me a family to love that loves me back. My husband, children, children in-laws, parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins overflow the holiday dinner table when they all show up. And even though I’m no social butterfly, God has blessed me with friends at work, home, church, and various ministries. All these people provide support, encouragement, and challenge to me in my life and faith. Laughter or tears, it doesn’t matter. These people are there for both. But even these are not the greatest blessing in my life.

God has given me all these wonderful things and people, but He has also given me Himself. God looked into my life and saw my sin. My failures were evident to Him. He created me, and He knows my propensity for getting it wrong when I want to get it right. But God looked into my life and saw someone He loved no matter my mistakes. He saw someone He wanted a relationship with. He saw this, and He saw my hopelessness. He knew I could never do anything to fix the relationship sin had broken between us. But he didn’t leave me to wallow in the results of my sin. Instead, He chose to send His Son to take the punishment for my sin. He extended mercy and provided the way to forgiveness, the way to reconciliation with Himself. He gave me the way to be friends with Him again. And He didn’t stop there.

Once I accepted God’s gift of forgiveness, He chose to bless me further. He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside me to guide, teach, and correct me. He gave me His word to learn how to live like Him. And He gave me the opportunity to use my interests, talents, and the lessons He teaches me to encourage and challenge others. He lets me be part of letting others know about His gift of love.

God allows me a place in His plan, but it isn’t because of something wonderful about me. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

It’s all about Him working in and through me. These are the greatest blessings in my life. The other things will wear away or fail me at some point. But the treasure of God’s love and salvation won’t wear out or fail me. That’s the kind of possession to treasure above all else.

That’s why it’s important for me to take a lesson from the rainbow fish. He didn’t hoard his treasure. He gave it away. It made his world a better place for others and himself too. I need to remember that in my life of faith. I could hoard all I receive from God, but there is enough of His love for everyone. I need to share His love in my words and my actions. I need to love others the way God loves me. When I give this treasure away, God becomes clearer to those around me. They seek Him, the salvation He offers, and the love He freely gives. As others come to know God, their lives and the world we live in are changed for the better. And that’s something we can all be happy about.

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

A Foreign Way to Worship

martialFrom the time my middle son was five until he turned twelve, my three sons and I were involved in martial arts .Their dad joined in later, and he is the only one still practicing. But for those early years, it was me and the boys participating in classes and tournaments. We traveled to Indiana, central Illinois, and even Tennessee for tournaments. I loved watching the boys compete.
My oldest is built differently than his brothers. He wasn’t the one whose forms showed long, lean lines. He was built for power, and his favorite area of study highlighted that. More than the Tae Kwon Do forms, he enjoyed weapons. More specifically, he enjoyed the Korean sword art known as Gumdo.
My middle son was built for forms and loved breaking. One of my favorite pictures that ended up in the paper is of him doing a flying kick towards a board. He enjoyed breaking and sparring. And he was good at them.
Their youngest brother was only a little guy when he started competition. His first one was when he was about three or four. He just wanted to have fun. He knew his forms. He sparred as only a kid who isn’t aggressive can, standing there letting his competitor score all the points and being happy about it. But he could draw a room’s attention with his musical forms. He would take his mini bo staff and start as soon as the music played. It wasn’t that he was so proficient. Really, he made it all up as he went along. But he was so tiny and cute, the adults in the room would stop to watch him perform. He just wanted to do what his brothers were doing.
My boys are completely different, and their martial arts interests and styles highlighted those differences. But the great thing was that they could enjoy the competitions together. They could cheer each other on and help each other out. They didn’t have to excel in the same events. They were unique in their talents, and the competitions had a place for each of them.
I was reminded of this while reading The Christmas Bride: A Legacy of Love Novel by Melanie Dobson. In this historical fiction the main characters were part of Moravian religious group that moved to Pennsylvania in the 1700s to evangelize the Native Americans in the area. I understood their desire to remain neutral in the skirmishes between European settlers and the native people. I could relate to their passion to share the gospel with those who’d never had a chance to hear it. But from the first page, I was drawn into a story that showed a way of living completely foreign to me.
Christian and Susanna didn’t meet until their wedding day. In fact, Christian wanted to marry someone else, but the elders deferred decisions like that to the lot believing God would guide the choosing of the slip of paper that would read yes, no, or wait. Christian’s first choice received a no, but he felt led to missions work in the colonies and a wife was needed for that. Elders led him to Susanna, and the lot agreed.
But the lot wasn’t the most intriguing difference in how the people lived and served God. At a time when Susanna and Christian are strangers to each other trying to figure out how to love each other, they’re kept apart by the rules of their religious group. In effort to keep its members focused on their calls to serve God, men and women lived separately. Strictly enforced tasks kept Susanna and Christian from each other through the day, and their nights were spent in separate homes called choirs. Even children were separated from their parents to be raised by women in the group gifted for the task.
Add to these marital roadblocks to intimacy the harshness of the mostly unsettled land, the tensions between English and French settlers, and the tensions between all European settlers and the native people, and it’s easy to see why Susanna and Christian struggle to make their marriage something they can take joy in. All of this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the woman Christian desired to marry and still desires is his wife’s best friend who has also accompanied the group to Pennsylvania.
While I couldn’t relate to the way the people lived, I could relate to the struggle to do what God would have them do. I could empathize with Susanna when doubts and fears plagued her. I could call to mind my own frustrations as I considered Christian’s overwhelming passion to live out the calling he felt God had for his life only to be held back by forces beyond his control.
My life may be very different from the lives of Susanna and Christian, but their story was intriguing because of these differences. But just because our circumstances and choices in how to live are very different, it doesn’t mean their story was without meaning for me. As I read of their journey, I found myself and my struggles in theirs.
What Christian and Susanna or my own sons have shown me is that there is a place for differences in our faith. As long as we are sinners saved by grace through the sacrifice of God’s Son made man, Jesus, on the cross our differences don’t have to keep us apart. You may take communion every week while I may take it each quarter. You may have a rigid, methodical style of worship and mine may be more flexible. Your preacher may dress in a full suit while mine wears jeans and a polo shirt. It doesn’t matter. We’re all part of the body of Christ. We can come together to pray for, encourage, and challenge one another to deeper faith.
While false teachings and perversions of the gospel message should hinder our worship together, we need to start looking past the superficial differences in how we choose to worship. We need to start working together and caring for each other as a unified body. There’s room in God’s family for you whether you raise your hands in worship or sing reservedly, participate in responsive readings or simply listen, take communion weekly or quarterly, have small groups or Sunday School, sit on pews or in chairs, dress us or dress casual, or if your preacher remains calm or shouts and walks the aisle. We need to start loving and serving others together as a way to bring the light of God’s love into the darkness of this world.

By the Book: Do you frown on others’ worship styles because you don’t “get it” or are you open to working together for the sake of the gospel?

Write Stuff Wednesday: Hidden Stories

old-farmhouse-2535919__340“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott

There’s a small dilapidated house down the road from my grandmother’s house. The wood siding has long since faded and worked loose from the house. Shutters hang in crooked lines refusing to give up their final hold on the window and plunge to the ground. The porch is in shambles, and the yard is overgrown. I wonder why the owners don’t tear it down. It doesn’t serve a purpose.

Still. It draws and keeps my attention. The dark windows pull me in to find the house’s story. It’s the story of an old farming couple, shriveled through years of manual labor in the hot southern Illinois sun. It’s the story of disappointment, a childless couple with no one to care for the home they worked so hard to create once they’re gone. It’s a melancholy story that is as beautiful as it is sad.

It’s a very different story from the one birthed by the abandoned farmhouse near my in-laws house. The simple white house is newer in style. White siding is dingy but still intact. Large, glass windows stare out at me without shutters framing their dark depths. Another farming family lived here. They worked the land but with more modern conveniences. They shared meals with their children around a large kitchen table. There was laughter and love, but there was also discontent.

As the children grew, the life of the farm didn’t offer enough to satisfy. Though it left their parents with no one to carry on the family legacy, each child chose to leave for more lucrative lives in the city. The couple worked their farm, selling off bits and pieces to make up for the bad years, until their bodies could take no more. The home was reduced to a house after their deaths, and the land waits for a time when the children can agree on the proper way to dispose of it. It’s the story of the loss of a way of life and a lack of appreciation for all it held.

Two empty houses. Two different stories. But they’re each only one of many that could be told. Who knows where the truth lies? These are simply the stories I see first when I look at the two houses. What do others see? Two empty houses.

This is why I write.

The stories I see are different from the stories anyone else may see. And some people may not see them at all. That’s why writing is important. We can share stories others can relate to but not otherwise get to hear. We can put life back into empty houses.

But it doesn’t end with story-telling or houses. As believers, we each have a different story. We also have unique ways of approaching life. Just as writers need to see stories in the world around them, believers need to see the lives of the people around them.

We’re called to be salt and light to the world. We’re called to reach into the lives of others and change them through practically showing them the love of God. To do this, we must see their story. With empty houses and a laptop, I can imagine a story and shape it to fit my desires. With people, we need to dig deeper and find the truth. What do they need? How are they hurting?

When we see these things, we can act on their story. We can give love in an unlimited number of ways that will speak to their need. We can show them God through joining them in their story for a time.

And the beauty of it is, the people in need aren’t the only ones like empty houses. Each of us is a unique house on our own. When I step into someone else’s story, I bring my unique perspective, my own story into theirs. I can minister to their needs in a way that is different than anyone else.

This carrying of each other’s burdens, sharing in their joys, and showing them God’s love in practical ways is a believer’s calling from God. Not everyone may look at an empty house and come away with a story like a writer does. But seeing and responding to the stories of others is a trait every believer should cultivate in order to live their faith each day.

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