Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: trials

God is Still Good

I’ve been less than faithful to my blog lately. In recent weeks, I’ve only managed to blog once a week instead of the three I usually post. It’s been crazy busy around our house. And I know everyone is crazy busy, but this time, I had to give in to the pull of life outside my office.

I’m a full time caregiver for my grandmother with dementia. I was up until a week ago anyway. With the dementia progressing, my mother and I were no longer equipped to care for her at home. She had to be moved to a memory care facility. After giving up my full-time job five months ago to help her, I was now unemployed. We’ve spent the last week trying to clean out her house.

This week my father in law had knee replacement surgery. It went well, but he had a mild stroke before being released from the hospital. That was Tuesday night. Thursday morning I got a call from my mom. My grandmother fell and was taken to the ER. My job throughout the day was to keep everyone updated with information. We found out through the different tests they ran she also had a stroke.  

I say all this so when I write my next sentence, you know I do not take the sentiment lightly. I am thankful, and God is most definitely good.

When I left my full-time job five months ago, I had no back up plan for income. Losing my job right before Thanksgiving and Christmas was unexpected. But I did what I felt God was calling me to, and I believed He would provide for me now. I spoke to my old place of employment this week. They don’t need a full-time employee, but they can use me two days a week and as a fill-in. I’ll earn just enough to continue paying my son’s school bills. In addition to that financial burden being taken care of, God saw fit to limit my hours so I can give more time to the business and ministry of writing. It was my secret hope, but I didn’t believe it would happen.

My father in law has been a candidate for a stroke for a long time. His health and activity levels made him a candidate for it a long time ago. A stroke is not a good thing, but God is still good. He was in the hospital when the stroke happened. You can’t get quicker care than that. His stroke didn’t leave him disabled except for some mild issues with speech. We are hopeful that speech therapy will take care of that. Already we are seeing improvement. And he’s been given an early warning to adjust his habits in order to increase his chances of avoiding future health scares.

My grandmother’s stroke is another issue entirely. Without the ability to think clearly on a regular day, it’s hard to assess the actual damage caused by the stroke and subsequent fall. All signs point to a concussion or further strokes and stroke damage. There is concern that she has swelling that may cause her to have seizures. As of last night, she’d not eaten anything. Because of her age and health, further measures are not being taken. My mother and uncle brought her back to the nursing home with the understanding that she will either get better or get worse without any other course of action. But God is still good.

My grandmother’s fall was immediately noticed and attended to by a caring staff of nurses at the home. My uncle and mother are in agreement on tough decisions that have to be made. Hospice agreed to come in and provide the intensive care she needs while we see which direction things will go. Family members who haven’t seen my grandmother in ages blessed her brief moments of being awake by coming to see her. And I can say in all honesty, if God uses this to bring her into her heavenly home, He is good. She wants nothing more than to be released from the brokenness of her mind and body.

If He chooses to keep her here, the good won’t be as easy to find. Watching her decline isn’t easy for her or us. She’s expressed it many times in moments of clarity. But in the event of that outcome, I trust. I trust there is a reason. I trust good will come from it. I trust the nature and character of God. And I can say, though it hurts, God is still good.     

I think I’m going to leave it at that. Today was supposed to be a review of a book I recently read that goes along with this message, but I’ve taken enough of your time. I’m going to let the message of this one settle before going further. Thanks for taking the time to read this even though it ended up free of both books and writing.

Right Stuff Wednesday – Very Bad Days

Have I told you that I love quotes? I do. I love movie quotes, quotes famous people, and quotes from books. But some of my favorite quotes come from children’s books. The ability to wrap up an adult sized truth in a package that children can understand and relate to is amazing. The fact that the words are as meaningful to adults as they are to the books’ youthful audience makes them nothing short of beautiful.

“It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that.” – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

It’s a simple end to a story chronicling the misadventures of a young boy. Nothing seems to go right for the story’s main character. At the end, there is no redemption. He simply states what a horrible day it has been, and his mother doesn’t attempt to talk him out of it. She doesn’t point out all that’s gone right. She simply agrees. Yes, some days are like that.

I’ve had days like that. I’m sure you have too. No matter what you try nothing seems to work the way you planned. Those days leave me wondering why I didn’t stay nestled in my comfy bed. Too bad hibernation is not a valid method of dealing with things.

Then, there are those events and issues in our lives that encompass more than a single day. They are those heartbreaking, spirit shaking pains that are light years away from the troubles of a bad day in childhood. No matter how they’re handled, it cannot be escaped. These trials change us.

In recent years it has become popular for believers to adopt an attitude that faith in God will protect us from the pains of life. If we believe enough and pray enough, God will bless us with only good things. Jesus tells us differently. He warns we will suffer for our faith. Men like Paul gave us God’s word on how to deal with hard times when they come. He wouldn’t need to if we wouldn’t face difficulties. Paul, himself, asked for a specific trial to be taken from him but God refused.

Life gets messy. Life can hurt. “Yes, some days are like that.” And some weeks, months, and years. But it doesn’t leave us without hope.

I have experienced pains I thought would break me. I have old wounds that cause me pain years after they were inflicted. Events beyond my control forever erased the way I thought life was going for me. I won’t get into specifics. I don’t need to. My trials may be different than yours, but I’m guessing yours probably left you feeling much the same way. The events causing our pains are different but it doesn’t make one more or less important. When someone experiences life changing situations, the initial results are the same. Confusion, hurt, and anger vie for our attention and energy.

But, and I don’t say this lightly, I don’t wish these experiences away. I learned more about God and myself during those times than I did on hundred bright, happy days. I was more focused and spiritually minded during these trials, and I realized how much I had taken my faith for granted. It sounds trite to someone who’s currently in the flames, but seeing where I am now, I appreciate the refining fire I found myself in.

Does this mean I want to go there again? Absolutely not. Does it make the pain of the old wounds disappear? No. But God might even take care of those one day. Do I find myself skipping through the heartaches with a smile? No. And I wouldn’t be even if I did regularly find myself skipping through my days. I cry. I get angry. I complain.

Then, I turn to the one place I know I can find strength and peace for the fight. I realize my limitations and my God’s limitlessness. I wish I could share with you an easy to follow five step plan for peace and contentment in the midst of devastation, but I can’t. I have lessons I’ve taken to heart from scripture. You might try Philippians 4 and Psalm 121. I often find direction and peace when I reflect on and put these into practice. But God is using these things to change each of us in a very personal way. Maybe your focus needs to be on God’s love where mine needs to be on His provision. Whatever it is we’re looking for, we can find it through God’s word, prayer, and the godly support of Christian friends.

This attitude adjustment isn’t easy. It’s not a quick fix. You’re still going to feel like some things are terrible and horrible. You may experience more days that seem no good and very bad. But you’ll notice the shift in perspective and be able to say, “Some days are like that.” And one day, if you let God work in you through the circumstances you may even realize that while you hated going through it, you’re grateful for the person they’ve grown you into. A person who is more Christ-like than the one that existed before the trial’s refining fire.

Sweet Character

cake-1971552_1280“Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” Yousuf Karsh

I tried a new dessert recently. In the spirit of summer, the restaurant created something they called a chocolate smore’s cake or something equally as descriptive. I love a good dessert, and this restaurant has several. In fact, they have all my favorites. This was not one of them.

The moist, dark chocolate cake was a decent cake. But it was just cake. They added toasted marshmallows, a graham cracker, and chocolate sauce to it. The entire time I was eating it, I was developing the plan for how the restaurant could have made the dessert a winner. Instead, it was overly sweet just for being sweet. Really sweet, rich even, is great when the dessert’s quality matches the level of sweetness. This one was simply too sweet for what it was, a chocolate cake.

Sweet can work the same way in our writing. When we create sweet characters, who always do sweet things, and everything about their story is sweet, well, it’s just sweet. There’s no substance to get a reader hooked on the story. There’s no drama. There’s no growth.

The darkness is where the story comes from. We don’t have to delve into the twisted to accomplish this. Darkness can be defined as the thing that must be overcome. Maybe the character has been betrayed or abandoned. No matter what else is happening in the story their darkness to overcome is being trapped by those feelings. It could be a physical obstacle like the journey to find success. Maybe it’s a lack of faith. The roadblock in your character’s way can be anything, but it isn’t going to be sweet. It’s going to be difficult in some way, and through it your character will mature. They will learn about themselves and the world they live in. And just as importantly, they will become part of a story people want to read.

Trouble doesn’t have to bring destruction to our characters, and it doesn’t have to bring it to us either. While we may not relish going through the more dramatic parts of our personal stories, they are not without merit for the believer. Scripture promises us there is good for us in them if we let God work in us and through us. James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Pair it with Romans 5 which tells us trials leads to perseverance but then takes it further to explain that perseverance brings character which brings hope.  Being mature, complete, of good character, and full of hope are things I think we would all say we want. But the path to have them is through the darkness. It’s the testing of our faith that builds more faith in us.

Do I look forward to the next trial in my life? Not really. Most of the time they hit before the previous one is even finished. Sometimes I’d like a break in between. But that doesn’t seem to be God’s plan for my life right now. And that’s okay too. Because one day I pray others will be able to look at the story of my life and see how the darkness shaped me for God’s use.  They’ll look and see while the story may not have always been sweet, the end result was beautifully so.

By the Book: Do you fight God in the darkness or pray for Him to grow you through those times?

Giving Back

Usually I post character and character development related things on Mondays. Forgive me for not following protocol today. While we’re at it, why don’t you consider forgiving me for being a little less than consistent with writing any of my posts in the recent weeks. I’m trying. I really am. But with a deadline hanging over my head and life events or misfortunes happening one on top of another around my house, I’m lucky I haven’t shut down completely!

But all of that isn’t what I want to discuss today. There’s a lot of people in the world, good people who are completely misinformed about how Christianity and a life of faith works. They’ve been given the impression that if you accept God’s gift of salvation, you enter this amazing life where it’s all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think a life of faith is amazing. There’s nothing more exciting than watching God show up in an unexpected way. Whether it happens in your life or the life of a friend, seeing God work in and through circumstances strengthens our faith and gives us glimpses into who He is. There’s nothing better.

But a life free of betrayal, pain, sickness, or problems is as realistic as the mythical unicorn. Though we are not intended for it, though it isn’t our home, we currently live in a sinful, fallen world. Hurtful things happen. To expect they won’t simply because we have God in our lives is like expecting to wade through the mud without getting dirty. It’s not going to happen.

But that doesn’t mean our faith in God does us no good. God’s right there with us when we’re wading through the muck. He’s helping us not get sucked under. He’s encouraging us to keep going. He’s showing us how to have peace, hope, and strength in those times when it doesn’t make any sense. And He’s with us to make sure the mud doesn’t leave it’s stain on our lives.

Our path through the mud can go one of two ways. We can cling to God, keeping our eyes on Him, and end up with stronger faith in the end. It doesn’t change the circumstance, but it reminds us the truth about those circumstances. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t take away the pain and heartache. But it does help us stay strong and find the peace God has for us in it.

Or we can fight it. We can try to “do it God’s way” for the selfish reason of wanting Him to take us out of our situation. We want God to work like a genie in a bottle there to grant our every wish. So, we adjust our behavior in order to earn God’s favor and a get out of jail free card. When we find it doesn’t work that way, we declare faith useless or worse, false, and throw in the towel. We walk away from God without truly understanding what faith is all about.

Giving lip service to God in order to have our path cleared of the mud doesn’t do us any good. But as counter-intuitive as it sounds, living our faith out through the muck does a world of good. In my hardest circumstance and my deepest pain, I couldn’t see what God would do. To be perfectly honest, I wanted out of it. But that wasn’t how God wanted to use it in my life. When I decided it was best to trust and do it His way, I found God grew me through that pain. But it was more than that. At least two people had the opportunity to accept salvation because I was willing to go through it God’s way instead of my own. If that wasn’t enough to make it worth it, I’ve seen God use my experiences to speak to others through teaching and writing.

That’s the beauty of living a life of faith. When we allow God to grow us through our circumstances, He can later use us to minister to others facing pain in their own lives. He allows us to become part of their faith growing process. We share in the hurts and joys of other believers, and we all reap the benefits. It’s a way to give back to God after He’s carried us through so much. It’s a way to practically show God’s love to others. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.

By the Book: Has God brought you through a trial? What did He teach you in it? How have you used it to reach out to others?

Speaking God’s Truth

While it’s the day for Main Character Monday, I have something else on my mind tonight. I had a hard weekend that didn’t leave its struggles behind as the work week started. It’s left me tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Spiritually, it has sent me to my knees in prayer more focused and dedicated than my usual daily prayers. It is in these kinds of trials that submitting to the unknown of “Your will be done” becomes a true act of surrender.

Even though the exact nature of this situation is completely new and totally unexpected, it isn’t the first time my world has been rocked by a trial so life changing that I almost can’t wrap my mind around the idea that it is in fact my reality now. It isn’t the first time I’ve waited for the other shoe to drop or been forced to face the fact that I don’t know what comes next and fully realize that I might not like it when it comes.

The first time I faced the complete undoing of my perceptions of what my life was and was supposed to be, it broke me in ways I never thought possible. Even as I immersed myself in prayer and God’s word, I struggled with frequent panic attacks and depression. Even though I saw God working in my life and felt His strength getting me through each day, I hurt more deeply than I ever thought possible. I grew closer to God and learned to rely on Him as never before. The road to get there wasn’t easy, but God didn’t leave me on my own. In fact, a Facebook thread in one of the reading groups I’m in reminded me tonight that not only was I not left on my own, God went above and beyond to speak to me during that time in a way that was unexpected and user friendly.

When circumstances became too much, I’d read. My brain didn’t have to fight through the depressed exhaustion I felt in order to read. When I was immersed in the story, I could finally contain the thoughts running amok in my head. It was the perfect way for me to decompress for a small period of time. Little did I know that as I picked up The Still of Night by Kristen Heitzmann, that God would use it to challenge me to change my perspective on the painful hand I’d been dealt.

I’ll admit I bawled reading that book. So many points hit home. The specifics of the fictional circumstances were far from mine, but the truths about faith and life and pain were all too real. One of the moments when things clicked with me was in a quote that has stuck with me for the last fifteen years. “Things don’t always work out the way we want. The trick is to want the way they work out.” It’s simple and profound. It summed up “Thy will be done” perfectly, and it was wrapped in a story so well written that I had to finish it even though it was speaking hard truths to me.

I’ve enjoyed many well-written Christian fiction books through the years. I’ve been encouraged and challenged by them. But none have felt as much like God had it written especially for me, to help me accept where I was and encourage me on the path to healing.

Even God’s timing was perfect. I get Kristen Heitzmann’s books as soon as I know they’ve come out. If The Still of Night had come out years before, its message might not have resonated as deeply. I hadn’t been broken yet. Years later, and I would have already come through enough that the message would have merely been a reminder of a lesson learned. This one came out only a few short months before my storm hit, and I purchased it just after. Because the author chose to let God use her, my walk of faith was strengthened at a time when I needed it most.

I share this with you for two reasons. The first is as a reminder that God may choose to speak to us in unconventional ways. Scripture is of utmost importance, but He will use people, songs, and even fictional stories to open our hearts to His truth. Don’t shut Him out just because His message isn’t coming from your pastor or the 66 books of the Bible. Listen and accept His encouragements and challenges as the loving gifts they are.

The other reason I share my story is as an encouragement to let God use you. I’ve always been passionate about writing. But reading good Christian fiction sparked a desire in me to do for others what my favorite authors have done for me. I want what I write to communicate God’s truth to other believers. I want the stories I write to encourage and challenge people in their faith.  It’s my desire to let God use my stories to touch others. If God uses Faith’s Journey or any future books I write to speak to even one person the way He spoke to me through The Still of Night, I will count that as success.

By the Book: Maybe you write. Maybe not. Do you sing? Draw? Speak? Make cookies? I don’t care what talent you have or what you’re passionate about. Let God use it to speak to others.

Speaking God's Truth

While it’s the day for Main Character Monday, I have something else on my mind tonight. I had a hard weekend that didn’t leave its struggles behind as the work week started. It’s left me tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Spiritually, it has sent me to my knees in prayer more focused and dedicated than my usual daily prayers. It is in these kinds of trials that submitting to the unknown of “Your will be done” becomes a true act of surrender.
Even though the exact nature of this situation is completely new and totally unexpected, it isn’t the first time my world has been rocked by a trial so life changing that I almost can’t wrap my mind around the idea that it is in fact my reality now. It isn’t the first time I’ve waited for the other shoe to drop or been forced to face the fact that I don’t know what comes next and fully realize that I might not like it when it comes.
The first time I faced the complete undoing of my perceptions of what my life was and was supposed to be, it broke me in ways I never thought possible. Even as I immersed myself in prayer and God’s word, I struggled with frequent panic attacks and depression. Even though I saw God working in my life and felt His strength getting me through each day, I hurt more deeply than I ever thought possible. I grew closer to God and learned to rely on Him as never before. The road to get there wasn’t easy, but God didn’t leave me on my own. In fact, a Facebook thread in one of the reading groups I’m in reminded me tonight that not only was I not left on my own, God went above and beyond to speak to me during that time in a way that was unexpected and user friendly.
When circumstances became too much, I’d read. My brain didn’t have to fight through the depressed exhaustion I felt in order to read. When I was immersed in the story, I could finally contain the thoughts running amok in my head. It was the perfect way for me to decompress for a small period of time. Little did I know that as I picked up The Still of Night by Kristen Heitzmann, that God would use it to challenge me to change my perspective on the painful hand I’d been dealt.
I’ll admit I bawled reading that book. So many points hit home. The specifics of the fictional circumstances were far from mine, but the truths about faith and life and pain were all too real. One of the moments when things clicked with me was in a quote that has stuck with me for the last fifteen years. “Things don’t always work out the way we want. The trick is to want the way they work out.” It’s simple and profound. It summed up “Thy will be done” perfectly, and it was wrapped in a story so well written that I had to finish it even though it was speaking hard truths to me.
I’ve enjoyed many well-written Christian fiction books through the years. I’ve been encouraged and challenged by them. But none have felt as much like God had it written especially for me, to help me accept where I was and encourage me on the path to healing.
Even God’s timing was perfect. I get Kristen Heitzmann’s books as soon as I know they’ve come out. If The Still of Night had come out years before, its message might not have resonated as deeply. I hadn’t been broken yet. Years later, and I would have already come through enough that the message would have merely been a reminder of a lesson learned. This one came out only a few short months before my storm hit, and I purchased it just after. Because the author chose to let God use her, my walk of faith was strengthened at a time when I needed it most.
I share this with you for two reasons. The first is as a reminder that God may choose to speak to us in unconventional ways. Scripture is of utmost importance, but He will use people, songs, and even fictional stories to open our hearts to His truth. Don’t shut Him out just because His message isn’t coming from your pastor or the 66 books of the Bible. Listen and accept His encouragements and challenges as the loving gifts they are.
The other reason I share my story is as an encouragement to let God use you. I’ve always been passionate about writing. But reading good Christian fiction sparked a desire in me to do for others what my favorite authors have done for me. I want what I write to communicate God’s truth to other believers. I want the stories I write to encourage and challenge people in their faith.  It’s my desire to let God use my stories to touch others. If God uses Faith’s Journey or any future books I write to speak to even one person the way He spoke to me through The Still of Night, I will count that as success.
By the Book: Maybe you write. Maybe not. Do you sing? Draw? Speak? Make cookies? I don’t care what talent you have or what you’re passionate about. Let God use it to speak to others.

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?

 

 

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