Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: truth

What I’m Reading: Red Rose Bouquet

Tall. Apparently it’s how people describe me. Don’t worry if you’ve mentioned my height in conversation. I’m used to it, and it doesn’t offend me. At a hair below six feet without shoes on, I know I’m tall for a woman.

So when I met a couple fellow Mantle Rock Publishing authors at a conference recently and I learned they were told to look for “the really tall one”, I understood completely. It probably is the trait you would lead with because it’s the one that people will see first.

My height used to bother me. I was taller than a lot of guys, and it was one in a long list of things I was self-conscious about. I’ve grown out of that. When I’m told people of my height shouldn’t wear heels, I shrug and do it anyway. I like wedge sandals, boots, and other wedge heeled shoes. If they’re cute, I don’t care that they make me even taller. I own the “tall one” label.

Not all labels are as easily accepted. Often we allow the mistakes of the past to become our label. When we do, we let those events or traits or mistakes dictate our futures. Just ask Cheryl Thompson from Red Rose Bouquet by Jennifer Rodewald. Cheryl’s been going through life with one fling after another. She’s a successful in her profession, but her personal life is a wreck.

When her brother calls her back home, Cheryl is not prepared for the memories she has to face there. And she definitely isn’t ready for Brock Kelly, her brother’s best friend. He doesn’t fall easily into the love him and leave him place Cheryl has reserved for the men in her life. He challenges her and awakens hope for something better in her life. But he doesn’t know about the one big secret, the huge regret in her life that Cheryl has used to label herself for more than ten years. If Brock knew who she really was, he would never look at her the same way again and he definitely wouldn’t be offering hope.

When the truth comes out, the relationship between Cheryl and Brock is stretched to the limit. It becomes obvious that Brock’s love and acceptance is never going to be enough. Cheryl needs to understand the way God sees her and the decision from her past if she’s ever going to heal.

Some labels are pretty painless, like being “the tall one”. Ones like Cheryl’s are devastating. Cheryl made a sinful decision, and it haunted her for years. Whether it’s sinful or simply a horrible choice one regrets, we tattoo the labels they create onto our hearts. Failure, loser, worthless, or worse names than these become the thing we see when we look in the mirror each day. But they don’t have to be.

When we give our sins and failures over to God, we allow Him to bring something beautiful out of the mess we’ve created. God promises if we confess our sinful choices to Him, if we turn from them, He will forgive us. We may still face physical consequences of our choices, but we are forgiven. He’s not keeping tally in heaven to hold over us later.

And more than forgiven (and that’s a huge thing), we’re wanted. We’re loved. We’re children of God. We’re redeemed. We belong. We have purpose. We are chosen by the Creator of the universe. We are His. Forever.

When we allow God’s forgiveness it’s work in our lives and turn away from our sins, our old labels are erased. We may face the pain from our choices in the future, but we don’t have to let it define us and tell us we are less than. We don’t have to be trapped by regret. We are forgiven. When the past tries to close in on us and move us into a cycle of continuing bad choices, we can say no. We can remind ourselves of our new labels. These are labels given to us by God and found in His word. They are for all who have accepted God’s gift of redemption for themselves. They are labels that allow us to move forward in confidence and peace. They are labels that help us move beyond our past failures and hurts. And they are labels that no man can ever erase.

What I'm Reading: Red Rose Bouquet

Tall. Apparently it’s how people describe me. Don’t worry if you’ve mentioned my height in conversation. I’m used to it, and it doesn’t offend me. At a hair below six feet without shoes on, I know I’m tall for a woman.
So when I met a couple fellow Mantle Rock Publishing authors at a conference recently and I learned they were told to look for “the really tall one”, I understood completely. It probably is the trait you would lead with because it’s the one that people will see first.
My height used to bother me. I was taller than a lot of guys, and it was one in a long list of things I was self-conscious about. I’ve grown out of that. When I’m told people of my height shouldn’t wear heels, I shrug and do it anyway. I like wedge sandals, boots, and other wedge heeled shoes. If they’re cute, I don’t care that they make me even taller. I own the “tall one” label.
Not all labels are as easily accepted. Often we allow the mistakes of the past to become our label. When we do, we let those events or traits or mistakes dictate our futures. Just ask Cheryl Thompson from Red Rose Bouquet by Jennifer Rodewald. Cheryl’s been going through life with one fling after another. She’s a successful in her profession, but her personal life is a wreck.
When her brother calls her back home, Cheryl is not prepared for the memories she has to face there. And she definitely isn’t ready for Brock Kelly, her brother’s best friend. He doesn’t fall easily into the love him and leave him place Cheryl has reserved for the men in her life. He challenges her and awakens hope for something better in her life. But he doesn’t know about the one big secret, the huge regret in her life that Cheryl has used to label herself for more than ten years. If Brock knew who she really was, he would never look at her the same way again and he definitely wouldn’t be offering hope.
When the truth comes out, the relationship between Cheryl and Brock is stretched to the limit. It becomes obvious that Brock’s love and acceptance is never going to be enough. Cheryl needs to understand the way God sees her and the decision from her past if she’s ever going to heal.
Some labels are pretty painless, like being “the tall one”. Ones like Cheryl’s are devastating. Cheryl made a sinful decision, and it haunted her for years. Whether it’s sinful or simply a horrible choice one regrets, we tattoo the labels they create onto our hearts. Failure, loser, worthless, or worse names than these become the thing we see when we look in the mirror each day. But they don’t have to be.
When we give our sins and failures over to God, we allow Him to bring something beautiful out of the mess we’ve created. God promises if we confess our sinful choices to Him, if we turn from them, He will forgive us. We may still face physical consequences of our choices, but we are forgiven. He’s not keeping tally in heaven to hold over us later.
And more than forgiven (and that’s a huge thing), we’re wanted. We’re loved. We’re children of God. We’re redeemed. We belong. We have purpose. We are chosen by the Creator of the universe. We are His. Forever.
When we allow God’s forgiveness it’s work in our lives and turn away from our sins, our old labels are erased. We may face the pain from our choices in the future, but we don’t have to let it define us and tell us we are less than. We don’t have to be trapped by regret. We are forgiven. When the past tries to close in on us and move us into a cycle of continuing bad choices, we can say no. We can remind ourselves of our new labels. These are labels given to us by God and found in His word. They are for all who have accepted God’s gift of redemption for themselves. They are labels that allow us to move forward in confidence and peace. They are labels that help us move beyond our past failures and hurts. And they are labels that no man can ever erase.

Write Stuff Wednesday: I am an Author

“I literally cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.”- J.K. Rowling
I relate to this quote in a very real way. Like Rowling I always knew I wanted to write. And now that I am not simply a writer but also a published author, when people ask me what I do, I say without hesitation, “I’m a receptionist.”

Why do I answer this way? I’ve never aspired to be a receptionist. It was never my goal in life. It’s what I do to pay the bills. It’s not a bad job. I enjoy the people I work with. But it isn’t what I’ve always dreamed of doing.

If being a receptionist isn’t what leaves me feeling fulfilled and writing is, why does the phrase “I’m a receptionist” slip out so easily? Why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to proudly proclaim, “I am a writer”? Maybe it has something to do with paying the bills. As an author just beginning her writing journey, I don’t make a lot. My income comes from my 8-5 job. The bills I pay are done so with the money earned doing the job I never intended to do.

Or maybe it has to do with the amount of time and energy I spend as a receptionist. I don’t bring work home with me, but 10 hours a day, five days a week are spent going to and working at a doctor’s office. With 24 hours in a day and 7 of those spent in sleep, only 7 hours a day are available for writing. Those 7 hours are whittled away making meals, cleaning house, or spending time with my family and friends. A majority of my waking hours are spent doing the things a receptionist does. Maybe the old saying, “You are what you eat” translates into “you are what you do most”.

Whatever the reason for my hesitancy, it’s false. Words are my passion. My ministry, my purpose is to encourage and challenge other believers through what I write. Whether or not my income is generated through it, whether or not I spend every hour in my day but 1 doing other things, I am a writer. I am an author. I need to own that identity. It is who I am.

I’m also a Christian. Scripture says as such I’m an alien to this world. I don’t belong here. Yet the same struggles can happen in my spiritual life that happen in my writing life. I have to live in this physical world. I have to deal with the messes created by my sin and the sin of others. I need to eat, sleep, and have shelter of some kind. I have to interact with and relate to others. My life is lived 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on this earth.

But this day to day life isn’t who I am. My struggles don’t define me any more than my successes do. I do the things I do because I have to survive. Living my physical life demands a lot of my time. Sometimes, the everyday becomes so demanding I forget that scripture tells me this earth is not my home. I forget that I am more than a conqueror, victorious over sin, forgiven, a child of God, an ambassador for Christ, and every other description in scripture of those who God has redeemed. The knowledge of all these things is in my head and hidden in my heart, but I fail to live like it sometimes. I forget to be who God made me to be even living in the middle of the mess.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think maybe it’s a struggle for a lot of us. We find ourselves getting world focused instead of God focused. We give so much to the physical side of life that we forget to honor and grow the spiritual. Even though we’re still living according to our beliefs, we become wrapped up in who this world says we are instead of claiming the truth. It’s time to remember that we belong to God with all the truths that belonging includes. It’s time to make the truths of God the identity we cling to and proclaim every day.

By the Book: Think about your favorite description of who you are in God. I’d love it if you’d share it in the comments. Then, spend some time in scripture finding out who God says you are.

When Truth Hides

background-2013633_960_720Truth is important, but sometimes it’s hard to find. We see polarizing stories on the news every day that threaten to tear our nations apart. Sometimes they even threaten to tear God’s people apart. But if we take a step back, we realize each side of these debates have often latched onto one small idea or event and run with it. Even our news sources have lost objectivity. It used to be “just the facts” and let the people decide. There is nothing objective about any news source today.

Each side twists and highlights the things that make them look better and the other side look like the devil himself. Each side has an agenda. The stories they cover, the issues they bring to light, may be important. People may need to know these things, but the way the stories are presented breeds hatred, discontent, and divisiveness. Each side claims truth. Each side has proof. Honestly, each side has people paid to make the “facts” work in their favor to push their agenda. That’s why each side can come up with data, polls, events, and numbers to back up their idea. If you know the right way to frame it, you can find information to back up anything you want. And that’s exactly what each side does.

But simple, honest truth being hard to find sometimes doesn’t mean that it’s not important. In fact, I think it makes it more important. No one understands this better than Sergeant Caleb Dockery in Her Place in Time by Stephenia H. McGee. When Lena shows up out of nowhere in the plantation house turned civil war hospital where he’s recuperating, Caleb doesn’t know what to think. She claims to be from the future. She claims to go back and forth between the two times by putting on a yellow dress. It makes no sense. She speaks in strange ways. Her manner and customs aren’t at all like ladies of his day. A lot of what she says and does is controversial and even scandalous, but is she really from the future? Her methods of nursing wounded soldiers lend credence to her claims. But she slips away unseen at times, and she’s admitted she doesn’t believe in the south’s cause in the war. Could she be a spy?

Even as Caleb wrestles with his doubts, he can’t deny he’s attracted to her, and she seems to be attracted to him as well. His doubts about her trustworthiness, her honesty, keep them at arm’s length. He can’t quite reconcile what she’s saying to be truth, and she won’t give her heart to someone who won’t trust her. What she’s saying seems impossible, too impossible to accept as truth. Besides, she’s still trying to figure out what is really going on and why it’s happening. The only question that remains for us is if either of them will find out the truth before they lose what God’s trying to give them forever. It all comes down to truth.

In an age where people try to dress lies and nuggets of truth as the complete truth, Christians are sheep in the midst of wolves. We need to take Jesus’ directive to “be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves” to heart. We can be part of the problem or the solution. It’s easy in today’s social media crazed days to spout off about everything that irks us. Even in those of us who find loving people easier than others can find our patience and acceptance stretched to their limits. We preach the necessity of loving everyone but then demonize those on the opposite side of the situational fence. We read a simplified post that agrees with our view point and forward it to all our friends, expressing disgust at anyone who dares see things from a different perspective.  In essence we’ve been neither wise nor innocent, instead becoming one of the wolves.

If we are to be wise, we need to start being responsible with the truth. When we see issues dividing those around us, we need to take a step back. Believers can’t hide their heads in the sand. We can’t ignore the things going on around us, but we can make sure all we say, do, and post falls under the umbrella of love and truth. We need to go beyond sound bites of media and seek out all the information we can get before choosing to speak. We need to seek God’s will before we choose to make a move.

In seeking truth and God’s will on how to respond to that truth, we allow ourselves to become wise while staying innocent. We refuse to be part of the problem. We allow room for healing in places where divisiveness once reigned.

By the Book: Do you seek truth instead of giving in to a knee-jerk emotional reaction to what you see or read? Do you seek God’s wisdom and way before you decide what steps to take?

Write Stuff Wednesday 10

typewriter-1170657_960_720“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

Writers may not speak the words, but what we type can go places our spoken words may never reach.  Our tongues are our keyboards. And I doubt there is a writer among us who doesn’t love words. If we don’t, we may want to rethink our chosen career paths. If we ever doubted it, words, our words have power.  This is true whether those words are written or spoken.

During a particularly difficult circumstance in my life, I received a text about a possible negative development in the situation. My body reacted immediately. Anxious feelings began to creep in. I felt sick. My phone screen lit up with a few simple lines of written word, and I felt defeated.

Written words were also what shook me from a life of relative security and plunged me into a place of pain and doubt during the most challenging time in my life. For months after reading a fairly short letter from a loved one, I struggled to control my fear that the other shoe was ready to drop on my at any moment, knocking me further away from what little security I had left.

But even as words threatened my well-being and changed my life, they were also there to hold me up. I found strength and peace in the middle of the mess. And while scripture was a source of life for me at the time, it wasn’t the only thing God used to encourage me. As I sought moments of respite from what had become my day to day life, I turned to Christian fiction.  I was surprised to find understanding. Some books broke down my walls and drew the hurt out from deep inside. Others empathized with my plight and pointed me to truths my mind was too tired to accept any other way.

The stories I read were amazing gifts. These written words worked to restore some of what I’d lost and point me to the One who could provide complete restoration.  Words had done a tremendous amount of damage, and words helped make it right again.

This is why it is important for writers, especially writers of faith, to choose their words carefully. Our fiction and non-fiction alike should be filled with the truth. Sometimes that truth is hard. In those times, we should take care to say what we say in love and with grace and mercy.  Truth doesn’t have to be compromised to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. People are sensitive creatures. We don’t ever like being told we’re in the wrong. But we can and should be careful that our attitudes are based in love. When we approach others with understanding and love, even a difficult message can hit its mark.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing sweet love stories or murder mysteries. Words that bring life can be sewn into the fabric of each one. Even fantasy worlds brought to life only by the author’s imagination can leave a reader with a deeper understanding of God. As writers, as lovers of words, we should strive to share life through what we write.

By the Book: What books have you found life in? As a writer, do you share life with your readers?

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.

Less Than

It was the first story I can remember writing for an assignment. I was thrilled to work on something creative. I loved reading and wanted to be an author. I worked hard to make it perfect. I turned it in and anticipated its return.

I don’t know what grade I got. What stayed with me, though, was how I felt reading the teacher’s comments. Thirty years later, I can’t remember the exact critique. It had something to do with simplicity. What I vividly recall is the feeling that accompanied the negative note. It’s the same feeling I got three years later when my short story, “The Case of the Missing Idea”, came back from a contest my English teacher had submitted it to. Once again, it wasn’t chosen. My story wasn’t good enough.

Both experiences, along with others, left me more than disappointed. I felt less than. If I couldn’t impress my teacher or the judge, what chance did I have to become a writer? Would I ever be good enough? Should I simply give up and save myself the heartache?

As I grew up, God used the authors I love to fan the flame of my interest in writing. I took courses, and I attended conferences. I felt a nudge in my spirit to minister to others through my passion for writing. I submitted my work. I learned it’s about more than writing. What kind of following did I have? What in my life made me known by enough people to be valuable enough for a publisher to consider publishing my work?

I’m from small town Illinois. I didn’t have a following. I didn’t have speaking engagements lined up. I wasn’t a leader in well-known organizations. I was a pastor’s kid and pastor’s wife from small country churches. I was a mother. I was active in ministry, leading youth groups, teaching Sunday school, and directing a local church camp for teens. But none of those things were public enough to give me a following. Publishers didn’t want a no-name. The risk was too big. It was discouraging. Once again, I felt less than.

It’s a feeling many have experienced. It’s a feeling Peter Holstein and Rosemary Gresham wrestle with in A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White. Rosemary, a thief from childhood due to circumstances, stubbornly refuses to let others’ opinions of her keep her from doing what she needs to do. When that feeling of less than sneaks in, Rosemary lets it spur her on to prove everyone wrong about her. However, during her current job trying to prove Peter a German sympathizer on the eve of World War I, Rosemary can’t completely quiet the thoughts. She does an admirable job getting others to see there’s usually more to the story than what people see on the outside. But inside herself, Rosemary still fights feeling less than.

Peter takes a different approach.  Most of Peter’s issue stems from a stutter that’s made worse when he’s anxious or upset. Peter is a smart, giving man with a talent for writing. He uses that talent in secret, writing under a pen name. His identity as an author is known only to a chosen few. Peter feels his stutter makes him appear dumb, and no one would take him seriously as a writer if they knew. His lifestyle of seclusion makes him an oddity. As war approaches, his German heritage and land holdings make him a target. What was once considered simply odd behavior is seen as sinister. Peter wants to prove his loyalty, but his feelings of being less than threaten to keep him from even attempting to clear his name.

Less than is a powerful feeling. Like Rosemary, it can prompt you to prove people wrong. Or like Peter, it can leave you feeling defeated and trapped. Regardless of the direction the feeling takes you, it can become a tenacious enemy striking over and over just as it has for me in writing.

But I’ve been blessed in my battle. God has strengthened me for dealing with it. He’s given me favorite Christian authors to inspire me. When I finish their stories, I can’t help feeling the ache inside to do for others what they have done for me. I’ve been exposed to Christian teachings through non-fiction books that have helped me understand my dream and whether it is only my dream or if it is God’s dream for me. In times where feelings of less than threaten to make me give up, God has given me little successes to keep me focused. One of the biggest blessings He’s given is spiritual mentors to help me see what God says about those who are feeling less than.

These faithful men and women have pointed me to the scriptures that promise God knew what He was doing when He formed me (Psalm 139). My less than was perfectly designed for His purpose. They’ve encouraged me to understand that no matter what happens, God has a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). I’ve been pointed to 1 Peter 2:9 as a reminder that God chose me. He’s set me apart for His purpose. And when I fail, I’ve been shown that I’m in good company. Moses who stuttered, Peter who denied, David who killed, Elijah who struggled with depression, and Jonah who ran have all been held up as examples. And I’ve come to a realization.

I am less than. So are you. So are they. But it doesn’t matter because we are all less than the holy One who created us, and He loves us the way we are. God doesn’t care about what talents or accomplishments we bring to the table. He just wants us to step up. He wants to work through us to accomplish His will. His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When He accomplished something we couldn’t do on our own, His glory shines brighter. When I am less than, God is more than enough.

By the Book: How can realizing we are all less than help free you to be the person God wants you to be?

Write Stuff Wednesday

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“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary. How potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

 

Think of the most influential book you’ve ever read. It could be non-fiction, but often, fictional works are just as powerful in their ability to impact readers. Disguised as entertainment, the fiction author’s message comes in a user friendly package. The trappings of the story invite us into worlds created especially for the story. We are introduced to characters we relate to or despise depending on their purpose. We are drawn in, and when we’ve become fully immersed in the story, the message takes on meaning we might have otherwise tuned out.  Truths about life, love, and even faith are sweetened with the sugar of realistic characters and intriguing plot lines, and we swallow them down without the battle that would otherwise ensue if the points were blatantly shoved down our throats.

It’s not that we’re ignorant to what is happening. We aren’t powerless to stop it or tricked into accepting an idea we don’t agree with. We’re being shown a picture and left to determine how it is going to affect us. Sometimes the impact is in the characters. We see a belief or quality in them that we hunger to have in ourselves, and we come away looking for ways to embrace it in our own lives. Other times it’s the theme of the story that speaks to us and leaves us challenged to grow in ways we haven’t considered or possibly fought against.

The words of a writer can be powerful. They can confuse or enlighten. They can challenge or convince us there isn’t a reason to try. Understanding this is essential for writers, especially for those who are choosing to infuse their faith into their writing. We have a responsibility that other writers don’t necessarily share. We become teachers as we let our writing become an outgrowth of our faith. James 3:1 cautions that those who teach others should be careful because they will be judged more strictly. It’s not said to scare us away from sharing the things God has shown us. Instead, it is to safeguard the gospel from those who would treat it lightly and then go on to share those twisted teachings as truth to others leading them down a dangerous path.

But maybe you don’t write or teach. Your words are still powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life can be found in our words. Ephesians has a command for all believers to keep away from corrupting talk and only speak those things that would be good to build others up. James talks about the power of the tongue and the difficulty we face in trying to keep it under control. There are several verses worthy of being highlighted, but I think Matthew 15:18 gives us the perfect verse to consider. And it doesn’t have to do with the results of our words but where they come from in the first place. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles the person.”

By the Book: Based on your words, what is in your heart?

The Oxford Comma and Truth

The oxford comma is a controversial little piece of grammar. I, personally, am a fan. For those who may not know, the oxford comma is the last comma used in a series of items. It may seem like an unimportant detail, but it can clarify a writer’s intent and keep misunderstandings from happening.

The people I look up to the most are my parents, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. The meaning of this sentence may leave readers believing I’m delusional. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are my parents? One comma makes a huge difference. Try it again. The people I look up to the most are my parents, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Admittedly, I still seem a little crazy if I consider the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny people to look up to, but at least I don’t think they’re my parents in the second scenario. The oxford comma can be the difference in understanding my message clearly or being left to interpret it in an unintended way. I prefer to keep my message as clear as possible.

Misunderstanding wouldn’t be devastating in the silly example above. Many times, a misunderstanding can produce embarrassing results that turn into stories friends can laugh over in years to come. But there are times when having a proper understanding of things can make all the difference in the world.

Christy Kane, the main character from Colorblind by Amy C. Blake, learns this lesson the hard way. Christy’s father is her hero. He’s the one who has been there for her every step of the way, encouraging her in her pursuits. As the pastor of a mega-church, he is also the one who has taught her who God is and what it means to be a Christian. Her life revolves around what he considers the driving force of Christianity; that our happiness makes God happy. A life of peace and success awaited her and other believers simply because they loved God. Sin and the need for salvation were only things used to weigh down believers and keep them from knowing true success in life. Her whole outlook on faith and life were shaped by these beliefs.

Her devotion to her father is what makes the fall even harder when his affair is made public. Add to that charges of embezzlement, and Christy is devastated. Not able to face her father or his God, Christy goes to complete a summer internship with a distant relative she’s never met. Her future is up in the air, and her faith is shaken to the core. Yet in the middle of the pain, discord between the other summer volunteers, and mysterious happenings that echo events of the past, Christy is faced with the idea that her father’s faith may have been less than what God intended.

Christy fights against statements that her father is preaching a gospel not found in scripture. She may not feel it at the moment, but she does love him. He’s her father. She is convinced he only preached the truth. However, with events working out like they are in her life, Christy is finally able to consider the possibility that her father’s beliefs may not be as grounded as she’s always thought. God uses her painful circumstances to open her heart to searching out the truth of scripture for herself.

It’s these misunderstandings of scripture that can make a huge impact in our lives. When we base our values and lifestyles off faulty or partial understandings of scriptures, we build our lives on shifting sands. When the storms come, it can wash away our faith completely. This is why 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Then in  2 Timothy 2:15 we are encouraged to “Be diligent (study) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” There is a right way to handle scripture and a wrong way. God has given us scripture so we can “renew our minds” and be “transformed” into His image as Romans 12 tells us. This doesn’t come from handpicking the verses which seem to fit our ideas of who God is and what He desires of us. It takes dedicated study of the Word in its entirety. It takes a willingness to open our hearts and minds to ideas that we may initially find hard to swallow. It requires more than reading for knowledge or to check off our daily list of good Christian behaviors. It takes reading God’s Word with the desire to listen to His message and apply it to our lives.

When we take time with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will teach and convict us of the truth. We will be able to see the false teachings in the world and even in some of our churches and church leaders. We will come to understand more of who God really is and be protected from believing the teachings of those who have misunderstood and mishandled the Word in order to make God in their image rather than letting Him remake us in His.

By the Book: When was the last time you spent time searching God’s truth with an open heart on a subject you have a hard time accepting?

© 2020 Heather Greer

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