By the Book

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Tag: when bad things happen

Forgiving Isn’t Easy

“Say you’re sorry and give each other a hug.”

Growing up, it’s likely we all heard this phrase. After the heartfelt “sorry” mumbled under the offender’s breath, the adult would turn to the offended. The new mandate became, “Now tell him you forgive him.” The offended would then mutter an equally heartfelt “I forgive you”.

The idea is good. Teach children to accept their wrongful actions or attitudes, while simultaneously giving them a lesson in forgiving wrongs done to them. Now, I’m not knocking the use of this tactic. I’m sure I even used it with my own children. Looking back, however, I can see some problems with the method.

Think about it. Was their ever a time when you followed your parent’s request with sincerity? Probably not. More than likely, you were still heated about whatever got you riled up enough to do whatever you did that you shouldn’t have done. Your apology, even asking them to forgive you, was empty of real feeling just like the hug that followed. The offended didn’t want your hug anyway. They definitely didn’t want to forgive you. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out from the glares and hateful mutterings that took place when parents weren’t watching.  The plea for forgiveness and the giving of it were meaningless, except to get you out of hot water with the adults. Besides, this method also teaches children that to extend forgiveness, forgiveness must be sought after by the offender. What happens when they run into people who hurt them without regret? Will they simply hold onto the wrong done to them?

I understand why adults try to instill the idea of seeking out and giving forgiveness. Children don’t realize how crucial these practices are to having healthy relationships, not just with others but with God. I’d wager a lot of adults don’t get it either. But harboring a grudge, not forgiving wrongs done to us, puts us in a dangerous place.

The residents of Hades, Mississippi found this out for themselves in Whitewashed, by Amy C. Blake. As she returns to her grandparents’ home to begin her journey into adulthood as a student at the local college, Patience believes everything is working out perfectly for her. It doesn’t take long for her path to become rocky. Verity College isn’t all she expects. Built out of an old plantation, the school is more run-down than she remembers. Add to that the sordid past of the plantation and undercurrents of distrust and dislike among the small town’s residents, and Patience soon finds herself tangled in a web of deceit and facing a mystery that could end up costing the lives of those she loves.

As the plantation’s past and Patience’s present are woven together, Patience has to work to find the truth before it’s too late. Patience’s quest for understanding is muddied by those who haven’t allowed themselves to forgive past wrongs. The grudges they carry make them all seem guilty, and Patience can’t see past that to find truth. In some, the hatred and lack of forgiveness has left them bitter and susceptible to rash actions. In one, it’s led to a broken mind and a sick plan to bring vengeance down on those who are seen as committing the wrongs. Finding truth would have been much easier for Patience if the people of Hades had practiced forgiveness.

While it takes a very broken person to let an unforgiving spirit lead them to a place of psychotic action, it doesn’t mean harboring an unforgiving spirit is safe for any of us. Forgiveness works to accomplish several things. For the one who offended, forgiveness can show the love of God. It can start the people involved on a path of healing for their relationship. It can help the offender more clearly relate his or her actions to the consequences of those actions for the one they hurt. Seeing first-hand the pain or hurt they caused can help keep them from practicing those behaviors again.

But what if the person doesn’t want or seek forgiveness? There are still benefits to forgiveness. First, scripture tells us that we are to forgive as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32, Matthew 6:14-15, Colossians 3:13). That means we are to forgive freely, often, and before forgiveness is even sought. It’s not an option. When we withhold forgiveness, we sin. Our sin puts up walls between us and God. Forgiving others helps keep our relationship with God strong. Another positive effect of forgiving is that it frees our emotions from being controlled by what the other person has done. As long as we harbor a grudge against someone, we give them a measure of control in our lives. Because we are called to forgive as Christ forgives us, doing so helps us have a greater understanding of what Christ has done and continues to do for us.

Just because God asks us to forgive doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are some hurts so deep that giving up the right to hold those hurts against the offender is a definite struggle. Our temptation is to pick the pain back up each day, holding it close as a protective shield to keep from getting hurt again or fuel to keep our anger burning. This is especially true when the hurt comes from a betrayal or when the sin has hurt someone we love. In times like these, forgiveness may have to be a daily decision. But the good news is that forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice, and it is a choice that will make a huge difference in your life.

By the Book: Is there someone you are withholding forgiveness from? Consider how God has forgiven you. Ask Him to help you learn to extend that forgiveness to others.

Side note: It’s important to remember there is a difference between forgiving and putting yourself back into a bad situation. God requires forgiveness, but forgiveness does not always require a relationship to continue. Pray for God’s leading if you feel remaining in a situation may not be God’s best for you.

Forgiving Isn't Easy

“Say you’re sorry and give each other a hug.”
Growing up, it’s likely we all heard this phrase. After the heartfelt “sorry” mumbled under the offender’s breath, the adult would turn to the offended. The new mandate became, “Now tell him you forgive him.” The offended would then mutter an equally heartfelt “I forgive you”.
The idea is good. Teach children to accept their wrongful actions or attitudes, while simultaneously giving them a lesson in forgiving wrongs done to them. Now, I’m not knocking the use of this tactic. I’m sure I even used it with my own children. Looking back, however, I can see some problems with the method.
Think about it. Was their ever a time when you followed your parent’s request with sincerity? Probably not. More than likely, you were still heated about whatever got you riled up enough to do whatever you did that you shouldn’t have done. Your apology, even asking them to forgive you, was empty of real feeling just like the hug that followed. The offended didn’t want your hug anyway. They definitely didn’t want to forgive you. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out from the glares and hateful mutterings that took place when parents weren’t watching.  The plea for forgiveness and the giving of it were meaningless, except to get you out of hot water with the adults. Besides, this method also teaches children that to extend forgiveness, forgiveness must be sought after by the offender. What happens when they run into people who hurt them without regret? Will they simply hold onto the wrong done to them?
I understand why adults try to instill the idea of seeking out and giving forgiveness. Children don’t realize how crucial these practices are to having healthy relationships, not just with others but with God. I’d wager a lot of adults don’t get it either. But harboring a grudge, not forgiving wrongs done to us, puts us in a dangerous place.
The residents of Hades, Mississippi found this out for themselves in Whitewashed, by Amy C. Blake. As she returns to her grandparents’ home to begin her journey into adulthood as a student at the local college, Patience believes everything is working out perfectly for her. It doesn’t take long for her path to become rocky. Verity College isn’t all she expects. Built out of an old plantation, the school is more run-down than she remembers. Add to that the sordid past of the plantation and undercurrents of distrust and dislike among the small town’s residents, and Patience soon finds herself tangled in a web of deceit and facing a mystery that could end up costing the lives of those she loves.
As the plantation’s past and Patience’s present are woven together, Patience has to work to find the truth before it’s too late. Patience’s quest for understanding is muddied by those who haven’t allowed themselves to forgive past wrongs. The grudges they carry make them all seem guilty, and Patience can’t see past that to find truth. In some, the hatred and lack of forgiveness has left them bitter and susceptible to rash actions. In one, it’s led to a broken mind and a sick plan to bring vengeance down on those who are seen as committing the wrongs. Finding truth would have been much easier for Patience if the people of Hades had practiced forgiveness.
While it takes a very broken person to let an unforgiving spirit lead them to a place of psychotic action, it doesn’t mean harboring an unforgiving spirit is safe for any of us. Forgiveness works to accomplish several things. For the one who offended, forgiveness can show the love of God. It can start the people involved on a path of healing for their relationship. It can help the offender more clearly relate his or her actions to the consequences of those actions for the one they hurt. Seeing first-hand the pain or hurt they caused can help keep them from practicing those behaviors again.
But what if the person doesn’t want or seek forgiveness? There are still benefits to forgiveness. First, scripture tells us that we are to forgive as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31-32, Matthew 6:14-15, Colossians 3:13). That means we are to forgive freely, often, and before forgiveness is even sought. It’s not an option. When we withhold forgiveness, we sin. Our sin puts up walls between us and God. Forgiving others helps keep our relationship with God strong. Another positive effect of forgiving is that it frees our emotions from being controlled by what the other person has done. As long as we harbor a grudge against someone, we give them a measure of control in our lives. Because we are called to forgive as Christ forgives us, doing so helps us have a greater understanding of what Christ has done and continues to do for us.
Just because God asks us to forgive doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are some hurts so deep that giving up the right to hold those hurts against the offender is a definite struggle. Our temptation is to pick the pain back up each day, holding it close as a protective shield to keep from getting hurt again or fuel to keep our anger burning. This is especially true when the hurt comes from a betrayal or when the sin has hurt someone we love. In times like these, forgiveness may have to be a daily decision. But the good news is that forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice, and it is a choice that will make a huge difference in your life.
By the Book: Is there someone you are withholding forgiveness from? Consider how God has forgiven you. Ask Him to help you learn to extend that forgiveness to others.
Side note: It’s important to remember there is a difference between forgiving and putting yourself back into a bad situation. God requires forgiveness, but forgiveness does not always require a relationship to continue. Pray for God’s leading if you feel remaining in a situation may not be God’s best for you.

Even if He Does Not

We live in a scary world, full of unknowns. Yesterday, a boy opened fire on his classmates at a school two hours from where I live. I have friends watching the marriages of those they love fall apart. Other friends are supporting their loved ones as they deal with life-threatening diseases. Job losses, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks are a staple of the evening news.

Events like these leave a mark on our lives. They change and challenge us. They can leave us unsettled. There isn’t an answer out there that makes sense when a child, barely old enough for school, is fighting cancer. The idea that we live in a fallen, sinful world doesn’t make it easier to accept it when the relationship we’ve invested our energy in dissolves into lawyers, judges, and divorce.

These things happen, and we can’t make sense of why. The lack of control and understanding couple with the questions of what is going to happen next to create a perfect storm of fear swirling around us and, at times, in us. Fear is powerful. Fear has been the catalyst in many poor decisions. Fear has provided the bricks that have built walls between loved ones. Fear has dared hurting people to fire arrows of hate at the ones they’re supposed to love and protect in a warped attempt at protecting self. What causes one to fear may not faze another. It doesn’t make it less potent. And reactions to fear are as varied as the things we fear.

Some of these reactions are depicted in the fictional lives of Melody Mason and James Montgomery in A Melody for James, by Hallee Bridgeman. Melody faces betrayal and a near death experience before coming out on the other side in stubborn rebellion against her fears. Even facing a potentially dangerous stalker, Melody pushes through refusing to give in to fear. It’s not logical, but it’s what she feels she has to do to keep fear from controlling her life.

James, on the other hand, has known his share of loss. Without answers to questions of who or why, James learns there is only One he can lean on to get through. But faith doesn’t keep James from struggling when the past and present collide. The depth of loss he suffered paralyzes him as his path gets tangled up with Melody’s. The threat of losing all he’s worked for and cares about becomes a challenge to his faith. His desire to freeze and Melody’s desire to rebel against the fear pit the two against each other until their relationship comes to its breaking point. And it’s all because of fear.

Their fictional story rings true to our own struggles with fear, and I wish I had better answers for those times. So often, we fall back on scriptural reminders that God will work good out of any bad situation we face if we let Him. We remind ourselves that with His help we can do all things, and that includes going through whatever we are facing. We look at ourselves in the mirror are try to encourage ourselves with a pep talk that includes us not being given a spirit of fear.

All of these things are true. Each one of them has power to help us through the fear-filled times. But sometimes, we’ve heard them enough that we don’t really hear them anymore. We cling to the idea that we will get through this and be better than we were when we started. One way or another, that is true. But we tend to see it in very physical terms, that the situation will pass and all will be well.

A scripture I have been thinking about recently reminds me it doesn’t have to happen the way I want it to in order to believe God is still in complete control. “And they lived happily ever after” doesn’t need to take place for God to be worthy of my devotion and unwavering trust. It’s a story we’re all familiar with, and we focus on the good ending every time we tell it to a group of children in Sunday school. We recount the story of three brave young men who stood up to a king for their God, and they were rewarded with a trip to the fiery furnace. With gusto, we act out the declaration that there are not three but four walking around in the fire and one is like the Son of God! We revel in the calling of the men from the fire and the king’s change of heart. But that’s not the part of the story that has struck a chord with me.

I need you to back up a little. Go back to Daniel 3:17-18. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” The three Israelites believed God would deliver them, but they didn’t have that promise. What they had was an angry king and a furnace hot enough to kill men who simply approached it. They had an unknown outcome, and a situation that would strike fear into the heart of the strongest of people. But they also had hope.

This hope wasn’t in God resolving the situation the way they wanted or even the way they believed He would. “But even if he does not”, that is a powerful statement. These young men knew they had no control over what the king would do to them, just as we can’t control what men are going to do in our lives. They knew they had no control over the outcome any more than we have control over the events in our lives. Like is so often the case, they didn’t have the answers to what was going to happen. What they did have was a deeply ingrained belief that whatever happened, God was in control and would not abandon them in their time of need. Even if God chose to let them die, they knew He was still being faithful to deliver them from this evil king into His presence. Their hope wasn’t in what man would do. Their hope was in who God was. And who God was, He still is. I pray when fear inspiring situations come into my life, I am able to stand as they did. I pray I can remain strong, with my hope anchored in who God is despite the storm raging in my life.

By the Book: To have hope in who God is, we have to know Him. Spend time searching out scriptures that remind you of who God is and what He is like.

Main Character Monday #4

MRP-Micki-Clark-Dont-Ask-Me-to-Leave-360x570

Welcome to Main Character Monday. It’s a little different than my regular blog posts, a little more lighthearted. But stick with it, and you just might find some characters you’d like to read more about. And even though it isn’t my usual devotional style, you may still come away with an encouraging word from the Word. I hope you enjoy Main Character Monday!

 

Today’s Guest is Rachel Miller from Don’t Ask Me to Leave by Micki Clark. Thank you for joining me Rachel.

Could you please share with us your favorite Bible verse?

Well, naturally, I love the book of Ruth, but especially Ruth 1:16: “But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Is there a person from the Bible that you most relate to?

Oh, man. Definitely Job, there for awhile. I mean, I know he had it worse than me. He did. But you know, it felt like my whole life was just one big cycle of death and destruction. I lost my parents, I lost my husband. Really, I lost my way. What embarrasses me a little is that unlike Job, I kind of lost my faith too. Thank goodness for Nadine, who pulled me back in. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Is there one of these characteristics you find easier to show than the others? Hmm. Well, I guess gentleness describes me the most, but I do try to be kind to others. You just never know when someone else needs that. I know I certainly did.

Which one is the most challenging for you?

Patience. Ha! No, seriously. Patience for sure. I guess I’ll always struggle with that one. I mean, I’m patient for some things, like waiting on pizza to come out of the oven. But I tend to be impatient with people when they aren’t like me. I wasn’t patient with my sister-in-law Olivia. I’m still trying to make up for that.

If you could give one message to those reading this interview, what would you tell them?

You never know how much time you’ll have with anyone. Anyone. Cherish every moment. Dance in the rain. Eat the extra slice of pizza. Laugh like no one hears you braying like a mule.

Just for Fun:

Dark or Milk Chocolate? Oh, dark, definitely. It’s so decadent.

Beach or Mountains? Never been to the beach. But, I totally love hiking the mountains. One of these days I’d like to give the Appalachian Trail a run for its money.

Sweet Tea or Lemonade? Oh, gag. What is this nation’s obsession with sweet tea? Uh-uh. Nope. Can’t take it. Lemonade, although if it could be strawberry lemonade, with chunks of strawberries stirred in. . .

If you could describe Micki Clark in three words, what would those words be?

Hardworking, loyal, and determined. She gives 110% to everything. She really needs to learn to back off of some stuff, because she has a big tendency to overextend herself.

Thank you, Rachel Miller for allowing me to interview you and to Micki Clark for sharing Rachel with us.

Don’t Ask Me to Leave is available in e-book and paperback from Amazon. And don’t forget, book reviews are a great way to help your favorite authors get the word out about their books. After you’ve checked out the Main Character Monday books, don’t forget to leave your Amazon review!

 

 

Out of the Ordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Curtain

I think there is a bit of the wizard of Oz in all of us. We’re not purposefully deceiving people into believing in a contrived image of ourselves like he did. It’s more like we act in ways based on what we have experienced, but unless people are close enough to us to look behind the curtain, they see only our actions and not the reasons behind them. Judgements are made. We hold those who tend to be prickly at arm’s length when what they need to be pulled in close. We cling to those who are easy to love without seeing their brokenness. Sometimes, we don’t see because we don’t look. Other times, people hide behind the curtain because letting others see their hurt is hard.

I’ll be honest with you. I’m a private person. People often see the effects of events in my life without knowing the story I keep behind the curtain. It’s difficult to admit, but several years ago I went through the most devastating experience of my life. It led to a struggle with depression that took a long time for me to overcome. It’s hard to admit it for a couple reasons. One, it’s not a good memory. It’s a time I don’t want to revisit. Another is that many in the area where I live don’t understand depression, especially in the church. I fully believe my God can heal and that prayer and time in the Word are essential to maintaining spiritual and emotional health. But I also know how damaging it is to have well-meaning believers tell you all you need to do is pray more, study more, and have more faith to make the “sadness” go away. They don’t understand it when I say that I was closer to God than I had ever been before, and yet, I still had to fight the depression on a daily basis. Even admitting to it now, in this public way, leaves me feeling vulnerable.

So, I didn’t talk about it. But it didn’t leave me unchanged. I was stronger in my faith. Sometimes, it takes being knocked to the ground so hard you can’t get up to really understand needing God’s strength. But the change I believe people saw most was me going through the motions of daily life. Some days that’s all I could do. I became a little more jaded and a little less patient. I was more than likely moody. When you’re not eating or sleeping properly, that happens.

I found out years later that my oldest child noticed. She remembered how life was in our house before, during, and after the hard times. If a child recognized it, I know others in my life did too. Sometimes I wonder if they ever considered the reasons hidden behind the curtain of my life.

Pain changes you. Loss changes you. It’s the truth, even when it’s the subject of fiction. I was reminded of this while reading Don’t Ask Me to Leave, by Micki Clark. Four different characters faced similar heartache and loss, and each reacted in a different way. As I considered my own experiences, I could relate to the anger I saw. I could understand the desire for seclusion. I even related to the drive to push oneself into all sorts of activity to run from the pain. I could empathize with the main character’s hesitancy to let go and move on. But I could also understand the need of her friends to confront her at times with her behavior even though they understood it was pain driven.

Rachel’s story of love and loss and living was written with honesty. I ached for her to get to the other side of her pain. But it wasn’t just her story. It was also the story of Beau and Nadine, who each experienced great loss as well. Their own losses and the results of those losses were just as touching as Rachel’s. Clark wove together three versions of the same heartache into a beautifully written story of love, loss, and redemption. Reading it reminded me how important it is to take the time to consider what lies behind the curtain in the lives of those I come in contact with.

We are called as Christians to rejoice when our brothers rejoice and mourn with the brother who mourns (Romans 12:15). We are called to deal with each other in patience and with love (Ephesians 4:2-3). We don’t have to know every detail of each other’s lives. Some hurts are too deep to share with others, and we need to understand that. What we can do, though, is begin to realize that there may be more to the person in the pew next to us than the anger, apathy, fear, or impatience we see in their actions. Even the one who seems to have it all together, that leaves us feeling like we’re not measuring up, may have more going on behind the scenes than we know. Instead of judging based on the actions we see, let’s remember we all have our wizard behind the curtain and choose to act in patience and love.

By the Book: Read the verses above. Take time to pray for the people in your life that may not always be easy to love. Ask God to help you learn how to love them, even if you don’t understand the reasons why they act the way they do.

Life Designed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Wants Happily Ever After?

They lived happily ever after. This idea closes many books with a contented sigh. It leaves us feeling that all is right in the world of the character. But is it life? Would we even want that? A world where everything always works out with rainbows and butterflies? I don’t think so. Though she probably didn’t see at the time, if Cinderella hadn’t had the misfortune of losing a shoe, her prince wouldn’t have found her. If Ariel had been completely at ease under the sea, would the spunky mermaid have saved her prince from drowning?  It was the conflict that brought them to something better. It taught them about the world and who they were. While everyone needs times of peace and ease, to live in a constant state of bliss can stunt growth and keep people closed off to new possibilities.

Peace and ease were quickly shattered for Mary Wade, the main character in Rescued Hearts by Hope Toler Dougherty. Thrust, against her will and much to her surprise, into a world of criminal danger, Mary Wade wrestles with fear and doubt in a tangible way from the start. Even when she finds helps in an unlikely place, she has to rely on discernment to decide whether or not Brett, her knight in shining armor, is really a toad in disguise.

In the twists and turns of her time with Brett, Mary Wade discovers what she’s made of. She finds pain and fear don’t have to incapacitate. She finds courage to do the hard things. She does it all while retaining a caring heart for those in need, even when they have caused her pain. She’s far from perfect, but Mary Wade keeps going and growing no matter what life throws at her. And, along with her faith, it makes her a better person.

The hard things in life can do the same for us. Often, unexpected and unwanted circumstances attack our happily ever after and we fight it. What would happen if, like Job, we said, “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble” (Job 2:10)? What if we held onto the promises of scripture that tell us God’s plans are to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) and that God works in the bad to bring about good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28)? It wouldn’t take away the pain, but it can change our attitudes and perspectives. We might not like it, but we can face each trial with renewed strength and determination.

During the hardest trial of my life, I struggled to find hope, peace, and joy. Sometimes, I still struggle to find those things. I have bad days, but for the most part, God has brought me to the other side of the pain. Do you know what I found? God is using all the hurt and what I learned in my darkest time to make me more suited to the purpose He has for me. Paired with the passion He has given me for writing, God is taking the worst time of my life and using it to encourage others who are facing similar situations. If it can help someone else have a little more strength, a little more encouragement, or, possibly, even a new knowledge of a Savior that loves them, then I can live with the pain. I may not always be able to say I’m living happily ever after with my circumstances. There are days I still pray for the rainbows. I can, however, say that despite the situations, it is well with my soul.  And that is a happy ending.

By the Book: Is your life in a time of trial or peace? If you’ve come through a trial, how can God use it to help others? If you’re in the trial right now, remember God loves you. He has plans for you. Ask Him for encouragement, wisdom, and strength as you go through this hard time. You are not alone. Seek out Christian friends who can help support and pray for you.

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