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deserted island

Just a Few Miracles

deserted island

Try to find a fictional book that isn’t about relationships. Man-verses-nature stories, like Cast Away or The Martian, where the hero fights to survive in isolation, might come to mind. However, in both movies, the struggle was to return to their friends and loved ones and how they handled the absence of personal interaction. In Cast Away, Chuck Nolan (played by Tom Hanks) forms an attachment to a volleyball he calls Wilson because he’s so desperate for connection.

The need for relationships even trumps the need for survival, which is why Chuck sails out on a sketchy raft of his own making even though he’d learned to survive on a deserted island. It’s also why Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) risks death by puncturing his suit to propel himself toward the rescue spacecraft. God created us to be social beings, and we were made for relationships. Interconnection is part of the great commandment, Love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourselves.

My friend, Kristen Carlson, pointed out to me in Mark 6:5 the extent to that Jesus treasured relationships. While Jesus’s healings and miracles wow us, they’re secondary compared to His true purpose. Mark 6:5 states, “And he [Jesus] could do no mighty work there [His hometown, Nazareth], except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Healing sick people wasn’t the mighty work. The mighty work was drawing people to God and having a real relationship with him.  

The word except in the passage is like a shrug, so He just laid hands on a few sick and healed them. It reads as if mere healings were settling for something lesser. Jesus’s aim was on eternity, not on the here and now. It’s easy to focus on the ache and pain that plagues us at the moment and turn a blind eye to the malnourished souls that are perishing. 1 John 3:1 dares us to, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

Unlike Chuck Nolan’s wife in Cast Away, whose fiancée remarried, or Mark Watney’s crew teasing him about his stench, God spreads His arms wide, ready to lavish His love on his beloved children and welcome them home.

dad carrying son in his arms

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Girl stepping on camera lens

Rebellion Vs. Righteous Anger

Girl about to step on camera

My friend’s hands shook as she showed me the pages of the book Concussion that her son had been assigned to read as a sophomore in high school. She’d highlighted the pages (upon pages) of vulgar language that would deem a movie rated R. Although her son wouldn’t be old enough to get into an R-rated film, The school system assigned the reading of these offensive words as homework. No parental guidance letter, warning notice, or authorization signature form had been sent out. My friend asked for prayer before she confronted the school to protect her children’s minds and guard their hearts.

It’s easy to believe that evil happens somewhere else. It’s not in our town, neighborhood, or home. We’re stunned and often unprepared when something hits close to home. But the Bible warns us to be “sober and vigilant because our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Being safe doesn’t mean isolating ourselves and hiding from what’s out there. It’s not pretending that life is hunky-dory or staying quiet and complying. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

We must Resist.
There is a difference between being rebellious and confronting out of righteous anger. Righteous anger doesn’t let the devil roam through our cities, schools, and homes. First, however, we must submit to and humble ourselves before God to know His will. Second, we are to resist, which often means taking action and confronting evil. Nehemiah told the people of Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 5:14) Nehemiah had to confront Tobiah and Sanballat. These evil men had done everything in their power, including spreading lies, threatening, and an assassination attempt, to keep Nehemiah from rebuilding the walled gate to protect Jerusalem.

We don’t battle alone.
Chapter three of Nehemiah lists the families repairing the gates and sections of wall, these families were spread out, most working remotely on the areas near their homes, but they were working to accomplish the same goal. Nehemiah instructed them to continue fixing their section on the wall. But when the alarm sounded, they were to come running and defend each other. We don’t fight alone. God fights with us, and so does our spiritual family, not only in the physical realm but in the spiritual. 1 Peter 5:9 says, “Stand firm against him [the enemy] and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.”

Templar Knight

Keep your spiritual weapons handy.
It is not time to put down our weapons. We must keep putting on the full armor of God daily and stay vigilant. Covid exposed many issues and activated many people, but how quickly we can fall back into our complacency. Just like Nehemiah, we must have our weapons ready and with us at all times. Nehemiah 4:23 says they had them, “even when we went for water.” So too, must we continue to carry our spiritual weapons because our fight isn’t against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

Call out the lies.
When Sanballat and Tobiah couldn’t stop Nehemiah from finishing the wall, they turned to intimidation and spreading lies. Sanballat wrote letters to the king, claiming Nehemiah was trying to overthrow the king’s authority and install himself as the sovereign ruler. Nehemiah didn’t back down, and he didn’t apologize so that he wouldn’t be trashed on social media (or by whatever means gossip traveled back then). He didn’t worry about appearances. His only concern was for how God felt, so Nehemiah spoke the truth and called Sanballot out, “You know you are lying. There is no truth in any part of your story.” (Nehemiah 6:8)

John Adams once wrote to his wife Abigail, “I must study politics and war so that our sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” We must confront evil now while we have a chance by a peaceable means. If we don’t, then we’re only kicking the can down the road and forcing our children to have to battle evil by another means in the future. Author of Living for Legacy,Brian Bullock, says, “Building a legacy isn’t for the weak.” It’s not easy confronting school systems, bad boyfriends (or girlfriends), or tyranny in our workplaces or government. It’s not always easy to stand up and speak the truth, but don’t let complacency take root.

We can take courage because Romans 8:31 states, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

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College students

What do You Want to do for the Rest of Your Life?

My oldest son is starting to look at colleges. Stacks of brochures arrive every day in our mailbox with smiling faces of young adults on the front, all of them stating they have state-of-the-art programs. The pressure to measure up increases as grades, essays, and S.A.T. scores threaten to limit your options or categorize kids into specific levels.

My son asked me a line of questions with an underlying theme, do I have what it takes to make it? I reassured him that he did. We’ve done our best to set him up for life, but for the first time, his future will be entirely up to him, which can make for some scary decisions for a seventeen-year-old.

Raising an Entrepreneur Cover

Margot Machol Bisnow, in her book Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers, argues that parents often fear that if their kids pursue their passion, they won’t make enough money to live. Parents can’t help but have heart palpitations when their child or grandchild says, “when I grow up, I’m going to be a social influencer or play video games for a living.” Parents long for their children to pursue their passions but also make enough money to be productive bill-paying adults, not living in our basements. Bisnow states, “someone who loves something enough and works hard enough at it will find a way to turn it into a living… I [Bisnow] also believe they will never be great at something if they don’t work nonstop at it, and they will never work nonstop if they don’t love it.”

While I agree with what Bisnow says, I also believe that our passions can lead us astray. I went through a phase where I was passionate about the color purple, and almost everything in my wardrobe was a shade of that color, but thankfully, that passion faded. I can say the same about art and dance. While those skills and abilities were at one point my passion, they have made for better hobbies and would have quickly become a chore if tied to my income.

So how do we decide what we want to do with our lives? How do we help guide our children and train them up in the way they should go? (Proverbs 22:6)

Teach them to pursue God.

It’s that simple, yet complicated. Pursue God and He will show you your purpose. The word pursue is critical. It doesn’t mean tossing out a quick prayer; God, help me pick a major. To pursue means to chase after. I think of the woman who’d bled for twelve years who sought to be healed by Jesus. The streets had been crowded that day as Jesus was passing through. People were trying to get close, bumping him, rubbing elbows, but they weren’t the ones being healed. It was a woman who sought out Jesus with the faith that if she merely touched his cloak, she would be healed. It was only then that Jesus felt power leave him (Luke 8:43-48). It was her desperate pursuit that brought on the miracle.

When we walk in our purpose, it becomes a passion. There is joy in living out God’s will for our lives, but it doesn’t come without challenges. David still had to face a giant, but he ran out onto the field two meet Goliath. David was ready for battle, ready for his destiny, whereas Goliath walked. David also had to wait to become king. He started as the harp boy playing music to soothe King Saul. David had ups and downs winning battles but ran for his life when King Saul became jealous. After basically getting fired and evicted, David met his mighty men, who would then stand by him when he became king.

We, too, will have ups and downs, failures and triumphs. God puts us in different situations, sometimes to grow ourselves and sometimes to help others grow. We shouldn’t be afraid to start small with humble beginnings or fail. God has made us resilient. That’s why a righteous man can fall seven times and still get back up again. Whatever path we choose, we know that God will direct our steps if we pursue Him and His will for our lives. We can rest assured that He has plans for us and will give us hope and a future.

thumbs up

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Santa and Sleigh moving across the moon.

Add an E to Pace

Beware of holiday burnout. A local radio station announced that December 15th was when adults started to grow tired of celebrating Christmas. According to the station, this year’s weariness came earlier than usual. I can speculate on a few reasons why. It could be because supply chain issues had people shopping too early, that stores have displayed Christmas decorations since August, or because we’ve entered a time warp and are reliving Christmas 2020 (at least here in New England.)
 
To be honest, this Christmas had been a struggle to keep up the pace and the peace. I don’t know whether it’s or because I kept remembering one more person I’d forgotten to shop for and scrambled only to wait in massive lines to buy a gift, or because my boys are teens and too old for Christmas magic, but this Christmas felt hard. I shouldn’t complain because for others, Christmas is a reminder of a heavy heart or the empty place setting at the table, and I have much to be grateful for.

It’s odd, but the book of Lamentations put everything in perspective for me. Jeremiah writes about the desolation of Israel, and as he had prophesied, the Babylonians had invaded, destroying the temple and walls of Jerusalem. The people who weren’t carried away as prisoners ran off to Egypt and were killed or starved to death in their Jerusalem homes. Only a small remnant survived. Things looked dark and bleak for the Jewish people, but God was setting the stage to offer forgiveness to a world that repeatedly refused to listen and kept returning to its wicked ways, like a dog to its vomit.
 
God was preparing a way, which meant sending His son to save us.
 
The peace that passes all understanding is knowing God is doing good no matter how things may appear or feel. We must remember that God is victorious even when it looks like defeat. Peace is the faith that God holds you in the palm of His hand and that He is for you. It’s submitting, knowing God is in control, and relaxing because He came to bring peace, and He’s coming again.
 
In his, Handbook of Christian Feasts, Francis X. Weiser explains how when we wish someone a Merry Christmas, we are actually wishing them a blessed, peaceful Christmas. He states, “The well-known carol ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’ is an excellent example of the original meaning of ‘merry.’ The position of the comma clearly shows the true meaning (the word is not an adjective describing ‘gentlemen’) and therefore is not ‘God rest you, joyful gentlemen,’ but ‘God rest you peacefully, gentlemen.’” (Weiser, Francis X., Handbook of Christian Feasts, Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1952, Pg 69.) The turning of this phrase shows God’s peace is what brings us happiness.
 
As we sprint towards the Christmas finish line, ready or not, let’s remind ourselves of the win. It’s not about presents under the tree or cards in the mailbox. It’s a baby born in a manger. Jesus was given to us, and the weight of this world and the government rests on His shoulders. Instead of ours. He is called the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).



 Manger scene painting
Merry Christmas!
Rainbow in a field

Hope Amid Disaster

I woke this past Saturday at 5:30 am, and my blood turned to ice despite being under layers of covers. My husband and I got up early to hit the gym before my son’s wrestling match and turned on the news. The Governor of Kentucky stood in front of a podium, and the electronic banner beneath him read, Massive tornado hits Kentucky. The screen changed to a map of a red line that ran straight up the state’s western side—right to where my parents lived.

I grabbed my phone and texted them: Are you all right?

I waited for their response, all the while sending up S.O.S. prayers for their protection and remaining glued to the T.V. screen.

Minutes ticked by. No response.

I felt helpless being so far away. It was 5:30, and my parents could have still been sleeping. Or, they could have been buried under rubble. I must have checked my phone twenty times as I tried to go about my day as usual, but I couldn’t shake the niggling fear of what if…

At 7:30, my mom texted me back, stating they were fine, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, not everyone can say the same.

It breaks my heart to see the devastation that was wrought in Western Kentucky. Tears fill my eyes thinking of the presents that had been under Christmas trees, children who had been asleep in their beds, moms and dads who were resting up for the weekend holiday plans, and then it was all gone.
I wish I could say this was a singular occurrence, that things would get better, but the truth is our world is fallen. The Bible says the earth will groan as we draw closer to the end of the age, and things will get worse until God establishes a new heaven on earth.

Thanks for the uplifting message, Lorri. I can imagine the sarcasm, but this is the reason Christmas exists.

Jesus came to bring light into the darkness and hope to a fallen world. It is in these dark times that God’s love shines brightest. We may have to live in a world with tragedy and natural disasters, but we don’t have to live in despair. God works everything for his good, and He raises beauty out of ashes.

candle

Because of Christmas and the birth of Christ, we can hold onto hope. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.”

Christianity thrives in the worst of times. Look at how the Christian church grew under the diabolic reign of Roman Empire Nero; look how it’s expanded in China and now is spreading in the Middle East and Northern Africa. God’s light shines brightest in the darkness.

Hope came into this desperate and lost world in the form of a baby in a manager. Jesus lived and died so that we might cling to hope, knowing death has been defeated. He also commissioned us to spread His light to others until He returns once more.

The world may seem dark, but soon there won’t be a need for the sun because God’s radiance will shine in its place.

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icicles

Ice Doesn’t Melt at 31 Degrees

We had our first snow up in New England the day after Thanksgiving. There’s nothing like frosty weather to set us in the mood for Christmas. For some of us (usually those who still have shopping to do), the big day comes much too fast. For others, especially over-excited children, Christmas day can’t arrive fast enough. When my boys were younger, we always had to do a Christmas chain or advent calendar so they could see the days getting closer. Otherwise, I’d be plagued with, “How many more days?”

Waiting can be excruciating.

When I train any new greeters to the first impressions team at my church, I have them envision the father of the prodigal son watching the horizon, day in and day out, hoping to spy the silhouette of his son in the distance. Or I have them picture a mother who gets on her knees every morning and in earnest prays for her son or daughter to come back to the Lord. Every day they prayed, and each day they battled discouragement when nothing changed. However, this could be the day. The prodigal son could wake up and realize he doesn’t need to starve to death and can return home to his father’s house. This could be the day that a daughter, who had nowhere else to turn, remembers her friend who invited her to church. Today could be the day, and if you were the mother whose knees were worn from praying or the father whose eyes were strained from staring at the horizon, how would you want your son or daughter to be welcomed?

Waiting can be frustrating

dog waiting

Nothing happens to water until it reaches 32 degrees. Until that marker, ice won’t melt and water won’t freeze, but once the temperature hits that degree, things start to happen. Life can be a lot like water. We wait and we wait, and nothing seems to happen. I remember growing so frustrated in hoping for a book contract, questioning whether the desire I felt to write was actually God’s plan for my life. Discouraged was an understatement, but I kept putting my fingers to the keyboard. I’d written five and a half books (some of which will never leave my computer) before a publishing house reached out to me and then a second shortly after—all those years of hoping and waiting, and then wham, three books released in six months.

Waiting doesn’t mean forgotten

Joseph waited in a jail cell for a crime he didn’t commit, and after interpreting the baker and cupbearer’s dreams, he asked them to remember him so he could be freed. What happened after the baker and cupbearer were released from jail? Well, the baker was beheaded, but the cupbearer promptly forgot the man who’d helped him, so Joseph continued to wait in prison. It wasn’t until Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted that the cupbearer remembered Joseph and Joseph was brought before the king. In all that waiting, God never forgot about Joseph.

Waiting is a development period

Waiting can be a time for learning, developing, and understanding ourselves better. With me, I learned a lot about writing (what to do and what not to do) through those first books and by reading everything about the craft I could find. While waiting in the jail, Joseph was put in charge of managing the prisoners, which developed skills to help him later manage all of Egypt. He also grew in humility and wisdom. As a boy, Joseph hadn’t used discretion when telling his brothers about his dreams that they would someday bow down to him. Having three boys myself, I understand how such comments from a younger brother wouldn’t be well-received. God used this waiting period to teach Joseph and change his heart toward his brothers.

If you’re in a waiting period, God hasn’t forgotten about you or your prayers. Use the time to understand what God is trying to teach you, and don’t give up hope. Ice won’t melt at 31 degrees, but a lot can change with one degree.

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Burning ship

Burn the Ships

In writing, the doorway of no return is the situation that pushes our hero into a new normal. In the story’s opening, a glimpse of the hero’s life as he knows it is depicted until something rocks his world. The hero is thrust, whether willingly or unwillingly, into a new normal. Even if he wanted to return to his old life, it’s now out of his reach. He’s left with no other choice but to press forward.

When Alexander the Great reached the shores of Persia in 334 BC, he ordered his men to burn the ships, stating they would “either return home in Persian ships or we will die here.” (Kanigan, Manner of speaking.org, Burning the Ships and Sailing Away, Jan 2015)  Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez took the lead from Alexander, and when landing in what is now modern-day Mexico, he scuttled his ships to force his men inland, slamming closed the door of retreat.

The doorway of no return happened for Rahab in the Bible when she hid two Israelite spies. The King of Jericho demanded the men be brought out. Rahab could have given them up and gone on with her life. Instead, she hid them among the flax piles on her roof and told the soldiers that the Israeli men had already come and gone.

Rahab burned her ships.

A prostitute held little value to the King of Jericho and treason was a serious crime. The moment she chose to aid two strangers, failure no longer was an option. What put Rahab in the faith hall of fame was her trust in the God of the Israelites—a God she had only heard stories of but went all in to serve and trust (Joshua 2).

man looking back

Since Covid, many of us have been waiting for life to go back to normal, but we’ve passed through a doorway of no return. While it’s admirable to learn from history (Jesus often referenced those that came before and God’s prior works), it’s detrimental to remain stuck in the past. The time has come to decide whether we’re going to cling to the shipwreck that was 2020, be buried under the crumbled walls of Jericho, or choose to burn the ships. It’s time to step forward in faith and realize that God is doing a new and better thing.

We can’t let our trepidation of the unknown keep us from walking inland toward God’s purpose for our lives. If we keep looking back and holding onto the past, we miss what’s ahead of us. It cost Lot’s wife her life. She didn’t heed God’s warning and looked back. Doing so turned her into a pillar of salt.

We need to be turning to God to show us the way forward. What younger generation can we pour into? How can we get reinvested and reinvolved? It’s time to prepare to march into God’s promises knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us. God’s making streams in the desert and paths through the wilderness (Isaiah 43:19), but we have to move forward to see it.

“Through every generation of the human race, there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.” ~ Alexander the Great

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Snorkel diver

Go Deeper

Diver
Dig deeper is typed into the margins of my rough draft. I’m blessed to have incredible editors. They push me to draw emotions out of my characters, forcing me to place myself within the character’s head, see what they see, and feel what they feel. If they’re angry, then it’s my teeth that grind, my fingernails that dig into the seat of my chair, and the low rumble of a growl that builds within my chest. If they’re falling in love, then my stomach needs to flutter like migrating monarch butterflies, and it’s my blood that needs to zing as if newly carbonated.

If I’m lazy, I slip into telling: she felt, she hoped, she realized. Lazy writing creates distance between the heroine and the reader. The reader no longer resides within the heroine’s head. They’re now a fly on the wall observing the plot from a distance. The emotions fall flat no matter what flowery words or similes are used.

Even worse is being lazy with my faith. It’s easy to go through the motions, like praying because it’s expected or because we’re sitting down to dinner. It’s simple to say rote prayers where the words spill out without consideration of what they mean. Lazy faith keeps God as an observer from a distance instead of inviting him into our hearts and daily lives to experience true intimacy.

So how do we not let our faith become stale? Isaiah 37:31 says, “Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above.” When we dig deep and take root, i.e. through reading scripture, praying for revelation, and seeking the Holy Spirit, we’ll draw closer to God, and in turn, God will draw closer to us. When we lean into God, He solidifies our faith. When we press in, our convictions strengthen. Our roots anchor us into the fullness of God, and we feel Him on an intimate level.
Tree with large roots
Isaiah 37 tells us to take root below and we will bear fruit above. The more rooted we are in God, the more we reap the benefits of the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Bearing fruit like all relationships takes work. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. God is passionate about His children and desires to spend time with us. Jeremiah 29:12-13 states, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Sometimes we have to push past our complacency and go deep to experience the richness of God.

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bandaged teddy bear

Walking Wounded

bandaged Teddy bear

My novels all follow a pattern. The heroine and hero are going about their daily lives trying to maintain the status quo when an inciting incident throws their ordinary world into chaos. This new struggle reveals wounds and insecurities and forces them to figuratively look at themselves in the mirror and realize they are broken. Up to that point, they’ve been either ignoring their issues or trying to fix the brokenness by themselves. The problem is, they can’t.

And neither can we.

I have tons of insecurities. My biggest involves my children. I’m constantly plagued by doubts that I’ve done the right thing to build their characters or trained them up in the way they should go. I’m always second-guessing whether I disciplined them enough or too much, whether I supported them or let them down, whether I blessed them or messed them up for life. It wasn’t until God impressed upon me that I wasn’t the only one who brought them into this world. My boys are His children too. There wasn’t anything I could do that He couldn’t undo or fix. He made them the way they are for a reason, and he made me their mother for a reason. I must try to do my best and leave some things up to Him.

We have self-doubt. We are all broken in one way or another. Some wounds are accidental, some are generational, and some are deep and put us on life support. We don’t get to choose our wounds, but we do get to choose how we heal.

I’ll never forget watching the movie Master and Commander when the ship’s physician is shot and has to pull the bullet out himself and stitch himself up while his shipmates hold a mirror. His work was messy, and he did a terrible job, but it’s because we weren’t meant to fix ourselves.

How often do we try to band-aid a gushing wound? Placing a bandage on a broken bone isn’t going to do the trick. We don’t know how to fix ourselves properly because we didn’t make ourselves. However, the one who formed us in our mother’s womb, our Creator and Maker does. When we surrender our lives insecurities, wounds, and brokenness, God will hold us in the palm of his righteous right hand and heal our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.

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