Be moved. Be changed. Love because you are loved.

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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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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.

Lion

Chutzpah!

Lion

I love feisty heroines who stand their ground, put their foot down, or dish it back out to the hero. I’ve never considered myself a gutsy person. Sure, I like rollercoasters, but I’ll climb the curtains if I see a spider. If someone says something negative, I have great comebacks—only a few hours later, usually alone in the shower. These great zingers tend to go unspoken. In the past few years, however, it’s as if I’ve been taking pointers from my heroines. My inner sass has blossomed, especially when it comes to fighting for my children.

My youngest getting ready to wrestle

My youngest son, my baby, who’s now taller than me, wrestles. It was his second year wrestling, and he was up against a kid who’d been in an elite wrestling club. The boy picked my son up and then did a pile driver (an illegal move) that slammed my son headfirst into the mat. My heart jumped into my throat as I stood on the ring’s edge, ready to rush in and call 9-1-1. My son got up dazed. His coach beckoned him over and asked if he was okay. My youngest took a moment, shook it off, and continued to wrestle. I could tell he was still a little rattled, and the other kid maneuvered him into an almost-pin. My son fought hard and held off the pin for what seemed like an endless moment. The other wrestler’s coach jumped up and stood over them, screaming, “Finish him! Finish him!”

I saw red.

I don’t know if I was filled with righteous anger or became possessed by a demon because little 5’3” me jumped in front of this bulky, vein-bulging-in-his-neck wrestling coach and screamed back, “Finish him? What do you mean finish him? That’s my son you’re talking about.” I was ready to throw down. I didn’t care who or how big this man was. He wasn’t going to hurt the child I bore, nursed, and spent sleepless nights caring for.

The Yiddish word for what I did is called chutzpah. It means bravery that borders on rudeness (or insanity—my definition). Jesus encountered a Canaanite woman with a lot of chutzpah whose daughter was demon-possessed. She followed Jesus, crying out, “Lord, son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering greatly (Matthew 15:22).” Jesus didn’t say anything, but eventually, the disciples became annoyed and asked Jesus to send her away because she kept shouting after them. Jesus told his disciples that he was here to save the Jews. It wasn’t his time yet to start helping the gentiles. The woman, however, knelt before Jesus and begged him to help her.

Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

 “Yes it is, Lord,” she replied in her relentless mother-bear-mode chutzpah. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Part of me thought, whoa now. Did she know she was talking to God’s son, who was there at the creation of the earth? The man who commands the angels and controls the wind and the waves? The other part of me cheered for her bravery. Her daughter was suffering, and this mama would pursue the man who had the power to heal her child. She would beg for his mercy and go to any length, even if it meant convincing him to change his plans. She knew Jesus was the only hope.

Jesus saw her faith, granted her request, and the Bible says, “Her daughter was healed at that moment (Matthew 15:21-28).”

Our children and grandchildren are watching. They are waiting to see if we have the chutzpah to stand up against the bullies that try to influence them. They are learning from us how to face down demons. Are we doing it with faith and God’s authority?

The length of our love and the depths of our devotion will be what makes a difference for their future. They are worth fighting for, so let’s muster our chutzpah.

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Seasons Vs. Cycles

Fall trees

The changing seasons in New England are gorgeous. Fall is one of my favorites, with all the leaves setting the skyline on fire with color. Winters can be a little long and cold, but as I learned after my first snowfall here, you layer up and wait for spring. There’s nothing like snuggling up in a blanket with my laptop to write as snow falls softly out the window.

Seasons are each unique, charming, and challenging in their own way. Life’s seasons can be the same. My youthful innocence held the peace of unfettered responsibility along with a struggle to learn identity, life skills, and a sense of belonging among peers. The season of parenting meant the joy of holding my precious babies in my arms but also such sleep deprivation that I could barely function at times. My husband and I are heading into a new season of our children becoming grown men where we see the fruit of what we’ve worked hard to develop within them, but with a sadness that they will soon be leaving the nest.

In seasons we learn and grow as God uses it to mature and mold our character. We pass through them and come out stronger for it. However, it can be challenging to distinguish whether we are in a season or a cycle.

One of the more famous cycles, the Crazy Cycle, termed by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in the book Love and Respect, is where a woman seeks love, but a man seeks respect and vice versa. When the woman is feeling unloved, she reacts by acting without respect toward her husband. He feels her disrespect and, in turn, acts unloving toward his wife. They end up in a vicious cycle of unloving and disrespecting, with hurts building upon hurts.

cycle

Cycles go around and around, repeating the same thing seemingly without end. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re in a cycle until we’re so dizzy, we lose our lunch and with it the nutrients that our souls and lives need. Cycles seem like they should be easy to break—just stop and get off. But often, we’re stuck. It can feel like the seatbelt button won’t release or centrifugal force is holding us in place. We’re not learning from our past and keep repeating the same mistakes.

Dance instructors will teach their students how to spot a turn and not become dizzy. As they spin, the dancer will keep their eye on one spot until their neck strains. Then they whip their head around, locking eyes on that same spot. When we’re in the spin of a cycle and tired of going around the mountain again, we need to fix our eyes on God. He is the only one who can bring us out of a tailspin.

If you don’t know whether you’re in a cycle or a season, look up. God will spot you. He’ll make a way to get off the crazy cycle. It says in Daniel 2:21, “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”

His righteous right hand can pull us out of cycles and guide us through seasons.

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