The speedometer read 40 miles per hour. I sat white-knuckled behind the wheel, flying through the empty school parking lot, my heart pumping faster than a techno dance beat. It was my first driving lesson with my dad. I was merely following his instructions to give it some gas, but the faster the car sped, the more nervous I became.
“Now break hard,” he commanded.
My foot slammed on the break. The wheels locked-up and the Buick sedan screeched to a halt. The seatbelt bit into my shoulder, and my head jerked forward then back. This was not how a lesson was supposed to go. A young driver is supposed to ease the car into drive, maneuver some cautious turns, and crawl to a stop. I’d done something wrong. This felt like a test—one that I failed. I eyed my dad and waited for an angry reaction.
“Feel that?” He adjusted his seatbelt. “We were only going forty. On the highway, you’ll be going nearly twice that.” His voice remained surprisingly calm. “Now, you know why you leave a good stopping distance.”
Stopping short had been a test, but at the same time, also a lesson. To this day, I still leave a fair amount of stopping distance between myself and the next vehicle. If my dad prepared me for his test, then the experience of a one and a half-ton vehicle going from a high velocity to a dead stop wouldn’t forever be etched in my brain. Today if I brake hard, it’s not a big deal because I’ve grown accustomed to my car and confident in my driving. The test was impactful because of insecurities and lack of familiarity.
Often, God gives us the test before the lesson.
We tend to expect a detailed plan. We want God to chunk down his vision into small digestible bites so that we can grow comfortable before we take a step of faith. But God knows we’re more dependent on Him when we’re stepping out into the unfamiliar. Our ears listen intently for His voice and direction when we’re wandering into unknown territory. He’ll use the opportunity to embed a deeper faith into our hearts.
Venturing out in faith can be a test. No one’s saying it’s easy. However, tests can make the best testimonies.
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Sometimes I wonder if fiction mirrors life or if life mirrors fiction. Currently, I’m in the process of plotting book number five, tentatively titled, The Marquis’ Pursuit, which is the story of Max, the son of the Duke from The Duke’s Refuge. Novels typically have a similar structure. The story opens with a character going about their normal life. Then, an incident happens to change their course, which sets them on a journey either physically, spiritually, mentally, or all three.
James Scott Bell noticed a common factor in most books and movies. Around the midpoint, the hero or heroine is confronted with a disturbing decision to change or die. He calls this the mirror moment. In most cases, the death doesn’t mean physical death, but a psychological death to an old self, a dream, goal, or status. The main character realizes he or she has to fight because there is no running from themselves. Essentially the characters have no choice but to Cowboy Up.
We see this in Star Wars, A New Hope, when Han Solo, whose plan was to leave to pay his debt to the bounty hunter Jabba the Hut, decides he’ll stay and fight with the rebels. In The Proposal, the mirror moment is when Sandra Bullock’s character realizes she is starting to adore Andrew, her assistant and fake fiancee, and his quirky Alaskan family. She second-guesses the farce because it will hurt the family, yet not getting married would end in her deportation.
We are all on this hero’s journey. Before Covid-19, we went about our normal lives, but then the pandemic hit, interrupting our normal and forcing us into a new journey—physically, spiritually, and mentally. Now we’ve reached our mirror moment where we have to decide if we are going to grow stronger, become wiser, strengthen our beliefs, or are we going to suffer a psychological death. It’s okay to take a moment to mourn for the future that would-have-been, the missed graduations, large weddings, school proms, the canceled high school football season. (My boys are upset over that last one.) However, we can’t stay in the mourning phase. We need to look in the mirror and be strengthened, knowing that God fights with us and for us. We aren’t alone and we aren’t the underdog when we are on the side of the One who created the universe.
To quote Kyle Idleman from Southeast Christian Church, “We aren’t going to act like we don’t have hope when we have The Hope of the World. We aren’t going to act like we don’t know the way when we know The Way. We aren’t going to act like we don’t have light in the darkness when we know The Light. Jesus is whom we put our confidence in.”
Fire extracts the impurities out of gold. Just as how trials refine our faith pulling out our selfishness, doubts, and fears where they’re exposed to the light. The pressure, heat, and stirring things up can be agonizing, but in the end, when we look in the mirror, we’ll see the reflection of Jesus.
1 Peter 6-7: “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
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Have you questioned whether you have the skills to make the team, good enough grades to get into college, or ever poured your life into a project only for your boss to give you another even more challenging one?
My hand is raised.
You would think book launching would become less nerve-wracking with each release, but every time doubts plague me. They buzz about head like bees threatening to sting. This one isn’t going to measure up. People are going to be disappointed. And even if or when good reviews start pouring in, the bees don’t stop circling. You’ve set an expectation, how are you going to beat that? Look at your work-in-progress. It doesn’t come close.
Moments like these, I’m grateful for the story of Elijah, because we are not alone.
On Mount Carmel, Elijah’s confidence was at an all-time high as he courageously announced that he was the only remaining prophet. He taunted the other so-called prophets asking them if their gods were on vacation or sleeping. Elijah had men dump buckets of water on the offering, alter, and wood and filled a trench around it. He then called upon the God of Abraham and fire rained down from heaven, burning up the offering and drying up every last drop of water in a fantastic display of God’s power.
Not long after, Elijah swings from a high to a low. He runs from Queen Jezebel, who’s threatened to kill him, and he hides in the desert, weeping and telling the angel God sent to restore him his woes about being the only prophet left and prayed to die. Why is it that like Elijah, our confidence can be like an iron dome one day, but the next, it’s as if we’re trying to grasp water running through our fingers?
We all have doubts—doubts about ourselves, our abilities, our future. James 1:5-6 says, we aren’t to be double-minded. “If you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” Like Elijah, we can turn to God. He’s not afraid of our lows or our doubts. He’s not going to turn us away with a pointed finger saying, out of my sight, you of little faith. God’s going to meet us in the desert and give us substance like He sent an angel to Elijah. Or he’ll bring us up to the mountain and speak to us in His still small voice. He’s going to remind us of His faithfulness and our past victories. He’ll send us revelation and people to strengthen us like Elijah’s successor Elisha.
All we have to do is ask.
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“The journey always resolves in the end,” Tessa Afshar, author of Pearl in the Sand and Thief of Corinth, announced in her Mediterranean-English accent as I sat in her class absorbing. She stands around five-foot-tall, but don’t be fooled by her small stature. She is a giant woman of God.
Exactly a week ago, I would have doubted her statement.
My husband had left his wallet at home. Usually, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but we were standing in the airport and had ridden in an hour and a half of traffic to get there. Our flight left in forty minutes. We pleaded with the TSA agent and were able to come up with a couple items with my husband’s name on them, my dental insurance card in which he’s the primary cardholder and a magazine with his name and address on the back. John received the pat-down of his life and is now on an intimate basis with Logan airport security, but they allowed him on the plane. We contacted a close friend who then overnighted his wallet to the hotel.
That is where our woes should have ended, but three hours later and almost 1000 miles from home, we arrived at the hotel. We carted our bags to the front desk, ready to crash after our early morning start. I was looking forward to taking a power nap before the first session of the work conference.
The hotel clerk tapped her fingernails on the keyboard. She paused and peered up at us with a hint of concern, “Didn’t Expedia contact you?”
“About what?” my husband’s brows collided in a V.
“There’s been an error.”
We both leaned in. “What sort of error?”
“Your room has been double-booked. Expedia was supposed to contact you and arrange another hotel.”
My husband and I stiffened. This was the first we heard about any of this. We checked our phones and had no messages.
“I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do for you.” Her smile hinted at sympathy. “You’ll have to call and make other hotel arrangements.”
The conference we were attending had brought over 700 entrepreneurs into the small city. There wasn’t going to be a hotel room available. Not only that, but John’s wallet was being overnighted to that specific hotel, and it wouldn’t be accepted if we weren’t guests. We didn’t have a place to sleep, and we didn’t know whether we could return home without his wallet.
Our journey didn’t look like it was going to have a resolution, certainly not a happy ending. I freaked-out. I asked to speak to a manager. I paced in the front lobby while making a few phone calls. I think I even shed a few tears. Meanwhile, my husband sat in their seating area and casually set up a portable office as if he worked there daily.
In stories, we have a character arc, which is usually where the dynamic hero is internally transformed over the course of events in the story. The journey makes them stronger, wiser, or more mature. In some way, they become different than how they started. We are all dynamic characters in the literary sense. God often uses these disasters to refine us into his image. I should have realized, as my husband did, that disasters, like being bumped from your hotel room, often end up as learning experiences (or at least a funny story I can blog about later).
Occasionally there is such a thing as a static character which in literary terms is a hero who doesn’t change (think of James Bond). The circumstances change around them, but they remain unmoved. The reason why my husband knew he didn’t need to panic was that we had a relationship with a static character. The static hero I’m referring to is Jesus. Jesus remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrew 13:8), and so does his love for us.
My husband (like Tessa Afshar) knew, with Jesus, the journey always resolves in the end. My panic, worry, and frantic calling was all a waste of energy. The circumstances may have changed, but God’s will doesn’t. We ended up getting a room in the same hotel we booked with a significant discount and received our happily-ever-after (not to mention blog material).
The Lord, your God, has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything. – Deuteronomy 2:7
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Ever try to assemble a trampoline? If you ever get the chance… well, don’t. It is not a fun experience. We purchased our trampoline through Amazon. They claimed to have a company who would come out and assemble it for us for a small fee. The problem is the company never came. After rescheduling multiple times and our boys staring at the unopened box promising hours of fun and jumping, we decided we’d assemble it ourselves. It even came with a how-to-video. How bad could it be? We’re fairly intelligent people. My husband can read building plans. We should be able to follow seven pages of instructions.
By midafternoon, springs rocketed into the air nearly missing us. We had the instruction video playing on repeat. By nightfall, each of us sported bruises, blisters, and dripped with sweat. It was a miracle we got the thing assembled. As I lay exhausted on the couch, I decided some things I was never meant to understand. The group, Go Fish (their tag line is music for kids that won’t drive parents crazy), has a song called, Planes, Phones, and Microwaves. They sing about the mysteries we don’t understand, but that we should thank God for the people who can – Amen to that.
Often, we think we deserve an explanation. God, why did I not get the promotion? I thought it was your will? Why can’t we have children of our own? Why would I have cancer? Sometimes, our intellectualism gets in the way. We think we can figure everything out on our own. We are okay using phones, computers, and the internet without fully understanding how they work, but when it comes to God, we demand answers before we can believe – before we can trust.
Here’s the thing: we’re not meant to have the answers.
1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”
We are not supposed to have it all figured out. It’s God’s way of building our faith and strengthening our confidence in Him. Just as we the microwave to heat our lunch and the airplane to hold us in the air, we need to trust that God is in control. We will never have it all figured out, at least not this side of heaven. However, we can have peace because God, who knows us completely – our desires, wants, and needs – does have the answers.
And He is for us.
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One hundred and ninety feet above a gorge of swirling turbulent water on a rope 1300 feet long and only two inches in diameter, Charles Blondin was the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. In June of 1859, 25,000 people gathered to see him perform the feat or watch him plummet to a watery grave below. Not only did Blondin make the trip across and back, by 1896 he’d crossed over 300 times performing stunts like sitting on the rope and having a bottle of wine, strapping a Daguerreotype camera to his back and taking pictures of the crowd, crossing with his body shackled, and walking with a sack placed over his head. He even brought a stove upon which he cooked an omelet and lowered it by rope to the Maid of the Mist boat below.
In my opinion, the most trusting feat was on the part of his manager, Harry Colcord, who crossed Niagara on Blondin’s back. Blondin told Colcord, “Look up, Harry…. You are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself.” (Daredevil of Niagara Falls, Abbot, Smithsonianmag.com Oct. 18, 2018)
Trust is a powerful force.
Steve Covey in his book, The Speed of Trust, says if trust is removed it, “will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, [and] the deepest love.” (Soundview Executive Book Summaries, Speed of Trust, Vol. 28, No. 11, Part 1, November 2006)
Trust is risky.
Trusting someone is challenging. What if they let me down? Relinquishing control is hard. What if something I need doesn’t get done? We are an independent nation. We’d prefer to fix the problem ourselves. However, a lack of trust slows things down. It also keeps relationships superficial, measured, and distant. In order to reach a deeper level, in order to build trust, we have to take the first step and trust someone else. Steven Covey points out that trust “has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life.”
It is even riskier not to trust.
Many of Blondin’s spectators believed he could make it across the gorge, yet only Colcord had the trust to climb onto Blondin’s back and cling to him knowing his life lay literally in the balance. He trusted Blondin enough to sway with him as the strong winds rocked the rope.
Life will have valleys and gorges. Who are you trusting to get you over them? Are you picking up a balancing stick and stepping onto the swaying rope yourself? Or, are you climbing onto God’s back and allowing Him to carry you over? Are you sacrificing trust to control the small, fleeting moments of your life, or are you trusting in the One who’s bigger than the gorge—the One who controls your ultimate destiny?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not trust in your own understanding. Agree with Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
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Just say wow before you say how. It has become my mantra. Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Church, introduced this idea at a Leadercast summit, and the visionary part of my husband strapped it on like a jetpack. Ideas excite my husband. He thinks on a macro level. It’s what makes him a great entrepreneur and businessman. He has a million ideas, but because of my stunned reactions, he has learned to only tell me about three each day. I don’t want to be the rain cloud darkening his day, but my personality-type jumps to the micro level, working to figure out how to implement things. For me not to squash his ideas, I’ve learned to keep my mouth closed and hear him out or to just say “Wow,” before I say “How?”
Similarly, in writing, there are three types of people: plotters—those who outline every scene in detail, pantsters—those who open their computers and start typing or “fly by the seat of their pants” (hence the name), and those who fall somewhere in between. In life, some of us are plotters who want to know all the details before we move forward. We are always asking God for direction. What major should I declare and what classes should I take? Should I ask for a promotion? What should I say to my boss? Should we have children? If so, how many, and how can we make them excel in school, be social, and athletic?
Seeking God’s guidance is a good thing. However, we often want to know all the answers and have a guarantee of a good outcome before we even start.
It’s easy to get caught up in the details. We can be paralyzed by the what-ifs. Yet, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we cannot see,” (Hebrews 11:1). God may be waiting for us to step out in faith first before He shows us what’s up ahead. If I had known how much was involved in writing, I might not have started, and if I had known all that is involved in parenting, I still would have had kids, but I might have stalled a bit longer. The truth is God knows what we can handle, and He has equipped us properly (2 Peter 1:3). David had five stones to slay Goliath, but it only took one.
But what if we make a mistake?
Failure is an event. It is not a person. Don’t get caught up in the fleeting moments. Often, we focus too much on the obstacles the devil throws in our path that cause us to stumble or fall. A setback isn’t going to stop God. The Almighty will see His purpose through to completion. Dust yourself off. Learn from those fleeting moments, but trust in the One who controls your ultimate destiny.
Remember that the Maker of the universe is behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” (Isaiah 30:21).
When you focus on God’s greatness, it’s easy to say “Wow” before you say “how?”
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Sometimes our weakest moments can become our solid foundation. What was one of my darkest days has become the backbone of my faith. My youngest son just received the award for Most Improved Student of the Year. I don’t mention this to brag (well, I am a proud mama) but more to honor my son before I reference his struggles.
I was the art teacher at a Christian Academy where all three of my sons attended. As I cleaned up the watercolor trays and wiped down the desks, the principal (also my dear friend and still is to this day) sat me down and told me that my youngest son needed to leave the academy because he was too much of a distraction to the other kids. Three years prior, I’d had a comparable conversation to remove my oldest child for similar reasons.
I tried to put on a good face, but it stole my equilibrium. I was a leader in the church whose children had been kicked out of school. What did that say about me? What did that say about my parenting skills? Did I not raise them properly? Did I not work with them enough? Discipline them enough? Had I ruined them?
All these questions pierced my heart like arrows. And to make matters worse, my husband happened to be away at a conference, so I didn’t have his strength to draw upon. I needed a good cry, but I didn’t want my kids to see how upset I was and/or think I was disappointed in them, so I took them to the movies. While they watched Wreck it Ralph, I bawled my eyes out silently in the dark next to them. The next day, I went about getting through the day. But occasionally, I locked the door to my room curled up into the fetal position and cried more. Why God? I kept asking, but I was too upset to listen. I was lost in my own pity party.
But God saw my tears. The following morning we had church. I was at the front door when a woman I hadn’t seen in a while stopped and said she’d dreamed about me the previous night, that I’d been crying and was really sad, but that she could help me.
I was dumbfounded.
I immediately teared up. I didn’t want to break down right there at the front door of the church, so I called her later that afternoon and explained my story. She told me her daughter had also been asked to leave school (a different academy) and recommended a place for my son. What filled me with hope was that her daughter had turned out normal—better than normal.
Some people may think this was coincidental. It’s not easy to explain the emotional depths to which God cared to go to pull me out of the pit I felt I’d fallen into. Looking back now having a child kicked out of school isn’t a catastrophic event, no one died, the world didn’t stop turning. But the very same God who put the earth on its axis cared enough to take the time to speak to me. He who holds the stars in place cared about little-old-me to send me hope to get through my tough time.
Now, whenever my faith wanes or doubts creep in I remember what God did for me. It renews my faith and restores my hope. I rehearse my darkest day now as a reminder of how great God’s love is for me.
I am not special. God holds that same love for you. A love that will leave the other ninety-nine sheep to find the one that is lost or struggling.
It is an amazing love.
An awesome love.
And you are at its center.
“Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege.” Psalm 31:21
Personal Note: I am so grateful to God for my three wonderful boys. For those of you who may have wiggly, ants-in-their-pants, think-out-side-the-box, children or grandchildren, I hope this is an encouragement for you. All three of my boys are doing much better in school. They are maturing and discovering ways to keep their focus. I’m also grateful for the Christian academy who went above and beyond to try to work with my kids. They received a strong spiritual foundation that shows in their heart for God.
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It started the first full night of 2018. One single chirp every fifteen seconds. Only between the hours of 12 am and 3 am. We’d tried everything to get the smoke detector to cease its incessant warning chirp. Of course, it started with the smoke detector on our cathedral ceiling, because it was a negative seven degrees outside and we needed our extension ladder to reach the blasted thing. We changed the battery and went back to bed. An hour later—chirp! Another smoke detector started. We replaced the battery in every single smoke detector. Chirp! We unplugged them, reset the circuit breakers, and hit the test button (which woke up the kids). Chirp!
Four nights in a row the same thing. I struggled into work with toothpicks holding my eyelids open and my brain only firing in safe mode to discover our financial software had crashed and couldn’t be restored without an expensive upgrade. I opened my email to a rejection letter saying they were going to have to pass on my story. This was not how I envisioned starting off 2018.
It was the beginning of a new era …
God’s own son had entered the earth. Hope filled the world with the promise of a savior. Shepherds and wise men traveled to see baby Jesus and even brought gifts. Everything seemed right with the world.
Joseph shakes Mary out of a deep sleep. Jesus is cuddled at her side. He’d had another dream. An angel came to him again and told him to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt. Herod was going to try to kill Jesus.
Isn’t the hard part over?
The savior was born. Shouldn’t things run smoothly now?
God never promised life would be easy. In fact, Jesus himself said the opposite. “In this life, you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” I’m not an expert on why bad things happen. I know, by God allowing us to have free will, mankind has made unwise choices. It started with our not obeying God’s command and eating of the tree of Knowledge of good and evil. (Enter evil, stage left.) But, God doesn’t try to tell us life will be all rainbows and unicorns. He tells us to prepare for battle and gives us the tools to fight. (See Ephesians 6:13-18.)
ewyIt is through struggles that we obtain a better understanding of who we are. It’s how our character is forged. It’s hard to grasp when you are in the heat of the fight. But then a lull comes, and we can look back. We discover the changes we’ve undergone and the strength we’ve derived from combat.
Just remember, God will not give us more than we can handle. Having three boys, I’ve often thought, God must see something in me that I don’t see in myself. Even when I doubt, He’s always given me the faith I need to continue on. Sometimes it’s in the form of a running charge. Other times, it’s crawling on my knees, but he’s always beside me urging me forward.
God’s whisper into my heart cannot be drowned out by the doubts screaming in my mind, but I have to choose to listen. I know it can be difficult to comprehend when you’re on the floor of your bathroom saying, enough, please enough, but God will pull you through. He will hold you up with his righteous right hand. All you need to do is hold on.
It may not be an easy ride, but the end result will be well worth it.
Psalm 30:5 “… Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
It’s nerve-wracking to express your hopes and dreams out loud to another person. It’s scary because speaking your dreams makes you vulnerable. It takes your idea out of your imagination and thrusts it into the real world where it can be brought to life or crushed.
The most awkward question I’m asked is, “Are you published?” I know the answer to this question will, in the other person’s eyes, probably discredit everything I’ve done. I think about my manuscripts, how much time I’ve spent researching, all the editing and refining, and how I carefully crafted each character’s past, present and future, and my stomach sinks. But, I have to smile and say “no, not yet, but I will be.”
Name it and claim it.
This popular philosophy has attracted a lot of followers. I don’t personally don’t believe the simple act of saying something will make it happen, but I do believe that publically stating your goals acts as an internal motivator. Once you say it, people know. They will follow up and ask you about it next time they see you. I remember setting up my Facebook page. I got to the employment section and debated whether to list myself as an author. I worried if people would think I was being presumptive. I knew they would then say things like, “I didn’t know you are a writer,” and I’d have to explain.
But, that’s the beauty of it. My friends would hold me accountable even if they didn’t realize it. They would stretch me and push me towards my goal. So, I typed the word – Author.
If there is one thing we need to claim, it is, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians: 4:13. It needs to be our mantra until it permeates its way through our fears, doubts, and hesitations. David understood this at its core. He stood, as a young adolescent, in front of the fiercest giant in the land, Goliath, and said, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”
Now that’s confidence exemplified! With complete faith, David spoke of the power of his great God and listed in detail what God was going to accomplish through him that day.