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I am thrilled that my new book is released. Whew! Thanks to all who’ve shown your support with texts, emails, time, posts, and purchases. Readers, may you enjoy the read! While I treasure the moments after a release and catch my breath, the third (and final) story in the Letters to Layton series that has been peeking around the corner is now jumping up and down in front of me begging for my attention. Like a patient parent, I tell the story to give me a moment, then it will get my undivided attention. In the meantime, I’ve got some people to talk to–the characters.
I write letters to my characters, and I interview them as I prepare to bring their story to life. They talk to me as well. Sometimes they share their hearts at the most inconvenient time when I can’t drop everything and listen–for example when I’m driving or trying to sleep. I recently had a conversation with Henry.
“Henry, what do you most fear?”
“Plunging into the darkness.”
“What will you do if that happens?”
He hesitated, and I can only assume a slight grimace formed on his face.
“I will be totally dependent on others and on God to help me. I won’t be able to think, much less pull myself out.”
“Do you trust me enough to take you there?”
“Will you leave me there?”
My care for him must have shown as I felt my lips press together. My fingers felt the impulse to pat his hand.
“That’s for me to know. Do you trust me?”
As I asked Henry this question, my mind wandered back to times in my life when God had asked me the same question. Our third miscarriage. My mom dying with cancer. Financial strain. Health concerns. Times in “wait mode,” wondering why God was silent other than asking if I trusted Him. The one thing I’ve learned is that God “always comes through.” This doesn’t mean that every outcome is what I would have preferred. It does mean that whatever the outcome, God is sufficient to give me what I need at the time.
I think of Abraham. God made the childless, aging man a promise that a great nation would come from his off-spring. Abraham did what humans often do. Perhaps a little panicked, he looked at the circumstances and figured he better do his part to fulfill the promise God made. “Doing” is often easier than “waiting.” Despite Abraham’s intended solution, which carried its own set of consequences, God gave him the son he intended to use as the fulfillment of His promise. Then, years later told Abraham to sacrifice the life of that son. In my mind, this would have been more confusing to accept than the original promise. Although I get the symbolism behind God asking him to sacrifice Isaac, for the life of me, as a parent, I cannot “get” how Abraham had enough trust and faith to prepare to do it. He climbed Mt. Moriah trusting in God — to provide a replacement or tell him nevermind, or, gulp, to sustain him through the act of obedience. I suppose that Abraham focused on the truths and promises he’d received from God—that a great nation would come from his offspring.
I have never been called upon to do something as difficult as Abraham was asked to do. However, as mentioned earlier, I have been called upon to trust God’s character and His promises. When He “comes through,” I find myself wondering how I could have ever been anxious in the first place. (Hint: I’m a doer and a fixer.) God has filled His Word with promise after promise that we can depend on Him and trust Him in every situation. Take a look at some of His promises:
He will fight for us. He strengthens us. He upholds us. He is with us in deep waters and flames. His love never fails. He breaks our chains of bondage. He binds our broken heart. He gives us wisdom. He forgives our sins. He hears and answers our prayers. He will never forsake us. He gives us the desires of our hearts. He gives eternal life through Christ. He blesses us. He communes with us. He meets our needs. He guides us.
Take a breath! Isn’t the list amazing? Might I mention that it is incomplete. Claiming God’s promises are a part of our relationship with Him. A healthy relationship builds trust. You, know, just the other day I was fretting over something, and God showed me two different times in two different ways that He has the matter under control. What a beautiful picture of relationship that builds trust in God’s promises.
You might ask, “Who is Henry and what is this darkness?” The answers are found in the pages of my sequel story. Will I take Henry to the dark depths in my third book? I don’t know, but trust me, I’ll do my best to make the story worth the read of finding out.
Let’s start out with a quick writing lesson. All stories need a plot. What is plot in literature? It is the sequence of events that make up a storyline. In fairy tales, plot takes place between “once upon and time” and “They lived happily ever after.”
(Well, thank you for humoring me and please keep reading this post.)
Authors have the ability to entertain with plot and resolutions, leaving the reader feeling satisfied because conflicts are solved and wrapped up neatly. Although a reader may have preferred or anticipated another wrap-up, at least they know the end of the story. However, life isn’t always wrapped up. We may not understand why a conflict took place and how it will be resolved.
I have recently completed a Bible study by Jen Wilkin and also had the opportunity to hear her speak. In both situations, she discussed the fact that God is not a limited being who is bound by time. Indeed, He is limitless. Unlike our Creator, “we are limited
creatures with numbered days and because of that, we don’t always get a plot resolution.” We might be left with a cliffhanger that has no foreseen sequel.
Most every believer has experienced devastating or dire circumstances that make us cry out to the author and finisher of our faith, “Why? What are you doing?” These questions force a decision upon us. Do we let confusion, anger, sorrow, and the like consume us and take over our character? Do we process these feelings through the filter of faith and allow the author to continue His story through us?
When your plot includes difficulties, how well do you trust your Author? Take a look at parts of His bio:
The list could keep going, but I’ll stop where I started. In the story of life, we have limited knowledge, but God doesn’t. Combine that with His love, justice, goodness, and all the other traits mentioned above, then wonder why we limited humans so easily default to fear and anxiety over faith.
Think of Job. The Author’s description of him reads like this, “There is none on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1: 8) Yet as the plot thickens, Job’s life is turned upside down. Job never knew the reason why God allowed trials to come his way. However, thousands of years later, we do. We’re part of the on-going epilogue in Job’s story.
In my upcoming sequel, the protagonists struggle to understand “the why” about each other. I allow them to muddle through misunderstandings, feeling hurt and confused; yet I also have the resolution in sight. The circumstances they find themselves in bring them to a crises of faith necessary for “The End” that the author had in mind. Hum? If a limited being gets this concept for developing a fiction story, how much more should this limited being trust the Limitless Author of our Faith in real life?
If you would like to do a study on the attributes of God, here are two links you can click for resources I recommend.
I have a confession to make. People ask me how my book title, Among the Crepe Myrtles, relates to the story. It doesn’t. Well, let me clarify, at least it didn’t until I made it fit. I was reading the Minor Prophets when I came across the phrase “among the myrtle trees” in Zechariah 1:8. I can’t explain why, but I knew at that moment my book title would be “Among the Crepe Myrtles.” I’d tried out several other titles, but none gripped me like that phrase. So, to be accurate, I did research about crepe (or crape) myrtles growing in Texas. Bingo. It was very rewarding to weave the title into the story. Since then, I have done more research on the crepe myrtle. To my pleasant surprise, my research revealed information that fit much of what my characters in the story struggled with and also what God was trying to do for them.
You may know the crepe myrtle as a shrub. You may know it as a tree. Indeed, it is both, and even to a girl whose green thumb is non-existent, the myrtle tree is quite interesting. (My neighbor has one planted next to the fence between our yards. I admire it as though it were mine. Truthfully, I am glad the tree does not belong to me, for it would have ceased to exist. That exact thing happened to my bonsai crepe myrtle.) The myrtle tree made its way into more than one story in Greek mythology. Perhaps the most noted is that of Adonis and Aphrodite. In many cultures, the myrtle represents beauty, love, paradise, and immortality. To the Jews, it can represent sweetness, divine generosity, peace, God’s promises, and recovery.
I find that the characterisitcs of the myrtle tree offer us some symbolic lessons.
I never cease to be amazed at the treasures found in the Bible and in Creation. I am grateful to God for His Word.
(Acknowledgment to Carolyn Roth Ministries: God as a Gardener and to flowerinfo.org)
I loved the way my Mom cooked. As a very young girl, I would tell her she was the “bestest cooker!” The title stuck through the years and continued to make its way to her ears into my adulthood. Mom always took great delight in loving on people through her food
Our Heavenly Father is no different than my Earthly mother in this regard. He, too, takes great delight in loving His people through His food — the Word of God. He has “cooked up” a buffet of wisdom, encouragement, and direction throughout the Bible. Tickle your taste buds with these samples from His table. They’ll need no further seasoning from my keyboard.
(Scripture from The Message translation.)
Here’s one of my favorite recipes from Mom’s collection during my teen years.
> 16 oz uncooked noodles
> 1/2 c chopped onion
> 2 TB butter
> 3 cans cream of mushroom (10.5 oz cans)
> 1 4 oz can pimento (optional)
> 2 TB chopped pickled green peppers
> 3-4 cups cooked chicken
> 2-3 cups shredded, sharp cheddar
> Salt/pepper to tast
Heat oven to 350. Cook noodles as directed. Drain. In large skillet, cook and stir onion until tender; stir in soup, pimento, and chili peppers.
In greased 4 qt casserole, layer half the noodles and half the chicken; season. Top with half the soup mixture and half the cheese. Repeat layers.
Bake uncovered 45 minutes
The last three months in my household have been filled with celebrations. Jake and Sarah married. Thanksgiving. Baking day to honor my Mom’s 7th year in heaven. ( She loved to cook and bake.) Christmas. A New Year. Two birthdays (plus three more if you go beyond my immediate family). I enjoy celebrations because we get to love on one another. We get to eat lots of good food. I’ve certainly consumed more than my fair share of goodies recently. (Oh, and I finished a manuscript that is now in the early editing stages.)
I slowed down the last few months and thoroughly absorbed these celebrations. (What deep joy it was to celebrate the answer to a lifetime of prayer as I watched my son marry his beautiful bride.) Sometimes I think life seems to get so busy for folks that slowing down to celebrate can seem like an interruption, no less inconvenient than getting a flat tire. Maybe you don’t struggle with this scenario. Perhaps I can because my nature is to move from one task to another in my personal life and my ministry life.
God celebrates! What phrase repeats itself in the Creation account? ‘”It was good.” When God created guidelines and laws for the Israelites to point them to Jesus, He included celebrations — the feasts of remembrance. These seven annual feasts recognized God’s deliverance, redemption, rest, blessings, gratitude, and new beginnings.
The Psalms are filled with verses that tell us to praise God with song, music, dance, prayers. Psalm 150:1-6 is beautifully written. Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud, clashing cymbals.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us that there is a time to laugh. Verse thirteen of that chapter tells us to take pleasure in our toll — enjoy the people and things that God has given us in our daily life as we work and serve Him. Luke 15:3-10 gives us a beautiful picture of celebration in the parable of the lost sheep. In Luke 2 the angels celebrated the birth of Jesus.
One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is from Joshua, chapter four. The Israelites had miraculously crossed over the Jordan on dry ground. Joshua had instructed that twelve large stones be placed together as a monument of sorts to remember and retell the miracle God had done in letting them cross on dry land. The incident that these folks celebrated wasn’t easy in coming. Years of wandering and waiting in the desert had preceded it as they stood and faced the unknown. Loss of family members had taken place. Sometimes in life, celebration is more about God’s faithfulness than it is about our circumstances.
For one of my childhood birthdays my parents threw me a surprise party. We had recently moved into a new house, and the front walk and yard were not complete. I don’t recall what we did, but my dad had taken me from the house, obviously to pass the time before the party. I remember that when we returned to the house it was raining outside, and I didn’t like being out in it. Little did I know as I walked across wooden boards to avoid the muddy yard, that just inside the dry, clean house a celebration was waiting for me. When we go through a time of waiting or sorrow or challenge, we may not realize that a time of celebration is just around the corner. We think in terms minutes, hours, days, and years. God doesn’t.
Celebrations can be elaborate or simple. Herein lies the lesson to myself. I need to pause throughout my day to day life to appreciate my salvation, my blessings, God’s faithfulness, the people around me, the beauty around me…and the list goes on. Perhaps if I put “stop and celebrate” on my to do list I might actually do it — slight exaggeration. When my children were young we’d sometimes see a beautiful morning sky on the ride to school. We’d proclaim that it must be someone’s birthday and the sky was God’s present to them. I’m not sure if stored that memory, but I did, and it has proven to be joyful one and a good lesson for me along the way.
So what do you have to celebrate? Who do you have to celebrate? Enjoy.
And if you pass day to day, give me a Celebrate Challenge!
(Great! Now the song “Celebrate” is stuck in my head.)
“Kinship is bred in what people hold common.” In my book, Among the Crepe Myrtles, a friendship is formed between two unlikely characters, Gabe and Sammy, simply because of a common thread that runs between them. Kinship comes from what we hold common within us.
I hope I never forget the first time I vividly experienced my own unlikely kinship. In the late nineties, I traveled with fellow staff members to an area several hours beyond St. Petersburg, Russia. Our role was to train the attendees in ministry to children and families. Working through translators was fun, but when everyone present gathered for a worship service, we all sang a hymn together. Our English words mingled with their Russian words in a common expression of praise to God. Our language and lifestyles were as different as night and day, but our bond in Christ made us kin. More recently, I have experienced this same kinship with friends in India. These times are such a beautiful picture of heaven — every tongue and tribe united through Christ.
Another unlikely kinship is the one that can exist between God and man. I say “unlikely” because it amazes me that Almighty God would want to relate to me. However, a close look at God’s Word shows that the relationship between God and man is the most likely kinship that should exist. In Genesis 1-2 we see where this kinship began. God created man, prepared a beautiful place for his existence, then communed with them. We also see in this account how man broke that bond. Still desiring kinship with us, God made a plan to restore that relationship. The entire Old Testament points to that plan which is fulfilled in the New Testament — God’s Son coming to earth to restore what was lost back in Genesis. Simply put: Jesus came to die to forgive our sins so we can live eternally with Him in heaven. (John 3:16).
However, there’s plenty of kinship with God right here and now: He’s our Father (Romans 8:15-16). He’s our Friend (John 15:15). He’s our Comforter (2 Corinthian 1:3). He enjoys us ( Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 147:11). He wants to be near us (James 4:8). He’s attentive to us (Psalm 116:2). I could keep going with examples, but they all lead to this one truth: If you don’t have a relationship with God, it is because you have chosen not to.
I’ve always like the word “kinfolk.” It’s fun to pronounce. (Try it with a Southern drawl — “key uhn foke”) Since kinfolk share blood lines, human beings discover similar voice inflections, body movements, habits, and what not with others. For example, I curl my toes under when I sit barefoot, and some before me, beside me, and after me do the same. I wonder how far back that trait goes. Was there a toe-curler on the Mayflower? I realize from a human perspective that not all traits are “good ones,” and I also realize that just because we share the same traits with someone doesn’t mean we always share the same values or perspectives. That’s takes me right back to kinship — what we hold common within us. As a believer, we are kinfolk through the blood of Jesus and should carry His traits. I John 2:6 says that the one who say he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. Can observers look at your lifestyle and habits and see that your are kinfolk with Christ?
Kinfolk and kinship. What an amazing offer from God through Christ.
My husband and I are going to be grandparents! (Go ahead and just refer to me as “Nanny.” I’m suspecting that’s what I’ll be called since the name runs in my family. However, our little grandson can call me whatever he likes!) Our daughter and son-in-law recently shared the good news with our family. How do my husband and I feel about this? We’re ecstatic! We’re excited! We’re giddy! (Is the masculine form of “giddy” pronounced “gaddy?” If so, that better describes how my husband might feel.)
This wonderful announcement comes in the midst of wedding plans for Jake & Sarah — whom you met in the last blog. My heart is overflowing. I physically feel the happiness. God has chosen to grow our family and surround us with more people to love for a lifetime. I am grateful to Him for this. I guess you could say, “We’re in a good place.”
However, as a believer, I should always be “in a good place.” I’m held in God’s hand (John 10:28), and no one can snatch me from Him. I’m gathered in his arms ( Isaiah 40:11.) There are numerous illustrations in scripture of God’s nearness and protection, but these two are very alive to me right now as I think about nestling a newborn family member. Being in a good place isn’t about everything being good. It’s about having peace for the present and hope for the future through my relationship with Jesus Christ, whether my circumstances are good or bad from a human perspective.
In the midst of the good things we’ve experienced in the last several months, my family has also faced some challenges. Situations that rocked our emotions. Situations that made us feel helpless. However, we were still “in a good place.” We know that life has its ups and downs. God is there to guide us in both. So be encouraged. Humanly speaking, you may not be “in a good place” right now, but another day you will be. In the meantime, cherish the fact that your relationship with God isn’t reliant on a feeling. It’s reliant on the eternal security He provides.
Katherine, a character in my book, challenges her friend, Ben with the fact that as humans we tend to accept the good things that come our way from God. (Indeed, we may even toss a little prayer of appreciation His way.) However, we blame God or dislike Him when bad things come our way. Job 2:10 poses a good question. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives us advice for handling the bad times. “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this, God has made the one as well as the other. ” The truth is, life is filled with good and bad things since the events of Genesis 3.
I recently read about the concept of “moralistic therapeutic deism” in the book Gospel-Centered Teaching by Trevin Wax. In a nutshell this thinking proposes that God created us and the world, but remains at a distance unless needed. He wants us to do good so that we can be happy and feel good about ourselves and earn a spot in heaven. Therefore, God doesn’t need to be involved in our lives unless we need Him to solve a problem that has made us unhappy. This thinking saddens me. I am thankful I don’t have to do good things to obtain Heaven. I would constantly be evaluating or second guessing my motives, intentions, and performance level. Heaven is obtained for me through Jesus, if I choose to accept the offer. (Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Titus 3:5. ) And, to think that I must always feel happy. Quite honestly, there are plenty of times that life makes me feel sad, uncertain, or overwhelmed. When I do, I can rely on the peace that passes human understanding that God gives me and not on myself.
Believers aren’t off the hook, though, when it comes to good works. Our works are the result of our salvation, not the source of it. If I am growing in my relationship with Christ, I will produce works that honor him, stem from God’s Word, and modeled by Christ. What about those good feelings mentioned earlier? They come to believers, but once again, they are the fruit of being rooted in Christ and His Word, and these fruits are tasty for both the individual and those around him: love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, longsuffering. and self-control.
Speaking of self-control (or lack thereof) — did I tell you I’m going to be a grandmother?
A few weeks ago our son got engaged to beautiful, sweet Sarah. They both love Jesus. My husband and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful. Just like we did with our daughter, we’ve prayed for our son’s spouse since the day he was born. I remember sitting in the hospital listening as my husband held our newborn son and told him to grow up to be a good boy and make good choices. He did both.
The engagement happened just as this son started his high school teaching career. He’s drinking from a refreshing fire hydrant! I think back to one year ago and remember that it looked like Jake would end up doing his student teaching in a difficult school far from the area where we live. He had no special lady in his life. Turns out, he was assigned to the exact school he wanted and he met his wonderful girl a few weeks later. Even before these two events, God had shown me that all my desires are before him (Psalm 38:9). Wow — God cares about what matters to me, but He also wants me to trust Him with what matters to me. ( BTW, he is now employed at that same school.)
They’re having a November wedding. I’ve always loved November.
As they make their wedding plans, I see them working to balance the stress of decisions, ideas, opinions, and to-do lists while still focusing on why they are getting married in the first place — each other. I think they are doing a pretty good job of it all, though I am sure it may not feel that way to them. They have been moving things into the home where they will live — most notably, Jake himself. That makes my husband and I official empty nesters.
Speaking of empty-nesting, I’ve learned something about myself in the last few years. I like to fix things. Nope, not repair things. Yep, make things better/solve problems. You know…super hero type stuff. I guess I first became aware of this “fixation” when our daughter got married in 2011, and now it stares me in the face. I realize I cannot fix everything for my adult children. I get the pleasure of seeing them enjoy good times, but when my adult children face an adult problem or decision, I usually can’t fix it. Long gone are the days when a band-aid made everything better. Now, don’t think that my children have totally shunned my husband and me. They still come to us for advice. But, for the person with a “fixation,” giving advice can feel like receiving a Participation Ribbon. Where has this “fixation” dilemma landed me? On my knees. I have to trust my Heavenly Father with “my” children. He reminds me that as much as I care for them, He cares more. He is also far more capable of “fixing” things than I ever would be. Besides, He knows exactly what the “fix” needs to be.
It is a privilege to pray for my children, but it isn’t always easy for me to leave their problems with Jesus. Sometimes, I get off my knees and have to plop right back down. (Okay, the knees thing is basically symbolic. My knees aren’t too cooperative. In reality, I’m sitting most of the time when I pray.)
In reality, there are many woes and sorrows that God alone can fix. I think of my salvation. I am so grateful that I didn’t have to fix my sin problem or try to work my way into Heaven or pick the best option. Goodness! I’d be in panic mode. But, God, graciously fixed that problem for all mankind through Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He doesn’t force the fix on any of us. We each must choose to accept the fix. I hope that you will if you have not already. If you confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9.
Meanwhile, back to the wedding. I need an easy fix for shedding a few pounds before the big day. There isn’t one. Someone once told me, losing weight is one food decision after another. That’s good advice. Well.
Thanks for reading. And by the way, Ben, a character in my book, Among the Crepe Myrtles, struggles a bit with his own self-reliance and “fixations.” (Not sure who inspired that when I wrote him. Cough. Cough.) Does he overcome this tendency? My advice is to read the story and find out. Ha!