Spring out of Winter

Spring is such a happy time of year, don’t you think? The pastel colors. Pops of red. And endless growing lime green.

But there’s one major thing that makes spring wonderful. Without it, spring wouldn’t even exist. That cold, bitter season many of us wish would discontinue.

Winter. Seriously, winter.

Now, South Carolina doesn’t have as long or brutal winters as my past homes in Northern Pennsylvania, New York, or New Jersey. Brrrrrr. Winter lasted from October to April. On my first anniversary – October 30th – we had a foot of snow. There were more than a few blizzards in mid-April too. But when May came to Pennsylvania…..oh, it was beautiful. Those first crocuses peak through the brown mud, and frost-covered tan grass. Sunny daffodils wave hello in the crisp winds. I appreciate spring. I NOTICE spring. The colors make me pause because they didn’t exist a few days ago.

Some tropical places don’t even get a spring. Sure, the calendar still holds the spring equinox. They celebrate the first day in late March, but spring can’t have physical evidence in nature. Without the cold, the trees don’t need to lose their leaves. Without the frost, the grass doesn’t disappear. Without a freeze, even the bugs don’t take a break.

Winter can be a season of rest. A season with no harvest. A season where we hold onto trust, hope, and faith. The trees appear dead, but we trust they’ll grow back in the spring. Those daffodils, hostas, irises, daylilies, etc. lay hidden in the ground, out of sight, and we have faith they’ll return with warmer temperatures.

Like those long winters in the north, sometimes life’s “winters” feel extra long. Maybe you’re waiting for an answer to your prayers. Maybe you feel like no one hears you, or listens to your cries. Maybe you feel like you’re in an endless loop of work, mundane responsibilities, or thankless jobs. You’re stuck in a cycle of laundry, dishes, errands, school, taking care of others, etc. Or, maybe, you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything because you see no evidence of making a difference.

I’ve lost count of how many “winters” I’ve endured. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been part of one endless winter with mere glimpses of sunlight through the thick clouds – that’s depression and I won’t dwell there, but I will say this: no matter how you feel; no matter how depressed or hopeless you feel… God never desires for you to stay in that place. NEVER. While wait periods, peace, rest times, and mourning seasons are normal, wallowing in pity, guilt, and anxiety aren’t meant for us. Depression and rest are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

That all being said, winter can definitely hold a lot of sorrow, trials, and turmoil we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. But, even those things can be used by God.

I bet the blind man in John chapter 9 felt like he was in an endless dark winter. He wasn’t resting, just waiting. Waiting for a spring he didn’t know was coming. Even the disciples thought he must deserve his predicament. Perhaps he was depressed. I know I would be if I had to sit stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. He was alone. No friends. No comforts. Then Jesus walks up and says He’s “the light of the world.”

Do you know what thing makes us notice light more?

I bet a blind person would know the answer.

I like to nickname my hubby “Andrew the bat.” I’ll usually call him this as I laugh at his squished face when I brighten our bathroom in the morning. He’ll be standing there at the sink, washing his face in pitch darkness. I’m sorry, but I need light to see where I’m going. Light illuminates the area, showing what we can’t see at night. And in that dark bathroom, the sudden flick of light calls attention to the brightness. The burst of colors momentarily blind us in their brilliance, and we acknowledge the light’s existence.

The bible doesn’t describe the moment the blind man found his sight. It simply says “he came home seeing.” I like to imagine he ran home with a spring in his steps, jumping for joy. He wasn’t shy in proclaiming the miracle to his neighbors, so we know he was excited. He appreciated the light because he knew what it was like to live in darkness. Like Jesus said in verse 3 “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Knowing this story helps me look back at the “winters” and dark moments in my life in a new light, if you will. The sicknesses, depression, lost careers, deaths, disappointments, and valleys weren’t brought on because of sin or as a punishment… they were present so God’s work could be displayed in my life. Here, let me break it down in a simple list format:

Cancer caused me to thank God for health, and trust that “by His stripes, I am healed.”

The lack of having more kids naturally caused me to appreciate the one I do have. It also gave us the desire and opportunity to become foster parents and prospect adoption.

Depression caused me to appreciate joy. Joy everlasting. To seek out Psalms and the words of David when he also went through depression. I declared myself a woman after God’s own heart.

My failed careers each brought me to the place I am now. To quote Chariots of Fire: I feel God’s pleasure when I write. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and can’t wait to see the next steps He has in store.

Each waiting period forces me into God’s word. Some people might need far less to get them to see, but I know I need a kick in the pants too many times. I need a winter to notice when an answer to prayer sprouts life. I need a dark valley to notice the bright morning joy.

When you look up the definition of spring, two examples say “originate or arise from” and “a sudden jump upward or forward.”

It’s time to arise, my friends. Rest when you need to, endure the trial if you’re currently in it, but don’t neglect your call to jump out of it. Don’t stay in winter. Sprout into spring. Grow from the difficulties. Arise from the ashes. It’s time to thrive and spread the joy everlasting!

A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3

35 Reflections

Birthdays are a perfect time to reflect. Mine is next week.

35.

35 probably sounds young to most of you. – maybe older to a select few of you. It IS young. I FEEL young. I’m used to being the youngest in my groups of friends. I got married young. Gave my life to Jesus young. Became a mom young. And started my own business when only a teenager.

On the other hand, I also feel I’ve lived several lives. I’ve worked through multiple careers and lived in multiple states and homes. Each one feels like a separate lifetime. I was a vegan pastry chef, owning my own catering business for 11 years. I was a teacher of art, theater, and culinary for 3 incredible years. A business manager. An office manager. Now, I’m an artist and writer. I’ve lived in New Jersey. New York City. 6 different homes in Pennsylvania. And now beautiful South Carolina.

I’ve been through Christian schools, homeschooling, cyber schools, culinary school, business courses, and numerous writing classes. I’ve had rare cancer. Been healed from said cancer. Seen miracles. Been penniless, yet never hungry. Been married for twelve amazing years. Had a child whose first breath came at the name of Jesus, after being born with the cord wrapped around his precious neck. And been told I should never get pregnant again.

I’ve seen a LOT in my 35 years of life.

As long as I can remember, I have never seen a godly man abandoned, or his children forced to search for food.” Psalm 37:25

I’m remembering a time ten years ago. It sounds so silly now, but 25-year-old me felt old. I was tired and drained in my catering business. All I wanted to do was act! I’d wanted to be an actress since staring in a play when I was 7. A year younger than my son is now. 2 weeks before I left for Culinary School, I remember crying to my mom about wishing I could just be an actress. I didn’t though. I went to NYC and became a chef. And at 25-years-old I regretted my decisions. I searched out auditions, casting calls, watched YouTube videos on how to get into the field, and bought stacks of books on the subject. I did all of this until I discovered a trend – an age trend. Directors wanted actors ages 18 – 25. Any older, and actors were considered the “older” category. I let myself get discouraged before I even began. I gave up; defeated before I went to one single audition.

Ugh. I feel so silly the more I think about 25-year-old me. I thought, “I missed my chance, so why start now?” If I’d plunged into that passion, I’d probably be in Hollywood or Broadway right now. I seriously believe that. Did you know Steve Carrell from the show “The Office” didn’t start acting until he was in his 30s? There are many similar stories of “late bloomers.” 25-year-old me neglected that bit of info.

When I was 27, I finally quit baking. I stopped lying to myself that I enjoyed that work: I hated it. I don’t regret quitting my business. Not ever. That same year, I started writing my first novel. I almost didn’t finish that either. I wrote 13 chapters and gave up. Praise God, He brought incredible friends in my life who encouraged me to get back into writing (shout out to Alison & Lauren! 🙂 ). At 29, I finished my first book and spent 2 years editing it. I then wrote 2 plays, 3 picture books, and started this blog. At 34, I finished my 2nd novel. And while I’m super proud of this latest book, I fear it’ll be forgotten like every career, job, house, and friend I’ve lost throughout the years. Let’s be real here: my life isn’t exactly a success story. At least, not by the world’s standards of success.

But as I sit here, thinking about the events of my 35 years, I can’t help but feel thankful for the lives I’ve lived. The failures and mistakes I’ve made.

Missed opportunities force me to sharpen my eyesight so I don’t miss the next one. Failure shows me what not to do again. And times of want always cause me to trust God all the more. It also helps to keep moving. Keep pursuing. There’s an old saying about it being easier to turn the wheels of a moving car than a stationary car. It’s very true. It’s also a lot harder to find your dream when you’re bundled up in self-pity on your couch.

In all my years, I’ve never lacked for dreams. If one dream died, three more would take its place. I’ve dreamt of having a huge family in a house on the ocean…this turned into a desire for a home in the suburbs of Greenville, South Carolina with a blend of biological and adopted children. I dreamt of being a famous actress where I could use my talent to show the passion God gave me… then having my own bakery where I can encourage my customers through healthy comfort food… then my dream became to be a New York Times best-selling author of multiple books, changing lives with the words God gives me.

They’re different dreams. But, if you look closely, they’re the same dream: be loved, and show love. Through people, and through the talents God’s given me.

It’s not too late for those dreams. The first part is already happening. (All glory to God!) I’m still young. But even if I was turning 85, I’d still believe God has more to do through me.

Just like God has so so much more to do through YOU!

If you’ve made it this far while I’ve been talking all about myself, thank you. I know I can be long-winded when I’m trying to make a point. Words haven’t always been my thing. I still SERIOUSLY struggle to articulate my words verbally, so I appreciate you reading my thoughts in this format. I love to write. I really, really do. I know it’s what God made me for. I know this because I’ve been in places I wasn’t meant to stay in. It’s not about it being hard or easy either. – Writing is far from easy most of the time! – It’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe without living it first. It’s peace, joy, passion, commitment, satisfaction, and excitement all rolled into one. It’s a feeling in your soul – the pit of your gut – that you’re doing what you were created to do. A peace that passes all understanding. Can you think of moments in your life that brought these feelings? What desires has God placed in you?

I lay pieces of myself here in order to encourage you to stop making excuses about not pursuing those dreams God gave you. Never let age stop you. Never let life’s circumstances stop you. And definitely never let other people dictate who you should be. Friends encourage you while a competitor will do anything to keep you beneath them. I’ve had to overcome a few of those too.

I look back at my life and I see blessing after blessing. In times of depression, and in times of joy. In times when we didn’t have enough money to go grocery shopping, and in the times we were able to bless others with a hot meal. In times when I’ve cried to God for answers, and in times I felt His voice. In the time I was told I had cancer, and in the time God told me I was healed before the doctor did. In the mountains of rejection letters, and in the future day I’ll find out I made the best-seller lists. In lonely nights, and in parties full of genuine laughter. In times of failure or success, God has been faithful.

I can’t wait to see what the next 35+ years will bring!

In honor of my 35 years, here’s a list of 35 things I’ve discovered in life so far. I hope it brings some joy to your life and sparks the courage to go after your desires!

  1. Killing a plant doesn’t make you a murderer, just remember to water your kids and pets more often.
  2. If you have enough time to check your phone, you have enough time to talk to God.
  3. Try listening more than talking.
  4. On that note…if he’s playing a video game, he’s not listening. I don’t care if he answers, he’s honestly NOT listening.
  5. Pray with your spouse. It’ll bring the two of you closer to each other as well as to Christ, and to a whole other level in your relationship.
  6. Laugh. Smile. Giggle. Snort. It’s healing to your soul and mood.
  7. EVERYONE is going through something or dealing with something. No one is perfect. Treat them with care.
  8. We’re all more alike than you think.
  9. Cats are better than dogs.
  10. But… not everyone likes cats, so that’s why God created dogs. I respect that.
  11. Life’s too short to not have chocolate.
  12. You can’t please everyone. Actually – you can’t 100% please ANYONE. Even yourself. So stop losing sleep over it.
  13. You’ll learn a LOT from having friends that are all different ages, races, and backgrounds.
  14. Watch where you step in the ocean…(long story)
  15. Sunsets are beautiful, but there’s something extra special about getting up for a sunrise.
  16. You don’t have to listen to every piece of advice given to you.
  17. But make sure you consider each piece of advice given to you.
  18. Your career isn’t the thing that defines you.
  19. Don’t walk through your kid’s room barefoot.
  20. Doctor Who is the best tv show of all time, but not everyone has the time to accept this fact.
  21. This time next year you’ll be thankful you started that project NOW instead of procrastinating it.
  22. You’ll never remember that thing you’re telling yourself in bed. WRITE IT DOWN!
  23. You don’t have to follow the recipe. Live a little.
  24. No matter how many times you read the Bible, you’ll always find something new.
  25. Lists are amazing. Satisfying to write, and even better when crossed off.
  26. Forgiveness is more for your sanity than their’s. Just like bittereness effects you more than them.
  27. ALL of God’s promises are Yes and Amen.
  28. There might be no place like home, but real change happens when we leave our comfort zone.
  29. You can never have too many books. No, really! Tell my hubby this one!
  30. It’s OKAY to rest.
  31. Kids are sometimes the best source of wisdom.
  32. You can get used to almost anything if you’re around it long enough. That’s not always a good thing…
  33. Men just think differently. It’s weird, but he doesn’t accociate the silence as a sign I’m mad with how he acted last Tuesday.
  34. Drink more water. Don’t be like your plants.
  35. You’re never done learning new tricks.

Hope you enjoyed those! Have a blessed day!

Oh, and be on the lookout for my new newsletter! Woohoo!! Sign-ups will be posted on March 1st. All who sign-up will get a FREE recipe booklet with original recipes inspired by the dishes in my upcoming book, Neutral Extinction. Stay tuned!

Vision For a Better 2022

Hello, 2022. Nice to meet you? … I think?

It’s two weeks into 2022, and the taste of this new year is still a mystery. Half my mind feels frozen in 2020. While the other half wants to surge ahead to a future date. I don’t think I’m the only one either. The world seems to be approaching 2022 with apprehension, caution, and distrust. A popular meme states that 2022 sounds like “2020 too” and implies we’re in for another rocky year.

I know these memes are in good fun – and they made me giggle and snicker – but they also made me sad in the knowledge that most people expect 2022 to be, well, not a great year. Too many people are going into 2022 with hopes of simply surviving instead of thriving.

Even resolutions are down this year:

Not everyone makes New Year’s resolutions, regardless of the year, but most hopeful/visionary people tend to make them.

Of these hopeful people, too few have plans of improving their lives OTHER than health/exercise in 2022. According to a CBS poll, only 10% of resolutioners desire to “enjoy life more.”

Why?? Why has hope plummeted to staggering lows? Why have people conformed to the mundane and substandard?

WHY HAVE PEOPLE STOPPED TRYING?!?!

I imagine that last sentence echoing in a vast room. The walls line with slumped people, sitting like abandoned dolls with blindfolds over their eyes. The center of the room fills with a mountain of wrapped gifts, each more beautiful than the next. Secrets are held in each precious package. But the vast room stretches for miles, and the expanse lengthens in between this mountain of gifts and each person. People are tired, asleep, or bruised. Too many have tried and failed to cross the expanse. Some have simply resigned to not try. While others give up halfway there, stop mere inches from the target, or get there but forget to open the gifts they hold. All because they haven’t taken their blindfolds off; they don’t realize how close they are to their gifts.

It’s too easy to miss what’s right in front of us because we can’t see past our current situation. To resign. To lower our expectations. To lean against the wall – or sit on the couch/bed/desk – and let the crazy world go up in flames. To say “at least this world is only temporary, I’m just going to bide my time as I wait for heaven and/or Jesus to return.” We wait for those gifts to be handed to us, or learn to live without them at all.

When did the world stop having vision? Please tell me you’re not one of these people, fair reader. I know you’re not the norm. YOU have a vision. You have SO MANY amazing, incredible, wonderful, life-altering, and world-changing visions!! You do. You really, truly do.

A vision is “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” We all have it. ESPECIALLY you. “The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” – Proverbs 19:8

Through this wisdom, God has gifted us the ability to imagine even the unseen future.

“So no wonder we don’t give up. For even though our outer person gradually wears out, our inner being is renewed every single day. We view our slight, short-lived troubles in the light of eternity. We see our difficulties as the substance that produces for us an eternal, weighty glory far beyond all comparison, because we don’t focus our attention on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but the unseen realm is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This unseen realm isn’t just existing after we die, or after Jesus returns to bring us to Heaven. He says our inner being is “renewed every single day,” thus the unseen realm is present EVERY SINGLE DAY.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

Every single day, we have the ability to act in faith. We have the ability to “focus our attention on what is unseen.” This includes the future, visions God gives us, praying in the Spirit, etc. Each of us has a mountain of gifts. Beautiful. God-given. And meant to be opened now on this Earth. They’re for eternity, but eternity doesn’t simply exist in Heaven alone. Eternity is eternal afterall.

I grew up hearing that life on this Earth is “the waiting room.” I’d listen to whole sermons dedicated to this “vision” of convincing the congregation we’re simply waiting for the real event: Heaven. “Just be a good Christian, don’t sin, store your treasures in Heaven, and don’t get attached to this Earth.” While these statements are indeed rooted in scripture, the idea has been distorted. So much so that many of us have forgotten to actually live. And live ABUNDANTLY. The Bible does indeed say to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” However, this is referring to material things, not our day-to-day actions. Because the Bible also says “I (Jesus) came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” That doesn’t sound like God wants us twiddling our thumbs in a waiting room.

Patience might be hard, but sitting is easy. Too easy. It’s far easier to sit in our current circumstances than risk following a dream/vision into the unknown. (Cue Frozen 2 song Into the unknooooooooowwwwwwwwwn…) I find myself making excuses why I shouldn’t do something I don’t have all the answers for. I might fail. I might be wrong. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to rock the boat. I’m not going to risk my mental health.

Visions are hard when you can’t see. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? But there is one who ALWAYS sees. Come on, you all know the answer to that one: Jesus. Jeremiah 29:11 is pretty clear on that point, right?

So, knowing all of this, why do we still hesitate? Why do we still find ourselves lacking hope? Lacking the ambition to write down our visions for the future? Why have we stopped trying?

Short answer: after 2 years of hurts, canceled plans, and deferred hope, our souls feel sick. It’s easier to halt the visions to protect ourselves. To nip our hope in the bud before it’s cut off.

How can we change this?

We change this by first healing our sick souls. We can’t have vision without healthy eyesight. How do we heal our sight? Well, it’s not through a shot. Jesus healed a blind man with His words…through faith…

Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:52

It’s truly as simple as that.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.” – Psalm 146:8

Through God, we have the assurance that our vision will no longer be blind. No more blindfolds. We don’t have to fear our hope being deferred, because we don’t live by the rules of this world. We live eternally in the unseen realm. The realm where God’s rules trump the world’s sick rules.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:2 (i.e. no matter what happens in the world, you won’t be consumed/overwhelmed by it!)

With God, we can have a true vision. Seeing through spiritual eyes. All we have to do is ask for HIS vision. HIS sight. He gave each of us visions of the future, we just need our blindfolds off so we can see them.

I encourage each of you to take the time to take out a pen and paper. Write down the visions of your heart. If you don’t know them, ask God to show them to you. But the important thing is to write them down. So you can see them and strive toward them every single day. Discover these visions by asking what God would want. What steps can change our current world? What gifts/talents has God given you that you can use to His glory? How can you serve others? How can you give? And…what do you want?

Close your eyes, and truly see.

I’m praying for each of you. May God give you the desires of your heart, and a vision to make it happen!

Darling, There’s a Better Future For You!

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Some of you might recognize this famous quote from Stephen King. Writers often reference “killing your darlings” during the editing process. The message might sound cruel, but it means to delete the characters/plots/dialog/writing we THINK we love, but it drags our story down. He’s saying to cut the things that’ll make our story better once they’re gone.

If only we could do that in our own lives…

But how do we know which pieces to cut to make our lives better? We don’t want to cut something useful, after all. We don’t want to commit a Freddie Krueger slasher work to our dreams and future.

In 1 Samuel chapter 16, God tells Samuel to stop being depressed over Saul and anoint the next king of Israel. God simply says “I have selected one of Jesse’s sons to be king.” Complication alert: Jesse had 8 sons. Samuel needed to “kill” some of those darlings to find the true king.

When he got to Jesse’s house, he met 7 handsome, strong, and perfect darling sons. They were everything Samuel THOUGHT he wanted.

If I had a dime every time I THOUGHT I knew what I wanted…

When I was single, I made a list of the characteristics I desired in a husband. Some were important: integrity, faith, strong values, kindness, compassion, etc. A few were darlings that weren’t exactly important to a happy marriage. Blue eyes being the most superficial. Once I met a man, I took all the things on my list into account and decided which weren’t as important as I originally thought. In the same token, the important things on the list helped me weed out guys who weren’t perfect fits either.

Samuel had a list in his own head. Tall: check. Nice face: check. Dreamy blue eyes: check. Looks like a king: check. But God told Samuel “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God’s list was different than Samuel’s. And on the surface, some might have said the “ruddy-faced boy” God chose was a few steps down from the first 7 sons. David wasn’t even invited to be a part of his family gathering. His dad left him to do chores while they feasted with the prophet. Samuel didn’t know Jesse had an 8th son until he asked!

This is something I believe we constantly miss in our lives. We choose a husband/wife, career, job, friend, or decision of any kind simply because we THINK it’s our best option. We fear nothing else will come around because this is all we see. So, we say it’s “good enough” or “I deserve this anyway” when deep down we know we’re meant for more.

I’m not talking about being discontent with what God has given you. I’m talking about settling for less than God intends for your life. Filling your life with events, people, and obstacles God wants you to subtract in order to accept what He desires for you.

Having 1 of David’s brothers on the throne could’ve proven disastrous. I bet Samuel was thankful he abided by God’s list instead of his own when he saw how fantastic of a king David would become. He could’ve made a history-changing mistake if he hadn’t listened to God. If he’d settled for something on his own superficial list.

I know. I know. You’re probably saying “But Samuel was a prophet who verbally heard God’s voice. How am I supposed to know what God wants me to do?!”

Don’t worry: God already told you!

Have you ever heard or said the phrase “God’s working on me concerning ____” or “God’s dealing with me about ____”? It usually pertains to something difficult, life-altering, or a path we don’t want to go down.

For instance, God has been dealing with me about my view of success. My idea of a successful life is changing the lives of multiple people, influencing thousands or millions with my books, and making profits to show these numbers. I see the avenue to this outcome to be by a popular literary agent, having a top 4 publisher, and a six-figure advance paycheck. I’ve committed to this list by e-mailing agents for years. Years. And tailoring my books to what I THINK these people want. Ugh. I fell victim to creating a superficial list of darlings that only matter to the world, not to what God might have in mind. I know this now because God has been “dealing with me” about what’s truly important. How do I know? Because He has been opening doors to other avenues. These avenues might be different than what my list included, but they align with God’s word:

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Galatians 5:17

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

I want to be clear that what God has “been dealing with me” about isn’t actually different than my true desires. They are simply guiding me via the path God wants me to go down to achieve them. My true desire is to have my words mean something, and have my books published. The how isn’t up to me, it’s up to God! God’s joy and peace fill us when we are on the right path. Our deepest desires are God-given, and only He knows the best way to achieve them.

In order to see what plans and pathways God has for us, we need to cut the parts we don’t need. The only way to do this is to know what parts we do need: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” In order to trust God, we need to have faith. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Honestly, I believe that the real reason most people aren’t living to their full potential is because we don’t trust that God has something better in mind. We see missionaries living in poverty, Christians who never make millions, or faith-filled people who lack so much, and fear we’ll have the same “fate”. But are we looking at these people through God’s standards or the world’s view of success? When we look closer, we can see how faith-filled believers live BETTER lives when they surrender to what God intends. When they “kill their darlings” of the world and tailor a new list with God’s worldview.

Love. Joy. Peace. Faithfulness. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Meekness. Self-control…. a list that trumps wealth, power, and superficial beauty. It’s a list that means something to our future, and doesn’t fade with age and politics.

David was “a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking.” He wasn’t ugly by any means. Just different than what Samuel had in mind.

Samuel’s desire was to have a good king, and God showed him the path to get there. What path is God wanting to lead you through?

When we surrender to what God wants, instead of what we THINK we want, we’ll find God has something much MUCH better in mind. Kill your darlings, friends, and see the beautiful story underneath.

You Are Blessed!

I AM BLESSED. It’s taken me many years to truly believe this statement. To live those words. To not be afraid of those words.

“Afraid?” you ask. Yes, afraid, and guilty. Riddled with guilt. Second-guessing the reality of my blessings. And doubting I even want to be blessed.

Maybe you’re nodding your head, or maybe you’re thinking this writer is crazier than a two-headed stray cat on distilled catnip. Everyone wants blessings. Right? Count your blessings. Right?

Well, for starters… In a world FULL of blessings, we seem to be defined by our latest asset, gift, or favor.

Notice Riker’s grumpy face setting in?

A few weeks ago, we took our son on an exciting day trip. On a crisp September morning, we traveled to the mountains in North Carolina to go apple picking, eat apple cider donuts, and enjoy an apple festival. Riker – currently our only child – got our full attention as he ate sweets, ran, conquered the playground, and jumped on the farm’s mega trampoline. He even made a new friend whom he played with and saw throughout the course of our adventurous day. We laughed and played together through the rows of apple trees. We went out to eat with new friends and Riker got his pick of the menu. Outside the restaurant, a parade graced the town’s Main Street. Riker jumped up and down in joy as each new float brought something he loved: sports cars, thrown candy, comic book characters, sports themes, and little gifts thrown his way.

After the parade, we waved goodbye to our new friends, and journeyed down the street to our parked car. We passed closing pop-up craft, food, and toy stands. Riker asked for a toy. He wanted to “get something.” Andrew and I told him “No, it’s time to go home.”

He halted in his tracks and whined. “This is the worst day ever!”

Needless to say, we did NOT let that last statement slide. After we laughed.

But, don’t we do the same thing in our own lives? We could spend hours counting each of our possessions, people we love, events we treasure, and things in our lives we’re thankful for. Then something happens: an accident, a sickness, a death, a disappointment, etc. We raise our head to the sky and scream “God, why me!?” Or worse, we expect these discomforts and disappoints so much that we let it eclipse everything good in our lives. They make us doubt we even have blessings. We forget our beautiful lives because of our current darkness.

This doubt isn’t where our worst danger lies. This isn’t the fear I referred to earlier. Disappointments eclipsing our lives is all too commonplace. The comfort we find in these dark places is the dangerous part.

Life in any career isn’t easy. I’m going to refer to my life experience as an artist because that’s what I know: it’s downright INSANE! I’ve been a chef, teacher, play director, writer, painter, and creator of many things, but each path in my career is plagued by harsh opinions, low income, rejection, and doubting my worth in our society. As a creator/artist my work defines me because it’s a literal part of me. As a result, the rejections and opinions of others define me too.

I’ve touched on these facts before, but let me venture into deeper territory… I have many friends that consider themselves artists, and they too live lives full of rejections and opinions. It actually has become a bonding experience for us all:

“I got five rejection emails last week from publishers.”

“I’m so sorry, my friend. I got six rejections as well. Want to look at each other’s work and see what we’re doing wrong?”

We make excuses for each other, try to give reasons for our failures, while also encouraging one another to “continue pressing on.” But what happens when one of us finally succeeds? What happens when we receive a blessing? What happens when we no longer relate to those still getting rejections?

Guilt sets in. We don’t wish to boast, so we downplay our victory. Or, maybe we believe this victory to be a fluke; we fear our blessing will wash away in a sea of disappointment. Misery loves company, right?

I’ve had too many “friends” over the years who got more excited in my failures than my successes. I am also blessed to have friends who cry and scream in excitement more than me when a victory happens. And let me just say, those two types of friends are both extremely blessed, but one type tends to live happier.

What those first “friends” need to realize is that just because one person has a victory doesn’t mean they can’t too. One’s God-given blessings NEVER subtracts from the blessings available to all of us.

When we don’t share our blessings with others, a new narrative takes its place. Without the knowledge of blessings, it appears like they no longer exist. In a society run by a news media who always reports bad news, a social media full of conspiracy theories and prayer requests, and gatherings masking possible smiles, it’s all too easy to get discouraged. We forget good news still exists. We forget our mountain of blessings because all we see is the last tragic event. We see our neighbor suffering so we think we need to be too, and our subconsciousness doesn’t even realize it’s happening.

This guilt is actually tied to our self worth. We believe ourselves unworthy of our blessings. If our friend/neighbor doesn’t have this, then why should we?

The answer is so simple that too many of us choose to ignore the obvious: all of this confusion grows because our worth doesn’t come from the amount or lack of blessings. Our worth comes through Jesus, and Jesus alone. If we realize this simple fact, the darkness engulfing our blessings fades. Because every blessing comes from Him.

Let’s go even further into this blessed knowledge: If our blessings come from Jesus, why are we feeling guilty about receiving a God-given gift? In fact, we should be EXPECTING these gifts. Says so right here:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3

In my parents’ old house, they had an old picture hanging in the bathroom. It showed a series of hills with a few cows grazing on lush, green grass. A scripture blanketed the sky: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

I used to stare at that picture and mull over its significant. If God supplies my every need according to His riches, then my needs are tied to His wealth. God also says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He created all things. His wealth is truly endless. That means the supplies to my needs are endless. I’m rich!!

But I forget this fact. I’ve let rejection, death, a bout of cancer, scars, lost friendships, and any number of other dark things dictate how I feel. I forgot Romans 8:32…

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

As I learn to embrace the statement “I am blessed,” I hope to also show you all how you don’t have to feel guilty, afraid, worthless, doubtful, or confused over whether or not you are blessed. Nor should you be afraid or guilty to share your blessings with others. Because we’re not boasting in ourselves; we’re boasting in what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus gave me these words. Jesus gave me a loving husband. Jesus gave me a fantastic son. Jesus gave us the ability to adopt another child who we’ll hopefully meet soon. Jesus gave me a home. Friends. Health. Jesus blessed me with EVERY good and perfect thing because it all comes from above.

I didn’t come by these blessings because of anything I did. I was nobody. And yet, when I asked Jesus into my heart I became His. Jesus is my blessed hope, and I am His treasure:

But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world. – 1 Peter 2:9

YOU are blessed. Yes, YOU. Declare it. Remember it. Share it.

Love you all. Be blessed, and never stop being a blessings to others. YOU ARE BLESSED.

Click on the above picture to be taken to my new online store where you can purchase my artwork on prints, mugs, cards, t-shirts, phone cases, pillows, blankets, and more!
Click the above picture to be taken to our GoFundMe adoption page. Thank you!!

Proactive Thankfulness

If you follow me on social media, then you might have seen our big family news. It’s the event we’ve long waited for, and the event I referenced in my blog last month.

No, I’m not pregnant. – Too many people, including several family members, guessed that one – But this is just as exciting, if not more so… We’re adopting!

We couldn’t be more ecstatic, delighted, and crying happy tears. We don’t know who we’ll be adopting YET, but we’re searching for a little girl around Riker’s age. We’ll begin the matching process the end of September after we complete the home study. It’s a private adoption through foster care. The extreme number of waiting children who need homes was our motivator to choose this particular path. There are over 424,000 U.S. foster kids, with the median age being a fragile 6 years old. That’s heartbreaking. Too many of these kids bounce back and forth from one foster family to the next until they age out of the system altogether. Never knowing a loving family to call their own.

Andrew and I have been going through the rigorous training to be certified as foster and adoptive parents. The process includes several books, articles, classes, forms, tests, back ground checks, fingerprinting, etc. We’ve also taken it upon ourselves to go beyond the checklist to watch and read countless adoption and foster stories wherever we can find them. I’ll tell you what, the stories of these children bring our own lives into perspective.

Sometimes we don’t realize the blessings, gifts, and privileges we have until we see what true want and neglect looks like. But it’s not about boasting in what we have. It’s not about saying “I’m blessed because I have a house while others don’t,” or “thank you, God, for giving me two loving parents unlike all of those children over there.” You probably thought I was going to say something like that, didn’t you? If I had a dime for every time I heard a speaker, a book, or a movie actor say “be thankful for what you have, because there are so many less fortunate than you…” I’d be a rich woman. We all would be. But maybe our lives should be more than just “being thankful.” Maybe we need to do more than just feeling privileged.

Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. God’s word will say it better…

1 Chronicles 16:8 STARTS with being thankful, but it doesn’t stop there… “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people.” Another translation says “Thank God! Call out His Name! Tell the whole world who He is and what He’s done.”

How about Philippians 2:4 ~ “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests to others.”

Or Proverbs 3:27 ~ “Do not pass by a man in need, for you might be the hand of God to him.”

Whenever God tells us to give thanks, it’s often sandwiched between something proactive, whether it’s praying, rejoicing, working out our faith, or helping others. God wants us to have thankful hearts, but it should never stop there.

This is sounding like a Thanksgiving message I’m realizing! But I can’t help the timing of what God places on my heart. I want to actively do James 1:22… “But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth].”

God doesn’t say all these things to make us feel guilty, but to show us the right path and motivate us to do His perfect will. It’s easy to wallow in our lack just as easy as it is to simply say how thankful we are for our blessings. Words are powerful, but they can also come cheap. There’s a big difference between praying because we’re looking for wisdom to do something, and praying because we’re stalling since we don’t want to do something.

I hope my words are making sense as the waterfall flows from my fingers… what I’m trying to say is that we should be motivated to ACT when we hear about other’s circumstances. God instructs us many times to give to the poor, but He’s not just referring to money. When you hear or see someone “less fortunate” than you, what blessings come to mind? Money, house, family, freedom, love, joy, peace, or other life circumstance? Maybe even our faith? Good, now definitely thank God for these blessings.

BUT DON’T STOP THERE!!

How can you then share these blessings? What gifts has God given you? Don’t bury them; share them. Can you open your home? Can you send money? Can you offer kind words of encouragement through a letter, message, etc.? Can you give a physical gift to this person to brighten their day? Can you share your faith in Christ if they don’t have this? Can you share a meal? What has God blessed you with that you can share with ANYONE around you?

I’m talking to myself here too. It’s easy to be complaisant. It’s easy to just watch videos, tv, news, etc. and cry about someone’s circumstance, say a prayer, and move on with your day. Not all of us need to drop what we’re doing, sell all we have to the poor, and become missionaries overseas. But some of us need to stop pointing our fingers at what other rich people should do for the world and do it ourselves.

Adoption isn’t for everyone, but it’s something God laid on Andrew and mine’s hearts of how we can give and bless one small person. Maybe God has burdened you for the homeless, or a neighbor on your street who just lost their job. Maybe you’re watching the crying mothers in Afghanistan and God has pressed on your heart an idea of how to help one or more of them. Maybe God blessed you with the talent of knowing laws and politics and you could be a catalyst to change our government or simply your community. If you’re looking for a sign for where and when to stop sitting and start acting, may this be what you’re praying for.

James 2:14-17 … “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Acting out our faith by perusing this adoption isn’t easy, and we don’t even have our future daughter yet. But it’s also a blessing already. I pray for her everyday, wherever she is. I love her already, wherever she is. I pray God keeps her safe until she’s in our arms. Prayer is powerful, but if all I did was pray and not complete the paperwork, read the books, pay the bills, or make her room ready, we would miss the opportunity to welcome her into our home. Our good intentions aren’t enough. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” ~ 1 John 3:18

Private adoption isn’t cheap, and if you feel led to give toward our journey you can visit our Go Fund Me or purchase one of my adoption-inspired art pieces that I created and am now selling on Fine Art America as a fundraiser. But don’t feel obligated to give. I encourage you to give somewhere else or pursue any cause God lays on your heart! I’d just be reminisced if I didn’t post these links in case you also have a heart for adoption.

God gave us each a different gift, a different passion, and different burdens in our hearts. Just as we all have unique personalities and pasts, we also all have unique futures. We’re blessed. And I hope you are now encouraged to share your blessings. Thank God for what you have, then use these gifts to help the world. All it takes is one act of faith to start a movement.

Love you all!!

Purpose…Now what?

So, you’ve figured out what God wants you to do. He told you directly, in a dream, through someone else, or by some other means. Maybe it’s thanks to reading my blog post last month: Living On Purpose. You just KNOW what you’re meant to do. Your purpose could involve a career choice, a growing family, a move, a new friendship/relationship, or something else life altering. You know your desires, but… now what?!

Now…you wait.

I feel like I’m an expert of the waiting game. The in-between times. The “what if” times. The transitions. The period of space where we know we’re meant to be somewhere or do something, but we don’t know how or when. And we start to doubt we have any purpose at all.

It’s the years after God told David he’d become king. He had to watch the reigning King Saul go absolutely crazy, try to murder him, and chase him through the wilderness. And he waited…and waited…and waited. He wrote half of Psalms during his in-between times of waiting on God’s promise over his life to come to fulfillment. It was literal years before he became king.

It’s the 120 years between Noah picking up a hammer to build the ark and the first rain drop fell in the flood. I bet his family and “friends” badgered him with questions and doubts the entire time.

It’s the years Joseph endured between his prophetic dreams and the day Pharaoh rescued him from prison to make him second in command. I imagine lots of long lonely nights in the pit and jail cell.

It’s the decades Abraham waited on God’s promise to be fulfilled in giving him a son. Scripture doesn’t beat around the bush in retelling Abraham’s MANY doubts on God’s promises of purpose.

The waiting game happens to all of us. But it doesn’t have to be a “game.” It’s doesn’t HAVE to be torturous, mind-numbing, depressing, and crippling. Lamentations 3:25 says “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him.” That’s a comforting promise.

But what do we do when it seems like all we do is wait on our next assignment, adventure, mission, and purpose? We know God will be good to us and has the best in store, but what are we SUPPOSED TO DO?!

I remember my first date with Andrew. Shopping, movies, and Starbucks. The perfect trio. The perfect night. I knew I met THE ONE. I literally knew it. I was the crazy sap who cried on the drive home, thanking God for bring me my husband. Thank God I had the decency of mind to not tell Andrew this until AFTER we got married. He would’ve run for the hills, and with good reason. lol

So, in that moment on May 10th, 2009, I knew my purpose. God showed me a glimpse of what was to come, and I rested in that reassurance. Since I knew my purpose, I could’ve twiddled my thumbs, coasted on these thoughts, and waited patiently for my wedding day. I could’ve, but I’m so glad I didn’t!

Instead, I acted on my purpose by taking steps to fulfill it: getting to know Andrew more, growing our relationship, testing to see if we were equally yoked in everything that matters, planning our life together, and learning to live with the fact he would never like Lord of the Rings or A Knight’s Tale as much as I do. Because of doing these things, I was ready to say yes when Andrew popped the anticipated question. Well, as ready as I humanly could be. There were still many surprises after the wedding, but I shudder to think how insane things could’ve been had we not used our dating time to get to know one another more.

David didn’t twirl his thumbs either. Like I said earlier, he wrote a LOT during his decade on the run. He also got married, had kids, and he gathered an army of followers who would help him become king once Saul died.

Abraham, on the other hand, made a few missteps. He chose to force God’s purpose by sleeping with another woman to have a son. This son, named Ishmael, would plague Abraham’s future son, Isaac, until God sent them away to start a new nation. This nation would later become Israel’s oldest enemy. But even in his mistakes, God fulfilled his purpose in His time. Abraham just made it more complicated than it needed to be.

I’m so guilty of this too: making times harder and more complicated than they need to be.

When God first gave me the mission to write novels, I wrote with joy and passion. But then I got consumed with self-doubt as I looked to what others were doing, and why I wasn’t good enough. I let other’s opinions dictate my work and how I edited. I let my own fears stop me from praising God and listening. I look back at my journey and reprimand myself for losing sight of the gift God gave me. Now my first book is a mess, and I’m praying for God’s guidance on how to fix it. I’m waiting for an answer. But I’m writing, learning, and growing as I wait.

It can be unnerving to not know how long God wants us to wait on our purpose coming to fruition. We don’t have those answers. He never promises ultimate knowledge in timing. But He does give many scriptures to encourage, uplift, and instruct us along the way.

If we knew how long to wait, then we wouldn’t hold so passionately to our faith. Our prayer life wouldn’t grow. Our praise wouldn’t increase.

It’s difficult, but not impossible. God promises to never give us more than we can handle. That includes the valleys of solitude and mourning. And the chasms where we don’t know if it’s possible to continue in the dark.

I’m currently waiting on multiple things in my life. My readers are probably tired of me mentioning my purpose of being published. But I really am still waiting on this exciting purpose in my life to be fulfilled: five years and counting. Over seven years if you consider the day I wrote my first sentence in my first novel as day one. There are hundreds of writers who’ve waited even longer. Much longer in fact. I found out that Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote The Little House on the Prairie books, and my name sake) didn’t publish her first book until she was 65. Yow! I certainly pray it won’t take me THAT long.

I’m also waiting on something huge that’s twelve years in the making. I believe I’m reaching the finish line soon for that purpose, so you’ll be hearing about it in the months to come.

My point is: while we’re waiting on God’s purpose for our lives, work toward that purpose by trusting in Jesus.

What can you do today that would bring glory to Jesus?

While Joseph waited in prison, he used his God-given talent of interpreting dreams to comfort a fellow prisoner. He didn’t wallow in self pity when this same man forgot about him. Instead, he impressed the jail warden by his actions and he never stopped giving glory to God.

Are you praising God even when you don’t know which step to take?

Jesus Himself waited 30 years to begin His ministry. After His cousin, John, baptized Him and God said “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” He had to wait ANOTHER 40 days before He could begin selecting disciples. Those 40 days must have been excruciating… desert. Hot. No food. No water. And plagued by the persistent devil who never ceased badgering Him. But Jesus praised God continually. And Jesus shows us what He wants us to do through His perfect example.

When the enemy tempts us to give up: retort with scripture.

When other people try to get us to doubt what God told us: retort with scripture.

When we ourselves doubt our strength, talents, and purpose: retort with scripture.

God’s word trumps all. Stay strong, my friends. Because God promises it’s worth the wait. I can’t wait to see what’s next, but I’ll wait as long as it takes. Because I want an Isaac, not an Ishmael.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become restless and disturbed within me?
Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence. – Psalms 42:5

Living On Purpose

It’s been a hot minute, y’all! I missed blogging in May, but my blogging week was consumed at an amazing writers conference. It gave me a break from my normal schedule, a chance to connect with kindred spirits, intense classes to challenge my career, and a boost in confidence.

Over the last several months, I’ve been struggling with mass rejections and exhausted faith; a week rediscovering my purpose was EXACTLY the recharge and refocus I needed. I love how God knows what we need when we need it. He sees our needs. He knows our desire. And God knows our purpose.

Purpose. We all want one. We all NEED one.

The best-seller lists are lined with books promising to give people purpose. The Purpose-Driven Life, The Pursuit of Purpose, What on Earth Am I Here For, and The Purpose Effect are just a few. And no, I haven’t read any of them.

There are many quotes on the subject. Here are a select few. And I’m going to say a disclaimer right now: I don’t agree with any of these quotes…

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” ― Woody Allen

“I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it’s not just divinely assigned.” ―Michael J. Fox

“Our purpose in life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.” ―Dalai Lama XIV

Why do I disagree with these quotes? Well, first off, Woody Allen’s outlook is that life is empty. It’s up to us to at least make it fun. Art = fun, right? Art = color, imagination, character, beauty, or fun. So, he’s saying if you take art away, then you take purpose away. I will be the first to say art is mandatory to live fully. To create is definitely a type of purpose. I wrote an entire book proving how we lose our humanity when we strip away art. But can there be purpose without this artist’s existence? Is there a way without us searching for this alleged antidote?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: I’ll write it below.

Similarly to Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox puts a TON of pressure on our shoulders. We’re responsible for finding it, doing it, and achieving it according to his humble standards. There’s no God in his world. Talk about depressing and exhausting! He does have the word “just” thrown in, which leads me to assume he believes a divine deity might have something to do with assigning our purpose. I would hope so. If we left finding a purpose up to humanity alone, we’d have eternal chaos.

The quote from the Dalai Lama is possibly the worst of all. Do you see it? Let’s see if I can explain the flaw with this one…

We live in a current world of a LOT of depressed people. I’ve struggled with depression for the past twenty years. What I have isn’t a situational depression; it’s not brought on by a bad day, a misspoken word, or horrible accident. It’s a struggle of low self-worth, motivation, uncertainties, and life’s pressures. I actually don’t struggle with happiness. I’m a positive person. I’m what’s called “A happy person with depression” or “smiling depression” (this is an actual thing, ugh). By Mr. Lama’s standards, I’ve achieved my purpose. And also by his standards I’ll NEVER achieve 100% purpose because I’m never truly content. No one who’s depressed lives in honest contentment because we’re never always happy. Happiness is fleeting.

As wrong as these quotes are, I do want to point out what they get right:

Woody Allen’s artistic antidote could indeed be our purpose. Our purpose should NEVER be to succumb to despair, thus we do need to find the opposite of despair. And without Jesus there is indeed an emptiness of existence. Jesus would be the artist’s antidote for despair.

To Michael J. Fox’s credit, it is our responsibility to accept Jesus. We don’t need to find Him though, because He’s always there waiting for us, but we do have a responsibility to accept His gift of salvation.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama suffered from a simple case of a writer using the wrong word. If we replace happy with “joy” the quote takes on a deeper meaning. David – who’s arguably the most depressed individual in the Bible – said in Psalms 118:24 “You have put joy in my heart” in reference to God. Paul says in Thessalonians 2:20 “For you are our glory and joy.”

I know. I know. I can hear you saying “get on with it, Laura. Enough of this back and forth interpreting quotes. What’s our purpose?!”

I’m so glad you asked.

Because when we know our purpose, we know where we’re going. When we know our purpose, joy consumes us – not the fleeting happy moments, but a joy deep in our soul even when we’re unmotivated in bed. When we know our purpose, the mountains of rejections become unimportant. Rejections become answers to whether that person was a right fit for me: no, God has something better in store. When we know our purpose, our life has meaning.

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out flowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]. – Philippians 3:10

It’s that simple. Our purpose is knowing Jesus, and becoming like Him.

I’m done, right? Case closed. End of blog post. But it doesn’t feel quite that simple in our every day life, does it?

How can we be like Jesus when we do our jobs? i.e. writing, selling, speaking, helping, healing, manufacturing, creating….. wait… Didn’t Jesus do all of these things? Don’t each of our jobs involve at least a few of these activities? Jesus wrote through His disciples (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). He was, in essence, a salesman of salvation (He described it and offered it at the one price of accepting Him). He spoke powerful life-altering words wherever He went. He helped every person He came in contact with. He healed better than any doctor or nurse. He manufactured items when He was a carpenter. He created the world, didn’t He?! As well as every food and material all jobs work with.

How can we be like Jesus when we do our housework, raising kids, loving our spouse, relationship troubles, sleeping, eating, etc. etc.? The Bible talks about each and every one of these life events, challenges, and responsibilities. It’s an amazing read. I highly recommend it. I have a horrible memory though, so I need to continually reread it.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s exhausting to try to be like Jesus.

I grew up with the WWJD bracelets and the fire brimstone preaching what will happen if we sin instead of being Christ-like. Both of these methods didn’t work with a majority of my generation. We don’t need reminders of our failures or proddings to be perfect. I believe this is why, first and foremost, Paul tells us to KNOW JESUS more deeply, intimately, so we can recognize and understand the wonder of who He truly is.

I think we as Christians can get so lost in what to do, that we forget the why. We forget who we’re doing it for. We forget the purpose of it all.

When we concentrate on all the things we must do, we risk exhaustion to the point of giving up. We need to realize WE can never be perfect. It’s impossible. We can study the word of God all we want. Wear all the cool Christian jewelry and garb. Spurt out “thees” and “thous.” Make carpentry our profession, and take up fishing. But none of these things will bring us our purpose. Because Jesus isn’t any of this. Jesus, well, He’s all of this and more…

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Rev. 17:14

Those are highlights of what the Bible says Jesus is. When we know Jesus, we see our purpose because Jesus = our purpose. Jesus sets us free, and gives us the faith we need to live: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

You know what’s also interesting? In studying the scriptures of who Jesus is, I see my own purpose written… Life. Giver of living bread/food (chef). Faithful. Author. Joy-filled.

I always find my purpose when I look to Jesus. Because Jesus IS my purpose.

What’s your purpose? I dare to say you’ll find it in Jesus.

Breathing Life Into Art

In my artist’s mind, inspiration can come from literally anywhere. From dreams, to the swirl in my coffee, to a random conversation. If you catch me staring into space, chances are it’s because something just inspired a plot twist or new artwork. But my favorite inspirations always come when I’m reading scripture. This time was no different: I opened to Ezekiel 37, and an image appeared in my mind’s eye.

In Ezekiel 37, God transports the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” Ezekiel 37:1-6

Kind of creepy, right? Creepy like the painting that’s forming at the right of your screen. Andrew came home from work and viewed my painting in this early stage. As I asked what he thought, I could see the list of questions scrolling behind his eyes. He simply answered “oh, that’s nice. Kind of creepy.” Yeah, I’m not all joy and butterflies.

God doesn’t shy away from “creepy” situations either. He’s not scared of going into dark places. A graveyard with bones scattered every which way. Bleached white from the sun. Ripe for Halloween decorations.

I imagine a foggy mist circling around Ezekiel’s legs. Wind creaking the bare tree branches at the edge of the battlefield. The smell of bitter death singeing his nostril hairs. Hey, horror movies originated somewhere!

But then God spoke. He lay His mighty hand on Ezekiel and the prophet wasn’t afraid. Ezekiel never quaked, shivered, puked from the smell, or ran away like a bat out of hell. Instead, he walked “back and forth” and listened intently to what God had to say.

Man, I’d love to be that attentive. My mind would be imagining the skeletons grabbing at my ankles, pulling me down into hell. Or I’d imagine who these people used to be and why they never had a proper burial. “I’m sorry, God, what were you just telling me?”

But Ezekiel listened. Then He did what God commanded: he spoke to the bones.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. Ezekiel 37:7-10

Beyond the incredible imagery, this passage invokes a deeper message.

Words. Words are such powerful weapons.

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:21

Death and life. Ezekiel saw both. I think we all have seen both in one form or another. I’ve talked before about hope and joy bringing life into our situations. I’ve also discussed how fear can bring disaster.

There have been many, many times I wish I could take back the words I’ve spoken. A simple sentence ending a friendship. A mixed-up line relaying a message I never intended. A shout in anger. Or even words I never said but should have.

Can you relate?

How about harsh words spoken over ourselves? I’ve called myself a loser, unwanted, not excepted, ugly, fat, disgusting…you get the idea.

If there’s anything to be attained through Ezekiel 37, it’s that words really are POWERFUL.

God could’ve brought life to the bones on His own. He could’ve said “watch this, Ezekiel” as He breathed life.

God also loves a good parable. He could’ve just TOLD Ezekiel the message in story-form. “There once was a vast army brought down by a mighty kingdom. The army lay waste in a dark valley where vulchers picked the bones clean. A man came wielding the power of the almighty God, and he spoke life into the bones. Just as I will bring the people of Israel out of their graves and into Jerusalem once again.” Simple as that. Done and done. Point across.

But, nope. God always has a bigger picture in mind. He doesn’t do a SINGLE THING in vain. This wasn’t just a message to Israel about how they’ll live again. It’s a message about the power of our words. – As well as other messages, I’m sure. – Because the word of God is living, breathing, and ever speaking.

God only commanded two things in this text “Prophesy to these bones and say to them…” Prophesy and say.

The definition of prophesy is to “say that (a specified thing) will happen in the future.”

The definition of say is to “utter words so as to convey information, an opinion, a feeling or intention, or an instruction.”

To sum this up, God commanded Ezekiel to utter words that would instruct something to happen in the future. Then He said the words.

All through scripture, we see God telling us to speak, to hold our tongues, and instructing us how to use words.

God told Moses: “speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you.”

God told Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak.”

Jesus told His disciples: “For it is not you who speaks, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

As a result of these revelations, I’ve been watching what I say more and more lately.

I’ve never been a big talker. And since I’m an avid reader I have what’s called “reader’s dialect” where I say words differently in my head than speech. I get embarrassed quite often by how I mispronounce words. I’m not the best listener either because my mind loves to wander. But I do love to observe. My mind is a wonderland. A muscle that gets overused quite a bit. And I’m attempting to steer this muscle to mull over words before they exit my tongue. It’s quite a learning curve, to put it mildly.

Speaking what God wants us to say comes with a combination of listening and actions. I need to sit still long enough to listen. And not be distracted by the field of bones, or the mist blinding my vision. Then I need to act by saying the words, and saying them with authority over the situation. Because these words “instruct what will happen in the future.” Giving power to faith, righteousness, hope, and LIFE. Rather than death and fear.

Read Ezekiel 37 again. God told Ezekiel EVERYTHING. He gave him the exact words with His instructions, and then went on to even tell him what He meant. All God asks is for us is to agree, then act. Have faith! Don’t listen to any other voice besides God. And we agree with Him by saying the exact words God says.

Our faith becomes effective when we know who we are in Christ. Each bone in that field was created in God’s image. Each person. EVERYONE. Yes, even you are beautiful. Blessed. ALIVE in Christ. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

And, like Ezekiel, we have authority to speak life into the people around us. Like I hopefully am doing to you, dear reader. You are so loved. You are so beautiful. You are God’s chosen. Chosen to do mighty mighty things. Jesus said that His people would do greater things than He did while on Earth. Believe that. You are His masterpiece. Let Him breath life into your tired bones.

And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Ephesians 4:29

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the evolution of my painting. Like most of my paintings and writings, the end result was similar yet worlds different than my initial vision. Just like our lives often are.

I struggled with the clouds and the grass, trying to manipulate the paint to my will. I used different tools, brushes, paints, and techniques. I layered and layered. And as I neared the finish line, I realized that each layer added a definition to this work. Each supposed mess up created depth. If I’d quit, then I never would have come to this final result. And I wouldn’t be sharing this now with you all. There’s lessons to be learned everywhere. Even at the end of a paint brush.

Be encouraged, and live your life to the fullest! Until next time, look for the art in life. 🙂

Art Parallels Faith

Let me start by saying this blog post will be a little different. It’s meatier than my usual inspirational messages. It’s a challenge. A thesis if you will. A call to action. And an algorithm of our souls. It stems from the language of a faith-filled artist. And I hope my words make sense as I relay the pictures in my mind.

Art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art. I tackle a painting like I’m embarking on an adventure, because art helps me to appreciate the adventure in life. I never see it as a coincidence when something God created mirrors itself.

I hit creative slumps quite often. One week I’ll be flowing with ideas with three paintings, four chapters, and two new character arcs. One sleepless week later, I wake up to dishes and laundry piled as high as the Alps. Then I’ll have weeks where everything I do is a struggle: no art, no new chapters, and deleting last week’s characters.

These are the weeks where I need to get back to the fundamentals of survival. The basics of life that help us remember our foundations. To not over-complicate our lives, but remember why we do what we do. The basics of who we are in Christ, and why we create/live/breathe in the first place. For an artist, this means remembering the fundamentals of art so we can be inspired once more to create. For a Christian, this means to remember His word. Because when we read His word with faith, it’s actually quite simple.

As an artist, our basic are the 7 elements to any artwork: 1. Line 2. Shape 3. Color 4. Space 5. Value 6. Texture 7. Form

Every great piece of art has all 7 elements. It’s a common language every artist knows by heart. Art can’t be created without at least a few elements. No elements equals no art.

And every healthy believer in Christ has 7 elements of faith. Every believer can’t thrive unless they have a few of these elements. No elements of faith equals no life. It’s a common language we know in our hearts. Here, let me show you how you can remember to get back to the basics…

  1. Line = Forget

In art, it’s the marks and signs necessary in design. Thick or thin, line helps form structure, create a drawing, and it’s the most basic component of a picture. A point moving in space. This can be two or three-dimensional, descriptive, implied, or abstract.

A line connects two points, but you NEVER connect to the beginning. You move on. Whether it’s dashes where you stop and start anew each day, or flow in one smooth motion, the important part is to look to the next point. A line can’t be created by looking back at our history, but plunging forward to our destiny. Only when we forget our hurts, tragedies, and past condemnations, can we fully grasp the finish line. The line drawn in the sand. Will we cross it by forgetting what lies behind? “Forgetting what lies behind, and straining for what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13)

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2. Shape = Forgive

Shape cannot exist without the other basic elements of art. It’s also in charge of creating the subject matter, whether in figurative or abstract art. It can emulate any of the outlines found in nature. A shape always connects back to itself.

There’s no moving forward without forgiving. Forgiving a loved one, a friend, a stranger, and ourselves. No matter who it is, it’s impossible to connect with others if we don’t forgive. Just like a two-dimensional shape, forgiveness has two attributes: forgive others, and “your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)

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3. Color = Pray

Without color, there would be no art. Color sets the atmosphere in a painting, it describes emotions best, while styles such as Impressionism are based almost solely on color. Color is the reflection of light. Color hues come in a scale, but there are three basic colors – blue, red and yellow. When mixed, these three colors produce all other nuances of the spectrum.

Prayer is the brilliance of THE word manifested. We can enter into the throne of heaven. The vibrance of heaven isn’t black and white, but a spectrum of colors depicting joy to the fullest.

Color has 3 characteristics: 1. Hue: name of color 2. Value: hue’s lightness and darkness 3. Intensity: quality of brightness and purity. Or, how about I put this a different way… 1. Hue = The type of prayer (salvation/healing/wisdom) 2. Value = Power/sincerity/motivation 3. Intensity = Our belief put into action

4. Space = Believe

An area where positive and negative areas are defined or a sense of depth. Space is an area an artist provides for a particular purpose. It refers to the distances or area(s) around, between, and within things. There are two kinds of space: “Negative space” is the area in between, around, through or within an object. “Positive spaces” are the areas that are occupied by an object and/or form.

Whether negative or positive, this emptiness causes us to use a degree of belief. We believe God will come through because of what He says through His word. Through our prayer. And through the space in between our answered promises. “All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” (Mark 11:24)

5. Value = Worship

The lightness or darkness of tones or colors where white is the lightest value and black is the darkest.

I just touched on value in the color element, but let’s expand on it. Value is more than power, sincerity, motivation, and the amount of light and dark, it’s worship in its rawest form. Some people don’t understand the true value of worship, and it can kill us as believers just as it causes a picture to remain flat and lifeless. Even if it’s one syllable, one stroke of light, one note, or a single shade, it showcases the amount of light or darkness in our lives. When we worship, we determine its value. I’m not saying entertainment. Not a show of lights. But praise in its most sincere form. Power. Sincerity. Motivation. And praise.

6. Texture = Give

The way things feel or look as if they could be touched. Texture provides richness and natural characteristic to the artwork. It’s achieved by combining other basic elements of art.

Giving isn’t about what we have. We don’t give simply because we have an over-abundance of stuff. We give because it comes from a heart of love. A heart full because it includes all the other elements of faith. We’re open to not just give money, but of ourselves, actions, time, and our spiritual gifts. As we give, we need to be mindful of the texture we give off. We don’t give because we feel fear or condemnation. But we give because we feel love. God’s love.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

7. Form/Depth = Witness

The most prevalent of the art elements is form. These are three-dimensional elements that enclose volume. And they include height, width, and depth. For example a cube, a sphere, a pyramid, or a cylinder. In some paintings, you can see that these forms are free flowing.

Free flowing. YES! This is the element I personally struggle with the most. But if we embrace all of the other elements, form takes shape. Form is a 3D effect of sharing our faith with others. Showing and telling the good things God has done for us. Showing the depth of our faith.

I’m often tongue-tied and struggle with forming the right words when I talk in-person. One of my biggest quirks is miss-speaking the wrong phrase or word. I love talking, but it’s not my strongest feature. Writing is. And I use my writing to witness. I’m using it now.

God gave me these art/faith element parallels today in church. These basics are as much for me as they might be for you. An algorithm is a language we all can relate to. An element of speech. It helps us remember. Helps us to grow. And helps us connect to each other. I hope this algorithm connects to you. And blesses you today.

Remember the fundamentals. Create art with your life. And use these faith elements to change the world!

A Superseding Hope

I warm my tired hands on the sides of the mug, and inhale the coffee aroma hugging my face. I take a sip, stare at my blank computer screen in the morning light, and hope today brings success instead of rejection letters.

Hope. Some days it feels like hope is all we have left. It’s a word we take for granted. “Hope you have a good day!” the cashier says. “Hope you feel better,” we tell a sick friend. We honestly hope these things happen. Who wouldn’t want a good day or a loved one to feel better? (Assuming you don’t exist in a mystery novel where you hope a loved one dies so you can inherit their great wealth. That’s a different kind of hope. But I digress.)

Hope springs when we dream big. Bigger than our circumstances. We hope our children grow up to be better than us, our marriage lasts, and the sun breaks through the storm clouds.

When I searched for quotes about hope, I found a surprising fact. There are over a dozen hopeful quotes from a man I didn’t expect: Christopher Reeve.

If you’re not familiar with this name, let me give you a brief bio: Christopher Reeve was an actor who played Superman/Clark Kent in the first blockbuster Superman movie in 1978. He played this role in proceeding movies and starred in other famous films such as “Somewhere In Time.” Sadly, Reeve fell off his horse in 1995 during a race and became paralyzed from the neck down. He would no longer be able to walk, move his hands, hold his children, or do anything by himself. But he never lost hope.

Despite being paralyzed, Reeve became a better husband and father than he was before. He continued to act, and started a foundation with his wife to help other paralyzed people. He’s quoted to say although he doesn’t believe in the Lord, he tries to live as if God is real. He HOPED God existed, though he was taught otherwise. Just like he hoped to regain feeling in his limbs again.

The Bible says “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” In other words, when the thing we hope for gets postponed/delayed/canceled, it sickens us worse than if we never hoped at all. Hope is a risk. It’s probably why so many choose to wallow in current situations. We push that hope aside, laugh, and say “yeah, maybe one day.” We build walls around ourselves, protecting us from our hopes crashing.

We hoped we’d get those amazing jobs, but get rejections instead. We settle for lower paying jobs, or even accept unemployment life. We hoped for a lasting relationship. But it breaks apart. When more fail, we resign to live alone. We hoped the lockdowns would end in April, June, November, after the vaccine, then we resign to call this the new normal.

We don’t start with a give-up attitude, but after enough rejections we choose to believe giving up is what we’re supposed to do. We tell ourselves we’re not actually failing; if we were meant to do it, we’d have succeeded long ago.

“Sometimes God closes a door.”

“God closed that door and will open a window.”

Neither statement is biblical. When God leads you somewhere, He NEVER goes back on His word. His promises are “Yes and Amen!”

When our hearts are sick, they don’t need to stay that way. The scripture I half-quoted earlier is from Proverbs 13:12, and finishes by saying “but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.”

For every story of failure, there’s a story of triumph. An author getting a contract on the one hundred and first try. A third marriage lasting twenty years.

Even though Christopher Reeve died at the young age of 52, at the time of his death he regained partial movement in his fingers and toes. He even said he could feel a pin prick anywhere on his body as well as differentiate hot and cold temperatures. I hope he found God in the end too.

Hope supersedes our circumstances. It doesn’t listen to our lack, but dreams about a bright future. It gives us a vision of our possible reality. Hope can make any of us feel like superman.

When I breathed out my hopes this morning, I said it as a prayer, and acted on it. I hope for a good day, then I have a good day. Regardless of my circumstances. It’s not living in denial or a fantasy world; it’s living a life of faithful hope.

I’ve received rejections brimming with “deferred hope” over thirty times in the last two months concerning my latest book. Email rejections from literary agents, well-meaning fellow writers saying my genre doesn’t sell, and a few depressed people telling me I should give up like they have. (Honestly, I’m not making that last one up. I’m saddened for those individuals.)

I also have many friends giving encouragement, hugs (yes, I still relish hugs!), and uplifting advice. I’m thankful for it all!

I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. Situations I don’t care to burden the rest of the world with. But I say this to assure you I’m not someone living a stress-free, prosperous, healthy, joyful, no-problems life. And yet…that’s also the exact life I’m living. Through God. Through faith. And through hope.

I could wake up full of pain, alone, broke, and no end in sight… nevertheless, I hope. We don’t know which day will bring success or breakthroughs. When this pandemic will finally cease. And I don’t know when my books will be published.

But we keep trying. Keep living. Keep hoping.

A Joy-Filled Pandemic

“How are you fairing during these trying times?” seems to have replaced the usual “How are you?”

I learned this month that 1 in 4 young adults have considered suicide this year. Depression rose 102% since February. Wow. I can’t say I’m completely surprised, but still… That’s quiet a number.

With all of this in mind, I’m going to be vulnerable with ya’ll right now. I’ve dealt with depression most of my life, and even considered suicide a few times. I’ve submitted to the doldrums of loathing myself, self-pity, not being able to get out of bed/couch for days, eating my sorrows, drenching pillows/blankets/clothes/etc. in tears, making myself sick, and consuming myself with a negative spirit.

That might or might not surprise some of you.

It’s a horrible place to be, and I’d return there too many times to count. It started when I was 14 years old. I believed I was fat (when I wasn’t), no one loved me (when they did), and I was worthless (when I was). Ages 18, 21, and a few other years were my lowest points. All these times had common denominators: I was stuck at home, very little social life, couldn’t see a future past that day, and I concentrated on what I didn’t have. Does this sound familiar to societies present situation? I think so.

Most people in our country, and world, are stuck at home, away from friends and family, unable to perform their God-given talents, and stuck in a routine they didn’t ask for. The refrigerator is always in sight. Kids are never amused. The couch is our only friend. But, it doesn’t HAVE to be this way.

“You’re crazy!” you might have said aloud. “I don’t have a choice. The governor/mayor has put us on lock down. Everything is closed. I have nothing to live for until a cure is found!”

It might anger you then to find out I just got back from a romantic anniversary vacation with my husband to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Five days and four nights exploring and enjoying Hilton Head Island and Savannah. Masks and no masks. Laughing, enjoying the sunshine, and not one ounce of depression. In fact, I haven’t had one suicidal thought or extreme depression this whole year. To top it off, I haven’t been staying home more than normal (being a writer, I tend to be home about 80% of the time to write anyway), we’ve had friends over, been out, gone to church, ate at restaurants, and hugged countless people. We’re actually living a more joy-filled life than ever before!

Huh. You might be fuming. You might be about to message me to tell me how irresponsible I am. I could have caught something or spread something. How could I leave my son with my parents, during the first week of school no less. It’s a pandemic: we should be at home!!

Why?

Oh, I just made you extremely mad with that question, I know it. I can see the smoke exiting your ears from here. But, what if I told you that you too could be happy? You too could experience the freedom I’m enjoying?

Being set free from depression has been a process. A process that took years, and then I was delivered all at once. I have down days like everyone, sure, but the difference is I don’t stay down. I’m actually excited about life. I’m excited about tomorrow. Pandemic or no pandemic. Trump or Biden. Lock down or freedom. Fat or thin. Friends or no friends. Rich or poor. Sick or healthy.

Because it’s not about our outward circumstances. The secret is knowing our worth in Jesus. When we TRULY understand this, then the outside situations won’t matter. But, they do actually get better.

I understand God wants the complete best for us. He wants us to be blessed. To prosper. I don’t desire a fantasy world, mind you, I desire what God wants for me. Which is everything we could possibly need.

Think about the book of Exodus. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Stuck in a perpetual existence of payless work, constant misery, and a dim future. Then Moses comes to deliver them, but their king (Pharaoh) won’t give them up. God has to send 10 horrible plagues to torment everyone. But wait, these bugs, pests, diseases, and weather conditions never effected God’s people. They were protected. Untouched by harm.

When we realize our blessings, there’s no room in our life for depression, anxiety, and a world-wide pandemic. We can actually enjoy our God-given lives.

I’m not talking about the feel-good how-to-book “count your blessings.” Gosh, you’ve probably heard that a million times. I know I have. I’m talking about REALIZING your blessings.

“Do you mean my family, what money I have, my job, a roof over my head, my friends, my car, food on the table, etc.”

No.

Although it’s wonderful to remember all we have instead of all we lack, I’m not talking about things. I’m talking about us. I’m talking about YOU. Your immense worth. Your talents. Your voice. Your mission in life. Your dreams. Your personality. Your smile (or your smize – smiling eyes – when wearing a mask). What makes you YOU. What you add to the human race. What you add to your family. But, most importantly, what God sees in you.

Depression is a scary and ugly thing. It stems from low self-esteem. Whether from a lack of something internally or externally. But it’s a disease. A disease that affects our minds and can morph into our bodies if we let it fester. And like any disease, it can be healed.

I read a Christian book recently that I hated the more I thought about it. I won’t say the title or the author’s name out of respect. The book was well written, the characters had beautiful arcs, and the story was moderately compelling. But the central message was dead wrong. The main character suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. She’d attempted to kill herself a few times in her past after losing her spouse. This part was realistic and moving. During the course of the book a new romance blossoms. But she buries her secrets of depression and suicide until they come out in a nasty way. When her secrets are revealed, she believes the man will run away. When he doesn’t, she’s flabbergasted. He loves her no matter what. Then she says a line that I believe wrong to my bone marrow: my depression is a part of me and will be until the day I die; can you live with this part of me? Wow. Talk about depressing. I thought for sure the author would redeem themselves, but the story is left there. This character will always have recurring depression and suicidal thoughts the rest of her life, no matter how good her life may get.

That is NOT what God wants from us. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all or our sins, diseases, and pain. He doesn’t promise us a perfect life, but He does promise to always lead us into triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14), He will perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5), keep us from stumbling, and instead make us stand before Him with ecstatic delight and endless joy (Jude 1:24).

When I know my worth, I’m happy when other’s are happy. I’m not jealous of what they have, but rejoice that they are relishing in a blessing I too can have. We are ALL worth abundance THROUGH CHRIST. That’s the important thing: our worth is in Christ Jesus.

When we realize that God truly loves us. Loves you. Loves me. Made us special. Made us to have endless joy. Made us to make a difference. TO LIVE! To experience life. To love. There’s no room for depression when we know our worth.

Author Of Our Future

We live in an era of uncertainty. And I hate not knowing the future.

I’m someone who loves to make plans, schedule, research, and know everything about anything. I’ll constantly become bogged down in my writing because of my incessant need to research.

For instance, yesterday I wrote how a character visits another character on W44th Street in Manhattan. What did I do? Well, I had to search Bing maps for an aerial view. Then a street view. I explored all over 44th street, and went down 9th Ave (virtually). Spotted a few restaurants and bars to reference. Did a search for apartment buildings. Found a condo for sale on the exact corner I needed. Got the specs from listing pictures, details on layout, and the location of doors, etc. etc. Needless to say, I did about 30 – 45 minutes of research for one single paragraph.

But, I NEEDED to know! I needed to know the layout so I could continue my story without any surprises.

Guess what happened on the next page though? Yup, another plot twist I needed to research.

That’s just in fiction. In the real world it takes me weeks to plan the perfect vacation, party, or event. I say I love surprises, but in reality I’m too much of a control freak to enjoy a surprise properly.

So, this not knowing the future is driving me crazy!! When will everything reopen? Will we be able to have a family reunion this year? Will we even get to the beach? Will Riker have school next year? Is this all a ploy by the government? Will we lose all of our rights? Is everything fake? Or is everything more real than they’re saying on the news? Are we living in the end times? Will every restaurant close down before I can try a true southern meal?!

I don’t know.

But God knows.

I’m sitting in my sun room with the screen doors open. My cats are restless. The wind has been wild all day, and the clouds are rolling in. The air tastes thick with humidity. It doesn’t take a weather reporter to tell me there’s a storm coming. It’ll be here in a couple of hours. By the time you read this, I might be in the midst of it. It could be bad, or it might only bring rain. We’ve had some tornadoes in the area twice in the last few weeks, and there’s a possibility of more again tonight. But no one knows for sure. All we can do is wait it out and prepare. I cleaned our garage today so we can put our vehicles inside, and we have an amazing neighbor who has offered her basement to us if things get bad. But there’s not much more I can do to physically prepare.

Mentally though, I can choose to not let fear consume me. Riker senses when I’m upset; he’s sensitive that way. I made the mistake last week to get a little frantic in my last-minute tornado prep because we got a phone alert only 5 minutes before the wind picked up (we’d known the weather reports, but denied that we had anything to worry about). He was terrified; feeding and magnifying on my own fear. I’m not making that mistake again. This time, I’m prepared.

We might not know the future, but we don’t have to be surprised by it. We can see the signs coming, prepare, and rest in the knowledge that God has us in the palm of His hands. That doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. That means:

“Because you are God’s child, you can be confident that he will give you wisdom. And because he will give you wisdom, you can be sure that you will have a future and a hope. When you have the wisdom of God, you don’t need to fear the future.” Proverbs 24:13-14.

There’s one verse in particular that came to my attention this weekend. Our pastor loves to read from The Passion translation of the Bible, and I find it brings new understanding to verses I’ve heard all my life in the same formal translations.

“For now we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

As a mystery writer, this wording brings an instant picture to my mind. In mysteries there are clues and references for the end to come. A truly keen reader can follow the right clues and guess the ending that the author has planned. There’s clues and answers speckled all around us: in our relationships, our minds, even on the news, and especially in the Bible. God wrote MORE THAN 400 references to Jesus in the old testament. That’s a heck of a lot of clues. Yet, the majority of the Jewish people were surprised by his coming. Why? They didn’t need to be. And neither do we need to be surprised by our country’s future. By our own individual futures.

Am I surprised that I’m a wife, mother, writer, artist, living in South Carolina? Not really, because God put every last one of those desires in my heart years ago.

Will I be surprised if we’re hit by a tornado tonight? Not really, because I’m watching the winds bringing in the dark clouds. But that doesn’t mean I’m living in fear.

Am I surprised by this pandemic, how fast everything shut down, and how divided our world is becoming? Not really, because I’ve read the book of Revelation. I’ve read Matthew 24: “Nations will go to war against each other and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be terrible earthquakes—seismic events of epic proportion, horrible epidemics and famines in place after place. This is how the first contractions and birth pains of the new age will begin! …. But keep your hope to the end and you will experience life and deliverance. Yet through it all, this joyful assurance of the realm of heaven’s kingdom will be proclaimed all over the world, providing every nation with a demonstration of the reality of God. And after this the end of this age will arrive.”

But don’t worry: we all know how this story ends. If we trust the author.

Is it a coincidence that I’m currently writing a book all about possible futures? Not really.

Let me leave you with my latest video I created with a fitting bit of poetry. Be blessed and encouraged no matter what our futures bring!!

Words of Hope

Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. – Proverbs 16:24

My sweet little energetic boy is growing so fast. He’s loosing teeth, riding a bike, and most of the way through first grade. In the last few months he’s learned to add, subtract, create, read, write, and do more things on his own. I’ve watched him go from only being able to write his name to writing a whole story. Yes, just this week he concurred a new mile stone: writing his first whole story. It’s 4 pages long, has a beginning, middle, and end with a conflict and problem solution. I’m so proud!

This little toddler who used to sleep surrounded by stuffed animals, is now sleeping with several piles of his favorite books. And arranging his plush animals in reading positions too. Reminds me of my own childhood. I don’t remember a day when I wasn’t reading!

Books and words are my life. Now more than ever these days. When I chose to be a writer, I didn’t realize the hold it would have over me. My brain is constantly swimming with stories, scenarios, names, and words of all shapes and varieties.

With such a jumbled mess floating around, it’s sometimes difficult to choose which words are the most important to say or write. With billions of different combinations at our disposal, what is the right word for the right moment? Which phrases do I give the power to speak?

During this time of isolation, words have become one of the few things we have control over. And the avenues we say these words have grown tenfold, even from our homes: social media, phone conversations, live streams, videos, emails, messages, texts, blogs, etc. etc.

When we are face to face, we can let our body language do half the talking. Now – during this techno era and especially during quarantine – our social life has been stripped away. Words and pictures are all we have to communicate.

And our world is definitely trying to communicate! Breaking news is constantly interrupting our daily lives with depressing details, strangers on the internet are telling us how to live our lives, and everyone has an opinion on how to properly homeschool your kids and maintain a sane household.

With a world of billions and billions of words and phrases, there really are only two types of idioms: positive and negative. The optimist and the pessimist. The healing and the diseased.

10 Bible Verses On The Power Of Our Words

I’m not talking about fact or fiction. I’m talking about how the phrasing of a sentence, or collection of sentences, is received in your soul. You can give the same information and have a totally different outcome on how it affects you. Here’s an example:

School will be out for at least one month, probably the entire rest of of the school year. Get ready to have zero time to yourself, get nothing personal done, and go crazy with your loud and interrupting kids. Your spouse will still have work to do, so be prepared to do everything on your own.

Gosh, I became depressed just writing that. But I didn’t say anything false about our current situation, did I? School is out until April, at least, and I have zero time without Riker, while Andrew still goes to work and has very little energy to help when he’s at home. Why are these statements wrong to say? Well, let me put all those facts in a different way:

Summer vacation starts early this year. But don’t worry, your kid’s teacher is there to supply you with lots of activities to do with your kid for the first few months of vacation. Now you get to be hands-on in watching your child read, write, and do activities you would normally miss because they did it within a school building. You will suddenly have time to teach your kid to ride a bike, tie his shoes, and make sure he doesn’t eat the wrong things at lunch time. You no longer have to feel guilty about putting him in front of the tv so you can get some writing done, because he just spent the whole morning active with you! You will now have time to clean, to do some DIY projects, etc. And why not train your child to help with all of these activities? Yes, you might not get alone time, but maybe there’s a way to reschedule your day to make some of this time happen? Maybe there’s an art project you can put your kid on that will just give you 5 minutes at a time. Let’s be thankful for those 5 minutes instead of groaning about the hour(s) we lost! Be thankful your spouse still has a job to go to during this time. And if he/she gets laid off, let’s be thankful for the extra time we get to spend together, to get to know each other even more. This quarantine will NOT last forever. Say it with me: it WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. This is a vacation from busy life, so let’s make the most out of this extended time with our kids and spouse.

I could go on, but I hope you get where I’m coming from. It comes down to a choice: What words will we give power to?

The words we choose to listen to dictate how our days will end up. Will we sulk on the couch overcome with depression, anxiety, and lamenting over what we lost? Or will we see the time we gained, the opportunities around us, and the growth this could bring to our family?

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God uses words to create wellness. “For the word of God is living and active…” (Hebrews 4:12) Every miracle, every healing, every act of salvation has a common denominator: words. Put God’s words into action. These words take action and invoke power when we believe. There can be no deliverance and healing unless we act on God’s words.

The easiest thing right now is to be hard on ourselves and to be consumed in what little we can do. Start small: change someone’s life by offering a positive word. Just one. Give them hope. And tomorrow, that hope can become faith, and faith brings a reality of joy.

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