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

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. 🙂

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.

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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