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

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.