Throwback Thursday – Soul-Tidying

Throwback Thursday – Soul-Tidying

Original post published 9/19/19.

I’m not the world’s best housekeeper. This is no secret–I mean, I put it right in my official bio. 😉 Yes, “pretending my house will clean itself” is part of my charming naivete. Ahem. Or at the very least, keeping everything put in its proper place isn’t my priority. That goes to educating my kids, writing books, designing covers, feeding the family, exercising, reading…pretty much anything else, LOL. I do keep up with the dishes and laundry. Just not with putting everything away.

Over the weekend, even I had had enough of the clutter, so I spent a few hours reorganizing the utility closet, breaking down boxes that were trash, and clearing off counters. And, as usual, as I did so, I kept coming across things I’d forgotten were there. “Oh, so that’s where that was.” Or “Why in the world didn’t I throw this away yet?”

Even the neatest people probably have little corners or drawers that gather clutter, right? We’ve all experienced this. And as someone who has experienced it more than, say, my sister (LOL), allow me to explain how it happens:
When something’s been there for a while, we cease to see it. It becomes part of the background. Normal. Our eyes adjust to it being there, and it no longer strikes us as wrong, as worth fixing…until eventually, the mess gets too big to be ignored.
When it comes to the empty boxes that pile up in my kitchen, this seriously isn’t that big a deal.
But what about when it comes to our souls?

Sin, my friends, works a lot like clutter. It sneaks its way in, and maybe when we see it the first time or two, we think, “Oh, that won’t do. I’d better take care of that…” But then we don’t. Why? Because it’s easier to ignore it. We’re busy. Because, frankly, clearing out sin is no fun and usually involves a bit of humility (much like cleaning out my junked-up counters does). It’s easier to say we’ll take care of it soon. Tomorrow. Sunday. Next week. Sometime when we’re not running out the door or overwhelmed by “more pressing” matters.

But then we cease to see it. It becomes part of the background. Normal. Our spiritual eyes adjust to it being there, and it no longer strikes us as wrong, as worth fixing…until eventually, the sin gets too big to be ignored.
And then where are we? Exactly where I am when my house has gotten to that point–in for a long clean-up effort.
Because let me just tell you, it’s a whole lot easier to nip jealousy in the bud the first moment it rears its ugly green head than after we’ve let it fester into resentment and hatred. It’s easier to apologize for that nasty thing we said right away than after we’ve walked away and let it keep on battering the recipient.
It’s easier to choose to love and forgive the moment we’re hurt than to have to wrestle with it years later.
Hmm…not sure of that one? I wasn’t either when the example popped into my head. And I’m not going to say it’s humanly easier. But isn’t that exactly the example Christ gives us? While He’s still hanging on the cross, He’s forgiving those who put Him there. What would our lives look like if we forgave those who hurt us while we were still suffering the first throes of consequences?
I try to find little ways to train myself into better housekeeping habits–things like watching something fun while folding laundry, and vacuuming the floors before I sit down on them to do that. Things like certain days being Bathroom Cleaning days. 
But far more important is tidying my soul. What are we doing to make sure we stay clear of the clutter of sin? Are we vacuuming up the filth of this world from our selves, keeping our spirits white as snow?
We know we need to tidy our houses…but let’s not forget to tidy our souls with far more care and attention.
Throwback Thursday – The Inspiration

Throwback Thursday – The Inspiration

Original post published January 10, 2019

We serve a gracious God, don’t we? Not only has He given us His Son, His Word, but He continues to speak and minister to us today. As a creative, I can tell you in all honesty that there are many days when I just have to squeeze my eyes shut and say, “Give me the words, Lord. I’m not sure I have them otherwise.” And He does. Because He is oh-so-faithful.

As someone who pretty much lives and breathes the publishing industry, I know this is pretty common. And I know many, many of us have been given  stories to tell by the Lord. Now, that’s not saying these are Scripture. But they still contain Truth. They still have something in them that will minister to His children. This is a sacred calling, in my mind.

But this can come with danger, too. As an author, editor, and designer, I talk to a lot of authors. Whether they’re working on novels, non-fiction, screenplays, poems, or songs, writers are always going to be seekers of inspiration. And there’s something I’ve heard more often than I can count. Some variation of:

God gave me this story.
God downloaded this story straight to my brain.
God told me to write this.

Maybe people say that because they want everyone else to be as excited about it as they are. But…here’s the thing. All too often, people use inspiration as an excuse for laziness. They think that because God provided the idea, that they don’t have to do anything other than write it down.
Oh, my friends. Please. Please don’t treat the Lord’s whisper so cheaply!
There’s a story of a missionary who, as a young woman, realized that God was calling her to serve as a doctor to the women of a remote area of India, where the women were otherwise not permitted to seek medical care if it would involve a male doctor tending them. This came to her like a bolt. An epiphany. A sure calling.
But she did not, therefore, stroll out into the village at the age of eighteen and say, “Okay, y’all, God told me to be your doctor, so here I am! Come be doctored!” That would have been ridiculous, right? She had to first go to college, then to med school. She had to do internships and residencies. It took her years before she was ready to make good on that call. That inspiration. And she did it because that’s what it took to answer God’s call. It took WORK.
Why do authors sometimes think the stories or ideas He gives us deserve less? Or that they can never be changed or edited or tweaked?
Here’s what I’ve discovered: God gives us the inspiration we need to get started. But that just the beginning. Not the end.

My own example exists in A Soft Breath of Wind. If you want to talk about God “downloading” a story to your brain, this is the one I’d had that experience with. We’d just moved back home after living in Annapolis for years. Xoe was a few months old. A Stray Drop of Blood was just a few months older. I’d had no intention of writing a sequel to it, but as I rocked Xoe one morning, it came to me. Who Quickens the Dead, it was called. That sequel I hadn’t planned to write.

Benjamin and Samuel, all grown up. Two young women, one with the gift of discernment, one who was demon-possessed. In the course of the next two days, this very long and involved story came to me in full detail. I’m talking, sit down and write pages and pages of notes detail. I had full scenes in my head. The complete cast of characters. The themes, the plot, the beautiful Truths I wanted to draw out.
In that lovely frenzy of inspiration, I sat down and wrote a chapter. And then I screwed up my nose. Because it stank. I knew enough to know that. This, though it exactly followed the inspiration God had given me, was not good enough.
Years went by. I wrote other books. This one was always there, waiting, and a few times I drew it out and fiddled with it. I learned more, I wrote more, I did more, I got other contracts, Stray Drop began genuinely selling. But every time I considered this God-given story, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the time for it wasn’t ripe yet. I wasn’t ready. Maybe I had the inspiration, but I didn’t yet have the ability to make it what it deserved to be.

Seven years later, the moment finally came. And in such a way there was no mistaking it. I was hard at work on a historical romance, just getting started on it, when I had a Skype call with a book club who had just read A Stray Drop of Blood. Now, it had been seven years since that book released–let’s just say, my brain wasn’t really in that mode. But as I talked to these ladies, He moved me to tears at how He was still using this story. And when they asked me if I had a sequel planned and I gave my usual, “Yeah, I have one planned out, I just haven’t had a chance to write it” speech, something stirred within me.

It was time. In the next week, I came up with a more compelling title and designed a cover. I drew out those old notes, and I gave it an overhaul to make it more powerful.
And then God gave me the time to write it…in the form of a cancellation of the contract I’d been under. Not exactly how I expected that to happen, but He really couldn’t have been any clearer! I’d prayed, “Lord, I know You want me to write this, that I’m capable of it now, but I just don’t have time…” and there we go–He made time for me, LOL.
So I wrote the book, WhiteFire published the book. And I’m pleased with how it turned out. But you know what? It’s not identical to that idea I got when my daughter was a baby. Things changed as I wrote it. And they changed for the better. What God gave me was raw material. I had to cut it and polish it and turn it into something worthy of the passion He’d given me for it.
I think we often have this idea that, when God whispers to our spirit, if we change anything at all, we’re disobeying.
I can’t believe that’s true. God gives us what we need. But as we work, we grow. The visions and ideas that got us started often evolve into something even more amazing that we could have imagined–because that’s how God works. He takes our humble offerings–our time and hard work and passion–and adds His glory to them.
Our job isn’t to cling to the raw materials and claim they’re the end-all, be-all. Our job is to work them. To give them the love and care they deserve. To make them the best they can be. And to admit that maybe we don’t always know best–which might mean we don’t even know exactly what He gave us.
Sometimes it’s only through the exploration of a calling that we truly learn what it was He gave us at the beginning.

Fruit

Fruit

Not going too far back for today’s throwback post…Revisiting FRUIT. Original Post Published February 27, 2020.

We love fruit in our family. Fresh fruit, canned fruit, dried fruit, jammed fruit, fruit from our own garden, or fruit from the other side of the world. We love citrus fruit, stone fruit, berries… Fruit can be a taste of the familiar or the tang of the exotic. We love to eat it raw, to bake it into recipes, to puree it into smoothies. Last week, I even learned to make homemade fruit roll-ups. With a kiddo who despises vegetables, fruit is often the way I get much-needed nutrients into all of us. And a much-appreciated taste of yumminess too.

Fruit is a pretty amazing thing. As a homeschool mom, I’ve had the opportunity to study it with my kids in our science classes. And as a Christian, I of course read about it a lot in the scriptures. For instance, take this passage from Colossians 1:3-6

3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; 5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth… (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

To take out some of the phrases there for focusing purposes, that says “because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, which you heard in the gospel, which is bringing forth fruit.”

Now, anyone who knows me even a little knows that hope and I are good friends. I’m not only an optimist, I’m a see-the-good-in-everyone sort of person, a cling-to-hope-at-all-costs sort of girl. So any time the word is mentioned in the Bible, my spiritual ears perk right up. As we were discussing this passage in our Bible study last week, my mind kept circling around those particular words. Hope comes from the Gospel…the Gospel brings forth fruit.
As we talked about what this fruit is, it’s easy to come up with the usual answer: spreading that same Good News to others so that they can believe too. Yes, absolutely.
But, with memories of strawberries and blueberries and mango and peaches still fresh in my mind from my fruit roll-up making adventure a couple days before, I had to look at this a little more closely.
In other passages, we hear of the Gospel message as a seed. It’s planted, watered, fed. As it sprouts, the seed itself passes away and becomes a plant. It’s no longer a seed at all–it’s changed. Transformed. Why? So that it can become something more.
I love that it’s likened to a fruit-bearing plant though. Because part of the very nature of a plant is to spread its seeds. WHY do we bear fruit? Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control? For OTHERS.
One of the things I learned in our science class is that the plant itself doesn’t benefit at all from the fruit it bears. The sole purpose of it is to be delicious. Alluring. To appeal to animals so that they come, eat it, and thereby transport the seeds elsewhere, so that they’re deposited far and wide and the plant can find new life somewhere else.
Photo by Brian Jimenez on Unsplash

So what is the purpose of us learning to produce those fruits of the Spirit? Not for our own sake–for His. So that others come, smell the fragrance of His peace, see the beauty of His love, taste the perfection of His Joy. Our job as Christ followers is to share those things with anyone who walks by hungry. So that they eat of it, and the seed nestles deep inside. So that He can water it and it can grow. And so that then that person too can experience the transformative power of God and turn from fallow ground with a dried up seed inside to a life-giving, thriving tree spreading out their limbs and offering His love to others.

I’d always considered the Fruits of the Spirit to be things we should want for our own sakes; or for their own sakes. Because they’re, well, good. Because they’ll make us better people. Holier. More worthy of Him. And that’s certainly true…
But that’s only half the story, isn’t it? The other half isn’t about us at all. It’s about THEM. The other people in our world. Our spouses and children, our parents and grandparents, and our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Our friends, our neighbors, the strangers in the grocery store. The drivers who cut us off and the customer service rep who won’t listen. The homeless man begging for money on the street corner. The mother desperate for clean water in Africa.
Each and every one of them needs the fruit–because that fruit carried the seeds of the Gospel, and that’s where our hope is found.
I don’t know about you, but that changes my perspective a bit on why I should be working hard to be the person He wants me to be.
And it makes me look at my beloved fruit differently too. My daughter and I joke that the orange marmalade we made is “sunshine in a jar” (because seriously!)–but it’s not only that. In a way, it’s hope in a jar too. A reminder that the goodness of others is our nourishment…and that our own ought to be theirs in return.

Thowback Thursday. . . Book Lovers

Thowback Thursday. . . Book Lovers

***Today’s Throwback post was originally published January 7, 2010***

I will never forget my shock. There I sat, an innocent, in the admissions office at my college. All around me were the usual people that made up my day–the admissions counselors, the office manager, the director and associate director. We were minding our own business, recruiting future students for St. John’s College, a.k.a. the Great Books School. When out of nowhere, it happened. The new data manager (not an alum, let it be noted, unlike most of the employees) showed her true colors. “Tim and I are spring cleaning, and I threw out three boxes of books.”

Gasp! The horror . . . The sacrilege . . . Oh, let it not be so, let not this blasphemer be sitting two feet away from me . . .

We just stared at her in shock until she started laughing at the matching expressions on the faces of the four of us in the room. “What?” she finally asked.

I wrapped my tongue around it first. “You threw away books? And you dare to admit it here?”

Now, it’s no secret that we Johnnies are book-lovers. We make a four-year career out of collecting obscure literature, reading it, and discussing it in class. It’s what we do. In a lot of ways, it’s who we are. We are Book Lovers. We unite to sing the praises of all things bound in card stock with hotmelt and trimmed to size.

But there are those in the world who oppose our Creed. There are those who value Space and Organization above the wonder of typeset ideas. Some compromise by donating their unneeded books to good homes or libraries, which is an understandable decision. But some . . . some toss them carelessly to the side. As if they are . . . nothing! (Sob, gasp!)

Well, I am here as a safe-house. Just last night my husband erected four new four-foot shelves to hold the overflow. Now, most of these books that I so carefully placed in alphabetic order last night will not be with me forever. I am but a steward of them, seeing to their well-being until I find a good home for them, readers to devour their pages and write reviews for me. But oh, how I long to adopt them all!

In my quest to provide an island of safety for books of all kinds, I have developed several identities. I will answer to The Reviewer. The Librarian. The Bookworm. My keen ears can hear the phrase, “I need a new book to read” from a mile away, and my deft fingers will quickly pluck a selection from my shelves and deliver it to the friend or family member in need. It is not always an easy calling, but it is one I cannot ignore.

And we are training up another generation to take over our operations even now. As my itchy fingers dove into the box of books-awaiting-shelves the moment plywood touched brackets, my son and daughter were there beside me. Believing, hoping. And asking, “Mommy, do we get to keep all these books, or do we give them away?”

I caressed the spine of a novel just begging to be read. “These, sweetie, we’ll have to give away.”

A definite pout entered her tone. “But why, Mommy? Why can’t we keep them all?”

A question to bring tears to this Bookworm’s eyes. “Because, sweetie, other people need to read too. But don’t you worry. Though we send these out, new books will come in to take their places.”

I felt a little hand press against my leg. “I’ll help you Mommy. I’ll help you divide them. You just hand the non-fishing to me.” And she picked up a book with a cover that declared it non-fiction and put it in the pile for the lower shelf.

My chest swelled with pride. They’ll learn . . . and they’ll carry on. It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

We are Book Lovers.

Thank you for your Prayers and Faith Like a Tumbleweed

Thank you for your Prayers and Faith Like a Tumbleweed

Just a quick note this week to thank everyone for all the encouragement and prayers as our family had a major scare this weekend with my son.

In case you didn’t see it on social media, Saturday saw Rowyn being life-flighted from our small hometown hospital to Pittsburgh Children’s with a bad case of diabetic ketoacidosis (basically a sudden onset of diabetes that had him so dehydrated and filled with toxins that he couldn’t stand on his own or breath normally). He spent about 28 hours in the PICU and then three days on the diabetic floor–much improved, and all of us have had to be educated on how to live with Type 1 Diabetes.

Needless to say, writing a regular blog post kinda fell off my radar. But I did want to take a minute to thank everyone for the hundreds of comments and prayers and encouragment, for the private messages and emails. He was in bad shape there for a while, but he’s doing great now, and I know that this disease is something we’ll be able to manage–and I have dozens of messages that prove there’s a fabulous community out there with experience they’re eager to share, not to mention the general prayers and support from absolutely everyone.

So that’s pretty much it this week, I pulled a post from the archives for today that you can find below. Just a sincere thank you for holding my family up before our loving Father. He held us through it all. And though I cried more in that first 24 hours than I have in the last 24 years combined (if that’s an exaggeration, it’s only slight, LOL), I also smiled a lot too, as I saw the outporing of love. Thank you all. You’re the best! There’s nothing better than the family of God, is there?

A post from the archives this week. Post originally published 7/16/2016.

A few weeks ago, I heard an analogy about the kind of life we should live; that we should be an oak tree, solid and tall, a pillar of the community, the kind of person people respect and will miss when we’re gone, etc. That we shouldn’t be a tumbleweed, aimless and despised and dismissed by everyone.

I got the point of the story. And I certainly love oak trees as much as the next person. But this analogy also bothered me. Maybe that’s a fine image for the world, but for a Christian? I’m not so sure. Not that there’s nothing to learn from an oak, but that we should dismiss tumbleweeds so quickly. I think . . .

I think that we need to be tumbleweeds when it comes to our faith.

In our homeschool science, we read about these plants, and they’re pretty amazing. The tumbleweed bush can grow with very little water. The seeds can lie dormant until moisture comes, then bang! Up the plant sprouts. Quick, but also firmly rooted. The wind doesn’t rip it from the ground. Oh, no. When it’s time to reproduce, the tumbleweed, its seeds ripe and ready, breaks off from its roots. It’s so light that the wind can take it anywhere. Everywhere. And it rolls around–but not aimlessly. It’s spreading its seeds. Seeds which can lie dormant until that little bit of moisture touches it. Then bam. A new bush springs up.

How perfect an illustration is that of what Christians should be? Yes, we need to be firmly rooted in God–but not in one particular place. Our faith isn’t tied to our geographical location, like a tree. Our goal shouldn’t be just to reach ourselves toward heaven, right? Our purpose here isn’t to stand strong and tall and thick, to drop our seeds right by our feet, where maybe one or two eventually grow a bit . . . if they’re not gobbled up by the world or denied water and light by our shadows and thirsty roots.

Our purpose is to spread the Word. Spread those seeds of faith. Far and wide. Our goal is to go and make disciples. Our faith should be fast to spring up in Him, should be able to survive even the driest spells. And oh, if those seeds we planted could spring up so readily!

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t lessons to be learned from an oak tree. Their nuts feed the forest creatures–that’s important. And the cycle of acorn crops is pretty amazing too, the way they go through lean cycles to actually decrease the animal population that feeds on it, then produces a bumper crop that’s way more than the animals can eat, so that some acorns have the chance to grow.

But oak saplings are easily choked out by other species.
May our faith not be like that.

Oak trees can’t move.
May our faith not be like that.

It takes an oak 20 years to mature enough to produce acorns.
May our faith not be like that.

I say, let’s give those things called weeds their due. Why are they called a weed?

Because they grow everywhere.
May our faith be like that.

Mankind can never get rid of them, because the seeds are so numerous and spring up so readily.
May our faith be like that.

Tumbleweeds break off from their roots to spread their seeds.
May our faith be like that.

They roll far and wide, spreading those seeds.
May our faith be like that.

They can flourish with the smallest bit of nourishment.
May our faith be like that.

It takes a single season for a tumbleweed plant to grow, reach maturity, and produce.
May our faith be like that.

Animals feed on tumbleweeds where no other plant can grow.
May our faith be like that.

When a tumbleweed breaks off, the dying of the original plant is the fuel for new life.
Our faith is founded on that.

I really pray that Christianity be what the world terms a weed–that we spring up everywhere. Quickly, incessantly. That we constantly get in the way of the ideals the world is trying to sew. That we are so numerous we cannot be counted. That we spread our seeds of faith far and wide, caring not about our selves, but about the message we’re spreading. That we care little for where we are, so long as we’re where He planted us.

There’s beauty, yes, in that grand oak tree planted and fed by the water. There’s beauty in the strong and sure, in the fact that such a huge tree can grow from a little seed. There’s beauty in the scads of animals that eat of it and rest in its shade.

But don’t dismiss the weed. The weed is vital to nature–it’s just to man and his desire to control his environment that it’s a nuisance. Exactly what Christianity should be. Make me a dandelion, Lord. Make me milkweed. Made me a tumbleweed. I don’t need man’s praise and glory–I need only to spread Your word.

Throwback Thursday – When History Was Tragedy

Throwback Thursday – When History Was Tragedy

This week…I am taking a MUCH needed vacation. So I pulled something from the archives to share today. Typically, when I pull an archived post, I pull a Thoughtful post…but this one struck me today. Post first published 8/10/2014.

 

Much of my last week has been consumed by Veiled at Midnight, the next book WhiteFire will put out–and the last one this year, other than my A Soft Breath of Wind. I know I already touched briefly on this in my Word of the Week post, but it bears talking about more. Because oh my goodness. This book…
 
In the first book of Christine Lindsay’s Twilight of the British Raj series, I was introduced to India, with all its vastness, its crowds, its spices and colors and dizzying politics. I got a taste of the British Raj (rule) and what it meant to the Indians, and I met a villain who kept the characters on their toes. In the second book, I learned more about the struggle between the Sikhs, the Muslims, the Hindus, and the minority of Christians. About the sweeping epidemics and the lingering effects of World War I.
 
In this book, I saw a nation destroyed by its cry for independence. I saw neighbor turn on neighbor because of their religion, places of peace become fields of battle. The author, in her historical note, says that low estimates of the number of civilians killed in the riots surrounding the Partition that separated India and Pakistan was 20,000. High estimates are close to 1,000,000.
 
This is not a happy backdrop. It’s tragic, it’s suffocating, and it’s…true.
 
So why do I love the book? For the same reason I usually love a book. Because somehow there’s hope amidst the tragedy. Somehow there’s the power of love–our love for each other and Christ’s love for us–overcoming, here and there, the power of hate. Somehow the characters find their true identities, their true worth, their true strength, when the streets are flowing red with blood.
 
That’s one of the themes of the book, actually. Red. Dassah, our Indian heroine, wanted a red sari for her wedding, because red is the color of Joy. But as violence took over her land, red became associated with blood instead. The color of violence, of death, of tragedy. But then, eventually, another thought occurs. Red is also the color of Another’s blood that was shed, and shed to save us.
 
I didn’t know much about the Partition before I read Veiled at Midnight, but wow, did I learn a lot–in that organic way that has always been why I love historical fiction. I got to meet some historical figures, and I got to view the riots through many sets of eyes, all with different views but a shared love for India, a shared pain at her suffering.
 
Best-selling author MaryLu Tyndall had the right of it when she said, “Rarely do I find a book that touches my soul in such a deep place.” This one’s going to stick with me for a long, long time.