Questions to Consider – Part 2

It’s time for a second installment of “questions to consider.” Hopefully, you were able to read my first post, and it made you think. That is the point of this series–to make you think about what you believe and put those thoughts into action. It’s not about having the right or wrong answer. I freely admit I don’t know everything. I want this to be an opportunity to grow for everyone who reads these posts whether they consider themselves Christians or not.

With that being said, here is what brought me to the next question. I’ve said before that I first accepted Christ as Savior at the age of thirteen. I was pretty much a regular church-goer from then until I left the church in 2005 for reasons that were painful, but necessary. My husband and I considered ourselves Christians, but we thought we could make it on our own away from people who could possibly hurt us. God taught us, me especially, a lot during those years. Anyway, the following year we were faced with the question of whether to homeschool our kids. Our older son was academically advanced and having to wait for the rest of his class to catch up during the school day while the younger one was being bullied for his size in his first grade classroom. Both situations were not what we wanted for our kids so we pulled them out of public school. That year, and the first years we homeschooled, I faced questions about my faith and the political process in the United States. This leads to today’s question. Do we have to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian?

A thorny question, to be sure.  🙂 I know some people who would say yes, and I know others who would say no. Back in the early years of my homeschooling career, I would have said yes. Though I did not begin homeschooling for religious reasons, I still considered myself a Christian, and there were many people on Internet homeschooling message boards who were homeschooling for religious reasons. I got to know some of them, and they were great ladies. I started considering them friends.

But, 2006-2008 was also a period of tumult in my country. A historic political campaign was waged to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. There were many things he stood for I did not agree with, and when I said I did not agree, people called me racist. I did not want to be called racist so I decided to keep my mouth shut. But, that didn’t stop me from having the thoughts of disagreement. I was also hearing people  say that homeschooling would be curtailed if he was elected so I became afraid. My thoughts of fear turned into judgment. Judgment of anyone who did not think like me or act like me. I was really good at it. I was afraid of being judged so I turned into someone who judged others. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be.

From 2009-2010, God started us on the journey back to where He wanted me to be. First, my mother-in-law became ill, and we moved back to where she was to help take care of her. A right and noble thing to do, I was told. We thought so too. She ended up dying two months later. We were devastated. Many people told us how sorry they were, but there weren’t many people in my life who would let me be real with my grief. In fact, I had to hide mine a lot so I could take care of my husband and kids.

Two months later, we moved back to the city we had lived in at the beginning of our marriage for my husband to take a job. He started working, and I was at home with our boys who I was still homeschooling.. I got to know people, but those judgmental thoughts were still under the surface. I thought I had everything right because I was a Christian, and I should oppose anything that wasn’t a “Christian” belief. I didn’t even consider people on the “other side,” and I definitely didn’t think Jesus loved them either. I was able to keep my walls up and not show the bad things that happened to me so everyone should do that. Right? It was a person’s fault if they were poor or got sick. Right?

God didn’t think so, and He started showing  me in the fall of 2010 and hasn’t stopped. My husband got sick and had to have surgery. He had been sick before with his chronic condition and had even had surgery before, but this was the first time since both of his parents had passed away. I felt alone. My writing notebook was my only companion. He had the surgery and slowly recovered, but in the middle of that, he lost his job. We had no income. We burned through our savings quickly and then had to ask for help. It was humiliating. It was also surprising how quickly people turned on us. My husband  didn’t have a job so he must have done something wrong. Right? We were so sure we had been called to this path, and now, this happened. Don’t get me wrong. There were some people who did help us and who prayed for us. I will always be grateful. Finally though, we had to head west in the summer of 2011. Family said we could stay with them while my husband looked for work. The judgmental thoughts towards other people disappeared while we were going through this. Why wouldn’t they? We were being judged every day, and it wasn’t pleasant at all. It wasn’t my husband’s fault he had lost his job, but people were acting like it was.

Fortunately, we were only there for four weeks. Then, we drove back across the country for my husband to accept another job. It was good to have the chance to start over again. It wasn’t the end of bad times, of course. Within a few weeks, I lost my third child which sent me into a major depression. I felt dead and cold during that first winter. People were arguing about who was fit to run the country in the upcoming presidential election. Republicans and Democrats were slinging insults at each other. ‘Old, rich, and white’ was one insult. ‘Lazy and unwilling to work’ was another. I knew they all couldn’t be true. My husband had not been lazy and had wanted to work. There weren’t any jobs available. I wanted to know what had happened to my country and I especially wanted to know where God was.

The following summer my life changed, and I found God again in a church that didn’t judge. I was suspicious at first. It took me several months to let down my guard and let people see the real me. There were several things about this church that were different. It was multi-racial and had people with different opinions. I heard  more about grace than I had ever heard in my faith life. I started to get a sense of what living in community was supposed to mean. Flawed and messy, but still filled with love. It was a good thing for me to see.

In the five years since, I wish I could say I had gotten the hang of how this was supposed to work and was doing it perfectly. No, that hasn’t happened. 🙂 I’ve been afraid of being judged when my husband has been sick or out-of-work. I’ve felt inadequate because there are people who have more money than I do. I’ve felt disappointed because something I’ve felt called to was thwarted. I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in and still don’t feel like I fit in at times. And my country, it has gotten worse. People fight about everything and have drawn lines in the sand. We, as Christians, have forgotten that God wants us to be united in our differences to show Jesus’ love and not to draw lines in the sand. I have felt discouraged about the normalization of bullying behavior and name calling. Both sides have done it. No one can claim innocence.

But, here is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last five years. My God is bigger than my country. He is the one I hold onto during the bad times and the One I rejoice with during the good times. He is much more than any political party, and the reason I have to say that we don’t need to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. But, for me to be a Christian and have a heart like God wants me to have, I cannot take the label of a political party. It interferes with the work God wants me to do.

May God bless you all today!

 

Practicing While Waiting

I’m going to try something a little different on this last Thursday in October since I’m getting indications this needs to be my topic. From the song Take a Chance on Me by Abba playing during my workout to my devotion on waiting for God’s timing, I need to explore how I’m feeling during this time of waiting. I need to know how to step past the impatience I feel when I want something to happen faster than it needs to happen.

I first felt this stirring when I was doing my workout earlier. My workouts have become more consistent since I started to listen to my Spotify playlist. (What did we ever do without Spotify?) Anyway, I was doing my usual workout on the stepper when the song came on. As I listened to the lyrics of this older song, I thought of how the chorus could be reflective of our career choice if publication is our goal. Don’t we want agents and editors to take a chance on us and our writing? To take a chance that our writing and our books will be appealing to the masses? Of course, we do. It’s one way we can feel validated as a writer, and any money we’re paid is an extra bonus. (I like to eat. Don’t you?)

So, I listened to the lyrics and felt the stirrings of impatience. By the way, if you’re wondering about the lyrics or not familiar with the song at all, here they are. It will give you an idea of how I felt when I kept hearing the words “take a chance on me.”

Take a Chance on Me by Abba

If you change your mind, I’m the first in line
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down
If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(That’s all I ask of you honey)
Take a chance on me
We can go dancing, we can go walking, as long as we’re together
Listen to some music, maybe just talking, get to know you better
‘Cause you know I’ve got
So much that I wanna do, when I dream I’m alone with you
It’s magic
You want me to leave it there, afraid of a love affair
But I think you know
That I can’t let go
If you change your mind, I’m the first in line
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down
If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(Come on, give me a break will you?)
Take a chance on me
Oh you can take your time baby, I’m in no hurry, know I’m gonna get you
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby don’t worry, I ain’t gonna let you
Let me tell you now
My love is strong enough to last when things are rough
It’s magic
You say that I waste my time but I can’t get you off my mind
No I can’t let go
‘Cause I love you so
If you change your mind, I’m the first in line
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down
If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best, baby can’t you see
Gotta put me to the test, take a chance on me
(Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me)
Ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba baa
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best, baby can’t you see
Gotta put me to the test, take a chance on me
(Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me)
Ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba baa ba-ba
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best, baby can’t you see
Gotta put me to the test, take a chance on me
There was one part of the chorus that especially stirred my feelings. It’s the part which
says “Come on, give me a break will you?” I wondered why I hadn’t received my break yet. I wondered why it seemed I couldn’t get any respect from the people I know on what I was trying to do with my life. It seemed I was falling into a path of having nothing now that my children were grown. I couldn’t get past the feelings of being a failure and having no one believe in  me.
I got done with my workout and came home. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. But, then I came to the part where the patience comes in. My devotion on waiting. I read it, and my first thought was, ‘Really, God. You want me to wait some more?’ I was trying to listen though. I do want my writing to be the best it can be when I finally get the chance, and I want to follow God’s will for my life. That’s a given. I read further into the devotion and saw the verse featured. From I Samuel 13:14, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be a commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (emphasis mime) God was telling Saul he had been wrong to offer the sacrifice to Him and not wait for Samuel. Now, Saul would suffer the consequences. Wow, a direct answer to my feelings, or like the younger people would say, “Oh, snap.” He wants me to wait, learn more about writing, and continue to write for His glory.
So, I’m waiting on God’s timing and waiting through all the people who say I should have all the time in the world now to do what they want since I’m a middle-aged woman whose children are grown. No, I don’t. I’m a writer with a call from God to write and create for His glory. And while I’m waiting, I’m practicing. Practicing in public on this blog and my other blog (http://thrivingingrace.com/blog/). Practicing in private in my journals. Submitting and getting rejected (From what I read, I should eventually have enough rejections to paper my walls.). And living, so I can get the experience to write my stories.
May we all practice, submit, and live as we wait for the right time for our writing to be noticed!
Have a great day everyone!

Questions to Consider

Today is the first day of a new series which I hope will carry us through the holidays. I will write about questions I’m sure we’ve all asked about our faith–from the mundane to the serious. I’m not going to pretend to have the definitive answers. Those would come from people who have studied and thought about the Christian faith much longer than I have. No, these questions come from the heart of an ordinary Christian woman trying her best to rest in God’s grace as His daughter and to have the heart of Jesus as she lives in this world between the now and not yet of Jesus’ coming back for us. Ordinary, just like you.

So, with that being said, let me describe what brought me to the first question. A few months ago, I was looking for another devotional since I had finished reading and writing through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. I received an email one morning saying that the free giveaway at Lifeway Christian Store for the week was a copy of the devotional The Devotional for Women which was edited by Rhonda Harrington Kelley and Dorothy Kelley Patterson. Wow, it was something I needed, and it was free. You can’t beat that. I went to the story and picked it up. I’ve been using it since then, and it has been God honoring though more female focused as you would expect of a devotional with the title The Devotional for Women. I don’t have anything personal against this particular devotional or any other female Christian author I have read, for that matter. They’ve all blessed me tremendously.  I have gained insight about my faith and my life from all of them. But, I got to thinking this morning. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women? Why aren’t there devotionals that both sexes could use. So, that’s my first question for this series. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women?

Now, first, I want to say I do understand about marketing to different groups. If someone is trying to sell a book to children, it doesn’t make sense to aim the advertising dollars at men who like sports. The same thing could be said about baby equipment which, I would think, would be marketed towards people who can have babies and not to retired people. The same thing could be said of any product one is trying to market. Anyway, back to the devotionals. I took a look at the books on a shelf in the Christian section of the bookstore, and there were books and Bibles available for almost every group of people. Girls, boys, teen girls, teen boys, young adults, women, single women, married women, men, single men, married men, married couples, retired people…I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Christian book industry has this marketing thing down. They market the same way that the secular book industry does.

I thought though that we were supposed to come together when we studied God’s Word. Brothers and sisters learning about our Lord and Savior. I thought God wanted the church to be a body of one with all of our differences and diversities. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as I’ve considered the divisions in my country and in the world. Especially in the church. We fight about anything and everything most of which doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I think Jesus looks down on us and cries with all the division in this world. I know it isn’t what God wants.

Why do we segment people into groups then for study material? We have covers of men’s books with sports, hiking, mountains, hunting and military representation on them. We have covers of women’s books with flowers, butterflies, cups of coffee, and coloring opportunities on them. I also found that even if the words women or men weren’t on the cover, I could still tell who the book was marketed to through the pictures, colors, and genders of the authors.

So what, you ask? Aren’t men and women different? Aren’t they interested in different things? Yes, they are different. I don’t deny that. What I do think though is that we don’t need to be gender divided in the church. I tried an interesting experiment a little while ago. I looked at the first several topics in two men’s devotional books and two women’s devotional books. The topics looked very similar to me. I’ll post the lists so you can get an idea.

Kingdom Man Devotional by Tony Evans

  1. A Kingdom Man Seeks Priceless Treasure
  2. A Kingdom Man Aims for the Goal
  3. A Kingdom Man Follows His Rule Book
  4. A Kingdom Man is Prepared
  5. A Kingdom Man Makes the Right Choice
  6. A Kingdom Man Brings Freedom
  7. A Kingdom Man Builds a Legacy
  8. A Kingdom Man Rules Under God’s Authority
  9. A Kingdom Man Takes Responsibility
  10. A Kingdom Man Trust that God’s Got It
  11. A Kingdom Man Longs to be Great
  12. A Kingdom Man Finds Strength in Meekness
  13. A Kingdom Man is Free to Pursue Greatness

Daily Wisdom for Men – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Start with God
  2. Teaching Obedience
  3. Loving Other Believers
  4. Morning Meetings with God
  5. Spiritual Prosperity
  6. God’s Revelation to Man
  7. A Valuable Employee
  8. Preserved for the Kingdom
  9. Who Will Trust You?
  10. Open Your Home
  11. Don’t Wait
  12. Speak No Evil
  13. Hide the Word
  14. Family Managers
  15. God Shows No Partiality

Daily Wisdom for Women – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Delight in His Word
  2. A Daily Walk with God
  3. The Delight of My Life
  4. Peace
  5. Just Following God
  6. Unity with the Father
  7. Consistent with Prayer
  8. Lovingly Connected
  9. Faithful Friend
  10. A Sure Foundation
  11. Christlike Compassion
  12. This Very Moment
  13. His Promises are True
  14. His Hands and Feet
  15. Living the Truth

Be Still and Know: 365 Devotions for Abundant Living by Julie Rayburn

  1. Facing Life’s Challenges
  2. Priority of Prayer
  3. Total Commitment
  4. Sin
  5. Getting Your Life Back on Course
  6. Success
  7. The Idol of Success
  8. Attitude
  9. The Lord’s Prayer
  10. Wicked vs. Righteous
  11. Stages of Our Christian Life
  12. Sufficient Grace
  13. Barometer for Spiritual Growth
  14. Church Fellowship
  15. Heaven

Pretty similar, right? In fact, they are almost identical in some cases. All topics that we all need to study. So, why are there different devotional books for men and women? Why can’t we all have a Bible study from the same book? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think they are good ones to ask. I’ll challenge us a little further. Why can’t we all have a Bible study or devotional book written by a female author? I think it would be a great way to promote unity in the church and a great way to bring different perspectives into our study of the Scriptures.

God bless you all today!

Primal Landscape

I had never heard of this term before hearing it in my writing class last week. I’m not even sure it applies to me as I spent my childhood in several different places. First, though, let’s get the definition out-of-the-way. The term “primal landscape” was first coined by Don Gayton from British Columbia, Canada a few years ago. It means “the landscape a person most identifies with.” The translation of that is essentially where a person was born and raised. The article I read also talked about how this land becomes known, familiar, and comforting. I would also say it could be upsetting and painful if a person’s upbringing was not the best. As might be imagined, this term was first coined as a geographical term, but there are other uses for it as I learned in writing class.

The writing class I’m taking is a class on setting and description which should be  important to anyone interested in the craft of writing. To set a novel someplace is to tell the reader where the action is taking place. A very important thing, I would think, so a primal landscape can be an important place to tell a story. My teacher assigned us the beginning of a story written in our primal landscape or the place where we had spent the most time up to the age of twenty-one. I immediately realized I didn’t have one of those landscapes in my background. My husband does though. He spent all of his growing-up years in one place. He could easily write a story in his primal landscape if he wanted.

But, the assignment was mine. I thought about all of the places I had lived. Virginia, Washington D. C., Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, and California. Then, I went back to South Carolina for college and eventually met my husband. We married and had our children there. The story could have been set in any of those places, or it could have been set where my grandparents lived as that was a place I frequently visited as a child. I picked a place and wrote the story. It was a deeply personal story so I won’t be posting it here. Let’s just say I learned the true meaning of what a primal landscape could do for my writing.

The term wouldn’t let me go though, and it made me wonder where my primal landscape actually was. I remembered what had happened two months ago, and it came to me. South Carolina. I had lived there for six years as a child, and I had returned for college. I settled there when I married, and both of my children were born there. In fact, two months ago, which was where this memory had come from, I traveled back there for the funeral of someone who has been important to me since college. So, I had the chance to travel backward in time.

I drove from the state I lived in to South Carolina on a Friday. I thought about my friend whose husband had died. They had been my adopted parents in college, and the whole family meant and still means a lot to me. When I arrived at the city, I could see there were some things that hadn’t changed. The intersection of interstates which locals call “Malfunction Junction” was the same as it had been when I was a child. The landscape itself seemed to have aged very little since the last time I had been there seven years earlier. There was one new thing I noticed though as I made my way to my girlfriend’s house. I saw a roundabout. Hadn’t seen one of those things since I lived in Michigan. (I’ve moved around a lot in my adult life too.)

Anyway, I made my way to my girlfriend’s house, and we spent time catching up that evening. The next morning she asked me what I wanted to do before the funeral. I asked if we could drive around so I could take pictures. We got in the car and off we went. Our first stop was the church where I had gotten married. It wasn’t even the same church anymore. The building was shared by another church and a school. But, it was still the same place. I had visions of coming out as a new bride and heading out on my honeymoon. There were so many people there celebrating our marriage with us. Family, friends, and co-workers. I took pictures, and we got back in the car. She asked where I wanted to go next. I told her to go to a certain elementary school where I had gone for fourth and fifth grade. We arrived, and the building still looked the same. I had a vision of my younger self taking her bike from the bike rack and crossing the street with a crossing guard. It was the same route I told my girlfriend to take. I wanted to see the house where I had lived from fourth through ninth grades. A few minutes later, I was staring at it. I took pictures and remembered. Remembered running up and down the street. Remembered where I had first learned to love writing. Remembered some of the most formative years of my life. It was a good memory, and looking back, I now know where my primal landscape is. It’s on a little street in South Carolina.

We finished our tour and headed back to my girlfriend’s house so we could get ready for the funeral. I had come back for a sad occasion, but somehow, I had found another piece of who I was. As I face this next phase of my life with an empty nest, it was good for me to find my roots and know the place which had poured the most into me.

Have a great day, everyone!

Things are Changing

Change has been a constant theme on this blog for the last couple of months. I’ve talked about having an empty nest and what comes next in my life. I’ve talked about courage and bravery. I’ve even talked about fear. But, what I haven’t talked about yet and what I’ve been feeling recently in the recesses of my heart is loneliness.

Let me explain. I’ve been having conversations with my husband about life and about how we are different from other people our age. We’re both very comfortable around technology to the point that we’ve coined a name for it. We’re techno-geeks. Comfortable with superheroes, science, gaming, anime,  and genre fiction. Not so comfortable with frilly dresses, flashy sports cars, home decorating shows, or fancy jewelry. We’re direct with people, and we want to talk about important things–not about the latest antics of a Hollywood movie star or the latest political mess going on in Washington. We want to talk about faith and how God is leading us. We want to focus our lives on what we can change–our thoughts, behavior, and actions.

Other people though aren’t so comfortable with being direct. They would rather talk about the trivial and talk about things that don’t matter. So, I’ve withdrawn to a certain extent which probably hasn’t been the best thing for me, but it is what it is.

The loneliness is deep though, and it’s something I’m having to work through. My husband says I should embrace my small subset of a small minority, and I think I have somewhat. But, I still do stupid things a lot, and I have people stare at me wondering what in the world I’m talking about. I think those things contribute to my feelings of loneliness and not feeling like I fit in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have friends though many of them skew 10-15 years younger than me. Remember, I’m a techno-geek. It’s just that life gets in the way sometimes, and I wish I could be more comfortable letting my walls down with people and saying how I really am through all the changes I’ve experienced in the last few months.

I almost hesitate to bring this next part up because it’s probably going to make someone mad. But, the way I understand things in life is to write them down like this quote from C. S. Lewis says. “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” So, here is my disclaimer as I start to write about what brought this on today. . These are all my thoughts and feelings, and I am in no way trying to ascribe wrongdoing or hurt onto anyone else.  With that being said, here goes. I’m part of a community that has a small groups emphasis twice a year. Another one has started, and we’ve heard nothing from the people whose group we’ve been a part of in the past. We’ve assumed that they’ve decided not to do it and that we’re on our own. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Why don’t they just ask? Well, that’s where my problem comes in. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being rejected. Rejected for the stupid things I do. Rejected and not wanted. (Guess I’m not over that fear thing as much as I thought. 🙂 ) Then, my mind spins like one of those twirly-whirls from my childhood, and I’m exhausted with the thought of trying to fit in again. Trying to find another small group. It makes me think serving at the media board with my husband would be better, and I should just stay back there so I don’t have to try to get close to anyone again.

But, that’s not what God wants with me, from me, or from any of us, for that matter. When my thoughts are all topsy-turvy, I can remember these Scripture verses from the Word, and they will ground my feelings and steep me in the truth God wants me to keep in my heart. First, from Psalm 46:10, “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” God is God despite all of the changes in my life. He is the only One I can depend on not to change.

Then, there’s Exodus 14:14. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” God can help me fight these feelings and channel them into helping others not to feel so alone. We think we have it all figured out, and we can handle our faith and our lives by ourselves. But, we can’t. We need a community who is willing to listen without judging.

And finally, there’s Galatians 1: 10. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I think God meant for me to see this verse as I also saw a tweet from a Christian author while I was pulling these verses together which said the same thing. From author Annie F. Downs, “I can’t be full of the Holy Spirit and full of myself at the same time.”

So, there you have it. I am laying my loneliness at the foot of the cross and seeing what God is going to do with it. He is always with us even during the changes. He is on our side when we feel lonely, and He is on our side when we’re surrounded by people. He wants us, or me, I should say, because I’m the one who really needs it, to wade into the crowd full of His Holy Spirit so we can minister in His Name to those who are alone. I pray He gives all of us guidance as we seek to have a heart like His while living in this messed-up world.

God bless you all today!

Imagination

Yesterday, I was listening to my writing teacher as she talked about the three kinds of research writers need to do–functional, to find facts; inspirational, to uncover and discover which opens the desire to write; and imaginative, to think about and plan the story they want to write. She guided us through several exercises of imagining ourselves in different settings. While I’ve always thought of myself as having a good imagination, I appreciated the fullness of the exercise. Being able to flesh out my writing with more details and complexity will make my story a better story, and that’s a good thing.

She did warn us though that it would be hard to stay in one setting for a full three minutes without our minds wandering. She was right. I constantly had to battle thoughts of what I needed to be doing, what was happening later on that day, and what was happening where I was. I found that I couldn’t keep my mind in the particular setting for very long. In fact, I had to try the exercise several times before I manage the particulars of it. I found it illuminating. Imagining myself in a particular setting could add more detail to my writing. I just needed to master the technique.

I listened to the rest of the lectures before arriving at the assignment for this module. My teacher wanted us to set a story in one of three particular areas and write the first pages of it. I looked at the three choices, and though I had personally been in each setting, nothing came to me. I couldn’t think of anything that would be a good beginning for a story so I decided to let it sit overnight. It turned out to be a good thing because when I woke up, it came to me. I could write a fictional memoir of one of the most traumatic times I had ever been in a hospital setting. I could bring awareness to a disease that’s rarely talked about, and it might end up being something I would want to finish. So, hospital setting it is. One more thing before I start my story. I do believe a story can be written without an author having personal experience with a setting. This is where functional research comes in so detail and context can be added to make the setting more layered. Now, without further adieu, here is the story I wrote for writing class.

An Invisible Illness

Kristen took the cup of coffee from her mother-in-law. “Thanks, Linda.” She blew on the top to cool it off and took a sip. ‘Ugh, typical hospital coffee,’ she thought to herself placing it on the table next to her. Linda had tried. She could see where creamer and sugar had been mixed in, but it still tasted awful. She settled back in her seat wishing that the bright, blinking lights could be turned down or off. “So, how long has he been in there?”

Of course, her father-in-law answered. “Fifteen minutes.” He tapped his watch. “It’s been fifteen minutes since you came out here. I’m keeping track.”

The calm that had enveloped her after the surgeon had prayed with her and Daniel threatened to evaporate. She took a deep breath. “Thanks, Bill.” The surgery Daniel was having wasn’t supposed to be complicated. ‘Just temporary,’ he had said, ‘and hopefully, it can be reversed in a few months.’ She took another breath trying to corral her thoughts. A colostomy shouldn’t be that bad, right? And if the medicine worked, they could put everything back together in three months. Then, Daniel would be healthy, and they could get back to living.

Another fifteen minutes passed. Then, thirty. They had been joined by the pastor, deacon, and women’s ministry leader of hers and Daniel’s church and her best friend, Bonnie, who leaned over and whispered to her, “Why do they all look like sourpusses? Aren’t church people supposed to be nice?”

Kristin covered her mouth so no one would hear her giggle. Bonnie could always make her laugh. She was right though. They all looked like sourpusses. She closed her eyes trying to fend off the raging headache that was threatening to come out. Bill’s voice roused her. “The surgery is taking longer than he told us. Shouldn’t the nurse come out here and give us an update?” He glanced around and then back at his watch, his movements competing with the bright, blinking lights.

As if almost on cue, the intercom sounded. “Mrs. Miller, we have an update for you. Mrs. Miller, there’s an update.”

Kristin rose and walked to the desk noticing that Linda had pulled Bill back down to his seat. She knew Linda had told him she was entitled to the information first, and she was grateful. Mother-in-laws didn’t come any better than Linda. She took the phone from the smiling nurse and said, “This is Mrs. Miller.” It seemed like the voice on the other end talked forever. Her eyes and mouth widened in shock. “Thank you for your update, ma’am.”

She handed the phone back to the nurse and walked slowly back to her group. Bill noticed her shocked look first. “What’s wrong, Kristin? Is Daniel ok?”

“They think he will be, Bill.” Kristin took a breath so she could get the info out. “But, he’s going to be in surgery for another seven-eight hours. His colon and rectum both need to come out, and they will be creating a permanent ileostomy. It’s all damaged beyond repair.” She sat in the chair like a balloon had deflated.

It seemed like everyone started talking at once and wanting further information. Finally, the pastor was able to get a word in edgewise. “I’m sorry, Kristin. I hope everything goes well, but,” he motioned to the other two from the church, “we will need to leave. We have other visits to make.”

Kristin schooled her features like she didn’t care. “Of course, Dr. Wilson.” She got up and shook his hand and the others. “Thank you all for coming.” The group left, and all she could think was that she didn’t have to maintain a church face anymore. She sat back down. “Anyone else want to take off?”

Linda shook her head. “Of course not, honey. We’re gonna stay…”

Bill interrupted her holding up his phone. “I just looked up what you said on this new-fangled phone. Daniel might be dying…” He stretched out the last syllable before rapidly speaking every possible thing that could happen.

Linda and Bill started arguing about his hypochondria and about appropriate things to say in the hospital. It was maddening to Kristin though she was familiar with Bill’s quirks. Finally, she had enough. “He almost died, you fucking moron.” Her volume increased with her anger and frustration. “He coded on the table, and they had to restart his heart. Hopefully, it won’t happen again, but right now, I need you to go away!”

Her in-laws and Bonnie stood with their mouths agape having never seen her that angry. Linda grabbed Bill’s arm and drug him away despite his protests. “You didn’t need to say that to her. And she’s right. You are a fucking moron.” She called over her shoulder to Kristin and Bonnie. “We’ll bring lunch back for you girls.”

Once they entered the elevator, Kristin sat back down feeling the tension ebb out of her. Were people always this stupid in hospitals? Bonnie joined her. “Better?”

Kristin shook her head. “I might have killed him if he had stayed.”

“What happened? Did Daniel really code?”

“Yes.” Kristin nodded grimly. “His Crohn’s has progressed further than the doctors thought. His colon and rectum are beyond repair. If they hadn’t opened him up today…” She left the thought unspoken.

“But, they did,” said Bonnie, “and they’re gonna fix it. Daniel’s gonna be there for you and your girls.”

“I hope so.”

“I know so.” Bonnie took her hands in hers. “You’ve taught me so much about Crohn’s Disease. I didn’t even know it existed until I met you and Daniel.”

“Yeah, it’s an invisible illness, all right. No one knows a lot about it unless they know someone with it or have it themselves.” She felt someone tap her shoulder and turned to see an older woman. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

The woman had short brown hair and welcoming brown eyes. “Hi, my name’s Stacy. My husband’s having a brain tumor taken out. She shook their hands. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Your husband has Crohn’s Disease?” At Kristin’s nod, she continued, “I try to learn something new every time we come to the hospital. Keeps my mind off of… Anyway, tell me about it. What’s Crohn’s Disease?

Kristin’s eyes teared up as she motioned for Stacy to join them. No one had ever been interested before. As she launched into her explanation, she smiled at Bonnie and her new friend. Maybe things would be okay after all.

Standing in the Gap

There is a book in the Old Testament that I want to focus on today. The concept, shown us most clearly in this book, shows us how Jesus redeemed us and also shows us how we, as brothers and sisters, can be there for each other. What book of the Bible does all this? The book of Ruth. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. Naomi is with her family living in Moab because Israel is experiencing a famine. Her husband and eventually her sons both die leaving her with two daughters-in-law. One daughter-in-law goes back to her own family while the other, Ruth, goes back to Israel with Naomi.

When they return to Israel, they are two women, alone and without a male protector. This is where the concept of guardian redeemer or kinsman redeemer comes into play. Gotquestions.org defines kinsman redeemer as this. “The kinsman redeemer is a male relative who, according to various laws of the Pentateuch, had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need.” The story becomes poignant here as Boaz who is a wealthy relative of Naomi’s meets Ruth and accepts their appeal as kinsman redeemer, marrying Ruth and having a son with her who becomes the forefather of King David.

Christ is also regarded as an example of a kinsman redeemer because He is the only one who can satisfy our need for a Savior. He bought us with His blood on the cross and His resurrection. He made the church His bride and is the true kinsman redeemer for all who profess faith in Him.

Jesus is our kinsman redeemer first or should be our kinsman redeemer first before our marriages or our families. He is the One who stands in the gap for us as we seek to live for Him in this fallen world. I want to take standing in the gap one step further as we consider this concept. Many of us today live alone longer than anyone did in the Old or New Testaments. We wait longer to get married, and we experience divorce and widowhood at a higher percentage. Not everyone in the church is married, and I think we , in the church, need to remember that. We need to stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters as we pray for each other, and we need to be willing to help each other too even if we are not all the same.

My heart aches for the people who walk into church alone. Even though I am married, I remember well all the times I have been in church alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. Everything in the church generally falls to the default setting which is married with children. I believe that’s wrong. Everyone, whether they are married or single, should have a chance to fulfill God’s calling on their lives in the church. I am comforted by the fact though that what God calls us to do doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the church.

But, I digress. We need to stand in the gap for those who have a different life status than us. We need to offer babysitting to the single mom who would like to go on the women’s retreat. We need to take our divorced friend out for coffee when there’s a speaker on marriage at church. We need to mow the lawn for a widow or take a widower’s daughter out bra shopping. We need to befriend people of the opposite sex and not be afraid of what people at church might say. Didn’t Jesus spend time with people who were different from Him?

As I end this post, I am reminded of what Christ did for us as kinsman redeemer which was first shown in Old Testament times. I am also reminded of how God wants us to stand in the gap for each other as we face the trials and tribulations of this world. May we all remember to pray for each other today!

Seven Years – The Good and the Bad

A lot has changed in the last seven years. My children are grown now. One will be done with college in May, and the other has just started college. They have navigated the beginnings of adulthood well, and I couldn’t be more proud. But, there should be something else now, someone else now. There should be a child running after his or her big brothers. She should be in the first grade starting this journey of an education and learning about life. There’s not though. It wasn’t meant to be.

One year after my miscarriage, I was able to write about my loss here. (https://writewhatyouknowdotorg.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/reflections-on-the-beginning-of-fall/) I was able to reflect on my loss and talk about all the good that had happened in my life since it had happened. I was able to say I was okay and thought I was moving on.

The grieving process though has been different every year. There have been years I have been overwhelmed with sadness on this day, and there have been years I’ve been reminded of how close Jesus was to me on that day though I hadn’t come back to faith yet. There have also been years when I’ve felt a combination of both sets of feelings. Sadness and peace. I haven’t quite been able to explain it, but I’m pretty sure it’s related to what has changed in my heart–the presence of God in my heart and my life.

I said in the first paragraph a lot had changed in the last seven years. There have been deaths, and there have been births. I’ve become friends with a precious little girl who has the same name my daughter would have had. There have been job changes and hospital stays. I’ve learned and grown from essentially living life, and it’s been good for me.

However, over the last several months, I’ve become convinced I needed to keep my bad feelings stuffed inside, and if I even thought of expressing them, bad things would happen. I’ve thought I had to do this because reflecting my bad feelings would mean I wasn’t reflecting the joy of the faith I’ve come to profess. Essentially, I wasn’t being real.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about, praying about, and trying to get a handle on. How do Christians have real joy and peace while considering such emotions as sadness, anger, and depression? Do we pretend when we’re not at home? Do we put up shields? I would think since God gave us all these emotions, we should use all of them, or we would just be robots, right?

Through my prayers and talks with God, I was reassured that it was okay to be real in my life. God is there when I shake with sadness, and He’s there when I jump with joy. He wants us to be real and to care only about what He thinks not about what others think. And if I needed more proof, I could go back to the first post I ever published on this blog in 2012. I leave it here for you and me to consider as we think about how to integrate all of the parts of our lives–the sadness and the happiness–into our writing.

Until next time, be real!

Inside a Writer’s Soul

Words….words on a page with no feelings or emotions behind them.  Is that what catches your eye when you read something? Or is it the words that have feeling and emotions that catch your eye? I have been writing stories for the last two and a half years and have been told that the best way to reach a person through words is to write what you know.  This is my plan for this blog. Why are we afraid to tell people what we really feel? To let them see inside our hearts? I think it’s because we’re afraid–afraid of rejection, afraid that what we’re writing isn’t popular, afraid of being real. For my first post for this blog, I want to share an experience that was very real to me and one that still resonates deep within my soul.

Almost eight months ago, my family and I had lived in our new town for just about a month. Unemployment had been our watchword for almost a year, but we were now beginning to get back on our feet with my husband’s new job. What I had not told anyone though was the extreme pain I had been in. We had held off on getting health insurance because of the expense, and I was hoping against hope that what I was experiencing was just normal monthly woman’s pain. It was not to be. By the middle of the day, I was bleeding heavily and barely able to get out of the bed because of the pain. My husband was worried and looked up my symptoms on the Internet, and we determined that it was highly probable I was having a miscarriage. It was on the side though of being something a doctor couldn’t do anything about, and we decided it would be better for me to just stay at home and wait things out. Thirty minutes later, I had a strong urge to push and barely made it to the bathroom before something came out. It was very, very small, but was still recognizable as a baby. A baby….I had lost a baby. Tears began pouring down my face.  I managed to get to the bed, and at that point, began my physical recovery.

The mental recovery though is something I would not wish on anyone.  My husband and children were amazing. I can’t tell you the number of laundry loads and meals that were taken care of without my having to worry about it over the next few weeks. The people we had met were pretty good too. I was especially grateful for the home school mom who took my kids for the afternoon a few days later so I could rest, for the manager who let my husband work from home the afternoon I had the miscarriage and for my four special girlfriends who I have a Facebook group with. But, the one thing that was hard was feeling like I couldn’t talk about it—feeling like I couldn’t talk about my pain and anguish— that people just expected me to move on.  There are health issues that are talked about; dare I say that are ‘fashionable’ to talk about.  I’m thinking of such things as breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. When a woman says she has lost a baby though, people don’t know what to say or they say something that wounds her further.  Why? Why is this loss not talked about? Wait, I can’t say it’s not talked about. There are people who are doing wonderful work with miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss support–on the Internet and in real life. It’s hard though, not being able to talk about a loss especially a loss that was early like mine was because people don’t consider it to be real. But it was real to me.

It might be a mistake to be real, but I won’t know unless I try. I’m reminded of a quote I saw on Facebook on a photo. “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t correct those mistakes, you’re doing it really wrong. If you can’t accept that you’re mistaken, you’re not doing it at all.”  (credited to I fucking love science’s photo that was posted on May 26, 2012)

Until next time, be real!

 

Remembering God

Earlier this year, I blogged through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. Remember? I took each devotion and wrote about how it impacted me–hot mess and all. In the process, I learned about bravery and how being brave has impacted my life even when I haven’t felt brave. I also figured out that being brave didn’t necessarily look like what I thought it looked like. During this time, Ms. Downs became a favorite author. God used her words to touch my life. Why am I bringing this up now? She has a new book coming out tomorrow entitled Remember God which I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing. I know God will use her words to impact my life just as He used her words from her previous book. In the meantime, I wanted to share what remembering God looked like for me.

When I typed “remembering God” and “remember God” into the You Version search engine, it came back with many results like I expected. Scripture does a good job of showing where God calls us to remember Him and where humans call on God to remember them. It’s like a lot of things in life. Sometimes, we forget about God’s goodness and need to be reminded. God doesn’t forget though, and I think that might be why we are called on so often in Scripture to remember Him. Here are some examples. From Psalm 78:35, “They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.” God spoke of remembering Israel in Leviticus 26:42. “I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. Luke 23:42 says, “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'”

There are also many instances in Scripture where people asked God to remember them or thanked God for remembering other believers. Nehemiah 5:19 says, “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.” Also, in Thessalonians 1:3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” I especially like Ephesians 1:15-16 because I’ve personally used these verses to tell people I’m thankful for them. “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

With all the references to remembering in Scripture, why do we forget God and all He has done for us? I’m not sure, but I think one of the reasons might be because of the fall. Satan doesn’t want us to remember what God has done for us because his job at getting us to believe his lies would be more difficult, and he wants things to be as easy as possible. Doesn’t evil usually work that way?

I also think we let the busyness of our days crowd God out. God is waiting for us to remember, to want to talk to Him, to have a relationship with Him, and sometimes, we just forget He is there.

Finally, we have mistaken impressions of how we need to be when we approach God. Everything needs to be perfect, and we think we need to display the Christian joy everyone keeps talking about. No sadness, and no pain allowed. But, God wants us to come to Him as we are. He wants us to remember Him as we are so He can work in our lives and in our hearts. Then, we can share about His love with a world who desperately needs it.

As I end this post, I want to remind all of us how important it is to remember God and how He is a part of our stories. And, we don’t need to just remember Him. We need to share our stories and how God is important in each of them. Your story might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but it is just as necessary to God and His Kingdom as those stories that have a larger reach. Thankful for the chance to share my stories in this space!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!