Difference Maker

Over the past few months, I’ve been praying for something fervently. The specifics are not important. What is important is that God has said wait. That hasn’t sat well with me. This was something I felt like I urgently needed. Well, I wanted it urgently anyway. How’s that for honesty? 🙂 I wanted my request as fast as God could possibly grant it so I wouldn’t feel different anymore. From other people, I mean. I wanted to fit in and not be noticed so I could go about the business God had for me to do. But, as I’ve thought about my request recently, it’s not something God can do quickly. He’s teaching me lessons about prayer, about being different, and about being molded into the person He wants me to be. So, that’s what I want to talk about today–about being a difference-maker.

During my life, I’ve suffered for being different. I wasn’t the most popular child or teen. I wasn’t a cheerleader or a homecoming or prom queen. In fact, I’ve stayed in the background for most of my life much to the chagrin of some of the people in my life and of the world, in general. This world is made for people who are at the forefront or who want to be at the forefront of whatever is going on. People who want to stay in the background are generally not noticed which, I guess, is the point, but bear with me. I do have a point.

God has called us to be different whether we are introverts or extroverts and whether people think differently than us or not. We’re different races, genders, sizes, live at different income levels, and have different interests. He made each of us differently. I get that. I can see it anytime I go outside. What I don’t get though is why we, in the church, insist on classifying everything into a certain order. Our children are in age-classified or grade-classified classes, and we expect the adults we hang out with to have children the same ages as ours. We expect them to have the same life status as we do and the same income level. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. said this fifty-five years ago. “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And, this has been true over my entire life as it has been a lifetime since this statement was made. In all my years of being a Christian, I only found an integrated church seven years ago. Pretty sad, isn’t it?

My point with all of this is that we are different, and it’s time we, in the church, accepted each other for being different. This is easier said than done though, and it brings me to my second point of the situation I’ve been praying about. Prayer. Like I said in my opening paragraph, I’ve been praying for this situation to resolve itself so I wouldn’t feel different anymore. And, of course, I’ve been praying for the situation itself. God has used this time though to teach me about persistent prayer. Praying on my knees. Continuing to pray even when it seems like nothing is happening. Learning how to wait. I liked the quote from Lewis Smedes that John Ortberg used in today’s Devotionals Daily email. “Waiting is the hardest work of hope.” I’ve had to learn how to hope in the midst of the waiting.

This brings me to my final point of being willing to be molded by God into the person He wants me to be. My devotional journal had a Scripture on today’s page I want to share here. From Isaiah 64:8, “Now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God is molding and forming me even in the midst of this painful situation. I don’t like it. If we, who are Christians, would be honest, I think most of us would say the same. But, there is another quote from John Ortberg I want to share because it sums up everything I’m trying to say. “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.” It stung me as I read it. I should be celebrating the chance to wait and to be my own unique self. Because being different, in my opinion, is the only way I can be a difference-maker for the Kingdom. And, isn’t that who we all, as believers, should aspire to be?

God bless you all!

 

Lament

I experienced something I thought I would never see yesterday morning. I walked into my church’s worship service late because I was greeting and heard psalms being read that I had only ever read in the privacy of my own home. I heard songs that were full of sadness talking about sin and sorrow. It wasn’t the usual fare. I was caught off-guard for a moment, but then I heard the word. Lament. Lament was being talked about from the pulpit. I was astonished, amazed (in a good way) and ecstatic.

Why ecstatic? For the answer to that question, I needed to travel back in time over two years. The blog post search function made it easy. I found my post reviewing the book No More Faking Fine and talking about the lessons I had learned from it. (http://thrivingingrace.com/no-more-faking-fine/) I also found my post from the week before (http://thrivingingrace.com/gods-tears/) talking about what had been going on in my life. I read through both posts and remembered what a healing balm they had been. (There’s a reason God gave me this talent with words.) It was okay with God when I was sad. He listened to the psalmist in Psalm 6: 1-3, 9. “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” This is good news to me. God listens to all of it–the bad stuff and the good stuff.

So, did I have anything fresh to say about this topic? After all, it’s two years later. I don’t like anything I write to be a rehash of anything I’ve already covered. Actually, I do have something to say. We, in the church, don’t do a good job of lamenting ourselves. Oh, we read the Scriptures of Jesus weeping or God grieving the creating of His people in the Old Testament. But, it doesn’t translate to what we think we’re allowed to do as we live out our lives in this world. When we come together as a community, things are always fine. We don’t feel free to share our hurts and pains, and we definitely don’t feel free to share anything we think we might get judged for. It’s the thing that prevents us, and me especially, from being vulnerable and having a true community experience as I live out this faith of mine.

That’s why I was amazed by the subject of this morning’s service. I already knew that God was okay with lamenting, and as I’ve said on here before, I would be totally happy with my faith just consisting of me and God and not worrying whether I include others or not. The risks of getting hurt or wounded are not nearly as high. But, God wants me to take risks as much as I might not want to. He wants me to be authentic in my joys and sorrows, and He wants me to do this in front of people. Today’s service made me optimistic that others in my community might be ready to do this too.

As we begin this week, may we all be authentic as we live out this Christian life–with our celebrations and with our laments.

God bless you all!

Wind Sprints in the Dog Park

This summer my older son acquired a puppy which had been abandoned on his girlfriend’s family’s property. I haven’t said a whole lot about the puppy because she belongs to my son and not me. But, God used her to teach me some lessons about prayer this morning so I’ll be sharing a puppy story today.

The story actually began over the weekend. When I realized my son would be gone this morning for job hunting purposes, I offered to take her for her walk. It’s not something I do often as this is a responsibility my college graduate son has taken on. He’s learning about adulting in all its glory. 🙂 ) But since this morning involved job prospects, I offered. It was something I did begrudgingly at first. Isn’t that typical of all of us who are parents? We want to help our children out, but doing so might involve something we don’t enjoy. I decided to take a positive attitude toward it though. I would get my exercise in, spend time with the puppy, and wear her out enough so she would take a nap. (Oh, don’t deny it. Any of you who have pets have probably done the same thing. :-))

Anyway, we went walking in the cool of the morning as soon as I ate and got dressed. She started off searching the grass for leaves, ants, and branches, but, as soon as I started running, she did too. It was more exercise than I thought I’d get. We spent the next few minutes alternating between running and talking to neighbors and their dogs. I have gotten to know more neighbors in the past two months than I did in the years since we moved in. I’m thinking that would be a God lesson too, but it’s not the lesson God specifically had for me this morning.

When we finished our meandering, we headed for the dog park. Once I had the gates shut, I unhooked her from her leash. She started wandering through the grass. The pieces of equipment haven’t interested her much yet. (Except for the water fountain. She always likes to get water.) But, she will run, if someone else does. I decided to do some wind sprints to get my heart rate up. Before long, she was running beside me. It was something I couldn’t make her do since she wasn’t on her leash. She chose to do it. Then, God brought a thought to mind. Free will. He’s given it to all of us. Humans and animals though it’s more developed in humans.

I stopped. I needed more time to process the thought which I couldn’t do while I was running. It wasn’t an out-of-breath stop though. It was a ‘Wow, God, what have you shown me’ stop! Because, I have been in prayer about several matters which I consider urgent—for my family and for others in my life. These matters have had me on my knees—metaphorically and physically. They’ve discouraged me because I haven’t seen progress. They’ve wearied my heart because I’ve been in the middle of them. But, I’ve kept praying because I didn’t know what else to do.

Anyway, what God showed me was that the people and the situations I’ve been praying for all have a component of free will. I can’t make anyone do anything, and I certainly can’t make a situation go my way as much as I might want it to. God is the only one who can, and the other people have a choice too. They can choose not to accept God’s help. It was a hard lesson, but a necessary one for me. God wants me to continue to be on my knees for all of it—to pray without ceasing as it says in Scripture. We are in a war with Satan and his forces like I’ve learned recently. And it’s a war we can’t slack off on, or Satan wins. It might take years, or it might take decades, but those of us who love Jesus should be willing to pay that price. Pray without ceasing. Advancing the kingdom on our knees. It was a lesson that became clear to me as I did wind sprints in the dog park. I pray it becomes clear to you too.

God bless you all!

A Universal Theme

When I was planning out my blog posts for the next two months, I wrote down titles for each date but didn’t leave much detail. So, of course, the original title for this post (A New Start) ended up being something different. I think they’re related though because what I’m writing today has given me new insight into my writing. I was considering the elements of a novel earlier and how they were all intertwined with the story I was trying to tell. Some of these elements are obvious like setting (where the story takes place) and characters (the people who populate a story) But there is one element I’ve always been confused by, and that’s what I want to talk about today. I’ll be writing about theme, how the theme is different from the plot, and how I came upon the theme I’ve been using in the stories I’ve written so far.

First, there’s theme. When I first started becoming aware of and learning the elements of my craft, it was one of the hardest I had to consider. I couldn’t see where it was different from plot. I guess a better way to say it was that I couldn’t separate them. Here is what theme means. “The central idea, topic, or point of a story, essay, or narrative is its theme.”(literaryterms.net) It is trying to convey a belief about life that is universal. While I could tell what my story was about, thinking of a message behind the words was not something I could fathom. 

Then there’s the definition of plot – “the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” (lexico.com) The main events. Like I said before, I could tell what my story was about in excruciating detail, but there was no life lesson, and therefore, no theme. There was no life I could see in them.

But, I’ve been doing some thinking recently about the words I’ve written, the stories I’ve finished, and the book I’m working on. And I realized my stories do have a universal theme. They all have a female main character who is trying to achieve her dreams while overcoming obstacles from her past. The situations are different, but the journeys are the same. This might seem basic to some, and I’m pretty sure it’s a universal theme, but it was helpful to me. Because, even if this theme is a basic one in storytelling, I still have my way to tell the story. Since I’m unique and the only one of me God made, I am the only one who can tell the story I need to tell. It was a realization I needed to have.

I don’t know if all writers need to do this kind of soul-searching to find the themes of their stories, but it has helped me make sense of my journey through life as much as my characters’ journeys through their stories. I’m hoping this is something all of us can consider as we consider theme.

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

Back to School Musings

There are two times during the year which are generally regarded as times of new beginnings. The first is obvious. At the beginning of the calendar year, people tend to look at their lives and decide what they either need to stop doing or what they want to start doing better. Then, they make resolutions and do their best to follow them. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes, the will to try is lost. The second time is when school begins again after summer vacations. In this scenario, children and adults of all ages are starting a new year of academic learning reflecting their age and how far they’ve come in academic achievement. Everything is new–their classrooms, their teachers, the people they’re learning with, and what they’re learning about. It’s a time of new beginnings.

Over my years as an adult, I’ve also used the beginning of school as a time of new beginnings for my own life. I was homeschooling my children so it was a natural fit, but there were also things not related to my children that I wanted to try and do differently. So, I also used this time as a new beginning.

This year though things have been different. I don’t feel like I can use this period as a new beginning anymore because my adult children are done with this stage. The older one has graduated from college, and the younger one is starting something not quite as traditional as what he did last year. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course, but it’s made me realize that our days of following a traditional school schedule are over. It’s given me a funny feeling which is hard to explain. It’s like there’s a distance between me now and the people who are still in this stage. It’s like I’m supposed to wish for something neither of my sons is ready for yet. (grandchildren) Many people in society look at this empty nest stage as a stage where women are supposed to go find themselves and not expect stability until grandchildren have arrived. Or they think women who are in this phase should be willing to impart their “wisdom” (not that anyone listens to me anyway) to the generation of mothers behind them.

But neither of those fit where I am right now. I thought about it some more to see if I could come up with a solution, and I realized that God had already given me one. He gives us an option to start anew every day which has nothing to do with any particular part of the calendar. Don’t believe me? It says so in the Bible, specifically in Lamentations 3:22-23. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” According to this, God has established every day as a new beginning. We have another chance to try again. So, this is what I will think of when I feel odd during back to school time. My God is a God of grace who is always willing to let me start again. I hope we can all think of God as a God of new beginnings.

God bless you all!

Simple Stories

This was written yesterday in case anyone who knows the particulars is reading.

I’ve been looking back today. Looking back on what happened over thirty years ago. I wasn’t in town on the day it happened. I was several states away. But, I came home a few days later and got to hold an unexpected blessing in my arms. He was so tiny then but already loved by so many. He’s not tiny anymore. He’s a grown man who has been a blessing to all over his life. I remember hearing he and his brothers sing at their father’s funeral a year ago, and I remember when he and his cousin were the ring bearer and flower girl at my own wedding over twenty-five years ago. His family had enfolded me into theirs when I was in college, and we shared all the important family events together…the good ones and the bad ones. There are so many stories I could tell about this family and the life I lived with them. I could fill-up this space and then some with all the stories I could tell.

But, that’s not the reason I share this today. I share it because of how deceptively simple the concept of story is. I have been complicating it with the book I’ve been writing as one of my dreams is to be published one day. I think that may have been the reason the writing has become complicated. I let the end goal complicate the results I’m trying to achieve, and the words stopped gushing. They shouldn’t have. The story I’m trying to tell of a journalist caught up in horrific national events while dealing with her own past is still there. I just can’t make it leave my head and travel to my computer screen.

I want to finish this story though. I want to tell it like I tell the stories of my life. The stories of a life well-lived like some people say at funerals. I don’t know if people will say that about me at my funeral. It’s funny that other people get to make those judgments. It’s almost like my own opinion about my life is not one that will make it into the history books. But I’m going to tell my stories anyway…the simple ones and the complicated ones. The ones that people want to hear and the ones they don’t. The times when I lived to glorify my Lord and Savior and the times when I didn’t. The stories that taught me life lessons and the ones that are just better for a desk drawer. Because if I don’t tell my stories, then who will?

I might never be as popular as J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steel. I might never write or sell as many books as James Patterson or Dan Brown. I might never win the Nobel Prize for Literature like Toni Morrison who died today. One thing though that I’m pretty sure we all share is the ability to tell a story. Whether that story is simple or complicated, we are forever yoked in the need to tell it. Because that is what our history is built on. The concept of story. From the parables of Jesus to the novels of today, all who tell stories are building on what has come before and making our lives understandable to those who will come in the future.

May we all have a chance to tell our stories! God bless you!

Words and Grace

I didn’t know I would be at this place when I completed my literary quotes series, but I think God planned it that way. Through my choice of which quote to use and through my experiences God showed me that I would have words to say about this very important quote.

First, let me share this quote by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. “Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. Now, I want to make it clear I’m not comparing myself to Wiesel. He survived the Holocaust, one of the worst atrocities in world history, and he had the courage to write about it, to put words on paper so that we would, hopefully, never repeat the experience again. Now, the jury is out on us repeating the experience of persecuting people for the color of their skin, for their gender, for their religious beliefs, or for where they were born. In fact, let me go ahead and say these are still things that happen today however much we might not want them to or however much we might think we’ve “grown”.

But, Wiesel’s words inspired me, and they preserved history. And preserved a piece of his soul, I would think. He couldn’t prevent what happened to him and his family, but he could write it down for future generations to remember. This is how I believe his words could attain the quality of deeds. They help us learn about the dark parts of a man’s soul.

A man’s soul has light parts too, and this is where I believe it’s important for us to look at how God wants us to see words. There are many examples in Scripture, but I just want to focus on two of them today. Proverbs 18:21 says this, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I remember reading somewhere that the tongue is the smallest organ in the body, but one which has the potential to cause the most damage. I agree with that and understand why God chose to tell us to be careful with our tongues. The other example is similar but is in the New Testament. From Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This means we’re supposed to build each other up with our words not tear each other down. Are we successful at this? Sometimes, yes, but, more often than not, no. It is something that is a work in progress.

Now, I started off talking about the written word and then switched to the spoken word. The question I want to ask now is about the application of Scripture to the written word. Is it the same as the tongue? Do we need to watch what we write as well as what we speak? I believe so. I believe God wants us to watch all of our words–both spoken and written–with the extra caveat that written words are more likely to be remembered as I’ve already discussed.

Usually, in these posts, I’ve written about how the quote relates to my life, but I’ve waited until now to do it for this one. There’s a reason for that. Sometimes, I lock up on the words I speak. I have a hard time thinking of what I want to say during the moment, and those moments usually turn out to be disasters. I’m sure that’s happened to a lot of us. 🙂 What that means for me though is that I communicate better using the written word. When I have the time to think about what I want to say, it generally comes out better and is more understandable.

Words and grace–I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded at giving grace with my spoken words and my written words. I haven’t made the effort to understand where a person might be coming from who is uttering hurtful words to me, and I’ve let my spoken words leave my tongue and my written words appear on paper faster than they should. As I end this series on writing quotes, I want to apologize to anyone who I’ve ever offended with my words–either spoken or written and pledge to make a renewed effort to be the writer and speaker God wants me to be.

Praying God’s blessings on you all!

 

The Gift

It’s interesting that I’m starting to write about this quote after I finished Margaret Atwood’s Master Class last week. One of the final lessons talked about how books represent two different kinds of economy–commercial and gift. When I looked back at the quote, I thought about how this could all be interwoven which makes it the perfect topic for me to discuss today.

First, I need to share the quote. It’s by Amy Tan, and she says this about writing. “Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone. A gift. I can see that. I pour a lot of myself into each story I write, so much, that I usually need to take a break after I write a piece so I can regain some of my creative energy. It can be mentally draining to write a story, book, blog post, article, anything really. I’m not saying other creative professions don’t experience that same mental draining. I’m just talking about my own experiences as a writer. But, if I were to guess, I would say it is true across all creative professions. Expressing our gift, our creativity, is work, but it’s also what we give to the world so it’s unique.

Once a book is finished though, it moves through the commercial economy and becomes a commodity to be bought and sold which, I think, makes it confusing for people who wonder why books cost so much, well, why any creative endeavor costs money. They think that any person expressing their creative gifts should be willing to express then for free. Now, many creative people do express their gifts for free which, I think, has made us feel entitled to receive all creative gifts for free. (Hence, the proliferation of online pirating of authors’ work)

But, because of this reasoning and this entitlement, many writers and other creative people have to work more than one job to afford the commodities of life–food, shelter, healthcare, transportation, etc., etc. This makes them have less time to focus on their writing or creative endeavors and makes sure that the rest of us lose out on what might have been an amazing piece of creative expression.

I digress though. Today’s quote is about how writing is a gift not how people aren’t willing to pay for creativity as a commodity. Writing has certainly been a gift to me. It has allowed me to make sense of my life and realize that it has been a life worth living. I have shared my story by writing it down, and now it exists in written form for generations to come. That’s the gift I offer to the people in my life, and I encourage you to do the same. We are a people of story, after all.

Have a great day, everyone!

My Highest Aspirations

It’s the third week in my writing quote series, and I am particularly fond of the quote I’m using this week. It’s by Louisa May Alcott who authored one of my favorite books as a young person, Little Women. She wrote novels, short stories, and poems in the nineteenth century when times weren’t the best for women. She had aspirations though, and that is why I like this quote. “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”

Aspirations–we all have them. From the highly unlikely to come true like winning the lottery to the mundane like having enough to spend at the grocery store and everything in-between, we all have aspirations. If we are Christians, we should also have the aspiration to be led by God in everything we say and do and to share the love of Jesus with everyone we know.

I don’t know a whole lot about Alcott except that she wrote some excellent books, but she had dreams like all of us do. Aspirations. She knew she might not reach all of them, but that didn’t prevent her from having them, and it didn’t prevent her from trying to reach them either.

Those are beliefs I’m trying to pull into myself as I’m living this new life of mine as an empty-nester trying to break into freelance writing. My biggest dream, my biggest aspiration is to have a published book. To have other people read my words and be encouraged by them, to be entertained by my stories. I believe this is a path God is taking me on.

But, I’ve realized this path is probably not going to look like what I think it needs to look like, and that’s where the quote comes in. I believe God gives us aspirations and hopes and dreams for our lives. He wants us to depend on Him totally as we walk towards the future with Him at our side. Sometimes our job will be to help others reach their aspirations while at other times, we will reach the aspirations He has called us to.  This is when we need to give Him the credit since we can’t reach those aspirations on our own. We don’t do this well though because we like to think we maintain control in our lives by proclaiming our independence from others. I struggle with this daily because I want to be the one who claims the credit. But, God wants the credit. He wants those who don’t know Him to see Him in us as we experience the joys and sorrows of this life which includes the successes and the failures of our aspirations.

So, that’s why I love the quote. It lets me see the aspirations God is giving me, but, at the same time, tells me how God wants them to look and not how I want them to look. If we are Christ’s disciple, should we expect anything else?

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

The Emotions of Writing

It’s time for another excerpt in my writing quote series for this month. I feel like this is going to be a tough one to write because I’m still getting the hang of showing versus telling in my writing, and emotions, in particular, are harder to interpret with just words. But, those who are further along in their craft, are able to show emotions in their work and elicit emotions from the reader. This is what inspires me to continue to work on the craft of writing–to be good enough to write a complete story which brings out all elements of the human experience including emotions.

First, let me share the quote for this week. It’s by James Michener and reflects how I feel about the words I put together. “I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” Aren’t these words amazing? A true expression of how a writer can make people feel as they read the words they have written. These feelings can be good. They can be bad. They can share sadness. They can express joy. Every feeling in the human experience can be shown through words. But, (and I bet you knew there would be a but), it’s not good enough to just say someone is sad. For it to have an impact on the reader, it has to be shown they are sad. Here’s an example.

“Joanna couldn’t believe he had just walked out the door. Tears poured down her face as she slumped to the floor. It was like when her mother had died. She could see no path back to when she and Eric had been happy. She knew it was time to move on, but she had to grieve her loss first.”

I have read so many books that have done this well. Brought the zenith of the human experience to me–the highs and lows of this life. I think that’s why Jesus told so many stories. He knew those stories would be the best way for us to learn about Him. We are a people of stories.

But, to write those stories. That is much harder. To write them well, I mean.  I find I need to write about my life for it to make sense to me. When I write about my emotions though, I just name them and don’t do a good job of showing I have them. I’ve found people don’t respond well when I do that, especially with negative emotions. They see the word of the emotion, and all of their connotations of that emotion come to the forefront without them even considering what it means to the writer. But, I keep trying. Trying to make myself understandable through my words since I have such a tough time doing it in person.

As I’ve already said, expressing emotions well can be done in writing. It can be done with negative emotions and positive emotions. Here’s an example with positive emotions.

“Her eyes lit up like the sun coming out after a cloudy day. She extended her trembling left hand towards where Robert was holding the ring. Her smile extended from ear to ear. ‘Yes, Robert, I will marry you.'”

The examples I’ve shared here are just a few of what I’ve accumulated with my writing. Through my reading, writing, and research each day, I store words in my heart by reading the greats in my field and write them on paper to practice what I’ve learned. This has helped in my development as a writer. The one thing that has helped the most though is the emotions I’ve experienced in my life. Yes, you can write about emotions without experiencing them. But, I find that experiencing the emotions makes my writing deeper and puts it further towards the chance of being published. Emotions–they’re a part of what makes us human whether we are experiencing them, reading about them, or writing about them.

Let me know the hardest emotion you’ve ever had to write in the comments.

Have a great day, all!