Have you ever had the amazing spiritual “high” after a great week of camp? Or felt like God is so near you could almost reach out and touch Him? Do you ever feel like God is really far away? Or do you sometimes wonder if he’s even there at all?
My kids and I were listening to the fabulous Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre production of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in the car a while back. In this book, a “head demon” is writing to his student about how to keep “those awful” humans from knowing God.
The whole book is brilliant, but one particular “letter” always sticks out to me: The one where Screwtape tells his student about the “Law of Undulation.” This law is the reality that sometimes Christians can feel very close to God and sometimes we can feel very far away. Screwtape’s advice is that, when humans feel far from God, they need to believe this is how they will always feel. They should doubt if they even know God, if there even is a God, and if it is at all worth it to continue serving Him when it seems like no prayers are being answered and no blessings are filling their cups.
Have you ever been there? I know I have. The Christian life isn’t easy, and we sometimes live with the false expectation that it should be, that if we know Christ and serve Him, everything is going to be terrific, all the stoplights will be green and all the cute shirts will be on sale.
The advice, “unknowingly” given by Screwtape in this book, is that God allows those periods where we feel distant from him – what one author has called “the dark night of the soul” – to help us grow. He wants us to be motivated, not emotions, but by faith. To obey even when things aren’t going well, to rejoice even when life is tough, to love even when we don’t feel like it.
This state, Screwtape says, is “dangerous.” He warns his student to do all he can to prevent humans from understanding the truth that there are waves – undulations – in the Christian life. Good times, bad times, happy times, sad times, times we feel close to God, and times we feel like he is a million miles away. Because when we understand that, we are free to serve God regardless of how we feel or what circumstances we might currently be in.
So, my friends, let us be “dangerous.” Let us commit ourselves wholeheartedly to serving our Savior no matter what. Even on bad days. Even when people treat us poorly. Even when we are in the middle of terrible circumstances. Let us “ride the waves” of life and not be sucked into their undertow.
I‘m not old. But I can see old. I am perilously close to the top of the hill.
I know I’m getting older because people look at my wedding pics and say, “Look how cute you were!” (emphasis on the were). And because people think I’m lying when I say that I just got my first gray hair this year (It’s true! And it’s still just the one). And because my firstborn is just a few months from turning 16 (excuse me while I hyperventilate).
There are benefits to getting older: I have 39 years of life lessons behind me. My wrinkles reflect wisdom. My gray hair (did I mention I just have the one?), survival. I no longer ask Dave if my butt looks big in those jeans. Of course it does! I’ve had three kids and I hardly ever exercise.
I no longer try and compare myself to supermodels. Instead, I think about writing their mothers and telling them to put on some clothes.
Getting older is part of life. Sadly, our tendency in facing that reality is to focus on the outside. We want to surgically remove all vestiges of age – suck it out, perk it up, lift it away. But too often this results in a complete lack of focus on the inside. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, there is something really wrong with making that all you think about.
Here’s a verse many of you have heard before, but all of us need to be reminded of: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7b
If, as Christians, our goal in this – and the next – life is to glorify God, then constantly worrying about what we look like, how we’re aging, counting our gray hairs and Googling ways to minimize crow’s feet is not beneficial. Being grateful for the years God has given us, the lessons He has taught us in those years, looking for ways to serve others and share Christ’s love –that is where our focus should be.
So even if you’re not old, or almost old, you should still be focusing your energy on developing your inner beauty. It sounds cliche – but only because it is true. Inner beauty is more important! It is more lasting. So forget your butt. Start asking “how does my heart look?”
Most of you reading this are like me – you’ve spent a lot of time on a Bandwagon. If there’s a new fad, a new saying, an “it” fashion, you are all over it. We’re all guilty of it. I’ve been around long enough to see everyone I know – myself included – fall victim to one Bandwagon scheme…or a hundred.
That crazy diet that makes you sick to your stomach, causes your hair to fall out and your breath to stink? Yes, that one. It was THE health craze. Those fabulous purses that cost three times more than the no-name brand and fall apart just as quickly? HAD to have it. And let’s not even go into the shoes. Who cares if they’re ridiculously uncomfortable and you have to fracture your pinkie toe to get into them? That pointy toe, stiletto heel is worth it all, baby!
We can get really passionate about our phases – I was into a diet about 10 years back that was I SURE was “the” answer for all people everywhere. I told my friends and family about it, met with others doing the same thing. I was all in on that Bandwagon….for about a year. Now, I forget what was so great about it. It was just a diet! Silly me.
The problem comes, though, when our faith becomes just another “phase” – a Bandwagon we jump on because our friends are doing it or we had an experience at camp or we went through a difficult time and promised God if He got us through it, we’d serve Him. When we seek after Jesus the same way we’re seeking after those pointy-toe boots or that all-natural diet, He eventually gets “old”. We burn out and move on to another phase.
God did not send His only Son to die on our behalf and offer us eternal life so that we could have an “experience.” The Christ-life should never be the equivalent of the latest shoe, diet, or fancy purse. It is a lifetime commitment to the One who created us, has plans for us, is FAR superior to us in every way. Living for Christ means that we daily offer Him our wholehearted worship and devotion. We aren’t in it for what we get out of it, and we’re not in it because “everybody else is doing it”. We are in it because we recognize that we are made in the image of a holy, awesome God, a God worth telling people about, worth devoting our lives to.
We need to get off of “Bandwagon Christianity”, own our faith, and live it out every day — no matter the cost.
Most of you reading this are now humming that song from “High School Musical” – and hating me for getting it stuck in your head. Sorry about that. But there’s some truth to that ridiculously repetitive ditty. Troy needed to be reminded that, if he wanted to win that all-important basketball game, he’d better focus on that and not on the cute newcomer, Gabriella.
He recognized that if he were to allow his mind to drift off the court, he would let his team down and, possibly, lose the game. So he sang and danced (WITH a basketball! Impressive, you have to admit…) a reminder. Side note: all lessons in life should be accompanied by singing and dancing. How much more enjoyable would that be??
We are all busy, with days that seem to go on forever and calendars that have no white spaces in them for months on end. Because of that, it is easy to spend every day thinking about the next day, or the day after that. Sometimes they’re happy thoughts (we get a day off in three weeks!); sometimes they’re stressful (I have to take the SAT next month!); sometimes our thoughts focus on people (will he ask me to Homecoming?) But whatever they are, if those thoughts dominate our minds, we miss out on the most important day: TODAY.
There’s a great line from “The Music Man”, where Harold turns to Marion and says, “You pile up enough tomorrows and you’ll find you’re left with nothing but a bunch of empty yesterdays.” Side note: musicals are far more profound than people give them credit for.
When our heads are focused on tomorrow, we lose out on the joy of today. We don’t listen when people are talking because we are thinking/worrying about what we need to do later. We miss out on opportunities to minister, to deepen friendships, to encourage, to grow because our heads aren’t in “the game”. We get to the end of our calendar and we find that, though every square was filled, our souls are empty.
So plan for tomorrow, but LIVE today. Don’t just seek God’s will for your future, seek Him for your next hour, and the hour after that. You are in the game right now! Every “play” is important and deserving of your full attention.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~Mt. 6:34
I know today’s teens get a tough rap, but I happen to think you are pretty spectacular. You guys have been thrown a lot of curve balls – the ultra-protection that comes from living more of your lives post 9/11 than pre-9/11; the constant influx of new technologies; the increased pressure to get better grades, take harder classes, pass more tests…Being a teen today takes far more work than it did back when I was that age.
But here’s what we had that some of this generation is missing: in-the-same-room communication. While texting and Snap chatting and Tweeting are fine – in the right context – none of that substitutes plain, old-fashioned talking.
In the wrong context, texting, Snap chatting, and Tweeting can actually keep us from having healthy relationships. Subtweeting ( indirectly tweeting something -usually negative – about someone without mentioning his/her name), for instance, can be terribly damaging. Instead of going directly to someone who has upset you, you subtweet their offense (“I hate when it people take credit for my ideas in Student Council!”). This is gossip and it’s cowardly. Just tell that person – in person – he/she upset you by taking credit for your ideas.
Texting too often replaces important, beneficial, face-to-face interaction, also…like getting to know new friends or potential boyfriends. You can only know so much about a person through words on a screen, or even pictures for that matter. You need to see them, hear them, watch them around others. Nothing can replace that.
I don’t think technology is bad – I happen to be pretty crazy about my iPhone! But I do think that technology is a supplement, not a replacement – like Sparksnotes to an actual novel. Don’t miss out on the joy of really getting to know people; don’t allow yourself the easy way out when it’s time to confront, either.
Enjoy being teens in the twenty-teens, but go old school with your relationships.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to “The Will of God”, I tend to think of the “big” stuff: choosing a career, getting married, having kids….that kind of thing. But the older I get, the more I realize that it is just as important to seek God in the small stuff as it with the biggies.
Because here’s the deal: even the “big stuff” gets small. My wedding day, while amazing, was just a day. Thousands of days have passed since then. On my wedding day, I said “I will” to “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health”. But every one of those thousands of days since, I have had to make the choice, with God’s help, to live those vows out.
Having kids wasn’t exactly a choice I made – God knew we were ready to be parents about 9 months before we did. But it was still pretty huge (as was I!). But having my first child was, again, just a day: a painful, exhilarating, life-changing day, sure. But that day was followed by thousands more days that were far more ordinary, messy, and challenging. Days when I had the choice to be the mom called me to be or to throw in the towel and give up.
I could go on (becoming missionaries; getting books published; teaching…), but you get the idea. The big events in life are just moments – moments that are built on the smaller events. And it’s in the small things – in everything – that we need to seek God’s will.
The “who will I marry?” question isn’t nearly as important as the “what do You want me to do today?” question. I met Dave because I followed God’s leading to study His word, to work at a camp, to be the best counselor I could be while working at that camp. It was my day-in-day-out actions that impressed by future husband. Not just my pretty face :). And those of you reading this who want to marry a man who loves Jesus with all his heart? You need to be doing the same — daily seeking what God wants you to do, in the little things.
So let go of the big stuff that consumes your thoughts and ask God to help you obey Him in the small stuff: reading your Bible, encouraging someone who is hurt, waking up for church tomorrow instead of sleeping in, finishing your homework on time…
The big stuff will come. And it will go. The small stuff is always here. So seek God’s will in everything – especially the small stuff!
I don’t like having to discipline my kids – the biological ones or the ones in my classroom. I want them to behave because they know they should. I don’t want to have to force them to behave by bringing in restrictions, taking away gadgets, or writing up referrals.
But, after 15 years of parenting and 7 years of teaching, I have learned that, like or not, discipline is necessary. If I let my own children get away with whatever they wanted, they’d be rotten right now. If I let my students do what they wanted in class, very little actual learning would take place. Discipline, though not fun, is necessary to accomplish my goals as a parent and a teacher.
God is the ultimate Parent and the Master Teacher. As such, he recognizes that sometimes, we need discipline. At times, that discipline isn’t painful…maybe we just need clarification on how to live, guidance to make the best decisions. But, sometimes, when we are being especially rebellious, he needs to do something to get our attention and take us off that wrong path and back on the right one.
Hebrews 12:11 says “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it..”
The peaceful fruit of righteousness. That’s what I want – for my children, my students, and myself. In order to attain it, then, I must be willing to be trained by the discipline of God.
Maybe you’re feeling this right now – God is trying to discipline you, train you. Are you allowing Him to speak into your life? Or are you complaining, angry, upset that things aren’t going your way? God is a good God, a loving Father. He wants you to have the best life possible. So listen to Him, obey Him. Accept His discipline and grow.
This year, with great fear and trembling, my husband and I agreed to let our son play football (okay, so I was the one with fear and trembling, but whatever…). I’d much rather Thomas play something safe. Like chess. But he is all boy and super athletic, and he has begged for years to play football. I kept saying no (he’s just 11!!). But this year, I gave in.
Last night was Thomas’ first game. He was so excited. He didn’t get hurt (yay!) and he even made a couple pretty impressive plays. But most exciting of all was that he scored a touchdown for his team!
After we got home, Thomas gave us the inside scoop on the touchdown: He had boys from the other team hot on his tail. But he also had boys from his team at his back. When he got to the line that you cross to make a touchdown (my football vocabulary is pathetic, I know…), the boys from his team literally had his back. Thomas said he could feel those boys lifting him over the line, as he cradled that football with all the strength he had left. Though Thomas technically made the touchdown, he would not have made it if it weren’t for his teammates’ help.
It made me think of something my sister-in-law, Jill, tells my niece, Mercy — she encourages Mercy to find a group of friends who love Jesus and who will encourage her to live the life God has called her to live. Friends who have her back, like the football players had Thomas, and who will push her towards THE goal.
We all need friends like that, because even the strongest of us have times when we’re running out of steam, or when we’re being chased down by the enemy and we just don’t think we can take another step. Times when we need a lift – and a push – to get us where we need to be.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Prov. 17:17
I figure it’s about time to write a “State of the Union” address as a writer. My last book has been out almost two months, and I’m getting a few “So what’s your next project?” questions from readers.
So…What am I doing next? Writing another series? Sitting back and raking in all the dough I’ve collected from my first two series? Wrangling through a movie deal with a big Hollywood producer?
No, no, and no.
Here’s the deal: I love writing. I enjoyed every minute of writing the six books God has allowed me to have published. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be picked up by a publisher as amazing as Thomas Nelson. I am humbled and honored and elated to have been able to work with them and to get know others who are seeking to honor God through the words that they write. I have been amazed that people actually paid money to read my words, and that some of them actually liked those words enough to buy more books and even write me and let me know how God used my words to change their lives.
BUT…this is a tough time to be a writer. First, there are millions of us, all trying to get our words out there. Brick and mortar bookstores are dying, and online bookstores are
overwhelming, carrying, as they do, all those millions of books. Also, books are cheap. Or free. And I confess, I take full advantage of the Kindle Daily Deal and my local libraries – I read too much and too quickly to buy most books! So publishers have a hard time selling books when the market is so flooded and the product is so cheap.
Second, being a writer isn’t my full-time job. I love teaching. It is what God has called me to do. Working face-to-face with students, investing in them spiritually and academically is my calling. Writing, for me, was always an extension of that calling.
However, to be able to really make it as a writer, it is necessary to “quit the day job”. Most of the really successful writers are professional writers. It is what they do for a living. They spend hours a day on their craft. They attend workshops and conferences and have writer’s groups that they lead and are part of. They take ownership of their own marketing, knowing the publisher can only do so much. They recognize this is a tough business, and they recognize that the actual writing is just part of what is necessary to be a success.
So…I haven’t really “made it” as a writer. My books have sold all right, but not enough. And most publishers don’t want to publish someone with a history of “all right” sales. They, understandably, are in the business of making a profit. And, while I would love to keep writing, I don’t love it enough to stop doing what I love even more: teaching.
I’m not quitting. I can’t. I have too many ideas and writing is too much of an outlet for me. I HAVE to write! But will I have another book out anytime soon….? Probably not.
I have always clung to Francine Rivers’ quote that writing is another form of worship. I don’t need to have works published to be able to worship my Savior through my words. So I will keep writing, keep posting here, keep working on stories. I will keep doing what God has called me to do, how He has called me to do it. I will rejoice with those writers whose calling it is to work at their craft full-time. And I will do better at buying some of their books instead of waiting for them to go on sale as a KDD!
I am grateful for those who have allowed me to be in this amazing writers’ world: the publisher, editors, marketers, bloggers, reviewers, and, of course, readers. For a kid who avoided Honors’ English classes in school because it was just too much work — having close to half a million published words is a feat that is only attributable to the God who loves to demonstrate His strength through our weakness.
Psalm 1 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, and yet I still find something new every time I look into it.
Psalm 1 examines the difference between the man (or woman) who is blessed and the man (or woman) who is wicked. And what is that difference?
Location, location, location.
The blessed man takes up residence by streams of water (Ps. 1:3). He is compared to a tree who, planted by that water, has roots that sink deep into the earth and branches that stretch into the sky. Rather than wither away, it produces fruit and prospers.
What does the water represent in this Psalm? The man (or woman) whose delight is in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2a). The blessed person is so delighted in the law (the word of God) that he/she “meditates on it day and night” (Ps. 1:2b).
The opposite of blessed? In this passage, the opposite of blessed is wicked. These people walk, stand, and sit with the wicked, sinners, and scoffers. They live with and around those who drag them farther and farther away from blessings. And, as the blessed prospers by waters, the wicked will perish.
The “take home lesson” from this Psalm — be careful where you choose to put down roots. Sink your life deep into the refreshing water of God’s word. Seek friendships with those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Avoid those whose shallow pursuits will end in ruin.
1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.