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A Writing Journey

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Sometimes, I have to go back to the basics. Today, I’m putting Rewriting Destiny’s major chapters and their plot points onto index cards so I can see the whole picture of the story my characters are living.

As with many of my works in progress (and their are several and all remain half-finished), this one began with a writing prompt and I fell in love with the characters, Willow and Poppy. For me, their journey is a female version similar to the one that Sam and Frodo take in Lord of the Rings.

Each young woman has set off to rewrite her destiny as told her by the Ceremony of the Fates. Each believes the Ceremony has provided them a wrong path, one not aligned with their true gifts. Embarking on this journey and leaving their Village expels them forever from returning.

The journey is decided no matter the Fate they discover. As the writer of this story, their epic journey is mine as well as I travel alongside Willow and Poppy to the story’s end.

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Breathing Life into My Story

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This is the year I finish at least one fiction manuscript, and thereby live out the fraction of those thousands of lives. Some of the lives available to me include Henry, a faerie who became human to protect the woman he loves; Willow Suantraí, a young girl who embarks on an epic journey to change her destiny and defeat the angels of darkness that threaten the fates of many; Daniel, a photographer whose dreams reveal seven people he needs to find and save from a shapeshifting evil doer; Amber Stone, a mother who doubles as a superhero in an alternate reality and works to defeat evil; and a monster who revisits Lucy, the girl whose bed he lived under during her childhood, to deliver an important message.

There are others. But this is about finishing only one.

For me, this is about breathing life into one story’s characters that have not been given the opportunity to fulfill their full potential to live out their story. And, yes, this applies as much to me, their writer, as it does to them. Because by starting and stopping their stories, by abandoning my gift for lengths of time, I miss the opportunity to fulfill my full potential and live out my story.

By writing their story, I continue to live out my own, as a writer and as the person I was created to be.

What story will you pursue this year?

 

Finding the Miracle in the Mess

img_0916It’s Christmas week and we have two little girls. Needless to say the anticipation and chaos are both at full throttle.

There are also life circumstances that threaten to choke off our joy, our delight, our hope in the God who wrapped himself in flesh, in our humanity, and came down into our brokenness to abide in our flawed messiness.

Life circumstances too often swell like storming seas whose waves crash and jeopardize our attempts to remain afloat.

Even so, these words from Psalm 91 are my lifeline: “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust Him.”

Because God came down.

Because God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Because God cares for us.

Because God is with us.

So, we trust in Him.

We hold fast to His grace as much as His promises.

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We turn toward Bethlehem and remember the miracle of a God who was laid in a manger.

We quiet our hearts and still our thoughts and listen.

We listen to the whisper of that first Christmas that draws us in. Invites us near.

We listen to the cry of a baby who was God and who was welcomed by lowly shepherds.

We listen to the angels who spoke of good news and great joy.

We listen to the heart of God.

And we embrace this place where we are with its mess and its chaos and its clutter and its unknowns.

Because no matter our circumstances, even so, God is with us.

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, my refuge, my strength, my joy.

Prayer’s Unexpected Answers

I don’t know about you, but as a Christian, I’ve heard that God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we expect. Maybe that feels ambiguous at best to you. If so, I’d like to share a concrete glimpse of what that can look like from a moment in my life just last week.

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As many of you know, we have an eight year old who is on the spectrum. For those of you not sure what that means, it means that she was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Asperger’s; and that translates into a level of anxiety and rigidity that most of us are unfamiliar with in our day-to-day lives.

For my daughter, right now, it translates into compulsive behaviors and meltdowns resulting from an elusive search for perfect that does not exist on this side of heaven: lining her chair up just so at the dinner table, wearing only one pair of shorts because none of the others feel right to her, wiping her face and hands repeatedly to avoid being dirty.

She knows perfect is not possible, even so, she seeks it with a fierceness that is too often heartbreaking. Like last Wednesday.

Because a trip to the indoor play space on Monday had not gone as planned or hoped, we left shortly after we arrived. This also led to my sweet girl wanting to go back and try again, and, because that in itself was an incredible victory (because she didn’t write off the play place due to one bad experience), we decided to return on Wednesday.

As I got ready Wednesday morning, I prayed; I poured my heart out to God, as I’ve done so often, lifting my daughter up and asking God to go before us and make a way for us, especially for my daughter. I prayed for peace, I prayed for His presence, I prayed for calm and for a lessening of the anxious compulsive need for perfect.

DSC04430Even so, she sat on the floor amidst seven or eight inside out socks cast aside because they didn’t feel right and her eyes welled with tears, her face betraying her anxious doubts as guttural sobs filled the space between us, piercing my heart.

Really? I thought. This is how God is choosing to answer my prayers. Really?

Anger that bordered on rage coursed through me, in an effort to beat back my tears, and the pain of my mama heart. Just one day, I begged Him. Just one day without all of this.

But in spite of my best efforts to remain calm and to guide her and to coax her and to sort through socks with her, the perfect her brain demanded eluded us both.

And so, my youngest daughter and I set forth for the indoor play space, leaving my oldest at home with her father and her favorite video. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and we’d been pretty certain that the most people would be traveling or otherwise preparing for the Thursday holiday.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were more people – kids and parents and grandparents and babies (a real challenge for my eight year old because of their unpredictability and crying) – than I’d ever seen before in that small space. Standing there, just inside the doors, Truth rushed over me and through me along with the deafening crush of noise: God had answered my prayers.

God had answered my prayers. But not in the way I was planning, expecting or hoping.

He’d made a way for us. He’d made a way for my daughter to avoid the very things that would have caused increased anxiety and deep disappointment. Instead, she was at home, enjoying a favorite video, loved on by her daddy and her sister got some much-needed time away from her sister and some one-on-one time with me.

It can be tempting to want to step into the place that God has and to answer our prayers our way. I was working diligently to manipulate the circumstances, and God, to get my eight year old out the door for a fun day at the play place. But God knew better.

And this time, He showed me with amazing clarity exactly what that looked like.

Just one day, I’d begged Him. Just one day without all of this.

That is exactly what He gave us. That, and the reminder that my life is always better when it’s in His hands.

Stormy Faith

Here’s what I know:

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this move that is right now set to happen between Tuesday and Wednesday.

I don’t know where we are going to live because we haven’t found anyone who will rent to us due to our current circumstances.

I don’t know how there can be so many people praying for us and yet I know nothing about what happens next.

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Here’s what else I know:

I know God’s ways are not my ways nor are His thoughts my thoughts.

I know nothing is impossible for God.

I know God created the heavens and the earth and the oceans and he placed the stars in the sky.

I know God cares deeply for me and will never abandon or forsake me.

I know my faith does not depend on my feelings or my circumstances.

Even so.

Fear battles faith with every flaming arrow the enemy has in his quiver and doubt swirls like a storm only Jesus can quell as He did for His disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Matthew 8:23-27

The storm is fierce and my faith is not only little, like the disciples, it is shaky at best.

Even so.

God is faithful even when He seems silent; and I will trust Him and I will wait on Him. I will say yes, even when He says wait a little longer. I will say yes, even if He says no.

Though every ounce of my limited, broken, bone-weary, and fear-filled humanity cries out, “No!” and, “I can’t!” and, “I won’t!” and, “Where are you?” and, “Why, God, why?!” I will trust Him. I will look back at the places from which I have come and recall the ways He has provided and that He has always met me where I am. I will remember His faithfulness.

I will say, “Yes.”

I will.

No matter what, I will say, “Yes.”

No Dishonor in Dishonor

My mother tells the story of when I was four and I worked and worked and worked at signing my name so that I could get a library card. That moment when the librarian handed me that blue card with the small metal etching in the corner and my name proudly scrawled on the back was the moment my world changed.

Not only could I now check out as many books as my four-year-old arms could carry, I had access to a great wide world of adventure and discovery. It was then that I fell in love with stories.

That is a love affair that continues still. I have been known to stay in my pajamas in bed all day on a Saturday with a new book while my husband graciously brings me food and drink until I’ve finished the whole thing. I have been guilty of navigating the streets of Boston with my nose in a book because it held me rapt in its unfolding story. I have been known to stay up into the wee hours because to put down a compelling, page-turning story was not a choice.

dishonor bookStories have the ability to change our lives, inspire us, encourage us and share with us deep truths. And none of this could be truer than in David Mike’s new book, Dishonor: One Soldier’s Journey From Desertion to Redemption, which releases August 30th. With incredible honesty and raw emotion, David chronicles a journey laced with drugs, deceit and desertion that leads eventually to him behind bars in Leavenworth prison.

But his journey doesn’t end there because his story is one of hope, redemption and, more importantly, freedom. Not only freedom from a physical prison, but from the prison of shame and of his past; freedom in Christ. For anyone who’s ever messed up – and, who hasn’t? – Dishonor is a beacon of hope that shows us life doesn’t have to end with our worst.

Equally as moving and perhaps even more powerful than his story is Mike’s candor and style in bringing us into the narrative. He writes as though he were the biographer of someone else’s life. He shines a bright light into the darkest corners of his life, where he pulls skeletons out of hidden closets, and pulls no punches, but writes with complete candor and absolute transparency.

David MikeIn other words, he leaves everything on the page; so much so we can almost smell the blood, sweat, and tears that comprise every word, every chapter. And the result is compelling. Though every word is true, the book reads like a fiction suspense thriller wherein the main character is on the run from the army and the law until at last he is captured, convicted and incarcerated.

But then, at last, there is forgiveness, grace, and freedom. His chains are broken and he is set free, truly free, from who he was.

Because like my favorite stories, what truly captivates me about this book is the redemption that unfolds around this humble protagonist, David Mike. He is the prodigal son who has tried to make his own way, but is welcomed home unconditionally by his father. He is Jean Valjean who has stolen the silver place settings but receives even more gifts rather than condemnation from the bishop. He is the thief on the cross beside Jesus who sees the Truth,  seeks forgiveness, and receives grace.

For the greater good of us, his reader, Mike bares his brokenness and provides us with wholeness. He allows us to see inside the cracks of his soul and glimpse not only what God can do but what a life lived with Jesus and grace can look like in this messy, messed up world.

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Faith on the Move

We’ve lived in this rental house for just about four years, and, the thing is, from about the first three months, I vehemently disliked it and began thinking about moving. It’s poorly insulated and an oil-fueled furnaced (which was expensive to fill and when it ran, because of the poor insulation, barely kept us warm enough without space heaters; the landlord has since had to replace the system), it had a leaky roof (that the landlord replaced), several windows whose cranks didn’t work, and a laundry list of other things, including an uneven gravel driveway upon which I broke my leg and no backyard in which our now 6.5 and 8.5 little girls could play.

imageThe location was not ideal for homeschooling because the co-ops were at least 45 minutes away and the autism-related therapists and other resources for our 8.5 daughter were a 45-50 minute drive each way. We felt isolated and my husband was driving an hour each way to work for the first two years we lived here.

We talked about moving. Often. Still we put it off. We made the best of things. Even so, it’s never been a good fit for us, for our family and what we desire, like community and fellowship and friendships. We knew this. In fact we were completely convicted of it, and, yet, we stayed put. Until now.

Sometimes, you know what you need to do, even what you should do; but you don’t do it. Maybe because of fear. Maybe because of lack of resources. Maybe because it’s too much work or too hard. Maybe, just maybe, because of shaky, wavering faith.

And, sometimes, in light of these things, if you are so wildly bold as to ask God to increase, strengthen or otherwise grow your faith, you may find yourself walking on water despite your every inclination to stay in the boat.

Because, sometimes, unlike Peter, who immediately stepped onto the waves at the invitation of Jesus, when Jesus bids us to join Him on the water, we choose to sit and stare out at Him. Maybe we’re hoping to work up the courage it requires. Maybe we’re waiting for the storm to subside. Maybe we’re hoping He’ll change His mind and not ask so much of us.

Yet all the while we know this is our moment. Even so, we sit idly in the boat.

And so sometimes, rather than waiting on you to climb out on your own, Jesus allows circumstances to swirl into chaos and life’s storms to grow fiercer until you’re tossed out of the boat and into the raging sea.

Faith Like Peter

Then, you have no choice but to make a choice: walk on the water like He’s been calling you to do, or sink under the weight of your fear and doubt and uncertainty.

For us, walking on water looks a whole lot like moving to Wilmington, North Carolina. The storming circumstances have demanded we walk on water or sink. Those circumstances include a job layoff for my husband and the unexpected sale of the rental house we’ve been in for four years. Moving is no longer something we can talk about or consider; it’s a reality.

Walk on water or sink.

We’re choosing to walk on water. We’re choosing to keep our eyes on Jesus in spite of the swells that surround us. We’re choosing to trust Him even when everything inside us screams with doubt, even panic. We’re choosing faith over fear.

WHAT FAITH LOOKS LIKE RIGHT NOW:

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We have stacks like this all around our dining room and in several other spots. We are living in chaos now even as we cling to the supernatural peace that passes human understanding (Philippians 4:7).

WHAT FAITH SOUNDS LIKE RIGHT NOW:

I have two playlists that are in constant rotation right now. The first, Life is Hard, includes songs that remind me to hope in the face of struggle, with titles like, Breathe by Johnny Diaz and Worn by Tenth Avenue North and Glorious Unfolding by Steven Curtis Chapman and several selections by Andrew Peterson and Sara Groves and Sidewalk Prophets.

The second, Balm for My Soul, includes several hymns covered by some of my favorite artists, including Sara Groves, Mark Schultz, Casting Crowns, Chris Rice, and Bart Millard. These songs are rich in tradition and hope and faith and they keep my eyes, my mind, and my heart turned toward Jesus.

WHAT FAITH FEELS LIKE RIGHT NOW:

Faith in the midst of a storm tends to feel like a hundred things at once. The “right now” moves through myriad emotions, but even so, one thing remains true through this roiling rollercoaster: faith is not based on how I feel in any given moment. Faith is a choice, and it’s one we sometimes have to make from moment to moment. And I believe God appreciates and understands and even honors that.

Faith feels like truth. It feels like solace. It feels like an adventure. It feels like a whole lot more God and less me. Faith feels like walking on waves that swell, crest and trough. But mostly, faith feels like the hand of Jesus reaching down to pull me back out of the depths whenever I misstep.

Prayer For The Weary

(note: The Faith Like Peter image is a print of my words on a gorgeous photo taken by a fellow writer, David Bouchard, during one of his mission trips to Brazil. This print, and the one above, Faith for the Weary (my words also over one of David’s photos), are for sale for $15 and you can contact me about them on Facebook. More information to come in a separate post.)