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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Creating Life in the Midst

forest 3Life and writing are not meshing for me right now.

It’s 8:30 and I’m exhausted and I haven’t written a word, I haven’t edited any words and honestly, I don’t have the mental energy to do either one.

Honestly, that’s probably because I’m angry as well as tired – not a good combination for writing or for living my life. And I’m feeling like this because I feel like I *need* to make something happen in my life.

Do you ever feel like that? Like if you don’t do the thing you’ve been dreaming about, if you don’t do that thing that makes you feel like you and that you strongly believe God gave you to do *right now,* you’re going to blow it?

And so I grit my teeth and I snarl at my computer because programs aren’t working correctly and I feel the tension of all this missed opportunity coursing through my veins. And I can feel it there – in the anger and the tears and the fear.

The fear. It’s pulsing through me and it’s chasing my thoughts around; it’s trying to convince me that I’m lost and that this is all there is to my life. Fear wants me to believe that it’s too late and it doesn’t matter and that I’m destined for nothing more than mediocrity and just getting by.

This warped view comes from living in the midst and losing sight of hope and truth.

You see, my days are long, so long and so filled with meeting needs and it’s a constant wrestling match in my heart and my mind, or maybe it’s a wrestling match *between* my heart and my mind.

There’s the side of my heart that knows that pouring into the lives of these two little girls is important, Kingdom-building work. But then there’s the writer and dreamer side of me, or maybe it’s the selfish me, or maybe it’s just the worn out me who feels like I’m missing the mark somehow.

And anger is easy, you know?

If I get angry, I don’t have to address what’s happening here in the midst. I don’t have to address the tension that builds between living and living well; between seeking God’s will and living in God’s will; between creating with words and creating a life.

And there it is: I am wrestling with creating with words and creating a life when, in fact, these two creative pursuits are intimately linked for me. Neither is more important. Neither is more worthy.

Even so, they are not ever on equal footing nor do they hold equal weight at any given moment. These two creative pursuits ebb and flow and tug at me and sometimes, like now, one must be set aside or pursued in the in-between.

Pursued in the midst.

I don’t know exactly what that looks like. But I know that I won’t find the answer with anger and it won’t be something simple; life is too complicated right now for that and the days much too long.

What I do know is that I can only discover it as I draw near to the heart of the One who gave me both creative pursuits. He who created me knows me and I believe He will direct my steps if I let Him.

Only if I let Him.

So, I’m breathing deep and breathing out prayers, prayers spilling over with desperate need for His presence because, yes, I am desperate for what only He can provide.

A Hope for the Ages

IMG_6048Five-Minute Friday: Hope. And go:

The things I hope for have changed through the years.

There were the hopes of my childhood:

I hope we go to the amusement park this weekend.

I hope my mother makes chocolate pudding for dessert.

I hope my friend feels better soon.

There were the hopes of my teenage years:

I hope he likes me.

I hope he’ll ask me to the dance.

I hope there’s no quiz in algebra today.

There were the hopes of my youth:

I hope I make a good impression.

I hope I make a difference some day.

I hope nobody finds out about this.

Now, there is the Hope of my daily life. A Hope born of grace and mercy and love and sacrifice; first in Christ, now through me, as a wife, as a mama, as a woman, as a writer. I hold it out and up and hold it fast because without it I would sink beneath the brokenness.

It is a Hope that burns in the dark valleys and the shadows of shame and guilt and doubt and fear.

It is a Hope that came as a gift more than 2000 years ago when God sent His Son into this broken and fallen and hurting world. It is a Hope born of blood and tears and agony and woven with the threads of Truth and pressed upon altars of stones and souls laid bare who have long waited in faith for the promises only Hope can bear upon its shoulders.

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(This post is part of Kate Motaung’s Five-minute Friday at Heading Home. She gives us a word and we write for five minutes. This week’s word: Follow)

Fear Not Devotional 7-day Download

FEAR NOTOn Saturday afternoon, Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work and creator of a Facebook community by the same name, issued a 48-hour challenge: Can You Master a New Skill and Get Paid for It in 48 Hours?

I took his challenge. And though I am not yet getting paid for my efforts, I did manage to launch a Facebook launch page for my 28-day Devotional book, Fear Not: Your 28-day dose of courage, generate 60+ fans on the page and generate a 7-day Devotional sample for free download as a pre-launch to the full book.

Before getting to the free download, let me say that I am amazed at what I was able to create and launch in the span of 48 hours. I owe Jeff and The Art of Work community a huge debt of appreciation for their inspiration and encouragement because it’s been awesome to see what people were able to do in the last two days.

And now, without further ado, here is Fear Not 7-days and your shot of courage for the next seven days. Simply click on the Fear Not link and you’ll be reading Day 1 in seconds.

I’d love to hear what you think, so come back by and leave a comment when you can. Thanks.

Update May 11, 2015: The free download is no longer available. But the full 28-day Fear Not devotional will launch shortly. You can sign up to receive updates by visiting the Fear Not Facebook page.

How Then Shall I Live?

My husband, David, recently talked about having a life verse and I realized that even though I didn’t think I had one, I do. And it’s this one: Whatever you do, live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:27)

Phil 1-27

Reflecting on this, I also realized that too often, if I am not diligent, if I am not intentional, life will squeeze Jesus out of my mind. My focus will shift to the things of this world: me, my efforts, my needs, my ability to influence or encourage or stand out. And these things will not grow strangely dim like when I am focused on Jesus, but they grow bigger and more oppressive.

When I read the stories of Jesus, I so often identify with Peter; bold, impetuous Peter. The first to say he believed Jesus was the Messiah and the first to deny Him when Jesus was on trial. The first to be called to follow Jesus and the first to get out of the boat when Jesus called him.

But lately I’ve been thinking about what Peter’s life looked like after Jesus returned to His Father.

Did he just go about his life as if nothing was different for his having known Jesus? Did he go back to life as he knew it before he knew Jesus? Was he satisfied to go back to a life of fishing and mending nets and nothing more?

Or was Peter changed?

Did Peter live out his remaining days in a manner worthy of the Gospel? The book of Acts indicates that he did. His words, his actions, his life and even his death pointed others to the risen Christ and the Gospel of Grace.

And this prompts me to consider how I am living out my days. Am I living with an eternal purpose or with an average purpose? Am I pointing others to Jesus and His grace or am I calling out, “Look at me, look at me, look at what I’m doing.”

If I am honest, too often, it is the latter.

And so today I’m asking myself, what does it mean to live a life worthy of the Gospel?

A Life Worthy of Your Dream

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27-30)

Fear Not

(40/365 days of Fear Not)

If you have a God-given dream.

If you are living out a God-given purpose.

If you are co-creating a God-designed life.

You should realize that the gospel of Christ is no small part of your dream, your purpose, your life.

And so the words that Paul wrote are meant for you: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Those words, that admonition, plays on a continuous loop in my heart, mind and soul and it both encourages and frightens me. But I’m pretty sure that God knew living out a God-given purpose in this world would inspire these mixed emotions in us.

Because I’m pretty sure that the sovereign, omnipotent Creator knew what we would need to hear and remember this refrain. All of the plans and good works that He designed for His people, all of the plans and passion and desires that He planted in His children’s hearts would necessarily involve the gospel and therefore require strength and courage and Him to fulfill.

He predicts the opposition we will encounter.

He foretells the suffering we will endure.

He indicates the struggles we will face.

And so He provides His constant refrain for us to hide in our hearts: do not be afraid.

Though you face these things, like Paul, like Peter, like John, like Timothy, like countless pilgrims and sojourners who have gone before, you will not be afraid.

You will succeed at your mission as long as you stand firm and do not shy away from who God created you to be and what He created you to do. Standing firm in the Spirit. Striving for the faith of the gospel. Living a life worthy of Jesus.

Despite what you may sometimes think or feel, God reminds you that you can do this without being frightened in any way of those who oppose you.

Sometimes, because of the broken and hurting world and the me-centric culture in which we live, it becomes tempting to separate living out a God-given dream and purpose from living out a life worthy of the gospel. But that is not what God calls us to when He calls us to work with Him and fight beside Him and co-create with Him to change this world.

Our dreams will bring God’s kingdom to bear on this world that desperately needs hope.

But only if we are living out the full picture of that God-given dream and God-given purpose and that faith of the gospel.

Advent: Where Are You?

     Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
     He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
     And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
     The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
     Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
     The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
     So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:8-15

Christmas treeI sit here in the chaos of the morning having fought through standstill traffic to drop my husband off at work an hour away and listening to my girls who right now are dancing on the edge of anger in their words and their actions and I desperately seek the Truth that too often seems elusive in the day-to-day living of this life.

When life is at its fever-pitch of crazy and chaos and so many moments testify to the messiness of living in the world, I sometimes lose sight of the Truth. In fact, that tends to happen to me more readily during December with its busier schedule and hustle and bustle. I tend to lose sight of the miracle of God with us and find myself seeking God more desperately, often crying out, “Where are you?”

And then I read the words of Genesis and I pause to consider how these can be part of an Advent journey. This reminder of sin and deception and the enemy that prowls around seeking to steal our God-delivered joy, our Christmas joy. I contemplate these words and this scene and know that this is the very reason for Christmas. If not for this moment, there would not have been the years of God’s people asking, “Where are you?”

But what strikes me even more than this obvious connection of the Garden and the manger is the connection of Jesus and the serpent. Not the one mentioned here, where Jesus will crush the enemy, but the one from before the existence of the garden, of the man and the woman, of the world itself.

The enemy, the serpent, knew Jesus before the creation of the cosmos. This serpent was an angel who gathered around the throne of Jesus praising Him with singing and glorifying Him with all the Heavenly Host.

Did Jesus foresee the moment of the enemy’s departure? Did He notice the enemy’s voice missing from the Heavenly Host gathered around His glory? Did He mourn the loss of this once-beautiful creature who chose to leave His presence for darkness and lies and his eventual demise and defeat?

And what of this enemy who sought to be equal to God? Did he understand the words the Lord spoke to the woman in the Garden, the prophesy of the coming of Jesus and the victory that Jesus would have over him? Surely this lowly serpent realized the Truth for God’s plan for redemption was put into place before the things ever went wrong in the Garden.

In the shadows the serpent slunk, enjoying the breaking of the bond, the relationship, between God and His creation. How he must have reveled in the moment when the man and the woman hid from God, beginning a history of hiding and darkness and of God calling out to mankind, “Where are you?” And all the while God’s people answered with their own plaintive plea, “Where are you?”

Until at last another man and another woman of God’s choosing journeyed through the darkness to reveal God’s great Love. Until at last as God’s people cried out, “Where are you?” God replied, “Here I Am.”

The great I Am born in Bethlehem to bring the final answer that burning question of our hearts, “Where are you?”

Victory proclaimed in the cries of a babe in a manger. No more hiding. No more darkness. No more fear. No more having to cry out, “Where are you?” because He is here.