BLOG

Featured

WOULD I HAVE DONE THINGS DIFFERENTLY?

Unprepared

I had spent over a year working on a collaborative project with my Adult Bible Fellowship leader that I had to put on the back burner as I entered into my MFA thesis classes. All of my attention and efforts had to be put into my thesis novel. My collaborator continued to work diligently, sending me amazing pieces almost weekly. I knew I would have some catching up to do once my thesis was done. Not a problem, I thought. I’ll have plenty of time to work on the project once I finish my MFA. So my focus remained on my novel project. I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief once I had finally turned it in. All was right in my world once again – until it wasn’t.

I sat in front of my computer, staring at the screen in disbelief. I had received and email telling me that my collaborator was in the hospital and was having a major heart attack. In an instant, all that time I thought I was going to have to devote to the project simply disappeared. With the future so uncertain, I knew in my heart that I had to get my remaining pieces written so that I could get the project self-published as quickly as I possibly could. I wanted my collaborator – no, I wanted my friend to see the completed project in light of all the “What-ifs” that raced through my mind.

So, I set to work immediately, not sure just where I was going to get the inspiration for my pieces. Our project was a a type of devotional that involved telling our stories (which often weren’t pretty) and then showing how God had spoken to us through Scripture concerning those situations in which we had found ourselves (even after the fact in my case). I could not just pull my pieces out of the blue. Thankfully, God gave me what I needed to finish up my own work. I could not have done it any other way.

What Happened Next

I worked feverishly to try to figure out the whole self-publishing world and felt like giving up many times. I couldn’t afford to hire an editor or anyone who could help me with it, but I kept at it until I finally was able to get our project uploaded and published. I think one of the most rewarding points across my authorial journey was being able to send my friend the link to our published project. It was waiting for him when he got home from the hospital after having to have quadruple bypass surgery. He told me that when he saw it, he wept. Honestly, so did I as I read his words.

Here’s the thing – in order to get the project uploaded and published, I did not have time to sit and go through each piece to check for errors. My focus was on having it up there for him. I wanted him to see our completed project – and doing so made him smile. I was satisfied with that. The word of the project being published spread quickly and sales began to come in. We had made a mutual agreement early on that we wanted to donate all the proceeds to a worthy cause. The project never was about us. Our hope was that we would touch the hearts of readers with the overwhelming love and hope of Jesus. It was never about the money that might come of it.

All was going along well – until it wasn’t.

Maybe I Just Didn’t Listen

If I had to pick one recurring theme that weaved itself between all the essays, group projects, final projects, and everything in between in both my MA and my MFA programs it would be this: As a writer, you must develop thick skin because you cannot please everyone. Negative reviews will come eventually – and when they do, it can be – no, it will be a hard pill to swallow. I heard this so many times that I was pretty confident that I was prepared to handle whatever came my way. I don’t know – maybe I just didn’t really listen to those words.

A well-meaning relative gave a proof copy of the book to someone I practically begged him not to give it to because I knew what she would do with it. Still, he insisted on doing so – I’d like to think because he was proud of it. There were a couple of pieces in it that pertained to him in some way – so maybe that was part of the reason. I will never know. I wrestle with the whole thing even today.

This person did exactly what I thought she would do – she tore the book apart. She did so in a phone conversation I was not meant to hear, but when the conversations are on speaker phone…well, how could I not hear. In short, I was devastated. Her attack wasn’t focused on the mistakes I’d made – it was focused on the personal aspects of what I’d written. I felt as though she was attacking me directly because we had both poured our hearts and souls into the project – I was more open and honest about myself in this project than I have ever been. She didn’t read my partner’s pieces (said she didn’t want to), only mine – and she said so many negative things about them. If it had not been for the fact that my collaborator’s name was on the project, I would have ripped it down in that moment.

I knew there were mistakes. I knew I hadn’t taken the time I should have to properly edit the project. I could have lived with that type of criticism. But the way she aimed it so personally, well…it hit me hard. My heart was crushed and I wanted to hide – but God had something different in mind. I felt the Holy Spirit tapping me on the shoulder and telling me that instead of taking the project down, there was someone else I was supposed to give it to. I fought this nudge. Trust me, I fought it with everything in me – but I finally obeyed and did what I thought I was being asked to do -in spite of the emotional mess doing so left me in. I didn’t want anyone else to see all my mistakes…or me – I just wanted to hide.

Fast Forward

It’s been several weeks since this all happened, but it’s only now that I’ve found the courage and the words to put it into writing. I still can’t honestly say that I’ve been able to write anything else since then…mainly because I’m not sure I have anything worth saying anymore. I’m sure that will come in time and with lots of prayer – I know God will bring me through this. I do believe the whole experience happened for a reason…although I might not ever understand it.

I will also say that the feedback I have personally received has been so supportive and has helped me begin to overcome the many of the ugly things that the enemy hurled at me when I was the most vulnerable.

As I sit here, writing this, I can say with confidence that I have revised and edited the project and have (hopefully) caught all my mistakes. The funny thing is that out of the two projects I’ve completed, this little devotional has been the one that’s sold. And really – that fills me with a sense of having done what I feel the Lord has led me to do. I don’t know what the future holds for our project, but if I had to put more importance on one over the other, the devotional would take the top spot. I pray that the Lord will use our stories to touch others – and we both agree that if only one heart is changed, then all the struggles, tears, and doubts that have come along with completing it will all be worth it.

So, no – in light of the circumstances my co-writer and I were facing at the time, I really don’t think I would have done anything differently. Sure – I wish that the first attempt had been “perfect,” but I’m so far from “perfect” that maybe the Lord meant for it all to reflect who I am and is using what I’m walking through to remind me how His love and faithfulness has, and will continue to, be there for me. He’s taking what was meant to harm me and making it into something good.

Featured

A SEASON OF WAITING

IT’S DONE!

I can clearly remember how excited I was as I typed the final words of my thesis manuscript, “Light of Grace.” I’d experienced that feeling once before when, after ten years, I finally finished my very first attempt at writing a novel. But this time it felt special – as if only by the grace of God, I’d finished something He’d put before me to do. In all honesty, there were tears in my eyes as I brought my character’s story to its fitting end – an end that came through a new beginning. To say that I was filled with mixed emotions would be an understatement. I was thrilled to have accomplished my goal. I was relieved that my days as a graduate student were drawing to a close after earning both my MA and my MFA. I was excited about the what God had in store for me next.

FIRST STEPS

Based on all the positive feedback I’d received from my professor over the course of my three thesis classes, I ended my novel feeling ready to take the next step towards publication – securing a literary agent. I also decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to start by querying one of the bigger agents in my genre who represented one of my favorite Christian authors, Catherine West. My thought was, “What do I have to lose?” I had all the pieces in place to complete the agency’s submission requirements so I carefully put each where it needed to go. With my heart in my throat, I hesitated, with my finger poised over the “submit” button for what seemed like forever – but finally, I gathered up the courage to hit it. In an instant, my first query was gone – and the waiting game began. I knew it could take up to 60 days to receive a reply, so I did my best to just “forget” about it.

It took less than a week for a reply to come…

IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU LOOK AT IT

Ms. Gardner began her reply by telling me that she liked my idea and really thought it had potential. My breath caught in my chest. Could this be my first real chance at becoming a published author – something I’d dreamed about since the age of fifteen? She went on to say, however, that while she wished she could offer me representation, the major publishers she works with required a solid author platform (social media following, ect) before accepting a manuscript. My heart fell. This was the one thing I didn’t have. While I was exposed to the process in my MFA program, I had (have) no real understanding of how to get this following if I haven’t published yet. She suggested that I take a year to work on developing my author platform and that then, I might have a good chance with a major publisher.

I was disappointed. I’m not going to lie. Having to try to do something that I have no real idea how to do was overwhelming in that moment. But the more I thought about it – an re-read her email – the more I could see the positive side of things. I’d just had an agent tell me she wished she could offer to represent me. She told me that I might have a chance with a major publisher in my genre (Christian fiction). She took time to offer advice on what steps to take. I went from being disappointed to being grateful for her email. Without it, I would have no idea where to go next.

LIFE AFTER GRADUATE SCHOOL

Here’s the funny part – okay, it’s not really funny, but more ironic in my opinion. Since graduating in April, it’s almost as if my creative muse has gone on vacation. I’ve pretty much been dead in the water. I haven’t been able to write, or even to edit really. This goes for both my fiction and my devotional project, which was placed on the back-burner while I was in those final 3 classes. It’s almost as if God gave me the determination to finish “Light of Grace” and then took a step back in giving direction and inspiration. In short, I’ve kind of been floundering around feeling as if I have no purpose.

I explained this to a trusted friend. I related it to how my passion for hiking of the AT seems to have hit a wall (it’s not that I don’t want to go, but more that it just hasn’t worked out to do so) – and I wondered if my dream of becoming a published author was hitting its own roadblocks. I’ve prayed that’s not the case because I don’t know where I’d turn my creative focus onto if I couldn’t write anymore. It’s not that I care about success. I’ve always said that if I touch one person and help them in some way through sharing my faith in my writing, then I consider myself successful. It’s about feeling like I’ve lost my purpose – and it’s caused me to wonder if maybe I was wrong when I felt as if God was giving me the opportunity to use the gifts He’s given me – the gifts of the written word.

This trusted friend reminded me of something the prophet, Jeremiah, probably felt when he was called out of his young life to carry God’s message to His people. Whatever “plan” he’d had for his life was completely derailed. But in doing so, God had something bigger for him. Do I feel God “called” me to be a Christian fiction writer because He had a specific message He wanted me to give to the readers? No, not really. I believe He called me to use my gifts to share His message of love, grace, and mercy through the lives of the characters I bring to life in my writing. And now that I can’t seem to do that, I’ve been restless and out-of-sorts.

THE MESSAGE IN IT ALL

After having some time to think about the guidance my friend gave me, this is what resonates with the most: God isn’t saying to me, “Get up and do something!” Instead, He’s saying, “Don’t do anything – just stand there – be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I don’t know what’s next in this story of mine that God is writing – but I know the One who does – and I will remind myself of that every time I feel like I should be doing something. In His perfect timing, He will tell me what’s next.

Featured

Lessons

I recently returned from spending two amazing weeks in the mountains of North Carolina. My time in the mountains is always special to me, but God used this trip to do many things inside my heart: He used it to humble me, to truly open my eyes and soften my heart, and to build me up.

Are “Things” too Important?

I’ve never been a materialistic person.  “Things” just don’t matter much to me.  My ex husband could never understand it when I’d tell him that what meant more to me on special occasions was quality time or being made to feel like I mattered rather than buying me expensive gifts.  Still – I tend to take for granted all the “things” God has blessed me with.  I also tend to place more importance on some of those “things” than I should.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the basic creature comforts – AC, a hot shower – that sort of thing.  It’s just that God uses these trips to my sister’s property in NC, which she’s in the process of trying to develop into a homestead, off-grid type of lifestyle rather than one filled with all the latest technology – it’s come a long way, but there’s still much to be done – to teach me what I truly need and what it really means to “live.”

Yes, she has a reliable spring which provides lots of good, clean water – but getting that water took a lot of work.  Yes – it started out with a hand-built outhouse type of restroom, which just on this trip was replaced with a regular, flushing toilet located inside of the old house that still stands on the front of her property.  There’s an outdoor shower complete with a propane hot water heater so hot showers are available.  Everything about that lifestyle is a bit harder than what we have here – but at the end of the day when I would fall into bed, I slept well with my body tired from doing the work required for just basic household tasks. 

What Humbled Me

How did God use this to humble me?  Well, as I just mentioned, He showed me what I truly need versus what my flesh wants. 

He also used this trip to humble me in that He showed me the best of humanity.  By that I simply mean that her property is located in a very rural, poor part of the state of NC.  There are so many that really don’t “have” much – and yet, they take care of each other and they share what they’ve got.  We have been accepted into there community (which is basically the street her property is located on), and welcomed with open arms.  One of her neighbors has opened up his house to us – whatever we might need, whether it’s laundry, a shower, or use of the freezer – he opened his house to us whenever we need something.  They’re building the cabin by hand with the help of two of the guys who live on their street – people they met as they drove by and saw them on the property. 

What it Means to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

We were all sitting around on the last night of the trip – my brother and his wife drove up for a couple of days – and the man who opened his house to us drove up with a bowl full of cold melons that he’d cut up for us.  When he left, my brother was shocked.  He said, “That guy is really nice.  I’m not used to having someone think about you even when you’re not around and bring stuff like that.”  You have to understand that some of these folks have had a hard life in ways that we can’t even imagine.  They’re also part of the history of the area – their families date back many, many years – but to them, we are not “outsiders” or “people from Florida” as they call some of the people who visit the area.  We are part of their family.  God humbled me by showing me what He means when He tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Opening My Eyes

God also used this trip to open my eyes and soften my heart in that I was able to recognize the gift He was giving me – us – in these people who welcomed us so willingly.  I was invited to attend church the next time I come up – it’s a small Baptist church that’s been there forever.  One man is going to build a fire pit on his property down by the creek so we can all gather and just hang out next time we come.  This same man lost his wife while we were there in June last year.  I’d met him over the trip my sister and I took back in November of 2020, but was so caught up in the darkness of my anxiety and other issues that I was unable to see the person he is.  God opened my eyes and softened my heart towards him and allowed me to see his kindness this time.  This is the same man who brought us the melon that evening.  I realized it wasn’t just my brother who was so not use to people being so genuine and kind – so willing to go out of their way to help – I’d been that person too. 

Softening My Heart

Lastly, God used this trip to open my eyes and soften my heart to see past the differences in our lifestyles to see how we’re really the same.  The people there love being in the mountains just as I do.  One man said he’d gone out of town for work and by the time he’d been gone 4 hours, he was homesick.  So many enjoy hiking in those mountains just as I do and often spend multiple nights out on a trail doing so.  They enjoy camping.  Family is important to them.  Most of all, the majority of them worship God just as I do – worshiping Him is just as important to them as it is to me.  Most have had hard lives, walking through things I can’t even imagine going through – and yet, they found the strength in the Lord that they needed to overcome it.

Building Me Up

Finally, God used this trip – as He always does – to build me up and fill my heart with His peace.  He is so evident in His Creation all around me.  I saw Him in the woods.  I saw Him in the clouds.  His light shone brightly in the darkness, reflected in the thousands upon thousands of fireflies that lit up each night. I saw Him everywhere and He gave my weary soul its rest from all my troubles.  He even spoke to me through a sign I saw on a church – “Stop picking up what you’ve already laid down at God’s feet.  On our final night, He gave me a treat.  We were gathered on the front porch of the old house due to a thunderstorm, and while we were sitting there, I looked out across to the neighbor’s property just in time to see a full grown black pair stroll across the hillside as it made it’s way up to the ridge line and over into the national forest.  It might have been 100 yards away, but not much more.  It kind of looked over at us for a second, and then lumbered on its way.  While I have a healthy respect (and a pretty big dose of fear) for them, they are truly magnificent creatures to see in the wild.  I only wish I’d had my phone on me so I could have gotten a picture – but I have that picture in my mind.  God knew it would be the perfect way to bring my time up there to a close.

I’m home now – and I’ll admit that bed felt really good last night – but, while I’ve learned to be content where God’s placed me, I believe His plan for me will lead me back up to where I find Him surrounding me.  Yes, Florida belongs to Him – but those mountains will forever be God’s country in my heart.

Featured

This is My Song

I’ve been spending a lot of time this past couple of years in the Psalms as I’ve been trying to deal with my own personal battles.  There’s been times where I’ve felt like I’m running for my very life, just as David did.  There’s been times when those battles threatened to overtake me, leaving me with nowhere to go but to the Lord, my God.  As I’ve read and re-read those songs, I’ve started to wonder just what my poem would sound like if I were to write a Psalm to God?  Would I tell of my struggles and fears but then turn my circumstances into a song of praise like David did?  Would I feel known to – and heard by – God as I felt Him working in my life? 

What words would I want God to hear from me?

O Lord, You see my battles;  

   my soul is weary and my heart is afraid.

 I look up towards the heavens

     and wonder if You’re really there –

     if You know me – if You hear me when I lift my voice to You.

I look at this crazy world around me and

     am reminded that I am in this world but not of it.

So often, I don’t understand why the things that are happening

     are allowed to go on, tearing innocent lives apart

     while the criminal walks free.

Yet, I know in my heart that I’m not to judge –

     You’ve told us that vengeance is Yours –

You will bring justice for the wrongs.

My eyes don’t see it.  My heart doesn’t feel it.

Even so, can it still be?

You tell us that if Your people will humble themselves before You

     that You will heal their land.

We need You, O Lord;

I need You, my God.

This season has been long – I can’t help but wonder if You’ve forgotten me.

How can I hang onto that hope when I can’t see you?

The world is filled with noise all around me

     that threatens to overcome Your voice –

     but it is the midst of the storm – of the earthquakes that unsettle me –

     that I hear the whisper of Your still small voice

     asking me, “Where are you?”

It is then that my heart stands up inside of me and answers,

     “I am here, Lord.  I am here.”

It is in that place that I hear Your voice;

I feel Your righteous right hand reaching down to pull me up

     from all that threatens to overwhelm me.

You promise me that You never grow weary-

     that You’ll never forsake me –

     that You’re coming back for me – for us.

Until that day, I will wait on You, Lord –

My soul will wait silently – patiently – on You, my one true God.

My weary soul stands strong as I rest my hope in You –

For You are the Rock of my strength

     and Yours is the glory that will carry me home.

Until that day, my soul will wait silently – patiently – on You, my God.

Let’s Talk

What would your song sound like? I’d love to hear what you come up with if you’d like to share it.

Featured

I’ve been struggling today with all the emotions the trials I’m walking through have brought to the surface. I “know” that I’m supposed to give it all to God, but I am having a hard time trying to do that – the anxiety comes and goes, along with all that comes with it. Jesus never promised me that He’d remove me from those hard times – from the things that sometimes seem so large and overwhelming. What He gave me were His promises – His Word – and what I’m sharing today was inspired by a Scripture verse that has reached deep into my heart – at the very core of my insecurities – and reassured me that, even when if feels that no one hears me or that my cries get lost deep in the shuffle of everyday life, He is still there.

SEEN

I think we are born with the longing to be seen.  From the moment we take our first breath, we just want to be loved.  It’s not a conscious desire that we put into words, but we can communicate it with those around us.  As we grow and life slips in and robs us of our childhood innocence, we’re often left with hardened hearts and deeply embedded messages in our minds that tell us we’re not good enough.

As we step into our roles:

We carry these messages with us as we step into the roles we’re expected to fill – a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a fulltime career, a caregiver – and somewhere in the midst of trying to do all of those things, we lose ourselves.  Life becomes nothing but a series of going through the motions, without a sense of purpose and, often times, without our dreams. We do the best we can with what we’ve got inside of us.  We make our mistakes along the way – some of which hurt others – most of which hurt us even more.  We carry on, though, in spite of feeling as if there’s no one out there who can look past the façade we present to the world and just see who we really are.

What do they see?

I often wonder what someone sees when they look at me – if they can see the good parts of me, or if all they see is what’s on the surface without taking time to see what’s in my heart.  Can they see past the walls to all the mistakes I’ve made in my lifetime?  Do they see someone whose sins are many and feels unworthy of being loved?  Can they see past those times when I try to reach out only to fail because I don’t know how – or do they look at those jumbled attempts and figure it’s best to keep me at arm’s length? 

Is anyone out there?

Sometimes I just want to stand on the rooftop and scream “See me!”  My soul grows weary from just wanting to be seen for who I truly am rather than who I appear to be on the surface.  There are days when I want to give up and resign myself to a life of invisibility.

He sees…

It’s in my weakest moments, however, that Jesus reaches down from the heavens to take me in His arms.  He dries my tears and reminds me that I am His, that I am loved, and that He sees me for who I am.  Most of all, He whispers in my ear that all those mistakes I’ve made – all those sins I’ve committed – are part of the past.  Because of His great love for me, I am seen – I am forgiven – and He tells me that the woman He sees when He looks at me is who I should see when I look at myself because my identity is in Him.

“Do you see this woman?  …her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” ~Luke 7:44,47 

Let’s Talk.

We all have those days – those days when we can be so aware of all of our blessings and yet feel as if we’re walking though our trials alone – days when it seems as if nobody sees us. If you’re comfortable sharing yours, please do so in the “Leave Comment” section to your left. I’d love to hear from you.

***This was taken from the upcoming collaborative devotional I’m currently working on with William Obaugh, “Journeys of Faith: Two Ordinary People, One Extraordinary God.

Featured

God Around Us: Lessons from a Tree

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

One of the things I love most about my daily walks is the lessons I learn simply through observing Nature as it moves through the various seasons of its life.  I was almost home this morning, when this tree caught my attention.  At first glance, it’s hard to see anything about it that would have made it stand out to me.  That’s the thing about lessons – they often don’t stand out to us at first glance.  It’s not until later than what we’re supposed to learn becomes clear to us.

At First Glance

As I looked at this tree, I couldn’t help but think about how often I’ve felt like it looks – standing bare before the world to see, my beauty hidden from the eyes that looked upon me, with nothing to offer – cold and alone, as though Life had stolen my hope from me.  Yeah – at first glance, I was reminded of how hard the seasons of life can be, especially when we’re standing in the middle of winter, maybe unable to see anything beautiful ahead of us.

Another Look

But here’s what I see when I look at this small, barren tree: in this seemingly lifeless season of winter, it doesn’t lean towards the ground in defeat as if all hope is gone.  Instead, it stands tall, with its branches reaching up towards the heavens as if it knows that this, too, shall pass.  While its beauty is hidden from the world, life still flows inside of its roots, just waiting for the warmth of Spring’s first days to touch it gently.  It seems to be waiting patiently for the light to touch its roots and send that life streaming through its bare branches once again.  It’s subtle at first – a few buds will appear and might even go unnoticed.  But then one day, almost overnight, those buds will open and new leaves will appear, decorating those stark limbs with bright shades of green. 

What’s the Lesson?

Pastor Rick Warren put it this way in one of his sermons: “In God’s garden of Grace, even broken trees bear fruit.”  What God does for this tree, He can and will do for us if we let Him – but that’s the key – we have to let Him.  He gives us what we need to stand strong in the winds and storms of Life’s seasons, and, even when we feel as if we’ve been stripped of all that we have inside of us, He will still be there to bring us out of the valley and give us new life.  It’s easy to believe when everything’s going well – when we’re standing on the mountaintop.  But it’s in those valleys that we learn to trust God and the lessons He has for us there.

Moving Forward

I can’t wait to watch this little tree fill with leaves again as God speaks life over it as this winter season passes by!  But as I wait, I will try not to miss what it is that God is trying to teach me through His Creation.  I will try to keep my eyes and arms lifted high towards the heavens when the storms rage around me, believing in my heart, mind, and soul that God will carry me through it all until the day He calls me home.

Let’s Talk!

Do you see God around you in Nature or have a favorite Scripture verse you’d like to share with us? Please feel free to do so in the “Leave Comment” section. I’d love to hear from you!

                                                                                Works Cited

Warren, Rick. Facebook. Facebook.com. 24 September 2014. https://www.facebook.com/pastorrickwarren/photos/in-gods-garden-of-grace-even-a-broken-tree-can-bear-fruit-and-we-are-all-broken-/10154407444715903/ Accessed 14 February 2022.