Posted in Wednesday Work, What I'm Learning

Slow Processes

Don’t you just love how God can teach lessons during every season of life?

This season of not having a personal writing rhythm has lasted much longer than I would have chosen. Even when it seemed like I was writing regularly, I wasn’t. It was hit and miss. In fact, it has been several years since I have had a good rhythm. And for the longest time, I have seen that only as a negative thing. I’ve wondered why God has not helped me find a rhythm for something that obviously nourishes and grows me.

But here’s the thing…God doesn’t see things like I do. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t see things the way God does, at least not at first. In fact, so many of my experiences are times of needing to gradually gain His vision. Sometimes I’m slow and He has to delay so that I can catch up. But other times I think it’s just the nature of growth. We often want to learn things quickly, but the more quickly we learn, the less we retain. Slow learning – slow progress in almost anything – usually means much more solid retention and growth.

There’s a quote in George MacDonald’s novel The Landlady’s Master that I love, one I recall when I’m frustrated with slow progress. In an idealogical discussion, one character presents ideas and perspectives that seem dreadfully slow and ineffective to his conversation partner. His response concludes with, “All God’s processes are slow. The works of God take time and cannot be rushed.”

That has definitely been true of my writing journey. It has been extremely slow – excruciatingly so at times. But in the process, and especially in this most recent stretch in which a personal writing rhythm has been so elusive, I have learned at least one very important lesson. To really explain it, I need to back up a few years, back to a time when my writing was regular and I had a solid rhythm.

Every morning, I journaled. Throughout the day I would keep a notebook or planner handy to jot notes. I had a notebook in Evernote strictly devoted to writing ideas. Writing fodder piled up so high that I could not write quickly or frequently enough to utilize it all! But as time went on, I began to notice that the ideas were harder and harder to flesh out. What had been great inspiration when I wrote it down was simply an empty statement by the time I got around to fleshing it out. At first I thought it was because I didn’t flesh out the thoughts quickly enough, losing the essence before I could actually write the post. So, I began to take more thorough notes. But, that often failed as well.

It took me a while to realize that the problem was not with the ideas. The problem was with me.

At one time, I’d written from the outflow of what I was learning and experiencing in life. But, somewhere along the way, that changed. Blog writing became the goal instead of the outflow. Instead of internalizing the inspiration, lessons, and Spirit whispers coming to me throughout life, I was simply writing about them.

Over time, the writing well began to dry up. My journal showed huge gaps because I seemed to have nothing to write, even for my own edification. I had not stopped growing altogether, but my growth was stunted because my focus was distracted.

Slowly but surely, I have had to relearn how to journal for the sake of journaling. How to hash through ideas for the sake of real growth. How to remember that life is not blog fodder. Writing is, instead, an outflow of what I just cannot keep cooped up inside as God molds and transforms my heart.

Looking back at it all, I can see why God has not yet granted the wisdom for a writing rhythm. He’s been slowly working on me. Who knows when I’ll be ready for the next step? I hope it’s soon, but I have a little more patience these days now that I’ve realized it all comes down to God taking His time working on me. Working out His slow processes.

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Posted in Marriage Monday

Shared Community

Doug and I had been married for several years when he began working for UPS. For the first time in our married life, I had no real connection to his job or his coworkers. Each morning, he would walk through a security gate into a huge warehouse that I could never enter. With the exception of one coworker who became a family friend, I never met the people who surrounded my husband day in and day out. My only understanding of his work and work relationships came through his descriptions. Meanwhile, I worked two days a week at a local mother’s day out. Doug had met many of my coworkers, but we as a couple never engaged with any of them socially.

Then there was church. An hour-plus drive to a small, rural community in the northeastern corner of Arkansas – very different from the busy Memphis suburbs where we lived and worked our secular jobs. There was no doubt that we needed a church family; but they just needed a part-time pastor and we lived too far away to forge any real relationships. And our immediate community? Well, the neighborhood felt closed and so very different from the seminary community we’d just left.We never really learned the key to unlocking relationships there.

Bottom line: we as a couple had no natural, joint community.

Much is often said about women having the chance to get away regularly with their girlfriends and men being able to hang out with other men. And yes, those things are necessary. I’m smiling just thinking about the reality that my best friend and I are both married to men who understand that she and I need each other. They go out of their way to make sure we get that connection time as often as we possibly can – even if it’s a Skype text chat across thousands of miles and a vast ocean! They know we are better because we strengthen, encourage, and sharpen one another.

But, it is not enough that I spend time with Joanna, just like it’s not enough for Doug to spend time with her husband Aaron or some of the fellow ministry guys he chats with from time to time. No, we also need opportunities for Doug and I to have relationships that merge. We need double dates like the recent ones we’ve been blessed to have not only with Aaron and Joanna but with another dear, dear couple. We need to know the same people and share a circle of interactions. We need to be unified in at least some joint community.

Why? Because it’s far too easy in our culture to live completely separate lives even when under the same roof.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for each of us to have our own communities. We live in a culture where husband and wife both tend to work, and they cannot help but walk in separate communities part of the time. But, when we do not make an effort to merge our worlds at least now and then, we run the risk of ending up more as roommates than as a husband and wife who are walking through this life together.

God very intentionally designed us for community. When a husband and wife choose to maintain separate communities, only coming together in private interaction, they run the risk of being pulled apart instead of remaining bound together. Each finds that the other just doesn’t understand the life they live because each is outside the other’s community. They forge separate interests. Separate connections. Separate lives.

It takes effort to center ourselves in joint communities when our lives naturally pull us apart, but it is possible. Through church. Through getting to know our neighbors. Through choosing to introduce our spouses to close coworkers and getting to know their spouses. (I can’t wait for the day when Doug will get to meet my boss’s husband!) The more we pour energy into creating these communities, the more reward we see from it.

What joint community exists in your marriage? What can you do to strengthen it? If none exists, what can you do to build it?

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

A Little Punctuation

Several years ago, Doug and I started making our own copies of Scripture. He had found Journibles, books designed for copying on one side of each two-page spread and taking notes on the other side. We have done the Gospel of John as well as James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. As they grew older, we pulled the kids into the copying, and all five of us have our own handwritten copies of Psalms and Proverbs. Doug and I are now onto Ephesians in a book that also includes Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Copying changes the way we read Scripture. Not only does it slow us down, but it also makes us contemplate specific words and phrases that we sometimes completely gloss over. Of course, memorization has the same effect, heightening our attention and increasing our sensitivity to phrases and thoughts that we might otherwise miss.

Copying adds one more factor, however: punctuation.

Now, keep something in mind. Our entire concept of the written language and the way words, sentences, and paragraphs are distinguished differs greatly from that of the original writers. Our English culture and language rely heavily on punctuation, so it is required to adequately translate Scripture. Hebrew and Greek? Well, that’s a whole different story. Consequently, I try to be very careful basing interpretive thought on punctuation. But, as I copied Galatians 2 not too long ago, I couldn’t help but notice a punctuation choice the NASB translators had made. They put quotation marks around everything from the second half of verse 14 through the end of chapter 2.

In this passage, Paul is sharing with the Galatians about a time when he opposed Peter publicly. The whys and whats of this argument are the discussion of another blog post, but the question of how much he might have said to Peter is what caught my attention. Some translators say that the second half of verse 14 was all Paul recorded of his challenge to Peter: “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” But, for some reason, the NASB translators extended Paul’s speech through verse 21 where he ends by declaring to Peter, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Honestly, the context of the passage remains the same with or without the quotation marks. But, the inclusion of this particular punctuation in the NASB forced me to stop and think about how the Galatians would have received the statement of Christ dying needlessly as opposed to how Peter would have received it.

Peter, who was passionate about everything.
Peter, who walked with Jesus through His entire earthly ministry.
Peter, who was devastated after denying Christ during His trial.
Peter, who experienced the incredible joy of being reinstated after Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter, who preached the first public sermon and had to quickly figure out how to organize a rapidly growing body of new believers.

To look at Peter, who had been through all of this yet had recently lapsed into behaving as if obeying the Law was critical to salvation, and state that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” That makes it personal. Very personal.

If anyone could be struck in the heart with the truth of Christ’s death trumping the Law, it would be Peter. Peter lived it. Peter grieved it. Peter saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

Saying this to the Galatians would remind them of the importance of putting obedience to Christ above all else. Saying this to Peter would have brought back every experience, every emotion of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Maybe the quotation marks belong there and maybe they don’t. But the morning I copied those words, I received them with Peter in mind. I imagined what Peter would have felt as Paul closed out his rebuke with that statement. And it was as if I read the statement for the first time.

I’ve never been a Jew, ethnically or religiously. I have never adhered to Old Testament dietary and interactive laws. But I have clung to other things. To Baptist tradition. To habit. To human teaching. And sometimes, I need to hear this statement through the ears of Peter. I need to remember that nothing, nothing, nullifies the death of Christ. His death took care of everything. His grace does not require my traditions or habits or deep-seated learning.

I will have habits and build traditions and receive teaching that help me live out that grace. But, it will never require those things.

Sometimes, even something as little as a quotation mark can go a long way toward reorienting our minds.

Posted in What I Do

My “Thing”

Do you have any idea how many writers there are out there?

This year I have discovered quite a few new favorite authors and have marveled at the way they are able to put their thoughts into words. At the way they are able to devote the time and energy into researching, writing, and seeing their work to the finish line.

I see articles written by amazing bloggers who have a knack for communicating.

I am surrounded by a family of powerful imagination and vivid talent.

Every time I turn around, I meet another writer, whether someone who has achieved official publication or not. They have a message to share through story or essay or book, and they have an incredible ability to put that message into the written word in a way that draws and engages readers.

Writers are everywhere.

And then, there’s me.

I am compelled to write, even if no one else reads. I speak more succinctly when I have first written. I think more clearly when I hash out thoughts in a written form. I communicate more efficiently with my fingers than with my mouth. I can even speak in other “voices,” much like an actor who excels at impressions.

But when it comes to truly succeeding as a writer like those authors and bloggers and talented family members, I fall short. Why? Because when the time comes to sit down at the keyboard or pick up a pen and paper, I hesitate. I shrink back. I make excuses. I flip through a journal full of inspiration and ideas, but then convince myself that the thoughts were really only meant for me. For my own growth. Besides, I should not be journaling in for blog fodder. The more I mark journal thoughts and ideas for sharing, the more I’m tempted to just journal for the sake of blogging, not for the sake of learning. So, if I don’t use those ideas at all, I won’t be tempted to ignore what God needs to do in my own heart. I will be processing for me, not for content fodder.

At least, so I tell myself.

But the truth is that I am allowing laziness and feelings of inadequacy to rule the day. I find a moment to write and then find every excuse in the book to not follow through. Lack of inspiration. Thoughts won’t flow. So many other things I should be doing. If the words don’t write themselves in the first few minutes, I walk away.

And every time I walk away, I strengthened the unsettled feeling of my spirit. The feeling that comes from not being vulnerable through the written word.

What is your “thing”? What is the compelling drive, the delight, the freedom you are neglecting? What do you feel too inadequate to accomplish? What passion do you allow laziness to thwart? What do you claim to have no time for yet refuse to do when even a small pocket of time presents itself? What do you ignore because you cannot complete it according to your unrealistic and perhaps ridiculous standard of perfection?

Standing here, writing these words, I’m still tempted to keep them hidden. I actually typed out a post, but is it worth the posting? Even if it is, can keep up the flow tomorrow? Next week? Will I write again soon, or will months pass?

But those are perfectionism questions, irrelevant to what I share today. Right here. For today, I will do my “thing” and let tomorrow handle itself.

Will you join me? Will you do your “thing” today, no matter what perfectionism says? No matter what inadequacy says? Even if motivation doesn’t strike immediately? I invite you to come along and join me. As I write these last words, I can honestly say it’s worth the effort.

Posted in Reviews

Deeds of Darkness

This week I recruited a “guest” reviewer. My daughter Angela has loved reading Mel Starr’s Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton. So, when the most recent addition to the series came up for review, she asked for the chance to read and review it! Here’s what she has to say:

Deeds of Darkness is the tenth book in Mel Starr’s Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton.  Hugh de Singleton, a surgeon and bailiff, must weave through a series of seemingly unconnected murders to discover the truth behind them. A man named Hubert Shillside, has gone missing, and Hugh finds himself in the midst of strife and deceit in his attempt to find his friend. While searching for any signs of Hubert, a body is found in a forest. Several robberies occur around the same time, including a robbery of Hugh’s father-in-law’s shop. The identity of the criminals is hidden, with the only clues being a wisp of green wool, men in scholar robes, and a stained book. As feuding townsfolk and a murdered heir find their way into the tangle of mysteries, Hugh must locate the end of the trail and bring the criminals to justice.

I found this book an excellent read.  The plot is absorbing and holds together well, while the twists and turns keep the readers anticipating until the very end. The mystery was enthralling to watch unfold. Starr introduces new characters and develops old ones well. Deeds of Darkness continues the series well, while still standing on its own plot. This book also upholds Starr’s excellent writing abilities and historical knowledge fantastically.

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey

When you pick up a novel that includes romance, it is almost always obvious from the beginning which characters will fall in love by the end. The challenge for an author is to recognize that the conclusion is not a mystery, yet keep the reader wondering how in the world it could possibly come to fruition. That is the key to writing romance well, and it is a key that Carolyn Miller handles with finesse.

The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey is book three of Carolyn Miller’s Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series. I was introduced to the series this spring with The Elusive Miss Ellison, and enjoyed book two, The Captivating Lady Charlotte over the summer. The delight of the series is such that, although it was relatively easy to see which character the author would focus on in each subsequent release, the playing out of each lady’s story was anything but predictable. In fact, Carolyn Miller tackles quite the challenge with this third title when she takes a young lady who was somewhat of a villain in the first two books and turns her into the lead character of The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey.

Miss Clara DeLancey was once among the most eligible of London’s high society. But when the Earl of Hawkesbury, the one man who held her interest, rejected her in favor of the “unworthy” Lavinia Ellison, bitterness toward both the earl and his bride buried itself deep into her soul. Then, if the rejection had not caused enough damage, scandal visited her family in another fashion, reducing them from the most admired of London society to the subjects of juicy gossip. Retreating to a modest life in Brighton, Clara finds every foundation of her life – her beauty, wealth, and status – stripped away, leaving her with little to stand on.

Clara finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Mattie McPherson and Tessa Kemsley, two sisters who exhibit a genuine love unlike anything she has ever known. Unfortunately, the Viscountess Winpoole, Clara’s mother, still clings to the pride of their station and considers her daughter’s newfound friends to be appalling company. But something stronger than society and status keeps the desperate Miss DeLancey hungry for the company of her new friends, not to mention their somewhat intimidating brother, Captain Benjamin Kemsley.

Anyone who has read the first two books in the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series will expect a beautiful romance in The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey. But the true beauty of this novel is not the love story between and man and a woman. It’s the love story of redemption. Of the way God works in even the most prideful of hearts, turning them toward Himself. This story is woven naturally and seamlessly into the fabric of the novel, turning a delightful historical romance into something so much deeper.

My girls and I have fallen in love with the Regency Brides series and definitely recommend all three titles!

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Reviews

The Promise of Dawn

Well, it seems as if I am only getting reviews written these days, but I’m definitely thankful for the chance to write those and encourage other writers in their endeavors. It can be hard to imagine that a prolific writer such as Loraine Snelling would be encouraged by reviews such as mine, but maybe you will be nourished by reading her novels as I share them with you, thus encouraging her to keep up the good work!

It’s no secret that I love fiction. And although romance just for the sake of romance is not my favorite genre, I do enjoy the novels that have romance brewing while deeper issues are being dealt with. But, most of us spend a good deal more time living life after the giddy feelings of a new romance. So, it is nice to see Christian fiction that matches that stage of life as well.

That is where The Promise of Dawn fits.

Opening in Norway where the Carlson family struggles simply to put food on the table, The Promise of Dawn proceeds across the ocean and over land to Minnesota where Rune and Signe Carlson and their three sons intend to help an uncle and his wife clear timber from their farmland. Rune embraces the opportunity, expecting his family to flourish in America in ways they never could in Norway. But Signe’s concerns fill her with reluctance from the moment the invitation arrives. An illness-filled journey and cold welcome do not ease her mind in any way.

Signe’s fears are confirmed as her family interacts more with Uncle Einer and Aunt Gerd, feeling the burden of their thankless, demanding hosts. As the weeks pass, the Carlsons wonder if they will ever find the better life Rune had dreamed of for his family.

The Promise of Dawn is real life. The perspective, understanding, and struggles of Rune and Signe remind me of my own experiences with newness and unexpected disappointments. I could feel the weight of discouragement, challenged faith, waning hope, and strained relationships as I walked with the Carlson family through challenges that seemed to have no foreseeable end. How often do we feel the same? Even though The Promise of Dawn is set over a hundred years ago in a time and culture long gone, the nature of the challenges remain the same.

That is why The Promise of Dawn was so refreshing, even while reading of seemingly insurmountable challenges. It was reminder that our choices in attitude, relationship, and spiritual growth are critical, whether our circumstances change or not.

The Promise of Dawn is book one in the Under Northern Skies series, and the characters are connected to Loraine Snelling’s two Red River series. I look forward to going back and meeting some of those characters while also getting to know the Carlsons a little better as the Under Northern Skies series continues. Loraine Snelling is definitely an author I would recommend and want to explore more myself!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.