Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

When It’s Bad

One afternoon recently, I sat down to write. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And none of it was usable.

You might be thinking right about now that I am probably being overly harsh and self-critical. But, it really did all need to be rewritten or reworked. I had some decent ideas, but when I tried to flesh them out, they just would not come together. The thoughts were scattered and incomplete. None of it was even in the “oh, this was mediocre, but at least I can still publish it” category.

But it was still writing. It was still trying. It was still practicing my writing muscles. And, finally, after several hours of thought, prayer, and effort, the work led to some solid ideas that could be more easily developed in later writing sessions.

Sometimes when I try to push the writing, things just get worse and worse. I lose whatever momentum I had, and I just become frustrated. But more frequently, if I keep trying – even if hours of my efforts end up in the “trash” – I come around to something useful and productive.

It’s against my nature to believe that something “bad” is actually productive. If it’s going to end up in the trash can, is it not a waste of time? Should I not be just giving up and pouring my effort into something more constantly productive?

That’s my inclination. And it’s a dangerous one, because I have never been able to start off with only good results. I was a toddler once who had to fall quite a few times before I walked successfully and consistently. I had to say things the wrong way before I could learn to speak properly. And, if you could only see some of my high school papers! Mom “bled” them, marking them up with a red pen until there was more red than black on the page. Ouch! But, by my senior year, the red had become much less prominent.

The failures – the bad work – morphed into successes.

I can’t help but connect this to the idea of spiritual growth. In every stage of this life, we start on the immature, failing end of faith. Yet, where else would we start? Many of the things I struggled with twenty years ago are no longer an issue. But I wouldn’t be hashing through today’s issues if it had not been for the Holy Spirit’s work in me then. There were many failures. Many attempts that ended up with me in a heap on the floor crying out to God for help. For His hand. For His mercy. For His peace. For His strength. If not for those times, would I know Him like I do today?

Sometimes, life is just bad. Circumstances hammer us. Our failures pile up. The choices of others break us.

But if we do not experience those seasons of life, how will we see the Holy Spirit produce faith in us? How will we grow closer to our Lord and Savior? The bad paves the way for Him to work for good in and through us.

Does if feel as if everything you put your hand to meets with resistance or failure? Keep working, my friend. Keep praying. Keep seeking His perfect will and wisdom. He will use this to make something good in you. What a glorious promise!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

A Little Exploration

My oldest loves to explore. If there is a closed door, she wants to know what’s behind it. When she walks into a new place, she wants to check out every single corner.

I, on the other hand, am happy with what is visible. I like to feel comfortable and confident in what I know. When a door opens and I start to realize just how little I know about something, I’d much rather slam that door shut and just be content. I get easily overwhelmed – and easily discouraged by what’s left to learn.

For instance, I’m trying to learn German with my oldest, because that is the foreign language she chose for high school. I have this stigma against learning just for the sake of getting a grade. So, I’m trying hard to really learn the language and help her do the same rather than just do enough to help her get the grade she needs on her transcript. But, it’s hard. It’s overwhelming. And I get lost so easily.

So many other things fall into this category. Take homeschooling, for instance. I was homeschooled. And I am currently in my eleventh year of homeschooling my own children. But every time I turn around, I discover something I did not know before. Whether I am researching for a Family Magazine article, helping keep an eye on the Well Planned Gal Twitter account, or researching to answer a friend’s question, it doesn’t take much to remind me that there is a lot more out there than I realize.

The same is true of writing and editing, of sewing, and of being a pastor’s wife. These are not new things. Rather, these are things I have done for a while now, and some of which I do professionally. Yet, even in these areas I have so much to learn!

What I often feel “works for me” is to stay in my little bubble where I am skilled and knowledgeable and capable. I don’t like to reach out and discover just how much I need to learn. But, every time I get settled into that beautiful complacency, something my mom said years ago rings in my memory with great clarity: “When you stop learning, you start dying.”

Sometimes it is fun to learn something new. But, there is much more to learn in the things that are right in front of us. The skills we have already honed to a degree. The talents that we already possess. All of these still hold opportunities and possibilities for us. We just don’t like to pursue learning in those areas because we don’t want to be shown how little we really know – how many others are so far ahead of us!

I’m trying to get over that. And I’m trying to explore more. Because I do want to be good at what I do. I want to be an accomplished writer, an attentive and interactive editor, a successful homeschooler, a competent seamstress, and a capable pastor’s wife. But I will be none of the above without continual exploration, practice, and stretching of my skills and abilities.

What about you? What do you need to stretch? Come on, my friend, let’s go do a little exploring and find out just how much there really is left to learn!

Posted in Reviews

Where Hope Prevails

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to review books that I knew my children would enjoy. In the past, I’ve read the books myself before passing them onto my children for their opinion before writing up the review. More recently, though, I’ve started asking them to write the reviews!

My middle daughter loves Janette Oke, so she’s been delighted to get her hands on the Return to the Canadian West series, cowritten by Oke and her daughter Laurel Oke Logan. She agreed to write the review for the series’ third book, Where Hope Prevails. Here’s what she has to say!

Where Hope Prevails is the third book in Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan’s series Return to the Canadian West. Beth Thatcher is returning to Coal Valley after a family vacation which ended surprisingly (Where Trust Lies, book two). She highly anticipated seeing her beloved mountain town again, but many things have changed. Coal Valley is growing up, and some of the changes throw Beth rather for a spin.

I very much enjoyed the Return to the Canadian West series, and Where Hope Prevails is my favorite of the three books. I think it is a good young adult read, although twelve and thirteen year olds would probably enjoy it too!

During the book, Beth’s faith is taken for a turn. She had clung to it during her trying summer and had grown deeper. But now she has to face a question: what does it mean to love your enemies?

Through all her confusion comes the happiest time in her life – and more questions. But as her day approaches, another day comes along which makes her think. As Beth learns what it truly means to love her enemies, she finds both her own love and the place where she’s truly meant to be.

I loved Janette Oke when I was my daughter’s age, and it is fun to watch her devour the same books and add new ones to the list. Although I have not yet read this new series, I know I can hand these to my daughter without concern over the content.

Posted in Marriage Monday

Not What I Expected

What did you expect when you dreamed of marriage? What image did you hold in your head of your husband? What your relationship would look like? How married life would unfold?

How does reality compare?

As a teenager and young woman, I definitely had a mental picture of what my husband and our marriage would look like. And I cannot put into words how off-base that mental picture was! The husband God gave me is much more amazing than any dream man I ever could have conjured up in my limited mind. But, he’s also very different. Our life together is so much deeper than the shallow image of a relationship held in my mind. But, again, it’s very different.

I know beyond all doubt that what I have is better than my dreams. If I’m completely honest with myself, though, I will realize that there have been times when I have clung to my dreamy expectations instead of embracing the reality. In those times, it matters little that the reality is better. The dream was mine. And I stubbornly hang on to it as if it somehow beats God’s reality.

When we hang on to an old, shallow dream, we insinuate that reality is insufficient. We become dissatisfied with our circumstances, impatient with our spouses, and frustrated with life in general. We even become disillusioned with our God.

Dreams and expectations are such beautiful things. They motivate, energized, and compel us to reach for things we might not have otherwise reached for. But, they are also dangerous if we do not handle them properly. So, how do we handle them properly?

  • First, we surrender them completely to our Savior. Even as they are being formed in our minds, we must lay them at His feet and let Him mold and direct them.
  • Second, we leave them in His hands in trust. After we have surrendered, we can’t keep picking them back up in fear that our Lord will not handle them properly. We can trust Him!
  • Finally, we embrace the reality that He sets in front of us. When we surrender and trust, God is free to put us in the center of His will. Even if we let Him guide our dreams and expectations, more often than not reality will still differ greatly from our expectations. We must choose to leave the surrendered expectations where we placed them and press forward fully immersed in the reality Christ has given us.

I have two teenage daughters now, and living with them reminds me often of the hopes and dreams of marriage I had at that age. My expectations. My ideas. Reality is bigger, starker, fuller, deeper, harder, and more incredibly wonderful and beautiful than any dream could have ever encompassed. Yes, dreams are exciting, but oh how thankful I am for reality. No, it’s not what I expected. But, I made a choice over eighteen years ago to surrender my expectations to the reality God had given me. I will continue to do that, day in and day out.

Because it really is better.

Posted in Reviews

A Note Yet Unsung

Over the years, I have frequently seen Tamera Alexander’s name among currently popular Christian fiction novelists. But, I have never taken the time to check out her writing. Recently, though, A Note Yet Unsung, her latest novel, came up for review. I had time, and the description looked intriguing. I decided it just might be time to give this particular author a try.

When I agreed to review A Note Yet Unsung, I did not realize that it was book three in the Belmont Mansion series. Fortunately, while the series is built around Nashville’s Belmont Mansion, and while characters from each book do intersect with the storyline in the other installments of the series, each novel also stands on its own.

Set in Nashville immediately after the Civil War, A Note Yet Unsung welcomes young Rebekah Carrington back from Vienna, where she has spent the last ten years honing her music skills and interacting with European musical greats. Unfortunately, Rebekah lives in a time when women are not welcome into the public world of music. The dominant opinion of the day is that the world of the orchestra is too rigorous for the fragile female, and the idea of a woman in public performance is one of scandal and horror. So, instead of seeing her dream fulfilled, Rebekah is relegated to teaching solo lessons to the daughter of the wealthy Adelicia Cheatham of Belmont Mansion.

Meanwhile, Nashville’s brand new, highly acclaimed orchestra conductor is struggling. He has a very short time to complete a symphony to perform at the grand opening of Nashville’s new opera hall, but he is stuck. The stresses of his position, including pleasing the orchestra’s wealthy patrons, combines with an alarming head pain that is increasing in frequency and greatly impacting his ability to function as a conductor. Although he cannot allow the talented Miss Carrington into the orchestra, he can arrange for her to be his assistant. Perhaps with her help, the symphony will be finished on time.

It is probably obvious to even the most casual reader of Christian fiction that A Note Yet Unsung sets up the ideal setting for a romance. But, it also explores an aspect of history that the average reader probably would not consider. The storyline delves into multiple cultures, including a primary look at the elite Nashville society, a glimpse into the transition from slavery to servitude for some former slaves, and a hint at the culture of the eastern Tennessee hill country. The story is well written, well developed, and captivating. I love fiction, and there are very few novels that I’m ready to walk away from. I usually hunger to find out how it ends, but still want to hang on a little longer. Occasionally, though, a book comes along that lingers with me long after the last page has been turned. I find myself wanting to continue the story and walk with the characters just a little bit longer. A Note Yet Unsung is just such a book.

There is one little factor I must address while trying to also not give away any spoilers. As I read, I will admit to furrowing my brow at the way the author handled a couple of small side plots. They were little mysteries – hints of something – but they remained hints. The book drew closer and closer to the end, yet those little plots were not developed. Instead, they were resolved in what seemed, at first, to be a rather anticlimactic manner.

The more I considered the way these details were handled, however, the more I liked it. We are so conditioned to make big deals out of every little thing in our movies and novels. But, in life, some things are very present, yet still small. These two side plots were masterfully handled in a real life manner. Anything more would have ruined the impact of both.

I now find myself wishing I had requested the previous two Belmont Mansion books when they were available for review. But, I’m already planning to check them out of the library for the time being and hopefully add them to my book collection somewhere down the road.

Posted in Marriage Monday

Worth Dying For

I really intended to write a nice, sweet, romantic post for Marriage Monday yesterday in honor of Valentine’s Day. Then, then day happened.

The previous week had been long and chaotic with some frustrating and tense moments worked in. Then, Sunday night, we came home to find that our daughter’s cat was missing. After calling, looking, and calling some more, we finally went to bed, but I think all of us kept one ear open, hoping she’d return. She’d never wandered far before.

Morning dawned, and we finally found the cat…forty to fifty feet up a neighbor’s tree.

After trying unsuccessfully to call, woo, and cajole her down, we finally looked at the clocks, realized we were all an hour late to school and work, and called it quits for the time being. It was only after my sweet hubby headed to work and I walked in to get the kids going on school that we realized we’d not even had breakfast yet.

The rest of the day was spent trying to juggle work and coax the cat out of the tree – unsuccessfully, I might add.

The idea of sweet romance was just not a present reality at any point during our Monday, and may not be today, either. And yet, I can’t help but think that what we shared yesterday – and will share today – is much more of an honor to the memory of St. Valentine.

The historical facts about Valentinus are pretty fuzzy, and it is difficult to distinguish fact from legend. But, it is known that he did exist and that he was put to death for secretly performing weddings when the Roman emperor outlawed marriage. For some odd reason, Roman soldiers didn’t seem to want to spend twenty-five years away from their families fighting wars on behalf of Rome, so it was growing increasingly difficult for Emperor Claudius II to build and maintain an army. Outlawing marriage was the obvious solution, at least in the emperor’s mind! But, Valentinus believed that marriage was holy and sacred. He would not turn down a couple asking him to marry them.

That decision cost Valentinus his life.

I love the romantic side of marriage. And I thoroughly enjoy celebrating it. But, as we recover from yesterday’s tension and walk into this Valentine’s Day simply trying to get Tuesday on track after another late start (we finally recruited a tree service to help get the cat down from her lofty perch!), I realize just how beautiful it is to rest confidently in the love of my husband. Even when we’re stressed or frustrated because of the curve balls life is throwing us. Even when I do and say things that frustrate him. The love we share is deep and true. It runs up on bumps and hits snags. It has to work hard to stay thriving. But, it is the foundation of the marital union that Valentinus held so sacred.

Whether with roses and chocolates or just with hugs that say, “We’re going to make it,” that is what we celebrate today. A love grounded in Christ. A love that a priest named Valentinus considered worth dying for – because his Savior had already died for it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in Thoughts, Thoughts from Life

Lost Words

Earlier this week, I had a great brainstorm for a blog post. Fortunately, I had a notepad handy, and I was able to furiously scratch notes. The notes flowed as smoothly and rapidly as the train of thought, and everything seemed to make clear and perfect sense…then.

I was not in a position at the time to sit down at the computer or with anything more than that little scratch pad, but I fully intended to make writing a priority that morning so I could turn those notes into a blog post immediately. I’m trying to do better about that, knowing how often I wait too long and then lose the context of what I was thinking. But, this week took my by storm. By the time I even had a few minutes to look at those notes again, several days had passed. By that time, the notes might as well have been gibberish.

I have no idea what I was thinking. No clue about the context. No comprehension of the thoughts that were so strong that morning. I can remember the feeling of the thoughts flowing forth with clarity and strength. But I cannot remember the details to save my life.

In a way, it feels like I’ve lost something precious. The thoughts were that powerful.

In another way, though, I am comforted. You see, those thoughts were meant for that morning. I do remember them motivating, encouraging, and propelling me into my day. They planted in me a strength and a determination to face this very full week. I may be forgetting the context right now, but on the morning of the brainstorm, I know I stepped into the day with an internalized lesson.

The words may have been lost, but the lesson – and its impact – remained.

I am married to a pastor, but I frequently cannot recall the points of his sermons from one week to the next. Even when I am intentional about taking thorough notes, I often look at them later with confusion, not sure what I was thinking as I wrote. But, each Sunday as I listen and write, my goal is often to plant in my head one way I can implement the message in the coming week. One way I can actively choose to grow in response to what God has said through my husband.

Again, I may not be able to dredge up the specific points or context, but the lessons remains.

Not everyone is stirred by words. We don’t all process that way. We do, however, all have a method by which truths are best communicated to our hearts and lessons are merged into our lives. But none of this happens naturally. When blog posts create themselves in my head, it’s very easy to tap them out, then forget them. Sometimes I go back and read articles and am stunned to find that I wrote them! They feel so foreign because I never truly internalized the message. It takes an effort and a choice to pour those truths into my soul instead of simply pounding them out on a computer keyboard.

It takes an effort and a choice to decide to act on a sermon instead of simply listening and then walking out unchanged. (Think about it – have you ever said, “Good sermon, Preacher,” because you have already forgotten that what you should instead be saying is, “Ouch!”)

Truths are constantly moving from the mouth of God to our eyes and ears, giving us the choice each and every day. What will we do with them? Will they just become lost words, or will we turn them into lessons internalized?