Smokin’ Hot

fried eggsSometimes my day feels like a cracked egg, running all over the pan in a yellowy glob of goo. Time slides fast. Out of control. Joy skitters away in the wake of unmet expectations.

From this broken shell of a place, the Holy Spirit whispers in the midst of waning joy, “Rejoice in me, the one who breathes fresh life in you.”

“Are you kidding?”

Of course, he isn’t. I know the chapter and verse:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4-5

His invitation rings warm. And in this hope-stirred moment, I unclench my fists, wondering, Is joy really a choice? By focusing on God’s truth, can I turn up the joy knob a notch? Watch this broken egg that’s staring back at me bubble up warm in its rawness?

I look up joy in Bible Gateway and find it singing and shouting everywhere, even in the broken places of defeat.

“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Isaiah 52:9

I’m not used to singing in the midst of chaos. It hasn’t quite become habit yet. But I know neuroscience shows it positively affects our brain chemistry. Healthy thoughts register deep in our dendrites.

I also know that it’s easier to sing when I know who I am: chosen, redeemed, clothed in God’s righteousness. The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in me. In me. This little writer who longs to make a big difference.

God-dreams tick louder than time bombs. Do you feel their press to keep moving forward? We have much to say, but sometimes we stare blankly at that empty egg pan.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Thank you, God, for the gift of words. Crack me open for you. Pour me out raw. I want to flow in your joy and hope and all things good.

When life turns up the heat, we wait with confidence in his presence: hopeful, grateful, and open to the fact we’ll soon feel that first bubble. And one bubble will lead to another and another. And before we know it, whoa–we’re cooking, Baby! Smokin’ hot for Jesus. All we need to do is stay open in God’s great pan. Let him stir up our gifts and see what happens.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23

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A Season of Purpose

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life1largewebDo you ever feel lost in the cracks of everyday routines or shuffle down roads that lead to no end? Sometimes life can feel burdened as we push to understand our purpose.

My nephew was born with a burden. His diagnoses of cystic fibrosis devastated the entire family. The disease clutched and tore at his body. He hated taking meds or enduring beatings to the chest. His only desire was to live life as a normal young man.

Whether from the illness or just being young, he struggled to understand his purpose in life.  His biggest questions became, “What did God call me to do?” and “How can I do it in my condition?”

Thomas had a knack for bringing joy into people’s lives. He loved fun. He tried attending college but never finished a semester due to hospitalizations. In between his hospital visits, he continued to find his way on campus to socialize. As time passed and his illness progressed, his friends came to him in the hospital. He encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones, even having one play her tuba in the hospital (something he laughed about for a while). When the hospital chaplain came to visit, Thomas got out of bed and walked the rest of the rounds with the chaplain. He encouraged others going through difficult times.

When friends became discouraged, Thomas quoted scripture, encouraged, and helped build their faith. He listened, ministered, and touched lives – still he struggled with finding his own purpose.

Perhaps you’re struggling to find purpose in your daily walk. Maybe your passion is to write, become a famous author, or work toward other goals that appear unreachable. Do you feel discouraged because your heart resounds, “This is it! This is my calling!” yet time and again nothing happens?

King David said to his son Solomon, “Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”  ( 1 Chron.28:9 NIV) Serve God with a willing mind? What does that mean? It means “desiring, delighting in, having pleasure in” whatever God asks of us rather than focusing on our wants and desires. Something magical happens when our hearts line up with God’s heart. We find we really are finding purpose. God’s desires become ours.

Thomas died this past year at age twenty-three. Though Thomas walked in purpose that season of his life, he, at times, couldn’t see it. He never made it through college, received his music degree, or led worship in a church as his heart desired. But when he sang, his low bass voice echoed through every nook and corner. I believe the heavens rejoice at Thomas’s rendition of “Long Black Train.” His last year, he couldn’t do things most young men his age could do, but Thomas never gave up on seeking God and serving Him with wholehearted devotion. I have no doubt the moment Thomas stood before his Lord, he understood exactly what his purpose on earth was all about.

strong1     My friend, keep moving forward with your passions and desires, keeping God in the center of each one. King David didn’t get to build the temple because God chose Solomon for that purpose. However, God used David to achieve so much during his lifespan. Whatever you’re doing, know if God is walking with you, He is fulfilling your purpose. Hold on to hope, stay encouraged, and from the words David shared with his son, “Be strong and do the work.” ( v 10) In the end, you might find your greatest purpose is pleasing God – that in itself is more fulfilling than any other. And at just the right time – God delivers your greatest desire.

And God Said . . .

maypoproadside flowersLast month, inspired by a woman at a conference whose phone told her where we could get a hotdog, I decided to replace my dinosaur of a cellphone.

My daughters were delighted. They soon had me instagramming photos of their dogs, whom they rarely get to see, being off at college and internships much of the year. Before long, I was posting all the time: my garden’s amazing abundance this summer, pies about to go in the oven, snakes and spotted fawns and wildflowers I see on my runs.

Then, a visiting former student and I entered into a psalm-memorizing pact, and she downloaded a Bible app onto my phone that she said would help me, and soon I was listening to scripture as I ran, the voice of God booming forth from the net pouch I wear on my stomach—I hate earphones—to the astonishment of cattle, dogs, horses, and the occasional human passersby.

Almost immediately, I ditched the psalms for the gospels and soon settled on John—now esoteric, now fatherly—as my favorite voice. On one long run, I listened to everything we have of John’s writing. His three odd little letters I’d never paid much attention to before (one addressed to a woman, who knew?!) His gospel, with its baffling beginning:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Genesis 1.1-3 ESV)

And Revelation, for me always an unsettling narrative, in which heaven seems such a strange and off-putting place.

Listening to John’s whole opus read aloud in one go was transformative for me. His wise, kind voice pulled everything together in a new way: the creation, the fall, Jesus’ life on Earth, the struggles and successes and sheer realness of the early church—so recognizably the church of today—and the resolution of everything in the end.

After my run, I stood sweating in my driveway and listened to the beginning of Genesis and had new thoughts about it all. The creation was a work of words:

“And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . And God said . . . Then God said . . .” (Genesis 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 26 ESV).

God spoke everything into being. And speaking being a communal act, involving a speaker and a listener, God would have been speaking to someone. So, not only the Spirit hovering over the waters but the Son—or, as John calls him, “the Word”—was present. And, if John is right that the world was created through Jesus, a narrative of the conversation preceding the creation might have had Jesus speaking with his Father, making suggestions, perhaps coming up with the whole idea.

volunteer arugulaI imagined it so:

“Hey, Dad, let’s make a world swarming with swarms of creatures—live creatures like us. And in it, a beautiful garden full of people just like us that we can love, and they can love us back, just as you love me and I love you.”

And the Father, besotted with love for his Son and surely impressed by his good ideas, spoke, the very words from his mouth giving flesh and movement and life to the words of the Son.

running shadowI didn’t let myself think about what happened afterwards—when, as John tells it, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1.12 ESV). It was too horrifying. Instead, I stood there in the driveway, teary-eyed about that unwritten conversation into we’ve been invited, not only as people made in God’s image but, the more so, as Word-mongers—God-lovers in the business of inviting still others into the same conversation.

What a responsibility.

What a delight!

Praying Psalm 23 for Writers

Sheep

Sheep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord is my Shepherd:  Sheep are stubborn, fearful, and crowd followers, like people. We need a shepherd to lead us. We must surrender our life and work to God.

Lord, you are my Shepherd. I place myself and my words under your authority.

I shall not want: God is all sufficient. When we trust God to provide for us, we can let go of the wants of ego. He redefines success.

Lord help me to want what you want for me and for my work.

He makes me lie down in green pastures: Writing is endless and the refreshment of rest and renewal is essential.

Help me find the balance of work and rest.

He leads me beside still waters: We know the difference between our own exertion and divine filling when the words flow like gentle waters.

Lead me to inspiration and fill me to overflowing with your words.

He restores my soul: We are strongest in the areas where we have been healed.

Restore my spirit, Lord. Heal me that I may heal others.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake: He provides that daily connection that guides us in the truth, as we write–for His glory, not ours.

Help me always to know the truth and to remember that I do my work for your glory, not mine.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me: We give deeply of ourselves and our experiences, making us vulnerable and easily hurt. We fear exposure and criticism and we receive it, but we don’t need to fear it.

Protect my heart, Lord.  Help me to be bold in my work and not to fear criticism.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil: God gives us provision in the midst of our problems and he continues to protect us.

Thank you for your provision. Anoint my head to protect me from the small things – the annoyances and thoughts that distract me.

My cup overflows: Every good gift comes from God–the good days, the letters and notes of encouragement from readers, the joy of seeing a life change because of the words He has provided.

Thank you, Lord, for this work and the abundance in life with you.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever: It is not for this world that we write. It is for eternity.

Lord, accept the offering of my words. Use them as you will.  Lead me, provide for me, protect me. I will follow.   

Amen

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers: The Writing Sisters

http://www.WritingSisters.com

Avoiding the Comparison Trap

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Each one should test their own actions.
Then they can take pride in themselves alone,
without comparing themselves to someone else.  Galatians 6:4

Nothing stops the flow of creativity more than comparing myself to others.  Usually I’m comparing my insides to their outsides. My rough draft to their finished book. My internal  mess to their polished perfection.

Comparing makes me insecure. I look at the work of others and all my doubts surface. In my mind, questions arise about my abilities. Inspiration is lost and work stops.

 “Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers.  Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable. ” Brenda Ueland

God has created me and He knows me. He has given me the ability to write. I want to be confident in my work.

Comparing makes me ungrateful.  I can be pleased and thankful for my work – then I walk into a bookstore and begin to compare.  I no longer appreciate the unique words that God has given just to me. I am no longer content with what I have.

 “Comparison is the death of joy.”  Mark Twain

God has blessed me with the gift of writing.  I want to rejoice in that.

Comparing makes me judgmental. I can find myself looking for the weaknesses of others to bolster my own pride. I need to watch out for any thought that starts with, “Well, at least I didn’t . . .”  Each of us has a unique calling to write. We should always examine ourselves, not others.

 “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.” Marcus Aurelius

God has given me colleagues in writing. I want to rejoice with them.

Comparing pulls me off course.  I can lose heart and focus when I am concerned about what others are doing instead of the work that God gave me to do.  When I am too busy watching others, I am not working.

 “Peter must have thought, “Who am I compared to Mr. Faithfulness (John)?” But Jesus clarified the issue. John was responsible for John. Peter was responsible for Peter. And each had only one command to heed: “Follow Me.” (John 21:20-22)” Charles Swindoll

God has called me to write. I want to be productive in my work.

How can we avoid the comparison trap?  I must keep the focus on God and what He has for me to do today. Then I can appreciate my work, be grateful, celebrate the work of others, and stay on track.  Simple! Or is it?

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12: 1-2

How about you? Do you compare?

Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers
WritingSisters.com

Divine Delay Buttons, Anyone?

Call me a throwback. The world may have moved on but I will always consider coarse language a sign of a poor vocabulary. I’m personally fond of a phrase my late grandmother enjoyed using to admonish potty mouth people. “Goodness gracious,” she would exclaim. “You’ve got something in your mouth I wouldn’t hold in my hand!”

I’m noticing more and more use of the delay button on television— and we rarely watch much of anything around here other than news, sports, and cooking shows. No programming seems exempt from gutter talk. Even on a news report some well-meaning anchor will run a clip of someone with every other word “bleeped” out and the ones that remain aren’t necessarily easy on the ears. While we’re on the subject, they could get a little quicker with their bleeping, too. One generally gets enough of the first syllable to know what word is being bleeped. Sure, I find the bleeping less bothersome than having someone cuss up a blue streak in my face and then say “Excuse my language,” but if I had a choice it would be none of the above. I’ve often thought it’d be neat if those cell phones on all of our hips could send out harmless but effective “mind your mouth” zaps on every four letter word. There could even be an app for that. (Then again, there’s the risk that some people might light up like an electric mosquito zapper on a hot Louisiana night, so maybe not.)

The other day I saw a news piece that must have been trying the soul of whoever was trying to keep up with the potty mouth protestor ranting on the steps of Congress. The poor bleeper could scarcely finish one beep before it was time to start another. What that operator needed was a longer delay button. Heads up: Here’s an admission that may surprise you, but for the record, so do I! Oh, not for coarse language. I have my weaknesses, but that’s not one of ‘em. However, I’m constantly reminded of my need for an extra long delay button where social media is concerned.

Opinions, everyone has ‘em, and granted, the very nature of social media just begs us to share, but composing on the fly and hitting send too quickly can damage an author’s goals and platform in a nano second. But far more importantly for the author who professes to write under the compulsion of God, allowing ourselves the luxury of starting or joining a particular thread can strain or permanently damage relationships between ourselves and those readers in our communities who need Christ the most. It’s not overly dramatic to remind ourselves that someone spending eternity with God or separated from Him could hang in the balance of our updates.

I won’t presume to tell anyone when to weigh in on political, societal, and religious debates, in large part because those lines will be different based on our various ministries. I will suggest that Ephesians 4:29 should always set the bar, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Only the Holy Spirit can tell us when to speak and when to refrain. I making it a practice to ask God for a Divine Delay, not to bleep out what I shouldn’t say, but a heavenly prompt to remind me to seek His counsel before I post. Won’t you join me? While we’re asking Him to “Set a watch over our lips and a guard over our hearts that we might not sin against thee,” we might want to add “And guard our Twitter and Facebook fingers, too!”

Hugs,
Shellie

Mentored by The Best Selling Author

Best Selling Author - Anita Brooks

I had no idea what I was doing.

I went to my first writers conference with zero expectations. I simply wanted to explore this crazy dream God had planted in my heart.

At my allotted appointments, I sat across from editors, agents, and publishers and said the same thing, “I don’t have anything to pitch. I just came to learn. Can you tell me what you think I should know?”

Every person demonstrated gentle patience and gave me a huge boost of encouragement. One discussion, spurred by a workplace pet peeve, kept me awake most of the night jotting down notes.

On the last day of the conference, I knew my life would never be the same. And I was right.

I flew home feeling overwhelmed. My mind swirled with a mix of anxiety and anticipation. A professional thinks I have potential. A professional believes my differences are a good thing. A professional requested a book proposal. I don’t know how to write a book proposal.

I was a long way from being ready to submit anything, and I knew it.

When I arrived back at normal life, I needed help. But where do you turn when you live in a tiny town in the Midwest? What kind of education can you get when there’s no college close? How do doors open when you have no degree or credentials in writing?

You ask the Best Selling Author of all time for help.

Wanting to do nothing less than excellent work, I got on my knees and asked God to personally mentor me. I figured since His book, the Bible, had sold more copies than any other book throughout history, I should try to learn from Him.

My schooling took months, even into years. I turned the television off and got to work. I spent hours soaking up assigned books on the craft of writing. I practiced with devotions, articles, and blogs. I listened to the professionals He sent to help me develop better habits. Then I re-wrote my devotions, articles, and blogs. Sometimes it took many copies to get the words and punctuation just right.

I graduated to the study and practice of book proposal writing. I wrote at least three dozen drafts while my Mentor patiently encouraged me to keep trying. All the while, prayer and a listening ear helped me maintain a teachable heart.

Only three years later, I signed with WordServe. Recently, I signed a book contract for the original non-fiction idea I’d had at the conference. This may seem like a long time, but in publishing years, it’s pretty fast.

Today, I still need my Mentor. He’s guiding my mind and hands as I finish my book for publication. Because of Him, I hope to write many more.

If you’re an aspiring or experienced author, I encourage you to call my Mentor. He’s available 24/7/365. His name is God, and he turns good concepts into strong books. There’s no better Muse than the one who created your mind.

Do you have a mentor? Where do you go for guidance and encouragement?

Anita Brooks - Best Selling Author

God’s Story – The Best Selling Book of All Time