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Monday, January 25, 2016

Forgive Us Our Doubt

Faith demands something of us.

When others sit down, faith stands up. It shouts “I will” in the face of “You can’t.”

Sometimes people around us may say things that war against our faith--whether intentionally or not. Maybe we're believing God for something, and someone else is speaking doubt. I have ended a conversation, or walked away from it, to protect that part of my faith that needs nourishing.

True faith is not weak. It rejoices in, even can laugh at, difficulties because the proof is not in seeing the waves roaring about and causing mischief, but in knowing we will make it safely to shore.

Faith throws out a life preserver, then holds onto the rope as tight as it can, never giving up. Never even thinking it might not work.

Faith isn’t wimpy. In a race, faith is the guy with muscles and grit, the one who makes it to the finish line with a breath to spare and a tired, but thrilled, grin on his face.

Faith is climbing a mountain, knowing a reward is at the top. It’s that unction to keep going, to not stop, no matter what discouragements are thrown at us en route.

Faith is jumping into something troublesome, when it would be easier to sit on the sidelines. It takes risks, while doubt tells you to play it safe.

When faith is building its muscles, it may feel a bit shaky. But as faith grows, so does grit and determination. Like three brothers who stick together and face anyone on the opposing team, these three come against the bullies on the block. Doubt shows up to taunt and ridicule, but faith and its allies are ready for a good fight.

The things we hear, read, and see can all influence our faith/doubt struggle. Who are we going to listen to?

It’s in moments of great struggle and adversity that an even deeper level of faith comes to the surface.

When someone says something that chinks at our faith, we need to be bolder. By speaking the truth, by facing the doubt, our faith will take a growth spurt. Sometimes I return from church feeling less faith than when I went. That may sound funny. But there are times when the things I've heard or the people who have talked to me have increased my doubts instead of my faith. That is wrong. I know I need to be the one speaking faith and hope, not the one allowing doubt to receive a power-boost within me.

Faith says it is before it is.

The one standing in faith must go forward with a powerful belief to see what others cannot see. Thus the beauty and the revelation of faith—believing in the unseen. Expecting even before seeing.

I need more faith.
World, do not convince me to doubt.

Family, friends, pastors, leaders, writers, believers—let us not say we believe in one breath, and then in the next, confess we do not by our words or actions. When faith takes a stand in you, allow it the deepest level of trust and truth. Forge a firm determination to believe in God and to stand for what He says is true—no matter who whispers “nay” in your ear.

Are you believing for someone’s salvation? A healing? A miracle? Let faith rise up and refuse to doubt. Do not diminish faith by the words you allow entrance into your heart, via your own lips or that of someone else's.

Doubt lurks about seeking to do evil against faith. Refuse to give in.
Faith does something. It doesn’t sit around waiting for someone else to act first.

Faith needs its day in the gym. Exercise it. Give it liberty to fight doubt and mockery and disbelief head on.

Father, forgive my doubt.

Faith, I invite you to live in me, strong and powerful.
Doubt, I am at war with you. I resist your schemes.

Faith, I release you to rise up stronger than before, stronger than any of us could have imagined—if we but believe.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. ~ James 4:7 & 8

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I Can't

Sometimes I'm convinced I can't.
So even if I could, I wouldn't.
I've told myself it's impossible.
So it has to be.

Ever been there?

How can two little words yield so much power? “I can't” becomes “I won't” which easily converts to “I give up.”

Sometimes a case of the “I can'ts” is as bad as getting diarrhea on a road trip. It makes everyone miserable.

When I was teaching, I didn't like my students to say “I can't." To me, that expression was a refusal to try. In my drama class, if I hear someone mutter those words, I ask them to express it differently. “I can't say the line” becomes “I'm having a hard time saying the line.” In the altered version, at least a bit of room exists for improvement. All of us have a hard time at something. Complaining about it rarely helps, other than to garner somebody's sympathy. Unless, of course, I'm the one saying those two words. Ha!

Two weeks ago, I drove in the worst winter conditions I have ever experienced behind the wheel. The challenge wasn't deep snow. The culprit was black ice. A three-and-a-half-hour trip turned into seven-and-half-hours. I drove thirty to thirty-five mph on sixty and seventy mph roads. We saw twenty cars in accidents or in the ditch. It was a dreadful drive. “I can't do this," was in my mind and on my lips. I was exhausted from clutching the truck's steering wheel so tightly. My eyes were bloodshot from peering at the road in the dark, looking for slick spots. My legs were shaking. Giving up wasn't an option—but I sure wanted to.

Later, after the trauma was over and I arrived home, the thing that stuck with me was how we can do so much more than we ever imagined possible when we just keep going. The human spirit is full of grit and determination to survive. That obstinate willpower really is quite amazing.

A few days ago, a friend went through a difficult surgery. He's in a ton of pain. He told us if he'd known how difficult it would be, he doubted he would have gone through with it. Of course, he isn't going to stop now and say “I can't.” Eventually, he'll feel better, and he'll be thankful for the medical success. Sometimes moving forward takes more guts than we think we have. But we can go beyond our “I can't” to “maybe I could” to “I'm doing it” and even to “Hey, Mom, look at me!”

Which reminds me of a cool verse in Philippians: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” I like that. In my wimpy self, I may feel inadequate. But when I put my trust in His strength, His power is so much greater than my best attempts.

Let's turn “I can'ts” into “I cans.”
Even if we've told ourselves it's impossible,
the truth is, we can do so much more.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why I Write Stories of Reconciliation

If you've read my posts or any of my women's fiction, you know I write stories about second chances in marriage--about broken couples who defy the odds and find their way back to each other. You might wonder, is she blind to divorce rates? Unfeeling toward people on their second or third marriages? Is she living in some kind of fantasy world to imagine relationships can recover from horrible rifts, and even the worst crime against marriage--infidelity?

When put that way, it seems like a ridiculous impossibility, doesn't it?

The truth is, before my tenth birthday, my parents divorced. I have relatives who have divorced and married someone else and seem quite happy. And even though Jason and I agreed early on not to mention the "D" word, at a couple of dividing lines in our relationship, we considered separating.

I'm not foolish enough to believe all marriages should be reconciled. If violence is involved, run, flee! Even as a child, I never wished for my parents to get back together.

So why do I write stories of second chances? First, I love reading them. Two of my favorite reconciliation books are Francine Rivers' And the Shofar Blew and Karen Kingsbury's A Time to Dance. I've read both of these inspirational books many times. Second, through telling the married fictional tales of Winter and Ty, April and Chad, Summer and Josh, and now, Autumn and Gar, I get to relive the wonder of a husband and wife falling in love with each other all over again. Bits and pieces of these couples' lives do come from my heart. The saying about writers bleeding into their work is true. Are the books autobiographical? No. But here and there, real life seeps in. The other reason I love reconciliation stories is that I believe in God's amazing power to transform and change couples in such a way that they can let go of their pride, their hurts, and their right to hate or act in revenge. That Jesus can soften a husband's and a wife's spirits to such a degree that they melt before the other one is powerful and life changing.

While I won't go into details of how Jason and I ended up in a bad situation, when we came to the point of deciding whether or not to split, we chose to stick together, instead. One day I turned on the audio of our wedding and asked Jason to listen with me. As I cried and listened to our young selves pledging the words "til death do us part" something gripped me. I had made a lifelong promise to my husband. I still wanted to be married to him. I was willing to fight for and do whatever it took to change, to be humble, to make a marked turnaround. We could only do that and have the testimony we do--we've been married 40 years--because of God's grace and power. He changed us. He made us whole. He brought true love back to our hearts and our home.

That's what I want to write about.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Unfaithful Blogger

In 2015, I was an unfaithful blogger. 
There, I said it. Facing our flaws is half the battle, right?

Two things kept me from sharing. Limited time--I was determined to finish my book. And I felt I had nothing to offer.

It's not that I'm empty-headed--although, maybe I am--or that I don't have an opinion. Because I do! I just felt lacking. There are times as a mom I wished I were like June Cleaver or Dr. Quinn or Maria in the Sound of Music, women who had amazing gifts of wisdom to speak the exact words at the perfect moment. Oh, that's right, they had great writers! But, regardless, when I sit down to create a blog, I want to be like them. Or like one of those bloggers who spin amazing works three times a week and dazzle us with their introspection on life or faith or marriage.

Then, there's me. I sit down and stare at a blank screen and wonder what in the world I have to give.

I'm a dabbler in fiction. If you've read any of my stories, you've peeked into my heart. Without meaning to, I've revealed parts of me which under normal circumstances I would never share. By the way, if you've ever wondered which of my characters is most like me, it would be April Gray, before the editor got a hold of her.

Like most writers, I internalize way more than I should. I grew up with secrets. I like my privacy. Becoming open and vulnerable is foreign, unless I'm sitting across the table from someone drinking coffee and we just start sharing. I can actually say that now, because 21 days ago I started drinking coffee.

I'd like to say I have it all together. Surprise, I don't. I have dreams of having it all together. You know those moments when you see yourself as a perfectly put together wife, mom, writer, house cleaner, and servant of God? Yeah, about that . . .

In the real world, I work at and enjoy my marriage. Jason and I are good friends, and we're learning how to have fun in our post-raising-kids years. I still try to be a good mom, but the rules have changed. I have four adult kids and one daughter-in-law, now. When your kids are little, the world revolves around their needs and activities, and being a mom felt like my whole world. Then they grew up--as well, they should--and that process can leave moms and dads floundering. I'm a parent, and yet I'm not. It's a tiptoe act, but I'm getting better at it. Every day, I work at writing, whether it's at the keyboard or letting the characters come to life in my mind. I've never been a great housekeeper, but, oh well. I don't really aspire to that. Sorry, Jason. In 2015, I began learning more about God as my loving "Papa." In that capacity He is changing me, and that's a journey in itself.

My goal for 2016 is to become more vulnerable and open. I write the kinds of stories that I do for a reason, but I doubt I will ever be as tell-all as some writers. Most likely, my husband, kids, and brothers will thank me for that. But little by little, I hope to share more from my heart.

I may not have anything profound to say, but the truth is, we all live in a messy world. No one is perfect. We must all face our pasts and work through messy situations and relationships in the present. The beauty is that God can take all of that and transform us--day by day, sometimes, minute by minute--into who He wants. I'm on that journey. As are you.

A new year helps me reflect and look forward. I'm hoping to be more honest in my blogging and living in 2016.