Tuesday, August 30, 2005
The people at this "Largest Con" in North America are nuts. Most of them are nice nuts. They dress like Worf from Star Trek or Princess Leia from Star Wars. Some speak Clingon. A group walked in and they were the characters from Lord of the Rings. Some are fairies, or elves, or munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. The costumes are incredible.
There are all sorts of workshops and sessions where you can hobnob with people who are as absorbed in the same interest as you are.
And then there are the sad people. The ones that make my heart hurt.
One was a transvestite. This man, dressed as a woman, was in a very liberal place where no one would condemn him, lecture him, point out the problems of his soul. This was one place where he could dress as he liked. And you know what? He wore the most pained expression.
I was waiting to meet someone in the lobby, so I had time to watch him unobtrusively. His expression changed from disgusted to deep sadness and anger. All within about fifteen minutes. It was pretty obvious that I was waiting for someone, but he just seemed to be strolling around watching other people.
How ironic that he could dress as he wanted here but couldn't find joy. A lot of the people passed, talking animatedly, laughing, showing off their costumes. The transvestite walked among them in the midst of their exuberance and stood out, not for his dress and high heels, but for the unhappiness on his face.
I think we all want to be accepted for what we are. But you know, Jesus accepts us as we are, but won't let us stay what we are. He gives us hope to conform to the image of himself. I'm so glad.
I'm not inclined to wear men's clothing, but I am inclined to whine, to procrastinate, to avoid people who are a nuisance. I hope to be more like Jesus tomorrow. And the day after that? Even more like my Saviour.
Monday, August 29, 2005
I read some stats the other day.
13% of teen girls have been physically abused by a boyfriend.
26% were repeatedly verbally abused.
25% were forced to engage in sexual activity.
More than half of America's teens know a friend who has been abused in some way by their significant other.
These numbers brought back a memory of a girl I knew. She came to church every week with her boyfriend. She was 16. He was 20. I watched her during service as she listened to the message and watched what unfolded.
She was really in to it.
Somewhere about 2/3rds of the way through the service he would receive a phone call and walk outside. Within minutes, he'd walk back in and tap her on the shoulder. She followed him out every time.
I knew something was up. Control. An unhealthy relationship.
She wanted God, that was clear, but she wanted this guy too. Even when she felt her Heavenly Father tugging on her heartstrings, the tap on her shoulder from the guy in her life was what she knew to follow.
One night after service I walked through the church making sure the doors were all locked. It's a big church and easy to feel swallowed up in the darkness of the long halls. The lights were out and I heard voices. I tried to see who was ahead but it took time for my eyes to adjust.
They didn't see me, but suddenly I could see them.
She was walking away quickly. He pushed her in her back, taunting her, calling her names that didn't belong in a temple of God--whether made of stone or the beautiful young girl made by God.
She stumbled and turned to defend herself. Then he kicked her--hard. Right in the back. He called her another name.
I called out his name and he twirled around, surprised.
I talked to him, but later, privately, I talked with her. I tried to explain that her guy's love was anything but.
I tried to paint a picture of what her life might be one day--isolated, broken, caught between the love of her abusive husband and normalcy, trying to protect the kids from daddy. I told her that there were women who would give anything to be in her shoes right now -- young enough to walk away because the situation wasn't complicated with children, able to pursue her dreams and find good love.
She confided that she wanted to be a doctor. She was a 4.0 honor student. She wanted to help people, especially children.
I also told her, "you are worth more than this, sis."
Later that night the youth pastor called her parents, but the girl convinced them it was just an argument.
I ran into her the other day. She's working as a waitress. She's 19 now and they are married. She had a bruise on her neck that was purple and yellow. She looked old.
It's still not too late, I said.
"I love him," she said simply.
She doesn't get it. She doesn't understand that real love is generous and nurturing and that God never intended relationships to look like this.
I hope you get it. I hope that you understand that there are women--like me--who have been married for a lot of years who feel safe and passionate, in love and protected by an awesome godly man.
I still have fun with him. I love hanging out with him. My children (and one day their children) are marked and shaped by their dad, a very cool man who knows how to love in all the right ways.
Don't accept less than real love--from your Heavenly Father and from the guy or girl you allow into your heart and life.
Our household is in a particular state of upheaval at the moment. I won't go into detail, but it involves hectic shedules, vacation plans bumping up against a crisis at work, a bout of a nasty virus, etc.
But tomorrow night chances are we well still have our home, our meager possessions, our jobs, our friends, our lives.
Let's pray for New Orleans. I can't think of anything more important than beseeching our Heavenly Father for abundant mercy to individuals like me. For New Orleans is populated with over a million people like you and me.
And Hurricane Katrina will touch lives for hundreds of miles around New Orleans. It is going to be a mess, a much bigger mess than the insignificant problems that have plagued my family this week.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
One song kept coming back to my thoughts. You Said by Shane Barnard and Shane Everett. (Anyone around here a Shane and Shane fan? Check them out if you haven't.) There were a couple of obstacles: I didn't have the music; it's a guitar song, and I'm a better pianist than guitarist. But the song wouldn't leave me alone. So I used the guitar tabs and made up my own piano arrangement. I practiced Friday, Saturday, and this morning before church. Then I sang.
After church a big, burly man I've never seen before made a bee-line for me. A fire burned through the tears in his eyes. "I LOVE the song you sang. Would you sing it again next week when I preach?" Turns out he's a missionary on furlough from Africa. I spoke with the choir director about inserting the song before his sermon, but next week I'll invite the congregation to sing along. The words are very simple.
"You said, 'Ask and you will receive whatever you need.'
You said, 'Pray and I'll hear from heaven, and I'll heal your land. I'll heal your land.'
You said Your glory will fill the earth, like water the sea.
You said, 'Lift up your eyes, the harvest is here the kingdom is near,' You said,
'Ask, and I'll give the nations to you.'
Oh, Lord, that's the cry of my heart.
Distant shores and the islands will see
Your light as it rises on us."
Simple. But so powerful in its simplicity, because God promises His word does not return to Him empty. It accomplishes that for which He sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
As we read the Bible, let's look for all the wonderful, amazing promises of God. He will do what He has said He will do, but sometimes He waits for us to ask.
"Ask, and I'll give the nations to you." Can we respond with the big, burly missionary, "Oh, Lord, that's the cry of my heart"? When it becomes the cry of our hearts, God will answer.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Being a home-based writer gives me freedom from dealing with a lot of junk in public or the average work place. (I was reminded of it last week when stuck on a bus near a couple of foul-mouthed adults.) One thing I love about working at home is NOT having to listen to off-color jokes and conversation. I know that teens don’t always have that option.
Have you ever sat at the lunch table at school, trapped between two people telling dirty jokes or making indecent comments? Maybe it happened to you at someone’s sleepover, at the mall, or in the theater waiting for a movie to start. Wanting badly to fit in, sometimes we’re tempted to join the foolish talk or laugh at the dirty stories. Other times we choose to say nothing. Not cool either. Being quiet and just listening while others use foul talk is not what God wants for you.
“Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.”—Ephesians 5:4 (NLT)
What can you do if you get trapped in such situations? Be gutsy. Speak up against the foul talk. Others may be uncomfortable with it as well, and they’ll be glad you said something. If the coarse jokes continue, then avoid these people. They are not the kind of friends God wants for you.
Maybe you have trouble turning aside from off-color stories and talk. If talking this way is a real temptation for you, perhaps you have a “heart condition” and need a check-up. “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34 NIV) Fill your heart with good, positive thoughts from God’s Word, for this will determine your own words.
(from No Boys Allowed devotional for girls, Zondervan)
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Worry has many fancy names such as panic, anxiety, and phobias. Yet there's nothing fancy about it. That ache in the center of your gut. Those constant thoughts that won't let you sleep. And with the school year just starting, I'm sure there are dozens of things to worry about: Will the other kids like me? . . . Will I be excepted? . . . Will he ask me out? . . . Can I pass Chemistry? English? World History? . . . Will I crash during driver's ed? . . . Do I need to lose ten pounds? . . . Will my SAT scores be good enough? . . . Will I be grounded for life? It's amazing there's time to concentrate on schoolwork at all!
Of course, some worry is good. Being worried about that history test forces you to study. And worrying about STDs may firm up your resolve about staying abstinent. But what about the stuff we can't control, like the West Nile virus or terrorists? Or other people's bad opinions about us no matter how much we try to be nice?
“Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due,” says William R. Ingle. I don't know about you, but I can think of a dozen things I worried about in the past that never came true. All those sleepless nights for no reason. All those headaches thinking about things that never happened.
Today, thankfully, I do better than I have in days gone by. I guess it's because I've learned there's Someone who already has everything under control. In the Bible, God refers to Himself as the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. He was there yesterday, and you can be sure He's hanging out in tomorrow too.
This morning, I was flipping through one of my old journals, and I came across this poem from the book, Streams in the Desert.
“God is in every tomorrow,
Therefore I live for today,
Certain of finding at sunrise,
Guidance and strength for the way;
Power for each moment of weakness,
Hope for each moment of pain,
Comfort for every sorrow,
Sunshine and joy after rain.”
I love that first line, "God is in every tomorrow." Sure, you still have that history test and that kid at school who seems determined to make your life miserable. But you know what? God's there waiting in tomorrow.
And today, He has the guidance and the strength to assist you with whatever the day may hold.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The "bit" turns to days and days turn to weeks and before they know it, they haven't written anything important except their grocery lists. Raise your hand if you know what I'm talking about. So what's the answer? I believe there are a few things to consider.
I've faced this quandary myself. I work full-time, freelance full-time, have a newborn child, am enrolled in a full-time graduate school and have decided to self-teach myself the guitar. Believe me, I know what it's like to feel the pressures of time. And even though much of what I do full-time is writing, I'm certainly not always writing that "great novel" that's on my heart.
One of my favorite quotes (which I can't verify for the life of me) was (I heard) by Albert Einstein. He said "10 minutes a day is all it takes to become a genius at anything." Sometimes I feel I live by that, especially when it comes to doing the things I really want to do. I know I can't spend hours a day working on my great American novel, or I'll never do the stuff that pays the bills. That's ok. So, my goal is just 10 minutes a day.
You might wonder, Can you really write much of anything worthwhile in only 10 minutes a day? Try it! I've actually finished more than I expected in that amount of time, so long as I just start writing. It takes time, but a little effort taken often goes a long way. And, hey, I'm doing better than
the guy who's not spending any time writing at all.
I also recommend setting small goals. I try to set three realistic goals each night for the next day. Just three. Then when my day is finished, as long as I've done at least those three things, I feel I've accomplished something. And I always make sure one of those ties into my long-term goal.
And, finally, always take at least one day off. At least one day each week, I schedule nothing. I don't work. I spend extra time reading the Bible and praying. I play the guitar for fun. It keeps me fresh. I encourage you to try it.
Anyway, I don't have it all figured out, but those are the techniques that work for me. If you try them, I hope they work for you too!
Monday, August 22, 2005
I think it's so great to try new things. We don't know what might stick if we never try it. My parents weren't very adventurous and because we moved around like crazy people (12 schools by the time I hit eighth grade) I really never got the chance to try many things.
I was never able to stay with sports I started. I started playing the violin in one school only to have to give it up at the next one because they didn't have an orchestra. It was frustrating and I was never able to get good at anything.
Now, even though I'm grown with kids of my own, I love to try new things. I know I'll never be great at them, but I do it for the sheer joy of learning something new.
For example, right before my kids were born, my husband and I went white-water rafting. My parents thought I was nuts (and figured I'd probably fall out of the boat), but we went and had an amazing time! We've been multiple times since and every time it's been challenging and totally exhilirating.
So when my kids want to try something new, I try to let them. I still have lots of things "on my list" that I want to try...
Do you? I wonder sometimes why we think about what we'd like to do, then never get around to actually doing it.
So my challenge to you on this beautiful Monday morning is this...try something new. Join a new club. Learn a new sport. Make a new friend. You just might like what you find!
Sunday, August 21, 2005
There's been a lot of talk lately at my church about "running the race." We've delved into the who's and the how's about running the race-- this Christian race, but one of those doubts from my younger years keeps rearing its ugly head again.
It's one of those why questions.
Hebrews 12 says, Therefore, since you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders us and all the sins that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked down before by Jesus Christ the author and perfecter of our faith.
Why did he describe it as a race? If there's enough salvation for us all, why is it mentioned as a competition?
Too often we read this passage and we do just what I do. Focus on the word "race." In reality, the focus should be on a different word-- one we don't always like-- perserverance.
There's nothing good about the word. It's hard to spell. It doesn't even roll off the tongue very well, and it brings up bad images. We don't want to just perservere. We want the good times. We want to roll with life. When our feet are swift, the race is supposed to be an easy one-- that's why the runner runs. Nobody wants to run a tough race.
Sometimes the race is tough. Sometimes, we get slowed down by the weights we're carrying. Did you know that runners try to make themselves as light as possible? Most running shoes today weigh just fractions of pounds because getting rid of as much baggage as possible can make the difference between crossing the finish line the winner or just crossing it period. Paul tells us to take heed from runners and throw off those weights-- those sins-- to make ourselves all that more lighter.
In this race, its not about crossing the finish line first. It's about getting to the prize, and all who find Christ gets there. The race isn't always smooth, but God promises us that when we perservere, it'll be worth it in the end.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
This could be futile, but probably not dangerous.
I have two grandsons. One is three, almost four. The other is a little over a year.
The older loves to sing. He sings a song over and over until we want to lock him in a sound-proof box. The younger is experimenting with language. Most of the time this is amusing. Cook-cook is cookie. Crack is cracker. Dah is dad, dog, that, and down.
Older grandson's been stuck on Ring Around the Rosy. I'm sure you know the song. We certainly do. I woke up the other day saying, "pocket full of posies."
Out of the string of new words in this song, the little guy has picked "ashes, ashes" as his new words. He says them very distinctly. His pronunciation of ashes, ashes is much more accurate than cook-cook.
I'm sure there is a life lesson in here somewhere. After all, we have a fifteen month old babe with cherub curls who says, Dah dah cook-cook ashes ashes.
Interpretation could be: That dog ate my cookies. Reduce him to ashes. But I don't think the child is that violent yet.
It could mean: Dad, down with the cookies so I can reach them, or I am going to have a meltdown. This is a distinct possibility.
Okay how about these for life lessons:
Be careful what you say, for you are a role model to younger children, and you don't want them to pick up negative language from something you say in passing, innocently, without meaning to influence another person, especially one younger and unprepared for the world.
No, life lessons should be more succinct.
Don't take Scripture out of context and try to make it say what you want.
Good thought-- still a bit cumbersome.
Grandmothers are prone to love their grandkids.
Life application challenge: Call or write your grandmother! She's a nice lady who loves you very much.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Now 60 seconds. I better type fast.
How did my day get away from me? I've been putting a new face on my ministry website -- http://realteenfaith.com. It's a place where I get to connect with teens from all over the nation. It's amazing to me the friends I've made -- Jennifer H. from Florida, the courageous teen who dove into shallow water at her graduation party. That day changed her life. Her story of faith changes mine. Then there is Nicole, the girl who one day wants to be a writer. She already is. I know that in the future I'll be reading her books. She's absolutely amazing as a writer. Matt left a note the other day. Wanting to talk about God.
Sometimes I look at the work involved and think, "maybe not". And then something happens like the day that I received 170 emails when a story picked up from the site somehow hit Africa -- North, West and South Africa. I talked to Lulami and Somakizi and Zimi and Temitope.
The power of the internet amazes me. The ability to talk openly about faith and God and life and challenges is right at your fingertips. So, yes, I will devote the time.
But not tonight. My day is over.
There are glitches but tomorrow is a new day.
I want to thank you for hanging out with us at 4:12LIVE. We appreciate you. Even when we are tired; even when we only have two minutes left in our day.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
I like to think about God in terms of what He says about Himself--not so much His looks as His character. The Bible is full of words that paint pictures of God.
Psalm 121:5-8 says, "The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever."
I live in Texas, so it's especially nice to think of God as our shade. He shelters us from the heat--whatever that "heat" may be in our lives. I love to ponder all that these words might mean. Why did God tell us the sun would not smite us by day, nor the moon by night? It's not likely He meant to assure us that the sun and moon aren't going to reach out and smack us. So what did He mean? To me this says He's very near. Close enough to cover me day and night. Close enough to keep not just my body, but my soul. And He promises to do it forever.
When you read the Bible, do you look for snapshots of the Lord? What's your favorite word picture of God?
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Or that's at least how I use to think. Today, one of the things I write is historical fiction. Go figure! I guess my opinion changed when I started interviewing real people who were once wrapped up in history's events.
I'll never forget my first interview with Charlie and Arthur. It was at a World War II reunion. And as these two guys told me their experiences driving tanks across Europe, they completed each other's sentences. Even after 60 years.
Then there was Tarmo. He'd just immigrated from Finland when he joined up to fight with the United States. He still stands over 6-feet tall and goes swing dancing every Friday night. Yet his chin dropped and tears streamed down his face as he told me about a death march--made up of Jews being herded by Germans--that his tank crew came across. Even after 60 years, he couldn't finish a sentence without crying.
It makes me sad to think that if it wasn't for my 80-year-old friends, I would still consider history boring. It also makes me sad to think that before meeting them I would have let days like yesterday pass without a second thought.
You see, yesterday, while I was running around helping my daughter find jeans, my veteran friends were reminiscing about 60 years ago when Japan surrendered and World War II was over, for good. Thinking about the end of the war makes me realize how much has changed in 60 years. It also helps me to remember that no matter how crazy things seem, or how uncertain the future looks, God's hand is over it all.
Isaiah 46:9-10 says:
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please. (NIV)
Take hope in that fact that God's purposes will stand throughout history, and even in history class. Trust Him. There is no other!
Monday, August 15, 2005
As the year has passed, we've seen Elliana grow from an immovable baby to a toddler that can skitter across the room almost faster than we can walk. She chases balls, loves to bring us books to read, and squeals whenever we pull out the snacks.
One of the most rewarding experiences is seeing your child's first steps. Elliana took hers last month, when I came back from a 10-day residency at school. I had a toy in my hand and my wife was holding her up. She wanted that toy so bad, she just stepped forward, grabbed it steadily, then plopped down a moment later.
We cheered, we clapped, she stared at us, as if to ask, "What?"
Since then, she's only taken a few more steps, and only when she doesn't think about it. If she's so enthralled a toy or a game that she doesn't think about walking, she will walk. But the moment she realizes the risk she's taking, she thinks twice about it and chooses to crawl instead--a safe mode of travel she can count on.
Her actions have got me thinking of my own life and how many times I've wanted so bad to take a first step into something and see everything from that new point of view...but then thought twice about it and resorted to my old, safe mode of traveling instead.
God knows we can reason our dreams away. That's why He stands strong, offering a hand, encouraging us to take that first step--even if we might stumble or fall on our rear. And when we take that first step, it changes the way we live life evermore.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Closed doors—another word for disappointments—can happen without warning. Things can be humming along in your friendships, your health, your love life, your work or schooling when BAM!
A door slams shut. Our way is blocked to the fulfillment of our dreams. How do we respond to closed doors? A variety of ways. Most are hurtful in the long run. Sometimes we manipulate our way around a door that God has allowed to close. You applied for that perfect job, prayed for God’s will, and you didn’t get the job. Do you accept it as God’s will and look for other work? Or are you tempted to pulls strings and go straight to the president of the company because he happens to be your friend’s father? Your friendship with his daughter should carry some clout, right? Do you pull strings—whether it’s turning on the tears or arguing your case—to open a closed door?
Sometimes when a door closes, we are so convinced that what we want is also God’s will that we push ahead anyway. We can’t see anything sinful in what we want. After all, what could be wrong with trying to reconcile a broken relationship? What’s the harm in practicing “evangelistic dating”? [You know, when you tell your parents “I know he isn’t a believer, but I could lead him to the Lord while we date.”] Especially in the area of relationships, we assume God wants what we want. (Operative word there is assume.) When a door slams on a relationship we desire, we might send up a few prayers. Most times, it’s to convince God that our desire is legitimate, so He will help us get what we want (not to find God’s will in the matter.)
Getting emotionally upset is the most common reaction to a closed door in our lives. Beware of this. While it’s normal to be initially upset, don’t stay stuck there. The longer you stay upset—and yes, it IS a choice!—the harder time you’ll have hearing from the Lord about the meaning of the closed door and what (if anything) you should do about it. Staying emotionally upset can also lead you to blame God or others for the situation. Playing the blame game is never helpful—and often very destructive.
So if those are wrong ways to handle closed doors, what’s a helpful, godly response? From years of experience from doing it wrong, I truly encourage you to face closed doors like this:
1) Wait. You can’t go wrong giving things time. First take time to calm down. Let the initial emotions pass. Satan is the one who will push, push, push you to DO SOMETHING NOW! The Holy Spirit will gently lead and guide. If you’re feeling a sense of urgency about forcing a closed door back open, be very alert. It’s probably NOT God.
2) Pray. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in seeing the situation clearly. Ask for help with your emotions. Ask for your eyes to be opened to other possibilities, perhaps another door the Lord is opening for you. Ask for grace to help you wait with a good attitude.
3) Trust. Thank God for working in your life even though you can’t tell what He’s doing at the present time. Trust that He’s working on your behalf in the circumstance because He is! We see the closed door—but we usually don’t see what’s happening behind the door. Remember, God knows how things will end. He knows 100% of the facts about any given situation—while we often know very little. Trust Him to do what’s best.
Facing a major disappointment today? A door slammed in your face and you don’t know what to do? Wait. Pray. Trust God to work. I know it’s hard to patiently wait. The real secret of patience is finding something else to do while you wait. Give the closed door to the Lord. Then, while He works, focus on something else. If just your timing was off, God will eventually open the door again. Or He may reveal His reasons for closing it—and point you to a different and better open door.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
You see, in high school, I was a witch.
Yup. You read that right. I was a teenage witch. And even though I knew several Christians in high school who tried to talk to me about God, I was having none of it at the time. Little did I know that seeds were being planted in my heart that would later come up. My high school days were sadly before the days of the world-wide web so to find out about witchcraft, I did it the old-fashioned way - scouring bookstores. Back then it was harder to find stuff - now it's all down at the local Borders right next to all the Christian fiction. Yikes!
But back to these Christians I knew in high school. At the time, I didn't even understand the word "Christian". I just knew that they talked about God in a different way than I did. I still remember sitting in the back of my American Government class arguing with Hetah and Danny about Jesus. My mantra was that "Jesus" was a personal thing. But what I was really saying was that I wanted full control over what Jesus was. In effect, I created a Jesus that I was not responsible to do or think anything for. To bolster my ideas, it was at that time that Depeche Mode came out with a song called "Personal Jesus".
"Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who's there."
Someone who's there. That's what I was really looking for. The song itself speaks of forgiving and delivering and confessing - all good and true "Christian" things, but when I heard the song, I believed that Jesus was whatever you believed Him to be. I think that is still what's going on today even though my high school days are behind me now. I still see kids feeling lost and unsure and disillusioned with what they see in church. Heath and Danny asked me lots of questions about what I believed. I gave them answers, but I wasn't even sure myself. Being a Wiccan had given me an identity that I wasn't about to let go of, yet part of me still thought I was missing something - I just didn't know what.
The thing with sharing with people about faith - real faith, is that you just never know when those seeds will spring up. For me, it was my freshmen year of college. I still considered myself a witch. But I was also depressed and feeling desperately alone. I bet some of you can relate. So I moved away to college and landed with two roommates - who were Christians. I just couldn't get away from these people! But God finally had my attention - and I began asking questions, watching and listening. Eventually, God captured my heart.
My friends from high school thought it was a total riot that their witch classmate had become a believer. One of them, Heath, told me that if someone had told him that I would one day become one of the strongest women of God he knew that he never would have believed them.
So even if it seems like someone isn't listening - they probably are.
And even if you're confused about what someone else belives, that's okay, because they are probably confused too.
And most importantly - we just can't escape God. He is the grand Pursurer of our Hearts. I'm so glad He kept pursuing mine. To go from where I was to where I am - that is something only God can accomplish.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Sometimes I get asked about the thread of dragons through my books. Isn't the dragon a symbol for Satan in the Bible? Can a Christian use a symbol for evil differently, or is the Christian author (hey! they mean me) luring people into accepting evil as good?
WOW! Not me, no sirree!
Let me ramble here a bit about why I don't feel convicted of a heinous crime.
Being an author, I consider myself a "word-person." Being a word person, I like definitions. Instead of looking up dragon, I looked up symbol.
Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible.
That's from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
I see symbol as the key word here. Symbols can change meaning. A fish was nothing but a fish until early Christians began using it as a symbol to communicate secretly where their next meetings would be held. A swastika (that misshapened cross thingie Nazis used in the Hitler era) was a symbol of hope for a better economic Germany until those being fed the propaganda finally saw the light. Now it is the symbol of a blight on the history of mankind.
My dragons, particularly the smaller, pocketsize dragons, represent the talents God gives his children.
And I also think of dragons as very bold creatures. And I consider myself a very meek person. In just Acts alone, Scripture refers to the apostles speaking the Gospel boldly six times. I know that whenever I speak publicly about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, I must be enabled by the Holy Spirit. Truthfully, on my own, I am such a wuss. It takes a "spell," such as the influence of Jesus, to get me to be bold like a dragon.
I would like to be like these apostles. Just look at them go!
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Instead of going out and slaying dragons, go out and be a dragon, bold enough to declare the love of Jesus Christ.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NIV)
If God is all about rules, then he certainly started off the garden of Eden on the wrong foot. It was a one-rule paradise. Think about it. God’s ultimate world was designed to be a world of freedom from day one. Adam and Eve were surrounded by beauty. They got to hang out with God. They had all the food that they needed.
They had one small rule—stay away from the tree!
But the serpent took their focus off of all that they had. He adjusted their view to focus on the one thing they couldn’t have. When they ate the fruit they got more than they bargained. They lost their innocence. For the first time, they felt ashamed and embarrassed. God was walking through the garden looking to hang out. They were hiding behind fig leaves.
That same old lie is still out there today. It tempts seekers and believers to focus on the forbidden fruit. Many think that God is holding out on them, that he’s keeping stuff away from them that feels good. That they are missing out. You see, they are focusing on the small stuff that God says, "not good for you, my child. There is beauty all around you. Reach for it!"
Real freedom comes from reaching for God instead of forbidden fruit. It comes from hanging out with the God of the universe and discovering what he wants to say to you about life, about your dreams, about ministry, about your passions. That’s tapping into something pretty significant—freedom to run after the things that matter and recognizing those that don’t.
God is a passionate God and we live a passionate faith. It's deep and beautiful and offers purpose and passion and purity in a lifestyle that cuts all the cords as we fly in our faith.
Is God all about rules? Nuh uh. He's about running after him and discovering who He is, and who we can be through him.
This is my prayer: I have you! I have the God of the universe directing my footsteps. Reshape my thinking, father. Show me what I do have. Help me live outside feelings, outside the present. Thank you for protecting me from things I don’t always see. Teach me to trust you and your plan for my future. Help me to reach for you instead of forbidden fruit!
Suzie Eller, follower of Christ
author of Real Teens, Real Stories, Real Life
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
You get the picture. The worst consequences resulted in embarrassment, but no one ever got hurt. And often, a long lost loved one or some other special person showed up as part of the consequence, warming the audience's hearts and making it all worth while for the contestants.
Too bad life isn't like that, eh? Truth or Consequences. On the one hand we have God's truth, and on the other hand, all sorts of voices screaming lies. Through TV shows, magazines, movies, Internet sites, peers . . . a constant stream of false information often drowns out God's simple truth. And then there are the consequences. When we believe and act on lies, consequences can be devastating.
Not long ago I spoke to a group of teens about purity. We examined lies we often hear and held them up to the truth. Here are a few we discussed:
Lie: You have to experiment with sex to learn about it.
Truth: God created sex for marriage; you have your whole married life to "practice" and discover the wonders of sex.
Lie: Having sex builds intimacy.
Truth: A healthy sex life is a result--not the cause--of intimacy. The key ingredient to intimacy is trust, and one of the best ways to build trust is to show respect and restraint in physical relationships before marriage.
Lie: Purity is "old-fashioned."
Truth: Purity is God's best. He commands it, because He loves us and wants us to experience sex as He created it, which is far more wonderful, powerful, and passionate than any Hollywood version. (See Song of Solomon)
Lie: Having a boyfriend/girlfriend proves my worth and makes me fit in.
Truth: Our worth comes from the Lord. Read Psalm 139. God knows the plans He has for us. (Jeremiah 29:11) God sees the whole story of our lives, and He wants us to have a "big picture" attitude--to make choices now that will help us achieve His plans for our future lives. He wants us to trust His wisdom. It hurts to feel left out when "everybody else is doing it," but there's so much more to look forward to if we avoid pitfalls associated with pre-marital sex.
Lie: I've already had sex, so it's too late. I might as well keep having it.
Truth: It's never too late to repent of sin. Any sin. When we confess our failures to God, we receive His forgiveness. Then we can "go and sin no more." God doesn't condemn us, but He does expect us to change.
I share these with you, because I wish someone had shared them with me before I started dating. Maybe you think you'll never find someone who will love you the way God intended. Maybe you think you should just settle for "good enough."
Don't settle. If you haven't already, start praying for the person God will bring into your life. Nothing is too difficult for Him. And while you're at it, ask Him to make you the kind of person someone else is praying to find.
Truth has consequences, too. When we choose it, we choose life.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
I’ve discovered you can tell a lot from the opening lines of a book. The opening is a promise of what’s to come. A promise of mystery, or romance, or intrigue.
Here are some first lines you might be familiar with. See if you can guess what they are. (Answers are at the bottom of the blog.)
#1 “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
#2 “All children, except one, grow up.”
#3 "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”
#4 “Pet and Patty began to trot briskly, as if they were glad, too. Laura held tight to the wagon bow and stood up in the jolting wagon. Beyond Pa's shoulder and far across the waves of green grass she could see the trees, and they were not like any trees she had seen before. They were no taller than bushes.”
The reason that first lines are so important is because a writer is a creator. Books are designed. They don’t simply appear by chance. They have a purpose, whether it is simply to relay information, give instructions, or to take you on a journey of discovery.
Writers are creators. And our Creator was a writer. He used the pens of many men to achieve His desired communication with us.
God wanted to relay information. He also God wanted to give instructions. But more than that, God wanted to tell us a love story, which can also be considered a journey of discovery—a journey to Him.
You can call it a Divine Design, and hints of it can be seen in the opening line of God’s Good Book.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
This opening line tells us many things about God:
It tells us He had a plan.
He had a purpose.
He had good things in mind for us--concerning both heaven and earth, eternity and time.
But that’s not all. God not only gave us a great opening line in His word. He gave us the Word, Jesus Christ.
John 1:1-5 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”
The story of Jesus being life for us--and the light of men--is the greatest story of them all. And because of Jesus, God can also create a beautiful story with each of our lives. In fact, deciding to make Jesus the Lord of your life can be the plot twist to turn your story from one of tragedy to victory!
Today, can be the opening line to your beautiful romance AND the start of a grand new adventure with God. All you have to do is have a heart eager to seek God and love Him. Then, as you prayerfully open your life up to His pen, God will write His Story through the moments of Your day—one pen stroke at a time. Through Him, with Him, your romance will flourish and the adventure of a lifetime will begin.
#1 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
#2 Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie
#3 Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
#4 Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Monday, August 08, 2005
So, I have permission to share with you something my brother wrote to appear in my series. (He's Parker's "writing voice" in my ON TOUR books because I am not a poet.) It's powerful, and I pray that it impacts you like it did me.
Make It Through
by Dave Keffer
I’m wide awake
Its 2 am
Just can’t seem to comprehend
Anything that you have planned for me oh Lord
Devestated by the tears
That I have cried for all these years
And my heart so full of fear without you in this world
And I believe in you
Even through the hurt and pain
Its just a chance to understand
That everything will be okay again
My eyes are wide
Swallow my pride
And give you all I am inside
For you did everything for me
Its 4 am,
Still wide awake
Thinking about every mistake
That I have made I’m so afraid to make it through
All the times when I can’t trust
Oh my God it hurts so much
When I walk with every crutch instead of you
And I believe in you
Even through the hurt and pain
Its just a chance to understand
That everything will be okay again
My eyes are wide
Swallow my pride
And give you all I am inside
For you did everything for me
And I am broken
I am selfish
I am shallow
I am helpless
I am dirty
I am poor
I am lazy
And I ignore
All that you have given me
I am hateful
I am shamed
I’m afraid to speak your name
I’m a sinner
I’m a fool
And I’m nothing
And I’m done trying to hide
I give you all I am inside
Take my words and kill my pride
As I worship you who died
Sunday, August 07, 2005
It's funny. When I arrived on campus for my first 10-day residency, I felt like I was in high school again. It was a whole new social group, and at a secular university. Being a Christian author, and at times one with pretty bold material, even for the Christian market, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew going in that I wanted to be a good example, but I also felt myself preparing for the worst. I wondered how people might react we workshoped my first creative piece, about a girl who's sold out to her faith.
Ironically, I didn't get the reaction I had prepared for.
While the school is full of students who proudly call themselves liberals, and proudly push their own edgy material and lifestyles, I didn't get any negative reactions. None.
Instead, I found that many of the students found themselves confiding in me, knowing that I was a Christian, and inherently trusting me.
I guess it just goes to show that, as Jesus said, "You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill." (Matthew 5:14, MSG)
Hopefully, as we each shine our light together, even in little ways, the world will warm to the message of the gospel...even when we least expect it.
Friday, August 05, 2005
I loved “The Sound of Music” and raised my kids on it. At one point in the movie, the young nun Maria is told that “when God closes a door, He always opens a window.” That sounds sweet and pleasant—even restful—in its guidance. In actuality, facing a closed door in your life is usually painful. Sometimes excruciatingly so. It means the loss of something you had truly hoped for: a job, a privilege, a relationship.
In recent years the Lord closed the door on a couple of my close relationships, causing tremendous pain at the time. The “old me” would have finagled, manipulated, coerced, you name it—to force those doors back open. In the past I was “successful” several times in opening doors that the Lord closed—and in the end I was really sorry. Once I demanded to have a job that was rightfully mine, and lived to hate every moment on the job. I forced a relationship that I just “knew” God intended for me, only to cause myself tremendous pain. In each case, I forced the door open that God had closed. With 20/20 hindsight, I realize the Lord had been trying to protect me from something unhealthy or unwise. Thankfully, in recent years I’ve learned to pray when doors close and let God decide whether or not to open them again—and when.
God has the power to open any door He wants to open. But His love for His children is so deep that He closes doors that He knows will bring harm in the long run. I’ve had to tell my own children “no” countless times over the years, and it was awful watching some of the reactions, especially if my decision caused pain to a child who had been such a cooperative kid. But experience told me that what that child wanted would eventually be harmful. Sometimes they took it well—sometimes they pitched fits. I react the same way with my heavenly Father.
What are some reasons the Lord shuts the door on something you desire? Why doesn’t He open some doors no matter how hard you pray and how long you wait? Sometimes He is protecting us from something we can’t see—we never have all the facts about a situation or person, but He does. Sometimes God closes a door to redirect us. He might not let us have that job at the coffeehouse because He has a job for us at the hospital where we’ll touch many more lives. Sometimes a closed door is just a test to see if we really believe God is in total control of a situation. (A closed door can increase our perseverance, our ability to wait and pray and trust.) Sometimes we’re correct in thinking a certain path is God’s plan for us, but our timing is off. (If you’re a gung-ho, let’s-get-this-show-on-the-road person like me, you’ll run into closed doors all the time that just mean “slow down—not so fast.” If you’re out of God’s timing, you’re still out of His will.)
God is good all the time. God is love. When He closes doors, He has a good, loving reason for doing so. Slow down. Pray and ask Him what the closed door means. Take time to listen. Take time to read the Bible, where He will often speak His answer to you. Ask why a door has closed in your life—and give your all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving Father the option whether to open it again. Trust me—you’ll be glad you did!
Thursday, August 04, 2005
This one from Donita K. Paul.
Yesterday was my day to blog. And I used two different computers to try and get in. Neither one would let me in. Today my laptop is cooperating, but the desktop still says I have no business blogging. I'll be back in nine days. Sorry, I missed you yesterday. I had something cool to talk about, too. I'll save it.
Because it is so easy to feel alone, isn't it?
Even when our struggles seem small in comparison to someone else's pain, it's easy to feel like no one else could possibly understand what we are going through. Plenty of people have lost a father just like I have. But there is a part of me that really does think that no one knows how much I really lost.
Except one person, that is.
I think that's the most amazing part of following Jesus for me personally - I am never alone. Even if I feel alone, and completely misunderstood (which frankly still happens when you're adult, too), I know that God sees everything and He "gets it". With Him there are no explainations necessary because He knows my heart fully and loves me still.
There's a song sung by Barlow Girl that always touches me.
I waited for you today
But you didn't show
I needed you today
So where did you go?
You told me to call
Said you'd be there
And though I haven't seen you
Are you still there?
I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel you by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here and I'm never alone
And though I cannot see you
And I can't explain why
Such a deep reassurance
You've placed in my life.
We cannot separate
'Cause you're part of me.
And though you're invisible
I'll trust the unseen.
Even when I can't feel Him by my side, He is there. What a comfort that is to me! And may it comfort you, too, when you're feeling that loneliness creep in. He knows us fully and loves us still.
(I feel like I'm coming off as SO serious - which I'm not usually - it's all this sad stuff I've been reading lately - I promise I'll try to write something less somber when I come back:-)
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
We've scratched our heads. We've sent emails back and forth. We've wondered if you are there, even though we know you are there because the hit counter just keeps on ticking.
Why aren't they commenting? Letting us know they are checking in to 4:12LIVE?
Well, hmm. Maybe it is because we forgot to check the thingimajig that allows anyone who wants to comment to do so! I just discovered that the default setting is to allow registered users only to share their thoughts.
Sorry. : (
I realized it when Samantha, one of our regular readers, (Hey Sam!) complained on her new blog site that she had to create it just to leave a comment on 4:12LIVE.
So, problem fixed! Comment away. And if you don't start commenting, we'll suffer quietly and pretend it doesn't matter, even though you matter a lot to each of us here at 4:12.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
It sat on my dresser, the eerie shimmer catching my eye. It was just a glowing wrist band, but in the dark of the night it cast light all around. I got up and placed it on my wrist and walked around the dark room. The luminescent circle pinpointed my steps.
That’s what I want to be – a glow in the dark believer. Radiating with the light of Christ in a world looking for answers. Walking in a way that others can find their way when darkness closes around them.
I don’t have “star” stamped on my forehead. When I sing in the shower, frogs croak outside in unison. I can’t jump higher or run faster, even when I have the latest and best athletic shoes. I’m ordinary, but I have access to the light!
A glow-in-the-dark wristband fades over time, but when you hold it to the light it is reenergized. If the wristband is never held to the light, it fades. If it is never placed in the darkness, it can’t glow.
I know. I know. Crazy to get so much theology out of a wristband, but God talks to me in strange ways.
There is a balance in your life that you can pursue to be a glow-in-the-dark believer. Spending time in the presence of God illuminates your life. He shows you how to live. He places a burden for the world in your heart. He gets rid of the junk and replaces it something so much greater.
But we also have to venture into the darkness. We can’t just go to church and sit on a pew and call that Christianity. We can’t sit in the light all the time. We can have dinner and conversations and relationships with those who don’t know him, just like Jesus did. He didn’t embrace the darkness, he shined with God’s love and with clear convictions lived in truth.
God, don’t let me get too comfortable in my faith. Help me to stick tight to you so that I can grow, but let me take you into my world. Be the light in me so that others can see you inside of me.Suzie
Monday, August 01, 2005
Of course, as Ecclesiastes tells us, there's a time to laugh, and a time not to. That's the problem, isn't it? I often find myself laughing during the "not to" times. I'm not trying to be disrespectful or anything, but you know how it is. When you're not supposed to laugh, it's hard to stifle it.
Take church, for example. I cherish the privilege of meeting together with fellow believers to worship and receive instruction from the Lord. But sometimes funny things happen, and my best intentions toward decorum dissolve into hilarity.
Recently a guest preacher visited our church. He was one of those Southern preachers who march around the platform and holler when they get excited. Before I tell you what happened, you need to understand a little about my son, Jacob. Nine years ago he nearly drowned and wasn't expected to live. Then he wasn't expected to awaken from coma. Doctors said he'd remain vegetative for the rest of his life. We didn't laugh much during those long, heart-breaking months. In fact, I didn't imagine I'd ever enjoy a full-body laugh again. But God had other plans. He turned our mourning into joy. He raised Jacob back to his feet and put a song of praise in his mouth. Many lives have been touched through Jacob's healing and his sweet, innocent faith. You see, Jacob still has a brain injury, but one amazing outcome of his ordeal is a childlike, pure love for Jesus.
So, the preacher preached, and Jacob listened intently. When the man leaned forward, wagged his finger, and yelled, "The Lord says, 'Open wide thy mouth, and I will fill it,'" Jacob took the instruction literally. He threw his head back and opened wide his mouth. Very wide.
My daughter was sitting beside him, and she lost it. Her body shook with laughter as she tried not to make a sound. I couldn't look at her. I knew if I did, I'd be in the same boat. She and I tend to be the ones in this family who get ourselves in the most trouble when it comes to laughing at "not to" moments. I was determined to be the strong one this time. But it was funny. And I'm pretty sure God enjoyed it, too.
Suffering is a part of life. It happens to everyone. No one goes through life without experiencing sorrow and pain. But, thanks be to God, we also have joy and delight. We can open our mouths wide, and God will fill them. With laughter.
A merry heart is good like medicine. I hope you all get a healthy dose of "medicine" today. :)