Thursday, February 27, 2014

After All

In a recent Bible Study, we came to Luke 7 which contains one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I thought of this piece which I wrote from that story. It received an Honorable Mention in the inspirational category for a Writer's Digest Annual Competition and also a second place for short story in a Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Competition. The night my name was announced at the conference as a winner for this piece, I sat amazed. The first piece of fiction I'd written since college, I said, "I don't write fiction." The beloved writer, Gayle Roper sat next to me. "Apparently you, do," she said. God used the award as direction pointing me to fiction writing, and I began my first novel a couple of months later. After more than eight years of rewrites, and seeing my second manuscript come to print, it became Home to Currahee, due to release in April.

She’d never heard so much talk about one person before. You would’ve thought that no one in Nain had ever seen a traveling teacher. What was wrong with these people?

She’d even heard it said of him that he performed miracles, but her bunch was not known for truth-telling. As she saw a crowd began to gather, she decided to see for herself what all the commotion was about.

From her place in the back, she caught her first glimpse of the teacher, and thought how ordinary he seemed to be. He began to speak, and she hoped she wasn’t wasting her time, because it looked like today there would be no miracles, only a story. Well, since I’m already here, she thought. She strained forward to hear.

“There once were two sons. The younger of the two after receiving his share of the family inheritance wandered far from home and squandered all his money on wild living."

She wondered if this was a true story. If it was, she might have known this son. In fact she seemed to remember a young man who came from an affluent family up near Tyre, who’d just come into a lot of money. She’d seen him several times then he just disappeared. The teacher continued.

“After this son’s money was completely gone he was reduced to having to feed pigs to earn money.”

She knew how that was. She felt like she was in the pig-feeding business herself.

“He found himself jealous of the pig’s food and decided to go back to his father to ask for forgiveness.”

She thought about how risky that seemed. The crowd gathered around him seemed to echo her reservations. Who could forgive such stupidity? He didn’t deserve to be forgiven. He didn’t deserve his father’s love. He’d made his bed; he’d have to lie in it just like the rest of them.

Who did he think he was?

To her astonishment the teacher said that the father did forgive him, not only forgave him but also gave a big party in his honor.

This was a fairy tale. What was the point? Was there really a father like that somewhere? As these thoughts raced through her mind, the teacher’s eyes lifted above the crowd and it seemed that just for a moment his eyes met hers. He was looking at her, no, seeing her, and seeing her as no one ever had before. Seeing that beneath the markings of what seemed to seal her place in life, there were sorrows and hurts beyond anyone else’s knowing. In his eyes, she saw compassion. She saw the same compassion she’d just heard about.

She didn’t know how a person’s life could change in just a few seconds of time, but it did. She left the crowd that day and cried all the way to the brothel she called home. As she fell across the scented sheets that covered her bed, she tried to remember the last time she cried.

As a young girl, she’d cried every night. She wept so much her eyes stayed swollen most of the time. Then she stopped. The attacks continued, but she stopped crying.

It wasn’t enough that her parents had died leaving her to the care of distant relatives. She had to suffer under the ultimate humiliation of being treated as no young girl should be treated. But there was no one to tell, no one to help, no place to go. She determined in her heart to survive. She willed it. One day it would all be different. One day a man would love her, hold her, and treat her with the affection that she longed for. She’d almost forgotten that her ticket to freedom had already been stolen: her innocence.

Who would want to marry her? No one, of course.

It was not ever something she intended or planned for, this life she had. But what was she to do? How was she to live without relatives, without any prospect of a husband? So she did it. She never felt a thing. She never allowed herself to feel.

For so long she’d felt dead inside, unable to trust, unable to love, unable to cry. But today, something happened. Today, when his eyes met hers there was hope for the first time in years.

She grabbed the box and started through the streets not even realizing how tightly she held it until she felt its sharp corners cutting into her flesh. She’d heard the teacher was at Simon’s house. She had to find this man some had said was the Christ. She didn’t know if Simon would let her into the house. He was after all a Pharisee, and it was no secret who she was.

Good, she thought, when she encountered someone she’d never seen at the door. With the box in hand, she slipped in, and then she saw Him. She never even stopped to think. She ran to him, dropped to His feet and wept so hard that her tears were a constant stream. She tried to wipe them away from his feet with her hair, and then she remembered the box filled with all that she had of value. She removed its contents and emptied them on the feet of the only one who had ever shown her acceptance. Then she kissed those precious feet.

Through the sounds of her sobbing, she heard Him speak. “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

It was odd the way he said it, almost as if He knew what Simon was thinking.

“There were two debtors: one owing five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them could pay the debt so the moneylender canceled the debts of both. Which one of the debtors would love the moneylender more?”

“The one who owed him more, I guess,” Simon offered sounding reluctant.

Then Jesus spoke about her. “This woman has shown her love for me by washing my feet, kissing them, and pouring out her ointment. Her sins which were many are now forgiven.”

Her sins, her sins, were forgiven. Just like the foolish son. This was not a fairy tale. He was who He said He was. It was true. She had found him--the one who would love her and treat her with tenderness. Oh, who could have guessed this? Somehow, she could feel the shame, the disappointments, and the broken heart melting away.

Then He spoke again. “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

It seemed there was a miracle that day, after all.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Up close and personal

I remember years ago, when my aspiring wildlife biologist son first latched onto a new toy— a motion activated camera that he wrapped around a tree at night. He threw apples out as bait and then checked in the morning to see if he’d captured the likenesses of any nocturnal visitors.

It took several days to get anything other than cars coming in and out of the driveway and my husband sticking his face in the camera for a joke. But with a little patience he drew in the guests he most wanted—a few does and one very curious buck.
Don't have that picture, but here's a more recent one he took.

Getting these close-up views of the animals excited my son. Something in the nature of humans makes us want to get near that which we love. My son has always wanted to see more and know more about any kind of wildlife, because it’s his passion.
Lately, the verse in James 4:8 has often come to mind, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” I keep hearing the words, “Draw near…” In stormy times, our ability to stand is directly linked to this time in God’s presence.

The writer, James Scott Bell, says writers should “seek to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God.” I’d say that was good advice for anybody, not just writers.

One recent morning, as I cracked open a devotional book, I read an excerpt from Richard Foster’s book, Freedom of Simplicity in which he wrote about Brother Lawrence’s quest as  a kitchen monk to constantly abide in the presence of God. Brother Lawrence himself wrote about this quest in The Practice of the Presence of God. Later that same morning, Brother Lawrence came up again in a Bible study I’m doing written by Priscilla Shirer. How odd to find his words twice in the same morning, but how like God to make sure I didn’t miss the message. Brother Lawrence so practiced the presence of God, that even in the busy kitchen where he worked he said, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen . . . I possess God in as great tranquility as If I were upon my knees . . .” It’s been some time since I’ve read Brother Lawrence’s book, but perhaps it’s time to reread.

We’re a little more than a week away from that time of the Christian year called Lent, a time of reflection and renewed devotion. So, I get it. It’s time to draw nearer, to seek consistently to stand in the “conscious presence of God”—to center myself in the presence of God.

It's time to get up close and personal. In comparison to my son’s passionate quest to know wildlife, how much more should my passion be for the presence of God.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

If you're trying to trust His promises

Some time ago, a friend who lived on a Caribbean island emailed me a photograph of double rainbows she had captured while living in the tropical paradise. As I gazed at the radiant colors, I thought of what the rainbows symbolized—God’s promises, particularly the one never to destroy the earth again by flood. 

When I scrolled down to the bottom of the picture, however, underneath the rainbows, the photograph showed an unexpected tangle of weeds, roads, houses, and utility wires. They were a sharp contrast to the beauty of the rainbows.

At the time, I was experiencing anxiety from financial and career concerns. As I studied the picture, I realized that instead of remembering, And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19), I’d been focusing more on the problems than promises. eferences:
The more I'd lost sight of the truth of God, the more difficult things had become. God used the photograph to help me keep my eyes on the beauty of His promise, not the tangle of concerns.

Later, my friend sent me another rainbow photo from which her mother created a leaded glass ornament that  now hangs in my office.

When I see the ornament, I think of this verse, God always does what he says, and is gracious in everything he does.” (Psalm 145:13b The Message), and I try and ask myself, Am I living as someone who really believes God’s promises?


Monday, February 17, 2014

When the road ahead seems fuzzy in your creative pursuits

I’d written another post for today, but I’ve set it aside for another time. The thing most on my heart is the discouragement I see so many dealing with in their creative pursuits. I know some very smart, gifted people who are at the point of finding other work, because the results have not turned out as they’d hoped. The question that circles in their minds is “Did I miss God somehow?”

I can’t answer that question for anyone else. But, I try to remind myself how the world defines success is not the same way God defines it. Additionally, God is not as concerned with the result as we are; He’s all about the journey.

If you find yourself in a place of disappointment (and believe me I know what it’s like), here are a few things to think about.

Go back to why you started. Review how God called you to this creative journey, and hold onto that. It may be for a season you have to cobble together other sources of income, but don’t let go of what God has whispered into your heart.

Don’t compare yourself with others or their successes. Madeleine L’Engle used to quote Marlowe, “Comparisons are odious.” They are. L’Engle knew the sting of disappointment, too, as she went nine years between book contracts. It’s easy to look around and see the apparent successes of others, and begin to think you are “less than.” Don’t do it.

Go through the doors that open. Put aside your preconceived notions of what your journey should be, and watch for the unlatching of unexpected doors. It may not be what you’d hoped, but sometimes as Robert Frost wrote, “way leads onto way.”

Keep working. Don’t just sit and wait—work and wait. If you stop working, your craft will suffer. I recently came on a drawing I did many years ago and was surprised at how good it was. I couldn’t do the same thing today, as I’ve not kept a drawing journal in quite some time. But in this season of my life, I do make sure I write something almost every day.

Almost always, it’s going to take longer than you think. I blush when I remember the expectations I had ten years ago about how long it would take to get a book in print. LOL. LOL. LOL. People ask me about my screenplay under option, and I have to tell them that statistically, it takes about thirteen years for a screenplay to see its way into production. Yes, there are exceptions, but having realistic expectations saves us from even more disappointment.

Listen for what God is saying to you. In order to do that, we have to spend time before Him in prayer, meditation, and study.

Don’t give up. Keep at it. I once heard an author say that she believed the only people who didn’t eventually make it were the ones who gave up. It’s hard. It’s long, but hear this from one who’s been at it for a very long time: I don’t know what I might have to do in the future to support this call I feel God has on my life, but I intend to continue even if it means a day job to supplement the family income.

So, if the road ahead seems a bit fuzzy for you, please know it’s not fuzzy for God.
“By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.” (Philippians 3:14-16).
Pressing on with you, friend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

If you're looking for a treasure in the darkness on Valentine's Day

We're snowed in here, and I'm using the time to hone my next novel manuscript. Hopefully, I'm in the home stretch, but I've turned to the archives today for a post about how God sent a long ago Valentine message back to me.

Finishing another edit of a screenplay, so I’m turning my attention to some other projects, which have languished long on my to-do list.

I’ve been crawling around in one of the attics this week. We have three. Thankfully, one of them is empty. For those of you who have spotless attics swept clean with boxes carefully labeled, you’ll want to skip this post. It’s not for you.

But if open cardboard boxes, overflowing TJMaxx bags, and loose debris tumble overhead in your home, you’ll understand. How’d so much stuff get up there?

Try home schooling for eight years. So far, I’ve counted five bins of schoolbooks. There’s probably more, because I’m only a third of the way through this attic. Add to that the kid’s art projects I couldn’t let go. It’s just always been easier to poke stuff I didn’t know what to do with in the attic and deal with it later. Later has arrived. Can you say procrastinate?

Through the years, it was a no brainer to carry odds and ends to Goodwill and cart clothing and linens to a ministry for the homeless, but what about that box of costumes my kids wore a thousand days, so tattered no one else would want them? I can still see my son in the cowboy chaps and my daughter in the yellow tutu.

I know, I know. Our memories are not tied up in our things. But, right now, this Mama with the starkly just empty nest can’t take some of this to the dump. Still, after many hours yesterday, I almost filled up the recycle bin, added to our load for the landfill, and crated several boxes to give away.

I have much work ahead squinting and poking around in the darkness, while trying to avoid roofing nails overhead (sad to report no overhead insulation in this old house).

Some of the blasts from the past brought me to tears  like these messages from a long ago Valentines Day--

The prophet Isaiah penned these words:
“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden wealth of secret places,
So that you may know that it is I,
The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name”(Isaiah 45:3 NASB).

Way up there in the darkness, in the midst of a hard project, God cheered my heart through these treasured messages of grace and love from little kids long grown into young adulthood.

Makes me think of another dark time just after I’d had breast cancer surgery when I battled fear one night until the early hours of morning. The thought, “You’re going to die,” hounded and hounded. Then, just before dawn, God’s love and peace overwhelmed me—a treasure in the darkness.

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39 The Message).

And from my own experience, I know that cancer and dark attics can’t get between God’s love and us either.

Praying the treasures of His love for you in your own dark times, friends.

Monday, February 10, 2014

If you’re looking for something written especially for you

My neighbor, Betty, gave me an extraordinary gift this year at Christmas. We’ve all seen those little promise boxes, which hold verses of scripture. I first saw one in sixth grade when my teacher, Miss Vera Bagwell sent her box down the aisles of my classroom, and we all took turns reading a verse aloud. Yes, it was a public school, but a few decades ago.

Anyway, Betty gave me a promise box with a bit of a twist--the verses have my name inserted in each one. As I was getting my big book project off the ground, it seemed every card I pulled out of the box seemed to speak directly to me that day. They began to spill out across the windowsill in my kitchen.

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, Beverly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
“Do not be anxious about anything, Beverly, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” (Philippians 4:6).
“Do not become weary in doing good, Beverly, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
“You can do all things, Beverly, through Christ who strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13).
“Humble yourself, Beverly, therefore, under God’s almighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
The concept of personalized verses was not foreign to me. I’d written verses out over the years with my name or others inserted, but with Betty's gift, I never know what I’m going to pull out of that box in the morning, and so often, the verse that day feels like it was written especially for me.

That’s because it was, and it was written especially for you, too.

The Apostle John wrote, These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it” (John 20:30-31 The Message).

Paul also writes, “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 The Message).

God wants us to have a life that is not artificial and temporary, but "real and eternal," the kind only He offers, and He has written the way down for us. As Peterson translates, how amazing that through his Word, God sculpts us for all He has for us. So, when you’re floundering, pick up the Bible and know God is speaking directly to you.

I’ll run the verses above by you again, and this time, you insert your name.

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, ________, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
“Do not be anxious about anything, _______, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” (Philippians 4:6).
“Do not become weary in doing good, _______, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
“You can do all things, ______, through Christ who strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13).
“Humble yourself, _______, therefore, under God’s almighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
Be blessed, friends.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

If you're making a move

I can’t tell you why it seems I always choose to take on a big project when I’m right in the middle of another big project. For some reason, just as I’m getting this next book out, I’ve decided that the situation in my office has become intolerable.

I think I have little attention deficit disorder.

Or, I’m so weary of sitting at a computer for ten or twelve hours, I wanted to do something more physical.

Years ago, after we stopped home schooling, I moved my office to the former schoolroom/sunroom because I’d started my day in that room every morning for school, and thought it’d be a nice transition to have my office in the same place. In addition, since the desk was in the middle of everything, I’d not be tempted to work when my family was at home. With everyone at school/work during the day, I had a good bit of uninterrupted writing time.

 I’m right on the main thoroughfare through the house, and though the kids are away at college, with my husband’s semi-retired state, he no longer goes to the office. Lots of back and forth. Because my desk is right next to the windows, the cats seem to think it’s a great place to hang out and supervise the birds. Most of the time, I feel as if I’m trying to work in a blender.

Again, I think I’m a little ADD. I did much of the rewriting of this book at Chick-fil-a. I’m not saying that’s bad. I get coffee refills, the staff and I have become great buds, and they don’t expect me to clean anything, but I should be able to work at my office desk without feeling I’m sailing against the wind.

To rearrange the office so I can get in a corner rather than a raceway, I have to move bookcases. That’s not unusual. Anytime, we rearrange, we have to move books, because we have volumes in every crevice of this house. My husband gave away fourteen boxes of books, when he left his former office, and I’ve carted box after box of my own books to the Goodwill, but the volumes here are still multiplying. I sometimes judge contests; so many books come free in the mail. I have the keep, give away, and intend to read soon stacks going.

Of course when I start plowing through all this stuff, I inevitably find something I forgot I own, and have to stop and peruse its contents like this children’s book by one of my favorite authors, CynthiaRylant. It also has lovely watercolor illustrations by Barry Moser:

Or this page of bird eggs which fell from the back of an old book:

I love this circa 1950’s nature guide by Golden Press:

How about this 1904 Story of the Bible Color plate?
In this current season of life, I’m looking to curate my life in such a way that I only keep items I really love around me. It’s easier to let go of those books which didn’t serve a role in my spiritual formation, ones  I read that didn’t bring me special joy, books by authors which have not served as mentors to me in my own writing journey, or ones like those above that have illustrations which capture my imagination.

Finally, after days of chaos, my office is somewhat back in order, and I have books in the back of the car to giveaway. But, I’ve noticed that in my new corner, Lucy now lies beside me instead of behind me, which along with the cats feed bowls in the next room introduces movement in my peripheral vision. *sigh*

Moving to the corner may not have solved my distraction problem, but I do like the new arrangement. I can still see the birds at the feeder, I don’t feel as cold as I did next to the windows, and I’ve read that a change of location can positively affect creativity.

I guess we’ll see, but I’m studying the bird egg chart, because spring can’t be far off. Barry Moser’s illustrations have inspired me to try some new watercolor techniques. I discovered wild flowers in the nature guide that I’d actually like to plant this spring, and that color plate of David and Goliath is going up on a shelf to give me courage when I face my own Goliaths.

I’m finally getting to the point. If you’re making a move, you may not achieve your intended goal, but God may have something else entirely for you. Just be open and watch for Him at work.

Off to face the Goliath project of getting a book out in the next few months.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20 The Message).


Monday, February 3, 2014

If you’re searching for the bluebird of happiness

Happiness can seem as fleeting as this bluebird, which only stayed a moment or two this week to drink warm water I’d just poured into the frozen birdbath. I only had time to snap a shot or two to use for this watercolor sketch before he took flight into leaden skies, hardly discernible from some of his less colorful counterparts.

The etymology of the word happy goes back to the fourteenth century when one of its first connotations was that of luck. In fact, according to this source, “From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for "happy" at first meant ‘lucky.’”

Luck has nothing to do with those who call on the name of the Lord. For we don’t put our trust in time or chance, but we put our trust in a God “. . . who does not change like shifting shadows”(James 1:17) and revealed in His son that he is “. . . the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) Our futures don’t depend on the roll of a dice, but  he tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

So, here's a tip. If you’re searching for the bluebird of happiness, you might as well stop. You’ll never find it, for it will continue to be just beyond your fingertips. Instead, surrender to the God who cares about every detail of your life. In that surrender, you’ll find deep joy which is unaffected by changing circumstances or that elusive thing called luck.

So, I don't believe in the bluebird of happiness, but I do experience joy when I see the winged wonder, sialia sialis, for truly "every good and perfect gift is from above . . ." (James 1:17). Who needs luck?
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