Books are Not My Babies…and Other “Idol” Chatter

Y’all, this writing gig is hard.

I recently saw a pic that summed up the process perfectly. “You read a scene and think, ‘That was nice.’ Time it took you to read the scene? Five minutes. Time it took the author to write the scene? Five bazillion hours.”

reading

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea. It’s hard work. More than I ever dreamed possible. And just when I think the sleepless nights, the outpouring of creativity, the frazzled nerves will pay off, I get word that more revisions are needed. So it’s back to work. Again.

Years ago, I sat in my first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, as a dewy-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears writer listening to Tamera Alexander speak. Tamera said something I will never forget. “The stories you write, the books you sell, they are not your babies. They are products.” baby

Wise words. And, boy, was she correct. That single piece of advice has saved me much heartache. Why? What did she mean? I took her wisdom, at least in part, to mean this: don’t let your heart grow attached to something that will devastate you if it is taken away.

Creativity, imagination and the mysterious muse are beautiful gifts lavished on us by a loving Creator, but when we elevate those gifts into ‘baby’ status in our hearts, we have unwittingly set up an idol. So when our ‘babies’ are rejected, criticized, or anything in between, we grow defensive, we lash out, or live in the land of angry, miserable resentment. Are we consumed with our stories or consumed with our Savior? Worse yet, do we use creativity as a smoke screen? A way to be consumed with ourselves, our Amazon reviews, or our latest rankings as some sort of attempt to prove our own worth or to puff up our battered pride?

Heart _Idols are sneaky things. They come disguised as good things. Great things, and they are. The problem is not the idol. The issue is the shift of devotion that occurs in our own hearts. 

Take our children, for example. Are there more beautiful treasures? We sacrifice for them. We plan for them. We give and dream and hope and pray. We lose sleep and hair and sometimes our sanity, all because our love for them is so great, we can do nothing less than give them our all. I get it.

However, I cringe when I hear parents say they couldn’t live if something happened to their child. Our hope should never, ever be based on our children. No parent should outlive their child, but it happens all the time. I’ve outlived two of mine.

I grieve and cry but I have hope. In the words of King David when his own infant son died, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him.” Because of Jesus, I have a bright, secure future and a peace that remains steadfast, despite the chaos swirling around me. I am not defeated. I am not destroyed. corrie ten boom hold everything lightly

I like the way Corrie Ten Boom put it. “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Whether it’s career ambition, money, material possessions, relationships, awards, children, attention, approval, busyness, entertainment or even yourself, beware of idols. Keep your heart on the One who created it. Don’t give your devotion to something or someone that cannot save. The temporary satisfaction they provide will soon become a consuming pit that will only leave emptiness and regret behind.

Stories are not your babies. They are products.

And babies are cute, but remember, they are also exhausting. Choose wisely.

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Impressions

My kids love impressions. The crazier, the better. And being a singer, I always find it a hilarious exercise to see if I can manipulate my voice enough to oblige their whims.

queen of hearts

Today I spent all day conversing like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. When bad manners were displayed at dinner, the Queen of Hearts yelled, “Off with your head!”, causing an eruption of giggles.

In the past few months, I have spent much time as the Count from Sesame Street, Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants, mariaMaria from The Sound of Music, Elmyra from Tiny Toons, Ethel Merman and Glinda from Wicked. (Along with a cast of unique quirky characters created by our crazy family.) It makes me wonder what impression my kids will pick the next day and if I’ll be able to pull it off. elmyra

For the past two weeks they have begged me to talk like Adele. And when I say that they asked me to converse like Adele, I mean all. day. long. Around the clock for two weeks. The cockney impression was spouted so frequently, I began to forget what my own voice sounded like.

The funny thing is that after I spent a few days talking like Adele, I couldn’t stop. Pretending became the norm. The norm became habit. And habit became hard to break. I forgot my own voice. And pretending to be someone I wasn’t made me feel like I was constantly in performance mode.

Too many of us live out our lives as a charade: the perfect Christian, no faults, no struggles…we live in an illusion meant to fool others and hide our wounds. We don’t like people seeing us in all of our mess and brokenness. So we stay tucked behind our masks…our impressions. We give people what we think they want to hear, and lose who God wants us to be in the process.

Impressions, pretending to be someone your not can be fun for a little while, but please don’t live there. God has a unique plan for your life…and it doesn’t include you trying to be someone else. Perfectionism and people-pleasing are detrimental patterns. They lie to you and, in subtle ways, proclaim that what God created isn’t good enough.approval vs loveGod made you a one-of-a-kind. He loves you, not the masks you wear or the performances you put on to be accepted. He doesn’t need another Adele or a Maria von Trapp or anyone else. He wants YOU. He had a plan for your life before you were ever created.

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” ~Psalm 139:16

Whatever voice He has given you, use it. Whatever story He has given you, write it. Whatever skills or talents He blessed you with, use them for His glory. Whatever your past, your successes, your failures, love Him. Chase after Him. Embrace your identity in Him. Don’t spend your life pretending to be a poor imitation.

adele

No matter how fantastic your Adele impression may be.

Have you ever struggled with pretending to be something you’re not? Are you a people-pleaser? How does it make you feel to constantly be in performance mode? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Check out more of Tara’s ministry at www.TaraJohnsonMinistries.com

Unchained: Breaking Free From the Slavery Mindset, Part Two

 chained

In part one, we looked at the very real possibility that many of us, although we accepted the freedom Jesus bought for us, continue to have our minds and emotions stuck in the ‘slavery mindset’.

To review from part one, here is the definition of a slave mentality:

It conditions a person to accept harmful circumstances to themselves as the natural order of things. They view their own worth through their master’s eyes. They believe about themselves what they have been told to believe, whether it’s true or not.

The dichotomy between our freedom and the slavery mindset is like longing for a certain gift, yearning for it, building our hope upon it, only to have our hands chained behind us so we are unable to enjoy the gift once it’s been placed before us.

gift 2

I don’t know about you, but when I give a gift to someone, it’s because I love them and want them to enjoy it. When Jesus gave up Himself to redeem us from the land of darkness, He wanted us to enjoy our freedom…to relish and delight in our new found joy and love. Yet some of us are sitting in a land of freedom with our minds still stuck in the land of darkness. Our spirits have been set free but our minds and emotions remained locked on our past mistakes or the lies we’ve always believed about ourselves. What a tragedy!

So how do we snap off the chains of that pesky slavery mindset?

1. Forgive those who have wronged you. Sometimes that involves forgiving yourself. corrie ten boom forgiveness

Forgiveness is like strapping someone to your back and dragging them around. Who suffers more…the one tied or the one doing the dragging?

It’s hard to walk in freedom with a chip the size of a boulder weighing you down. And that’s what unforgiveness is—a burden, a weight that darkens the light and leaves oppression in its shadow. Yes, that includes refusing to forgive yourself.

Not long ago, my two year old son fell outside on the driveway and scraped up his hand. At the sound of his wailing, his sisters and I ran to his side. When the girls tried to convince him to let them see, he covered the scrape with his chubby fingers and jerked away from them with a teary scowl. Why? Because he didn’t trust them with his boo-boo. He’d been victim of their teasing enough to wonder if they were trust worthy. Would they tease him? Laugh at him for being melodramatic? Unintentionally make the hurt worse by poking and probing? No, letting them see was too risky.

What do we do with a wound? Usually we try to hide it.

Boy hiding his eyes

But when I walked up and knelt down in front of him with sympathy, he finally uncovered his injured hand to let me examine the damage. He trusted me not to hurt him anymore than he’d already been wounded.

And here’s the thing…there was no way for me to give him the help he needed until I could understand how severe his injury was. Once he was brave enough to lift his chubby fingers away from his wound, I could begin to treat it. Because he trusted me, I was able to wash it, clean it with hydrogen peroxide, bandage it and kiss it until his tears subsided and he was playing once more.

This is a beautiful parallel to what happens in our own lives. Some of us have lived with the crippling shame of sexual, verbal or physical abuse. Some of us have been told we’re unwanted or unloved. Some of us can’t seem to shake depression or are mourning the loss of a loved one. Some of us have a childhood that we barely survived or an adulthood that has left us disillusioned and depressed. Some of us are victims of our own horrible mistakes.

And just like Nate covering his scraped palm, or dealing with a throbbing finger that has faced the fury of a wayward hammer strike, we cover our hurt, wrapping our fingers around the searing pain, keeping it concealed, restrained and locked away from prying eyes. We don’t want anyone to see, anyone to know. The pain is too deep, the vulnerability too precarious.

But here’s the thing…God can’t heal what we are unwilling to expose to him.

When we are brave enough to come to Him with all of our shame and broken pieces, His light and love can start to heal those nasty wounds and help us forgive those who have wronged us—even when it’s ourselves.

2. We can’t dance in the freedom of Christ if we continue to conform our lives to the pattern of the world around us.

The world is a deceptive illusion of prosperity that ultimately offers death and decay. As God’s redeemed, we have been set free from that decay. So why do we continue to value what the world says is valuable? And why do we pattern our lives and priorities after an illusion we know won’t satisfy?

Our culture is obsessed with beauty and perfection. It values intelligence but not wisdom. It says to ‘make your mark on the world’ by scraping up more stuff, more gadgets, more money, more degrees and more power. The focus of our culture’s obsession is, “Look at me, because it’s what I want and it’s all about me. My wants. My needs. My desires.”

conform to culture

What we value determines how we live. Make no mistake, if we aren’t fighting the pull of our culture’s influence, we are being sucked into it. The battle is for our minds.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~Romans 12:2

The world says I’m only as beautiful as I am sensual, but God says beauty is a life devoted to Him.

The world says it’s all about me, but God says joy is found in laying down my wants to serve others.

The world says happiness is found in what I’ve acquired, but God says happiness and joy are only found in Him.

The world says to conform, but God says He made you for a unique purpose. Embrace your individuality.

The world says, “It’s my life. I can do what I want.” But God says, “You were bought with a price. Honor me.”

The world says my worth is determined by my accomplishments, but God says my worth is found in Jesus.

The world says I must be flawless to be accepted, but God says though I’m flawed, I am loved.

Don’t pattern your life after an illusion that is meant to destroy you.

3. Refuse to let anyone or anything become more important to you than Jesus. A person is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:19)  How many of us try to pinpoint our happiness in things that are temporary and, ultimately, unsatisfying? empty heart

Here are some of our most common ‘gods’:

  1. Possessions
  2. Food
  3. Relationships
  4. Busyness
  5. Our children
  6. Alcohol
  7. Financial ‘security’
  8. Power
  9. Accomplishments
  10. Fame
  11. Approval

Anytime we place something other than Jesus as the focal point of our lives, we are setting ourselves up for heartache. He is the One who died to free us. He is the only One who never changes. He is our security. He should be the focus of our obsession.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~ Galatians 5:1

freedom keysI pray these ‘slavery’ busters will be a help for you. They are keys, tools made to help you realize God has so much more in store for you than feeling stuck or defeated. Freedom is there. Grasp it. Cling to Him with all your might. When we do, we look down to realize those chains have fallen away in the process.

“You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  ~John 8:32

freedom truth will set you free

Unchained: Breaking Free from the Mindset of Slavery, Part 1

 chains

I recently finished writing my first Civil War novel about the bravery and courage of those who aided the Underground Railroad. It’s been inspiring, heartbreaking and challenging, to say the least, but so incredibly rewarding to examine the lives of some of our country’s rawest freedom fighters.

In gathering research, I found this quote by Harriet Tubman and it left a deep impression in my spirit. “I freed a thousand slaves. I would’ve freed a thousand more, if they only knew they were slaves.” harriet tubman

If they only knew they were slaves…

After all my research and delving into the world of American slavery, I think it’s safe to say there is often a mindset associated with it. After all, ‘normal’ is whatever you grew up with. ‘Normal’ is what you’ve always known.

Frederick Douglass put it this way: “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right…

Just think about the children of Israel. For four hundred years, they had been born as slaves in Egypt, raised as slaves, told what to think, what to do, how to act, how to dress, how to perceive themselves and their own place in the world. That was their norm, ingrained in the fiber of their being since birth.

Then along comes Moses in a God-sent mission and, for the first time in over four hundred years, they were free.

Kind of.

Oh, physically, they were free to march out of Egypt but mentally, they still retained the mindset of a slave. God knew this and carried them to Mt. Sinai where He could give them a new standard of living, of thinking, of being. God wanted not only to free them physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. He wanted them to shed that oppressive slave mentality so they could enjoy all He had planned for them.

freedom horse A slave mentality conditions a person to accept harmful circumstances to themselves as the natural order of things. They view their own worth through their master’s eyes. They believe about themselves what they have been told to believe, whether it’s true or not.

So what am I trying to say? Simply this: how many of us have grasped hold of the freedom offered to us by Jesus, how many of us have asked Him to be Lord of our lives, yet still feel trapped, stuck or chained?

Oh, we’re spiritually free yet too many of us have retained the old slave mentality. The enemy of our souls have told us for far too long that we’re worthless, unwanted and unloved. He brings up our past mistakes and screams those accusations like echoes through mountain passes, always taunting, always accusing, always lying.

You’ll never be good enough…God can’t use you…You’re too messy…You’re a failure…God couldn’t truly love you after all you’ve done…If others knew the real you, they couldn’t possibly love you…

Here’s the thing about a lie: it only harms us if we believe it. slavery

Jesus paid an awfully high price to purchase our freedom. What a tragedy that far too many of us remain mentally and emotionally locked up in the chains of slavery. Most of the time, we want God to transform us spiritually but don’t realize that we need to let Him transform our minds, thoughts and beliefs about ourselves as well.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

We will be exploring how to break free of the slavery mindset more in part two, but here is your teaser and food for thought in the meantime.

How do we snap those chains off for good?

  1. Forgive those who have wronged you…even if that means forgiving yourself.
  2. We can’t dance in the freedom of Christ if we continue to pattern our lives after the broken world around us.
  3. Refuse to let anyone or anything be more important to you than Jesus.

Stay tuned for Part Two…coming soon!

What about you? What lies have you believed about yourself? In what ways do you feel stuck in your walk with God?

Caged

caged

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in front of my computer, clacking away on some writing projects when I heard the familiar scratching of a bluebird trapped inside my fireplace. My poor little, clueless bluebirds. They seem to make a daily habit of curiously exploring our chimney, only to fall into the fireplace looking dazed and confused. 

Seeing the brilliant sapphire feathers, it was easy to tell this was a male. My first thought was “Why don’t males ever ask for directions?” But I digress…

Usually, this dilemma is easy enough to solve. I usher my little dogs out the front door, open the back door nearby and then open the fireplace door. It takes all of five seconds for those bluebirds to behold their freedom and fly out.

But yesterday’s little visitor panicked. The fellow completely bypassed the open door and flew into the nearest window, banging his body over and over into the glass. I winced, fearing that he would injure or kill himself. The more I tried to shoo him towards his freedom, the more he fought.

bluebird

I reached for a broom and scooted the bristles underneath his feet, hoping he would hop on and let me carry him outside, but as soon as he sensed his body rising in the air he flew back into the glass, watching the outside world, happy in its liberation but himself caged behind an impossible barrier.

Seeing no other option, I carefully trapped him in my hands, shushing his anxiety and cradling him into safety. Stepping on the back porch, I opened my hands and smiled as I watched him fly to his mate. No doubt, he received a tongue lashing for refusing to ask for directions. Some things are universal, no matter the species.

That made me think about my freedom in Christ. He died for me, rose again, broke the chains of death and has given me complete and total freedom. But how often I cage myself into the old ways, trying to do everything on my own. I fight and wrestle, banging my head against the wall and wonder why I don’t feel free. All because I think I can take care of myself.

Following my own plans has always led me into disaster. I’m too emotional. Too fickle, making knee jerk decisions out of fear. But stepping into the hands of my Savior has always led to freedom. Freedom and safety.

Don’t let fear make you take your eyes off of freedom’s open door.

freedom 1

Tara’s book Hollow Victory: How to Identify and Disarm 5 Landmines that Make Victorious Christian Living Feel Like a Lie is now available at Amazon!  hollow victory