Mouths and Hearts

Want to know what a person is like? I mean, what their real, true character is inside? Pay attention to what they say. More specifically, how they talk about others. lips heart

My oldest daughter recently became friends with two girls in her new school. Right from the beginning, they seemed to hit it off and became inseparable. I was soon peppered with stories like, “We had so much fun in volleyball…”, or “You’ll never guess how hard we laughed at lunch.” When I asked my daughter what it was that she loved about her two new friends, she paused for a moment before answering.

“You know, in the all the time we’ve spent together over the past few weeks, I’ve never heard them say one bad thing about anyone. Not one word. They are always positive. Always kind. Always encouraging. Not only that, when we are in chapel, they are fully engaged in the worship service. They aren’t squirming or whispering like some of the kids. They are too busy praising God to be distracted.”

Jesus said, The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45 NASB)

exploding soda

What spills from our lips tells the world what is bubbling inside, just like an exploding bottle of soda.

As my pastor often says, a potty mouth is a sign of a potty heart. Likewise, a complaining mouth is the sign of an ungrateful heart, and a mouth who constantly criticizes is the sign of a heart who doesn’t love people as he ought.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious [scrupulously observant of the rituals of his faith], and does not control his tongue but deludes his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (futile, barren).” ~James 1:26

My friend recently posted this on her social media page and I thought it was a beautiful challenge.

stop complaining

The opposite of complaining is gratitude. The opposite of criticism is love. Love for people who are struggling along, just like we are. One of the best ways to use our lips to build each other up is to surround ourselves with friends who do the same.

1 corinthians 15 33

Speaking for myself, I need to do better but I should not make the mistake of patching the symptom and missing the illness. The answer is not found in my feeble attempts to muzzle my mouth or control hasty words flung during frazzled days. The issue is always found in the heart.

To have a mouth change requires a heart change. When we love Jesus more and yield ourselves to Him, everything else falls into place.

 

Advertisements

Lessons from the Water Park: What is Agape Love?

I blinked against the bright sunshine as happy children squealed around me. Magic Springs was full this particular afternoon. Full of hyped-up children and exhausted parents. Close to fifty little ankle biters scurried around me at the splash pad. Water sprayed in every direction and the scent of chlorine filled my nose. My own little guy had climbed up the stairs and gleefully gone down the slide at least seventy-two times and showed no signs of wearing out.

magic springs

We were in it for the long haul.

A four year old with big blue eyes caught my attention as he waddled up the stairs in his too-big arm floaties, stopping every now and then to tug up his sagging swim trunks. His parents were standing not far from me. Every now and then he’d glance back to make sure they were still there and greeted them with a toothy grin and a wave. They laughed and waved back. I smiled at his antics.

Five minutes passed when Mr. Floaties strutted by, smiling at me in that twinkly way he had. My amusement turned to alarm when I heard his parents stop him with a furious lecture. Both of them were scowling. Both of them had their hands on their hips looking like they were ready to do battle. What had the little guy done?

“Jesse, you have got to stop it, son! You keep letting everyone go ahead of you in line! It’s absolutely ridiculous. The other boys and girls keep cutting ahead of you and you actually let them do it! What is wrong with you?”

The father rounded on him once the irate mother stopped for breath. “Do you want to grow up and be a wimp? A pushover? Because that’s what will happen if you keep letting everyone go in front of you. Come on, son. Man up!”

spankyLittle Jesse looked helplessly between them and held up his hands in confusion. “I was just trying to be nice.”

The gesture reminded me of Spanky from Little Rascals. There was nothing cute about his parents reaction, however.

The mother frowned. “You get back up there and be tough.”

Minutes later, the parents rewarded little Jesse with a high five when he proudly pushed another child out of his way so he could take his turn on the slide.

I had to turn away. Is this what we’ve come to? Scrap and claw for every inch of space? Refuse an act of consideration in order to ‘man up’ at the age of four? Condemn a child for showing kindness?

Don’t get me wrong. As someone who struggles with people pleasing, I get it. I have a child who battles the same issues…a child who struggles to let her voice be heard, to establish boundaries and stick with them. I know. I hear, but God forgive me if I ever use the need to set boundaries as an excuse to treat people with anything less than kindness and agape love.

Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” is more than just a nice little tune. It’s a challenge. Fruit of the Spirit on display to point hurting, broken people to Jesus. That is the goal…not ensuring our girls are the toughest or our boys are the manliest.

We are so worried about our children’s ACT scores and SATs, their future job markets and sports trophies, being tough and establishing boundaries, giving them a well-rounded childhood and opportunities, but how often do we see parents striving to make their children more loving? Sympathetic and empathetic? More concerned about showing agape love than they are about themselves?

john 13 34

Agape love is action. It’s serving someone else despite our own feelings. It’s laying down our wants and needs and giving our resources to help someone else instead. Emotion may not even accompany agape love, but it’s doing the right thing because it’s what Jesus asked us to do. Yes, it can be difficult, but Jesus Himself left us the perfect example.

Think about this: on the very night He was betrayed, He knelt, humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet. You know, the guys who claimed to be his friends and in a few short hours would all run away, saying they never knew Him. His best friends, closest allies and confidantes would abandon Him to face death alone. Worse yet, Jesus knew they would flee, yet He chose to love and serve them anyway.

Let’s put it in another context. Here’s agape love: You hear your neighbors are about to turn you into the police for a crime you didn’t commit, but you decide to mow their lawn and wash their car anyway.

shttefan-284259

Yeah. Agape love is powerful. That’s what this world needs more of. That’s what makes real men and women. Sacrificial love.

More than anything else, we need to be funneling the majority of our prayer and energy into molding our children to fall in love with Jesus. When they have a deep, abiding relationship with Him, they’ll learn to love like He does. Love like that transforms. It can’t help but be noticed. It turns the world upside down.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good goal for us too.

 

The Thief: The Problem with Comparing

Jean size. That dreaded number on the scale. Checking account balances. Facebook friends. Instagram and Twitter followers. Awards and degrees. Points scored by your child at his last game. Job performance evaluations.

So many numbers and none of them are good or bad when rattled off in isolation. The only time we have a problem with any of the above is when we are tempted to compare these numbers to the stats of others.

thief of joy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true. Not only is comparison a thief, it’s also a terrible judge. Speaking for myself, I tend to compare myself either to those who are way more put together than I am, or I compare myself to those who can’t seem to get their act together at all. The Ree Drummonds, June Cleavers and James Dobsons of the world leave me wallowing in self-loathing, wondering why I can’t seem to get my hot mess of a life in shape. So instead I look to those who are further down on the proverbial ‘getting-their-garbage-handled’ totem pole and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.”

But does looking down at someone else’s mess make me any better of a mother? A wife? A friend? A sister or daughter? No. It just makes me more prideful…and a much bigger pain.

compare highlight reel

That’s the problem with comparing ourselves to anyone else. It forces us to ride a pendulum that swings between pride and the lie that says, “You’re not good enough.”

The disciple Peter battled the same issue in John 21:19-22.

“He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow Me [walk the same path of life that I have walked]!’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His chest at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray You?’ So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man [what is in his future]?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to stay alive until I come[again], what is that to you? You follow Me!’ ” (AMP)

God designed each of us with a unique purpose in mind…a purpose we do our best to throw away when we compare and long for the bodies, the families, the plans, the dreams, the goals, the bank accounts or the lives of others. Comparison breeds discontentment and discontentment leads to every other sin we struggle against.

flower comparison

God made only one you. There is only one person with your exact fingerprint. Only one with your exact strand of DNA. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Keep your  joy full today. Be who you were created to be. No comparisons allowed.

The Rodeo Clown: Learning to Be Seen

“Tara, why can’t you look me in the eye?”

My friend’s question sliced to the quick. We had been chatting for over forty minutes and the topic had drifted from the mundane to more personal waters. Personal makes me uncomfortable. When I know someone is peeling back layers and taking a peek underneath the mask I work so hard to keep fixed in place, the intensity of their stare is too much. I don’t want them to see the trembling mess I am.

coffee

So I take a sudden interest in my shoes. Or the couch cushion. Or the coffee cup clutched in my fingers. Anything other than their probing stare. I can feel it. Like a monster breathing against my bedroom window.

Whoever said real is the new black doesn’t know how terrifying real can be. Or perhaps they do. Maybe they are just farther along in the journey than I am and have learned how to face their fear with a courage I long to possess.

I’ve made tremendous strides in the past few years. I’m learning to say no, to express my thoughts and opinions without worrying what others might think of me. I’m not exactly dancing in freedom but God has been teaching me to walk in it, though some days it feels more like I’m tiptoeing around in His grace. That’s okay. Imperfect progress and all that.

Yet why do I still have trouble looking people in the eye?

If eyes are windows to the soul, I try my best to keep my soul shuttered and locked away from view.

tara 18 2016 (2)

At my friend’s pointed observation, I made some silly comment. Something intended to make her laugh. A joke. It’s what I do. She smiled, but she wasn’t through.

“Do you know what you remind me of? One of those rodeo clowns.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

rodeo clown

She smiled kindly, but she didn’t shy away from the truth. “You know what the original rodeo clowns were intended to do, right? They were meant to distract the crowd from the blood and gore that had just occurred between the bull and rider. They diverted attention away from the serious issues by entertaining. Cover the grotesque with a smile and a funny routine.” She squeezed my hand. “And sometimes a bit of grease paint.”

How faithful are the wounds of a friend. Though difficult to hear, my friend was completely correct. Though God is restoring my broken places each and every day, there is still a part of me that longs to hide. A fragment of my spirit that lives in shame. Shame never wants to flaunt itself, does it? It covers. It distracts. It deflects. As Jennifer Dukes Lee worded it in her book Love Idol, “Because we can’t make peace with ourselves, we try to hide ourselves.”

Hiding can take all kind of forms. It doesn’t have to be the mousy little girl ducking behind her mane of hair and folded arms. Shame and insecurity can be wrapped in the Homecoming Queen or the public speaker or yes, even a rodeo clown. Some of us only want to be seen if we will be perceived as perfect…and we either avert our gaze or apply the grease paint because we know we’re not.

kintsugi 3Despite my struggle with people pleasing, one thing I have learned is this: perfect is boring, at least by the human definition. For me, flawless has become synonymous with plastic. Dull. Lifeless. What a miserable way to live. No, I think I’ll strive for the Biblical definition of perfect instead…complete. Complete in Jesus. Whole. Not lacking anything because His grace has filled the broken places where my own weakness is laid bare.

When we grasp hold of how much He loves us, deeply and scandalously loves us, it changes things. Shame flees in the light of His love. He becomes our safe place. The One we can tell our deepest fears, thoughts and dreams to and know they are held in the only hands strong enough to carry the weight of the world. No condemnation. Only grace.

One of my favorite names of God is El Roi, meaning “The God Who sees me”. A lowly slave girl discovered this firsthand.

el roi

” The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery…

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

                                                                        (Genesis 16:7-13)

If I am to be seen, I want it to be through His love-filled eyes. Eyes that see the blood of His Son marked upon my heart. Eyes that saw my faults yet loved me so much He would have rather died than leave me in the dark.

We all want to be seen in those terms. We all want to know that we matter. In the presence of Jesus, there is no need for grease paint. No need to hide. No need to drop our gazes in shame. He sees. He knows, yet He loves us all the same.

That includes rodeo clowns.

When Life Hands You…Wigs

 

Yes, I know the saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Sometimes there’s not a lemon to be found but a startling abundance of hair pieces. Hang with me and I’ll explain. lemons

Not long ago I ordered a pair of pants from an online store. I was supposed to appear on a television interview and I thought the pants would be cute paired with a top I already owned. The company promised the product would arrive before my interview. You know what’s coming. Interview day came. No pants.

No big deal, I thought. The pants were still extremely inexpensive and fashionable. I would have plenty of places to wear them when they arrived from the company’s warehouse in China. (Are warning bells going off in your head too?) Yeah, I had done a little research on the company after I ordered my too-late pants, which is never the best time to research a company. Ideally, one should research them before buying their product, but I digress.

Two days after my interview, I opened my mailbox to see a very small, very flat package. Return label: China. I frowned. This package was way too small to be my pants, but I’d ordered nothing else.

Intrigued, I slid the package open to discover the company had sent me, not my lovely pants I had dreamed about, but a wig piece instead. Say what?

wig piece

I wouldn’t have even minded that so much if it had been the right color.

I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter and looked up into the sky.

Thanks, Father. I needed that laugh.

matt with wigShipping that cheap wig piece back to the company would cost more than I initially paid for it so we kept it. You know what? That dumb little scrap of hair has brought our family and friends more laughter in the past few days than I imagined possible.

church signIf you find me on Facebook, you’ll see lots of silly memes, funny church signs, and goofy pictures. It’s intentional on my part. I’m currently taking a stand-up writing course and loving it. God loves laughter. He loves joy. I believe Jesus had a good sense of humor and loved to laugh. Have you ever been around someone who didn’t? Yeah. They can suck the air right out of a room with a single look. But the Bible says Jesus wasn’t like that. People came to Him in droves. They wanted to be with Him, to touch Him, to talk with Him. He is love and goodness and joy.

proverbs 17 22

As I’m typing this blog, the mailman knocked on our door with a package. A larger package. From China. Yep. My pants finally arrived. So where did this goofy wig piece come from? I have no idea, but I’m thankful for the gift of laughter God peppers throughout the journey. It’s a beautiful coping mechanism for the hard days, and makes the good days even brighter.

ralphie with soapA final word: Laugh, but keep it clean. No need to use that wig as a sham-wow.

Just for fun, share your favorite joke with me today. Clean only, please. Let’s do some laughing!

Trolls on the Bridge: How to Keep Negative Feedback from Shredding Your Heart

I recently read this quote by Allen Arnold and it resonated deeply. “If God is pleased with your latest creation but the world ignores it, how do you feel? The answer reveals who you are creating for.”

thumbs up

Excellent question. I fall into this trap far too often. I hope people like what I’ve written. This new blog was a step out of my comfort zone. Will people read it? Will they like it? This doesn’t even have to revolve around writing. This could be about any situation. The secret fear is, “Will they approve what I offer? Will they approve of me?”

So many of us say we are living, breathing, creating, and doing for an Audience of One, but the truth is, when our creative offering is ignored by the masses, we suffer hurt. Disappointment. We may even feel insignificant or devalued. Such a reaction tells us the true condition of our heart.

What’s worse? Not having our creation ignored but having it, or perhaps even our very person, attacked. Ouch.

ecclesiastes 7 5Let me stop here and say I’m not talking about constructive criticism, although for some, any kind of criticism feels like destructive criticism. Wearing our feelings on our sleeve about something we create isn’t healthy. One of the best pieces of advice I heard early on when beginning my writing career came from Tamera Alexander. She said, “What you create, whether it be your book, your story, an article, whatever it is…that thing is not your baby. It is a product. You are not what you create.”

Great advice, and an excellent way to keep the sting from burning too deeply when criticism need be applied. And trust me, it will. No one is born the expert in their field. No one.
Constructive criticism is intended to build up. It’s based on love and wants the best for the other person. Destructive criticism wants only to harm. Its intent is to destroy, and is usually birthed out of jealousy or fear. So when you’ve been hit with negative feedback, it’s important to take a step back and analyze the source. There are four types of feedback sources.

  1. Lovers  

flatteryThese guys love everything you produce, say, and do. They love you. More of you 24-7. Of course, they would never dream of giving you negative feedback so they aren’t pertinent to our chat today, but beware. You should still take their gushing praise with a grain of salt. Don’t let it give you a big head. “…a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:28)

 

 

  1. Critics

More or less, critics are people who are educated in the creative product you’ve released. They have opinions that are subjective but carefully thought out about why they do or don’t like something, how aspects could be improved, etc. Good critics should be about the product, not the person behind it. Constructive criticism from a critic can be extremely valuable. Just remember their opinion is subjective.

  1. Trolls

trollAh, here is where things get messy. Trolls will hit you with all kinds of negative feedback. They don’t like your product because blah, blah, blah. Some criticisms may seem legit, some utterly ridiculous and hurtful. In the midst of their barbs, it may become apparent to you these guys have never even read or used your product. What?!

Trolls are internet drama feeders. They love stirring up fights because they find it amusing. They will go after your creation, and possibly, after you just for the shock value of it. As a friend of mine recently put it, “Trolls are just looking for a goat to cross their bridge.” Someone to torture. Someone to mess with. Although it seems they are quite hostile towards you, they are probably indifferent. They really don’t care about you at all, one way or the other. They are just looking for some drama-induced excitement in their too-dull lives. feed the trolls

Word of advice: Don’t feed the trolls. Do not engage with them. Don’t try to make them like you. They are out for one thing: drama. You feed a troll, and they’ll keep hanging around the bridge. Starve a troll, and they’ll look for some other place to feed.

  1. Haters muppet haters

As a recovering people pleaser, this one hurts, but it’s true. There will be some people that hate you. There I said it. Let it sink in. They will hate you for no other reason than that. It’s usually based out of some sort of jealousy, but perhaps not. Maybe it’s a wound they are struggling with and you’re an easy target. Whatever the reason, there will be people that don’t like you. They will say the meanest, most nasty, soul-cutting things to you. You’ll have a choice in that moment whether to believe what they say about you and your worth or reject it. (Remember this: a lie can only harm us if we believe it.)

john 15 18You are not what you create. You were lovingly fashioned and knit together by God, designed for a purpose before you ever drew a breath. Haters spew venom because they have no love nor light. Trolls linger on bridges, but none of it changes one thing between you and the Author of Life.

Press on. Pray for those who hurt you. Love with abandon, even those trolls and haters. They must hurt deeply to have so much acid spill out. Here’s a thought: every time you’re confronted with hurtful feedback, instead of lashing back or wallowing in tears, as we all so often want to do, bow your head and say a prayer for that mean person. Talk about agape love in action.

After all, trolls need Jesus too.

galatians-1-10

“To Do” or “To Be”?: Exchanging Checklists for God’s Presence

Not long ago, I finished up a beautiful study on the book of Hosea by Jennifer Rothschild. She challenged her readers to do something I love: to make a to-be list instead of a to-do list.

I’m prolific at creating master to-do lists. They give me a sense of control, a sense of accomplishment and keep my cluttered mind from letting crucial jobs slip through the cracks of my faulty memory. (Correction: these things give me illusion of control, accomplishment and clearer brain function.)

Despite my love of meddlesome to-do lists, I think they are overrated. Our culture is so consumed with “do more”, schedule-juggling, organizing, managing and rearranging that we’ve lost sight of something quite important. Call me crazy, but I think we’ve got the whole cram-more-into-your-day-and-wonder-why-we-need-caffeine-and-stress-management-to-keep-up thing down.

No. Better organization isn’t the problem. What we choose to tackle in a day has less to do with a checklist and more about what our priorities are. In other words, to do is not nearly as important as to be.

As yourself the question, “Who do I want to be?”

For you hard-core list makers, start writing. I started my to-be list and, in just a few minutes, I was running out of room on the page. list making

To Be:

Compassionate

Loving

Kind

Less prideful

Less stubborn

More flexible

Teachable

Heart to serve others

Look at people through God’s eyes

Wise

Slow to speak

Serene

Joyful

Encouraging

Prayerful

Seeker of God’s heart…

The longer I gripped my pencil, the more I realized I was circling around one person, one focal point. All these character traits and more were compressed and displayed in the person of Christ. Scanning the list, it became clear…I want to be like Jesus.

Flip over to 1 John 2:6 and you’ll see that John worded it this way: the one who says he abides in Him[Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”  

So to be like Jesus, I just need to walk like Jesus. Got it. Check that off the list.

If only it were that easy.

That’s kind of a tall order, you know? It’s like saying to be a great basketball player, just play like Michael Jordan. To be pretty, just look like Cindy Crawford. It seems unattainable. Impossible.

little boy basketballmichael jordan 2

Before I crumpled the overwhelming list in my hand, I took a deep breath. The Lord knows I’m not perfect, and He knows I have, and will continue to, mess up. That’s why He sent His Son.

The idea isn’t to be sinless…it’s to strive to be like Him. To please Him. To know His heart. To let Him mold me into the image of His Son.

So like any good, organized girl does, I made a list.

How did Jesus Walk?

  1. His prayer time with God was long and a priority.
  2. He sought out the broken, rejected, abused, mistreated & social outcasts.
  3. His concern was doing God’s will, and ONLY God’s will.
  4. He battled temptation with scripture.
  5. He touched the untouchables.
  6. He made people mad.
  7. He spoke the truth.
  8. He was a God pleaser, not a people pleaser.
  9. He wasn’t consumed with material wealth.
  10. He did not chastise the broken for being broken. He offered them Living Water instead.
  11. He served those he knew would betray and abandon Him.
  12. He wept for people who rejected Him.
  13. He forgave.
  14. He offered compassion.
  15. He loved people, even when they were messy.

This list barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I may never be all I should be, but with His help, I can strive to respond like Jesus, to show forgiveness like Jesus, to extend a hand like Jesus and to love like Jesus.

There’s an old story that claims when Michelangelo revealed his masterpiece statue of David, a man asked him, “However did you create such a breathtaking work out of nothing more than a block of lifeless marble?”

Michelangelo replied, “It is not difficult. A person need only chip away the parts that do not resemble David.” sculptor

That’s what God wants to do with us—chip away all the hard stuff in our hearts and lives until we look like His Son.

A good way to start? Drop the to-do lists and focus on how to be like Christ. Spend time with Him. We are who we hang out with. When we shift our focus on to-be, our to-do list rewrites itself.

And isn’t that a relief? No more to-do lists.

Check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are other ways that Jesus walked? Are you a list-maker? Have you ever switched your to-do list for a to-be list? What differences did you notice in your focus?

Amazon Customer Reviews on the Bible: Putting Criticism into Perspective

3 star review

Receiving a long awaited publishing contract is a euphoric feeling. It’s also terrifying for someone like me, a recovering people-pleaser.

recovering people pleaser

I love absolutely everything about the creative process. From spinning a story world into existence, breathing characters to life or muddling through their spiritual and emotional transformations, I find the entire journey exhilarating. I even love the grueling grind of editing. (Most days, at least.)

With my debut release scheduled for summer of 2018, life is a whirlwind of excitement. Edits and marketing plans, launch teams and beta readers, book covers and website designs. So much to take in. So much that should be overwhelming me. But there’s only one aspect of the coming year that causes my knees to knock. When my amazing author relations manager at Tyndale asked me if there was anything she could pray about for me, I confessed the issue that continues to keep me paralyzed in fear…the dreaded approach of reviews.

fear

Writing is a tough gig, especially when you consider you’re putting your deepest thoughts and musings out for everyone to see. It’s an open invitation for anyone to take a peek inside your most vulnerable, shadowed places. And people, as we all know, judge. For a recovering people pleaser, the very idea is terrifying. The thought of someone not liking my book sinks a stone to the bottom of my stomach. Even worse is the idea of receiving scathing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. My head knows it’s not possible for everyone to think my story is the best thing ever written, but my heart is having a hard time preparing.

As I was wrestling with my fear, I began mulling over the classics. How did the world’s best selling authors react to criticism? As I googled “best selling books of all time”, God reminded me of something very important. I think most of us know what the number one best seller is, right? No, not Gone with the Wind or Ben-Hur or To Kill a Mockingbird. The biggest blockbuster to ever sweep planet earth was, and still is, the Bible.HolyBible

As I sat in my chair, a smile lifted my mouth. What would it be like if the Bible had Amazon reviews? Could you see people writing them in? “I really tried hard to get into this book but all those begats in Matthew 1….what was this guy thinking?” Or maybe, “From a historical perspective, this book was highly accurate but around the section called Judges things got weird. Too gory. Two stars for me. And don’t even get me started on The Song of Solomon.”

Out of curiosity, I braved a look on Amazon. Imagine my amusement to find the Bible has thousands of reviews. Some of them related to binding and aesthetic features from the individual publishing houses, but some actually about its content. Goodreads was even more divisive.

What’s my point?

If God’s perfect, holy, inerrant, divinely-breathed Word receives a wide slew of reviews, ranging from five stars all the way down to a “one star, do not buy”, I have no reason to be ashamed if my book is lumped in as the same. Truth is divisive. Creativity and art attracts some and repels others. What brings life to one may cause another to shrug and walk away. That’s okay. My job is write. God handles the results.

feet

Jesus wasn’t concerned about whether he made everyone happy. The fact is, He spoke the truth at all times, knowing that doing so would deliberately offend the religious hypocrites of the day. So be it. He came to do the will of the Father and only the will of the Father. Nothing more, nothing less.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. This is for any facet of our lives. When God calls us to do something out of our comfort zone, it may be, well, uncomfortable. Sometimes divisive. It may cause people to look at the world in a new way. If I’m worried about whether everyone likes my book or not, I’m missing the point. I cannot find my worth, my value or anything else based on the fickle applause of man. That is an ever changing idol that will leave me empty and wounded…an ever-moving target, impossible to hit.

target and arrow

I write to discover my own shadowed places. I write to please the Author of Life. I write because I love and want to share that love in return. To some, the story will fall on hard hearts and deaf ears. Some will find it a nice tale. Some will find it life-changing. There is beauty in all of it. I need only be faithful.

Thousands may be watching, but I live for an audience, and the approval, of One.

Are you a people pleaser? How has it affected your life? What do you do to combat it on a daily basis? I would love to hear!

 

 

The Civil War, Messy People and Jesus: Why I Write

 

With my debut book release with Tyndale scheduled for summer of 2018, this week I’ve begun the daunting task of writing another story. It’s set in one of my favorite time periods…the Civil War.

This isn’t a new assignment for me. This will actually be the fourth Civil War story I’ve penned, uh, typed, but the research involved is always staggering. Always bloody and gruesome, yet filled with heroism, astounding tales of beauty and forgiveness…even humor.

lincoln beardPeople like 11 year-old Grace Bedell who wrote Abraham Lincoln a letter when he was running for President and convinced him the population would find him much more appealing if he grew a beard. (He listened.) Or fiery John Brown or the reckless zeal of Roger Pryor who, after firing the signal cannon that launched the attack on Fort Sumter, thought to celebrate by grabbing what he thought was liquor from the physician’s supply. Instead he swallowed iodide of potassium and almost poisoned himself to death. belle boydOr the eccentric Belle Boyd, who rode horses into parlors for attention and fancied herself the most beautiful, heroic feminine star the Confederacy could ever produce.

There are other stories of drunkards and misfits, spies and traitors, women and Zouaves, generals and cowards . All of them fascinating. I suppose what is most interesting to me in studying these odd assortment of lives is how often they acted, and reacted, and lived and died for a cause or an ideal. They all claimed to be ready to meet their fate with a hero’s fortitude, but peeling back the surface, most of these fascinating legends were terrified of one thing…the hole inside.

In reading their journals, the cry for significance screams from the pages of now still ink pens and dry blotters. They signed up to fight or spy or whatever their task was without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the Union or the Confederacy or the Underground Railroad or whatever ‘the Cause’ was. But for some of them, it was their chance to be seen. Heard. To matter.

They wallowed in insecurity. In fear. They were desperate for a father’s love. For a mother’s love. To catch the attention of a beau or a spurned lover. They were tired of being rejected, or had been pampered and spoiled to a sickening degree. Some were abused. Some were desperate. All were messy. All were broken. All were consumed with a need to “make their mark”. vinicius-amano-145607

Yet most refused to look deeply at the reason why. Scores of these legends would have rather thrown themselves in front of bullets or screamed through a hellish battlefield than look at the demons inside.

We’ve often heard it said “History repeats itself.” I don’t know that history repeats itself so much as human nature repeats itself. We’re all a jumbled mess of broken hearts desperately yearning for love, stumbling about in the shadows looking for that illusive something. No. Correction. Someone. Jesus.

Heart _But it’s easier to fight for a cause than look at our own pain. Easier to drown in noise than face the truth of silence. Easier to follow the crowd than stand the rejection of walking alone.

That’s just one more thing that makes Jesus so remarkable. As I sat watching the sun break through a cloudy sky during our church’s sunrise service, the pastor said someone I’d not considered. He spoke softly. “Upon having the nails driven through his hands and feet, and being lifted high, Jesus could have chosen at that moment to say ‘It is finished’ and breathed his last. He didn’t just die for us. Instead, He chose to suffer for hours and feel our pain as well.”

jesus painJesus chose to feel the pain. He leaned in to the crushing agony, the numbing screams of severed nerves, blood loss, asphyxiation, rejection, shame. He stared unflinchingly into the darkness. And because He smashed death and darkness to pieces when He arose, He offers freedom from the misery of it all.

This is why I love to write. Whether past or present, real or allegorical, all people are broken. Over and over, the human condition reminds us of our need for redemption. For Hope. For a Savior. As I write, I unearth more of my own brokenness as well. Writing is discovering the shadowed, scarred corners of my heart and understanding how God has redeemed them. How He has redeemed me…that discovery then bleeds over the pages of my story world and the struggling characters inside.

So I begin again. The names and characters will change. Plots and places will be altogether different. Their motivations and crises will alter but the Hope that will transform their lives will remain the same. Praise God, He is forever the same.

CHAPTER 1

Washington D.C., 1861

            Cadence Piper walked down the darkened street, clutching her reticule to her middle. Her booted footsteps clicked loudly against the gritty walk. She winced at the echo that drifted back from the inky alley to the right. A shiver crawled down her spine…

dark street

But I Have This Treasure

You know the feeling. A cold, clenched stomach. Darkness. A pounding heart. All you want to do is hide. You beg the eyes fixed on you to disappear but they won’t. They gape and you wonder what they must think, how they must see you. You feel worthless. Exposed.

I’m talking about shame.
DCF 1.0

Is there a more miserable feeling?

Growing up with a seizure disorder left me with plenty of fodder for times to reflect on this feeling. Most of the time I felt normal. Included. And then suddenly, my world would go black. Time would stop. I felt as if I were walking out of a dark hole where time had disappeared and I couldn’t quite place what was wrong. Slowly, sleepily, I would come to the realization that everyone was staring at me.

It was odd and terrifying. Surreal and confusing. Yet there was little I could do.

Of course, there are other moments of shame that stick out in my memory. For instance, playing on the basketball team my junior year of high school. The ball had bounced around on the rim before I managed to brush my fingers across it, pulling down the rebound before using the adrenaline in my body to immediately put the ball right back up. It fell through the net with a satisfying swish.

It would have been a glorious moment if that particular shot hadn’t been for the opposing team.

Ouch.

Anyone who has a pulse has experienced the horrid emotion of shame at some point. Sometimes we can look back on those moments and laugh them off. Other times, the pain cuts too deeply, its scars are too jagged and thick for laughter. Just thinking about that moment causes us to relieve the shame all over again.

dog

Thankfully, I feel that cold emotion far less these days. Not because I don’t mess up just as much as ever but I’ve learned that shame is a fiery dart flung by the enemy. He wants me to wallow in misery, to turn in on myself like a hermit crab, to push people away. But I refuse to do it anymore.

Several days ago, I was driving in the car with my kids, reflecting on these very thoughts. We had been enjoying a fun day, one of those rare times when everybody was in a good mood and the laughter was infectious. I reached an intersection where a huge log truck was preparing to turn left. I slowed early to allow the driver plenty of room to turn but he had other ideas.

He wanted me to go first, to turn left despite the fact that I couldn’t see who might be approaching from the other direction. When I hesitated, he threw up his hands and began screaming at me from the cab of his truck. Ugly words. Hateful words. It didn’t take a lip reader to understand what the irate man was saying, ahem, cussing at me.

cranky 3

And suddenly my happy balloon burst as feelings of inadequacy and hurt rushed over me. After all, he was cursing me out right in front of my kids, compounding the insult. And they noticed.

My good mood dissipated for a moment before I remembered a verse I’d studied the week before.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7

We have this treasure…Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what that cranky driver thought of me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter when I’m accused or when mean people lie about me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter what society tells me about how I must look or how to cling to the fading scraps of youth. I have this treasure.

I have Jesus.

This simple reminder is a shame buster. It’s impossible to want to hide and cower in fear when you remember that Jesus is crazy about you. He’s living in you. He took all that shame on Himself and crucified it to the cross. love of Jesus crossIt’s gone and you’re free. You have a Treasure the rest of the world doesn’t understand and many can’t claim.

As I drove away, I patted my chest with my free hand and whispered to myself, “But I have this treasure….” And I left the screaming, miserable truck driver in my rear view mirror.

No matter how you’re treated, remind yourself that if you’ve been redeemed, you have this treasure. No one can take it away. It’s yours to keep.

And it’s the perfect way to stop shame in its slithering tracks.