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Field of Ashes

Featured Field of Ashes Life The Writing Journey Winter's Prey

Writing Journey: Book Research or Unforgettable Adventure

October 17, 2017

Most of the time, writing means sitting down to the computer and cranking out word after word, but sometimes it takes you places. Most of my writing can be researched online or through books, but recently it required a little real life investigation, which turned out to be an unforgettable adventure.

A while back, I was working on a story that is way down the line in the Barren Fields Fruitful Gardens Series, and, in the process of researching, I had an idea. What if I set parts of the stories in real life ghost towns to honor those who lived there? Even though the towns, for whatever reason, didn’t survive, they still are a part of our history. In fact, sometimes they are a huge part of our history. So over Labor Day weekend, two friends and I headed out to explore the first ghost town to find a potential place in the BFFG series: Maiden, MT.

My two friends prefer not to have an online presence, so they will go unnamed, but I should say that this sort of adventure is our favorite way to spend a Saturday. This Saturday, however, may have been one of the most exciting.

Maiden, MT, a mining town established in 1881, has been on my radar as a possible setting for a story for long time. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done online research and found information in an extremely old book of Montana history. But the more I read, the more I felt it might be better to see it. There was just one problem. I kept reading that the location of the town was now on private property and could only be viewed at a distance from the road.

I figured even that would be better than not seeing it at all. Even so, on Friday night before the trip, I decided to try one last time to find out who owned the property. To my surprise, I found a video telling a little bit of the history of Maiden, including the fact that Maiden still has one year-round resident. (You can watch the video here.)

I sent a quick email to the producer of the video, but by morning I hadn’t heard anything. I did a little more investigating and found a phone number. The number worked! I left a voicemail, hoping to hear back from Maiden’s sole resident.

Meanwhile, we loaded up and headed out of town. It was a beautiful day. Hot and clear as most of the summer had been. We hadn’t gone far, when my phone rang. The next thing I knew, we were setting up an appointment to tour Maiden right after we visited the Central Montana Historical Museum in Lewistown. But those plans were about to change.

Lavina, MT had barely disappeared from our rear-view mirror when a little column of smoke appeared on the horizon. This year’s fire season in Montana was incredibly bad. Over one million acres burned. You’ve heard the song, It Only Takes a Spark, well, that pretty much summed up our summer. The further we went the larger the column of smoke grew. A few more corners and, just as we started up a rise, we all realized the fire was near the highway just ahead of us. Even with that realization, however, we didn’t expect to see flames along the road as we crested the hill.

As I snapped this picture from the passengers seat (the only pic we got), my friend said, “Do they need help?”

I took a quick survey. The fire had already burned down one hillside and was about to climb the next one. Four men with shovels were along one edge. That was it. There were no emergency vehicles on scene.

“Yes,” I said. “They need help.”

We pulled over and started looking for a way to help. The only shovel we had was a plastic snow shovel, which was pretty useless. We found a rug and started beating the flames back as best we could. We took turns, swinging the heavy rug over our head and down through the flames to extinguish them in the dirt. While one of us beat the flames, the others stamped out whatever we could with our feet. Between our rug-beating and the men with the shovels, we kept the fire’s progress to a slow crawl. The Ryegate fire department arrived just in time. The wind was beginning to kick up and would have pushed the fire wildly once it topped the hill. Within just a few minutes, they had the east edge extinguished and were working on the north edge.

Forty minutes after jumping out to help, we loaded back into the car and drove away, along with the others who had stopped to help. We were all strangers. We’ll probably never meet again. But for that moment, we were neighbors.

Our journey took us on to Harlowton where we stopped to clean the soot off of our arms and faces (we were quite the singed, smelly bunch most of the day). We had just gotten back on the road when we came across a pair of bear cubs. This isn’t something you see along the highway every day. We stopped and took pictures from the car, all the time trying to spot the cubs’ mama, but she was nowhere in sight. We later found out that the cubs had to be captured because they could not be reunited with their mother.

We had one more unexpected delay when we saw a man at work—doing a job I would never want. Can you imagine having the job of repairing the massive windmills on a wind farm? My hands start sweating just thinking about it.

By the time we reached Lewistown, we were way behind schedule. So, once again, we shifted our plan. Rather than touring the museum, we simply stopped by to pick up some brochures that we were supposed to take with us to Maiden and then headed out of town.

We found the road into the Warm Spring Creek Canyon and made our way to Maiden, where our host gave us a personal tour of the property that now belongs to his family. He showed us the sweet little porch where he was about to host a party; gave us a tour of the refurbished saloon, which he remembers as his grandfather’s assay office; and then sent us off to wander as we pleased.

 

After much exploring, we said our goodbyes and piled back into the car to head through Maiden Canyon, past the Spotted Horse Mine, and over to the ghost town of Gilt Edge, MT.

We may have gone the wrong way from Gilt Edge and come to a dead end. But that’s okay because in the process we saw these guys.

 

We finally made our way back to Lewistown, had supper, and then headed home with happy hearts and an adventure under our belts that we will never forget. Whoever said writing is a boring profession never did book research Montana style.

 

 

Never read the Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens series? Check them out here!

Featured Field of Ashes Life

The Importance of a Quiet Heart

October 6, 2017

“Marc turned back toward the gently flowing waters. The creek was deep and quiet here, its only sound a soft whispering as it cut beneath the grass hanging over its banks. He couldn’t help but think of Psalm twenty-three as he watched it. The Lord had brought him to the still waters, and now he must drink. With that thought, he spread his Bible open…”

— Field of Ashes, pg. 95

 

I lay in bed becoming aware that the world outside my windows was waking up and coming to life. It was a quiet, peaceful moment. The ceiling fan whirred above me, sending a gentle breeze down on the room and dispelling the summer heat.

“Lord,” I prayed, “thank you for this time. It’s my quiet place. No noise, no interruptions, no responsibilities, no deadlines, no burdens. Just You, me, and the quiet of the morning before the world wakes up.”

But I had barely prayed the words before a question arose in my heart. “Why? Why is this your only quiet place? It didn’t used to be that way. There used to be many quiet moments in quiet places, places to which you went for that restful, restorative, sweet fellowship with the Lord. What changed?”

Answers clicked up in my head like a rolling schedule board high above a busy train station floor. Thurrrrr, it rolled, and the list came into place:

  • The Internet
  • The American obsession with multi-tasking and busyness
  • The noise of advertising and the constant commercialism and materialism
  • The changes that came crashing in after Dad passed away and altered every aspect of life.

The list went on until it stopped at a place I had not expected it to go. It wasn’t a loud answer. It was whispered by a still, small voice.

  • You don’t have a quiet spirit.

And I knew, with a horrible groaning in my heart, that it was true. My heart had filled with a desperate need to accomplish, to meet deadlines, to be productive. It was full of the sense that if I missed one thing, failed at one thing, everything else would fall apart.

The night before, as I crawled into bed my heart cried out in desperation, “Lord, I cannot do it anymore. I don’t have the strength to keep going in this particular area. It has to be You because I can’t.”

Now, He was letting me see how far carrying concern and responsibility that should be His had actually taken me.

 

The Reality of Survival Mode

Crisis throws us into survival mode. Even now as our country faces multiple tragedies many people are, have been, or will be thrown into a state of simply seeking to survive. It is a place where the trivial is of no value; the smallest conflict or struggle is enormous; mornings are scary; nights are dreaded because it means starting all over when you wake up—it is a constant struggling to make it one more day.

Living in survival mode, is like scaling a mountain by your fingernails. Leaving survival mode is just as difficult. Just when you think you see a glimpse of light in a very dark, thick forest of difficulty, the fog rolls in with some new challenge. You take a step and find solid ground, only to have it slip away as your foot bears down with your full weight. You grab at branches only to find them snakes. You find a handhold, only to feel it give way and shatter down the cliff as you cling on for life.

But at some point we must leave, and our leaving must be intentional.

 

My Own Struggle to “Survive”

Before my dad passed away, I liked to go for quiet fellowship with the Lord at a place along the Yellowstone River. I spent at least one day a month hiking, praying, and spending time in the Word. After Dad died, I made it to that quiet place three times in three years.

Part of me, somewhere deep inside, gave up on quiet places. It gave up on a lot of things. It took upon itself the responsibilities that had presented themselves and said, “When all of this is over the quiet places will return.” But “this” just kept going on. Event after event, relationship after relationship, driving further and further into my consciousness the failures, the weaknesses, the ugliness and worthlessness of who I was to those around me; the need to succeed in the work God had given and the awareness of my complete inability to do it all roared like a storm around me. The struggles went on and on, finances, time balance, the weight of an unknown future, and the expectations of others (be they real or perceived).

And then it broke, all of it. I left yet another emotionally devastating conversation and drove to my quiet place. I sat on a bench overlooking a still pond and wept. I watched the geese, ducks, and hawks. I watched the breeze whisper its way through the reeds and cattails along the shores. I watched the clouds float across a brilliant sky, and I cried. I longed for a companion in those moments. Someone to “do life with.” Someone to wrap their arm around my shoulders and just be there.

I cried out to the Lord for His help for a renewed understanding of His love, for a renewed sense of His presence, and for something to change. In His mercy, he sent the most amazing gift. The most amazing reminder that HE was there: an enormous cloud, perfectly shaped like a heart, drifted slowly across the sky. Tears fell anew, and on that day, I decided to leave survival mode.

 

Leaving the Turmoil

But it is not an easy path out. Leaving the turmoil involves cutting relationships that are doing more harm than good, even if the intent of the other person is to help. It involves letting God change your perspectives from mere survival to hope and confidence, which feels impossible when you’re broken. But God is the God of the impossible.

The path out involves acknowledging and embracing your limitations. It involves “putting on your glasses” so you can see in the distance and not just what is up close, letting God mend the places where your heart says, “I can’t” so that it cries out “God can.” It is a whittling process of cutting away the fears that come in crisis, peeling back the protective walls we build.

Leaving the turmoil is a process of remembering the importance and strength of living open-handed and remembering the importance of the quiet place, not just along the river…but more importantly in our heart.

 

Building the Quiet Place

Winter will be upon soon. The snow will cover my quiet places along the river. But that does not have to be my only quiet place, nor should it be. Yes, the quiet of the morning before the world awakes can be my quiet place, but there is another place that must be built and maintained before any physical location will suffice—the quiet place of the heart.

That ugliness and that overwhelming sense of failure brought on by the tormentors of crisis pale when we remember that the meek and quiet spirit is of great price in God’s sight. We need not worry about how others see us, nor even how we see ourselves. God sees us, not through human eyes but rather He looks on us through the work of Jesus Christ. He looks upon those things, which are hidden, the things not corruptible. And when He finds a quiet heart it is of greater value to Him than costly pearls.

But how do we build that quiet place in our heart?

 

Surrender

The quiet heart is the meek heart: The heart that has placed everything in the hands of God—itself, its ambitions, hopes, anxieties, fears, goals, and dreams. It releases control. It yields up any possessive sense of responsibility. It submits to the will of God and commits the out come to Him.

This does not mean we become lazy. We become prayerfully obedient, not rushing ahead to do what seems best, but humbly bowing our heart to seek His guidance. Surrender means pausing in the storm to let the Master save the ship.

 

Rest

The quiet heart (according to the Greek) is the heart that keeps its seat. It’s the heart that does not jump up and fix everything. It rests. But how do we rest in the storm or in the crisis that follows the storm? We stretch out our hand, that open hand that has let go of everything, and reach for the Savior.

“Come unto me,” He calls to all of us who are weak and heavy laden, “and I will give you rest.”

He never leaves us, nor forsakes us; but when we refuse to quiet our heart before Him, we cannot see His hand through the tumult. The hand is always there. The question is, will we come to Him or will we allow the waves to pull us under?

“Take my yoke upon you,” He continues, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Our rest and surrender can only grow as we come and let Him teach us.

 

Focus

Knowing, trusting, and keeping our mind fixed on Him builds the quiet place of the heart. When He is our vision, the rest falls away. Our circumstances may not change, but the process of walking through them becomes a process of knowing Him better. Storms become the evidence of His power to calm them. Difficulty becomes the proof of His power to overcome. Emptiness is filled with His presence. Ugliness is lost in the beauty of His holiness. Turmoil is silenced by His peace. Crisis becomes the rejoicing of His astonishing power, provision, and grace.

“Let not your heat be troubled,” Jesus said. And He meant it.

 

Are you in crisis, be it big or small? Are you living in survival mode, hoping to just make one more day? Are responsibilities overwhelming your spirit? Is your heart quiet or tumultuous? Is it a place of fellowship with the Lord or a place of gasping for air? Don’t let another moment pass without reaching out your empty hand to take His. Let Him quiet your heart. Let Him teach you to be still.

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Featured Field of Ashes Fruitful Living Life The Writing Journey Winter's Prey

Fruitful Living: Why I Started this Blog

September 26, 2017

When I first started this blog (originally at barrenfieldsfruitfulgardens.com), it was because authors do that. I thought it was necessary. I saw it as a way to minister to and encourage others, but mostly, I just thought I was supposed to do it because, well, I’m a writer and writers write. As time passed, however, I began to see a prominent thread. While I’d never stated, “This is why I blog” even my original site’s name gave away the real reason behind my blogging. It’s the same purpose behind writing my books: Discovering the foundations of Fruitful Living vs. Barren Living.

I write because I believe God wants every Christian to live fruitfully, and so that as we learn together we can be fruitful together.

The series Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens got its name as I realized that no matter how many privileges or opportunities we have, if we don’t cultivate our lives in a way that will bring fruit for God, then regardless of the expanse of our reach—we are barren. A man or woman who might not have the opportunity, education, or privilege that another has may be abundantly fruitful though their plot of land seems small.

I’ve done enough gardening in my life to know that if you never take action, there will never be fruit. That’s the whole thing about that great big field with so much potential, when left to itself—overridden with weeds, hard from not being plowed up, or depleted from being overused—it will never produce fruit unless we take action. I want my garden to flourish.

 

What is Fruitful Living?

One could answer that question in many different ways, but for the purposes of this post, I’m just going to list a few things that jump out at me from Scripture as I look over the New Testament for verses on fruitfulness. Fruitful living is:

Selfless Living

Good Ground Living

Abiding Living

Distinguished Living

Spirit-Filled Living

Gospel Living

Submitted Living

Worshipful Living

Peaceful Living

Wise Living

 

The Purpose of Fruitful Living

Often, I fear we get this wrong. The purpose of fruitful living is not so that we can be good enough to please (appease) God. How often have we sat in church and heard that we need to live a life that “pleases God”? There is nothing inherently wrong in this statement. I want my life to please God. The wrong falls in our application of the principle to our lives. We easily fall into a thought process that goes something like this,

 

“I need to_________________ so that God will be happy with me and bless me and my family. If I________________ then surely He will hear my prayers regarding___________.”

 

We may not consciously think these things, but one day we wake up and find that our life is engrossed in doing this or that, following this rule or that guideline, this standard or that standard so that He will be “happy” with me. This easily transfers into pride about what others are or are not doing, and in the process our lives look good on the outside, but have become regimented, lifeless, empty, shallow, and fruitless on the inside.

This barrenness comes, in part, from violating that very first characteristic of fruitful living listed above—selfless living. When we seek to please God in order to keep His eye of favor on us, or to secure the fellowship of our relationship, or to see Him work in a certain way in our lives—we are pleasing Him in order to meet our own need or perhaps reassure ourselves of His love.

Before I go any further, I want to stand up, raise my hand, and say, “I am guilty.” We fall easily into this trap. Satan buries the lie right in truth, we step into it, and are caught, sometimes for years, before we even realize it.

There’s a better way.

 

Aiming Higher.

Many years ago, I returned to the States between school years in Russia. I got a job at Taco Bell for the few months that I would be home. While working there, the manager announced that we would be having an inspection from the corporate offices the following week during the shifts that I normally worked.

Panic ensued.

I had never seen anything like it. Ever. I didn’t understand why my fellow shift-mates were so terrified and stressed out. It was all anyone could talk about for days. Finally, I realized what was going on, and the Lord taught me a huge lesson.

My shift-mates were primarily working to please the managers. The managers were primarily working to please their regional managers. Only the store manager and the regional manager really sought to carry out the goals and purposes of those who were at the highest level by meeting their expectations and standards.

When those at the lower levels realized they were going to have to be accountable for the way they either had or hadn’t met the expectations of those who set the standards, they panicked. Even though their job was to build up the company name by serving its customers and fulfilling its wishes, they had merely been working for the paycheck by meeting the requirements they thought would keep them in good graces with the company. They needed to aim higher.

Living fruitfully requires a similar change in the altitude of our focus. We need to aim higher. If our goal is to “please” Him, we’re probably still focusing at the very least on His acceptance of us. HE’S ALREADY BOUGHT US, ADOPTED US, AND REDEEMED US!!!!  We are accepted in Christ! So our focus is off target.

What if we aim not to merely “please” Him but rather to magnify Him? When showing the world around us who He is becomes our goal, the fruits that please Him become a natural byproduct.

The purpose of fruitful living is to know and magnify God and to point others to Him.

It has nothing to do with us, but the result in our lives will be amazing:

Peace.

Love.

Joy.

Satisfaction.

Fulfillment.

And a host of other things, all of which come only from Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about the prospect of living a fruitful life. So, I’m inviting you to join me on a journey to learn more about fruitful living. Let’s share our victories and even our failures. Let’s help one another through the lessons God teaches us about living so the “plot of land” He has given us is fruitful for Him.

Here are some ways you can come along with me: Start  and join conversations either here or on my Facebook page, subscribe to the blog, sign up for email updates, and invite others to join us as we strive together for fruitful living! What an adventure it will be!

“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 1:8

Featured Field of Ashes Fruitful Living Lessons

The Strength of Living Open-Handed

August 31, 2017

“What are you doing out here, Gray?” Dunn said, stepping up to the stairs and sending a confused look in Ronald Gray’s direction.

Gray jumped at the man’s voice. “Boss! You like to scare the snot outta me. Where’d you come from?”

“I’ve been watching you from the barn. You just keep standing here, like you’re waiting on something. What are you doing?”

Embarrassment rose in the man’s eyes. “I was…well…I was listening to Miss Jess sing. She’s been singin’ for ten minutes, hardly a break, even though she’s working.”

Dunn raised an eyebrow. “You mean you’re sitting here being entertained while the rest of us are working?”

Gray laughed. “No. I was just thinkin’. I was going in for some coffee, and then I heard her, and I stopped to listen. How does she do it, Boss? How does she sing? I saw how tore up she was the other day. I know she’s still hurting over the man she lost and worrying about those other men. I don’t understand how she can still sing in the midst of that.”

Dunn considered the man. A rather pat answer sat on his tongue, but he didn’t feel it would be the right thing to say at the moment. At the same time, he wasn’t sure what to say.

“Probably seems dumb, me wondering about it.”

“No. Not really. But why are you wondering about it?”

Gray shrugged. “Cause I never could’ve done it. After my wife died,” …The man looked down and shoved the toe of his boot up against a clump of ice that clung to the stairs. “…I went off and drank till I woke up in jail in a town I’d never even heard of before. And I just kept running after that.”

“Have you asked her how she can sing?”

“What?” he said, jerking his gaze up to Dunn’s. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you want to know.”

“Yeah, well maybe I don’t want her to know that I want to know.”

Dunn shrugged, turning to go inside. “Suit yourself.”

“Boss, don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Leave me hanging like that. You know what it is. I know you do.”

“Let me ask you this. What do you think she would say if you asked her?”

Gray leaned back against the wall and thought for a moment. “She told me a while back about how she used to run. Said she’d stopped runnin’ from God and given Him everything. I suppose she’d say it had somethin’ to do with that.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Dunn shoved his cold hands into his pockets. “She can’t change anything that has happened. And she can’t prevent anything that might happen. So, she’s put it in God’s hand.”

— Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens, Book 3 (Coming Soon!)

Photo by Natalie Collins on Unsplash

Can You Sing in the Shadows?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog called The Freedom of Living Open-Handed. After posting it, my friend Naomi sent me a private message. She’d been spending some quiet time with the Lord when she came across the blog. It went right along with the Psalm she was studying.

My friend pointed out the opening words of Psalm 107, “O give thanks.” The phrase comes from one Hebrew word, Yada, which is used 5 times in this psalm. It carries the idea of open hands, extended in confession and surrender, which reflects that original blog. As I studied it further, I saw something else. This opening of the hands allows us to sing in the shadows!

 

Hands Open in Thanksgiving

November isn’t the only month when we’re to give thanks. In fact, giving thanks appears in the psalms over and over. But sometimes, when we’re opening our hands to let God remove something, we feel the sting of loss or disappointment, and thanksgiving is the furthest thing from our minds.

But what if it wasn’t? What if every time we saw God allowing something to be removed from our open palm, we found something to thank Him for? How would it change our responses? How would it change our perspective? That’s exactly what yada is talking about.

 

Hands Open in Praise

Have you ever seen a happy mama raise her hands with fingers wiggling in excitement as she praises her child for some new accomplishment? “You colored a picture of a tree? That’s wonderful! You tied your own shoe? That’s wonderful!”

Why don’t we praise God with the same excitement? “You created the UNIVERSE? That’s amazing! You put eyelashes on my eyelids to protect me from microscopic grains of dust? How did you ever think of that! You are good! Your mercies endure for ever!”

What if as we allow Him to remove from our open hand those dreams, plans, possessions, or even people, we then lifted our hands in thanksgiving and praised Him for what He has done in our lives?

Hands Open in Worship

Gulp. I come from a very conservative background when it comes to worship. Sunday morning services are quiet with traditional hymns and a GOOD dose of solid preaching. No one raises their hands. If they do, everyone knows “they’re not from here.”

But yada raises its hands in worship. Yada takes time to see Who God is and verbalizes God’s attributes. His holiness, righteous judgments, goodness, mercy, wonderful works, and salvation are just a few of the attributes, which are paired with this word in Scripture.

And here’s something more, this word yada implies public worship. (Pastor, if you are reading this, DON’T PANIC! I’m not going to get up and stand at the front of the church, raising my arms and swaying to How Firm A Foundation.)

I haven’t done an exhaustive study on this word, but it doesn’t take long to see that it often comes along with the idea of opening our mouths and making His works known to the people around us. A lot like the idea of the mom praising her child, except here, we’re running into the market or the city gate or the church, and we’re saying, “WOW! Look. Who. GOD. IS.”

What if we responded this way? How would our lives and our relationship with God be different?

 

The Wringing of the Hands.

Yada has another meaning associated with our hands—”bemoaning” something, seen by the wringing of the hands. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) Exactly opposite of everything we’ve just seen, this answers part of our “what if?” questions. If we don’t respond with thanksgiving, praise, and worship, the result will be dismal.

Worry.

Fretting.

Fear.

All three of these sap away our strength. They steal our joy. They nurture the feelings of disappointment, resentment, discontent, and even bitterness that comes from living tight-fisted.

Living with an open hand and then wringing them when you’ve lost what you wanted is little different than if you had held onto it in the first place.

 

The Strength of Living Open-Handed

Living open-handed, in full surrender to the Lord, brings freedom. Raising those empty hands in thanksgiving, praise, and worship brings the strength of joy that is centered on the Lord Himself.

Nehemiah told the people of Israel, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) This is the fuller answer to the “what ifs” above. What if we give Him thanks, what if we praise Him, what if we worship Him in those moments—in the shadows, the frustrations, the fears, and the loss? He will give us joy, and that joy in the Lord will give us strength.

 

The Glad Game

Remember the story of Pollyanna, the little girl who comes to live with her grumpy aunt and annoys everyone by playing the ”glad game”? She was onto something. Oh, I think most of her community thought she was ON something, but she had something they were missing. Something most of us are missing. She had learned to intentionally find joy by finding things she could be glad about. Replace the word glad with thanks, praise, and/or worship, and you’ve got the very thing we’re talking about.

A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I went picking chokecherries. (Had to get them before the birds, you know.) The following two days, I spent about eight hours cooking them, turning them into syrup, and hot-bathing the jars.

Nothing could ever go wrong in that process, right! Nothing like nearly spilling a pot of boiling juice on my mother and her laptop because I didn’t know she was behind me, and she didn’t know I was pulling it off of the stove. Nothing like realizing at 10 p.m. that you didn’t have enough lids for your jars, making a trip to Walmart, and finding the checkout lines ten people deep. Nothing like coming home from the store only to discover an hour later that you’re going to run out of sugar before you run out of juice. The list could go on.

But this was right about the time I received Naomi’s message and had started studying the word yada. I purposed that next morning—after dropping into bed at 2 a.m. and knowing I still had to go back to Walmart for more sugar—to do what this word yada suggests we should do. Every time something went wrong, I purposed to find something to be thankful for. The result was one of the most joy filled days I have experienced in a long time. It was full of peace even in the chaos of canning. It wasn’t thanksgiving alone that made the difference. First, that hand had to be opened and the purpose or desire let go. Then thanksgiving could begin to do its work.

I want to challenge you today to take a risk. Purpose to live open-handed. Purpose, even in the little frustrations, to find a way to thank Him, praise Him, and worship Him. Think of it as your own version of the glad game! Let me know how it goes!

 

How has gratitude, praise, or worship in difficult times made a difference in your life? Let me know in the comments!

If you’ve enjoyed this blog or found it helpful, please share it with others.

Featured Field of Ashes Fruitful Living Winter's Prey

The Freedom of Living Open-Handed

August 8, 2017

At the sound of his voice, a deer sprang from a thicket near the base of the butte. She leaped over the creek and darted across the open fields. Marc watched her go. She was a little like Jess, he thought, afraid and running for all she was worth.

“I know Jess is safest in your hands,” his prayer continued, “I’m so…I don’t know. I just want the best for her…and I know you want that even more than I do. Pa was right about letting go[…]”

He looked down at his hands. He had been a capable worker for a good many years now, but this was far more than his hands could do. He tightened them into fists, then as he opened them again he looked Heavenward.

“Father, she’s yours. I put her in your hands. I’m willing to trust you to take care of her, to protect her, to provide for her…and not only Jess but Mary and the other children too.”

It seemed a strange thing to do: to walk a mile, stand on a cliff, hold your fists out to God, and open them as if letting go of something. If anyone but God had been watching, he might have been embarrassed. But stranger things had happened than what he’d just done. Hadn’t Abraham traveled a long distance with his son, climbed a mountain, strapped his son to an altar, and raised his knife over him to kill him? God had asked this of Abraham to prove Isaac hadn’t become his idol, to prove Abraham’s faith. And, in the end, God had provided another sacrifice. That thought brought reassurance, even joy.

“I know you’ll be faithful. I know you will care for her. Help me to simply trust you as Abraham did. Help me to have the right attitudes. To know what to say and what not to say. Help me to show her your love.”

—Winter’s Prey

Time. Finances. Marital Status. Children. Career. Ministry. Our “Personal Brand.” The future.

We live in a culture that demands we get all of these on a schedule, develop them to the max, and present them to the world with Pinterest Perfection. But reality is often much different than the awesomeness found on Pinterest. What if that perfection is not the reality God wants for us? What if it is not the reality that will bring genuine fruit in our lives? What if fruit bearing reality for us looks more like this:

  • Busy, but not organized.
  • Single, married but struggling, divorced, widowed.
  • Children a mess, sick, or, perhaps, no children at all.
  • Laid off, fired, business failed, struggling career.
  • Struggling in ministry, unable to do what you’d like to do, limited opportunity abundance of obstacles.
  • What’s a Personal Brand?! I’m just trying to get myself through the day!
  • The future couldn’t look bleaker.

How do we reconcile what is around us—the pressures, the baubles, the constant temptations and enticements—with reality? How do we find contentment with what we have in comparison with all that is thrust at us, held up to us as a standard, and considered the status quo? How do we walk through loss when we live in a culture that minimizes it, ignores the realities of grief and pain, and expects us to rebound as the same person we were before? In fact, they don’t just want us to be who we were. They want us to be better—like the day after it happens! How do we balance all this with contentment?

We cling to Christ.

We must live in Him, move in Him, find our very breath in Him. But the only means of clinging to Him in this way is by letting go of everything else. This is where the difficulty often comes. We want His best. We want His will. We want more of Him. But it can be excruciatingly difficult to let go of those things we have held dear, those dreams, the hopes, the very desires of our heart, which we had so depended upon Him meeting.

When those desires go unmet, does it make Him any less true to His Word? No. Does it mean we are the problem? Does it mean the desire was wrong? Not necessarily.

I want to digress for just a moment. Not every desire of our heart comes true, and some of the ones that don’t are enormous. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Sometimes our hope is deferred, and it hurts. It makes us sad. In our culture, sadness seems to be a weakness. Sorrow is not an emotion we know how to face. We throw a trite platitude at the “problem” and assume it will go away. But sorrow of heart does not heal that way. There is, however, a way to ensure both beforehand and as we are passing through disappointment that the sorrow is lessened. The secret is found in living open-handed.

Have you ever clutched something in your hand, maybe as a child, that someone else wanted.

“Give it to me,” they say.

You, clasping your other hand over the first, mockingly retort, “Come and get it if you want it!”

Then the battle ensues. They pull at your arms, struggle around your legs, grab at your fingers and start peeling them back one at a time, trying to break your grip. You would not admit it in the moment, but the truth is—it hurts. It hurts to fight against their efforts. It pulls at the tendons and muscles in your hands. It even stretches things clear down into your wrists and forearms. Holding on hurts.

The same is true in our walk with Christ. God wants all of us.

  • He doesn’t want the part that commits to serve Him without the part that says, “whether I’m married or single.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that is willing to serve in the nursery without the part that says, “Even if I never have children of my own.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that says, “I’ll live by faith, trusting you for everything” without the part that says, “Even when I don’t feel secure.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that says, “I’ll give up my ideals for the future,” without the part that says, “I’ll trust you in the present.”

He wants all of us. When we offer Him part in one hand, but clutch something in the other hand, He’s very likely to say, “But I want what’s in the other hand.” The tighter we hold on, the more painful and more difficult the struggle to have peace in our relationship with Him.

Corrie Ten Boom said, “We must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when my Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me.” I remember thinking when I first heard this, “Why stop there? Why hold onto it at all. If He has simply to reach down and take it from my open hand, then my hand is available to take hold of Him.”

Sometimes, when God asks us to let go of something, especially in our culture of amassing things, notoriety, accomplishments, and status, it’s easy to say, “But, Lord, why do you ask this of me? Why don’t you require this of them?”

  • Why must I be single, when that person who has wasted their life has both a husband and children?
  • Why must I be childless, when there are so many ‘underserving’ who have more children than they can keep up with?
  • Why must I live in poverty, while those who are lazy in their faith live extravagantly?
  • Why must I let go of my hearts deepest desires, while they squander what they have been given?

Remember that you are not alone. Remember Abraham, who waited a hundred years for a son, and who was then asked to lay him on an altar. Remember Job upon whom God had showered blessing, and then who lost everything. Job who said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Remember Paul who had reason above any other to boast of his position, his lineage, and his education, and yet who laid it all aside, counting it but dung for the knowledge of Christ. There is a secret freedom and power in living open-handed. In doing so, two things happen:

  1. When we let go of our desires, we are better able to take hold of Christ and what He has for us.
  2. When we let go of our desires, we put them into His hands, which are far more capable of properly handling those desires than we are.

This gives us the freedom both to know Him better and to live free of worry, concern, and fretting over things we cannot control. And when we discover that a desire may not be fulfilled, half the battle (or perhaps more) is already won because it was no longer held in our grip.

Surrender is the enemy of pride. Our pride wants to hold on, to fix every problem, to reach every goal, to attain the things we long for. Pride fears poverty of some sort, not realizing the poverty we fear most is that which comes from living with our fists clenched. Surrender says, “Lord, I give it to you. I trust you to handle it wisely, to bring it to pass, or to exchange it for something better.” And it chooses to trust Him that the “something better” really is better, even when it appears to be filled with pain and sorrow and rejection. Surrender chooses to follow His leadership and to trust Him to manage our affairs.

As Paul said, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” I’ve failed in this area more times than I can count. It has taken me days to write this because I had to search my heart to make sure it was right. Perhaps, you never struggle in this area. That’s wonderful. But if I am to be honest, then I must admit, at times I’ve gotten my eyes off of Christ who is my hope, and put my hope in people or plans or projects. I have held desires in my heart, thinking they had been surrendered, only to find them dashed once more when an unexpected trial comes. But that is the beauty of our Savior. When we see something has not been fully given, or perhaps that needs to be given once more—He is there, waiting patiently, lovingly, wisely. Waiting for us to allow Him to take it from our hand, and more importantly, waiting for us to slip our open, empty hand into His.

What are you holding onto? In my experience, things sneak in without me seeing them. Hopes. Desires. Plans. Things that aren’t necessarily bad, but things I haven’t placed in His hands. What do you need to let go of in order to free your hands to grasp Him more tightly? Take a few minutes, or maybe a day or two, and ask the Lord to show you what you need to release.

 

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Featured Field of Ashes The Writing Journey

The Story of Emily’s Song

July 25, 2017

“I love the song. Where did you find that? Did you write it?” My best friend’s text popped up on the screen of my phone, and I smiled. She had reached not only a turning point in Field of Ashes but also one of my favorite moments. The moment in which one song, which so beautifully illustrates one woman’s walk with Christ, changes the life of another woman. But the song you read in the book today, is not the song that was originally there.

When I first started writing Field of Ashes, I came to this point in the story and immediately knew what hymn would best touch the situation. I built the entire scene around I Surrender All. It fit perfectly, and carried enough tension in and of itself to move the scene forward—and then I discovered a problem. Many drafts into the process, I discovered that my original research had misinformed me. I Surrender All was actually written 13 years after the story of Field of Ashes takes places.

I was crushed. I couldn’t think of another song, especially from the right era, that would fit the scene as well as that song, nor one that would convey the message of the book so perfectly. I didn’t cry, but I came close. How would I ever salvage that pivotal moment in the book?

William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” But this! This was like killing the whole book. I bemoaned my dilemma for hours. Finally, I told my dad about my disappointment. Dads always seem to look at things so matter-of-factly.

“So write your own song,” he said. Just like that. Write your own song. Really?

But then I thought, “Why not? I already have the basic idea of what the song needs to say. It wouldn’t be the first song I’ve written, and I hope very much that it won’t be the last.”

So I retreated to my bedroom with my computer, a hymnal containing I Surrender All, and a lot of prayer, and began translating the message of that song into my own words. To my surprise, it took little more than 45 minutes. It has it’s own melody, but it isn’t very good.

In the book, the song appears handwritten on a single sheet of paper and is attributed to “E.F.,” someone you will meet only by reading the rest of the story.

Emily’s Song

With open hand, give all to Jesus

With yielded heart, thine all release.

Press now thine hand into the Savior’s

In trust and love, sit at His feet.

 

Give all to Jesus,

In love surrender.

Yield up thy will and embrace the Savior.

Give all to Jesus,

Who left Heaven’s splendor

Yield up thy heart and thine all surrender.

 

Kneel at His feet in humble worship.

The pleasures of this world forsake.

“Take me, O Lord, my life I offer,

Thy will be done and not my own.”

 

“Made fully Thine through Thy salvation,

“Bought with a price of pain and woe,

“Lord, let me feel Thy glorious presence,

“And ever know that I am Thine.”

 

“I yield myself to Thee, Lord Jesus

“Fill me with power and love and grace.

“Thy blessing on my life’s long journey

“Until the day, I see Thy face.”

 

This is the first in a short series of blogs related to Emily’s Song, be watching for the next installment.

PS. AS I WRITE THIS, WE’RE DOWN TO THE LAST 35 HOURS IN THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN TO SEE WINTER’S PREY CONVERTED TO AUDIOBOOK. WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO. IF YOU HAVEN’T CHECKED IT OUT YET, YOU CAN SEE THE PROJECT AND THE REWARDS HERE.

Field of Ashes Life

Some Sweet Thing

May 31, 2017

Often we lose things…or people…we thought we should have. Life could only be right with this wonderful thing in it. And then suddenly, it’s gone. Vanished. Never to be put back in our hands again. Never within our view. A memory. Simply gone.

Our hearts ache and mourn. We cannot see the purpose. We cannot see the plan. We cannot see our Master’s hand…but it is there. Take it and trust. He is not finished yet. This is not the end, only the beginning. This is the inciting event, not the epilogue. Let Him comfort. Seek Him. Follow Him. He has some sweet thing in store.


After losing her fiancé to the wild elements of the Montana Territory, Jessica Bennett is sure the key to her happiness is in leaving Twin Pines. But from the moment she steps foot in the untamed, cowtown of Grassdale, Jess discovers a whole new world of challenges: An unruly superintendent, a ramshackle school, drunken cowboys, and a letter from home that changes everything. When the hidden wounds of her heart are discovered, will one man’s secret past hold the key to her healing?

Easy has never been the path Marcus Bennett sought, but as summer unfolds he comes face to face with the one struggle he has avoided for years. When life takes an unexpected turn, he finds himself torn between his responsibilities, his love for his family, and the promptings of his heart. Would God really ask him to abandon his home and family?

This sequel to Winter’s Prey explores the beauty of God’s amazing grace and astounding love, the freedom of surrender, and the hope of experience, though faith be tried by fire.

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Featured Field of Ashes

Introducing Field of Ashes

April 25, 2017

Field of Ashes is Finally Here!

The beauty of our brokenness is that God not only restores but He also makes all things new.

After losing her fiancé to the wild elements of the Montana Territory, Jessica Bennett is sure the key to her happiness is in leaving Twin Pines. But from the moment she steps foot in the untamed, cowtown of Grassdale, Jess discovers a whole new world of challenges: An unruly superintendent, a ramshackle school, drunken cowboys, and a letter from home that changes everything. When the hidden wounds of her heart are discovered, will one man’s secret past hold the key to her healing?

Easy has never been the path Marcus Bennett sought, but as summer unfolds he comes face to face with the one struggle he has avoided for years. When life takes an unexpected turn, he finds himself torn between his responsibilities, his love for his family, and the promptings of his heart. Would God really ask him to abandon his home and family?

This sequel to Winter’s Prey explores the beauty of God’s amazing grace and astounding love, the freedom of surrender, and the hope of experience, though faith be tried by fire.

 

Right Where We Are

The story of Marc and Jess may be set more than 130 years ago, but the lessons are just as real for us today. Each of us face the struggles of:

  • Maintaining faith in the midst of days when we simply don’t understand
  • Longing for someone to relate to our deepest, most broken places
  • Accepting situations of pain and sorrow and surrendering to God in them
  • Decision making when the decisions God has put before us don’t make sense
  • The realness of grief and the need to walk through it

But Field of Ashes doesn’t simply present the struggles. It goes on to explore:

  • The hope of experience
  • The freedom of surrender, and
  • God’s amazing love, abundant grace, forever-enduring mercies, and faithfulness to forgive.

 

What people are saying about Field of Ashes:

 “A journey from the ashes of bitterness to the light of God’s redeeming love.” — Marta – Laurel, MT

“Wow, just, wow. It’s even better than the first book!!!” — Ann – Rockford, IL

“You need to read this book. A novel that will not only grab you and hold you from page one but will also challenge and encourage you in your life! A blessing of a book that you won’t regret reading.” — Sarah – North Platte, NE

Get your copy today at Amazon!

Want to sample it first? Enter your information below, and I’ll send you the first ten pages!

 

 

 

Field of Ashes Montana Winter's Prey

A Special Invitation

April 5, 2017

You may have seen on Facebook that we’re getting very close to the release of the sequel to Winter’s Prey. Lord willing, Field of Ashes will launch with a book signing at Leslie’s Hallmark in Billings the first part of May. That is coming quickly!
Writing a book is a lot of work. Editing a book is even more work. But getting the word out to others about the book once it’s been published may be the most difficult part of all. As an independent author (not published through a traditional publisher), I have a lot of bonuses concerning the work itself, but there is one drawback: I’m pretty much on my own.
Over the last year, I’ve learned that going it alone is, well, lonely! I’ve also learned that working together is not only more effective but also more fun! So, I would like to invite you to help me launch Field of Ashes.
I’ve never had a so-called launch team, so this is new to me. I look at it as a partnership and an opportunity to build relationships.

Here’s what it would look like:

  • I have set up a Launch Group on Facebook. (You can join it here.) In this group, we’ll brainstorm ideas for the launch and how to get the word out, we’ll plan giveaways, we’ll find ways to grow our launch group, and we’ll have a good time learning, growing together, and becoming friends.
  • Through the Launch Group, I’ll provide some tools, such as memes and quotes (and I’ll probably ask you what your favorites are!) to share with others. I’ll also provide direction about the right time to share about the upcoming book and when to post reviews.
  • That’s right! I said, post reviews, which you can’t do if you’ve never read the book! So, everyone who joins the Launch Group will receive an early, PDF version of the book! AND as the group grows, anyone who has never read Winter’s Prey will get a free PDF of that book as well! So invite your friends!
  • The first 50 people to join the group will get a free signed, hard copy of the book!
  • Everyone in the group will automatically be entered in all of the giveaways and will get two entries in the Grand Prize giveaway.

I hope you’ll join me! The next month is going to be jam packed with editing, layout, and proofing, but having you along will lighten the load. I’m excited to get to know each of you better and to see what the Lord does through this new book.

To join the Launch Group, click here! I’ll see you there.

What do you think of the cover design? Let me know when you join the Launch Group!