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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 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 Life

When It’s Okay To Be A Copycat

June 7, 2017

Did you know that Michelangelo’s first commission was a swindle?

I have a lot going on these days, including writing new material for our FTN Friday Bible Study, and participating in a book launch for author Jeff Goins, whose new book Real Artists Don’t Starve comes out today. These things are very different (so bear with me). Yesterday, however, I found a common thread.

Michelangelo’s first job was to copy another artist, make the sculpture look old, and then sell it as an antique. He was caught in the con, but it worked out in his favor, for the Cardinal who had originally wanted the piece—hired Michelangelo!

Now, I would certainly never condone cheating people with cheap knockoffs. However, this story brings to light a very interesting fact about apprenticing artists during the Renaissance:

“During the Renaissance, apprentices were taught to copy their master’s work so precisely that the copies were indistinguishable from the originals. Being able to reproduce an earlier work was not something to be ashamed of—it was a point of pride. In the words of author Noah Charney, it was ‘a sign of ability, not duplicity’ to be able to copy the work of a master.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pp. 27 and 28

I have seen the benefits of a similar approach in my own writing. I started writing at a very young age. Among other things, I had finished the first draft of Winter’s Prey, Field of Ashes, and books 3-5 of the series by the time I went to Russia at 19. But if you went back and read those drafts today, well, you’d probably laugh. I was a novice. I had not honed my craft, found my voice, or learned from others. A Russian friend once looked at me compassionately and said, “Rachel, you write like Tolstoy—long sentences.”

Ten years later, I returned to the States. I found myself needing to fill the evenings while my grandparents watched classic movies, so I wrote. But then I started noticing the difference between those classic movies and many contemporary movies. The classic movies truly told stories. They had plots! Character and dialog driven plots! They didn’t have to blow things up, drown the movie in excessive music, or go where they shouldn’t go simply to get ratings—because they knew how to tell a story. So I started watching, but not watching for the sake of entertainment, watching for the sake of study.

I also started reading again, which I hadn’t had a lot of time for in Russia. As I read, I started noticing twists of phrases and how authors I adored built their sentences and paragraphs. The authors I liked best wrote with rhythm, or what I like to call lilt. The more I read their work and listened to it on audiobooks, the more I realized that was the voice I was looking for. No, it wouldn’t be an exact match. My voice would have its own tone, but whatever that tone was, it had to have lilt. So I listened and read and practiced—and it worked.

As I read Real Artists Don’t Starve, Michelangelo’s story got me to thinking about this practice of being a copycat, but it was the story of dancer Twyla Tharp that started to bring things together for me.

“When she started dancing in New York, the dancer dedicated herself to studying every great dancer who was working at the time. She patterned herself after these professionals, learning what she could from them, copying their every move. ‘I would literally stand behind them in class,’ she said, ‘in copying mode, and fall right into their footsteps. Their technique, style, and timing imprinted themselves on my muscles.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pg. 30

Anything we do often or repetitively (like typing or shifting gears) probably involves some degree of muscle memory. This is what Twyla Tharp was doing. She was copying the movements of the greats, training her own muscles to do what the masters were doing, so that it would flow naturally out of her. The brain and writing work similarly. Many writers copy out the work of great writers in order to learn from them.

This is the point where Jeff’s book and my own work intersected this week.

The material I have been writing touches on the importance of the example we set for others. Before we are required to set an example, however, we are given an example to follow. 1 Peter 2:21 says that Christ left us an example and we are to follow in His steps.

Check out the meaning of the Greek word translated example!

“A writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.” – Source, BlueLetterBible.com

In other words, if we are to be like Christ, then—just like the writer or sculptor who wants to become like the great artists who have gone before them—we need to sit down and study His work, His words, His actions, His responses, and His attitudes. We need to practice what He practiced until it becomes as much a part of us as those dance moves that flowed out of Twyla Tharp or as that sculpture that came from Michelangelo’s hands. We need to sit as a child with a copy sheet and trace the lines of His life over and over until His grace, kindness, love, righteousness, and forgiveness flow from the pen of our lives onto the paper of our circumstances and relationships, creating a genuine copy of the Master’s work.

It doesn’t stop there. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy to be an example of the believers. The word translated as example is the Greek word typos. Not typos as in mistakes in typing, but typos as in:

“The mark of a stroke or blow…print.” — Source, BlueLetterBible.com

All the copying we have done of the Master should now flow out in strokes, or be stamped out in images, which can be copied by others. And as the strokes of our example scribe their lines across our circumstances and relationships, they should always point our copiers to the Master.

This is when it’s okay to be a copycat. In fact, it’s more than okay. This is when it’s the preferred course because in being a copycat, we become the real thing.

Have you ever copied another artist’s work? What practices do you maintain in your Christian walk that allow you to copy Christ? Please share in the comments below.

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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 Life

The Danger of Distraction

May 17, 2017

The grown-up in me refused to cry. Not there. Not in the middle of the store. Not where everyone could see that my heart was disappointed and confused in a moment when it was supposed to be rejoicing. But the truth was, I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand how, after pouring hundreds of hours into something I believed so firmly was the direction the Lord was leading, this important moment could come to so little.

(Image courtesy Pablo.buffer. com)

There is a sense in which you could say that writing a book doesn’t cost anything. [This of course doesn’t include blood, sweat, tears, late nights, early mornings, deadline stress, continuing education, writing hours, research hours, editing hours, layout hours, publication hours, or marketing hours.]  You could say that writing a book doesn’t cost anything more than the instruments used to write it.

But writing a book also doesn’t pay anything unless you sell it. That is the stark reality of life.

I have three basic purposes for writing the books I write:

1. To honor the Lord
2. To point people toward Him
3. To help provide for my “family” (My mom and me)

I wish it were possible to write only for the first two reasons, but even writers and missionaries have to eat. We enjoy eating actually, just like everyone else. As this book launch has unfolded, and I have seen money going out and going out and going out and only a little trickling back in here and there, my heart rate has skyrocketed more than once. I’m not usually one to stress over these things, but in this case I had much invested in time, effort, and money—all of which came out of limited stores.

Watching it do so well the first day while it was free and then seeing the activity stop when it went into the paid store was crushing. And then putting enormous effort into planning an event for the book and having a wonderful time, but only seeing 9 books go out the door—I was ready to cry. If it hadn’t been for a friend who met me after the book signing and unwittingly distracted me from the truth, if it hadn’t been for the 12” dandelions in my yard waiting for my attention when I got home, if it hadn’t been for grace—I would have been a mess Saturday night.

Sunday morning, I woke up with a heart crying out to the Lord. “Father,” it said, “how do I walk into my classroom and teach my Sunday School students ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow’ when my heart is so confused on this matter this morning?”

You see, we’ve been memorizing Matthew 6:24-34 in Sunday School, and it has been awesome watching over the last few months as God has indeed shown that He will provide as we step out and let Him prove Himself. But this moment was not awesome. This moment was overwhelming.

I opened my Bible and began reading through all of the cross-references for the passage. Then I considered the phrase we were going to be starting with that morning: “Take no thought.” What did that really mean? I got out my Strong’s concordance, started digging, and had much to think about by the time I left the house.

Even as the Sunday School hour was starting, my heart was still sorting, still trying to understand, still trying to reconcile where things were. But as we sang the opening song, things started falling into place.

Before I go any farther there are three things, three words, you need to know:

1. μεριμναω (merimnao)– to be anxious about
2. μεριμνα (merimna)– solicitude through the idea of distraction
3. μεριζω (merizo) – to part

Class began with the question, “What does it mean to ‘take no thought’?” Does that mean we aren’t to think about our grocery list? Does that mean we are supposed to get a job but be concerned about doing a good job? Does that mean that we aren’t supposed to look at our children and say, “Oh, you’ve grown out of those clothes, you need new ones”? The children all agreed this wasn’t what this verse was talking about. So what was it talking about?

Well in in it’s simplest form, (merimnao) the phrase “take no thought” means don’t be anxious. This was not a concept the kids had trouble understanding. We’ve all been anxious—anxious about bills, anxious about tests, anxious about work, anxious about whether our friends will like us. And when we become anxious we soon become distracted with care (merimna) because our brains have been “parted” so to speak with all of our worries (merizo).

A dry erase marker was laying on the classroom table. I picked it up, removed the lid, and asked the kids, “What happens if I part this lid from the marker?”
They all just looked at me like, “You’re a teacher and you don’t know that?” And then they said, “It dries out!”

Exactly. It dries out and becomes useless.

At this point,  the chalkboard came into play. I’m not an artist, so in real life the following picture looked like a plum with worms:

God has given us one brain, and He wants it to be focused on Him, His Kingdom, and His Righteousness. When we start “taking thought” distraction starts taking residence in our brains, dividing our attention. “I have a problem,” it says, “I have a big problem. I will never find the answer to this problem. I wish I didn’t have this problem.”

Our heart cries out, “God can fix this problem!”

And then our brain throws in that dangerous word. “BUT…I have a problem!”

At this point, we decided that our brains sort of resemble a dog chasing its tail. This is where we see the danger of distraction. Soon the heart, like that marker missing its lid, begins to tire of having to cry out so loud over all the distractions in the brain. Its voice grows quieter. It dries out and dies away. And WE become useless.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. One SLIGHT change can make all the difference.

This is where it must rest. This is when our confidence in Him must be sure. Do we know Him? Have we seen Him work? Have we seen Him prove Himself? Then this is where we must set aside distraction and walk on in the hope of experience. If we haven’t given Himself a chance to prove Himself, then this is the perfect opportunity to begin, to learn of His promises, His faithfulness, and His supply.

Suddenly time was up, class was over, and my heart was at peace. It is still at peace—two days later. Nothing has changed in my circumstances. My focus has just been adjusted.

Where is your focus? Are you allowing cares to bring anxiety, distraction, and division to your pursuit of God, His Kingdom, and His righteousness? Or are you thinking on those things that will keep your heart fixed on God? Put the cap back on the marker. Listen to the truth the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart and rest there. God can fix the problem!

Featured Life Winter's Prey

The God Who Catches Us

February 16, 2017

Marc was quiet. He could hear a note of hurt in his brother’s voice. For a while he fiddled with the edge of the quilt that covered him, shame bringing color to his pale cheeks; but then he raised his eyes to meet his brother’s questions with confidence. “I knew the Lord wouldn’t let us starve. I knew He’d never disappoint us. So I just decided to trust Him. …But I’m afraid my eyes started to stray when the roof was damaged. Just like Peter walkin’ on the water, I saw the waves and the ‘wind boisterous’ and began to sink…now look at me.”

Both men were quiet, both contemplating their conversation. Marc, not for the first time since the accident, was realizing how he’d begun to worry and doubt. Jon was realizing how little he’d ever started to trust.

Winter’s Prey – Page 192

This morning, for the third day in a row, I woke up feeling overwhelmed. My to do list, which never actually made it to paper, is so long and confusing that I’m not sure where the beginning or the ending actually are. As usual, after spending some time in prayer, I picked up my phone to see what time it was. My phone greeted me with a long list of notifications, most of which weren’t really that important, but one caught my attention. It was the emailed version of a devotional that I have used off and on for more than two decades.

Normally, I only use the emails when I am traveling and haven’t brought the book along with me or when I’m working on something on the computer and happen to see the email come in. But this morning, the Lord impressed upon me that I should read it. Three verses at the end of the evening reading caught my attention.

“When thou passest through the water, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isaiah 43:2

This is one of my favorite verses of comfort and promise. It brings back memories of an evening spent in one of the apartments at the orphanage in Russia, and the testimony of a Russian pastor. He started his story with this verse and then went on to tell how God had kept him and his family through days of persecution.

This morning, it also made me think of someone who has recently come across my path who is going through some pretty deep waters right now. What a promise to know that God will not let those waters overflow her. As I was thinking on this, the second verse caught my attention:

“Peter…walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him, O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31

What a beautiful thought that God could not only keep the waters from overflowing my new friend but also could enable her to walk on those waters!

But as I reached the part about the wind, my heart grew sad. Instantly, the above scene from Winter’s Prey played through my mind, and I realized that I was doing exactly what Marc had been doing—looking at the storm rather than at the Savior, looking at the to do list, the enormity of each project on it, the interruptions, the unexpected, and forgetting to remember that the same Savior who has given me a work to do is the same Savior who calms storms.

How glad I am that the verse does not say, “And beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord save me. But Jesus let him sink, watching as he disappeared beneath the waves and said to him, O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?”

Grace is a beautiful thing. I am in desperate need of it every day. I know, as do you, that none of us will measure up all of the time. I am so grateful that when I begin to sink, He stretches out His hand and catches me. Think about that for a moment—We serve the God who catches us! How amazing is that!

“When I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” Psalm 56:3

The last of the three verses is the secret to walking through the storm, to facing the fear of the unknown, to pressing on when we don’t know how we will be able to accomplish everything or how long our energies will last, or where to start and when to finish. The secret to it all is this—keep your eyes, your heart, on Him.

My day didn’t get any less busy by reading these verses. Actually, things were even more hectic than I expected. But I had a good reminder each time I was tempted to get overwhelmed, a reminder that I had hope. I could trust the God who would keep me above the waters.

How about you? Do you have a verse that helps you keep your eyes on the Lord when things get overwhelming? Please share in the comments below.

Featured Life Winter's Prey

The Gain of Contentment

February 16, 2017

“Now nearly thirteen years later, the small chamber was not so comfortable. With all five girls in the room, space was non-existent. The chests of drawers were shared: Jess and Elizabeth using one, Mary and Joy splitting the other. Gretel’s few items resided neatly in a small wooden crate, which Mary had carefully placed beside her dresser and lovingly dubbed “The Annex.” Beside the original straw mattress, two more had sprung up, so that the room was all mattress and no floor. But for the most part the quintet was content. They loved one another and did their best to avoid squabbles, though it wasn’t always possible.”

Winter’s Prey – page 56

When I set out to write Winter’s Prey, it wasn’t intended to be a book about contentment, and yet from start to finish that thread has woven itself throughout the book. From the tight conditions of their small home to the overwhelming conditions of their rugged lives, the characters are constantly faced with that choice either to be happy where they are or to miserable. Some of them choose well, for others it is a great struggle.

The same can be said for us. We live in a world that is constantly offering us more. Even as I type this, an advertisement is flashing in the bottom corner of my browser window. It’s telling me about all the great tools and products I can buy to make my home what it ought to be. Not to mention the awesome office products I can purchase to make my home and business more successful. It’s promising me more. But what about what I already have?

It’s easy for us to look at others and say, “Wow, they’ve got it made. I wish my situation was like theirs.” I’m currently on a 4,000 mile trek across the US sharing about the ministry of Forbid Them Not and speaking in ladies’ conferences. Early on in my trip, someone said to me, “I bet you live in a big, beautiful house.”

I almost laughed out loud, but the Lord helped me keep my demeanor. “No,” I replied, “I live in a mobile home—that leaks.” It wasn’t a complaint. It was just the truth.

“Well,” she said, “but at least you have a mobile home. I have a mobile home too.” And she was right. Even though my house was showing its age in the form of a leaky roof and windows, I have a home. Some do not.

As I have driven across Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri, I have often seen what appear to be ancient homesteads. I can’t help but think of the difficulty of the life their people led. Today people live off the land by preference; the homesteaders and pioneers did it by necessity. I have stood in homes in Africa where the primary building materials are mud, cow dung, straw, cardboard, and newspaper. And yet the people living there are some of the happiest, most content people I have ever met.

Scripture tells us that, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6) The gain of contentment isn’t something you can buy off a shelf or earn on the stock market. Contentment, while not putting something extra in our hand, is both laying up a treasure in heaven and lifting a weight from our lives. When we walk through life contentedly, the pressure to be or do or have is removed. We can look to Christ and say, “Help me to be who You want me to be and to do as You want me to do. I trust You to supply my needs.”

Contentment isn’t easy. I used to think it was some magical state that eluded my every move. Why couldn’t I just be content? I cannot begin to tell you the joy I experienced the day that I discovered the secret the Apostle Paul makes so clear in Philippians. He said, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”

I have LEARNED! Contentment will never be a sudden or spontaneous achievement. Contentment is a growing process. It is a discipline. It takes practice! It also requires the choice to intentionally be happy with what I have, where I have it.

I’m happy to report that, even though it is raining in Montana as I write, my house is dry. The leaks seem to have been fixed. But even when our house is leaking, or our car is making its age known, or our clothes are wearing thin, we can learn to be content. And one of the best ways to make that process easier is by choosing gratitude.

Are you content where God has put you? What has He given you that you can be thankful for? I’d love to hear what He has taught you about contentment!

Featured Life Winter's Prey

Declare His Doings

January 31, 2017

Last week, we had a conversation in the Forbid Them Not office about the fact that God does not leave us as we walk through trials. He doesn’t forsake us…ever. Sometimes it may seem that He is far, far away, but He isn’t. He is right there beside us, walking through the storm with us, perhaps, as the poem says, even carrying us.

Over the weekend, I was reading in Psalm 9 and ran across this phrase in verse 10, “for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” It made me think of that conversation. My quiet time was interrupted for a few minutes and when I came back to it again, I was reading through the passage a second time. As I came to that verse I was reminded of a scene in Winter’s Prey when Marc is sharing with Jess just how faithful God has been to him.

I thought about those two conversations, one of them real the other fictional, and the many things that God has done in my life over the years. As I read through the next verse I was blessed once more because I realized the conversations reflected God’s desire. It says, “…Declare among the people His doings.”

I believe each of us has times in our lives when we feel that we are all alone, we don’t know how we’re going to pay a bill, we’re not sure what the next step is, we are experiencing incredible loss or physical pain, and then somehow God reveals His loving hand. Maybe it is through a person, a gift, a verse in Scripture, a heart found in an unexpected place (I have a couple of friends for whom this is particularly special and another friend for whom it has always been roses)—whatever it is, somehow God communicates His love, His presence, and His help to us.

When we share what He has done (declare it) that brings Him glory! It shows His power, His presence, His provision, His protection, and most of all His amazing love and grace. So I would like to invite you to spend a little time with me “declaring His doings.” Leave a comment here, on my Facebook page, or on your own Facebook or Twitter feeds using the hashtag #DeclareHisDoings This is a season to sing His praise, not just for what He has done but also for what He is doing!

Let’s #DeclareHisDoings together!