Category Archives: Writing

Encouraged by this…

Have y’all met Michele Morin, or her blog, Living Our Days?  Of course, with a name like that you know I’m going to love it, right?  She posts beautiful thoughts and a wide variety of reviews, and I am honored that she reviewed my book today.

It’s funny how 100 readers of a book notice or dwell on 100 different things.  Michele’ s perspective was great.  I love that she stands “ready to be amazed.”

Michele Morin’ s Review

Photo credit: `James Wheeler via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Conversation Across the Airwaves

Writers are shy people who can spend long hours all alone.  We aren’t supposed to do terrifying things like give interviews!  But here for your amusement is my first radio show.  The kind man who interviewed me is Marty Guise from KSIV in St. Louis, and you can find him on Facebook at Lay Renewal Ministries.

 

All in a Day’s Work

Vocation:  calling, life’s work, mission, purpose, craft, career.  Deeper than a job, what “occupies” us, what we clock in and out for, vocation is something welling up and spilling out.  Vocation is what you daydream about when you’re a kid or pursue in your free time with passion.  And sometimes it’s at odds with gainful employment.  Bummer.

I find myself in the precarious predicament of choosing what is expedient and financially viable or pursuing instead my vocation.  Summer is coming, and I have a choice:  accept a lucrative, short-term, even meaningful job (Door #1), or throw myself with gusto into writing, foregoing any immediate financial gain (Door #2).  Kind of a bird-in-the-hand versus imaginary-bush scenario.  Am I brave enough?

Heard a coach in college once say,

“Nothing great can ever be accomplished by those who are only casually involved.”

So true.  But he didn’t mention that the cost of that passionate involvement is usually real and deep and immediate while the pay-off is far off and uncertain.  That’s why they call it your life’s work, folks.  It takes a lifetime.  Ask my husband, the church planter.  It’s slow, this soul work.  It’s exhausting, and often disappointing.  But to settle for a day job — tedium, frustration, the sense that the boat has cast off from the pier and left you stranded — well, that carries its own cost.

What were you made for?  What makes you sing?  What would you give to come home tired and happy and satisfied day after day?  You can do any job with excellence and good humor and shine there.  But you are the only one who can do your particular life’s work.fontcandy-3

Maybe it will never pay you a dime.  Maybe you have to put food on the table through a 9-to-5 and it’s only in the pre-dawn hours that you paint the Mona Lisa in your garage.  Or maybe it’s risky, taking a leap when you’re not quite sure of that soft landing.

My book’s coming out in September.  There’s just the one summer before that happens.  This is it, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make the most of it.  Come to think of it, this is it — the one life we all get, thirty thousand days and then we’re out.  How will I spend my days?

I gotta say, this is one of the reasons I love Jesus so much.  Not the miserly, pinched God our culture expects to see, instead he offers abundance, joy, freedom, and purpose.  While there is always a cost — a steep cost, to be sure — there is also promise.  Give up monotony and futility in exchange for challenge, hope, beauty, long-lasting significance, rest and the occasional water-walking miracle.  Not bad for a day’s work.  Not bad for a lifetime of days.

On Living with Purpose: Homesick Excerpt, Chapter 3

As Mae West famously quipped, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Take your short life and make it count.

Jesus, in 33 years, seemed not to accomplish very much. His little band of followers was terrifically ordinary, despised by the world, and short on courage. Jesus himself wrote no books and began no rebellion. No doubt the Pharisees and the Romans both were fairly smug to get Jesus out of the picture. Well, that’s over. Of course, they underestimated him a tad. One life, fully lived, epic. You protest that Jesus had an edge, being God and all. True. But he left his mission in the hands of those ragtag followers, eleven scaredy-cat fishermen and a handful of ostracized women. A team about the size of a pair of small groups in a suburban church changed the world. What’s your small group done lately?

That was snarky; I apologize. But there is unquestionably a disconnect between the lifestyle of the Acts 4 church and the post-modern American congregation. The early church keenly felt its life-or-death, do-or-die situation. To follow Christ was downright dangerous, and not to be done lightly.

Missionary in Cairo's Garbage City
Missionary in Cairo’s Garbage City

As it has been for every persecuted generation since, there was a heightened sense of urgency linked with the call to Christ. So when the believers in Acts 4 share all that they have, they are not attempting to set up a communist nation, they are circling the wagons. They pray not in regularly scheduled, reserved meetings, but in desperation, and the place where they pray is shaken. When they ladle soup to the needy, it is to their own flesh and blood. Service is not tacked-on, it is vocation.

What do we treasure above all else? Scan our checkbooks and our calendar, and you will see. We prize comfort, stimulation, cleverness, amenities, programs, inspiration. We do not give until it hurts. We do not pour out our lives for people who quite frankly make us uncomfortable. As the Archbishop of Canterbury once said, “Wherever the Apostle Paul went, there was a riot or a revival. Wherever I go, they serve tea.” Membership in a church is rather like membership in a country club, one with very nice teapots. Perhaps it should be more like membership in a gym; we expect to sweat, to strain, to run an extra mile.

See Eternally: Homesick, Part 2

In the waiting, do you lose heart? God is not dead, nor does he sleep. The hiddenness of God does not indicate his absence, his apathy, or even his inaction, just our own blindness. We can’t see God or his host of angels any more than we can see electrons whirling around in our fingertip. That doesn’t mean he isn’t there.

imageInfants enter the world without the ability to trust the invisible. Peek-a-boo is startling to a baby because the baby cannot fathom that Dad, having disappeared, is still in the building. Psychologists say that developing a sense of “object permanence” is one of the first milestones of an infant’s cognitive growth. So it is for the born again. Christ, the Rock, must be to us a permanent object, or we are forever stunted, spiritual babies, subject to panic. Where is he? I can’t see him! I have been waiting five whole minutes!

In the waiting, faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is unnecessary when visual evidence is in supply. Should God condescend to give you a roadmap of his plans, you can hang your faith on a hook and rely on divine GPS. In the meantime, faith is the choice of a blind man to trust another’s eyes, to trust enough to run.

While we wait, heaven, too, is waiting. In Hebrews, we read that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, believers gone before us, cheering us on. Run, therefore, even when you are afraid and blind. The finish line is near. The stands are packed, the cheering is a roar. The reward is sweet.

“If I weep,” sang Rich Mullins, “let it be as a man who is longing for his home.” Are you homesick? What a home you have to look forward to.

In Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation we are treated to bizarre descriptions of heaven, relayed by people powerless to articulate what they have been privileged to see. No time traveling involved, mind you — what they glimpsed of heaven was there all along, is there even now, out of sight. The veil briefly lifted, the vision cleared, and hey ho! More than meets the eye. A crystal-clear sea, a city gleaming like jewels, the river of life overhung with orchards straight from Eden… above all, seated high on a throne, the King of Kings, so magnificent in power and glory that even the seraphim cover their eyes, overcome with perpetual awe. This is your home. Seeing eternally means seeing with eyes of faith what we cannot yet see with eyes brown, blue, or green, and translating that faith into footsteps.

Homesick, Part 1

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Well, I’ve written a book, y’all!  Over the next few weeks I am going to post a few excerpts, so stay tuned.  Comment like crazy, the more the merrier!  Here goes…

I have felt it since I was a child. I do not belong here. I am an alien, a sojourner. This place is foreign to me, and though sometimes it reminds me of home, more often it is slightly toxic. I am ET, breathing strange fumes. I need to phone home.

But here I am, here we all are, stranded on this hostile planet, waiting. Longing. Maybe you feel it, too. Maybe, stuck in traffic, you realize that you feel equally stuck in life. Alone, maybe, or just out of place. The things you’ve given your life to don’t seem to amount to much. You can’t remember how you spent yesterday, or what it was you wanted to be doing at this age. Maybe what you’ve waited for your whole life has never come to pass, or when it did, it wasn’t what you expected. Maybe your life has been one heartbreak after another, or maybe, if you’ve had a happy life, you live with a vague fear that it just won’t last. Although the waiting seems interminable, there are reminders that in truth, our lives are short. A healthy older man, chopping trees one day, struck down with cancer the next. A young mother, collapsed on the cold tile floor after a spider bite. A baby, slipped away during the night in his sleep.

In one of the most-quoted passages of one of the most-performed plays of all time, William Shakespeare said it this way:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

It is a howl, frustration and sorrow and loss and fear — what is the meaning of life? I’ll tell you — life is a tale told by an idiot! Life is meaningless! Life is too, too short.

Ah, but with Christ, everything has changed. Out of disorder, he teases beauty, out of tragedy, he orchestrates grace. The waiting is charged with purpose, urgency, even. Time is short. The song is growing louder. We are going home.

In the meantime, we are undeniably stuck here. “Under the sun,” says Solomon, cynic of scripture, “life is really lousy.” As various translations put it, life is meaningless, vanity, vainglory, futility, vapor, emptiness, falsity, smoke. Under the sun there is toil and heartache and devastation and bitter, angry days on end. So how is it that Christ, unflinching, proclaims, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly”? Is he speaking of earth-bound souls? Is he mocking me?

Under the sun, Ecclesiastes said — squirreling out from under God’s hand, choosing instead the slippery, deceptive rulers and authorities, thrones and principalities of a fallen earth, well, there, “futility of futilities!” life is without purpose. It’s reminiscent of creation un-breathed upon: “formless and void,” dark. Oh, but then! The world did not remain untouched; the Word said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Light, shining on confusion, suddenly spotlights God’s sovereignty, and in a blink, chaos becomes meaningful. Delay becomes opportunity, tragedy is transformed into triumph, and along the way, snivelling, petty humans acquire the dazzling likeness of Christ.

“Patience,” says Oswald Chambers, is critical here, under the sun, where suffering seems to linger forever. It’s “more than endurance. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says–‘I cannot stand anymore.’ God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, then He lets fly. Trust yourself in God’s hands. Maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ by the patience of faith. ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.’”

Patience I have in short supply. Perhaps that is exactly why I am asked to wait so often — how else will I learn? He stretches, I strain, the longing becomes so loud a roar in my ears that I cry out. Home! Take me home! And he will; one day, ordinary in the beginning, will by close of day be my homecoming, and looking over my shoulder I will see there is no going back.image

How do we spend the days granted us? How do we live abundantly, fully, richly, deeply satisfied before the sand in the hourglass is gone?

See eternally.

Worship wholeheartedly.

Walk purposefully.

Care passionately.

Give generously.

Hold loosely.

Love deeply.

Stand firm.

Choose light.

Rest.

Dreamer or Pragmatist, Part II

To Do List
To Do List (Photo credit: Mrs Magic)

I have been thinking a lot lately about goals. There’s been an empire of self-help books built on Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely goals, goals that get results. Michael Hyatt, in his recent book Platform, devotes a good deal of time to the subject, giving helpful examples like: “Make one hundred thousand dollars a year doing what I love. Lose 25 pounds and complete a half marathon.” Think big, he says; write down the vision for what you set out to do and work backwards. If I want to lose 25 pounds, what will I have to do? How many calories to cut? How many miles to jog?

It is pragmatic, effective, logical. You decide what you’re going for and dissect the goal into small steps. But where is the intersection of faith and action, dreams and practicality? What if the goals are the wrong goals? It strikes me that there is a big difference between being goals and doing goals — who is it I want to be vs. what is it I want to do? For a writing career, it might look like this:

impactful writing career vs. NYT bestseller list
with discipline, write every day vs. produce one published work every year
pursue excellence in a variety of forms, challenging myself vs. narrowly focus on a currently hot niche and develop a brand
writing as vocation vs. earn a specific dollar amount yearly

The SMART goals, the ones you can really work toward, might propel you into incredible success, but the vaguer, being goals, might shape you into the writer you really want to be. Jane Austen was surely the least popular of her contemporaries, but who remembers any of them? Austen didn’t write to bring home the bacon, and in her lifetime she saw little success, but today she is studied and much-loved. Hyatt would argue that you won’t so much as get a chance to be heard if you aren’t strategic; I can’t disagree. But who will you be at the end of the day?