August 31, 2010

Not What I Expected

"Point your kids in the right direction—when they're old they won't be lost." (Proverbs 22:6, The Message)

My kids went back to school today. The house is empty, the weather is beautiful and my computer and keyboard beckon. I should celebrate, right?

Don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled my kids are back in school and we’re returning to more predictable routines. Lord knows their minds greatly need intellectual stimulation after a summer filled with far too much Facebooking, Sims creating, texting, iTouch gameplaying, and other forms of electronic gadgetry for my taste, and probably their own good.

Throughout the summer I suggested/implored/beseeched/commanded, “Why don’t you read a book/play outside/ride your bike/do a craft?”

“Moooom!” my tuned-out teens retorted in exasperation. “It’s too hot.” “No one’s home.” “I’ll be done in a few minutes.” “Later.” They’ve developed an impressive arsenal of evasion techniques.

So yes, part of me is doing the Wave to celebrate that my progeny are safely ensconced in their respective academic institutions.

But part of me is melancholy. I’m becoming increasingly aware that with each new step toward independence taken and each grade started, my little chicks are getting closer and closer to flying to coop. Sooner than I wish to imagine, they’ll be on their own. I want to freeze time. To savor our moments together. To hold onto life as it is right now.

I find it incredibly ironic the phase of parenting I dreaded most—the teen years—is the phase I’m enjoying the most. (Although technically my son isn’t quite yet a teen and I suspect his teen years are going to come with their own unique challenges.)

Next year we’ll start to look at colleges with our daughter. Didn’t we just choose a preschool? How did time pass this quickly? (*sniff*)

Before I break into full blown sobbing, suffice it to say the start of school this year is bittersweet.

It's our jobs as parents though, isn't it—to prepare our children to walk on their own? I hope and I pray that Dan and I are pointing them in the right direction...and that they continue to follow. For this we need to rely on God's guidance and faith in His provision.

In the coming weeks I'll be reordering my days, wrestling with my time management issues, reconnecting with friends and getting back to writing with enthusiasm and a new sense of purpose (at least I hope so).

What are your back-to-school thoughts and plans?

Today also marks the end of my Thirty-ish Days with God. Stop by tomorrow for my observations and thoughts on the experience. 

August 24, 2010


I have a devotion running at Internet Cafe today. I hope you'll follow me over there. 

It’s an endless summer. One sweltering, sticky day leads to another. Scorched lawns and withered plants gasp for mercy—and rain. Wilted shrubs join in the chorus. As do the pines, oaks, elms and maples.

Some trees stand emaciated and browned as if cursed by an evil Drought Queen. Alive one day, dead the next. With nary a green twig on their branches, there’s no hope of recovering. Soon workers will get busy with chainsaws and chippers to remove the blighted foliage from the landscape.

But only some of the trees have succumbed to the conditions. Many others remain green and vital. Curious, I asked a landscaper friend, “Why?”

He answered, “All plants are stressed by the intense conditions, but the trees that die were probably struggling before the hot weather hit. They didn’t set their roots deep enough so they’re susceptible to disease and can’t get enough surface water to survive.”

As I walked by some corpse-like trees recently I pondered my own summer of spiritual dryness. Will that be me in a short while? And I wondered why? Why do some Christians remain fruitful and strong through extreme hardships and passing years, and others succumb to a seasonal drought? Why does one’s faith keep growing and another’s withers? [Read more...]

August 19, 2010

Bliss in the Solitude

I. Am. In. Heaven.

My kids left this afternoon on a trip with my parents. My husband is on a business appointment. And I am home alone in a quiet house—with no one to carpool, no deadlines pressing and no interruptions. Just Tess and I hanging out—relaxed and carefree. (Although pretty much every day for our adorable yellow lab is stress-free and chill.) But, I do think she looks particularly pleased as she’s laying at my feet.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had this kind of solitude. And my heart is happy. I need this.

Plus, I’ve exercised, I’ve showered and the laundry is done. Even the dinner menu is planned. (Who says God doesn't do miracles!) So, what was the first order of business? To curl up on my favorite loveseat and finish my latest book…and enjoy a mini-catnap.

Now I’m reviewing my notes from the writers’ conference last week and planning my next writing steps. From top to bottom, the conference was a great experience. I have a book idea brewing and proposed the concept to a few editors/agents/publishers. Part of me wanted them all to say, “Forget it. It’s been done. Your idea is stale. There’s no market for it. You don’t have what it takes.” Seriously. I see how much of an uphill struggle book publishing is, and a big part of me says, Why would any sane person pursue that road?!

But the writing professionals didn’t dissuade me. In fact one of them said my idea was the only one that excited him from the entire conference. Of course, I was flattered and encouraged, but needed to remind myself that I haven’t even written one sentence of said book yet!

The whole experience made me question my gifts, my calling and my next steps. How does God want me to proceed? What gifts should I develop them more fully? Should I concentrate on ministry or look for paying opportunities? Should I stay in my small arena where it’s safe and relative success is guaranteed or venture out into the unknown and risk catastrophic failure?

I say I like adventure, and I do, but there is so much that scares and intimidates me about taking a next step. My weaknesses seem a glaring liability—my deficiencies a brick wall. I look around and see so many writers who write with far greater skill, humor, compassion and eloquence. I see writers who love the spotlight and speaking and platform-building (necessary for authors). I visit websites and blogs that show lives and families that resemble pages from the latest JCrew, Pottery Barn or Gourmet magazines. Who lives this way?

I hear the message, Only the exceptional need apply.

I know this mindset is a thorn (certainly one of many) in my side. And I know the enemy wants me to marinate in these feelings of inadequacy. But part of me believes I’m right— that I’m not good enough. That I don’t measure up. And that while I may be lots of things, exceptional isn’t one of them.

Thankfully, the Bible is filled with stories of unlikely, unwilling and unqualified people through whom God did great things. I call to mind the promise of the cross. If Jesus lived, died and conquered death, surely He can slay the demons of doubt that infest me. Surely He can fulfill His purpose in me, regardless of my confidence in the matter.

And He can do the same with you. I don’t know where your confidence lies right now or what insecurities plague you. I don’t know why women especially, struggle with feelings of inadequacy. But so many of us do.

But Jesus is our hope. He is our strength. And He is our peace. His grace covers our weakness, and overcomes the voice in our head and the lies of this world. “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:32-33, The Message)

I take these words to heart. I drink in their truth and promise. I press on, reaffirmed that I'm not going it alone. And I offer up a prayer of thanks for the gifts God's given me—starting with a blissfully, quiet house.

August 13, 2010

An Adventure in Writing

I’m on an adventure of a different kind this week—I’m at the Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference. I wasn’t even sure if I’d attend this year’s conference and waited until the last moment to register, but I’m so glad I did. These past couple days I’ve connected with old friends and made new ones. I’ve soaked in the teachings of authors, agents, editors and publishers. And I’ve lived, eaten and breathed the world of writers and writing. It’s a little corner of heaven.

Since I didn’t go to the conference with specific goals or plans, I’ve been free to survey the workshop offerings on the landscape. I’ve explored persuasive writing, justice and advocacy, building platforms, crafting book proposals and writing for teenagers. Each path has revealed new ways I might use my words. New ways I might minister. New ways I might grow…and help others too as well.

Two years ago this conference jumpstarted my writing journey. It’s gratifying to see how my writing’s developed, my knowledge has increased and my writing relationships have expanded since then (especially including my membership in a wonderful writing critique group, nine of whom are at the conference, Hey, Hawk Point ladies!)

Many of my colleagues came to the conference laden with book proposals and manuscripts, hoping to find a home for the words they’d so gruelingly birthed. Labors of love neatly bound for presentation. The hallways are abuzz with reports from appointments with editors and publishers. Some see doors opening, “He asked for my entire manuscript.” Others fear they’re closing, “If I talk about it I’m going to start to cry again.”

We writers pour our hearts, our spirits, our whole selves into our writing. Our words are a part of us. It’s hard to separate rejection of our words from rejection of ourselves. (Or vice verse.) But the publishing business is Darwinian. Only the fittest…best-written…and most marketable will survive. Not because publishers and agents are cruel people (they’re actually quite nice), but because writing for publication is a business.

This journey is not for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned. My heart aches for my fellow writers who are on the emotional, rollercoaster of a ride toward publication. Some are going to bed tonight affirmed and excited about the future. Others want to quit and go home. I pray that regardless of the feedback each of us receives this week, we maintain teachable hearts, we learn and grow, and we see God in this experience.

I especially pray that each of us writers recognizes that whether our words reach tens of readers, thousands or millions—we are writers nonetheless who have been given a holy gift. And more than that we’re children of God. And no negative (or positive) critique can change our true identity.

Nicki, I’m praying for you especially!

August 9, 2010

Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God: Days 7-18

I've lost track of individual entries and forgot to be "intentional" a couple days, but I am determined to finish this thirty-ish day journey to see where it takes me. I'll save my big-picture insights until the end. 

Lord, I've missed a few days, but I've been looking for you . . . and finding you. It’s been a tough couple weeks and you know the battles I’m fighting. Mostly with myself. I’ve put up defenses and erected walls. Yet even still you have broken through and reached my stubborn, angry, prideful heart.

I have experienced You through my reaching out to friends for wisdom and prayer. I see You in the way they’re standing in the gap for me.

I’ve experienced you on walks with my iPod. Especially when you pierced my heart with this song, and bombarded me with your Word and showed me the answer I’d been seeking. How painful yet how humbling and freeing is your truth.

I saw you at the shore last week. In the ocean and the waves. In the laughter shared with my family. In my morning quiet time on the beach. In the comfort felt from revisiting childhood memories.

Even last night at worship your message pierced my stony heart turning the mirror I’d been shining on others, toward myself. Allowing me to see my own shameful wretchedness. Wretchedness I know only your grace can redeem. How I need gallons of it right now.

You revealed yourself as I lay on the trampoline last night, enjoying the stillness and marveling at the stars. An awesome backdrop for my disrupted spirit, swirling thoughts and fresh insights.

Though I’ve wanted to run far away, you’ve shown me there is nowhere I can go where you will not be. And what better choice is out there? You are my best option. My only option. I recall the words of Psalm 139 and receive perspective and comfort and hope.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (v. 7-12, 23-24)

In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.