Tag Archives: God’s mercy

Starting Something That You Know Won’t Work

j0182826In general, my personality is such that it is difficult for me to start something I don’t think I’ll be good at, and nearly impossible for me to begin if I’m “sure” it won’t work. It seems like a waste of time and effort.

So the new Bible study topic our group just started is particularly interesting to me. It’s about finding the Messiah in the Old Testament. We all have a pretty good idea of the Messiah in the New Testament – Jesus was born a man even though he was also God, so that he could take the death penalty for sin for all people, and we could once more be reunited with our God and Creator. We know He did that because He loves us and doesn’t want us to be separated from Him.

I knew the Old Testament is full of prophecies of the coming Messiah, Jesus. But when we started at the beginning, we found the first prophecy that there would be a Savior coming to redeem us in the third chapter of the Bible. Hardly anything had happened yet in terms of the history of mankind, and already God made mention of His plan to deliver us from our sin. In fact, as our Bible study leader Doug pointed out, after Adam and Eve sinned God explained how we would be redeemed before he even told Adam and Eve what their punishment would be!

While we can’t be sure if Lucifer defied God and was kicked out of heaven before or after God created the world and mankind, we do know Lucifer had already fallen at some point after Adam and Eve were living in peace and without sin in the Garden of Eden. And that’s another piece of the story most of us know – Lucifer, as a serpent in the Garden, encouraged Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the only tree God told Adam and Eve not to eat from. So mankind, as well and Lucifer and some of the angels, also fell from God’s grace.

Now here is the part that has my head spinning. God is all-knowing, so He knew what was going to happen, knew we would disobey Him and knew He had to have a plan of redemption ready, and He went through with the whole thing anyway! He created us in His image, loved us from day one, knew we would turn our backs on Him and break His heart, but he created us anyway!

j0178844John and I chose not to have children for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that we weren’t sure we would be good parents, and one was that we didn’t want the heartbreak that having children seems to bring. God knew long before we all did what heartbreak children can bring and He chose to have children anyway. That’s just shocking and amazing to me. I can’t see myself ever starting something I knew wouldn’t work.

But then I think about all the books and stories I write. The whole point of a great piece of genre fiction is showing how seriously messed up things can get, and how it can work out in the end. A person can start out lonely and alone and be a large chunk of their own problem, but they can find love in the end. They can start out cut off from their family and hiding from the world and discover that they have super powers that can help make the world a better place. They can be kidnapped, forced to denounce everything that’s important, and still beat the devil in the end.

So many stories reflect the Big Picture Story of Mankind – life seems to start out well for the protagonists, then something trips them up and/or all hell breaks loose, and suddenly it’s hard to believe life can ever be good again. It’s hard to believe the protagonists will even survive, let alone find peace and happiness again. But there is always a plan that includes a satisfying and happy ending.

And like any good author, God figured out the plan to bring about a happy ending before he even started bringing the story to life.

Wow.

Writing SmileyStill wrapping my mind around that. But in addition to the hope this kind of grand design gives us all, I feel more hopeful as a writer of stories. I’m going to go start a new story that I “know” won’t work. The protagonist’s life is all messed up and I’m not sure yet how I’m going to help her fix it. Characters are going to die. Readers might not even like the story. The book may not be bought by a publisher. It may not work.

But I have a new burst of courage to try.

What Does Love Mean?

Valentine’s Day is coming up and I won’t be with my husband, I’ll be on a writing trip with friends. I’m not too worried about it though. I mostly think of Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark holiday.

That being said, I don’t think you can say “I love you” too much. You never know when it will be the last time, but more than that, expressing to someone that you love them forms and shapes and repairs the foundation of your relationship.

But what does it mean?

This year, the day before Valentine’s Day is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian faith. Lent is a time of repentance, turning from the wrongs of the past, and pressing closer to God. It’s a reminder that God loves us so much that he’d be willing to take a bullet to keep us safe.

That’s the kind of love many romance writers weave into their stories every day. It’s most obvious in romantic suspense where one person can literally take a bullet for the other. But it’s in all the other stories where someone says, I’m sorry, I made a mistake, and the other person says, I forgive you because I love you. And then they grow closer than ever.

I love those stories!

Some people theorize that the reason people respond to stories of love and sacrifice and forgiveness and happily ever after is because we are wired that way. Our enjoyment of such stories opens our hearts to the possibility that those tales represent the Truth of why we are here. We are loved, we made mistakes, a sacrifice was made on our behalf so that we wouldn’t be lost forever, forgiveness was offered, and happily ever after is ours for eternity.

That’s a pretty amazing love story. Loved forever. I want that.

Much as I can’t wait for my writing trip, I’m going to miss my husband. I’ll miss waking up beside him every morning, trying to be the first one to say “I love you.” I’ll miss how much he makes me laugh. And as much as I’ll try to deny it, I’ll miss how much he teases me to the point of losing my mind.

Because somewhere in the layers of all of those things, I’ve found a taste of what love is all about – someone who sacrifices to make my life better, who always forgives me, who wants to be with me forever, no matter what.

Love is the answer to why I am here. It’s the answer to why I write about love.

Does the Holy Spirit Smell Like Lavender?

Life is still a roller coaster. So many wonderful things happening – the writers conference was not only worth the cost in information gathered, but I won a Sony Reader! (See this post on Routines for Writers to hear details and see pictures.) Still, hard things keep coming. The fact that John is in between jobs and money is tight is suddenly meaningless because another family member just died a few days ago.

I don’t understand how all of these parts of life mix together. Sometimes I feel so compartmentalized; sometimes I feel everything is a swirl and I don’t see anything clearly. The only thing that makes sense so far is the thought that this is just how life is. The older you get, the more you experience, and the more you see that nothing is what you thought.

While that doesn’t make me feel good when I’m crying over another loss and trying to imagine what Thanksgiving and Christmas and so many other days will be like this year, I do find comfort in the idea that God is also not what I thought.

He’s more.

I don’t have any lofty theological arguments to talk you into seeing God my way. But I know what I’ve experienced. When times were tough, God sent people to help me through it – a plane ticket to see my mom before she died, friends who surrounded me with love and care, a husband and best friend who made me laugh and let me cry.

When John lost his job, God arranged things so that a friend told John about another company and John got a new job three hours after he lost the first one.

In a time of tight finances, even things we don’t “need” were provided in unexpected ways. A friend offered to give us their old car. John was given a computer, a large-screen TV, a smaller TV and several other items at a going-out-of-business event. At my writers conference, I won a Sony Reader after I was thinking and praying about how useful it would be to my self-publishing business. The conference itself provided some important information I’d been looking for and unable to find. Another friend offered to give us their old car to be our second car.

For over a year we’d been thinking about starting a financial program called Financial Peace University from Dave Ramsey. We had the materials; we just hadn’t opened the box. We started the program a month before John lost his first job, after only two months of work. Then his second job only lasted six weeks. If we hadn’t started this program when we did, we might’ve lost our apartment. But I believe God nudged us at the right time so that we could manage our money in a way to make it through this tough time. There is some talk at John’s old company that he’ll have work by the end of the month, and we have just enough money to make it.

Some people may call these things coincidence or providence. But many people use “providence” referring to “something out there” without knowing that it means divine guidance or care. Divine means of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god. So many people believe there is some “god” out there who thinks it’s fun to give us things and take them away. I’d rather have more time with my mother than a car or a big-screen TV. Did a “god” take the one and give the other in some twisted sense of fun?

No. God doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t do things willy-nilly. He has a plan. He talks about it over and over again in the Bible.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give  you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'”

When I say that I’m learning that God is more than I thought He was, I mean that I am learning the deeper and more subtle meanings of things He has said and done. I’m getting better at knowing what He’s telling me in the here and now. Like that his plans to prosper me may or may not have to do with worldly wealth, but those plans definitely have to do with my spiritual wealth and health and growth.

I’ve been married to John for 22 years. (Shocking!) There are still so many things we don’t understand about each other, but every year we find ourselves closer than the year before. We understand each other a little better every year. We know each other on a deeper level every year. The more time we spend together, the more we finish each other’s sentences and thoughts.

Just today, John said, “What’s the name of the friend who gave me the, the -”

“Bacon t-shirt?” I asked. “Paula.”

How did I know what he was going to say? I have no idea! It’s a pretty random answer to be the correct one! I’ve been reading a lot of neuroscience books lately, and there are lots of ideas on why this sort of thing happens. But the more time John and I spend together, the more we grow and the more we grow together.

What I’ve found is that it happens with me and God, too, the more time we spend together. And that’s what I mean when I say I’m learning that God is more than I thought He was. I knew, absolutely, that He would take care of us in the midst of all these crises. But I had no idea He would be able to do so in a way that I could feel myself growing stronger as a person, not weaker.

The other day I was putting on the last of a lovely lavender-scented hand cream a friend gave me. The smell of lavender is supposed to have a calming effect, so I rubbed it in and breathed in the scent. There, I thought, this will relax me.

Then I remembered that God as the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. God is the one who can help me relax the most quickly, who will help that peace to be lasting.

Of course, God also created all the plants and everything else on the earth. And I found myself giggling and wondering, does God smell like lavender?

I don’t know yet. But it won’t surprise me if I get to heaven and hug Him and start giggling. And before I can even finish my sentence, “Father, you smell like -”

He’ll laugh and say, “Lavender. I thought you’d like that.”

Is There Something Between Us?

The last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about things that I might be allowing to come between me and God. Things that I might be holding as more important in my life than God. Things I spend more time and energy on than I spend time and energy with the Creator I profess to love above all things.

One of those things is time. I spend a huge amount of time checking the time, checking my calendar, hurrying to the next thing on my To Do list, creating more and more To Do lists. I count how many hours until I have to do this, how long until that happens, how much time it will take to do this, or how much time I might be able to shave off that.

It’s exhausting.

But I keep it up, rushing to try to catch up and break even. My hopes for getting ahead died months ago. And yet I feel more harried than ever.

Until it occurred to me that the very essence of time itself has become more important to me than the belief that God will help me make wise time choices, and that everything that doesn’t get done will not keep the world from turning. I know, because the sun has been rising on my unfinished To Do lists for years.

The other thing that I realized has been increasingly coming between me and my Heavenly Father is everything I think and feel about my physical self. My weight, what I eat, how much I exercise – these have all been causing me stress for years. A couple years ago I decided that how I treat my body is part of my stewardship. Perhaps I’m more stressed about it all now than ever. I’ve been keeping score and failing to do what I say I want to do.

(I hear the echoes of the Apostle Paul here – I do what I say I don’t want to do, and I don’t do what I say I do want to do. Sigh.)

But the harder I try, it seems the worse things get. Despite the fact that I pray to do better every day, I’ve lost what little peace about my body that I had a year ago.

When I had this little ah-ha moment earlier this week, that perhaps I’d allowed some things to have more of my energy than what I gave to God, my focus on my physical health was the other item that immediately came to mind.

The last few days, I’ve tried to change what my mind focuses on. I stopped wearing my watch and checking the clocks constantly. Every time I wanted to check the time, I just averted my eyes and asked God to help me focus on Him instead of how much time I had left.

When I thought about eating or drinking, whether for a meal or a snack, I tried to only eat if I was genuinely hungry, and not plan out what I’d have for the next meal or the next snack. I tried to put food out of my mind entirely until my stomach growled again. I haven’t gotten any extra exercise in during the last few days, but I decided to take a break from worrying about it. Again, every time I thought about any of these things, I tried to refocus my thoughts on God.

I quickly noticed that when I tried to do that, the verse from Matthew would come to mind – seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. It was comforting to hear the Holy Spirit encouraging me!

I don’t know what will happen in the long term, but I am pleasantly surprised to tell you that in the short term I’ve already felt less stress about everything I “have” to do. Things are getting done. Other things are not getting done. The sun still shines.

And God’s mercy continues to show up again every morning, just like He promised.