Tag Archives: Bible study

Are You On a Desert Journey or a Dessert Journey?

j0149014It took me forever to learn to correctly spell desert and dessert. It wasn’t until a teacher in high school said, “Remember, dessert has two s’s like food has two o’s” that I finally got it. Then a few years later I moved to the desert. That’s when I really began to learn the difference.

There are millions of people who live in desert and semi-desert areas who love where they live. I was never one of them. I call our 7 1/2 years living in Phoenix, Arizona, “our desert experience” for a reason: it was a hard, hard life. I usually liken it to the Israelites’ desert experience – full of trials and tests, more enemies than friends, and not seeing until the end how much God helped us grow.

But sometimes life hands you a dessert experience. That was how we felt about most of our 3 1/2 years in Sydney, Australia. The first year was difficult because we lived paycheck-to-paycheck in a tiny cockroach-infested one-room apartment. But the second time we lived there was hands down the most blessed period of our lives!

Kitty birthday cheesecake from Jess SoCalRWA confWe lived in the most gorgeous apartment we’ve ever lived in, walking distance to the beach. We had dozens of friends and a great church, all within walking distance or a short bus ride. Financially we were in a place where we could eat out regularly and sometimes treat others, vacation once a year, go to concerts and other events, and generally enjoy life.

We could afford to enter half marathons and other races, and we lived walking distance from the most magnificent park – still our favorite place to run. We were in the best physical shape of our lives! We were able to share the joy of our new home with several friends who visited from the States. We decided I would go back to school and get my master’s degree. I had a wonderful writing group a train ride away. John enjoyed his job and liked his coworkers. And we both had wonderful friends almost too numerous to count.

We’ve never had a period in our lives like that before or since, when everything came together at the same time in such a magnificent way. It was humbling, and we were filled with gratitude most of the time.

But…life is cyclical. Ocean waves come and go. The tide goes in and out. The moon shines brightly and then disappears, only to shine again.

And now we’re back in a desert experience. If you’ve known us for a while, you’ve heard how the last four years have been – unemployment, multiple deaths of family and friends, medical problems, and so much more. Just when we think we’ve got our feet under us again, something knocks us down. Again. Just last week I was feeling like things were getting better, then the next day someone fraudulently emptied our checking account. These are the moments when you feel like the beatings will never end.

Karen, Jill, Kitty, and John after Easter services at the Hollywood Bowl

But there’s something different about this desert experience. I’m not sure if I can explain it but…even though we’ve been knocked down to the point where we have to live with a friend for a while and still can barely pay all our bills, we have some truly major blessings.

They say financial difficulties are one of the leading causes of divorce, but John and I are tighter than ever. I am spiritually stronger and more joyful than I’ve ever been in my life. We both got tangled up in depression-caused overeating and not exercising, but we’ve recently turned a corner there. I plan to be my healthiest in the next couple years. 🙂 And though we don’t see many friends very often, we are loved and supported by friends around the world.

Plus, despite innumerable setbacks and conversations about quitting, I am still writing and still teaching. My next self-publishing class will finally start in a couple weeks and it’s going to be the best class I’ve ever taught! I am cautiously optimistic about where my career is going and how quickly things may be about to change.

We’ve been through desert experiences, and we’ve been through dessert experiences. But I don’t know what to call where we’re at now. Oh! Just as I typed that, I thought – it’s an Oasis Experience! Yes! Haha!! That’s what we’re having! Oh, I just love that. Thanks, God, for giving us the cool description!

So what about you? Where are you – desert, dessert, or oasis? 😀 Do you feel like you’re growing, or are you hanging on with all you’ve got and praying for it to end? Whichever place you’re in now, I feel like I understand, at least in general. So here is my advice:

Remember, you are not alone.

TanzaniaIf you’re having a hard time, you’re not the only one. If you’re in a difficult place, there are people around you to help you through. There is always someone else having a tough time that you can encourage, too. (Think of it this way – you understand the hard times! Maybe their other friends don’t.)

If you’re experiencing a “I can’t believe I’m so blessed” period, thank God for it! Share your joy and gratitude with others. Invite people over and eat cake. 🙂 Think of ways to share your wealth, whether physically, financially, or by spreading joy and laughter in your wake.

We are not alone. If God is for us, who can be against us? Whoever it is, they won’t succeed. So take heart! And keep on keeping on!

My 6-Item Checklist for Positive Thinking

Emoticon with big toothy smile

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of material on self-help, building a business, and spirituality. At some point in each of those topics, there is talk about the power of positive thinking. If you know me or have ever met me, you know that in general I am a pretty positive kind of girl. So I haven’t spent too much time trying to learn more.

But one thing I very much dislike about some of the more spiritual theories is the idea that if you don’t get what you want, you didn’t pray hard enough or you have a secret sin that God is holding against you. Either of those things may be true (God always forgives but wants you to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong), but sometimes God’s answer is “no” for reasons we don’t understand at the time. Complete repentance, Spirit-filled faith, and hours of prayer don’t always result in the answer we want. Don’t believe me? Read about the heroes of the faith in the Bible. There are numerous miracles, but there are also instances of faithful prayer resulting in “no.”

Additionally, I don’t believe a theory is true if it can’t be applied in all circumstances. If a positive thinking theory works in most Western cultures, which are more affluent than many other cultures, but it won’t work for a poor woman in a third-world country, I doubt its validity.

So when I listened to a podcast last week about positive thinking applied to building your business, I was interested but wary. I’ve been praying for weeks about positive thinking in business because I wanted to get God’s take on some things people had been telling me that I didn’t fully believe.

When I was listening to this speaker, I suddenly remembered two Bible verses. I looked them up and laughed in relief! God had answered my prayers to show me His way of positive thinking. Even though I’ve memorized these sections in the past, and thought I knew them well, I hadn’t applied them to this problem before. Read them and see what you think.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9, Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi)

And…

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23, Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia)

Depositphotos_7310221_originalMy new 6-item to-do list: Rejoice. Don’t worry. Be grateful. Talk to God. Focus on the good. Look to see if “the fruit of the Spirit” is growing in my life.

I know from experience that those things work. God has transformed my heart and mind over and over when I allow myself to focus on what’s not working in my life, what I don’t have, what I’m afraid of. (He’s doing it right now as I type this post.) This is the kind of positive thinking power that I can believe in.

It’s Biblical, straight from the source, without unintentional mangling by human teachers. Don’t trust me. Go look it up, read the surrounding verses for context, read several translations. (You can read from over a dozen translations at http://www.biblegateway.net.)

I’ve been searching and learning a lot in the Bible about how to build a great life and a great business. I’ve read a lot of books and articles on neuroscience – the science of the brain – and much of it underscores what God tells us in simpler terms in the Bible. Focus on the positive, be grateful, bring everything to God, and you’ll find peace. Or in more worldly terms, what you focus on is what you will find more of.

I’m super excited that this all came together for me. Finally! 😀 Now I have a much better idea of how to move forward in growing my business. I’ll work on being grateful and joyful regardless of whether God answers specific prayers with “yes” or “no.” I’ll focus on the positive, on what’s working, and take the problems to God without worrying about them. (That will be hard, but I’m going to keep trying!)

This will even work for decision-making. Not sure if you should buy that new item for your business? When you think about buying it do you have peace, or is there some doubt that today is not the right time? Is it true that you need it today, or can you wait? Which is the more admirable choice?

Trying to filter a decision through the above, I decided to wait a month before deciding if I’m going to sign up for a comic book convention I really want to go to. Yes, I’ll sell books and promote my work, but it will cost more money than I’ll make. Much as I want to go, I feel more peaceful about putting off the decision for a month, even though it’s possible all the tables will be gone by then.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I’m right and other teachers are wrong. (Well, I’m not saying all of them are wrong.) But I can’t just blindly believe things because someone else says it. I don’t think you should either. Give this some more consideration. Think about what you believe and why.

I hope you find a way to move forward into a happier, more peaceful life. And perhaps both of us will find greater success in business because of it.

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.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate in a Fudge-Dipped Waffle Cone

Remember last week I talked about how the encouragement and love and support of my friends while walking through the desert of testing has been like chocolate ice cream with a peanut butter swirl?

Well, this past week life has been more like my favorite dark chocolate ice cream with a peanut butter swirl packed into a fudge-dipped waffle cone with nuts sprinkled on top!

Two of my best writing friends contacted me a week ago to ask if I could join them in a writing week in Vegas. We used to do this all the time when I lived in California because Vegas is sort of the center of the triangle from where we all live. Then I moved to Sydney and couldn’t go anymore. I was all excited about coming back and getting together again, but the longer John and I go between jobs, the fewer plans we’re making. (At least until we invent the bottomless checking account. We’re working on it.)

But when they contacted me, they said, just get to Vegas or to one of our houses, and we’ll take care of the rest! SWEET!

But…

We don’t have a bottomless checking account. In fact, I wasn’t sure we could even afford to keep going to our old Bible study in L.A. It’s a nearly 200-mile roundtrip. An awesome friend loaned us his Ford Explorer, for which we are immensely grateful, but that trip costs $42 every time we make it. Ouch.

So I started praying about Bible study and the writing retreat. This time I wanted to be the girl who was willing to say, sorry, we can’t afford it, rather than, sure, we have a credit card. The more I worked on our budget, the more little things I found to make things work. Some money came in that was exactly the amount we’d need to buy gas to get to Bible study through Easter.

I went through our expenses and realized that there were a few things we wouldn’t need money for if I were gone this week. A commercial came on TV about a university that not only has an online program, but they’re looking to hire adjunct online faculty in my field. (Getting some outside-writing work that doesn’t require me to buy a corporate wardrobe would be a double-bonus!)

It seemed to me that God was showing me that yes, indeed, I could take this trip. YAY!!!!!

In addition to it being just plain FUN, by the end of this week I should be able to have another draft of my next book. That would put me nearly a month ahead of schedule, which means the book will be published about a month sooner, bringing in money that much sooner. That’s a huge blessing.

Yes, I have to say, in spite of the unemployment woes, I’ve got a double-chocolate kind of blessed life. 🙂 And the cherry on top – lying in the sun in the backyard for an hour Friday while John napped on my lap. Ahh, God is so good, even when he makes us wait.