July 29, 2008

Into the Light of Day - Lynda Schultz

We had a team meeting last Saturday, prompted by the visit of a colleague from Colombia. There are plans being born for a cooperative effort between our Latin American fields and he asked me what I felt I could contribute.

The question should not have been threatening to me. When I submitted my job description and goals to the mission a few years ago, I focussed on my desire to write, to develop resources for the Latin American market. Consequently, I had a clear and carefully formulated answer to give, but the words stuck in my throat. My voice cracked, and I had a hard time controlling the tears that threatened to fall. It wasn't joy or passion that overcame me, it was fear. I was disturbed by my reaction so I sat down later to try to figure out why I couldn't talk about my vision for ministry.

An anonymous piece of advice tacked to my bulletin board says: "The most unfortunate thing that happens to a person who fears failure is that he limits himself by becoming afraid to try anything new." I realized that I was among the "unfortunate."

I was afraid that the people I respect would pity me, laugh at me, or reject me for my presumption. I was afraid that I would fail, that my dreams should have been left where they started—under the bedcovers of darkness. I feared my disappointment if I spent weeks, perhaps months, working on a project only to find that it was worthless.

Was this sense of already being a failure why I used the constant spate of company coming through my home as an excuse for not being able to maintain momentum with my projects? Have I always been looking for something or someone to blame for not completing things? Has all this procrastination simply been my way of avoiding being rejected because I'm not good enough, or as good as someone else?

My complaint about the constant interruptions, about the need for blocks of time to write, didn't hold up. When I had the blocks of time, I often found other things to do that would keep me away from my desk, my laptop, my writing projects. If I didn't do them, and could blame someone else for my not completing them, I could maintain the illusion that I really was a good writer—or could be if given the chance. Finding excuses for not beginning or finishing, helped me avoid the failure that I was sure was to come, and the threat that this failure was to my sense of self, significance, and security.

It's not that I have been idle. I have piles of materials that I have written and taught over the years. However, with the vision of turning these into something that is marketable, of exposing my work to public scrutiny, I was overcome with fear. I doubted myself.

In doubting myself, I doubted God. At the beginning of this year the Lord gave me a verse that I supposedly claimed. It comes from Luke 1:45 and says: "Blessed is she who believes that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished." Obviously I am having trouble claiming this promise. I struggle with believing that God is bigger than my deficiencies. In spite of the encouragement that God has sent along the way, I am still wondering if there is room for this "wannabe" among so many better writers, and if I have a contribution to make.

I have crippled myself, but I am tired of making excuses, of procrastinating because I am afraid. I am tired of being a failure because I haven't given myself the change to succeed. I am tired of living by someone else's definition of success rather than being guided by God's definition of it.

I am writing this in past tense as though it were not a recent experience. Somehow identifying the enemy has loosened his grip and pushed him into the past. However, the battle is probably not over and there will arise both old and new opponents. At least I now recognize the problem. That alone has given me more freedom and courage to expose the dreams that I have had in the dark to the light of a new day.

July 27, 2008

God Understands Our Needs - Jan Keats

It may be difficult to release all the burdens that weigh heavily upon us. We know where to turn in times of distress and we know we can trust God but sometimes life can be very upsetting and still bring unbearable circumstances.

Perhaps we don’t see God’s hand in the storms of life. It may not be recognized until after we go through the trials and the way becomes clear again. Then we acknowledge His presence, “Now I realize that God was with me all along!”

So then we can say with assurance that amidst life’s trials is a God who cares and understands for each one of us. His love is amazing. Each one of us can perhaps give God a list of burdens today. Each one of us will no doubt have a different list.

It’s what we do with the list is what counts. Do we trust God to help us? Do we wait long enough for the answers? For relief? Psalm 91:14 says, “Because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him, I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him.”

Perhaps we do call upon God with faith and assurance that He hears us. We must believe that He is our source of strength, peace, joy and power. When we offer worship and praise to God, and become His child He gives us His peace! Psalm 85:8 says: “I will listen to God the Lord. He has ordered peace for those who worship Him!”
Psalm 91:15, 16 says, “I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."

Wow! All that and peace too! God satisfies the faithful servants. If we are not satisfied then there may be some wrestling or anguish going on within. We must remain firm in our faith…in who we believe. God is always near to us. Let’s trust God more and more as our burdens grow deeper. Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield who take refuge in Him.”

In other words, what He says He will do. He will satisfy, He will provide peace, and He will protect us. He does care about our needs, and He is more than able to give us relief from those burdens that weigh us down. We need to learn to trust God and allow Him to untangle the anguish. We need to lay it all at His feet, and leave it there!

Copyright, Jan Keats

July 25, 2008

Experiencing God - Glynis

The past four months have been a mixture of flurry and frustration, questions and prayers and absolute confirmation that God is on the throne.

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt I sometimes needed to prove the presence of the Lord in my life. Or I would think that I had to justify my beliefs to certain people. Then God allowed me to walk through the valley. It was like a big old tarpaulin had been removed from my life.

Initially I was shocked and saddened about what was happening to me. Then after some eye-opening experiences, I realized God was doing a great work. I suddenly understood that justification and providing evidence were not the answers. Living a life in obedience to God was.

There was a call on my answering machine from Sue when we returned from the oncologist. It was on the day I received the definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer. It was on the day I was informed I would require chemotherapy.

I had not seen Sue in over three years.
“Why did God wake me up at three o’clock this morning and tell me I had to pray for you and to come and do your flower beds?” her voice echoed over the machine.
I replayed the message to make sure I had heard correctly. I had. My mouth dropped. It was late so I had to wait until morning to pick up the telephone and call my long-lost friend.

We went through the social graces and both apologized for not being in touch sooner.
“Did you hear about me?” I eventually asked.

“What about you?” Sue said.

I proceeded to tell her about my cancer. The silence was deafening. Sue had not heard a thing about my recent news. She knew nothing of my cancer. She only knew that God had woken her up at three o’clock in the morning and told her to pray for me.

Sue rejoiced alongside me as we discussed the marvelous, timely way God works. When Sue informed me about her struggle with cancer years ago it was my turn to be silent. Not only had God rallied Sue to pray on my behalf, but He had chosen someone who had walked through the valley, too. I was even more encouraged.

It was wonderful hooking up with Sue again, but what was more wonderful was realizing how desperately I needed prayer and how much I desperately needed God. He showed himself mightily in that moment with Sue and continues to do that in many ways. I am learning to be still. I am learning to listen. Sometimes I still have selective hearing but I am trying my best to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him.

I might have lost my hair due to chemotherapy, but I have not lost my faith and trust in God. I am thankful for all the ‘Sue incidences’ that serve as confirmation that He really does reign.

God has allowed this to happen to me so that He can do something through me. I have had to give up my students for now, which was tough. But God has opened up a few doors for my writing. I have a niggly feeling that God is telling me something again.

July 23, 2008

Accolade and Inspiration - Bonnie Way

The flashing curosr blinks upon the screen, and my hands sit poised as my mind searches for topics, ideas, words. Just write, I tell myself, but nothing comes. I try to remember that time when I wrote for myself, for the simple joy of stringing words together, no matter who saw them. How long ago was that?

Before the pull of publication reached me, the heady thought of seeing my name in print. I read no longer for info or joy, but with the question, “Could I write this?” Those who read this writer’s words—would they read mine? And so I sit before my computer, an editor in mind, and try to picture what he would like. Yet each attempt fails to measure up to that imaginary editor’s approval, and when my attempts did pass the imaginary editor’s approval, they failed to meet the real editor’s approval.

Before the beginning of blogs, when each word I wrote could be put before readers for comment. Yet those comments failed to come. Was no one reading? A site meter revealed how many read, but failed to reveal what they thought of it. Was I boring, stupid, silly? I read other blogs, trying to find how they attracted readers who commented. And again and again I tried to write, only to wonder—will they like it?

I doubt I am the only writer who inspiration has been killed by desire for accolades. And yet I wonder what the world would be like if we wrote only those things that gained applause. I think of the group of writers who put their years of work into clay jars and hid them in caves. They wrote not for worldly approval, but simply with the knowledge that they had something to say. They never knew their work would someday be known around the world as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I think of the writers whose words are not hidden in vases to be turned to dust or discovered by chance, but whose words are met with anger or derision or laughter. From Jeremiah to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writers wrote words that found only disapproval. Yet still they wrote, and it is their names that now call up our approval.

So I stare at my blinking cursor, and consider my hunger for that approval. Does it matter so much that my name appears on a book or website or in a newspaper or magazine? Does it matter how many hits my blog gets? Or does it matter that I wrote what God called me to write, for the person whom He knows needs it, whether I even know it or not.

July 17, 2008

Mundane to Significant - Gwen Mathieu

I was so blessed today after reading Violet’s blog on encouragement.

I need her words of wisdom daily - a great motto for my refrigerator. My only achievements as of late are typing and re-typing 399 recipes for our church cookbook, writing up church building committee minutes, working at our bible camp and cutting lots of grass, etc., etc. I feel like Moses, caught up with the mundane.

And then God called him to do the supernatural – moving the Israelites from the land of Egypt to the Promised land. It was a much bigger undertaking than writing an article or even a novel; definitely much bigger than writing this short blog. But I, like Moses, feel inadequate to carry out the task, putting it off until the last minute.

Oh, I read a lot; usually a book per week so all things are not mundane. I find reading and housework much easier though, than formatting an article, pasting it for the world to see and letting people know how much I don’t know.

But I will heed Violet’s advise to stay the course. To realize today is the beginning of the rest of my life to write for His glory.

And I, too, encourage you writers to keep plugging away.


July 14, 2008

Be Encouraged

The other day I got an email from my friend Maralee. (Maralee is a ventriloquist who has a TV show called Maralee Dawn and Friends.) She told me about an email exchange she had with a man named Bear. He has an idea for an animation series and told her how he wrote to artist and illustrator artist Kevin Scott Collier about his idea. Kevin Scott Collier wrote back and included a couple of sketches of what Bear’s characters could look like.

(The name Kevin Scott Collier rang a bell with me So I checked and found this was the same KSC who interviewed me for Kid Magazine Writers in 2005. I read on with interest…)

Bear emailed Collier back: “Just looking at these pics again. They are awesome. So how does someone become so generous with their talents?”

Kevin Scott Collier replied (quoted with his permission):

Dear Bear,

Let me tell you something. In November 2003 I wrote a short story for a niece about a boy who accidentally gets an email from an Angel in heaven. (Heaven had gone high tech.) When I was writing the story I felt God's hand on my shoulder. He spoke into my heart that this story would be a book for all kids to read. I prayed to God asking if this were true, where would I find a publisher, whom should I contact... how was this all going to happen. God touched upon me that if I trusted in Him, he would bring me everything and everyone I needed.

As I was mailing the story to my niece, I overhead some men in the next line talking about books to the clerk. I wandered over and asked who they were. It turned out to be a youth fiction publisher from another state, who just happened to be in the area
on business. We chatted, and two days later after receiving a copy of my story, drove back up from Indiana to Michigan, took me to lunch, and signed me to a book contract. "Barthpenn@heaven.org" was published.

Now I was a published author, but I was always an artist. I stumbled across the internet and met a lady who had written a poem. I asked if she could email it to me, as she wanted advice. For fun, I illustrated the entire poem over two nights, and created a pdf "book" for fun to email her back. Turned out she was a minister's wife from Ohio... and she showed it to a friend of hers that was a book publisher... it was contracted, and Topsy Turvy Land went to print.

In the summer of 2005 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Later, on that very day, a publisher I had never heard of contacted me and asked if I would illustrate a book cover for a survivors book on Breast Cancer. I did it for free, and I went on to illustrate a dozen other books for them, too... and mom recovered.

In late 2005, I had an idea for a book based on Noah's Ark I wanted to write. I wanted a co-author,however, someone who could add to my idea for a book. I found a lady named Kristen Halter in a writers group, and we began writing "Natalie's Ark." I discovered this Godly woman was a single mother, and her son never knew a father... didn't have one per se, he had vanished. So, Jarod prayed every night to Jesus for a dad. I fell in love with this woman (who live 350 miles from my home in Ohio) and married her, and adopted her son. Now I am a dad... you can see us all on our homepage... http://collierauthors.blogspot.com

I recently stumbled upon the Old Schoolhouse Magazine's website and saw they had a mascot (frog) for their reading program, and it was clip art... so I redrew the character and sent it to them for free just to help. They liked my stuff so much, they want to hire me as an illustrator for their magazine.

Know what life is all about, Bear? Planting seeds and having faith that God will lead you to the right people.

I'm here.

- Kevin

I thought Kevin’s letter was a great illustration of how God is at work in our lives even when we aren’t aware.

So be encouraged. God has barely begun to do the ministry through your life. Stay the course. There is something big ahead for you. It is God who sets up the big appointments and they are supernatural. Keep planting those seeds and following His lead.”

July 10, 2008

"Come!" -- Pam Mytroen

“Come!” said Jesus to Peter as he straddled the boat and dipped his foot in the cold waves. Peter wasn’t about to sit in the boat when Jesus was having all the fun. If he could walk on water, so could Peter. While the other guys were saying, “You’re fish bait”, Peter was saying, “What a story I’ll have to tell! What an adventure!”

So Peter jumped from the boat with visions of his name on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. All went well until he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. Suddenly he wished he didn’t have an audience. He could hear their guffaws in the background.

He didn’t become an expert at a walk on the lake, but Peter still holds the record for the only mere mortal to ever to walk on the stuff, all because he saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and heard the laughter of the Master, while the other disciples couldn’t hear beyond the wind or see beyond the waves.

What adventures do you long to do? Climb a mountain? Write a book? Travel to an exotic location? Close your ears to the waves of discouragement, the winds of “No, it can’t be done.” Listen close for Jesus’ laughter and you’ll hear Him calling "Come!"

He stands on the impossible, grins, and waits for us to join him. He loves to have fun – why else would He walk on the water? He could have done the front crawl all the way across the Sea and that would have been miraculous enough.

Peter never forgot that evening on the water. While Peter made history and had the time of his life, Jesus taught him to trust, to keep his eyes on Him, and most of all, to recognize the voice of God.

God has treasures for us too that are only received by peeling our white knuckled hands off the edge of the boat and stepping out towards his voice. Moving away from the warm arms of security forces us to grow.

We’ve been rowing long enough. Jesus is laughing. Let’s go.

(Just one thing - take a friend from the boat so she won’t laugh behind your back!)

July 07, 2008

Obedience -- Janet Sketchley

The NIV is my usual Bible of choice, but every so often I’ll pick up a different translation. Sometimes a phrase in a different version jumps out at me.

When the Apostle Paul made his final trip to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit warned him there was trouble ahead. Paul’s friends begged him not to go, but he said, “You’re looking at this backwards. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience. Can’t you see that?” (Acts 21:13b, MSG*)

Let’s make this personal to our own lives. Whatever the stress, fear, pain, can we say “The issue isn’t what happens to me, but what the Master Jesus does through my obedience”?

What the Master Jesus does through my obedience. What will He do, if we trust Him with our circumstances, and choose to obey? After all, it’s not about us at all...it’s about Him.

*The Message MSG Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

July 04, 2008

An Ordered Life - Lorrie Orr

I recently read Elizabeth Goudge’s The City of Bells. One line jumped out at me – “the peace of an ordered life.” I’ve been mulling this over for the past week, thinking about order and disorder, and how order might relate to productivity, creativity and spontaneity. And so, here are a few of my conclusions – nothing earth-shattering. I need to remind myself of these things every so often.

God is a God of order. The natural world he created is orderly and utterly amazing. Order does not have to be boring. Consider zebras with their crazy stripes – or two people putting their lips together to show affection, or turnips. I sometimes wonder what God was thinking when he created such stupendous marvels. Yet all of his creation is orderly.

Order is a choice I make. Of all of God’s creation, only mankind is able to choose order or disorder. And experience the consequences of either. Disorder entered as sin – a rebellion against God’s design.

There are many facets of order I could explore, but when I think of order and disorder in relation to my writing, I realize that an ordered life enables me to write more, think more, produce more. Those weeks when I take the time to sit with the Lord and make a list of what I want to accomplish, are far more productive than if I wait for inspiration to strike.

Although I may not accomplish everything on my list, or instead do other things, the discipline of setting weekly goals provides a structure for my week. And a structure for surprise and spontaneity.

My ordered life needs to extend beyond writing to my physical world. I have to think about meals, housework, family, and other commitments. When those things are in order, functioning well, my mind is free to wander along more creative paths. And I find the freedom for an unexpected visit with a friend, or a trip to the beach, or a craft project.

Those writers whom I admire are writers with discipline. They order their days, they make choices, they are deliberate. And in that order, creativity and productivity flourish.

Summer is here. There will be vacations, work in the garden, strolls with my husband and tea with my daughters. In the midst of summer relaxation, I want to live an ordered life. A well-lived life, or, a well-written life, does not come by chance.

July 02, 2008

What We Do - Bonnie Way

“I couldn’t do what you do.” The woman is smiling at me as I gather up my papers to leave her office. I just grin back at her, for I’ve heard that comment several times this week. I’m not sure what it is about an editor’s job that makes us seem special. People have commented that they couldn’t sit reading documents for hours on end or wondered how I know grammar so well to be able to correct what I do read. But in most of the cases when people have made the comment to me that they wouldn’t want my job… well, I wouldn’t want their job either.

We all have our own skills and abilities, a unique place that God has given us to serve. And it’s a good thing, too, as the world would be a boring place if we were all editors, or mechanics, or teachers.

I didn’t know, when I was growing up reading voraciously anything that I could get my hands on, that I could turn that into a career. I didn’t know, when my English curriculum was pounding grammar rules into my head year after year after year until I could do them in my sleep, that that also would become my career. I didn’t know, when I signed up to be the editor of a student newspaper because I figured it fit with my writing abilities, what I was getting myself into.

And yet all of those shaped me, developed my skills and talents, and brought me to where I am today. It’s a fascinating journey, this discovering where we fit in, where we can use our passions and abilities. My twin brother took years to begin pursuing his skills as a mechanic, and my other brother is still figuring out where his abilities fit. I’ve watched my husband change his educational plans three times as he figured out what he wants to do. Now I love listening to his stories about student teaching, because he’s so good at it.

I recently met a couple friends for lunch. Two years ago, we all graduated with English degrees and were planning to head on to master’s degrees. Now, one of them is working on cruise ships and doing her education degree while the other is studying for LSATs and applying for law. They laughed that I was the only one who had stuck to the goals we had back at graduation. Yet I applaud them for being willing to change their plans, to reconsider their goals and abilities and what they want to do, and go with the change.

So maybe you couldn’t do what I do… but I probably couldn’t do what you do either. And that’s okay. Because we each fill a need, and however we got to where we are, we’re here now, using the abilities and talents we have in a way that only we can.