Category Archives: Faith

Story Matters

An author recently posted on Facebook asking for feedback on one of his series. Unable to turn down an opportunity to read a book in one of my favorite genres (two actually. The series is a combination of sci-fi and fantasy), I eagerly accepted.

I ended up loving the story and characters, and the author graciously sent me the other two in the series as well as a prequel novella.

In one of the emails, he mentioned that he was pushing the release of the final two (out of five) due to an illness. I was bummed, but I also know the importance of one’s health takes precedence.

Yesterday, the author posted that his cancer had returned, and the doctors gave him about two months to live.

My completely selfish response was what you might expect. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll never read the rest of the series now!”

As you also might expect, I mentally berated myself for thinking such a thing. I did post a comment saying that I would pray for him and his family, but it felt hollow as I typed.

Do I want him healed, or if not, that his family experiences God’s strength and comfort? Absolutely. But my prayers still feel tainted by my selfish and silly desire to read the final books, when a man is dying and a family is soon devastated. What’s an incomplete series compared to that?

Or am I wrong?

I heard a story years ago where a woman dying of cancer wrote Stephen King. She asked him to tell her what happened at the end of his “Dark Tower” series, because she wouldn’t live long enough to read the remaining — and as yet unreleased — books.

Sadly, he couldn’t answer, because even he didn’t know at the time.

Studies have found that those who read fiction are statistically more empathetic. Understandable when you think about it.

When reading about fictional characters, we learn their thoughts, motivations, loves, hates, fears and desires. Something we don’t always see or get in real life, because few of us lay ourselves bare with the exception of a scant few — if that. As we read, we place ourselves in the shoes of the characters, and we can’t help but correlate their experiences, thoughts and feelings into our own life and those around us.

To give an example, I’ve never been clinically depressed. I didn’t understand how debilitating it can be, and I used to quietly scoff at those who did. Until I read “Becoming Olivia” by Roxanne Henke. The book is about Olivia who has a great life, but can’t shake the depression that seemed to come out of nowhere.

After reading it, I will never again scoff at anyone who suffers from depression again.

Now it may seem at this point that I changed subjects on you. First I talked about selfish prayers, then I jumped to how stories make us more empathetic.

What both illustrate is the importance of stories in our life. They not only entertain, but can convey certain truths. Stories, like most other arts engage us emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. They can also live beyond the creator’s own life. Plus we never want the story to simply stop with no end in sight.

We are built to both create and listen to or read stories. They’ve been used since the advent of language to remember our past as well as convey truth. Even non-Christians know the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale (although technically, it was a fish). Whether they literally happened is always up for debate, but their messages still stand many millennia later. The same goes for Dicken’s “Oliver Twist,” and “A Christmas Carol,” Shakespeare’s plays, many Greek tragedies, and countless others.

Stories matter. My selfish response and a dying woman’s letter is evidence of that.

Still, I do hope God will ignore my selfishness behind the words of my prayers, because I never want to see a person die so soon, and his/her family left to pick up the pieces.

The Devil of Pride

I recently engaged in a conversation on Twitter about why the mere statement of a scientific fact makes some people go into a near apoplectic rage (yes, I write it that way because I wanted to use “apoplectic”).

More accurately, many of the responses seemed angry if not enraged. My opponent admitted that the fact itself didn’t anger him so much as the political motive behind it.

I responded, “I don’t understand why it should. Facts help us learn to question our current beliefs; that we could be wrong — or we could be right, and we now have more confidence that our opinions have real merit. We should all be willing to learn, because that’s how we grow.

“Who presents those facts, and their perceived motives behind those facts should be irrelevant. If one of my opponents presented such a fact, while I may be initially irritated, I will set aside my emotional reaction and thank him/her for it.

“Perhaps that’s just me.”

After I wrote that I realized if I could point out a single problem with our society, it’s pride. When we succumb to the devil of pride, we become so sure of our beliefs, we grow rigid, unable and unwilling to grow, learn or change. Our intellectual opponents we soon see as our enemy, and that enemy must be destroyed at all cost.

Part of pride results in depending more on our emotions instead of facts and logic. We should then not be surprised when we and others react emotionally when we see facts that contradict those emotions.

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before ruin, arrogance before failure.” (TNK)

I also like Proverbs 16:16: “How much better to acquire wisdom than gold; To acquire understanding is preferable to silver.” (TNK)

Another problem with pride is it can destroy our relationships. When we don’t allow opposing views even from those we love, the end result is a deep loneliness. No one likes spending time with someone who refuses to listen. If someone at least gives a different view a fair hearing, it doesn’t matter if they don’t change their mind in the end. That they listen is enough, because they approached the discussion with humility.

We are human. That makes us flawed. We’re not right all the time; it’s impossible. A little humility and willingness to learn, to acknowledge our flaws can go a long way in mending relationships instead of destroying them. Humility can also help us find joy instead of unrelenting anger, defensiveness and frustration.

Best of all, we decrease the chance of looking foolish when we’re forced to face the facts.

God in a Leaf

One of my favorite scripture verses is Romans 1:20: “For ever since the world was created people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

During my morning walk a few days ago, I found these:

Notice how the leaves look almost like parachutes or kites to carry the seeds away from the parent tree? If I were to label the quality of God in the leaves, I would say he is an engineer. Only an engineer with intimate knowledge of gravity, botany and aerodynamics could create a leaf of just right shape and size to carry one or several seeds into the wind.

I am endlessly fascinated at how one tree reproduces and how the seeds are carried away (either by wind or animals). How can I not be awed by God’s thoughtfulness in a single seed attached to a single leaf of a single tree? And how each tree produces seeds so different from almost every other species.

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:26)

I love the fall, with the turning trees, cool weather and the birds beginning their migration.

If anyone’s been following US politics, you’ll know it’s been a tough week, regardless of what side you’re on politically. It has for me, which is why I’m so grateful I was mindful enough to study my surroundings and spot those leaves. They reminded me of what’s important. Not politics, that’s for sure, even though I will continue to pray for all those involved.

Tomorrow, as cold as it might be, I will be out by the river with my camera to take many pictures of a hopefully calm day so that my spirit might also be calmed. Perhaps I might hear God’s whisper in the wind reminding me not to worry or fret. No matter what happens here or elsewhere, he is in control. Always has been. Always will be.

Thirteen Years Later

The other day I wanted to post something on a Facebook group called Realm Makers Consortium. I didn’t know what exactly, except that it be humorous. After staring at that evil cursor for about two minutes, this popped into my head:

“I asked God to teach me patience, so he made me a writer.”

Writing, like any other skill, takes a lot of work. Years of work and study. Learning the rules, knowing when to break them, reading a lot of books both in and out of our chosen genre to discover what works and what doesn’t. Why certain tropes and writing structures work for some genres and not for others. Writing hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of words to discover our own unique voice.

Deciding what to publish, when, to whom, to go indie, vanity or traditional. To spend countless hours searching for editors, cover artists for indie publishing, agents and traditional publishers. To wait weeks if not months for that almost inevitable rejection letter, yet still hopeful for an acceptance. Trying to convince ourselves that another rejection won’t hurt as much as the last one, and to not want to scream into a pillow and vow we will never write another word when it does come.

A few days ago, I went back through my original blog about my journey to get published, and I tried not to cringe at the date of my first entry: September 16, 2005.

Have I really been at it this long? Should I be embarrassed that after so much time I have so little to show for it?

Or should I be grateful?

Because I trust God and his plan for me, I’m going for grateful. I haven’t sat idle while I wait. I’ve spent that time writing, reading, studying and honing my craft. When I look back at what I wrote thirteen years ago, I have improved. Much of it was unpublishable, but I couldn’t see it at the time. God did, however, and that’s another reason I am grateful.

In Tears

Maybe because I had a difficult week dealing with a bad tooth, and now with it fixed, I have succumbed to exhaustion. As such, I’m feeling a bit more emotional than usual (or maybe it’s a hormonal thing).

Regardless, I just finished writing another devotional for my church, and more than once I had to fight back tears. Something about it struck me. It’s about God’s love and mercy, that no matter how egregious our sins, he will always pursue us to get us to accept his convictions, his mercy, and his love.

Perhaps there are a few sins of my own that I need to lay at God’s feet. Perhaps, although my head is well aware of who God is, and how much he loves me, my heart needs a bit more coaxing. I don’t always feel God’s presence even when I know he’s there.

Such as when my husband is sitting next to me. I know he’s there, loving me, however quietly. Yet sometimes I need him to hold my hand, so I can feel his love just as poignantly.

Another Big If

Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”

I wrote a devotional for my church called “The Big If.” It’s short, so here it is:

You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Scripture is replete with such passages. God promises us many things, but there’s often a caveat introduced with one little word: If. It is one of the largest words in the Bible, I think. Not the most powerful, but one with deep meaning. A word so small, it could easily be overlooked.

If (see what I did there?) we remove the “ifs” from scripture, we could too easily infer that God requires nothing of us in order to reap the benefits he offers us. That means I can move mountains with a thought and be saved with no other action on my part.

For more times than I can count, I have expected God to do all the work while all I did was show up to receive his blessings. Instead, however, I found myself accepting darker consequences, feeling lost and abandoned, and not at all blessed.

All because I neglected to notice that tiny, yet ever-important little word.

That’s not loving or being faithful to God. It’s taking him for granted, and treating him like Santa Claus instead of the Creator of the universe who makes the rules.

Still, God wastes nothing, not even our mistakes. When I ignored that little “if,” and faced the consequences accordingly, I learned just how important looking for that little “if” is.

I often hear the second part of Romans 8:31 above from other Christians, typically when they’re seeking some kind of social change. While they can be laudable goals, I always cringe at the declaration. The reason is two-fold.

One, it smacks of presumption. Is God really on their side? Or are they being a bit prideful, openly stating that God will not allow their failure. It also implies that those who might disagree with them are God’s enemy. And what happens if they do fail (for whatever reason)? How do they view God, and their relationship with him after that?

Having made that presumption many times myself, I have learned to avoid thinking, or stating that God is on my side. Instead I ask (less often than I should) whether or not I am on his.

Secondly, claiming that verse for the things we do, or intend to do, misses the point of the passage. Paul does not refer to the success of our deeds, but something else entirely:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)

Does that mean God will not “take our side,” and help us succeed in the tasks he gives us? Of course not. I just think we need to be careful how we proclaim his help, be sure to give him glory above ourselves, and always make sure we don’t miss any more “ifs.”

The Journey of Discovery

We’re studying the book of Isaiah in church, and the instructor of the video study guide relayed a story of one of her classes.

Isaiah describes a person called the Servant in later chapters. She asked the students, which consisted of Jews, Christians, atheists and Buddhists, to name a few, to figure out who that person is, may be, or was.

In the end they determined that person would be both human and a deity.

As a Christian, I know exactly who the Servant is. I learned about him in ways that didn’t include Old Testament prophesy. In reading Isaiah, there’s no question. As Brandon, one of our pastors said, “That’s Jesus. Next!”

I heard a line on the show “Earth: Final Conflict,” where a character –a scientist — complained how scientists were no longer necessary, because the Taelons were giving humanity everything. Humans no longer needed to endeavor scientific advancement. He said, “The journey of discovery is what makes us human.”

What happens, then, when we are deprived of that journey?

I felt a little of that loss during last week’s study. Like getting the answers to a test without even knowing, let alone understanding — or discovering — the questions. Or someone telling me the end of a story before I have a chance to read the first page.

I don’t regret my journey with God, not even close. I mostly wonder what uncovering him through Old Testament prophesy would be like, to have that a-ha moment of discovering Jesus for the first time as I read the Bible instead of discovering Jesus before I read the Bible.