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April’s Fool

The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’
~Psalm 14:1 NIV

When the Lord placed Psalm 14:1 on my heart, my first reaction was why? I’m not a fool. Then the Lord asked me to look close at the definition of fool. Very close.

Fool in Hebrew is‎ nabal, which means “stupid; wicked; especially impious.” Have I ever been these things? Have I sinned against God by digging my heals in and doing things my way? Have there been times when, like Peter, I have doubted the very existence of the One I said I would follow to the ends of the earth? Have I said “yes, Lord,” then turned around and done the opposite, like Jonah? Have I questioned God’s motives like Job? Have I said “Not me, Lord!” like Moses?

According to Merriam-Webster, fool also means “a person lacking in judgment or prudence.” Has my judgment ever waned? Have I acted without discipline? Thrown caution to the wind? Have I ever been a fool?

Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.”

As we usher in April 1st, and people around the world celebrate foolishness, let us remember what being a “fool” really means. And although there will be times when we will, no doubt, sink back into foolish behavior, let us also remember we serve a God who gives our feet sound footing, who replaces foolishness with wisdom, and who offers grace, mercy and new beginnings to all who call upon His name.

Lord, I do not want to be a fool. Yet despite all that, I know at times I am. Paul said it so well in Romans 7:21-25: “It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been doneby Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free.”

So thank you, Lord, for freeing me from sin and foolishness. For standing by me, even at my lowest point. For paying a debt I cannot pay. And for taking on the burden of death so that I can live with You forever. You are truly worthy to be praised! 

Transition


As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 
~Joshua 1:5 NIV

There’s nothing more transitional than the month of March: cold, wet, blustery lion of a beginning evolving to gentle, warmer, stillness of a lamb. A 31-day jump from winter to spring.

Some people enjoy change. They like the thrill and exhilaration of its newness, of the hunt. They stand in transition’s way, puffing out their chest and bellowing, “Bring it on!” But others hide from change, taking shelter during the storm and choosing to stay there, fearful of what will come next. And although neither approach is healthy, both are fueled by pride—pride in that we decide we know what’s best, that we need to be in control one way or the other.

Do you look in the face of transition with a daring gaze, even when the LORD is telling you to take shelter? Or do you cower in fear, unsure that the God you serve is one who has your best interest in mind? Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 tells us there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. That it is the LORDwho makes everything beautiful in its time. Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to trust in the LORD with all our heart and not to lean on our own understanding, and Luke 12:18-31 shares with us the contrast of a desire to be in control vs. fear that comes from worrying. Yet all three deal with transition in their own way.

So next time you’re faced with a seemingly impossible transition, instead of heading it off at the pass with attitude or burying it in the ground to hide from it, remember God has promised to never leave you nor forsake you and to complete the good work He began in you, regardless of how difficult the transition may be.

Lord, transition is so hard. And trusting You can even be harder. Please teach me how to wait on You, to allow life’s transitions to progress in Your time, not mine, and to become moldable as You shape me into the person You want me to be. I praise You for what You have done, what You are doing, and what You’re about to do. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Of Groundhogs and Valentines


Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head, 
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, 
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. 
~1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (The Message)


Q. What do groundhogs and Valentines have in common?
A. Not much. . .

At least on the surface. But if you take a closer look you’ll see both are laden with heavy expectation.

Punxsutawney Phil carries the weight of winter on his shoulders simply by whether or not he sees his shadow. Quite a bit of responsibility for a rodent. Yet don’t we sometimes put a similar expectation on the one we love at Valentine’s Day? Cards, flowers, candy, expensive dinners, etc. All are well and good on their own. But when they become our litmus of how much the person we care for cares for us, problems arise.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Valentine’s Day. And I’m always up for a nice gift from hubby or dinner out. But regardless of what gift I’m given or where we go, things of this world should never carry the weight of love in my relationship.

Hebrews 13:5 literally tells us, Be without covetousness [greedy] behavior, be content with the things present, for He has said, ‘No, I will not leave, no, nor forsake you…’ YLB

So before you put too much burden on any one person to come through for you on that “special day,” make sure you’re first content and secure in the LORD. Then, and only then, will you finally be able to lay aside man’s great expectation of groundhogs and Valentines.

LORD, help me find contentment in You, and keep me from placing undue expectation on the one I love. This is a hard time of year, especially for those who are alone or who have broken relationships. Be their all-in-all, Father, and mend that which has been broken. Make them whole again as you are making me whole. Thank You for hearing this prayer. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Resolution, a Ten…no, make that Four-Letter Word


And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people go up with flutes to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. -Isaiah 30:29 NIV

I don’t know how you feel about resolutions, but I hate them. Not at first, of course. But generally speaking, by the end of February I cringe at the thought of all the promises I’ve either already failed at keeping or realize there’s no way I’ll be able to keep. The ones I’ve made to myself are one thing. The ones I’ve made to the LORD are another.

How can I be sure His grace and mercy will cover even the boldest promises broken, made in arrogance (or foolishness) at the beginning of the year? By remembering what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9: But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Broken promises = weakness. Yet our amazing LORD delights in being able to lift up that which is broken and weak in our life and turn it into something beautiful and powerful so that He may be glorified!

Do you have broken promises you need to deal with? Maybe someone has broken their promise to you or your family. Then give it over to the LORD. Once you do, stand back and watch as His grace and mercy turns something once shattered into something whole and beautiful!

Thank you, LORD, for being our Resolution. Not just at the beginning of the year, but each and every day. Help me to learn to let go and give you what is broken and weak so You can turn it into something made perfect by Your power. I praise You for caring about all the shattered areas of my life. In Jesus’s Name. Amen.

Below the Foam


As I sit here trying to figure out what to write, I think of the times I had no problem sitting down and writing on paper what was in my heart. When I was a young girl, the opening lines began with something like “Once upon a time…” As I jumped into my teen years, it switched to “He broke my heart…” Still, each story/poem always spilled from a place deep inside me like an overturned bottle of ink.

Whether it be story, poem, article, or blog, writing deep usually means dredging up emotions I’m not quite sure I’m ready to handle. So I swim on the surface.

Don’t get me wrong…there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are a lot of nice things to see when you’re swimming on the surface: the sky, the horizon, tropical islands—stuff like that. But when you dive deep, you experience beauty and wonder that is foreign to surface swimmers. There are colors and textures that God has hidden below the foam, held in check by the buoyancy that only diving deep can reveal.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to become the deep current—the spiritual thread—in our writing, we find ourselves face-to-face with wonders we never imagined. Sure, sometimes we might encounter a sea monster or two, but when that happens we can find peace in knowing He is right beside us, willing to be our champion. And it is there, within the profound aquamarine tranquility of His presence, that our true writing journey begins.

Below the Foam
You wove through me a thread of gold
That touched my very soul
It bore the mark of majesty
And ancient days of old.
From hand to pen and back again
The depth Your heart did share
Dove deep into the waters
Revealing treasurers rare.
Awake my soul! so I may write
The words He has for me
This golden thread His Spirit weaves
Beneath the foam of sea.

Hearing Voices

There are seven diagnosed reasons why one hears voices:

1. Psychiatric disorders
2. Psychological disorders
3. Psychosis
4. Psychotic depression
5. Schizophrenia
6. Hallucinations
7. Falling asleep

Let me add one more:

8. Being a writer

Granted, writers are known for “hearing” those character voices that propel them into their story. But the voice I’m talking about right now is the one that says, “Delete! Delete!”

I’m an excellent inner editor. I have spell check, grammar check, and a bazillion books in my writing library that tell me everything I’ve done wrong with my work-in-progress from point of view errors to miswriting dialogue to not hooking the reader to totally massacring those critical first five pages. In fact, my inner editor is so good it’s a rare day I get past those first five pages.

So what should I do?

I have been offered a myriad of suggestions ranging from “turn *it* off” (*it* being my inner editor) to “buy an AlphaSmart” to “just get it down.” I’ve even read Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, cover-to-cover more times than I’m willing to admit. Unfortunately, if there’s a way to backspace, whether it be in my mind or on a keyboard, there’s a way for me to figure out how to “adjust” what I just wrote.

Praise God that I have a wonderful group of women that keep gently prodding me forward to write that…*shiver*…really bad draft. I’m not quite there yet, but I know with the Lord’s help, and theirs, I’ll get it down one day. In the meantime, every time I hear that inner editor shout “Delete! Delete!” I plan to remind myself that the only thing that needs deleting at this point in the game, is “Delete!” itself.

The Language of Love


L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore

Love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you

The above song, L-O-V-E, made popular by Nat King Cole, has been heard throughout the airwaves for over forty years. It whispers “you’re special and adored,” and air brushes pictures of hope, possibility, happiness, commitment, and promise.

Everyone wants to be loved, be it Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’s The Christmas Carole, or the Grinch from Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Whether romance, suspense, thriller, action, sci-fi, fantasy or mystery, each story character, even the villain, has a special love language—something that makes them tick and feel valuable. Something that fills them up and brings warmth to their heart, even if for a brief moment.

In his book, The Five Love Languages, (Northfield Publishing) Gary Chapman addresses these love languages and breaks them down into five categories:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch

Just as the Myers-Briggs, Carl Jung, Lowery True Color, or Smalley/Grant Lion-Beaver-Otter-Golden Retriever personality identifiers can help a writer profile their characters, so can The Five Love Languages. Let’s use the Grinch, for example. Until Cindy Lou came along no one ever wanted to hang out with Mr. Grinch because he was so awful. He said mean things, did mean things, and pushed himself as far away from society as possible. So if I wanted to introduce a character who would create an opposite effect on him, I would take a hard look at the one thing the Grinch did the most that seemed opposite of his love language. Once I figured out that I would be able to understand his heart better.

Same with good ol’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens already knew what kind of man Scrooge was. All he had to do after that was create a character who was generous rather than stingy (notice the opposite). And because Scrooge’s love language was gifts, Bob Cratchit was able to emotionally give Scrooge the love language he needed.

But what about good guys? And romance? How can the five love languages help there? Take Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Why is it that they always seemed to be hit-and-miss? Could it be different love languages? Scarlett liked to be wooed and adored. She liked to hear how lovely she was. Unfortunately Rhett wasn’t the words of affirmation type, thus the two of them seemed to fall short of true love throughout the book. And the fact that their love language never met in the middle kept the romantic tension alive and the reader on the edge of their seat, wanting…hoping…that things would turn out okay in the end.

If you don’t have a copy of Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, I recommend you pick one up. It’s not only a good tool for your marriage, but also comes in handy when trying to figure out why your bad guy is bad, or why two good characters just can’t seem to make things work. And who knows? Maybe if the Grinch, Scrooge, Rhett and Scarlett had read the book, they would have discovered that their problems were nothing more than a misunderstood love language. 🙂

“L-O-V-E,” words and music by Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler © 1964


Then Came the Manna…


How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! ~Psalms 119:103

Immediately after the Exodus, the people of Israel began to grumble. They were tired. They were hungry. “At least in captivity we ate all the food we wanted,” they said (Ex 16:3). So that evening the LORD sent quail; but in the morning He sent something different. He sent manna.

Manna. A “small round substance as fine as frost” (Ex 16:14) that “looked like white coriander seed, tasted like wafers made with honey” (Ex 16:31) or “pastry prepared with oil.” (Num 11:8). It could be baked or boiled, “ground in a handmill or crushed in a mortar, cooked in a pot or made into cakes” (Ex 16:23; Num 11:8). The manna appeared with the morning dew then melted away as the sun grew hot (Ex 16:21).

For forty years the Israelites ate manna. In fact, according to Joshua 5:10-12, the manna did not stop until the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River, camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, kept the Passover, and eaten the crops of Canaan.

As a writer, how many times have I, like the Hebrews, grumbled against the LORD—asking for words of meat but receiving only manna? “It’s not enough!” I cry. “It won’t sustain me!” How many times have I begged Him to fill the empty white pages with words that will feed the souls of others and draw them into my story, only to end up with minuscule fragments that seem to melt away with the morning sun?

Too many times to count.

I, like the Israelites, sometimes want to walk away. Sometimes want to return to the way things were before the LORD called me to write. A simpler way. A way that didn’t require collecting a handful of manna each morning and hoping those words would be enough to get me through the day. But like the Israelites, I can’t walk away from a place the LORD wants me to be. So I’ll step out in faith, one more time, and take God’s daily provision of words. His daily provision of manna.


Fear


Writing is easy:
all you do is sit staring
at a blank sheet of paper
until the drops of blood
form on your forehead.
—Gene Fowler

There’s this amazing book I read back in December of 2007 called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (copyright 1993 Image Continuum Press). It talked about writing being an art, and writers dealing with some of the same issues other artists dealt with.

The opening paragraph says this:

“MAKING ART IS DIFFICULT. We leave drawings unfinished and stories unwritten. We do work that does not feel like our own. We repeat ourselves. We stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted. Often the work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed. And so questions arise: How does art get done? Why, often, does it not get done? And what is the nature of the difficulties that stop so many who start?” (Bayles & Orland, pg 1, 1993)

As the title of the book suggests, fear is one the greatest motivating factors behind a writer 1) not starting a project, or 2) not completing it. It’s what binds and cripples them. It’s what wears them down and gives them reason to quit. And it’s what metabolizes their writing into artistic disease or, worse yet, artistic death.

Bayles and Orland talk about artistic death and how it comes about:

“…while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit. Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work—for the place their work belongs.

“Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring and generally healthy part of the artmaking cycle. It happens all the time: you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further. Writers even have a phrase for it — “the pen has run dry” — but all media have their equivalents. In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea. But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens: you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down…and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger. Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again—and art is all about starting again.” (Balyes & Orland, pg 10, 1993)

The American Heritage Dictionary describes fear as: “A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. A state or condition marked by this feeling.” Which makes me wonder…is the fear writers often possess imaginary, or is it real? Are we in the presence of immanent danger when we write? And if so, from what?

The authors of Art & Fear put the fear factor into two basic categories: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. In “fears about yourself,” Bayles and Orland say fear is often rooted in our concern that others may find out we’re not really writers…that we are “pretending.” Or that we really don’t have talent. Then there’s the lie of perfectionism: Our writing isn’t good enough to qualify us past the level of “hobbyist.” In “fears about the reception by others,” the authors state “acceptance” and “approval” are two of the greatest fears artists face.

“For the artist, the issue of acceptance begins as one simple, haunting question: When your work is counted, will it be counted as art? It’s a basic question, with antecedents stretching back to childhood.” (Bayles & Orland, pg 41, 1993)

“…Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having people like it.” (Bayles & Orland, pg 45, 1993)

So how do we overcome this fear? How do we get past this debilitating disease? How can we walk forward in our writing when we feel our legs are nothing more than mush and Jello?

First, we must recognize God as the Author and Creator of our work is. Second, we need to acknowledge that in Him and through Him all things are possible. Third, we must keep our eyes on the LORD and not “turn aside to the left or to the right” (Deuteronomy 5:32 NIV) so that our feet remain on the path He’s called us to. And fourth, we need to remember that the spirit of fear is NOT of God. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)

Writing is a call. A special one. We are scribes of the LORD, and our work matters as much today as it did for the ancients thousands of years ago. For when we rely on our heavenly Father to work in us and write though us, we find there is no bondage of fear. Instead there is a sweet, gentle voice whispering in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

This job has been given to me to do.
Therefore, it is a gift.
Therefore, it is a privilege.
Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God.
Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him .
Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way.
In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.
— Elisabeth Elliot

The Seed

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” ~John 12:24

Early this morning I was reading an article in Guidepost about a woman who pursued her dream of designing aprons. Half way through the article the author talked about picking up a book a friend had recommended and having the following phrase pop off the page: “God gave you gifts and the only way to bless others is to use them.” I finished the article, closed the magazine, and thought, that’s nice…glad the Lord encouraged her like that.

Shortly thereafter I went upstairs to figure out what to write for my portion of the June ACFW Colorado blog. I stared at my computer screen for a few minutes, opened Microsoft Word, positioned my fingers on the keyboard, then sat there as a blank piece of white, virtual paper stared back. What to write? What to write? I fidgeted in my chair a bit, toyed with some papers on my desk, then looked back at my screen. Nothing. As this whole staring-at-a-blank-piece-of-virtual-paper thing was not working, I decided to head downstairs and fix myself a glass of ice water.

While down there I thought what the heck, I’ll make myself a bagel and turn on “Judge Judy.” Maybe I’ll somehow get inspired that way. It didn’t work. After finishing my snack, I turned off the TV and headed back upstairs. Plopping down in my chair, I turned to look at the computer screen and mutter a quick prayer. “Lord, help me.”

Within seconds the phrase that jumped out at the Guidepost author, jumped out at me: “God gave you gifts and the only way to bless others is to use them.”

I looked around. “You talking to me, Lord?” I asked.

In my mind I could see Him nod.

“Hey, listen…” I started, “I understand what You’re trying to do here and I appreciate it, I really do, but we have a problem. You see, I don’t have those kind of gifts.”

The seed must die and fall to the ground, Jill. The voice in my head was quiet, yet firm.

“What seed?”

It must die so it can produce many seeds.

I was getting desperate.

“What seed, Lord? I don’t know what You’re talking about! First You mention gifts, then You mention seeds. What seed to you mean?”

The seed of writing. You must either let that seed—that gift—die so I can multiple it through you and bless others, or you can keep the seed and settle for nothing more than one, fruitless trophy seed. The choice is yours.

“But I told You, I don’t have a seed like that.”

Yes, you do. Don’t bury it. Give it to Me, and allow me to plant it…to help it die so it can produce fruit.

As the Lord said that, in my mind’s eye I could see Him reach forward and pluck something from me—like one would pluck a grape from a vine. He then took what He plucked, knelt down, and pushed the object (along with His finger) deep into soft, fertile soil. Then He pulled His finger out, stood up, looked at me, smiled, and walked away. I wanted to dig up the seed, run after Him, and yell, “Hey, Lord, what was that all about?” But I didn’t. Not this time. This time I let it be.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe an overnight writing miracle, maybe not. But in any case it really doesn’t matter, does it? All that matters is the Lord now has the seed and the rest, as they say, is HIStory.

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