20 April 2015

Ups and Downs

As much as I strive to live a balanced life, there are some seasons when it feels like things are stacked against me. One day I'm confident about my life choices and revel in the freedom I have to do so many different things. The next day I feel overwhelmed by the options before me and long for someone to just tell me what I should do.

Ups and downs.

Highs and lows.

Strength and weakness.

Whatever term is chosen, the ultimate feeling is instability. It's an icky feeling and I dread identifying its presence in my spirit. It's an indicator that I have a choice to make that I've been putting off far too long. Life is full of choices, some easier than others, and in my desire to make a wise choice I often put off considering the "big" things.

It's relative, you know, what is "big" and what is "small". As I talk with my trusted counselors and friends I find that choices which seem monumental to me are simple and everyday to them. Strange, eh? Yet that simple realization eases the heaviness so profoundly. It's one of the benefits I find by sharing life with others. They help me see beyond my circumstances and experiences, broadening my view of God and his desire for me.

So here's to a day of looking up - at the sunrise, the geese flying overhead, the puffy clouds that look like cotton balls, to the freedom of choice we are so blessed with in this country, to the opportunity that lies just around the corner.

God, may I see your hand in each experience - up or down - each day. I long to live for you and recognize that each day holds its own challenges. I choose to lay down the burdens of the past and move forward in the shelter of your arms. 

08 April 2015

The Cry of My Heart

Hannah's story (1 Samuel 1, 2) is one I turn to when I feel like I'm slogging through mud. You know, like my feet are weighted, I seem to be making no progress, and things around me look exactly the same today as they did yesterday.

Hannah's married to a man who loves her dearly; she longs to give him a child but is unable to do so. She endures years of heartrending anguish as the second wife (yes, yes, it was another culture...don't lose sight of the story) teases and torments her mercilessly for her inability to be a "true" wife and bear children.

I know that feeling all too well. It's incredibly painful to have people look at your life and tease you about what you do not have. 

This is where Hannah's story become very real to me. Rather than lash out at her tormentor she turns to the Lord. She pours her heart out to God when she goes to worship in the temple. She separates from her family for a time and cries to Him so deeply that the priest thinks she is drunk. Her heart is broken and she opts to give that burden to her God rather than carry it alone.

There is so much to glean from this story - here are a few of my thoughts:

- I can choose to lash out at those who question my life...or I can turn my anguish to God.
- It is a blessing to have one person look at me with love as I endure a growth process. To have more than one is to be richly blessed.
- Time means something wildly different to mortals than to God.
- God hears the cry of a desperate heart.
- Willingness to give to God can lead to abundant blessing.

It is the cry of Hannah's heart that touches me. She is so in the moment with God that she is unaware of the priest's presence. She boldly corrects him when he accuses her of drunkenness. And - perhaps the most amazing bit - she left her sadness with him. Her burden was truly left at the feet of God...and a year later she had the son she long desired.

The cry of my heart? Well, its simple by contrast with this woman. I just want people that observe my life to see the hand of God. I want my story to be inexplicable by any other means that "God did that." There can be no hint of manipulating situations or circumstances - which makes for a fine balance as I seek to actively use my gifts without toying with outcomes. 

It also makes for many a heartrending experience as I get a sense of how I am to pray long before the full scenario reveals itself. 

At times like these I turn to Hannah's story and embrace the most simple of reminders: God does not put a burden on a heart and then withhold it. His timeline is outside my understanding. My heart cries to him as I wait for a single voice to say, "Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou has asked of him."

02 April 2015

Wrestlemania

Images of wresting came to mind swiftly as I struggled to sleep last night. I sorted through the events of the day and landed on the conversation that kept my mind racing. It wasn't a conversation about anything dire - just a friend updating me on life. I considered it, pondered it, struggled with it - all the while knowing that my fussiness was not going to change anything. It was over and long gone...my wrestling had more to do with how I respond moving forward than it did the conversation itself.

My thoughts naturally leaped to "we wrestle not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12) - and isn't that our natural tendency? Its easy for us to blame hard things on spiritual warfare (which is quite real) but ignore the role we ourselves play in these sorts of struggles. The apostle John tells us that we have three enemies: the world, our flesh, and the devil (1 John). I fear followers of Christ are quick to blame the unseen spiritual kingdom rather than face their own flesh and acknowledge their part of everyday life conundrums. 

Next I remembered Jacob, and I saw the story of him wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:21-32) in a fresh light. Jacob's headed home after a twenty year absence. He's super wealthy and has a large family. The wrestling begins in the night when he is alone, having sent his goods/servants/families ahead. All night long he wrestles with God, refusing to let him go. Why such struggle?

Was he, like me, struggling with the decision he made? He knew it was right to go home, but the flesh wanted anything but that. Jacob left behind an incredibly angry twin brother that had lost his inheritance...Esau might well want to kill his brother. And yet...Jacob is headed home. A right decision, a hard decision...it may well have been a daily issue for him and this is the culmination of that struggle. He knows what is right and is doing it...but that doesn't mean its an easy choice.

Paul calls this idea keeping under his body (1 Corinthians 9:27). As a believer in Christ I have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of me - so my wrestling is internal. The renewed spiritual being that dwells inside my physical body is constantly guiding me, and I must push the flesh to do things it would not choose on its own. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to control. Who's in charge? If I opt to live my life following God, then I must acknowledge that he sees the grand scheme and not just the current moment. Am I willing to lose wrestling matches? Or will I struggle to the point God has to do something drastic (Jacob ended up with a permanent injury to his thigh) for me to relinquish control?

30 March 2015

Fit to Print

The first question I was asked after electronically publishing my book was whether or not a physical copy could be purchased. It was an idea I'd thought about briefly, but the costs involved in such an endeavor felt prohibitive. Besides - the conservationist in me abhors waste and I couldn't justify the notion of creating hard copies that sat in a store room.

Then I learned about on demand publishing and the notion was more palatable. Print is a wildly different medium than electronic - and I desperately wanted my book to look professional. When a friend that owns a design company offered to create the cover, well to say I was humbled would be an understatement. God cleared two of the biggest hurdles I faced - without me asking. All that's left to me is reformatting my material for print - a skill most definitely in my wheelhouse. My goal is to have it ready to go by the end of April.

I'm deep in thought about my next book and find myself struggling between two ideas. I desperately want to create a study guide to go with Biblical Feminism, to present Bible study material in an accessible format and style for small group use. Ideally it would include video segments to guide small group conversations. There is a practical need for this sort of thing...to do it well will most certainly challenge me and stretch me creatively.

At the same time I find myself constantly thinking of Leah; I would love to dig deep into her story and that of other biblical women that seem to be overlooked or pigeonholed. In many ways these women epitomize the average woman today - they face circumstances beyond their control and seek God's direction for solutions. I find comfort in their stories and imagine other women will also.

I'm in the midst of living a dream I've held since high school, one shared with very few. Some days its hard to believe that God has seen fit to open this door of "Author" to me, and I'm curious to see where this takes me. I find myself desperately wondering if my ultimate dream - to write while sitting on a beach - might really be possible. The practical reality is that its extremely difficult to make a living from one's writing, and as a single person I find stable income to be incredibly comforting. Do I dare dream this big?

As always, we'll see what God has in mind. Living my life on God's timetable is the most thrilling of rides!

21 March 2015

How to Handle Adversity

This week was filled with ups and downs. Too many to list - and you likely wouldn't find them interesting - yet they were real and profound to me. The highs (my book promotion got a great response!) were overwhelmed by lows...and I found myself telling God I didn't know how much more I could bear.

Sound familiar?

At times like these I focus on 1 Corinthians 10:13:

1 Corinthians 10:13: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man : but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

I find great comfort in the promise that God is faithful, that he will always provide a way to escape the temptation (adversity, test, trial). Please note: this verse has nothing to do with lust, although I've heard the verse applied in that way many times. Words are important!

The challenge, at least for me, is to remain in the midst of the situation for the time needed - to not flee at the start. To see it as an opportunity to turn to God in utter reliance and beg him for truth. What would he have me to do? How am I to respond?

These are the times when I profoundly feel my singleness. I adore my pup, but its not like we have intellectual conversations about life choices. Still, rubbing her belly certainly makes life feel a bit less overwhelming.

Anyway.

This time as I sought comfort from scripture I looked at the verses surrounding 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I found it. Paul reminds the Corinthian church of what others have experienced, Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness to be specific. This church would have had many non-Jewish participants...they wouldn't know this sort of history and it would have given them great comfort as they faced modern trials. He also offers a frank reminder they all had the same opportunity, but not all made it out of the wilderness (verse 5).

I was perhaps most profoundly struck by verse 14. It immediately follows the one we so often quote...and in the context it feels so personal.

1 Corinthians 10.14: Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

Idolatry, simply defined, is anything that takes God's place in my life. Power, position, friendship, money, work...its easy to obsess on objects and lose sight of God's will. My challenge, then, in times of highs and low, is to keep my focus on the Lord. I cannot allow myself to be overwhelmed by circumstances, emotion, or anything that would distract me from his calling on my life. I cannot make decisions in the moment - I must pause to consider.

In times of adversity I find myself on my knees before God, asking questions like "Why am I here?" and "What would you have me to do?". I examine my life to see if anything has taken His place of prominence in my decisions and choices. I ride out the emotional waves, seek to discover their source and their meaning, and desperately seek guidance from the One who knows me best.

It doesn't make adversity any easier...but it does plant hope in my heart. God is here - I am not alone.

10 March 2015

Vision Verses

Sing, O barren, 
thou that didst not bear;
break forth into singing, and cry aloud, 
thou that didst not travail with child:
for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, 
sayeth the LORD.

Enlarge the place of thy tent,
and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations:
spare not, 
lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left;
and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, 
and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.

Fear not;
for thou shalt not be ashamed: 
neither be thou confounded; 
for thou shalt not be put to shame:
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.

For thy Maker is thine husband; 
the LORD of hosts is his name; 
and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; 
The God of the whole earth shall he be called.

For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken the; but with great mercies will I gather thee.

Isaiah 54:1-7


08 March 2015

My Southern Roots

As I wrapped up my first book last week, I found my thoughts drifting constantly to my paternal grandmother. We called her Mama Sue.

Mama Sue was the epitome of a southern woman. She always wore heels, dresses, tons of jewelry, and pantyhose - even in sweltering hot Arkansas summers. A tube of lipstick was constantly on hand for touch-ups. I only ever knew Mama Sue as a single woman - her husband died when I was quite young (that's true of both my grandfathers actually) - and she was a remarkable woman.

Mama Sue lived in a small town in northeastern Arkansas called Lepanto. Summers there often included trips across the border to Tennessee for visits to Graceland, Mud Island, and Shoney's; sometimes we'd travel to a larger town to check out this new thing called "Wal-mart". We'd also tag along with Mama Sue as she worked her jobs - she worked front desk night shifts at a motel in the next town and she wrote for the tri-county local newspaper. She was highly active in her community: drinking coffee with the ladies, having lunch "across the river" at the cafe, running a local museum, and more...she was constantly moving and full of laughter.

It was her love for writing that captured my imagination as a child. Articles about the childhood exploits of myself and my siblings were regularly in her paper - I realized later than not every child has accomplishment put into print! She would travel throughout the area to interview locals for various stories, hand write her articles (she had lovely penmanship), turn them in at the newspaper office, and deliver printed papers to local businesses. She was interested in everyone and loved getting to know people. Now that she's gone, I find myself wishing I'd listened closer to all her stories...

She inspired me to live an adventurous life simply by telling me stories of her own. As I put the final touches on my first book and considered a name for my business, it seemed appropriate to honor this lovely woman in a meaningful way. I went through a few drafts before ending on Latham Publishing House. Her maiden name was Latham, you see, and I wanted to remind myself each time I work on a book that the personal connections are what drive us.

Live adventurously.