Rising to the Challenge

Today I am doing something I’ve never done before…teaching 10 to 15-year-old students how to become authors. I’ve taught adults how to write, publish and market a book for several semesters now at my local college. When the college program director asked me earlier this year if I wanted to teach a course to home school kids I said “sure, why not?” But just like the first time I taught adults (something else I never dreamed I’d do before), now that the day has arrived, I feel a little nervous. I guess that’s normal when you begin anything new, especially when it involves public speaking (which is another thing I never thought I’d do!) But I think God wants us to widen our horizons, push ourselves and rise to new challenges, especially when it comes to helping others, so that we continue to grow.

Looking back, I only ever wanted to write books. I never realized that being an author would mean being asked to speak, but once I did, I joined Toastmasters to help overcome my fear of public speaking and help me become a good speaker. And speaking led to giving workshops at writers’ conferences which led to teaching college classes on book writing which brought me to where I am today…and the Lord only knows what else is in store in the future! All I know is that I need to overcome my fears, which are just manifestations of my ego, and humbly say “yes” by being of service, and God will help me if I let Him guide me.

Still, sometimes it seems that it would be easier to just “stay inside my box” and just keep doing that with which I am comfortable…and the Monday morning feeling that all I want to do is hide under the covers and fall back asleep is strong. But then I remember Jesus’ words from the Bible: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Hard to believe, given all of the miracles and healing He performed, that Jesus would expect his disciples to do ‘even greater things’! And of course, we are his modern-day disciples.

So I encourage us all to pray that today we can rise to the challenges before us and be open to still greater things in the future.

 

 

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Letting Go…

My daughter is in Florida now which is being battered by Hurricane Irma. She is safe in a shelter with a few friends and families and after a few more days will return to campus for her senior year at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, which hopefully wasn’t devastated too badly and will be able to return to “normal.” By the time I went to get her a flight home, they were all sold out. I felt guilty about that but realized I had to let go of that guilt or I would be blocked from being present right here and now (many miles away in Maryland), and let go of the worry for her I was feeling – because it was all out of my control , there was nothing I could do but pray for her and the countless others in Florida affected by the hurricane. I had to “let go and let God” – or release her to God’s care. But it’s not always easy to let go of guilt and worry – fears of past and future – and stay in the present so we can be of use to others and do God’s will.

Today also commemorates the anniversary of “9-11,” the terrorist attacks in the US that occurred 16 years ago…and I’m sure for many it is still hard to let go of the grief that caused. And terrorist acts continue to occur in the Middle East, affecting many persecuted Christians who defend our faith and military who defend our freedom. I pray for all of them and their friends and families to have peace in these still-troubled times.

On another personal note, I recently had to let go of a resentment against someone who had caused harm against one of my family members and forgive that person. It took a year to completely “let go,” and while our relationship may never be what it was, at least I can be around this person without feeling angry or resentful. But I know deep down forgiveness works both ways – it not only frees the other person I forgive, but it frees me too.

I also have a hard time “letting go” of summer…my favorite time of year. Cooler weather is already setting in here in Maryland and for me, fall is bittersweet; even though it’s a lovely time of year, it means summer is gone and winter is on the way. I used to look back and have regrets about all of the things I didn’t do over the summer…but fortunately I have grown spiritually enough to be grateful for the things I did do, and let the rest go…and to appreciate autumn and not worry about winter.

Is there something – or someone – that you need to let go but can’t, that is holding you “bound” and blocking the sunlight of your spirit? I know it’s hard to let go (trust me, it has taken many years of practice and I’m a little better at it, but far from perfect!)…so I offer words from Psalm 46 to meditate on for all those having difficulty letting go of hurts, resentments, anger, worry, anxiety and fear – and pray for the victims of both Hurricanes Harvey & Irma: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’….The Lord Almighty is with us.” 

 

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Are You Getting Your Just Rewards?

Our society is geared toward getting rewards…we get rewarded with a paycheck or commissions for work, awards for contests, sales or profits for products and services, votes and wins for campaigns or elections, attention or recognition for performances…the list goes on. So it is only natural that we would seek rewards from God for doing His work, right? Only, how do we know we are being rewarded when we can’t see, hear or touch our God, much less know for sure if we are doing His work? And wouldn’t it be nice to be rewarded here on earth instead of waiting for our heavenly rewards?

Sometimes it may seem like we are trying to do His work but we are definitely not being rewarded…at least not according to our own preference, timing and, dare I say, denomination. It is hard if not impossible to stay grateful, peaceful or joyful when I get stuck in the mode of feeling frustrated with God because I am not being “rewarded” with enough money, sales, awards, recognition (yes, I want them all) even though I am carrying out the work I believe He placed on my heart, writing contemporary novels based on Bible stories. But as I reflect on all of this, I realize that in searching for these tangible rewards, I lose sight of God’s Will and meeting the needs of others through my work – which in and of itself, should be the earthly reward I truly seek, and will most likely bring about the rest!

My calling or purpose in life was solidified when I read this passage in a book by Deepak Chopra titled “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” which states: “Everyone has a purpose in life . . . a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal,” and further, “You have a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. There is something that you can do better than anyone else in the whole world–and for every unique talent and unique expression of that talent, there are also unique needs. When these needs are matched with the creative expression of your talent, that is the spark that creates affluence. Expressing your talents to fulfill needs creates unlimited wealth and abundance.”

So, when I am feeling lack, it seems I just need to shift my focus from seeking wealth and abundance to using my talents to “give to others” and “meet unique needs.”  Or as Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans pursue all these things and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matt: 6:31-33)

Lord, let it be enough, even when I am struggling to pay my bills, that I do Your Work to help and give to others, to meet their needs and to build Your Kingdom, and let that work be enough of a reward in itself, for I know my true reward will be in Heaven when you say, like you did in the Parable of the Talents, “well done my, good and faithful servant.” 

 

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One for All…

In the wake of all that has been in the news on racism, hate crimes and protests, all three of yesterday’s Mass readings, which show that God wants to save us ALL, couldn’t have had better timing.

I realized I was “comparing myself out” when I first stepped into a 12-step program, and recovery could only be mine once I realized I was no better than, nor worse than, the people around me but JUST LIKE THEM. This same program that saved my life also helps me to practice tolerance of others, even those I don’t like or who I deem “different” than me. I would hate to see where my judgmental attitude might have gone if not arrested by this program – but I have to continually practice patience, tolerance and humility to keep it at bay – which means continually trying to grow spiritually and trying to know and do God’s Will.

As In Touch Ministries Pastor Charles Stanley says, the answers are all in the Bible…which makes me grateful that I am writing novels based on the Bible since it encourages me to read and meditate on God’s Word: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD…all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is 56:1)

I pray for both sides of the divide that occurred recently in Charlottesville, I pray for our President, and I pray that I continue to remember that we are ALL children of God.

 

 

 

 

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Where do we find God?

Have you seen God? Heard Him? Felt or experienced His presence? I have tried to focus in recent months on trying to “find” God, to know and love Him more, to be closer to Him. But sometimes, as with many things in life, the harder we try, the more frustrated we become. Often we need to just step back and let whatever we are striving for just happen. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but many years ago when I was unsure of my calling and I used to pray to know God’s Will for me, I’d ask for a sign. Something like, “God, if it’s Your Will that I continue to write Modern Day Bible Stories, or contemporary biblical-based fiction, show me a sign…send a deer across my back lawn.” (Behind our back yard is a forest that stretches for miles…and many deer roam there. But every time I asked, I never saw a deer. In fact, I have lived in this same house for 15 years and have never seen a deer back there, even though my husband and kids have…that is, until a few weeks ago. I wasn’t praying or asking or “trying”…and suddenly I looked up from the kitchen table through the back window and there was a doe just standing smack in the middle of my back yard, staring at me. (As if to say, ‘well, when you least expected it, here I am.’) I grinned and said, “thanks God.”

I think we were all born with a “God-sized hole” in us that can only be filled, of course, by God. No amount of money, or power, or material things, or food, or other substances…or even human affection, approval, intimacy or even love can fill it all of the way. And it can, and probably does, take one’s whole lifetime for God to fill it. How does God do that? And can we seek for Him to fill it? I think we can both find God in seeking Him – through his Word, in meditation, prayer, gratitude, and through human relationships – but also in being open to His miracles and surprises. I felt God’s presence watching my  baby grandson being born this past week, saw Him in my son’s tearful, joyful eyes, heard Him in my grand-daughter’s laugh when I took her swimming later that day, experienced Him in spending time with a friend in need, and in missing my husband who was away on a business trip. I definitely feel Him in church, especially in the sacrament of Holy Communion. And yes, I experience Him even in nature, like seeing the deer on the lawn when I least expected it.

Elijah was looking to find God, feeling bereft that his people had turned away, when he “came to a cave where he took shelter, then the Lord said to him ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain…and the Lord will be passing by’.” (can you imagine what Elijah must have been thinking, feeling, maybe even expecting?) “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” And it was the Lord speaking to him. (1 Kings 19:9-13)

Sometimes the Lord even comes to us in a gentle whisper…if we’re still enough to listen.

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The Power of Encouragement

I just returned from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, a powerful four-day conference not only full of awesome keynote speakers and writers workshops, but full of faith, fellowship, worship and encouragement.  I was honored to have been asked to speak, and presented two workshops which went well…the attendees were appreciative and attentive and I really felt that I was helping them learn something about writing and marketing their books.

But the most powerful experience of the conference was when I met one-on-one with a seasoned literary agent who helped me in my lowest moment of frustration and doubt, and then in turn met with a very young, yet-unpublished writer who was in despair – and I was able to “pay it forward”.  When I sat down that morning with the agent, I was feeling emotional, as I had started to wrestle with doubts as to how to move forward with my next manuscript, and frustration that my book sales aren’t where I want them to be yet. The agent gave me some frank advice, and then prayed with me, asking God for favor for me and my books, which brought me to tears – of grief, healing and gratitude. A few hours later at lunch, a 20-year-old writer asked to sit next to me and proceeded to cry, telling me she felt like she had made a mistake in choosing her publisher, had wasted a lot of time and didn’t see a way out. I gave her some honest advice based on my past experience, and then prayed with her that she find favor as well.  And I realized, in encouraging her, that I was passing on the same message God intended for me through the agent – that He has a plan for each of us and He won’t let us fall if we are obedient and faithful, just putting forth our best efforts to try to know and do His Will.

As I sat and listened to my favorite Bible passage read yesterday in Mass, I was filled with even more encouragement, hope and gratitude. St. Paul told the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). I was reminded that the past four days had been filled with this message as several speakers told their “rags to riches” stories of how they had sacrificed, lost, despaired – and came out on the other side to find hope, favor and success in their writing careers.  And tears fell again as the church congregation sang “Be Not Afraid.”

If you need encouragement this week, don’t be afraid to ask someone to pray with you…and to pay it forward.

 

 

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It’s Weeding Time!

Yesterday’s Gospel reading about the parable of the sowing of seeds reminded me that my “soil” or soul probably needs a little weeding…just like most farms or vegetable gardens at this time of year (and for sure our backyard patio!) Being a writer or storyteller myself,  I love that Jesus often talked in parables or stories full of description so that we of little understanding could get what He was saying – back then and now.

In Matthew’s Gospel (13:1-23), He tells of a farmer who goes to sow his seed; some gets eaten up by the birds, some falls on rocks, some falls in shallow soil and gets scorched, some falls among thorns (or weeds) and got choked, and some falls on good soil and grows and produces crops. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means,” Jesus explains.  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

I have been struggling in trying to grow closer to God despite feeling overwhelmed with my workload and scattered in different directions, in trying to know and do His Will in my writing career despite worrying about a lack of income and difficulties with finances,  in trying to find peace and joy in each day despite feeling worried about the future, and in trying to know Him better by improving my relationships with other people despite worrying they are resisting me because of their own resentments. I see that all of these thoughts and feelings that stand in my way are like weeds…I hear God’s word and start to have a little faith in His care, but then the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” choke it out and I become anxious, irritable and discontent – over and over again.

In another parable immediately following in the same Gospel, Jesus actually talks about weeding! Basically, He says the enemy sows these weeds but the landowner (God) decides not to pull the weeds for fear of uprooting the wheat growing alongside them. This tells me that I should be very careful when pulling out my weeds. If you’ve ever weeded a garden in frustration or impatiently, I’m sure you’ve probably pulled up a plant or two by accident. I’ve done this before and was upset that I actually lost some budding vegetables or fruit I didn’t want to lose. So in getting rid of negative thoughts, worries, negative behaviors or even negative people, I am also reminded to be gentle and loving – so as not to cause harm to myself or others. In another words, when I lay aside feelings of being overwhelmed in my work, I can’t do so and be slothful and just not work at all; when I try to forget my financial worries, I can’t do so and completely forget my financial responsibility to my household; when I try to stay in the day, that doesn’t mean I can’t make plans for the future; and when I try to let go of resentments I feel about others hurting me out of their own resentments, I need to be patient and not cut them off altogether but perhaps give them time and space.

Lord, I pray that you help me be more fruitful by helping me to gently get rid of any thorns or weeds choking my productivity and my spiritual growth. 

 

 

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