Yesterday my husband and I went on a hike in nearby Fair Hill, Maryland. The scenery was stunning this time of year and there were so many neat things to see. We walked several miles of trails and saw trees of many colors reflected in a stream, a historic covered bridge, old stone buildings, magnificent trees in the middle of vast fields, and of course many beautiful horses (for those who don’t know, Fair Hill is horse country). As I hiked I thought to myself, I can’t believe I have lived in my current home for nearly 13 years and have never taken advantage of hiking these beautiful trails that are a short drive away. And then when I got home, I looked in my backyard and took a picture (seen here) and thought, I also have beauty in my own backyard! So many times I’m guilty of wanting to be somewhere else – far, far away in exotic lands – and missing what’s right in front of me – or of wanting more (usually money) instead of realizing how much I already have. Yesterday reminded me that I have many riches in my own backyard: a comfortable home, people who love me, sights to see and much to do with my time. King Solomon, one of the wisest people in the Bible, warned us not to seek more riches but to be grateful for what we have. (True, he was extremely rich, but ended up seeking more which eventually led to his downfall). The Bible says “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10-14.) I know there’s much debate about whether or not God wants us to be rich. I don’t think He frowns on riches, just the pursuit of them beyond all else. All I know for sure is that He wants us to be grateful for what He has given us. The Bible also says “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5a). I can also be guilty of trying to “find God” and feeling frustrated I cannot – when He is also right there in my own backyard – in the nature that surrounds me and in the Bible sitting right there on my table. Lord, let me be content with all of the riches You have given me, and with the knowledge that I can find you right here where I am.
Wait a minute…it’s fall? Already? You might ask, ‘where have you been, it started a month ago!’ But I’m one of those people who cling stubbornly to the last shreds of summer, hesitating as long as possible to acknowledge the season that soon gives way to winter. Give me one more time at the beach, in the sun, in the ocean…and then I feel sad as I finally, reluctantly put away my shorts and get out my sweaters and decorate with pumpkins (I know, some of you love this stuff). I know I need to appreciate this season, no matter what it brings my way…and neither lament on seasons past nor fear what lies ahead, including winter, on the horizon. Right now I am in a season of “birthing” – I am birthing a new book and in ways it is a lot like having a baby! (hard work, painful but I know in the end, when I hold the finished product, I will feel joyful.) What season are you in? Maybe it is a time of grieving, loss, sadness. But that season will always give way to a new beginning if you stay open, alert and hopeful. Just like fall turns to winter, I know winter will also give way to spring – and summer again! So why not try to find some joy and happiness even in the tough times…it’s there if we stay in the moment, not clinging to the past nor looking wistfully to the future but using all of our senses to appreciate the good today holds. And so I take a walk and see the vivid colors of the trees, hear the geese flying overhead, smell a wood fire, feel invigorated by the brisk air, and come home and bite into a tart juicy apple. Even the frost on the ground is new and beautiful. Everyone is probably familiar with the Bible passage by Saint Paul (made famous in the song by the Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” that says “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to be born, a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) But the writer (scholars say probably King Solomon) goes on to ruminate on what’s it all for? what’s life all about? “…What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor–it is the gift of God.” To rejoice and to do good. I can do that just for today…and leave the rest up to God.
I was one of a few brave and crazy souls who went swimming in the ocean in Delaware this past warm October weekend. It was exhilarating (seventy degrees, cold enough to take my breath away at first, but then as I swam, refreshing and invigorating). The ocean never fails to bring me joy and bring me closer to God. It can be scary too, when a series of huge waves keeps crashing, or when you’re caught in an undertow and feel like you can’t get back to shore. That’s when you just go with the flow, or ride the tide, as they say, until you get through it and get back safely. But what if I was always fearful of the big waves, undertow and cold and never felt the sheer joy of swimming in it? I would miss out. The same holds true I think for following your dreams. If I didn’t take the risk of “putting myself out there” on the page with my writing, I would never feel the joy of discovering I can create a good book, connect with others, and most of all, find fulfillment in following God’s call. But it’s not easy. I get tired, distracted…it’s easier to lay in the sun and read then make the effort to jump in – to the ocean or making those final edits. Columbus said, “By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” And he also believed he needed God and needed to do His Will. He said, “I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely” and “No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Saviour, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.” Just like Columbus, the Israelites had to have courage and faith to reach the Promised Land. Moses told them “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid…for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt 31:6-7) Both Columbus and the Israelites made mistakes and sinned numerous times along the way. But they persevered and ultimately reached their destinations. I must not be afraid to take the risk of discovery, to stay focused on my goal, and have faith that God (through the gentle wind of the Holy Spirit) will help me get closer to reaching the next horizon.
I just finished my final edits on my newest novel, The Runaway Prophet, a modern-day story based on the Bible’s Book of Jonah, and submitted it to my publisher. You would think I’d look (or at least feel) like the girl in the picture here. But my exhilaration at having completed my book is tempered somewhat by the old “fears” of failure…and success. Of course, I know most fear is F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real). For example there are the “what if’s” – what if it doesn’t become a best-seller, what if it doesn’t “take off”…etc. And then I realize I really do believe in myself and my work – and this third novel will be and do even better with a new, bigger publisher and an agent who has stood behind me and fortunately, a husband and friends who support me every step of the way, for which I am supremely grateful. But then, what if it does take off…will I be able to sustain sales and success and rise to the increased challenges of becoming a national best-seller? (Of course, my answer is “yes!” But it still feels a bit overwhelming when I stop to think about all of the work it will take to get there!) I am reminded it all comes back to my faith that God will guide me along the way if I listen to Him, that everything will happen in His time, and that He didn’t put this dream in my heart without a reason. “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.” the apostle Paul tells us. (Romans 8:28), which happens to be my favorite Bible passage. So today, I will be grateful and joyful – and pat myself on the back. After all, we are God’s hearts and hands here on earth. And since I can’t physically reach out and pat you on the back, go ahead…you deserve it.