Category Archives: Blog

Flash Fiction: Love is a Battlefield

This month’s flash fiction story tells the story of my characters’ past. It was fun for me to explore the history that set them on the path that would lead to the story in my book, Love is Elementary. I hope you enjoy it, and next month, we’ll be headed to the Kentucky Derby–fancy hats and mint juleps.

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Cissy’s eyes drifted up from the dull words of her reading assignment—Killer Angels. No hope for a romantic thread on the battlefield at Gettysburg. She dug her toes under the warm sand. Her surreptitious gaze expertly hidden behind the oversized sunglasses.

As Parker strolled up the beach, he brushed his blond bangs away from his tanned face, revealing his easy smile and eyes the same color as the June sky. Droplets of seawater trailed over his toned chest. High school boys posed no competition.

Cissy’s heart pounded like the marching drum leading General Lee’s army. But she forced her eyes back to the page. At this rate, it would take her all of summer vacation to read about a three-day battle. And if Paisley caught her ogling her brother, she’d never let Cissy hear the end of it. But she glanced back.

Two little girls giggled and nodded as Parker knelt near their beach toys. Together they dug sand, filling a yellow sand castle mold. Parker flipped it over, creating a tower. The girls applauded as Parker stood. So sweet. Too bad she turned down that babysitting job.

“Cissy … Cissy.” Paisley nudged her knee.

“What?” Cissy turned her head, giving her full attention to her friends.

Blair rolled onto her side, striking a pose she’d problem seen in a swimsuit ad.

Paisley adjusted her floppy sunhat. “Good grief. You must really be into that book. Parker loves Civil War History too. Click here to read the rest of the story.

Choosing Time

Time. What an elusive concept. If you follow me on social media, you know we’ve been on a family road trip for the last few days. (I know we shouldn’t be posting about being away from home, but we have an Eagle Scout for a house sitter and watchful neighbors, but in case you’re the one burglar who reads Christian blogs, we’ll be home by the time you read this, and remember I am from South Georgia.) My daughter suggested that we be one of those spontaneous families that stops randomly to see sights along the way. This is the child who hasn’t met a rule she doesn’t love, but I digress. Besides we do make spontaneous stops. Unfortunately, it’s only to visit lovely gas station restrooms because one of my sweethearts didn’t feel like he/she needed to go ten minutes before when we stopped. My brother says that when you’re traveling, every stop takes at least fifteen minutes, no matter what you do, and he’s right. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Those stops, that time adds up, and soon your five-hour trip takes six. (Bet y’all think I’m never going to make a point, but here it comes.)

Isn’t that how the minutes of our day go? One second, I’m sending an email, and I look up an hour later and can’t remember why I got online. People tell me all the time how disciplined I must be with my time to write. I’m so glad you can’t see the way I waste time daily, and then I’ll rationalize it. It’s amazing what can suddenly become research for my next novel when I’m feeling guilty. But this isn’t just about writers and it isn’t just about getting distracted. It’s about using the time we are given and making choices about how we can best use that time. And thank the Lord, it is about margin.

We can’t do everything, and although we can fill every minute, rarely does that result in positive results. Recently, a friend commented to me that she thinks I do a good job of setting boundaries with my time. At the moment, we were having a lovely chat over a cup of coffee. Later that same day, a childhood friend needed to talk and pray, and once again, I was blessed with time to share with her. If I’d packed my day with activities, I wouldn’t have had these moments. A few years ago, I read The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst, and it transformed how I prioritize my time. We all have many opportunities to serve and often must choose between two good choices—two ways to serve. If you’re like me, you start trying to figure out how you can do both, not which is the Best Yes. But that is where we make the mistake.

We need to choose one or neither. Yes, neither. Sometimes we need rest, and it is impossible to give away all our time and believe that we will have the energy to serve effectively. It is at this point that we need to ask God where He wants us.

Lately, I’ve felt overwhelmed with writing projects. I’ve even told God that I need to set aside some time to discuss and plan what He wants me to do and when. Notice I haven’t actually taken the time to pray about it, which is probably why I’m sitting in a hotel room at 8:00 at night trying to complete this post before I go to bed. We all have the tendency to fall back into this trap and get sucked under by the deluge of activities surging at us.

In the car today, I looked to scripture for a little help. I found this verse in Hosea 10:12, “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.”

Isn’t that so true? It is always the time to seek the Lord, and in doing His work, He will bless us with love and righteousness. My family just spent an afternoon in Amish Country, and it provides me with a visual of this sowing and reaping. They were plowing fields, planting seeds, and they will reap the harvest. They are not distracted by the world.

I’m not suggesting I’m giving up my technology, but we can limit our worldly distractions. We can seek God’s will when we choose how we spend our time. We can pray for time to rest and play and spend time loving our friends and family. And we don’t have to make excuses or rationalize because we’ve chosen wisely.

What is one thing that eats up your time? As we draw closer to the cross, what is a way that you can spend more time with God? How will you implement this in your life? Share your thoughts below in the comments section. I’d love to see how you make the most of your time.

St. Patrick’s Courage from God

This Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day, when we celebrate his life and legacy. However, this celebration didn’t begin until 1631, almost 1200 years after his death. Since I love Ireland, I thought I’d do a little research on its patron saint. Maybe you already knew this, my kids did, but Saint Patrick wasn’t a canonized saint, and he wasn’t Irish. I know, shocking, however, I don’t want to focus on what he was not, but what he was—an obedient follower of God, who brought Christianity to Ireland. For the history purist, there was another missionary before Patrick, but he wasn’t very successful, or we might celebrate St. Palladius’ Day. 

Here is some of his story that I gleaned from several websites. Patrick was born around  387. As a teenager, Patrick was kidnapped from Scotland/England and taken to Ireland where he was a slave for several years. During this time he developed a strong faith, clinging to God in the midst of pagan Ireland. Before his captivity, his faith was lackluster at best. After experiencing a vision that led to his rescuers, he escaped his captor, a chieftain, who would eventually become one of his converts. After spending years in a monastery and learning about God, Patrick became a priest and then a bishop. Soon after, he followed God’s call to Ireland. His strategy was to convert the clan chiefs, so they would lead their people to God. However, this was dangerous business and his life was constantly in danger. Eventually, Patrick converted a powerful chief, akin to the king, and baptized him. Patrick spent about forty years ministering to the Irish people and planting churches across the Island. He died on March 17, 461 and is buried in Northern Ireland.

Two parts of his story strike a chord with me. The first part that he didn’t embark on this part of his life until he was forty. It seems it’s never too late for God to change our lives and send us on a mission for him. The second part is the faith and courage it must have taken to approach these pagan chiefs. In his own words, he writes in the Confession, “I [was] a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I [was] looked down upon by many.” This reminds me how God chooses the least likely to his greatest works and the courage that only God can provide in the face of impossible odds.

Tradition holds that St. Patrick wrote the following prayer before meeting with the powerful Irish King. However, some question his authorship. Regardless, the Lorica of St. Patrick is a beautiful expression of our relationship with Jesus and a hymn of protection. A Lorica is the breastplate in a coat of armor, like the one Paul tells us to wear in Ephesians six.

As you celebrate, I pray you keep St. Patrick’s words in your heart and remember they apply to each of us as well. Jesus loves us all and is always with us. God protects us and gives us his mighty power when we do his work just like St. Patrick.

What do you need God’s strength for today? Is God calling you to try something new, serve in a new and even scary way? How will you answer? May this be our prayer every morning. (Many people only pray the bold section; however, I wanted to share it in its entirety.) I loved to hear your thoughts, share below in the comments.

The Lorica of St. Patrick
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind, the depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
That may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

 

Put on Your Armor – by: Jenifer Jennings

My guest blogger this week is Jenifer Jennings, a multi-published author of Biblical Fiction. Jenifer is a great critique partner and helped me with my second flash fiction piece. She loves Bible stories and helps them come alive with her creative and beautiful gift of storytelling. I hope you enjoy her post on Barak and Deborah. It gives us all the chance to remember that God always supplies what we need for success–whether that’s a person or armor.

“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:” -Hebrews 11:32 (KJV)

My favorite book of the Bible is Hebrews. This wonderful book reveals Jesus is some many interesting aspects from Priest to King to Prophet while peeling back the layers of foreshadows and pictures found throughout the Old Testament.

One of my favorite chapters of this book is Chapter Eleven, or what is commonly known as the Hall of Faith.

I enjoy writing about people of faith. When we hear of other’s faith, I believe it can strengthen our own. One such character brought me a tremendously amount of encouragement lately.

His name was Barak.

He was a courageous warrior, but he had put down his sword for twenty years. The book of Judges tells us that after a time of peace, the people of Israel did evil in the sight of God. (Judges 4:1) So, God sends a foreign king to rule over them. Being a defeated warrior, Barak hangs up his battle gear and lives a simple, but oppressed, life under the new king.

I can relate. Can you? There have been many defeats in my life. There have been numerous times I’ve wanted to hang up my battle gear and call it quits.

God sends Deborah, a judge at the time, to give Barak a message. “Warrior, it’s time to get back into the battle.” Barak is filled with uncertainty and requests that Deborah accompany him into battle. She agrees, but warns him that he will not have the victory over the enemy. God would send a woman to be the one who claims the victory for Israel. Barak goes into battle with faith that God would bring it to a swift end.

Barak stages a battle with the fierce enemy who conquers in massive chariots. He and his ten thousand men are outnumbered and the obvious underdogs. Just as the battle gets underway, a storm floods the nearby river causing the battlefield to become a gigantic mud pit. Not so good for chariot wheels. In the heat of battle, the captain of the enemy’s army actually retreats to save his own skin. Barak pursues him.

Searching for a place to hide, the captain comes upon a woman whose husband is loyal to his side. She invites him to hide in her tent and says she would protect him by standing watch and not revealing his hidden location. In a divine turn of ends, while the captain sleeps, this woman takes a tent stake and drives it through the captain’s head, instantly killing him. We aren’t told exactly what prompted her to do this, but God had already given the message that it would be a woman’s through which the victory would come.

With Deborah as the encourager support, Jael as a female double agent for God, and Barak as the willing warrior Israel gains the victory over the enemy and peace is restored in the land for forty years.

Writing about Barak was an eye-opener for me. His story was not on my original list of ones to include for my collection of Biblical short stories entitled “Sacrifice,” but I fell in love with his story and had to put him in. Until I began writing it, I never realized how much I was like Barak in life and like Deborah in my writing career. There have been places I’ve taken off my armor and it’s time to get back in the battle. My goal in writing is to be that Deborah encouraging voice in my reader’s lives saying, “God is bigger than anything you’re facing right now. Put your armor back on, warrior, and let’s get back to work for Him.”

If you’d like to read Barak’s story and others found in “Sacrifice” you can find all links here: jeniferjennings.com/sacrifice.

Jenifer is a wife and mother first, though writing is her soul’s desire. She takes Biblical accounts, weaves in historical resources, and adds a dash of fiction to create stories that encourage readers to take their next step of faith.
She married the man of her dreams who reminds her everyday what real love feels like. Together, they are raising two amazing children who keep them laughing.
With a degree in Church Ministry from Trinity Baptist College and an active member of Word Weavers International, Jenifer is always learning.

Her deepest longing is to show Jesus’ love by encouraging others through her writing. Jenifer is a wife and mother first, though writing is her soul’s desire. She takes Biblical accounts, weaves in historical resources, and adds a dash of fiction to create stories that encourage readers to take their next step of faith.

Practice in the Waiting

With the Winter Olympics wrapping up, I need to confess that I have failed to watch more than a couple of videos on Facebook of some of the highlights. However, watching even a few minutes of Shaun White tumbling through the air high above the ground reminds me of the commitment to practice and determination that is required to compete on this level. We don’t get see the bruises and tears—the sheer exhaustion that must come at the end of a week of training. Most of us can’t imagine the kind of dedication it takes to become an Olympic athlete. Most of them won’t stand on the podium, and yet they keep practicing, striving for that goal. Some will fail but return more mature, stronger, more agile. Maybe it will be their time, and they will win but what if they don’t?

More to the point, what are us average humans striving for? Some days, I’m patting myself on the back because I figured out a way to make supper without returning to the grocery store. I mean, sometimes that takes real ingenuity.

  A year ago I attended the Florida Christian Writers Conference. I had just completed my third book and spent significant time honing my skills. I cringe to think I actually let people read my first book, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say, after reading several craft books and listening to experts, my writing had improved. Most of you know that I found a great deal of success at the conference, so I won’t bore you with those details. (Click here to read that post. ) I really thought I was ready for publication. I had an agent and two books—wasn’t it my time? Apparently not, but I say that with thanksgiving. Since that time, I have learned so much more about writing and the publishing world. When I spoke to my writing coach and mentor yesterday, she even mentioned how much stronger my writing is now than it was then. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the picture of patience. I detour into doubt. But there’s something about training to be better, trying new things, and exploring alternative approaches that keep me going. Looking back even six months, I know I wasn’t ready. In the process and the practice, I know God is preparing me for just the right time.

“He has planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:40).

Few of us will win the big prizes, so where does that leave us? I’m so excited to let you know: it leaves us with Jesus. In this reality, we are just like the athlete wearing a gold medal. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Co. 9:24-25). I’m thinking that crown might just rival a gold medal.

Granted some days, it feels like we’re swimming against the tide, but God is always working. He has marked out a race for us. Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance with our eyes fixed on Jesus. (Heb. 12:1-2). When our patience is growing thin and our faith is shallow, we must remember that God works in his time and that what we are learning while we wait may be just the thing we need when it is time. I love that I can look back and see how my writing has improved with practice (Well, maybe love is a little strong, but I’m certainly encouraged that the time has been well spent.) What’s even more important is that I can see how I’ve grown in my faith, and hopefully, when God asks me to do something for him, I will be ready. I know I will be ready to give him the glory because he has molded me into the right person for the right race.

When the drills seem too difficult or the rejection too hard remember this: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Phil. 1:6

What are you practicing for today? What is hindering you from following God’s calling?

Complaining about Blessings

Recently, I’ve become sensitive to people complaining about what I would consider blessings, and I’m almost certain they would as well. With our abundance of things and activities, we become burdened by the very blessings we sought. But for me, the real zinger is when we complain to a person about a problem that she would be happy to have because that means she would also have the blessing. Have you ever realized you were doing this? I didn’t until I was on the other side. When the person is complaining about the very thing, the very activity that I’ve been praying and working to obtain, I think how happy I’d be to have that problem. I just know I’d never complain about it; at least that’s what I like to tell myself.

In Philippians, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (Phil. 4:11-14)

Honestly, when I read those words, and I think about the living conditions of people around the world, I’m embarrassed that I complain about anything. However, I am comforted that Paul continues to be thankful for someone to share his troubles. What is it to understand our blessings, to be content?

This year for Lent, my family is giving up complaining. I know it sounds crazy, and we will likely fail miserably, but we think it’s an experiment worth trying. But there’s more to this plan. For every complaint, the person must put a quarter in a jar and write on a chart the complaint and the blessing. (My daughter said to take her to the bank to trade out a twenty for a couple of rolls of quarters.) At the end of Lent, we will donate the money to the City Rescue Mission. These people have real needs—real problems. Hopefully, we will learn how blessed we truly are and maybe it will be something that we consider before we open our mouths in the future. If nothing else, a good charity will benefit a lot. One trip to Libby’s school during rush hour should result in several dollars.

What are you doing for Lent this year? Are you giving something up or adding something beneficial? As we draw closer to the cross, I pray that this year we can all gain a greater perspective of God’s amazing blessing of grace.

Southern Sands Newsletter

Happy end of January! How did that happen? I’m still writing 2017 on everything. My family went on a ski trip to Breckenridge, Colorado at the beginning of the month. Then we spent a week recovering from the National Championship game. Why can’t they start those things earlier?

At the end of November, my agent sent my first book proposal to several acquisitions editors. One of them said she liked my voice, which was very nice to hear even though she didn’t contract the book. We are still waiting to hear on the rest, so please keep those prayers coming. My word for this year is ‘rejoice,’ so I’d sure like to be rejoicing over a contract instead of the strawberries being buy-one-get-one-free at Publix.

I keep reminding myself  of Paul’s words: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6

So while I wait faithfully and patiently (ha, ha), I’ve been binge writing.  I’ve found that it’s easier for me to write two-thousand words in a day than five hundred.  I finished a first draft of a book Sunday afternoon, and I am trying to add a subplot to finish another one by the end of the month. With long sessions of writing, I believe I’m starting to experience a writer’s high much like runner’s high. It kind of feels like being in a dream. Which brings us to another casualty of binge writing, persistent characters that want to discuss their storylines at three in the morning.  This results in me dashing to the kitchen to find a scrap of paper and a pen or a purple marker and jot notes. I certainly wouldn’t trust my characters to remind me of their brilliant idea, and I know I won’t be able to remember it.

One of my favorite parts of writing are conferences. I will be attending the Florida Christian Writers Conference a the end of February, and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference at the end of May. Besides learning from professionals, there is time to meet new friends and enjoy old ones. It’s nice to hear other people share the same doubts and hopes as me. In preparation, I decided to have new headshots taken for my business cards. Of course, the day I met the photographer at Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island it was forty-four degrees and falling. I wanted the pictures to look like the summer, so I was in a sleeveless top and barefoot. I’m still surprised a didn’t lose a toe to frostbite, but the pictures are fantastic, so it was worth it.

I hope your year is off to a great start. I would love to pray for you. What is going on in your life? Do you have a dream? Has God planted a seed in your heart? Comment below on the website or in an email.

 

 

A Rage of Foregiveness

Must she forgive him daily? Paige snatched the hedge clippers from the hook on the garage wall. Roses symbolized love, but Brick’s garden of blooms only reminded her of his infidelity. They wouldn’t torment her any longer.

She marched to the front of the house—the tool of horticulture annihilation held above her head like a sword for battle. Paige breached the last line of defense, the porch stairs that surrounded the plants, and stepped into Brick’s sanctuary. The dense humidity made the air thick with their fragrance. The sweet scent slapped her, thwarting her advance. Her breath caught. A memory tugged at her heart—more bitter, than sweet. She shoved it under before it surfaced from where she’d tried to drown it. Heat rose in her like mercury in the thermometer on a midsummer’s day.

Forgiveness.

“Fine, God!” Paige looked to the heavens and waved the clippers in the air. “I forgive him for cheating on me with St. Simons Island’s most decorated good time girl!” She snapped a thorny limb. “I forgive him for making me the number one prayer request at the church ladies’ circle meetings with a healthy dose of ‘bless her heart’ to disguise their gossip.” Chop!  “I forgive him for exploiting my talents to further his career, insisting I stage houses for mediocre photographers when I should’ve been capturing your creation.”

Snap! She hacked a large branch—a shower of scarlet petals fell to the ground. The roses suffocated her with their pungent perfume.

Forgive Brick.

“Really, God?” Guilt, like a thorn, punctured her heart. “Fine. Brick, I forgive you for spending more time cultivating these ridiculous flowers than you spent nurturing our marriage. I forgive you for never standing up for me to your parents.” With the back of her free hand, she swatted away the traitorous tears rolling over her cheeks. “I forgive you for insisting we name our precious daughter after your over-bearing mother.”

“And Brick,” she raised the shears at the last blushing bloom. “I forgive you for breaking your promises to love and cherish me and most of all, that our life would be wonderful.” Excerpted from Island Love is Stormy by Leslie DeVooght

Wow! That’s not the way my Sunday school teacher taught me to forgive people. But don’t you connect with Paige? Haven’t we all been hurt so badly by someone we loved and trusted that forgiveness seemed impossible? We know we shouldn’t hold a grudge, but sometimes it’s so hard to grant grace.

And really why should we? I mean other than Jesus tells us to. Okay, so that’s a pretty persuasive reason. But what about punishment? What about justice? What about that scoundrel getting his due?

But what if God used that kind of logic with us? Ouch. Don’t worry he doesn’t. His grace is all-encompassing. He pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance. He does not stay angry forever but delights to show mercy. He will always have compassion on us, and he treads our sins underfoot and hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. See Micah 7:18-19 Can I get an Amen?

For me, it’s hardest to forgive people who hurt my children. I want to fight for them. I want the meanie to say he’s sorry. I want them to cry like they made my baby cry. As a matter of fact, sometimes I secretly plot ways to do it. Then I remember that’s not what Jesus wants from me, and I pray for strength to forgive.

Forgiveness requires God. We simply can’t do it with our own power. When we start praying for those that have wronged us, our hearts are softened, and we can let them go. I think these ideas border on controversial in today’s society, but we need to forgive to be free—to be joyful.

Honestly, sometimes I think forgiveness may be a little selfish because of how much it helps me move on. The only one you hurt when you fail to forgive is yourself. It eats at you and controls you, while the offender often has no idea of your bitterness. Meanwhile, you exhaust yourself concocting ways to get even or you alter your life and avoid your friends and family to avoid the person who has wronged you. So while we’re sitting at home wallowing in bitterness, she’s at the party having a great time. Is that the justice we so desperately sought?

Friends, as we start this New Year, let’s take time to forgive. Let’s resolve to forgive even if it’s in a fit of rage—even if you have to forgive the same person every day, ten times a day. We owe it to ourselves, but most of all we owe it to God.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-23

In what circumstances do you find it most difficult to forgive?

 

Rejoice – A Word for 2018

“The angel of the Lord said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people!’” Luke 2:10 (Exclamation point added by me, but don’t you think if there’s a place to put one, it’s here.)

As we move on from Christmas and into the New Year, I’m pausing to reflect on the past and consider the future. Mostly because, as seems to be my habit, I get sick in December, and this year is no exception, so I’m writing this post through a fog of cold medicine and blurry eyes with a persistent runny nose.

But while I pause because I’m not feeling great, I hope you also pause to pray, meditate, and choose  . . . a word. That’s right, one word that you will focus on in the next year. Not a list of new year’s resolutions, just a word. Author Beth Vogt gives this challenge every year, and this year, I’m giving it a go. Although I think I probably do this without knowing it every year. Last year, my word would have been hope or delight, and the year before perseverance. This year my word will be REJOICE. 

With this in mind, being a research nerd and Bible geek, I began looking up verses, and immediately landed in Romans chapter five and knew that God had been preparing me for this word. In my Bible study group, two weeks in a row, I was asked to read these verses. The first week the words caught in my throat and brought tears to my eyes, but the next week I read it with gusto, and now, I think they will be my verses for the year. Here they are:

We Rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:2-5

Even as I type those verses, I see my other words and know that this is the place I want to dwell this year. However, just when I thought I discovered the perfect “rejoice” verse, I received my new Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. Oh, yeah, so excited, I ripped off the plastic and danced to my writing spot. I just knew when I looked up “my verse,” there was going to be this beautiful, inspirational definition in Greek or Hebrew that would bless me with deep meaning. And I would then write the most insightful blog post ever written. It would go viral, and editors would be calling my agent begging to publish my novel. Wow! That would have been fantastic, but it was not to be.

As I read Romans Five in my study Bible, it didn’t even use the word Rejoice. I couldn’t believe it. It said Exalt, but then I remembered what Andi Lee, author of a Mary Like Me, wrote: if different translations use different words than it might mean something, so once again I pulled the cap off my highlighter and searched the cross-references. At this point, I remind you, I’m really not feeling well, so I needed to find something and fast.

And there it was. Halleluiah! (Can’t you hear the angels singing? Or is that the cold medicine?)

Rejoice is a synonym for exalt, but what is really exciting was all of the ways these words work together throughout the Bible. With the words on the page literally swirling, I found something that will keep me studying these words all year. But for now, hear this, rejoice and exult can mean leap for joy. I love that and that is what I want to do every morning, maybe not so much after a long day.

This year I want to learn to rejoice regardless of my circumstances, and although this may seem like a ridiculous goal if you’re not a believer, it is what having the Holy Spirit in you means. Friends, I hope and pray that this year we will rejoice together, and we can leap for joy because we are filled with Holy Spirit.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

May you grab hold of the peace God gives and rejoice.

What word will you focus on this year? Leave your comments below. I’d love to pray with you.

An Aspiring Author’s Christmas Wish List

What do you want for Christmas? The question on everyone’s minds this time of year. Someone recently asked me, and my sassy spirit almost responded honestly. I want a book CONTRACT! Seriously, as an aspiring author is that too much to ask? A love may have been all Mariah Carey wanted but I want an acquisitions editor to call my agent and say those magic words. “We want to acquire this book for publication.” From here, I started to write my Christmas wish list.

An Aspiring Author’s Christmas Wish List

  1. Book Contract with a Major Publisher – I mean, if you’re going to ask, may as well go big. By the way, my agent sent my book proposal out to publishers at the end of November, so prayers are appreciated. Although if you happen to be one of the editors who received my proposal, I’ll take a contract with your prayer, please.
  2. Ten Thousand Followers on Social Media – Some of you have been an audience to my begging, but publishers look at these numbers to determine if you can sell books. Ten thousand followers seems to be a magic number. My high school Sunday school class students and my daughter would also appreciate this gift, so they could gain some relief from my weekly, okay daily, Instagram follower updates. Just in case you want to help, here are the links:

Instagram – @lesliedevooght

Facebook – Leslie Kirby DeVooght- Author Page

Twitter – Leslie DeVooght- Twitter

  1. A Box of Assistants, including a Personal Assistant, Web Designer, Editor, Cook, Carpool driver, and Blog Writer. – I’m throwing everyone in here because we only allow our children three gifts at Christmas. We are of the opinion, if three gifts were good enough for Jesus, then it’s enough for our children. (Don’t worry. Their Grammy and Nana totally violate the rule.) Last year, our daughter devised the Box gift. She asked for a “Camp Box” which included a battery-operated fan, bandanas, a bunk hook, compact sleeping bag, and an Eno hammock. This is the definition of loophole, but when both of your parents are attorneys, we call it creativity.

As this year draws to an end, I was asked what my greatest writing accomplishment was for the year. As I responded, I became aware of how big God has blessed me. This time last year, all I hoped for was a writing coach. Well, I found her in February. Thank you God for the gift of Lindsey Brackett, but he didn’t stop with my short list. He blessed me with contest wins, two published flash fiction pieces, and signing with the Steve Laube Literary Agency, not to mention all of the wonderful friends I have made.

Yes, I’ve had several losses and setbacks this year, but I choose to focus on the blessings. For the gifts that went beyond what I desired and was not bold enough to ask for, but received anyway. God is so good.

How has God blessed you in 2017? What is your Christmas dream gift?