Remember who God is

I taught a workshop in Midland, TX, last September. It wasn’t anything super spectacular, although the feedback I got confirmed that my explanation of plot structure was enlightening. But I remember standing up in front of a room full of authors and asking myself how I’d gotten there.

Yes, I’ve been writing for a long time. Yes, I’ve been a successful writer for many years. But I’m still learning. I learn something new about writing and storytelling and editing every day, and I feel like the least qualified person to stand up and teach a room of writers about plot structure.

Have you ever felt that way?

Like you’re the last person who should be teaching others? But the way life ended up working out taught you things that other people wanted to learn. That’s kind of how I feel about my teaching. Except I fully believe that life doesn’t just work out. Nothing about life is random, and the moments that feel random don’t last long because there’s a bigger story unfolding in the background.

Nothing happens to God’s children by accident (Isaiah 46:9-10). Everything He allows into our lives and our experiences is something He has already seen coming. That doesn’t mean He is the cause of the negativity and the badness we experience, but it does mean that He’s already seen the end of it and knows how to turn it into something beautiful.

Remember who God isGod is big enough to take the darkest moments of our life and change them into something that brings light to others. Sure, it stinks while we’re going through some of those tough moments, but if we can hold on to the truth of Who God is and what He does, we’ll thrive even in seasons of drought or fire or darkness.

God redeems. He takes broken things and makes them beautiful. He takes empty vessels and fills them with treasure. He takes someone with a collection of seemingly random experiences and makes them a expert that others seek out for knowledge.

Throughout the entire length and breadth of the Bible, that’s the story God tells. That’s the role He plays in the story—the Redeemer (Isaiah 48:17). The one who buys back the broken.

But He doesn’t stop there.

He could only buy back broken things, and He would be the greatest Hero in the universe. But He takes it a step further. He not only redeems. He restores. He takes those years you think you wasted and turns them into something that can help other people. He takes the never-ending time you spent waiting on something and makes it into valuable experience you can use in a career or a relationship. He uses the hurt and the pain and the scars you thought had no purpose to bless others.

He buys back the broken, yes, but He makes the broken beautiful too. That’s who God is. (Isaiah 61:3)

So if you’re in a dark season right now, remember who God is. If you’re waiting, embrace it and enjoy the season where you’re totally relying on God. If you’re hurting, recognize that God isn’t the one hurting you, and that He can turn your mourning into joyous dancing. If you’re struggling with a load that’s too heavy for you to bear, remember that God’s shoulders are wide enough to carry all your troubles.

Psalm 113:7-9Remember who God is. He honors the poor, He carries the weak, and He provides for those in need without reluctance or discrimination (Psalm 113:7-9).

Dark seasons don’t last forever, and when it’s over God will make beauty from the ashes. That’s a promise, and He always keeps His promises.

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God keeps track so I don’t have to

Have you ever been so far behind that you’ve got practically no chance of catching up in your lifetime? Have you ever been so surrounded by chaos and craziness that you can’t keep your head above the waves no matter how good a swimmer you are? Have you ever trusted someone to help you stand up after life has beaten you down only to feel the shock of them kicking you while you’re too tired to defend yourself?

Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. How about you?

This isn’t a very good blog post.

Since last fall I’ve tried to make these posts deep and rich, full of more than one Bible reference and practical stories from life. But today’s post isn’t going to be like that, simply because I haven’t been able to write that kind of post.

But what’s true in the long, deep, rich posts is true in smaller posts like this one: God is always good, even when your situation isn’t; He never makes mistakes; and He always keeps His promises.

When I reach low points in my life, I run to the Psalms. It’s reassuring to me to read the words of the writers, especially the Psalms of David. David asked God hard questions. “Where are you?” and “How long will you be angry with me?” and “Why are these horrible things happening?” and “Why have my friends turned against me?”

There are no easy answers. God didn’t respond with platitudes or religious verbiage. He didn’t wave the questions away as though they didn’t matter. Instead He granted David (and the other Psalm writers) an understanding of Who He is.

Psalm 56

O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me.
But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

They are always twisting what I say;
they spend their days plotting to harm me.
They come together to spy on me—
watching my every step, eager to kill me.
Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;
in your anger, O God, bring them down.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side!
I praise God for what he has promised;
yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
For you have rescued me from death;
you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
in your life-giving light.

Not an overused religious cliche in sight, right? David doesn’t pull any punches when he’s talking about the state of the world and the kinds of people who want to destroy him. And I don’t know about you, but some of that sounds awfully familiar to me.

Everyone has people in their lives who are hurtful. We all have relationships that aren’t healthy in some way or another. And maybe no one is actively trying to kill you (I hope not, at least), I’d be willing to bet there are several who are trying to hurt your reputation. Maybe they’re even succeeding. But don’t give up. 

God isn’t blind. He isn’t ignoring you. And He isn’t ignoring them either.

But just because they’re getting away with it now doesn’t mean they’ll get away with it forever. Just because your life is rocky and crazy and overwhelming and frustrating right now doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way. Just because there are people and obstacles in your path that are causing destruction and pain right now doesn’t mean they’ll always be there.

Things may be tough right now, but God hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead of being angry and upset at Him for your life going differently than you wanted, spend the time asking Him what He has planned. Trust me, His plan is better anyway. Just trust Him. Do what He says is right. And keep moving forward.

Give God time to keep His promise

I try to control too many things. But I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, so I’m not entirely sure when it started. I just have this driving urge to keep a handle on life so it won’t get away from me. Which is ridiculous, as any self-respecting Christ-follower knows (Luke 17:33). But, hey, I’m being honest here.

I try to control the silliest things too. When I go grocery shopping, I try to think of everything I need for about a month. Grocery stores aren’t exactly convenient to where I live, so it’s easier to make one big trip. But that means I have to plan ahead. That means I have to make meal plans. That means designing several different meals all at once and hoping that life doesn’t go crazy between shopping trips.

The trouble is, life always goes crazy. Life always screws up my plans, and usually I’m left with expired produce, questionable meat, or stale crackers. And none of that would have happened if I’d planned a week in advance rather than a month.

I’m not saying don’t plan. But what I am saying is don’t rush ahead too far, because you never know what curve balls are going to come at you.

Life will take crazy twists and turns. God will lead you down paths you never dreamed possible. He may take you down roads you never even thought you wanted to go down, and somewhere along the way you’ll realize you never belonged anywhere else. But that’s all part of His promise (Psalm 37:4). And God can be trusted to keep His promises (Hebrews 10:23).

But that means we have to wait.

I hate waiting. Maybe you didn’t know that about me. Unlikely if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time. Waiting is my least favorite thing.

At least, it used to be. God has been working on my old stubborn Scottish heart this past year, and I’ve begun to see the joy we can have when we release the things that scare us and trust God completely.

I had to go there several times in 2016. More than once, I had to pry my own hands off of my life and hand it over to God. And then I had to sit and wait and trust and pray, and that was literally all I could do.

No, I should clarify. It was all I did, but I could have done several other things.

I could have gone back to the corporate world and asked for my job back. I could have gone to my many loving and supportive friends and asked for a loan, just big enough so that I could afford groceries for the next month. I could have gone to a pawn shop and sold anything I had of value (I’m not joking, the thought did occur to me).

I could have done any of those things, but one question kept hovering at the back of my mind: “Do you trust God or not?”

I told Him at the beginning of this journey that I wanted to rely on faith rather than finances. I told Him I didn’t care what was coming, that I wanted to place my trust and my life and my future entirely in His hands. And if this was the life I was supposed to be living, I needed Him to provide for me, and if it wasn’t, I needed Him to stop.

Good gracious, friends, be careful what you ask for. Because God will hold you to declarations like that.

A few times throughout last year I thought God had stopped providing, but that was because I was planning too far ahead. So I started looking at life differently. I woke up every morning and thanked God for what I had that day, because every day I had what I needed for that day. And when tomorrow arrived, I would have what I needed then. God just wouldn’t always let me know ahead of time.

That is the recurring tale of my 2016. Until the end of December when God opened his storehouses and poured some major blessings on my silly head—blessings enough to provide over and above what I had expected for 2017.

While part of me is concerned He’s providing this much this quickly and telling me about it, the louder part of me is simply choosing to be thankful. I don’t want to forget what He’s taught me this year. Even if I have enough for months and months, it could still all be lost in an instant.

God has to be enough. Just God. Not money. Not possessions. Not power or influence or book sales or car maintenance or health insurance. All those things are wonderful blessings, but God is enough for me. He’s enough to provide what I need when I need it, and He doesn’t have to tell me what He’s doing or when He’s doing it. He’s God. He’s got a plan. He’s working everything out for my good. (Romans 8:28)

My part in this story is to be still. To trust. To wait. My responsibility is to give God time to keep the promises He’s made me, because He will. He always has, and He always blows me away with His goodness and generosity.

Are you trying to control your life? What about your finances or your health or people in your life? You can’t. You need to let go and give it to God and trust that He will work things out. And once you do that, you need to wait.

Even if it feels like you’re standing still. Even if it feels like you’re wasting time. Even when it feels like you should be doing something—anything. Just wait.

You’ll see the door when He opens it. There won’t be any doubt in your mind.

How a blanket reminded me that God’s way is always better

We’re getting ready for a new resident at Safe Haven Farm. I haven’t really said too much about it because I wasn’t sure how everything was going to work out, but because of some visa issues, my best friend who has been living in England for 2.5 years is coming back to Kansas. And we’re super excited that she’s going to be moving in here at the farm! But I can’t give her back her old room from the six months she lived here during her last furlough. That room has since been converted into an office and shipping area for my crazy book business, so the only room I’ve got for her is–get ready for it–my old closet.

Now, truth be told, the closets here at the farm are pretty massive. I’ve had a guest room in one for the last few months, and it works just fine. So she’ll have plenty of room. My only concern is the fact that the second floor of the farm still has no heat or air conditioning, and the winter months are coming. It gets freakin’ cold up here. I acclimate really fast, and I’m super hot blooded, so it doesn’t bother me. But I wanted to make sure that my friend wouldn’t freeze to death.

My plan was to buy a little infrared heater and an electric blanket for her room, but there was just a tiny little problem. I don’t have a steady paycheck anymore, and I don’t just have $50 laying around that I can invest in heaters or electric blankets. And, good grief, electric blankets are pricey!

But God’s been teaching me a lot about trusting him over the past 10 months or so. In the past, I would have just rushed out and purchased what I needed, but this time, I wanted to leave it up to Him. So that’s what I did.

Shortly thereafter, I found a cute little electric heater on sale for $10 at Wal-Mart, and it’s perfect. And yesterday as I was cleaning out another closet that my friend can use for storage and clothing, you’ll never guess what I found. That’s right–a practically new twin-size electric blanket. We didn’t even know we had it. It’s just been sitting in a pile of plastic bags in this old closet upstairs for who knows how long.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a miracle of provision to anyone else, and that’s fine. But it’s exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. And I walked around all day long yesterday just grinning ear to ear because God took care of a need, and I didn’t have to do anything about it. And that, Christians, is exactly how we’re supposed to live.

The second floor guest bedroom (aka my old closet) at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The second floor guest bedroom (aka my old closet) at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:19.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Over and over and over again, the Bible tells us that God will provide for us. Over and over and over again, I experience His blessings on a daily basis, but there’s something in my brain that keeps me from grasping that He isn’t going to stop providing for me. There’s this idea in my head that tells me one day He won’t come through, one day He’ll realize that I’m not worth His time.

I’ve given God every reason to give up on me. He knows my heart. He knows how screwed up I get sometimes. He knows that I struggle to trust Him. And if He hasn’t given up on me yet, He isn’t going to.

But I think we look at God’s provision with a skewed perspective. It’s not wrong to ask God for what we need. It’s not even wrong to ask God for what we want. But where is your heart when you ask Him for something? If you ask God for something and He doesn’t deliver, do you get upset? Do you take it out on Him? Do you walk away from Him because you think He’s a liar or a trickster?

If that’s your response when God doesn’t give you your way, your heart isn’t in the right place about what you’re asking for.

God has promised to provide everything we need, and He always keeps His promises. I needed a heater and an electric blanket, and I decided to sit back and let Him provide them instead of rushing out ahead of Him to get them myself. And He came through. And if He can come through so perfectly on something like this, He’ll absolutely come through on the bigger things. I just have to have the same faith and patience about the big issues in life as I do about the small issues.

What are you asking God for today? Or have you asked Him for something and then turned away from Him because He didn’t give you what you wanted? Don’t walk away because you didn’t get your way. His way is always better.

Ask, ask, and ask again

Do you remember Christmas as a child? Every year, there was something specific you wanted. You would write it down on a list or tell people that’s what you wanted months and months in advance. Did you ever forget that’s what you wanted? Did it ever slip your mind?

No. It wouldn’t have, because you were focused on it. It’s what you wanted, so that’s what you thought about. It colored everything. When you’d go into a store, maybe you’d even see that one thing you wanted so desperately, but you wouldn’t buy it. Even if you had the money to do so, you wouldn’t, because it’s what you’d asked for, and you might be getting it as a present.

Sure, you’d asked for it, and you didn’t have it yet. But yet was the operative word.

739BBHC8KM_1382x922Today’s verses are Matthew 7:7-8.

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus was a fan of persistence. There were many instances throughout Scripture where He encouraged His disciples and His followers to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to think outside the box and never give up or give in just because it was popular.

I’m afraid to ask God for things because I think He might not do what I want. I’m afraid of putting my faith in Him completely and trusting that He’ll give me what I’m asking for because what if He doesn’t? What if I’m asking for the wrong things and He doesn’t give me what I’ve asked for?

I’m not old, but I’ve been following Jesus for a long time. And I can honestly say He’s never let me down, and He’s never broken a promise to me. Sure, there have been times when I felt like He did, but that’s because I didn’t see the bigger picture.

I tried writing for myself years ago, and it didn’t work. I dropped everything and dedicated myself to getting published. I barely lasted six months because I didn’t have enough in savings to support myself in the interim. The day I had to shut down my office and go back to a regular job felt like failure, felt like the end of a dream, felt like God had promised me something only to take it away.

But that wasn’t the case at all. And those six months weren’t wasted. I learned a lot during that time, mostly that I wasn’t ready to work for myself yet. I needed time and experience, and I needed to make connections with people I didn’t even know yet.

I asked God to allow me to write for a living, and He made that happen, first by preparing the way for me to get an awesome job as a copywriter. Then, He made it happen again by opening the doors to allow me to go into business for myself.

God gave me what I asked for, but I kept asking for it. I didn’t give up. Writing for myself (for His glory, of course) had always been my dream, and it colored everything I did. It was something I knew I would do whether I could get paid for it or not.

What I’ve learned about asking is that if you keep asking, it helps you stay focused on what you really want. If you ask for something and then stop, you must not really want it.

So ask. Then, ask again. And keep asking until you get it. It’s not nagging. It’s not pestering. It’s a way to stay focused on your dream, and as long as your dream brings glory to God, He’ll help you achieve it. It won’t be on your timetable (trust me on that one), but you’ll get there.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God listens better than we give Him credit

Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t listen. I know He does, but what I know and what I feel isn’t always the same. And I’ve been around long enough to trust what I know more than what I feel, but sometimes life gets to a certain point where you just can’t help it. You feel like a nail that’s being pounded into unforgiving wood by a sledgehammer that does more to bend it than drive it in. And no matter how much you ask for mercy, more trouble keeps coming.

In those moments, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He’s not listening. Otherwise, if He cared, if He listened, why would He let so much bad happen in our lives? I don’t believe that God brings bad things to us; the evil in our lives can either be attributed to our broken world or consequences of our own actions. But it’s still difficult to face sometimes because we want God to make it all go away.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 138.

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart;
    I will sing your praises before the gods.
I bow before your holy Temple as I worship.
    I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
    by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
    you encourage me by giving me strength.

Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I know this Psalm. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about it multiple times, but verse 3 caught my eye particularly this morning. God doesn’t always answer my prayers right away. Most of the time, I have to wait. Or if He answers, I don’t know about it until years later. But just last week God answered me immediately. Without going into the extraneous details, last week I was exhausted and worn out and stressed out, and it felt like the bad news just kept piling up. And as I was driving, I asked God to help me focus on what mattered, to get my perspective back to where it needed to be, and to help me get through it. And just like that, a song started playing on the radio.

I can’t remember what song it was, but it was exactly the song I needed to hear. Followed by another song that was also relevant. Followed by another song that was just as good. Needless to say, I cried all the way home, thanking God for hearing.

I listen to all sorts of radio, not just one in particular. But this one was a Christian station, and though I enjoy the music, most of the time I am not driven to tears by what I hear. But this time I was.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like answered prayer to you, but to me it was evidence that God was listening. I mean, who else could have arranged the music schedule on this station to play the three most relevant songs that would touch my heart in a way that gave me hope and strength exactly the moment I needed it? That’s a God thing.

So don’t ever let yourself believe the lie that God isn’t listening. Because that’s what it is. A lie.

In the dark moments of life, it’s easy to trust what you can see and what you feel because those are the things that are obvious. But we can’t trust our feelings, and we can’t trust our eyes because the things that are real are the things we can’t see. And it’s not sinful to ask God to show Himself in those moments. God wants us to look for Him. He wants us to reach out to Him, and He’s not so far away that He can’t answer.

So keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open too. And don’t be surprised if He answers right away–but don’t forget to be grateful. Granted, He probably won’t take your problem away, but just knowing He’s there, knowing He’s listening, and knowing that He will keep His promise is enough to get you through it.

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

When everything changes, God doesn’t

Do you know people who keep their promises? They’re good people to know. Their word means something to them, and you can trust that when they make you a promise, they will do all they can to see it through to the end. But how many times does someone have to keep a promise before it becomes part of their character? Once? Ten times? Half their life?

The amazing thing about God (one of the many) is that He has made thousands and thousands of promises, just that we know about in the Bible, and He has kept every single one. Maybe I’m generalizing, but I don’t think a normal average human being can do that. At some point, we have to break promises because we aren’t capable of always keeping them; but God is.

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Isaiah 44:8.

Do not tremble; do not be afraid.
    Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago?
You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
    No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

From the moment He created time itself, God has been making promises to His Creation, and up until now, every promise He has made, except for a few, have become reality. And those few outstanding will change everything once He does what He’s promised to do.

The hallmark of someone you can trust, someone who keeps their promises, is that when they say they’re going to do something, they’re really going to do it. And that works with God as well as with people down here.

So what does that mean for us? Yes, it’s good to know that God keeps His promises, but you have to know His promises before it really has any bearing on our lives. You have to know that He has promised to never abandon us. You have to know that He has promised to help us get through life. You have to know that He has promised to make everything work out for good for the people who have chosen to follow Him.

Has He really promised those things? Yes, He really has. And because God keeps His promises, we can know that He will truly do them.

God has been keeping promises for thousands and thousands of years. The Bible is proof of what He has done and why He has done it. And since He has been keeping promises for so long, why would He stop now? What we need to remember is that God doesn’t change. In our whole life, our whole existence, He is the one person that doesn’t. Everything else does. Life happens. People die. Babies are born. People get married. People get divorced. People move and leave and return. Churches change. Jobs change. Economies change. Governments change.

In our lives on Earth, there’s only one constant: Everything changes.

And change isn’t bad. Most of the time it’s good because it forces us outside our comfort zone, but the change that we welcome is usually the change that we initiate. It’s the change that we don’t choose that is difficult to bear. It’s the change we have no control over that discourages us and frightens us and worries us.

But even when everything around us changes, God doesn’t.

I’m sitting at my office computer accessing the internet from a wireless connection that is broadcast to my farm from a tower in a nearby town. When high-speed internet came to the rural areas of Kansas, there was much rejoicing because we were all still stuck in the limited universe of dial-up modems for years. And with every year, our technology changes and our ability to communicate over vast distances improves. We are able to do things today that people 30 years ago could only imagine; we are able to do things today that people 100 years ago couldn’t even dream.

Our world has changed drastically in the last decade or so. It’s weird for me to stay that I remember 20 years ago, but I do. I remember what the world was like in the ’80s and ’90s. I remember watching the slow change that overtook us until we became the country we are today.

But sitting in my office with all my technology, living in my world that is so drastically different from the world I grew up in, I am writing about the same God who told Noah to build an ark to save who he could. I am writing about the same God who promised Abraham that he would be a great nation. I am writing about the same God who turned a little shepherd boy into the greatest king Israel had ever known. The same God who heard the cries of the people who were seeking Him, the same God who made everything, the same God who send Christ to die for us, is same now as He was then.

And in a world that refuses to stop changing no matter how hard we try to hold on to what was, having that constant is awfully nice. Because we can trust that no matter how topsy-turvy everything in our lives gets, God is still working things out. He promised He would. And if God has kept His promises for all these thousands of years, He isn’t going to stop now.

So don’t despair when things change. Don’t worry and don’t shut down because God’s not changing, and He still has the power to take any situation (especially the ugly ones we’ve screwed up) and make it beautiful. We just have to let Him.