The hourglass from NewSpring Church's 2011 Judgement House, Wichita, KS

What you learn when you wait for God’s answer

I finished my first “for real” novel before I hit high school. What do I call a “for real” novel? I mean one that has more than 50,000 words. I never thought I was a great writer, but I did think I was good enough to get published. So I started trying very early on, preparing myself for rejection after rejection because every author out there says that’s what you should do.

I don’t know how many rejections I finally had to get before I started thinking that maybe I needed to try something different. I just know that in 2001, my freshman year of college, I felt the need to try to write something different.

So I did. And that began a journey that lasted from 2001 to this year. December 1, 2014, my first novel hits the shelves. And I guarantee you that it looks nothing like it did when I finished the first draft in 2003 or so. This wasn’t an easy journey. If it were thirteen years of hard work, that’d be one thing. But this was thirteen years of hard work, full of dashed dreams, harsh criticisms, and one major philosophy change that turned my perspective on its head.

And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I remember the first time it was properly rejected. The manuscript request. The elevated hopes. The rejection letter itself. And the disappointment that followed. I thought I had prepared myself, and I really hadn’t.

It’s not wrong to get your hopes up, as long as you recognize that fact that what you hope for won’t always happen. But how do you live like that? How can you hope for anything with the knowledge that it may not happen? And how does that fit into a Christian lifestyle?

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:16.

The hourglass from NewSpring Church's 2011 Judgement House, Wichita, KS

The hourglass from NewSpring Church’s 2011 Judgement House, Wichita, KS

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Why is it that when we don’t get our way, we instantly jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to prevent us from happiness? Does that happen to anyone else, or is it just me? That’s my default.

When someone tells me No, my first reaction is that they don’t like me or they’re trying to deny me something. And that’s rarely the case. Admitting it makes me sound childish, so I’m hoping others out there struggle with the same problem.

The plain truth is that our authorities sometimes have to tell us no for our own good.

If you’re a parent, do you let your child do whatever he or she wants? If you’re a manager, do you let your subordinates do whatever they want? No! That’s a horrible idea. Because most of the time people don’t know what they want. And as the appointed authority you are the one who has to make the decision as to what’s good for them and what isn’t, whether they like it or not.

This is true with my novel. More than anything, I wanted it to be published. More than anything, I wanted it to be in print. And I had my heart set on accomplishing that. But it wasn’t to be—at least not at that moment. And now I know why.

Because the manuscript as it was 10 years ago wasn’t ready. It wasn’t what God wanted it to be. And I didn’t know enough about writing, the industry, my book, or myself to be published.

I’ve learned so much in 10 years, I don’t think I could fit it in a book if I tried. And if I had run ahead of God and done things my way 13 years ago, I wouldn’t have learned any of it. Granted, I might have learned some of it in the school of hard knocks, but this way, I got to learn what God had for me and still get my book in print without having to overcome the consequences of bad decisions.

That’s what He does for everybody. Just because He says no now doesn’t mean the answer will always be no. It may just mean that you’re not ready. It may just mean the time isn’t right.

So before you give up on God, take a step back and try to see it from His perspective. How do you handle disappointment when you don’t get what your heart is set on? I’ve learned how to hope in God’s plan, knowing that if He doesn’t give me what I want, I still have a lot to learn. And if He does give me what I’ve asked for, it’s up to me to make the most of it right now.

Clock on the living room wall at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Giving your time to get more back

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Maybe I shouldn’t say that because it’s not even halfway through January yet, but the way certain aspects of life seem to be coming together tells me that I’m going to be running crazy this year. Yes, I know, I’m always running crazy. So believe me when I say 2014 may be “worse” than any other year before it.

So as I’ve been making my plans and prioritizing my goals for this year in the last week or so, I’ve been trying to find God’s wisdom in dealing with a schedule that I can’t possible tackle on my own. I’ve always lived by a schedule I couldn’t handle, but in the past I’ve allowed myself to be stressed out and stretched thin. And I don’t want to live like that anymore. But at the same time, I don’t want to turn away from opportunities that God has given me, especially when He has made it abundantly clear what I’m supposed to do.

My question to God: if I have limited time, focus, and energy, how can I get more? And this is the verse that keeps coming back to me.

Clock on the living room wall at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Clock on the living room wall at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Luke 6:38.

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

I know I’ve blogged on this verse before, probably many times before, and maybe even about this very topic. But I need a refresher this morning because I struggle with this. It doesn’t make sense to take the limited time, focus, and energy you have and give it all to God because you have things you have to do. There’s only so much you can do, isn’t there?

I’ve already mentioned I started watching Dr. Who. I got really sick just before Christmas and was down for about three weeks, and I discovered Dr. Who on Amazon Prime. So I just curled up with my Coke Zero and cans of soup and watched episode after episode until I got through all seven seasons. It’s brilliant. It really is. And there’s something just fun about it. Who wouldn’t want a sentient time-and-space machine? You can go anywhere, anytime, do anything, and you never run out of time. For someone with limited time, that’s appealing.

I have so many things I want to do. I have so many goals I want to accomplish. And while I do believe I’ll still be able to do those things when I get to heaven, I don’t want to wait. The dreams I have can be useful here, if I can only do them. But how do you accomplish everything you want to do when you work 40 to 50 hours a week? When you have a house you have to keep up? When you have responsibilities to your church that take up time? When you have responsibilities to friends and family?  Just surviving life as it is takes most of my time, energy, focus and doesn’t leave me anything left to chase my dreams.

So how do you get more? If this verse is true, God gives back what you give to Him. And I’ll be the first to tell you financially that’s true. I remember the days in college when I was living on ramen noodles and bean burritos, and I refused to stop tithing because I trusted God would provide. And He did. But what about time? What about energy? What about focus?

Well, what if I give my time, energy, and focus to God? Instead of taking those three things to do my own thing, what happens if I give them to Him? Do you think He’ll give them back to me in greater measure?

I trust God, and I believe His Word. So I’m okay testing Him on this one. And 2014 will tell if this works or not. I hope it does because I don’t have a time machine. My abilities are limited, even if my dreams aren’t. So it only makes sense to trust my time and resources to Him.

Snowflakes on the sleeve of my coat, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Each of us is but a breath

I got stuck in a snow drift Monday morning on my way to work. I backed my car out of my garage and THUD! I sank into a drift as tall as my knees and twice as wide as my 2012 Malibu. Backing out in the pitch black dark of morning is always an adventure, but getting stuck in the snow isn’t a new experience for me. With a little creative maneuvering and the deactivation of the car’s traction control, I escaped my snowy prison and got on the road.

But it didn’t take me long to realize that something wasn’t quite right. I got up to 40 miles per hour, and the steering wheel began to wobble. And what can you do in that situation? Well, a smart person would probably stop. But I decided to go a little faster and see if it went away. I pushed it up to 50, and–no. The wibble-wobble didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse.

To make a long story short, I pretty much decided that it had to be snow packed somewhere, and on the advice of my dad, I chose to go ahead and come into town for work. But the requirement was that I couldn’t drive over 50. That was the kicker. Driving 45 miles one way to work isn’t a very big deal when you can go 70 mph (*cough-cough-75-cough-cough*), but that same distance at a limit of 50? With crazy drivers zooming past you? PLUS, it was going to take me forever to get into work, which meant I would be later than I normally like to be.

If the day continued as it had started, it was going to be a horrible Monday.

But I pushed forward, with some encouraging words from my mom, and drove into Wichita with my hazard lights on, keeping my speed around 50 mph, wheels wobbling all the way. For the first ten minutes, I was stressed out and frustrated and irritated and grouchy. What a way to start my first full week in 2014! But then, I reminded myself that everything happens for a reason, and I turned on some praise music and enjoyed my extra-long drive into Wichita.

And guess what? No, I was still late. To make it to work on time after my fiasco of a morning would have required a TARDIS (wibbley-wobbley, timey-whimey?). But the morning drive did fly faster than I expected it to, and I guess that’s what made me think today about how fast time goes. I know I’ve posted about it before, but time really does go fast. Life really is short.

Snowflakes on the sleeve of my coat, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Snowflakes on the sleeve of my coat, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 39:5.

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.

The Psalmist understood how short life is. I can’t remember if this was David or not. It probably was, considering how many Psalms he wrote. But whoever wrote it captured the concept of how fast time goes in beautiful words: “at best, each of us is but a breath.”

A breath. A vapor, like it says in James. A wisp of fog, a puff of smoke, here for a little while and then it’s gone. Compared to eternity, our 70, 80, 90, 100 years on Earth are nothing. Less than nothing. No more substantial than a cloud brushing the summit of Pike’s Peak.

So what does it matter if your schedule falls apart? What does it matter that you need to spend another 15 minutes getting to work when you hadn’t planned on it? Granted, if you’re an hourly employee, that’s different. If you have a responsibility to be on time, then be on time, but at the end of the day, life happens. And the more upset you get about it, the less likely you are to appreciate the time you still have.

Be responsible, of course, but be sensible. Recognize truly how short life is, and be thankful for the time you have. This world isn’t our home, no, but it’s where we live now. God put us here for a reason, and He allows things into our lives for a reason. We may never know why, but He does. That’s what matters.

So whatever goes wrong in your life today, don’t freak out. Don’t get frustrated. Remember your life is just a breath. Make the most of what you have, and when things don’t go the way you want, just chill. Try to see the bright side. If you can’t find something good to say about God, you’re not paying close enough attention.

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

The best gift you’ve ever received

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received? Do you remember it? A friend asked me that this weekend, and the answer popped into my head almost immediately. It would have been Christmas of 1992 or 1993, and I remember coming down the stairs to see a beautiful wooden dollhouse, made by my grandparents. It was the coolest thing I ever got, one of those gifts that just means so much because of all the work and care that went into it. I still have it, and someday, if I’m fortunate enough to have a daughter of my own, I’d love to pass it on.

But sometimes the best gifts we’re given aren’t physical. They aren’t the gifts you find under the tree. They aren’t in the boxes you unwrap. They aren’t stuffed at the bottom of a stocking. And I guess if you want to be literal about it, what made that dollhouse so special to me (both then and now) isn’t the fact that it was a dollhouse; it was that my grandparents took the time and effort to make something so beautiful for me.

I honestly think the most amazing gifts we’ve can receive are intangible.

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I know I’ve posted about this verse before, but it struck me today as I was sitting to write this post that the best gifts I’ve been given in my life are the irreplaceable moments with the people I love. Those moments aren’t tangible. They’re not something I can reach out and touch. I can’t grab it and put it in a box and wrap it up to give to someone else.

But just because I can’t touch it or see it necessarily doesn’t mean it’s not real. On the contrary, it’s more real than the presents currently under my tree.

I try to be thankful for those moments. I try to appreciate them. But I don’t think I can do a good enough job of it.

This weekend my best friend who’s been in England since January came out to my place with her sister. We ended up getting snowed in for a bit longer than we planned, but that was okay. We just made more hot tea and watched more movies and talked more. And I couldn’t help but be absolutely astonished how nothing had changed. A year of separation ocean and it felt like we had just been in the same room a few days ago, like no time had passed at all.

That kind of friendship is priceless. That kind of relationship where someone knows you so well that you don’t have to explain what your heart is feeling–that’s beyond amazing. That’s a gift.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have so many people who I love so dearly, people who have changed me, people who have helped me keep my head on straight, people who’ve pointed me in the right direction over and over again. Parents and friends and teachers and pastors. And no thing wrapped up in a bow with pretty paper could ever mean more to me than a moment with any of them.

Christmas is almost here. People are going to be gathering together soon to spend time as a family or as a group of friends. And believe me, I know the stress of the holidays can be overwhelming, but let me encourage you to take a moment–just a moment–and be thankful for the people in your life. Think what your life would look like without them. Think who you would be without them. And do yourself a favor? Tell them.

Outside of our salvation through Christ, I don’t think there’s any greater gift in our lives than time with the people we love. Make the most of it this Christmas. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the gift your loved ones this year.

Ornament with my brother's print on it, Haven, KS

Life is too short to waste

Life is short, if you think about it. When you’re young, it seems like it’s going to stretch out forever. I remember thinking 30 was ancient when I was a child, that by the time I was that old I would surely have the answers to everything. Well, 30 has come and gone, not by much, but I’m the first to say that the more I’ve learned in life, the fewer answers I have.

It feels like 2013 has been a year of really dreadful news, yet I am so thankful to be able to continue believing that God is good, all the time, especially when life isn’t. But there are days when I long for home. There are days when I am so tired of this broken world and all the trouble it throws at people I love.

But one thing I have learned in life is that if we are still here, God has a reason for it. We have a purpose, and it’s our responsibility as Christ-followers to make the most of the time we have.

Ornament with my brother's print on it, Haven, KS

Ornament with my brother’s print on it, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 90:12.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom.

I learned this verse as a child in a different translation, which is a little more specific. That version asks God to teach us “to number our days” or to count our days. What good does that do, you might wonder? I used to. I used to wonder what good that did, to count our days, because we didn’t know how many we had.

But I think that’s the point. Nobody knows how much time they have. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young or what country you come from or even what religious system you follow. That won’t change how many days you have left to live. There was one really notable example in the Bible, in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, where God prolonged King Hezekiah’s life (Isaiah 38:4-6) by 15 years. But that’s not normal. God doesn’t do that every time you turn around.

Generally speaking, when it’s the end of our lives on earth, it’s the end. And I’m not reneging on what I posted last Monday about looking forward to eternity. I still believe that with all my heart, that we need to be looking forward to the life to come more than we embrace this life. But with so many other aspects of the Christian walk, we have to find the balance between yearning to go home and living life here.

Don’t ever take this life for granted. Not ever. Every morning you wake up is a gift. You didn’t have to wake up today. Many people didn’t. And you’re not promised tomorrow; nobody is. So if you walk out your door today thinking that this life you’re living is something you’ve earned or something that just happened, you’re wrong. And you’re blind.

Every day is a gift, and it’s a gift from God. He’s the one who gives your lungs the strength to keep breathing. He’s the one who gives your brain the ability to keep thinking. Every good thing in our lives is from Him, and it is our responsibility to be good stewards of those gifts.

I’m still learning this. There are days when I waste time. There are days when I focus on myself. There are days when I only care about me and I ignore what He wants me to do. But the one thing I hope I never do is forget who gave me my life. He gave it to me for a reason, with a purpose, and He has me here for some reason. I don’t always know what it is, but He knows. And that’s enough for me.

Time goes so fast. I was talking about it with a lady at the grocery store yesterday. I don’t usually do that, but she was chatty. So I chatted back. (I rarely initiate, but I’ll always reciprocate like the good little introvert I am.) We got to talking about kids, and I never pass up an opportunity to talk about Baby Hoo, who just turned an astonishing six months old last week. I can’t believe that. Wasn’t it yesterday I was standing at Wesley Hospital, staring at her all wrapped up in blankets she couldn’t wait to get out of? Now she’s sitting up and holding her own bottle and making duck lips when she eats mashed-up mango.

Blink, and it’s gone. And if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss it. You have today. You might have tomorrow. That’s what it means to number your days. And when you can look at life like that, you’ll have wisdom, real wisdom, because you’ll understand how short life is. Don’t waste it.

A mullberry tree and the yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What difference can a puff of smoke make?

I got to spend some time with one of my closest friends yesterday. We’re both busy, so we don’t often get to actually sit down and just talk. So it was really nice, encouraging, refreshing. And in the course of our conversation, we discussed that we had known each other for seven years. Seven years!! That doesn’t seem possible. Because I would swear it was just yesterday we were on the OSU campus watching the Third Day/David Crowder Band contest and meeting for the first time.

And that got me think about how many other milestones have come and gone this year. My family moved to Wichita in July 1991; that was 22 years ago. We moved to the farm over Labor Day 1994; that was 19 years ago. We performed our first Judgement house in 2000; that was 13 years ago. The silly little kids I taught in Bible class on Wednesday nights are married now. The crazy teenagers from my drama team are married and some have children now. My fellow survivors from the class of 2001 have established families and careers around the US and even the world.

The list can go on and on, but the question is always the same. Where have all the years gone? How can time be moving so rapidly?

A mullberry tree and the yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A mulberry tree and the yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 4:14.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

I’ve always tried to appreciate the things I have when I have them, and I’ve always tried to be mindful of time. Growing up, everyone always told me how fast time goes, and I thought I’d done a pretty good job of it. I tried to make the most of every second. I didn’t waste time yearning and wishing to be older but did the best I could at the age I was.

But I don’t think you really appreciate how fast life flies until you’ve lived enough to look back on it. You can understand and believe that life goes fast when you’re 10 or 11, but you can’t really grasp how rapidly time can slip through your fingers until you’re 20 or 30 and you watch the children you knew as infants stepping up in leadership roles.

Our lives are nothing in the grand scale of eternity. They’re less than nothing. This translation compares our lives to morning fog, but I’m not sure if it’s really the clearest way to describe them. The Amplified Version says they’re “a puff of smoke.” Fog tends to hang around a little while, but smoke? Not so much. It’s here a moment and then it’s gone. What do we have? 80 years? 90 years? Maybe more. If you think about how many years have passed since the beginning of time (10,000 at the most), 80 or 90 years is nothing. But even 10,000 years fades in comparison to eternity. Eternity is timeless. You can’t even compare it.

I’ll be 31 this year. That blows me away. I have a hard time even writing it down because I remember thinking that 30 sounded old. But I can tell you that 30 years have gone by quicker than a camera flash.

So with our brief lives as small and insignificant as they are, what’s the point? So we make it to 100, so what? What difference does it make in comparison to eternity, or even in comparison to the 10,000 years of history that have already passed? Does it even matter?

I think deep inside all of us want to matter. We want to know that we’ve left a legacy, that when our time is done, people will still be touched. I’m pretty sure that’s too tall an order for any human being. But that’s one of many things that’s awesome about following God. God cares about small, insignificant things like me. Our lives, brief as they are, matter to Him. And the beauty of it all is that a life lived for Him, no matter if it’s 20 years or 30 years or 80 years or more, isn’t insignificant. God is a God who takes what is insignificant and uses it to do great big things–like helping other people generations and generations after our time is gone. That’s not something you can accomplish on your own.

So don’t despair that time is fleeting, but remember that our time is limited. And so are we. But if you’re a Christ-follower, the time you have is a gift, and you choose to use it in a way that God can grow. A puff of smoke isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference in the world, but a puff of smoke in God’s hands can become something more. Because God has a history of taking small, insignificant things and making them last forever.

Sun behind the clouds

Trusting what will endure in a life that is temporary

When the sun rises in the morning, what are you doing? Are you still sleeping? Are you already at work? Are you on your way to work? We get 24 hours every day until the day that we die, and even though 24 hours a day sounds like a long time, it really isn’t. It seems even shorter in the winter time because the sun rises later and sets sooner.

The 24 hours we get in each day, we never get again. They come and they go. Fast. As a child, 30 seemed ancient and far away. But I will be 30 this year. But what is 30 years compared to 60? What is 60 compared to 80 or 90? And what is 90 compared to eternity? I think 90 years is a long time to live, but in the grand scope of what our existence will truly be, 90 years is nothing.

Sun behind the clouds

Sun behind the clouds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 39:4-7.

LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;  at best, each of us is but a breath. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?  My only hope is in you. 

We are so consumed with time, especially those of us in America. We all carry watches. We all have clocks, although most of my clocks are set wrong. We all have cell phones with the time displayed. Why? Because we don’t want to be late. Americans are the culture most controlled by the power of the clock. We rush from meeting to meeting, always listening to the tick-tock of time and rarely understanding its true significance.

We grasp and clutch and cling to our possessions because it took so long and we worked so hard to earn them. And in the brief time we are alive on earth, we scramble to accumulate as much wealth as possible so that we can live comfortably. Is that wrong?

Well, no. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a comfortable life. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to provide for yourself and your family. There are biblical examples of how to run businesses successfully. God has nothing against making money. But the problem with wealth and money and comfort is that they so easily become our idols. When wealth and money and comfort become what we live for, our lives lose their significance. Because what good will it do you when you die? You can’t take it with you.

Life is more than possessions. I try to remember that money is a tool to be used. And I know I struggled with it when I first started working at my current job because I’d gotten so used to having so little that I didn’t know how to live when I had so much. When I could pay my bills and buy my groceries and still have money left over, it threw me. And there is something about having a surplus of money that makes you want to hold on to it. Maybe it doesn’t work that way with everyone, but that’s the way my mind is geared. My first inclination is to hoard. But what good will that do?

No, it’s not wrong to save, especially for someone in my position in life. But if I ever let my hope rest in that savings account, I stop hoping in God.

Verse 11 of this same chapter in The Message says: When you put us through the fire to purge us from our sin, our dearest idols go up in smoke. Are we also nothing but smoke?

God will allow punishment and testing into our lives when we do things that contradict His Word. When we allow money and comfort (or anything else) to take His place in our lives, He won’t let that go. And when the testing comes, those things that we cling to will burn away because they aren’t worth anything, in spite of what the world says.

Comfort. Money. Wealth. Fame. Power. Influence. Sex. None of it will last, and none of it will give you strength enough to face the next 24 hours, no matter how brief it might be in comparison to eternity. Because when God allows trouble into your life, you can try to rely on your idols but none of them will be able to withstand God’s testing.

Only God will remain.

So in our brief, temporary life on earth, it’s a good idea to put our hope in something that will last beyond it. Anything of earth is going to burn away. Everything we know down here is going to come to an end. We need to trust in God because when everything else comes crashing down, He will still be standing.