2020 Vision

Binoculars and telescopes enhance our vision for distance. Microscopes and probes focus our sight on miniature worlds. X-rays, sonograms, and the like reveal internal structures. But only God sees the heart.

Today, as I drank from this mug…

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…I read this devotion by Meredith Houston Carr from Proverbs 31.

It speaks of forgiveness—complete 100% forgiveness, as opposed to taking up offenses, holding onto grievances, and allowing our hearts to become hard toward certain individuals (or certain sections of humanity).

Given our human condition, it’s easy to summon outrage for the things people say and do—to view others with our telescopic, microscopic, and X-ray vision, but how often do we examine ourselves? In Jesus’s day, when a certain mob found a woman guilty of sin, they surrounded her, gathered stones, and focused all their hatred in her direction, becoming blind to their own transgressions.

Hyper-focusing on other people’s sins—whatever they are—will always initiate undesirable side-effects. Whenever magnifying the “ugly” in others, we maximize the “ugly” in ourselves and yet become more and more blind to it.

The various sources of media—social or otherwise—have lately been crammed with vehement opinions, judgments, and hatred. In this, the various factions attempt to shame one another for not automatically viewing reality in the same monochromatic shades. But for every voice lifted in outrage, even those silently struggling against frustration, I see a mirror image of what it is that they—that we, that I might want to—protest.

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To the mob around the woman, ready to cast stones, Jesus said this: “Let any [one who] is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). Among those men and women, Jesus alone qualified to cast a stone—and yet He refused. Why? Because this perfect man—Son of God, fully divine—didn’t come to condemn mankind but to save and redeem it (John 3:17)—and to save and redeem her (John 8:10-11: “…neither do I condemn you… Go now and leave your life of sin”).

This same Man questioned people’s focus and their judgment of others (Matthew 7:3): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” We can’t change—or even see!—our neighbor’s hearts. Nor can we change their minds if all we ever do is rage at their point of view. Few people listen to those whose perspectives dismiss their own out of hand and slap them with hurtful labels. But showing compassion? Love? That’s the path Jesus modeled for all who would follow after Him.

Please hear what I’m saying. If these words hit anyone, they have to hit me first. These thoughts aren’t directed toward one faction and not another. Wherever there is anger, frustration, venting, soured attitudes (even if no words have been said), there is moral decay.

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We all are afflicted by a disease more deadly than COVID, and I don’t claim to be immune:

Sin.

As Romans 3:22-23 says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, [male and female, democrat/republican, black/brown/white, gay/straight, rich/poor, including all the myriad ways we might try to lump and stereotype humanity…] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all begin in the same fallen condition, but!—“all are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

God’s redemption is free.

It isn’t, however, automatically deposited into our spiritual accounts. This redemption is only received through faith in Jesus’s sacrificial death and resurrection—through an acknowledgement that we personally (regardless of the “worse” state of those we may perceive all around us) we are guilty of sin; that we are powerless to self-rescue; and that we each, individually and desperately need Jesus’s beautiful act of redeeming love.

So, as I find within myself the temptation to hyper-focus on all the wrongs in the world, I consider how my attitudes reveal my own ongoing struggles with my sinful condition. (Consider the chain reaction triggered by our sinful reactions to others’ sins in the visual poem here.)

In the current political and social climate, I ponder my own weaknesses and failings (and invite others—as God leads—to do the same). I can’t control what my “neighbor” does…or manipulate the trends of this society and the world we inhabit, but I can ask God to expose my heart, to keep it soft, and to realign my perspectives with His (Psalm 139:23-24).

Freedom comes in knowing the Truth and the One who died to break the chains of sickness and disease, of spiritual blindness and enslavement to the Enemy of all. One nation under God is the only way we will ever find liberty and justice for every man, woman, and child across this land in which we live.

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So, on this strange fourth of July on which many can’t or don’t wish to celebrate, I pray…

Lord, help Your people to model Jesus’s character rather than the ways of the world. Help us to show love in the face of hatred, patience in place of frustration, compassion and not hardness of heart. Lord, give me Your perspectives and help me to love others—my family, my neighbor, my “enemy,” and even myself when I fail. Shine Your light throughout this world, piercing the darkest hearts with the Truth of Your overwhelming love for each unique individual. Bring peace and unity to Your church, to this nation, and to all mankind. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Lord, let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with Your church and with me.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  Colossians 3:12-14

Praying a happy and blessed Fourth for all who read this.

Quotes from 2019

Once again I missed my blog’s anniversary. But at least not by much this year. On April 9th of 2018 I took a leap of faith and set off on a new adventure. I couldn’t have known then how fun and fulfilling the journey would be.

Fun, at least, to discover a new passion for graphic creation.

Not so fun to become ever-more-acquainted with my own private ring of power that had clearly grown too precious to me. My idol; my writing.

It’s not the dreams held loosely that prove to be so tempting to erect as Towers of Babel, making ourselves or our desires into our own personal gods. Rather, it’s the Isaac—the dream that grips our hearts, and the hopes for happiness that go with it—that prove most dangerous to our souls.

My writing was my Isaac, my desperation for significance in life, when really my only true hope for joy—though I couldn’t see it at the time—was a greater revelation of God.

And I praise my God for how He flipped my perspectives upside-down—or should I say downward-up?

Since hindsight is 20/20, perhaps I can enhance my figurative vision moving forward by revisiting these 2019 posts. So, without further ado, here’s the lineup, complete with links, pictures, and favorite quotes. I hope something speaks to you, bringing fresh waves of encouragement…

Quotes from 2019:

New Year’s resolutions and Character Goals: In choosing a successful goal (for your character) or a resolution (just for you), be sure to include these A’s in your to-do list:

 Agency: Pick a goal within your power to achieve.

 Action: Be intentional. Not passive, but proactive.

 Avoid Abstractions: Make your goal specific—not abstract or vague.

 Assessment: Be active, yes, but also measure your progress.

 Avoid Distractions: Start with one goal and go from there.

Biblical Fiction: Why?: Fiction can enhance biblical accounts by drawing us deeper into the story through the main character’s point of view:

Then suddenly, the far-off [Bible] characters so easily condemned for their foolish actions are revealed for who they really are: obscured versions of ourselves—so that we, like David, suddenly grasp the author’s intent: “That person you despise… You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

Biblical Fiction: My Testimony, Part 1: In this post, I describe a sudden change of plans I believe was guided by God:

[It wasnt] a logical decision but, rather, a deep inner knowing. And from that knowing, the landscape of my future suddenly changed from a steep-sided volcano—the source of rocks born in a violent reincarnation of molten material—to a graveyard of mountains, sheared by erosion to expose old rocks transformed from a slower subjection of heat and pressure. And in so doing, I would undergo my own slow metamorphosis… in upstate New York instead of California.

Genesis: An Overview: Reflections on the book of Genesis led me to conclude:

Though it’s hard for us to grasp, God stands outside of time—sees the beginning from the end. In this way, God creates man, knowing full well that time plods inexorably toward the cross and Yeshua’s death. Both Father and Son have already counted the cost and decided it’s worth the sacrifice. That we’re worth it. That’s the beauty of Creation.

God was so pro-life He plotted His own death to save us.

Lessons from the Patriarchs: Abraham: Regarding the covenant God cut with Abram in Genesis 15:7-18:

[This] isn’t a covenant both parties entered into. It’s not a two-way street with promised blessings shifting back and forth. Instead, the blessing flows in one direction only: to Abram (and all peoples) from God. As such, God alone is accountable. His cutting a covenant in this manner is the same as if He’d proclaimed: “Let Me become as these severed animals if I ever go back on this promise.”

In other words, “I’ll be dead before I fail you in this.”

And true to His word, the self-sacrificing Savior of the worldGod Himselffound His way into the world through Abraham’s lineage.

Chain Reaction: A poem: This entire poem, like the visual quote below, was created in image form, inspired by an irritation that threatened to spiral my mood into deep darkness:

Biblical Fiction Author: Kandi J Wyatt (Guest Post)

Inspirational Authors: My Testimony, Part 2: The season before God makes His big move in our lives is often bleak:

Just like that my 12-year pursuit…came to a timely end. I didn’t really want to continue on that path anyway… which was good since that train had derailed. That rocket ship had flown. But without the train, the track, the rocket—I was like a floating astronaut, stranded—once tethered by my job… now bound to vacuum.

Click the link above to read the happy ending.

New Beginnings: How I learned it’s good not to be too rigid in our plans:

Not that plans are bad, but I’m willing to ditch the sinking ship when God supplies me with an ark… Now my passion for life is that I would press so close into my Savior that it becomes impossible to tell where He begins and I end… I want to be like Abraham in that my life would be a blessing for many. The only legacy I want to leave… is Jesus. (Music video here: https://youtu.be/_eQd3K2Fxp4.)

Mini-Devotional Collection: One quote from one of five mini-devotions on a variety of topics:

The very word “happiness” contains the root for chance, circumstance—happenstance. Happiness based on a particular worldly outcome is never a constant and unchanging thing But when we “use the things of this world as if not dependent on them”? When we make Jesus our treasure? Then we’re taking the “hap” out of happiness in exchange for a lasting joy that can never fail.

“The Man”: a short story: First published elsewhere and written long before I knew anything about show vs. tell and deep point of view, the original language (present in the post linked above) is a good example of telling through a shallow point of view. A modified (improved and tightened) quote follows, with ellipses and brackets—which would normally be used to denote change—excluded.

As I tried to make sense of it all, I caught a glimpse of the man’s palm and, within it, a scar. “Who are you?”

His answer?

“I witnessed the creation of the earth, the shaping of man from the dust, and his tragic discovery of evil Kingdoms surging and ebbing. Generations passing like night and day while grand cities crumbled, carried away to the sea.

Every grain of sand upon the shore I well know, and the place from which it came. I carry them all in the palm of my hand, a reminder of the frailty of man and of all his deeds.

I have seen it all, including what remains to be seen—becauseI AM.”

Spirit-Born Freedom: So often we speak of a person’s need to know the truth. “You just need to read your Bible.” Or we just need to speak the truth. I agree on some level

Staying in the word is so important, but remaining in the Word—capital W—is even more critical because all wisdom and understanding, and the empowerment to obey what we read, come from Him. Reading the Bible under the Spirit’s guidance is life altering. By His power alone are we transformed

Prodigal Prayer: Misunderstanding the Father’s Heart: Parallels between our prayers and prodigal petitions (and more):

In the story of the prodigal son, the Father allowed his son to chase after worldly pursuits which, in the end, failed to bring the desired joy and satisfaction. The son left his Father’s house full of himself and his own desires—and came back empty. Helpless. But the Father was there watching—waiting to fill him.

Jesus’s Parting Speech: Conclusions drawn from the key themes of John 14-16, Jesus’s discourse on the Vine and the branches:

We like to quote John 3:16, and from it, we conclude that Jesus came to die for sinners and to bring eternal life to all who would believe in Him, yes? But eternal life is a side effect—not the truest purpose of Jesus’s calling. More than simply winning us a free pass to heaven, Jesus came to show mankind how to re-establish the severed relationship with God

Eternal life is ABIDING in Him.

Lauren Salisbury on “Strength” (Guest Post) on what it means to be strong:

It takes strength to raise a child, to love when we are hurting, to walk a different path from everyone else, to forgive and move on. [Strength] is getting up each day while suffering from chronic illness, walking into school with the knowledge that bullies wait inside, trusting God to eventually work something good out of life’s current madness, or living according to faith when others ridicule and condemn those principles.

The Subtle Erosion: A Remedy: Some thoughts for how to revitalize an eroded quiet time with God:

Have you ever fallen into that numb pursuit, driven by obligation or desperation in which you feed on the Word and yet still feel unfed? Here’s the revelation God gave me in my recent studies of His Truth: “Reignite your sense of awe in Me.” Truth without awe is an intellectual exercise. If the truth doesn’t move us to a place of awe, God will always feel far off.

An Abiding Peace (of mind): O how restless our minds can become when we can’t see the path ahead and succumb to our own sense of uncertainty!

In those times, In lieu of the simplicity of trusting in Him, I revert to complex rules and regulations that stretch my intellect to the max. While my flesh tries to divine the exact ways to act and the exact prayers to pray under a diverse multitude of circumstances, God gives me this simple equation: “You + Me = Success.” 

Our Fearsome Abba?: Reflections to reconcile the contrast between God as a loving father and as the omnipotent judge to be feared:

In God’s immediate presence ([Isaiah 6] vs 1-4), we can’t help but fear Him because we see ourselves as we truly are: sinners (vs 5) in need of His mercy (vs 6-7). In His presence, we see the truth—and we’re changed (vs 5-8) Fear is as natural a response to God as if the fiery fusion ongoing in our very own Sun were repackaged into an activated bomb in our very own hands!

In other words, if we choose to scorn God for requiring our fear, we do so with the same results as if we scorned the well-known rule to look both ways before crossing the street—to our own detriment!

The Root of Every Arc: The character arcor the change (growth or regression) a character undergoes from the first page to storys endis one of the most engaging aspects of any good story. And every well-crafted novel uses conflict to power the hero or heroine’s arc. But are those outward trials themselves the hero(ine)s ultimate problem?

My own experience has convinced me that every emotional trial I’ve faced is rooted in one thing: perception The problem—and, therefore, the solution—isn’t somewhere out there in the WORLD, something to be attained or achieved, some universal tangible fix-all. The problem is in the mind, in the inner man—within our WORLDVIEW

Whether in fiction or life, every upward character arc hinges on some fundamental lie being exposed, which empowers the hero to finally embrace some transformative truth.

Writing: A Journey of Trust: As writers of fiction, sometimes we need to plot and plan. Other times, as God revealed to me, we need to trust Him to bring together the scattered threads of a pantsered story:

If I only ever begin writing when [my] story makes sense, I’m trusting my own powers of reasoning above God’s As Ted Dekker says in his Meditations, “When we humbly surrender our intellect’s need for certainty, we are set free to trust our Father as only a child can trust.”

So, as I received this re-revelation that seemed to be from God, I faced the chasm spiraling infinitely downward before me. With fear and trepidation, I shuffled my toes to the very edge. Heart pounding, I pondered the tiny pebbles plummeting away into foggy nothingness. But instead of building a bridge across, I looked to my Heavenly Father—and I jumped

Guest Post: Is the Creative Life Worth it? The answer to this question depends on your notion of failure and success. In this guest post, author C.E. White comments on the graphic quote (pictured below) by Jeremy Goldberg:

White says, That’s clearly a joke, but it’s pretty much how the world sees it. If you succeed, you’re a hero. If you fail, you’re a fool for trying. I think the trying is what makes you a hero, whether you appear to succeed or not. Because success can’t always be seen in the moment.

As a case in point, White shares this quote addressed to a self-doubting character from her novel (“Vincent in Wonderland,” inspired by artist van Gogh’s troubled life):

“[Using your gift] is always worth it, though you may never know it in your lifetime, for ripples go out and out forever from every bit of love given and every hardship endured for the good of others. I have seen from the dawn of all worlds as each gift embraced rides on and on into the future like a wave.”

Her words spark thoughts of God’s eternal perspective in contrast with mankind’s limited viewpoint. We can never be qualified to judge our own work since the rut of life’s trenches always keeps the full impact of our lives from view.

The Forgotten Prayer (a short story): A creative nonfiction version of my testimony as imagined from Jesus’s point of view:

[For ten] dark years [she] would muddle through—essentially—as if I didn’t exist. “She won’t understand for a long time, but she will,” I muttered, returning to the exact moment in time when she’d recorded that prayer in her journal

“Father, breathe Your life on me…cleanse me from within. As an unclean pot needs to be broken…break me and reform me again in Your image…” And it went on—but the heart of the prayer was there. My heart was there too, ready to be crushed alongside her—whether she sensed Me or not.

But I knew she wouldn’t sense Me again for a long time. Her prayers would falter. Her light of hope would dim, flicker, and expire in a puff of smoke and cinder. She would think I had abandoned her—or worse—that I’d never cared at all.

O, how wrong she was.

Silence of Ideas: A Poem (a brief excerpt):

Creative bursts—
once flush like vibrant synthesizing greens—
now lie as dead and dry as shriveled leaves.
Good for naught, except
decay and rot.
Yet now, the Sun shines brightly to the forest floor—
Illumines barren trees and promises
to raise the dead once more.

Well, I hope you enjoyed those quotes and pictures. If so inclined, be sure to peruse the Blog Quotes of 2018.

Any favorite quotes or posts from last year? I’d love to hear in the comments!

His Yoke: personal reflections on Christian growth

“Come to Me, all those toiling and being burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, Berean Literal).

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Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Instead, we’re meant to live in the present—the moment in which Christ promises to meet us: This day. This very second.

In that moment, His yoke is easy and His burden light—but not if we reach forward into future concerns. He’s promised to help shoulder the load and only give us, in each moment, what we can handle with the aid of His yoke.

So we live each moment in relation to Him, connected to Him by His word—and by His yoke. We can’t walk with Him unless we keep in step with His yoke, with His work in our lives. Go too slow and our head and shoulders slip free. Too fast, and the full weight of the yoke is ours to bear alone.

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His burden is easy, building on the work He’s already done in our lives: If He hasn’t taught us to walk yet, He won’t ask us to run. Rather, He holds our hands as we totter along with faltering forward steps.

In this way, we also shouldn’t run ahead of the growth and work He’s ordained for each moment. To do so only leads to fleshly striving. Rather, when He speaks a rhema word, we listen—we obey. Along with that word comes the empowerment we need to stay the course; without that help, we fail.

Viewing Others in Light of Christ’s Yoke

Likewise, as we look at others—their progress or seeming lack thereof—it’s important to realize we’re all at different stages of development. In need of different lessons from the Spirit, some more basic than others. In our churches, we won’t (with our worldly eyes) see these adults as the babes and toddlers and teens they really are in spirit. So we need God’s wisdom in the kind of nourishment we provide them, whether meat or milk (1 Corinthians 3:2).

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We all want to see the various members of our Christian family grow and thrive. Sometimes this leads us to load them with exhortations and expectations Christ hasn’t yet asked them to shoulder. Sometimes we ask them to run before they’ve learned to crawl. Sometimes we ask them to give Christ’s love to others before they’ve fully received it for themselves.

For the mature in Christ, we know when to take a brother’s exhortation as our own and when to lay it aside. But for the young in Christ, the immature—the broken—they might try to make themselves holy, answer every call to serve, and instead end up trusting in works—or else weighted by condemnation, crushed beneath an ever-more-impossible load.

Just as there surely is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” there is also a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). Only the perpetually discerning in Christ—if there is such a one—will always know the difference. I’m still learning it myself.

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Lessons from Writing

As a writer with a mind to encourage and edify—and at times, to correct and instruct—I need to discern when to hit “publish” and when to trash that drafted post. Usually, I can tell when I’ve run ahead of God’s will in the writing, when the yoke has slipped from Christ’s shoulders and come to rest entirely on mine.

When that happens, I hit a rut in the formulation, sense my wheels begin to spin—and my engine to grind. It’s clear to me then that God is either saying, “no” to sharing that post, or else “not yet.”

There’s one post in particular I’ve tried to write a thousand times, but always it refused to hold together. One topic would splinter into ten until I was no longer certain I understood what I’d wanted to say. What had seemed so clear and simple in my mind muddied more the longer I mired through the writing. That was a clue that my efforts were being driven by willful striving and not by Christ.

Here’s a truth we probably all can embrace (expressed in first person if you care to confess): The world doesn’t need any fraction of my opinions or feeble thoughts. It doesn’t need my theological assessment of the Word or my opinions on tradition and dogma. It doesn’t need my advice on living the Christian life. The world doesn’t need me at all—but only Christ in me.

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The Key to Effective Exhortation: Humility

Acknowledging this, we may remain humble enough that Christ can use us to speak truth. We’re not the force for change; we know only He can do it. So our focus must remain on Him and not on any weaknesses or lack of change in those around us. Otherwise, it’s easy to allow judgment to take root. To start thinking, “this mess I see isn’t the way it’s supposed to be,” and to set out to help the masses (or even the one) understand whatever change we think they need.

The more certain I sound in my own mind as I imagine instructing others, the more likely I’m wrong (1 Corinthians 8:2). (Pride blinds us.)

In the same way, the more demanding I get, the more pressure I begin to apply, the less likely my urges are driven by Christ, and by His love. (2 Corinthians 4:2) Though it’s not our job to convince or to bring conviction, we sometimes feel it is.

Lessons from Parenting

I recall moments of lecturing my daughter in hopes she would understand deep truths and reform her ways. (Ha! She’s four!) Other times I’ve succumbed to my impatience—when I tell my daughter to “just do” what I’m asking. And I tell her, and tell her, and tell her again—all in a short timespan.

But she’s just not “there” yet. Not ready.

And what she needs—instead of my lecturing and nagging—is an experience with unconditional love.

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I always repent for these bouts of selfish parenting, asking my daughter’s forgiveness—and God’s as well—for my unloving impatience. And with His help, I set forth to do better.

Attitude Matters

Frustrated. Impatient. Driven to produce change…

We can get that way, too, in the body of Christ. So eager for people to attain to full maturity—to move on to the greater works that we apply inadvertent pressure in place of love. Exhortation in place of true discipleship. If we hammer the same admonitions over and again, they quickly grow tired from overuse. But what is it that really inspires change in the hearts of men? Not a knowledge of their many shortcomings, but a life-changing knowledge of Him.

Matthew 28:18 (“…Therefore go and make disciples…”) is a popular verse I’ve heard used many times to hammer the need for more evangelism and personal witnessing. However, “witnessing” and “making disciples” are not synonymous. One amounts to speaking or proclaiming, while the other involves a coming alongside—as in two yoked.

Our personal witness is surely a part of what it means to be disciples of Christ, yet Jesus’s model for discipling others was never solely about simply telling them what to do. There was also a critical demonstrative component—of taking under the wing. Jesus walked alongside His chosen disciples, modeled the Christian life, and empowered them to walk it out.

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This is my aspiration for relating to my daughter. To speak truth without pressure when the time seems right. To demonstrate that same truth in the way we do life: together. To embody Christ’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance—without which no man or woman that ever lived could find the hope for walking in true righteousness.

I would suggest, if we find ourselves repeating the same truths to the same crowd without any fruit besides our own worsened mood, we may be pushing, not God’s will, but our own agendas. Or else we’re taking the wrong approach.

Just as I’ve done, from time to time, with my precious daughter.

The good news is, my daughter knows we’re both a work in progress. From my failures confessed, she knows I need Jesus just as much as any girl her age—we’re in this together!

That, too, is a lesson for how to speak the truth in love (from one sinner to another). If we presume to teach, we must remain humble. The child in Christ who’s being taught wants to know their earthly teachers have shared in the same struggles they now face. That they understand—and remember—what it’s like to wrestle with truth. Not only that, but everyone wants to be known as a unique individual—not just a roll of dough for an identical cookie-cutter fit or another pair of hands for the Christian work the church-at-large needs fulfilled.

We each are unique individuals. Consequently, there’s no one size fits all, whether in the path we each take, our best fit for effective discipleship, or the particular ways in which we serve.

Our words should be tailored to the uniqueness of each individual.

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Corrective Measures: Final Thoughts

Correction is a natural inclination for many. I’ve come to think, however, that if we’ve never struggled with a certain sin, we might not be the ones called to spotlight someone else’s personal failings. Reason being, if we’ve never struggled in that way, we might not be capable of speaking in love rather than judgment. However subtle and deeply buried any sense of superiority may be, it still filters through to those we think we’re helping. (Lord, have mercy!)

Instead, I believe it’s more typical that those whom God has delivered from specific sins, He sends to those still enslaved by them. And those whom God has brought through certain trials, He sends to comfort and encourage those still oppressed by similar trials. Those who have lived an experience know the struggles inherent in walking that path, which makes them more likely to speak in love and less likely to judge any lack of progress.

Job’s friends, for example, having never experienced the devastation and loss he’d just suffered, were ill equipped to aid their oppressed friend.

Instead of helping him, they judged him.

Likewise, I’ve heard some say the people of God should never be depressed—that this emotion has no place in God’s family. I wonder, though, how Jesus felt in that garden as He sweated drops of blood. How He felt on the cross as He cried out, “My God”—and not My Father—in that moment of experiencing His utter abandonment.

Jesus experienced all this so He could understand the full spectrum of humanity’s plight and emotions. These challenging events expanded His ability to empathize and understand. This, then, is the way God equips us to help others. Not in our own strength, but in the strength He provides as we overcome life’s troubling curveballs. Strengthened in our trials in order to strengthen others in theirs.

We are comforted to be a comfort. Loved to show love. Whatever we have received we give freely. But we can never give what we haven’t received—and thus don’t have.

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And that brings us full circle.

Jesus is the only one equipped to determine the exact specifications of our particular yoke. The only one who sees our heart, understands where we’ve been, and where we’re going. He’s the only one who knows the right words for each moment—the only one whose words are always accompanied, not by condemnation, but by Holy Spirit conviction and the power to change.

So, let us follow His lead in helping others just as we follow His lead when He helps us. Let us be discerning in our correction of others, so we really are speaking truth in love. Sometimes encouragement is more appropriate than correction or exhortation. Sometimes silent empathy and listening ears—especially listening to understand, perhaps even to change our own perceptions—greater than speech. Let us be wise in our correction of others to ensure we aren’t requiring them to give more in any moment than what Jesus has seen fit. Let us keep in step with our humble Lord, shouldering whatever yoke He gives for Today and not tomorrow—and quickly heed whatever rhema words He’s provided as our daily bread.

I certainly don’t have all the answers—not everything in my thoughts here may stand the test of time. But I hope this post will serve as food for thought both for those struggling in the Christian life and those inclined to instruct others.

Contraindicated Exhortations?

Exhortations can be problematic, but they aren’t always contraindicated. Indeed, they permeate the Bible—and we dare not ignore the Word of God! But Jesus never meant for us to overcome every obstacle all at once. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have told His disciples—and I believe us—“I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear” (John 16:12). That’s why He gave us His Spirit, ready and wiling to guide us, step by step. Not on our timescale—or our brothers’ or sisters’, or our pastor’s or parents’—but on His.

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All these biblical exhortations might be summed up in the following command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What a tall command!

I know from experience—it’s easy to read all those exhortations and either judge others or ourselves. As a former self-condemnation addict, I’ve been encouraged, however, to learn a little more about Hebrew thought and the clues it provides about how we might view these imperatives in light of our ongoing struggles.

According to Torah Life Ministry, “Hebrew [thinking] sees a thing not just as it appears in the moment…, but from its tiniest seed form all the way through to when it reaches full maturity. This is a critical distinction… seeing things from God’s eternal… vs. man’s temporal perspective.”

Imagine that. God looks at us and sees His finished work. Before the seed in our hearts has even split, He sees the bloom, the fruit. But it’s more than that.

All those exhortations that seem to demand instant change—they’re all a part of our lifelong process of sanctification, maturing in Christ.

And that passage that sums them up? What does it mean to be perfect anyway?

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The word translated as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is teleios, defined in Strong’s Concordance as “having reached its end, i.e. complete, by extension perfect.” HELPS Word Studies explains it as “mature…from going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal, [that is] by fulfilling the necessary process (spiritual journey).”

It goes on to say, “This root (tel-) means “reaching the end (aim).” It is well-illustrated with the old pirate’s telescope, unfolding (extending out) one stage at a time to function at full-strength (capacity effectiveness).”

So, teleios, like a telescopic view into the future, highlights the ultimate goal we’re moving toward—not our current reality. It emphasizes, not in-the-moment perfection, but the need for steady growth under the guidance of His yoke.

Not the growth we or others decide—not with blooms in the winter, but in the perfect timing of a God-ordained spring.

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So you see, “Be perfect” really means He’s going to make us perfect. It doesn’t mean we listen to the Word and do nothing. But we also know we can’t do everything. Rather, we keep our eyes open for the seeds He’s planting in our hearts, and we do our part, accepting those truths, lessons, or trials by faith (James 1:21). Then little by little—sometimes so imperceptibly that our natural minds can’t measure any progress—new seeds are planted and others grow.

In the body of Christ, by words spoken with discerning love, one person plants and another waters. But we know God alone can bring the growth. So let us commit ourselves to remain connected to Him, submitting to His yoke—His rhema commands—rather than attempting to achieve all teleios-perfection all at once. If we do this, continually asking for his help, we’ll find Him faithful to finish the good work He’s begun (Philippians 1:6).

Let’s Pray!

Lord Jesus, help each one of us to keep in step with You, neither falling behind—when You give us a “now” word to obey—nor straining ahead to achieve on our own what only You can work in and through us. Help us to abide, to remain connected to the Vine. To receive the daily bread—that is, Your rhema words for each one of us as unique individuals—to give us strength and wisdom for each day. Continue to guide and grow us by Your good Spirit until we all attain to maturity in You. And show us how we might edify others in Your wisdom and strength and not our own. In Your name we pray. Amen.

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Additional Reading:

>>> More about yokes

>>> More about rhema

>>> My post on trials as seeds

On what it means to really listen:

Articles I hope to read & contemplate in more depth:

Seeds in the Waiting

Friends, God has me in a season of waiting, of going underground. And you know what that means? Seeds. Roots. Trust in the darkness. Sprouts that lead to shoots, to blooms. Something new is coming. And not something I’m working in myself—as if such a thing could be good—but something God is working in me.

I once told a friend that a bud is like a promise that won’t be denied. But before the bud, comes the seed. Such as: A seed of desire—so long as it’s born of and submitted to God. The seed of suffering—which tests our faith and brings forth perseverance, character, and hope. A seed of encouragement from a friend—which very well may represent a timely word from God. A circumstantial change. A scripture that jumps off the page. A prayer inspired by God that He’s just begging to answer.

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In this moment, certain promises are waiting in seed form in my life. How about you? What seeds is God working in you? Do they bring you excitement, joy—expectation? Or have you discounted the day of small beginnings—the mustard seed of faith? Are you stuck in the darkness of a tomb or an ark, unable to see beyond the endless floodwaters or the musty grave?

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Where God allows “death,” I believe He means to bring life, presuming we cooperate—submit. If we trust and abide in Him, whatever “death” He brings will always lead to something better. And even when we don’t fall in line, He can change our hearts and minds—and renovate our perspectives—just as He did with the prodigal son.

Friends, is there something God is asking you to set aside? Has a door of seeming opportunity been closed against your will? When God hems you in, it’s meant to bring about fresh growth—new life. No one ever said it was pleasant navigating the birth canal. Not pleasant, but necessary for new life.

Over the past year and half, God has shattered my idols in order to bring emotional healing and unprecedented freedom. He’s inspired me to trust, to believe in prayer like never before. He gave me a story to write—then bled the inspiration necessary to carry it through to the end. But even in this I glorify God. For where, once, I would’ve despaired at the sacrifice of my idol, my stories, I now glory in the freedom to trust God’s perfect plan for each day.

He took my writing away at a time I was growing busy in other ways. And in the loss, taught me lessons more valuable than any published novel in the world. Because I’m growing in Him. Seeing evidence of His work in my life—and O how faithful He’s been!

He took the writing, before giving me another task I hadn’t expected—nor had I known how much it would bless me. He took the class I was facilitating at church before I knew I would need the reprieve. And then He allowed a strange Christmas Eve day gift in the form of an ER visit far from home, but not far from family.

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In the waiting room, intense pain guided the essence of my pitiful prayers—“Let it be soon, Lord Jesus. Give me a room.” Yet there was no room. Ironic. Not enough rooms in the ER. And my acute dilemma, while incredibly painful (and easily fixable—at least temporarily, or so I soon learned), wasn’t immediately life threatening; I didn’t merit urgent care. I was forced to wait.

Now I can’t stop thinking about the symbolism of waiting in the “waiting room” during a season of waiting. Amidst that lingering pain, I considered fellow Christians in nations hostile to Christ, suffering—tortured. “How can they stand it?” Because I wasn’t standing my own pain very well; I could think of little else. Little else but to pray and hope that the next name called would be mine. I was “helpless,” you see—but not without Help.

The Bible says we’re blessed when we’re persecuted. But does that mean the vast majority of Christians in the US aren’t blessed in this way? This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Because ultimately, all persecution comes from the same source: our adversary, the father of lies, demon Lucifer himself.

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Just because we aren’t persecuted by men doesn’t mean we don’t suffer for Christ. When we pray in the quiet of our home, does Satan not see our faith—our devotion—and scream bloody revenge? I think of Job, who didn’t suffer what we would consider traditional persecution—and yet he was blessed in the end. And not just in worldly terms: the restored fortunes and more, the flourishing family. No. The greatest blessing he received was a greater revelation of the Great I Am.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The word for “trials” here can mean a temptation or a test and includes disaster and affliction. With Job as our model, a trial could be physical violence by men (e.g., persecution), natural disaster, or sickness and disease. And these are the things we’re to count as pure joy? Yes.

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It’s not the good times that force us to rely on God, but the times of difficulty and distress. Such trials test our faith—pose the unstated question: What do you REALLY believe? Do we really believe God is good? Do we really believe He has our best interests at heart? Do we really trust Him to work on our behalf? Even, perhaps, if our own sins have contributed to our lack of success?

Perhaps the answer to those questions for you turns out to be “no,” you don’t believe. If so, don’t despair. Looking back on my own journey, I recall many times of uncertainty, of questioning and doubt. The truth is, the success of man’s journey has never depended “on human desire or effort, but [rather] on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16).

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Do you understand that the very faith God tests amidst these trials is a gift straight from heaven? Our goal has never been to become self-made individuals, but to let the Potter have His way—to be His handiwork. If the seed of faith God granted wasn’t enough to sustain our wayward hearts through the last trial, that doesn’t mean God failed. Only He knows what seeds of truth each trial implanted in our hearts—gifts to be unpackaged when the time is right.

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Take a look again at the words of James 1:3-4, this time in the Berean Literal Translation: “knowing that testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The word for PRODUCES means “to work out” (a la Philippians 2:12, see below) and seems to indicate an ongoing process of refinement. HELPS Word Studies says, “2716 katergázomai (from 2596 /katá, “down, exactly according to,” intensifying 2038/ergázomai, “work, accomplish”) – literally, “work down to the end-point,” i.e. to an exact, definite conclusion (note the prefix, 2596 /katá); bring to decisive finality (end-conclusion).”

Just because we haven’t reached that definite end-point yet doesn’t mean we won’t.

Too often we may look at either ourselves or others and judge them for where they are along the journey. Perhaps that judgment itself is an indication of where we or they are, since I’ve glimpsed what it is to move past such mindsets. The point is, none of us has arrived at that perfect decisive end—yet. Rather, in Philippians 2:12, we’re told to katergazesthe—to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But do we really work our own salvation to a definite end? Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who energōn—who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”

And “energéō (from 1722 /en, “engaged in,” which intensifies 2041 /érgon, “work”)” means—according to HELPS Word Studies—“properly, energize, working in a situation which brings it from one stage (point) to the next, like an electrical current energizing a wire, bringing it to a shining light bulb.”

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If the analogy provokes thoughts of the Vine and the Branches—“without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)—that’s good. Because God not only plants every seed—or grafts every wilted shoot. He also provides the energizing force behind each growth spurt. If our trust is misplaced (take Philippians 2:12 without the next verse), no amount of our own work will bring us to that next advanced stage.

So… If you’ve observed a seed of God’s work in your life, put your trust in Him, ask for His help, and then—and only then, looking to Him, leaning on Him—work out your own salvation. To be sure, those who seek God—who submit and persist—can be confident of this: “that He who began a good work in [them]”—that good work being a seed, rich with a promise—“will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

That, my friends, is the power of a seed.

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I’d love to hear in the comments whatever seeds God is working or already worked in your life. Let’s encourage one another with testimonies of God’s faithfulness in the waiting.

Silence of Ideas: A Poem

A silence of ideas falls
beneath a forest absent all its leaves.
Bare branches stand stark-naked and exposed
without a trace of sheltering canopy.
Creative bursts—
once flush like vibrant synthesizing greens—
now lie as dead and dry as shriveled leaves.
Good for naught, except
decay and rot.
Yet now, the Sun shines brightly to the forest floor—
Illumines barren trees and promises
to raise the dead once more.
A sprout of Hope unfurls beneath the soil
there, unseen.
Once shaded land spies something more
than nature’s transient green.
The Sun, the Light!
A pure delight beyond the passing seasons of this life.
Though dreams, like leaves in autumn, fade and fall,
a greater Hope remains for all:
The Sun, the One who planted each and every tree
Provides the life, the Hope—
He is enough for me.

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Blog Quotes 2018

Recently faced with the realization that I’d been blogging for over a year and HAD NOT CELEBRATED (insert your favorite shock-faced emoji here), I decided it might be fun to review the posts I’d written and select, for each, a favorite quote where appropriate.

Another way I celebrated in retrospect was by creating a tagline and a new graphic. What can I say? Getting my hair done turns me into a selfie-nut:

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I hope you enjoy perusing the quotes as much as I had fun rooting them out. This post also serves as a great Table of Contents for 2018. So, without further ado

Quotes from 2018

The Journey Begins: Writing a novel is an act of faith. Even starting a blog can feel like stepping out to walk on water.

Learning to Write a Novel: What more does a writer need, after all, than a paper and pencil (or a word processor)—and a brain? Input a little time and creativity and voila! Out pops the great American novel. (Note the use of sarcasm.)

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Writing Lessons from The Goose GirlWhen our hearts fist around strangled capillaries, damming up angst and blood as we read some imaginary scene, we know the author has touched us on a deep emotional level. If a scene milks our emotions, perhaps it somehow speaks to the cavernous vacancies in our own soul.

Critiquing to Learn: How can we analyze a tale’s beauty if it disappears when we stop to look? 

A Writer’s Promised Land: We need God every step of the way: thanking Him amidst bursts of productivity; leaning into Him in the barren wilderness of doubt (and depression, too); trusting, even then, that He who filled us with the desire to write has a plan and a purpose for our creativity.

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Writing Lessons from Driven to the Hilt: Characterization: Invent a world – check. Make stuff happen – check. Create a nuanced-but-not-inconsistent character with built-in experiences, fears, desires, and wounds, with whom readers can immediately sympathize – cheh—er—hmmm.

Writing Lessons from Driven to the Hilt: Setting: [To] fully explore characterization, writers need to give flesh to whatever world our protagonists inhabit.

Cause & Effect in FictionFrom the smallest fragment of a scene to the broad expanse of character arc and plot, cause and effect permeates good fiction.

Renegade Skyfarer Blog Tour:

[It] takes real skill to achieve that fine balance between too much information and too little. Too much too soon weighs the story down… Too little breeds confusion…

Readers need enough context in the moment to grasp what’s happening now, and they need a trail of hints that add up to the big payoff later—but without becoming predictable.

Sound like a tall order? Oh, boy, yeah.

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Scratching and Success: Realm Makers 2018 (Reblog from A.D. Sheehan): “I was already successful. It was something I’d heard years ago in a Mike Bickle sermon, but, like so many essential Christian truths, had lost in the roiling vat of information I call a memory. The heavier truths sink. We have to keep diving for them over and over.”

Identity Crisis (before God healed my anxiety and depression):

My peace is gone; God isn’t enough.

Haven’t I learned a thing?

Of course I have. In my head… But I have a prodigal heart—perpetually blind to the great expanse of Love Who calls this fragile temple His “home” and lives to satisfy this broken soul. He’s been living inside all along, and yet my heart wanders to the farthest reaches of my dark imagination, still searching for a shred of worldly hope or some flicker of self-worth.

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A Writer’s Idol: Meditations on Isaiah 46 (My Guest Post at Christian Creative Nexus):

An apple tree might sustain us, but an apple plucked from the tree never will—not for long…

No idol will ever lighten our loads. Instead, they weigh us down with false hopes…

So long as we keep a tight grip on our desires, refusing to commit them to God, we alone must face the burden.

My Fault: This Book How I Love Thee! Let Me Count the Ways: Juxtaposition: Light and dark. Bursts of laughter in the midst of pain. The good and the bad mingled together.

Story Physics, Part 1: How Newton’s First Law mimics character motivation: Whatever story you’re writing, it’s just about guaranteed to involve some kind of literal or figurative journey—one your hero would rather avoid.

Story Physics, Part 2: How a character’s internal change mirrors Newton’s Second Law[Characters] are the most stubborn of people. They don’t learn from their mistakes the first time around. They aren’t self-enlightened individuals who spontaneously decide to become better people overnight. They scoff at their mentors, presuming they themselves know better—until struggle and hardship teach them otherwise. Only after they’ve experienced the full constriction of their flaws can they embrace the idea of change.

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Story Physics, Part 3: Action-reaction in fiction as Newton’s Literary Third LawBack and forth like lumberjacks moving a two-person saw, the hero and villain push and pull, perpetually digging in deeper. It’s not always as straightforward as hero vs. villain, but the point is, your hero isn’t working in a vacuum (er—unless you’re writing sci-fi). But even if he is in a literal vacuum, it’s not clear sailing to the finish. He’s dodging space debris where there should be a planet, getting caught in a tractor beam, and being diverted into smelly garbage mashers by a pushy princess (all because he’s coming up against that antagonistic force).

Celebrating Science Fiction in September:

What I love about Driven to the Hilt: In spite of the sometimes dark subject matter…the overall narrative retains a buoyant feeling of hope… In the end, I think you’ll find there are many treasures to unearth from this story, including layers of theme, symbolism, and a beautiful mirror of the beginning at the very end.

A Guest Review of Thrawn: Alliances:

Lauren Salisbury’s The Legacy Chronicles (Novel Summary):

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J Andersen’s Destiny of Design Series (Novel Summary):

Driven to the Hilt I : A Review: Truth be told, this book is unlike any I’ve ever read… I can’t say I’m naturally drawn to survival stories. It takes talent to keep interest high when the hero spends a fair amount of time on his own, but in my view, this author succeeded. 

A Visual-Emotional Tour of Driven to the Hilt: (A great post to visit for a view of some of my digital creations!)

Self Care with Less Self: Advice for writers & other CREATIVE Planet Earth inhabitants:

Wouldn’t you be happier some days if you lived with emotional amnesia? If—instead of hashing and rehashing and worrying and wondering and fearing and desperately wishing for change—you could press the pause on all your stressful thinking?

What if (for example)—instead of wondering how you’re going to solve all those plot problems and become the successful author you one day hope to be—you simply forget yourself, your expectations, and relish in the enjoyment of writing… One day at a time…Knowing that no accomplishment worth pursuing is achieved in a single day anyway. Realizing that stress only serves to steal your creativity. What if?

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The Spiritual Power of Our Words (a brief anxiety relapse after God healed me):

The moment the words were out, [suddenly] they had power. Before voicing my fears, all I had was a little niggling doubt—something entirely manageable. But after?

I’d opened the floodgates to the enemy. The anxiety struck anew—and it wasn’t pretty. It bowled me over with unstoppable power, reminding me of the greater Power that had rooted it out of me to begin with. I was like Adam and Eve, longing for the very fruit that made me sick.

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Mythic Orbits Blog Tour:

A Visual Tour of Forging the Blade:

Fall Giveaways:

Driven to the Hilt II: A Review: There’s nothing more satisfying than a fully-realized hero with heart and depth. For me, Joshua Vernon is that character. 

Driven to the Hilt III: A Review:

Mineralogy & Petrology of Terrene (Guest Post):

Visual Scavenger Hunt, Winter 2018: (Visit the post for links to search for the hidden pictures.)

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A Peek Inside Wings Beneath Water: In my Goodreads review, I said this about Wings Beneath Water: “[It’s a] poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” If you know me at all, then you know I don’t say such things lightly. 

Build-a-Better-Alien: In my opinion, creating intelligent fictional life requires a whole new depth of development: Not just environment—but culture. Not just biology—but personality. And the last thing we want to do is reinvent the human. On second thought—Just make ’em blue!

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The Hero’s Ordinary World (Creative Nonfiction: a prelude to Jesus’ birth): The prince paces on air because the pond is gone—the waterfall silent. Instead, its thundering pulses in his head. He sees…all. Every child born into sin—yet precious. Every tear streaking their dirty faces. They don’t all see the dirt—but He does. They don’t see their worth—but He does.

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Any favorite quotes? Any favorite posts?

The Forgotten Prayer (a short story)

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I watched from the crystalline platform suspended across the rift. Veils of space and time swirled for ages and fathoms beneath My feet. Through the sheer and shifting curtains of mist, I glimpsed the lab room, and the girl studying My creation with all the childlike wonder of discovery I’d planted within her. Those seeds had borne fruit. And what a joy to observe her steady self-awakening.

I felt His warmth behind me and spoke—though I need not for Him to know My thoughts. “For the first time in her life, she’s beginning to sense her place in the world—to see she’s not an extraneous part, but to realize she fits.” I strolled along the glassy bridge. My resplendent robe trailed across vapor and ice, swirling around feet that had trod the sands of time.

I glanced back over one shoulder, with human eyes that shouldn’t have been capable of beholding such brilliance—yet they did. “When I draw near, she’s beginning to sense my presence. She’s actively seeking. Her toes are to the threshold.”

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A voice emerged from the light, bursting with greater force of power than a hurricane’s crushing clamor. “Our enemy has plans to ruin that. But we put it in her heart to pray that prayer. He will do what he does—try to rewrite her story—and think he’s rendered her ineffective.”

“While we pen a different ending.” A pang of bittersweet joy consumed My heart. She would soon forget the prayer, but as for Me, it would be My guiding hope for her life—My map for her future. A future destined to take ten-plus years to sculpt. Ten dark years in which she would muddle through—essentially—as if I didn’t exist. “She won’t understand for a long time, but she will,” I muttered, returning to the exact moment in time when she’d recorded that prayer in her journal.

January, 17, 2006. Ten years and one day until her first child’s birth, and three years more until she would shed the blinders of fear and doubt. This was her prayer to Us.

“Father, breathe Your life on me…cleanse me from within. As an unclean pot needs to be broken…break me and reform me again in Your image…” And it went on—but the heart of the prayer was there. My heart was there too, ready to be crushed alongside her—whether she sensed Me or not.

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But I knew she wouldn’t sense Me again for a long time. Her prayers would falter. Her light of hope would dim, flicker, and expire in a puff of smoke and cinder. She would think I had abandoned her—or worse—that I’d never cared at all.

O, how wrong she was.

A few weeks later, she wrote in her journal again.

01/24/06: “Father, You nudged me back to church because of a crazy movie! You have not let go since. I am here at this point in my life because of You. When I say, “Lord, it will be very hard, but I know I need to change,” You replied, “Lara, can I not do with you as this potter does?” You have told me that You are going to do it! All I need is to trust You and believe in You…and You will do the rest! Thank You, Father…Thank You, Jesus!”

My lone tear slipped along one cheek and dropped to the glass as hissing steam.

One day, she would thank Us again. But before then, the enemy of her soul would shatter that youthful idealism into dust. He would shake every pillar on which she attempted to stand.

And there I stood, knowing the intense anguish that had been stored up for her, unable to keep those pillars from collapsing beneath the burden of her misplaced trust. Those pillars—degree, career, husband, and passions—they were never meant to carry such a weight. Not even one such pillar had the power to sustain her. There was, unfortunately, no other way for her to learn. We—and we alone—had the power to bear up beneath her desperate search for significance.

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“The idols must fall,” My Father uttered in a whispered voice nearer yet than my own breath.

“Indeed…” And I knew the prayer’s answer would soon begin to unfold with greater intensity, even smothering the other desperate prayers she would weakly offer up—seemingly without any answer. The trials of her doctoral studies would graduate into what would feel like the greatest failure of her life. Three years hence, she would finally “give up” on that career—would consider herself a fraud with a degree worth less than nothing. “But before then, let’s send her a gift to look back on. A treasure to be unearthed from her journal at the glorious conclusion of this journey’s end.”

I sensed My Father’s approval. Moments later, the veil shifted, and We watched it unfold. A little vignette in a lab room. A visiting scientist with a story—an atheist even, telling a parable from My own creation. How wise he felt—and clever. A man who believed I was a lie as he uttered the words I gently coaxed from his lungs. And My Lara, she and I chuckled together at how I slipped her that message she later recorded in her journal…

01/26/06: A visiting scientist came today. In a conversation with my then advisor, I heard this visitor talking about something he’d learned from a wine connoisseur. Apparently the best grapes are those produced from a crummy-looking sandy/gravely soil because they have to “struggle.” The grapes in this environment have been documented to grow roots as deep as 10 meters! The visitor said that if you plant them in good soil and keep them well watered, you will produce a lot of grapes…with no taste! My advisor said, “Do you think it’s the same for people?”

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“That, my beloved, is not just a parable,” I whispered to her heart. “It’s a picture of the beauty and depth I’ll be working into your soul… Though you won’t believe I love you for many years to come, I’ll prove myself in a way you can’t ignore.”

Is the Creative Life Worth it?

A guest post by:

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What makes doing something worth it? It’s easy to say something is worth doing if it’s fun, if it makes money, if you’re good at it, or other people think it’s really great. The benefits are obvious, immediate, and tangible.

But what if good outcomes are questionable? Unlikely? What if it’s hard? What if there’s no guarantee you’ll ever make money at it? What if the people around you think it’s a waste of time or even actively discourage you from attempting it? What if it’s risky?

Both of my books wrestle with this topic a little. That’s because I have wrestled with it a LOT. As a creative whose creativity does not (yet!) pay the bills, I’ve done a lot of asking myself, “Is this worth it?” What I finally realized is that many of my ideas about what makes something worth doing were wrapped up in the likely outcomes of doing that thing.

And I realized that was pretty silly (and not at all Biblical), given there is no way I can actually know the outcomes. I was judging the worth of my endeavor by playing a guessing game with the future instead of trusting God with it. There’s a pretty good discourse on this in my book “The Worlds Next Door.” Here are a couple of snippets from that section:

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“You are not guaranteed success, but many more successes would have been gained and many more heroes born if people would begin journeys without being certain of their ends. Countless discoveries, countless loves, and countless brave deeds have been considered and tossed aside because of uncertainty and the consequences of possible failure. Would you be one of those who live knowing they have passed that by? Bravery is still bravery even when it does not accomplish its goal, though, sadly, the world rarely recognizes it. You may not be praised as a hero if you fail, but you will still be one if you have done the thing you were called to do. Just remember: if it is fear causing your doubt, it is not of Tanri.”

and…

“If you can only be happy with your choices if you are happy with the consequences of them, you are using the wrong criteria. Consequences are not in your control. You must choose what your conscience will not regret, regardless of what happens because of it.”

And to sum this up:

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That’s clearly a joke, but it’s pretty much how the world sees it. If you succeed, you’re a hero. If you fail, you’re a fool for trying. I think the trying is what makes you a hero, whether you appear to succeed or not. Because success can’t always be seen in the moment.

I think Vincent van Gogh’s life proves this point beautifully. In my book, “Vincent in Wonderland,” he’s not quite sure if his own gift is worth what it costs him. Another character’s response:

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“It is always worth it, though you may never know it in your lifetime, for ripples go out and out forever from every bit of love given and every hardship endured for the good of others. I have seen from the dawn of all worlds as each gift embraced rides on and on into the future like a wave.”

As a Christian, I know God is in charge of the outcomes. If we’re following His lead, we can trust that His perspective is far bigger (and better!) than our own. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)

Maybe fifty years from now a kid will read one of my books, and it will pull them back from an emotional cliff. Or maybe a great artist will be on the verge of giving up because no one believes in him but reading “Vincent in Wonderland will convince him to keep going. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Despite a tragic lifetime of failure, Van Gogh is now arguably the most famous artist of our time. He was told, readily and often, that he was worthless, talentless, lazy. And truthfully, he was a difficult person. He was troubled. But he still poured into his passion, and the rest of us are grateful for it today. Those around him were not.

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Hebrews 11 (also known as the “Faith Chapter”) always reminds me to look ahead to the real reward instead of what is happening around me at this moment. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) The Bible assures of the hope to come—the ultimate end of eternal peace with Him. In the meantime, those in the chapter who were praised for their faith were also tortured and mocked and flogged and poor and imprisoned and homeless.

I guess if those people can live lives of faith through conditions I can’t even imagine, I can write a few books God has laid on my heart, though they may never make money and a few people may not like them.

Just remember, if it is fear causing your doubt, it is not of God.

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C.E. White is an author and collage artist living in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and two cats. She loves whimsy, fairy gardens, and the Oxford comma. She also delights in rainy days spent on her porch with long books and large cups of coffee. Vincent in Wonderland is the prequel to her first book, The Worlds Next Door.


 

Author Website: www.cewhitebooks.com
Artist Website: https://www.cewhiteart.com/
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Facebook: www.facebook.com/cewhitebooks
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Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/C-E-White/e/B077V7FVPT/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

 

Writing: A Journey of Trust

God’s been talking to me again, and when that happens, He speaks most often through impressions from different sources: A thought that flits through my head. A sentence with sudden revelatory depth from a paragraph just read. A conversation with a friend.

When these sources—like some cosmic compass from heaven—all point in the same direction, God holds my attention.

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The message God gave this time is not so different from what He revealed in the writing of An Abiding Peace (of mind). In that post, I wrote:

It seems human nature to equate uncertainty with stress. (An uncertain future. Our plans up in the air. Confusion over the path ahead. Or maybe we’re stuck in circumstantial discomfort.) This manner of logic presupposes UNDERSTANDING to be the ultimate pathway for finding peace. Isn’t this the way our human brains think?

It even applies to writing fiction!

After several months hiatus, I began again on the story I felt God had inspired. The one of which I wrote in an earlier post:

“I thought [it] would end in a short story, but His inspiration kept flowing. Overnight, I transitioned… from striving and struggling to plot a novel that seemed determined not to flow… to a story exploding with creativity and floating as free as the wind. To go from plotting (yessiree, I have all the answers) to half-pantsing (no idea where it’s going or how it’ll all work out, but it’s going, it’s going, IT’S GOING—at last!)… that takes faith.”

But then I hit a block. (That and I sensed God telling me to wait.) Hence the hiatus.

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For 4 months, I didn’t work on that project. Wasn’t sure I was meant to write fiction at all. Maybe it was simply God’s vehicle to bring me to the end of myself and set me free from all those binding perceptions. And maybe the free-flowing story was simply a momentary gift—to be enjoyed in a time of transition.

However, I’d already registered for the Realm Makers (RM) Conference and, in the weeks leading up to that time, new ideas began trickling in once more.

Then, through the suggestions I received at RM (the same answer from three people—Can anyone hear God talking? Ahem.), I began again in earnest, brainstorming ideas as fast as they came, pressing forward to break past the former block in my story… And I just kept going.

Not writing, mind you (Be gone from my presence you foul white page!)—but brainstorming.

Idea after idea after ideain list form.

The suggestions received at RM clearly broke the dam, bringing a fresh creative flow (after turning over said stone). And since God often speaks to me through triplets, I don’t doubt their advice. Yet, as the ideas amassed, a little nagging voice whispered its doubts. 

“These ideas are great,” it said, “but not quite comprehensive enough to get you from beginning to end…

“Not ready yet, luv. So keep plugging away on your list. Don’t try to face the page when you know you’re not ready.”

In other words, don’t start writing ’til you see a clear path throughthe trail through the thicket. Does that sound like God to you?

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Well, I reasoned, He did show me this craft book to read—and I haven’t finished with that yet. And besides, I’ve derailed too often without a plan—wasted countless hours writing garbage.

Though—in case you don’t realize—you’re amassing so many ideas your human brain won’t be capable of sorting them in the end. Not to mention…have you forgotten which story this is?

Mmm. The story of promise. The one I prayed for. The one that began with a flood of creative power unlike any I’d experienced in the writing wilderness of the last ten years.

If the conversation had literally gone as above, I’m sure I would’ve caught on faster. Even so, just a few weeks had passed since my story’s re-beginning, and already my feet were sinking beneath the slippery sands of trust in my own sense of understanding. A well-timed conversation with a wise writer friend confirmed my sinking suspicions.

In my heart of hearts, I knew I had to make a change, which I expressed in my journal:

Am I trying to create on the page a journey of the mind or of the soul? A logical journey, devised in the mind of man—or an authentic one, born of God? Perhaps in pondering each detail so methodically, so thoroughly, with a mind to predetermine the logical progression of character and plot in hopes of removing all risk, I’m refusing to take the journey with God. Perhaps I need to do that hard thing and face my fears (the empty page) with God as my Source.

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After all, who am I trusting to bring me through if I have to plan every detail?

Whose story will it really be if I refuse to relinquish control to the One with the most pure and eternal perspectives?

If I only ever begin writing when the story makes sense, I’m trusting my own powers of reasoning above God’slooking to Hagar to bring the promise—instead of the Miracle-Maker.

As Ted Dekker says in his Meditations, “When we humbly surrender our intellect’s need for certainty, we are set free to trust our Father as only a child can trust.”

So, as I received this re-revelation that seemed to be from God, I faced the chasm spiraling infinitely downward before me. With fear and trepidation, I shuffled my toes to the very edge. Heart pounding, I pondered the tiny pebbles plummeting away into foggy nothingness. But instead of building a bridge across, I looked to my Heavenly Father—and I jumped

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Father, it doesn’t matter if this outpouring of words leads to better understanding of my story. It doesn’t matter if the words are perfect or the plot solid. In this moment, it only matters that I begin this journey with You, a journey of discovery and trust in which I can’t help but grow. So I transition my worries to You, shifting that pressure to perform from my shoulders to Yours.

After all, we were never meant to carry the weight of the results—the unbearable weight of making our stories a success—only to practice the faithfulness of dining at the Father’s table each day. There, we eat with joy. We drink the cup He provides. We write what comes—without pressure!—knowing that our writing is better and purer that way anyway.

Instead of fretting, we trust. When our wheels spin, we cease striving. We let go of expectations of what we feel pressured to achieve and, instead, we invite God to fill the gaps. We don’t fear the blank page which is merely an invitation to trust. Instead, squinting, we take shuffling steps into the white-page snowstorm, flurries whipping past our face with a stinging chill.

Into the whiteout we go, leaning forward into the wind, and there we discover, through story, beautiful lessons from our Daddy.

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How about you? How much are you trusting God each day to meet you on the blank page? And if He doesn’t seem to show? Is it because you closed the door to uncertainty, to risk, to trust? Is it because your expectations are hemming you in, thundering up from the ground like fast-growing hedges that block your sight of the One Who holds all creation in His hands? Can you trust Him, even when He doesn’t seem to deliver?

I’d love to hear where you are on the journey—to pray for you, to cheer you on—in the comments below or in a private message.

A Gift for You

In the meantime, here’s a little inspirational photo-collage I put together—for myself, for others. Feel free to save it for your personal use. It prints nicely to an 8 by 10 photo. If you want to bring a smile to my face, send me a picture of where you’ve anchored it in your home or your writing space.

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The Root of Every Arc

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Character Arcs, Trials, and Transformation, O My!

One of the most satisfying elements of good fiction is the character arc, the dynamic inner changes our favorite characters undergo from beginning to end.

Like Errol, who—in Patrick Carr’s The Staff and the Sword trilogy—transforms from an underdog drunk to a self-sacrificing hero.

Or Abramm, who—in Karen Hancock’s Legends Of The Guardian-King Series—shifts from spiritual darkness and weakness into a destiny forged in light, truth, and strength.

Or Haegan, a formerly paralyzed and bedridden prince, who—in Ronie Kendig’s Embers (Abiassa’s Fire Book 1)—is unexpectedly thrust out into a dangerous world he never expected to face, relentlessly pursued by his king-father’s lethal forces. Under such strain, he can’t help but change. In fiction and life alike, this is the formula for character transformation.

External Conflict (PLOT) + Internal Conflict (CHARACTER WOUNDS & WEAKNESS) = Internal Change (CHARACTER ARC)

In the books and series listed above, each hero faces grave trials that challenge his notion of himself and the world around him. Given enough time and pressure (and an author determined to make them better), each one emerges wiser, stronger, and kinder. Why?

Just as exercise builds muscle, suffering builds character—good or bad. Or—if it doesn’t build character in the traditional sense—it proves character. After all, how do we know what’s really in us until we’re tested? How do we know we’re patient until our patience is tried? How do we know we’re selfless until we have to sacrifice what we most want for the good of another?

Our Hero of heroes Jesus, being in very nature God, didn’t need refinement and yet—just like us—His suffering showed His true character. Unlike us, His suffering proved a purity of love no human being before or since has shown. What He suffered both proved His character and also served as a light for humankind (Luke 23:34, see also Luke 6:32-36). Furthermore, those trials enabled Him to empathize with humanity’s plight (Hebrews 4:15). “He never sinned,” Camp’s song Overcome, expresses, “but suffered as if He did.”

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As for us mere mortals, the first-fruits of our suffering are usually rotten, dredging up from the heart all manner of emotional garbage. In this way, suffering either builds character—or it plunges us deep into the valley of the shadow of death, paved with misery, fear, bitterness, self pity, and every other rotten fruit imaginable. I know because I used to LIVE there.

The Root Problem

For over ten years, I lived in a spiritual wilderness, unable to accept God’s love, find my purpose, or discern any real meaning in life. My career derailed. My spiritual lifeline frayed. Emotion gripped me in a chokehold.

Why was I so miserable? What was the root of my problem? Should I have shifted into a new career? Like the writing that also floundered? Should I have settled for a simpler career—one at odds with my God-given desires and natural talents?

When the anxiety and depression worsened, I took medication for a time, though it didn’t truly help. Should I also have sought a psychiatrist? Gotten more exercise? Eaten healthier balanced meals?

In terms of my spiritual life, should I have studied my Bible more often…even though the vast majority of scripture would trigger acute anxiety? Perhaps if I’d served more—prayed harder?

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My point in raising all these questions is to provoke thought: What kind of advice do we usually give to others currently immersed in emotional misery? What do we tend to perceive as their root problem? During the course of my struggle with anxiety and depression, I’d received platitudes, suggestions for vitamins to take as well as an exhortation to exercise. The message the world offers includes the following kinds of advice:

Do something for yourself. Try a new hobby, get a pet, go on vacation. Make yourself happy—whatever it takes. And while none of these actions are inherently bad (“whatever it takes” notwithstanding), they only ever serve as a distraction to the root cause.

The fact is, the world’s advice leaves us flailing…like blind men shooting crossbows in random directions, hoping against hope to hit a target we’re not sure is even there…

Because the external problem isn’t usually the root problem.

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Digging to the Roots

My own experience has convinced me that every emotional trial I’ve faced is rooted in one thing: perception. In other words, I’ve always found the root cause for every emotional trial to be—not something I do or fail to do, but rather—(1) what I believe and (2) how well those beliefs align with God’s truth.

If I were to generalize this observation, I might say it like this: The problem—and, therefore, the solution to every emotional trial we face—isn’t somewhere out there in the WORLD, something to be attained or achieved, some universal tangible fix-all. The problem is in the mind, in the inner man—within our WORLDVIEW.

In the midst of every outward trial, what we believe will determine whether we overcome the emotional pain—or else sink down to the depths. Believing God’s promises—that He’s working all things for our good and using every trial to build character—gives us hope in hard times. In contrast, depression and hopelessness characterize those who believe their struggles to be pointless and their efforts futile.

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Clearly, pondering whatever is noble and lovely and pure (Philippians 4:8-9) is good, but there’s a subtle distinction between faith in God and the world’s generic positivity.

Believing a pleasant lie (that is, positive thinking) may satisfy for a time, but only those beliefs that align with God’s truth will stand the test of time. Just as there are physical laws we dare not break (step off the cliff and you will fall), spiritual laws hold serious consequences for those who pay them no mind. Breaking those laws may seem harmless at first, but we always reap what we sow.

My false beliefs, for example, reaped years of anxiety and depression as well as a deficit of peace. No external change brought relief—only a revelation of God’s truth.

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A Word of Warning to the World

Based on my experience, the first step to inner healing and growth would seem to begin with the recognition that what we believe holds power—power to bring either inner peace or emotional pain. However, it’s not only what we believe that matters, but also, whether or not it’s actually true.

Relative truth is one philosophy society offers to bring comfort to the world. “It’s okay,” they say, “We can hold mutually exclusive beliefs. What I believe is true for me; what you believe is true for you.” But is it? I think we can all agree science only works because truth is fixed and not fluid. Natural laws and constants—like gravity—are surprisingly, um, constant. In the same way, the rules of the road aren’t “each to his own.” Most people accept the absolute truth signified in a red light, whether or not they absolutely refute the existence of absolute truth.

Put another way: Disregard a stoplight at your own risk.

Likewise, any who disregard spiritual truths will suffer the consequence.

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A Warning to Christians

If the previous section was a warning to the world, this next section is a warning to fellow Christians, and the warning is this: Knowing the truth isn’t enough.

I certainly don’t mean this as a judgment on those who struggle. This warning comes from a place of compassion as one who struggled so long with the results of deception. I’d attended church almost all my life. I knew the Bible inside and out. I “knew” the truth—so why wasn’t I free?

Because I didn’t really accept the words as being true. My mental assent wasn’t enough; I didn’t receive the truths I most needed on a heart level.

Here’s the crux of the matter: Truth is a powerful tool that does us absolutely no good if we don’t lay hold of it through faith. Even for Christians, who generally know the truth, it’s not how much Scripture they memorize, but how deeply they believe.

Even though the victory is ours through Jesus, we won’t experience that victory in our daily lives unless we know and stand upon the truth. God’s word is described as a sword, but a sword only has power insofar as it’s used.

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This applies to everyday life as we encounter situations—experiences or memories, any attitudes, feelings, or thoughts—that run counter to God’s Word. Whenever this happens, we have a choice what to believe. Will we elevate our emotions and logic over and above God’s truth? Or will we catch the revelation that the perceptions that sprout from life experience are often perversions of the truth?

The Inner Journey

One of the revelations that inspired this post was the clear parallel between my own transformation and the inner journeys our characters face. Why I should be surprised at the similarity?—I’m not sure—but it drove home a critical truth about the nature of human change: Whether in fiction or life, every upward character arc hinges on some fundamental lie being exposed, which empowers the hero to finally embrace some transformative truth.

Perceptions

Within this discovery, there’s a critical “aha!” worth pondering: No matter how in control we feel, we aren’t ultimately in control of our outward lives. Yes, we make decisions; we take actions. Then along comes a plot twist to derail our careful plans. In this way, our control over the external plot of our lives is limited.

However, even when plans go awry and our goal is thwarted, we still have some choice in how we’ll react. Will we be like Jesus, forgiving the soldiers who nailed him to the cross? Or like the Israelites in the desert, grumbling against God?

The answer depends—as stated above—on what we believe to be true. For example, do we believe suffering is random and pointless—or that God is sovereign and in control? If the latter, do we really believe He sees the beginning from the end and works all trials for our good? To the extent our understanding of God’s truth is skewed, our perception of His character is also skewed. If we think He enjoys our misery, we’ll never see Him as the good Daddy He truly is; we won’t believe His plans for our lives are infinitely better than anything we could ever plan for ourselves.

 

Frustration

 

So, just as Weiland discusses on her blog and in her book Creating Character Arcs, “The Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes.”

In a future post, I’m hoping to expound on my own journey of transformation and the lies I unwittingly embraced. Until then, I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts and insights about how truth has shaped your particular journey. If you’re still enmeshed in emotional struggles, can you pinpoint the root as a lie—or is your struggle an exception to the rule? There’s no judgment here—only encouragement to press on. Sow a comment and you’ll reap a prayer. Until next time…