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 Subtle Erosion: A Remedy

Is something missing from your Bible Study or your faith walk? Here’s what God showed me about the subtle erosion that sneaks into our time with Him:

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It began like this:

Whenever God answered my prayers in an unmistakable way; when I felt His creative powers flow through me, driving out devotions with an unexpected ease; when His presence shook my foundations—my arms, my knees, my voice while also empowering me to speak; and when His flame licked across the crown of my head and settled like a fire beneath my chest, burning the inner dross with His purifying fire—then I was consumed with awe for my God.

But when the heat faded, the sense of His presence felt far off. Equally far was the grace I once had—the supernatural ease—to demonstrate His patient selfless love to others. I fought to regain lost ground—though I know it isn’t truly lost; it’s part of a life-long process of being conformed into His image—whether by the tangible blaze of His Spirit’s fire or the lonely renewing of my mind. New lessons require a new approach. There’s a purpose in these struggles. And so, my God, my loving God—whether I feel Your presence or not—I know You fill this vacancy, too.

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Still, wanting more, I pressed in; I sought His face; I devoured the Word, the truth. But somehow, in my seeking, the routine settled in until the heavenly manna tasted bland—Bland?! How is it possible to read the Word of Life and find oneself mired in a lifeless intellectual pursuit? This should not be! (But all too often it is.)

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.

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So, instead of being a people who come near to God with their mouth and honor Him with their lips while our hearts remain far off (Isaiah 29:13), how about we take a moment to forget the rules and regulations and simply meditate on the glory of God’s power?

Isaiah 29:4-6,9,13-14:

God says, “Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper. But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire… Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer…” The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

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Psalm 46:8-11 (TPT):

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival.
He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
The Commander!
The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
The God of Jacob fights for us!
Pause in his presence

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Psalm 29:

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.

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Isaiah 46:3-5,9-13:

3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? …
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.
12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

See also my devotion on Isaiah 46: A Writer’s Idol. And consider soaking in His presence:

Mini-Devotional Collection

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The last few days, I’ve been reading “Praying from the Heavenly Realms” during my morning devotions, feeling the weight of the Spirit and being injected with inspiration and faith for prayer. Almost every morning as I was reading, a spark of inspiration would strike and I would begin furiously typing my thoughts into my phone, pausing to search for Scriptures that came to mind, until I sensed the flurry winding to a close.

The devotions below are the very ones written during this time. I first published them on Facebook as individual posts, but I thought it would be fun to anchor them in a more permanent post and to share them with some of my friends who aren’t on Facebook. So, here they are:

If you need recommendations for recharging a stagnating faith-walk, check out the first mini-devotion below: 1. God is the Source

If you’re struggling to believe in God’s personal love for you, consider reading the second: 2. Nobody’s a Nobody.

If you’d like a meditation on Philippians 1:21 and on what it means to be dead to sin and alive to Christ, check out 3. To Live is Christ.

If you’d like a distinction between happiness and joy and how earthly treasures can never bring permanent satisfaction, skip to 4. Where Your Treasure Is. (This and the next one are geared toward writers, but just replace the word “writing” with “passion” and you’ll still likely find something to glean.)

Finally, the last mini-devotion (5. God Owns His Creation) is meant as a pep-talk for writers (and probably other creatives) who find themselves tempted to place their value in their writing (or art).

However much or little you read of these mini-devotionals, I pray you’ll be blessed.


1. God is the Source

I remember how I used to feel, reading John 3:16 and thinking, “Sure, God loves the world generically, but me, personally?” I wonder how hard it is for others to accept God’s personal, individual love for them as well.

God’s work in my life has filled me with an experiential knowledge of His perfect personal love for me. Not only that, it’s flooded my heart with love for Him, which is a total game-changer. When you really grasp the nail-pounded, blood-lashed, mocked-to-death love of Jesus for YOU, and when you can dwell in that beautiful place—in His loving presence—YOU. WILL. BE. CHANGED.

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As one who lived so long in a wilderness of powerlessness, I’ve come to understand one very important thing: God is the Source. We can listen to worship songs and read our Bibles, but we can’t make ourselves feel God’s love. We can’t make ourselves love God. And we certainly can’t remake ourselves into the people He wants us to be.

So, if we ever feel stuck in our faith walk, the very VERY first step is to ask God to give us what we need, which could involve prayer, finding and confessing the promises He’s given in Scripture, or worshiping His sufficiency, goodness, power, and love.

Here are three quick things to try:
(1) Pray Ephesians 1:17-22 for yourself.
(2) Read 1 Thessalonians 5:24 and the prior verses.
(3) Listen to “Best News Ever” by MercyMe

When we can’t find the strength or inspiration, we need only lay the burden back on God, acknowledging that He is the Source of all good things and that we’re utterly helpless without Him. This is true in every moment, whether or not we feel it.


2. Nobody’s a Nobody

The Bible says of Jesus that “for the joy set before Him, [He] endured the cross” Hebrews 12:2.

And what was that joy spurring Him on? Only the privilege of being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God”? Somehow, I don’t think that’s the whole story.

Not for the man who would leave the 99 sheep safe and sound in their pen to go after the one (Matthew 18:12).

Not for the man who defended the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) or who paused His plans to personally acknowledge the woman with the faith to touch His hem (Matthew 9:18-26).

Jesus singled people out, like the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26). He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:24-25) and loved them anyway (Matthew 23:37): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

And He forgives them at their worst (Luke 23:34-43): “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” … Then one criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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I want to finish with a quote from a book I’ve been reading: “Praying from the Heavenly Realms” by Kevin Zadai:

“When Jesus was standing with me after I had died in the operating room during my heavenly visitation in 1992, I remember looking into His eyes and seeing something amazing. He remembered the day He thought of me and spoke me into existence and sent me to my mother’s womb. This is extremely important to understand because I could hear Jesus’s thoughts when I looked into His eyes. When He realized this He smiled. He saw that I had turned out just as He desired when He spoke me into existence. I had turned out the perfect way that He intended me to be…

“It is profound how much He loves people. God’s purpose is actually injected into us when we are created, along with the gifts and plans that He has for us. His purpose for His Kingdom has been placed inside of you, and this earthly life is just a journey of discovery. There is an unfolding of the gifts of God and the purpose of God for every person on the earth. He does not wish that any should perish.”

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13).


3. To Live is Christ

I died. That’s what the Bible teaches. I died and now I’m only alive by this new work God’s doing in me. Whenever we die, we’re free from sin. I died with Christ and it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I died to sin and I’m free. But without Jesus’s sustaining power, I’d be nothing more than a walking zombie.

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I’m already dead—already experiencing the gain of living in vital union with my Savior. Yet I haven’t been so blessed as to meet Him face to face. What a gain that would be! What a blissful reunion with the One who’s been helping and sustaining me. The longer I dwell in His presence, the more like Him I become, the more I like myself—perhaps because I’m thinking of myself less and Him more.

So many people live in fear of death, but what a beautiful moment that’ll be for those of us who have staked our lives on Jesus. Truly I long for that day when I’ll finally stand in the presence of the One who loves me most, with nothing between us.


4. Where Your Treasure Is

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When I made writing my treasure, I swung uncontrollably between anxiety and depression… and elation. But the elation could never last. It was based on a worldly hope of success that could never be perfectly met in every instance. When circumstances favored that hope, I was happy. When they didn’t, I was devastated.

Had I been published during this time, I know in my heart that this emotional roller coaster would’ve persisted—in spite of any apparent success. When reviews were good, I would be up. When bad, my mood would swing down. And having been published, I would want to be published again, so that—in spite of achieving—I would never arrive in that happily ever after destination. Because… it’s a myth.

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, for we know “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). Bestsellers are forgotten. Yesterday’s successes rarely satisfy on the morrow…

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. Then our “happiness” is guaranteed… Because our Savior is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).

Jesus came that we would have and enjoy life to the full (John 10:10). He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13), who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:23). One with the Father, He does not change like shifting shadows—and how quick we are to forget that He is the Source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Yet we miss the greatest gift of all—unspeakable joy in our intimate restoration to the only Father who could ever love us perfectly, and our beloved self-sacrificing big brother, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2)—for us!

When we put Jesus first, making Him our foremost treasure, only then can we truly enjoy all the other beautiful gifts He’s given. Praise God!


5. God Owns His Creation

Can I just say, your value as a person goes way, way beyond your abilities as a writer. God has shown me freedom in placing my identity in Him rather than anything we might do or accomplish on this earth. I suspect creatives are particularly susceptible to the lie that they’re only as good as their latest creation.

When we get negative feedback, aren’t we tempted to devalue ourselves? But think about this: You are God’s creation. Every time anyone has mocked you—your quirky personality, appearance, and unique if somewhat bizarre gifts—or anytime you’ve laughed or rolled your eyes at anyone else for that matter (no guilt here, just grace!), God doesn’t devalue Himself on account of those insults.

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You are God’s creation. And He owns it—owns and claims YOU as His special creation. He absorbs the insults against you. He’s even got your name engraved in the palm of His hand like a picture in His wallet. You might be struggling (and I hesitate to use Job as an example), but God was bragging on him, wasn’t He? “Look at my son, would you? Just look at him! Is there anyone so grand?” And how about that prodigal dad, just waiting for His son’s return? That father gave the young man freedom to make mistakes in order to bring him home changed and ready to face the world because Love—always hoping and persevering—sees the potential in others.

The truth is, each one of us was fashioned with His special care and personal touch. Our names and even our future good deeds were planned out, and all our days inscribed in Heavenly books. God made you the way you are because He wanted YOU to exist. And He came down to earth and died because He didn’t want Heaven without you in it.

Inspirational Authors: My Testimony, Part 2

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We all have childhood dreams, don’t we? Some of us pursue them. To some of us, they seem more like a childish fantasy to be put aside at the proper time. Adulthood and fantasy don’t mix in the real life. We’re not princes and princesses, but paupers pursuing paid work—or else we’re starving artists.

Isn’t that the way of things?

No wonder then that my dream to write—which seemed both to peak and peter in high school—turned out to be a foolish hobby to be set aside.

Instead, I pursued science. I rode a rocky rail through graduate studies at RPI, stalled when it came time to edit my first paper, then finally made it through—by the skin of my teeth it seemed.

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If “mediocre” was my word in high school, then “failure” was my label as a post-grad.

That label fused into my soul as I began teaching, airing my inadequacies for every student to see. Dumped into the deep end, sinking, I felt like the biggest fraud that ever lived—with an audience of witnesses in every classroom.

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I thought the first year would kill me. It didn’t. Another year, another move fulfilling another sabbatical replacement. The second year was better—I was improving—but I never made the cut in my heart. Three years and three states later, I looked for university positions in my field and found none.

Just like that my 12-year pursuit (4 years to get a bachelors + 5 for the PhD + 3 as a professor) 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.

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All my life’s pursuits had lead to this moment, crystal clear in retrospect: I was finished. I didn’t want to teach anymore. I didn’t want to do research or work in industry. There was, in fact, nothing I could imagine wanting to do with the PhD I’d been so eager to earn in my own strength. Nor could I imagine anything I either was able or wanted to do with my life, period.

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Thus began the years of emptiness. I lived in dread of a single question from strangers—“what do you do?”—and another from friends—“found a job yet?”

I shudder to think what my life would’ve been if I hadn’t been married then. As it was, I became a stay-at-home wife, pursuing meaningless hobbies like brewing beer… and writing a novel.

In all these pursuits I was searching for significance—for purpose… or else just hoping for distraction.

As time passed, I began placing all my worth in my writing, growing happy and hopeful when all was well… only to feel the weight of mountains crashing down at the tiniest snag, the smallest setback. Any whispered suggestion that I could do better—even well-meant critiques from friends—amounted in my mind to utter failure and hopelessness.

Cue the identity crisis that prompted these words:

“As the prodigal son attempted to transform his father’s fortune into joy, so I use my Father’s “talents” in hopes of earning satisfaction. And yet…my talents aren’t enough. I’m mired in emotional squalor, feeding—starving—on the deficit of my own futile attempts to find meaning within.”

During this time, my prayers were pathetic and desperate. I knew I needed steady devotions, but with much of Scripture triggering the very angst I fought desperately to escape, I barely summoned the nerve to face it.

Nevertheless, with the tiniest seed of faith, I searched for verses that fed my soul rather than shredding it. Instead of passages urging me to do more and try harder to be good, I drank in every verse proclaiming God’s power and strength… like Isaiah 46, which prompted one of several blog posts on my journey toward the light.

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If you catch nothing else, catch this:

Since about halfway through grad school until the summer of last year, I struggled off and on with anxiety and depression. That’s over ten years of struggle. More than a decade living with an Ecclesiastes 1 mentality, just ready to be done with this strange experiment called life.

Was there anything I could’ve done to have shortened this period? Perhaps. We can never know what might’ve been, but here’s what I’ve learned from looking back:

  1. Anxiety and depression aren’t things one just snaps out of. Studying the Bible can help, but when our understanding is skewed because we’re blinded by life-long misperceptions, it can also hurt. Which leads me to my next point…
  2. Whenever I felt condemned for not living up to the Bible’s standards, that wasn’t God’s voice in my ear. Unlike me, He knew I was on a transformative journey that would take some time to manifest. (Conviction is another matter, but when God bids us change, He promises to walk beside us as our guide and aid.)
  3. Even when the Bible seems to be a burden, seeking God Himself is always the right path. However, it does take faith to press into Him when our emotions keep telling us God’s not interested. (I assure you, He is.)
  4. When a person is struggling with anxiety and depression, they generally don’t need to be EXHORTED (urged to do better); they need God to be EXALTED. Whereas exhortation presses us down and aims our focus on ourselves and the shoulds and oughts of future action, exultation fixes our gaze on God—His sufficiency, power, and strength to deliver us from whatever ails. Worship is a powerful weapon, my friends! If you’re in need of a little pick-me-up, try reading through these enemy-shattering bombshell Scriptures.
  5. For my type of anxiety and depression, renewing the mind was critical. Note, however, that the burden of our transformation is not ours to bear. We can read resources that will help to change our mindsets, but only God can initiate transformation. As such, the journey is inherently a cooperative partnership—not something we can do by ourselves, which is a bit of a relief really. Ultimately, the heavy lifting of our transformation is on God’s shoulders, not ours. What I’m trying to say is—unless we think the weight is ours alone to carry (so that the other side of the yoke is left empty)—His yoke is indeed easy and His burden light!
  6. Not everything which is good advice in general will be good for every individual in any given moment. God knows we’re all different. He speaks our language even when others—even well-meaning people—don’t. As such, not everything spoken, written, etc—even those things that are spoken to us with an intent to help—should be taken into our spirits. For that reason, also, it took me a while to find the right resource to aid me in renewing my mind. In the timing and manner I found this particular book, I know God brought it to my attention. Then He used it to heal me of my anxiety and depression.

Here’s the bottom line: God was working in my life, even when it felt like I’d been abandoned. He took the most painful parts of my story and turned them around for His glory. As I said in an earlier post about these struggles:

God wasn’t hiding Himself, you see? My skewed perceptions—the same ones that turned God’s word against me—they were the culprit. The truth is, our reality is shaped by what we truly believe, which means some of us are living in Hell even while the kingdom of Heaven looms near.

For each one reading this post today—each person out there who’s still struggling beneath the weight of their anxiety and depression—I pray God would guide you to the resource that speaks to your heart—and heals your hurts. For me, that resource was, without a doubt, Ted Dekker’s Forgotten Way Meditations. I’m so grateful to God for leading Ted to write that book, for guiding me to read it, and for using it to heal me.

Perceptions

If you’d like to read more about my transformative journey, check out these earlier posts:

How about you? How has God shown Himself powerful in your life? What’s one book, novel, movie, or other resource that God used for your spiritual growth or transformation?

Not on the upswing yet? Don’t fret. We’re all a work in progress. If you have prayer requests or just need to reach out to someone who understands your brand of pain, feel free to write to me through my contact page. Seriously. I believe God let me suffer with these issues for so long in order to instill in me a heart that hurts for the mentally and emotionally distraught. I love you. God loves you. I pray He’ll help you lift your eyes to see Him smiling down on you.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Lessons from the Patriarchs: Abraham

In New Year’s resolutions and Character Goals, I talked about the difference between desires and goals, suggesting that goals are superior.

“The trouble with desire,” I said, “is that it tends to be passive” (a negative). “Furthermore, desires need not be within our power to achieve.” In other words, desires can be futile. But this week I’m flipping those assumptions on their heads.

That’s not to say that goals aren’t good. As creatures made in God’s image and imbued with fundamental skills, as well as His choice of special talents, we all have the ability to achieve certain pursuits in this fallen world. But as children of God, born again into His kingdom, we also need dreams beyond what we can achieve in our own strength… dreams beyond all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

As children of God, we pursue the impossible through faith.

Which brings me back to my recent studies in Genesis and my contemplations of the Patriarchs. What can we learn from their successes and mistakes?

ABRAHAM

The promise God made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15 (which I describe here) transferred to their son Seth, then eventually Noah and his descendants leading up to the first patriarch, Abram. In the first divine promise made to this man, God said:

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:2-3

On some level, Abram believed God (for he proceeded at least in partial obedience to the LORD’s command), and yet—when his wife Sarai failed to conceive—he tried to simplify the promise—to achieve it in his own strength by using Hagar as a substitute.

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What lessons can we learn from Abraham’s story?

First of all, we can’t force God’s timing or even His methods. Receiving a promise isn’t about being in control; it’s about trust. Obtaining a promise isn’t about working hard and then asking God to bless our efforts. As I said in my review of Havah (by Tosca Lee),

“God’s promise fulfilled in man’s strength is no promise at all.”

But why is that?

God told Abram, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Among the prose of promises listed in Genesis 12 above, that one line is the most important—and it could never have been fulfilled in man’s strength—through Ishmael’s descendants and the lineage of Hagar, the slave girl (as explained in Galatians 4:21-31).

It’s true that Ishmael would fulfill other aspects of the promise—such as becoming a great nation—but partial fulfillment wasn’t enough for God. Partial fulfillment wouldn’t lead to the Messiah, the cross, and the redemption of all mankind. Partial fulfillment wouldn’t satisfy the promise made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. For the enemy to be crushed and mankind to be freed, the essential lineage was the one leading to Jesus. For that, only Isaac—the son conceived in God’s strength—would do, because…

It’s only through God’s power that all people can be blessed.

Perhaps that’s why God alone—and not Abram—bore the weight of the Genesis 15 covenant:

“I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half…

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram… (Genesis 15:7-18)

Note how Abram never sets foot between the severed pieces. That’s because 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.”

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And that’s just what transpired. God died—willingly. On a cross. To fulfill the promise He’d made to Adam and Eve, then to Abraham, and—eventually—to all the inhabitants of this fallen world. A promise made in His wisdom, carried out in His strength, and fulfilled for His glory (and our benefit).

A promise to bless mankind. If we can only cease our working and striving to receive the promise only God can fulfill.

But how does that transfer to our writing—or whatever God-given passion we pursue?

“I will make you into a great nation…”

Do we only want great influence (numerous descendants) in order to feel we’ve made our mark?

“I will make your name great…”

Do we only wish for notoriety and fame so everyone knows our names? Or would we rather make a name for God?

Do we want our writing to be only an escape from reality—or to be instead an escape into a reality only comprehensible in God’s strength?

“…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

If we want the most important part of God’s promise to be true for us—for our writing, our ministry—that it would be a spiritual blessing to our readers (or whomever our audience may be), we’ll need more than an Ishmael. More than our own efforts and strength.

We’ll need a dead womb submitted to God, every earthly hope fading—until all our hopes center on God.

As Allen Arnold says in The Story of With:

51fhqlyy5fl“Let go of your preconceived notions of what is possible and ask God about His dreams for you. They will likely be far bigger than anything you’ve yet imagined.” After all, “The only way to experience a miracle is to put yourself in a position to need one. That is part of stepping into dreams so big that only God can make them come true.”

The Power of Promise?

So God says, I’ll give you a land. A place of belonging. A name, a son, a nation (Genesis 12). This in itself is a great promise, but I wonder if Abraham fully understood what God was saying.

Consider how Abram asks God for proof: “how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (Genesis 15:8)

God indulges Abram with the outward sign of a covenant (the severed animals, and the ceremony), though I believe the words God speaks just prior to this moment serve as a pre-answer to Abram’s doubt:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
(Genesis 15:1)

A son was nice. A nation, too. But here God whispers what really matters… “I AM… your reward.” In other words…

“Don’t trust in the promise, my son. Trust in the Promise-Giver.”

This, I believe, was the very reason God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. To ensure that his trust was properly grounded. Not in Isaac—but in God.

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If the Sovereign Lord once planted a son in a dead womb, He could do it again. Or raise the sacrificed boy from the dead so he might again become the son of promise. The Creator of time itself can do above and beyond anything we can ever ask or imagine.

So… when we think we’ve finally produced a novel that could be our very own “son of promise,” instead of rushing out to the printer, we need to lay it on God’s altar. Give it back to Him to do away with or to use however He wishes.

We submit our work to God—or else it becomes an idol, a snare.

We need to realize that the tangible product in our hands is nothing apart from God’s divine power. Furthermore, God is more concerned with our relationship to Him than with our productivity. Rather than any blessings He might bestow, God Himself is our greatest reward.

New Year’s resolutions and Character Goals

The Importance of Goals

One of the most basic lessons in writing fiction is that characters need goals. Without goals, characters are aimless, plot flounders, and the overall narrative lacks drive. So, too, in life—as the heroes and heroines of our own stories—we give our lives purpose and direction in the goals we pursue.

autumn-direction

In essence, New Year’s resolutions are nothing more than goals to bring change. Of course, there’s no reason to wait for the new year to pursue a new goal, but for some reason that ticking clock—that inevitable flip of the calendar—always gets us thinking, “what if?”

What if I were healthier? Thinner? Richer? Happier?

What if I could overcome that bad habit? Get that degree?

What if?

How about you? Have you set any goals yet for 2019? Whether or not you have, take a moment to consider your life’s greatest dream.

How could that be translated into a successful resolution?

live-your-dream-beach-collage

Of Dreams and Goals

Before we tackle that question, we have to admit there’s such a thing as a flawed resolution (or goal). Most resolutions are born of dissatisfaction—followed by a burst of motivation centered around a desire for change.

A desire—a dream, a wish, a hope—not necessarily a goal.

The trouble with desire is that it tends to be passive. Furthermore, desires need not be within our power to achieve. Not only that, but desires and wishes—hopes and longings not fully formed in our minds—are often nebulous and vague (while a successful plot goal never is). In the section below, we’ll explore each of these issues in turn—and more.

deserted-soccer-goal

What New Year’s resolutions and character goals have in common, or should

(1) Character Goals aren’t Passive

Passive vs. Active.

Those two words might conjure nightmares about grammar, about that critiquer who won’t stop picking at a sluggish character, or about one’s own personal lack of motivation. By the structure of a sentence, we can tell if our characters are taking action, or if—instead—they’re being acted upon. Proactive characters take charge of a situation, whereas those who are passive allow circumstances to dictate the course of their days.

subway-passive-wide

I doubt many people think of goals as being passive—but rather, the characters themselves. However, inferior goals make it harder—even impossible—for characters to be proactive. In that sense, there really is such a thing as a passive goal.

For example, what if one’s greatest wish is that their spouse would stop drinking? Or that their boss would lighten up? Goals to get pregnant or overcome cancer seem futile for a reason. Like the examples above, they represent hopes not entirely within the dreamer’s control.

banner-possible-impossible-fog

The point is this: Just like characters in a book—we, too, need agency. In other words, whatever goal we choose must be within our power to attain. Secondly, our attitude toward our goal should be active rather than passive. When we don’t have agency, we can’t help but become passive players in the stories of our lives.

However, even if we do have the power to act, we might still be passive if our goal is inferior in other ways. Such as…

(2) Character Goals should never be Vague

Since goals are so important in shaping the momentum, direction, and personal stakes of a story, it’s important to get them right. One major lesson I had to learn before I could even approximate good fiction is that a character’s goal should never be vague.

Janice Hardy explains it this way:

“What makes plotting tough is that vague thematic statements like, “find love again” or “learn to trust others,” are great story goals (and good for internal character arcs), but unhelpful plot goals. Think of it like this: Go out right now and find love again. Um, you can’t, not really. It’s not like “love again” is something you can go get at the store. But you can act in a way that will help you find love again, such as go to a museum and talk to cute guys.”

Whenever we confuse the inner and outer journeys, our progress flounders. The inner goal—linked to a character’s arc—can be vague, but not the outer plot goal, which drives the action. So how are these two kinds of goals related? The inner goal—akin to character motivation—drives the outer goal. The plot. The action. Vague inner wishes are okay so long as they translate to specific actions.

So, even if we begin with hazy goals, we can’t end there. Instead…
→ The vague…must be made specific.
→ The abstract… be made concrete.
→ The broad… broken down into bite-sized steps.

directory-next-step

In other words, we need a specific plan of action. Something we can picture ourselves (or our characters) doing, step by step.

For example, instead of vaguely resolving to be healthier and lose weight (in what would’ve amounted to nothing more than a blind and/or random approach), I found an app to keep track of my caloric intake. My specific goal is to get back down to my high school weight by May 11th of this year. Without the app—which prompted my goal and calculated my daily target intake—I probably would’ve restricted myself too much, felt like I was starving, and promptly given up.

mynetdiary-dashboard

With the app as a guide, I can tell when I’m pressing closer to my goal—and when I’m falling farther behind… which leads to my next point.

(3) Character Goals are realized and refined in the context of SCENE and SEQUEL

One way to bring change to our lives is simply by being more action-conscious. How can we make good decisions if we aren’t truly aware of our choices? Like when we eat without looking at labels—or without any sense of what a healthy portion should be. Weighing in—if our goal is to lose weight—is all well and good, but it doesn’t address the real problem: our net intake. Certainly, we can measure progress on a scale, but a successful goal mandates changes in diet and/or exercise, as well.

choices

Here, the link to character goals is a bit thin, but consider the micro-structure of a novel: Goal, Conflict, and Disaster (in a SCENE). Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision (in a SEQUEL). Characters move through novels by way of action and reaction. Similarly, our example resolution (to lose weight), can be divided into two parts: Action and Assessment (which leads to Reaction and Reassessment).

Continuing our example:
Action = Eating and Exercising according to our plan. (SCENE)
Assessment = Weighing in to measure our progress. (SEQUEL)

Just as SCENE and SEQUEL drive progress in a novel, we need both action and assessment—both effort and progress-measurement—in order to be proactive for the long haul. Otherwise, we’ll end up spinning our wheels in one of two ways—either blindly acting, or else passively reacting to our poor choices.

success-equation

The ultimate end is to take actions that move us closer to our goal (the equivalent of plot motion).

(4) Character Goals are more or less Singular

Finally, as equally problematic as leaving our stepwise actions vague—or leaving SCENE or SEQUEL out of the equation—is trying to fulfill, all at once, our every desire.

For a novel to be cohesive—and a character’s motivation, single-mindedly sufficient to prove the stakes—one goal (and one goal only) must rise to the top. Otherwise, a reader’s focus—and likely their interests, too—will be divided.

When that happens, the novel’s trajectory grows hazy as the “story question”—equivalent to the overarching plot goal—frays into thinner and thinner threads. At which point, readers begin to wonder what’s truly important to the story; the overall stakes dilute; the pacing slows.

split-sign-direction

Likewise, we need to pace ourselves. Prioritize our ambitions. Avoid getting distracted with multiple goals, which could end up suffocating our success in what matters most.

Character (or self) to-do list for a successful goal (or resolution):
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.

What do you think? Are you reassessing your goals right now? Feel free to share your 2019 ambitions in the comments below.

 

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

Have you ever noticed how we human beings are generally our most miserable when we’re focused on ourselves? My wants, my needs, my pains, my problems… For beings so dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, you’d think we might recognize the link between joy and self-forgetfulness…but no.

Plus: Easier said than done, right?

I recognize that my problems, when compared to others’, really aren’t so bad. Even so, whenever I dwell on my concerns, I can easily end up having a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

Or maybe it’s that the bad days encourage me to focus on myself (and my problems). Regardless, whether life’s circumstances force the issue—drawing my focus to the negative—or whether my downward-spiraling thoughts suction my day down the proverbial drain, I’ve come to believe that Self is at the root of all my problems.

self-root-of-problems

Don’t believe me? Take a moment to think about it.

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?

At this point, you may be thinking,“But if I relax too much—if I don’t push myself onward—I’ll never make it to the end.”

Complacency is certainly a dangerous enemy. But consider the following quotes:

“When you’re cranky, so is your novel. When you shine, your novel does, too. So why not let yourself shine, both in life and on the page?” From The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass

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While it’s true that negative emotions can be harnessed as a fuel for creativity, stress—more often than not—serves only to stifle our innovation. According to Dr. Shelley Carson, author of, Your Creative Brain:

“When mood is more negative, attention becomes more focused so that we can concentrate on addressing stressors that are impacting our well-being.” In contrast, “When mood is elevated, attention becomes somewhat defocused so that we can take in more information in search of novel opportunities.”

And those novel opportunities for writers are often novel ideas for our faltering plot!

As a case in point, I spent several hours yesterday trying to solve a single plot problem (without success). As I worked on brainstorming ideas, I began to feel—not energized, as I often am when I brainstorm—but as if I’d been banging my head against a wall. Repeatedly.

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I was putting so much pressure on myself to solve THIS ONE PROBLEM, that I blocked out all other avenues of creativity… All because of the pressure I was putting on my SELF.

I need to solve this plot problem or *I* will never be published. If I can’t solve this plot problem, *I’m* a failure. It didn’t help that, a few days prior, I’d thought I’d found a plot solution—a solution I was now second guessing.

Why? I was judging myself, my work, my adequacy. My idea isn’t good enough. Im not good enough. Self, self, SELF!

(Never mind that I was also idolizing my success.)

So, what can we creative types do when our SELF is thwarting our creative progress?

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Practical ideas for forgetting yourself

It’s all good and well to say don’t think about yourself, but it’s often better to change the “thou shalt nots” into more practical “to dos.” For example:

(1) Think Positive.

If you can’t NOT think about yourself, can you at least balance out the negative with a little positive thinking? For me, this approach would sound something like this: “I may not be published yet, but I’ve learned so much about writing since I began.” Or, “I may not have made the progress I’d hoped for today, but I have been making progress.”

When we choose to focus on how much we’ve accomplished rather than how far we have to go, we’re more likely to remain positive. And, as Dr. Shelley Carson says in Your Creative Brain:

There is “actual scientific evidence that indicates you’re more likely to generate a large number of ideas and to make unusual associations when you receive an unexpected reward or when you’re in a good mood.

(2) Enjoy a little Nature.

Too much time at the screen can be bad. So why not take a break to bask in the beauty and magnitude of nature. To reconnect with the wonder of your inner child… Marvel at the texture of a rock, the colors of a feather, the sheer grandeur of the rugged mountains, and the play of glimmering light and shifting shadows.

getting-lost-in-nature

After all, tuning in to nature (that is, to the sensory details our brains typically filter out) is yet another way to jumpstart our creativity. Don’t you feel your mood improving already?

(3) Exercise.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know. You’re either already in the habit of being active or you don’t wanna hear about it. That was true for me as well (the latter, I’m sorry to say) until I learned about the link between exercise and creativity, again from Your Creative Brain:

“Research indicates that during the two-hour period following aerobic exercise, alpha and theta wave activity [which increase creative potential] are increased in the prefrontal cortex.”

(Note: Besides the few quotes I’ve already shared, there are loads more treasures to be unearthed from Dr. Shelley Carson’s book, including brain exercises to help improve your creativity. Read more about it here: http://www.shelleycarson.com/your-creative-brain).

(4) Worship God.

If you’re not a religious person, feel free to disregard this last point. However, personally, nothing helps me get my mind off myself like the wonder of God. After all, none of us are adequate in ourselves… But He is. None of us quite knows where our lives will lead… But He does.

So, from my point of view, God’s omnipotent omniscient sufficiency and love is the answer to all life’s uncertainties. More than that, true worship helps us forget ourselves by shifting the focus from our deficiencies to the perfect sufficiency of the One—and not only His sufficiency, but also His love.

True-worship-sufficiency-of-the-One

Maybe, like me, you need an identity crisis to remind you who you really are, as the son or daughter of God. When I remember I’m not the only one who cares about my journey, it’s easier to let go and relax when I hit a roadblock.

How about you? Do you ever get lost in your problems and need a break from your SELF? What is your mind on really when you find yourself immersed in a creative project? Do you agree that the SELF is more often an obstacle than an aid in your creative journey? Share your thoughts below.

AND if I get more than twenty comments below or more than twenty Facebook shares in one week’s time, I’ll contribute a copy of Your Creative Brain to one lucky winner! (US residents only)