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.”

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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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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.

The Spiritual Power of Our Words

The other day, God taught me a very important lesson—a jumble of lessons, really, about faith and fear, idolatry, the power of words, and more. However, the real story begins a few month back, amidst my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression, mostly rooted in my failure as a writer.

You see, throughout the course of my writing journey, I frequently wore labels like “inadequate” and “hopeless.” I rarely experienced God’s joy or peace in my life. If I did experience happiness, it was always a product of fleeting circumstances. For a long season, Scriptures and sermons either fell flat or filled me with self-condemnation. I was trapped in an endless cycle of situational moods—happy when I did well and miserable when I failed.

In short, my emotions were torturing me—and it felt like Hell.

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Let’s be clear here… Everyone struggles with their emotions from time to time. Everyone deals with frustration. That’s not what I’m talking about… Anxiety and depression—that suffocating joy-sucking black hole in a person’s chest and the bee-hive explosion of buzzing angst that hijacks all hope until the victim is desperate for unconsciousness—those emotions are often beyond our power to control.

I had begun taking steps to get free—steps as slippery as walking through quicksand. I was trapped in a pit only God could lift me out of… I just had to reach out and take His hand.

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If that makes it sound too easy, well…it was. That’s because after all my efforts and struggles, I didn’t do it—God did.

It really was a miracle… I’d come to the end of myself, anxiety attacks slamming me one after the next. I was fighting to keep my head above water, but—ultimately—I was drowning. Though God had given me a few passing words of inspiration, I wasn’t expecting much. I was simply desperate for relief.front-black

That was when God led me to a devotional book composed by another writer of fiction: Ted Dekker. Within days of beginning the meditations in his book, “The Forgotten Way,” the anxiety and depression were gone. In vague whispers of emotion, I remember the transition… one day, feeling like the world was caving in… the next, drinking full breaths of glorious freedom, each one sweetened with a joy and peace that seemed to have been hidden all my life—but not by God.

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.

Ted Dekker said it like this:

“Everything we say, do and think aligns us with darkness or light, love or grievance. Thus, everything is a spiritual practice, whether we are aware of it or not. We are constantly, in every moment, aligning with one way of being or another. The choice is ours to make each moment of each day.”

lick-the-lemons-logoIn the days that followed my newfound freedom, I experienced frustrations—normal highs and lows—but nothing like before. I wasn’t happy; I was joyous. I wasn’t perfect; but neither was I condemned. I was able to love my daughter more. She hadn’t changed at all, mind you—but I had. Through “The Forgotten Way Meditations” God renewed my mind and transformed my life.

He saved me from the emotional Hell I’d been living in.

God taught me so many lessons through that entire experience…

Yesterday, I had the exam.

It began with a post I saw on Facebook, one person’s expression of gratitude for a wonderful friend in their life. This is what it said:

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Instantly the self-pity flared. I knew I shouldn’t write what I wanted to write, but in that moment, I just wanted to be visible. I wanted human understanding. So I did it anyway. Here’s what I wrote:

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The moment the words were out, and especially as the human sympathy rolled in, the emotions behind my words became more real. 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.

Take a moment to ponder what actually happened here… I aligned myself with the enemy rather than God. I expressed faith in satan’s intentions instead of God’s. I denied all the work my sweet Savior had already worked in my life. Because, you see:

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Here’s the thing: We can either have our self-pity or we can have God. Our minds can’t hold onto both at once because they’re polar opposites. Self-pity can’t survive even a tiny drop of God’s love. The One who knows all, saw our predicament before the foundation of the world and planned His own death in accordance by creating the tree He would die on. The longer we gaze at God, the smaller our problems become.

Which means…

If we’re seeing our self-pity, we’re not wholly seeing God… We’re in danger of stumbling… And so, in those lucid moments, you have a choice just as I had a choice. A choice to magnify our view of God or to allow our self-pity to drag us down.

It wasn’t a difficult choice, really. I just didn’t realize the power of my own words. I didn’t take my idolatry seriously.

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Besides that, I’ve learned that renewing the mind is an ongoing battle. The freedom God won for me doesn’t give me a free pass for the rest of my life. Now, instead of enjoying God’s peace, I’m battling an anxiety hangover. It feels like exhaustion and heartburn all mashed up inside. I know it’ll pass; I don’t regret the lessons I learned; but all this unpleasantness could’ve been avoided.

In retrospect, I feel a bit like Peter asserting he would never deny Christ—only to suggest through my words that God’s work in my life somehow wasn’t enough. That’s one new lesson I believe God wants me to absorb more deeply: He’s the Source. He alone is enough. Absolutely nothing else—and no one else—can satisfy.

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It was a hard lesson to experience—like the wake-up call Adam and Eve had, no doubt, after eating the accursed fruit. To have experienced the sweet communion of Christ, the joy and peace of living free of my emotional shackles, experiencing Heaven on earth—only to fall back into the grips of Hell.

Yes, it was hard, but this, too, is God’s grace in action. I’d forgotten how awful the anxiety felt. I was in danger of forgetting all His benefits, He “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name!

Now, to my very core, I am convicted of the Scriptural truths found in Psalm 73, verses 25 and 26:

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Be blessed, my friends… God loves you.

And if you’d like to learn more about mental illness in the church, I just learned about a new book coming out soon: Whispers in the Pews by Chris Morris.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Identity Crisis

Like nothing else in life, I have a seemingly boundless capacity to obsess about my writing. In deceptive whispers, it promises significance in success.

For over half my life, I’ve struggled to feel good about myself… to find some value, some purpose—some success… or at least to prove immune to the string of assailing doubts and inadequacies embedding my heart like shards of glass and burning like raked coals inside my chest.

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I know God is the source of all good. That I should be able to find satisfaction in Him, but I can’t force contentment…

God is love, He’s enough, and He makes me adequate… But what I know in my head, life experience mocks. I can spend entire mornings in devotion, preparing my mind…and yet the moment I face a messy scene or a blank page, I freeze.

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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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.

In spite of all my efforts, I hit a wall of frustration. What started as a gift to be enjoyed has become a slave driver instead. Am I not capable of writing for God alone—in His strength and joy?

It should be possible, but always the need to measure up creeps back. The internal editor shreds my efforts. The very act of sitting down at the computer erects an impenetrable wall. I’ve come a long way—learned so much. But now that knowledge has become my very own snare—like God’s unattainable law.

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But… Over the past week, God has brought various resources to my aid.

For example, I’d been studying personalities in an attempt to better understand my characters (Thank you, RJ, for the inspiration!) when I stumbled upon this book at the library: “Better than Perfect” by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo.

For a long time, I’ve known I was a perfectionist. I might’ve even seen it as a good thing, something to spur me toward excellence. Now I see it’s my Achilles’ heel, sabotaging all my writing efforts.

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Grace accepts imperfection. Law cannot. Neither can perfectionism. Therefore,“I’m a failure.”

Waking the next morning, after an anxious day devoid of any story-writing progress, I wrote, “God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the Source of all love, joy, peace, strength, and truth. Seeking satisfaction in anything else is futile. When I dig inside and come up short, this is my solution.” And I did feel peace in those words, however fleeting. In spite of their truth, however, they failed to remove the inevitable writer’s block wall.

I received further reassurance and encouragement from this outside post I recently reblogged.

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“It’s not about me,” Sheehan says. “It’s about being a part of what God is doing. For the weirdos like me. The awkward kids on the bench who no one else will reach out to. The ones who get more truth from bizarre story than many ever could from fact. This is our charge, and the enemy knows it, and we won’t go unopposed.”

Then, I felt God saying it was okay not to be productive with my writing. That I needed to take some time to connect more deeply with Him and learn to live in His strength. If I wanted to write for Him, ultimately, I needed to learn how to really live for Him.

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Somewhere in all those struggles, I also discovered a radio broadcast on frustration by Dr. Charles Stanley. His message confirmed what I think we all know on some level. Frustration, ultimately, is not about what’s going on in the world around us… but about our internal response. After all, different people often respond to the same set of circumstances in divergent ways. Why? Because, unlike Paul, we haven’t all “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).

Furthermore, God is sovereign (Isaiah 14:27). Whatever difficult circumstances we’re facing, aren’t they God-ordained? Paul could say, “I can [endure] all things through Him who strengthens me” because he knew God was present, working, and sovereign in those situations. And God’s plans are always best.

One interpretation is this: God allows difficult circumstances in order to shape us and to highlight areas within us that require transformation (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-4).

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My perfectionism, I believe, was the internal deficit God was highlighting. This embedded thorn in my soul has been around for as long as I can recall, pronouncing failure over my every “accomplishment”… My Ph.D. thesis. My three years of teaching. My failed manuscripts. Every minute of writer’s block and every criticism—from within and without—every self-doubt triggering a new identity crisis.

But if God is magnifying this issue, surely He means to bring healing.

Ted Dekker’s free ebook, “Waking Up: To the Way of Love,” recently rocked my world. The truths I read therein faded quickly from my mind, but I feel the Holy Spirit’s swell whenever I reread them… Am I not searching for significance, just like Ted, who confessed, “I see now that in my search for love and acceptance, I slowly began to enslave myself to various identities, which I mistook for my real self in many arenas—sports, church, relationships, career, wealth. These identities became like gods of a lesser kind, all of which I hoped would save me from insignificance in this life.” (See my guest post on idols here.)

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Eventually, Ted’s revelation came: “I free-fell into that space beyond mere intellect where faith and love are found… It felt like falling into a great unseen mystery, but I was actually falling into the light. I was falling out of a prison—a darkness that had been deepened by my own attempts to make my own light through reason and striving.”

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The ultimate truth he discovered was this: In Christ, we are already complete. We are already holy. As sons and daughters of the living God, we are hidden with God in Christ. For us, in a very literal sense (since we died with Christ and are raised again with Him), to live is Christ.

Ted goes on…

“So I found myself asking over and over: If it’s no longer me who lives, but Christ who lives, then who is this person called Ted, whom I judge and condemn for his constant failure? Who is the man I see in the mirror? He doesn’t look like a new creature and doesn’t appear to be seated in heavenly places. Who is this guy who stands on two feet, seeking acceptance and significance in various ways? …

“The answer became plain. My seen, temporary earthen vessel, to use Paul’s description, was like a character in one of my novels. Like a role that I played for a short time. It wasn’t an illusion or evil as claimed by the Gnostics—God forbid. But, clearly, it was passing away—decaying already—and therefore not eternally True. It was like a role in a TV movie.

“I had mistakenly put my identity in that role, rather than in my true self so clearly characterized by Jesus and Paul as one joined with and in Christ.”

So here I am, stalled on the verge of a new identity crisis, still unsure what to do with my work-in-progress but certain my next step will be a stripping of the old perfectionistic self… To that end, I’m contemplating how my stories—rather than feeding my own sense of self-worth—can convey God’s eternal truths.

How about you? What do you see as your identity? Is there something God wants to work in you before you work your writing for Him?

Concerned you might be a perfectionist? Take the quiz here: http://betterthanperfectquiz.com/

 

 

Learning to Write a Novel

I spent the first year of my writing career hammering out the 600,000-word monstrosity that was the first draft of my then work-in-progress (WIP). Over the course of the following year, I whittled the verbiage down to 300k, the first two novels in a series. Filled with delusions of grandeur, I assumed I would write the next Harry Potter without reading a single how-to or getting feedback of any kind (except from my mother).

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I’m exaggerating a bit, of course. I knew my story had some problems, but stubbornly, like a stomping two year old, I wanted to do it myself. I resisted feedback. I waited an eternity to join an organization and network with other writers. I can’t say I wasted all that time writing alone, but I definitely missed the fast track.

I wonder how many writers start out that way. Loners. Determined to do it on their own. They’ve read a few good novels. They have some good ideas. 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.

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If only.

Writing a novel is hard. Writing a good novel in isolation is impossible. (I know. I tried.) And then, little by little, I opened up to the community around me. I joined a critique group… and gave up on my first novel after only 5 chapters of their critique. I started new stories and gave up on those as well after a little input. I found an online community of writers at Seekerville… and, for the first time, learned of things like pansters, plotters, and GMC. I participated in Speedbo (writing, in a single month, 50k words with no plot). I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), dragged my feet a bit, then finally signed up for their online critique group, “Scribes.”

Over the course of the next several months, in 2500-word increments, I submitted the entirety of another novel I’d written earlier and set aside. During those months, I made life-long friends and learned valuable lessons about my writing strengths and weaknesses… which finally convinced me to get serious about reading craft books and helped me focus on the content I needed most: PLOT.

Now I can look back at my own personal graveyard of unfinished manuscripts and abandoned rewrites and understand a little better why they needed to be laid to rest. Now I have a basic understanding of the craft as I move forward with my new project, and a greater hope for future success.

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How about you? Where are you on the learning curve? Are you hesitant to step out and join the community? Leave a comment below for a chance to win your choice of a $10 Amazon gift card (for my reader friends especially) or a 2500-word critique (more geared toward my writing friends). (Please specify which draw you’d like to enter. The winner will be announced in one week in the comments below and on the giveaways page.) Also, on May 15th I’ll be offering an analysis and a giveaway of Shannon Hale’s award-winning novel, The Goose Girl… So stay tuned!