Heavenly reinforcement…

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This has been me this past week. I tied a knot in the rope of life and have been trying desperately to hold on. But it seemed there were strong, gale-force winds buffeting me, willing me to let go and fall into the dark pit of depression that was waiting below. The week started with Mother’s Day. It’s not the same when you are missing one child. My husband had a minor procedure for some skin cancer. The same day my almost-92-year-old mother had a fall, bled like crazy from  scalp laceration, and required a prolonged ER visit and overnight hospital stay. Two granddaughters are close to the delivery of great-grandchildren for me. Work was just as stressful as usual. A lightning strike messed up internet and cable (still not fully repaired). A criminal made his escape across our field with law enforcement in hot pursuit. The dog ate a roll of toilet paper the night before she was scheduled for her spay. And there were other personal stressors that I shouldn’t share and  just couldn’t understand. Nothing terrible or irreparable happened, but enough, Lord, I thought.

Confession: I got frustrated and fearful and felt rather alone. I felt that my prayers were unheard, my fatigue unnoticed, my burden too heavy. I could relate to David’s plea to the Lord in Psalm 22, verse 1:

…Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

And I was groaning and moaning and whining and near tears! Yes, I read my Bible–a few mornings. And I prayed, most of the time vague, repetitive pleas for help. I felt totally alone and helpless. But then….

First, I must explain a little back story: Two years, nine months ago our middle son took his own life (therefore, the Mother’s Day stress). A few weeks later I attended a Christian fiction writer’s conference,  where I was comforted and blessed to make new Christian friends. One was a lovely lady with a mass of auburn curls and a contagious smile and one of the sweetest spirits I’ve ever known. Since then I have had a text from her occasionally just touching base to see how I’m doing. I hadn’t heard from her for a good while–until Thursday, the day when I was at my lowest. My prayer journal from that morning reads, in part:

Lord, I feel beaten down by too much, too many burdens. I felt like you had turned your back on me yesterday. I’m frustrated. I belong to you. I’m doing my best. Why so many problems?….Please, please help me. I need your strength and your Spirit.

And, God answered. Jerri’s text that day opened the floodgates. I shared. She cared. And I know she has prayed for me, just as promised. If any of you don’t believe in divine appointments, you should. I believe she was inspired to reach out to me that day at that morning hour. As she put it, God knew I needed “reinforcements.” Jerri was obeying the instruction in Galatians 6:2 to:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I did need the reinforcement of knowing someone cared for my specific needs and was willing to pray on my behalf. And I am grateful that she responded to that little tug on her heart that made her think of me that morning. I pray that I will be more sensitive to those intuitions or hunches or heavenly whispers to do the same for others. And I am grateful to be reminded that although I may feel like God is not listening and doesn’t know my pain, He does. Peter says in the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

I’ve not been very good at that lately. Laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet. Depending on prayer and the Lord’s grace and mercy and unconditional love. I hope to do better. And I’m still holding on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early morning darkness…..

pexels-photo-813269.jpegI often awaken in the very early morning hours. As the darkness tries unsuccessfully to lull me back to sleep, I find another kind of darkness overwhelming me–the darkness of worry. My mind races from one worry to another–family, finances, approaching retirement, success or failure as a writer. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, for today has enough for us to bear. I get that. But, I’m still a worrier.

My early morning reading has been in the book of Hebrews for the past several days. Yesterday I read the chapter listing the heroes of faith. Today I read the chapter on discipline. How much of my worry might have been avoided if I had made better decisions in the past? Are some of my troubles God’s way of getting my attention focused back on Him?

My husband says I am a really busy person. He’s right. And, a lot of my busy-ness involves activities at church. But how much of me is just busy and not truly obedient to and focused on God?Am I going through the motions without true spiritual investment?  It’s something to think about.

I just know that every day I pray for relief from the constant worry. I pray for the discipline and strength to turn off the negative thoughts. Some of you may share my tendency to ruminate over past decisions and anticipate future misfortunes and just generally worry. Be assured that you’re not alone in the struggle. This passage in Jeremiah is one of my favorites.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Thank you, Lord. I needed that.

 

The journey continues. . .

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This is the way my morning begins–on good days. The Bible is only 21 years old this year but the leather cover is frayed from being carried in a “Bible cover” for many years. Virtually every page in it is highlighted and marked with sermon notes in the margins. It is well-worn. Kind of like me.

Having reached that point in life where one reviews where one has been, the things one has done, the accomplishments achieved, I have found myself struggling over the past few months. Have you ever felt that there was something that you were absolutely meant to do through some divine plan but found apparent roadblocks at every turn? That’s me!

My first calling to a profession came when, through a series of unusual events, I ended up in a baccalaureate nursing program. I graduated in 1978 and have spent the past 40 years working in the profession in one role or another. There were some times of turmoil and transition as I found my way to my current role as a nurse practitioner. I stepped into that role 21 years ago and have never regretted the move. Throughout it all, nursing has been very good to me. And I’m not quite ready to give it up, yet!

But hidden in my heart was the dream of being an author. I’ll confess, early on I was just thinking that I could write a romance novel as good as, if not better, than many I read. But somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to put that steamy stuff on paper with my name attached! Then the amorphous dream congealed into a path that truly felt like a calling. That’s the road my journey has taken me down now. But it’s a road filled with roadblocks and potholes and breakdowns.

You see, I have found my niche as a writer.But actually having the faith that success will come is a struggle. I long to rest in Jeremiah 29:11–

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

My goal as a writer? To portray the truth that God pursues us in the ultimate love story, our journey through the triumphs and tragedies of life, wooing us back into a walk with Him whenever we lose our way. Sometimes when times are really good, I forget to acknowledge that all good things come from Him, not just from my efforts. And, sometimes, when terrible pain or loss occurs, the mental and physical and spiritual exhaustion has left me floundering, trying to regain my footing on the solid foundation of faith that this life requires.

For some reason, God has given me stories in my head and heart. Stories that speak to the real problems that everyday people experience. Stories that speak to the only real solution to those problems, a return to faith. But the struggle to be traditionally published, to market the work already done, and to have the resources to continue this journey often gets me down.

A couple of the devotions I read during my early morning quiet times recently spoke to me in a special way. One spoke to the issue of being a “recovering” perfectionist. I qualify. So often I am stalled by the search for perfection, when I just need to be writing and doing. I’m working on that. My house is not as clean as I kept it 20 years ago. I can say “no” when asked to do something that I just don’t have time for. I don’t struggle with my appearance like I did when I was younger.

The other was titled “The Day I Stopped Believing.” It spoke of a time that the author had experienced terrible life struggles and began feeling that, although God answered prayer for other people, He just didn’t hear or heed hers. I haven’t stopped believing in prayer or in good things happening. But the patience to wait for God’s timing is wearing thin. My dad told me many times that I needed to “learn patience.” I’m not there, yet, Daddy.

For those who have read all the way to the end of these ramblings, thank you! For me, it is easier to write than talk it out. Maybe a reader or two can relate to my struggles. Hang in there. As my boss says, “Tie a knot and hang on!”

 

 

 

 

Where do I land?

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Through the mist darkly

 

I love the woods behind our home. There is so much history here. My husband and his siblings were born and raised on this land, and they all tell stories of playing in these woods. My grandson has grown up here and has learned some survival skills as he’s camped with his friends. This place is part of me. 

I’ve been pondering how to explain my journey as a writer. I feel myself changing and the longing to write becomes stronger every day. With the early posts on this blog and the first book I published, I think my purpose was clouded with the mist and fog of lack of clear vision, like the picture above. My words may have entertained and offered insight into faith and some social issues without any realization of my true purpose in writing.

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An interloper intrudes

And then my journey, my development,  was distorted by distractions and intrusive thoughts of fear of failure and inadequacy in managing the constellation of things required of successful writers. Sometimes these feelings and struggles are still overwhelming. I am struggling to overcome them. 

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Light shines through

This past fall I experienced somewhat of epiphany, a serendipidous moment when my vision cleared. I started work on a book, not the typical Four Corners format, and, as I was pitching it to an agent at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in September, I suddenly knew the kind of stories that I want to be writing and publishing and known for. They are, indeed, inspirational and contemporary and romances. But the basic vision for this endeavor, a mission statement, if you will, came to me.

I want to tell stories that make clear the greatest love story of all, the ultimate romance, the Christian faith. That romance is God reaching out to man with love and grace and mercy and wooing us into a true, loving, faith relationship with Him. And, as we experience the mountaintops and valleys of the Christian walk, sometimes we drift away or even turn away from God. Sometimes we become angry when tragedies come out way. We often wonder why and question God. Yet , through it all, in spite of all, He faithfully woos us back. You see–that is the greatest love story, the ultimate romance.

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Peace

I have a new peace about my writing efforts. Whether I experience worldly success or not, if I write stories that picture God’s love relationship with man and even one person is touched by each story, I will be fulfilling what God has called me to do. Because I do believe writing is just as much a calling as nursing has been. He opens different doors thoughout our lives. I pray for strength and inspiration to continue this journey.

And, to each of you who read this through, thank you for letting me share my journey with you.

 

When do I land?…..

flighty nurse.eml

The flying nurse was given to me years ago by very good friends, in honor (I think), of my somewhat long and varied nursing career. For many years nursing was a central focus of my life. In the 70’s I was considered a nontraditional nursing student in my baccalaureate program at a Christian university. After all, I was one of four married students in my class and the only one with two small children. After graduation my love for the profession only grew stronger. I felt called to be a nurse, and nursing has been very good to me. After fifteen years I furthered my education with a master’s degree, and I have enjoyed some of the best years of nursing in my current role as a nurse practitioner.

But the flighty nurse pictured above is rather wild-haired and exotic looking, don’t you think? Which was definitely NOT me in my more sedate past, my nursing-focused past. Not that I’m a wild child now (I guess it would be second childhood at my age?). But I do feel so much more free to just be me. The years have opened me up to other pursuits. Teaching children at church. Singing in church groups. More adventurous, although still classic southern, cooking. Trying to morph into the role of family matriarch.

You might mentally hang some more accoutrements to the nurse figure to make her more like the current “me”. A laptop would be nice. A Bible. Some family photos. A couple of little Schnauzers bouncing around. Some pots and pans. Musical notes, because I really enjoy singing (and do wish I could play an instrument). Grown grandchildren laughing at their Nana. Preschool great-grand and two on the way.

Three things have contributed to the change in me. The first is life lived. I’m not a secretive person, so many of you have read in this blog of the challenges and tragedy that has befallen our family. But the other side of the coin is the grace and peace with which God balances the ledger. There have been victories that encourage and reassure and inspire. The best part of my 67 years is that my faith grows stronger everyday.

The other change agent is writing. The opportunity to share a little of my life with you, to encourage others who may struggle with the same hurts and disappointments that we have faced, to tell stories that come from somewhere in my heart and head–what a blessing that is for me! Because that process has grown my faith, too. I only know one way to survive the things life throws at us, and that is with God, and reiterating that truth through blog and books strengthens my understanding and my resolve to persevere.

And last I must mention the blessing of knowing and working with very special mentors and friends and coworkers. There’s a reason that the last twenty years have been so special, and that reason involves the people I have been privileged to work with (and look forward to working with for a least a while longer!). I do not take for granted your influence on my life. I doubt that I would be able to face the challenges that life presents without your example and encouragement. Thank you.

I intended to share the “flighty nurse” figure to point out that I feel like 2017 has been me flitting from one task, one disaster, one disappointment, one assignment to another. I am hoping that the wild-haired nurse will get her act together and that 2018 will be a bit more organized. But I’m not counting on it.

Happy New Year!

Life goes on for the residents of Four Corners. Read about their loves, trials, tragedies, and struggles of faith in volumes I and II of the Four Corners series, set in fictional small-town Arkansas.

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Seeing the big picture……

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See the pretty little girl? Pretty and precocious. See the vertical wrinkle in the carpet and the horizontal shadow from a window? She just told her Mama to “see the T”. She is looking at the bigger picture. From her vantage point it appears obvious that there is an (upside down) T. I can see it. Can you?

I wish I could have her perspective on life. To see the big picture of God’s plan for my life. It might help me understand some of the challenges and trials and grief that He has allowed in my life. I want to be like Joseph, who survived being cast away by his brothers, sold into slavery, rising to power only to be wrongfully accused and thrown into jail, and, finally, achieving a position of power that allowed him to save his people from starvation. And, all the while, he did not grow bitter. He could, at least retrospectively, see God’s hand at work.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7 NIV)

I doubt that I would have been as patient, gracious, or trusting as Joseph. Nowhere is it recorded that he whined, complained, despaired, or turned away from God. Nor did he lash out in anger or seek revenge. Somehow, through patient obedience, he was able to see the “big picture”, the overarching purpose of all that had befallen him. I fear that I might have reacted differently.

Then there is the wonderful story of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl in captivity, chosen to be the queen of Persia. She was obedient in keeping her family background and nationality secret, following the advice of her adopted father, Mordecai.Learning of an evil plot to kill her people, she feared to approach Xerxes to ask for protection and mercy. Who wouldn’t, knowing that, unless he deemed it acceptable for one to appear unannounced and extended his golden scepter in reprieve, the intruder (even though queen) would be put to death? She reminded Mordecai of this danger as he directed her to seek rescue for her people.  But he had another perspective for her consideration.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 12-14 NIV)

Mordecai reminded Esther of her position in the big picture of that time and that place and the responsibility that accompanied it. Do you ever wonder where you fit in the “big picture” of things? I do. We generally think of children and grandchildren and so forth as a type of legacy. I lost a child to suicide. How does that subtract from my legacy? What am I to do with my role as a “survivor of suicide”? My mind struggles to make some sense of it, to detect some purpose that I can now fulfill because of it. I try to comfort others that I meet who have lost children. I reach out to those who have experienced the special grief of suicide. I speak openly and write about it. But is there more that I am supposed to do with my grief?

And, I try to “tie a knot and hang on”.

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The thing is, I’m beginning to recognize that the rope is God. It is Him that I cling to, sometimes with firm grasp and sometimes hanging on by a thread. He is my strength, my hope, my salvation. He sees the big picture, while I see only snapshots. His vision is clear; mine is cloudy. So, I try to make the knot ever bigger and more substantial through Bible reading and prayer, so that it’s easier to hang on to. But, when the rope swings in the winds of life, my emotions swing right along with it.

As a very wise woman has said to me, “It’s those ‘sneak attacks’ of grief that get us.” One moment I’m laughing at a coworkers story and the next my eyes fill with unbidden tears, as I realize that my Daniel won’t be around to write my eulogy. (He was a writer, like me.)  And, what in my life will be worthy to eulogize? Am I somehow lessened by his loss? Or am I strengthened through surviving it? Am I making a difference every day? Am I living life to the fullest by staying in the moment? So many questions.

But, I keep my eyes peeled for glimpses of the “big picture”. And, I cling with every fiber of my being to that rope of faith. And, I will, somehow, keep on keeping on.

Only by God’s grace.

Welcome 2017…….

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

I’ve been trying for days to write a blog post. I wrote a really negative one at the end of 2016, listing all the things I was “sick and tired” of. After a good bit of soul searching, I have come to realize that the thing I was most “sick and tired” of was my attitude. Many friends had experienced unexpected loss, and those tragedies once again reminded me of the grief of losing Daniel.  But now a clean slate of new days, new weeks, new months, all under the control of a loving God, who will not leave me to face the bad things that life brings alone, stretches before me. So, I am attending the Survivors of Suicide group this evening, and this is my prayer as a new year begins.

Father God,

You know my tears, my fears, my regrets, and my future. You know the grief of a Son’s death. My understanding of your sacrifice is so much more personal now. Yet, how can I compare my loss to yours? Please forgive me. Help me forget the pain of “former things”, while remembering the love. Strengthen me to avoid dwelling on the past. Lead me to let YOU do the new thing in the year before me.

There are a lot of things that I think you want me to do with my life. Nursing has been one of them. Thank you for the connection I feel with patients and colleagues. Thank you for the feeling that my work makes a difference in lives. Thank you that I have been blessed with the ability to provide for my family (I see so many who have not.)

It has been my belief that writing is also a course you want me to pursue. You seem to be reminding me of that through reminders of “Is the next book finished?” or “likes” on a blog post. Yet, in spite of these messages,  I have wallowed in grief and despondence and depression, and I have failed to invest the time and energy that I should in the work of writing. Forgive me. And help me to do better. Grant thoughts and words that can speak to others, that can encourage or inspire, that can tell a good story while honoring your name. Strengthen my will to persevere in the work, for it is work. Banish procrastination. Focus my mind. May everything that I do be to your honor and glory.

And, Lord, help me always to remember that you have a plan for all my days in this life. Help me to recognize and be faithful to your guidance. At my passing, may it be said that I lived well, loved well, and made a difference in your kingdom and this world.

I pray these things in your beloved Son’s name,

Amen

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14 NIV

May each of you readers have a blessed 2017, filled with the knowledge that God’s love for you is a reality.