You Got Q’s, I got A’s

This week has been a whirlwind of prep for two big events at the church where I work. It seems like a good time for some Q and A, so here we go!

(For fun, I also present some photos straight from my phone for your viewing enjoyment.)

20190421_162006How did you start writing?

As cliché as it sounds, I was writing poems and stories as soon as I could put words together into sentences. Also, my mother saved a handmade sign upon which I had scribbled the words “Anser Office” and set up shop like Lucy’s psychiatrist booth, so I’ve apparently also always been happy to tell people how to do things.

Why do you write?

Oh goodness, so many reasons. Sometimes it’s to work out an idea or to express thoughts and feelings. A lot of it is to connect with others, like you. Of course, everything we do is ultimately to give glory to God, so I pray my writing does that. 20190417_221915

How do you research?

It’s been said that a good writer is a good reader, and I stand by that sentiment. So reading as much as I can from as many different points of view as possible is a good start. Observation is always research, as bits and pieces of what we see and experience end up in our writing. Of course, research methods are driven by the nature of a specific project. For “The Other Three Sixteens,” I not only read the scriptures involved, but used commentaries and other related sources. When dealing with biblical subject matter, we also have the opportunity to go to the primary Source in prayer.

What helps you to write?

Well, lately, I’ll take any help I can get as I battle writers’ block! Quiet is also helpful, as is a good cup of coffee. A creative environment, like a local coffee shop, always seems to help things along. Mainly, it’s the inspiration of whatever I’m writing. Being passionate about the subject matter is a huge motivator.

What inspires you to write?

Our Creator motivates me to be creative. There’s so much wonder in this life He’s made, so much beauty in people, so much wrapped up in love. Writing is kind of like taking a snapshot and preserving a thought in a moment from a specific point of view. We could take endless looks at our world and never run out of things to see. 

What lessons have you learned in the publishing process?

For starters, publishing is so slow! After the book itself is written, the editorial process requires careful attention to detail. Right now, “The Other Three Sixteens” is being formatted and a cover designed, and I’m waiting to hear an official release date. When I self-published “Bible Time for Active Kids,” everything ran at the speed of… well, me. However, there are advantages to traditional publishing that make it worth the wait- like more distribution and marketing opportunities. When “The Other Three Sixteens” is widely available, it will be a day to celebrate! So the lesson here is, I suppose, patience. Sigh.

 What are your passions outside of writing?

Ooh, so many things! I work with kids at a church and I enthusiastically love my job. When I have free time, the ocean calls my name and I head to the beach. My two dogs are basically love wrapped in fur. It’s been awhile since I worked in the theatre, but there’s a special place in my heart for stage and film production. Meanwhile, I’m active with Team World Vision, fundraising to bring clean water to kids around the world (you can help do that here).

 

This is a little peek at me as an author, but I’m happy to answer any additional questions in the comments below.  I would also like to hear a little bit about you! Please choose one of the above questions and give your own answer in the comments!

Working Through the Nothing

photo of person walking on deserted island
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

My brain loves extremes.

Some months are extremely slow and dark, while others are bright and rushing forward at lightning speed. Each season comes with benefits and challenges, and life has adapted to the ebb and flow of bipolar disorder.

Occasionally, a mysterious hush settles and I find myself in…. stability.

Whether it’s a natural shift in the cycle or a product of medication, I’ll never know. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Untangling what parts of me are my true self, mental disorder, or the effects of meds is an unsolvable puzzle. So I must learn to be content with uncertainty, something only accomplished with the strength of the Lord’s help.

So it is now that I have settled into the peaceful lull of such stability. The calm is reflected in my work at church, allowing me to steadily handle the stress of a busy holiday season. But my creativity? This is where I feel something is lost.

I know we’re supposed to be defined by who we are the Lord, and that’s a subject to be explored deeply. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that “creative” is one of the first words that begin my description (though this is how He created me, so it’s for a good reason!). Without the ability to dream and write and paint and make colorful solutions to problems, I feel adrift in a sea of nothing.

My writing has slowed to a lazy halt. I feel like I have nothing to say, not even empty, valueless words. How can I call myself a writer when I’m not producing any work?

What do we do in these seasons where we feel empty-handed and unlike ourselves?

When the guilt of not fulfilling our God-created purpose hangs heavy like a dark cloud of our heads, whispering about what we should be doing and how we are neglecting something very important? How do we stop slipping farther away from our calling and return to the light of the Lord’s design for who we are and what we do?

First, we MUST stop defining who we are by what we do.

He who created us is ultimately who gets to call us by name. He has appointed us “beloved” and “child,” precious identities that remind us how dear we are to our Heavenly Father. Meanwhile, I believe He has more personal names for us, just as He renamed His disciple Simon as Peter (“The Rock”) and Jacob became Israel (because he struggled with God and man and overcame). The more time we spend with the Lord, the more we understand how He calls us. Then, what we do is defined by who we are.

Therefore, it’s imperative that we are in His presence as often as possible! How many times have we lamented feeling far from Him, all the while neglecting our prayer time and allowing our Bibles to become dusty on the coffee table? How can we live in the midst of our purpose if we are disconnected from our Source? The first step is to desperately seek Him. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. That’s a promise.

The push forward requires great effort, but do it anyway.

Writing this post has taken a great deal of time and thought. I doubt every word even as I currently type, delete, rephrase, and hesitantly move on to the next sentence. My mind seems vacant, experiencing a parched drought void of inspiration. Yet, I present my meager offering and pray that God will find it as useful as the widow’s mite. What seems small to us can have greater divine impact than we imagine. Every baby step finds us that much closer to living in His purpose.

Despair traps us in the lie that we are stuck. We may have paused or become restless in a season of restoration intended to prepare us for what is ahead. However, our story has not reached the end. Do not give up, perfectly-designed child of the Most High. There is no reason to panic when all seems lost- because you are still securely found. You have never been outside His reach, even when you were looking the other direction and missed seeing Him. We will not always abide in our stagnant seasons, but we must keep our eyes open for the treasures that are hidden here while we wait. God will not waste a minute, even when it appears we are standing still. Rest confidently, assured that your purpose is not lost or revoked.

As I fondly think of fruitful melancholy or productive hypomania, I will try to unearth the creativity tucked away in the corners of my mind and on the edges of my soul. Deliberately trusting that God is using the quiet season is difficult, yet it’s also breathing life into my spirit. He is the one who defines us and gives us purpose, and He is the one that works through us to fulfill His plans. The willingness to be available to Him is something we can definitely do at any time, and that is a beautiful offering that delights our Lord.

 

 

 

Running Right Past Glory

With a deep breath, I put one foot in front of the other and began to run.

Ok, so it was a moderate jog (but with lots of effort).

The music in my earbuds set the pace, and I was determined to achieve a mile in a reasonable amount of time. I made sure to keep my eyes focused up and out, not on the sidewalk below. Soon, my heart was beating and my lungs were thirsty for more oxygen. “Can’t stop, won’t stop,” I told myself.

Step by step, minute by minute, song after song on my playlist….. until the little Map My Run voice said I reached a mile in twelve minutes and two seconds! I celebrated by allowing myself to walk and catch my breath as I turned around and headed the mile back. With a mix of walking and jogging, I soon found myself where I began, ready for a drink of water and some breakfast.

Did I mention this was the view?

fermin.jpg

Despite thirty minutes running along ocean cliffs, I barely glanced at the waves below. Dolphins could’ve been dancing through the glittering water, whales might have exhaled mist, and pelicans surely glided over the surface in expert formation….. and I was oblivious. I do vaguely recall the sweet smell of some sort of flower as I ventured face-first into a cloud of gnats. There was also some sort of bird calling near a bush on my return mile. I ran past a lighthouse and didn’t even look up into its weathered windows standing silent vigil over the channel as faithfully as if it were still in service.

I was surrounded by beauty and I missed it.

The tragedy is this is how most of us live daily, constantly absent from God’s glory around us.

When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” I think He meant it in more than one way. Clearly, God’s plan for the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection were about to happen. But perhaps God’s kingdom is more complex that mere salvation. Could it be that the kingdom of God includes His creation and His will? His kingdom in a new heaven and earth is to come, sure, but it’s also here and now, at hand. (Book recommendation for more on this: The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. It’s a bit dense, but very much worth your time.)

We are surrounded by the glory of God.

Just as I blindly ran through stunning creation with my eyes all but closed, we spend our days so focused on tasks and worries that it creates tunnel vision, blocking out the wonders and beauty. It’s in the sky and the wildflowers on the side of the freeway. It spills over from the love of a dog happy to see you when you walk in the door. The notes and rhythms of music coming from the radio are a gift. And every single person that crosses our path is a walking masterpiece, intricately and lovingly handmade by our Heavenly Father. Like moving a prism in light to reveal more rainbows, if we could see our neighbor through God’s eyes, every new angle would reveal another treasure. However, we run right past it all, focused on how hard our muscles are working and seeing only the mile marker ahead.

There is extreme danger in running through life with tunnel vision. It’s more than missing the surrounding delights.  We miss the urgent messages from God intended to reach our ears with necessary frequency:

“I am with you. I love you.”

 

When it feels like our prayers are unheard and that God is far away and unreachable, a little bit of terror creeps in, like a small child separated from a parent in a crowd.  I imagine God reaching over, removing the headphones from our ears, and softly reminding us that He’s right here. In those moments when He catches our attention, will we pause the playlist and listen, or turn it up so we don’t lose our goal-seeking pace?

The kingdom of God is at hand. The glory of the Lord is all around us. When we miss it, it isn’t because it isn’t there, but because we aren’t looking. We aren’t seeing. After sharing a parable with a crowd, Jesus spelled out its meaning to His disciples. He said that their eyes and ears were blessed because they saw and heard. He reminded them of Isaiah’s description of rebellious Israel, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:15a).

Let’s open our eyes, disciples, and witness the glorious kingdom of God.

 

Jesus’ BFFs

The following is an excerpt from “The Other Three Sixteens”, coming soon!

“These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)…”

Mark 3:16

The book of Mark is where the action is. We jump right into the story of Jesus and race breathlessly through a non-stop narrative. You’ve got to hold on tight, because it’s a wild ride.

As Mark’s story unfolds, we see Jesus teaching and preaching, healing the sick and casting out demons. His authority and power were clear and word began to spread about his incredible impact. The crowds grew larger and larger. As his ministry increased, Jesus invited twelve men to be his close friends. He appointed them to travel with him, learn from him, and he wanted to send them out to preach, heal, and cast out demons as well. Mark 3:16 begins the list of the twelve disciples: Simon, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, another James, Thaddaeus, and another guy named Simon.

Over the next couple of years, these men would have their lives changed beyond their wildest imaginations.

There were multitudes clamoring for Jesus’ attention. However, in the noise and excitement, he quietly gathered friends. This band of brothers would not only learn from him, but they would be a support system during the ups and downs of ministry life. These were the people who would travel with Jesus, share meals, and talk about the great mysteries of God with him. They were also the dudes who would share jokes, witness tragedies and victories, and even try his patience from time to time. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples was like no other. They walked side by side with the Son of God and were empowered by the Lord to do great things, too.

We also have the gift of friendship with Christ.

In John 15:13-15, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” The disciples weren’t the only friends of God. We are also invited into an intimate friendship with the Lord.

To be a friend is to love.

Friends know each other’s favorite things and histories. They understand good moods and bad while being sensitive to what delights or upsets one another. Friends go out of their way to help and support. They talk as well as listen, often developing a shorthand communication. Little things are shared for the sole purpose of inspiring a smile. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Friends are there through happy occasions and sad seasons, and they don’t bail out during difficulty. Advice from a caring friend is worth more than gold. There is something sacred about simply being together. Friends enjoy a casual, comforting familiarity that doesn’t exist among acquaintances. Friendship is special. Our friendship with God fits all these descriptions and more. To have such a close relationship to the Creator of the universe is remarkable! But this is what God desires for us. He loves us so deeply that he longs to be close to us. He gave everything to make that possible.

Yes, Jesus ministered to large crowds. But when he healed lepers, he touched them individually. A paralyzed man was lowered into a room wall-to-wall full of people, but Jesus forgave his sins personally. Away from the crowds, Jesus connected with his disciples. And, in this world full of billions of people, he loves you personally and individually. He calls you by name. He calls you his friend.

You, child of God, are dearly loved.

High Voltage Connection

My phone is in the other room. I realized this as I sat down and opened a brand new Word doc, ready to share some thoughts with my readers. Now, I’m distracted. Do I get up and retrieve it? Leave it and try not to think about any missed notifications until I complete this post?

I can give you multiple reasons why it’s important to have my phone near me. Work from home means I’m responsible to remain accessible for any work-related needs during the day. Juggling freelance work on the side utilizes my phone as a point of contact for clients. Besides, what if there is an emergency? Like many people today, I don’t have a landline. Being aware my phone’s location saves time in the event of a disaster. Ultimately, I show my family that I care by responding to their texts and calls as promptly as possible. See? I need to stay connected. It’s the right thing to do.

You just braced yourself for a lecture on smartphone addiction, didn’t you? This must all segue into how ridiculous our tech obsessions are and the need to be plugged into “the real world.” But, no, that’s not what’s happening here.

While my phone use may border on unhealthy (I’m working on that), the desire to connect to the world around us is often what explains our tech frequency. It’s not a device that we love; it’s the people on the other side of the screen. Social media is popular because it keeps us in contact with those dear to us. Text, calls, and emails are simply the media that joins one person to another. It’s all about the connection. Because we care, we devote our time to staying connected. We adapt technology to serve this purpose. We keep our phones handy day and night. We value wi-fi signals and data plans. If there is a glitch or break, we fix it immediately. We must maintain our connections.

How’s the connection with God?

We can’t connect to the Lord through Instagram or FaceTime. That’s actually good news. It’s even easier to talk to Him and doesn’t involve technology of any kind. And since the Lord never sleeps and is on every time zone simultaneously, there’s never a bad time to reach out. You’ll never get forwarded to voicemail or placed on hold. We aren’t charged by the minute or limited by data. God is the most accessible contact on our list, and the most eager to hear from us.

So what’s holding us back?
Why isn’t our Bible as handy as our phone? Do we compose an entry in our prayer journal as readily as we draft an email? The difference is in our intentions. Our tech habits didn’t come naturally. We created them. Overtime, we developed the need to tend to notifications as quickly as possible, to pick up our phones the minute we found ourselves with downtime, and give prompt attention to the people in our lives. Can we be bold enough to have the same intentional communication with our Heavenly Father?
It will start with effort. It might look like reading a scripture before checking the newsfeed first thing in the morning. It could be in the form of setting alarms for prayer during the day. It might be utilizing apps to memorize scripture, keep prayer requests organized, or connect with a Bible study group. We all have different lifestyles, and that includes how we relate to our Creator. Do we need regular time in nature? Should we schedule a lunch date with God, complete with our meal and reading Scripture? Worshiping weekly with our church community is an important appointment to keep. Choosing praise music in the background instead of arbitrarily selecting a tv channel for room noise can make a big difference in our day. However we choose to connect with the Lord, it needs to be consistent and develop into a habit that is as natural as clicking “like” on a Facebook post.

I confess, before I finished writing this, I did check my phone…. and walked the dogs…. and responded to a social media post. What I write here is an extension of my own life struggles, not a sermon about how others should live or a pedestal for my victories. We’re in this together, encouraging each other and “spurring on one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). So let’s do it. Start spurring. What is one intentional way we will connect with God, starting right… now?

Broken Brain, Healing Heart

I wrote in my journal, “… there are these parts of me, light and dark, love and coldness, hope and despair. It can’t co-exist and eventually crashes all together.”

Is this what scripture means about flesh and spirit? Do other people feel this way? Is this part of my mental disorder? Or is disorder a convenient excuse not to examine these things closely?

I find myself living in extremes. With bipolar disorder, it’s rare to be somewhere calmly in between dark depression and the speeding bullet of mania……

Read the full post at Now She Rises.

Come to the Altar- With Craft Supplies

Holidays are exciting. Holidays are special. Holidays are also repetitive.

Though the sacredness of Christmas and Easter never get old, the fact is that the stories remain the same, year after year. Soon, it becomes a challenge to tell them in new, fresh ways. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit ultimately keeps the wonder alive. At the same time, we need our God given creativity when it comes to holiday lesson plans and programs.

Our traditional Easter family worship includes a time in the service where the kids present a program. Acting out the Easter story is the first way to go, but this group of kids has made it clear that they don’t like performing. The next approach is more straightforward (and I’m pretty sure they view it as the more mature option). The Easter scriptures are divided so that everyone gets a reading part, and we break it up by singing a few songs together. Simple, fairly reasonable prep, and…… predictable. For a couple of years, I convinced them to make a video so that they were, in fact, performing, just not live. This resulted in lively re-tellings of the crucifixion and resurrection, including one done as a news broadcast.

Then they caught on to my sneaky way of getting a performance, and they shut it down. I still have the footage, though. They are sincere and adorable.

The truth is that the kids are right. Worship is not a recital. It’s not a show for the congregation, but praise and adoration to the King of Kings. The children’s time in the service is a chance for them to lead, not entertain. And so we ask God for inspiration.

Behold, the collaborative Easter cross. It’s an art piece that tells a story.

The kids worked in groups to create pieces of the cross. Each piece depicts part of the story, coming together to create one symbol of grace. When it was time to present the work to our church family, the groups told their section of the story in a mix of scripture and their own words.

What made this project special was that we passed out paper and crayons to all of the youth and adults. They were instructed to draw something that reminded them of the Easter story. Once they did so, we added their work around the large cross, creating one united piece that celebrate the risen Lord.

After the service, everyone crowded around the board to see their own work as part of the community project. It was clear that this was not a measure of artistic ability, but heartfelt expression of what was most meaningful to each individual- and uniting to glorify God.

To make your own collaborative art project:

1. Choose a holiday or story to celebrate.

2. Choose a symbol that reflects your story, and draw a large outline on poster board- or multiple pieces of poster board lying side by side.

3. Cut the large symbol into as many pieces as you have kids or groups of kids. Make sure to label the backside for easy reassembly when it’s time to complete the piece.

4. Give kids their pieces and lots of art supplies. Cover the entire piece with color, if possible, for optimum final results.

5. Once the pieces are complete, place them back together on a bulletin board or large piece of cardboard.

6. Provide paper and art supplies to any other church members who would like to contribute to the project, and place their work alongside the kids.

Be creative! If each member of your church family is giving a square piece of paper or cardstock, you can create a quilt or mosaic. Consider decorating puzzle pieces, or even just drawing a simple large picture on a bulletin board and allowing everyone to color a part. Can you use cloth to make a weaving or other materials to make a communal sculpture? The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Collaborative art unifies all generations while inviting expression to God in a creative form of worship. Kids- and adults- who find merely reading and singing to be constrictive will likely welcome the opportunity to praise God this way!