Third time’s a charm. Encouragement for writers and anyone with an impossible dream.

I’ve seen them plenty of times, red tail hawks floating in circles above the Indiana tree lines. But I’ve never seen one as close up as this:

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It’s as if he was sitting there, waiting just for me.

And I think maybe he was.

I was at the darkest point in my writing career. My editors had broken the news to me that the novel I’ve been working on for close to two years had to be rewritten…for the third time.

They weren’t being mean when they told me this. They were being honest. The first two drafts–as sometimes drafts can be for many authors–were truly horrid, despite the exhausting effort I had put into them.

I was devastated.

I didn’t have the energy, the heart, or the wisdom to know how in the world I could write yet another version of the story. More than that, I began to feel that my other three novels were just a fluke, that I was a fake of a writer, that whatever luck I’d had before was plum wrung out.

Lord help me, I prayed.

My dear husband encouraged me not to give up.

I forced myself to make new plot cards and storyboards, to comb through the previous two drafts for any paragraph, sentence or word that could be salvageable, and to pray (even more) that the Lord would allow me the ability to write just once more something that would be pleasing to Him.

Slowly but surely, I began to notice things.

Things like this red tail hawk who remained still even as I moved within steps of him (there is a thread that involves a red tail in the story)…

…things like a song on the radio, a point in a sermon, a chance finding of a book or movie that helped me work through a new or difficult plot thread just when I needed help the most…

…things that other people might think I’ve lost my ever-loving-mind to find significance in, but that I knew–or at least suspected–was the Lord whispering to me.

“Keep going.”

“You’re on the right track.”

“I’m with you.”

Stating openly that I “hear” God like this does seem nuts, especially when it involves writing a novel. I mean, there are so many more important things going on in the world…people fighting so many bigger battles. But at the same time, a big theme of my story is about how the Lord sees and cares for even the tiny, insignificant little sparrow. But as the scriptures show us time and time again…

…He is big enough to be in the big battles, and still have more than enough left over to be in our little battles, too.

I got the call last Friday that this third re-write has been accepted. Pending the standard editing process, the story I finally finished and submitted a few weeks ago will become my next new novel, slated for publication in 2018.

If you’d seen the other drafts (and thank goodness you won’t), you’d know without a doubt that this story was only possible because of the grace of God.

But isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Our faith, our offerings, are but tiny seeds in the hand of a mighty, mighty God.

He’s the one who grows them and forms them into something bigger and better than we could ever have imagined.

Whatever you’re facing friends, don’t ever think it’s too small or too impossible to take to the Lord in prayer. Don’t ever think He doesn’t see the sparrow of your dream or your worry, or that your toil is in vain. Every delay, every rehash and rewrite and do-over of this manuscript, and every manuscript I’ve ever written has been for a reason, whether to hone me, or to hone my work.

In the meantime, stay tuned to this website and my social media sites for updates about this next novel. I can’t wait to share the hope and these new characters with you!

They nailed him up.

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They nailed him up at nine o’clock in the morning. The charge against him—the king of the Jews—was printed on a poster. Along with him, they crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: “You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”

The high priests, along with the religion scholars, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: “He saved others—but he can’t save himself! Messiah, is he? King of Israel? Then let him climb down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then!” Even the men crucified alongside him joined in the mockery.

 At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

 Some of the bystanders who heard him said, “Listen, he’s calling for Elijah.” Someone ran off, soaked a sponge in sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

 But Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle. When the Roman captain standing guard in front of him saw that he had quit breathing, he said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

The Gospel of Mark, 15:25-41 (TMV)

Fear not, O Israel.

Because the yearly dates of Hanukkah are based on the Hebrew calendar, it’s not every year that Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.

Tonight, Jews will light the first candle of their celebration after sundown, and at the same time Christians will light candles of their own at masses and sing Silent Night.

I can’t help but marvel at the significance.

To realize this, you might need to brush up on a little history (as I had to). In a nutshell, and although accounts vary, most of the sources I read agree that around 200 B.C. Jews in the land of Israel were not allowed to celebrate and practice their faith because of the tyrannical rule of Antiochus III The Great and his successor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Thousands were massacred, and the temple was desecrated.

Jews lived in terror and were forced to worship false gods until a band of warriors led by Judah Maccabbee, the son of a Jewish priest, rose up and drove the Syrians out. They restored the temple, and menorah lamps were lit.

And the best part: Though there was only enough oil on hand to keep the sacred lights burning for one night, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days, and as such the Jewish people have celebrated the miracle ever since with Hanukkah. 

The significance is that the Lord accomplished two pivotal things then which still link our faith today:

1. He was faithful.

He delivered the Jewish people and their land from their enemies. As such, they were free to celebrate when just a little more than a century later Jesus was born, and he celebrated Hanukkah as an adult.

2. He kept His promise.

In Jeremiah 31:35-37 and many other places, G-d promises to bless Israel and that He will never allow them be wiped out. His call and mercy on believers are irrevocable, as it says in Romans 11:29.

At a time when Judeo-Christian values are increasingly under attack–and the land belonging to Israel continues to be threatened as yesterday’s news demonstrates–faith in ancient promises can seem imprudent. 

And yet, over and over and over again history shows times like these are precisely when G-d shows up.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post this month, G-d works best when there’s not enough, through imperfect people, and at impossible moments to free and redeem.

“Fear not, O Israel,” G-d says over and over and over.

“I will strengthen you,” He says.

“I will help you,” He breathes.

“I will uphold you, because I have chosen you and you are mine,” He promises.

When G-d makes a covenant, He keeps it.

Not only that, He longs to show us mercy.

Tender mercy.

And to give a light to our dark and weary paths.

If ever there was a time when Jews and Christians need to realize their shared history, it is now. And though some say it might be a coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas begin on the same night this year,

I don’t believe there are any coincidences with G-d.

When you light your candles during these holy celebrations, think about how the people might have felt who lit the first menorah after they took back the temple, or who ignited the first lantern in the pitch black stable in Bethlehem. Think about how much they had to overcome to keep trusting in G-d in each of those impossible situations.

Now think about your impossible situation.

You know the one. The thing you won’t talk about at the holiday dinner table. That one big failure. Your broken heart. Your overwhelming loss.

Don’t be afraid, He whispers. I’ve got this.

Better than that, He’s got you.

Because the same promises that were for the Jews in 168 B.C. are for us today.

The same promises that were for the Jews first, and then by His grace the Gentiles, when Jesus was born in the City of David are for us, too.

Promises to redeem us.

One to free us.

Break the silence.

Make a way.

Heal the broken.

Restore us.

Emmanuel.

Here’s a beautiful song by Michael W. Smith which talks about these promises. I hope you can find a few quiet moments to listen to it this weekend, and that we can all celebrate the One G-d who is always faithful to all His people, and even and especially to you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, dear friends.

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“Fear not, oh, Israel for there is peace still to come

A word to break the silence, a promise set to bloom

The promise to redeem us, one to free us

Break this silence in the violence in our lives

Emmanuel is sure to find us soon

The mighty rule to Jesse’s star of truth

And bring us unto glory, tell His story

Heal the broken and restore thee to His name…”

~Michael W. Smith – The Promise