On how to survive this constant fray.

It was quiet that day.

Mid-day.

Sun high.

Scorching.

Humidity as thick as the shame the woman felt.

That’s why she went to the well, after all.

No one else would be there.

No one cat-calling. No one spitting at her feet. No one turning the other way to avoid her. No one carrying invisible signs that read “slut,” or “worthless,” or worse.

There were no crowds.

To be sure, the man who met her there created and moved crowds on occasion. But when he really wanted to change a life, he picked a time no one would notice, except of course for the one who needed him most.

He looked in her eyes–first time anyone had done that in a long time. It unnerved her, that deep, gentle stare.

She had to turn away.

But he refused to leave. 

I’m talking about Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. (Click to read about it in John, chapter 4.)

And I want to be more like that.

No shouting. No name-calling. No talking over people who think differently from me. No turning the other way to the hurt and shame of others.

I fail.

A lot.

Especially these days, when fury seems like the new standard, the resting posture of so many of us.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence I felt led to make 2 Corinthians 10:5 my memory verse for the second half of January. I need to take every thought captive more than ever. And I’m learning I have to get drastic to do so. I took all social media applications off my phone. I made a pact with myself to check it once a day, twice at the most, but only for messages–not to scroll and fall into the fray. I figure anyone who really needs to get ahold of me knows my email or my phone number, and that’s enough. It’ll have to be. This isn’t something everyone should or even wants to do. But for me, well, I’m finding that the more time that passes with this new quiet, this new posture, the more I feel peace re-entering my heart.

The less connected I am to the world, the more re-connected I am to Him.

(This is the great conundrum of course–how to be in the world, but not of the world; how to reach out without falling in. All we can do is try to find a balance the best we can, with the Lord’s help.)

I wonder what we’ll have to say for ourselves in five, ten, twenty years.

I hope we’ll be able to say we were kind in spite of the times; that we were still able to hear the birds singing in the morning; that we still noticed the small green spears of crocuses and daffodils emerging this spring; that we held banners of love high above signs of hate; that our children were able to watch us and learn swords of grace and mercy work best against hate.

I hope.

I sure hope.

I know for sure I can’t do it by reading and listening to the soundbites and the news feeds and the home pages anymore.  And I can’t do it at all without turning my focus, my eyes, and my heart on him, the man at the well.

Like I said, I fail. And I will again, because I’m human, and because it’s hard not to hear constant, deafening outrage.

But there is a voice calling, even and still in this wilderness,

and it’s filled with words like those found in Philippians 4:8-9:

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things in daily life, and the God who is the source of peace and well-being will be with you.

The source of peace.

The source of well-being.

Center your mind.

Implant them in your heart.

That’s my prayer for me first, since I fail at this worse than anyone I know.

It’s my prayer for you, too.

And maybe…maybe…something good will bloom out of these dark times after all.

No part of our lives is wasted. Thoughts on writing and research.

I had the hardest time picking a major in college.

Everything interested me.

(Well, except for math.)

Truly.

Everything.

Just ask my roomate from back in those days.

From medicine to literature, political science to genetics, journalism to plant biology…there is so much wonder in the world…and so much to wonder at…how could I possibly choose just one thing to focus on for the rest of my life?

While I used to feel inadequate about my indecisiveness, I’m finally realizing I’m wired this way for a reason, and that writing novels is the ultimate and wonderful culmination of all my passions.

When I write a story, I can be whoever, wherever, and whenever I want

I can live on a pecan farm in Alabama (How Sweet the Sound). I can be a nationally renowned jewelry artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or South Haven, Michigan, or a Jewish boy escaping Eastern Europe in 1904 (Then Sings My Soul). I can be a dairy farmer or a pastor and live in a small town (Lead Me Home).

And all of that takes research.

Glorious, wonderful research in libraries and online, in documentaries and journals, and even in my own back yard.

I have books on pecan farming and I’ve spent hours watching pecan farmers on YouTube. 

I have binders full of lapidary design and stacks of books on rocks and minerals.

I’ve spent hours at my cousin’s dairy farm and I even hauled my family north to South Haven, Michigan one spring break when they’d have much preferred to go south.

And now I’m at it again.

I can’t say a whole lot about the current novel I’m working on, but here’s a stack of some of the reference books I’m using. The fiction ones you see are there not because of the subject, but because I’m studying those authors’ writing styles. You’ll also notice books on the writing craft, wildlife, and more.


Last week I even went on a wonderful field trip to spend a couple of hours interviewing a woman who is a wildlife rehabilitator. (So much fun!!!)

I hope you’ll be able to see the fruits of my current research sometime in 2018. Until then, I’ll share bits and pieces like this.

Mostly, I wanted to encourage you today to know that even though some seasons of our lives don’t make sense, no parts are wasted. Not even the painful parts. 

I agree with Carrie Fisher, who said to, “take your broken heart, and make it into art.”

All things work together, after all. 

That truth is more evident the more I learn, whether studying the life cycle of a pecan or the intricacies of a gemstone; the incredible instincts of rabbits and squirrels to care for their young; the way monarchs migrate for miles and across generations; the birds of prey and ducks who mate for life; and the ability of nature to heal itself. 

We live in a pretty amazing world, don’t we?

So, this is a glimpse into my writing life and what I’m working on at the start of 2017. 

It’s great fun.

It’s a lot of hard work.

And most of all–best of all–the results are a gift to you, dear readers. 

What about you?

What are you working on this year?

If you are a writer, do you like research? Why or why not?

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.

***

***

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.

***

“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