Unmarred

rose

Where is Fortune’s sweet surrender? Not in telling gaze afar

Working now for freedom’s mention, wrought in battles raging mar

Fighting for the right to live here, standing firm on hallowed ground

When all else falls into darkness, reach for loving light abound

Clasping tight to memories fondly, meeting grace within the stars

Fortune tells me in remembrance, there we find the truth unmarred

Throw the shackles from the compost, binding heat from shadow’s gloom

Rising from the ashes glowing, stands the Rose of Sharon’s bloom

See the reck’ning kingdom coming, Fortune knows not time nor place

Hasten now to touch the petals, find the golden truth effaced

 

Finding Freedom In Mental Illness

“Something is wrong with me” is a phrase I’ve often repeated for the past ten years. At first, I chalked it up to not trusting God enough. The other day, my Timehop app showed a quote from eight years ago that I had posted on Facebook. It read, “I’m anxious, and I just need to trust the Lord more.” I laughed out loud, shaking my head. The statement isn’t false, of course. It’s just incredibly demeaning, and indicative of the common response we often hear from others, and ourselves, when faced with something like…”

Finish reading at the original post here.

mental health

Recent Reads

Occasionally I like to post about recent books I’ve read and give my recommendations. It’s part of my effort to build up the indie author community, and make sure other writers are supported in their endeavors. If at all possible, check out these great titles.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King. I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy tale full of love, friendship, and good vs. evil. The magic system is unique, and the main character is engaging. I’m looking forward to the second in the series due out in September.

The End of All Things by Jill Williamson.  The third part in her Kinsman Chronicles Series, it was a nice wrap-up to the anticipated breakdown that has been building throughout the first two parts. Reads like a miniseries.

Do you have any other recommendations for me? Post in the comments! Extra points if its in my favorite genre.

book stack

What Happened When I Admitted I Hated Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31. That much-loved and much-hated passage of scripture that has been used countless times to both teach and encourage women. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be like King Lemuel’s mother? She had it all together, right? Even her husband had nothing bad to say about her. Which, considering the time-period she lived in, was quite a feat.

As I matured into adulthood, I was under the impression that I was required to love this passage of scripture. Along with all the other teenagers in my peer group, I aspired to be like her. After all, she was respected, worked diligently, raised well-adjusted children, spoke with wisdom, and feared the Lord.

I didn’t admit at the time that I was intimidated by her. By the time I became a wife and a mom, I pretty much hated that passage of scripture. I felt that I couldn’t live up to that sort of expectation, both from my husband and from the pulpit. The last thing I felt was “clothed with strength and dignity.” I was often weak, frustrated, and anything BUT dignified in my messy hair, pajamas, no-makeup state. Marriage was definitely not what I had thought it was, and neither was motherhood. So the more I read and heard about this amazing woman of God and strived to be like her, the more I seemed to fail. All I wanted was for my lamp to go out at night, to get a full eight hours of sleep (those were the days!) and to not have to wake up and do the unending, monotonous things that I had done every day for years.

Who am I kidding?  I still long for that!

Then I had knee surgery in August 2016, and found myself bed-bound for twelve weeks, with a three-year-old and a two-year-old. I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my uselessness, and one of the things I reflected on was this passage I had come to despise. It took on a new meaning for me. I came to realize that this crazy expectation I had wasn’t placed on me by my husband or the teachings I had heard, but I had assumed was God’s expectation. It was written in His book, by His divine authority, and so surely the root of the issue was that I didn’t like what He had placed there. Suddenly, I had my Maker to contend with, not man.

And contend I did. Besides the mounting frustrations with being immobile, I found myself angry at God for his unrealistic expectations that I should be somehow perfect and able to manage my household like the King’s mother did. That my husband would be held in high esteem because of me, that I should be consistently giving to the poor and needy…the list goes on.

I don’t know when it happened, but as I lay on my back staring at me ceiling for weeks on end, the passage turned itself inside out. And I wondered… “Was she always like that?  Day after day?  Month after month?  Year after year?  Or was this just how her son viewed her, because of her trust in the Lord?”

I’m no biblical scholar, so you would need to ask one of them. But what I do know is that if she was a woman (which she was) and if she was a wife and mother (which she was) then she must have been like the rest of us who are labelled that way, too. She must have struggled with her marriage and children. She must have struggled with weakness, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed. She must have been just as surprised by Lemuel’s observations of her as I would be if one of my sons were to write something like that about me.

Friends, whatever the case is with you, whether your sufferings and strivings are done with joy or with exhaustion and heartache, Proverbs 31 should encourage us. Because, if my rambling thoughts are anywhere even close to being true, behind the scenes of Provers 31 was a tired, overwhelmed wife and mom who clung to the grace of God with a fighter’s tenacity. Yet her son didn’t see the struggles as being worth mentioning, because what stuck out to him was all the ways she was getting it right. 

Now, I read that passage with a grin on my face. Her son’s words came from a man who respected and loved a woman who undoubtedly was flawed, yet unswervingly devoted herself to the things of the Lord. May it be so with us. Whatever season you find yourself in, and in whatever capacity, the expectation isn’t that you will be perfect. Christ already did that for you. The beauty of Proverbs 31 is that Christ will transform our half-hearted, weakened moments into something noble and strengthened by grace.

proverbs 31

When Music Led to Crime: My Neighbor’s Story

record player

My second home with my husband was a two-bedroom apartment in south Orlando. We were there for two years, and over the course of that time, we had developed some relationships with our neighbors, particularly a man named “Joe” (not his real name.) We would greet him whenever we saw him, and he would respond with a big smile and a wave. We would comment about the weather, or other “fluff” conversation, to see if it led anywhere. Our mission and purpose was clear…we wanted to influence our neighbors with the gospel, and would search for open doors.

The door opened with Joe. The longer we were living there, the more we interacted with him. He would often smoke outside his apartment and we would take the opportunity to engage him in conversation. Eventually we invited him to church, and it became clear that he knew we were Christians and yet remained open to continuing to dialogue with us. Eric eventually asked him to meet with him over coffee and talk about Jesus. He gladly agreed. When they met, Eric heard some of his story. He was a former felon, had spent time in and out of jail for drug related charges. He would deal drugs on and off (and swore he currently wasn’t) yet his Mom had raised him right. They attended church as he was growing up, and he had wandered away from his faith when he entered his teenage years. He asked for prayer for himself, and for his girlfriend, also a former felon, who was currently in rehab.

Eric and I discussed what we could do for them, and how to best serve them. We talked to Joe about coming over for dinner, along with his girlfriend, where we would pray for them. He again gladly accepted, and picked her up from rehab to come have a meal with us. “Jane” was also friendly and outgoing. As soon as we sat down to eat, we couldn’t get them to stop talking. They opened up about their past, and their present struggles with drugs and alcohol and clubbing. They opened up about their upbringing, both from single-mom households, both dragged to church when they were kids, both getting lured away by friends who introduced them to what they called a “gangster” style of life. Jane told us about her daughter who was being raised by her grandmother, because Jane couldn’t keep herself out of trouble. They talked about how they both knew that they needed to get out of this lifestyle, and their inability to be able to make the right choices to do so, especially since it was so hard for them to get a job, let alone keep one.

We were able to share the glorious gospel with them, about how we understood their inability to choose any other way of life. We told them about Jesus, who could help them, about the Holy Spirit, who could empower them. It was an incredible night. It was obvious that they both really wanted to hear it; they soaked it up. Jane cried, and asked for prayer. Joe would say things like, “I know I need help. I know I need to change. I just can’t.”

What is my point? I’m setting this up for a particular reason. I asked them this question:

“Can you point to one particular thing that led you to this type of life? What was the entry gate?”

They could have said growing up with no fathers. They could have said the wrong friends and peer pressure. They could have said the first time they did drugs.

“Music,” Jane said without any hesitation.

“Absolutely. Listening to hip-hop,” Joe replied.

That was the last thing I expected to hear. There we were, with our apartment complex’s drug dealer and his girlfriend in our home, listening to their sad story of a life wasted to drugs and gangs, and they unequivocally blamed music as the entry into it all.

Jane went on to explain how as a young girl, hearing lyrics of the glories of a certain lifestyle, the wealth and prestige, influenced her to want that type of life.

“It was subtle at first. But as my girls and I listened, it no longer became something we wanted. It became what we were living. And it’s not all it was cracked up to be. It ruined my life. It led to doing drugs. It led to shoplifting and stealing, because we wanted to support the type of life we heard about, but never could afford. I’m in rehab because now I can’t get away from it, and it’s controlling me.”

I’m not making this up. I know you’re sitting there reading this, thinking, “No way. No one actually blames music for how they messed up their life. That’s just silly.”

Yet I’m here to tell you that that is exactly what they said. And it shocked me, too. You can make the argument that lyrics don’t affect you; that you just listen to the music. That not all hip-hop is bad, because seriously, Lecrae is a hip-hip artist isn’t he?

Look, I’m not here to bash hip-hop; of course not all hip-hop is bad, and every style, including some Christian music, has its vices. What I am saying is that you can’t make the claim that you are unaffected by what you hear. That’s just not a biblical concept. The only way we can understand anything spoken to us is because we hear it and interpret it. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

James speaks often about the power of words, specifically about the power of the tongue (James 3). The only category for music in the Scriptures is that of singing praise and giving glory to God, so much so that even if we as Christians are silent, the rocks and trees would praise him (Luke 19:40).

I think there is a definite use for non-Christian music. You can sing about the love you have for you significant other, and it can be glorifying to God. You can sing about righting social wrongs and it be glorifying to God. You can sing about the sacrifices of our military, or the pain and suffering after 9/11, or the pain and sadness after a break-up, and it be glorifying to God. What matters is how we interpret these things. Through what filter are you listening? The filter of a secular worldview that finds ourselves as the arbiter of truth? Or the filter of a biblical worldview that sees God as the giver of all things good, the One who is behind the love you have for your spouse, the one who ultimately will makes all things right, the one who is with you when you are broken? All things are empty without Him, and that emptiness is on full display when what we listen to is devoid of Him.

So let me challenge you, next time you turn on Keith Urban, or Elvis, or Macklemore…listen with ears that can filter out the truth from the lies. Do what Joe and Jane couldn’t do. Listen and point to the One who gives the good gift of music. And if what you are listening to is in direct rebellion to the character of the God we worship, for crying out loud…turn it off.

Originally posted here.

What I Will Tell My White Sons

Garretts Easter 2017.3I was thinking today about my two sons.  They are 2 and 3 1/2 years old; they are also white.  I was thinking about how being white makes other’s perceptions of you different than if you are some other color.  I was thinking about some of the recent police shootings, and about the longstanding, systemic discrimination towards people who don’t look like my sons.  And I was thinking about what it is I want to teach them about their black friends.

I’m sure the (at least) two things I want to teach them aren’t perfect and certainly aren’t comprehensive.  I simply cannot relate to what it’s like to be black in today’s society (or any other society, for that matter).  In fact, I ran this post by several people of color to get their insights and perspectives in an attempt to make sure that I won’t be teaching my sons harmful things, or forgetting to teach them critical things.  The fact of the matter is that I won’t have to communicate certain things to my sons that every African-American that I know has been taught by their parents and has or will teach to their children.  Now, those who are white can doubt that such a talk is necessary in today’s society.  But of course we don’t actually know; we are, from our ivory tower, simply decreeing that our brothers and sisters in Christ are either liars or are fantastically fearful.  Either way, we are making judgments about things that we simply know very little about.

That being said and those bridges being built, I offer this post in an attempt to help us think through how to, in at least one way, teach our children to be empathetic as they attempt to be wise as serpants and innocent as doves.

First, I want to teach them that there really is no such thing as being “color blind.” It doesn’t exist in our society. Any risky behavior, goofing off, being loud and obnoxious, will be seen differently depending on who is present; therefore, inevitably, it will be seen differently if a black friend is with them.  In our society, unfortunately, that means it is more likely that the police will be called sooner.  Growing up, my brothers sometimes played with toy guns; unlike Tamir Rice, however, the police were never called on them.  So they need to stand up for their friend, as well as be aware that injustice should be met with truth and patience. If they witness racism, don’t be silent.  “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If they see or hear prejudice, a well-spoken word will go much further than anger, or especially apathy. Shrugging it off as just “being how it is” doesn’t serve anyone, especially those who aren’t colorblind.

Second, I want to teach them that black lives matter. And by saying that black lives matter, this doesn’t mean we are denying that all lives matter, because of course they do. They need to know about white privilege. They need to know that inherently, life will likely just be easier for them, not because it’s their fault, but because we live in a fallen world full of people who have fears, and prejudices, and racism in their hearts without even knowing it. They themselves probably do, too. The only way to combat this is to fundamentally acknowledge it’s there, and deal with it. And fight it. And talk about it. And write about it. And confess it. And actively work to destroy it.

The fact is, every single one of us, male or female, black or white, have prejudices in our hearts. My sons do too. The answer is always going to be turning to Christ, getting our gaze off of ourselves and onto Him.  The answer will always be to turn to the One who made every race beautiful, to show us the inherent worth of every single life, born or unborn, male or female, black or white. Jesus showed no partiality in who He loved. In fact, he demonstrated His impartiality by dying for the sins of the world, of offering forgiveness to anyone who asks.

I want my sons to start there…at the gospel. THAT is what should inform them about how to treat others, and how to lay down their lives for their friends. THAT is what they should shout from the rooftops to anyone who will hear. Jesus saves. Jesus loves. Jesus will come back again, and he won’t look like them. He’s a dark skinned man, and it’s He and He alone who will make everything right again.

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Originally posted here

Short Story Tuesday: The Happiest Place on Earth

The challenge: Write a short story every Tuesday in 500 words or less.  Post on your blog, share on twitter with the #shortstorytuesday hashtag.  Tag two friends to do the same.

***

The whispering wind flicked her hair from her eyes.  Looking up, she watched as a flag blew merrily in the breeze. The distinct shape of Mickey Mouse flapped on the yellow canvas backdrop.  The happiest place on earth, they say.  The place were tears aren’t allowed, where children can be children.

What makes it different for me? She wondered.  Am I just that separate from other children?  Deep thoughts for an eight-year-old, she knew.  But she wasn’t like other children.  Not in the usual kind of way.  Other children laughed and screamed and ran amuck while their haggard parents tried to keep up.  She watched as even now, a small boy attached to a backpack with a leash pulled against his restraints, reaching grimy hands for Donald Duck.  The mascot waved at him, bending down to hand him a signed picture.  The little boy squealed with delight.

disney castle

I like to watch, she thought.  I like to observe what families do.  How they act.  What makes them…well, a family.

“Jade!” The voice snapped her back to reality.  Above her head, the flag snapped against the pole.  She hurried under it towards the other children dressed in bright yellow.  Some smiled, some stared in wonder around them, but mainly, none knew what to do.  Shuffling feet, shifting eyes, they huddled like puppies afraid to make a wrong move.

Miss Kathy grabbed her shoulder.  “Pay attention, Jade.  Don’t dawdle.  Sometimes I wonder what goes on in that head of yours.”

Nothing that would interest you.  She dare not say it out loud.

“Leave her be, Kathy,” Miss Margie said gently.  She was Jade’s favorite.  Always sticking up for her, trying desperately to find her a family to call her own.  Organizing things like Disney trips for the kids.  But really, it almost made the pain worse.  So many happy families.  So many children with Moms and Dads.  College in their futures, a bed of their own, more belongings than could fit in a backpack.  Parents who weren’t in jail, or dead.

Or Moms who can get out of bed every day without chasing another fix.  Who don’t give up their kids because she would rather get high instead.  Jade knew she shouldn’t think that way.  But she preferred to live in reality.  Maybe she was too young, or too vulnerable, or whatever adults always said when she dared speak her thoughts out loud.

Really, what did it matter?  Jade found herself looking back at the waving flag as the children followed behind each other, marching to the orders of Miss Kathy. She shouted them like a drill instructor.  Jade filtered out the noises around her and focused on the Mouse.  The happies place on earth.  Maybe, just maybe, if she was good enough, quiet enough, obedient enough…someone would want her.  They would see her here, and instead of seeing an orphan, they would see a daughter.

She turned her face from the flag.   

 

***

Today, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. More than 100,000 of those are awaiting adoption.  In reality, that isn’t a large number compared to the amount of families who have the means to take in these children. If one family, from every three churches in the United States adopted a child in foster care, it would eliminate the adoption need completely.  Check out your States requirements.  There should be no such thing as an unwanted child.