Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday Truth - When I Get in the Way

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”                     
-1 John 2: 15-17

We are to be IN the world, not OF the world. Last week we talked about the people that surround us, our friends. Today, let’s talk about the one person that always seems to get in the way. Ourselves. We live in a very self-centered world. It’s all about: What can I do to make ME happy. To make ME succeed. What’s best for ME. What’s easy for ME. How can I obtain more wealth, prestige and power for ME. Notice a pattern here? Me. Me. Me. So if this is what the world tells us, what is God telling us? We can find it in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others!” Not quite the same is it. And not only do I have to work on this continually for myself, but I also have to press it upon my children in a way that shows them how much I love them while explaining that life is not always about them. My middle son, Brayden, gave me a good example of this when he was in Kindergarten. I went to the school to have lunch with him and stayed for recess afterwards. We had a great time playing and then the bell rang, announcing it was time for the kids to get in line to head back to class. Brayden jogged up to the line and right as he found his place in line, a kid ran up and pushed him out of line and said, “Haha, I beat you. I’m first.” Let me tell you, it about got ugly on that brisk April day on the playground. Mama bear stepped forward ready to grab that kid by the collar and let him know how I felt about the situation, but I stopped when Brayden just shrugged and said, “That’s okay. God says that the first will be last and the last will be first!” Bible burn. Not gonna lie. I loved it and my heart swelled with pride…and then I cringed over what my reaction was going to be. What a great reminder as we submerge ourselves into the world to put others before ourselves. I’ll be honest, I struggle in this area. I can be a very selfish person. And the one person I should be the most giving with, the one that I should always put first, I don’t: My better half - my husband. I can do it, but it takes effort and doesn’t always come easy for me. This is an area where I claim...I am not a perfect person, but I serve a perfect God, who’s not done with me yet!!! In your walk with the Lord, how are you being IN the world, but not OF the world? Are there any changes that you need to make? Talk to God about that right now.

Heavenly Father, as I immerse myself into the world, help me to keep my eyes on YOU, so they are not on ME. In 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14, your word says, “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” Through you, help me to be all those things as I put others before me. Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Small Time Author Meets Big Time Author = Mind Blown

Today I had a pretty awesome experience. If you are a fan of Christian Romance novels, then you will appreciate what I am about to tell you. I had the privilege of meeting Denise Hunter this afternoon. (Enter squeal here!!) Just her and I on a little one-on-one talk at Starbucks as we chatted about life, kids and writing! What?!?
Long story short: I found out that Denise lives in Fort Wayne, and only being an hour away, I gathered some nerve and e-mailed her asking if she did any writing workshops or if maybe we could meet sometime. Ya know, "Please meet with me, a wanna-be-author that is a complete-stranger to you." I mean, who wouldn't jump at the chance? A lot of people wouldn't - but she did!! She so kindly offered to meet with me.
What an encouraging time of picking her brain, gleaning off her experience and wisdom, sharing our stories, and having some good laughs together! Sounds like a perfect afternoon to me. I came with a long list of questions that she graciously answered about: how she started, why she writes, how she markets her books, her relationship with her publisher, suggestions for how-to books that can help me improve my writing skills, her writing process, how she comes up with ideas, how I can get more involved in writing groups, etc. Great information for an author that has no idea what she is doing!!!
If you haven't read any of her books, I urge you to give them a try. Not only do I speak very highly of her as a person that is generous, kind and loves Jesus, but she is also a fantastic author. You can find Denise's books in local bookstores or here.
Sometime I'll stop smiling, right?!?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Truth - Choose Wisely...

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”                     
-1 John 2: 15-17

We are to be IN the world, not OF the world. If you’re like me, you’ve heard this statement many times before, but what exactly does it mean for us believers? First of all, it’s easier said than done, isn’t it! When we believe in God, sin has no power over us. When we follow Christ, it changes our hearts and we should become less interested in the things of this world and have more desire to be like Jesus. Over the next couple weeks we are going to talk about how we can submerge ourselves into the world and yet hold our ground. Today let’s talk about the people that surround us. Why are we here on earth? We are here to serve God and lead others to him. Paul’s ministry tells us that we are to make ourselves a slave to everyone, to win as many unbelievers as possible. To find a common ground, to not have a self-righteous attitude, to make others feel accepted, be compassionate to their needs and problems, and to live a life that looks different than theirs. The trap here for many believers is when we make these people our core people. Now, please understand me. I’m not saying we can’t be friends with unbelievers. God encourages us to be! But the concern is inviting them into our inner circle. In 2 Corinthians 6: 14 it says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”  I think it even goes deeper than unbelievers. We need to remember that believing in God is way different than living a life that glorifies God and having a relationship with Him. Knowing that, we must choose our core people wisely. So let’s take a look at the people in your life. Who are you with your friends? Do you change who you are when hanging out with different groups of people?  Do you change your morals, values, language, television and movie tastes, etc.? God tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.” What do you do with the people closest to you in life? You share who you are and you seek advice and wisdom. Let’s look at a few verses that God explains to us the damage this can cause.

“A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Proverbs 12:26

“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20

“Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips.” Proverbs 14:7.

In your walk with the Lord, how are you being IN the world, but not OF the world? Are there any changes that you need to make? Talk to God about that right now.

Heavenly Father, as I immerse myself into the world, help me to keep a strong foundation. In 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14, your word says, “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” Through you, help me to be all those things with the people I surround myself with. Amen.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday Truth - The Road To Forgiveness

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

                     Isaiah 43:25

Three years ago I lost my son, Brayden, at the grocery store. It was unfortunately the really bad kind where all shoppers heard this over the speakers: “Code Blue!  Code Blue! Attention all Wal-Mart Associates, we are in lockdown. We have a missing child. Boy, age 4, blond hair, red shirt, navy shorts.” Yep. I know. Mom of the year award right here!  I would have dressed up for the occasion had I known. In case you’re wondering, Brayden thought it would be fun to play hide and seek with me…but forgot the slight detail of telling me he was playing this game. And boy did he play well. We (as in myself and the surrounding employees AND managers – enter face palm here!) finally found him down an aisle tucked behind some boxes. Brayden, of course, has never let me forget it. To this day, when we drive into the parking lot, without fail, he says, “Hey mom, remember when you lost me here?”  This situation reminds me of our road to forgiveness, or more so, what it is not.  I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful that I serve a God that doesn’t hold my sins against me. That doesn’t continue to remind me of the times I’ve fallen short. That once I ask for forgiveness, that’s it. It’s forgiven…forgotten!  King David spoke of this truth in Psalm 51:7 after he committed adultery.  “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  Hyssop branches were used by the Israelites to place the blood of the lamb over their doors ways. This act saved them from death and secured their release from slavery. When we ask for forgiveness, it not only cleanses our hearts and repairs the separation we made with God, but it also releases us from the sin that keeps us in slavery. It makes us pure again, without blemish. Is there a sin that you are holding on to? Give it to God so He can break your chains and give you freedom!

Heavenly Father, bring to light the sin(s) that keep me captive, that keep me from drawing closer to you.  Thank you for sending your Son to come and save me from my sins, and that those sins are forever forgotten.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday Truth - What is Your Example?

“Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”
– Genesis 37: 3-4
 You know that person that gets under your skin. That rubs you raw. Makes your blood pressure spike and you wonder, “Am I going to have a stroke?”  Yep, that’s the one. Well, I have one. Two, sometimes. Alright, let’s just say three … ahem, moving on! There have been times I’ve wanted to revert back to Bible times and have uproar like Jesus did in the temple. I would have loved to throw a few tables myself. Clearly Jesus had the right, and with good reason…mine would have been just because I was ticked off or hurt. So instead of throwing tables, I threw a few frustrated words that oh so easily spilled out from my not so holy mouth. I held a grudge. I struggled to forgive.  We as parents have a great responsibility to model how we deal with these people in our lives. When we read about Jacob’s sons we see so much anger, resentment and jealousy. Hmmm, does that sound familiar? Isn’t that exactly what Jacob, Rachel and Leah went through? Instead of showing their children the righteous way to respond, they displayed the sinful one that led to sad and bitter consequences among all the children, and how that hatred grew so much they ended up selling Joseph into slavery. I had to stop and ask myself: What example are you giving your children? What words are they overhearing you say? Ouch. In 1 John 2: 10-11 it says, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” Does this mean we are to like everyone? No. But it’s about our attitude. It’s how we handle these people and the situations that arise around them. My son handed me a piece of humble pie a couple years ago. Jarrett came home so upset because a boy in his class had been so mean to him. In fact, he cried for an hour that night in bed. The next week was his birthday party at school and I made cupcakes with each of the students’ names on them. In my dislike over this child that had hurt my son’s feelings, I put his name on the worst and smallest cupcake – yep! I was deliberately mean to a seven-year-old. Not my finest moment! At the party, they played a game and Jarrett could pick someone to come up front with him (huge honor to a 2nd grader to be picked).  You want to know who he picked? Yep, the kid that had been so mean to him. In my darkness of wanting to stick it to this kid and give him a crappy cupcake, it had blinded me to loving on this kid instead. Maybe he needed a word of encouragement or just a smile or maybe the biggest and best cupcake I made. We can never control how people will react, what people will say, what people will do – but we can always control the way we react, the words we say and what we do!! Do you have an opportunity to bring healing to a relationship? Forgiveness? Let God work through you so you are able to walk in the light and not be blinded by the darkness.
Heavenly Father, you know the people in my life that cause strife in my heart. As I go through training and disciplining my children, do the same for me through these individuals. Mold me to speak only kindness, work on my heart to forgive - even if it’s not asked for or deserved. Guide me to pray for these people and love on them through You and with your strength. Amen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No More Excuses

I imagine we’re sitting in a coffee shop, me with a caramel steamer in hand and you with a coffee or latte or mocha, because that’s what the grown-up world does. I’ll explain how I wish I liked coffee. How my mornings would probably be completely different because I might actually not despise the mornings any longer. Or maybe if I had a cup of joe (that’s what you savvy coffee drinkers call it these days, right?), the morning routine of getting kids ready for school and packing those blasted lunch boxes wouldn’t be as overwhelming during my caffeine high. We would chit-chat about our day, the weather, and through getting to know each other you’d find out that I write inspirational romance/suspense novels. You’re intrigued, and then you confide in me that you’ve always wanted to write a book.
Can I just tell you how many times that happens? Through book signings, random conversations and scenarios like above – I can’t count the number of times someone has told me about their dream to write a book. I’ve been asked by Bob Clary from the online learning company, Webucator, to share any words of wisdom or knowledge I’ve collected about writing for their new “Teach Your Talent” project. At first I hesitated, thinking, “What do I have to offer?” I may not have incredible writing/grammar skills to share or a heap of wisdom to bestow – but I can be your biggest cheerleader! To those of you that have a dream and desire to start writing a book … DO IT! No more excuses of...
I don’t have the time.
Even if it’s five minutes a day – DO IT! I’ve been known to carry a notepad wherever I go to jot down ideas or anything that pops up in my head. If you see me in the pick-up line at my kids’ school, chances are you’ll see me scribbling like a madwoman.
I don’t have the skills.
Learn. Take classes. Teach yourself. DO IT!
I don’t know how to start my story.
Just start writing, if it doesn’t flow, that’s what the backspace is for. How will you ever know, if you don’t try and just DO IT! If I can give any advice in this area, it’s to start with an outline. For me, it was so much easier to start writing once I had an outline and knew where my story was heading.
I have the fear of failure.
Don’t we all! DO IT anyway! I’ve learned through my process of getting published to grow some thick skin and that I’d rather fail than not try at all.
I don’t have it in me for the hard work.
I’ll be honest; it takes a lot of effort to write a book. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But trust me, hard work makes the success even more rewarding. So DO IT!
I can hear you say, “Natalie, you don’t understand. It’s easy for you to say that, you’re a published author.” Once I stop laughing, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
Since I was a child, I always enjoyed writing and telling stories. I had often thought about writing a novel but never really pursued it because I have poor grammar skills (you, think I am, Kidding but seriously its, horrible?). Knowing I had this huge struggle, I just assumed I could never achieve writing a book. Back in 2009 life hit hard. I had two horrible miscarriages and my middle son came down with a very rare and life-threatening disease. It felt like all I did was grieve and take care of little people. I finally realized I needed a hobby – an outlet. One night my husband encouraged me to write a book – and hearing him say that sparked my desire again. So a few days later I sat down, wrote out a quick outline with detailed characters … gulp … and started writing chapter one.
I thought it was going well. Halfway through the book I decided to find an editor, because NO ONE was going to read this manuscript without first fixing my million grammar mistakes. I found an amazing editor and sent it off with high hopes, only to be crushed by the response. The manuscript wasn’t good. At all. It needed so much work the editor couldn’t even start editing. The subtext, the dialogue, the plot – you name it, and it was probably terrible. Pretty much the only way anyone is going to get their hands on that first manuscript will be over my dead body.
So what did I do? I cried. I didn’t tell anyone, and for three days I licked my wounds and cried. Then I sucked it up and got honest with myself. I could quit right there - only a handful of people knew what I was doing. I could save face and no one would be the wiser. Or I could pick myself up and do something about it. I had to ask myself what I really wanted. The answer? I wanted to write a book.
For the next month all I did was research how to write a fiction novel. I read article after article. I read self-help books. I went back through my favorite author’s books and gleaned from her words, style, and examples. And after all that, I found my own niche and voice - and started all over again. I sent the first chapter back to the editor. And guess what? She loved it!
I wish I could say from there on it was all smooth sailing until I signed my contract four years later with my publisher. I wish I could say I didn’t get rejected by twenty some agents that didn’t see my vision for a story. I wish I could say my books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list.
I can’t.
But what I can say is … I DID IT! I wrote a book.
Now, it’s your turn!
And yes, someone did proofread this…

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday Truth - The Bitter Wake From Our Path

“When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my maidservant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and that through her I too can build a family.”

– Genesis 30: 1-3
When reading this passage and taking a good look at Rachel, one word sticks out to me. Jealousy. Rachel became so jealous of her sister Leah because she could give Jacob children while she remained barren. So jealous in fact, that she took matters into her own hands and had her maidservant sleep with him so she could have children through her. And it didn’t stop there. It actually got worse. Then Leah couldn’t conceive, so she had Jacob sleep with her maidservant. And for years this went back and forth between them. Finally the Lord heard Rachel’s cry and she gave birth to Joseph. Joseph then became Jacob’s favorite and his brothers became extremely jealous of him. So jealous, that the brothers ended up selling him into slavery – but that’s a story we will cover next week. Let’s take a look at a couple scriptures that tells us about jealousy. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 we have Paul sharing his concerns to the Corinthians. “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outburst of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. Did you notice in that list you usually have jealousy with at least one of the others? Now flip over to Galatians 5:19-20, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious; sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, and factions. Hmmm, are you seeing a theme here. I am. God compiles jealousy with some pretty ugly sins. It also makes me think about how ugly my heart looks to God when I store jealousy in it.  The thing with jealousy is that it never just stays in our heart, it leaks out and causes destruction around us, a bitter wake from our path, and another stepping stone to more sins. It alters our actions, words, and perspective. Let’s take a serious look at jealousy and how it can corrupt us. Often times when we compare ourselves to others, it births a seed of jealously that quickly grows. We become jealous over how people look, their positions, someone has what we want, the loss of another’s affection/time, others getting the blessings when we feel like we only get the leftovers – the list could go on.  Often times when we harbor jealousy in our hearts, we can’t see what God has right in front of us. Rachel let her jealousy ruin her relationship with her sister. Rachel let her jealousy become self-destructive and consume her. Rachel had a husband that loved her deeply, despite whether she could conceive or not, and she dismissed that devotion for her own selfish desires. Take a moment to pause and reflect on your life. How are you struggling with jealousy? We all do – we just have to find the source and look to Christ for the freedom over it.
Heavenly Father, as water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man. Lord, I do not want my heart to reflect jealousy. Please help me to identify those areas that I struggle in this and help me break free. Amen.