Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Love a Sinner: A Christmas Story

Christmas 1995
We hear a lot about hating the sin and loving the sinner these days. And I sort of agree with the notion—as long as we're really clear about how to love that sinner.

Of course, the Bible tells us who the sinners are. For easy reference, here's a list from Romans 3:23: 

  • "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV). 
So if you happen to know anyone on that list, maybe you can relateand learn how to love a sinner.

I was a divorced nineteen-year-old. Single mom to a toddler. And it was Christmastime. I had obviously broken a commandment or two in the past couple of years, and let's just say I wasn't feeling like Mom of the Year. God was already preparing to send me the man who would complete our little family, but I didn't know that. And I was feeling quite lonely. 

Don't get me wrong: that toddler was my joy. But sometimes being with people who speak in complete sentences is a plus, especially on a too-quiet Christmas morning.

I don't remember how it came about. I don't even remember if they brought gifts. But I do know this: early on Christmas Day, my grandparents showed up just in time to celebrate the joy of the morning with my little boy and me. 

It wasn't the first time my grandparents had shown me how to love a sinner. And it certainly wouldn't be the last. But that one act spoke volumes—not so much because they were my grandparents, but because they were leaders of the church, a pastor and the pianist. 

If a couple so steeped in God's Word and worship, these leaders of His church, could love me, then maybe so could I.

Loving a sinner isn't only an “I'll pray for you” kind of love or even a drop-some-quarters-in-the-red-bucket love. It's love that shows up at a teenage mom's house with breakfast on Christmas morning. It's a love that leaves His throne in heaven for an animal trough on earth. It's a tell-the-people-how-much-God-loves-them-until-they-kill-You-for-it kind of love.

It's messy. It's scary. And it's beautiful.

That's the love of Christmas. 

And that's how you love a sinner.


Friday, December 12, 2014

My Morning Trifecta



the morning trifecta
In a series of coincidences (God's way of helping a girl out), I've built a morning routine that starts my days with peace and hope and God-given guidance. For the past five years, I've begun (almost) every day with a little time with God, and my life will never be the same.

What started as a simple reading of the Bible each day has grown into a routine of reading, prayer, devotional, and reflection. For me, it is the perfect combination. So, if you're thinking about starting a quiet time or if you're looking for a change to your own, here is what has worked wonders for me.

When I sit down to spend time with God, this is my routine: 

My daddy gave me
this KJV in 1991.
I'm reading it now.
1. Reading the Bible. I've read a different version of the Bible every year. I love The Message. As a "thought for thought" translation, the translators are allowed a little more license in the language. The result is a passionate rendering of God's story and love for us. If you're wanting more of a word-for-word translation, the NASB is a good place to start. Or just grab whatever Bible you have on your shelf. It doesn't matter--the message is all the same. Whatever Bible you will read is the best Bible for you.

There are also a variety of formats available: audio versions to listen to in your car or while you exercise, an app that will remind you to read AND make it easy to share your favorite verses on social media, and of course, there's always the good ol' paper version. You can even have Johnny Cash read the New Testament to you! (No joke. Look.

2. Prayer. Whether you use fancy-schmancy words that you memorized as a child or eke out indecipherable whimperings, He hears your heart all the same. That's the magic of it. Just show up. He's already there. He already knows. He just wants you to know that. And knowing makes all the difference.

My mom gave me a daily planner (that I thought I'd never use--that I use every day) with a section for prayer requests. I date the request, write the request, and before I know it, I'm filling in the "Date Answered" column. Talk about a faith-builder. This is one tool that will do it.


3. Devotional. Browse the devotional section, and find one that speaks to you. Jesus Calling is wonderful. So is the one I'm currently reading, The Listening Heart. (I talk more about it here.) Both of these devotionals really allow you to hear God's voice speaking into your heart. They remind you of God's everlasting, grace-soaked love for us. Even if you aren't able to hear His response to your prayers, a devotional reminds you that He's there, He's listening, and He truly cares about your life.


Any guesses as to what "socks" means?
4. Reflection. The reason I thought I'd never use that daily planner is because my calendars are all electronic. I loved that this planner had a prayer journal section and even a Bible plan to follow--not to mention the embossed pink paisley. But what would I do with all of that blank space for each day? 

Well, I'll tell ya: I made a DID list. I got tired of feeling like I'd gone in circles all day, creating nothing but dizziness, so I decided to record whatever I had accomplished (however off-task it may have been). 

It became part of my quiet time, reflecting on the day before to see what I had done, reminding me of what still needed to be done, and letting me know what all I can do in a day. Plus, it's a pretty cool record to look back on, no?

Sounds like a lot, huh? Believe it or not, I'm usually done in thirty minutes--depending on how abundant the prayers are that day. And the results last me all. day. long. 

Actually, longer. I grow as a person--as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a Christian--every time I sit down and look at my life through the timeless lens of God's eyes. I'll never know how much it has changed me, how much it has steered my career, how much peace it has brought to my life. I only know that it has. 

So whatever your process, set aside some time today and spend it with God. He knows you better than anyone ever could. Isn't it time we get to know Him?

What do you do to spend time with God? How has it helped?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Seeing the Future

"I have a phone call at 3:30," I said.


"How do you know?" quipped my child. "Can you see the future?"


Pause.


"Who am I going to be married to?" He wants proof.


I laughed. 


And then it hit me.


When you plan, sometimes, you can see the future.


I'm a go-with-the-flow girl. God's timing. God's provision. Divine intervention.


But there's also the verse that says, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5 NIV).


Yeah. So as much as it goes against the grain of my free spirit, planning is a good thing. 

There's also the saying, "If you expect nothing, you'll get it every time."


Expect the best. Plan the future. Set a goal, then draw a map to it. 


Absolutely, you should consult God. And don't be surprised if you've misunderstood His counseling or if He throws your plans in the air just to remind you that He's in charge.


But when you do a little planning (I'm telling myself), you'll be surprised at how often you'll be able to see the future.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

* FREE: Signed Bookplates! *


In the spirit of Christmas and Small Business Saturday, I'm sending out signed bookplates for any of my books that you're giving away (or keeping!) this Christmas season.

For Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope, I'm sending bookplates signed by Frederick as well!

The Christmas books (My Christmas List and A Christmas Prayer) have lovely Christmas-themed bookplates. And if you're shopping ahead, the plain white oval looks like a little Easter egg added to the page of An Easter Prayer. Whichever book you choose, I'll create a coordinating bookplate and send it straight to your door. 

Want one? Just email the details (which book you've purchased and the mailing address), and I'll send the bookplates out right away!

Hope you have a happy Christmas season!



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Does Your Button Say?

We're all guilty.

Of that quest for perfection, of the nag you feel each time you pass the laundry hamper. That inner chastising (or outer cursing) when dinner burns. Or the red pen that stabs your heart with each mark on the manuscript. (It's a DRAFT, for goodness sake!)

But this week, I was given the benefit of a little perspective when I slugged pre-coffee into my son's school to fulfill yet another (over)commitment. I was making buttons for the upcoming award ceremony. The students had written on, colored, and cut out a paper circle celebrating their accomplishments for the quarter, and I was sticking them in a button machine, turning them into a little award (and cringing each time they didn't come out perfectly straight).

Then I started reading the buttons:

  • "Made the musical!"
  • "Got a B on my math test!!!"
  • "Improved my reading speed!"

What?! No straight As or perfect attendance or error-free manuscripts? 

Nope. These elementary school kids (and this school) get it. They know that progress, true progress, isn't a flawless report card or a perfectly cooked meal. It's improvement over time. It's being your personal best. It's just sliding in the right direction on the spectrum of lifewhatever that may look like for you. 

And we don't celebrate it enough.

Well, that ends here. Right now, I want you to make your button. 

SERIOUSLY. RIGHT NOW.

  1. Get out a piece of paper. 
  2. Draw a circle.
  3. Write SOMETHING to celebrate. ("I drew a great circle.")
  4. Color it.
  5. Cut it out. 
  6. Hang it up. Or if you're really brave: pin it on your shirt.
  7. Let people ask about it, and explain. ("I'm awesome" will suffice.)
  8. Do it all again tomorrow.
There's nothing really wrong with striving for perfection. But don't let the quest drown you in guilt. Don't let the setbacks knock you down. Take time to celebrate each step forward. 

And hey, be sure to occasionally pin a button on someone else. Because, really, by the time we've reached perfection, it'll be too late to make our difference here on earth.

So tell me! What does your button say?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today Is the Day the Impossible Happens

If you had asked me seven years ago, I would have said, "It's impossible!" that:


  • I would travel the Northeast in a van with Jack Hanna and some very pampered animals to help write his autobiography.
  • Through Jack, I would learn about Frederick, a teenage boy in Rwanda who chose death over harming complete strangers.
  • Frederick would live through the genocide, having his hands cut off, and a suicide attempt.
  • Frederick, all the way in Gisenyi, Rwanda, would meet Americans who would fly him here to get new "fingers."
  • Charlie Gibson would cover Frederick's story on Primetime.
  • Frederick and his business partner would find the means to build a gorgeous community center, preschool, and primary school to pull "people like me" out of the darkness of society.
  • The community center would revolutionize the way disabled people were treated in that corner of the world.
  • Frederick would embark on a bicycling campaign, through the steep hills of Rwanda and beyond, to show that "disability is not inability."
  • He would answer the phone.
  • He would trust me with his story.
But Luke 1:37 tells me that "nothing will be impossible with God." And I am seeing that truth in all of its glory today. 

Please, take a minute to get to know Frederick. If nothing else, his story will convert you to a believer in the impossible.



If you're in Middle Tennessee, you'll have two opportunities to meet Frederick in person and shake hands with the impossible: 


We'd love to see you there.

He also has an extensive tour scheduled in October throughout Southern California. Comment below for more info.

Friday, September 5, 2014

It's Addicting **Guest post from Laura L. Smith**

Today's post is from my dear friend and fearless writer, Laura Smith. Her fiction is raw, relevant, and real, tackling tough issues for teen and college-age girls. (I talk about why she writes what she writes here.) But more importantly, she is a wise counselor, an unconditional friend, a faithful cheerleader, and the sweetest soul. Get to know her; you'll be the better for it. OH, and as a bonus, if you comment below, you'll be entered to win a signed copy of It's Addicting for yourself or someone you love.


What are your little addictions?

Mine include:
  • Starbucks
  • Music
  • Nail polish (no chips please, different colors on toes and fingers)
  • Exercise (I don’t care with who, or what or when, but I crave it.)
  • My phone

Maybe yours are: 
  • Nachos
  • Getting all As
  • Your job
  • A sport/instrument/club/activity
  • Instagram
  • Your bestie
  • A TV show
  • A relationship
  •  Chocolate

Our lists could go on and on with the fun little interests, innocent cravings, and even important responsibilities and relationships we’re “addicted” to. But how do you know when a passion or interest becomes an “addiction”? When do these things that fill our minds and hours become modern-day idols?

When we over-desire them.

See, it’s not wanting them that’s the problem. God created coffee beans and cocoa beans and the guy you have a crush on (yup, husbands count too). He created your brain and your body and wants you to use them to glorify Him. 

But when our little addictions create tension with our family, our wallet, our values, our faith, when our innocent little craving becomes more important than God, when we OVER-DESIRE it, we’ve got a problem.

How so?

I often plot out my morning to include a stop by my local Starbucks. I love my coffee. I get excited every morning when the aromatic smell wafts towards my nose, when the bold, rich flavor hits my tongue. And this is okay. God wants us to have pleasure, to enjoy this world and this life. He gave me taste buds that are receptive to the flavor of an iced venti with mocha and nonfat milk. But when I skip my quiet time with Him in the morning to make sure I get a coffee, when I’m late getting my kids to school or I show up late to a meeting, because I “needed” a coffee, this is a problem.

Do you have a friend you adore? Someone who makes you laugh and truly gets you? It’s great to spend time with them, to text them throughout the day about funny things, things you’re stressed about, or to plan weekend adventures together. But when you lie to someone who’s close to you so that you can go somewhere with that friend or to cover up for that friend, there’s a problem.

See the pattern?

So how do we rein in our addictions? How do we keep our pleasant little everyday desires from becoming something we obsess over?

First, we can ask ourselves if we are seeking affirmation from these things we adore. Because we do sometimes, don’t we? We seek affirmation from the coolest nail art to the fastest time on the 10K to the most followers on Twitter. We do. 

But our entire identity, all of our affirmation, should come from Christ who created us.

That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Gal 5:26MSG

Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.

When I have a morning where my Starbucks craving will stretch my wallet, make me late, or cause unnecessary stress, I can say, “Jesus, You are the only thing that truly satisfies me. Please let me drink You in this day, and feel You working in and through me. Let me taste Your goodness. Amen.” And then I can brew myself a cup in my Keurig and be thankful.

When your friend wants you to do something that compromises your values--whether that’s gossiping or drinking or blowing off an assignment--and you’re craving their acceptance, pray something like this, “Please Jesus, I long for companionship, for love. I know that You are my constant companion, that You love me always. Please remind me of that love. Please fill me up with it. Let me realize it is better and fuller and more satisfying than any earthly relationship.”

And then turn to the ultimate truth of your Bible (better yet, memorize a few verses) that will remind you of these things: that Jesus is enough, that in fact He’s everything we need. That we should crave Him, long for Him, seek Him and seek to please Him, and we will be valued and loved and treasured.

Here are some that help me:
  • For you formed my inward parts; 
you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) 
  • God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special. (1 Thessalonians 1:4 MSG
  • It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. (1 Corinthians 4:3 MSG)
  • For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

But sometimes it's more helpful to see these principles in action. Kat, Claire, Hannah, and Palmer--the characters you'll meet in my new novel, It’s Addicting--encounter their own types of addictions, fun little things that seem innocent enough. And I hope that as you read about them, you'll learn, as they do, how to overcome your over-desires by putting some of these principles to work.  

How about you? What innocent cravings sometimes take over your life?