Sunday, January 29, 2017

Being single is not a curse

Ah yes, this must be one of those posts.

One of those crazy posts where some deluded married person preaches to you, the single, about the blessed joy of singleness. They spend 1,500 to 2,500 words laying out their case, as if they could convince you that this awkward, immensely trying season has oh so many advantages.  It's as if they have forgotten their own pre-marriage purgatory--as if they have forgotten the heartache, the insecurity, and the flat-out painful, unfulfilled desire of not having someone special in your life. Instead, they preach that this season can be such a time of focus for you. Focus towards your education. Focus towards finding yourself. Focus towards getting your wild oats sown and out of the way. Focus towards ministry if you are being addressed by a Christian. You have unparalleled opportunities! they say. You have the time and freedom to devote yourself to something grand!

Yes, this is one of those posts. Only this author is single. I'm in your same boat. I'm in pre-marriage purgatory right there with you, but I believe this season really can be a time of great joy. I would even argue that it should be!

(Jaws drop)

No, I am not a eunuch; I'll be clear there. I constantly find myself thinking about who that special somebody will be whom I marry, Lord willing. My dad, in one of his many counseling sessions to me as a love struck bull calf, has declared conclusively that I don't have the gift of singleness and the sooner I can get myself established and married, the better. I couldn't agree with him more.

So, how then, can this season of unfulfilled longing possibly be good? We need to have a complete paradigm shift in our thinking, I believe, before this thought is even possible, and this shift has to start with our perception of where our satisfaction is found. I would argue that our dreams of satisfaction as singles is skewed. We think our lives will become so abundantly perfect when we find Mr. Right or Miss Amazing and marry. We'll ride off into a beautiful sunset together, lost in happily ever after and heady romantic love. We can't believe how married people tell us that after the honeymoon, marriage gets really hard sometimes. We can barely fathom how it could ever be hard or unfulfilling. But it can be. It will be.

 In short, marriage is so hard, it won't satisfy you.

It's time to wake up from the day dreams, guys, and I am preaching this to myself as much as anyone. There is only one marriage that will ever satisfy, and that is our marriage to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as His bride, the Church. No earthly relationship can or will satisfy like this one.

Don't get me wrong, there is a season of sweet oblivion and joy that comes with pursuing a relationship. It's called infatuation, and I have experienced it. It is intoxicating. But it won't ultimately satisfy. In fact, if you lose yourself to it, God in His grace will gently wrestle it from you. We are called as Christians to be passionate first and foremost for Christ. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not intoxicated by wine (Ephesians 5:18-20)--or romantic passion, I would add in comparison. If you are finding more satisfaction in that you are (or aren't) loved by a fellow earthling rather than in the fact that the God of the Universe calls you His dearly beloved, you are in for a heartbreaking let down. You need to return to your first love, Christ, before it is too late. (Rev. 2:4-5)

God's word really is true. I struggle so much with this passage, but it is true:

7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. ... 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife-- 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
[1Co 7:7-8, 32-35 NIV]
The only reason this verse makes sense is if it really is true that lasting satisfaction is found only in devotion to Christ. And it is true! I have found in my own life that the best, most abundant times in my life are when Christ is my driving focus. Singleness becomes less of a curse, and more of a blessing as I pursue Him! Naturally, being unattached does give you more focus towards whatever you decide to pursue, and if that something is first and foremost the Lord, the blessings in your life are only multiplied!
 As a result, I can be content. I hope my stay in pre-marriage purgatory is short lived, but for now, I am honestly hoping to remain single as I pursue several career opportunities I believe the Lord has called me to serve Him through. (Journalism for one! woo hooo!) This season of my life will be incredibly busy as I start college, and I need to start down this path with an extra degree of focus. So, being single right now may not be what I would have planned if it were up to me, but I can thank God for the temporary blessing of it!

 It's not a curse, guys, honest. May all of us use this season of singleness to the fullest for God's glory!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A peek into The Wanted Man, now available in print!

The Wanted Man

Hello everyone, I am excited to announce that my Dystopian novella The Wanted Man is now published! I am posting on here a peek into the story for you all. This is from chapter three. Enjoy!

~~~~~

Ashton sat perched on a large boulder. His knees were drawn up to his chin, and a patch of sunlight warmed his back. Three squirrel skins lay stretched out beside him on the boulder, and several small packages of meat, wrapped in large green leaves, were stuck in the pockets of his cloak. The entrails and other left-overs of the squirrels were piled in the underbrush behind him. No doubt some forest creature would feast tonight, but not nearly to the extent Ashton and his master would.

The day had been strange to Ashton. He hardly remembered hunting the squirrels, and he had shot and cleaned them almost absent-mindedly. His mind was still on the dream he had dreamt that past night. He tried hard to remember the woman’s face he had seen, for above all else, he yearned to see it again. Like his other visions that night, he felt sure that it was a flashback to things that had actually occurred in his life. His attempts were frustrated, though, for he only remembered the most basic details. He would never see the face of his mother outside the realm of his dreams.

His thoughts turned to the words that he had felt whispered to him right before he had fallen asleep again. Those words he could remember clearly, though he didn’t believe them. And now that he had heard the first lines of the song, he despised himself for ever trying to remember its words.

“A righteous God,” he muttered out loud. “I for one can deny that blatant lie. If there were such a god, he would not let me live such a life.” Ashton turned his face to the sky. “If you really do exist, you would have not allowed me to be born with a defect. If you truly have chosen me for more than a life of misery, show me now. Give me a vision of what my other life will be like.”

There was no response, and Ashton laughed out loud. “No visions? No more lines of that foolish song? You are truly a fantasy. ” He turned to gather his squirrel skins and resolved to never again allow himself to think back to the night before. The words he had heard last night were only gibberish his sub-conscious mind had conjured up, nothing more.

A twig snapped, and in one motion Ashton jumped from the boulder and strung an arrow on his crossbow. He listened intently. At first there was nothing more to rouse his suspicion that he was not alone, but then he perceived distant footfalls. Ashton raised his crossbow toward the sound, ready to fire. A slight deer path snaked around the front of the boulder he crouched behind, and as the footfalls grew louder, he guessed that the intruder was on the path. His finger closed on the trigger of his crossbow. The intruder would die before realizing the imminent danger.

He caught a glimpse of a figure between the trees, and it was indeed walking his way. The figure passed one last tree, and Ashton could now see his face. It was a man. He wore a close-cut beard around his lips and chin, though his jaws were shaved, and both his beard and his hair where dark brown—almost black—with gray specks beginning to appear. He looked well kempt and clean, though his clothes were somewhat worn. Ashton had been expecting the exact opposite to the man before him, and his finger wavered and then pulled back from the trigger of his crossbow. The man did not look to be a Ravager, but it was quite possible that he was one of the Elite.

Ashton looked around desperately, wanting to hide. The man was walking steadily straight toward him; the boulder would not conceal him for long. All the while Ashton was torn over what to do. There was no hiding place readily available, but to kill one of the Elite—if the man was so—was forbidden. Ashton knew that last fact from firsthand experience.

The man was now only twenty paces away, and Ashton knew he must do something quick . . . or bear the consequences. It was then that he heard the man mumbling. The intruder was talking in hushed tones and turning his head this way and that, looking up at the tall, green-leaved trees around him. He even stooped and plucked off the edge of a fern that hung over the path, pausing to stare at the small, intricate leaves. As the man drew closer along the deer path, Ashton picked up a few of the words he was saying and realized with surprise that the man was not talking to himself. It was as if the intruder was addressing a second companion who walked beside him. He was now only ten paces away.

His mind finally made up, Ashton stepped out onto the deer path and raised his crossbow. The man looked up abruptly and dropped the piece of fern. “Hold, don’t shoot!” He raised a hand to try and signal Ashton to stop.

Momentarily surprised at the man’s reaction, Ashton resisted the urge to pull the trigger. It was natural instinct for men to duck for cover or brandish their weapons when their lives were about to end by Ashton’s hand, not give him an order. Only one such man had tried, one of the Elite, and Ashton had ended his life instantly. But this man was different. He did not run for cover or brandish his weapon. He didn’t even seem to be afraid.

“Don’t move, or I’ll shoot!” Ashton’s voice made it clear that he was serious.

“I assure you,” the man replied, his intense blue eyes staring up at Ashton’s, “there is no need to pull the trigger.”

“I will determine that for myself.”

The man nodded slowly. “As you wish.”

“Who are you?”

“I would like to know a little bit more about who’s questioning me before I answer that.”

“You are not in a position to set the rules.” Ashton stepped forward. He was now only ten feet away from the mysterious intruder, and the man had to squint upwards to meet his stare. Though the man was not nearly as short as Garret, he was still no match for Ashton’s height.

 “Tell me, who are you?”

“I am a man who finds it easier to speak when he does not have a crossbow pointed at his chest. That much you may know of me for certain,” the intruder replied. There was a hint of a smile on his face, and Ashton wondered how a man could be smiling when his death was so imminent.

“I don’t plan on putting it down, if that is what you were thinking. Who were you talking to?”

“Come now, I have told you a little about myself; now it is time for me to learn a little about you, my friend. I thought I heard a voice either laughing or yelling at someone a little while ago. Are there more of you around?”

Ashton was tiring of the stranger dancing around his questions and longed just to be done with him, and yet something about the man attracted him. He still kept his finger on the trigger, but he allowed his hand to go lax. “I am not your friend,” he grumbled sourly. “Now answer my question.”

The stranger held up his hands. “Fair enough. You answer my first question, and I will gladly give you an answer to your second.”

“I was talking and laughing at a god who doesn’t exist.”

“Ah, then it proves that my answer to your second question is one and the same. I too was talking to God, only I believe He exists, for I find it pretty pointless to talk to someone who isn’t there to hear me.”

“You believe there’s a god?” Ashton was unable to hide the scorn in his voice.

“I do.”

“How can you?” Ashton’s voice was loud. “If there is a god, why is there so much death in the world?”

“Then again, if there is no God, why is there any good in the world?” the stranger countered.

Ashton did not have an immediate answer, for he had never thought of that before. “You are a fool. I see little good about this world.”

The man tilted his head to the side. “Oh, really? I admit that the human race has pretty much abandoned what is good, but look around you, at the green trees and underbrush, at the way the golden sunlight filters through the trees. I was just marveling at the beauty of our forest before you surprised me, actually. If all that we see came about by random chance, why is there any beauty? Wouldn’t everything be jumbled and disorderly?”

Ashton‘s mind raced to counter this man’s crazy argument, but deep down he had to admit that the man had a point. Just that last evening Ashton had stopped at the edge of the river, marveling at the beauty around him. “I have had enough of this pointless talk,” he said finally. “I should kill you.”

“And yet the fact that you have not yet pulled the trigger testifies to the fact that there is good in this world.” The stranger was not a bit afraid. “My friend, our God has buried within every man a sense of right and wrong, and though men will try to ignore it, it remains.”

“I decide what is right and wrong, of that both my master and I are certain. I will let you live—if you leave now.”

“I can help you find the God you search for; I can offer you a chance at a better life!” the man exclaimed, suddenly urgent. His intense eyes were fixed on Ashton’s face, waiting for his answer.

“Leave. My trigger finger is getting restless.”

“The man nodded silently and dropped his gaze to the deer path. He made to pass Ashton, who stepped aside while keeping his crossbow trained on him. The stranger passed, but before he had disappeared behind a bend in the path, he turned to face Ashton once more. “I have some business to conduct with a comrade just outside our forest,” he said. “I will pass by here at the same time two days from now. Meet me at your squirrel-hide-bedecked boulder there, and I would love to talk more with you.”

There was a distinct thud as a feathered shaft slammed into the tree behind him, just above his head. “If you enter my master’s domain again, I will kill you,” Ashton replied, his voice tense.

The mysterious intruder disappeared behind the bend in the path without another word.

Ashton waited several minutes, then lowered his crossbow. He returned to his boulder, snatched up the hides of the squirrels which were still somewhat sticky with blood, and tramped off into the forest. Inwardly he was fuming that he had not finished the stranger when he had the chance, but there was something more lurking behind his anger, a feeling that he couldn’t shake.

He stopped before he reached his master’s abode. Once again Ashton was conflicted over what to report to Garret that night. Part of him wanted to spew out on listening ears all the resentment building inside him, but the other half warned that his master would not appreciate the fact that he had allowed a stranger to pass through their domain and live. Of course, he could just tell Garret that he had shot the man after his foolish talk, but his master would see through his lie. No, he must try to hide this encounter. And this time he would not fail, for there would be much more serious repercussions than killing a few squirrels the next day to make up for his mistake.

Sheesh, Ashton thought, beginning to stride forward again, what is my life coming to? Feeding squirrels, conversing with fools, even lying to my master—what is wrong with me?

He didn’t know it at the time, but all were signs of a conflict that was gathering force within him. The battle for his mind had begun.
 
~~~~~
 
You can purchase a copy of The Wanted Man through me directly by shooting me an e-mail or leaving a comment below, or visit My Publisher's Bookstore to buy yourself a copy. Thank you for your time and interest in my new story!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Your life is a story

When I look at you, I see a story grander than the best novels ever written.

Yes, you. Right there. The one staring at this screen.

There are special scenes in your life. There are moments dear and sweet, the ones that make the heart swell with joy. Marriage, new birth, the laughter of family and friends.  There are settings you cherish, places that make your story that much more profoundly joyful. What are some of yours? Mine are right here in my amazing home, out on a muddy field throwing a Frisbee around with great friends, or up on a special farm hill where I share many a laidback, peaceful evening.

There are hard times in your life too, pain that makes the heart sink--low points more sharp and breathtaking than most stories. Death, betrayal, broken relationships, sickness. Most of these can be found in bleak settings, just like the special scenes can be found in cherished settings. Can you remember some of them? Mine are found in my truck, rain pounding the roof of my car, and I'm crying; a dark and empty bed room that my torn heart is unable to find sleep in; a lifeless hospital room, staring at the tiny, cold face of my little sister who will never get a chance to live in this world.

There are times where you just plod along, day after day. Five days a week at the office. 24/7 as a stay at home mom. Grade upon grade as a student. But in your plodding you find yourself. You find what is worth living for, and what the purpose of your life will be.

Combine all these moments that have made you, and your life is a masterpiece, written before time began by the (said with a hard "e" for emphasis) Master Storyteller. You are a character larger than life, complete and fleshed out in every detail. Your personality, your features, your desires, your quirks--all tied perfectly in and essential to the story that stretches from eternity to eternity. We all are these incredible characters, every person on earth. Those characters in the stories you love so much? The ones you thought were so real, so personable? The ones that you cheered for and loved or booed and hated as if they were almost as real as you yourself? They are but shadows, a faint echo of the vast array of characters God has created in humanity.

Through the ups and downs--the joy and the grief, the victories and the defeats, the dreams and the nightmares--you are learning there is a God, and He cannot be denied. You will accept Him, and live an abundant chapter in this grand story, a chapter that glorifies the Master Storyteller. Or you may reject Him and ignore His authorship, but in the end, you will be a part of the story still.

You see, this is not necessarily a motivational speech, because not every character are good guys. There be bad guys, more nefarious then any villain created in story. God uses them to tell His story (also known as history) just as He uses the good guys. They are essential to the plot as well.

So who are you? What will your grand story tell? Will it shout the wonders of the Lord of Heaven and Earth? Will it be a grand mystery that even the angels long to look in to? Or will you be the contrast, the desperate depravity of a creature who refuses to accept a God-honoring role in history. Will you be the black background to the brilliant white of God's redeeming love? For every Moses, there is a Pharaoh. His hard heart was still used to tell of God's power and glory, but at the cost of his soul.

Our Sovereign Author gives you that choice. You can choose to be cast as a hero or a villain. Your choice will be eternal, so choose wisely! You can live a life that pleases Him! But don't think for an instant your choice will catch our Creator off guard. It's your choice, but He has already molded you. You won't be able to understand how it works, how you can live a life of complete freedom of choice and yet still have your life written out before you began, but trust the Author. Willingly die to self so that you may pour your life into a few words of His grand, eternal epic. It may be nothing more than a few letters your life adds, but even those few jots on eternity's page are marvelous.

I began looking at you as your own marvelous story, and you most definitely are that. But then we zoomed out together a little further, to His story on earth, and you became less of a story and more of a character in a chapter of history. What an amazing character you are though! We zoomed even further out to eternity, and you became only a few words, maybe only a few letters. But without you, the story wouldn't be complete. There would be a missing piece, a terrible, jarring typo in the pages of eternity. The only thing worse would be to have every letter of your life recorded in sin. Don't let your character be depraved and lost, and don't let your grand story be one of tragedy, I beg you!

I pray, instead, that your story be one of marvelous wonder, and your character redeemed and alive with joy. May the letters of your life be crimson, written with the ink of Christ's life-giving blood!
 
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139:16

Monday, January 2, 2017

Do you want to live a life without pain?


Have you ever wanted to live a life without pain?

No hurt, no wounds, no death. No regrets, no sorrow, no heartbreak. I think a part of all of us longs for a life like that. We’re made in God’s image, and even from the depths we’ve fallen we still grasp at faint echoes of Eden. We all wish we could again live in a perfect paradise, and for Christians, we have a steadfast faith that we will one day life in a new world without death and suffering. It will be glorious.

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea

Isaiah 11:6-9.

What do we do with pain in the meantime, then? Why doesn’t God let us escape it now, in this life? Was He not powerful enough to crush Satan before he tempted Eve in the garden? Why is it that we still experience tremendous pain after accepting Jesus as Lord? If He’s defeated death, why is it still our enemy? If only we could live life without pain or suffering right now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, didn’t He?

Why then, why all the pain?

If we truly believe God is who He says He is, than we know for sure it is not a question of whether He can obliterate all suffering, it’s a question of when. He will one day set all things right, but for now, God has chosen to allow suffering and pain in our world and lives. There is no way to get around that. We also know that God is good, which means His plan is good. He’s holly, and His choices are perfect.

It sounds like a quandary—a contradiction that cannot be resolved. Unless, that is, we are to believe there is some redeeming purpose to pain.

A couple nights ago, we watched an interesting movie called The Giver. This dystopian tale centers on a society that has found a way to eliminate suffering. They’ve made a world without war or crime or even hurt. The trade off? Citizens can’t think for their own. The world is wiped of any choices or emotions. A select few elders regulate how you will live your life, and thanks to your morning brain-numbing injection, you follow along without complaint. In the process of destroying suffering, they’ve also destroyed love, creativity, beauty, joy, and kindness. The film offers a bold message: You can't truly experience the joys in life without the pain, and without choosing to receive both.

Is that it? Can we really experience the good in life without contrasting it with the bad? Would we ever grow more in a relationship with God without the contrast?  Would we even be thankful for the good in our lives? Would our lives in reality be worse off without pain?

Yesterday, our church had a time of sharing—an open mic for anyone who had a testimony of thankfulness or praise to God. With each joyful testimony, my heart swelled near to bursting. I rejoiced with my family in Christ, praising God for all His blessings. A couple testimonies made me tear up, a couple made me laugh or clap wholeheartedly. What ran through all of them, though, as I think about it—what made the stories truly worth praising God for—was pain.

It’s true.  Almost every testimony featured pain; a couple were even heartbreaking. But that only made the joy and peace that came out of them that much more sweet. God is so good, that He can use such sadness and trial to draw us closer to Him. We really do grow, and we really can see the value of pain. We can even praise God for it!

3  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  4  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  5  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

Last night, I had to say goodbye to Meemom and Papa Bob as they head back to AZ for the rest of the winter and spring. Goodbyes are so sad! But I can trust that the season of being apart will make seeing them again that much more joyful. You see, pain doesn’t have to break us. For us Christians, it can enhance our experiences of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—because we know what the opposite is like. Pain really is part of experiencing abundant life on this earth!

Do I want to live a life without pain, then? No! I can trust in God’s perfect plan for my life. I can trust that the trials He brings are for my best—even the most heart-wrenching. Thank you, Lord! You really are worthy of all our praise. Your ways are truly higher than ours, and your plan is perfect, pain included. Like the song says, “Oh how sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word!”