Seven Swans-a-Swimming

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(Photo by Chris Child on Unsplash)

Narrative explanations of the seven Spirits, which are described as the 7 swans-a-swimming in the Partridge and a Pear Tree song. 🙂 Originally posted on Noble Novels.

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him–
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord–
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2-3a
1. The Spirit of the Lord.

Wind ripples through my hair as I stand on that cliff, adoring the never-ending expanse of blue sky. I’m in awe. The warmth of pink sun over the horizon fills my heart. The world stretches out before me, but only when I raise my eyes to the mountains do I feel free.
2. The Spirit of wisdom.

The pages I poured over for so many years are gone. When they look at me and beg me to follow them with their beautiful shining eyes, everything in me wants to give up and do as they say. But I remember the faint words of wisdom I used to read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I shake my head at them deceivers, and when that isn’t enough, I say, “No,” and when that isn’t enough, I turn around and run away from their folly and into the arms of my King.

3. The Spirit of understanding.

They shake the words into meaningless phases like “I do” and “Bless you,” tearing apart the beauty of truth that I so desperately need. They water down the gospel into “Do this” or “Who cares” until all that is left is a message of lies. But I remember the message I was given; my mind opens as I allow the Truth to reveal Himself to me. The words of life seep into my bones, shaking me out of complacency into a rigorous excitement that I’ve been waiting for all this time.

4. The Spirit of counsel.

In a moment of terror, I am all alone. None of my friends understand me; my family has forsaken me. Who will I cling to in this hour of darkness? The Counselor beckons me, filling me with peace and truth. I pour out my troubles onto Him, and He answers me with guidance and love. At the moment I feel lost and hopeless, I rest in His words and His presence. Nothing I do deserves this. He is with me, and I am not alone.

5. The Spirit of might.

Weakness smothers me as I face a friend who lost everything. I say a word, but it only hurts her more. I smile, but I’m only faking. I don’t feel strong enough to point her to the Lord who can save her. The words are stuck in my throat. But I hear a Voice calling out to me: You can’t do this on Your own. Lean on me. I ask for His strength, and He gives it to me. I embrace my friend with His love, encouraging her boldly that Jesus can help her.

6. The Spirit of knowledge.

I don’t know which way to go. The fork in the road gives me a choice. Left! No, right! I bury my face in my hands, crying out to God, “Tell me which way to go! Which way is right? Which way is wrong?” He seems to tell me that the path I choose reveals my heart. He opens my eyes to His love, which is the foundation of His law. How can I love Him the most? Everything begins to slowly fall in place. It doesn’t matter so much which way I go. What matters is that I choose Him, wherever I go.

7. The Spirit of the fear of the Lord.

Thunder shakes the ground; lightening flashes. In the pouring rain I dash down a hill, terrified, just wanting to get home. But suddenly something stops me, grabbing hold of my full attention. Though the earth shakes my weary heart, God’s power surrounds me, leaving me in total amazement. Coldness seeps in my bones, but the storm now fills me with wonder. I fall on my knees in the dirt, as the rain soaks my back. Lord, how awesome You are! You shake the heavens, yet instead of zapping me with a lightening bolt, You hold me safe in Your hands. I thank You for Your Spirit that daily realigns my heart to delight in You. Here is my life, Lord. Do what You like with me. I am Yours.

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J15: Waiting For Him to Come

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(Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash)

Today I will tell you about a particular Christmas tradition my family has and what it means to me. 

The carols. The lights. The greenery. The smiles. The joy. The gifts. The hot chocolate. The birth of one life-altering baby boy.

These are some most of the things that I love about Christmas.

Lately it’s hard for me to appreciate Christmas like I used to when I was a little kid—with Santa and his reindeer and all the magic they brought to the holiday. Now all of those illusions are gone.

What’s left is the reality. That the Son of God descended to a lowly manger to bring us eternal joy and a relationship with our Heavenly Father is something I will never fully appreciate until perhaps heaven.

My family has a tradition, called the Jesse Tree, which is named after King David’s father. The idea is that Jesse is an ancestor in a long line of ancestors leading up to Jesus.

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” — Isaiah 11:1

Every day in December you hang a new ornament on the Jesse tree, each ornament representing a different event in the history of Jesus’ ancestors, leading up to the birth of Jesus. For example, the first ornament is a little globe, and this is when you are supposed to read about the creation of the world. The advent of ornaments continues on to symbolize different events in the Bible, especially highlighting the characters in Jesus’ genealogy.

The Israelites waited for a long time for the Messiah to come, just as my family waits for Christmas day by decorating the Jesse Tree. Placing one ornament on the tree each day in December is sort of like waiting for Jesus to come. Imagine the excitement. The anticipation. The uncertainty. Will He ever come at this rate? Before Jesus came, the Israelites probably doubted that their Savior would ever come and rescue them from sin and death.

Before He came, the Israelites were running out of hope.

But today we have an advantage: we know that He came! We know that He was born, He died, and He rose again. We know that He performed miracles, told parables, spoke against the legalistic Pharisees, and even was put to death on the cross so we might live, symbolizing His humility. Now we have hope of an everlasting relationship with our Heavenly Father.

If the holy, worthy, powerful Lord of the Universe descended to a filthy manger and even a criminal’s death, how can we begin to complain to God that something is too “demeaning” or “hard” for us, if it’s His will for us to do?

Christmas, as we all know, is not about the getting. It’s about the giving. Give your heart and life to Jesus, and in return pour out His love into anyone you come across with.

We don’t have to wait as long as the Israelites did. But when we experience the waiting for our Messiah by hanging up symbols of the past on the Jesse Tree, perhaps whenever we accept that the Son of God came to earth for our eternal reconciliation with God, Jesus will mean more to us than just a baby in a manger. Maybe the magic of Santa is nothing but a fantasy, but Jesus is the ultimate reality.

May God truly be with us this Christmas. May He be the carol on our tongue, the Christmas tree in our spirit, and the steaming hot cocoa of our weary hearts.

Because Christmas isn’t about magic, it’s about miracles.

CW15: Merry’s Frozen Heart

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(Photo by Tony Ross on Unsplash)

It’s Christmas Eve, but Merriam feels all alone. The warm feelings of comfort and joy she usually feels during Christmas are far from her grasp. When circumstances turn even worse, how will she be able to trust that God is working things out for her good?

Merriam sipped the steaming hot cocoa, letting the warmth and sweetness fill her chilled body.

Laughter rang through the night as she trudged through the snow with her group of friends on a neighborhood street, taking in the lovely Christmas lights adorning the houses.

Olivia slowed down to talk with Merriam, a glow of joy shining in her crystal blue eyes.

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?”

Merriam avoided eye contact, as sadness washed over her. “It’s-it’s lovely.”

It was a wonder they hadn’t plowed the snow off this road by now. Couldn’t they give a girl peace of mind on the anniversary of her father’s death? As snow crept into her boots, Merriam wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck.

Olivia was breathing heavily beside her, the cold air a visible cloud as she exhaled. “What’s the matter, Merry? It’s Christmas Eve—we’re supposed to be happy. Please, just tell me what’s on your mind.”

Merriam forced back tears. “Nothing, Liv.”

Trent hollered back over his shoulder, “You two all right?”

Olivia smiled. “It’s all good. You guys can go on ahead—we’re gonna hang back for a while.”

Merriam gritted her teeth, just wanting Olivia to leave her alone.

Trent and the rest of the group kept on, while Olivia urged Merriam to sit down on a nearby bench.

“Please, Merry, you’ve been sulking all evening. You can’t keep things away from me. Me and the rest of us aren’t spending Christmas with our families either, so we understand. I’m… I’m here for you, and they are too.”

After a pause, Merriam reluctantly sank down to the bench beside Olivia. “It was last Christmas… I don’t know if you remember.”

Olivia’s hands flew to her face. “Oh, it’s about your father! That’s right, that happened around Christmas time.” She surrounded Merriam into a loving embrace. “I’m so sorry.”

The tears fell from Merriam’s eyes as she released the aching gloom she’d borne on her shoulders ever since Black Friday.

She’d tried to forget about him as the year went by, but it was impossible now. Memories flooded Merriam as she wept on Olivia’s shoulder, her tears freezing in the cold frosty air. Her father had always placed the star on top of the tree, in such a precise way that he often had to fix it whenever the cat started messing with the ornaments. He and Mom would kiss under the mistletoe like new lovers. And she couldn’t forget how he’d worn the Santa hat at the church holiday parties, letting the little kids sit on his lap to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

Olivia gave a sympathetic sound. “I didn’t realize… and this happening right after your breakup with Drew must be even harder for you!”

The mention of Drew further crushed Merriam’s spirit. He had been a jerk, no doubt about it. And she had broken up with him herself. But she still missed that bit of goodness within him—that kind, gentlemanly manner about him, and his joyous brown eyes. If only he loved Jesus as much as she did. If only God had worked it out between them somehow.

“You’ll be all right,” Olivia said softly.

The words brought no comfort to Merriam. How would she ever be all right? How could God possibly fix her shattered heart?

“Come on now, let’s catch up with the others,” Olivia said gently.

Merriam squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep the tears from escaping. “I don’t think I can handle it right now. I’m going home. You go on ahead with them, Liv.”

Olivia looked hesitantly at her. “Are you sure?”

Merriam nodded.

“All right then. Good night, Merry. And Merry Christmas! We’re meeting at my house at ten tomorrow morning. I’ll be praying for you.”

Merriam watched Olivia trudge off through the snow to her group of friends.

Praying.

Merriam couldn’t imagine what kind of help God could give her. Gazing up at the sky, she whispered, “Can You bring my father back?”

As snowflakes fell into her eyes, she blinked them away, shaking her head glumly. God didn’t do things like that. Can You give me a new boyfriend that has a heart for You, like Dad?

She laughed silently to herself. That wasn’t happening either. Well, what can You do?

A cold wind cut through her coat as Merriam noticed carolers singing joyfully “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” to nearby houses: “…good tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, good tidings of comfort and joy.”

She frowned. She didn’t feel either comfortable or joyful.

Taking another sip of hot cocoa, Merriam turned and began trudging homeward through the snow, glad at least that she lived only a few blocks away.

Suddenly, she looked up to see a truck plowing the snow off the street and coming close to her, so she rushed over to the sidewalk to make room for it. In her haste, she stepped on a slab of ice, sliding and falling flat on her face into the thick snow covering the sidewalk, her cup of hot cocoa flying out of her hand. She uttered a cry of pain and lay still for awhile, feeling lifeless and not wanting to move. When she did try to move, a wave of fear came over her. Her body was numb from the cold, and her fingers frozen.

She imagined icicles sticking out of her body and grew more afraid. Dear Jesus, please help me! I’m sorry for scorning You. I’ve been so terribly wrong. I shouldn’t blame You for all that’s happened to me. I need to trust in You. Help me to do that. And please get me out of this-this c-cold!

“Are you all right?”

The male voice was hoarse in the crisp air.

Merriam tried to move a little in the snow. But she couldn’t see anything. She felt blind and paralyzed.

Suddenly, the man was pulling her up from the snow and carrying her in his arms.

She tried to open her eyes but they were frozen shut, so she just clung onto the man and drew in his warmth, even as her body trembled.

“I’m taking you to my house to warm you up. It’s not too far off now. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.”

His voice was gentle yet firm, somehow assuring her that he meant what he said.

When they arrived at the man’s house, he dusted the snow off her and laid her down on some cushions, wrapping warm blankets around her.

In the warmth of the house, Merriam was now able to blink open her eyes and look up at her rescuer.

The man sucked in his breath when they met eyes.

Merriam whispered shakily, “Are-are you Jesus?”

The man narrowed his eyes, but then laughed. “No, I’m Anthony. Jesus is going to be born tomorrow. It’s Christmas Eve, you know.” His expression was filled with confusion. “Why were you out in the cold?”

“I-I fell.” Merriam felt color burning in her cheeks, as her brain started clearing up. She couldn’t be in this strange man’s house—especially not tonight. “I’m sorry to ruin your Christmas Eve. I better be going. My house isn’t too far off.”

Anthony shrugged. “I’m not having much of a Christmas. I go to the university here and my family is back in California.”

“I go there, too… and I… I chose not to celebrate with my family this year.”

Not with Dad gone. She couldn’t bear it without Dad.

Merriam rushed to change the subject: “Oh, I should be thanking you! You probably saved my life.”

“Probably.” Anthony grinned, making Merriam laugh unexpectedly. She hadn’t laughed aloud all Christmas season.

The man went back to another room for a moment. “Thank you for this answer to my prayer, Jesus!” she heard him whisper loudly in amazement, as metal clinked against metal and he poured some liquid substance into a container.

Before Merry could figure out what he was talking about, he reappeared with some chicken noodle soup.

“Here: eat up. This will really warm you.”

“Thank you again. I wish I could repay you, but—”

“—don’t think of it.” Kindness lit his handsome features. “I would never have seen you there if God hadn’t told me to walk along that street and look at Christmas lights for a few moments. And I… I’ve been praying for an opportunity to help someone.”

The idea seemed absurd to her. “What do you mean?”

Keeping his eyes on Merriam, the man sat down on a cushioned chair. “I feel like I get too comfortable with my life and get so self-centered sometimes. There’s so many people out there who need help. Often I’m not willing to help even one person, but Jesus helped all people by coming to earth to reconcile us to God.”

As Merriam noticed the passion in Anthony’s voice, she pondered his words in her heart. It was baffling that her despicable situation in the snow had been an answer to his prayers. She’d heard that God brought blessings out of pain, but she never had witnessed it with her own eyes. Could He do the same with the grief she held up for her father?

She sipped the soup, letting its warmth fill her insides.

“What was your name again?” she asked quietly.

“Anthony. And yours?”

“Merriam, but most people call me Merry.”

Anthony grinned again, the creases in his cheeks lighting up Merriam’s heart. “Well, Merry, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.”

She chuckled. “I hope you do too, Anthony.”

Merriam was filled with wonder, as he helped her to her feet and led her to his car. So, her icy condition had been the answer to this man’s prayers. Was he God’s answer to her prayers?

She didn’t know, but as the young man drove her home, Merriam at last felt comfort and joy revive her weary soul, melting the frozen walls around her heart.

What Makes A Leader For Christ

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Let me introduce Katie Stacey, from the Things Above blog, who will be guest posting today about being a Leader for Christ…

A quick Google search will give you courses, books, articles, quotes, and definitions about being a leader. To some, leading is a coveted position. To others, it’s a detested one.

Whatever your stance is, if you’re a Christian, leading is part of your job description: you’ve got to try to lead others to Christ.

In some ways, Leaders for Christ are the same as any other leaders, but in other ways, they’re completely different.

I want to explore some of these similarities and differences between Leaders for Christ and ordinary leaders, and hopefully give you some tips on becoming a Leader for Christ!

Similarities

1.      All leaders are imperfect

All leaders have limitations to what they can do, even – especially – Christian leaders. I really appreciate Chuck Lawless’s article 12 Things Pastors Cannot Do. In this article, he outlines twelve things that pastors cannot be – and as a PK (preacher’s kid), some of these things really hit home. I wish everyone could realize that my dad is doing as best he can!

The bottom line is, all leaders are imperfect—and that’s OK.

Some of the things Lawless describes in his article apply to all leaders. No leader can read minds, be everywhere, please everybody, escape mistakes, or avoid favoritism. We’re all human. The important thing to remember is that even if we do mess up, we need to ask forgiveness and press on.

2.      All leaders desire the growth of their projects

All leaders hope that their missions are successful, whether it’s a business to be run, a battle to be won, or a broken heart to be mended. As Napoleon Hill said, “The starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”

However, this applies to Leaders for Christ, too. We need to be on fire for God; to desire to grow His Kingdom! We need to be of one mind with Jesus.

3.      All leaders need to be ready

I can’t help but picture a businessman watching stock symbols. Suddenly, he shouts into his cell phone, “Sell now! Sell now!” He was watching to see the time of greatest impact, and as soon as he saw it, he took action.

All leaders are like this – they watch for opportunities. But as Leaders for Christ, we need to be especially watchful and ready. We need to be ready and watchful for many things, really:

Differences

As Leaders for Christ, we might be stuck in this world. But we’re not of it – our true home and heritage is in heaven. Here are some things that will always be different between Leaders for Christ and regular leaders.

1. Leaders for Christ Actively Live for God

There’s a difference between believing in God and actively living for Him.

Like the Bible says in James 2:18-20, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

I want to be clear that I don’t think works save us. Jesus does. But, at the same time, those who love God keep His commandments (see John 14:23-24).

As Leaders for Christ, we need to have a deep love for God, and our actions will reflect it.

2. Leaders for Christ are Submissive

In my younger days, I played soccer. I clearly remember one day, coming home from practice fairly irritated with the older girls on the team. In my ten-year-old font, I scribbled in a notebook, “Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean you have to be the boss.”

As Leaders for Christ, we’re not the boss. God is. Hands down, plain and simple.

Leaders for Christ need to submit to God’s will. Submitting is hard, but it is a skill well worth acquiring. It’s actually a lesson I’ve been learning lately. You see, I have a lot of plans for my life, or at least things that I want to do. But sometimes, they don’t work out like “they’re supposed to”.

But I’ve seen time and time again over the past couple years that God’s plans are so much better than mine! Even circumstances that don’t go exactly as I want. Leaders for Christ need to realize this – God is so much wiser than we are! He might tell us to wait, but He’s teaching us to trust His timing. He might tell us no, but He’s got a better plan.

I think submission to Christ is well summed up in MercyMe’s song Even If. The chorus goes like this:

“I know You’re able and I know You can/ Save through the fire with Your mighty hand/ But even if You don’t/ My hope is You alone.”

Things might not go the way we’re planning them, but God knows better. We need to remember to “humble [ourselves] under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all [our] care upon Him, for He cares for [us].” (I Peter 5:6-7)

3. Leaders for Christ are Close to God

This deep love will bring us closer to God, which is good – Leaders for Christ need to be close to God, which only happens when they completely trust in Him.

And as you trust God, get this – God will trust you with more.

Heresy, you say? Nay. Well, maybe. I don’t have solid proof. I’m just looking at the disciples… Jesus left them behind, trusting them to spread the Gospel. They preached the good news and wrote down what Jesus had taught them while on earth, and partially because of their efforts, Christianity is the largest religion worldwide.

On another note, Leaders for Christ are close to God in that they know what His will is and know what He wants. This leads to accomplishments. When we know God’s will, we have a clear path cut for us. And when we know who He is, we want to follow Him.

4. Leaders for Christ Know Who God Is

My dad once preached a confusing sermon (ok, maybe more than once… but this one in particular). It was a whole bunch of who-what-when-where-why-how’s that were intentionally twisted together to be confusing. It was supposed to be funny (and I think supposed to based off of a Get Smart episode from the 1960’s).

But the basic idea of the sermon was this: there’s no reason for us to want to serve God until we realize who He is.

And then, when we do realize it, nothing is going to stop us from serving Him. What, when, where, and how can wait. We need to realize who—that’ll tell us why. And everything else follows naturally.

This is something I’d challenge you to think about: who is Jesus to you? Peter knew, and because he did, he got to build the church (see Matthew 16:13-19).

5. Leaders for Christ Have a Heavenward Focus

One of the most important aspects of being a Leader for Christ is having a heavenward focus. This, too, has multiple aspects.

One is living for Christ. Focus on what God thinks, not others. Be committed to doing what God wants, even when it’s hard. Be confident in who God made you to be. Keep the faith, even when others try to tear it away from you and when the world presses in.

Living for Christ is not exactly about how you live, but why you live.

This may sound convoluted, but as a Leader for Christ, your mission is not to serve the people – it’s to serve God. Look at Colossians 3:23:

“…whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men…”

I think this is something that Jonah could have benefited from knowing. He went to Ninevah with his focus on the evil Assyrians, not on his righteous and omniscient God.

The other side of keeping a heavenward focus is living for eternity. Keeping a heavenward focus means treating every day as if it were your last, and not letting any moment go to waste. You realize that your time on earth is limited, and that you need to make as big of a kingdom impact as possible in the time you have.

Again, I stress – not because you have to, but because you want to. You want everyone to be able to know God and His amazing love.

In Conclusion…

So there you have it. Some similarities between a leader and a Leader for Christ. Let me finish off with a bit of encouragement.

These may seem like impossible goals: completely knowing God and living for Him in everything you do. Trust me, they are. But, as I said at the beginning, it’s OK to be imperfect. God can still use you – I 100% believe that with all my heart (I mean, He used Lazarus, and Lazarus was dead).

You have unimaginable potential, so use it today for the Kingdom.

I feel that this wouldn’t be complete without my favorite verse, 1 Corinthians 15:58, so here you go:

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, for you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

In Christ, we are unconquerable. Go now and lead for Him.

______________________________________________________________

Katie Stacey is a homeschooled preacher’s kid with four favorite things: Jesus, reading, livestock, and writing. She loves combining those passions – writing Bible Studies, writing stories, or writing about the last time she shared Chapstick with a horse. Writing about anything, really. She’s always been a bit of a tomboy, and spent most of her early life in a tree or covered in mud. Now, when she’s not buried in a book, playing with cows, working on her fantasy novel, camping with friends, listening to Piano Guys, finishing school work, going to youth group, or working out, she’s probably sleeping. Katie blogs at http://www.thingsabove32.wordpress.com, and firmly believes that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

CW14: Memories and Cheesecake

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So my creative writing teacher told us: “Give me some words that you would use to describe a restaurant.” So we said “okay” and gave her these: light, clatter, specials, cheesecake, spill, bacon, gratuity, bitter, delectable, tip, matre’d, mmmmmm, tasty, atmosphere, cheap, menu

Guess what she said next? “Write something without the setting of a restaurant using all of these words!”

This story is the result of that…

I pumped my feet over the bicycle pedals, taking in the glorious light of the sun setting in the west, glowing behind enormous clouds.

Evan had been pedaling behind me without speaking a word for five or ten minutes now. I only knew he was still there because I kept hearing the clatter of his gears on his rusty bicycle. No doubt that old bike was bitter of the many years of forced outdoor adventures, rumbling on the long stretches of dirt roads surrounded by the painfully flat Kansas prairies.

I made an effort at conversation: “How’s it working at the diner, being the handsome matre’d and all?”

“It’s all right.” He laughed a little, but he kept pedaling slowly behind me. His poor bike didn’t even let him keep up with his five foot girlfriend. Or was there something else on his mind?

“I’d go for a delectable slice of cheesecake right now,” I said, imagining the tasty dessert on my tongue. I remembered that first date we spent at the diner, sharing a slice of cheesecake, since we were poor college students and that was the only thing cheap enough on the menu. That was a few months ago, when our fascination for one another was at its peak. How could something that had seemed so real wear off so soon? I hoped it truly hadn’t. I hoped he still loved me.

“Strawberry cheesecake is one of the specials right now,” he murmured from behind me.

Mmmmmm.” Now the thought of cheesecake made my stomach rumble as I pedaled along. I gazed at the vast fields of wheat and corn that spread out endlessly to the horizon where the warm yellows and reds of sunlight continuously took my breath away. The atmosphere was so quiet and empty, yet strangely beautiful, calming my wearied spirit from the week of college finals that had so overwhelmed me. I set my foot down to stop the bike and stared off at the sunset.

“Why’d ya stop?” Evan said, as if forcing a playfulness in his tone.

I turned toward him, narrowing my brows. “Remember when you walked up to my table so carefully, trying not to spill the eggs and bacon?”

Evan managed a smile. “How could I forget?”

Heat flooded my cheeks, doubts surfacing within me. I was probably making him feel uncomfortable; he probably didn’t want to be here. For all I knew, he brought me here to announce that he wanted to break up. Yet I continued, “And that’s when it all started, when you started talking to me more, and I realized you liked me…”

“You gave me the biggest tip.” Evan grinned, but there was a hesitance in his dark, penetrating eyes.

“I call it gratuity.”

“Of course, Miss English Major.” He chuckled at the familiar joke, but then uncertainty filled his expression again and he searched my face. “Lydia, remember that night during Bible study?”

I nodded, but I didn’t know why he brought it up now. That had been the days before we started dating, when I had first met him, but also when I had first met the Lord.

Still sitting on his bike behind me, he stretched his hand out to me, so I shifted my body on the bike seat and reached my hand back toward him to clasp hold of his strong hand.

“Remember the Scripture we read that stirred your heart?” His voice was gentle, bringing back the memory of the Bible passage we’d read in our small group that night, a year before the incident at the diner.

“A little bit,” I said, trying to remember everything. “It was about Martha, listening to Jesus. He told her He was the resurrection and the life.”

He squeezed my hand, the warmth in his fingers comforting me.

We stared at each other in awe, holding hands, never wanting to let go. “Yes, Lydia,” Evan said, his voice returning with the passion and hope I’d so long associated with him. “Jesus is life.”

“And he brought me life again—through your message, that very night.” Tears filled my eyes again, but for a different reason than before. Even today, Evan was the leader of a small group of young men and women, often speaking passionately about the Scriptures, helping us to understand the heart of the gospel better. The Holy Spirit had convicted me through his message that night, bringing me to a place where I could fully trust in Jesus as my Savior.

But I didn’t understand why he was bringing this up at a time like this. “I thought you wanted to break up with me, Evan. I thought that’s why you brought me here.”

The young man pedaled his old rusty bike slowly till it sat close beside me. “The thought never crossed my mind, Lydia. I love you. I’ve just been tired, so tired. Between school and work at the diner, I feel like I have no time for you. I feel like we’ve grown distant, and that it’s my fault. I’m sorry.”

As he reached out and touched my cheek, his tenderness stunned me. I hadn’t felt like this in a long time, like he truly adored me. I let the tears fall down face. “I forgive you, Evan. I felt the same way, but I don’t feel that way anymore. We’re going to serve Jesus together, I’m sure of it. Wherever we are, me as an English teacher, or if you really become a pastor…”

Sitting astride our bikes, we gazed out into the empty prairie at the bright glint of the sun in the west that was now almost hidden completely under the earth. It was getting dark, but neither of us wanted to go back to the city.

Evan smiled at me, a hope burning in his eyes, and I couldn’t help but be assured of his love for me. “Or I could serve Jesus right now, as a handsome matre’d?”

“Or that. Maybe you could serve Him some delectable strawberry cheesecake…” After a moment my nervous chuckle exploded into a long, joyous laugh, as I realized he was finally laughing in return.

J14: 3 Tips on How to Write Powerful Fiction

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I’m far from being a bestselling author, but I have been working on a book for three years, along with writing stories, poetry, and articles on this blog during that time span. Through those things, I’ve gathered some ideas about how to write well. When it comes down to it, if you want to write well, you probably want to write powerfully, making an impact on your readers’ life long after they’ve read your words. I could write on and on about how to write in general, but I thought these were the most important tips I have learned for how to write the most inspiring, long-lasting writing that fills both a reader’s mind and heart.

1. Write for a purpose. Writing with a purpose in mind is so needed in this age of useless, even harmful stories, that eagerly step in time with the culture of depravity. The most meaningful pieces I’ve written have not only meant the most to me, but have meant the most to those who read them. When you write for a Reason other than applause, a Purpose other than man’s approval, that’s when God steps in and moves people’s hearts. It’s not what you write that changes people, it’s how you write. If you only write beautiful sentences without any meaning, your reader may enjoy your writing, but they won’t learn from it—it will just go in one ear and out the other. If you want to impact people with your writing, you not only need to write beautifully, you need to write purposefully.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” — 1 Corinthians 10:31

2. Write from your heart. Along with writing for a higher purpose than simply pleasure, most writers long to draw their readers into their story, feeling the same way they do. Unfortunately, this emotional method if gone to far can have dire consequences, such as exciting sinful thoughts, so this aspect of writing must be carefully balanced. This might seem odd for me to say this, but I really think if you want to write for the glory of God, you must write as both His child and as a human being—as a Christian actually living out their faith, yet also as a human who has emotions they have to deal with. Because in order to create meaningful writing, there must be deep emotions that readers can relate with. If you express your emotions on paper, you’re drawing the reader into very real emotions that you yourself have experienced. Yet after shedding light on this darkness, if you reveal the Light of lights, the Lord of Lords, who overcomes all the fear, anguish, and despair we’ve ever felt, we allow the reader to hopefully experience true confidence in the gospel of Christ. Without darkness, the light seems normal, but with it, its anything but normal—its your last chance, your forever love, your absolute desire. So don’t write blandly. Pour out your heart on paper your crippling feelings, but balance it out by passionately writing about the gospel that pulls us through trials, allowing the reader to both relate and learn from your writing, especially helping them if they ever go through a similar hardship.

“Lessons of wisdom have the most power over us when they capture the heart through the groundwork of a story, which engages the passions.” — Laurence Sterne

3. Create dynamics in characters, scenes, and plots. Although this one’s a bit more on the practical side of things, I think it fits in well with this article because it is, I believe, a main part of how to write powerfully. So, what do I mean by dynamics? You need to create opposing forces, such as an extravert versus an introvert, a mouse blinking up at a lion, a bad guy dangling a little girl off a cliff. Simple, right? Now think further. Irony, the presentation of something that is the opposite of what we’d expect, is also a huge part of creating dynamics. For creating dynamic characters, think of the character Reepacheep in Narnia who thinks of himself as an honorable fighter, which catches us by surprise, because it’s the opposite of what we expect from a mouse (Usually when I think mouse, I think timid, weak, and afraid.)

When it comes to creating dynamics in scenes, think contrast. You don’t want the same thing happening, or the same feelings going on all the time. This one’s hard to explain, so here’s an example from a book I’m writing:

“Early the next morning, I awoke with a feeling of peacefulness, until the sharp odor of death filled my nostrils. Suddenly, I was hit by the horrific memories of the day before.”

Instead of the character waking up immediately terrified, she wakes up feeling at peace, only moments later to remember everything and grow afraid. This contrast in feelings within a scene creates dynamics and tension, making the reader much more in tune with the characters’ emotions.

For fun, here’s a picture of what I imagine the main character, Sigrid, to look like in my book, The Thrall’s Sword, which you can read about here.

chelsea-ferenando-203544.jpgPhoto by Chelsea Ferenando on Unsplash

Finally, you can create dynamics within the plot by having both moments of success and failures, both happiness and despair. You especially want to create that high climax, truly putting your characters at their wits’ end, so the grand beautiful happy ending (if you choose to have one) is much more realistic and satisfying.

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Overall, I’ve learned that writing powerfully has to do not with what you write, but with how you write. Are you writing for yourself or for something Higher than yourself? Are you writing mere words or are you writing from your heart? And are you simply writing a mild story with hardly any contrasting elements, or are you creating dynamics through characters, scenes, and the plot?

These are the questions I think every fiction writer needs to think about, and they can be applied to nonfiction, too. I hope you benefit from what I’ve learned. Now, fellow writer, the pages are waiting for you to shake things up a bit!

Do you have any writing advice you’ve learned? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

CW13: Discomfort at Hannah’s Party

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A short story about a girl who attends her cousin’s birthday party, only to unexpectedly discover that her cousin prefers a different sort of party than she does. Will she ever figure out what to do? …And will you ever find any e’s in this story? 😉

I stand, gazing from my bowl of chili in my hands to my drunk cousin and back to my bowl. Hannah is dancing wildly, as young individuals clap along to my cousin’s whimsical hair flips.

My stomach churns. I don’t know why I’m holding this bowl of disgusting chili. I don’t know why I’m at this birthday party for my cousin at all.

A young man slams into my back, groaning, so I swirl around in alarm, only to find him hopping off to a girl without saying sorry. This big room is discomforting. Colorful lamps hang on four walls; chairs sit in isolation from crowds who frolic about as if playacting as tiny, stupid kids who don’t know a thing about wisdom or dignity. Hannah’s notion to party in a ballroom in Wyoming’s top school did not sound fun to start with. Now this party, along with my chili, drops my opinion about such things so low that I don’t think I can stand watching my cousin’s companions’ dancing about for an additional hour or two.

I watch as a girl runs into this room holding a can of alcohol, laughing and soon putting an arm around a drunk young man, chatting with him flirtatiously. I should probably just run out of that door.

My aunt walks up, grinning, and says: “How’s it going—hard—I know, it’s—I think I’ll go d—so loud, don’t you think?”

Music roars loudly, so it’s hard to catch all words. I sigh, hoping Aunt Molly won’t mind my sulky mood. “Yup, it’s loud all right.”

“’—want to go?”

I shrug as if I don’t mind this party that much. I don’t want to hurt Hannah. I want to show favor to my cousin, but I also don’t want to just stand in this spot for hours and do nothing. Should I just play along with this mob, Lord? No way. Okay, so what should I do?

“You all right?” Aunt Molly shouts as a young man flips in mid-air, bringing on roars of approval.

I drop my cardboard bowl of chili in a trash can, forcing a laugh. “Just a bit put off by that soup.”

My aunt laughs.

Now I pinch my lips and act as if I’m thinking hard. “Um, Aunt Molly, you know about God, right?” My words burst out abruptly, as I am anxious for my aunt to show sympathy.

Aunt Molly shouts: “Is that what this is all about? Girl, you gotta stop worrying about all that and just show God’s light with your grins and hugs and dancing along with Hannah. A party isn’t gonna hurt nobody.”

My aunt’s words don’t bring any comfort. I turn away and scan trays of snacks and cans of alcohol. As I pluck a small bag of chips, my mind roams through mountains and basins, this way and that, doubtful about what I should do. I don’t want to look at Hannah or my aunt or anybody. It’s too much. My brain hurts from trying to think of a way to fix this. But I can’t do anything about it. Humans do bad things, and I am human, too. God wants this crowd to individually find out about Him. God wants His kids to follow Him, not to go along with any crowds that bow down to idols of lust, alcohol, and immorality. But I still shouldn’t call Hannah’s companions stupid. Dancing is amazing, and if anybody in this room only prays to God, that individual can worship Him with dancing now and always.

In this situation, I can’t do anything with my words or actions, but within my mind, I pray to God that His joy will bring Hannah to fall down in worship Him.

With a hug for my aunt and a kind grin to my cousin, I grab my handbag and walk out of this ballroom, slowly, praising God that His joy is crushing all my doubts and making my soul burst into a loud, triumphant song.