Words and Shining Stars

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I’ve always been a man of words. Writing is the way I spell out the wonder of God to a broken world. It is my refuge, my anchor, my strength…and praise God, my weakness! By weakness I don’t mean I’m a poor writer, but rather that when I write I expose the deepest and most vulnerable parts of myself. It’s an awesome adventure and an incredible responsibility to use words to speak truth and healing to a weary world. 

Discovering the true path to sharing words authentically was a long and difficult process. Growing up without a father around, I spent a lot of time looking for security and affirmation in seeking success and cultivating friendships. Sometimes I used my writing to do this, though I think my words were less transparent and often too accommodating to other people’s ideas. I found trying to please people with my writing to be emotionally and spiritually draining, and I knew it was only a facade. I was a man walking around wearing a mask, staring at a crowd of people all wearing masks, clamoring to climb their little ladders of success, living fearful and false lives.

But when I started working with young people, everything changed. It was hard to pretend around them. They could always tell right away when an adult was insincere, and they had no trouble letting that person know they could see it. Their world wasn’t so black and white, either – and their pain was not something I could easily woo with words. In youth ministry I found a new way to use my writing: to help teens recognize their worth and shine in the world. Paul spelled out this principle in his letter to the Philippians: 

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…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.  (Philippians 2:12b-16)

The wonderful truth is that we were made to shine – shine like stars! The only fear we need to have in life is the holy, reverent fear that comes when we realize we stand spiritually naked and completely vulnerable before the God of the whole universe. But it is this same God who works in us so we can become who we were meant to be – stars! But we are not stars who shine our own dim light; no, we have the awesome privilege of shining the light of heaven upon a weary world. When our words reflect this wonderful truth, our lives light up the darkness hidden in hurting hearts. The message is simple: We are meant for beauty, peace and joy; and it is only in the Jesus that we find our rest. The words of a believer should always in some way point to Him. 

TAKE ACTION – 

So how do we live out our calling to use our words to shine for Christ? Here are a few suggestions:

1)    Understand that God is both the source and the direction of all our words. He gives us the words we need to speak healing and hope to those who are broken and lost and He is the One to whom all our words should point.
2)    Practice using your speech and your writing to bring glory to God and speak only truth and love to others. Remember James 3:9-10: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
3)    Fill your mind and heart every day with God’s Word, and trust that the Holy Spirit will give you the right words to speak at just the right time they need to be spoken (Luke 12:12).
4)    Don’t be afraid to be open and vulnerable with others, to share the truth that you are a saint who sins, that you struggle on this side of heaven and that you need a healing word just as they do.
5)    Finally, hold firm to this great truth: that you are loved and that you were made to shine like stars in the universe! Work out your journey to heaven with holy fear and joy so great that it makes you tremble inside and out!


 

Lessons in Gardening

Ever since my wife and I moved into our current home I’ve had an ongoing battle with the shrubbery. There are times when honestly I don’t know who’s winning the battle – the vegetation or me; but it’s all part of having a nice home and I take pride in the way our yard looks to the outside world.

At one point, the task of keeping up with our property became a living parable of the character of sin my life. I confess there was a time when I was more satisfied with the condition of my garden than the condition of my soul. I’ve been grateful to the Lord for teaching me an important lesson along the way.

Pruning Away a False Front

On one section of our property, there was a collection of wild grape vines that had choked out just about everything that was growing there. From a distance, things looked lush and green, but up close it was plain to see that the vines had all but destroyed the bushes underneath. I ended up having to use a chain saw to remove many of the bushes in order to get rid of the thick vines that had taken over. 

One of the most tedious parts of that project was removing the vines from around the branches of a young mulberry tree. Pulling them off the tree was no use. I had to go to the roots and cut them with a pruning saw and then clip the different sections around each branch and carefully remove them one by one. I found that in order to save the tree, I had to cut off several of its branches where the vines had coiled themselves around the wood. The more of the vines I removed, the more I realized just how far gone the tree really was. At the end of the whole endeavor, I found that there was very little foliage remaining and I was left doubting whether the tree would even recover from its ordeal.

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Through this experience I was reminded how the sin in my life was like those vines. It started off quietly attaching itself to my life. At first I didn’t notice what had happened; and when I did, I ignored the problem. “I’ll get rid of it later; it’s nothing to worry about right now!” I told myself. But slowly, like the vines around the bushes and trees, the sin began to wrap itself around my soul, intertwining with my daily actions and becoming a part of who I was. Like the tree, it was difficult to tell the difference between the sin and the green full life God had given me. They looked almost the same – at least from my disinterested distance.

The Divine Gardener

I began to see that the sin was taking over, choking out the light and drying me up inside. Things looked healthy on the surface; but I knew I was in need of a good pruning. I remembered reading the words of Jesus in John15:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5)

I knew I needed to let the Divine Vinedresser cut away all that was in me that was dead. My sin had become a thin veneer over a parched soul that was starved for the nourishment of new life from the True Vine. I didn’t want to be taken over by the choking, twisted growth of sin until the shell of my life was toppled to the ground, used up, and worthless. I trusted the heavenly Gardener to be as gentle as possible in the process. I knew there would be pain and even some loss; but I was prepared to accept what was needed to make me into a fruitful believer once more, trusting that it wasn’t too late to save me as I opening my heart to His healing. I discovered that my roots in Christ were strong, and the life surging through me came from the One who was my sure foundation. The Gardener knew what to do. Through the pruning power of confession and the nourishment of the Word and Lord’s Table, I began to heal. At first, I didn’t like what I saw. I had let my spiritual life go but now I was painfully aware of just how deep the sin in my life had gone. I was ready to begin again.

A Question of Discipline

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In the story, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, there was a young prince who was a faithful gardener on a tiny planet where seeds would blow in with the wind. Some were innocent and became beautiful roses, but others were dangerous and grew into giant baobabs. The prince knew that when a baobab first appeared, it would look as harmless as a rose, but if neglected for too long, it could grow so large that it would engulf and tear apart his tiny planet with its huge roots. “A baobab,” he said, “is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.” In the words of the Little Prince, it was all a “question of discipline.” And so it was with my sin. I needed to remember to dig out those roots of sin as soon as they could be distinguishable from the fruit of the Spirit in my soul.

My yard has been looking better with each passing year. That young tree is flourishing and our bushes have come back to life. With each new spring, I see more and more growth and new beauty where there once was only the appearance of healthy greenery. There has been a similar kind of growth in the garden of my soul as well. I’ve learned the sobering lesson of the baobabs and the meticulous methods of the Gardener. I’ve come to see that it’s our connection to the True Vine that helps us to find an abundant life and a fruitful harvest. It’s there for me as I remain in Him and tend to my soul-garden with disciplined hands. But I must be willing to pay the price for cutting sin out of my life and ready to cultivate the seeds of new growth that the Gardener will plant within me through each and every new season of change.

Let There Be Light: A Message from Genesis During the Dark Days of Winter

In the beginning, from ageless eternity, Almighty God looked down upon the formless void and willed creation into being. Where there was nothingness, there would be life. Where there was disorder, there would be order. The perfect, infinite love of God hovered above the shapeless sea of emptiness that was the cosmic chaos and spoke His life and light into being.

God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light. He simply spoke and the light came to be. He breathed His laughter and love into the void and the perfect, pure light of His grace and goodness burst forth upon the nothingness and brought life. Like a beautiful scroll, the story of His love was opened and stretched out upon the universe, revealing awesome truth and seamless harmony. The light stood in contrast to the darkness; and everything that would come into being would be touched with the light of the Creator’s presence. God’s perfect thought breathed the universe into existence and brought wholeness where there once was formlessness, the sound of coherence where all was separation and obscurity. The light gave a voice to the forces of the universe as they took their place in the celestial order of creation. The earth would form and be suspended in space. There would be distinction between the seas and the land, the waters above and the waters below, the darkness and the light. Day was born and began the dance of the hours with the night. In speaking the light into being, order and grace filled creation and set in motion the story of God’s eternal, joyful song.

The first day of creation describes what is essentially indescribable. It is only in the poetry of the words that we gain a sense of the beauty and perfection of God’s creative power in speaking everything into being. The inspired author takes us back to the beginning to teach us the awesome truth of who God is. In attempting to define what cannot be fully comprehended, he shows us a God who is first and foremost, all-powerful. In the creation stories of the ancient world, the earth came into being through the violence of the gods, through conflict and battle, death and destruction, as one god defeated another and out of the ruin brought the order of the universe. This is a distortion of the true manner in which God brought forth His creation. He stood alone, with no one to challenge Him. He existed in eternity, in timeless perfection, and spoke all of creation into being with the breath of His word. There was no effort, no struggle to conjure up the cosmos. God simply kissed it into being with a puff of His Spirit, His “ruah” – His breath. Like a holy sigh of love, God made all that was and is.

Creation begins with light. Genesis was written with the fall of humanity in mind. In a universe cursed by the darkness of sin, God stands as the light. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness represents incomprehension, confusion, and veiled thinking. Light represents the brilliance of perfection, order, and clarity of all thought and being. The day and the night were separated to present a contrast between God’s perfect light of love and the destructive influence of hatred and sin. Because sin would eventually come into the world, God set up the light and separated it from the darkness as a great sign of His divine purposes for the universe. Genesis stands as one bookend with Revelation, with all of Scripture in between, punctuating the truth that the perpetual light of the resurrection will one day eliminate the darkness, and there will no longer be a need for sun and moon, day and night, for all will be light once more.

The passage speaks of God hovering above the “waters” of the deep. Water has a powerful meaning in the Word. It represents the swirling chaos out of which new life emerges. Noah and his family were shut in the ark and taken through the overwhelming waters of the flood, when all the wrath of heaven and earth burst forth in judgment upon the earth. They were brought through the dark storm to the dawning of a new day, where light and life would be renewed. Moses and the Israelites passed from the darkness of Egypt to the light of the Promised Land through the waters of the Red Sea. In faith, they made the passage through the mighty wall of water to come out of the place of slavery and subjugation to the place of freedom and provision. Jesus was dipped into the Jordan and rose to face the dark forces living in the desert, armed with the light of the Word of God! He brought His light to bear upon the Prince of the Air, and through His life, death and resurrection, opened the way for humanity to come out of the darkness into the dawn of a new creation in Him. The early Christians plunged men and women into the waters of Baptism where they were buried to the old sinful ways and raised to new life, cleansed and healed. In this new life, they were graced with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to live as children of love.

It is the light of God’s Spirit that brings life and order from the watery chaos. At the end of the first day, God calls the light “good,” and evening gives way to morning. His creative act is not for some selfish end, but for His glory and our good. The weight of His presence overwhelms us and brings us the light of salvation, freedom, safety and peace; for that is what glory really is – the overshadowing power of God’s love being brought to bear against the frailty of our own existence. It is only in the light that we find salvation. As God installs creation at the beginning, forming everything out of nothing, so too, does He restore us from the emptiness of sin through His Son. In Jesus, the Light of the World, we are once more made “good.”

The power of the first day of creation finds fulfillment and understanding in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. Like God’s light that overwhelms the chaos of the deep, so too does the light of Jesus overcome the darkness of sin and lead us to a new paradise, as we become new men and women in Him. Like the powerful breath of God that spoke creation into being, God’s love has spoken His final Word into the world. Jesus is that Word and Light. He has come to overwhelm the darkness. The darkness cannot comprehend the perfection of love that manifested itself in the person of Jesus. John continues this wonderful theme throughout his Gospel, as the images of Word, Light, Water, and Love spill out onto the pages through the wonderful stories he narrates. John’s Gospel is the expression of the new creation we experience in Christ!

We who know Jesus are called to live out those sacred signs of water and rebirth. Like Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, we must be born from above, born of water and Spirit. Though we cannot enter our mothers’ wombs a second time to be born again, we can be healed by the creative Word of the Gospel, buried with Christ in Baptism and breathed with the new life of the Holy Spirit as we live out our lives day to day in His name. As we put aside the old ways, drowning them in the watery chaos of our submission to God’s powerful breath of life, we are made new and given a new path to walk, with the light of God’s grace guiding us evermore on the path to heaven.

The signs of God are all around us. We cannot see the wind that blows, but we feel its influence. We did not witness the first moment of creation, yet we see its beauty and witness the working out of the order of the universe around us. Every stream, every river, every lake, and every ocean are reminders of the depth of God’s love for us. Though water can be a powerful force to flood the land and swallow ships at sea, we know that to God, all the waters of the earth are a drop in the vast ocean of His perfect love. Each day, as the dawn greets us once more, we are reminded of the hope we have that in God’s perfect time there will come a perpetual day, where darkness will be banished forever, where our sins will be thrown as far as the east from the west, and where we will live in everlasting joy in the light of God’s eternal presence. From the first moment of creation, God had all of this in mind. In His perfect plan, He spoke creation into existence, knowing that we would all come together in the perfection of his creation when the purposes of His great love would find their fulfillment in Christ.

One day, there will be a new heavens and a new earth. The old order of things will pass away. Creation, which has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth from the sinful fall of humanity, will be reborn in a baptism of fire, in a powerful cleansing that will remake all of creation once more into the perfect reflection of the Creator. Until then, we have been blessed with the beauty of all that is around us. The sun and moon are signs that God is in control of creation and is bringing His plan to completion as the cosmos ticks on like a divinely wound clock. The waters of the earth that are held at bay by the mighty arm of God are signs of the refreshing and sustaining power of rebirth that is ours in Christ. The Word that ever speaks into the world the Good News of the One who came as Light in the darkness, is our guide and our power for daily living and purposeful outreach to a lost world. As you experience God’s light this day, let it draw you closer into His presence and bring you His joy, His peace, and His love!

The Cost of Radical Discipleship

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? During my years in ministry, I went to quite a few seminars on discipleship and heard a lot of wisdom from some great teachers. I certainly learned a great deal from what they shared; but to be honest, I found that the most important lessons on discipleship came through the relationships I formed with the people I met along the way. The other day I was thinking back to a weekend seminar on discipleship I attended when I was a young youth minister in a new marriage with a new son. I hope sharing a few stories from that time will help to show what discipleship is all about.

Being a disciple is a radical calling. Knowing Jesus Christ turns our whole way of looking at life completely upside down. We cannot give ourselves to Jesus without being caught up in the kind of radical living to which He calls us. During one session at the seminar, we looked at the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel. The speaker talked about how the poor, the sorrowful, the meek and even the persecuted are blessed – made joyous in their new condition as creatures of Christ. At my little table there were all sorts of great ministry people, coming with an assortment of sorrows, personal struggles and ministry concerns – even a few of the persecuted – but all with the radical poverty of spirit that a Christian enjoys in Jesus. Just being around them was a blessed experience for me – truly salt and light for my weary soul.

During my time away from home, I spent a lot of time in fasting and prayer – some of it not by choice either! For the first two days of my trip, I caught a nasty little bug that wiped me out. On my first call home to the wife I found out that my young son was upset because the Pastor had told him he was “taking Daddy away.” He didn’t quite understand that daddy would return and so he had been a little anxious and in need of reassurance. That was not what I needed to hear. The antacids were running out, the guilt and homesick feelings were setting in, and I found myself wanting to curl up in bed rather than share my faith with my small group. Though I was unable to eat anything, spiritual food soon came through a woman speaker who spoon fed our gathering tales of family and faith. Her sweet tales about her own children and her struggles to be a mother to them helped to ease some of the stress I was feeling about my own call to be a spouse and a parent. After a few helpings of her message I found myself able to bear my fast and make it through that first night.

At dinner the second night, I found myself sitting next to a man with a speck of unapproachability in his eye. He was a little hard to take; speaking about a stripped-down form of faith that he had come to embrace. Needless to say, it made for some strange dinner conversation. Thank God I noticed the plank of pride and self-pity hanging from my own eye before I became blind to the pain that spoke through his awkward tones. I admit I worried a little if I were wasting my time talking with him. After all, I had come here to learn about discipleship, not to listen to someone’s personal misunderstandings about what I believed. Oh God forgive my arrogance, but I did actually think like that until the Spirit prompted me to listen more deeply to the pain the man was sharing. As I did, I found myself examining my own personal views and the barriers I had put up. I saw how my own arrogance had almost taken away the opportunity to demonstrate what being a disciple is all about. And so I listened and shared and prayed with this man; and though I don’t know if I had any lasting impact on him, I came out of that encounter with a better understanding of the call to radical love from the God of compassion who had loved me when I was unlovable. As I held that man  and the rest of my small group before the Lord in prayer that evening, I could sense God’s presence calling me to let go the fear and pride that was keeping me from moving in new directions for His kingdom. It helped me to release all the worries about the tomorrows He already had in hand.

Through the rest of the time I spent there, I thought a lot about how there is so much about Jesus’ ministry that we today accept without question. Spending so much time in the Word at this gathering helped remind me that when Jesus first spoke and acted, his words and deeds weren’t so appealing to those who met him. A man who forgave sins, ate with sinners, and touched bloody lepers must have been a shocking development to those around Him! Here was a man who cast the half-bred Samaritans as the heroes in his most influential teachings, a prophet who told the people to love their most hated enemies the Romans! That evening, I reflected on how Jesus was like Jeremiah – a man who felt the fire of the Spirit compelling him to confront spiritual blindness. The burden for His people crushed him and nailed him to the cross! This was the radical shepherd who saw His people as harassed and helpless, led astray by Satan and sinful man. As those at the gathering shared our own understanding of the Lord’s ministry and how He reached into our broken lives, it helped me to see that, without Christ, we would be untouchable, reprehensible worldly outcasts, inbred with Satan and contaminated by sin. In many ways, we had forgotten just what that really meant. In Christ, we were radically saved, yet we had to admit that we were not always so radical in our desire to reach out with the same kind of love that had been shown to us. It had me checking the foundation of my ministry. I could see how important it was to replace the sinking sand of my own misguided impressions about Christ with a rock of solid and sobering faith in a radical Messiah.

Our time together concluded with a special sharing and then our worship, ending of course, around the Communion table. Before we began, we were asked to recite a binding prayer, an old pledge of faith that had been handed down from years past. Though the words had been written many years ago, it was indeed quite radical to be reciting a covenant that asked God to give us poverty or riches, troubles or blessings. But I bowed my head with the rest of my brothers and sisters and trembled at the thought that speaking these words was a very serious matter indeed! Here I was, a man who had given his life to ministry, afraid to tell my Lord and Savior that whatever He wanted was good enough for me. But I did, knowing that I would be held to that pledge and knowing I would struggle in keeping it. It was a powerful lesson, as powerful as the testimonies of faith that many shared before we all shared in the Bread of Life. It was a sobering joy I never forget. We prayed for so many needs that day, and I know we didn’t even scratch the surface of what was in our hearts – but there we were, giving it all up to our heavenly Father and thanking Him in advance for the work He would do in us and through us in the days to come. It was great joy, yes, but profound and challenging for a group of people who held so many future disciples in our hands. 

The truth of the matter, however, is that those people aren’t really in our hands; and that, ultimately, is at the heart of what we learned that weekend. Discipleship is about proclaiming the inside-out, counter-cultural message of a powerful and tender Savior to a people so broken and so precious to Him. In Jesus, the One who gave Himself up in radical submission for our sins, we receive the call to radical ministry to the lost in His name. It is living in the blessed assurance that all things are working themselves out in a mysterious and wonderful way. As members of His Body, disciples speak a kingdom language and display the signs of those who have been captured by an open, unpredictable, unfathomable, and radical love. 

After I returned home from the training, I met with the youth group at our church. Through our discussions, I began to recognize bits of radical faith coming from the young people. I heard them talk about how they wanted to be more focused on being equipped to reach out to their lost friends, more nurturing to those who were already a part of the group, and more open and loving toward visitors who would come to youth group. In short, they wanted to be more radical in how they expressed the relationship they shared with their heavenly Father. It made me rejoice because I saw that Jesus was now showing these young people what discipleship was all about. And even though they knew the costs of discipleship, many were now ready to do what it would take to experience the joy that could be found in following Jesus to the fullest. It opened up so many possibilities in our minds and hearts and gave me the hope that only a radical disciple can have!

I will conclude by sharing the most radical thing I did following that seminar. The following Monday, when all I wanted was to get back to work so that I could begin to implement all the great ideas I had, I decided to put my ministry and my concerns for the youth aside and spend some radical time with my son. We went for a hike at a local park and talked about all the things that matter to a little boy, and then had ice cream – all without a thought about how I would be accomplishing all the things God would do with the ministry! And you know what? God, in His radical nature brought me peace and allowed me to let it go! And when I do go back to my ministry, that peace was still there. It was costly, yes, but only to my pride and fear. But those were costs I was more than willing to pay!

All of us are called to be followers of Jesus, people who don’t hesitate before answering the call to carry out the radical call to spread the Gospel. Since that three-day seminar, many things in my life and my ministry have changed – radically changed! The directions I though I would go and the things I thought I would accomplish have turned out very different than what I expected. But I have learned that this is the very nature of discipleship. You never know where it will take you, but you go there anyway, trusting the Lord to get you there and looking for the joy and the peace of surrendering to His will – no matter what – with the hope that one day we will see that the whole thing was worth the cost!

Christmas Poetry

As we approach Christmas Day, I am reminded of what the celebration of Advent means. For four weeks before Christmas, we light a candle and take time to read the stories that relate to the incarnation and the coming of Christ. I thought that for this blog post, I'd feature some poetry/songs I've written that carry that theme of remembering the story and celebrating the wondrous fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy and the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. I hope you enjoy them!

 

The Glory Comes Into the World

Come, come rejoice at the sight,
Of the Glory of heaven, the true guiding light.
For the people in darkness on this Holy night,
The Glory comes into the world.

Hark, hark as angels descend,
To the city of David, they call and they send,
Hear the voices that echo from World Without End,
The Glory revealed to the world.

See the child sleeping, in stable so lowly,
In small earthen manger upon the sweet hay.
Sing, sing out with heavenly chorus,
The Savior is born now this day,
The Savior is born now this day.

Smile, smile at mother and child,
At such tenderness cradling love undefiled,
For in meekness and virtue and purity mild,
The Glory is born in this world.

Hear, hear the Shepherds draw near,
With a heavenly calling, no more do they fear,
At the sight of this baby, the message is clear,
The Glory shines forth in the world.

Chorus…

Watch, watch as Wiseman and king,
Follow starlight’s true rising, as new anthems ring.
Bowing low as they offer the treasures they bring,
(To) The Glory who walks in this world.

Look, look as future is told,
Of cross and of Calvary of new made from old,
Rising up from the grave the refiner of gold,
The Glory who reigns in this world.

Chorus…

Oh…sing, sing now rejoice at the meeting,
Of heaven and human, of Godhead and man,
Praise, praise for the coming of Jesus,
The fullness of God's holy plan!

 

Chosen Mother

Quiet morning, breath of heaven, lights so soft upon the door,
Lowly maiden, terror rising, swoons and lowers to the floor.
Mighty angel, now appearing, speaking words of purest praise,
Of the coming King Messiah, and of distant future days…

“Greetings highly favored daughter, may the Lord now be with you,
Cease your trembling, calm your worries, for the words I speak are true.
Do not fear for you are blessed and will soon be wide with child,
You shall name the baby Jesus, He is God’s Son undefiled…”

Chosen Mother of the Savior, was it fear or was it joy,
Causing you to kneel at heaven’s mighty plan?
Did you wonder, did you ponder, that this sweet young baby boy,
Would grow up to be the Chosen Son of Man?

She a virgin, was bewildered, longing now to know the pow’r,
That would cause her, not yet wedded, to conceive this very hour,
“Heaven’s light, celestial shadow, Holy Spirit, will embrace,
So the child shall be called Holy, and restore the human race.”

Mary answered, “I am ready, here the handmaid of the Lord,
There is naught beyond His sovereign will, whom David so adored.
As you did for barren women, for my cousin, once was she,
So now grant what you have spoken will now here unfold for me.”

Chorus...

Lonely journey through the country to the home of dearest kin,
She expectant, though once barren, takes the sweet young woman in,
Marvels that her Savior’s mother should now walk upon her ground,
Baby leaps within her womb for joy at mother’s greeting sound.

“How my soul exalts my Savior, who has looked on me with love,
I am blessed by Mighty Father, Holy Helper from above.
For His mercy and His power is extended age to age,
Now His promised plan unfolds upon this humble earthly stage.”  

Bridge…

Great will be His honor, Son of God Most High
Born to sit on David’s Royal throne,
Ruling Jacob’s kingdom, heaven drawing nigh,
His the glory and the pow’r alone.

Virgin mother, waits and wonders, ponders all within her heart,
Yields her will to heaven’s myst'ry, takes her place and does her part.
Though she knows not what will happen as the future now unfolds,
She her will has now surrendered to the One her womb now holds.

Chorus (Repeat)

 

Long Ago in Bethlehem

Once upon a lonely night on silent city street,
Walked a man with wife, her days with child now complete,
Searching for a sheltered room, for the child within her womb,
His appearing once foretold, prophecy to now unfold,
Long ago in sleeping Bethlehem.

No room in the place where travelers gather for the night,
Led to lowly stable dimly lit by shepherd’s light,
Child is born at break of day, in the manger he will lay,
Born to save the human race, purest look upon his face,
Long ago in waking Bethlehem.

Out beyond the hills where lowly shepherds watch their sheep,
Lonely outcasts solemnly their faithful vigil keep, 
Hear the news of coming King, child for whom the angels sing,
Rush to witness his repose, wrapped in humble swaddling clothes,
Long ago in breathless Bethlehem.

High above a blazing star burns brightly in the sky,
Glory of the Mighty God shines forth as love draws nigh,
Follows to the baby’s birth, here to show his matchless worth,
Pausing at the precious sight, heaven’s awesome holy light,
Long ago in shining Bethlehem. 

Least among the princes, unregarded, so obscure,
Heaven opened, glory emptied, undefiled and pure,
Chosen to receive the King, star now shines and angels sing,
Ruler of the nations cries, Shepherds pause and mother sighs
Bethlehem, O Bethlehem, long ago in Bethlehem,
In the chosen town of Bethlehem. 

Magi come from far away to greet the new young king,
Bowing low with royal gifts, their treasures now they bring,
Frankincense and myrrh and gold, for Messiah’s hands to hold,
Sacred signs of glory, fame, man’s rejection, sorrow, shame,
Long ago in wondrous Bethlehem.

Jealous king inquires of men the birthplace of the child,
Rages now against the One who entered life so mild,
Searches through the ancient text, so disturbed and much perplexed,
Issues now a cruel decree, man and wife and child flee,
Long ago in weeping Bethlehem.

Chorus...

Sleeping child now resting silent at young mother’s breast,
Came in pure obscurity to bring to us our rest,
Born to die for sinful man, living out the Father’s plan,
Soon to face the cruel cross, we to gain from heaven’s loss,
Long ago in chosen Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem, O Bethlehem, long ago in Bethlehem,
In the chosen town of Bethlehem.

 

Lullaby for a Savior

A great light breaks forth in the new dawning sky,
A small flame flickers in a warm stable stall,
As angels chorus to a newborn King’s cry,
And shepherds marvel at a wonder so small…

Sleep now little Savior, rest and be warm,
Your tender voice will rebuke every storm.
Your gentle hands will bring healing and grace, 
Your perfect life will redeem Adam’s race.

Oh…sleep Savior sleep,
Treasure the joy of communion so deep.
Oh…seek now within,
Dreaming the dream of our rescue from sin.
When you awake may you drink deep of love,
Touching the grace of your Father above,
But for now…Oh…sleep Savior sleep.

The Godhead is draped in humanity’s vein,
A tiny form wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
Cries out for comfort, in hunger or pain,
And weeps too for sorrows that nobody knows.

Hush now little Savior, mother is here,
She your disciple when the hour draws near,
Joseph your guide and protector will be,
(But) your Father’s plan is for Calvary’s tree.

Chorus…

Oh, how can it be that the Father’s dear child,
Should lay down the glory of His kingly pow’r.
To come to the earth as an infant so mild,
And travel the path to the cross and the hour.

Rest now little Savior, for this hour is mine,
Now but a child, but in manhood a sign,
Time soon for teaching and mission and plan,
Time soon to live as the Great Son of Man.

Final Chorus…

Oh…sleep Savior sleep,
How can I measure that tears that you weep
Oh…dream child dream,
One day the lost you will seek and redeem.
When you arise I will watch as you grow,
Loving with joy only mothers can know
But for now…Oh…sleep Savior sleep.

 

Hymn for the Holy Child

In the fullness of the ages,
Word of God in flesh was born,
God from God, the light of Heaven,
Came to earth on Christmas morn.

Hope for man, our sinless Savior,
Infant child at mother's breast,
Sleeping still in straw-filled manger,
Holy Lord and Sabbath's rest.


Shepherds in the wasteland watching,
First to hear the angel's call,
Hasten now to lowly stable,
To their knees in reverence fall.

Host of Heaven now united,
Mighty chorus, hymn of praise,
Yahweh’s presence shining brightly,
Blessings ‘till the End of Days.


Star shines brightly, Sacred Godhead,
Fills the sky with radiant light,
Perfect peace and Holy Power,
Bringing day to darkest night.

Wisemen seeking, search the heavens,
Follow star to House of Bread,
Bowing low to new King rising,
At his feet their gifts they spread.


Men rejoice for your salvation,
As our God breaks into time,
Fall before the child in worship,
Pure transcendent truth sublime.

Sing with joyful hearts surrendered,
Praise the babe on manger throne,
All creation in submission,
He is God and God alone!

 

When You Came Down (on that First Christmas Day)

Sweet quiet evening, pure blessed hour,
Night steeped in wonder, birth dressed in power,
Word now descends from the Heavens to earth,
Veiled in the child but revealed by His birth.

Leaving your throne and the praise of the host,
Humbled yourself so that no man could boast,
Taking on flesh to face tempting and trial,
Wearing the garment of man’s sin denial.

You are the Savior, born as a child,
Helpless and holy, lowly and mild,
Bethlehem's treasure, Heaven's sweet prize,
Glory of Godhead shines through your eyes.
Why did you favor your children with grace,
Leaving your throne and your true righteous place,
I'll never know all that you had to pay,
When you came down on that first Christmas day.

Son of Man weakened yet still Son of God,
Great Shepherd King, gentle staff, mighty rod,
There is no measure to value your worth,
Or your great grift of our new second birth.

Still little baby at young mother's breast,
Godhead in form yet in slavery dressed,
Singer of stories with your infant sighs,
Speaking your truth into man’s empty lies.

Chorus...

Prophecy spoken, this child to fulfill,
Following fully in your Father’s will,
Earth’s sinless Savior, so Holy and free,
Loving the lost one and still loving me.

Jesus my Savior, my brother and Lord,
One who by Heaven and earth is adored,
Rest by your mother, for morning is near,
Now by your Advent no more do we fear.

Chorus…


Unto Us

Unto Us a Son is given,
To our Race a Child is born,
In Him all our sins forgiven,
Love fulfilled on Christmas morn.

Bethlehem of Judah’s numbers
Not among the least you be,
In you now your ruler slumbers,
Israel’s Shepherd God is He. 

In the wilderness preparing,
Way made straight and hill brought low,
Broken reed His life repairing,
Seed now planted, soon to grow…
Our Messiah, King and brother,
Sinless Savior, One so mild,
Holy God alone, no other,
Born to us as lowly child.

Days are coming, branch increasing,
King from David’s royal line.
Righteous Judgment, never ceasing,
Sacred ever-living sign. 

Holy Scepter rightly reigning,
Kingdom rule without an end.
Promised Land forever gaining,
Broken staff His law will mend.
.
Chorus…

Lo the Virgin hour nearing,
Calls His name Emmanuel,
King of kings in flesh appearing,
Saves us from the pow’r of hell.

Chorus…

Unto Us a Son is given,
To our Race a Child is born,
In Him all our sins forgiven,
Love fulfilled on Christmas morn.

 

The Reason Why He Came

Firelight and candle glow, festive greens and Christmas snow, 
Carolers who stroll along, lifting up the season's song,
All remind me Christmastime is here.

For there is a light that came, to a world of sin and shame,
Shone as angel voices praised, and as shepherds stood amazed.
For the Savior of our race drew near. 

Sentimental Manger scene; what can this great myst'ry mean?
Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, mother poised in calm repose,
On a sweet and silent, holy night.

As the infant Jesus cried, God with us did now reside,
Came to earth to suffer loss, to be raised upon the cross,
All our wrongs the Savior would make right. 

The days they come, the days they go, it's Christmas once again,
The treasures and traditions stay the same. 
And yet the story's ever new as once more I'm reborn, 
Salvation is the reason why He came. 

And in each gift and blessing shared, my spirit sings with joy,
The child in me comes once more shining through, 
For Christmas brings alive again, the hope of life redeemed,
The love He shared that lives in me and you.

 
Ornaments upon the tree, signs of love and family,
Secrets shared and Memories made, never from our hearts to fade,
Warmth and welcome, precious times to hold.

Every sacred living sign from eternity is mine,
Linking past with future hope, climbing Zion's joyful slope,
This our journey in the stories told.

Chorus... 

So I seek the creche and cross, my life broken, heaven's loss
For they lead to empty tomb, resurrection, heaven's womb,
Christmas links my life to heaven's peace.

All I celebrate with grace, now creates a sacred space,
Where in awe I grasp the love, that descended from above.
Christmas joy within will never cease. 

Chorus...


 

 

 

In Our Hearing: The Power of Audio Drama

From a solemn silence, the toll of a bell is heard. Slowly a sweet and somber melody begins to play, calling out to expectant hearts, preparing eager ears to journey to another place and time. A tender voice, full of fervent hope, begins to speak, setting the scene, building the mood, drawing the hearers into the story as the actors take over and carry the plot along to its powerful conclusion. The audience is held in a moment so profound that all else fades into the background. Deep emotions are stirred. Tears are shed. Hearts of stone are broken and replaced with hearts of flesh, open to the Spirit’s promptings. Joy overflows and cascades in a release of surrender and peace. 

Such is the power of a Christian audio drama. As believers, we understand on a deep inner level how drama helps connect us to Christ, particularly in our worship. One could argue that the worship is, in fact, a beautifully blessed drama acted out on the stage of our hearts every time we gather to celebrate our Salvation. The delicate and deliberate movements of the celebrant and the ministers, the Holy Scriptures read with passion and precision, and the sacred music sung with power and depth of feeling help to carry the congregation along to the crowning moment of the worship when we receive Communion with joyful hearts. This inner appreciation for the artistic power of worship ties so well with what an audio drama is all about.

Producing a Passion Play

During my time in Christian radio, I witnessed the affect audio drama had on our listeners and on those who created it. Christian audio drama speaks with its own unique voice, stirring the imagination and whispering to the heart through the Holy Spirit. My most meaningful audio drama was a Passion Play called, “Greater Love.” It was told from the perspective of a believer moved to lower her earthen vessel into the well of the salvation story. Turning the individual components of the play into a grace-filled production gave me a deeper gratitude for the ways in which God draws us to Himself.

Even before the first words were written, I found that forming a prayerful bond with my Maker and surrendering to eternity helped to set the stage for the drama. It was truly an act of worship, a joyful submission to the whole process, knowing that the hearts that would be touched were already in the mind of the Almighty. I allowed the Holy Spirit to instruct me as I wrote, realizing it was all in God's hands. The vision that unfolded flowed naturally from the narrative of the Passion. Each step along the road to Calvary caused me to pause in wonder and look back upon the life of the Savior as His words and deeds found fulfillment in His journey to the cross.

I drew from all four Gospels to write the play, mingling these beautiful perspectives on the life of Christ into a sacred story that offered its own portrait of the Savior. I was inspired by the Passion narratives I had heard at Good Friday services over the years. As I drew from those memories, I found that the tone of the drama established itself and played out naturally through the dialogue and the descriptions of what was taking place. My portrait of Jesus was commanding yet sad and somber, a majestic Man of Sorrows, moving through the pain of His last hours with joy and surrender. This was a loving Messiah, always in control, powerfully relational, and determined to go to the cross in love for His children. And so, having established the vision, I cast the characters around the Lord: men and women who were deeply moved by His words and deeds.

The Players and the Spirit They Brought

Once the play was written, I sought out actors for the drama from a local church. Though I had my own vision for the actors, I was amazed to see just how much their individual personalities came to shape the drama once recording got underway. I was especially pleased when I met a woman in a bible study group who turned out to be a professional stage actress. I was drawn to her beautiful speaking voice and felt it would be perfect for the role of narrator. It was soft-spoken yet strong. But to my amazement, I found that once she got behind the microphone, she poured herself into the role, breathing a life into the words that I had not expected. Her passion and the power of her emotions spilled out into each scene, bringing an intensity of love and sorrow that truly transformed the entire play.

Because it was a small radio station, I had only one microphone to use for recording, so I had each actor read all the roles for his or her gender. I gave the actors very little instruction but told them to choose freely how to play each character. I listened to each recording and decided who should play which character based on what I heard, and then placed the audio files I needed into the computer. I had chosen to be the voice of Christ, perhaps out of vanity, but perhaps more so out of my vision of how I wanted Him to be portrayed. In an interesting twist, I found that no one had quite captured what I was looking for in the character of Pilate, and so I ended up voicing him as well. This made for some amusing moments as I found myself talking with myself in several scenes.

Production and Worship

Combining all the audio files in the computer was like placing little mosaic tiles on a tray and lining them up just so, adjusting them here, tweaking them there, until the whole thing created a beautiful picture that painted the salvation story in sound. I added a musical background using a collection of instrumental recordings from a variety of composers. There was a delightful sense of joy in taking these diverse pieces of dialogue, music and sound effects and blending them in a way that wove a seamless garment that portrayed the Passion of Christ as a single work of art, inspired by the Spirit who had given me the words to say, the actors to say them and the insight to put it all together.

One of the most memorable parts of the whole process came on the Tuesday before Good Friday, just three days before the drama was set to air. Because of the way the storage on the computer was partitioned, there was not enough room in the audio program to save the file. No matter what I tried, the computer would not cooperate. I knew that once the computer was shut down, the work I had done would be lost forever. After some reflection I came up with an idea. I took a blank CD, put it into a recording device, and fed the audio from the computer into it. And so, at 2:00 in the morning, I sat in that tiny recording room, exhausted and emotionally spent, letting the Passion Play unfold and recording it “live” to the CD. It was perhaps one of the most profound moments in the whole process as I listened to all the tiny pieces of audio coalescing into a beautiful symphony of sound as it became, “Greater Love!” It was a moment of worship so beautiful that I was brought to tears – not because of my artistic skill, but because God had taken me through the process and allowed me to sit in the Liturgy of the recording booth to be drawn into the Word and nourished with the Savior's sweet sacrifice on behalf of the world!

The Divine Drama of Salvation

The response to the play when it aired that Good Friday was very positive, and I was pleased that it had moved hearts to a deeper appreciation of the Passion of Christ. But the greatest work it had done was to help me discover just how much the Savior of the World loved us. From the eternal realms He set in motion a divine Pasion Play, complete with a cast of characters and a soundtrack of the Spirit, and let it unfold on the stage of creation. Like the Liturgy, it carried us into the heavenlies, sharing the great mysteries of God's love and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That this profound truth could in some small way be acted out in a moment of time through an audio drama spoke to the power and presence of God – the incarnational God – who lives and moves in His Church and in each individual heart open to hear the sweet words of salvation!

I have continued to write and have produced other dramas, but “Greater Love” will ever hold a special place in my heart. It has taught me that worship is more than just a performance; it is a holy drama that unfolds in the hearts of the People of God, a sacred Passion Play that moves us ever onward toward the end of the salvation story. I pray that sharing this story will help you to listen for the Savior in your worship, the world around you, and the openness of your heart. 

Quit Yer Whining, Ya Big Baby! The Writer's Whining Way

In my life I’ve often been told to quit whining so much about things. While people may not have used those exact words, they still got their message across in subtle or not so subtle ways. In fact, most of the time when people see that I’m down, they offer “helpful” little clichés that are meant to encourage but, in truth never really do. “Always look on the bright side of life!” “The sun will come out tomorrow!” “Pack up your troubles…etc.  and smile, smile, smile!” They all seem so positive, but when I’m in a funk, especially about my writing, they all sound like a happy housewife from the 50s saying, “Have some milk and cookies and cheer up, young man!”  

In defense of all writers out there, I wish to respond to all those Pollyannaish platitudes with a little insight into the complexities of our minds and hearts. For you see, to all those emotional cheerleaders out there, our attitudes may seem like somber brooding or disinterested aloofness; but to us, it’s really the black, boiling caldron of new ideas coalescing in the depths of our inner insanity. The writer’s way is often dark, confusing and full of fascinations that bubble up to the surface of our minds in strange and wonderful ways. I’ve often thought that we must dream differently than the rest of the world; at least I figure I must by the strange looks I get when I relay a nighttime inner journey to my family or friends. But I assure you, it’s all a necessary part of the process of creativity. Without our times of brooding, discouragement, darkness and downright despair, we would never come up with most of the things we write.

I’m not saying that writers are unhappy people. Actually, most of the time, I find myself in my own little happy place, safely locked away from the cares and concerns of the world. I try to love others and see the beauty in their souls. But lately I find the world creeping in more and more with its evils and irrationality. I look at the nature of war and the devastation of natural disasters and it overwhelms me with sorrow. I see the cold and callous ways of people who are so lost in their own struggles that they think the world must revolve around them. And politics? I don’t even try to understand it anymore. I just put my index finger up to my lips and move it up and down as I make a helpless blubbering sound. It’s madness…sheer madness! But how do I cope and respond to this calamity and chaos? It’s the way of my writer’s whining!

By looking at my circumstances and inwardly complaining about them, I actually do a beautiful service to the world! By taking the tragedy and troubles around me and letting them ferment in the inner cellars of my psyche, I gain a new perspective on them. As I wrestle with the difficulties of living and the brokenness of this world, I begin to draw from the beautiful Spirit of God that lives and moves within me and I connect to the truth of eternity. It allows me to take off the glasses that cause me to see everything as either desperately hopeless or prosaically rosy and view life as it is: an imperfect reality populated by beautiful and broken individuals; sometimes dangerous, sometimes fascinating; and a journey with a narrow road that leads to better ways ahead.

When I spend time stirring up the mix of emotional soup in my soul, what comes out is often so incredible that I absolutely know it has come from heaven and not my own prideful ambitions and shattered dreams. I see how God can take the worst of this world, sift it through His loving hands and let it spill out over me in waves of new understanding. And the words that result help me to share my new perspective with others in a way that brings healing and joy.

Now, while this may sound wonderful, for the writer, it’s often a very painful process. It’s often so overwhelming that at times I look at my writing as though it’s all an illusion – something that doesn’t seem real or even meaningful. Because of the way our writing minds work, there may be no one, except perhaps another writer, who will ever fully understand the journeys we take down those dark roads towards the light of new ideas. We would rather avoid them and stay in a place of superficiality and relative calm, but when tough times come around and the television reminds us of the wars we humans wage on the battlefield of life, those who write find we just have to get down in the trenches with our thoughts and struggle against the enemy of our souls and our own weaknesses and worries. It’s who we are and we can’t avoid it. We cannot rest until we work through the worldly forest of gloom and doom and come out to the bright valleys of insight and the heights of new understanding on the other side. And then we must push on further still until we put those new insights down on paper or computer screen for all the world to see.

I’ll close with this. Writers have been people gifted by God with a curse: the curse of taking in the world’s brokenness and letting it sift like sand through our souls until we pick it up, add a little Living Water and build something meaningful for others to see. For my fellow writers out there, as you struggle with your own journey and the weariness of this world, don’t ever forget that you have a special calling. You have been made to make sense of this world and to point the way to the One who is moving it all along in His divine plan toward a perfect tomorrow where all the sadness will give way to the light of an endless new day. God bless!

The Courage of Conviction, The Humility of Humanity

There is a certain grace that is required of all writers: a strength of character and a comfort with the gift that is inside us. To some it may seem like arrogance to take our thoughts and put them into writing we feel is worthy enough to be read by others. Who are we, really, to think that our words have merit and deserve to be preserved for future generations to see? Yet we remain writers, convinced of our giftedness and determined to spill our wisdom onto paper and into the virtual world.

There are many reasons people write, and perhaps I simply romanticize the process of writing too much. I know many write to sensationalize and sell a product, to tantalize and titillate our selfish senses, or to foist misguided ideas or even hatred upon itching ears willing to hear. There is a lot of empty writing in the world: writing that does nothing to raise the human spirit, but only serves to speak to the worst of who we are. But there is writing that speaks to weary souls thirsty for renewal: writing that is meant to raise us on the wings of lofty ideals and blessed hope. For those of us who have the hope of heaven within us, the difference is quite clear. But to the broken and lost of the world our words seem to be illusions created to make us feel good inside or a weapon of intolerance against those who wish to live their lives anyway they choose. Often, when we are confronted by those who have chosen to trade tradition and morality for individual rights and political correctness, we’re tempted to back down, to soften our words or to believe that they don’t deserve to have the impact they once had. How then do we continue as writers in this vast wasteland of confusion, personal preference and wrong thinking and living?

The first thing that we need to have is the courage of our conviction. We often think of courage as unwavering fearlessness in the face of danger. But courage is really determining that what is right and needed outweigh our fear and our weakness. In other words, even though we are afraid of failing or falling, we push forth and do what is right anyway. As believers in the One who pressed on to take the bloody beatings and endure the cruelty of the cross, we must look within to see the spark that God has placed within us and fan it into flame, a blazing fire of words that forge a spirit sword to cut into the hearts of the lost and the weary and perform sacred surgery to shape the new woman or the new man. It’s just too important to ignore, and we must answer the call within us to speak the words that will encourage and heal, admonish and rebuke, and renew and restore.

The second thing we need to have is the humility of our humanity. One of the greatest dangers of being a writer is thinking that our writing is something that we accomplish on our own. Indeed, some writing is of our own making; that is the kind of writing that goes forth into the soil of other lives but bears no fruit. It sows a bitter seed yielding an unsatisfying harvest that does nothing to nourish or meet any need. But the writing that comes from a deeper source, from an eternal river that flows out from our transformed hearts, is life-giving: it channels the power and presence of God into fertile hearts and brings forth the fruit of peace and patience, joy and determination, gentleness and self-controlled living. It connects the God who has spoken to us with the souls of those who are ripe for the harvest and ready for the reaping. It can accomplish this, not because of anything we bring, but only because of what God has placed within us and graced us to do for Him.

When I find I’m too tired to write, when I’ve become discouraged and disgusted with the wrong I see around me, and when I’ve begun to doubt myself as a writer, I find myself coming back to these two eternal truths time and time again. I believe in the power of my writing and ground myself in the source of that power. I take hold of the gift and then release it with all the joy and fervor of a man sold out to the certainty that God can take one such as me and speak His wonderful words through my humanity and my spirit. It’s a truly liberating and satisfying experience – devoid of arrogance, but full of humility and the assurance that being a part of the ever-flowing river of God’s eternal voice can bring.

If He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5), there is great comfort and great elation in being connected to the source of our life and the power of our giftedness as writers. We share in the tremendous privilege and the awesome responsibility to use our words in His name – to heal and to inspire and bring that same life-giving grace to others who are ready to receive. As you sit down today with pen in hand or keyboard at the ready, remember that you have the courage of your conviction and the humility of your humanity to serve as the fuel to stoke the fire of your spirit and pour forth into speech the words that will bring love and life to others. God bless!

I Quit? Reacquiring My Love for Writing

There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she begins to despair of writing, when everything that has been produced seems like a collection of empty words, and where the desire to soldier on in pursuit of publishing seems to be a wasted endeavor. I recently went through a weird little writing distemper that took a bit of a toll on my mind and heart. In the past I’ve written about writer’s block but this was much different. When I have writer’s block I still desire to write; it’s just that at that particular moment I can’t. This was much more intense. I experienced a deep sense of loss over my writing – a feeling that nothing of what I had written before had ever really mattered, at least not in an eternal sense. I felt a total lack of desire to write anything of consequence for the foreseeable future, as if the muddy well of ideas within me had gone dry. There were a number of factors that contributed to this. The first was a prolonged period of work-related sleep-deprivation where I was getting only 3-4 broken hours of sleep a day. Added to that were rejections and non-responses from publishers about work I had submitted several months before. There were family issues and a host of household chores that needed my attention and the accompanying guilt that came from knowing I was not giving either my best. To top it off, there were stresses and changes at my work that were thrown into the mix for good measure, and the whole thing just led me to a deep and dark writer’s despair.

For weeks I was too tired and overwhelmed to even approach my keyboard, nor did I even have the desire to do so. I attempted to spend time reading my bible and listening to music, focusing on an upcoming summer hike and throwing myself into exercise, but these activities did little to lift my spirits. I was stuck in a pit of despondency of my own making and was in no mood to do anything as sensible as finding my way out of it. I knew on an intellectual level that writing would help break the cycle as it always had in the past, but emotional and physically stresses won out over the truth. I spent time on one of the writer’s websites I frequent looking for a distraction, but found too many collections of “random” thoughts from authors who were in a similar state of mind. Their brief, negative expressions of angst began to tear into my overly-empathetic soul, dragging me down to the places they now were sitting, adding to the already overcrowded pity party I had been throwing for myself. I thanked God that I didn’t give into temptation and begin writing my own collection of 187 three-lined free-verse poems about how miserable I happened to be feeling at that moment. It wasn’t that the poetry I was reading was meaningless; it’s just that in my inner madness such cries for significance were not what I needed at all.

So how did I break out of my little silly, sleepless, downhearted, dejected, whiny writing funk of which I spoke? The slow and steady beginning came when I made a deliberate choice to focus outside myself, something that seemed counterintuitive to a writer’s mind. My mind, however, needed a serious reboot and remaining in a self-centered state was not what I needed at all. I began by reinstituting family devotions with my wife and children; and to my surprise, I found that they took to them with great enthusiasm. Their insightful comments and beautiful prayers lifted my spirits and gave me a sense of hope. I also forced myself to attend the men’s weekly prayer times at our church, even though I found getting up at 5:30 in the morning a little difficult. Hearing my brothers sharing their struggles and raising their voices in praise broke through to my stubborn soul that was starved for something new. After that I started writing little love notes for my wife and buying flowers and going the extra mile to honor her in all she did for our family; and her response to my efforts was beautiful and gratifying – more than I deserved. Each time I put my melancholy self aside and ventured out into the world of other people’s feelings, I found myself talking another emotional step toward recovery.

We often forget that in order to rediscover the Spirit within that moves us to write, we must visit with Him where He lives and breathes in the lives of other people. We need to recognize Him in the music that each heart sings in its own unique way. We need to hear Him in the laughter and love of our families and friends and touch Him as we reach out to the sorrows and unmet needs of hearts that struggle to fill the emptiness within. We need to soak in the splendor of this world, broken as it is, but beautiful too. We need to get away and become still so that we can listen to the whispering words of the Savior who died to draw us to Himself in love. It’s a matter of reawakening those eternal memories, planted within us by an awesome and ever-living God, so that we can rediscover the timeless truth that we are loved with a perfect love, and that the voice inside us that usually blazes like a fire, can be fanned into a full flame once more. It’s in the connection we make to the world, to our purpose as agents of inspiration, and to the plan of our Great God set forth in time from timelessness, that we find the impetus to write with power and precision once more.

I’m back, writing with a new perspective, searching my soul for new songs and stories and uplifting words to stir hearts and lead weary souls to places of rest and refreshment. I may never be the author I sometimes dream I could be. I may never inspire more than a handful of hearts here and there. If that’s the case, I’ll continue to write anyway, for it’s in writing that I come closer to the One who places those words within my heart and moves me to share them with any ear that will listen. I’ll be content to let them flow out into the ether of the Internet until they find their way to the ones who were meant to read them and find hope and healing. I hope that those of you who write and have found your way out of your own writer’s despair will allow these words to resonate within your fiery hearts, and I hope that you’ll keep on “writing the good write” and pressing on, even when the dark times come and you find the words, “I quit!” bubbling up from within. Together let us fill this broken world with words that renew and refresh as we cause a few quitters to change their minds and chose to start again! God bless!

Dream Walks

Writers find inspiration from many different places. Some are inspired by their faith, some by a person they admire. Others are moved to write by an event that happens in their lives. Whatever the case, I find that the inspiration for writing and the many ways it comes to me is a wonder and a mystery that is very…well, inspiring!

I wanted to talk about one of my chief sources for writing. It’s what I like to call a “dream walk.” Some people go on “prayer walks” and they take time to lift friends up before heaven’s throne, focus on their relationship with God, ask for forgiveness and take in the beauty of their Creator’s world. My dream walks are like that but with a bit of a twist. While some may find the way I walk my walk a bit strange and unorthodox, I find it to be a fascinating trip into the weird and wonderful world that is me, and a really great source for material to put down in words!

I’ve always been interested in dreams and their application to my life. There has been a lot of study devoted to dreams and their meaning. Some think that dreaming is nothing more than a sort of “mental housecleaning” – the mind’s way of rearranging itself electro-chemically after a long day of thinking. I accept the truth of that. After a week of 4-hours-per-day sleeping (I’ve worked overnights!) I understand all too well the need to get a good night’s sleep to reshape my moody mind. Others think dreams are symbols of archetypal longings deep within our psyche. But these explanations lack romance, spirit and life! I know there are lots of dreams and visions in the Bible and every time some biblical character has a dream it has to do with God revealing a new turn in the journey of life and salvation. Moses had his burning bush, Jacob his ladder, and Ezekiel his valley of dry bones. I don’t know if I can say I’ve experienced such a direct call from God, but I’m open to the possibilities of what all that implies.

My approach to dreams takes in the science, the art and the spirit and leads me to a place where I can find meaning in the little mind trips I take each night. When I dream, I’m working through stuff that happened that day and sometimes stuff that happened long ago. When I awake I look for signs and wonders in the dream characters and symbolic meaning in the setting and objects within the dream. I ask myself what God is trying to teach me through the dream and how I can become a better man because of it. When all is said and done, I use the dream to help me connect to that deeper part of myself that ultimately expresses itself in my art.

How this all applies to walking is simple. When I go for a walk, I pretend that I’m in a dream. I ask God to reveal Himself to me as I walk and I pray for the Spirit to give me an open mind and a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Then as I walk, I take notice of what’s around me and imagine that it’s all part of a world that belongs exclusively to me. When I see an object I ask myself what I think it would mean if it were part of a dream. Then I pray through the meaning and allow it to help shape me in my spirit. Sometimes I enjoy the beauty of God’s world and listen to the sweet messages it wants to pass onto me. Sometimes I meet a part of me I don’t like and find I need to get rid of a bad thought by confessing it and letting it go. Sometimes I become incredibly aware of how grateful I am for all the graces I’ve received and I’m swimming in joy. And sometimes I go deeply into myself and receive a spiritual makeover. All I know is that after my dream walks I find I’m in a much better place than when I started, even if I just walked in a giant five-mile circle the whole time! And when that happens, I have so much material churning away in my brain that I can’t wait to get it down in writing!

One day, I was struggling with my attitude toward spiritual leadership and decided to go on a dream walk. As I walked I looked up and saw the sky filled with clouds, blocking the sun. I saw in this “dreamscape” a message of how I was being blocked from the light of the Son (not sun) and allowing the clouds of anger and sadness obscure my vision of what was right. Later that same walk I found a group of nails on a strip, the kind used in a nail gun. I picked it up and meditated on the symbol within the object. What came to me was the idea that one person can build a church using all the nails, or that same person can give one nail to everyone in the church and together they can build the church into something that reflects the efforts and spirit of each member. It was at that moment that the sky began to clear and I saw the sun. I took that as a more direct sign from God that I had gotten the point.

On another day I kept seeing only red or blue cars – seriously, for over an hour, nothing but red and blue cars! I thought about what was happening inside me and I decided to pray over my own lukewarm soul, which at the time was neither hot (red car) nor cold (blue car). At that point, I saw a gray car and then soon after, a white car. I meditated on the truth that if I’m to be pure (the white car) I need to look into the gray areas of my life (gray car) and get real with where I am. I had a lot to think about and a lot of good material for writing that day as well.

It’s like that all the time. I believe that God is in the process, whether directing cars from the depths of eternity, painting cloudy days and opening the sky at just the right moment, or simply unlocking my heart so that I may question how I see the world. I’m reminded of things that have meaning to me in the life that blossoms in the trees, the joyful song of the birds praising God for taking care of them, or in the wind that can sooth my soul in the heat of the day or move me in directions I might not be willing to go. In focusing on the God who is present all around me and within me, I shut out the distractions that stifle my creativity and leave my selfish, prideful and generally confused self behind. It’s a deeply freeing experience – a bit strange as I said, but truly liberating when I open myself up to it!

How much better would we all be if we learned to look at our lives from a dream walk perspective? I think we’d learn to let the annoyances just drift by without moving our emotions, like the car that cut me off today but didn’t ruin my life. We’d come to see the connection to the people around us and stop responding with fear, anger, indifference or disgust.  We’d find joy and tears in the thousand little details that we used to pass by without noticing. And maybe – just maybe – those of us who are writers would find new ways to express the intensity and awesomeness of life within our craft. It’s at least something to think about…maybe on your next walk!

The Lonely Way of the Writer

I have a confession to make. I often suffer from periods of sorrow and loneliness so profound that I feel as though one little tap in the wrong place would shatter me to pieces so small that no one would be able to put them together again. Some of this comes from the hours I keep at work and the lack of a really good night’s sleep. Some of it comes from the trials I face and my lack of fortitude to face them with true courage and faith. Still a good portion comes because, as a writer, I choose to accept these periods of pain as a part of the madness that stirs the words within me and pushes them out onto a page.

As I write this, I freely acknowledge that even now I’m using my writing skills to take a mundane part of my human condition and turn into something nobler than it is. After all, who wants to live with a melancholy writer all the time? Certainly not my wife and kids. As a Christian, I should also be seeking the delightful above the despair, the passion above the pit. But, there is something about this lonely path that is mine alone to walk that seems to give impetus and direction to the things I write. There is something powerful about taking the messy little struggles of life and using them as a mini cosmic chaos into which I speak life, call forth poetry and prose and pronounce it all good.

I suspect that I’m not alone in my loneliness either. I’m sure that this sadness is a chief characteristic of almost every artist and, as such, is a gift from God. It’s a gift because it allows us to gaze deeply within our hearts to those places most people are too afraid to look. As it beats at our hearts, it cracks the shell of our understanding and allows the beauty of God’s grace to break the spell of pain and despair, creating fertile ground upon which we may plant the seeds of our next work of writing and nurture those words into a beautiful story or poem. It allows us not only to look into the gloom with open eyes, but to see the God of heaven who is light within that darkness. It points us to the love that allowed a Son to die for our every fault, and joins us to Him who rose from the darkness of death and ascended to the heavenly places to experience the joy of redeeming the world. As writers, we take that experience and turn it into hope on the printed page. That kind of power is humbling but it’s also glorious, and makes all the trials worthwhile!

I’ve read a lot of writing of late that is dark and edgy, obtuse and disordered, and I admit that I’m often fascinated with the places to which it often takes me. But so many times, I find I need to climb out of those places because, while the words are interesting, they fall short of the real purpose of writing. Some would argue that if the writing has taken me to a dark place and forced me for a while to sit and suffer, then the purpose has been fulfilled. But having seen the heights to which writing has taken me, I find I must refuse to remain in the shadows of confusion and darker emotions and continue to soar above where the light is warm upon my face. The suffering we experience is only the thing that points us to something more, and our writing should follow the heavenly call and raise the reader out of deep despair, and the dull routine of everyday existence. That way, the beauty and purpose of the trials we endure can find fulfillment and lead us to new vistas and heavenly horizons.

God help me if I remain in the places my sorrow tries to take me. Lord, forgive me for lingering there too long when I go. I appreciate the lonely place inside my soul, and am content to embrace the darkness, so long as it leads me once more into the light where I’m joined to truth and beauty and all that is good. God bless all those writers out there who understand the lonely life and the profound joy to which each depression can lead us if we take the time to push through the darkness to see that true purpose to which our artist’s hearts have been fashioned. May you embrace the sadness only long enough to let it raise you from your corner to your keyboard, where your next great work of art is waiting to be composed! 

Desert Days

I love to hike and spend time in the "wilderness." I like to imagine that I'm some type of urban "Survivor Man" although I freely admit that I'm very careful to prepare for my trips and pack all the essentials to make sure I'm comfortable, safe and well-fed. Still, there is something truly inspiring about getting away from the civilized world and spending time outdoors in the deep woods or atop a lofty mountain. It's an adventure, a test of one's stamina, resolve and courage. It's also a time to let go of the day-to-day concerns of  life and commune with Nature and its Creator. A good hike, whether for a day or a week is a way to hit the "reset" button on my spirit. I come back from my outdoor excursions a much more rested, renewed and balanced individual.

God has a purpose for His people when He calls us to spend time in "desolate places." Whether we're in an actual wilderness or not almost doesn't matter. Often, we find ourselves in a place where we go deep into that dark and deserted place inside us where we hear the voice of the accuser whispering to our inner ears that we're a failure, full of falsehood and destined for a life of mediocrity and unworthiness. Many times that accusing voice is our own, built up by years of mistakes, sin and selfishness.  For the most part we avoid shutting down the busyness of our lives and going to that inner chamber because we're afraid of what we might hear and afraid to face what we perceive as the awful truth of who we really are.

Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness just prior to starting His earthly ministry. There He was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger; to throw Himself down from the temple and allow the angels to bear Him to the ground; and to claim all the earthly kingdoms in exchange for bowing His knee to the Prince of the Air. Yet, each time the tempter tried to sway the Savior with quotations from Scripture, Jesus answered with the Word of God in order to put the great deceiver in his place. (See Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus was a man who was completely at home in the wilderness, for it was there He could meet with His Father and gain strength for the days ahead. He had no skeletons in His inner closet, no fears or failings to have to face with trembling. He knew His purpose and found Himself more in touch with that purpose when He went alone to those lonely places to pray. (Luke 5:16) 
Just because Jesus is God and we are not doesn't mean we can't explore our own internal wildernesses in order to come to terms with God's plan for our lives. Psalm 139 is a wonderful song of self-examination, one that can help us to appreciate our connection to the God who knit us together in our mother's womb. Here, the psalmist lays his life before God, acknowledging his total dependence on the One who knows him so intimately that he is overwhelmed by the power of His eternal presence. In this blessed communion, he knows that there is no place to go to get away from God, and that all his inner turmoil and darkness is not hidden from the One who is Light and Love itself! In that sweet surrender of sacred fellowship the struggles and strivings give way to a love so powerful that it casts everything outside the realm of God's presence with a holy hatred and washes over the psalmist in a flood of grace. It is so wonderful that leaves him calling for God to search out all his inner rooms to eliminate anything that will come between the Lover and the Beloved. 

That is the power of our Desert Days! Don't be afraid of getting real with God, of walking into the darkness and desolation of your self-centered soul. Let Him cleanse you and free you to continue the journey toward home! As you read Psalm 139 below, take the words to heart and make them your own. Let them be your prayer to close this devotional today!

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139 ESV)

 

Meet the Gang – The Schizophrenia of Story Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God uses those with the gift of words to spread a message of hope and healing to a weary world. For my part, I find that I do that best when I write a story. There’s something mystical and magical about cooperating with the Creator in fashioning my fictional world, filling it with characters, setting the story in motion and letting it take me where it will. It leaves me contemplating the nature of the God who said, “Let there be light!” and then breathed life into the chaos of the universe to set the whole of humanity on a path toward eternity. Now, I don’t mean to compare myself with God, but I will say that the process of writing a story does help me to appreciate the perfection of God’s plan and the meticulous care that He exercises in bringing it to completion.

Story writing mirrors that power in so many ways; and for that reason, I develop a deep emotional attachment to each and every story I create. My characters are a part of who I am, for I’ve fashioned them in my own image and likeness and breathed my own life into them. They reflect my personality, my past experiences, and my future hopes. But, unlike my heavenly Father, my characters also represent my faults and failings, my insecurities and instabilities, and every little longing and striving that is working itself out in my own life. Their tears have been shed by my eyes; their laughter resembles my own; and I find a deep and lasting sense of satisfaction in bringing them through their journeys and guiding them by my keyboard to the fulfillment of the purposes for which they were created.

It is not without its costs, however. While the Lord of the Universe remains the same yesterday, today and forever, I continue to grow and develop one stumbling step at a time. These characters spill out of my innermost self, and they demand unwavering honesty from me. They refuse to be written in a way contrary to who they are and who they are becoming. So, try as I might to water down their personalities or mitigate their actions, they remain true to themselves and true to the overall purpose of the story. Because of them I find myself standing in a place of complete vulnerability. If my story is to remain true to itself – and I desire that with every fiber of my being – I must expose myself through my characters and allow them be all that they are. Otherwise, the story falls short and the characters become ghosts that never truly take on permanent form.

But therein lies the most exciting part of the whole endeavor! In that vulnerability, as I open up the treasure chest of hidden hurts and joyful expectations in my heart, I invite the reader to enter into the insanity that is me: that inner madness and eternal beauty that combine to express who I am and how I see the universe. I give a life to each character in the story: a personality and a set of values and desires that set each one on a journey that works itself out as the story unfolds. Now I confess that I don’t know how this process works for every other writer. I remember going to a seminar on writing and listening while the speaker outlined the process for creating the “perfect story.” As she went over her list of dos and don’ts for novel writing, I found myself unable to check off any of her boxes. We were told to write the entire story without stopping; but I laughed, for my writing was so disjointed and random and open-hearted that to follow that path would have driven me crazy! She talked about outlining the plot before even starting, editing the story as one unit at the end and finding a professional to critique the project (one of the services she also happened to offer!). With each new step in her process I found myself feeling more and more like my writing had evolved out of some insane alternate universe and would never be acceptable to the normal humans on this planet. The fact that she told me never to publish the project into which I was currently pouring my heart and soul, while still offering to critique my writing (apparently to “save it”) didn’t help matters either.

I’ll tell you that the cast of characters from that particular novel were quite pleased that I beat a hasty retreat from her little self-centered world of conventional wisdom. Had I chosen to stay and listen to her advice, they would never have come to life over the airwaves of the radio station where I worked, and they would never have touched a single heart! Somehow, despite my failure to follow the “professional guidance” I had received, the story made its way to its exciting conclusion and the characters fulfilled their purposes and completed their journeys; and it all took place through my strangely wonderful, randomly beautiful way of writing the story from beginning to end.

I have a deep love for the characters in my stories. When I find them going in a direction that puts them in harm’s way or brings them to a sorrowful place, I mourn with them. When they triumph over adversity and discover new insights about themselves, I rejoice with them too. I’ve fallen in love with heroines, raged against enemies and encouraged major characters to continue their journeys to the end. It’s an awesome responsibility and an incredibly transforming experience for the writer to take on the task of bringing the family of characters within a story to life, shaping their inner emotional worlds, their actions and their aspirations, and weaving them into the story that they help to shape. For it is in carrying out this powerful artistic path that we are transformed as well.

Writers really need to embrace their own brand of Multiple Personality Disorder and press on boldly in whatever fashion their imaginative minds chose to drive their stories. If methodical methods are your thing, I say be as compulsively creative as you need to be! If you jump around from scene to scene, allowing your characters to correct your deviations along the path of your story, then leap with all the joy you can muster, knowing that in the end you’ll get there just the same. Make friends with the people you bring to life, love them as you would love those in the “real” world – for they represent a reality that exists on a level that is wonderful and wild and fascinating and free! If it feels like playing God – and it sure does for me – just make sure you pray over your creation with the same kind of love that our Father pours out over His. In the end, you’ll accomplish wondrous things as you draw your readers into your world and connect them to their personal stories and their own inner family as well!

Writer's...Um...Er...Oh Yeah - Block!

It’s the most disturbing occurrence – next to a malfunctioning spell checker – that any writer will ever face. It’s the moment when all time and space compress into a chasm of darkness so deep and so horrifying as to cast doubts on one’s sanity and debunk the meaning of life. It strikes the mind and heart of the aspiring author with a sickness of soul so profound that he or she is forced to question his or her original decision to pick up pen or keyboard in the first place. Yes, we all know it as – (Queue the dramatic music, please!) – “Writer’s Block.”

You may laugh or even get angry with me over my teeny exaggeration; but for a creative writer, going through a period where there is neither the impetus nor the desire to move forward with a writing project is unsettling to say the least. I used to dread the occasional bout of Writer’s Block, not because I saw it as a precursor to some future mental degeneration, but because it gave me time to contemplate my purpose in life as it applied to my yet-unachieved fame as an author. While waiting on my apparently unmotivated muse to supply me with my next prize-winning phrase, I would start to wonder whether my writing had any real value at all and whether I was even a good writer in the first place. But that was before I learned to transform my perception of just what Writer’s Block really is and how it can serve a profound purpose in shaping our craft as writers.

Writer’s Block can indeed stem from a sense of under-appreciation and underachievement. When we’re struggling to give birth to our latest, greatest masterpiece, it’s easy for us to think about the masses of ungrateful publishers and consumers who have yet to notice our greatness and wonder where we went wrong. Our writing is also often derailed by those many “less important” distractions like our families, our jobs, or anything else that seeks to steal time away from our craft. We feel guilty for not spending more memorable moments with our kids and we’re worn out from doing all those day-to-day things we do to pay the bills and relate to the world. When we’re not writing, we feel unproductive, uninspired and unworthy. We’ll do anything to snap us out of our doldrums and reignite the spark we fear we’ve lost. But the beautiful truth is, barring a production deadline for a writing contract (and even then, this still applies), every once in a while we need to face our under-appreciated, under-achieving and totally distracted selves in order to cleanse our creative palates and discover a new idea or a fresh perspective on our writing.

Let me give you an example. Back when I was writing my second novel, I ran into a writer’s roadblock so big I thought I would never get back to my project. It was second part of a series I was finishing, one I feared would never break any Barnes & Noble selling records. In addition, I had started a new job that was demanding and distracting to say the least. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to move on in the story. The scene I was working on involved my version of the antichrist standing on the brink of world domination, poised to implement a world-wide mind-altering mass illusion that would cause the entire planet to fall at his feet in worship and submission. I knew the character needed to say something more than, “Throw the switch, boys!” but I couldn’t find the right words to place in his mouth, no matter how hard I prayed, researched or sought the advice of others. After a while I gave up and put the writing aside – reluctantly, I’ll admit – and decided to be done with it until the right inspiration came to me. 

After two weeks, I was able to move from a place of desperation to one of frustrated waiting, then on to hopeful anticipation, and finally a deeper openness to what the Spirit within wanted to say through me. Then one Sunday in church I was sitting in my seat ready to take notes on the sermon the pastor was about to preach. Suddenly he broke into a talk on Ezekiel, chapter 28. My ears perked up when he got to the second part of verse 12…


‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

 You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
    carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
    topaz, onyx and jasper,
    lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
    on the day you were created they were prepared.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
    for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
    you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created
    till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
    you were filled with violence,
    and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
    and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
    from among the fiery stones.
Your heart became proud
    on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
    because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
    I made a spectacle of you before kings.
By your many sins and dishonest trade
    you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
    and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
    in the sight of all who were watching.
All the nations who knew you
    are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
    and will be no more.’”

                                            Ezekiel 28:12b-19

I included the words to show you how perfectly they fit into my novel. It was as if God was saying, “You wanted a bad guy speech? Well, here you go!” It was flawless: the perfect words arriving at the perfect time – the bad guy speech of all bad guy speeches – complete with a neat and tidy built-in prophecy I knew I could never have come up with on my own! God had allowed me to take the time I needed to reform my mind into a vessel ready to receive the right words, right when I needed them! While the rest of the congregation was happily recording little snippets of wisdom from the pastor, I was hastily scribbling notes about how I could adapt this little bit of prophecy to my übervillain and once more hit the gas pedal on my project and bring it to completion. When I arrived home I immediately set to writing and the words flowed like a rushing river moving swiftly until it spills into the mighty sea! I was able to shape the sinister nature of the character while throwing in a good dose of foreshadowing for his fiery finish. After that, the rest of the story practically wrote itself! Eventually I published my novels in print and in audio form for radio – all because I let myself surrender to the lessons I could learn during my time away from my story!

We spend so much time trying to force our writing based on our misperceived notions of timeliness, productivity and worthiness that we forget that the true purpose of writing is to produce a work of art that stirs the hearts that are ready and waiting to receive what we have to say. And along with that, creative writing is meant to express our inner story and shape our own journey as writers and as human beings. That’s the beauty of writing: It transforms both the reader and the writer in the cosmic connection that takes place in the sharing of the written word. I understand the need for deadlines and the debilitating power of procrastination. But the end result that comes when we learn to use our Writer’s Block to transform us is well worth the time. It’s a wonderful reality that can’t be rushed into existence or manipulated into the beautiful form it is meant to take. When the writer allows the true process of Writer’s Block to unfold as he or she crafts a gift of poetry or prose for the ones who were meant to read it, all is right with the world!

So the next time you feel yourself coming to the preverbal brick wall in your writing, don’t give in to the feeling that you’re failing! Let your block become a pregnant pause in the message your heart longs to speak to a weary world. Do something else – go for a run, have a snack, love your family, do your job – whatever comes your way to do. But let the time away from your project help to refashion your mind, and your spirit and make you more open to receiving the message in whatever form it chooses to appear. I look forward to reading all the wonderful words that your next “Writer’s Block” brings out in you!


The Detours of Writing

There’s a delicate balance that any writer must deal with when once he or she decides in earnest to put words to paper, virtual or otherwise. It’s a two-fold aspect of the calling of the writer and I have found myself of late thinking more and more about what it means to my writing. I’m talking about the balance between trying to promote oneself as a writer, and losing oneself in the craft of writing and its sacred purposes. I know I need to find people willing to read, publish and pass on the words I have written, and I know how tempting it is to let that noble goal shape the kind of writing I do. The written word can have intrinsic power, but that power lies dormant if there are no readers who are moved by the words. At the same time, I must ask myself if what I’m writing truly reflects the spirit that moves me to write in the first place.

            In my quest to understand the process of getting published I’ve found that I can write the most wonderful words that express the loftiest of ideas, but there may not be a market for it. I’ve seen writing on websites that appears to me to be trivialities sensationalized or pain promoted for the sake of getting reads, likes and votes. I’ve even seen essays written on how to use certain techniques to increase the number of points on the scoreboard of a particular social media site: Write it a certain length but no more, update often, focus on these trendy topics, and write for this particular audience. People will brag about how their clever tactics have increased their visibility and brought them their fifteen minutes of fame. I’ve had to ask myself if this is truly what the writing game is all about.

            But then in my searching I come across something written in obscurity, written for love alone, written to share truth or artistry or deep emotions and ideas along a life path headed toward a discernable goal. Though I find myself captivated by such works, I also often find that they go relatively unnoticed. In corresponding with those particular authors, I’m lifted further still by the depth of their hearts and the intricacies of their minds. I then fall more in love with their stories and am the better man for it.

            So, is it to be one or the other? Am I destined to dive into the lower realms of sensationalism and pen titillating vignettes in order to make a name for myself; or must I hover in the place of anonymity while remaining true to the character of writing that reaches for lofty heights where hearts are moved and lives changed. And are these questions themselves an exercise in my own puffed up perception of myself? What is the answer for the author who wishes to see his or her work before the eyes of those who will truly appreciate it and cry out for more? I think it lies in detours.

            In my searching, the answer came to me in the form of voices struggling to express their anguish and their dreams in their writing. I went to a writing website and registered a persona, typed in all my information, pointed my future readers to my website and began posting material for consumption. I then began exploring the website and reading stories and poems from aspiring writers from all around the world. As I commented on their writings and sent notes of encouragement and appreciation, I began to build a following. As I continued to get to know these wonderful writers, I found myself bonding with them and sharing in the strength of their character and the struggles of their hearts. After a short while, my goal of reads, likes and votes seemed so inconsequential in comparison to growing in my relationship with these kindred spirits. That first “detour” along this new journey led me to consider what I was putting out on my own page.

            In response to the pain and depth of character I encountered, I began to write poetry that spoke to the particular needs I had found within the words others had written. However, rather than mimicking their angst-driven writing, I allowed their words of pain to transform my writing into something that could speak to both them and to me. I demonstrated my understanding of their struggles – for indeed, they had been struggles I too had endured – but I provided a hope that had grown out of my faith and transformed life experience. As I wrote, I found myself growing more connected to those whose writing I had come to admire so much, and growing more deeply in love with the craft of writing itself. Rather than writing to impress, shock, entice, or scratch ears itching for popular points of view, I wrote to share myself and my perspective.

            I don’t profess to have all the wisdom and insight; indeed, as a writer, I suffer from the same kind of inner madness that all serious writers possess. But I know that in writing from the heart in response to the need, in using words to fill a void or point the way while offering to walk that way as well, there comes a depth that is truly inspired by a muse more powerful than publicity and fame. In choosing to be who I am, a man of words, a wounded healing writer and a humble playwright on the stage of life, I find a profound peace and a sense of satisfaction that goes beyond the words themselves. I connect in the truest sense to the real purpose of writing: to inspire, to heal and to connect with weary travelers on the road we all must travel toward our ultimate home.

            The most amusing result of letting go and allowing the writing to take me where it – rather than I – wanted to go is I received more of those things I was searching for in the first place; only now they were put in their proper perspective. They became a means to meet even more fellow authors and to share more deeply in the joy of writing and its deeper, more eternal purposes!

            As I think about all this, I chuckle because I suppose I haven’t really given an answer to those who might have been seeking some insight into furthering one’s writing career. I suppose I detoured in another direction, and for that I don’t apologize, but simply offer it for what it is. I’ve found that my exceptional writing, the kind that touches people in a deeper part of their spirits, has always come when I allow the detours to come freely. Instead of achieving the goals I set up for myself, I’ve found that those goals are transformed as they are exposed to whatever comes up ahead on the road the detour has taken me. There is joy and freedom in that. Whether it will ultimately lead to more writing contracts and publication is yet to be seen. I do know for sure that my first book came as a result of a detour in the original goal. I had first written my first book as a means to further my career as a youth director, but its rejection led me to consider publishing houses, one of which was willing to invest in my writing and produce a modest little youth training book. My 8 years of radio writing came after I decided on a whim to apply for a full-time radio position and then settled for a small part-time spot on the airwaves better suited for opportunities to produce material and get it out for others to enjoy.

            As you seek to better yourself, don’t stop trying to find those who will read and comment and like and vote on your work. But don’t let it be the end in itself, but rather an avenue for making connections to your readers. Their stories and their hearts will lead you to places you may never have dreamed of going and direct you in ways you never thought possible. I’d love to hear your stories of how the little detours in your life and the balance you found between promotion and inspiration has led to wonderful new paths along the writing road!

Mr. Monk and the Writer

I’ve always been fascinated with detective shows. I used to watch “Columbo” whenever it was on. the other day I was reminded of another of my favorite detective shows: “Monk.” For those who might be unfamiliar with the show, Adrian Monk is a former police officer with an Obsessive/Compulsive disorder who solves high profile murder cases. Monk’s wife, Trudy, was killed by a car bomb that was meant for him. The incident destroyed him emotionally caused his disorder to take on an extreme form. And although Monk is no longer able to function as a police officer, he now consults for the police, where his compulsive attention to detail actually helps him to notice things the police miss and in the end, to catch the killer every time.

Now what does this television character have to do with being a writer? It’s all about the reasons why I became so caught up in the show. Monk’s constant hand sanitizing and picture straightening and sidewalk crack sidestepping, make for some good laughs, but, to be honest, when I started watching, I made a decision not to look at the show from a comedic standpoint. I truly enjoy the show’s more serious side, which many people may miss.

Monk is a man who, in many ways, is trapped by who he is. The death of his wife has left him so fearful of life, so filled with self-doubt and so focused on his pain, that he can’t function in “normal” society. It seems as though he blames himself for his wife’s death and has become so obsessed with having every detail of his life perfect in order to either avoid facing that reality or simply to hold onto his sanity. And yet, he is able to use that struggle to his advantage when solving crimes. He can see what the others miss and hold details in a sort of mental storage bank until that part of his mind, always churning away in the background, is able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the case.

I believe many writers find themselves living a “Monk” kind of existence. They have the ability to notice details that others miss and to view those details from a unique frame of mind. They are wired in such a way that everything they notice has a deeper meaning in connection to their own paths. They are able to store the little insights that present themselves each day and to work out their story unconsciously in the background in order to give life meaning and order. It can be a very lonely existence, one that many will not understand, and one that the writers themselves may not fully grasp.

As a Christian writer, I’ve often found myself doubting my call. After all, not too many people have the same passion or appreciate what they see in me. I’ve also found myself a bit out of place when it comes to working in the “real world” – the world of the “real paying job.” There have been times when I’ve been talking to other people who expect me to respond to their questions a certain way (much like Monk at his police review board hearings) and yet, I sit there thinking about the little details of thoughts or feelings or little writing projects floating around in my mind and long intently to share my deeper sense of what is going on in my head and heart. But, alas, I have often been misunderstood, even by family or friends or people at church.

One of the elements of the “Monk” show that many people miss is the fact that the other main characters (Captain Stottlemeyer, Lieutenant Disher, and Monk’s assistants (He had two at different times…) Sharona and Natilie. In a very curious way, they were are very much like Monk in one certain way. They each have their own obsessions: Stottlemeyer wants to look good, Disher wants his boss and Sharona to notice him, and Sharona and Natalie want to be perceived as more than just assistants. At times, the show makes them appear almost as neurotic as Monk himself. However, Monk and all his friends have one thing in common: they shine when they are doing the thing that they have been gifted to do, whether it is doing police work, taking care of Monk’s needs or solving unsolvable crimes. When these people are “right on” – doing what they do best – there is no comedy, no shakiness, and no faltering whatsoever. And Monk is the one who shines the brightest! It’s actually a pleasure to watch those times when Monk confronts and exposes the killer’s motive and actions. It is heroism at its best – to see someone who, though struggling with deep pain and dysfunction, is able to turn that pain to the good when it counts.

That is what keeps me going as a writer: the knowledge that my own struggles and that inner madness unique to me (Monk refers to his own uniqueness as a gift and a curse) is something God can turn to the good in order that I may take on the world and share the message that burns in my heart until I let it out. All the strange perceptions that I let percolate on the back burner of my brain do have meaning and there are times when I truly have that sense of being “right on” and in tune with God’s will. That’s when I’m able to pull it all together and produce something of worth, something I know comes from God’s Grace within me.

This is my encouragement to you, my fellow writers: the quirky, misunderstood, struggling writers who want so desperately to find their niche in this world and let loose the precious story within that only they can tell. Remember the example of Mr. Adrian Monk and keep that hope that all things will indeed work out to the good! Take care!

Lessons Along a Bike Path

There is nothing so invigorating as a good bike ride. Recently, I’ve gotten much more serious about it, going four to six times a week from late spring to early fall for an 18-23 mile trek through our town. I was always a biking enthusiast; however, my problem is that no one remembered to tell my aging body this important news. Actually, I started riding again because I love the wind in my hair and the exhilaration of my heart pumping as I race along. Let me assure you; the fact that I had gained a few pounds had absolutely nothing to do with it. But, the more I got back into it, the longer I found I was riding. More riding meant more time to think and so I decided I’d pen a few of the more sober and spiritual thoughts that have occurred to me during these rides.

I was thinking about something a young girl once asked me. She wanted to know how I speak to God, or more precisely, how I listen to what God wants to tell me. I kept thinking about it for some time after that and so, each day when I took my ride, I decided to stay open to whatever God might want to tell me during that particular ride. And as I asked, so did I receive. These daily excursions taught me a lot about what journeying with God is all about.

I began my reintroduction to biking by traveling on the streets I knew. We often do that – start off on the journey by keeping to the familiar paths. Our fear of unknown – which really amounts to a fear of failure and fear of pain – tends to keep us on the path that feels safe. But, as I ventured onto new streets, it reminded me that being Christian means talking the risk to go to new places where God is leading us. We can’t really be effective in our walk until we get beyond the feeling that our journey is supposed to be a safe one.

I remember one morning, probably the second day I resumed riding, when I came to a steep hill. Rather than braving it in the lowest gear possible or getting off and walking the bike up the incline – which no real “biking enthusiast” would ever do – I decided to turn down a street just before the hill began to climb. I admit I felt a bit guilty for being so out of shape, and I was left wondering whether I would have made it had I tried. There have been times in my life when I was afraid to take on the steep challenges that were before me. Sometimes it was because I simply wasn’t ready and God wanted me to go a different route to reach the same destination; other times I think I was just too full of pride to slow down and go back to walking. These experiences taught me the importance of spiritual preparation and daily training in the faith as an essential part of going the distance. It was a hard lesson to learn, but the sad reality is this – any time I gave in to the easy way, I knew I had to surrender to a challenge that was never met.

As I chose to go down new streets, there were times when I would approach a dead end road. Often I would see the signs from far off but still feel compelled to continue on the road. Sometimes there would be another road that would allow me to continue my journey before I reached the dead end and other times I was forced to turn around. You know, I never felt awkward about taking a wrong turn; I knew there was always a way out and a new direction to go. It brought to mind the times I had wandered into sin or followed a direction that would lead me to a dead end in my walk of faith. And each time I saw the same loving God right there beside me, never condemning me for my mistakes, but always, always offering a new way to take me out of my dead end choices.

Now an interesting thing happened one day. I was riding along and peddled past a yard with a lawn sprinkler moving lazily back and forth between the house and the road. As I went past it, the water was shooting out onto the street. Even though I was hot, I swerved around the water and kept on going. Immediately I thought about how God often provides cool refreshment in the midst of life’s scorching desert days, and how we often miss His refreshment because we are focused on the road ahead or too proud to accept His kindnesses. I can assure you that after that experience, I made sure to zip through any cool spots that came up in the road ahead as a refreshing reminder of that incredible truth.

As I rode around each day, I would inevitably come to a place where I had to make a decision to turn left or right. One day, I looked up at the road sign on my right, which read, “Mountain Road.” Hmm. Not good, I thought. Still, I decided this time to take the challenge and went up the hill to the right. Surprisingly enough, the road turned out to be more of a slight incline than anything else. At one point I was even able to turn down a street on my left and coast for a while. Now coasting is always fun, because gravity does all the work and I get the thrill of a little speed instead of a slow steady ride. The twists and turns of life, the uphill battles, the times we can coast – it is all a matter of making a decision and then riding out the road wherever it takes us.

Sometimes I have no idea if I should choose one direction for my life over another. I worry that I’ll make the wrong choice and miss an opportunity that God has to offer me. It can be paralyzing to think that making a wrong choice might lead to dire consequences. But that isn’t how our Lord works. Just as I find a new adventure and a new insight no matter which direction I choose on my ride, so too will God work all things out to the good for the ones who have chosen Him. In the end, I know that ultimately God is in control and will take care of me on my journey. I take comfort in the fact that if I’ve spent time in preparation, by staying in His Word, praying with an open spirit and listening to Him speak all around me, I know I’ll have all the wisdom I need to make the right choice and to courage to take the steps to get from here to there.

Now another time on my ride, I came to a main road and wanted to cross over it to the other side, but found that the traffic was too heavy. Just when it would clear up on the left side, there would be cars zooming up on the right. At first, I was upset at having to wait for such a long time, but then I realized that waiting gave me a chance to get a drink and to rest my leg muscles. And when there was a break in the traffic, I had the energy to take off and get right back into the journey. So many times I’ve seen the obstacles of my life as hindrances to progress, when all the while, God was slowing me down and giving me time to rest, refresh and consider my next steps. It was only at the end of each time of resting, when the obstacles were removed – or I found a new way to deal with them – that I was able to see the reasons for God allowing them in the first place.

There did end up being a killer hill – one that left me no choice but to get off the bike and walk up in total humiliation and shame. Three quarters of the way up the hill, I saw a sign for “Brookview Road.” I decided that a ride alongside a brook might be nice and made a right turn. Well, there was no brook in sight and all this road did was to lead me down some more streets that seemed to take me nowhere. While I thought I was going to have an enjoyable experience, I simply rode in a huge circle and ended up just a little further down the road from where I would have been had I not turned. It did, however, keep me from having to cross over a busier intersection where cars turn onto and off of the highway. And since the purpose of the bike ride was for exercise…excuse me – to feel the wind in my hair – it didn’t really matter that I had to go the long way around. It helped to reinforce the idea that God is consistent and sovereign and knows how to take our self-centered choices and redirect them for his purpose and direction, often sparing us from dangers we might not even have comprehended along the way.

One of the most interesting things I did on my ride was to pick up objects discarded along the road. I was asked to substitute for the pastor of my church and wanted to prepare a sermon illustration. I decided to stop whenever the Spirit moved me to pick up a certain object. I picked up an old pair of broken glasses, some rubber tubing, a crushed soda can, and many other “useless” items. When I got home, I took those pieces of trash and turned them into a sculpture. I admit it wasn’t anything that would allow me to retire in comfort, but when it was finished, my creation was a perfect illustration of what God does for all of us. Each of us who believe has been like a discarded piece of garbage that was found by a loving God who has been able to shape us into something brand new! While the world may look at each of us as useless or unworthy, God sees just exactly how we fit into His vast eternal plan!

Day after day, in order to keep biking trips interesting, I would seek out a new way to go: through the center of town one day, out to the airport the next; sometimes just taking a leisurely ride along the nearby bike path on those lazy days. I figured that after a couple weeks, I would run out of places to go and start to get bored, but I was wrong. When I went out boldly, seeking to go wherever a new path took me, I found that the little town I live in had an awful lot of journeys packed into it. No matter how many days I went out, the journey was always new and interesting. It left me wanting to take that approach to my daily walk with the Lord – seeing each new day as another small journey, full of opportunities for excitement and learning, with no day like any other and none ever worth throwing away.

A truly blessed part of these rides was when things finally started to look familiar again and I found I had completed the bulk of the journey. It always felt good to be heading home. It wasn’t without its temptations, however, as many times I passed a local diner serving a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich or the ice cream place near the airport where I swear I could hear a double-dip chocolate peanut butter cone calling my name. Now I know that to stop and indulge myself would defeat the purpose of going on a bike ride in the first place – but OH – was it so tempting! I’m proud to say that I pressed on and soon found I had made it past the place of forbidden food and was on my way back on the road to my destination, my goal – my home! I knew I had a prize waiting for me there – my beautiful wife and my beautiful children, and their smiles were food enough for me! Okay, I admit it – I would end up having a big bowl of fiber or something equally healthy to take care of the other hunger inside me, but I saw it as temptation properly redirected and satisfied.

Like physical hunger, there are also spiritual temptations along the road of life. Satan tries his best to get us to stray from the path by offering us things that appeal to our senses and our needs, but ultimately they don’t satisfy. Only one thing truly does – living out our lives in the love of the God and pressing ever onward to win the prize that He has in store for all His children. And though it often seems that we can only see the worth of our journeys when we reach the end of them, it has been a joy to come to know the pleasure in the journey itself as well.

These days, my schedule has changed somewhat, but I still try to keep up with my riding when the weather is nice. I admit the discipline is good for my body and my soul, even though the sight of me afterwards is not always so good for my family. But there is so much God has to say to me in those quiet times out on the open road. I’m so grateful for that simple question from that young girl. I don’t know if I would have been so focused had she not given me something to think about.

There are just too many things we take for granted on our life journeys and once the journey is past, we can never go back and claim what was lost. I’ve learned that every moment of our existence has been ordained and blessed by our heavenly Father. While events in our lives may seem random and without purpose, we need to realize that it’s all in the Father’s hands, and in the end, we’ll understand what the journey has been all about. I pray that your journeys and mine will be full of joy and purpose, and that we will press ever onward to the end of all our journeys in eternity!

Coming Home to the Sea: One Couple's Experience of Eastport, Maine

There’s something about the sea that speaks to the soul and awakens the heart to new horizons and new points of view. Now I won’t pretend that I’m a man of the sea or that I fully understand that majestic voice that calls men to venture out onto the waves; nor can I mirror the character of those who choose to make their home by the shore. Still, I feel drawn to the changing tides and the ebb and flow of the ocean, and when I’m there, I’m a different man.

Recently, my wife and I embarked on a little seaside adventure to the Northeastern coast as we took our 25th anniversary vacation in the little harbor town of Eastport, Maine. We chose the location on a whim; we wanted to find a place that was peaceful and undisturbed, a haven apart from the crowds and confusion of our everyday lives. We had no idea what we would find there or even how we would fill our time in this quaint little fishing village, but nevertheless we made our plans and off we went. Maybe we were looking for renewal; maybe we just wanted to catch our breath and forget the troubles and turbulence we had left behind.

When we arrived at The Milliken House, our bed & breakfast, we came as strangers to Mary, our host, but soon found ourselves caught up in her simple charm, her motherly care and her gracious hospitality. The old home seemed to welcome us as well, carrying us back to a simpler time and bidding us to surrender to the slower pace of life. We were struck by the quiet and the calm, as if this monument to better days with its large rooms and period furnishings was whispering to us its silent secrets and assuring us that we were safe and secure within its walls. Our room was spacious and appealing, a harbor of comfort for the end of each day; our breakfasts were bountiful and beautiful, served to us on elegant china plates at the large linen-draped dining room table. There was always tea for us when we came home from our adventures and Mary was always ready to greet us with tales of the history of Eastport and stories of colorful local characters she had come to call friends. Like a port in a storm, we soon came to see that this house was our refuge from the weary world that had battered and buffeted us for far too long.

Our first day was spent exploring the town, and we wondered what attractions might be available. There were none of the typical touristy variety, no high-tech, slick-looking shops with crass commercial trinkets for sale, but still, there were treasures everywhere. Here was a close-knit community of like-minded souls, a family of people who loved their town and sought to bring out the best in one another. Every shopkeeper and waitress was more than happy to point us in the direction of another business or restaurant. Instead of chain stores there were cooperatives where local artisans sold their wares, antique stores offering the old, and shops selling custom items innovative and new. My wife was especially enamored with the local Moose Island Bakery where they sold the most delicious creampuffs she had ever tasted, and I have to admit that I wasn’t disappointed with the local lobster roll at the Happy Crab.

Perhaps the thing that struck us the most was that Eastport, though it had seen so many changes over the years, was still a place with a unique character that spoke its timeless story and wonderful wisdom to every heart that took the time to listen. I remember one evening, listening to our server share stories of the long history of The Landmark Restaurant where we were enjoying a wonderful dinner. She told us how this old edifice had undergone a number of transformations over the years, each unique and some even unusual. As I looked around at the old brick walls, the careworn original floors and the majestic columns and archways decorated in an eclectic style for this its latest incarnation, I could almost sense that this venerable building was somehow grateful and quietly content to be useful still, and even proud of its long heritage of service to the town and the people who had built and maintained it all these years.

On another day, we ventured out from Eastport, across the border into Canada to Campobello Island. We marveled at the well-maintained summer cottage that was once home to the Roosevelts. We had to laugh to ourselves at how this and the other lovely “cottages” in the area were so much larger than our own home. We took time for lunch at The Fireside, one of the wonderful restaurants on the island, and traveled to The Quoddy Head Lighthouse to wait for low tide so that we could make our way across the rocks for a visit. We capped off our visit with a hike along the seaside trails near the Roosevelt Cottage and a stop at Herring Cove Beach to walk along the shore and sit in silence before the soothing sea. In all we saw, the thing that we found the most captivating were the breathtaking views of the ocean, whether from the shoreline behind the Roosevelt Cottage, the deck of the Fireside, the hills upon which the old lighthouse stood or that deserted beach where we were all but alone with the waves and the soft gray sand. The sound of the water making its way to the shore, the occasional soaring of a seagull, and the fog moving in like misty spirits answering the mystical call of the ocean spoke to our spirits and calmed the clutter in our minds as we were taken into the embrace of the moment. Slowly and quietly we began to forget ourselves – or rather, we remembered ourselves as we had been and were truly meant to be. It drained the tension from our bodies and drowned out the noise of our busy lives, and we rediscovered that deep hidden spark of youthful romantic love that had drawn the two of us together so many years ago.

There was excitement as well, an adventure that came in the form of a whale watch with Wind Jammers Whale Watching Tours in Eastport. Our host, Butch, took our group out in his lobster boat to view the beautiful minke fin whales that had finally made their way back home to these northern waters for the summer. It was exciting to watch these majestic mammals rise up out of the water for a breath of air, arch their backs and then dive into the depths to explore their ocean home. It was equally amazing to view over 50 harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks near the shore and to see bald eagles perched atop tall trees surveying their lofty domains. It was both a spectacular event and a simple pleasure, something extraordinary and yet so much a part of the everyday life of this faraway place at the edge of the world.

It was really the little things that mattered the most: a pot of tea and a game of Scrabble before retiring for the evening, a walk along a quiet sandy beach to search for sand dollars and sea glass, or a stop along the road to capture photographs of a sunset too beautiful for words. It brought out such a child-like excitement within our hearts, and one might have thought it silly to see two adults holding bits of sand-smoothed glass in their hands as if they were diamonds or standing in awe of the flight of cormorants or the pinks and purples of the setting sun after an ordinary summer day. But these events and objects, sights and sounds were truly treasures to hearts being reawakened to what is most important in life: the power of a moment, the making of a memory, and the rekindling of the spirit of eternal youth.

 We’ve since returned to our everyday life, but we’ve brought with us a little bit of that seaside town, the soul of its population, and the shining shores of Maine. And because of that, it’s hard to imagine how we’ll ever be the same again. What began as an uncertain journey has become a part of who we are. What was meant to be a “getting away from it all” has turned out to be a true coming home. Like the tide that washes onto the shore, only to slip back into the vastness of the ocean, we’ve come to see how our lives are really about returning to the place inside us that is as deep and mysterious as the sea and as timeless and unchanging as the rocky shoreline of a faraway place, that for a short time, we came to call home.

Failing to Grow: One Middle-aged Man's Hike Along the Appalachian Trail

Recently, I made a decision to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I took a two-day hike on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail. It wasn’t on my bucket list or anything, although there were a few times I felt like I was going to “kick the bucket” along the way. It was just one of those things I wanted to try a) to find out what all the excitement was about and b) to see if I could actually make it. Well, I did make it – just barely – and ended up with a few blisters, some sore muscles and a better appreciation for those who actually travel the entire grueling sixth-month journey from Georgia to Maine. In many ways I feel that I failed at the challenge I’d set for myself. While I expected to make a few mistakes along the way, I thought I would have fared better overall. I decided then that I needed to find the meaning within my not-so-successful adventure; otherwise, I’d just be adding insult to injury – literally – to my otherwise mediocre mid-life crisis. What follows are the life lessons – the growth and insights – that have come from my “failure” on the Appalachian Trail.

I was certainly prepared for the rigors of the hike. I was biking 15-20 miles, 5 times a week, to build up my legs and my stamina. I took a few short practice hikes with a smaller pack in order to get used to the pace of hiking. I did all the research on proper trail camping techniques from bear bagging to water treatment. I found a nifty free GPS app for my phone to keep me from getting lost and I bought some new hiking gear – not the best, but enough to get the job done. And so, after planning a reasonable route and filling my pack, I decided finally to just go ahead and do it. But, as with any good adventure, no matter how much I might prepare for every contingency, I knew there would be challenges to face along the way.

I was a little overweight for the hike – and by that, I mean my gear. I like to sleep comfortably and bug-free, so I brought along a tent, a sleeping bag and a pad. My “sleep system” alone weighed about 8 pounds, the result of purchasing less expensive, more multi-use equipment. With my food, clothing and other gear, I was sporting about 27 pounds of weight on my back, awkwardly arranged and bungeed together as best I could. My one really poor choice was not investing in a new pair of hiking shoes. I went instead with the trusty 20-year-old clunky, indestructible hiking boots I had acquired when I was first married. While my ankles felt loved and supported, my feet definitely did not.  

I arrived at my starting point in the early afternoon – the time my ride was available to take me – and began the hike. My chauffer, my lovely bride, was not entirely happy to see me go. She had visions of her husband being eaten by ravenous bear or falling down into a bottomless ravine with no one around to help. Though her lack of confidence in my hiking abilities should have diminished my enthusiasm, I reminded myself that her anxiety came from her love. Knowing that she cared gave me inner strength to see the journey through. With that love to carry me – I had to carry everything else – I began my solo trek on the road toward the trail. At first, the way was smooth and level. This was easy enough, I thought. In no time at all, I arrived at my first shelter, took some time to explore it and then decided that it was way too early in the day to stay there. I set my sights on the next shelter on the trail, a “mere” 10 miles away (It looked so much closer on the map!), and moved on.

Okay, I’ll admit that was poor choice number 2! My lively, 2-3 mile-per-hour sprint began quickly to slow to more of a careful stroll as the trail took a turn upward in elevation over more rocky terrain. It was there I met my first experienced thru-hiker, a man who knew how to pace himself and who was kind enough not to laugh at the arrangement of my gear. He shared some tips and tales from his hike along the trail. He was wise enough to stop at a campsite along the way; I kept on going, determined to make it to the next “official” shelter. However, at 8:30 in the evening, I finally resigned myself to the fact that my goal was unattainable, found a flat spot on the trail and set up my tent for the night. I admit, while it was exciting (It was as close to meeting Bear Grylls as I’ll ever come!), it was still a little unnerving to be out in the middle of the woods all alone at night. On several occasions, I felt I needed to make some noise to scare away whatever real or imagined creatures were scurrying around my thin taffeta sanctuary. I made it through the night, laughing at my pride-induced predicament while convincing myself that my solar phone charger was in no way the equivalent of a night light. Then at 5:00 am, I packed up and began once more to make my way north toward that elusive shelter. Which way was north again? Thank God for that trusty GPS app!

This time when I arrived at the shelter, even though again it was somewhat early, I decided that my blistered feet had had enough and decided to stay put. I set up my tent on the only 7 feet of non-rocky soil I could find, replenished my water supply and prepared a reconstituted meal in my stainless steel cooking pot. My hiking companion from the previous day showed up a little later and graciously refrained from commenting on my lack of stamina and common sense. He ate a meal and moved on. I met a few other hikers who came to the shelter and listened to their stories while sharing my “trapped in the wilderness with blistered feet” story with as much manliness as I could manage. Afterward, I retied to my tent for the night. This time, after some tossing and turning, I got a little bit better sleep.

When morning came the next day, my feet decided they had had enough. I bandaged my blisters, which by now were quite painful, phoned my wife, and arranged for an alternate pickup time and location. I packed up quietly and again set off on the trail, walking briskly once more; well, at least I thought so until a professional hiking tour guide came zipping along. He slowed down to engage in polite hiker conversation, looking back every once in a while, apparently to make sure I was still within range to hear him. Right when I was about to suggest that I might be slowing him down, he decided to move on, bid me farewell, and within a minute was out of site, allowing me to concentrate once again on the pain in my feet and my desire to finish the hike. I knew I needed to get to the meeting place soon (I had already told my wife to leave, thinking I would beat her there – when would I learn my lesson?) and so I pressed on with determination and hope.

The next person to pass me on the trail could have been mistaken for a young, male, shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch model, on his way to his next photo shoot. He smiled as he flew by and I was happy he had no time to stop and snicker at this sweaty, blister-footed man with clunky shoes hobbling along and considering the surprising lack of automated defibrillators out on the Appalachian Trail. It was then I began to hear voices – strange, melodious, echoey voices – in the distance. At first, I feared it was the voice of God telling me my time had come; but to my relief I realized it was an announcer over a loudspeaker at an auto racetrack somewhere nearby. As I walked on, I met a man a little closer to my age who had stopped to take some pictures of the area overlooking that racetrack. He was out for a little exercise and was wisely pacing himself, so I was able to pass him off. I was annoyed at the noise from the racetrack, though now I see it as a good thing because it drowned out my grunts and groans as I pushed myself forward to my final destination.

I continued along the trail, thinking about those fast hikers, that loud racetrack and the other man I had met at the overlook. I realized that on the journey of life, it’s good to have goals and to pursue them with all our strength and determination; but it’s also good to take time to stop and notice the little miracles along the way. I marveled at how quickly the fog rose and dissipated over the land by that overlook, delighted in the display of color and diversity within the woods, and contemplated the wonder of life in everything from the moss growing on the rocks by a dried up stream to a bright orange newt warming itself on a log in the morning sun. I came to see that it’s a blessing to accept who we are and where we are on the journey, even when it seems that the world may be passing us by. I also remembered that although pain and struggle can take its toll, it can also push us to test the limits of our abilities and to reach for more.

After another hour or so of hiking, I saw on my map that I was in the home stretch. It was then that I began to experience my greatest pain, as each jagged rock and twisted root dug mercilessly into those blisters. I stubbed my toes more times than I care to count (Curse you natural leafy ground cover!) and experienced new levels of discomfort in my back and knees. As I came to what I thought was the last descent, suddenly ahead of me was one last hill. At that point, my strength began to falter and my discouragement mounted. But I knew my wife was waiting and decided to summon that last once of energy and press on until at last I saw the road near the place we were to meet. With a phone call or two and some quick coordination, we finally found each other

At last the journey had come to an end. We packed up my gear and headed for home. As we were driving, I came to see how much of a sacrifice this short trip had been for my wife – not only in the driving she had done, but in the worry as well. I’m sure she had wondered if the whole thing had been worth it; I know I had certainly pondered that myself. But, in the end, I was glad I’d gone and learned from my mistakes, and pleased that this intense little undertaking had led me to a new appreciation of my own frailty and a new awareness that it really is okay to be human. No matter what blunders I’d made along the way, I know that I’d grown because of them.

As we pulled into our driveway, I was happy to be home, happier to see my children and perhaps happiest to be able to take a shower! Later, I soaked my aching feet, finished off some leftover trail mix and collapsed on the family room couch. By this point I was just too tired to try to come up with a convincing story as to why I had ended my expedition a little earlier than expected. I also knew that any sense of failure I was feeling was giving way to a new determination to accept my limitations with humor and to celebrate my strengths with joy. No matter what I went through, I could now say that I had traveled on the Appalachian Trail and was all the better for it. I knew that my next trip would be a much more rewarding experience, simply because I’d make the changes necessary to have it turn out that way (Sorry, old hiking boots – you’re out!).

Life is about growing, and the truth is, sometimes we need to fail in order to grow. Failure is transformed into grace when we understand how we can use it to become better people, people who learn from mistakes and people who can see ourselves as we really are: struggling but strong, dependent yet determined, curious and courageous! I hope these few simple life lessons will inspire you to strike out on some new unknown trail to find out just what you can do, who you need to rely on and where in your life you’re heading – and I hope you can do it all with a humorous and happy heart!