Wednesday, June 22, 2016

what's it like to lose your brother?

So, I did something hard yesterday--I visited the Pea Ridge Battlefield.

That may not sound hard to you, but for me it made my heart ache. Not just for the soldiers who fought and died on those grounds, though that in itself was enough to make my heart hurt.

No, it was hard for a whole other reason.
You see, my brother was a Civil War scholar. He studied the Civil War--reading books, taking part in reenactments, watching movies--basically anything he could get his hands on. I remember going to the Pea Ridge Battlefield when we were little. I remember going to reenactments, where Michael was adamant that his hardtack be authentic, where his haversack was hand-sewn, and where everyone was thrilled when someone mashed a finger in the cannon because that meant they could have real blood on their bandages.

Yeah, I know. Craziness.

I'm in Bentonville right now, wrapping up the last of my 3 weeks of teacher training. I spent the first 2 weeks in Pop & Mom's trailer, but this week I'm going all out and staying in our tent. And let met tell you, northwest Arkansas is hot right now. As a result, I'm taking some time after class gets out to go to antique stores in the area--I'm big on searching for treasures amidst all the junk! Yesterday, though, after I picked up 6 skeins of yarn for $4, I decided to do something else before I headed back to the tent. I decided to take my notebook and go sit at the battlefield and write.

The theory was, sitting at a battlefield while I wrote would help my mind operate in a different way. I'm working on The Darkness: Book 2 of the Sons of Tundyel. It's a sequel to The Prophecy, and this entire book is based around a battle with the Shadows and the Darkness.

As is common in my life, though, what sounded good in theory isn't what happened.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was overwhelmed. That wasn't something I had expected. I took my notebook and pen and found a place to sit along the edge of the battlefield, at the treeline next to a split log fence. I pulled out my notebook, intent on shaking off the heaviness that was weighing down on me. I even opened my notebook and put my pen on the paper.

But I couldn't write.

My mind couldn't focus on what I wanted to write. Instead, I had a lump in my throat and couldn't get my mind off of my brother.

I could see him--us--little, visiting that battlefield. I could see him in his reenactment uniform, proud to be part of the unsullied Gray.

And I flipped my notebook open to the last page, one I'm pretty sure I won't get to with my story because I think there are 450 pages in this notebook.

And I poured my heart out onto the paper.

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's like having a piece of your soul cut out,
     only to have people say, "That's alright--you'll live without it."
Sometimes it's like your lungs forget how to breathe,
     or maybe it's just that they don't want to remember.
It's having people ask, "How are your parents?
     This must be really hard on them," and wanting to scream,
     "They aren't alone--I lost someone, too!
Someone who was part of the definition of what it meant to be me:
     Oldest daughter, but middle child; 'Little Mike' at school.
Someone who taught me to throw a punch--and take one,
     but who gave his little sister a valentine with the words
     'Sometimes I may pick on you (just a little)
But you should know I still love you.'"

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's being thrust into the role of oldest child
     with no earthly idea of how you're supposed to fill those shoes.
It's constantly living in a shadow others can't see,
     but one that's so real you can feel it in your bones.
It's trying to decide if introductions are worth it
     because people always ask, "How many siblings do you have?"
     and the debate on how to answer isn't worth the effort:
"Do I say two? Because then they'll ask what they do
     and the pity that follows 'He was killed in Iraq' is too much.
Or do I say one, and lie to make things easier?
     Not easier on myself, because I'll be racked with guilt,
     but easier on the person who didn't know where that question leads.
And nobody bargains for the painful silence."


~by Mandy
21 June 2016
at Pea Ridge Battlefield

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He remembers your vows...

"I still remember the way you clung to Me in your youth;
in the early days of our union.
Like a young bride, you loved the vows you made."
~Jeremiah 2:2b

Newlyweds. Everything they find out about each other is exciting and new. They can even be annoying with all the crazy things they point out about each other, the things that would drive any sane person up the wall but that are somehow "so cute" in the early days. They want nothing more than being together--the rest of the world could fade away and they wouldn't mind. In fact, they would just about prefer it if that would happen. All they need is their love for each other.
And then they start spending less time focusing on that love. Life starts getting in the way--the kids, the jobs, the money issues, the dreams they wanted to pursue but aren't realistic now--and, though it happens without conscious thought, they drift apart. It's not that the relationship becomes unimportant--it's just less important.

Our relationship with God often works the same way. When we first get a glimpse of His love for us, it is all consuming. We are desperate for Him; His extravagant love is all that matters. We want nothing more than to spend time with Him, reveling in His glory and grace. Sometimes, we even get so caught up in our amazement that the rest of the world sees us as crazy.

And then, slowly, life gets in the way. We start spending less time with Him. Everything that seemed so amazing--His love, grace, mercy, and power--start to seem commonplace. It's not necessarily a conscious thought, but the busy-ness of life sneaks in and our relationship with God just starts to become less important. We abandon the Love of our youth.

It's easy to fall into a rut with your walk with Christ. It's easy to let the things of this crazy world get in the way of trying to spend time with God. In just the same way that you have to make a conscious decision to make your marriage a priority if you want it to flourish, you have to make a conscious decision to make your relationship with God a priority. Sure, both relationships will be there if you just drift through.

But do you want a marriage where you are just drifting through, or do you want one like this?
One where you still hold hands on a walk, 35 years after you said "I do."

We're told that we should have a regular "date night" when we're married. I want to challenge all of us to take that same idea and apply it to our walk with God. Set aside a time when you can just be with God. Time you protect; time when you step away from the demands of your everyday life and simply spend time getting to know your First Love again.

He's waiting, remembering the vows you made.

Friday, June 17, 2016

but God...

"But Mom..."

How many time have you either said or heard those words? They're usually only partially decipherable, stretched out and masked with a whine. Typically, they come about because the Mom in question didn't give the speaker what he or she wanted, holding her ground about something. If we're honest, it's usually something Mom's right about--though when you're the one asking, that's hard to see and admit.

How often do our prayers sound like that? How often do we plead with God to just do what we want Him to do? We may not use the words, but I wonder if God hears our prayers sometimes start off with "But God..." poured out in a whine?

Of course, the words probably sound different. We tend to fill our prayers with pretty words, as if our choice of words will be the deciding factor in whether or not we talk God into answering our prayers the way we want Him to.

Do you think that sometimes we just sound like little kids trying to use big words?

What if we changed our "But God..." statements?

What if, instead of thinking that God should be doing what we want Him to do, we remember where we would be... but God.

We were lost, buried in our sins.
We were worthless, incapable of being good enough on our own.
We were sinners, every one of us.

"But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us,
united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life--
even though we were buried under mountains of sin--
and saved us by His grace."
~Ephesians 2:4&5

We were lifeless...but God.
We were buried...but God.
We were worthless...but God.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

the mundane or the unknown?

I'm praying one of the hardest prayers for a control freak like me to pray. I say praying, because it's not a “one and done” kind of prayer. It's one of those prayers that I'll have to repeat time and time again—not because I think I need to repeat it for God's sake, but because it will take repetition to get it through my own thick skull and heavily guarded heart.

God, let my pride take a backseat to Your purpose.

Since I was little, I've wanted God to use me. I listened to missionaries talk about their time in exotic countries; I worked VBS on a regular basis; I went on mission trips with the KS-NE Acteens to Wyoming and Tennessee. I dreamed of being the one in the field, of living in a grass hut somewhere far away, of having a Story (with a capital S) and doing the Hard Things. I wanted--still want--the adventures.

The thing is, not everyone does the big things. Sometimes, the hard thing is to be right here in the middle of your own story (lowercase s). The hard thing is to follow God into the mundane instead of into the unknown. The hard thing is to be okay with not having a big story. The hard thing is to keep following God when you can't see Him leading you anywhere—and you feel stuck where He has you right now.

So for now, I'm going to take a deep breath. I'm going to keep praying my prayer—Let my pride take a backseat to Your purposeso that one of these days it will sink in. I'm going to keep doing the hard thing of simply being right here, in the middle of my ordinary life, unless God tells me to do something different.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

dear younger me...a contest

I've gotten the opportunity to listen to just Christian music every day while I've been in Bentonville, and it has been wonderful. It may sound odd, but I've found that I've been more optimistic (not all the time—I'm human), less stressed, and more settled. Okay, I know I'm sounding a little bit like I'm trying to sell snake oil...but there's a purpose to my story.

The station I've been listening to is holding a contest right now called “Dear Younger Me,” based on the song with the same name. The idea is to write a letter to yourself, and the winner of their contest gets concert tickets to a show at the AMP in July.

I've decided to hold my own contest. In the comments, submit your own letter to your younger self. It can be written out in the comment, it can be a link, or you can send me an email—it's entirely up to you. I'll leave the contest open through the weekend. Then, the winner will get to pick a couple of my books for free.

I'm going to post my own letter to get you started:

Dear Younger Me,

You think you have life all planned out. You think you have everything all together—and that's just how you like it. Oh my goodness, you have no idea what's coming. There's something you need to learn: life doesn't go according to plan. You don't get to have all the answers, as hard as that is for you to accept. You are getting ready to run into more dead ends and detours in life than you ever would have thought imaginable.

I know you want to have a road map. I know you want to be able to see God's plan laid out before you, all the “i”s dotted and the “t”s crossed neatly. The thing is, God doesn't work like that. His plans aren't your plans, and there's no way for you to even begin to understand His mind.

Your life is about to veer so far off course that you'll think it will never get back on track. And if you're only considering the track you're on right now, I guess you're right. Life will never be “normal,” at least not with your current definition of normal. But you know what? Life will keep going.

There are so many things I want to tell you, to prepare you for, so you aren't knocked off your feet so much. The thing is, if I told you everything right now you would think there would be no way you could handle it.

And on your own, you won't be able to handle it.

You need to learn to let go of control. Because, you see, you aren't really in control to begin with. Your life is in the palm of His hand—and like His hands, your life will be scarred and pierced. The suffering will be agonizing, so much so that at times you'll think you can't take another breath.

Let go. You aren't holding onto Him; He's holding you. He doesn't need your strength. You don't have to be strong for everyone all the time.

He's got you, and He'll get you through.

An Older, Slightly Broken (and more humble) Me

Monday, June 13, 2016

are you alive or dead?

I didn't want to write this blog post.

Well, that's not entirely true. At first when I read the verse, I knew it needed to be a post. But when I started thinking about why it needed to be a post, I didn't want to write it anymore. It hit a little too close to home—honestly, it stepped on my toes and I just didn't want to have to admit it.

I started reading Revelation again. I've tried it before, and it's just plain hard to muddle through. There's so much stuffed in that book, and a lot of it goes over my head or seems to be just out of my grasp. There's this crazy thing that happens when you read the Scriptures, though. Even the stuff that's so dense that you just can't understand has some little nugget hidden in there that can hit you in the gut.

Can you tell I'm procrastinating? I really don't want to have to write this. I even changed what I was writing in my notebook and started writing my thoughts as a prayer instead. Because, you know, from time to time I actually get to put my thoughts into a prayer instead, and then I don't have to post them out there for everybody to see.

But even while I was writing it out as a prayer, I knew I had to write it.

When I started this blog, the whole plan was to be truthful and transparent. If I'm going to do that, it means being willing to put out the stuff that steps on my toes, too.

So, here's the verse I read:
I know the things you do—you've claimed a reputation of life, but you are actually dead.
Wake up from your deathsleep, and strengthen what remains
of the life you have been given that is in danger of death.
I have judged your deeds as far from complete in the sight of My God.”
~Revelation 3:1b&2

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.

I write these things on the blog—words meant to encourage or to inspire or to just try to make some sense out of life—and I feel like a hypocrite.

I've spent a lot of time “waiting for my life to start.” There have been more prayers and tears than I can count that have poured out while I've tried to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. It's always focused on something that's not now, something still to come.

It's almost like I'm ignoring the life that I'm in the middle of right now, so that I can figure out some elusive dream for the future.

I don't want to do that. I don't want to waste the life I've been given. I want to leave each moment for God, not just keep looking to the future and trying to figure out what I'm going to do instead of what I'm doing now.

Whatever God's purpose for my life, I want to fulfill it. And I don't want to just be focused on the idea of doing something “big.” I want God to be able to look at my life and say that I have completed the work He has for me.

God, please wake me up from my deathsleep. Ignite Your passion in my life so that I see every moment as what You have for me to do, not just some abstract future.

God, I want to be “shamelessly committed” to You. (Revelation 3:19)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

alone in suffering?

I don't know about you, but for me suffering makes me draw away from everyone and retreat into myself. I've spent a lot of years trying to “be strong” for those around me, and as a result I tend to try to deal with heartache on my own.

Or more accurately, I don't deal with it—but I do it on my own.

When it comes to dealing with heartache and suffering, we have the ultimate example to follow: Jesus.

As the oldest son of a carpenter, I doubt anyone would say Jesus was weak. And even when He knew the cross was coming, He didn't walk away. His heartache was so intense that night in the garden that He sweat drops of blood. No matter what I've faced, it's never been that intense.

Jesus stood on “trial” where He was mocked and beaten. The flesh on His back would have been ripped apart by the whip, the thorns on the “crown” shoved into His scalp and forehead. Through all of it—the nails being driven through His hands and feet, the excruciating pain of pushing His weight up with His pierced feet in order to draw each breath, then carrying all that weight on His torn hands to relieve His feet—He could have simply stepped down from the cross.

The One who walked on the water and commanded the storm to be still and fed thousands from 2 fish and 5 little loaves of bread didn't have to hand on that cross with the weight of my sins—your sins—on His shoulders. Yet He chose to face that suffering.

No matter what I'll face in the future, it can never be that agonizing.

Through all of it, though, Jesus didn't just face it on His own. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that He cried out to the only One who could save Him:

“When Jesus was on the earth,
a man of flesh and blood,
He offered up prayers and pleas,
groans and tears
to the One who could save Him from death.”

Now, you and I both know what happened after Jesus called out to God—He took His last breath and died on the cross.

But here's what I found pretty remarkable. The end of that verse goes on to say, “He was heard because He approached God with reverence.”

He was heard.

As He hung on the cross, asking God why He had been forsaken, forgotten, left--
He was heard.

In the middle of your suffering, when you cry out to God with tears and groans and feel alone and abandoned--
You are heard.

Verses 8 & 9 go on to say,
“Although He was a Son, Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered. And once He was perfected through that suffering He became the way of eternal salvation for all those who hear and follow Him.”

As hard as it is, there's something to be learned from suffering—and if you're like me, maybe it's something you're too hard-headed to learn any other way. Jesus suffered because through His suffering He was being used for something glorious. Through your tears and pain, perhaps God is preparing you for something far greater.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

how do we know what's wrong?

“At our church, we believe...”
“Our stance on xyz is...”
You should do this, but never do that.”
“A good Christian would never...”
“You can't be a Christian and vote for...”

I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of hearing things that start like that. It seems those kinds of comments are especially prevalent right now, pouring in from both sides of very issue. Every time you turn around, somebody new is weighing in on the issues. We're bombarded by people telling us what our stance should be, what we should be offended by, and how we're being offensive to other people.

Sometimes, it's enough to make me want to close out the world.

If you've ever been around me, you've very likely heard me say that I don't like people. While that's not exactly true (I just don't like incompetence and ignorance), it is true that sometimes I wouldn't mind becoming a bit of a hermit.

As followers of Christ, there are some things that we have to take a stance on. And in the world we are living in today, more and more that puts us making a stand against society.

It's wrong to:
~hate your brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 2:9)
~live in habitual sin (1 John 3:4-6)

These things are sins:
~sex outside of Biblical marriage
not to mention a whole list of other things that the world (and even some “churches” now) tell us “really aren't that bad” (see Galatians 5:19-21 for a starting point).

Sometimes it's okay to close out all the voices that are yelling at you and telling you how and what to believe. Ignore all the stuff being spewed from both sides and go back to the source.

“The word of God, you see, is alive and moving; sharper than a double-edged sword;
piercing the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow;
able to judge the thoughts and will of the heart.
No creature can hide from God: God sees all.
Everyone and everything is exposed, opened for His inspection;
and He's the One we will have to explain ourselves to.”
~Hebrews 4:12 & 13

It doesn't matter what stance the people around you are telling you to take. It doesn't matter if the truth offends people. We have one measuring stick for right and wrong, and that's God word. It's not the opinion of the newest bestselling Christian self-help author, or the biggest megachurch preacher, or your best friend, or your conscience.

None of those are infallible.

If you have questions about where you should stand on an issue, by all means—ask a believer you trust for an opinion. Don't just stop there, though, because an opinion is all that is. We're told to test everything, to see if it measures up against what God has told us, and the only way to do that is to dive into the Scriptures.

That's not always an easy thing to do. Some of the writers are hard to understand at times (Peter even said that about Paul—look at 2 Peter 3:15 & 16). The stories aren't always G-rated (explore the Old Testament if you don't believe me, starting with Judges and 1 & 2 Kings), and the heroes are far from perfect more often than not (David comes to mind...). Sometimes it's hard to pull everything together in your mind.

But the good thing is, w aren't left to our own devices. We have the power and knowledge of God behind us, we have the mercy of the cross before us, we have the fellowship of Jesus beside us, and we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us.

Hebrews 4 goes on to say in verses 14-16:
“Since we have a great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God
who has passed through the heavens from death into new life with God,
let us hold tightly to our faith. For Jesus is not some high priest
who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws.
He has already been tested in every way that we are tested;
but He emerged victorious, without failing God.
So let us step boldly to the throne of grace,
where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most.”

So when you need answers, don't turn to the world. Don't even turn exclusively to preachers and teachers. Instead, go to God on His throne and ask Him for His grace to understand His word.

Parents, step up

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