On God’s Timing (and Rejection Letters)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will

reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Why does it always seem like the final hours of a long trip last forever when all you can think about is your comfortable bed? My husband and I had just spent a recent weekend with our son and his family so the two of them could work on car repairs; their family van was kaput primarily because of a timing belt.

Clearly life and car repairs mirror each other often—timing is everything.

Now, I have no idea what a timing belt does but I’ve heard my husband moan more than once about the challenge they represent when something is off. I realize we are beyond fortunate that he can repair our vehicles (and our kids’) but sometimes the task is easier than it sounds.

As our tires lapped up the miles in the dark, I began a conversation that would keep Mr. Mechanic occupied while he drove. It was a simple question. “So honey, how’d that all work out with Aaron’s van? Obviously you guys got it running…..”

Thus began an explanation in my husband’s usual animated style, making a long story longer. Smile. I pretended to listen to his response; all I know is he talked pretty much nonstop for at least 30 minutes about pulleys and rotator thingys and notches and tension belts and… Well, he lost me at “top dead center” and “serpentine.” My innocent question prompted way more information than I bargained for.

You get the picture. In fact, I was so impressed with his auto repair recitation, I actually pressed the recorder app on my phone to document the conversation. Feigning attention, I have to confess I had my own running dialogue inside my head. “How does he remember this stuff? He can’t remember six things on a grocery list once he’s gets to the store.”

Then my thoughts turned to timing of a different kind.

I was thinking about writing in particular and the dream or desire of many people to be well known for their words. Since I’m currently working on a book, this is a frequent thought of mine. Imagining my name of the cover of a book, stopping shoppers as they pass by in the bookstore. Oh, the power. The fame. The glory.

Then there’s the other voice in my head, God’s voice via the Apostle Paul, reminding me that all good things take time, not just recognition for a well-written book.

Sometimes when you’re doing good, it may be awhile before people notice. Actually, you can count on it. Whether that ‘good’ is everything from sharing what God’s given you via voice or writing, serving others, teaching and investing in your kids or grandkids. The list is a long one of good and noble endeavors.

There’s no magic formula to “success” and if success is what we’re after, we will come up empty. If there’s to be any recognition for our accomplishments at all, they manifest only when we show up and do the next right thing, whatever it is.

And showing up, whether it’s for an audience of 1 or 10 or 100, is what we are called to do with the gifts we have. The holy spirit reminds me often, “what you have came from God to begin with. Just offer it back to Him with an open hand.

/ / / /

As a writer, I haven’t had a lot of rejection letters (yet) in the short time I’ve been serious about my work. Okay, I’ve had three. I know those “Dear Jody” letters are an expected part of the publishing process, but it doesn’t make it any easier. When I feel a little discouraged, I’m reminded of my hero and inspiration, author Laura Ingalls Wilder who published her first “Little House” book at 65. Sixty-five. I imagine she had a few rejection letters along the way. Talk about perseverance. She then went on to write 7 more books. Seven.

I read a comment recently by a Christian writer who said it took her eight faithful years of writing and blogging until the time was right for her first book to be born. This perspective encouraged me; in fact, she strongly urged new writers to keep a file of their rejection letters as a way to later recall God’s faithfulness when the fruit of their work showed up. I liked that idea; sort of like a paper trail, but the best kind. I’ve got my three.

/ / / / /

Positive results are always about timing—the message I have to share will resonate and reach people when God makes the way for them to hear. There’s preparation that needs to take place first, not only in my life in the process, but in the lives of whoever will read the message. And in the publishing business especially, it is often the simple fact of the words falling on someone’s desktop or laptop, when your gift meets the need and the timing is just right.

An old French proverb came to mind last week when I thought about how we build our lives and our work and our words.

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“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.”

Little by little, the bird builds its nest. (from the French)

One piece of straw at a time, some yarn or spent leaves, (eraser dust? wadded up paper?) moss or downy feathers—they’re all part of the perfect environment for something to be born, all in God’s perfect time.

Keep on, my friends, whether you’re writing or painting or singing. Keep plowing, investing, pursuing….for in due season you will reap if you faint not.

Christmas in July

I’ve been very wrapped up with revisions on the book I’m writing, so the final draft will be ready for interior design work by the end of the month. It has been hard to find extra brain space for any new thoughts, so I’ll share something I’ve written that is an outtake from the book. May I? Thank you.

———

Is there Such a Thing as Too Much Christmas?

(from the Introduction to Living the Season Well-Helping Your Family Reclaim Christmas)

After a holiday visit to our son’s home celebrating with his wonderful family of seven, my soul stirred with some second thoughts about the Christmas we had just partaken in.

Let me be clear: there was laughter and joy (involving marshmallow pop guns, mostly), feasting, viewing favorite movies, and memorable moments with my grandkids. But the four-day visit left me somewhat shell-shocked.  My body and brain were on overload and my grandkids, ages 5-14, seemed overwhelmed as well.

“What are we doing today, Nana?” sounded once or twice and I wondered at their questions.  Inside I responded, “I’m worn out from doing, can’t we spend some time just being?”

After receiving an avalanche of gifts from relatives near and far, including a new television set from their doting Grandpa, the childrens’ letdown was rather keen. Each one had stashed their bounty, pulling out a new gift from time to time.  But I noticed their engagement was with their older possessions mostly, the tried and true ones.

While it was never voiced out loud, the five-year-old’s eyes seemed to ask, “Is that all there is?” when it had been only 24 hours since Christmas morning. I think his busy/happy meter was in overdrive.

Maybe you can relate.

People often say, “Christmas isn’t supposed to be like this” (whatever your “this” is), or “Christmas is too commercialized,” and we nod our heads in agreement. But how does one counter that? Is there a way to reorient our culture’s thinking? Our own? I pondered these questions during the three hour drive home, formulating a response. My husband and I unloaded the car and rolled the suitcases inside. Before I was unpacked I went straight to my desk and scribbled out fifteen pages of notes. That’s when “Living the Season Well” was born.

What do I mean by “living well”? How about less holiday stress and more joy? Simplifying and savoring the season instead of rush, rush, rush to the next thing? While it’s true that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” as my 7-year-old grandson has often told me, the season is more than just one day.  Maybe there’s a way to widen our worship into all the holy days, from the fourth Sunday before Christmas celebrating Advent (‘to come’ or ‘arrival’), all the way through Epiphany (‘to manifest’ or ‘show forth’) on January 6th.

Instead of concentrating our energy on all the presents, a look at the liturgical practices of the church year can help make room for God’s presence. Let’s dust off those traditions and get started.

_ _ _ _ _

I would so appreciate your prayers as I get towards the finish line of sending this off to become a real book. Thank you!

You can read more about Living the Season Well here.

Why Your Story Matters

Some friends and I were having lunch the other day, discussing various challenges to find the time to write—caring for children, caring for our homes, talking with spouses, all manner of delights and duties. Then there was the other ‘D’—distractions.

In between bites of fish and chips, I lamented the ease with which I am sucked into all sorts of social media vortexes. That particular morning it was Instagram—and decried the slippery decline away from what I actually set out to do—write an original thought or two, unhindered by all those other voices.

My friend Holly told us about what she called a ‘download’ earlier that week straight from God’s heart to hers—a message that everyone’s story matters, especially the stories of those who feel they have no voice. (She’s drafting a six-week workshop on just that very thing—such a needed message.) Each one of us chimed in with our individual roadblocks to writing and the ways we fall into listening to all the other noisy gongs out there. Then we circled back to the truth–we each have a story to tell that is uniquely our own. Adoptive mom, recovered trauma victim, heart transplant survivor, grandparent and over 60 book author….a vastly diverse group.

When I sat with our iced tea and lunchtime conversation running through my head the next morning, I heard the Holy Spirit remind me what we writers do: tell the world what we know from where we are in our own way. But the white noise of other voices—actual flesh & blood ones, or virtual via Facebook, Instagram or other writers—can drown out the voice of our Shepherd Jesus.

Then I thought of the words about Jesus in John 10:3, “…and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls out his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And verse 4 “…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

I find myself often battling not only the subtle shouts of other people’s words but the shoulds. “I should write about this,” “I should sound like this,” and so on.  But that’s a way of being pushed, not led.

Jesus leads us out, the enemy of our soul prods and pokes and pushes. I want my words to take me where God leads. I don’t want to make up content or manufacture an idea—I have all I need with the life I live to write from what I already have. My life experience is different from your life experience and the way I flesh out my walk with God may be an encouragement to you. I want to write about that.

Another thing about sheep (face it, baaaaa…) sheep are confined; they know their boundaries—and they only go somewhere else when the Shepherd moves them. I often want to be in a different pasture than my own, different circumstances, a better place. But the problem with looking over fences at other peoples’ ‘property’, real or imagined, is I’m left dissatisfied and there it is again, distracted, from the words God has given me to share.

There is only one voice, one vision and one view from where I stand. That’s all I can tell you about. As I stay where I am, nibbling on this ‘grass’ from God, I want to hear Him the way Holly did that day, to get a regular ‘download’ of ideas and words to share. And I remember I can.

When we belong to God we can all hear from Him if we are open to listening. I want to keep tuning into His voice.

What about you?

*~*~*~

My lunchmates and I are part of an online and in real life group called Glory Writers. Find out more about joining us in our Facebook group here. 

A Prayer for America

I wrote this poem the week of the Inauguration and it appeared on my poetry blog ‘another facet’. The words seem fitting again, in this week that we are reminded of our freedom and how we need to look up to our Creator for His help alone.

~~~~~

I wish I could collect
the light, landing its shadows
on this page as it creeps
ever brighter through the gray.
Pour it out to wash my heart,
salve the wound of this
present heaviness, the sighs
that never end.Hold it lightly aloft, praying
no sharp wind or
quiet, steady breeze
snuff it out, for we
need it so.

Father, carry us,
ferry us through storms,
silent and proud as we
shine hope in the right
direction–people-ward
up ward.

Send us, spread us
like the daily sure rising
of your sun, that moves ever
on into the distant dark.

——
In this holiday week as we celebrate the country’s independence it seems that all manner of circumstances would give us reason to despair. I’m choosing more often than not to turn off the news and turn to prayer over my kitchen sink instead.
May God Bless America.

Everyone Needs Some REST

I wish I could paint a lovelier picture than the one I’m about to share. I’d rather talk about the bright side of summer, the pool party we’re going to tomorrow or my grandkids’ play recital, but the truth is, summer has a dark side, too.

/////

Here I am propped on the couch with an ice pack on my knee, resting as my doctor suggested after a straining injury. Volume 5 of Classical Favorites CD is playing in the background; I just finished humming along to a selection from Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets.’ Windchimes on my deck message me along the afternoon breezes and birdsong floats through the window.

While I sit thusly reclined, I also have time to read my mail. There’s a brochure from a non-profit we have supported in the past; they say they miss me. After I read their stories, I realize I miss them, too and my eyes well up with tears.

The letter and brochure in my hand are from REST Ministries—Real Escape from the Sex Trade—an outreach in the greater Seattle area where I live. REST is a partnership between law enforcement and other agencies that rescues women caught in the sex slave industry. Reading about the work they’re doing leaves me an emotional wreck.

The program director’s letter has this quote from a recent resident, “When I called the REST Hotline, my whole life changed. REST has become my family, giving me the support I never had. This place has saved my life, and I didn’t think I could be anything but a prostitute before I met REST. Thank you.”

Women trapped in the sex trafficking industry don’t have the luxury of time to sit and listen to music they love while reclining on a comfortable couch with summer breezes blowing in through their living room windows.

No, they do not.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen our biggest increase in requests for help since REST began in 2009. Over 400 new individuals reached out to REST for help. And in just over six months over 1350 nights of safe shelter were offered.

The brochure tells the story of Alaina. Recruited by a pimp at the age of 16 after running away from home, she was exploited through strip clubs and on the streets until meeting a team from REST.

“I am so thankful that REST came into my life. The help I received impacted me in powerful ways that I didn’t fully realize until much later. Now I want to do the same for other girls who are trapped like I was.”

Here are some of the outcomes REST ministries shared via this brochure in my hand:

  • 3,142 nights of Rest provided
  • Approximately every four days someone new experienced an interruption from commercial sexual exploitation
  • 231 found community through the emergency shelter, the REST house and other services
  • Clients achieved various goals including earning their GED, finding housing, getting a driver’s license & more

REST’s continuum of care goes from “Prevention to Intervention to Restoration.” Their current phase is moving from an emergency center to housing, for which they are asking funds. Hence the Director’s letter; they need money for housing and shelter. For rooms with couches and soft pillows and open windows…and maybe a windchime to hang near the window.

So I consider the disparity of my rich, full life and the darkness that exists in the bright middle of a June day because women are still trapped and enslaved, sold for sex and degraded because of greed. It breaks my heart as it does our Lord’s.

So–I take this broken heart feeling, get up off the couch and head down the hallway. I have some extra funds from an unexpected source—sitting in my dresser drawer for who knows what?

I think I know who.

I think I know what.

I think about now.

~~~~~

More information about the work of REST ministries is here. Even $10 a month can help. Or find a non-profit in your area that is doing the same good work and pray about how you might support them.

 

 

 

Why Writing a Book is Like Building a House

Hi friends~ you know I’m writing a book, yes? Oh, you didn’t? Well~

The practical and helpful volume-to-come is titled “Living the Season Well-Engaging Your Family in All of Christmas.” The heart of Living the Season Well is helping parents and grandparents find ways to slow down and simplify Christmas, embracing not just one single day of presents, but making room for God’s presence. In LTSW I share from my own Evangelical perspective what I’ve learned about church year traditions and observances, providing ways for families to adopt or adapt the ideas. My own experience of becoming acquainted with liturgy of the church year has helped re-focus my approach to the season of Christmas–that is the message I have to share.

I began my book-writing process a few days after Christmas last year and am looking to launch in October of this year.

Besides having a book that is ‘under construction’, we have a window project that began last year right after Thanksgiving, which is also in process. In fact, we have ladders placed as a permanent fixture in front of our house, waiting for the day when my husband can get back up and finish the installation of new siding. In the meantime I’m grateful for the cover of our birch trees that are filling in with their leaves, hiding a view of our construction zone from the street.20170515_124619

We have had another project under construction for five years–the roof on our back deck. But life keeps getting in the way, in challenging in cheerful ways. All of this got me to thinking about the process of writing a book and how it might compare to building a house. I’m not a contractor, but I think the comparison fits.

A few months back I wrote about Seven Things I’ve Learned About Writing a Book. Here are seven more discoveries–how writing a book is (sort of)like building a house:

Step 1–PLANS–the blueprint

First there is an idea, a revelation, if you will.

You draw (or write it) down–penscratching on a napkin back or use pencil scribbles in a web of words

The message is refined. You’re ready to begin.

Step 2–FOUNDATION–the bedrock 

Are you sure there’s a need for this book?

Research, gather facts, be willing to learn

Lay the groundwork in your mind of what you’re going to ‘build’

Step 3–FRAMING (2×4’s providing structure)

This is the skeleton, a place to hang your words

Write an outline, use bullet points,

Number headings and a. b.c…..; use the whole alphabet if needed

Step 4–BUILDING (the walls, sheetrock, plumbing, electrical)

Write, write, write.

Write some more. Pound that keyboard, use that eraser.

Flesh out the picture you have in your head

Step 5–APPLIANCES/FIXTURES (the finishing touches)

Revise, revise, revise.

That’s all. Things are looking much prettier.

See all that shiny-ness? (think stainless steel)

Step 6-FINISH (painting, decorating)

Choose a book cover

Write the Acknowledgments

Send your words to a designer

Hold your breath and pray

Step 7-HERE’S THE KEYS! (your house is ready)

Introduce your book to the world and invite people to come and see what you saw.

Take lots of pictures of your book warming party

Thank the crew who helped you with the project

(and buy new pencils; you never know when another idea may strike!)

*~*~*~

Will you join me on my writing journey? I’m gathering a book launch tribe of 75 folks and would love to have your help, especially if  you’re on social media often. The book campaign begins August 15th. Email me at jodyo70(at)gmail dot com if you’d like to take part and I’ll send you the schedule and more info. I’d be ever so grateful. (Or leave a note here in the Comments).

Thank you!

 

 

 

How to Live Hungry

I was going to subtitle this, “Will Jesus Still Love me if I Don’t Have ‘Quiet Time?” ‘cause I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve studied Psalm 119—I know God’s word is the compass for my life, that I can’t live without it.

But sometimes life goes in a different direction.

I remember the days when I was able to sit outside on my deck for an hour at a stretch, maybe three times a week, and just listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. I wrote and wrote and wrote what I heard in those whispers on the wind to me.

I recall sweet moments at my desk reading Scripture or perusing a favorite devotional—Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon. The words seemed to light up the page, resonating deep in my spirit.  Time after time there would be an ‘aha’ moment when I sensed God’s presence and His pleasure as I sat to soak myself in the Word.

But I wonder about those folks like myself who find themselves in a season where quiet time is pretty much non-existent. I’m writing a book, shepherding a small group of like-minded writer folks, editing for others and caring for my kids via phone calls and texts that come all hours of the day. I need to be interruptable for that; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what about this question—is there really a divide between sacred and secular? A time that is not God’s (if we belong to Him)? Is He more pleased with me because I take time for studying the word or reading a devotion? Or is He okay (because He knows this season of my life) if I lean into Him when I can, stay hungry for His presence in all the hours of my day?

My son has a new job in a Frito-Lay warehouse (yay for all-you-can-eat Doritos) and he works 60 hour weeks these days. Even on a regular day (i.e. 8 hours) his moments of alone time or quiet time vanish as he communicates with his wife or nurtures his five children. His thirst is there for God’s word—he has a seminary degree, steeped in Scripture inside and out–but the chances to drink are few and far between.

Or what about my niece’s husband, new dad of two, who works nights, sleeps days and hugs his wife and babies in between? Where or how would he, could he, find moments to spend with Jesus? Would it be before or after worship practice, where he plays drums and/or guitar?

Or what about the baristas at Starbuck’s who get up at oh dark thirty to make sure our coffee-fueled world goes on? There are plenty of Jesus-loving espresso-making folks out there—how do they manage to fit in time with God?

And is God worried about that? Really?

Here’s what Oswald himself had to say about “quiet time”; May 12th ‘My Utmost for His Highest.’

“Your god may be your little Christian habit— the habit of prayer or Bible reading at certain times of your day. Watch how your Father will upset your schedule if you begin to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes. We say, “I can’t do that right now; this is my time alone with God.” No, this is your time alone with your habit. There is a quality that is still lacking in you. Identify your shortcoming and then look for opportunities to work into your life that missing quality.

Love means that there are no visible habits— that your habits are so immersed in the Lord that you practice them without realizing it. If you are consciously aware of your own holiness, you place limitations on yourself from doing certain things— things God is not restricting you from at all. This means there is a missing quality that needs to be added to your life. The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through whatever that particular circumstance may be until you increase in Him, adding His qualities. Your life will then become the simple life of a child.”

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