Sorry about the shameless blog title…I’ve wanted to use it ever since, oh, about the end of January 2020.
I do have exciting news, though! Let me give you a little background first.
Nine people have been staying with me since 2012. Nine. Three families-six adults and three children. I know, right? That’s a lot of house guests the last eight years. And they aren’t exactly polite visitors, either, let me tell you. At times they’ve been downright rude!
I’ve been sound asleep and I hear this banging around in the kitchen, or even in my office; I investigate, and end up awake the rest of the night. They prowl around the yard when I’m out watering my plants. They jump in the car with me, uninvited, when I go to the grocery store. They tag along when we go to church and sometimes make it impossible for me to listen to the pastor, or even sing for crying out loud. And don’t even get me started on what happens when I’m trying to read. Oy!
One of the children is most annoying. She’s fourteen and has made whining and complaining and slamming doors an art form. Two of the men are retired marines with issues. I kind of feel sorry for them, though, because they still have flashbacks on occasion. It’s rather frightening to watch. And their wives don’t always know what to do. One of the marines is the father of the annoying teenager…which probably doesn’t help with his PTSD.
My life hasn’t been the same since they came to stay with us. Can you hear the self-pity in my voice?
But…the breaking news. They’re moving out soon! Finally, I’ll be able to have a thought in my head that I don’t have to share with them. Finally, I can fix a meal without using every dish in the house. And maybe a good night’s sleep?
And, best of all, you get to meet them!
Yeah, I’ve been pulling your leg. You guessed it. My nine house guests have all been occupying the house in my head. Before any of you Google one of those doctors to recommend to me, they’re all characters in my next release, The Master’s Inn. I can’t wait for you to meet them. (And they can’t wait to meet you.)
The Master’s Inn is a novel about three families, strangers to each other, stranded in a freak snowstorm…a story of secrets and lies, tragic loss, wounded families, and the God who will go to any lengths to rescue a human soul. He might even use a bear to grab their attention…
Have you ever questioned God’s goodness, or His ability to help you? If you haven’t, you are among a minuscule segment of humanity. I daresay every human born on the earth, both in the past and in the future, doubts God’s good intentions at times.
And when do those times occur?
For me, it’s when I make demands.
Help me, give me good things, make that person stop hurting me, don’t let me suffer. The problem with those demands is that they spring from an over-emphasis on one person: ME. Those demands have one goal: Make ME more comfortable.
I must come to the place in my life where I acknowledge that whatever circumstances come my way, they come by way of God’s hands first. They are filtered through His fingertips.
When I am hurt by someone or I experience suffering, my first question should be, “What do I need to learn about You from this hurt, Lord?” And the second should be, “How can I best learn it?”
The demands I listed may not be the same as yours, but most of us demand things from God that will make our lives easier. In God’s economy, a rough life is not the worst thing to be feared. A rough end to life is the thing most to be feared. Coming to the end of your life without having bent the knee to Jesus Christ brings a far worse life in the here and now, and it will culminate in a far worse place than we could ever imagine.
Jesus knows. The Bible says He went there for us so we would never have to.
As the verse above states, God’s truth will endure to the last generation of humans born on this earth. That gives me such peace and encouragement, because I have generations of my family coming after me who need to know and follow the Savior. After I’m gone from the earth, His truth will still be told and re-told in their lives. “But You, O Lord, shall endure forever, and the remembrance of Your name to all generations.” (Psalm 102:18, NKJV)
But I must do the best job I can to live out that truth while I’m alive, while my feet still touch the dusty ground. The eternal destinies of the generations who follow—my children, grandchildren, and their children—may indeed depend on the truth I allow to shine from my life.
Whatever hard circumstances God allows, handled His way, can become a beacon directing them back to Him. “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” (Psalm 102:18, NKJV)
Or, handled with anger, pride, and a why me attitude, those same circumstances can become a door slammed in their faces, cutting them off from the stupendous mercy and grace of the God who fiercely loves them and relentlessly pursues them.
What harsh life situations do you face? Have you determined to view them through the lens of eternity, and allow God to work on your behalf? “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.” (Psalm 103:17, NKJV)
May God give us grace as we diligently seek to live life His way, not ours.
When I was five and my sister was two, she slipped on the ice in our driveway and hit her head. Dad carried her into the house and laid her on the couch, my older brother and I looking on. We thought she was dead. But it wasn’t long before my parents roused her, and my brother and I went back outside to throw snowballs at each other.
Fast forward thirty years.
The hotel restaurant is busy. Men in business suits talked in whispers, eyeing each other like so many sharks and prey. Women laughed gaily and sipped wine, shopping bags spread around them. Wait staff glided anonymously between tables, coffee pots and trays perched precariously. Hushed voices spilled family secrets and the latest work gossip.
The tables are stylishly set in this upscale Bellevue, WA eatery. White tablecloths, gleaming silver and glassware, soft green napkins. A small spray of red and yellow dried flowers in the center of each table lent an air of elegance to the room. It’s a place where successful people pause to talk about their success—in business, or shopping for the perfect dress for the upcoming company dinner.
I see her there now. Her name is Holly. Long fingers, longer than mine, wrapped around the white coffee cup, a cloud of steam rising. Chestnut hair pulled back from her forehead by a colorful headband, then flowing over her shoulders like a cascading waterfall. Intense hazel eyes stared out the window at cars coming and going—looking for one in particular—then back down to her hands, tight around the cup.
She doesn’t quite fit in with her surroundings—something is off. But her clothes are as impeccable as ever. Black turtleneck sweater under brown leather jacket, slim jeans, ankle boots. Thin gold bracelet and matching necklace and earrings. She always knew how to dress.
She shifts in her seat to look at the entrance, presided over by a black-tied concierge. Glances quickly around the room at each occupied table. She waves an approaching waitress away. Then gazes out the window again. Looks at her watch. I see the delicate hands from where I stand just over her right shoulder—she arrived at noon—and it’s now 3:30PM.
She looks up when the front door opens again. Her eyes shine in anticipation. When the elderly couple shuffles in and is greeted by the concierge, she sags back in her chair, the light fading from her eyes.
I move closer to her. I have to see her face more clearly. I step to the table next to her—unoccupied—and sit, the heavy linen tablecloth brushing my knees as I sit facing her. She doesn’t see me, but now I’m close enough to see the unshed tears in her eyes. I reach out as if to touch her cheek, to comfort her, but I’m too far away from her. I hold my hand out, suspended for a moment, then let it drop back to my lap.
Because I’m not sitting in that restaurant at the table next to her. We had agreed to meet that day, Holly and I—my only sister—but I forgot. Forgot about the arrangements we’d made to have coffee after my work conference was over, before I drove back home to Yakima. She lived in Monroe, WA with her husband and two young boys. We hadn’t seen each other for several months, since Christmas, and she’d asked if we could meet when she found out I’d be in Bellevue that February, in 1989.
I’m not sitting near her in that restaurant because I forgot.
The phone rang at dinnertime after I arrived home. She said, “Where were you? I waited for hours.”
I was aghast at myself for not remembering our date. I apologized profusely. She said it was okay, she understood. She always understood. We talked a few minutes more. I asked her if there was something in particular she’d wanted to talk to me about. She said, “No, nothing special. Just family stuff, just to catch up.”
The conversation ended when I said, “Well, gotta get dinner. We’ll talk soon.” We said goodbye.
That goodbye was the longest ever. A month later, my beautiful little sister—my only one—took her own life. She was thirty-two.
When I was five, I thought she was dead. Now, at thirty-five, I couldn’t believe she was. That I’d never see her face again or the graceful way she moved. Hear her infectious laughter. I couldn’t believe that my lame apology was almost the last thing she’d heard me say.
The days after are a blur to me. People came and went like actors on a stage, saying how beautiful she was, a great mother, an amazing person. They came and went through the hole in my heart.
And now another thirty-one years have gone by since that day, the 25th, in March 1989. And each year I come to this month asking myself what if?
What if I’d shown up? Maybe she would be here, watching her grandchildren grow up—and mine.
If I’d shown up, would I have been able to make a difference? Perhaps. I don’t really think I’m so important or wise that I could have made a difference. But don’t you see? I’ll never know.
I felt like—still feel like—an accomplice in her death. I manage to talk myself out of those feelings most of the time, but they still have the power to squeeze the breath out of me.
I write this because I’m still learning to just show up.
We never know when we’re having the last conversation with someone we love.
Do you have a service prayer that is all your own? This is mine, developed from a prayer used by my pastor in a worship service.
“Father in heaven, I acknowledge that You know all things. I submit myself to You for service. Like Isaiah, I answer Your call. ‘Lord, here am I, send me.’
I know You’ve shaped who I am today. You’ve given me this personality. You have blessed me with gifts, abilities, and passions. Every event in my life, whether large or small, happy or sad, has been filtered through Your hands. You have rejoiced at my victories and wept at my rebellion. You have never left my side, choosing instead, in Your infinite love and mercy, to enfold me in Your arms on every occasion.
I pray You would use me to reach a unique group of people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Father, please still my heart, calm my fears, and reduce my excuses. The time is short. The harvest is plentiful. Use me to enlarge Your kingdom.
May my stories of the King blend with every other story written about the King, in order to bring a complete, accurate picture of You to the world. May I re-gift God’s Word in such a way as to draw all men unto You, causing me to fade into the background and Your great heart to be revealed.
I quiet myself now to hear Your voice. In the matchless Name of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus the Christ. Amen.”
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what God has called you to, and then to craft your own, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead you. And when it’s finished, make sure you write it, type it, paint it, or set it to music. Place it in a strategic location. Mine is taped to my laptop, so that it’s the first thing I see when I open it to begin my day of writing.
“Then Jonah prayed to the Lordhis God from the fish’s belly.” Jonah 2:1 (NKJV)
Prayer rooms come in all sizes and shapes. Some look like closets, or beautiful sanctuaries. They can look like a rocky mountain pathway, or smooth sand on an endless beach. Or how about the inside of a car as it rushes along a busy freeway-or is stuck in traffic, or maybe stalled alongside the road? And sometimes, prayer rooms are nowhere in particular, waiting for us just behind our eyelids.
Jonah’s, by any account, was one of the most unique prayer rooms ever devised by God. Jonah had spent days running from God and thought he’d escaped when he bought a ticket on a boat headed across the Mediterranean. Little did he know that somewhere in the ocean deeps swam a great fish, recruited by its Creator to become the place of prayer for Jonah.
After being swallowed by the beast, Jonah eventually realized there is nowhere in the universe where God isn’t…even on the inside of a mammoth sea creature.
My prayer rooms have been quite diverse over my fifty plus years of walking with Jesus. Of course, there’s my office at home, and every other room in our house. The fields and orchards which surround us give a good view of the distant hilltops. Praying outside is the best, I think. There’s something peaceful about praying on God-made dirt instead of a man-made floor. But there have been other prayer rooms God has given me.
Sitting beside my six-week old son in the pediatric hospital, as he battled spinal meningitis. God heard and answered some frantic prayers during that two weeks.
The emergency room of the local hospital where we were informed of my younger brother’s death after a car crash.
My parents’ family room as we listened to the grim news of my only sister’s suicide.
Mom’s room in the nursing home as my older brother and I watched her take her first breath in heaven.
The grass in my yard, where I buried my face and gave up my decades-long rebellion against the Lover of my soul.
Yes, prayer rooms come in many different forms. They aren’t just four walls, a floor, and a ceiling. The best are the ones God fashions with His fingers-the places He knows are best suited for us to discover His stupendous grace.
Those are the places where we can finally say, with Jonah, “I cried to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!” Jonah 2:2 (NLT)
What prayer rooms has the Lover of your soul given you?
As an author, I sometimes find myself staring at a blank page. Many of us count that as one of the most disturbing elements of the art. It’s akin to driving serenely down the highway, on your way to an exciting destination, then coming to an eight-way stop—like a danged wagon wheel—with eight different turn-offs to choose from. None of them are familiar. Which way to go? The map you have on the passenger seat does not show this place, the directions you carefully printed do not mention it.
Starting a new chapter of a story will sometimes halt me at that crazy intersection. Yes, just finished a chapter, humming along, point of view intact, characters are behaving nicely—well, not really because if they’re too nice, the story drags and no one will want to read it—and I ended the last chapter with a nice wow moment, then…screeching halt. Where to go now?
Should my character be killed off? Should she fall in love with the guy who just kidnapped her? Or should she be rescued by an alien aircraft just as the bad guy is throwing her in the trunk of his car?
Choices, choices. The blank white page of the next chapter taunts me. My fingers are poised over the keyboard waiting for instructions. What to do, what to do.
I just gave you a description of retirement.
I officially retired last March from the cancer center in my town, but kept my hand in by being available to work on call. I’d worked there for fifteen years—since 2005. My Jeep has worn a groove in the route from my house to the clinic, about ten miles away. Most days I used autopilot to get to work and back home again.
Yesterday was my last day. I told my boss I was done, that I wouldn’t be available anymore.
Empty white on the page of my life this morning.
I’ve been someone’s employee since I was fourteen—more than half a century. Ack! Now what?
Where’s the reset button? How can I install the update? Who should I hire as a mentor for the rest of my life?
In a way, I’ve already started the next chapter. I published my first three books between 2016 and 2018, and I’m working on two more. I intend to keep writing until my fingers wrap themselves around my throat and yell, “Stop!”
But there’s a curious, rather disconcerting question bumping around in my brain this morning. It wasn’t there yesterday as I auto-piloted myself to the clinic. It arrived this morning, when, staring into my first cuppa joe, I couldn’t find my purpose. I put my reading glasses on—still couldn’t find it.
Yes, I’m an author. I’m a wife. I’m a mom, grand-mom, and dog mom. Those are all important. But the act of being someone’s employee, of doing the best job I can for someone else, while enjoying the banter with co-workers, has been a core part of my identity for longer than my kids have been alive. I’m not sure how to fill that hole, what to write on that blank page.
I don’t want to rush into anything, to fill the page with unimportant stuff. No info dumps, please. No busy work just to appear…busy.
Rocking chair? There’ll never be a rocking chair for me. Maybe a souped up Camaro, but not a rocking chair, please God.
I want the next chapter to fill in the chinks of my life, to dovetail into a pleasing end, one that explains why I was here, why I was me and not someone else. Clear theme, no plot holes, no ends left dangling, and a positive arc for the main character…me.
The footprints I leave must be clear, and lead to the One who put me here.
I must figure out how to be me…in the next chapter. But today is just the first day. Millions have figured it out before me. My heartbeat tells me I will, too.
If you found out the day of your death is tomorrow, what would you do today?
It’s an old question. We’ve heard it before. We’ve even, I daresay, considered it seriously at times. When we read of a bomb killing dozens in another, less civilized, place. Or a killing spree happening in a church or a school. Or a twenty-car pileup on an icy road in Somewhere, USA.
That’s as far as I got when I started this piece on May 7, 2019. How the world has changed since then. BC—Before Covid-19.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the globe are now iris-to-iris with this force majeure. Yeah, I had to look it up, too. It means an unexpected and disruptive event . We’re there. We open our newspapers or our computers and think, what next? Who’s died now? How many?
Over and over again, ad nauseum, we hear on our national news outlets the words Breaking News! We Live In Unprecedented Times. Stay Home, Save Lives.
This is not going to be another tome on The Virus, I promise. Bloggers the world over have waxed eloquently about it—myself included—and I don’t feel the need to travel over the same hot bricks. And, IMHO, if you say “we live in unprecedented times” twice, it’s not unprecedented anymore.
But, back to the question.
What if? What if I knew without a doubt I’d turn the corner and leave the room tomorrow? Let’s gloss over the how-would-I-know part of the question and assume that I do know tomorrow’s the day and I won’t escape it. What would I do today?
Annie Lee, the unlikely heroine in my forthcoming new novel, No Tomorrows, grapples with that very question. And by the end of the novel, she knows. And so will you, the reader. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
Would I call the kids? Have a party? (Of less than five, of course.) Would I take a drive to the mountains or the ocean? Would I sit down at my Dell Window to the World and write a blog?
I sit here and wonder. If I am to die on 7/24/2020, what should I spend my time doing today?
Take ten minutes or ten years, right now, to think about it. What is so important on your to-do list that it must be done before you die tomorrow. If you think about it, seriously think about it, it might just whittle that list down a bit. Just sayin’.
This is a short post. I may not have even twenty-four hours left to me. Because I’m a follower of Christ, there’s one thing I must do before tomorrow. Can you guess?
Yes. It’s to say to the world that death does not end life. It’s to say to the world that death to this life is Life in the next.
I leave you with this—one of the best Ben Franklin quotes ever—and he had a lot. Here it is: One today is worth two tomorrows.