The night before the adoption ceremony, I felt nervous. We had waited so long for the day—to make this beautiful, affectionate three-year-old our son—yet, I had this jittery feeling, and that led to guilt. Was I second-guessing our decision? Wasn’t I absolutely sure that I wanted to parent this boy for the rest of my life? Then I realized, my nervousness wasn’t because of doubt. It was the same kind of feeling I had the day I got married. It was very similar to the case of nerves I experienced the morning of my scheduled c-section with my second child. It was the same as any other time someone stands on the edge of forever and is about to take the next step.
I’m not sure when God planted the seed of adoption in my heart. Maybe it was when He adopted me into his family when I was a child. But I had the dream, the desire, the life goal to adopt, for a very long time. My heart cried out at the words of James 1:27. Every time I saw a website or a television spot about children in need of a family, I wept. For years, I read profiles on the Children’s Home Society of NC page and ached for the children. But when was the “right” time to do something about this longing?
Thankfully, my husband, Alex, had the same desire to welcome a child through adoption. After we had two precious girls—Elizabeth in 2007 and Sarah in 2010—we thought, “Okay, we’ll adopt the third child, one day.” Then in 2013, Daniel was born, and we had to say, “I guess we were supposed to have three and adopt the fourth.” That’s when the vision for the future really started taking shape. I had the idea that we would wait until our kids were old enough to be involved in the process—the youngest would be around seven—and, as if I could actually manufacture the scenario, we would adopt a three-year-old. The child would be a boy, because the two girls were already sharing a room, and when I envisioned him, this fourth child of mine had darker skin than me.
In November of 2017, when the tug at my heart was so strong I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I suggested to Alex that we go to a local children’s home—a Christian agency that also does foster care licensing—for an information session. He agreed, though he’d always felt like God would put us in a situation to adopt, outside of the foster care system. After speaking to the licensing specialist for forty-five minutes, we left with an application and paperwork for foster care training in-hand. In the parking lot, Alex said, “So, are you going to fill those out today?”
We began our classes in January 2018, and, long-story-short-- after a tedious process, rife with frustration—we were finally licensed in October of that year. Little did I know, the waiting had only just begun. (Note: we met some remarkable people during the process that we are so glad to have in our lives now.)
I don’t remember when the first call came, but sometime between October and March, we said yes to NINE placements. Do you know how many of those children we helped? Zero. (I wrote about the waiting in this post.) For whatever reason, those children all went other places. When we finally got our first placement in March (I say finally with hesitation, because, while we were eager to help, foster care always means a child has had to experience trauma) it was a seven-year-old boy that we knew would be with us for a short time. I didn’t know it would only be six days. Even though he wasn’t with us long, we cried when he left, and I think of him often.
In May of 2019, I shared with new friends at a writers’ conference that I was anxious to do what I felt God had called us to do. I didn’t want a child to need our family, but I knew there was a child somewhere that did, and the waiting was gut-wrenching. Multiple people prayed for me at that conference, and for God’s will to be done for our family. The next weekend was Memorial Day, spent having a great time at the beach. On the drive home, Sarah made the statement that she felt like someone was missing (which I talked about in this post.) And someone was. The next day, we got the call. The social worker from our agency said that a two-and-half year old, African American male needed a home. She spelled his name but wasn’t sure how it was pronounced. She told me he had asthma (he doesn’t) and that he was non-verbal (he definitely wasn’t.) She was able to give me a few other details about his medical history, and she said that he was coming from another foster home. Around 7:30 pm, he arrived.
I’ll never forget the site of him--this angelic-looking little boy in a dinosaur t-shirt, pulling his tricycle from the county social worker’s car to our front door. She told us that he was very independent. To our surprise, as both social workers (county and licensing agency) sat in our living room going over information, while he played with a toy truck on the couch, we learned that a court hearing to terminate his biological parents’ rights was already scheduled. He had been in foster care, basically, his entire life.
From the beginning, this was not a “typical” foster care scenario. There was a very strong possibility that we would be able to adopt this child. Even though we had trained our minds and hearts to believe in and champion the unofficial foster care motto—"Reunification is always the goal”—that wasn’t the direction his case was headed. And it finally made sense—all the waiting and rejection. The entire time, we were expecting our son. There was no one else that was supposed to be part of our family, either temporarily or permanently. It was always him. From the moment he was born, God knew he would be my son. My husband and I were foster parents, but not really. We were just his parents. God spared us the heartbreak of wondering if we would have to say goodbye, though we still had to go through a long birthing process of waiting.
The first court date was just two weeks after our son came to us. It was a standard “update” hearing. We went, though it wasn’t required or expected. Without going into a lot of detail, we heard things in court that made us cry. Alex and I both fought to maintain our composure, but we couldn’t keep from sniffling as we choked back tears. We were later reprimanded by one of our social workers for our “behavior” in court, as though we could have helped it. We apparently showed too much emotion. That was the first of many times we felt unfairly scrutinized by the system.
The TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) hearing (I think in late July) took several hours and was continued to August. Based on what we knew, we were genuinely surprised when the judge ordered the termination at the August court session. However, our son would not become eligible for adoption for some time. It took five months for the judge to actually sign the termination order. After that, we had to wait thirty days to see if either of our son’s biological parents would appeal the termination. They did not.
In late February 2020, we were able to formally start the adoption process. (Which meant a switch to a different agency social worker who was very kind and helpful.) More paperwork, more waiting. When the pandemic hit in March, our monthly home visits, and the monthly required meetings with our agency, began to all be done by video. This was actually a huge weight lifted. But I also wondered if the adoption process would be hindered by the pandemic. As it turned out, Covid did slow it down, and it definitely made it “different” in a lot of ways (like signing final paperwork in the heat outside DSS office while wearing masks,) but I’m finally able to see that it has all been on God’s calendar anyway.
Around the time it started to seem certain that adoption would happen, we began transitioning our son to his new name. We decided to change his name for several reasons and felt he was still young enough that it wouldn’t be traumatic for him. We often called him by “pet names” anyway. He didn’t know his middle (or last) name, so there was no attachment. And I wanted him to have a name that meant something. We named our son Benjamin because it means “son of my right hand,” and we kept his given first name as his middle name. The boy who was known mostly as “CarCar” became Benjamin Acara, and, on his own, came up with the nickname Benji.
On June 18, 2020, we received word that we had been approved to adopt Benjamin. Then we had to wait for the “when.” This was the hardest period of waiting for me. Somehow, it was even more difficult than waiting to see if his bio parents would appeal the termination, which would do nothing except prolong the process. He was ours, but not legally, and waiting for the adoption ceremony to be scheduled was excruciating. At church, I requested prayer for either patience, or for someone to hurry up and push that paperwork through.
Early on Monday, July 27, I checked my email for the tenth time that morning and there it was—an email saying the adoption ceremony would take place that Friday, during our scheduled beach vacation. We were overjoyed.
After fourteen months of life and memories, we would be able to officially make him part of our family. To my other three children, he was brother from day one. To me and Alex, he was our son from day one. In the last fourteen months, he had been with us to museums, the zoo, aquariums, parks, Vacation Bible School, football games, plays, and family get-togethers. We took him to the beach for the first time last September, and he loved it! We had a party for his third birthday in November, and we wondered if it was his first. He had been with us through good times, like new jobs and three of my book launches, and also bad times, such as the deaths of church members and a painful rift within our church family. He was also there in the wild season of pandemic parenting, as we both worked full-time with four kids at home. Benjamin was already an integral part of our family, and now we would be able to shout it to the world.
On Friday morning, July 31, 2020, at 10:00 am, we gathered around my laptop, at my husband’s parents’ beach house, for a “virtual” adoption ceremony. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins (and some great and helpful social workers) on the video conference, all eager to witness the moment Benjamin officially became ours. It was so wonderful to have all these people cheering us on, cheering for him. He is loved by many, and he will grow up knowing that they were as overjoyed as we were to make him family.
I haven’t said a lot about who my son is as a person, but this story is more about our journey to becoming his parents. Maybe soon I can write about how affectionate, smart, athletic, musical, and funny he is. I’d love to tell you about his likes and dislikes, and cute stories about him and his brother and sisters. Now, we have a lifetime to live and write those stories.
I could also tell you how he came to need our family, but instead, I’ll summarize by sharing something I’ve learned, in general: It takes extreme circumstances for a child to be placed in foster care, and parents are given opportunity after opportunity to reunify. I am confident that, in Benjamin’s case, foster care, then adoption, was the only right path.
Of course, as much as we love him, parenting Benjamin can be challenging, too. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if behavior issues are related to trauma or just being a three-year-old. I think it's normally the latter, having parented three three-year-olds before. There are many studies related to the long-term affects of childhood trauma on the brain, and some say that no matter how a child arrives at adoption, they will always have psychological issues as a result. While I understand the science behind those viewpoints, I also know that God is bigger than science. I believe that He can and will heal Benjamin of any and all physical and emotional impacts of trauma and of his medical history.
Looking back at my original dream for adoption--the one I formulated when Daniel was just a baby—I’m amazed at how God delivered. Daniel is now seven and Benjamin is three—just like the vision. I can't think of any other time in my life that God allowed me to have such a clear glimpse into the future. I thank God for my family and for dreams that come true, and I feel immensely blessed that Benjamin is part of both.
'Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.' Galatians 4:4-8
How do you feel about where you live? Are you anxious to move, or do you plan to stay put for a long time?
I enjoy looking at real estate. We talk about moving "some day." I browse the listings often for houses, or land where we might build a home. Our house is great, but it feels a little crowded for a family of six sometimes, especially as the kids get older and want their own space. I daydream about a house with a covered front porch and a little creek running through a wooded backyard, and with plenty of land to take nature walks and have a garden. The dream house has a big, open kitchen and a basement, suitable for having company over. It would have a screened back porch where I could sit and enjoy writing.
But for as much as I think about moving, there’s the idea that I may be too attached to our home of the last twelve years to ever leave it. This is where I’ve raised my children. We’ve made so many precious memories here. We have a nice neighborhood, convenient to schools, shops, and restaurants. It’s familiar. It’s the only home I’ve ever owned. Another thing is that my nine-year-old tells me we can never buy another house, unless we’re able to keep this one, too. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want to move, no matter what kind of place we find.
I understand how she feels. I feel a similar pull between my earthly and heavenly homes. The Lord has given me such joy here that I sometimes conflate my earthly blessings with their Source. But the Bible says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) It’s good to think about the moths and rust. If everything were perfect here, I might never want to leave, but earth is not my permanent home. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” We can’t fathom it all, but Jesus has prepared a place for us where there are no viruses, politics, or social media squabbles. There is no fear or sorrow. There is no worry about the future. Best of all, it’s where He is. That makes my relocation something I look forward to..."some day."
I walked through the kitchen singing a worship chorus I wrote some time back. The song began sincerely. Sometimes, the Spirit takes over and pours out what I’ve kept bottled up for too long—the praises that are owed to the Lord. But somewhere in the middle of my song, a sneaky spirit of pride crept in, and a fleeting thought hit my mind. I wish more people could hear this song. It’s pretty good.
On one hand, the thought wasn’t terrible. We’re called to use our gifts for Him, and that, in part, means sharing them with others. During the time of coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, I didn’t have the opportunity to sing in church. And my well of words dried up, too. I didn’t write for months. I went through a season of unfruitfulness, creativity-wise, and I felt incomplete not using those particular gifts. The longing for an audience wasn’t necessarily bad. It was normal for someone who feels called to share about God through writing and music. But in another sense, the thought was wrong, strictly prideful, and I was convicted as the Lord spoke to my spirit. “Am I not enough?” I heard Him say. “Do you need a bigger audience than me?”
Tears pooled in my eyes. I searched my heart and found an important lesson: When I use my talents, they are not wasted, even if they’re directed to God alone. Every note I sing to Him is of value if it’s done with a sincere heart. If every word I ever wrote served no other purpose but to prove that I would be obedient to Him, they would all be worth writing. Our Audience of One is our most important audience. (There’s a great song called “Audience of One” written by Michael Weaver of the band Big Daddy Weave.)
It’s certainly good to have goals, but I don’t have to stress over book sales and social media followers. I don't count compliments about my singing. I have one number to keep up with—one holy God who is my most important audience. The Bible says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) The “all these things” in this verse specifically refers to what we eat, drink, and wear, but I think it can be applied to everything He has planned for us, including our audience. The Bible also says, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4) That's a conditional statement; we have to focus on Him first.
In a class at a writers conference last year, author/instructor Michelle Cox made this powerful statement: “God didn’t call you to be successful. He called you to be faithful.” That has stuck with me all this time. No matter the size of the audience, I'll continue to write and sing for Him for as long as He puts it in my heart to do so. And though I work to hone my creative crafts, and I pray to be used for the Kingdom, I'll leave the results up to Him--my Audience of One.
The longer I live, the more awestruck I become at this truth: I have a personal relationship with God. It boggles the mind. The all-powerful Creator of the Universe not only knows my name, He cares specifically for me. Not just mankind. Me. And you, too. The Bible says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NKJV) It’s baffling that human creatures, with all our sin, are able to have anything to do with God, but to think that He cares about us—our hopes, dreams, struggles, fears—is remarkable. Like the psalmist, we have to ask ourselves, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4)
I read an article recently that compared Western and Eastern Christians. The premise of the article was that Christians in the West have a diminished view of God’s holiness because we approach Him casually, as a friend, while Eastern believers express more reverence in worshipping Him as their King. Obviously, God should be revered and respected. He is worthy of our highest praise, and we should honor Him as the King that He is. But I don’t think that precludes Him from being seen as our friend as well. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Who can come boldly before the King’s throne except those closest to Him?
Jesus told his disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’ John 15:1
I’m thankful that He’s my King, and my friend. Is He yours?
A couple months ago, my son took the seeds from an apple he’d just finished, and, without my knowing, he stuck them in the dirt in a flowerpot in our kitchen. Soon, to my surprise, three little trees sprouted up amongst the flowers, and after a few weeks, I transferred them to a large container outside. The internet tell me that the seedlings have the potential to mature into fruit-bearing trees in about eight years, but interestingly, their product may not be the same variety as the apple from which the seeds were taken, because apple trees do not produce “true-to-seed.” That information led me to research grafting.
In order to grow a specific variety of apple, horticulturists graft a branch (called the scion) from a tree of that variety, onto a cut branch of another planted apple tree (called the rootstock.) The previously separate trees merge together, and growth continues. How amazing! And it’s a beautiful picture of how God made us part of His family, allowing us, as Gentiles, to be joined to the rootstock of Abraham. (Read in Romans, chapter 11 about how we have been “grafted.”) But as I studied the grafting process, another spiritual application struck me. You see, before grafting can be accomplished, a tree must be violently injured. The sharp teeth of the saw grind back and forth through the wood until the branch is cut in two and the dismembered portion of the host tree falls to the ground. The woody flesh at the cut point is suddenly exposed. The tree appears irreparably damaged. Then the tree is further damaged as the gardener takes the grafting knife and cuts deep into the broken part. Maybe you feel like that tree. You’ve been hurt, cut off. A painful, dramatic change has occurred in your life, and you are a fraction of your former self. Things seem hopeless. But please remember that, like for the tree, growth is still possible. It’s not the end. Those places that are wounded can be restored with a new calling, a new relationship, a new perspective; and you will be fruitful, maybe even in a way that is superior to what the original “branch” could have produced.
Just as many individuals are going through a kind of painful grafting process, I believe the church, and even our nation, are going through it as well. And while we may have to wait to see the results, we can trust God to bring healing to the broken parts. He will create something beautiful in time.
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
I get into my car on a ninety-degree day. The air is stifling. Beads of perspiration form on my forehead in seconds. The steering wheel scorches my hands. As I back down the driveway, it feels as if I’m being roasted alive. There’s no way I can survive those conditions for long. The heat is unbearable. Yet, I don't stop the car and jump out. I don't even roll down the window. Why? Because the first thing I did after I started the car, was turn on the air conditioner. I know it will cool me down soon enough. It only takes a moment to kick in. The discomfort is temporary, fleeting. It can't hurt me. Relief is coming.
We’re living in troubled times. Many people are distressed and scared, and my heart breaks for those who are struggling to find peace right now. But if we stop to think about it, there’s nothing truly exceptional about this moment in history. There has always been trouble, since man’s fall. War, plagues, famine—it’s all part of the human experience. Yet God, in his mercy, grants healing and restoration over and over, in a beautiful cycle of compassionate sovereignty. We hurt, then there’s a reprieve. The fighting ends. The plagues leave. The food returns. History proves that our present trials, however big or small, are temporary. And even more so, our faith proves it. Faith tells me that God IS working things out for GOOD, even now. Whether I see the result or not, God’s plans for His children are good, and He has not abandoned us. And faith tells me, too, that we’ll have perfect peace in heaven with Him one day. Pain doesn't last forever. Whether in this life or the next, relief is coming. That’s how we endure trials--with faith that they are temporary. The Bible says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
Hang on. Relief is coming.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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My eyes open at the sound of someone’s feet on the kitchen floor. Mamas awaken at the softest of noises.
I hear the close of the refrigerator then cabinet doors. The coffee maker rumbles to life, and I know my son is up early, working on something special.
It’s time for me to get out of bed, but I dare not. It would be unkind to ruin his surprise.
Clinking of silverware on glass tells me breakfast will include jelly. Then my son comes in the room to ask a hypothetical question. “If” he wanted to make coffee, which he definitely isn’t doing right now, what button would he push. I provide the instructions, pretending I have no clue what he’s doing.
He leaves the room and I wait, and I keep listening, even though I’d rather be out of bed, and even though I don’t actually want breakfast. Choking down toast that I don’t want to eat Is a small price to pay for building his self-esteem.
While I wait, I wonder if he washed his hands. Probably not, but I won’t ask him. I’d rather risk E. Coli than damage his desire to serve others.
I wonder if he’s making a mess in the kitchen, but I fight the urge to intervene. A mess to clean is a small sacrifice for nourishing his servant’s heart.
I wonder if he might burn himself carrying the coffee, but I don’t go help him. The slight risk of a minor burn is preferable to bruising his fragile ego.
And when he comes back bringing coffee in one of my favorite mugs and toast with grape jelly (which was actually very good,) I act surprised and praise him for being so kind. I smile as if I’ve won the lottery. And the truth is, I have something even better. I have a child that loves me and wants to show it through acts of service. I have a child that, despite his many behavioral challenges, finds joy in making others happy.
So I’ll keep on pretending to be surprised by breakfast in bed, and that jelly toast is better than the best meal ever made, because the fact is, it’s about much more than breakfast. It’s an opportunity for my child to feel good about himself, and for me to tell him that I’m blessed to be his mother. And maybe, as he grows, his sense of self-worth will grow too, and maybe he’ll be able to approach every future task with the same sense of pride as his seven-year-old-self serving his mama breakfast in bed.
There are two versions of Christmas; you probably know. There’s the holy celebration of the birth of the Christ child—the One who came to rescue mankind from eternal separation from God and thereby demonstrated God’s deep love for humanity—where we sing His praises and extol His goodness. Then there’s the Christmas where a decorated evergreen tree becomes the centerpiece of our homes, and we sing songs about reindeer, bake cookies shaped like little men, and stress about finding suitable gifts for everyone on our list. It’s the same date on the calendar, the same holiday in name, but two very different celebrations.
Throughout the years, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two Christmases, to keep them balanced. I tend to focus primarily on the birth of Jesus up until the Sunday before December 25th, depending on when Christmas falls. Our church play and the imagery of the nativity are always the spiritual highlight of the season. Then my mind and heart give way to the excitement of family gatherings, classic holiday movies on television, and seeing joy on my childrens’ faces on Christmas morning. But should there be a balance? Should we even entertain the things that would distract us from the manger?
As I got ready for church yesterday morning, I contemplated the tug of war between the Christmases and was struck by an unusual comparison: Christmas time is like a wedding and a wedding reception. The vows and exchanging of rings at a wedding is holy, the sacred part which is often followed by a let-loose party. The reception, big or small, is the celebration of what has taken place, though it rarely resembles the ceremony. At a wedding reception, the guests focus on the emotion of the day, if not specifically the reason for the emotion. In that way, Christmas is like a wedding and reception—a blending of the sacred and the secular, where the latter depends on the former. All the warm and fuzzy feelings, the less-than-holy feelings of Christmas, find their roots in a singular emotion, created by and embodied in God Himself: Love. We have love because He came. And the joy of the season, even feelings that don’t directly relate to the Christ child—magic, wonder, coziness, generosity, anticipation—are because of Him. Every good gift comes from God. So maybe there is room for the fun of Frosty and Rudolph after all.
Sticking to our analogy, let’s talk about the wedding crashers—unbelievers who celebrate the day set aside to honor Christ’s birth. Our Lord’s name is in the day, yet many who don’t claim Him still celebrate. It’s like not knowing the bride and groom but showing up for the party anyway. They’ll sing carols and bake cookies, string lights and give gifts, yet want nothing to do with the Christ of Christmas. But He came for them, too, whether they believe it or not. And while true joy can’t be found outside of a relationship with Him, a semblance of it exists in their singular version of Christmas, though they haven’t met the Source. Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet Him at the party. When Jingle Bells fades into O Holy Night on the radio, maybe they’ll be drawn to Bethlehem and closer to the truth.
As I think on it more, a collision of the sacred and the secular at Christmas seems fitting, really, because that’s what happened when He was born. The Holy One took on human flesh. A perfect God broke the plane between Heaven and Earth. The Most High took up residence in a fallen world. That’s the reality of Christmas. So as you sing Jingle Bells, think of Him. As you think on the manger, thank Him for the presents under the tree. Our celebrations don’t have to be at odds when we are secure in His lordship in our lives
The interviewer examines the candidate. Stained shirt and wrinkled pants. His hair is mussed and he hasn’t shaved.
“Thank you for coming in today,” the interviewer says, smiling.
The interviewee nods.
“I’ve reviewed your resume, and I’m impressed with what I see.”
The interviewer’s assistant chokes on his sip of coffee.
“I think we’ll be able to offer you a very competitive salary,” the hiring manager continues. “The job comes with a corner office and benefits start on day one. Are you interested?”
“Sir, what are you doing?” the assistant says. “He has no experience in our field. He has no experience of any kind! I’m not sure why you even brought him in.”
“I’ve already said, I like his resume.”
“But, sir, his resume is written in crayon. We haven’t done a background check. We know nothing about this person. And you want to give him a corner office?”
The hiring manager slides the crumpled resume toward the assistant. “See here? He has an excellent reference. That’s why I’m hiring him. This person’s word is all I need to know that he belongs here.”
“But our last candidate went to a top school and has twenty years of experience.”
“That’s true," says the manager. "But he doesn’t have the same reference.”
As Christians, we became children of God through no merit of our own. We were unworthy of being accepted, not qualified in any way to receive His grace. I’m still not worthy, but my advocate remains. Jesus’ name on my resume of faith makes all the difference. He vouched for me, called me worthy with his very life. It’s not a corner office, but I have something even better. I'm an unlikely candidate, but I have eternal life and fellowship with God, by the righteousness of my Lord.
Rom 3:20-25 (ESV):
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
The television had been off for two days. Behavior issues called for drastic measures. But when the two youngest woke me up before daylight on a Saturday, I gave in. I was too tired to engage and keep them quiet enough to not wake the rest of the house. Not without the help of a little electronic intervention. Still, I set a standard. I would choose the program, and it had to at least be educational. The kids, just happy to have television back, didn't complain.
I started the show then shuffled to the kitchen to drop frozen waffles in the toaster. While they cooked, I stumbled around like a zombie, picking up random things that had been strewn about the night before. The boys were happily watching the PBS cartoon. I heard the teacher character tell the students how a microscope works. "Magnify means to makes things bigger," she said. Instantly, God cleared the sleepy fog from my brain and began to grow an idea in my spirit. "Magnify means to make things bigger."
Magnify in Scripture means to praise. Psalm 35:3 says, "O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." But how might the common definition also apply? How can we magnify the Lord to make Him bigger? (The Greek word for magnify comes from the root megas, where we get the word mega.)
God is already all-powerful, so there is nothing bigger than Him in that sense. But we need to continually make Him bigger in our lives, of greater importance. We need to give him a bigger space to operate through us, by eliminating worldly distractions. We need to use spiritual eyes to see Him as bigger. It doesn't take a microscope. It takes removing the blinders of the flesh to see Him for what He is.
Let's look at three uses of the word magnify in Scripture that describe different ways in which God is magnified.
Psalm 69:30 says, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." Being thankful makes God bigger in our lives. When we stop to recognize every good thing as a gift from him, we see him as greater--not some distant force, but an up-close-and-personal sovereign who is worthy of worship. He is literally all-encompassing, acting on our behalf in every facet of our lives.
Another well-known usage of the word comes from Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:46 (KJV) says, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord." Mary said this in response to Elisabeth's proclamation in verse 45 (NKJV): "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” We can magnify God by trusting Him and believing in His promises. Take Him at His word. Even when you can't see the end from the beginning, and even when the road set before you is difficult--as surely it was for Mary--believe He will fulfill His promise to be faithful.
In another New Testament reference, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a group of Gentiles, the Bible says, "For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God..." (Acts 10:46 KJV.) Yes, they were praising God, but they made God bigger in their lives by exercising spiritual gifts. They put His greatness on display by operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's interesting how all this study started with a line in a children's show, on a Saturday morning when I didn't want to be awake yet. It makes me wonder if the break we had from television for a couple of days helped prepare me to hear God better. Maybe my mind and spirit had a bigger space for Him to work. However it happened, I'm grateful for the message. I need God to be bigger in my life. I want to magnify Him through thankfulness, faith, and spiritual gifts.
Maybe a microscope isn't the best metaphor. Sometimes what I need is to view God like a word on a screen, with the web browser zoomed to 1,000%, and everything else pushed out of view except Him. (That's as high as the zoom will go; I tried.) That's what we all need sometimes. May God be made bigger in our lives today.
"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together." (Psalm 35:3 KJV)
The last couple weeks have been hard. Three months into our first foster care assignment, ugly attitudes have crept into my heart uninvited. I’ve worked to fight it—the “my four and no more” mindset (except in my case it’s five.) But as I struggle to parent this little boy who feels every bit mine one minute and like a stranger the next, negative feelings threaten to win. So, I’m doing some assessment. It’s time for an evaluation of the losses and gains of being a foster parent, and I hope you’ll read to the end for the results.
First, let’s look at some of the losses.
Patience: I’ve felt like a failure recently, not being able to keep my cool with a toddler who seems to have learned how to push my buttons. Emotionally, I’m not handling the constant meltdowns and tantrums well. It doesn’t matter that I’ve already parented three two-year-olds or that I have trauma-informed parenting skills now. It’s still hard. And the added stress of a fourth child has made me less patient with my other three, and sometimes with my husband.
Privacy: One of the most difficult things about foster care, for us, is the never-ending schedule of meetings; having people constantly checking on us and asking questions about every aspect of our lives. The licensing process was the hardest. Our home was inspected multiple times. We laid out every detail of our personal finances and provided complete medical histories for every person in our house. We were required to write about how we got along with members of our family growing up, our parents’ relationship with one another, and how we dealt with the most challenging events in our lives. And we had to share it all with strangers. Now that we have a placement, we have a minimum of two meetings per month, one of which has to be in our home. And though it’s probably not true, I always feel like I’m being judged on the amount of clutter in my house or the dog hair we try so hard to get out of the couch.
Peace: We almost had it made. Our kids were old enough that we could turn on a movie for them and take a twenty minute nap on a Sunday afternoon without worrying. Our children no longer cried when they couldn’t have ice cream for dinner or screamed because they wanted to put shoes on by themselves. Before a few months ago, I could sit and listen to an entire church service, undistracted. Now I’m grateful to make it through the singing, forget about the sermon. And sleeping through the night? That’s just a fond memory. Foster parenting has meant loss of the peace we were beginning to enjoy.
Now, let’s look at some of the gains of foster parenting.
Laughs: The little boy in our care is silly and fun, and he makes us laugh constantly. He loves to get a reaction out of us, and knows how to be a comedian to get it. In the stresses of day-to-day life, his laughter and the laughs he brings are blessings of refreshment.
Love: I’ve loved our foster son since very early in the process. Probably by the second day, he had my heart. The way he blows kisses to me and wraps his little arms around my neck just makes my heart swell. He knows how to show love. And we feel it from him every day. The love our three children have for him is phenomenal, and he reciprocates. Love grew in our house when little man entered our lives, and we place great value on that.
Life Lessons: I’m glad to be able to teach my children about sacrificing for others. The life lessons they are gaining from this experience will hopefully shape their behavior and attitudes as adults. Foster parenting teaches them that we love all people, including the ones that look different from us; that we should be compelled to care for those who can’t care for themselves; and, that an act of love is worth hardship, every time. And my husband and I are learning, too. We’re learning more how to rely on God when things are difficult and to praise Him more when things are easy. We’re learning to trust Him with unknowns and uncertainty. Foster parenting is teaching us many life lessons.
Loss of patience, privacy, and peace. Gains of laughs, love, and life lessons. Now that I’ve laid out a few things to consider, can you tell which way the scale is tipped? Is the bad worse than the good is good? We’re fond of saying that love conquers all, but does that automatically mean the gains are weightier because we love this child?
The truth is, the gains don’t outweigh the losses. The losses don’t outweigh the gains. They aren’t balanced and can’t be measured, because there is no scale. Our heavenly calling crushes the scale and renders the entire argument moot. My family has been called to foster care, and by my interpretation, all believers are called in some capacity. Isaiah 1:17 (ESV) says, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” Hebrews 13:16 (ESV) says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or difficult, or if we feel like we're winning or losing. Our mandate to love others as Jesus loves (John 15:12) overrules any idea of gain or loss. It doesn’t matter if it makes us happy or if it makes us sad. What matters is that it’s right. Taking care of and loving an innocent child that has no one else, is the right thing. No more weighing it out.
Update: This post was started a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve had great improvements in behaviors and how we deal with them. What’s most important is that all along, our little man has been happy and healthy. We thank God for him.
I have an insignificant deformity on the top of my left ear. It's not very noticeable, and I hardly ever think about it. But it's been part of me since I was born. My birthmark. My three kids have their own marks. Each have a small brown circle on their skin--the oldest, on her leg; the middle, on her back; and the baby, on his arm. I've always been fascinated by these birthmarks, how similar but different they are; what causes them or why we have them.
The Bible says that to be a follower of Christ, you have to be born again (John 3:33). And that spiritual birth comes with a mark, too--something that brands us as believers, that sets us apart from the rest of the world. When we are born again, we have the Holy Spirit living within, and He changes us.
Galatians 5:22, 23 (ESV) teaches that the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a person's life are:
These are definite birthmarks that set us apart. We can only attain these qualities through a new birth in Christ. And we still struggle with flesh, making lofty ideals like patience and goodness unattainable without the Holy Spirit. They're not known as the fruits of the believer. The Spirit plants them, and we are responsible to grow them through a relationship with Jesus. That means spending time in the Word and in prayer. The more I pray, the more self-control and faithfulness I have. The more I read the Bible, the more love and joy I have. You get the picture. As the fruit grows, it's more noticeable to the world around us. It's our mark. A sign of our new birth. Strive to show someone your birthmark today.
Out of all the people in this big, wide world, I imagine there are a few who grew up to live exactly the life their high school selves imagined. Maybe there are some whose ten-year plan was realized to the letter. The dreams of their youth played out exactly as they had envisioned. Maybe a few. A very, very few. For the majority of us, that’s just not how it works. We grow, and our plans change, and life happens.
Whether your plans didn’t work out or you had no clear path to begin with, chances are, if you're anywhere upwards of age thirty, you can look back at your life with some measure of amusement and perhaps awe. "How did I wind up here?" you might ask yourself. And for the Spirit-filled believer, the answer is obvious.
Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I can see them now. What were invisible road signs at the time, saying "Turn Here." God planted these markers along my path Himself, long before I started walking it. He knew the plan.
In my career there have been many turning points. Like when I was an eighteen-year-old part-time filing clerk in an insurance office and my boss offered to pay for me to take classes to get my agent license. I couldn't have known that his kindness would put me on a career path that would help me enter the corporate world and eventually leave the insurance field for a job in Information Technology. But God knew.
In my early twenties, I couldn't see that this cool guy--whose friendship I once described as the most platonic relationship I'd ever had with a guy--would eventually become my husband and father to my three children. But there was a singular moment when a spark ignited and changed the course of my life. I didn't recognize it right away. But God knew.
After many unexpected turns, I'm glad I'm not the one in control. I certainly never envisioned I'd be here on this writing journey, and I love it. One of the many wonderful things about being a child of God is being able to trust in His providence. You can trust him with the future. Go ahead and make plans, but leave room for holy detours. And never doubt where He can take you.
If you're not where you thought you'd be, there are two appropriate responses. Either thank God for all the turning points along the way, or be glad that He's not finished leading yet.
Just over a week. That's how long we've been a family of six. For the first three days or so, it was hard to grasp. It's an understandably difficult concept to go from being the parent of three children on Monday- picking out three sets of clothes, making three snacks at a time, tucking three kids into bed at night- to being the parent of four kids on Tuesday. But very quickly it became "right". It wasn't even our new normal. It was just the normal we were always supposed to be. Our "finally" normal.
Even as I express how relatively easy this foster care transition has been, and how right it feels, I fully understand that at any moment things could change. We're only responsible for this two-year-old boy for as long as someone else will let us be. Somewhere between one more day and forever, that's all we know. But for now, he's part of the family.
So, how does a stranger become family so quickly. Is it because he's adorable? No, though he is. Is it because he's a "good" baby? No, though he is. Is it because his laughter makes all our hearts melt? No, though it does. My children have taken him in as a brother, and my husband and I have taken him in as a son, for only one reason: GOD. It’s supernatural. Beyond our capabilities. God makes that kind of thing possible. Not us. Psalms 68:6a says, "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains:"
The day before "A" came to us, my eight-year-old daughter said, on the ride home from the beach, "I feel like we're missing somebody." All of us were there in the van, including our two dogs. She wasn't talking about Grandma and Grandpa that we left behind at the beach. She was talking about "A", though we didn't yet know who he was. And I knew exactly how she felt. God had been stirring anticipation in our hearts for many months.
On our refrigerator, we have our names linked together, written out in magnetic Scrabble tiles. Just as easy as it is to add our foster son's name to our five, that's how easy it has seemed to make him one of us. He slipped right in like the letters of his name on the board. And it's a perfect analogy of what God has done for us.
In Romans 11, Paul uses the example of an olive tree. The natural branches he speaks of were the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. But we- believers who aren’t descendants of Abraham- being the wild branches, have been grafted into the tree. He added us into the family. He has made us a part of Himself.
Galatians 4:4-5 says it plainly. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."
How can someone become part of a family so quickly? God. With our foster son, it’s God’s love in our hearts and a divine plan that makes it possible. For the seeking soul, it’s a measure of faith and God’s grace by which they can instantly be made His child.
The bright late-May sunshine fell on my face, luxuriously warm. I closed my eyes and let my skin soak up it's energy as the corners of my mouth automatically drew upward in delight. It's rays reinvigorated my weary soul. But it was only for a second. The sun kissed me for a literal second, then it was gone. Back again. Gone again. Back again. Gone again. Over and over.
The swing on the back deck of my house was in just the right spot for me to experience the sunshine on the way up, but the backswing put me in the shadow of the house. I wanted to enjoy the sun, but I was tired, and the obvious solution didn't seem worth the energy- MOVE THE SWING! It's light-weight and slides easily, but I didn't do it.
How often does this happen in my spiritual life? I go back and forth between experiencing THE LIGHT and slipping into the shadows. I love the benefits of spending time with God but I don't always make the effort.
To be clear, as a child of God, He's always with me. But, because of MY actions, I'm not always basking in the fullness of relationship with him. And the solution for that is as simple as moving the swing. I need to move myself to do the things that I KNOW promote fellowship with God- spending more time in prayer and reading the Word.
We should aim not to only experience His presence at church or when we need something from Him. It should be where we live! Psalm 140:13 says: "Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence."
What are you waiting for? Take a step out of the shadows today. Let's move to where the Light is.
Far back from the road stood a group of trees much different than all the rest along the drive. To make room for the power line that ran alongside them, the branches on one side—from the top to the bottom—had been lobbed off. These beautiful, tall pines were literally half of what they once were.
While disfigured, the trees appeared strong. They stood straight and tall. They towered over the land, despite their lopsided condition. And even if half was missing, there was no mistaking what they were. They were still trees.
There are people in my life with a similar misshapenness. Though the wounds aren't physical, their eyes tell the story of the day the limb-cutter came to maim. Maybe you’re one of them. Somewhere along the way, something happened to change who you are. You have trauma that will forever shape you. You’re marked by it. It’s a defining characteristic in your life. Time is tracked as before or after the event that altered everything.
But in the midst of heartache, like the trees, you’re still standing. Though circumstances transformed your life in a way you never wanted, you’re still standing. Life may never look the same again, but you’re still standing. And you are still YOU.
A parent that loses a child—even with that important part missing—is still a parent. Someone whose innocence is stripped away like the limbs of the tree, doesn’t lose their humanity with it. You’re still you, and you still have room to grow around the scars.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”
Whenever you feel hopeless, when the pain of loss outweighs everything else, trust in the Lord. You are still you, and, if you are a believer, you are still His. May you find comfort in your identity as a child of God, and in your ability to stand.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 3:1a)
Can a book be a home design guide and a devotional? Victoria Duerstock proves the answer is yes and does it well, with her new release Heart & Home: Design Basics for Your Soul and Living Space. This book perfectly meshes inspiring message of God’s love with helpful advice for creating welcoming, attractive spaces in the home.
Amid all the themed devotionals on the market, Heart & Home is the first devotional I’ve read with an interior design theme, and the concept totally works! Acts 17:28 says that in God “we live, and move, and have our being.” Duerstock recognizes the all-encompassing goodness of God and interprets His truths even through discourse on things like exposed brick, lighting, and accent pieces.
The structure of this book is great. The attractive layout is consistent—you know what to expect on each page—and that adds to the feelings of peace and tranquility conveyed by the words and pictures in the book. Each two-page layout consists of home interior photos, a prayer, the devotion title and Scripture, the body of the devotion, and a design tip.
One of my favorite devotions in the book is titled “It’s Not About You.” It encourages the idea of designing a home with the needs of others in mind. As a foster parent-in-waiting, this line strikes a chord: “Designing our homes intentionally to be ready at a moment’s notice to meet needs should be our purpose.”
I'm so glad I had the opportunity to review this devotional, and I look forward to Duerstock's next release, Heart & Home for Christmas, which will be available in September.
About the Author:
Victoria Duerstock is a writer, blogger, teacher, and speaker. Her mission is to inspire hope and ignite bigger dreams for God’s purpose in each of our stories. She has a master’s degree in music, but ended up working in the furniture industry for more than twenty years and loves to make connections between our home environments and our spiritual lives. Victoria writes at Encouraging Women Today, Everything’s Gravy, Creative Corner, and Serious Writer Academy and also has contributed to devotionals for Worthy. She lives in Nesbit, Mississippi, with her husband, and they have three children.
From the Publisher:
Heart and Home is a short devotional book with daily devotions for 90 days. The devotionals seek to draw clear connection between the basics of interior design and scripture that encourages spiritual growth within our hearts. The devotionals inspire women to have a captivating heart and home. Included in each devotional is an applicable design tip and photographs. Example devotional topics include unity and harmony, negative space, flow, focal point, and balance. This devotional includes full-color photographs of home interiors throughout the book. Click here to view a sample of the book.
For more information about the series and for links to purchase, visit https://www.abingdonpress.com/victoriaduerstock.
All day long, I talk to people. I share posts on social media, and I comment on other’s people’s posts. As a society, we’re accustomed to constant human interaction, and I enjoy the convenience and connection that technology allows. But sometimes I imagine what it would be like if it all went away—if social media ceased to exist, if phones were unavailable. I’d dearly miss my online companions, and it would take a long time to adjust, but I would still have my church, my family, and Jesus.
But, God forbid, what if my church family dissolved? What if that fellowship was no longer available to me? I would certainly grieve. But I’d still have my family and Jesus.
Though I can barely stand to consider it, what if family weren’t with me? What if I was taken to a far off place, away from everything and everyone I know and love. How horrible! But my soul rests in the fact that I’d still have Jesus.
But what if Jesus….? There are no more what ifs. Jesus is the only thing in my existence that can’t be removed from me, the only thing that is inextricable from my being. While the other situations are, thank God, improbable, losing Jesus is simply impossible. What an awesome thought—I have something that can never be taken away. As a believer, I have the Spirit of the Living God with me at all times, and He will always be a constant and abiding presence, regardless of any other circumstance in my life.
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Imagine your surroundings as a silent void, an abyss of nothingness. Even in that place, God is there. And in nothingness, you have abundance as a child of God. There is no fission process that can separate Him from you. No matter where you are, He is there. He will always be there. And He is sufficient.
Today on the blog, I'm sharing a post by Joanna White, author of the novel Hunter, which releases April 30. She's here to tell us about her book and shed some light on the Christian Fantasy genre.
"Hunter is more than just a fantasy book. It’s more than an epic, action-packed, intense, dramatic story, and the characters represent more than who they are. As a Christian author, I’ve always tried to include Christian themes in my stories. Before Hunter, all I wrote were stories that were - what I like to call - Christian dramas. So when I wrote my first fantasy novel, which was Hunter, I tried to include God and my beliefs in it as much as possible. When I finished, Hunter had become a story about redemption and survival, about terrible things that happen and overcoming those things.
What I hadn’t realized was just how Biblical it was.
Later, as I continued writing the series it’s a part of, The Valiant Series, I realized that it paralleled to the story of Moses. People oppressed by a government and rules greater than themselves. A person chosen to set them free who only knew the life as their enemy and that same person being someone to doubt themselves and why they were chosen in the first place. I added a special scene to really bring out this theme that had been imbued inside Hunter without me realizing it.
Most people either don’t know that Christian fiction exists, let alone Christian fantasy, or they think it’s just like listening to a sermon at church - not that there is anything wrong with that. But Christian fantasy isn’t. Hunter isn’t.
Christian fantasy for me especially, is something that makes me smile. You wanna know why? Because as I’m reading or watching Christian fantasy, I know - really know - that it’s clean and filled with truths that I believe in. I don’t have to be afraid of what I’m reading or watching. As a Christian fantasy author, it’s my chance to give people - all people, not just Christians - an epic tale that they can really delve into and become a part of and still show them that it doesn’t have to include cussing or sex scenes or anything else that’s bad in order to be a really good book. You can love books that are decent and clean and at the same time, share themes and beliefs that can hopefully inspire and encourage you whether you’re a Christian or not. And maybe, just maybe, it can teach you about the God who loves you more than you will ever know."
A reckless young woman named Averella does what no woman has ever done.
She disguises herself as a man and purposefully gets herself arrested and thrown into Zagerah. Her brother Gabriel was taken, and with his disease, he will not survive on his own. She has no idea what to expect inside the prison; all she knows is that once men get taken, they never come back.
The Hunters will find her.
Genetically altered to be faster and stronger than humans, the Hunters use their powers to find and kill every prisoner who enters Zagerah. The only ones who can defeat them, are in fact, themselves.
Jared is a Hunter. It’s all he’s known, all he remembers. He kills ruthlessly and without regret, one prisoner after another. When a new prisoner Dalex shows up, everything begins to change. Jared goes undercover to make Dalex and the other prisoners believe he is one of them, a prisoner himself.
No one knows the truth.
He will trick them.
Toy with them.
Then, he will kill them.
To pre-order Hunter from Amazon, click here. To enter Joanna's giveaway of a DVD with bonus content about Hunter, a poster, and a magnet, click here.
The woman’s pretentious words set my blood to boilin’, as the saying goes. In a closed Facebook group, related to Christian writing and publishing, this person’s responses on a particular thread were haughty and, by my interpretation, hateful. I stopped to examine my emotions. I’d been under a lot of stress. Maybe I was just overly sensitive. Everyone else dealt with her patiently, and with grace. They answered each arrogant retort with gentle, loving dialogue, while I wanted to (politely) call her out.
I stepped away from the thread and went on scrolling through Facebook, still fuming. Then I came across a meme posted by author Robin Lee Hatcher. It said, “Sometimes the best thing to say or do is nothing.” Well, there was my sign. I needed to stay quiet about the matter.
Still, it ate away at me. I went back and read the thread again. It had only gotten worse. This person tried to shut people down like her opinion was the only one in the world that mattered, and I wanted so badly to jump in and (with love) tell her she was being a jerk. Sometimes, it’s okay to do that. But in this case, I just didn’t feel that liberty. So I continued to fight the urge, and I jumped over to Twitter instead. I scrolled through GIFs and quotes, still seeing red. Then I saw a post from my writer friend, Rachel Schmoyer. She’s studying and teaching the book of Proverbs and had shared this: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV) Remains silent. There it was again. I had no other choice but to let it go. I wouldn’t even revisit the thread, so I wouldn’t be tempted to speak out.
The next day, I had another irritating encounter online. I had my feelings hurt through a message with a friend. I’m still not sure if it's because I’ve been overly sensitive lately. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” I think I'm normally slow to anger, but in some seasons and situations, it’s harder to be that way.
I managed to keep calm with my friend, but my first instinct was to call someone else to vent. Before I dialed, I thought of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Even if what I was going to say was true and honest, it surely wasn’t of “good report” or “virtue”. It wasn’t praiseworthy. So, I knew I needed to be quiet. Still, I wanted someone to validate my feelings of anger. I needed to tell someone that I had been wronged. But back to Facebook I went for a mindless distraction, and as I scrolled, I came across a post that was simply one word and two numbers. It read, “Philippians 4:8.” Wow. Needless to say, I didn't make that phone call.
Three times in two days, something on social media gave me pause. Three times, I received spiritual guidance from Facebook or Twitter. So does God really speak through social media? Does he really care that much for me, to guide me so lovingly in the right direction when I’m tempted? I believe so, but not just because I happened to find these posts. I spend way too much time on social media, so it’s probable, out of all the posts I read, that I’ll find ones that relate to my present situation. But I know God speaks to me on social media by the way those posts convicted me, the way they spoke to my spirit. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I'm thankful to be one of His. I'm thankful that I have friends who share the truth of Scripture online. And I'm thankful that God speaks in many ways. What unexpected way has God spoken to you lately?
Imagine for a moment, a simple work of Christian fiction. The writing has some weak points, but the characters are likeable, the story is inspiring, and the truth of the Gospel is presented clearly. Most readers tell the author they like it, but she wonders how many are just being nice. Now, let’s imagine that little book in the right hands.
One of the first people to purchase the book is a faithful church-goer and friend of the author, named Mary. She loves the book because the gospel is woven seamlessly into the story. Mary has an unsaved friend named Nancy who loves to read. Mary thinks Nancy might enjoy the book, and that maybe, the Holy Spirit will use it to nudge her in the right direction. Unfortunately, the story really isn’t Nancy’s cup of tea. She puts the book aside after reading only one chapter.
Months pass and the book collects dust. One day, Nancy’s teenage daughter, Jane, notices it on the shelf. It has a pretty cover, so she tries it out. The characters draw her in, and she can’t put it down. Even though the story has some “church stuff”, she likes it.
A week later, Jane’s friend, Lily, invites the girl to church for the first time, and she agrees to go so she can hang out with her friend afterward. At church, the preacher’s sermon is confusing for Jane, until she remembers something from the Christian book she enjoyed so much. She makes a connection, and she understands that God loves her. That day, she chooses to give her life to Him.
Jane shares her decision with Lily and her mother, Kate, and they rejoice with her. Jane tells them about the book, and Kate decides to read it. The theme of foster care and adoption in the story immediately strikes a chord. She’d been praying about fostering a child, and the Lord uses the book to confirm her calling.
Kate and her husband eventually adopt a seven-year-old boy named Noah. He spends the rest of his childhood in a loving, Christian home, and he makes a profession of faith at the age of fifteen. The Lord calls him right after high school to become an evangelist.
At a revival meeting several years into Noah’s ministry, he helps lead an older woman to the Lord. Her name is Nancy. She tells Noah that she had rejected God for many years, and that she wishes her good friend Mary were still alive to see her prayers for Nancy be answered.
See what a simple book can accomplish in the right hands? Now, please don’t be confused. The “right hands” weren’t those of Mary, the friend of the author. The right hands were God’s. My made-up tale may seem fanciful, but when we place our work in the hands of the ultimate Creator, we can only imagine the story He will write! If you want to impact the kingdom with your talents, seek Him first, then put forth your very best effort in all that you do and trust God to use it mightily! You may never know the story. You may never be aware of the reach and impact your writing has. But you can always trust God’s purpose for it to be accomplished.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Psalm 37:5
Trying my first vlog! (And it only took about five takes. *winks*) I'm sharing some thoughts for fellow creatives, and I hope you will be encouraged.
Time is such a funny thing. I signed a publishing contract in January of 2018 and waited fourteen months for the book to be released. Release day finally arrived, and already two weeks have passed since Grace & Lavender made its official entrance into the world. And those two weeks have been a blur!
One of the most fun, and busiest, parts of the book launch experience so far, has been the amazing blog tour hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours, and two great Bookstagram tours--one hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours and the other by TLC Book Tours. In part, this blog post serves to preserve the links from these great social media tours, so I can look back at them.
I had the privilege of being featured on twenty different blogs! Click here to see which ones.
One of my favorite reviews so far came from the blog SusanLovesBooks. Part of it reads:
"GRACE & LAVENDER is filled with twists and turns as well as faith, family, love, hope, and had me staying up way too late one night to finish! I had to know where Heather Norman Smith was taking us and what would happen to Colleen, Melody, and Grace. Poor Grace will pull at your heart strings and never let them go. There is so much heart in Heather’s writing that I was left with a huge smile on my face and my heart very happy. I could totally see GRACE & LAVENDER becoming a Hallmark movie and I would love to see it. All of the characters are very interesting and believable, so much so that I felt as if I’ve known them for a long time."
These words made my heart happy!
Between the two tours on Instagram, I was able to connect with lots of readers I wouldn't have otherwise reached. The link listing all the tour stops with TLC is found here. Below is a sample of some of the amazing pictures these talented Instagrammers have posted over the last two weeks. Follow me or search #graceandlavender or #heathernormansmith on Instagram to see them.
This week, I also had an opportunity to guest post on the Seriously Write blog. You can find my short encouragement for Christian writers at the link here. Many more guest blog posts to come in the near future.
Perhaps the biggest event of this book release season happens this Sunday afternoon. My family is hosting a book signing/launch party at my church's fellowship hall. My parents have put a lot of effort into this event, to celebrate this book, and it means so much to me. Their encouragement and support are invaluable in my life!
I'll try to keep you updated as the whirlwind continues. I am immensely grateful to be able to share my words and to share God's love through the stories He's given me.
North Carolina’s rich heritage includes the geneses of many well-known and much-loved food products, the likes of which have earned us serious bragging rights. But, as gracious Southerners, we let the food speak for itself instead. Keep reading to learn more about famous brands born in the Tar Heel State, and to find out how I incorporated each of them into my book, Grace & Lavender.
Pepsi-Cola: Invented in New Bern, NC (Craven County) in 1893 by Caleb Bradham, who made and sold it at his drugstore. The name Pepsi-Cola was first used in 1898.
Georgia may have that other cola favorite, but we're proud this world-famous product got its start on our coast.
Fun fact: New Bern is the second-oldest colonial town in North Carolina.
Cheerwine: A cherry-flavored soft drink made by Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC (Rowan County) since 1917. This unique soda is sold across the Southeast, but is best known in the Carolinas and Virginia. The company also markets Cheerwine flavored ice cream, sherbet, and cream bars, sold mainly in Food Lion supermarkets (also referenced in the book), which is based in Salisbury as well.
Fun fact: Rowan County is also home of the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts: Founded in Winston-Salem, NC (in my county of Forsyth) in 1937, in a rented building located in what is now historic Old Salem. While Krispy Kreme was sold to a Luxembourg-based company in 2016, Winston-Salem remains the World Headquarters and home of the Krispy Kreme Support Center. Corporate operations moved to Charlotte, NC in December 2017.
Fun fact: The influence of the Moravian settlers who established the town of Salem is evidenced, in part, by the many active Moravian congregations in Winston-Salem today. The motto of the Moravian Church is: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love."
Texas Pete: A Louisiana-style hot sauce developed and manufactured by the TW Garner Food Company in Winston-Salem, NC. Texas Pete was introduced in 1929 by Sam Garner, operator of the Dixie Pig barbecue stand in Winston-Salem. (Some people here enjoy Texas Pete on everything! I've seen it doused on pizza and scrambled eggs.)
Fun fact: A hint about the location of the fictional town of Springville, NC in my book, comes from the quote, “The best hot sauce in the world is made just down the road.”
Mount Olive Pickle Company: Founded in the mid 1920s in Mount Olive, NC (Wayne County). The company's primary product is pickled cucumbers, but it also supplies canned peppers and relishes, and other pickled products. Mt. Olive is the largest independent pickle company in the United States. The company employs over 500 people, and as many as 800 during the busiest intake season each summer.
Fun fact: On New Year's Eve, Mt. Olive Pickle Company drops a three-foot pickle down a flagpole into a pickle tank, but at 7 p.m. instead of midnight.
Any one of these is enough to make a North Carolinian proud, but to have birthed all five of these products? It makes it hard to be humble.
In my book Grace & Lavender, the main character, Colleen Hill, celebrates this culinary heritage by writing a cookbook featuring these homegrown claims to fame. Her recipes include Krispy Kreme Peach Cobbler, Cheerwine Cupcakes, Pepsi-Cola Pound Cake, and Texas Pete Tater Soup. In the story, Colleen and her young friend, Grace, also make chicken salad using Mt. Olive Pickles.
While the recipe names in my book were from my imagination, internet searches after-the-fact proved that all these recipes, or something very similar, do exist. (And I found a great recipe for Cheerwine Pound Cake from Our State Magazine.)
If you ever decide to try any of these recipes, please let me know! And if I’m in driving distance, I might be up for a taste test.
One of the most fun parts of publishing my first book has been the cover design process. When I opened the initial email from Hannah, Creative Director at Ambassador International, I was so excited! She sent me some great concepts, then we worked together to decide on the right cover for "Grace & Lavender." I thought it would be fun to show you the covers that I didn't select and explain why.
The vision I originally gave Hannah was for a store front, where the title would be the name of the store on the window. I envisioned it like a painting rather than a photograph. I told her I preferred not to use faces on the cover, because I wanted the reader to come up with their own ideas of how the characters look. I also gave her an awesome photograph of the Blue Ridge Mountains, taken by my friend Keith Sidden, who is an outdoor enthusiast and a great photographer/videographer (check out his Instagram), and I asked if it could be used on the back cover of the book.
The first option she sent was a store front textured to look more like a painting and colorized a lavender tint. What I didn't notice at first, is that she had taken the photograph of the mountains that I'd sent and made it a reflection in the store window. This was a really cool concept, but it didn't do the photograph justice and the store front was not like the one described in the book. (Unfortunately, we weren't able to use the mountain photo on the back cover either.)
At the same time she sent Option #1, she sent me Option #2 below. This is a very attractive cover, but there were two things not right about it. The girl does not look like the character Grace--who is smaller and has straight, dark hair--and, in the story, Grace never visits a lavender field.
I liked how she used a tag for the background of the title, and she actually managed to get the photo of the mountains on the tag, too! (But it still just didn't do the photo justice.)
I liked the lavender field and the tag concept of Option #2, and I mentioned possibly making the scene brighter, maybe with some sky. and making the field more dimensional. Option #3 below was very close! She put an arrangement of lavender in the foreground and the open field in the background. And it had sky which brightened up the look. But the tag didn't feel like a "boutique" soap store to me. It needed some touching up.
She also sent Option #4 with lots of sky and an awesome embellishment around the title. I'd sent her something similar that I liked from another book, and she delivered on it! But one problem was that the image is from a lavender field in France, not the foothills of North Carolina. The mountains were pretty, but they weren't "my" mountains.
Finally, we arrived at the cover image that is soon going to press! The tag used for the title background is perfect, and she even made the little string wrap around to the back of the book. The Blue Ridge are in the background and given a purplish tint. I love it!
There are lots of directions we could have gone with cover images, but I am very pleased with my first book cover, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with for the cover of "Where I Was Planted", which will be in the Creative Design phase soon!
About the Blog
Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!