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
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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!
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