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Friday, November 9, 2012

Encouraging Word Devotional

My friend, David Stearman has been writing for years--mostly songs, including some for singers we all know and love: Amy Grant for one. But lately he's penning novels and most recently a great new devotional called Encouraging Word that just hit number ONE on Amazon's Christian Meditations list. AWESOME

He has graciously agreed to share one of his devotionals with us today.

Winter's End

Song of Solomon 2:11-12--For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

Proverbs 4:18--But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that grows brighter and brighter to the perfect day.

Winter. Not my favorite season. Sure, sometimes it snows and everything looks beautiful. Even the air is exhilarating. But here in the Southern US, most winter days are just cold and gray.

But before long the Earth tilts, tipping us closer to the sun. The days grow longer, the flowers appear, the songbirds return, and soon we’re reveling in spring’s warm embrace. This change is inevitable. The natural forces God set in motion at Creation cannot be prevented or circumvented.

And your life will get better, too, for God promises so in the Bible. The spiritual forces He set in motion by way of His word are irresistible. By placing your faith in these promises, you align yourself with the Power that drives the seasons. Yes, the God who created the universe declares that your life will get better and better until the Perfect Day.

Today’s Prayer: Lord, things seem cold and gray in my life today, but I know they won’t stay that way. You promised my days would grow brighter and brighter, and I trust you to bring this to pass. Soon enough it will be springtime in my life and these challenging days will be behind and forgotten.

To order the .99 ebook go here:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hope always Opens another Door

Day Two:

Why so downcast, o my soul? Put your trust in God.

I love that David talked to himself. Encouraged himself, reminded himself that God is bigger and there is always a better day ahead.

Some days, I just have to tell myself that Jesus never fails. That He sees, He hears, He knows. His heart is so big and directed toward me, that if I wait it out, I'll see the Goodness of God in the land of the living.

And some days, that Goodness overflows. Maybe not in a big, fat check. But in small, constant ways like: A letter from a reader, thanking me for brightening her day with one of my books. Some days, we get little surprises like the dog actually "stays" when I tell her to :) Or Mike makes curfew. Ha! A phone call from a someone who just wants to love me, have coffee or lunch. Someone who remembers I'm still here. Days when I feel alone and tired and in need of kindness.

We've had a tough couple of years. I'm not going to lie. And with the very real truth that the military funding will be cut even more, it's unlikely Rusty will find another military position. So we have to turn our eyes elsewhere. What's the next step, Lord?

Hope always opens another door. It takes wisdom and courage to walk into change, but we're listening. Willing to do whatever God says as He directs us forward to tomorrow. Grateful for family and friends who love us and want God's best for us.

God's ways make me scratch my head, but this I know, I TRUST Him. I Believe He is working out my life, and later (however long it takes) when I look back, I'll see His hand as He has faithfully met eveyr need against overwhelming odds.

He's just that cool...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

A couple weeks ago my agent, Karen, told me I must start blogging again. Normally I don't enjoy bossy people, but my sweet friend, Karen is RIGHT. I am so inconsistent. My friend Larry is in the process of editing his book called 40 Days With the Devil (see his fantastic blog, and he encourages his readers to take 40 days for real change. Helping him with this book has actually changed my life! But I've decided to apply the principles to getting consistent with blogging so for the next 40 (weekdays) I am going to blog. Even if it's something stupid.

Day One:

Yesterday was a BIG day for me. I love election day, the process of rising, cooking a special breakfast, teaching the kids how important it is--this freedom our soldiers have fought and died for over the course of our country's 236 years.

Went with my eighteen-year-old son, Stevan, as he cast his first ever ballot! It matters. Three of my kids are now registered voters. I don't tell them how to vote (not that it would do me any good--they're all pretty much independent thinkers), I mainly care only THAT they vote. It's their hard-won right.

I made fattening, carb-loaded food fit for a holiday, and we waited. And waited. By eight o'clock central time, I had a feeling the president would be re-elected. My mood shifted from celebration to resignation.

But then, guess what happened? Morning came. God didn't fall off his throne, my puppy is still having puppies, Will still went to school (despite his best efforts to stay home and "comfort me"--which loosely translated means, "how about you just get over it, while I play my video game?), I still have an edit to do and Jesus still loves America and all its people, even the Democrats (smile).

Lots of emotions milling around in America today. Anger, elation, sadness, joy, fear, hope. Depends on your affiliation. I doubt there's a lot of apathy going on. At least not from those who weren't already apathetic.

I hope and pray our nation will come together, One Nation Under God. If we truly, truly believe that every, single word of the Bible is true and not just Mark 11:23-24, then we MUST believe that God had a hand in this election, regardless the outcome. Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. Rom. 13:1 NLT Vs two is even more sobering. It says if you rebel against the authority you're rebelling against God and what he instituted.

I'm not a bible scholar. But I do believe the Word of God. I believe in our country, and even though I do not agree with many of the policies of our current administration and I mourn for the life of the unborn, President Obama is in my prayers.

God bless this nation

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The spirit of Christmas--a little early

Traditionally, my family lives by an iron-clad principle: NO Christmas until after Thanksgiving. We shake our heads in disgust at Christmas trees in the stores, wrapping paper out early, commercialized Baby Jesus and the angels. People who put their trees up before Halloween for crying out loud.

But the most important rule? NO Christmas movies between December 26 and until after the turkey has been eaten on Thanksgiving of the following year. It's just our thing. Each holiday gets its special time to just be...

But this year, I'm the one my kids are looking at, shaking their judgy heads and scowling.

Because here's the thing...

I have been working on a Christmas story the last few days. Which means watching a ton of Christmas movies to get me in the mood. So who cares what my kids think?

In the Bateman home it doesn't feel like Christmas until Thanksgiving night. We put up the tree, watch Elf or Jingle all the Way, and drink hot chocolate, plus bake cookies, but with all the leftover pie, we barely eat them.

Something about Christmas in September has pulled me into the Christmas spirit and I feel hope rising.

What is it about the Christmas season that does this? I mean really. We spend a ton of money, stress about family visits and worry that the kids are going to be disappointed at the things they "didn't" get. And yet, that feeling of hope prevails throughout the whole season. I love that.

I love snow and lights and too much food. I love baby faces sticky with their first taste of candy cane, peanut butter fudge, wrapping paper, Christmas carols, the three wise men and plastic dolls in wooden mangers. Christmas cards all filled out and never mailed (sheepish grin).

My heart is full of Christmas today. Hope, love, peace on earth, angels, and possibility.

I want pie and hot chocolate and ten inches of fluffy, white snow, just wet enough to make a great snowball and a lopsided snowman.

I want to think about Joseph and a big-bellied Mary, baby Jesus, the gift. The one. The savior.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reflections of ACFW conference

The last few days I have been in Dallas at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. I haven’t attended this or any other big conference in years and wouldn’t have gone this time except for two things: Felt like God said to (which is big), Michael Hyatt was keynote (if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know who that is, Google him. You’ll be glad you did).

Here’s the thing, on day one, I felt like a slug. No one knows me anymore.

My pastor gave a quote a few weeks ago talking about church-skippers that went something like: The more you miss, the less you’re missed.

That’s sort of what happened. ACFW grew up without me and I spent the first day catching my breath.

Day two I readjusted and realized that it was nice not to be recognized or to have any responsibility, so I blended into the crowd, attended workshops, visited with hopeful writers, reminding them how much Jesus loves them and how this really isn’t about them, rather it’s about the readers we serve. They want to feel that, but for now, we all know it really is all about us in the beginning—they won’t truly understand until later after they’re published and God teaches them to get over themselves. And God will do that, because of His great love.☺

I reconnected with old friends I haven't seen in a few years.

And I learned the names of all the baristas in the Lobby Starbucks—they are amazing young people on the cusp of life and I told them to go buy Michael Hyatt’s book and be fabulous. ☺ Forgot to tell them Jesus loves them. But that’s the thing about living your Christianity out loud. You don’t have to tell them anything. Just be nice and they’ll know.

I’ve been doing a lot less talking and a lot more listening. My feet are swollen, my body aches, and I’m still not sure why God wanted me to come. I drove down from Missouri with a crazy bunch of new writers in a minivan and I’m really excited to hear all their news on the way home. I know my friend, Carol has received several requests from agents for proposals. My stomach flutters up for her. I remember that feeling.

I also want to say to her, and all hopeful writers: Remember you aren’t writing to be published, but to finish your race, whatever the end looks like for you. God calls us to things with no guarantees of the end results. We’d all like to be NYT bestsellers, but logically, we won’t be. The most we can ask for is to learn what we’re supposed to learn—remember holiness is more important than happiness (not that you can’t have both, but the pursuit of happiness is secondary to going deeper with Jesus).

So the conference is over, tears have been shed, stomach still aches from the gut-splitting laughter, reconnected with good friends. I did have a couple of low moments I’m still trying to figure out—weird moments of miscommunication that I’m not sure I could have made better but wish I could.

All in all, I’m so very grateful to have attended with 700 members of this community of writers and publishers that God allowed me to blend with. They understand pain and process, mountain highs and valley lows, rejection and success.

We are writers.

To entertain, to serve, to share a journey with our readers.

But mostly, we write as worship for an audience of One. I was reminded of that this week.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blog Tour: Melanie Dobson and Cara Putman

Mackinac Island. It¹s a magical place that
allows you to step back in time from the moment you first step off the
ferry. Authors Cara
 and Melanie
 have teamed up for a tour of the island, now and then.
Comment at each stop for a chance to win a copy of one of their books set on
Mackinac Island. You¹ll find the list of stops here.
Share the tour on twitter, Facebook, pinterest and other places, and you¹ll
gain extra entries for the grand prize of a copy of each of their books and
a 5 slice box of Murdick¹s
, straight from Mackinac Island. Just be sure to email Cara at, so she can record your entries. The grand prize winner
will be selected on August 27, 2012.

While the current Mackinac lighthouse was
built in 1895, my novel was inspired in part by an intriguing note I read on
my tourist map, a note about an old light station on the eastern bluffs. I
mapped out my bike ride to find the site of this old station. I asked locals
and a lighthouse expert about the location, and I climbed the bluffs
searching for it. No one seemed to know about the station, and even though I
found some old buildings and ruins on the east side of the island, I never
found the site for this old light. When I returned to Mackinaw City, I
toured a historic lighthouse that looks out into the Straits of Mackinac.
And I wondered, what if...? What if there had once been an old lighthouse
high above the eastern shore? And what if the lighthouse keeper disappeared?
I don¹t know where the older lighthouse was on Mackinac‹or if there was
one‹so I built one for my story.
The lighthouses are a very recognizable
aspect of Mackinac Island. They stand like sentinels, guarding the
waters leading to Mackinac...warning boats to be wary. When I see the
lighthouses, I know we are getting close to the piers and to the start of
our time on the island. 

A Wedding Transpires on Mackinac

 Join attorney Alanna Stone as she
returns home despite her determination to never set foot on Mackinac Island
again. Once again in close proximity to Jonathan Covington, her first love,
she vows to protect her privacy and her heart from the man who still makes
her pulse race. But when her worst fears are realized and history repeats
itself‹landing her in the midst of a murder investigation‹Jonathan may be
her only hope. Will they be able to lay aside the past and let God heal
their hearts, or will reconciliation come too late?  Read the first
chapter here.

Love Finds You on Mackinac Island:

As the Gilded Age comes to a
close, Elena Bissette¹s family has lost most of its fortune. The
Bissettes still own a home on fashionable Mackinac Island, and they
spend summers there in hopes of introducing Elena to a wealthy suitor.
Quickly tiring of the extravagant balls at the Grand Hotel, she spends
her days walking along the island¹s rugged coastline. There she meets
Chase, a handsome laborer who invites her to watch the ships from an
abandoned lighthouse. The two begin to meet there in secret, hoping to
solve a mystery buried in the pages of a tattered diary. As Elena falls
in love with Chase, her mother relentlessly contrives to introduce her
to Chester Darrington, the island's most eligible bachelor. Marriage to
the elusive millionaire would solve the Bissettes' financial woes, and
Elena is torn between duty and love. Read the first chapter

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What I learned from my Kid: No Excuses

Last night, after a grueling, hot, painful three-hour football practice, my 14 year old son came in drenched, grimacing, almost in tears. Told us a little about practice and went to take a bath. I could see his discouragement. Not being the best. Not getting praise for his hard work. Missing out on three hours of video games. (smile). I prayed. I know he doesn’t like the hard things any more than I do. But I’d never force him to play a sport if he wants to stop. As a matter of fact I tried to talk him out of football in 7th grade because quite frankly, I saw my next six years of sitting on butt-killing bleachers, trying to drum up some go-team enthusiasm for a sport I think never should have been invented in the first place. In my opinion, kids should read and play the piano, but I know I’m in the American minority. For sure I’m in the Lebanon Family Church minority.

So, my fourteen year old came out of his bath, still drenched, this time from the bath—because fourteen year old boys don’t have time or inclination for towels—and he said, “So, I was trying to think of any excuse to quit football”

And my stomach dropped. Because, football is his dream. He’s not great (don’t tell him I said so, not that I’m the best judge of football greatness) YET. He’s not in the best shape. YET. He is way too smart to get his brains knocked around in a violent sport, but it’s his dream. And dreams are a big deal with me. Any kid who will sit and watch the text of a football game as it comes in because we don’t have DISH anymore, is committed.

I’ve been telling him for years, “God drops a dream into our heart and then waits to see what we’ll do with it. What are you going to do about your dream?” God definitely partners with us. He is the only one who can make the impossible, possible. But He wants to see that we will believe that the bigger the dream, the bigger the goal, the bigger the opportunity for God to flex his God-muscles and show us how awesome and powerful He truly is.

So my stomach dropped when my son said he was trying to think of any excuse to quit football, and I said, “Really?” GULP

“Yeah,” he said. “But then I picked up the shirt I was going to wear.”

I was wondering if he got it from the clean clothes or just grabbed a dirty shirt, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

“And on the back it said this…”

And my wonderful, funny, too-smart-to-get-his-brains-knocked-around-in-a-violent-sport kid, showed me the words NO EXCUSES.

He grinned. “God told me not to quit.”

And I believe him. I believe with all my heart that God said, “Will, I gave you this dream. What will you do with it? It’s you and Me, Will Bateman. Will you believe me for the impossible?”

It’s not about being the best, finishing the strongest, or being hoisted onto shoulders with fans screaming your name. It’s about being faithful to the dream. Getting your brains beat out and coming back for more. Flexing thigh and calf muscles against impossible hills, and getting to the top, knowing you’re one hill stronger than you were before.

No excuses, no quitting, climbing to reach the goal against impossible odds.

For better or worse, that’s faith.

Monday, August 6, 2012

You're talking about The Widow of Saunders Creek

(Don't click the try it before you buy it link, I can't get it to work but I love the ad so decided to keep it anyway)

A lot of writers refuse to read reviews. They have their reasons and I do understand. If a review is scathing, it can suck all the writing confidence right out of a girl. If it’s glowing, well, it can raise her opinion of herself from slug of the year to “Jane Austen who?”

To be honest, I take it by spells. I read voraciously during the first week of release or so, then I breathe a little and go back and read what’s on Amazon every now and then. Today I stayed in bed all day, not feeling well, and thought I’d browse over there. I was blown away by the reviews. And honestly, most of you whether on Amazon,, or other blogsites, are hearing the song of my heart. I love the conversation, even the viewpoint of those who disagree with the fundamental theology of the book, which I will say is that “ghosts” are demons looking to mess with humanity.

So I thought I’d take today to give my thanks to those of you who not only read the book, but also take your valuable time and write a review. It matters.
Here are just a few: (in the spirit of fairness, I’ll include the ones that didn’t give me goosebumps too)

5 of 5 stars
I've reviewed another title by Tracey Bateman, and I have to say, she is definitely near the top of my favorite author's list. This book was just too good to put down, and I stayed up late, reading it in one setting. You won't want to miss this one, to be sure.

4 of 5 stars
I decided to review this novel because I love gothic novels and spooky old houses, and I wondered how a Christian author would integrate these themes into her writing while still giving the glory to Christ. I personally thought the author did a fine job. She consulted several former ghost-hunters who have now turned to Christianity and I thought she did a good job of depicting generational strongholds and demonic influences while still making the point that Christ is the Lord over all and that our authority comes from Christ. This book has been quite controversial in Christian circles, but I applaud the author's ability to directly address spiritual warfare without delving into some sort of vague mysticism or belittling the power of Christ.

Spiritual warfare aside, I think the author portrayed grief, disappointment, and recovery well. If you're looking for a different sort of read with quality characters that deals with spiritual warfare, I recommend this book.

5 of 5 stars
Most Christian fiction, especially romantic, novels shy away from the topic of ghosts, but in The Widow of Saunders Creek, Bateman explores the supernatural that just can't be explained. Hoping to connect to her husband's past, widow Corrie moves back to her husband's family farm in the Ozarks where she finds she is not alone in the house. Rumors of ghosts and strange occurrences in the house leave Corrie wondering if her war hero husband has come back to her. Will she find the answers she desperately needs or will she find herself involved in something she can't control?
Fans of Christian fiction will love this book. Its unique spin on a romance novel makes it one I will want to reread.

2 of 5 stars
If I need to sum up my initial thoughts on this book, I might have to say "strange". While I am fully aware that spiritual warfare exists and that mountain people may have some odd ways of thinking, I must say that I have never met anyone like Jerrod's extended family and people of Saunders Creek believing in ghosts and haunted houses. Even Eli, who is the strongest Christian in the book says in his mind that there is no evidence from the Bible or from reality.....Isn't the Bible and reality the same thing? Since those wonderings occur on page 15, it left me wondering about the theology of the whole story.

Overall, I did enjoy watching the friendship develop between Corrie and Eli but all the supernatural thinking sort of got in my way. This probably won't be a title I will add to our church library.

FROM TRACEY: I think the review got a little caught up in semantics, but I do highly respect the opinion of anyone willing to read my book and consider it for their church library! Even though Widow didn’t make the cut. ☺ I hope this reviewer will give me another chance with another title to make it into her church library. It would be an honor.

4 of 5 stars

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Tracey Bateman developed the plot line and characters well, and both were very informative and realistic. Her themes of forgiveness, spiritual and emotional healing, and the danger of communicating with demons were clear and well presented. I would highly recommend this novel, and I cannot wait to read more of Tracey's novels. You can read the first chapter Here and check out the author's website here.

5 of 5 stars
WOW! That would be the best way to describe this book. To be completely honest, if it had been written by someone other than Tracey Bateman - or an author that I knew - I doubt I would have read the book simply based on the front and back covers of the book. You've got a preacher/contractor, a widow/artist, a demon posing as a dead war hero, and a witch. Strange combination for a Christian romance novel, but it worked. And the ending. (sigh) So sweet. I really hope this is going to be a series. I would love to see Eli and Corrie again.

FROM TRACEY: And there are many more. These were just a few, and my way of saying thank you for the conversation, for caring enough to write a review, write to me on facebook and email, and repost on twitter. You guys are the best. If you'd like to read the rest of the reviews or are intrigued enough to order the book, you can find them on,, and lots of other places.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Learning The Power of Simple Prayer

This Summer, the past couple of months, we have been attending prayer at my church on Monday and Friday mornings. Just a handful of watchmen on the tower, praying for our church, the members, our region, the nation.

Yesterday, we prayed for rain.

Overnight, it finally rained. Coincidence? Could be, but I think not. It wasn’t in the forecast. But as I sit on my deck this morning, my upper body shielded from the drops by the roof, my legs tingling with sprinkles, I believe our simple plea for rain reached the heart of God.

God hears, He sees, He’s merciful.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been listening as my pastor prays his heart out during these times. A busy man, pastoring a church of almost 1000 members. Longing to enlarge the borders of his tent, knowing with somber expectancy, the task set before him. Being faithful in the small, where there were only a handful of church-goers meeting in his mother’s home just fifteen years ago. God has blessed him. In a town and surrounding area of twenty-thousand or so people where there’s a struggling church on every corner, he knows his calling is great.

But in most ways, he’s not a likely candidate for the greatness set before him. A simple guy who likes sports, loves his family, likes Olive Garden and baked sushi. Can down a bag of chips like an Olympic event. He’s everyman.

And this is what God has taught me this summer, the last two weeks in particular and yesterday, most specifically: There is great power in simple faith, simple prayer, living everyday simply knowing that God hears and sees.

Listening to him pray is like eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends. That’s what it is, a simple conversation, no fanfare, no deep groanings—usually—just effectual, fervent prayer of a man who is righteous and faithful. His simple trust that God is listening, brings in a heavy presence of God, the kind I have only experienced through worship in the past.

I don’t post this to lift him up or glorify him, but to say this: leading by example, my pastor has taught me to pray. Simply converse on a level I’ve never known, with more simplicity than I’ve ever done.

Many Christians struggle with daily prayer, but I've discovered this summer, that prayer is easy. Just start talking to God. In much the same way the disciples asked Jesus: Teach us to pray. My heart was asking Jesus: Teach me to pray. After forty years of knowing Jesus, I’m learning to get on my knees or sit on my deck and just say, “My Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name,” Only I say it in everyman language. A conversation. Simple and honest and from my heart.

It’s making the difference…

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Prize is too Big to Quit Now!

I was fourteen years old the first time I read "I'm Running to Win" by Ann Kiemel. A book about her first marathon and faithfully running to the goal, trusting Jesus, being faithful through bleeding toes, injuries, saying "yes" to God no matter what.

It got into my soul in a deep-down kind of way that forced--yes, forced-- me to steal the book from my mom and never give it back. Don't worry, I confessed and she gave it to me, so my guilt is covered.

I've read the book so many times, it's discolored, frayed, coffee-stained, like all beloved books should be (apologies to my brother, Bill, who would probably hyperventilate at the thought of one of his books frayed or coffee-stained no matter how old it is).

How was I to know almost thirty years later my greatest struggle would be the very topic of my most cherished book: faithfulness?

We teach ourselves to be what we become, first through tiny compromises, excuses, one missed commitment at a time. One glass of wine too many, one failure to get on the treadmill then another until all our hard work is for nothing. One day of saying, I'll do it tomorrow or next week I'll drag my sorry, allergy-riddled fat head out of bed and head to the HOUSE for worship with my fellow Christ-followers.Or, I know I told the kids we'd go to McDonalds, but there's this deadline--which most of the time really meant, I don't feel like getting out of my PJ's (the writer's work suit), brushing my hair, putting on makeup and going out among all those people.

For the past nine months, God has been slowly (and most times, painfully) dragging me past comfort toward faithfulness. I don't know why I decided it was worth it, but something clicked in me and I said, "enough, already". If I'm going to do it, let's do it.

Which is not to say I've arrived. That's what running to the goal means. We press on, fall down, pick up and keep running. It hurts and our lungs scream for mercy and our legs are about to give out, but we keep putting one foot in front of the other, enduring the cross the for the prize at the end of the road. Even if a million others are in front of you, even if the banner has been broken by the strongest runner and the crowds have dissipated, and night has fallen while you limp along to the finish line. I have to remember, this is MY race I'm running. Jesus and me. One bloody footfall in front of the other. Becoming stronger every time I push forward, pain overcoming weakness. Determined to live holy, no matter how many others do better at holiness, faithfulness, writing, speaking.

I have parts of I'm Running to Win memorized. This little snippet in particular:

"it is not, 'Jesus, I will be deeply commited to you if you'll heal my brother or increase my salary...or give me that new house...or make me famous.' It is rather,
Jesus, I will follow you to the end, no guarantees asked. No special rewards except that you'll be at the end of the road to meet me when I get there...and I will know that I've lived out my life in truth. Whatever is along the road...during the race...yes to it. To anything you bring into my life."

We each have a race to run. Some sprint and get there faster. Others spring forward and fall back like the clock twice a year (unless you live in Arizona--but stay with me). Others sit back and never get into the race.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but on one receives the prize? So run your race that you may lay hold of the prize and make it yours. Gal. 9:24

What are you running for? What dream has Jesus given you that seems to big? Too hard, unattainable? Let me say this, for all my struggle and false starts. Starting strong and stopping short of the goal. Going around the same stinking mountain a million times, despite all those things, I keep trying. I won't give up totally. I think that's why God keeps allowing the small victories. He is so kind. He knows how much I love him. How much I want to please him. But how human and weak I am.

I'm running, even if I'm the last person across the finish line. Even if I crawl across the finish line, dirt-caked, sweat-drenched, bleeding. I'm not quitting. The prize is too big. The loss too devastating.

That I may know Him....Receive the Crown of Life, Well done, good and faithful servant, Jesus, Can I wash your feet with my tears? Your pleased, smiling face is my life goal.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Little Me, Big God

I woke up today praying about so many things. It struck me how small I feel facing some big challenges. Family hurting, friends facing huge, potentially life-altering pain and trials. Our own issues.

I told God how small I feel in all of these situations. How I want to make them better for the ones I love.

I realized a couple of things. I am nothing, but I have an everything God. I'm small, but I have a big God, I'm weak, but I have a strong God. I'm a child, but I have an Abba Father. I'm broken, but God is whole. I'm facing impossible situations, but I serve a Possible God. I'm insecure, but God is my shield.

This morning as I prayed for a way to make a difference in my small sphere (figures a writer would say sphere instead of circle--rolling my eyes at myself) of influence, I said, "Dear Jesus, I want so much to please you. Today, if only for today, I'll will say 'yes' to anything you ask me to do. And if I'm afraid to do it, I'll remember that I might be nothing, but you are everything."

Isn't that a really great, humble, surrendered prayer?

The thing about telling Jesus that you will say 'yes' to anything He asks of you is that He'll take you up on it. Even as I write this blog post, two paragraphs in, I received a text from my pastor's wonderful, inspiring, God-breathing, love empowered assistant: Pastor asked me to ask you if you will lead worship at prayer on Friday.

Here's the thing, I USED to be a worship leader. Like, 13 years ago. But after we started attending the church where we've been planted for 13 years, they didn't need a worship leader, so other than the occasional opportunity to lead at small gatherings, I haven't really exercised that gift or the singing muscles in a really long time. Recently, my pastor has asked me five or six times to lead and I have either said, "I'm sorry, I can't" or said yes (twice) and backed out. It's intimidating and overwhelming just thinking about it.

Last Friday I told God "If I knew this was you asking me to lead and not just my pastor being nice because he thinks I want to lead worship like I used to, I'd never say no. But I just hadn't (honestly, still haven't) settled it that it's still my calling. I know the gifts and callings are irrevocable, but just because someone CAN do something, doesn't mean they necessarily SHOULD. See?

So anyway, I was about to say, "gee, I wish I could, but...." and then make up an excuse, I remembered my prayer to say 'yes' to anything Jesus asked me to do, just for today. And I said yes, I will lead worship on Friday.

last Friday, the day I was supposed to lead, but backed out and the real worship leader led, she did a song that had the words, "You've called me to your purposes and I wouldn't trade it for the world."

So, today, just for today, I'm saying "yes" to Jesus. Whatever He asks. No matter how I feel.

I am small (not literally) but He is so big.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Red Panty roses and Green Tea

One of my bigger love languages is giving gifts. I love it! But mostly, I don’t get gifts except at the proper times, birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day (if I set out not-so-subtle reminders a week to ten days ahead of time), so when someone takes their time and resources to surprise me with a token of love, it touches me in a deep-down way.

Yesterday was that kind of day.

I did a little volunteer work and when I got to the desk I was to use, there was a Starbucks coffee sitting right in front of my chair. At first I thought, “Gee whiz, someone left their coffee.” Then I looked down at the lid and my name plus a smiley (and we all know that smileys are AWESOME) was written on the lid.

My heart did a little flip and tears filled my sometimes-green-sometimes-blue eyes. The moment felt sweet and healing.

But it didn’t end there. A few minutes later, a new friend came into the office and handed me a gift card to Starbucks. Because she said, she knows I love green tea from Starbucks. And that's the thing about loving people and caring enough to really get to know them. Taking time to learn what sort of gift touches the heart in the gentlest way.

What she didn’t know was that on the way into the office, I really, really wanted a green tea from Starbucks, but I did the responsible thing and didn’t stop and spend money on one.

Giving gifts is easy. We tend to give what we like to people if we get the urge to give. Something that we’d want to get if someone were to give us something. I read a book a few years ago and the author relayed a really funny story about her husband’s efforts to bless her by cooking her a meal on their honeymoon. First, he botched the meal, plus he cooked her least favorite food in the world. And sure, she appreciated the effort as her stomach twisted and turned at the sight of chicken, burnt on the outside, raw on the inside, but-- and this is what really got me—she said, it isn’t a blessing unless the person you’re trying to bless values the thing you give them. How much better if he’d have asked her what her favorite food was and tried his hand at that instead of his favorite meal? If his motive was truly to make her happy and not just to feel good that he'd done a nice thing...get my drift?

That goes against our society’s new (dumbest ever) rule where you get a prize just for showing up. Giving people points for trying. But I agree with her. If you love me and want to bless me, take time to get to know me and find out what I truly value—coffee, for instance. On the other hand, my husband once—in our early days of marriage—bought me a rose made out of red panties. That gift did not bless me and I told him next time he wanted to score points, he better get me a real rose.

I’m still waiting… Ha!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Jesus Loves You...Everyone Else Thinks You're an Idiot

This cracks me up. I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to be a Christian T, though. And if it is, well, it’s not very edifying, even if it is kinda funny. ☺

I heard about it from a TV minister the other night. His point was that it doesn’t really matter what people think about you…Jesus loves you.

I guess in theory, I agree, but as I’ve mulled it over the past couple of days, I decided I don’t agree with it in most ways that matter. First of all, yes, it’s true Jesus loves me and His opinion matters most. But, to a degree, it also matters what other people think. Jesus grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God AND man.

We’re called to live in community with other people. Relationship is all about caring what others think and preferring them to ourselves. At least God-kind of relationships.

I’ve been in a place of isolation for a long time. Of my own design and preference that really started when I became a writer. Next to the word “introvert” in the dictionary there’s a picture of me and a caption that says, “Don’t bother this chick, she’ll ignore you anyway.” Seriously, I’d spend all my time at home alone or with my family if God hadn’t called me out of my hole.

But poking my head out for a look-see means taking the chance it’ll get blown off too. And we’re back to people and learning to live in community. It’s easier to stay away from people and not risk hurt, misunderstanding, anger, judgment, betrayal. But honestly, Jesus had to put up with all that too.

What might it have looked like if he’d been born, stayed home for thirty-three years then stepped into the temple and said, “I’m Jesus, God’s son, go ahead an kill me. It’s what I’m here for.”

I mean, we’d still be saved, but He wouldn’t have touched the lives He touched. And if we follow his life and example, it’s clear he had to withdraw from people—even his disciples—and get alone from time to time. But afterwards, he rejoined the human race and made his mark.

So, I’ve climbed out of my rabbit hole. Giving people a chance to know me and it’s scary. Because I look a lot more awesome in theory than when I start showing who I really am. The author persona looks better than the real-person reality. But I want to make a difference in my tiny world of influence. I want to ease others’ burdens and give God a chance to bring those people into my life who can help me grow. Iron sharpens Iron. But an Iron bar by itself will most likely gather dust and eventually erode.

I swear, there’s an iron-sharpens-iron person in my life I love more than I have words to express, but we can have a thirty-minute conversation and walk away with completely different versions of what we just talked about. It used to frustrate the heck out of me to the point that I avoided conversation at all cost because our lack of ability to understand a word the other was saying always left me looking bad. For no good reason.

Now, I think it’s kind of funny and also challenges me to pray HARD before every email, text, phone call or face to face with this person. I’ve figured out (I think) that it’s about our different forms of subtext. We hear the words, but interpret them in a way the other doesn’t mean based on our personalities and life experience. But I’m starting to decipher the code, I think. My inner conversation goes something like this: “Okay, Tracey, this is what he said and what you think he means, so this is probably what he REALLY means.” ☺

Giving the benefit of the doubt helps me not be hurt or frustrated. There are just people out there who don’t think like me. Go figure. I have to give more grace to those people and not call them idiots under my breath. ☺ Because, you know, I don’t want them thinking I’m an idiot either. And I can’t always just hang out with other writers so I don’t have to try as hard.

So, yeah Jesus loves you and SOME people think you’re an idiot (especially if you have teenagers), and some people think you’re more awesome than you are, and some people know the real you.

Take a chance on people. Care what they think and how they feel even if it means you might not come out looking so great in their eyes. It’s worth the risk. It really, really is.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Faithfulness: The Noble Cause

I’m ridiculously happy right now. And really, if you think hard about it, there’s no real reason to be. None of our outward issues have changed in terms of finances, the house, etc. And yet…

I have this joy. And really, that’s the thing about serving God. It doesn’t really make sense to the logical mind—not that the logic part of my brain is all that well-developed. He gives peace (in the midst) of storms. Not when the storm is over. Love your enemies, pray for those who use you. Believe even when you can’t see or imagine the results.

Simply put, God’s ways are higher.

And we are a culture—a world, really, of humans who have a hard time wrapping our heads around that sort of thing. Because we want answers now. We want results. Walking out onto a raging sea goes against everything sane and reasonable. We think we know best.

But we really don’t.

Faithfulness hasn’t always been my issue to overcome. Or lack of faithfulness, is a better way to put it. Many years, I did the church thing regularly, joyfully, and without complaint. Then God told us to switch churches about 13 years ago. This is what He said, and no he didn’t speak through a burning bush, but an inner knowing. “If you will leave the familiar and go where I’m sending you, I’ll raise your kids up in righteousness.”

We had been concerned about the kids being raised in the church we'd attended for so many years. There was strong worship and great preaching, but for some reason, the young people have always struggled to walk in purity—including me in my teen years. It’s like, it’s expected that for two or three years, the children of the church will fall away, into sin, and come back once they’re adults and marked with scars of sin and their past. And the cycle starts over with the next group of teens. We didn’t want that for our kids. We desperately wanted them to avoid the pitfalls I went through and learn something different.

Well, if you want something different, you have to do something different.

The church we attend now was new. The talk of the town, really. They were different from anything in our town where I grew up. And when I told my husband what I felt God said, he scowled. ☺ He’s the kind of guy who sticks things out. He’s steady and dependable and couldn’t imagine why God would ask us to pull up roots and plant somewhere else. But he trusted me enough to at least visit the new church. And within a couple of weeks, he knew we were doing the right thing. Whew.

But, truly, we struggled. The older kids, who were nine and seven at the time, struggled. We were like Abraham, leaving Ur and going to a place where God was asking us to have some faith. A place that was unfamiliar.

I was beginning my writing career at the time. I got my first book contract the year we started at the new church and it was really easy to turn my eyes from church ministry and make myself believe God was finished with all that in me. After all, we hadn’t come to the new church to use our gifts, we came to keep our kids from the pits of hell. It was a noble cause. And fiction writers know that the hero of the story must always have a noble cause. I was writing a new story of my life.

With that mentality, I could justify starting on the worship team, and quitting. Starting again, and quitting. Helping in kids ministry and stopping. Doing drama, quitting. You see the pattern. I had a victim’s mentality. My gifts aren’t needed. I’m not as good as the others who are serving. Blah, blah, blah.

And I knew better. I had served long enough and well enough that I knew when you commit to serving in the church: nursery, children’s church, worship team, door greeters, and you don’t show up for your turn, it causes a real problem for not only the leaders in that department, but for your fellow workers, because someone has to take up your slack. But I didn’t see it. I had so many insecurities that I figured they were better off without me. It was such a selfish way to behave.

As I’ve begun to open my heart again recently over the past few months, God has shown me so much of what I thought and felt and did or didn’t do came purely from a heart that wasn’t developed in Love. And that’s our first and second commandment. Love God, Love each other. Serve one another, prefer one another. By committing and blowing off those commitments, I was essentially telling those I was letting down: I don’t love you enough to ease your burden, instead, I expect you to ease mine.

This message truly hit me yesterday during a discussion with some friends—people who have sacrificed willingly, for years and years, who have taken up slack for those who haven’t loved enough to be faithful—including me—and have done it with grace and kindness.

It cut me to the core. And in that moment I experienced true repentance.

So here’s what I want to say: Be faithful where God has you right now. Put down some roots. The best way to do that is to see others more highly than yourself. Different from popular belief, Love means ALWAYS saying you’re sorry. But repentance isn’t saying you’re sorry and doing the same thing over and over. It’s being truly sorry and changing your behavior.

I’m making a fresh start. A few months ago, I did a 40 days of walking out my commitments. As day forty approached I was terrified that I would fail on day 41. But true change was beginning in me.

God walked alongside me with each shaky step forward. And He is continuing that work in me. But it hasn’t been without a setback here and there. It hasn’t been without what I considered sacrifice.

But I’m learning again, there’s joy in learning to love. To prefer others. To stop thinking it’s all about me. My roots are slowly sinking into the soil where God planted me. And I’m growing.

Change is hard. But the joy filling me up and pouring out, keeps me face forward on this journey to the place called God’s Best for my life. Whatever that promised land is going to look like and however it takes to get there, I believe God is leading.

Where He leads me, I will follow. Where He leads me I will follow. Where He leads me I will follow. I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Supernatural: flickering lights, moving chairs, the power of love

The world (and by the world I don’t mean our Christianese word that means “the people who are going to hell in a hand basket”—whatever a hand basket is)—Let me start over…

The whole world is looking for the supernatural God of the Bible. I truly believe that. We want to hear what the prophets of old heard, we want to see miracles like Jesus and the disciples performed, and we want proof that God isn’t some mythical being filing his nails, with no interest in the creation he fashioned and forgot about.

It’s so obvious as we watch TV and peruse—the market is glutted with supernatural stories. Some from a reality perspective, some clearly fiction.

Some MY fiction.


Warning: Shameless plug coming.

I wrote two metaphorical vampire novels for the Christian market. Both on the subject of generational family curses. The first one…alcoholism. The second: co-dependency.
And then there’s the new one. My favorite book I’ve ever written: The Widow of Saunders Creek. Which is selling well and getting the best reviews of my LIFE! Thanks to Jesus and everyone who is reading and liking it!
Shameless plug is now over….

But here’s the thing. I’m the LEAST likely person to write scary stuff. Except maybe, Deb Raney, who, as she readily admits, might be a bigger fraidy cat than me.

When I was a kid and even into my oh…40s. (I’m 42), I was a huge scardy cat. One of the original members of the Big Honkin’ Chickens club—of which Deb is president, although I’m not sure we ever held an election.

I’ve seen a ton of supernatural stuff over the years. Some of it BS and worked up by Christians who are desperate to feel God and hear his voice, but most of it real and true works of a loving Holy Spirit who wants to speak to us and reveal the love of Christ. And set the captives free. Some of it violent, a powerful struggle between evil and love.

I honestly don’t know why God asked someone like me to write The Widow of Saunders Creek. When I wrote the proposal for it, I was alone in the house (DUMB) and as I started to walk downstairs to my laundry room, the stair lights –only--started flickering on a clear night. They never flickered before and haven’t done it since.
It made me kind of mad, so I pled the blood of Jesus, spoke out loud. “God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear but of power love and a sound mind” and forged ahead, wildly beating heart, shaking hands, determined to put in a load of towels and not let the devil scare me off.

Then there was the time when I was finishing up the rewrite, preparing for the book to go into production. I was writing a very intense scene where the “ghost” is sounding off and the heroine is about to be forced to run away or confront it, and my chair started moving. MOVING! Back and forth.

I did what any crazy Christian would do. I got mad and rebuked the demon. Then it had the audacity to move my chair again! Hey! Didn’t I just rebuke it? It’s supposed to go away in Jesus’ name. My confidence shaken—clearly I need more faith—I sat there a second or two trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do now. Running out of the house and driving to the peace of my mom’s home, came to mind. Also, giving my publisher back the money and finding a nice plot for an Amish novel seemed like a good idea.

Instead, I called out to my husband who was in the kitchen, and isn’t afraid of anything, least of all a demon. “Honey?” My Big Honkin’ Chicken voice trembled. “I think a demon just shook my chair. Twice. Will you come pray?” ☺

He stayed in the kitchen, calm and completely unaffected, which annoyed me a little, but I didn’t let it show, because perfect love casts out fear.


“Good grief, calm down. It was an earthquake. It shook the kitchen too.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Turns out, the Oklahoma City earthquake reached a five point something on the scale and we felt it all the way in Ozarks. (insert sheepish grin).

But writing about the supernatural from a Christian perspective is risky. Christians are scared of the topic and non Christians don’t want to believe the devil and demons are alive and well and kicking serious butt, while we sit back and let it happen.

In spite of my deep down knowing I was supposed to write another supernatural novel, I decided NO WAY. I’m done with all that. It’s too scary and I hate when my lights flicker and my chair moves and fear nearly chokes me. I convinced myself and my agent that God was leading me to go back to writing historicals. So I came up with a really super proposal (in my own mind it was super) worked on it for about six months, which really should have shown me that I was doing it on my own. When God gives me a story, it pops onto the page almost without effort. And we sent it out. I confidently sat back, waiting for all the contract offers to come in…only…YIKES, for the first time in my career, editors weren’t biting.

So after a few months, I turned back to the idea of a supernatural fiction book. I hadn’t been able to get it out of my head anyway, and thought…okay, sheesh, maybe I’m supposed to do this.

But as I finished up a chapter, fear shook me to my core once again. And I told my agent. I don’t think so… I have another idea, a better one. She said, “Okay, I’ll read anything you want to send me.” Her way of saying, “But don’t get your hopes up.”

So I drafted a chapter and a synopsis on a topic that is current and suspenseful, but not scary, and dashed it off to her, confident she would jump on it, be excited and we’d be back on course.

Only….I have an agent who is not only smart and savvy about the market, but ALSO tuned in to God’s heart and quite intuitive about her clients’ motives. So we had a phone conversation. And I recognized Michael Hyatt’s “How to say No” model of YES, NO, YES.

YES: Tracey, anything you write is good

NO: While this proposal is good, I think you should continue in the genre you’re writing (whoooosh, the sound of my balloon popping)

YES: I think you should consider this…

So we discussed why I wrote Widow and I said, I woke up in the middle of the night after forgetting to set the TV timer and Ghost Hunters was on. So I got mad about the lies of the devil on our beautiful world. In the morning I had the idea for Corrie’s story.

She asked, “What else makes you mad?”

Knowing she didn’t want to hear about my son’s filthy bedroom, or the puppy who keeps pooping on the floor, I said, “When Christians won’t love people who are bound by satan because they’re afraid of the supernatural.” Then I proceeded to tell her about another idea I’ve had rolling around in my head since I started working on The Widow of Saunders Creek.

About witchcraft and the person who is bound up by it and why they got into it in the first place and the person God sends to her to shine light in the darkness.

And Karen said, “oooooh.” Which loosely translated means, “Go back to the drawing board and send me a proposal for THAT one.”

And I thought, “Crap.”

So here’s the thing. The Bible says we will be faced with demonic situations. Jesus even said, “Cast out demons.” If we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to associate with and love those who are bound, how will we ever reach them for Jesus?

The people in darkness have seen a great light. Or have they?

Jesus was “moved with compassion” when he saw the sick, the lame, the bound. It’s my heart’s cry to be like him during these days on earth when the dark is getting darker. The light has to be lighter.

So, that’s why I am saying YES to God and continuing to write supernatural fiction despite the obstacles.

As I press forward, I’m keeping the lights on, guarding my heart, and writing what he says write. One day, the battle will be over, but until then, we don’t wrestle flesh and blood. If we don’t shine God’s truth and light into a deceived and dark generation, then no one will.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's God Saying When He's Not Saying Anything?

I love my quiet mornings on my deck. Everyone is sleeping, except for the birds and the occasional owl, which I happen to think is one of God’s coolest creations. I read my Bible, check email, read Michael Hyatt’s blog, check to see if my friend Lori played her turn in our on-going Word with Friends games. One game ends, another begins. I usually win, but I think that’s mostly because I care more about it—competitive ☺.

Oh well, that was an aside…

For the past eight months or so, even in the coldest days of winter, I have had soul-restoring moments, listening to God, dreaming of the future, blogging, whatever. God has met me there every morning.

Until today.

I emailed Miss Linda and told her, “God’s not talking to me today. What’s He saying to you? Maybe I can piggyback today on your Word from Him.” God always wants to speak to Miss Linda. She’s obedient, submissive to Him. Hears his voice clearly. I usually just open my Bible and point. Seems like the safer way to listen.

Anyway, so far, no word back from her. She must be doing the Memorial Day thing with family or something. So much for that.

I’m sitting in Starbucks, which, in Lebanon, is tucked inside a grocery store. I forgot my earbuds so I’m listening to ridiculous grocery store music designed to lead the unsuspecting shopper to aisles of crap food no one needs so we’ll spend more of our dwindling American dollars.

Thank God for Zen green tea and sweet n low.

As I sit here wondering why God isn’t talking, a question forms in my mind in a very Carrie Bradshaw kind of way—sans the sex…cue the spiritual:

What’s God saying, when He’s not saying anything?

Because, even when He said, “Be still and know that I am God,” he still spoke! I mean, he said, “Be still and know that I am God.” Right?

My heart is getting hungrier as the silent minutes tick away. I miss Him. The grocery store music is interspersed with Blondie and Phil Collins, which is okay, except the store manager keeps calling people over the intercom and it interrupts. And as my focus keeps getting pulled from one thing to the next, I think maybe it’s not that God’s not talking. It’s not even that I’m not listening, but my brain can’t focus today.

We’ve had a full weekend. My third baby graduated from High school. My oldest son brought a girl to church he’s been dating a few weeks and I think he’s getting serious about. Or is headed that way anyway. We’re in talks with someone who wants to move out of her house and we might move into it. I’ve been sleeping away most of the last two days to get rid of a rotten headache and then there was church yesterday.

And then I remember yesterday’s word for me from Isaiah 50:10, “For anyone out there who doesn’t know where you’re going, anyone groping in the dark, Here’s what: Trust in God. Lean on your God.” MSG

I feel like I’m groping in the dark. Either God is silent, or I’m not hearing. Either way, it sort of amounts to the same thing. We have a lot ahead of us, and I need Him.

I remember a few years ago listening to a minister talk about his experience at a tourist place here in the Ozarks called Fantastic Caverns. Which is exactly what the name says. A cavern. Cave, basically. At some point in the tour, all the lights go off and the guide says. DON’T MOVE.

The minister said, “When things get dark, and you don’t know what’s going on, DON’T MOVE until God shines some light on the issue.”

I think that’s where Rusty and I are right now. Things are dark and we don’t have a clue what happens beyond next month. God isn’t directing, because right now, we have all the information we need. Don’t make any sudden movements. Are you groping in the dark? Here’s what: Lean on me, trust me. WAIT for Me.”

So, God may not be “talking” today, maybe He’s not giving me goosebumps and weepy woo woo, but guess what? In the middle of a grocery store Starbucks listening to the worst of the 80s music and the grating intercom, God reminded me the lights WILL eventually come back on. Don’t move until they do and the path ahead of me is well lit. Maybe He was saying something after all. Only, He started talking yesterday and I didn’t get the full gist of the conversation, for whatever reason…headache, distracted, who knows?

He’s talking now. “Stay where you are. Lean against me. Trust. My finger’s on the switch and the lights will eventually come back on.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Blogger: Staci Stallings

Please welcome today's guest blogger: Staci Stallings! So honored to have her here.

Life Lesson: Be-Do-Have

This revelation hit me the other day while I was listening to a speaker on having financial balance in your life. The author talked about a goal setting seminar he went to. The lesson he revealed is that too often when we set goals, we are setting the “have” part of the equation, then “doing” the work of getting to the goal without ever making the effort to “be” anything.

If you’re paying attention, there’s a math lesson that translates to this message. Any math person will tell you that there is a definite order to life. A + B = C, and if you get it out of that order, even the simplest of ideas can get overwhelmingly confusing. So this equation must begin with “be” not “do” or “have.”

For example, people set a goal of meeting the right person. That is the “have” that they want, so they begin “doing” the things the world says make sense to get to that goal. They go to bars, they go to church, they go to work, they go to parties, they go to school—all with the spoken or unspoken intention of acquiring what they do not have, a partner. Years ago they called the females with this mindset, “Mrs. Majors.”

They were not in college to get a degree; they were in college to get a husband.

In today’s world some of these types—men and women—have the “have” and “do” parts down to a science. One manifestation of this is the book that became famous a decade or so ago called “The Rules.” This book purported to explain exactly what you had to “do” to get the goal of “having” a mate. The problem is that this is completely senseless when you understand the equation of “be-do-have.”

When you truly get this life lesson, it will have a profound impact on every aspect of your life. No longer will you focus solely on the goal—now you will focus on who you must first become, and the attainment of the goals will follow.

I know, it sounds Pollyanna. It sounds so simple. But it’s the simple-sounding things that are often the most difficult to actually do. I see this turmoil in teenagers a lot. They think that their identity is created by who they are with, what they wear, what their outward appearance is. The reality, however, is that identity is based on who you are.

That’s why you hear of 10- and 20-year high school reunions in which the popular kids are now struggling and some of the most unpopular kids are now the successful adults. When you understand this equation, it makes perfect sense. Think about it. In high school, the “popular” kids already “have.” They have the status, the good looks, the admiration of others. Why work for something you already have?

The unpopular kids on the other hand are forced to find their true identity not in the outer world, but in the inner world. So they work on themselves rather than on what the outside world says is important. Thus, 10 or 20 years down the road, they who have been forced to “be” are now “doing” and “having” in much greater proportion than those who “had” everything.

To be sure, this is a vast generalization. There are popular kids who take time out to work on themselves and “become,” and there are unpopular kids who want to “have” so badly that they contort who they are trying to fit in. The exceptions are there, but so is the rule.

You have to be before you can do, and you have to do before you can have. If you don’t, nothing you ever get will be enough. And if you do, whatever you have will be plenty. With this in mind, find some time today to fit a little “being” time into your “to-do” list. It may just turn out to be the best time investment you could ever make.

Staci Stallings, the author of this article, is a Contemporary Christian author and the founder of Grace & Faith Author Connection. Check out Staci's brand new release...

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Monday, May 21, 2012

The Woman at the Welcome Kiosk

Beauty and grace are a couple of things I’ve often felt eluded me. But God always seems to bring into my life the one person in the crowd who is filled with both. He knows my heart and that, even though my personality lends itself to whatever the opposite of those two attributes are, it’s more of a cover for the grace and beauty I’d love to display, if only they came naturally. Those attributes that I know are hiding somewhere deep, deep down just waiting for abrasive layers to peel away so they can shine.

In my church, there’s this tiny, fortiesh, dark-haired woman who exemplifies both of these qualities in such a way that you just know God is biting His nails, trying not to call her home before her time is up and she can go be with Him. If I know God, He is aware this world needs her, but I bet He’d love to pull an Enoch and draw her into his giant lap, and just cuddle her forever, the way I have a feeling her gigantic six-foot-four (at LEAST) husband probably does every chance he gets.

She smiles, speaks in soft, gentle tones and is adored by all—because she’s the real deal. She loves animals, has a heart for children, and when she talks to you, there’s just a peace that comes over you. And she never seems to notice that you’re not worthy of her time.

Like Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind—only with a God twist—and if anyone is dumb enough to be mean to her the way Scarlett was Melanie, I’ve never seen it. And if I did, I’d probably give them a dressing down that would make them beg her forgiveness—and maybe bake her an I’m-sorry pie.

I think there are very few women like this—and even less men. (not to be a man-basher, I like men too).

She loves Jesus with tears in her eyes and trusts him for herself, and for me.

Yesterday, I slipped out of the sanctuary during a film clip, making a dash to the bathroom before the sermon got a real start. And she was standing at the welcome kiosk with one of my friends. They both stopped talking to tell me they loved my hair and I looked good. Blah, blah, blah. And then she asked me about the house (clearly she doesn’t read my blog—which is probably her only flaw). I told her we lost it.

She seemed genuinely surprised because she knows we’ve been praying. And her God never fails. She said, well, remember, God promised you a house. “Yes, He did,” I said---honestly just wanting to run away. I don’t smile-through-the-tears very well. I needed to pee anyway and get back into the sanctuary where pastor was already preaching the first in a new series about making adjustments. Choices.

“Well, then,” she said, with a slight lifting up of her teeny, tiny shoulders, making her four-feet something stature, rise about a half-inch. “God must have a better house for you than the one you’re in.”

Oh, how I love this woman. Most of the time, I want to take her home with me so I can serve her in any way she needs. She might be the one person who actually deserves to have her feet washed like Jesus washed the disciples feet--but then if you only washe the feet of those who deserve it, you're probably missing the whole point.

“I’m sure he does,” I said.

She gave a confident tilt of her head. “Oh, I know He does." And she smiled, and her face glowed with love and kindness that made me believe maybe God actually does have something even better. And as I walked into the bathroom, I thought, “Lord, make me like this woman, filled with beauty and grace. Let me see the big picture through the tall, full trees that are threatening to suffocate as I navigate the forest. Let me see You in such a way that I trust without wavering, knowing that the end of one season, always brings the beginning of the next.”

I can “say” I trust God, but this woman KNOWS her God is not going to leave me in my weakened state. She KNOWS that if He promised to provide, He will do it. I think she must have seen God’s faithfulness many, many times. Because she has that quiet, unshakeable faith that only comes from experience and relationship.

So I’m praying today at the church with my pastor and whoever else shows up for our first Prayer and Seek service. I’m praying for grace to walk through the doors, not focused on my great need, but the needs of a town filled with people who need to know Jesus the way the woman at the Kiosk does.

Beauty and Grace. A face that shines with the love of Jesus, a gentle voice that brings peace. Kindness for all. Unwavering faith in a heart that knows her God.

Jesus, make me like that.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Change--it is A'coming

As a writer and a blogger who feels very strongly about being honest, letting you walk a journey with me so that you know you’re not alone, I have to share the difficult times as well as the good times.

So in that spirit, I’m sharing today that this is a tough time for my family.

Change is coming. My husband came home from his last deployment to discover the job he thought was secure had been given away. Due to an office error. Our world was ROCKED. And we kept thinking, “ok, in another week, or another month, it’ll work out. A job will be there.”

But it never happened. We fasted, prayed, tithed, gave above the tithe…did all the things we knew to do. But even my writing stopped being lucrative.

Hey, God. What’s the deal, already?

It took me almost a year to stop begging, bargaining, and blaming. (Hey, look at that, three B’s. I could work up a sermon with a title like that!)

The moment I said, Okay, Lord. What can I learn through this? God answered. And for the last seven or eight months I’ve been in a place of correction, change, re-discovering this God I had all-but forsaken. Taking my relationship with him from passive to deeper levels of surrender.

I’ve come to realize that sometimes God says, “no” and it’s for reasons my human brain doesn’t comprehend. I know that bumps up against the faith message. Because God is always good and he delights in the prosperity of his saints. But sometimes, the answer is still “no”. And God has a plan we can’t see while we’re in the middle of the loss.

A lot of people are in the same boat trying to navigate choppy water, trying to stay afloat in the middle of major waves. Financial pressure, foreclosure, loss… That’s where we are. I sit on the deck of the house I love, looking over the beauty of the green and breathing in the stillness of early morning nature, just waking up to the wonder of God’s world. I can’t help but praise Him for the soul-restoring months I’ve had here on this deck. Writing, listening to His voice, loving Him and being loved BY Him, but knowing it’s going to be gone in a few weeks.

It’s a hard pill to swallow. But I have this hope in God. He won’t leave us to fend for ourselves. It’s uncertain right now where we’ll go. Where we’ll live. We have some hard days ahead, but I trust God to walk with us as we go through them.

I know you might be thinking, “But you’re an author, where are all the diamonds?” ☺ I could tell you a lot about how much the average author really makes. But I’ll spare you.

So, as we travel this road, I’m asking for your prayers for guidance and wisdom. We have more decisions ahead than I feel qualified to make. The thought of leaving this area, if that’s what we have to do, hurts me in a physical way. I love my town, my church, and I know at least two—maybe three—of my kids would stay here without us. Because they love the town and church too.

So, change is coming. Is here. I don’t like change, but I’m hoping to move forward with grace and peace. We’ll look back some day and watch in hindsight, the hand of God gently pressing our backs and guiding us to a better place.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Eating Crow

I did something today I’ve never done before. Something I thought I’d never do—after all, I’m a writer and we’re all about our first amendment rights, right?

But here it is: I removed a blog post.

Here’s why. In my attempt to honor one person, I dishonored another. A kind and godly man who didn’t deserve it. I didn’t mean to be a big jerk and bring dishonor to someone who has been only good to me. But as I reread the post through his eyes, I saw that I was and did.

And I’m sorry.

I wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes my expression doesn’t convey the full extent of how I feel.

I wish I were like Anne of Green Gables “The one good thing about me is that I never make the same mistake twice.” Unfortunately, I make the same ones over and over.

Who knows, maybe I’ll learn this time. I never want to hurt someone because of my words.

Forgive me, Jesus. Help me to think before I speak—or write.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy Launch Day for The Widow of Saunders Creek

Today is the most exciting book launch day I've ever known. The Widow of Saunders Creek touched my heart in a way no other book I've written has.

My husband is a military guy with two deployments under his belt. As I tried to release my fear for his safety to God during his last deployment, I struggled with the idea that he might not come home. That's when the idea for this book came to me. I thought...did I love him enough, spend time listening to his ideas and concerns, was I a good wife?

I'm happy to say, he came home safe and sound. But Corrie's love didn't.

In the Widow of Saunders Creek, I addressed all my own fears and gave her a story I believe will touch your heart and challenge your faith.

A grief without boundary. A love without limits. A need that doesn't end in death.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

He asked, "What is Self-confidence?

Self-confidence comes hard for me.

Last night during a class about purpose, the leader asked the question: What is self-confidence? There were a lot of answers. Boldness, feeling okay with yourself. The usual…

I’ve been mulling this over since the class. I know my confidence has taken a hit. All my life really. Being overweight, not feeling pretty enough, smart enough, good enough in general. I think for people like me who have a lot of gifts but have never mastered any of them, it’s especially hard to have the sort of quiet confidence that is so appealing in those we look to as leaders.

Instead, we tend to shove on a mask, throw back our shoulders and pretend to be better than we are. It’s that whole “fake it till you make it” garbage. And I get “do it afraid”. For sure. I’d never speak in front of anyone if I didn’t do it afraid. But the problem with pretending to be something you’re not while hoping to step into that place you’d like to be, is that you’re living a lie.

When you live the lie, you start believing it so real change, growth, whatever, never happens. It’s so much better to work hard at inner change so that you BECOME that person instead of pretending.

I think confidence comes through experience. The more you stand in front of a crowd, the more confident you become. Being prepared, surrounding yourself with competent people who help, all those things build confidence in palm-wetting situations.

But the real issue is what’s going on inside? In the core of you, me. Here’s the thing—I am confident about Jesus. I love him, know he loves me. I’m certain he is Lord.

I am also confident that when I’m weak, His strength takes over. I want that feeling of confidence, but I don’t want to be so put together that people can’t relate or that I begin relying on myself to make things happen. God gives us abilities and He doesn’t micro-manage, so when He gives a task, He expects us to carry it out. Then He watches as we take shaky faith-steps and He shoots a little more of His strength in us until we’re feeling a little less like a slug and a little more like Superman. If our hearts aren’t ready for the feeling we can mistake His strength for ours and our confidence turns to pride.

That’s my experience and therefore shapes my opinion. So, I’m praying “God, help me follow through with your plans for me, but never let me become confident in myself.” Because I know myself. I’m a fast and easy target for Pride. But insecurity and lack of confidence are major turnoffs and I don’t want to portray that either.

Daniel says, “Those who know their God will be strong and do exploits.”

Confidence comes through relationship with God. Because only what I do for God, fulfilling his purpose for me matters.

One thing I know…He who began a good work in me will continue it.

If I let Him.

My reason for taking this class is not so much to FIND my purpose. I know what I’m called to do and be in this life, but more to become more stable in my face-forward determination to finish the race. I’ve always started strong and finished short of the goal. But God has been doing an inner work in me over the last few months. The kind of work that brings true and lasting change. The choice is mine. I know I can drop the ball any second and I’m holding on to hope with a knuckle-whitening desperation to stay focused on what’s important.

Self-confidence. Yeah, God wants that for me. But more than that, He wants me to remember where that strength comes from so I don’t mistake His strength for my own.

Only God can accomplish that in me. I’m resting in Him to keep me on course.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Real Story Happens on the Page

I woke up this morning thinking about my new book that is coming out next week (May 8th). It’s got the best cover ever and a compelling blurb on the back. But it came to me. The real story happens between those two selling points.

I think you can see where I’m going here. ☺

God has been leading me—or at least my agent has, I’m hoping she’s hearing from God, and she probably is because she’s much more spiritual than I am—to work on some nonfiction writing. The real stuff that opens my veins and pours my blood onto the page.

I’ve lived so much of my life over the past fifteen years showing a great cover and telling only the best parts of my story that people have gotten a wrong idea of who I truly am. They see my great kids and assume I’m a great mom. Let’s just be real…my kids ARE great, but not because of me. In spite of me.

My marriage looks amazing on the outside looking in, but again, that’s mostly because of my husband’s efforts. Not mine. Although I’m trying to be better at loving him better, so that HIS marriage is also great. And not just mine.

At church, I lift my hands and worship and appear so spiritual, but often my heart is far away from the worship. I smile and say the right things, but my head is often not in the conversation.
Learning to be honest, living authentically, is one of the most challenging mandates God (or my agent, whichever the case my be) has ever given to me.

This past weekend I hosted a writing workshop for new and intermediate writers. I taught about building a novel stone by stone.

And honestly, it went so well, I’m still trying to process why on earth God would cover me in such a gracious manner. Everyone was looking at me, to me, to teach them the tools to start a novel or in some cases, make their existing work better and all day I felt like a real idiot. What could I possibly say to help anyone when I feel like my own work is so far below the books that are published and sitting on the shelves next to mine?

Truly, the real heroes Saturday were the three women who came alongside me and helped make it a success. Laura, who nudged me to do it in the first place and did most of the hard work on Saturday. She covered registration, book sales, introduced me, passed out handouts, drew for giveaways, was the time keeper.

She made me look good. And I got the recognition. Julie and Aleah, the Domestically Divine Divas who catered the whole thing. Kept coffee going all day, made scones for the registration time, decorated the lunch tables so perfectly and worked their tails off to fix an UH-MAZING lunch. But I still got most of the credit.

I am humbled.

But God has a way of taking our weaknesses, adding His strength and working through the motives of the heart to accomplish his purposes. My heart said, “God, use me to speak Your words, in spite of my weakness, insecurity and desperate need to be liked.

And at the end of the day, most of the attendees weren’t ready to leave. It was one of those life-changing moments (hours!) for me. God breathing destiny into my heart. A future and a hope.

Opening the book of our life and allowing people to journey through the pages alongside us can be scary. But I’m learning that the risk pales next to the payoff, which to me, is allowing God to use me.

Here am I, Lord, send me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ya Gotta Have Friends

I have to just admit it. I’m terrible at friendships. I break dates, don’t listen well, and have a hard time wrapping my arms around someone who is crying. Not because I don’t feel the pain, but because when I’m hurting, I don’t want hugs. Usually. So I want to respect a person’s space. But I’ve come to realize not everyone is like me. And to open my arms from time to time can be a powerful friendship-affirming moment.

I knew God was truly changing me one day when my friend Angie came to visit. Angie’s an I-need-hugs kind of girl, but over the past twenty-five years since we became friends—best friends, really—she’s learned to lower her expectations and just call me when she needs to vent. It removes the pressure from us both. She can’t get a phone hug and I’m not sitting there while she weeps feeling awkward.

So Angie came for lunch and we sat on the deck one beautiful spring day catching up on weeks of passing each other at church with a hug and a hi and the occasional story about her beautiful daughter Torey, who happens to be my God-daughter.

What started out as an easy lunch between two friends, turned into a heart to heart talk and she started to cry.

And here’s how I knew God had started changing me…I moved toward her, wrapped her in my arms and we cried together. I think the action shocked us both. Seriously. But it was such a holy and tender moment, I didn’t want to mess it up by bringing attention to the fact that I’d had a breakthrough.

After all, the moment was about her.

Friendships are precious and Jesus proved it when he surrounded himself with the twelve. They were much more than his servants. They were buddies, friends. Not intimate strangers.

We aren’t meant to do life alone. Friends matter and I’m learning that it can’t be all about me and my needs. I always figured, if you want to be my friend, you have to respect my boundaries. But God is showing me that I have to respect the different personalities He brings into my life as well. Angie loves me. She’s proven that through loyal and undeserved friendship over a quarter century (have I mentioned that she is older than I am?)

I’m grateful for her devotion.

Friends will give their lives for each other. And I know without a doubt Angie would give hers for me.

Only God can knit hearts together. I’m so very thankful for his needle knitting her heart with mine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Walking Contradiction

I can be hard on myself.

It’s true. I’m a walking contradiction, vacillating between making excuses or drawing a firm line in the sand that must not be crossed, or else... I shudder to think what the or else might be, but these half-painted toenails are going nowhere near that line, on the off chance God has sent an army of sand crabs just waiting for my chubby toes to try to step over.

Most days, especially since I started writing about identity, truth in the innermost being, I’m so focused on gut-pulling honesty, I’m seeing more of the not-so-great than the great things about me.

It’s like I think God’s going to read this stuff and yank my calling out from under me, as if He didn’t already know I drive too fast, (the kids have told him repeatedly—usually while we’re in the car). I bite my nails when I’m worried, and watch Days of Our Lives with almost as much passion as I read the Bible.

I cry out to Him, why do you love me? Why are you using me? Once people know the truth about me they’re going to hate me and probably burn all my fiction books—even the Prairie romances. Why do you care if I live or die—actually, you probably want me to live, dear Lord, because if I die, you are bound by your word to take me in. And then you’re stuck with me. For all eternity, which is way longer than Rusty has to put up with me since there’s no marriage in heaven.

Let me just be real, here. A perfectionist who is never perfect has MAJOR self-worth issues.

Lori, my counselor says, “I think you need to give yourself a break.” (she was talking about my tendency to think I need to work within the four walls of the church only to get overwhelmed—pull back—then feel like a big slug).

Uh, no. when I give myself a break, I make excuses for myself. (I really need to tell this to my counselor??).

From my mom, “You feel so guilty for the times you didn’t do the right things, you forget all the great things you did for the kids when they were little.”

Whatever, Mom. You’re Mom, and by the way, what do you mean the times I didn’t do the right things? I can say I messed up, but you aren’t supposed to agree with me!

My Forever Friend, Jules, after reading a section of this book, “I thought you were a little too honest or maybe just too hard on yourself.”

Ah, Forever Friend, Jules, you just don’t know me well enough.

From my dear, wise agent, Karen, “He (the devil) is not hounding you because you're off base, pal, he's doing it because you're smack-dab on target.”

Yes, she has a point, and she called me pal—which now makes me think we are bffs.

So today, these words are floating around my mushy, took-a Benadryl-last-night-and-now-I’ll-be-less-than-functional-today brain. It’s six-thirty in the evening and that stuff STILL hasn’t worn off, despite the two pots of coffee.

I can’t stop thinking about what my closest peeps are telling me. Is it possible? AM I in fact too hard on myself. Hmmm. Maybe I should give myself a break.

OH NO! What I told Lori is true, I can feel excuses coming on—in cliché form, which is death to a writer. I’m not perfect, just forgiven. God hates the sin, but LOVES the sinner, let go and let God. And the deadliest of all, Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.

Today, I realized—in a non-excuse sort of way—that, no, I’m not too hard on myself, (actually, Karen doesn’t think I’m too hard on myself, either). I was reading Romans 12 today where Paul says, "See yourself for what you truly are." I want that. I'm ordinary with extraordinary potential. Just like all of us. Whether I step out of ordinary into purpose truly is my choice to make. And it's tough.


There must be joy in this journey as well. Because anything less is a lie from the one who is nothing but lies.

Joy is my strength.

Strength is my courage.

Courage propels my to make the next shaky step.

For now, my shaky step is to admit I have some good qualities, which is often harder than admitting my faults. We are supposed to be humble, you know.

So here are a few great things you might like to know.

I have green eyes. I happen to think that’s cool. I really thought it was cool after reading Gone With the Wind.

I’m a devastatingly good cook (although the kids remember, and often mention, the pumpkin pie with no sugar and the eggplant crust pizza—from one of the low carb phases of my life).

I can almost always keep the car on the road as long as I’m not looking at the radio for too long combined with driving too fast. Another good thing car-related thing—I don’t text and drive, although I’ll admit I do talk on the cell and drive. Sorry Oprah, I tried. But I back off the accelerator during conversations.

I’m a crack-shot aim with death-in-a-can. I’ve been known to kill wasps, hornets, and the occasional bee from four feet away. I usually get a face full of the stuff when I do this, so not sure it’s a good idea—but I can do it. With Annie Oakley precision.

I’m loyal to my friends and family—in a love-me-love-my-dog sort of way.

I rarely use improper grammar. Unless I need to make a point.

My husband laughs at me at least twice a day—Ha! Ha! laughter, not the mocking variety.

Did I say I’m a good cook?

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m starting to get a big head--besides, I can't think of anything else. But you get the point.

I have times of failure and times of victory. I’m pretty sure the balance is starting to tilt toward V. But sometimes it’s hard to take note of the good things when the enemy of my soul is, as Karen says, “hounding” me. Accusing me, screaming that I’ve always started strong and finished short of the goal—hello? Does he NOT realize I carried four babies from start to finish and have great kids to prove it? Also, my twenty-three year marriage—if that’s not success… 40 books published. Yeah, God and me.

Not a total failure.

So, I’m getting it. So grateful for the people in my life who tell me the truth when I’m falling short, but also when I’m doing well.

We’re not meant to struggle or celebrate alone.

And I’m learning that.

Yay, God.

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