Such a Comfort: God Will Fulfill His Purpose for You

Today I complete the last lesson in my online COMPEL training book club with Proverbs 31 Ministries. It’s been such a joy to teach writing lessons to over 400 participants these past four weeks. As I think about “sending them off” on this last day, I can’t help but think of what might most encourage them in their writing lives.

I think of two Bible verses. First is Psalm 25:12 and how the Lord fulfills His purpose for us. Then in Psalm 57:2, we read such comforting words: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.” We often worry so much about the outcome of our writing that we forget that God has a purpose here that He will fulfill in our lives. We might not see it now, but He does. We cannot always know the impact of our words, but He does. We simply write. We stay faithful to the task. And we trust Him with the rest.

Meanwhile, we write because it helps us love Jesus more. It helps us worship Him more. It helps us see Him more. We write because it’s joyful, meaningful, and helpful in our journeys. We write to connect with ourselves and with others. We write because we are writers.

Maybe that’s the best thing I might say to encourage those with their fingers poised above the keyboard. You write because you are a writer.

So go write.

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Oh, I Insist! You Shall Enjoy This!

I find it so comforting that a previous owner of my home planted a peony garden where nobody can see it. It sits by the compost bin, nearly hidden by the winterberry bush, and definitely blocked from anyone’s view by the backyard fence. The hidden peony garden raises this question: Why plant a peony garden that no one can enjoy outside? And no one can enjoy it inside, either, because it’s impossible to see from the house. So why?

Well, it was for her to cut flowers for bouquets!

Each May, I smile with the reality that the peony garden exists for the express purpose of cutting bouquets for indoor enjoyment. I can imagine someone feeling guilty for cutting the beautiful flowers off of a front yard display. It always seems selfish to me to cut all the beautiful flowers and bring them indoors to enjoy their blooms. Maybe she felt this way, too.

But with a hidden peony garden? A garden whose entire point of existence is for the very pleasure I’m so hesitant to enjoy? The fresh pink blooms were planted for the owner–now for me–for her own kitchen or bedside table. That’s what they’re for. It’s as if they cry out, “Cut me! Enjoy me! I’m for your kitchen table, and nobody will miss me out here!”

And I remember that sometimes God puts things in place simply for our enjoyment, hidden away just for us. I fill my cobalt blue vase and pick the flowers with joy.

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When You Let Things Be

If you’ve noticed, I haven’t taken but one photo of nests this season. It’s because I realized that my photography disturbs the birds. Maybe you all have been thinking this all along!

I consider what it means to observe and delight in nature without disturbing it for my own pleasure or curiosity. I watch from the window. I peer in only from a distance. And I’m learning to delight in those who know better as they take pictures with the kind of installed cameras that never disturb the birds. I can enjoy those photos. I can also enjoy spotting nests without hovering too closely. After all, by now I know what I’d see. I know the egg of the sparrow, the robin, the cardinal, and the dove.

Out of love for the very things that delight me most, I decide to let them be. Sometimes, that’s what it means to live with flair. Sometimes, loving something means we don’t disturb it or use it. We just love it and let it be.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be Your Best Work

This morning I remember the best advice someone gave me in graduate school at the University of Michigan. As I struggled to finish my dissertation, a wise man said, “Just finish it. It doesn’t have to be your best work. It won’t be your best work.”

Oh, I rejoiced! I sighed with relief! I realized that what kept me from finishing was this nonsense that it had to be the best, that it had to be perfect, that it had to be everything. His advice to me set me free from endless revisions. His advice allowed me to treat the manuscript as something along the path of my development. I earned the PhD quickly and without shame as I realized it didn’t have to be the best work of my life.

And it wasn’t. I’ve evolved. Each new book shows growth and development.

I use this advice with blogging, podcasting, new manuscripts, and talks I give. While I apply my best efforts and invest the best of my abilities, I’m not frozen by the fear that it must be the best. I’m wondering if so many of us feel held back by needing to be the best.

We don’t need to be the best.

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And the Winner? Apple Rum Raisin

I loved my late morning jaunt to the Boalsburg Memorial Day Pie Contest. It’s a tradition for my husband and me to arrive early to this nearby little town, enjoy all the banter about the pies, talk to the residents of Boalsburg, and lounge on the cool grass while we listen to the high school jazz band and then the Little German Band. We buy hot dogs from the Boy Scouts, and then we watch the Maypole Dance in the center of town.

But mostly, we enjoy the pie.

(The Apple Rum Raisin won first prize followed by the Lemon Sponge in second. The Blueberry Banana won third. We personally enjoyed the Pineapple Pecan, the Lime Coconut, and the Strawberry.)

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Planting All the Herbs

Instead of growing the normal vegetables this summer (peppers, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash), we decide instead to turn the entire garden into an herb garden. I’m thrilled! I spend so much time and money shopping for all my fresh herbs, but now, I can just lean into my backyard garden and pluck what I need.

Off we went to Lowes Memorial Day Sale where herb plants were on sale! My oldest daughter and I enjoyed picking out two sweet basil plants, purple basil, dill, lemon thyme, German thyme, two curly parsley plants, dill, two garlic chive plants, two hearty cilantro plants, one already blooming lavender plant, and a rather large rosemary bush. Oh, the cooking I will do!

I love this new season of growing things.

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“The Characteristics of Daily Life”

This morning I read Hannah Whitall Smith’s words about what she noticed about the inevitable character of those who follow the Lord. In a truly consecrated soul, she writes, “meekness and quietness of spirit become in time the characteristics of daily life.” In addition, she adds these qualities:

A submissive acceptance of the will of God as it comes in the hourly events of each day. . .

Pliability in the hands of God to do or to suffer all the good pleasure of His will. . .

Sweetness under provocation; calmness in the midst of turmoil. . .

An insensibility to slights and affronts. . .

Absence of worry or anxiety . . .

I’m so challenged to increasingly trust the Lord that I might grow in these ways. When I look back on this blog in ten years, I pray that every quality has become more true of you and me!

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More and More: Why Podcasting?

Several weeks ago, a talented friend of mine over at Light Ridge Studio (photographer, videographer, podcast producer) asked me about starting a podcast. He was so encouraging because he’d seen me speak on camera so easily and improvise without any kind of script. It was true: I always enjoyed speaking to all kinds of crowds in all kinds of ways–through writing, teaching, public speaking, radio interviews, Facebook Live, or however else God would position me to use my words to talk about Him.

But a podcast? I hardly listen to them. I don’t know this world of podcasting at all. They’re for the young, the cool, the well-platformed.

My students love them. In fact, most of my friends in their 20’s and 30’s seemed to listen to an ongoing stream of their favorite podcasts. I wondered when they listened (all the time, whenever) where they listen (in the car, on the bus, walking, while doing chores) how they listen (Spotify, iTunes on their phones with earbuds) and why they listen (to learn, to connect, to not be alone with their thoughts).

I began to understand a new medium to talk about the things I love: writing, verbs, Jesus, the Bible. Why wouldn’t I do this? Well, for one, it’s expensive. You need equipment. You need someone to produce your podcast (unless you teach yourself). You need to learn how to store or host your podcasts, upload them to various sites, and how, most importantly, to find sponsors to pay for production fees or, if you’re using your podcast for revenue, to find advertisers who will pay you. You need to promote your podcast and feel comfortable enough to know it might completely fail.

And you need to actually do it. You need to get in front of a microphone and speak to an unseen audience about your topic. It’s definitely not for everyone. It feels a bit more vulnerable than anything else I’ve ever done.

So I prayed about it first. I checked in with God. Are you sure? Are you sure, God? Is this a good idea? I found myself in Psalm 71, and the answer came swiftly and with conviction:

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. . . even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation. Psalm 71:14-18

As I sat with the Lord, I thought about what it means to praise Him more and more. The podcast was more. It could be another way to praise Him. And the funny thing was I had been feeling old and gray. I had been feeling like a podcast was for younger folks, for a generation I no longer truly understood. Yet here, I realized the podcast could be a way to declare His power “to the next generation.”

And so I did it. I am doing it. May God be glorified. And here it is on Spotify.

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When the Thing You’re Complaining About Is Actually a Source of Blessing

I enjoyed a classic “flair” moment yesterday, and I couldn’t wait to tell you! I’ve been complaining for years about not having central air conditioning in my home. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s sticky in here. And right around this time of year as May transitions to June, I complain and complain, especially at night.

But something’s changed this year in my attitude and joy regarding this complaint.

And it’s all because of bread. Bread!

(I became a bread maker a year ago when my friend gave me her sour dough potato yeast starter. A bread maker! That’s me!)

In the winter, my bread hardly rose; the cool, dry air wasn’t good for the yeast. I’d let the bread rise overnight only to arrive to the kitchen to feeble little loaves.

Not anymore. As I set my dough into the loaf pans last night, I found myself giddy over the humidity and heat in the kitchen. Even while I wondered if I’d not sleep well, I rejoiced that my dough would rise like never before.

And it did.

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The Single Questions

Today I spoke to three high school classes on what to expect in a college writing classroom. What struck me most about the advice I gave was how much I love this one point: Write out the single question your paper attempts to answer. Keep that question near your computer to keep you focused. A great question sustains curiosity through the writing process. A great question keeps you, the writer, engaged. Think about a question with an answer that might contribute to our flourishing.

I thought about single questions that direct large writing projects, but then both the teacher and I wondered about single questions that address broader life pursuits. Is all of one’s life truly the pursuit of answering a great question? What if our question isn’t good or worthy? Moreover, if an outsider tried to guess our guiding life question by observing external factors, what would this person say about our life’s greatest question?

I’ve shaped my life around these questions that emerged from decades of refinement and recalibration: How do I help others write well? and How can I know God better and make Him known?

I wonder if the questions that dominate our lives contribute to either our joy or despair. If my life begins to showcase a question with an answer that ultimately won’t lead to human flourishing or a life of intimacy with God, then it’s time to ask better questions. I’m wondering more about more about the questions that shape my life.

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