Staying Fascinated

Tomorrow I visit the high school for my annual talk to graduating seniors about what they can expect in a college writing classroom. I also talk about what it means to thrive in college and “best practices” as I see them.

I’m adding something new this year.

As I see the anxiety and despair rising among college students, I think of what’s normally happening in my own heart and mind when I’m truly joyful and deeply at peace. It’s something akin to worship. It’s something close to awe. It’s something enchanting.

The verbs I’m looking for is this: fascinate.

One thing I’m adding to my list of best practices for college students: cultivating fascination. I’m so intrigued at how one cannot be both anxious and fascinated at the same time. One cannot be both miserable and fascinated at the same time.

How do you cultivate fascination? To begin, consider these questions: When was the last time you were truly fascinated by something? What was happening? What questions did you ask? What connections did you make?

For me, I cultivate fascination when I ask, “How did this get here? How does this work? Why is this? What must God be like if this marvelous thing is here? What else don’t I know? How does this connect to this?

Do you remember T.H. White’s words in The Once and Future King? He presents a scene where Merlin tries to cheer up a depressed Arthur. He writes, “The best thing for being sad. . . is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

I also love this quote from Emerson: “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Finally, consider the great poet A.R. Ammons who boldly said, “Anything looked at closely becomes wonderful.”

Learn. Find the miraculous. Look closely.

Stay fascinated.


Dust the Cobwebs Off; Shed the Skin; Start Fresh

This morning, I woke with the same old condemning thoughts about yesterday. I review it all: the awkward or hurtful things I said, the tasks left undone, a poor performance in one area, an indulgence in another (yes, it involved food!).

I proclaim the truth of Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I remember how I enter the throne of grace with confidence; in fact, I recall the entire chapter I wrote on condemning thoughts in Guarded by Christ.

But shame and guilt still sneak in.

Sometimes they attack and momentarily overpower. But we stand in confession, repentance, and forgiveness. We stand in truth. We stand in the assurance of—and the miracle of—1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgiven our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I think of shedding yesterday’s old skin, of dusting off the cobwebs, of starting fresh. Yesterday’s failures do not harm my identity in Christ; they do not harm me or take God’s love from me. They stand as instructive lessons on the path to maturity. I take the nuggets of wisdom I learn from yesterday–but not the shame and guilt–and I move on into the bright, new day.


May You Flourish “Like a Palm Tree”

This morning in Psalm 92, I wondered about this marvelous statement in verse 12: “They righteous will flourish like a palm tree. . .”

I paused. I wondered. How does a palm tree flourish? What’s so great about a palm tree?

As I studied the most likely kind of palm the Jewish writer mentions here (the date palm), I found myself so excited to draw personal goals from the palm’s unique characteristics. In this case, the date palm flourishes in 5 key ways:

First, it offers the sweetest fruit for others to enjoy. I immediately think of ministry and what fruit my life bears. Do my actions nourish others sweetly?

Secondly, it provides shelter and shadeI ask whether I’m a protective, restful presence in my home, neighborhood and workplace.

Thirdly, its fruit enhances immunity and protects health; the date releases numerous health benefits to protect against disease. I wondered how my teaching and prayer life help engage in spiritual warfare to help others stand strong in the Lord.

Fourthly, the date palm stands as symbol of grace and elegance. I begin to pray that my life reflects the beauty and radiates the beauty of Christ.

Finally, this palm exhibits excellent environmental tolerance as a hearty and strong plant. I think of rising in maturity to withstand any environment.

The promise that we will flourish like palm trees motivated me this morning to pray for a palm tree kind of life. Might we offer sweet fruit, provide rest and shade to others, protect them, radiate the Lord, and grow into maturity.


By the Time It Reaches You

In Psalm 91:9-11, we read the most astonishing words:

If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. . .

It’s such a powerful promise that’s hard to fathom in light of when we feel harmed or in the midst of personal disaster of all forms. I feel doubt and skepticism rising in my heart, but then I couple this Psalm with the most comforting words of Hannah Whitall Smith in her book The Christian Secret of a Happy Life. She writes:

Secondary causes must all be under the control of our Father, and not one of them can touch us except with His knowledge and permission. It may be the sin of man that originates the action, and therefore the thing itself cannot be said to be the will of God; but by the time it reaches us it has become God’s will for us and must be accepted as directly from His hands. No person or group of persons, no power in earth or heaven, can touch the soul that is abiding in Christ without first passing through his encircling presence and receiving the seal of His permission. If God be for us, it matters not who may be against us; nothing can disturb or harm us.

I love thinking about the marvelous work of God that works all things for good for you and me (Romans 8:28). Terrible things may happen, but by the time they reach us, God is already working to transform this harm into His good plan to bring us blessing. What an impossible thing to believe! How Spirit-filled must we be to continue understanding this perspective? I pray that God increases our faith today. I pray that we experience God’s encircling presence.


2 More Questions for Your Writing Projects: When? What Form?

I’m having best time in my online book club that uses Seated with Christ to teach advanced writing techniques. Last week, we looked at the three best questions to ask before you launch into a new project (not just writing!): Why this? Why now? Why me?

But this morning I thought of two more questions that help shape your writing life: When? and What form?  The “Why now?” of the first question refers to the timeliness of your message, but the “When?” question here refers to your personal life and whether or not it’s a good time to embark on this project. In other words, is now the best time for you to complete a manuscript?

It’s actually a trick question.

The answer is always YES! There’s never going to be a “right time” because conditions won’t ever be perfect. So get to it! Write! Now is the best time!

But the next question matters deeply for your expectations and sense of purpose as you write. What form should this project take? We tend to think that the only form that matters is the manuscript that’s bought by a traditional publisher. This narrow lens can bring more discouragement that you can imagine as you wait for that book contract. But if you’re a writer; write no matter what. Write your message for magazines, blogs, podcasts, or self-publishing. Write for the newspapers. Write for your website. Is doesn’t always have to be the big publisher. And perhaps it shouldn’t. Think carefully and prayerfully about what form this message might take. Open your mind and heart to new possibilities.

I’ve published 4 books with a larger traditional publisher and 3 with self-publishing platforms. I’ve also turned messages into journal articles, blogs, speeches, podcasts, and lesson plans. Each writing opportunity kept me writing and focused on my craft, not the outcome. With each new project, I think to myself: Is this a book for a traditional publisher or not? Is this for me? For my family? For my blog? Is this really a speech or a podcast? Is this actually an article for a newspaper?

And then, I just write. I pray you do, too.

(If you know my story, you know my journey of surrendering the writing dream. Here’s the post I wrote called, “How My Publishing Dream Came True.” )


Gather Your Wise People

This morning I remembered how important it is to have the right people in your life who know God’s word, who possess wisdom, and who care about your journey.

Many, many times in life, you’ll reach some kind of fork in the road. You’ll have a decision to make. You won’t know what to do. That’s why God put us together with other believers who can seek God on our behalf and offer wisdom to us.

Consider Proverbs 11:14: Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Who are those people for you? Find them! Acknowledge them! Invite them over for dinner to counsel you! When you find a wise person, welcome them into your struggle. Ask for their input. And think about having 3-5 of these people you might regularly consult when you need wisdom about a career move, a relationship decision, a parenting choice, a move, or anything that requires a shift in what you’re now doing.

Where there is no counsel, the people fall;
But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14


Your Curious, Watching Mind

This morning I remembered the lesson on staying curious and watchful with every person we meet. It changes everything about our day to position ourselves to look carefully for ways we might encouraging others and bring them hope.

We stay curious about how God might be working in another person’s life, and we ask God how we might join in. We stay watchful for how another person might need more hope or help. We then enter in with service, prayer, and verbal encouragement.

I learned this as a young woman beginning with Norman Vincent Peale’s instruction on finding personal happiness. It surprised me that he believed that when we stay watchful for how we might bless others, we find our own happiness soars. But how Biblical! I recall Isaiah 58:10 in the New Living translation: Help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

But for me, staying watchful and curious is most of all about connecting with Jesus as I ask Him to show me where He’s working and how I might help today. Being with God all day long on this kind of mission makes every day a sublime adventure.

Off I go!

Off you go!


How to Pour Out Your Heart

After a weekend away for Mother’s Day, I find myself longing for extended time with Jesus. When I fall out of my devotional habits of prayer, silence, journaling, Bible reading, and worship, I discover I’m so filled up inside with worry, confusion, and scattered thinking. I’m also filled with the good things of anticipation for new projects, friendships, or opportunities. Besides all this, the prayer concerns have accumulated to the point of overflowing. I think of my children, my extended family, hurting friends, our government. The list goes on. I just have so much going on inside my heart.

So it feels like a day of pouring it all before the Lord. The good, the bad, the ugly, the happy, the hopeful. All of it. How does one pour out the heart? I think of it just like you might picture. I tip towards the Lord; I let all my thoughts gush out to Him both through my mouth and through my pen in my journal. I tell Him everything. It might take an hour. It might take two.

This isn’t a strange feeling I’m having; the Biblical writers felt the same way. In fact, consider Psalm 62:8: Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

It’s as if I’ve been away from my best friend for too long. There’s lots to share. There’s lots to pour out. And this isn’t one-sided. As I read and pray, I listen to God who does His own form of pouring out. I smile when I read Romans 5:5: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

So I pour out my heart today. I pour out my love, and God pours out His to me.

Psalm 62:8: Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.


A Watermelon Always

It’s that time of year when we eat a watermelon a week. The girls put chunks in thermoses that keep them cool all day for their lunches. I keep a bowl of cut watermelon on the counter always.

I love having a cool, crips watermelon to snack on all day long. What a sweet treat! For us, it’s a symbol of the abundant, sweet, and overflowing joy of a new season.


Settle In

On this Mother’s Day, I find myself in traffic. My husband says, “Just settle in.” We’re going to sit here for awhile—or else inch along—and there’s no use complaining about it, resisting it, or imagining another scenario in which I’m not in traffic.

No. I’m in traffic. This is happening. When my husband says to settle in like someone getting cozy for a movie or for puzzles on a snowy day, I think about how anyone settles in to traffic.

But you can. There’s music, conversation, prayer, worship, jokes, even writing. There’s observing all the cars and the landscape all around. There’s time for pondering. There’s napping for those not driving. There’s planning and dreaming.

So I’m learning still to settle in to whatever the journey feels like today.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers settling in to their lives.