Tuesday, January 17, 2017

There's Something About the Light of Jesus

by Emily Conrad

...as the light grew...

The phrase jumped out from the pages of Watership Down, the Richard Adams novel I'm reading.

There is something about light lately.

A few days ago, Christina Hubbard of Creative and Free forwarded a Tweetspeak Poetry prompt: write a thank you to a candle. She took the prompt to heart and penned the lovely poem Dear Soy Candle. Though I didn't write a poem, at the prompt's suggestion, I did some research about candles.

The word "candle" experienced a peak in usage around 1900 and fell on a low point in the 80's. It's making a slight comeback now.

The word "light" has also experienced a recent uptick in its usage in books.

So, the stats agree with my experience: there's something about light lately.

Perhaps it's that there's also something about darkness lately. Physically, emotionally, spiritually.

I see it in the winter sky, which the sun vacates before five each afternoon. I feel it as fighting a cold leaves my emotions under a shroud. I hear it when the high schoolers in my Bible study describe the bomb threat at their high school and the bomb that was actually found in a middle school.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Dog and the Treadmill: A story about protecting priorities

by Emily Conrad

I am working on a short story to share as part of the series on God's love, which will be taking over this blog next month. I needed to get the first draft done as soon as possible to allow for critiques and revisions, so I've been working on it since December 30th.

But as I wrote toward the goal of finishing the story draft, my dog Luther was striving toward his own set of goals, which work at cross-purposes with mine.

While it's my goal to work on writing, it's his goal to bark at anything that moves outside our windows. While it's my goal to use our walks as a time to think, it's his goal to use our walks as a time to gallivant as far and fast as his four paws will carry him.

In order to accomplish my goals, I needed to do something to distract Luther from his.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teaching My Wandering Heart to Abide with Jesus

by Emily Conrad

You can always tell where a kid's loyalty lies by who she runs to when she gets hurt. A child may say she loves her teacher or her friends, but if she falls and skins her knee and her mother is there, she's going to run to her mom. 

The same goes for us as adults. If we find ourselves running to any one or thing other than Jesus when we need comfort, it's time for a heart check.

That's a paraphrase of something I heard a teacher and mother say at church weeks ago, but it's stuck with me.

Today, I spent some time in Psalm 91, and God repeated a similar challenge to me.

As for you, the one who lives in the shelter of the sovereign One,
and resides in the protective shadow of the mighty king –
I say this about the Lord, my shelter and my stronghold,
my God in whom I trust –
he will certainly rescue you
Psalm 91:1-3a, NET

Or, as the King James puts it,
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Psalm 91:1-2

Calling God a "shelter" conjures the image in my mind of running to Him when I get in trouble, like the little girl with the skinned knee. And I still like that analogy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hope in Jesus for Those Overwhelmed by the New Year

by Emily Conrad

I'm goal-oriented, and New Year's ought to be my time to shine.

It's not.

I find the questions New Year's prompts discouraging: What did I accomplish last year? What are my New Year's resolutions? What do I plan to accomplish this year?

When I consider last year, I am not convinced I did my best. I always feel like I should've done more. The fact that resolutions are so popular reinforces this idea. Why resolve to do something if not to correct a past mistake? But resolutions are notorious for failing, and if those are our hope, how can we expect this year to be better than last?

And so, confronted with the idea that I have this gigantic blank slate in front of me that I must use to the fullest, I lift my hands and back away.

I didn't live up to my expectations last year. I can't live up to them this year. I didn't, and I can't.

This mindset is not what Jesus has in mind for my New Year's celebrations, nor is it what He has in mind for yours.

He patiently holds out His hand to us, inviting us to hop off the New Year's resolution throne and crown Him king of New Year's. Then, He promptly takes the pressure off our shoulders because He is the answer to the New Year's dilemma.

Jesus gives us freedom from the calendar because He is not bound by it.

Jesus is much more than a gigantic, light-up ball dropping in Times Square. We can't count predictably down from ten and arrive at the moment when His plan will flash across our TV screens, blaring a new assignment at us as clearly as the numbers that make up the new date. We can't mark off the squares representing January 1 to December 31 and circle the day He'll give us a breakthrough and hand us what we might consider a big, clean slate.

We cannot force this with any amount of resolutions and effort, and in this, there is rest.

Jesus gives us constant new beginnings instead of just one per year.

To Him, one thousand years is like a day, and a day is like one thousand years.

New Year's is nowhere near as much pressure when we can celebrate one thousand of them in a day. Instead of one try to get it right for an entire year, He presents us one thousand opportunities strung one after the other, less than two minutes apart.

And in this, there is hope.

Jesus redeems the past and holds the future. 

Instead of looking back to see how our year stacks up, we can look back to the cross and see victory. The past becomes a record of how God has provided for us, and by studying it, we learn about who He is.

Instead of looking forward to try to subdue the future with resolutions and striving--a lost cause--we recognize that, as believers, our futures are already secure because of His work on the cross.

And in this, there is peace.

For everything we didn't and can't do, Jesus did and can.

Jesus is not only God of the ancient past and the distant future, but also God of the immediate present. He is God of each new year, and He invites us to celebrate with Him.

To do so, we can rewrite the New Year's questions.

What did I accomplish this year? How has God shown Himself faithful this past year?

What are my resolutions? What has God been teaching me lately? How is He inviting me to go deeper with Him in this area?

What are my goals for this year? What do I need that only God can do? How can I draw closer to Him as I wait? Where might He be asking me to step out in faith to move forward?

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling better about the new year already.

And by the way, to that second set of rewritten questions, God has been teaching me more about His love lately, and I felt He might be inviting me to go deeper with Him in studying that by inviting some other writers to join me. Stay tuned for the resulting series, which is going to take over the blog next month!

What's God been teaching you lately?

Hope in Jesus for those who find New Year's Overwhelming via @novelwritergirl

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Faith: An Ice Boat to Navigate Figurative Winters

by Emily Conrad

In spring, a deep emotion wells in me, rejoicing. This joy thaws usually a few weeks before the last of the snow as my being anticipates the warmth and growth of a summer in its infant stage.

Winter doesn’t do this for me. Forced outside, I huddle up in puffy jackets and tough boots, hands shoved deep in mittens or pockets. I march, my thighs growing numb and my face burning as I wait for it to end.

But winter does bring one gift: late sunrises. Even I, the writer with no day job to report to, can get myself out of bed and down the street by 7:30, when I can watch the frozen lake turn purple and pink as the sun rises into the cold.

Yesterday, I made the early trek. Four masts without sails stuck up along the breakwater, and I figured they were sailboats, left to wait out the winter much like me: unhappily. Picking my way over crusty snow, however, I found I was wrong.

These masts belonged to ice boats, fitted with blades instead of hulls, created to skim the surface of the frozen lake at speeds akin to those achieved in cars travelling country highways.

The tracks scraped over the ice and the large boot prints by my feet assure me that while I simply endure winter, others celebrate it.

There is more to this season than I give it credit for, more enjoyment here than I’d imagined in the confines of my warm home.

In the cocoon of my home, I set out across the Internet. I stumble across a site that assures me ice has a glossary all its own. The pictures that accompany some of the terms pique my curiosity, light a desire to return to the lake in search of jumbled ice and ice ridges and dendrites.

Perhaps winter really is a wonderland. Perhaps I miss out on so much, rushing through seasons, waiting for the next. When I lift my eyes from frozen sidewalks and inconvenient storms brewing on my weather app, I see some of the beauty of where I am today, natural ice art that only forms in the cold.

We all have favorite seasons of life, milestones that warm us through and through as they draw near, but those other seasons are as unavoidable as winter in the north.

They come with ridges and cracks and fissures and stresses.

This is the vocabulary of ice, and the vocabulary of relationships and post-holiday emotions.

Literal ice boats can be stopped by things like these. But faith, an ice boat for the figurative winters, can overcome them all.

With faith, we can persevere at loving, even when the relationship feels frozen.

With faith, we can look to Jesus for provision, even as the wind chills drop and the bills increase.

With faith, we can complete our quiet day’s work, believing that each of these little snowflake-like efforts will accumulate into something beautiful as we pile them up in the hands of Jesus.

As a cold day turns into frozen weeks and months, we can bundle up with prayer and love and head out to find beauty more elaborate than we dared to believe existed in such a desert of snow and ice.

The fissures and breaks and cracks are still there, still dangerous, but our Soul Preserver does not fail. Our Guide is experienced, and always ready to show us more.

Faith: An Ice Boat to Navigate Figurative Winters via @novelwritergirl #faith #winter

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finishing the Year by Giving Myself Grace

by Emily Conrad

This is a time of year for family, and because we had some come to town on short notice, this week has been busy when I expected it to be slow. I've tried to set and keep priorities, but the post I was working on for you for today didn't come together like I'd hoped.

The perfectionist in me says I need to stay up late getting something new together, but I've done a whole series on perfectionism (there's a link to it in the sidebar--look for "Chosen and Approved"), and so I'm learning to extend myself grace, as I hope you would do for yourself, too.

We can't always keep up with these expectations we place on ourselves. Sometimes, we have to call it good enough and trust God.

So instead of stressing tonight, I'd like share with you a post from March that:
1) Includes more photography from our trip to Banff (and my favorite-ever blog graphic).
2) Talks about the awesome things God does for His children.

We serve a powerful God who moves mountains of all kinds--physical, emotional, relational. This is a fitting reminder now, because even as we get a fresh new slate marked 2017, we still stand in the shadow of mountains we cannot climb, much less move, on our own.

Thank God, we don't have to.

Without further ado, here is the post: Hey, It's Possible (Serving a God Who Does More)

If you have a favorite post of yours or of someone else's from this year and would like to share it in the comments, I'd love to take a look! Let's end the year with some mutual encouragement!

Do you know how much you encourage me just by stopping in to read the posts here? Thank you so much for your support, encouragement, and friendship.

I wish you a happy New Year. I wish you peace and joy and rest with Jesus. I wish you an ever-deepening understanding of His love for you.

In Him,

We serve a powerful God who moves mountains of all kinds--physical, emotional, relational-via @novelwritergirl

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas isn’t over yet: 3 ways for Christians to celebrate all year round

by Emily Conrad

Now that Christmas is over, what are we left with?

I’m writing this on December 23rd. My Christmas tree glows next to me and my wintery table cloth sparkles beneath my laptop. The presents sit, neatly wrapped under the tree. An uncharacteristic variety of goodies sit in my kitchen—sugar cookies, caramels, marshmallows, all homemade.

But by the time you read this, I’ll be strategizing about how to best dismantle the tree without overlooking a stray ornament. I’ll be debating over whether or not the tablecloth should stay until New Years’ Day. The presents will be unwrapped and aging. The treats will be vanishing.

What part of my celebrations lasts? What morsel of Christmas will power you through the next year? Does anything we just spent all that time and money on still matter?

If looking back forces us to confess lasting meaning's scarcity, there is hope.

If you're one who can look back on your gifts and action and see lasting meaning, well done! But you're job isn't done yet, either.

As followers of Christ, we're called to carry the Christmas spirit every day, through every season, on every holiday and every routine Monday through Friday, every weekend.

Here are three challenges I want to take from Christmas and apply to my life year-round. Care to join me?

Generosity—dare I say, sacrificial giving—ought to be a regular part of our lives. The unemployed still wonder how to scrape together rent. The missionaries still rely on provision to continue their work. The hungry must still be fed.

The requests for special Christmas offerings and the bell ringers may have vanished with the passing of December 25th, but needs still abound, and when we don't have the financial strain of gift-giving traditions looming so large, we're in an even better position to meet those needs.

Family, community and relationships take effort, but we’ll miss out on so much if we wait until Christmas comes again to reach out. A happy introvert, I sometimes fail at maintaining friendships.  My best friendships tend to be with those who stay after me about getting in touch and spending time, and it's a blessing I sometimes fail to pay forward by pursuing relationships with those I care about. The biggest miss this year? I received a newsletter from a friend, forwarded from the address we moved out of back in May. Though I know she doesn't get on social media much to see the updates about moving, I’d never informed her of this big life event, and even worse, this is a local friend I could get in touch with so easily.

Family may have gone back home, and we may be taking down the Christmas newsletters from friends, but those relationships must still be maintained. Since my December calendar sometimes gets jam-packed, this is another area where I'm in a good position to follow through as my schedule returns to normal.

Meaningful discussions about the Good News are fitting any time of year. We no longer have the easy option of saying “Merry Christmas” to let people know what we believe, but how effective was that at sharing the Good News anyway?

Yes, maybe people are a little more receptive to hearing about Jesus when Christmas rolls around, but the reasons we need Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection fill our lives every single day. People I care about are hurting and looking for answers. Maybe not consciously every day, but as I invest in them, I generally find the time will come when we'll end up naturally discussing Christ and when that happens, I've found people pretty open to listening and discussing any time.

We worship a God whose mercies are new not just on Christmas morning, but every morning.

As His people, we, too, should be representatives of peace and joy and love and reconciliation with God through Christ not just on Christmas, but every day of the year.

What aspect of Christmas can you practice, even though the holiday is past?

Christmas isn't over yet: 3 ways to celebrate all year round via @novelwritergirl