Doing Battle

Last month, our town hosted a Civil War Muster in a local park. Re-enactors from all over the country came here to camp in canvas tents, wear authentic uniforms, and re-create famous Civil War battles. A friend and I sat on a hilltop to view the battles while our husbands performed period music in the brass band. As I watched the north and the south shoot rifles and cannons at each other, I thought of two of my husband’s ancestors, Isaac Austin and his son George Hiram Austin who both fought in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Isaac Austin was taken captive and became a prisoner-of-war, eventually ending up in the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia. While he was away fighting, his wife died. His twin sons were too young to enlist, but after losing his mother, George Hiram lied about his age and went off to war at age sixteen. He was taken prisoner as well, and also ended up in Andersonville. His father Isaac died there, and a few years ago, my husband and I visited his grave site.

George Hiram survived and is my husband’s great-grandfather. In a photograph with his twin brother James, George Hiram looks ten years older, likely from everything he suffered during the war. After the war, he became a circuit-riding, Methodist preacher, ministering to dozens of churches before passing away in 1920. According to family history, his wartime experiences led him to become a devoted Christian and to offer his life to God.

As I watched the mock-battles taking place, I couldn’t help thinking how stupid war is. Making men line up on opposite sides of a field and shoot at each other until one side “wins,” seems idiotic. I pictured these men as my husband or my son, and I wanted to shout “Stop! Let’s just put an end to all this suffering and make peace!”

One of my loved ones is currently fighting a very difficult battle of a different kind. Everything in me wants to do something, take control, intervene, stop their pain, end their suffering. I’ve prayed and prayed and asked God, “What should I do? How can I help?” The answer I keep getting is: Nothing. Just wait. When I texted this dear one to say that I was praying, they texted in return: “These trials need to happen for our good.”

Like George Hiram Austin, my loved one is experiencing a difficult but important lesson. God can use our suffering to change us and draw us closer to Him, if we let Him. Or our pain can change us in a different way, making us bitter and angry, turning us away from God. I can’t offer an easy answer to explain the difference, but I suspect it might have something to do with our attitude when we find ourselves on the battlefront. The book of James says it this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I have never met anyone who has experienced “pure joy” while suffering. But I have met many people whose suffering drew them closer to God and resulted in greater service in His kingdom—like George Hiram’s suffering did. So, I will continue to watch my loved one’s battle from the sidelines, praying that through the struggle, and when the war finally ends, they will be able to rejoice in the work that God has accomplished in their life.

Labor Day

I’ve learned over the more than 30 years that I’ve been writing, that I need to get away from my desk from time to time and refresh my creative juices. So, over the Labor Day weekend my husband and I decided to go on a short adventure in his little red sports car. It’s such a fun, liberating feeling to ride with the top down, with the view open to the vast, infinite sky! I not only have a new appreciation for the beauty of clouds, but it’s amazing how many different scents I smelled along the way—everything from cows and fresh hay, to campfires and the fishy aroma of the lake.

We traveled north in our own state of Michigan to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and then on to the Leelanau Peninsula, stopping to visit three different Michigan lighthouses. They were all nice, but we decided we liked our own lighthouse here in Holland—affectionately known as “Big Red”—the best. What do you think?

The purpose of these lighthouses, of course, is to shine a beacon to prevent ships from running aground, especially during storms. But as we learned from the museum displays, even a warning beacon can’t prevent a ship from becoming wrecked during a storm. There have been hundreds of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes—some even in modern times. I used two of them in my novel, Waves of Mercy. And I’ve decided I’m glad I’m not a lighthouse keeper or the captain of a sailing vessel.

I returned from our trip eager to get back to work my manuscript. I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for any other. But as we celebrate Labor Day, I can’t help wondering how many people dislike their job and wish they had a different one. One of my favorite speaking topics at retreats and conferences is about finding God’s purpose. I believe the reason God created each of us so uniquely is because He has a unique purpose for each of our lives.

Sometimes, as in my case, my profession is also my calling. I’ve met people from a variety of occupations, such a teachers and nurses, who feel the same way. A friend of mine has had an amazing ministry through her work as a beautician.

For others, their daily 9 to 5 job isn’t necessarily the same as their calling but it opens up opportunities to serve God. An accountant friend, for instance, used his skills to help a missionary agency in South Africa upgrade to a new accounting program. And I have dozens of retired friends who are no longer working at full-time jobs but are still being called by God to serve in various ways.

I know that millions of people go to work every day at jobs they dislike because of financial obligations. When my husband was in graduate school, I worked as a secretary to support us until he received his degree. I also worked at various other jobs until my books began earning royalty checks. But even if we feel “stuck” in a job, I believe it’s important to ask God what His purpose for our life might be, and how we can begin to fulfill it. It’s the willingness to serve God that counts. We can do any job for His glory. And He blesses the work of our hands when we offer it to Him.

So, as we eat our hamburgers and celebrate our work today, remember what scripture says: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Happy Labor Day!

Companions for the Journey


I’ve been going through photographs from my bicycle trip through Europe last June, and before the memories fade, I want to share some lessons I learned along the way. My bike tour, like the Body of Christ, relied on three very important people—the Guide, the Corner, and the Sweep.

The Guide, of course, is Jesus. He knows the way and all of the challenges we’ll face. He has traveled this way before us. The Guide also knows the way to our final destination—the hotel—and His Father’s House in Heaven, where there’s a place prepared for us. But we won’t get there unless we follow Him. Our Guide led us up some pretty steep paths, and through harrowing, traffic-congested cities. There were times I didn’t want to follow him. But I knew that if I went my own way, I would get lost. Jesus said, “I am the way . . . No one comes to the Father except through Me.”


The Corner can be anyone in the group. When the Guide comes to an intersection with several choices, he turns to the rider behind him and says, “I need a Corner.” The rider gets off his bike and waits at the intersection to point the way. When everyone has cycled past, the Corner rejoins the group. It’s an important responsibility.


The first day of the trip, I didn’t understand that there’d be a Corner to point the way, so I exhausted myself trying to keep the Guide in sight. And we can exhaust ourselves trying to follow Jesus, too. But He faithfully appoints members of His Body to serve as Corners at important crossroads, pointing the way. We don’t have to make this journey by ourselves. Jesus asks us to take our turn guiding others who are a little behind us on the journey. It means being ready, knowing scripture and the Guide’s voice well enough to point the way.

On the second day of the trip, another newbie like me was told to be a Corner, and when she thought everyone had passed the intersection, she left her post. It turned out that 4 riders were still behind her, and they became lost. The Guide, like the Good Shepherd, left his flock to wait along the trail while he went back to “seek and save the lost.”

The Sweep is just as important as the Corner. Before setting out in the morning, the Guide asks for a volunteer to be the Sweep. The Sweep rides behind everyone else, waiting for stragglers and dawdlers and those who’ve grown weary. Nobody enjoys being last, but a good Sweep cares about his slowpokes and waits patiently for them. When the Corner sees the Sweep, he knows that everyone has safely passed.

I think Jesus is pleased when we volunteer to be the Sweep and care for the stragglers. It’s hard being patient with those who seem slow to learn, or who keep making the same mistakes in their journey. We can grow weary of sweeping up other people’s messes. But a good Sweep shares the Shepherd’s heart for the lost.

One day on our trip, I was one of only three people in my group of 12 who was pedaling the old-fashioned way. The others rode e-bikes with batteries and 3-speed power-assist motors. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for tackling the journey on my own power—until we came to a very challenging hill. (We were in Switzerland, after all!) I shifted into the lowest gears and gutted my way up the slope—still feeling proud. I was almost to the top—legs burning, lungs heaving—when I saw that the top wasn’t the top! The road curved and the steep hill continued!

I was done. I had to get off and walk. The e-bikes zoomed past. Then the Sweep caught up with me. He also had an e-bike. I told him he could wait for me at the top, but he said, “No, I’m not leaving you behind.” He got off and walked beside me. After a minute or so he said, “Here, why don’t you ride my bike and I’ll ride yours?” I knew exactly how the man in Jesus’ parable felt when he lay beaten along the road and the Good Samaritan loaned him his donkey! I swallowed the rest of my pride and accepted his offer. Zoom!—all the way to the top!

It’s difficult to be the one who needs help. It’s especially hard for me to confess that I’m weary and hurting and needing prayer. But the Guide has some very special people who have volunteered to be Sweeps. They’ll walk alongside us when the road becomes difficult—if we ask. And I also need to be willing to help someone else who has grown weary, walking with them along the way.

Our journey of discipleship, like my bike trip, is an exciting one. There are some amazing views at the top! The best advice I can give, is to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:6). Have a great trip!

Re-living History

In case you can’t tell, I love history—both reading it and writing about it. I especially enjoy learning about local history. This beautiful resort, The Hotel Ottawa, once stood near the Lake Michigan beach where my husband and I walk every day. It was featured as a setting in my novel, “Waves of Mercy,” which takes place in 1897.

The hotel was a popular tourist destination in the late 1800s when steamships brought guests, like the heroine in my novel, across Lake Michigan from Chicago to vacation at the beach. Unfortunately, the hotel burned down in 1923 and wasn’t rebuilt. The only thing that’s left is the brick pumphouse that once generated electricity for the hotel and nearby cottages. The pumphouse is now a lovely little museum that features a display of the hotel’s guest book and other artifacts from that time period.

Last week I was asked to speak at the Pumphouse Museum as part of their summer lecture series. The warm, enthusiastic audience listened, on that beautiful summer evening, as I spoke about my book and my journey as a writer. The story of my writing career and how I got started is really the story of God’s faithfulness over the years. Each time I tell it, I’m reminded of all the hard times and all the little miracles along the way—as well as the lessons God taught me through each one. He used the ups and downs of my writing journey to draw me closer to Him, and so each time I tell my story, I’m really telling about His goodness and love.

My goal as I write about the past in my novels is to help readers grow in faith to face today’s challenges. The Bible says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It’s speaking about the written scriptures, but I think it’s also a good reason why we should read and study history. It gives us hope. History helps us see the bigger picture behind world events and God’s hand in them. And that helps us put the challenges we face in clearer perspective. We begin to see that, great or small, we all have a part to play in God’s plan.

When you look back at some of the events in your life, where do you see Gods hand at work? How does that give you faith for today’s challenges?

Majestic Mountains

This is the view of the Rocky Mountains that I woke up to every morning last week. My husband and I spent the week vacationing in Estes Park, Colorado with our daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters. Each day, we hiked the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery. I couldn’t get enough of these awesome mountain views.
I know that the word “awesome” is overused these days and trivialized, but it’s the only word that can begin to describe these mountains. I envy those of you who see views like this every day. Do you ever become so used to them that you stop noticing? I hope not.
Of course, the wonders of God’s creation are all around us if we take time to notice them, but there’s something about this mountain scenery that left me in awe of God’s glory and splendor in a fresh way. At times, I was rendered speechless by their beauty. At other times I wanted to shout, “See these mountains? My Father made them!”
I can understand how people who don’t know God might imagine that He must be like these majestic mountains—cold and distant and inaccessible. But that isn’t how He reveals himself in scripture. We don’t have to labor and strive to climb some lofty, spiritual peak in order to reach Him. Instead, He came down to us through His Son.
And maybe that’s what left me so breathless whenever I gazed at the mountains. Imagine! The Creator of something this enormous and magnificent and beautiful loves you and me!

Searching for Spring

Spring has been a long time coming to my corner of southwest Michigan. This was the view from my window just a few weeks ago in April. Not very inspiring! But the weather has finally warmed up enough for me to go biking again—if I bundle up. My husband and I took a short, twelve mile ride the other day and I decided to search for signs that spring is finally here. These are some of the sights we saw from our favorite bicycle trail:

The boats are coming out of storage for the season and filling the marina.

The underbrush in the woods is starting to turn green.

Wildflowers are in bloom!

Farmers are plowing their fields.

Fruit trees are blossoming.

And this park along Lake Michigan is open again—one of our favorite spots for a (chilly) picnic lunch.

All in all, these hints of spring give me hope for warmer days, and future summer bike rides. I can even begin to imagine sitting on the beach with a good book to read. Spring is a season of hope. I often wonder if Adam and Eve despaired that first winter after they left Paradise, wondering if those “dead,” barren trees would ever live again. How they must have rejoiced to see flowers bloom and new buds appear!

Perhaps nature’s changing seasons were meant to teach us that life also has seasons of darkness and cold—but that God can bring renewed life, even from situations that seem beyond hope. I don’t think it’s an accident that the joy of Easter and Christ’s resurrection come in the Springtime. And with the hope that He brings, maybe I can patiently wait just a little longer for that “hopeless” situation or “dead” relationship to finally bear fruit.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

Unfailing Love

I knew the visit to the nursing home would be difficult. I wasn’t prepared for a miracle.

I went there with my friend Cathy, whose older sister suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I knew Muriel in years past as a vibrant, happy woman who enjoyed life and dearly loved her family and her Lord. It was painful to see the empty shell she has become. She sat slumped in a wheelchair with a blank expression on her face, her eyes dead and lifeless. The other patients in the lounge looked much the same—without life, without hope. I battled tears, my heart aching for Muriel and for Cathy. I lost my older sister Bonnie to cancer a few years ago, and I miss her terribly. But this “living death” seemed much more tragic.

Cathy sat down beside Muriel and gathered her into her arms for a long, sweet hug. She kissed her, and smoothed back her hair, and told Muriel who she was, and how much she loved her. And even though there was no response or any sign of recognition, Cathy took Muriel’s hands, and looked deeply into her eyes, and continued talking, pouring out her love.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a light came into Muriel’s eyes as she began to respond to Cathy’s love. She sat up a little straighter. A gentle smile lit her face. And the love I’d seen in Cathy’s eyes soon filled Muriel’s eyes, too. She may not have known Cathy’s name or who she was, but Muriel knew that Cathy was someone who loved her, someone she had once loved in return.

It was a holy moment. Like watching the sunrise after a long, dark night. Like watching a winter-dead tree slowly bud and blossom. Even though Muriel’s mind had lost its ability to think or remember, her eternal soul knew and understood love. And for a few, precious moments, Muriel was filled with life once again. I wanted to go around the room to all of the other patients and hug them, and show them love so they could come alive, too! But, of course, I couldn’t. I had no right.

Yet, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Those of us who know the beauty and joy of God’s unfailing love—aren’t we supposed to generously give it away to everyone around us? Whether they respond or not? Whether they return it or not? I think of all the “living dead” people I see every day, going through life with blank eyes and hopeless expressions. What might happen if I found a way to draw them close to me, and look into their eyes, and tell them how much God loves them? Could I earn the right to do that through acts of undeserved grace, and kindness, and selfless sacrifice? Might their eternal souls respond to love?

That’s how Jesus demonstrated His love to me when I was “dead.” And because of His love, I am now alive with eternal, everlasting life. How He must long for me to freely give His love away to others.

Lord, open my eyes, today, to see who needs to be touched by Your love. Then give me the courage and grace to love as You do.

Arthur’s Story

I was an eager, conscientious student in elementary school. I wanted straight A’s. I wanted the approval of my teachers. My 6th grade teacher, Mr. S, was one of my favorites. Energetic and creative, stern yet fair, he was generous with his encouragement and affirmation. If a student did something noteworthy, Mr. S would honor them by writing their name on the chalkboard in huge letters, where it would remain for the rest of the day. I loved seeing my name up there.

In our small, rural community, everyone knew their classmates and their families. We were similar in many ways. Then one day, a new student joined Mr. S.’s class who was noticeably different from the rest of us. Arthur was the only student in the entire school with black skin. His clothes and shoes were more tattered than ours. He stood a head taller than the other boys and was probably older, but he had been placed in 6th grade because he could barely read. His family had come to our fruit-growing area as migrant workers, and he spoke with an accent that was probably Haitian or something similar. It was hard to tell, because Arthur barely spoke. No one befriended him.

One day in class, the topic of foreign languages happened to come up, and Mr. S. asked if any of us knew words from another language. Hands waved in the air. Students rattled off what they knew. Mr. S. turned it into a contest and began keeping score. My hand waved wildly. I knew quite a few German words that my grandmother had taught me. I could even recite a little rhyming prayer in German. I started counting my collection of words on my fingers as I awaited my turn and knew I was certain to win. But first, it was Arthur’s turn. He raised his hand for the very first time and told us he spoke French. All eyes were on Arthur. Mr. S. gushed with enthusiasm as Arthur spoke phrase after phrase. I kept score and still believed I might be able to beat him with my German poem.

Mr. S applauded when Arthur finished. His name went up on the chalkboard in huge letters. Arthur beamed as if lit from within and gave us his very first smile. Then Mr. S moved on to another subject. But wait! I didn’t get my turn! Didn’t Mr. S see my hand? I battled tears. It wasn’t fair.

I was too immature at the time to see the wisdom and grace in Mr. S’s actions. But in later years I understood, and the lesson has remained with me to this day. It was something Jesus would have done. In describing the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah writes, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (42:3)

I pray for eyes to see the bruised reeds around me. And I pray for the grace to tend and nurture these bruised ones, regardless of the cost to me.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was seven or eight years old, growing up in a village in rural New York State, when I learned my first lesson about racism. My mom, my two sisters, and I had traveled to a nearby city on a shopping trip. For a treat, we went to the lunch counter at the dime store for grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries. That’s where I saw the two signs, one labeled ‘Whites Only,’ the other ‘Coloreds.’ I asked Mom about them. Her impassioned explanation made it clear to my young heart that discrimination on the basis of race was a terrible injustice.

As I grew older, news of the Civil Rights Movement appeared on the front pages of the newspapers and in nightly newscasts. I knew that a great war was being fought, with soldiers and guns and the deaths of innocent civilians. The battle divided our nation. I was a teenager when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, his death the result of hatred and racism. In spite of all the laws and amendments our government had passed, the injustice I had glimpsed as a child continued. Sadly, some fifty years later, it still continues.

I recently read an eye-opening book entitled “I Will Not Fear” by Melba Pattillo Beals. It details her lifelong battle against racism and how it shaped her deep faith in God. In 1957, fifteen-year-old Melba was one of nine African American students chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her account of the abuse and torture she suffered at the hands of her fellow students and their parents is chilling. It required faith and enormous courage for Melba and her family to endure harassment, violence, and death threats on a daily basis, simply for the right to attend school.

Melba met Dr. King during that time and poured out her suffering and fear to him. He listened kindly, then told her that perhaps God had assigned this task to her. “You’re not doing this for yourself,” he said. “You are doing this for generations yet unborn.” His words were life-changing. Melba writes, “I had been waiting for white students to change, extend kindness, and welcome me, when maybe it was my task to change.” She became a warrior for God, setting aside her own comfort to serve Him.

After one year of forced integration, the Little Rock school board decided to close Central High School and open a private, all-white school rather than educate their children alongside African Americans. But Melba and the others had made history. In 1999, she and the other eight Little Rock students were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their role in the integration of Central High School.

Today, Dr. King’s words to Melba inspire me. What task requiring courage and faith might God be asking of me? Would I be willing to suffer injustice for the sake of generations yet unborn? The early Christians suffered much more than I will ever have to endure as they spread the Gospel throughout the world. Dr. King’s advice to Melba reminds me of God’s words of encouragement to the early Christians, and to me: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

What Are You Waiting For?

Do any of us enjoy waiting? In shopping lines? In traffic? At the doctor’s office? Or for our prayers to be answered? This morning, the psalm I read during my quiet time said, “Each morning I bring my requests to You and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3). While it’s true that I wait expectantly for God to answer my prayers, I don’t always wait patiently.

At the moment, I’m waiting for several urgent prayers to be answered. A job opportunity for a loved one. My friends’ six-month-old granddaughter who needs a liver transplant. A friend’s husband who is battling cancer. For a friend awaiting a biopsy report. These are only a few of many. And don’t we all have similar lists?

Right now, winter has a solid grip on the area where I live. The Lake Michigan beach where my husband and I walk looks cold and desolate, locked in a deep freeze, waiting for renewed life. If I had no memory of the countless spring times and summer times that have followed winter in the past, I would sink into despair to imagine the world forever looking this way. But I do remember, and remembering gives me hope.

Hope also comes in the form of the prayer journal I keep so I can look back on the many prayers that God has answered in the past. Last year alone, a dear friend had successful back surgery. A young father I’d been praying for finally began an addiction program. My long-awaited granddaughter was born healthy and strong. Celebrating each of these answers gives me faith as I wait for God to answer the others. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to wait.

I waited eleven years from the time I first began to write fiction until my first novel was published. When my prayers were finally answered and I received my first book contract, I rejoiced. But during the long publishing process for that first book, my editor and I had a disagreement that brought me to my knees. Could I accept the changes she wanted to make, or would I have to cancel the contract and find a different publisher? I prayed while I waited for the publisher to respond to my concerns. I waited. Then I waited some more.

When my patience ran out, I picked up the telephone, intending to give someone a piece of my mind and end the agonizing wait. Seconds before dialing my editor, I happened to glance at my computer. The screen-saver was programmed to display random Bible verses, and this one read, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” I laughed and put down the phone. And waited some more. In the end, the disagreement was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. My books were in print.

I still don’t like waiting but I think I’m growing better at it. Like the psalmist, “Each morning, I bring my requests to God and wait expectantly.” And hopefully.

So, what are you waiting for?