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?

The Gift

Last week at our Ladies’ Christmas Tea, a woman who enjoys reading my books said to me, “God has given you a wonderful gift.” Maybe it’s the season of the year, but instead of hearing “gift” the way I usually do, as a talent or ability, I immediately pictured a beautifully wrapped present.

A gift! I did nothing to earn it or deserve it. Unlike Santa Claus, God doesn’t give gifts to “nice” children, and lumps of coal to “naughty” ones. My delight in telling stories and any ability I have to do it well, came to me as a free, no-strings-attached gift from a loving Father who chose it especially for me. I’m not a member of some select group who was chosen to receive a gift while others were excluded. When explaining God’s gifts, scripture says God “gives them to each one, just as He determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). No one is left off His list. And He has a huge variety of gifts to give besides the ability to write books.

As I’m doing my Christmas shopping this week, I love thinking of each individual person on my list and choosing something special for each one. I enjoy seeing my loved ones’ pleased reactions when they open them, and I especially enjoy seeing them use the gifts I’ve given. I hope they will think of me each time they do, the same way that I remember the people who gave me certain cherished gifts over the years. I would be so disappointed if the people I love kept their gifts wrapped up beneath the tree, unopened and unused.

Here’s the thing. I know many, many people who aren’t even aware that God has given a gift to each of us—the most important one being the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Sadly, their gifts remain unopened instead of being used and enjoyed. I’ve also met people who acknowledge that they may have been given a gift such as writing ability, but they choose to wait for the perfect set of circumstances to open and use it. “When I have more time,” they say. “When the kids are grown.” “After I retire.” Too often, that perfect time never comes.

I was the mother of a nine-year-old, a two-year-old and a newborn when I first sat down and started to write. If I had waited for ideal conditions, I would still be waiting! I took an important step in unwrapping my gift when I signed up to attend a Christian writers’ conference. That’s why I love to say “Yes!” whenever I’m now asked to teach at a conference. If you’re waiting to tear off the wrappings of your writing gift, I invite you to attend the Word Weavers’ Florida Christian Writers’ Conference (https://word-weavers.com/floridaconference) on March 6-10. I will be teaching the Fiction class, and the keynote speaker will be the fabulous Liz Curtis Higgs!

I especially love watching little children open their Christmas presents, don’t you? I love seeing their anticipation and enthusiasm, their sheer joy as they tear off the wrapping paper and pull out something special. Why not be like a child this year and tear into the gift that your loving Heavenly Father has delighted in giving you? Please don’t wait another day! Merry Christmas!

A Child is Born

Tomorrow is our oldest son, Joshua’s, birthday. My husband and I are looking forward to celebrating it with him and his wife, Vanessa. Joshua was born in Bogota, Colombia where we lived for two years while my husband performed in Colombia’s National Symphony Orchestra.

Those were interesting and memorable years—learning a new language and adjusting to a different culture far from home. When our friends and family learned that I was expecting our first baby, they invariably said, “But you’re coming home to the States to give birth, aren’t you?” I just laughed and assured them that babies were born in Bogota every day. It was no big deal.

Until I went into labor.

Those of you who have children can probably imagine that giving birth is not something you want to attempt to do in a foreign language. Especially when it’s your first child. But I was young and dumb—and by the time the labor pains started it was much too late to book a flight to America. I did my best to stumble through the ordeal in Spanish, and when they finally laid little Joshua in my arms, my first words to him came out in Spanish. My baffled husband said, “What are you doing? He speaks English!”

Twenty days later, it was Christmas Eve. We were far from home, far from family, with a tiny son who barely weighed 6 pounds, celebrating the holiday alone. Yet I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful, memorable ones of my life.

Christmas in Bogota is celebrated like our Fourth of July—with fireworks. You can forget about “Silent Night” with explosions of all kinds going off in the streets. At night the sky is lit up with globos, which are little parachutes fastened to cans of burning fuel. They look lovely as they rise up in the sky, but beware—when the fuels runs out, the cans drop to the ground, falling on unsuspecting pedestrians’ heads!

But what made that Christmas so memorable was that I was holding and nurturing a tiny, helpless baby—a beautiful reminder of how tiny and helpless Jesus was when He came to earth. Imagine! The Creator of the infinite universe was once as helpless and vulnerable as my son. From the moment I first held Joshua in my arms, I felt such a fierce love for him, stronger than any emotion I had ever known—and in that moment I finally caught a glimpse of God’s unfathomable love for me. For me! I knew that I would protect my son with every last ounce of strength I possessed. Yet God’s love for me was so great that He allowed His Son to suffer and die. For me.

That Christmas in Bogota was different from any other Christmas, before or since. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. There were no decorations, no lights, no frantic shopping trips. No carols, no cookies, no presents to wrap, no family gatherings. Yet in that simplicity, I found the true meaning of Christmas—a helpless child, a Father’s love.

I was reminded of Mary and all that she must have endured that first Christmas—a long journey from home, finding a place to stay, giving birth for the first time. Then all of the excitement as the shepherds paid a visit and spread the news about the Messiah’s birth. Yet in the midst of it, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In the simplicity of my first Christmas with a newborn, I had the luxury of doing the same.

Only 20 days remain until Christmas Eve. I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree or decorated my house. There are no cookies baking in my oven, no hot chocolate simmering on the stove. I haven’t bought a single present or even made a list. But this year—every year—I pray that I can let go of all the trappings, all the stress and hassle for just a few moments, and remember how it felt to hold a helpless child in my arms, a child I loved with all that I am. Like Mary, I want to treasure up these things and ponder them in my heart. And then I can celebrate Christmas joyfully, thanking a Heavenly Father who loved me enough to give His Son for me.