Keep Hammering

I have the best job there is. I can live in an imaginary world all day, making up stories and creating new characters. I’m my own boss. I can set my own schedule and even work in my pajamas if I want to. But as great as this may sound, I don’t live a glamorous life with TV appearances and book signings and huge royalty checks. It takes me a year to complete a book, and for most of that time my life is very routine—some would say boring.

On a typical day, I’m mostly alone with no one to talk to except imaginary people. And even though I’m my own boss, I find that I’m much more productive if I stick to a schedule (and change out of my pajamas.) I get up early, eat breakfast, and then have my “quiet time,” praying and reading my Bible. This daily time alone with God helps me remember Who I’m really working for and why.

After my quiet time, I go into my office, sit down at the computer, and write. (Of course, I also check my e-mail and Facebook and try not to get too distracted . . .) There are days when my writing goes so well that I lose all track of time. On other days, I have to discipline myself to write whether I feel like it or not. As my manuscript deadline draws near, I set daily writing goals—usually about five pages a day. I work this way for 5 days a week and sometimes on Saturday but I always take Sunday off—a Sabbath rest that refreshes me for work on Monday.

I recently completed another novel, and after time off for a much-needed vacation, I will soon begin the process all over again—researching then writing and rewriting another novel, finishing it one year from now. I’m sometimes asked why I do it. Why do I sit at my desk day after day, year after year, with no guarantee that my book will ever sell a single copy or will impact a single life? The short answer is, because I’m convinced that it’s what God has asked me to do. Mind you, it took a few years for me to come to the conclusion that God had called me to be a writer. And it took eleven years from the time I first sat down to write until my first book was published. Believe me, there were many rejections and tears and much second-guessing during those eleven years. But I kept writing, with no guarantee that I would ever be published, no proof that I wasn’t wasting my time.

I often thought of Noah. Many years passed from the time when he first heard God asking him to build an ark, until the first raindrops fell. He had no money-back guarantees while he hammered away. If it turned out that God hadn’t spoken to him, then he would have wasted his life. But he took a chance that God was calling him, that the rain would come, and he obeyed. And Noah saved himself and his family.

I believe that God calls every one of us to serve Him—in a variety of ways, big and small, as many and varied as there are snowflakes. We can choose to actively listen for His call or not. Then we can choose to obey or not. Most of the time, we won’t have any guarantee that our obedience will have an effect. Will we keep hammering? Keep writing? Keep praying for that person God put on our heart? Keep doing the daily task of showing up, doing our best, believing that we’re acting in obedience with no proof, without a single raindrop falling?

If you’re losing heart, wondering if your calling is real or if your work is in vain, consider Noah. Or Abraham. “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). And because he obeyed, Abraham became the ancestor of Jesus Christ.  Please don’t give up. Please keep hammering and obeying. I’m very glad that I did.

God’s Posture Toward Us

Today I welcome my friend Christine Bierma from Atrustworthysaying.com as my guest blogger. She has graciously allowed me some time away to rest, relax and recharge. She has been writing a series called “Postures” that considers the many postures that we can take as we approach God and the postures He takes toward us as we approach him. This is the second post in this series. To read more, please visit her blog at atrustworthysaying.com.

What do you think God’s posture toward you is? I’m not looking for the Sunday school answer but what you truly believe. When God thinks of you, are his arms open, closed, crossed, indifferent?

Does he have his finger lifted to you in accusation? Is he shushing you? Are his hands raised in a “whatever” pose? Has he completely turned his back?

Or, is he waiting with his arms wide open? Is he turning his ear toward you so he can be sure to give you all of his attention? Is he busy or is he waiting for you?

I believe many of us, if we are honest with ourselves believe that God the Father, is standing in judgement of us. Ready to heap shame and “shoulds” all over our head until we crumble from the weight of it all. Isn’t that what we’ve been taught? We sing Jesus Loves Me This I Know but just as soon as the song is finished we are given a list of our failures and shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of failures and shortcomings but that is the entire reason Jesus came to earth. He came to give us the assurance of forgiveness and to welcome us into his kingdom. He did not visit this planet to shame us or to shake an accusing finger in our faces until we relented.

You can study all of the gospels for your entire life and you will never find Jesus using shame as a weapon or a tool to bring us closer to him or to control us. You can search the Old Testament and the New Testament and not once come up with an example where God used shame to control his people. He just isn’t into the control game.

What you will find is a God who is grieved that his precious people have turned their backs on him. You will find a father that is hurting because of the poor choices his children have made and you will see him weep for the hurt and pain they bring upon themselves. You will find a loving God who is willing to move heaven and earth to allow us to come back to him.

Do you know who is in the shame and control game? Satan.

The prince of darkness wants to control us and lead us away from the Father. Shame is the perfect tool, especially for Christians. When he whispers shame into our ears he makes it sound spiritual, it feels like it is coming straight from God himself. Doesn’t it?

The scriptures tell us that “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:39

When shame, fear, condemnation and rejection start to swirl around you and weigh you down, bring this verse to mind and let it’s truth cover and protect you from the attack. God is not condemnation and fear. No matter what someone in your past has told you, no matter what you own inner voice screams at you, no matter what religious institution has smashed this lie into your heart, it is not true.

What is true is God is love.

Jesus himself said the greatest commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

Look at what that verse doesn’t say. Fill in the blank all the things your own condemnation believes are more important than the command to simply love God. Each of us will have a different list but it is a list of lies. That list simply does not exist in the scriptures.

God waits for each of us with open arms.

He will never force us to come into his presence or to serve him, he always gives us the choice. He isn’t waiting to condemn or shame us, but rather he is waiting to love us like we’ve never known.

He is waiting with his arms open wide!

Visiting Bethlehem

The first time I visited Bethlehem more than 25 years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger.  I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD.  It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church.  A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated over the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.  I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases end up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spend and the stress we endure as we try to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we’re often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem.  We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with Jesus that is the true miracle of Bethlehem.

The year after I visited Bethlehem, I began looking for ways to recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Santa Claus has never been invited to our family’s Christmases, and we’ve always celebrated it as Jesus’ birthday, exchanging presents because God gave us the gift of His Son.  But year after year, the clutter and glitz had draped themselves over our celebrations, just like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries.  That year, I purchased a nice but inexpensive manger set. I wanted something that wasn’t a toy, but that my children could handle and touch. We placed it at their level and at the center of our holiday, and began the simple tradition of gathering together as a family to fill the empty stable while my husband read the story from the Bible. Our children divided all the people and sheep and camels among themselves and when we got to their part in the Bible story, they added their figures to the stable.

This simple tradition has become so beloved by all of us that we still do it the same way every year, even though our children are now adults. One year, our daughter was living overseas and couldn’t make it home for the holiday but we still held our family tradition while she participated via Skype. And it’s always in those moments, with a simple stable and inexpensive plaster figures, and my precious loved ones gathered around me that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us! May you find Him this Christmas season, too.

What Christmas traditions are special for you and your family?

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.