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.

Hidden Treasure

Two of my favorite hobbies when I’m not writing are bicycling and hiking in the woods with my husband. Now we’ve added something new to these adventures—geocaching.

It’s a treasure hunt, of sorts. Avid fans of this sport hide thousands (if not millions!) of “caches” all around the world in out-of-the way places, then give GPS coordinates and clever hints for how to find them. We searched for some while vacationing in Florida, when visiting our son in California, and when we traveled to Germany. I found a few while hiking in New York State with my sister last week. They are everywhere!

A geocaching app on our phones locates them using GPS coordinates. The compass then takes us within a few feet of where it’s hidden. After that we use the hints that are provided and our powers of observation to find the hidden container. Some are hidden right along the trail; others require bush-whacking through underbrush or reaching into holes—not my favorite things to do.
Large caches are the size of a shoebox.
Medium ones the size of a sandwich container.
Small ones, a medicine bottle.
Micro caches are even tinier.

I’m pretty good at the larger ones. The micro-sized ones often defeat me. Some caches offer little trinkets inside as a reward. I found a dollar bill in one. All of them have some sort of log book to sign. But for me, the reward is in the pleasure of the hunt and the thrill of discovery.

Recently, I’ve been trying to apply my new treasure-hunting skills to my spiritual walk. Our pastor has been preaching about the Imago Dei—the image of God—which resides in every person on earth. The Bible says we were made in God’s image, so that spark is hidden there, whether we see it in someone or not. The key to loving our neighbor as Jesus taught, is to remember that even the most unlovable people are made in His image, although we may need to search hard to find it.

Sometimes I meet strangers and feel an instant connection—and discover that they have a huge cache of faith and love of Christ in their hearts. Their treasures are easy to find. Then there are people who rub me the wrong way, or whose outward behavior is offensive, or who don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities at all. Those are the ones I want to turn away from and give up on without even bothering to search. It seems as difficult as finding a micro-cache in a forest. But they have been made in God’s image too, and deserve to be shown His love. Weren’t we all “lost” at one time?

Jesus was amazing at finding that spark of the Divine image in unlikely people such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and demoniacs. And I’m supposed to become more and more like Him, aren’t I? He taught us to “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” but I never quite understood how to do it. Maybe the key is to search for that hidden treasure of God’s image. Jesus also tells us why we should bother to look: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” He doesn’t want anyone to remain lost—and so I shouldn’t, either.

I often wish I had a handy app to make it easier, but I do have the Word of God to guide me. If I’m faithful to follow it, that should be more than enough.

On Stage

While we were in California visiting our son Benjamin in April, my husband and I asked him to get tickets to watch a TV show being filmed. He was able to get seats at Universal Studios to watch the taping of two episodes of “Family Feud” with host Steve Harvey. We sat in the second row, front and center, and had a ball!

The young man doing the warm-up act got the audience all fired up with his antics and contests. That was a terrific show all by itself. Then Steve Harvey came out and he had us laughing until our sides ached. A lot more goes on during the taping than ever ends up on the show—and that man is funny! He remained on stage during the commercial breaks and treated us to a comedy routine. He also answered questions from the audience that had been submitted earlier. We weren’t treated like a living “laugh-track” but as an audience that he was eager to entertain.

During the final commercial break, Steve asked us to stay seated after the taping ended because he wanted to send us away with a word of encouragement. We did, and he walked out to the edge of the stage and gave us his testimony of how God had worked in his life. He told his own story, from his heart, and said, “This is what God did in my life, and He can do the same for you. God loves you. He wants a relationship with you.”

We were people of all ages, races, and backgrounds—and in California, no less—yet no one uttered a sound as we listened. He had won our respect with his humor, his genuine warmth, and his honesty during the show, and now we listened. “You know there’s a God,” he said with a smile. “You know there is. He’s reaching out to you because He loves you.”

Steve Harvey entertained me that afternoon, and then he taught me something. He showed me how powerful it can be to simply tell others what God has done in my life. I don’t need to memorize verses or have a theology degree but simply tell my story and remind people that God loves them. I was also amazed that a man of his stature in the entertainment world was courageous enough to use the platform God had given him to speak so forthrightly.

Not only did the audience hear his testimony, but the cameramen, technicians, producers and stagehands did, too—people Steve works with every day. I was reminded that God gives each of us an “audience” to reach out to, whether at work or at school, at home or in the marketplace. He made me wonder—am I taking advantage of the places God takes me and the people He puts in my path to bring Him glory? Do I take time to offer a word of encouragement like Steve Harvey did? I thought of the scripture verse that says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Hats off to you, Steve Harvey, for a great show and a memorable lesson.

Life-Changing Books

I’ve been thinking about my spiritual journey lately, along with my journey as a writer. The two are closely entwined. And I realized what a powerful, life-changing effect books have had on those journeys. Space doesn’t allow me to list all the books that have influenced me, but four stand out.

The first is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family lived uneventful lives in The Netherlands until the Nazis invaded. Then their faith in God and deep love for Christ compelled them to hide Jews in their home, trying to save as many people as possible. Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their father were arrested and sent to prison camps. Only Corrie survived.

I read this book when my husband and I lived in Bogota, Colombia. We had everything a young couple could possibly want; we were newly-married, working our dream jobs, and our first child, Joshua, was born there. I had been raised in a Christian home with godly parents and grandparents, yet when I read “The Hiding Place,” I realized how weak my faith was. I wouldn’t have had the courage to risk my life as Corrie did. Her story convicted me, and I hungered for what she had. I began to seriously pursue a closer walk with God.

I read the second life-changing book shortly after we returned to the United States. “Anointed for Burial” by Todd and DeAnn Burke tells the true story of missionaries to Cambodia in the final, life-threatening years before the nation fell to the Communists. Again, I was impressed by their tremendous faith to endure fiery trials. For months, they lived in such perilous conditions that they needed to hear God speaking on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. They developed the habit of reading scripture three times a day, and God miraculously spoke to them through the Bible, offering wisdom and guidance when they needed it most.

Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Anointed for Burial” convicted me of my need to feed on the Word of God every day. I was faithful to feed my physical body three times a day, so why didn’t I see the greater need to feed my spirit with His Word? I found a daily scripture-reading plan that enabled me to read through the Bible in a year. I began that very day and have continued ever since.

The Bible is the third life-changing book. Like Todd and DeAnn Burke, I have found it to be a comfort and a source of wisdom. But best of all, the picture of God and His eternal plan that emerged as I read it, accomplished what I had longed for back in Bogota—to draw closer to Him, to get to know Him, and to strengthen my spiritual walk.

Next, my husband’s work took us to Canada. My plan had been to have a second child around the time Joshua turned two. But we celebrated his second birthday, then his third and fourth and fifth—and I still wasn’t pregnant. He turned six and started school, and God didn’t seem to hear my prayers. I read the fourth life-changing book, “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok as I wrestled with unanswered prayer. This beautifully-written novel tells the story of an Orthodox Jewish father who, for reasons that aren’t told until the end, stops speaking to his beloved son. When the father finally speaks, he tells how his heart broke the entire time he had kept silent, and how he feared his son would turn away from him forever. But he did it because of the son’s arrogance and self-sufficiency, which needed to be broken. The son needed a loving, compassionate heart so he could understand other people’s pain and accomplish the work God was calling him to do.

I saw in “The Chosen” an allegory of God’s inexplicable silences. And I realized that through my longing for a child, God had led me to become active in the Right-to-Life movement and to help start two crisis pregnancy centers. Through this novel, I discovered that God speaks powerfully through fiction. And it also created in me a longing to write novels like this from a Christian perspective. Christian fiction as we know it today had yet to be born, but I sensed that this was the calling God had for my life. I signed up for a creative writing course at a local college—and a month later, I learned I was pregnant with our son Benjamin. Twenty months after he arrived, our daughter Maya joined us.

My spiritual and writing journeys have been long and satisfying. I have published 25 books, now. Glowing reviews and royalty checks are great, but to me, the most gratifying rewards are letters from readers telling me how one of my stories has impacted their life.

So, how about you? What life-changing books have you read?

The Bus Tour

I’ve done some unusual things during the course of my writing life, but my upcoming bus tour next month will be a first. The idea came from my friend Paul, who thought readers would enjoy touring some of the interesting sites from my novel, “Waves of Mercy.” The novel is set in the town of Holland, Michigan where Paul has lived most of his life, and it tells the story of the Dutch immigrants who founded the town in 1847. Paul happened to mention his idea to a friend from church who leads the 55+ Seniors’ Group—and the “Waves of Mercy” bus tour was born.

I imagined maybe a dozen of us climbing onboard the church van for a spin around town. Ha! I had no idea how popular this tour would be! The group has had to hire two chartered buses carrying 56 passengers each—plus the church van. The “Waves of Mercy” tour will begin at the church with a lunch of Dutch pigs-in-the-blankets and pea soup, then we’re off to see the sites. Here are just a few of them:

A typical settlers’ cabin from 1847

The first church built in 1856

The original light house on Lake Michigan

The Hotel Ottawa Resort on Black Lake

The town’s founding father, Rev. Albertus Van Raalte

I’ve been trying to figure out what makes this tour so appealing to so many people. The sites we’re visiting aren’t unusual ones, but places that can easily be seen in Holland every day. I’ve concluded that it’s the settlers’ courage and faith that makes their story so compelling. They left their homeland of civilized cities to carve out a town in the wilderness because they longed for religious freedom. Their boat caught on fire and was delayed for repairs. The delay kept them from their goal and forced them to spend most of the winter in Detroit. They walked through knee-deep snow to reach the town site because there were no roads. They ran out of food and starved. Their first summer here, so many people died from malaria that they had to build an orphanage to house all the children. But they worked hard, cleared the land, and built farms and businesses. Then, only twenty-four years after the first settlers arrived, fire destroyed the town.
I’m guessing that many of us would have given up—or at least questioned where God was in all these disasters. Had He really called us to settle here or not? It’s so easy to feel like our work is in vain when our carefully made plans start to fall apart. But the settlers’ faith remained strong. Today, there are more than 70 churches in this town of 33,000 people. What an example of perseverance and faith! If they had a life-verse, I think it would be this one:

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
Because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58

That verse will give us something to pause and think about on our “Waves of Mercy” bus tour.

Helpless

Our two-week vacation on Sanibel Island in Florida was wonderful—just the break I needed after finishing my latest novel and before starting the research process for the next. I sat in the departure lounge in the Fort Myers Airport with my husband on Saturday, thinking about all of the things I needed to do when I got home, including writing this blog. The inbound flight arrived, but we were told there would be a delay before we could board due to a mechanical issue. One hour stretched into two. I tried not to grow nervous as I watched the mechanics “tinkering” with something on the wing of our plane. And I was greatly relieved when the airline finally announced that we would be moving to a new gate to board a different plane.

At last we lifted off. But an hour into the flight, I happened to glance out the window in time to see our airplane make a giant U-turn in the sky. The flight attendants, who had just begun serving snacks and beverages, abruptly steered their carts back to the galley. Then the announcement came: “Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot has just informed us that we need to make an emergency landing due to a mechanical problem. We should be on the ground in Orlando, Florida in about 30 minutes.”

No one wants to hear news like that when they’re ten-thousand feet above the earth! As panic set in, I realized that I was utterly helpless to control any aspect of my life or my future. All I could do was pray—and of course, I did. Fervently! Everyone else must have been doing the same thing because the plane became eerily quiet. The next thirty minutes seemed like an eternity.

The book I happened to bring along to read on that flight was “Be Still My Soul” by Elisabeth Elliot. Her words took on new meaning as the stricken plane descended. “We have to come to Him in humility, acknowledging our helplessness and our utter dependence on Him. … If we have given our lives to Him, we are able to accept everything that happens to us as from His hands.” We have a savior we can trust, Elliot says. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive it as the will of our all-loving God.

Most days, I go about my life with the illusion that I’m in control. I can decide where and when I’ll go on vacation; which airline I’ll fly with; how my novels will end, and which book topic I’ll write about next. But my helplessness on that airplane reminded me that my ability to control things goes only so far. Ultimately, my life doesn’t belong to me, but to God, who has redeemed it through His Son. If I’ve given my life to Him, then He is in control, not me. And I’m helpless to save myself spiritually, as well. If we crashed and my life ended, none of my “good deeds” would have any merit at all. “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

Of course, we landed safely or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. We got off the broken plane and were loaded onto a third aircraft an hour later. I confess that my knees felt very wobbly as I boarded. The sick, churning feeling in my stomach grew worse. “The third time’s the charm,” our flight attendant said cheerfully as we took our seats. Once again, I would be vulnerable and helpless, thousands of feet above the earth, for another two-and-a-half hours. And yet, in a strange way, I’m grateful for the reminder of God’s power and my own helplessness. The new year is certain to bring many changes and challenges that I can do nothing about. There will be many more times when I’ll feel panicked and afraid and helpless. But as Elisabeth Elliot says, we do have control over one thing: “You can choose to trust His faithfulness in every detail of your life.”

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3)

The Voyage

I once heard a speaker compare life to a kayak trip downriver. Sometimes the waters are smooth and we can enjoy a leisurely journey, admiring the beauty all around us. But every now and then we hit the rapids and we’re suddenly thrown into a mad scramble to stay afloat. As we navigate past rocks and other dangers, overwhelmed with fear, we wonder if life will ever be serene and peaceful again. Eventually the river smooths out and we sail back into calmer waters. And if we’re wise, we will have learned some valuable lessons that can prepare us for the next patch of rough water. Here’s what I learned on last year’s voyage:

Our family hit the rapids last June when my husband suffered a heart attack. He has fully recovered now, and we’re back to smooth sailing. But during those weeks of frantic paddling, I learned that life is fragile and precious. God can call us home to Himself at any time. More than ever, I want to hold my loved ones close in the coming year, and not squander a moment of time that I have with them. I need to remember which things in life are really important and which ones aren’t worth fussing about.
In my faith walk, I came into some challenging waters last year when our church hired a new lead pastor. He is a wonderful preacher, and our church has welcomed and embraced him. But he is challenging us to get out of our comfortable ruts so we can think more like Jesus and serve more like Him. I much prefer to float in a lagoon with people who are just like me—but Jesus longs for me to reach out to those who are different, those who may be drowning in the rapids, and offer them a helping hand. Yes, the comfortable ministries I’ve been involved with in the past have been good ones. But for the sake of the kingdom, it’s time for me to stop doing “church” and get involved with the world around me in the same way Jesus did.
My writing life has been mostly calm this past year. And yet . . . I have felt God challenging me not to settle for safe waters. As an act of trust, I need to take new risks and move out into deeper water. One way I’ve been doing that is by self-publishing an out-of-print novel of mine called “Fly Away.” It took a lot of work and required learning new things—and you know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks! But a letter from a reader made it all worthwhile when she wrote to tell me how much “Fly Away” has blessed her. Why start a new venture when I’ve been successful with a traditional publisher? Why not stay in safe waters? Because sometimes complacency masks a lack of faith. I don’t like change—does anyone? Yet I know from experience that my faith grows the most during times of change.
I wish I could see around the bend in the river at what lies ahead for 2018—but I can’t. So, I’m choosing to sail forward into the unknown, comforted by one of my favorite verses from Isaiah: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:1-2). Bon Voyage!

Unseen

Here we are on the first day of a wonderful, New Year. I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions, but a verse I read recently in 2 Corinthians has challenged me to view life differently—so why not start today? In the verse, believers are advised to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” The irony makes me smile. How in the world can I fix my eyes on something that can’t be seen? But I do understand what the verse means.

Like most of us, the believers in Corinth are experiencing trouble. Instead of dwelling on their problems, they are told to trust that God is at work in a way that isn’t visible. They are assured that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Hmm. Does this principle really work? I decided to look back at some of the big and little troubles I’ve experienced over the years. Were the “seen” problems really only temporary, while God was accomplishing something else in the background, something that had eternal results? This example came to mind.

Years ago, I arrived as a freshman at Hope College filled with excitement about all the great courses I would take. But since freshmen were the last ones to register, I was frustrated to discover that the classes I wanted were all filled by the time I tried to sign up. This included “Introduction to Art” which I was eager to take to fulfill a college requirement. My advisor said to sign up for “Introduction to Music” instead, then wait for someone to drop out of the art class and switch. No one ever dropped out! I remember being very angry at being forced to spend time studying music, which didn’t interest me, just so I could maintain a B average and keep my scholarship. It seemed so unfair. But one day a handsome music major came up to me in the hallway and offered to tutor me. Thanks to him, I got an A in the course. We’ve been married for 47 years.

That’s one of the more light-hearted examples I’ve thought of, but of course there have been some serious “troubles” over the years. I thought my life couldn’t get much worse after my husband won a job performing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in Manitoba, Canada. (Winnipeg is north of North Dakota, by the way). Thousands of miles from my family, I was stuck at home with three small children, buried beneath several feet of snow, and forced to endure sub-zero temperatures for months at a time. Believe me, I couldn’t imagine any eternal results. But that’s when I sat down one day while my children were napping and decided to try my hand at writing a novel. By the time we moved back to the U.S. after eleven years in Canada, I had finished four novels (and made peace with the Canadian climate).

As a new year begins, I’m taking time to reminisce about all my experiences, looking for the “unseen” blessing in each circumstance. In most cases, I can see that an eternal purpose was accomplished. In the cases where I can’t, perhaps that particular story isn’t finished yet. I’m amazed at God’s faithfulness in every circumstance. And while I won’t call it a New Year’s resolution, I wonder how different my life will be, how much less stressful, if I face any troubles that come my way in the new year with this verse in mind:

“. . . our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an

eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on

what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary,

but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

The Angel’s Message

I had the privilege on Saturday to speak to the ladies of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan at their annual Advent Brunch. What a wonderful morning we had! The ladies had decorated the hall for Christmas with each table beautifully set to welcome the women who gathered there. The men of the church treated us like royalty as they served our meal. There was Christmas music and good food and lots of new friends to meet. I love events like these that come early in December. They help me slow down and focus on celebrating Christ’s birth instead of racing around with a mile-long to-do list in my hand.

As I thought about what I wanted to share with the ladies, the angels in the Christmas story came to mind. One of them appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce God’s plan for her to give birth to His Son. The angel’s message began with the words “Do not be afraid.” Another angel spoke to Joseph in a dream when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, and once again his message began with “Do not be afraid.” A third angel appeared to the shepherds to announce Christ’s birth, and he also began his message with “Do not be afraid.” Angels must be awesome beings indeed, to spark fear each time they appear!

But I think it’s more than that. Mary and Joseph had all their plans in place. They were going to be married soon, and they probably envisioned a future much like that of other young couples in the village of Nazareth, with work and children and a new home. Then an angel appeared to announce that God was about to turn their orderly lives upside down, bringing a baby before they had a chance to marry—a baby who was the Son of God and heir to Israel’s throne. Were they willing to give up their dreams and let God’s plans go forward? The angel said, “Do not be afraid.” Trust God. Trust that He is working for good. Trust that events are taking place in the spiritual realm that they couldn’t see. Trust God, even though everything in their life is about to change. Mary’s response to the angel and to God was, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Most of us have made a lot of plans for the future. Our calendar pages are filled with programs and events and travel arrangements. But change can come unexpectedly. Accidents, illnesses, job losses, financial problems, relationship problems—these don’t stop so we can celebrate a “magical” Christmas holiday. If only an angel would appear to us whenever our lives are turned upside down and comfort us by saying, “Don’t be afraid! Trust God! He is in control and He is working for our good.”
I’m guessing that most of us have recently experienced some sort of unwelcome change. (If you haven’t, you’re probably about to!) Whether we like it or not, change is part of life. Before we start to panic and fret and worry, what if we took a moment to listen for the angel’s message from our Heavenly Father. It’s the same one that Mary and Joseph heard: “Don’t be afraid. Trust God in this. He is in control.”

When change comes, will we wrestle and worry and try to get our own plans back on track? Or will we put our hand in God’s and say, like Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Thanks a Lot!

Two more chapters to write and I will be able to type those wonderful words—THE END. The novel I’ve been laboring on for nearly a year is almost finished. Maybe I’ll be able to enjoy the Christmas season with my family this year without stressing over my deadline. But when I tried to start my computer yesterday morning, eager to make the final sprint to the finish line, I discovered that it had crashed. An automatic update had failed, locking everything up. The fatal blue screen wouldn’t allow me access to my computer no matter how hard I tried. I did the only thing I knew how to do—I panicked!
Unlike most writers, I am NOT computer savvy. I know enough to answer email, write my novels, and post this blog. That’s about it. I called my brother-in-law in New York who is my computer go-to person and he diagnosed the problem. The solution? I could pay a local tech $95 an hour to try to fix it (and still have an aging computer), or I could purchase a new computer and pay the tech to try to retrieve my novel and everything else from my old hard drive. I chose the new computer. (Not exactly what I wanted for a Christmas present. Sigh.) It’s going to take a few days to get my new computer back home with everything on it (hopefully) restored from my old one. In the meantime, I’m limping along at a snail’s pace with this tiny laptop.
A crashed computer isn’t the only discouraging “glitch” I’ve experienced in my writing life these past few months. On the day of my book launch—a day I waited an entire year to celebrate—the book was unavailable on Amazon. Then I learned that the members of my Launch Team wouldn’t be receiving their advance copies of the book until more than a week after the launch date. And there were several other glitches, each one frustrating and worrisome and stressful. I call them “joy stealers.” Instead of the euphoria of another successful launch or a nearly completed novel, I’m wasting my energy stewing and worrying. Joyful? Not so much.
What I needed more than a restored computer yesterday was a restored sense of perspective. I got it this morning as I read through the newsletters from several of the Christian organizations my husband and I support. People whose homes were destroyed by hurricanes and forest fires will need much more than a new computer. The children we support in Zambia and Vietnam need food and clean water on a daily basis. Christians being persecuted for their faith need prayers for their churches and families. Young girls being trafficked need deliverance and justice. I should be thankful that I can afford a new computer and still have a roof over my head and three meals a day—not to mention the freedom to enjoy them. My problem will soon be fixed. Their problems are ongoing.
This week I will celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It’s a yearly reminder to stand back and get some perspective on how God has so richly provided for us. Have there been “glitches” and “joy stealers” this year? Of course. But in the larger view of things, my family and I have been abundantly blessed. We could have been eating Thanksgiving dinner without my husband this year if a serious health issue a few months ago hadn’t ended well. Then there are our spiritual blessings, such as God’s grace and redemption and love. The security of our heavenly home. And a calling that I love in spite of the glitches.
I think I know why the enemy tries so hard to steal our joy. Because “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). I think I need to do some thanking and rejoicing while I wait for my new computer.