New Tricks

You can call me old-fashioned. I don’t mind, because in many ways, I am. I have an e-reader, but I much prefer a “real” book. I have thousands of photographs on my phone, but I still print out my favorites and display them all over the house. I send and receive text messages, but it’s a special thrill to receive a hand-written letter from someone I love. I enjoy talking to my granddaughters on FaceTime, but it isn’t the same as holding them on my lap. And a family Zoom call this summer on Ken’s and my 50thwedding anniversary won’t be the same as celebrating with our loved ones in person.

In the past, I’ve been stubbornly technophobic, relying on my computer-savvy children, my assistant Christine, and when all else fails, the “Geek Squad” at Best Buy. I was convinced that there’s truth to the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But I’m learning that old dogs actually can be taught new tricks when they’re forced to. My newest book, “If I Were You,” releases tomorrow, June 2, and since many of my tried-and-true methods of launching a new book are on lockdown, I’ve had to learn a lot of new tricks. So has my long-suffering husband who has become my videographer, technical assistant, Zoom coach, and a shoulder-to-cry-on as we’ve been sequestered at home with minimal computer skills and a very steep learning curve to negotiate.

I think we all feel pretty much the same in lamenting the changes the pandemic has brought. The question we ask again and again is, “When will things get back to normal?” We fear that the answer may be “never.” Facing unwanted change and an unknown future can wear a person down.

“If I Were You” is set in England during World War II, and I’ve come to realize that the generations who suffered through that war faced circumstances that were similar to what we’re currently enduring but on a much larger scale. They had no idea how long the war would last or who would win it, or if their loved ones would live or die. Their former lives had been turned upside down, forcing them to learn all sorts of new things, like how to sleep in a bomb shelter or cope with food shortages and rationing. We know how the war ended and that evil was ultimately defeated; they had no idea what would happen as the war dragged on for six long years in England and four years in the United States.

As a writer, I know that I must plunge my characters into troubling circumstances if I want them to grow and change. It’s the only way to motivate them to turn to God. And now I’m wondering if God might be using this pandemic to try to change some things in my life? Might He be trying to teach this old dog some new tricks? The Bible says, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3) And while my actual suffering has been very minimal, especially compared to enduring a world war, my eyes have been opened to how I’ve taken so many wonderful things in my life for granted. Such as worshiping with other believers in church. Eating out with friends. Browsing through the bookstore or the library. Hopping on an airplane to visit my mom and sister in New York, or our son in California.

And I’m going to miss gathering with my friends and loyal readers in person this week to tell you about my newest book. It’s impossible to do it the “old fashioned” way for now, but I hope you’ll join me on Thursday, June 4 at 8:00 PM (EST) as I launch “If I Were You” in a brand-new way. Here is the link where you can register. Simply click on the picture.

So tell me, what new tricks have you learned during the past few months?

Trading Places

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be? As the title of my newest novel suggests, one of the themes of “If I Were You” is envy. The novel takes place in England during World War II and, at times, each of the heroines of the story wishes that she could trade places with the other. And if I could be someone else? Well, perhaps I would trade with a British princess.

I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the British royal family. Long before I could follow them on Facebook and Instagram, I have followed them in the news. My interest intensified during my teenage years when I fell in love with the Beatles, but for five generations, my family’s story has had some interesting parallels with the royals.

The Queen Mum (Queen Elizabeth’s mother) was the same age as my grandmother. They both lived to be over 100, they both died in the same year. Their daughters (my mom and the current Queen Elizabeth) are also the same age, and are both still going strong and leading their families well into their 90s. My mom remembers becoming fascinated with the King of England’s two daughters, Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, as a young girl. At the time, the newspaper printed paper dolls of the two princesses in the Sunday comics, complete with royal costumes to dress them in.

During World War II, while my mom was studying to be a nurse in the U.S. Navy, Princess Elizabeth served her country in the A.T.S., a branch of the Women’s Royal Army Corp that drove and repaired trucks (or lorries, if you’re British).

After the war, it was time for love and marriage and children. Mom married my dad—who had served in the Navy in the Philippines—and they had my two sisters and me. Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip—who served in the Royal British Navy—and had Prince Charles, Princess Anne, and Princes Andrew and Edward. Like many young girls, I dreamed of becoming a princess—and always hoped I would marry real-life Prince Charles.

I was able to follow the British royal family more closely during the years that my husband and I lived in Canada, a British Commonwealth nation. In fact, I waved to Queen Elizabeth when she and her motorcade drove down Portage Avenue near my home in Winnipeg. There were thousands of royal-followers like myself in Canada who watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana on television. I was happily married by then and had long given up hope of marrying Prince Charles. But it so happened that the new Princess Diana and I both learned that we were expecting a baby at the same time. It was a race to see who would have her baby first. Diana beat me by a mere nine days. Her son Prince William was born on June 21, and my son Ben on June 30. We raced once again when she was expecting Prince Harry and I was expecting my daughter Maya—this time I beat the princess by four months.

And now the tradition continues. My daughter has also become a fan of the British royals and eagerly followed the fairy-tale wedding of Prince William to Princess Kate. Children soon followed for this generation, too. Maya’s 4-year-old daughter Lyla is a perfect match for 5-year-old Prince George. And if that doesn’t work out, maybe her daughter Ayla, who is not quite 2 years-old, can marry Prince Louis, who recently turned 2.

We are all still avid royal-watchers, but do I still wish I could trade places with one of them? Their many lovely palaces and grand estates are very tempting. And the clothes! But as a fan of the TV series “The Crown,” I’ve seen another side of their royal lives that is less than enviable. I like my quiet life too much to ever enjoy being in the public eye the way they are. And I don’t think Prince Charles or Queen Elizabeth would approve of my writing career. Or my bike-riding hobby. Then again, maybe they would envy my life?

So, how about you? If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be?

Click the cover image to learn more about “If I Were You” release date June 2, 2020

 

 

Birds of a Feather

One of the hardest things for me about the current shelter-at-home orders, has been being apart from my friends. I miss them terribly, and I’ve had to find different ways of getting together with them.

A week ago, Ken and I drove to our beach and parked six feet away from our friends’ car so we could watch the sunset together. We rolled down our windows and talked and laughed as we enjoyed each other’s company from a safe distance. Friends in another state called us on FaceTime at suppertime and we enjoyed a meal together. Last Thursday I prayed with four of my fellow writers via Skype. We didn’t have to worry about social distancing since we live far apart—in California, Missouri, Michigan, Georgia, and Lyon, France. But prayer for our families and for our calling as writers forms the basis of our friendship, and being together helped ease our anxiety in these trying days. On Friday, I shared a conference call with the faithful friends in my writers’ critique group to discuss our current works-in-progress. Their feedback and friendship were life-giving, as it has been for the past 25 years that we’ve been together.

They say “birds of a feather flock together,” and in nature I think it’s mostly true. I like to hang out with friends who share common interests and hobbies with me, such as writing or biking or our Christian faith. But every now and then, you see something like this in nature:

I’m not a bird expert, but clearly, that pelican doesn’t quite fit in. Which got me thinking about my own friendships. I’ve noticed that while my friends and I share much in common, we are very different on a deeper level. I’m an introvert, many of them are extroverts; I need to think things through, some are wonderfully spontaneous; I’m reserved, the convivial ones bring much-needed laughter into my life. Over the years, the differences they’ve brought to our friendship has helped me grow in many important ways.

In my newest novel, “If I Were You,” I wanted to explore the theme of friendship. Like my friends and me, the main characters, Eve Dawson and Audrey Clarkson, are very different from each other. The novel takes place in England in a Downton Abbey-like manor house, and the obvious difference between the two friends is that Eve is Audrey’s servant. But when England becomes engulfed in the second World War, the friends’ differences become less important as they unite to fight a common enemy. Together they endure the challenges and hardships of the war and its aftermath.

And that’s what I’ve noticed about this very different war we’re currently battling. My friendships seem to be growing stronger, not weaker, even though we’re apart. No matter where we live, we’re all experiencing the same unsettling fears and deep concerns for our families and loved ones. The separation has caused me to pray harder for them, and to tell them I love them more often. When I can finally be with my friends again, the hugs and laughter we share are going to be more precious than ever before.

We’re all in this together, all around the world, and while our individual circumstances may differ, the broad outlines of what we’re enduring in this pandemic and quarantine give us much in common. I hope the memory of our shared experiences will remain and continue to unite us. Will you join with me in praying that, when this is over, our differences will be far less important than they were before? Will you pray that, as children of our Heavenly Father, we’ll remember the unity of our shared struggle? We’re all in this together.

“If I Were You” releases June 2

 

 

 

 

Be Prepared

There’s no escaping the news, the fear, the warnings. The Coronavirus is coming! Beware! Be ready! I understand that I should be worried—after all, I’m over sixty and that puts me at a greater risk of dying if I do contract the virus. But strangely, I’m not worried. While I would like to live another dozen years and watch my grandchildren grow up, my philosophy is the same as my heroines’ motto in my novel “Where We Belong.” Whenever their lives were at risk they would say, “God knows when the end of our days will be; we have nothing to fear.” The question that should concern me is not “how or when will I die,” but “how will I live in the meantime?” How well will I represent Jesus?

I keep wondering what Christians are doing in China, where the outbreak began. Or in Iran, another hard-hit country where Christians make up a tiny minority. Naturally, they must hope to survive this epidemic—we all do. But I’m guessing that believers in those hard-hit nations are reaching out to their sick and dying neighbors with the love of Christ in spite of the risk to themselves. I’m certain we’ll hear stories of their courage and faith in the days to come. And of the lives they saved.

The Apostle Peter urged us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). And non-believers are never hungrier for the hope that we have in Christ than when they are facing death. Perhaps that’s why God allows Christians to suffer through the same plagues and wars and disasters as non-Christians, side by side—so we can proclaim His love and hope to the lost.

While this particular virus is unusual, the fear and uncertainty it brings to people around the world is not. Every generation has faced life-threatening disasters, natural or man-made. In my novel “If I Were You” (releasing June 2), the main characters live in London during World War II, and experience the relentless Nazi bombings known as The Blitz. In the passage below, Eve is worried for her mum’s safety, and tries to persuade her to quit her job in London as a maidservant to Lady Rosamunde and go to a safer place.

“I don’t understand why you’re so loyal to her, Mum. Lady Rosamunde demands so much from you, working all hours of the day and night, yet she doesn’t have an ounce of consideration for you.”

Mum sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “It isn’t easy to explain, Eve. I suppose . . . I suppose it’s because of what the vicar once said in one of his sermons. He read a Bible passage that said servants should do their work joyfully, as if serving the Lord. Jesus said if we’re ordered to go one mile, we should go two. And I feel sorry for Lady Rosamunde. For all her wealth, she is a sad, lonely woman . . . But she gave me a job at a time when I badly needed it to support you. So I’ve always thought that God must have a reason for wanting me to work for her.”

I don’t believe there are any “accidents” with God. Whatever disaster may strike us—a Nazi bomb, a deadly virus, or a heart attack—we can know that it is firmly under God’s control, and that it will serve His greater purpose. We already have eternal life, and so “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We can face the end of our days with nothing to fear.

If you’d like to learn more about “If I Were You,”  follow this link to see a fun video with more information: http://bit.ly/3828FZS

 

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.

At a Loss For Words

Monday is coming and I have to write my regularly scheduled blog. The problem is, I’m all out of words. I have no more stories to tell. That’s because the deadline for my next novel is two weeks away. I’ve been writing it for a year, and it has turned out to be 130,000 words long. That’s a lot of words—which is why I’ve run out!

The novel is finished but I’m spending the final month editing and tweaking and putting in all the final touches. That means I haven’t gone anywhere in days. My friends think I’ve become a hermit. My family forgot what I look like. I have nothing cute or funny or interesting to say in a blog because I’ve been holed up in my office, working. But the day after I turn in this manuscript, I get to leave my work and cold, snowy Michigan for a vacation in Florida with my husband and our friends.

So, what’s my point? I have two. First, there are seasons in life when we need to dive into our work with everything we’ve got. As the scripture says, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Work isn’t a curse that we’re doomed to perform like slaves. When God enables anyone “to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” But it shouldn’t consume our lives all year long, either.

Which leads to my second point—rest. God ordained rest, too. My Puritan ancestors would like me to feel guilty for sitting on a beach a few weeks from now when I should be working hard, giving my all, all the time. I’d like to remind those workaholic ancestors that God rested from His work on the seventh day. He wove the rhythms of work and rest into the fabric of creation. He doesn’t mind at all when we rest from our labors. Truly!

In case you’re wondering, the yet-to-be-named book that I’m racing to finish will be published in June of 2021. I know, that’s a very long time from now. But I’ve also completed another novel entitled “If I Were You,” which will be out in June of THIS year. It takes place in London during World War II and has a bit of a “Downton Abbey” feel to it.

So, here’s my advice. Work hard at what you do right now so when my book comes out next summer you can sit on a beach somewhere and read while you rest from your labors. And now . . . I need to get back to work.

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?

The Story Behind the Story

I am so pleased to announce that this week, Tyndale House is offering a special ebook sale of my novel, Fly Away. The story takes place in 1987—a time period too recent to be a historical novel like my other books, but too far in the past to be a contemporary novel. That’s because Fly Away was one of the very first books I wrote—and the year really was 1987. I was just starting to dream of being a writer back then, and my first published book was eight years in the future. The story came to me so effortlessly that I remember writing it out longhand on a yellow legal pad in my living room. Later, I typed it into my Atari computer and saved it on several 3½-inch floppy discs. It was published by Beacon Hill Press in 1996 and has been out of print until this year.

 

I remember very well the genesis of the story. Within a short period of time, our family struggled with a series of losses. My father, a World War II veteran like the main character in Fly Away, was hospitalized with a stroke and died a few months later at the age of 62. Dad had been helping to care for my grandmother, so without his help, she had to be moved to a nursing home. My father-in-law also had a stroke and was moved to a nursing home where he later died. And then my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer.

Mom Austin wanted to spend her final weeks of life in her own home rather than in a hospital.  My husband and I and our three children lived in Canada at the time, but when we learned that Mom had only a few weeks to live, we drove down to Michigan to take care of her. We had just welcomed our daughter, Maya, into the world, and she was less than two weeks old when we arrived in Michigan. For the next month, we took care of Mom and Maya simultaneously, one at the very beginning of her life, the other at the end; one growing stronger each day, the other weaker. Both were being nurtured and comforted by the presence and love of our family.

People had asked if we were concerned that our children would be traumatized by watching their grandmother die. I had never been present when someone died, so I confess I was a little worried about what the experience would be like when the moment of death arrived. Then I recalled that I had been just as worried about what it would be like to give birth for the first time, yet giving birth turned out to be a beautiful, miraculous part of life. Thanks to a wonderful hospice nurse, we were coached in what we needed to do to care for Mom, just as our birth coach had helped us when giving birth. Still, I wondered what Mom’s final moments would be like.

One night at about 3:00 AM, the baby woke up crying. While I checked to see what she needed, my husband went to check on his mother. He came out of her room saying, “Lynn—she’s gone.” Mom had passed away peacefully in her sleep. Almost immediately, the baby fell back to sleep as if she had awakened only to let us know her grandmother had passed away. Our oldest son, Joshua, who was nine, wanted to go into Grandma’s bedroom to say goodbye. He was able to see and understand that she was no longer in her body, but was now in heaven. It was a tender, holy moment for all of us. After so recently experiencing the miracle of birth, we all learned that death is also one of God’s holy moments.

With so many losses in less than a year’s time, writing Fly Away became part of my grieving process. As you read the novel, you’ll probably see how my own thoughts and emotions became intertwined with my plot and characters. The book deals with dying and loss, but I didn’t want it to be a sad book. All of my beloved family members had loved life and had lived it well. They taught me that our faith in Christ gives us the strength and courage we need to face whatever plans He has for us—even when it means saying good-bye. I learned that death is also an important part of life. We will all lose loved ones to it. We will experience it ourselves. So why not explore the mystery of it by making it a theme of a novel? Writers like to ask “What if?” and “Why?” As I wrestled with my own grief, I began to ask those questions.

Telephones still had cords when I wrote Fly Away, and hung on kitchen walls. Shag carpeting and Star Wars figures were all the rage. I was in my thirties, and my two main characters, who are 65, seemed “old” to me. Now I’m a senior citizen like those “old” main characters. But like Wilhelmina Brewster, I don’t believe in retirement. And like Mike Dolan, I want to keep living life to the fullest, right up until the moment when Jesus calls me home.

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.

Numbering Our Days

I’ve been working from breakfast until bedtime this past week, juggling three important writing projects. This blog is project #4. I feel like a circus performer spinning plates, trying not to let any of them fall. Besides my writing deadlines, I also spoke at a women’s retreat last Saturday. And I have a husband and children who I love spending time with. And grandchildren who are growing up much too fast. I don’t want to miss a single moment of their lives. And aren’t I supposed to exercise every day, and cook healthy meals, too? Not to mention find time to see the new “Downton Abbey” movie.

No matter what kind of work we do, we all have weeks like this, when the pressure is on and there’s not enough time in a day to get everything done. If I’m not careful, my life can get so overcrowded that I live each day in crisis mode. The weeks go by in a hectic blur as I try to keep all the plates spinning, and I end up not really enjoying my work or my life very much. Is there a solution?

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 90—written by none other than Moses, who certainly had a lot of plates to spin. In his prayer, he asked God to “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In other words, help me learn how to align my priorities with God’s. One of the lessons God taught me is to go to Him with my list of urgent tasks at the start of each busy day and make the list a matter of prayer. When I do, God has sometimes shown me that I’ve said “yes” to things I didn’t pray about, first. I’ve agreed to do them from wrong motives like guilt and not because God asked me to. Hopefully, I can “gain a heart of wisdom” and do things differently in the future.

So, I pray about my day, and set priorities, and just when I think I have everything organized, along comes an unplanned interruption that throws my schedule out of whack! Now what? Jesus was on his way to save a dying girl, a true matter of life and death. But He was interrupted along the way by a needy woman who touched the hem of His robe. He obviously saw this as a divine interruption, so He took time to minister to her. And He was still able to accomplish His goal of healing the little girl. How did He know it was a divine interruption? Easy, He’s Divine! It’s a little harder for us.

One such interruption happened to me recently in the middle of a very busy writing day. A woman stopped by to pick up a book, and I started to get the feeling that she needed to talk. Should I stick to my schedule or God’s? I invited her to stay and have coffee, and it turned out that God was asking me to do more than hand her a book. We talked, and prayed together, and when I returned to my writing, I was still able to reach my daily goal. Chatting on Facebook or checking Twitter and Instagram may very well be a divine interruption that God can use. Or, it can be a time waster.

The work we labor so hard to accomplish can have eternal results and bring glory to God, or it can simply fill up our days and sabotage our relationships and leave us stressed out. I’m still learning how to make those daily decisions, so I will keep on praying the way Moses did: “Teach me to number my days aright, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”