Balancing Act

I haven’t always done well in the balancing act between work and play. I’ve learned over the years that when I work too hard, my creativity shrivels up and the work I love becomes a chore. When I play too much when I should discipline myself to work, I end up at my computer bleary-eyed, late into night. Neither option is a good one. When my children were small, the words of Psalm 90 inspired me to never stop searching for that balance. It’s a prayer of Moses—who certainly had a LOT on his plate! After commenting on the brevity of life, his prayer is: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” And over the years, God has been helping me find that balance.

My newest novel, “Legacy of Mercy” launched October 2. With help from my social media assistant and good friend Christine Bierma, and a wonderful launch team (thanks everyone!) the book is off to a great start. After several speaking events and interviews, I felt a nudge that it was time for some play. So, my husband and I joined friends Becky and Tim for two days of hiking and biking in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in northern Michigan. The leaves were changing, the salmon were swimming upstream to spawn, and the Lake Michigan scenery was breathtaking. Here are some of the highlights.



I’m home again, refreshed and renewed and eager to jump back into my work-in-progress. I’ve been reminded that “a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day that has just gone by.” And I’ll continue to pray that He will teach me to number my days aright.

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.

Boats, Bikes, Beaches and Books

Wow, it’s hard to stay focused on my writing this time of the year! The weather has been beautiful—perfect for going to the beach, riding my bike, and watching the boats sail on Lake Michigan. Perfect for everything, it seems, except writing a novel. The only solution I’ve found is to plan carefully and not let myself get distracted. To get up early and get to work so I can play later on.
Yesterday we rode our bikes into town to visit the library for research, then rode home again after stopping at the lake. Eighteen miles later, I was so tired that it wasn’t hard to sit down and write. Tonight, we’re having a potluck supper on the beach with a group of our neighbors. Sometimes we ride our bikes to The General Store in the afternoon when I need a little break and have an ice cream cone. Or we’ll pack a lunch to eat as we watch the boats sail past the lighthouse. Or enjoy a corn dog at Dune Dogs. Little treats like these give me something to look forward to and help keep me at my desk.
If I need to do some reading research, I often take my books, my I-pad, and a folding chair to the beach and do it there. (And the lake is handy when I need to cool off.) Having family and friends visit actually helps, believe it or not. I’m able to concentrate and work extra hard beforehand, knowing that I’ll soon be relaxing with friends as my reward.
This part of Michigan has long been a favorite summer vacation destination. Anna’s story in my novel “Waves of Mercy” takes place at the Hotel Ottawa Resort, a large hotel that once stood near Ottawa Beach State Park. Boats carried wealthy passengers from Chicago and other cities across Lake Michigan to vacation here in the late 1800s. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1923, and all that remains is the brick pump house that once supplied electricity to the hotel and area beach cottages.
Today, the pump house is a small museum—where I’ll be a guest speaker on July 19 at 7:00 pm. New exhibits include one of the original hotel guest books from the 1890s. If you’re in the area this Thursday, please come join me! Afterwards, you can buy ice cream at the General Store and watch the sunset over the lake. This time of year, it doesn’t set until almost 9:30.
I’ve heard people say they admire writers and other artists because we’re so disciplined. But any worthwhile work we do requires discipline, especially if it’s what God called us to do. How can we do anything less than our best or give anything less than our all for Him? But God also gave us the much-needed rhythm of work balanced with rest. The Sabbath is God’s gift to us, a day to stop working and enjoy His creation—including bikes, beaches and boats.
It’s always a challenge to balance work with rest. What are some of the ways you’ve found to do it?

Schönes Deutschland: Beautiful Germany

What a trip! It was so surreal to be touring Germany with Ken. I often had to keep pinching myself to see if I was dreaming. We saw miles and miles of this beautiful country and had the opportunity to meet some of the most warm and inviting people I’ve ever met.  Would you pull up a chair and allow me to share my trip pictures with you?

I took my latest two characters, Rebecca and Flora with me as traveling companions since they loved to travel so much. If you follow me on Instagram @LynnAustinBooks, you saw the many different places we took the book Where We Belong. Here I am with one of my German friends, she is holding the German version of Where We Belong and on the table is Fly Away.

I spoke in many different venues, including at a church that is in a castle. It was a blessing to meet so many wonderful people.

On Sunday I spoke at two Christian Church services. They were both such joyful services with young families and seniors and every age in between.  It was so amazing to me that Christ’s Church can survive and thrive even when persected.
It also made me realize how much we take our religious freedom for granted. I have never suffered for my faith. We are free to go to college or pursue any career we want. I wonder how many of us would admit to being Christians under such circumstances?

I was completely surprised to find this beautiful hot air balloon basket on stage next to my podium. I was speaking about the book Fly Away and this was a wonderful visual addition.

Anyone care to translate?

We were caught in our own polar vortex! It was so cold!

The food, oh the food! Warm bread, apple strudel and so much more. Ken and I had our fill of some of the most delicious treats while we were there.

The Brandenburg Gate. Stunning to be looking at history with my own eyes.One of my most touching memories from this trip was meeting a young woman who grew up in the former East Germany before the wall came down. When the communists were in control, her family was discriminated against because they were Christians. The teachers and other students treated her differently in school. She wasn’t allowed to go to college or choose her own career. I can only imagine her parents’ pain to see their child suffering because of their faith. Christians were always closely watched and didn’t dare to take a misstep.

Here is the village that my ancestors are from.

This is the church my great-grandfather probably attended before he immigrated to America in the 1880s.

A mini-Austin.

I wish I could have taken you all with me. It was a truly amazing trip and I am so grateful. I wasn’t doing specific research for a project but I must say I was inspired by everything we saw for future books.

Just for fun, here are some of my books with their German counterparts. Can you figure out which books go together? I will choose a winner from the comments and send you a signed book. Have fun! Be sure to join me on Facebook, I will be posting the answers as soon as I get my body back to Eastern Standard Time.

Greetings From Germany!

By the time you read this blog, I’ll be in Germany on a book and speaking tour. I know, right? I’m so blessed to have this incredible opportunity! I would love to bring you along with me on my journey, but since that isn’t possible, I’m going to let the two sisters from my newest novel, “Where We Belong,” stand in for you.
If you’ve read the book, you know how much Rebecca and Flora Hawes love to travel, even though they lived in the 1890s when travel was much more challenging. Their trans-Atlantic Ocean voyage would have taken weeks, compared to my 9-hour flight. And they probably would have packed their clothes in something like this steamer trunk—which weighs at least 40 pounds empty. (There goes my weight limit!)
Granted, the trunk is a lot roomier than my suitcase, but ladies’ dresses and petticoats and bloomers took up a lot more room back then than my clothing does. Even so, I’m having a rough time cramming enough clothes and shoes and toiletries for two whole weeks into my suitcase.

You can stay connected with the sisters and me on Facebook and Instagram while we’re on our journey. I’ll be posting pictures of some of the fun things I’m doing and seeing. You can expect to see the sisters photo-bombing my pictures. I especially love to note the differences between our two cultures, and some of the ingenious ways people do things in Germany. Here’s one of those differences—these crazy electrical plugs!
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me along the way, I’d love for you to send them to me in the “comments” section and I’ll try to answer you. It will be fun!

What I’m looking forward to most of all is meeting some of my wonderful German readers. Even with our cultural and language differences, the bonds of fellowship are so strong. I love talking with them about their faith journeys and the spiritual lessons they’ve learned along the way. I always come home so blessed and encouraged.
If you think of it, please pray for my husband and me. For safe travels, to begin with. It’s a l-o-n-g flight across that ocean! And the cars really do drive 100 mph on the autobahn! Then there are the challenges of jet lag, and the cumbersome process of speaking through translators. But most of all, please pray for all of the people I’ll be meeting—that their hearts and lives will be touched by God’s love. I’ll be speaking at women’s conferences in the cities of Gunzenhausen and Kassel, as well as in more than a dozen smaller venues. I can’t do it without God’s power and strength.

Jesus told His followers to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). My way of obeying that call happens to be through writing and speaking. But each one of us is called and gifted to be His hands and feet and voice in our own unique way. May you be filled with His power and strength as you serve Him today.

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!

Trimming the Tree

My publishing company, Bethany House, recently asked their authors to send a picture of their favorite Christmas ornament to post on their Facebook page. I had a very difficult time deciding! Let me take you on a tour of our Christmas tree so you can see why.
These beautiful crocheted ornaments came from my sister-in-law, Marion Engel, who gave them to me a few years ago when she was down-sizing. She hand-made many of them. I loved them so much that they’ve become the theme for my tree.
I have ornaments from my family when I was growing up, purchased at Woolworth’s 5&10 cent store. Remember Woolworths? They were the Dollar Store of the 1950s. Our family couldn’t afford more expensive ornaments.
I also have some that belonged to my husband’s family when he was growing up. They are fragile and fading a bit, but I love them. Very vintage!
A friend of mine made this Pooh Bear for our son Joshua when he was a baby. Poor Pooh Bear is looking a little tattered after all these years, but he’s still a well-loved favorite.
My husband Ken is a professional trumpet-player, and many of his students have given him trumpet ornaments as Christmas presents. I add more musical ornaments to his collection whenever I find some.
Every year since our granddaughter was born, I’ve purchased a small picture-frame ornament so we can watch her grow through the years.
This mailbox ornament that a Canadian friend made for us reminds me of Christmas when we lived in Canada. The mailbox provides a perfect place to hide a clue leading to a present that’s too big to wrap and put beneath the tree.
I have beautiful Delft ornaments that were given to me on my book tours to the Netherlands.
And olivewood ornaments from our trips to the Holy Land.
But my favorite ornaments? It has to be these two:
My son and daughter made them out of Styrofoam and yarn when they were in kindergarten more than thirty years ago.
Every year, our family relives many great memories when we decorate our tree. And now, my wish for you and your loved ones is for a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

The Master Geocacher

Last month my husband and I finally went on our long-planned summer vacation to northern Michigan. We were supposed to go last June but it had to be postponed due to a family medical emergency. Our good friends Jacki and Paul organized the entire trip and took us to some of their favorite places, with quaint towns, beautiful forests, and pristine lakes and beaches. Here are just a few of the highlights.

Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National ParkBeneath the breathtaking Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Island and the historic Grand Hotel.

Biking in Mackinac Island State Park.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

One of the added bonuses that made the trip especially fun was that our friend Paul is a geocache enthusiast. If you aren’t familiar with the hobby of geocaching, Paul explains it as “the art of using million dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.” According to Wikipedia, geocaching is “an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use GPS to hide and seek containers called ‘caches’ in specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” It was my first time geocaching, and I called it fun!

Each of the places we visited in the photos above also had geocaches hidden nearby. If I’m already visiting a beautiful site like Tahquamenon Falls why not make it even more interesting by adding a treasure hunt?

Here’s a cache we found on Mackinac Island.

And another fun one in Sault Ste. Marie “hidden” right in someone’s front yard.

I’m hooked! You can probably expect another blog about my geocaching adventures in the future. But what I loved about this hobby is that it taught me to open my eyes and take a closer look at my surroundings instead of what’s directly in front of me. I can get so carried away with my camera that I end up seeing everything through that lens instead of looking at things in real life. The GPS coordinates would give the general area of the cache, but I had to look closer and notice little details in order to find what was hidden. Not only did caches come in all sizes and shapes, but some of them were hidden in very creative places. I learned to open my eyes and really see!

Geocaching reminded me of a lesson that our pastor has been trying to impress on us in his sermons lately: that every person on earth deserves to be treated with dignity because he or she has been created in the image of God. Scripture is clear on this: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him” (Genesis 1:27). Like a Master Geocacher, God has placed the treasure of His image in every one of us. Instead of merely noticing someone’s outward appearance or behavior and judging them, I need to look for that hidden treasure of God’s image. Many of the people I meet are beautiful inside and out, making it easy to find. For others, it may take a bit of searching on my part, but it’s there nonetheless if I look hard enough.

And that’s what I want to do. From now on, may God grant me the patience to stop looking through the narrow lens of my own prejudices and keep searching for that beautiful hidden treasure within every person I meet.

 

Fearless

The real-life sisters, Agnes and Margaret Smith, who inspired my newest novel, “Where We Belong,” had a favorite motto that continues to intrigue me. Whenever they were in danger or in a precarious situation they would say, “God knows when the end of our days will be. We have nothing to fear.” I borrowed their motto for my fictional sisters, Becky and Flora Hawes, to use whenever they found themselves in a sticky situation. I added a humorous twist to it in one scene when they are onboard a steamship during a ferocious storm at sea:

Flora cried out as the ship suddenly leaned so far to one side she feared it would tip over. Her body was crushed against the wall as her bulky steamer trunk pinned her there. When the ship righted itself a moment later, Becky shoved the trunk away, freeing her.

“Are you all fight, Flora?”

“Yes, I think so.” They both took a moment to steady their nerves and secure their luggage again.

Becky exhaled. “God knows when the hour of our end will be,” she said in a shaky voice. “But I sincerely hope it isn’t tonight.”

It’s one thing for me to be fearless when I’m sitting in my armchair by the fireplace, and quite another when my airplane hits turbulence midway over the Atlantic Ocean. Or when I get bad news from my doctor. I’m not afraid of dying—but I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen yet! We live in fearful times. The most frightening thing about acts of terror is that we never know when or where they may occur. We could be enjoying a concert; sitting in a restaurant; taking in a tourist attraction; attending an office Christmas party; sitting at our desk at work or at school. The suspense of continually looking over our shoulder intensifies the fear—which is the terrorists’ goal.

My niece faced a dilemma. Her fourteen-year-old son wanted to take part in an event called the Life Chain. Participants line up shoulder to shoulder along a busy street and hold up signs to remind the people driving past that “Abortion stops a beating heart,” or “It’s a child, not a choice.” It’s a peaceful, pro-life demonstration that synced well with her son’s passionate, Christian beliefs. Understandably, my niece worried about fanatics or terrorists taking aim at her sweet son and plowing into him on the sidewalk. Should she let him take part? How would you advise her? It’s one thing to be courageous when our own life is at stake and quite another to let our precious children and grandchildren be at risk.

A friend of mine, who is the director of an international prayer ministry, recently met with a group of Christian women from South Korea. She asked how they handled living with the daily threat of destruction from North Korea. The women responded that they didn’t have time to live in fear. They were too busy preparing to flood across the border to bring the hope of the gospel to their North Korean brothers and sisters once the evil regime was finally destroyed.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately, and what the Bible has to say about it. Several favorite passages come to mind:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
These are great verses to know the next time I’m in danger. But even more, I need to know the Savior who makes those promises. If I’m ever asked to take a courageous stand for my faith, as persecuted Christians in other nations do every day, I want to be fearless, knowing without doubt that the God I know and love is with me. He knows when the end of my days will be. I have nothing to fear.

To purchase my latest book, “Where We Belong” click here.