Living Boldly

If you lived in the age of the explorers, would you have had the courage to sail across the ocean on a ship like this one? I toured the Maritime Museum of San Diego on our trip to California last week, and as I stood on the deck of the San Salvador, a replica of a Spanish Galleon from 1542, I asked myself that question.

The ship is less than 100 feet long and only 32 feet wide, and seemed much too small to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Spain, travel around the tip of South America to the Pacific Ocean, and then sail up the California coast. But that’s exactly what the early explorers did as they sailed to the New World.

Or how about setting sail on this ship, the Star of India? It was also on display at the museum, and carried passengers from Great Britain to New Zealand in the mid-1800s. That voyage around the southern tip of Africa lasted five months! I tried to imagine being stuffed into the cramped space below deck with my entire family in stormy seas, and wondered what drew people to immigrate to new lands at such great risk.

We also toured the California Science Center in Los Angeles where the space shuttle Endeavour is on display. What amazing courage it must take to embark on such a voyage! I can say with certainty that a trip to outer space isn’t for me. I had to endure an hour and a half of stomach-churning turbulence on our flight home from California and that was adventure enough!

So why are some people willing to “boldly go where no man has gone before” as they used to say on the TV series Star Trek? Where does that adventurous spirit come from? I once heard a rabbi speak on the creation story in Genesis and he had an interesting interpretation of the verse where God commands Adam and Eve to fill the newly-created earth and “subdue” it. The rabbi believed that subduing the earth means we’re supposed to use our natural curiosity and sense of adventure to explore the world and learn everything we can about it, much like my one-year-old granddaughter who toddles around the backyard wide-eyed, examining every leaf and stick and ant with a sense of wonder. It’s part of our nature to continue to learn and grow, to explore new places, and challenge ourselves to try new things. But as we get older we become conditioned by fear and our desire for comfort, and so we set aside our natural curiosity to remain “safe.”

If I’m not careful, I can lose that sense of newness and awe in my spiritual life, as well, and become what Eugene Peterson calls a mere “spectator and consumer” rather than an actively growing Christian. In his wonderful book about the life of Jeremiah entitled “Run With the Horses,” Peterson says: “The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.” That sounds very dangerous and risky, doesn’t it? Like crossing the ocean in a flimsy schooner or being launched into space. But in order to truly love others as Christ does, it’s going to require fearlessness and risk-taking. We may have to leave our comfort zone and reach out to people who aren’t like us.

And yet if I trust Jesus’ promise that He will never leave me or forsake me, shouldn’t I be fearless? Shouldn’t I be willing to risk going boldly through life, dealing with its realities, living deeply, loving others? Will I be as courageous as the early explorers or prefer to remain safe, becoming a spiritual “spectator and consumer?” Peterson also says, “The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day.”

As you and I look around at the circumstances we find ourselves in today, are we willing to step out boldly and live by faith? Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Let’s move some mountains today!

Different

shorelineThe young man who stood alone on the pier, gazing out at Lake Michigan was different from me in many ways—his age, his ethnicity, and his style of clothing, to name a few. But like me, he obviously had come to the beach on this warm, fall afternoon to enjoy the gorgeous day and picturesque view.  Because I’m a shy, quiet person, it never occurred to me to speak with him. But my girlfriend Cathy is naturally friendly, and she struck up a conversation with him. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and join in.

Earlier that morning in church, our pastor had encouraged us to stop looking at the things that divide us—our political views, our economic status, our religion, our gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity—and learn to see the Imago Dei, the image of God, in the people around us. After a political season that left our country fractured and angry, the pastor challenged us to be peacemakers, bringing shalom and “wholeness” to our little corner of the world, one person at a time.

And so in spite of my discomfort, I began talking with “Jason.” I quickly learned that he didn’t fit any of the stereotypes that I had assumed from his outward appearance. In a warm, soft-spoken voice, “Jason” told us that he was new in town and hadn’t made many friends, yet. He had moved here from a huge city because he wanted a different life from the one he’d been living, and a new start. He now had a good job as a restaurant manager, and a nice apartment. And he loved coming here to the beach to watch the ever-changing lake. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and warm laughter then went our separate ways. I would like to think that as we spoke, any stereotypes he may have had of me were shattered, as well. Because as different as Jason and I are, we’re also the same in the most important way of all—beloved by God.nri3614-i1

It’s not a New Year’s resolution as much as a “new life” resolution, but I pray that I’ll approach people differently in the year ahead. Talking with Jason gave me a tiny taste of how wonderful it is to see people as individuals, not in categories. It makes me wonder how many other “Jasons” are all around me who I’ve unfairly characterized as “different.” And while I don’t plan on making it a habit to strike up conversations with strangers on the beach, I do plan to look at how much alike the people around me are instead of noticing our differences. I want to be a peacemaker, bringing shalom and wholeness wherever I go, one person, one conversation at a time. Imagine how the world could be healed if each of us did the same?

 

 

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New Technology

I’m not a tech-savvy person. I like to sit down at my computer and write without having to figure out a bunch of new features and updates. When I can’t find what I need quickly, I get crabby. That’s when I take a deep breath and look up at my office bookshelves where I have two items that help me keep things in perspective. The first is this antique typewriter:fullsizerender2

I began writing my first novel on a manual typewriter—not as old as this one, but a portable one that I had in college. If I made a typo or I wanted to change something, I brushed White-Out over the error, waited for it to dry, then typed over the newly-painted spot. If I wanted to edit or improve something it meant re-typing the entire chapter. Then I discovered Correct-Type strips that could make errors disappear. These were okay to use for a spot or two, but too many corrections made the page look messy. Then came erasable typing paper—but that was too expensive to use for an entire novel and the ink tended to smear if I wasn’t careful.typewriter

After working on my first novel for about a year, my husband surprised me with an electric typewriter with auto-correct. If I typed backwards over the mistake, the correction tape would erase it. Genius! Plus, I could write faster since I no longer had to pound on a manual keyboard.

atari400My husband has always believed in me (even when I doubted myself), so we were among the first households to switch to a computer—a clunky Atari with 3 ½ inch discs. Typos and errors were easy to fix and I could print out flawless copies on my dot-matrix printer. Now my mistakes and frustrations became technological ones as I struggled to learn how to use these new machines. But my writing improved exponentially because it was easy to make edits and improvements. I now own a laptop computer as well as a desktop, which gives me the freedom to write anywhere.

In spite of these updates, I still get frustrated. That’s when I glance up at the antique typewriter on my shelf and say to myself, “It could always be worse.” If that doesn’t work, I look up at another shelf and see this:fullsizerender1

Yes, it’s an old-fashioned quill pen and inkwell. I try to imagine William Shakespeare’s frustration as he wrestled with drippy ink and fussy quills. Or the patience required by the Bible’s authors who scratched out their books on parchment scrolls. Compared to them, I guess I have it pretty good.

clothesline-804812_1920I’m often tempted to look back with nostalgia at the “good old days,” especially when I see changes in the world that frighten me. It’s easy to forget that in those “good old days” my family owned only one car (which my dad drove to work, forcing us to walk everywhere); we had no dishwasher (which meant we had to wash all the dishes, 365 days a year); our clothes dryer was the sun and a clothesline in the backyard; and our telephone was attached to the kitchen wall. I long to return to those “good old days” about as much as I long to write my next book on my antique typewriter!

fruit-of-the-spiritI’m learning that change isn’t always bad. In fact, God built it into the universe. That’s obvious from looking at the trees outside my office window. So the question is, am I allowing God to use the changes in my life—the bad ones as well as the good ones—to transform me into the person He wants me to be? Am I changing for the better, or becoming a grouch who hates change? As summer ends and I see the harvest all around me, I should to be bearing fruit, too—spiritual fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). I need God to update me into a new-improved version. Because if I don’t, I have a feeling my life will be as frustrating as writing a novel with a quill pen.

Saying Goodbye to Summer

How I hate typing those words: Goodbye to summer. It seems like summer just got here! I decided to take a peek through my vacation photographs and recall all of the reasons why I’m thankful for the Summer of 2016.

Vacation time started in June with a family trip to Colorado. We rented a cabin near Rocky Mountain National Park and hiked in the woods and mountains every day.

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The beautiful weather and sunny beaches near our home brought visits from dear friends and family members. I loved spending time with them.

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One weekly highlight this summer was listening to my husband’s band concerts in the city park by the lake shore.

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Beaches. Biking. Picnicking. Sunshine. What blessings!

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Now it’s Labor Day weekend and we have one final beach/picnicking/celebrating/extravaganza planned. Our house will be filled with family members and guests and lots of food—just the way I like it!

I think part of the reason I hate to see summer end is because I know what’s coming soon—falling leaves and fading flowers and then the cold death of winter. After the flood, God promised Noah that “As long as the earth endures, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22). This promise of resurrection is built into Earth’s cycles and seasons, and points to the resurrection of Christ—and ultimately our own. I’ve been reading “Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy our Deepest Longings” by Elyse Fitzpatrick, and she describes what our resurrected life on the New Earth will be like. In many ways, it will resemble my summer vacation; spending time with family and friends, and enjoying the astonishing beauty of a renewed earth. I can’t imagine an earth that’s more beautiful than this one, can you? But it will be. All sorrow will be gone, all tears wiped away. Best of all, we’ll enjoy blessed fellowship with our God and Savior.

But for now, I’ll savor the last of these gorgeous summer days and give thanks for so many wonderful memories. Do you have a favorite memory from the summer of 2016?

Time to Redecorate

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A thrift store find that I reupholstered

One of my favorite hobbies is interior decorating. I’m an avid fan of magazines and TV programs that transform a rundown house or a piece of outdated furniture into something beautiful. I love scouting thrift stores and yard sales for bargain items that I can repurpose, just like my favorite interior designer Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” As anyone who has visited my home knows, I enjoy rearranging my furniture and changing accent pieces every now and then for a totally new look—without spending a dime, of course. In fact, I have a “décor closet” filled with items I can swap out as the seasons (or my whims) change. My goal is always to create a comfortable, welcoming space that my family, friends and guests can enjoy.

constructionA few months back, I looked at my website (www.lynnaustin.org) and decided it was overdue for a change. I wanted a space that reflected my style and personality, but that was also a warm, welcoming place where my readers and I could get to know each other a little better. I wanted it to have information about my books—especially when a new one was released—and a place for readers to contact me. I wanted an up-to-date event calendar so that I could meet some of my readers in person the next time I’m speaking or visiting a bookstore in their area. And since I wanted to send out a newsletter occasionally when I have something new or fun to share, I wanted to feature an easy way for interested readers to sign up.

A thrift store find that I reupholstered

I confess that since my talents are limited to writing (and maybe amateur interior design), I needed lots of professional help with my website redecorating project. I’m very grateful to my savvy marketing and publicity expert, Christine Bierma, for all her hard work and great ideas, as well as to the very talented graphic and web designer, Cori de Roos, for the beautifully renovated site. It has been under construction for the past few months and is finally ready to be unveiled this Thursday, August 4. Thank you for your patience while the reconstruction has been taking place.

We’re inching closer and closer to the October release date for my newest novel, “Waves of Mercy,” so there will be a sneak peek at the cover on Thursday. And I’ll be revealing some behind-the-scenes photos from my research in my coming newsletter. Make sure you sign up for it.welcome

The welcome mat will soon be out! I would love for you to stop by and have a look this Thursday—and then please let me know what you think. I look forward to visiting with you.

On Vacation

IMG_0758It’s summer. I live within walking distance of the beach. I’ve waited many long months for beautiful weather like this and for leisurely afternoons to enjoy it. Most of all, I’ve waited for my family and friends to visit so I can do all of the wonderful, summer-y things this area has to offer. At the same time, I have a book to finish, a deadline to meet. These conflicting desires pull me in opposite directions. But I’ve learned a few techniques over the years, for staying focused on my book when I’d rather go jump in the lake.

Take the Baby Along

FullSizeRender(5)My daughter and son-in-law are brand-new parents. If they go to the park for a few hours or on a vacation to Colorado for a week (as they just did), they have to figure out how to take the baby along. Those of us who are parents understand how much planning (and equipment!) it takes for even the simplest excursion. I’m the parent of a book-in-progress. I can’t afford to leave my baby behind for very long or I’ll have to start all over again the way we do when we’ve read a few chapters of a book and then set it aside for a month. Now, where was I? Who are these characters, again?

I’m grateful to author Heather Sellers and her book “Chapter After Chapter” for teaching me how to take the baby along. (Chapter 19: How to Travel With a Book-in-Progress.) The key is to always remain aware of my “baby” as if she’s napping in the next room. This involves advance planning. For example, when I have out-of-town guests, I plan small homework assignments for myself ahead of time that take only fifteen minutes or so, such as editing a chapter that I’ve printed out. If I’m off for an afternoon at the beach, I’ll bring along a fun book to read that’s related to my research. (Notice I said fun!) With a little bit of planning, I can keep my mind on my plot and characters even when the beach beckons.

Get Everyone Involved

S__AAF1My family and friends are smart, fun people. They’re also interested in what I’m writing and seem to enjoy talking about it with me. I’ve learned to take advantage of this “captive audience.” My friend Cathy loves discussing my romantic story-lines, and she helped me brainstorm a future Christmas novella during her visit. My sister Peggy, a university English professor, read my novel-in-progress while here on vacation (bless her!) and came up with several wonderful plot ideas for me. I talked about my manuscript’s spiritual themes with my son Ben and son-in-law Snir while on vacation in the Rocky Mountains and gleaned valuable lessons. Two of our out-of-town guests this summer were my German publisher Anne-Ruth and German editor, Kathrin. We did a lot of brainstorming together and they offered wonderful insights into what my readers enjoy about my books. (It wasn’t all work, though—we also had a lot of fun!) And my friend Jacki was wise enough to help me reconsider some of my over-ambitious entertaining plans so I wouldn’t burn out (she even volunteered to cook). I need all these friends! Writing a book shouldn’t be a solitary endeavor.

Playing is Working

FullSizeRenderI can’t count how many times I’ve had a creative break-through on my work-in-progress after I’ve walked away from my desk to go play. Creativity and play go hand-in-hand, and we’re most creative when we abandon ourselves to it like small children. I know this, but sometimes I forget. My sweet husband helps me take creative breaks from my job when I’m hard at work. He packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch one day and we cycled to a park overlooking Lake Michigan. Another day we cycled to a nearby hotdog stand for corn dogs and onion rings. Not the healthiest lunch, but a fun one, and I returned to my desk re-charged.

Balance

FullSizeRender(7)The bottom line is finding balance. I need to learn how to balance all the competing obligations and longings in my life in a way that brings both accomplishment and joy.

May your summer days be filled with wonderful work, laughter and love, family and friends. Enjoy!