The Smile of God

The Smile of God

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Psalm 37:23-24, NLT

 

For the third time last night, I woke up with something on my heart and the compelling need to pray about it. As I prayed, I snuggled into the covers and reminded myself that God was near and he was smiling.

My husband and I are in a place of trusting the Lord at a deeper level, and we—individually and together—are discovering that the faith Jesus talked of in his Word is reliable. We’ve been on our knees often, on our faces at times, during the past few years and most acutely in recent months. We have felt the ache of several years of toxic situations, broken promises, friends who abandon, questions about the future, questions about God’s desires for us . . . and surrender to him.

We can see these years as a time of brokenness and training in certain areas, and we are experiencing the closeness with the Lord that is unique to those times. We can cherish them for their blessings even as we hope for the relief of answers. In their own way, these years have been life-changing and precious in their building power, even as we have felt chipped away by them. We are feeling the precious pleasure of God when our human minds instinctively default to wonder if God is holding his hammer over us. We are recognizing the lying patterns of the enemy that tempt us to think we must work harder, do more, prove ourselves. We are thankful for the lessons, but the journey to get to that point has been difficult, and we certainly are still learning. But we are comforted because . . .

God has been with us, and we feel his smile.

Without giving too many details about the situation, we are discovering in the midst of it that the faith Jesus asks of his followers holds a sweetness when we keep our eyes on him and not the problem. Surrender to him, his timing, and his answers brings security because we are freed from the situation being all about us.

When we trust, we are acknowledging that Jesus’ part—by his own commitment—is to care for us (Philippians 4:19). Our part is to surrender and rest in his care. I really think our part is to look for his smile as well.

We may have to release our hold on more areas as he shows them to us. That can cause pain. However, when we look to him, we see again his smile on us.

God’s smile brings warmth and comfort and hope.

Jesus is about newness and healing and strength in weakness and wisdom when ours isn’t enough. He is about his Kingdom and inviting us to align every aspect of our lives with his very good purposes.

We don’t have the answer yet, but we have our God and his delight.

God’s smile offers his presence and pleasure and reaffirms his promises.

When we live as fully his, for his purposes and not for what the world offers, he is pleased and he loves to shine his delight all over us.

May you feel his smile today.

 

  • In what area of your life do you find it difficult to surrender? Finances? Focus? Relationships? Some character trait? Ask God to deal with you in that area, and begin to thank him for the work that will surely bring challenges—as he smiles over you.
  • Meditate on these Scriptures, and ask the Lord to help you see his smile. Ask him to show you areas that may be clouding your view of his smile.

 

 

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe

that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6, ESV

 

And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone,

for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.

John 8:29, ESV

 

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17, ESV

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,

but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2, NLT

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The Delicate Nature of Healing: An Interview with Novelist Wendy Paine Miller

The Delicate Nature of Healing: An Interview with Novelist Wendy Paine Miller

A couple of years ago I was blessed to meet author Wendy Paine Miller, a writer to watch. Her novels (The Disappearing Key, The Flower Girls, and The Delicate Nature of Love) are original, hope filled, and refreshing. And the writing is excellent.

Her latest, The Delicate Nature of Love, released in February of this year, and I connected with it right away in part because the book has several themes in common with The Hope of Heaven. Our books are completely different stories; in fact, Delicate is a novel, which reminds me of one more reason I love writing. Writing, no matter what type, holds the power to touch universal needs and struggles and joys in all of us.

TheDelicateNatureofLove (1)

 

Wendy recently shared with me about the process of writing The Delicate Nature of Love, where the idea began, and how her own experiences helped develop the characters and story. I think you’ll enjoy her insights. . . .

 

Me: Thanks for taking time to share with readers, Wendy! First off, what are the main themes of The Delicate Nature of Love? Why those themes?

 

WPM: Not giving up. Unexpected connections. Letting go. Grief. Depression. Alcoholism. Suicide. Some heavy hitters, I know.

I’m drawn to exploring real-life issues women face. These themes unraveled organically, but I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t a light and fluffy read. I’ll also share how encouraging it is to hear form readers that despite tackling such serious issues, people aren’t depressed after reading Delicate, but rather filled with hope.

 

Me: Tell us more about the book: How long did you work on it? How easily (or not!) did the characters form in your head? Did you have a clear vision at the beginning, and does the finished product line up with that first vision?

 

WPM: It took me about three months to write and several more months to edit (with the help of my critique partners and an editor I hired).

The story came to me not long after Robin Williams committed suicide. I felt overcome with emotion and knew I needed to pour my feelings into something. And so along came Zoey. The characters in Delicate introduced themselves, then set up camp in my mind.

I usually have an idea of where I want the story to lead but as has happened in the past, the characters like to remind me that they run the show.

 

Me: As the author, how do you relate to both Emma and Zoey?

 

WPM: I relate to Emma’s love of refurbishing furniture. And there’s been a time or two I’ve identified with her struggle to cope with tragic life events.

And Zoey. Man, that child climbed inside my heart. On some levels she’s fearless and endlessly inquisitive, while on others she’s fiercely introspective and at war with her own thoughts. I can relate to her deep bond with her dog, her desire to feel understood, and some of her mental anguish.

 

Me: In your words, how does healing happen? 

 

WPM: Healing starts with raw honesty. I remember lying in a hospital bed, years ago, mumbling over and over, “This sucks.” I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to walk in the room and tell me I shouldn’t be saying that, and I shouldn’t view my situation that way. It did suck and there was something initially healing about calling that out.

After honesty comes a loosening. This happens in many forms in response to many different circumstances. But ultimately, it’s learning to let go of whatever it was that helped to define you.

Once the first two have taken place, all that’s left is taking one brave step after another.

 

Me: How do we as caring friends/family contribute to or unwittingly hinder someone’s healing? Our own?

 

WPM: We skip step one. Or we try to mask honesty for others. It’d be like if someone stepped in that hospital room and tried to convince me and themselves that what I was going through didn’t suck. There are hundreds of ways we hinder someone else’s healing. A few that come to mind: encouraging friends or family to numb their pain, belittling the situation, allowing someone to wallow in victim behavior, etc.

 

Me: Any personal connections you’ve had to depression or suicide in people you’ve cared about?

 

WPM: I have a mentally ill sister who’s attempted suicide more times than I care to go back and count. I’ve also known dozens of women and a few men who’ve struggled with depression at some point in life. I’ve come through some rough seasons myself. The themes in Delicate hit close to home.

 

Me: How can we hold on to hope when life feels as if it has bottomed out?

 

WPM: This is where faith comes in for me. In my weakest hours, I clung to even the smallest seed of trust that there’s a loving God who cares intimately about me. And my future. I desire so much for others to know this hope. It’s changed everything for me and for others I’ve encountered.

 

Me: Any hints about your upcoming projects?

 

WPM: I’m halfway through a new novel at the moment that’s unrelated to Zoey’s story. I’m in love with the concept, and have spent hours chasing down the characters whenever they feel like being elusive. I hope to release this one in the fall.

I also plan to release #2 of Zoey’s story, The Precarious Hold of Love next spring.

 

Me: Thanks a bunch, Wendy. Readers, you can connect with Wendy Paine Miller and her writing here. . . .

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writerwendypainemiller

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wendypmiller

Website: http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7200783.Wendy_Paine?Miller

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/wendypmiller/

Link to book: http://www.amazon.com/Delicate-Nature-Love-Zoey-Chambers-ebook/dp/B00TCKEB1I/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=qid=

 

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Why Hope?: An Interview with Author Cynthia Ruchti

Why Hope?: An Interview with Author Cynthia Ruchti

Over the past month since The Hope of Heaven released on March 10, my thoughts have been stuck on the power of hope. Why do we crave it? Why do we need it? How do we hold on to it? The Hope of Heaven deals with important issues such as depression, suicide, faith, life after death, and holding on to hope when life fails us.

 

 

 

Fellow author Cynthia Ruchti understands the impact of hope. She is a gem whom I had the pleasure of meeting and even brainstorming with a couple of years ago at a retreat with our literary agency, Books & Such.

 

Cynthia values the healing power of hope so much that she even wrote about it in her book Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices (Abingdon Press, 2013). Hope is even the theme of her author tagline, “Stories hemmed in Hope.”

Ragged-Hope-endorse-larger-still

Recently, I had a chance to ask her about the book. I wanted to know how it came about, where she found her stories, and why she focuses so much on hope. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Me: Why the theme of hope? Was your desire to focus on hope born from your own life or from ministry?

 

Cynthia: Hope shows up in everything I write–devotionals, blog posts,  novels, novellas, nonfiction, notes to my grandkids’ teachers . . .  In some ways, I suppose it could be said that I’m a hope-scavenger, looking for where it might be hiding in even the most desperate of situations, grateful when it’s lying right out there in the open, and happiest when I can serve as a hope tour guide for others.

Hope seems in short supply these days. From God’s perspective, the supply is as abundant and accessible as it’s ever been. But the ragged places of life–whether on the news reports, the doctor’s report, the financial report, or the repercussions felt in the family room–can distract us from hope’s reality.

No matter what I’ve written, my longing is for the reader to emerge from the experience with a courageous, “I can’t unravel. I’m hemmed in Hope.”

 

Me: Tell us more about the book. How long did you work on it? Who published it and when? How did you find the stories?

 

Cynthia: A book like Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices lives in a writer’s heart for a long time before it reaches print form. Beginning back in my days of writing for radio, I kept my ears tuned to the needs of the people to whom the broadcast or speaking events ministered. As I listened, I heard beyond the sighs. Their stories touched me, moved me, and moved me even more profoundly when they were family members, friends, community members, from my own church home.

So many people live in the fallout ash of someone else’s bad decisions or wrong choices. Paying the price for someone else’s misdeed. My heart aches for them.

But I knew they represented so many others who bore either the same or a similar raggedness. I contracted the book Ragged Hope from a simple dinner discussion with an Abingdon editor, and then set to the work of trying to show where those shredded by the unthinking, unwise, or cruel decisions of others found hope in the midst of their fallout. Ragged Hope released in 2013. Another nonfiction with Abingdon Christian Living–Tattered and Mended: The Art of Healing the Wounded Soul–releases in July 2015. It takes that Ragged Hope concept a step further, showing how when God mends us, He does it artfully. When we’re hurting, He issues a divine invitation for us to mend. The result is art that blesses and inspires us and others.

 

Me: Which story or stories touched you most? Why?

 

Cynthia: Twenty-six stories lie among the pages of Ragged Hope. I could have included at least that many more. They all had an impact on me. Some of those stories remain unfinished. The survivors are still dealing with the consequences and will for many years. Some, for a lifetime.

Grandparents caring for their grandchildren because the parents are unfit or in rehab. People struggling to rebuild after a devastating and unnecessary loss. The spouses of the incarcerated. The bride who became a full-time caregiver because her groom drove drunk, wrapped his car around a tree, and resigned them both to a future centered around his paralysis. The widow whose financial planner wiped out her future. He didn’t steal her blind. she was legally blind before he stole from her.

I’d be hard pressed to say, “This story meant more to me than the others.” I cried for them all. But I also rejoiced when each of them found a holding-on place for hope. I have so much admiration for the way they moved forward despite the devastation to make a life out of what they had left. In their own ways, each found where hope was hiding in the fallout. It’s my prayer that readers will discover the same.

 

Me: How does God heal a person?

 

Cynthia: One of the great mysteries to unravel in eternity! What I’ve seen is that He heals suddenly and dramatically one time and quietly, slowly the next. He heals using the wisdom He planted in the minds of brilliant doctors and He heals with no doctor present. He heals by removing the offending disease or heartache, but He also heals by infusing remarkable strength into the person whose disease or heartache remains. Who would say the amputee who learns to walk and run on artificial limbs is not divinely healed . . . and healing–in the process of it emotionally as well as physically every day?

I don’t want to minimize the wonder of heaven as the ultimate healing. Jesus came to purchase our healing for us. Those who trust Him are all healed. If not here, in these earthly bodies that even if physically or emotionally healed will eventually die, then in an even more spectacular way when we see Jesus face to face.

 

Me: What would you say to someone who says her pain is unique?

 

Cynthia: I would agree with her. Everyone’s pain is unique, because it’s affected by our personalities, our personal histories, our current circumstances, our pain tolerance, our support team or lack of it, and where we are in our faith journey.

The Bible says that God is well-acquainted with our griefs and sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). He’s familiar with our pain. We’re also told that He numbers the very hairs of our head. He’s THAT intimately acquainted with our individual distress.

We share common elements of pain with one another. But when I teach writers’ workshops on the subject, I map out layers of a person’s distress, depending on dozens of external and internal factors. That makes it all the more important for us to cling to the truth that God knows OUR pain. Not just pain, but OUR pain. He’s not just The Healer, but Our Healer.

 

Me: How can we hold on to hope when life feels as if it has bottomed out?

 

Cynthia: In Ragged Hope, none of the individuals whose stories were told were any more gifted or privileged or accomplished or resilient than you and I can be. They didn’t trust in their tenacity, but trusted God would show them glimmers of hope if they kept holding on to Him. It’s not a matter of an optimistic attitude but of trusting a tenacious God who has tucked hope among the folds of our traumas.

 

Me: Any hints about your upcoming projects?

 

Cynthia: I’ve mentioned Tattered and Mended: The Art of Healing the Wounded Soul (Abingdon Christian Living), which releases in July. This fall, a Christmas novella titled An Endless Christmas releases from Worthy Publishing. It might sound like a complete departure for me to write a holiday novella, but this particular book is the kind that will draw you deeper into the true meaning of Christmas while entertaining with a family’s heart-tugging story.

 

Me: Thanks, Cynthia! Anything else you’d like to add?

 

Cynthia: Few things give me more joy than interacting with readers and potential readers. You can connect with me at www.cynthiaruchti.com or on Facebook (Cynthia Ruchti) or Twitter (@cynthiaruchti). Thank you for this time to share my heart. May your life be hemmed in Hope!

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When Your Child’s Heart Breaks

When Your Child’s Heart Breaks

Last night I left my son’s room after kissing him goodnight, walked downstairs, and quietly sobbed in my husband’s arms.

 

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Several minutes later when my tears were spent for the time being, my husband asked for details. He knew I’d been up there longer than usual, and my grief was setting off alarms in him.

 

Our son is a great kid with lots of talents who, like all of us at one time or another, is experiencing negativity from some of his peers at school. He is a well-adjusted, well-liked boy who is entering into a phase of life that’s testing his self-esteem as certain kids decide they’re the ones to define acceptability and what it means to fit in. (Cue Mother Bear growl. That’s me on the inside; don’t mess with my kid.) My superboy has reached a new season of growing up when he must decide who to believe and whether to keep trying in certain things that other kids are better at right now.

 

Seeing him deflated and wanting to give up is killing me. I laid in bed for several hours praying and crying some more, asking God to fill him up and meet his heart-needs, as well as my heart-need to see him feel good about himself and to roll with the ups and downs in a healthy, proactive way.

 

I prayed. I cried. I missed sleep. I ached for him. I wondered what I had done wrong and how best to reach him. And I prayed some more.

 

Just before I finally drifted off to sleep I felt it steal over me: the promise I had been hoping wouldn’t take long in coming to relieve my crushed spirit. Feeling the Holy Spirit minister to me isn’t a new thing, but each time it happens He surprises me.

 

I am for him. Remember that. He is more mine than yours, and yes, you can trust me with our child.

 

I am for him.

 

It is easy to say the words that God loves our kids. But only when I stop to say “GOD is for my child” and exult in that promise does my heart begin to see a situation through his divine lens.

 

GOD. GOD is for my child. He is for yours as well.

 

The GOD who spoke the universe into being, the GOD who made the first rain fall and caused the sun to stand still, the GOD who saw with unsurpassable love my child’s face when he sent his own Son to die for mine . . .

 

That GOD is for my kid. He rules the earth and skies; He whispers to us and clouds scatter; and He settles my small one’s insecurities by speaking His own private language to his hurts. The One and only Holy Spirit who whispered to my spirit in the stillness is the very same GOD who will minister to my son at his place of woundedness. My son knows Jesus as his Savior; I have to trust that GOD is building his faith and well being through all of this.

 

Without realizing it, I often assume that I care for my children more than GOD does. Hallelujah and amen that is the polar opposite of the way things truly are; if there’s something I love to be wrong about, it is that.

 

I’ll admit, I shed a few more tears this morning, but GOD’s promise for my children is one to repeat as necessary until it sinks in way deep.

 

GOD is for our kids, yours and mine. He pursues them. That is what matters most as we send them off to face the world.

 

“You whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:2-4, NASB

 

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17, NKJV

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10, NLT

 

“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, NIV

 

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37, NIV

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