What I Gained When I Gave Up

Work In ProgressAs I (hopefully), put the finishing touches on the second draft of my book this week, I thought a look back might be fun. I’m looking forward to returning soon with fresh posts for a fresh new year! What are you celebrating lately, dear friends? I’d love to hear from you!

For the past three weeks I have taken a break from my regular schedule of writing and posting my blog. Before I go on let me just say, I missed it! I missed you! And it feels so good to be back.

As the new year approached, I sensed God prompting me, asking me, to take a break, to give up, for a time, this writing I love.

At first I thought the idea was crazy. Taking a break from my blog writing seemed the opposite of what I should do. But the prompting continued, and I soon realized the choice to take a break was not just a matter of obedience and trust but a declaration of love.

I love this blog. I love to write. But I love Him even more. And this was my chance to show Him.

So I laid my Isaac down. My promise. My passion. My love. And do you know what happened? I am the one who was blessed.

With my writing schedule cleared for the first three weeks of January I took the time I usually spend writing this blog and spent it on finishing the first draft of a book I started in November of 2013.

As I started to write I knew God was with me. He was all in and so was I. One week, three chapters, twenty pages, and 5,692 words later I typed the words: The End.

So what’s the point of all this? Why do I feel compelled to share? Well for one, I’m excited…as if you couldn’t tell. But more than that I want to share what I learned through this experience. What I feel God has taught me. What I can’t keep inside when it comes to His abundant goodness.

Lesson #1: Milestones are worth celebrating

Don’t get me wrong my work on this book is FAR from over. My first draft is finished but I still have a lot of revision to do. Still, this part of the journey, this part of the process, is over and I’m excited to start phase two. Every phase gets me closer to God’s ultimate purpose for this work, this creation. And every phase is worth celebrating.

Lesson #2: Invite others in

Whether it’s you, my faithful readers, my writing group, my church community or my circle of family and friends, the joy of this milestone should be shared. From the beginning my journey into a writer’s life has been a testimony of God’s love and care for me, for my heart. It’s a testimony of His purpose for my life and for each life He creates. I can’t help but share this phase of the journey, this victory with others.

Lesson #3: Dream big

On the night I finished my book, after everyone in my house went to bed, I stayed up to celebrate with God. This may sound silly but I knew what He wanted me to do. I loaded our DVD player with the movie Becoming Jane and watched as the famous writer, Jane Austen, went from an obscure, female writer to one of the most well-known and bestselling authors of all time.

God has always used Jane Austen, her story, her books, and this movie to inspire me, to nurture my heart for writing, and while I don’t know the plans He has for me in terms of fame and bestselling novels I do know His plans for me are good, and perfect, and safe to trust. I know His dreams for me are far bigger than what I can dream or imagine. And it is glory to think, and contemplate, and dwell on these things. To let my heart and my mind run wild, run free, into the promise of His wild love.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes, “What God takes away with His left hand He gives back with His right.”

God may have taken away my freedom, so to say, to work on this blog for a span of three weeks, and while it was hard to relinquish this part of me, what He gave me in return far outweighs the sacrifice I made.

This is always His way.

I gave up my blog for three weeks, six posts in total.

I gained a chance to show the lover of my heart that I’m a lover of his.

I gained a finished first draft and the first step toward a dream I have grown in my heart since I was a little girl with a pen and some paper.

I gained three invaluable lessons that will make this journey, this writing life, richer and much more sweet.

And once again, the words of C.S. Lewis abound in my heart:

“When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.” (From The Screwtape Letters)

Feeling more myself than ever, I return to you. I return to this blog. And I can’t wait to see what God has in store.

~From the archives

When You Need A Little Mercy

 

My Mother's CamFor the past several months I have spent my days adjusting to life as a mother of three. Seven months have passed since my baby girl was born and for the most part I feel like “Allen Party of Five” has settled very happily into our new normal.

Just the other day, during a family stroll around the block, I grabbed my husband’s hand and with a contented sigh told him how much I love my life. How much I love being a mom of three.

It’s good to be in this place but believe me I’ve had my moments. I knew all along this season of adjustment would be tough at times, what I didn’t know was how discouraged I would sometimes feel.

Surprisingly, at least to me, the discouragement I’ve felt the most hasn’t come from late night feedings or nursing dilemmas or middle child meltdowns, but from a lack of time to write.

Before Promise was born I had a solid writing routine that supplied me with the chance to work on my novel almost everyday. I didn’t know how spoiled I was or how vital this time had become to my ability to function. When my routine went haywire, replaced by feeding times, rocking times, and a few extra minutes of much needed sleep, I found myself feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Without my time to write I was suffocating.

I needed a little mercy. Just an hour, please, to sit and write.

In the midst of this season God has been good, giving just the mercy I need. His mercy has surprised me, coming not in hours to write, but in hours to sit and read.

For a writer reading is the next best thing to writing, and while I don’t get the chance to write everyday, nursing and rocking my newborn has given me a newfound chance to enjoy the words and pages and joy of a book. 

You see, God and me, we have this thing. This thing with books. This thing in which He always seems to bring just the right book at just the right time into my life.

Most recently He’s done just this thing through My Mother’s Chamomile by Susie Finkbeiner. For almost a year this lovely novel sat on my shelf, and now I know God was saving it for a time such as this. For a time when days go by without putting pen to paper because so much time is spent being a mom to three little ones.

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that God wants me to read nothing but non-fiction books that help me grow in my walk with Christ. That draw me closer to Him through a better prayer life, a cleaner house, a smaller waist, a thankful heart. And while these books have their place in my life, My Mother’s Chamomile has reminded me that God also speaks to me and draws me close through stories.

It wasn’t until I picked up this book that I realized how starved I am for fiction, for story. For words that make my own words better. For a book that reminds me to dream, to write, to keep writing, even when I feel discouraged.

So many heart lessons were learned as I read this book. Lessons I know I’ll return to again and again. Discoveries my heart needed to wake up to. Reminders of what I already knew to be true.

God knew I needed this mercy. My need wasn’t lost on Him. He knew what my heart needed, (even more than I did), and came through with just the thing. With a book that spoke to my heart. With waters of mercy for a thirsty soul. With grace so I could breathe.

All of this is to acknowledge the fact that we all need a little mercy. 

Whether you’re discouraged, grieving, drowning, or just needing a reminder of what your heart is for and Who’s for your heart we all need His mercy. His gifts of grace in our lives.

No one knows this more than He does and that’s why He’s waiting, that’s why He’s here. That’s why He keeps showing up morning by morning with brand new mercies and baby fresh grace. 

Mercy for this mama’s heart. 

Mercy for all hearts in need of more of Him.  

 

~ From the cover of My Mother’s Chamomile ~

“Desperate for the rains of mercy…

 Middle Main, Michigan has one stoplight, one bakery, one hair salon…and one funeral home. The Eliot Family has assisted the grieving people in their town for over fifty years. After all those years of comforting others, they are the ones in need of mercy.

Olga, the matriarch who fixes everything, is unable to cure what ails her precious daughter. She is forced to face her worst fears. How can she possibly trust God with Gretchen’s life?

A third generation mortician, Evelyn is tired of the isolation that comes with the territory of her unconventional occupation. Just when it seems she’s met a man who understands her, she must deal with her mother’s heartbreaking news. Always able to calm others and say just the right thing, she is now overwhelmed with helplessness as she watches Gretchen slip away.

They are tasting only the drought of tragedy…where is the deluge of comfort God promises?”

Susie Headshot 2

Author Susie Finkbeiner

Susie Finkbeiner is the writer of fiction, both short and long. Her deepest desire is that her fiction reflects the love of Jesus in a broken world. She and her husband are raising their three children in the beauty of Michigan.

With many thanks to author Susie Finkbeiner I am SO, SO, SO excited to giveaway a copy of Susie’s latest book A Cup of Dust to one of my readers. (Now that’s a mercy AND a grace! Thanks, Susie!)

To enter my Cup of Dust giveaway please leave a comment below and share this post on Facebook or Twitter. The winning name will be drawn next Saturday and the winner will be announced in next week’s post.

Cup of DustA Cup of Dust is available online and at Baker Book House and releases everywhere October 27th. 

Also don’t miss an exciting chance to make a Kindle version of My Mother’s Camomile your own, October 9-14th for just $.99! 

Why Now Is the Time to Dream

 

DreamThis summer my husband and I came extremely close to buying a large chunk of land less than a mile from where he grew up. We were excited; so excited to see these plans come through.

For months we talked and planned and dreamed. We walked the property and checked with the owner time and again working toward a deal.

This dream of owning land, of building a house, of having a place to call our own has been in our hearts since the day we wed almost thirteen years ago. And really it was a dream long before then.

We’ve come close to seeing this dream realized several times throughout our marriage but somehow it always falls through. 

At times this has shattered our hearts to pieces and other times it’s been okay because we knew God had better plans, but even still our hearts continue to dream and hope and long for that day, for that place all our own.

Again, this summer we thought we had it. And again this summer it didn’t work out.

Overall, we were kind of relieved when the deal didn’t go through. Too many red flags kept waving and we walked away from the land with all kinds of peace in our hearts.

I am so thankful for this but still we wonder what’s next. If not this land, this deal, then what? Will our dream ever come true? 

 It’s definitely been a time of trial and drawing close to God. Of choosing again and again to trust Him with our desire, to be open with our hearts, and believe His plans for us are good. To prosper and not to harm us.

And in this time of drawing close I keep hearing Him whisper a special message just for me:

 Now’s the time to dream. 

Having His permission to dream is both freeing and affirming. It inspires me to picture that place I long for so deeply. 

To see in my minds eye (and a Pinterest board or two…okay three) that one part cabin, one part castle, one part cottage home which is so perfectly me.

To picture my bedroom, my girl’s room, my writing nook.

To picture a spacious yard for my girls to play and an apple orchard just for me.

My list of dreams goes on and on filling my heart with light and hope. 

 And it’s not about not being happy where I am now. Indeed it’s being more than okay with waiting to see these dreams come true, but as I wait it’s also okay to imagine, to wonder, to trust. To dream big dreams that spin me around and point me to Him.

As I dream about my someday home I’m reminded that His permission to dream also holds true in other areas of my life where I find myself waiting. 

There’s the dream of another baby… perhaps a little boy.

The dream of spoiling our family and friends with trips, and blessings, and gifts galore.

And the dream of publishing my book.

So I let my mind run wild in the quiet and waiting places. In moments with Him and those Pinterest boards.

And I picture a little boy in cowboy boots who smiles just like his daddy.

I picture my parents on a cruise ship, my family in Germany, my best writing buddy and me in a tricked out glamper doing book signings from coast to coast.

I picture my book, printed on leafy pages, looking right at home on a Barnes and Noble shelf.

Will these dreams ever come true? Lord only knows…

But this I know for sure…

His heart for me is good.

His promises are true.

And now’s the time to dream. 

What You Need to Know When You Make a Mistake

EraserI made a mistake. A big one. The kind that pertains to my writing/blogging. The kind that cost people I work with a significant amount of money.

The mistake was irreversible but there was work I could do to keep it from happening again so for hours I operated in fix-it mode, trying to fix things, trying my best to make things right.

When the work was done, I wrote a note to my editor to express how deeply sorry I was. Beyond this, there wasn’t anything left to do but learn from my mistake and move on. It wasn’t long before my editor wrote back to graciously assure me it would all be okay and thank me for my help in rectifying the situation.

But I still felt bad. Really bad. Guilty, ashamed, brick-in-your-gut so heavy you can’t eat kind of bad.

I sat down to lunch and cried like a dam had burst inside. After spending the entire morning in autopilot my emotions were catching up and taking charge.

Intense thoughts and feelings assaulted me one after another:

You should probably quit right now and never blog again…

After two years of writing you’ve hurt more than you’ve helped…you’ve taken more than you’ll ever give…

This is your fault…how could you let this happen…

The mistake I made was innocent. It was never something I did intentionally or on purpose. I was oblivious to my actions and the ramifications that might in sue. On some level I knew this, I knew I shouldn’t feel guilty. I knew these things happen. But on another level, a stronger level, I felt completely condemned.

Do you know this feeling? Has it ever hit you when you look in the mirror? When you sit in church on a Sunday morning? When you slip into bed at night?

There’s a voice in our lives, and it’s not a nice one. It likes to sneak up on us in quiet moments when we’re alone with our thoughts. This voice, this spirit, it loves to point fingers, replay our actions, and hold our faults against us like a gun to the chest.

How slippery, how well disguised this voice can be. And the trickiest, the most dangerous thing about this voice is how often we think it’s from God.

But this voice is never from God.

This voice is directly from Satan, sent to deceive us, condemn us, and keep us stuck in bondage, slavery, guilt, and shame.

We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all do things we shouldn’t do and say things we shouldn’t say. We hurt people. We hurt ourselves. We make bad decisions or fail to act on good ones. We mess up.

But while God and the Holy Spirit will often convict us, what they will never do is condemn us.

Isn’t this good to know?

The voice that was after me in the midst of my mistake, the voice that may be after you right now, must be tested. Before you listen to it, before you accept that its words are true, notice what it brings to your heart. Does it convict or condemn? Bring life or death?

In your mistakes, in your mess-ups, in your shining moments, listen for the voice of God.

For the voice that whispers, “Child, you are mine. And I will always love you.”

Today Was a Fairy Tale

100_2033Today I’m welcoming back my friend and fellow writer, Jessie Heninger, to Once Upon A Writer. I hope you enjoy her beautiful account of finding fairy tale magic in everyday life as much as I have…and then…go for a walk in the woods!

~Post by Jessie Heninger~

Monday is my favorite day. The kids go back to school, the crazy, that is our life on Sundays, is over and it’s Brian’s day off. An entire school day to spend as we please… wonderful.

Autumn in Michigan is spectacular, a color extravaganza before the dreary months of winter. So this week we dropped the kids off at school and drove to Holland. We stayed off the highway, and for once the weather cooperated. It was gorgeous! We did a little window shopping (seriously $80 for a baby outfit!) dreamed about retiring to Lake Michigan, ate gluten free pizza for lunch. It was lovely, but oh it gets better…

I was under the impression that downtown Holland went right up to the lakeshore, it doesn’t. So we asked Siri to take us to the beach (which she did not do, she hates me). Eventually we made our way to Saugatuck State park. There were two trails leading into the woods and we chose perfectly. It was a golden trip that wound through trees alight with color and a forest that was practically dripping with magic.

Jessie Headshot

Author Jessie Heninger

For me in a forest like that, smelling the wonder of the woods, I feel a presence. It’s so strong it almost feels tangible. Everywhere I looked I saw what my imagination is trying to do for the characters in my novel. Only it was better. I pointed to a spot and told Brian, “Giants, right there, I mean that’s exactly where they’d come through.” He laughed at me good naturally. (Thank God that man thinks I’m quirky in a charming way and not just completely nuts). We continued to hike through shadowed forest and then suddenly the woods brought us to the beach. Dark grey, cold waves practically touching the majesty of that forest.

Lake Michigan is really special to me, and being there with my husband on a kind of unexpected trip…there is so much wonder and magic in this world. Sometimes all we see is the darkness and the sadness but there is so much color just blazing and waiting to be discovered. I love it when my eyes are opened to that. When the sacred comes and touches us in a moment of beauty and awe. Pure wonder when the heart feels something we can never put words to. Bliss.

To read more of Jessie’s writings please visit her blog Confessions of a Housewife at www.jessieheninger.wordpress.com.