What I Want

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Hello, there. You may have noticed my silence last week. I won’t lie – it was good to be away from the laptop. Much as I enjoy writing, I get tired of the screen and the keys. But we’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with technology before, so no need to cover old ground. Besides, that’s really not the point today.

Today is about getting back on the right path.

Over the last couple of months I’ve had more than one person ask, “When are you going to write a book?” Normally I would brush such an inquiry aside; I dislike talking about such things because I never have a satisfactory answer. But it’s hard not to take notice when people who don’t know each other poke and prod at the same spot. Then the 31 Days Challenge came – and my series was a success. People responded. They enjoyed what I wrote.

I don’t know how I feel about people noticing my words and wanting more.

Writers are a strange lot. We are compelled to dribble the ink across the page, but most of us are flat-out petrified of others reading the finished product. That’s why blogging is such a great thing. It’s good writing practice and it also helps in getting used to the idea that there is an audience out there. An audience that somehow connects with you through those letters, jots and tittles.

So, on the one hand, it’s encouraging to know that the years plugging away in this little corner begin to produce a harvest. On the other, one or two nasty comments are a whole lot easier to deal with than an honest-to-goodness bad review from someone who matters. Or at least matters in the writing world.

The question remains: When am I going to write a book?

The answer: I’m working on one.

It began in early summer. The big picture came fully-formed. I knew exactly how to start, how to finish and where to go in between. I have chapter titles. I have a document just for notes and ideas. I put an app on my phone just for scribbling little things that come to me at random moments. The first, rough run-through is almost halfway finished.

You think I’d be excited.

I’m not.

I ran away from this project. I deliberately turned away from what I know to be God’s will for me in this season.

There goes any of you thinking that I’ve got it all together.

When we throw our hands up and tell God, “No,” there are always consequences. For me it’s been weeks of discontentment and spiritual “blahness.” Oh, I’ve kept on doing things that I should do. Bible study, church attendance, prayer. But there’s been a block. God knew what it was. I knew what it was. He waited for me to acknowledge it. I tried not to.

Because this project, this little book of mine, is not likely to be well-received.

That’s the other thing I’ve heard more than once lately. “You are never going to be a popular author.” I know what that means. If it’s God’s will that one day this book sits on a shelf in a store and people buy it, a good portion of them won’t respond favorably to what they read. If I could just stay in the funny lane or shift gears into conventional “women’s writing…” But I can’t. That significantly ups the scary factor.

God being God, He decided that this little detente wasn’t going to continue. He pressed on me. Kept bringing it up. We had a moment. Rather literally a come to Jesus meeting. I never win when that happens. (Well, I do, because He’s always good and right and there’s nothing but winning when we submit to Him). In His graciousness, He condescended to hash some things out with me. There was forgiveness and renewal, as there blessedly always is.

This weekend I turned on the computer and called up the book. I didn’t bother going over what I’d already written. That will come later. I started where I left off, all the way back in July.

And it was so, so good.

There was flow. There was logic. I remembered the thesis and how to connect each chapter. I knew right away that this is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.

God being God, He knew that the fear would set in once more. He knew that I would lose that sense of rightness as soon as I shut it down and walked away. When cares like making dinner and figuring out what to take to a church chili cook-off took precedence in my mind. I’m shortsighted like that.

I crawled into bed early that night, aching all over. (No, not some divine punishment. Just my body being it’s weird self). I reached for a book on my nightstand, but stopped short when the Holy Spirit very clearly said, “Ezekiel Thirty-Three.” Not audibly. Not with a burning bush. Clear as a bell nevertheless. And utterly, completely random. He’s interesting like that. I read:

God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people. Tell them, ‘If I bring war on this land and the people take one of their citizens and make him their watchman, and if the watchman sees war coming and blows the trumpet, warning the people, then if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet and ignores it and war comes and takes him off, it’s his own fault. He heard the alarm, he ignored it—it’s his own fault. If he had listened, he would have saved his life.

“‘But if the watchman sees war coming and doesn’t blow the trumpet, warning the people, and war comes and takes anyone off, I’ll hold the watchman responsible for the bloodshed of any unwarned sinner.’

“You, son of man, are the watchman. I’ve made you a watchman for Israel. The minute you hear a message from me, warn them. If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked man, wicked woman, you’re on the fast track to death!’ and you don’t speak up and warn the wicked to change their ways, the wicked will die unwarned in their sins and I’ll hold you responsible for their bloodshed. But if you warn the wicked to change their ways and they don’t do it, they’ll die in their sins well-warned and at least you will have saved your own life.” – vs. 1-9 (MSG)

Be chill. I’m not claiming to be either a prophet or a watchman. I’m not predicting the apocalypse. I do know exactly what those verses mean. From the lips of my King to my ear. It’s something we all need to remember.

The Lord commands us to obey Him. It’s both that simple and that hard. (Thanks, Adam and Eve). He tells us to put aside all fear, all distraction, and do what He says. How other people respond – that’s on them. The only thing on us, on me, is to follow where He leads. In my experience, more often than not His leading is decidedly against the current. Against trends and fads. Against accepted norms.

If you’re anything like me and that scares the crud out of you, be encouraged today. God isn’t asking you to save anyone. (Or to control them). He’s not putting the weight of the world on your shoulders. He gives you one assignment at a time, an assignment that only you can complete. A task ordained before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). He’s not requiring you to swim upstream on your own, either. He is with you every moment, giving you grace, courage and wisdom – even when you don’t have sense to ask for it.

In the end, whatever pain that arises from the strain is absolutely worth it. I would rather see a smile on the face of my Lord and know that I did all that I could to obey Him than have the accolades of a world gone to you-know-where in a you-know-what. He’s given me a job to do (just let that blow your mind; God gives us jobs to do) and I want to be able to say that I did it. Even if there’s a howl and a backlash. Even if the waves crash and beat against me.

A life completely turned over to Him.

That’s what I want.

My journey to faith. (15)

Consider Your Ways

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Studying the book of Ezra means studying the books of Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets who figure prominently in the Ezra storyline. One identified himself as a young man (Zechariah 2:4). The other was probably an old man (Haggai 2:3 may point to Haggai having seen the Temple before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it). It’s possible that they both returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel/Sheshbazzar, though they are not named among the company (Ezra 2).

These somewhat-murky figures serve as God’s megaphone to a discouraged and distracted people. In no way am I condemning the Jewish people. I don’t blame them for being discouraged and distracted. Rebuilding the Temple (and Jerusalem itself, as seen in the book of Nehemiah) was no easy task. Opposition came from all sides. I understand why many of them threw up their hands and looked to reestablishing their own homes (Haggai 1:4).

It’s a picture of the fear and wrong priorities I have all too often.

Onto the page the ink spilled. These men of God begin to speak.

Haggai says, “Consider your ways” (1:5)

Our English “consider” is made up of three separate Hebrew words:

Sum/siym: to put, place, set, appoint, make; direct

Lebab: inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding

‘al: upon, on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against

Direct your mind. Set your will. Make an account of what you’re doing.

Think about it.

Really think about it.

Haggai is calling his people to obedience. He is telling them to examine their priorities. He hearkens back to Ezra 3:3, when they built the altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord “despite their fear of the peoples around them” (NIV). He is reminding them. Drawing their minds back to what truly matters.

They were suffering through drought, famine and scarcity because they had forgotten their first love. Haggai’s voice, perhaps gravelly and low-pitched with age, demands their attention. He speaks the message of God. He tells them that they need to get down the business of restoring the Temple, restoring worship. Blessing would flow from their obedience.

They can do this. They can respond positively.

They can because they are not alone. They are not left to grapple with the overwhelming rubble and the sneering, hostile pagans. “I am with you, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:13)

We don’t have to stretch far to make the application to our own lives.

God does not promise to prosper us materially. The Church is not national Israel; the way the covenant blessings are applied to us is different. Yet He does promise to bless and keep us as we seek to please Him (check out the entire book of Ephesians for a plethora of examples). When our priorities are right and we seek to obey Him, we are graced with love, peace, joy and fulfillment – even if the circumstances remain difficult. We walk in the assurance of knowing we have done what’s right.

I didn’t want to hear this today. Didn’t want to read these words of Haggai.

Here’s the unspoken thought behind all this: Obedience costs something. Yes, the rewards are great. But the cost can be great, too. The returned exiles had to defy pretty much everyone from the king on down as they began the work once more. They faced harassment at best, death at worst. It was no joke to do what they did. (Further on in the story we find out that some of the officials in the area contacted King Darius about it. King Darius winds up saying, “Yeah, leave them alone – better than that, do whatever you can to help them. And have them offer some sacrifices for me and my sons.” Nobody knew that this was going to be the outcome, though).

Obeying God is worth the cost. I know that. He’s proven Himself faithful. I know that I must fear (reverence) Him and not those whose only power is to kill me (Matthew 10:28). (Not that I think anyone is going to kill me. I’m not paranoid. It’s just a principle about the place of God and the place of people in my life).

Still. In my smallness, in my humanness, I fear.

There are two lengthy blog posts in my drafts queue. Publishing one of them, let alone both of them, is scary. I don’t want to deal with the potential fallout. I don’t want to wade through nasty comments. I want to pretend that the things never happened. That I don’t know about them. That everything is fine and wonderful.

I can’t. I know I can’t.

I must consider my ways.

Set my priorities.

Obey God.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Writing Life

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Gentle Reader,

Participating in the 31 Days challenge reaffirmed for me the necessity of daily discipline in writing. Though I cannot find the source of this information just now, I remember reading that Edith Wharton and Henry James both maintained a strict writing schedule. While I am not arrogant enough to count myself among their ranks, I see the sense in the blending of art and work. Some days the words flow without effort. Others, they must be forced.

I have had a new project lurking in the corners of my mind for some time now. The preliminary research is done; pink sticky notes mark important passages in several well-loved books. But I am afraid. I open a Word document and stare at the blinking cursor. It seems that my experience of two years ago not only knocked me down a much-needed peg or two, it inspired fear. What if I can’t do this? Why do I think I have anything valuable to say?

There is vulnerability in putting words to paper. I like blogging because I can ignore negative comments. I don’t have to see anyone read these posts. To write another book, to pour in the hours of effort, to delete pages worth of work and begin again, all to run the risk of being rejected…. Crippling self-doubt halts the process.

I am shaking my head right now, seeing clearly that I continue to idolize the good opinion of others. Ah, but a writer lives on those reviews – doesn’t she? Or can she pursue her craft as an act of faith, lifting it up as worship to the King?

Long ago I determined that this writing would not be about me. If I believe that God gives us gifts and talents, then I must believe that He wants us to use those gifts and talents in service to Him. That means words. That means sharing the truth the best way I know how. So pray, dear friend, as I struggle to begin. There may be days where it comes easily. There may be days when I fight with my own self just to spit out one sentence.

Fear has stopped me from doing too many things, too many times. I can’t let it get in the way of this. I don’t see myself big enough or brave enough to shove the feeling aside, but I know the One who is.

My journey to faith. (15)