Four Steps to Writing Your Story

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This is the back of a bookcase that was built into the 1870’s home we just purchased. I wonder who Jim is and what his story would tell me.

     I love telling stories. I think you could give me any subject or even just a word and I could weave a tale about something we or some friends have experienced. After I’d called a friend to tell her the latest thing that had occurred in my life, she commented, “Julia, I think God has things happen to you just so you’ll have more stories to tell.”
All of my life I’ve been a person who anticipates things to happen in my day that will be humorous or from which I can draw a lesson. In other words, I expect stories to emerge from my day to day experiences. I love stories so much that I teach whole seminar on storytelling where I say that in order to tell a story, you must see a story.
      After a hard year, I need to take my own class instead of teach it. I have to admit that most of the stories I’ve told within the past few months were ones from years ago instead of fresh ones built on today’s events. I’ve fallen into a pattern of trudging through a day instead of seeing it as an adventure. As I read in Hebrews 12 this morning, I heard its encouragement to grab the day and live it to its fullest.

Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

First, the writer reassures us that we are not alone. We are running a course that thousands have successfully completed. Now they are part of a “great cloud of witnesses” that cheer us on as we run the race God has set before us.” And they don’t act like a typical crowd at a sporting event, only cheering when you do well and moaning when you blow it. They are encouraging us that if they, with all their flaws and problems could make it, so can we. They inspire us to see the big picture and press hard to win the prize. They also urge us to never give up and watch and cheer for us every step of the way.
      Second, the writer pleads with us to keep our eyes on Jesus. He is the one who sets the course, who writes our script, and brings the race to its close. It’s He who offers His strength and wisdom and power to us as we maintain a faith lifeline to Him. As we look at Jesus we see someone who endured agony and pain like we will never see and who stayed the course, completing the task before Him, for one reason only—He loved us.
      Third, the writer urges us to get rid of anything that would impede us or trip us up as we run to win. A wonderful friend can’t tell me anything without getting off on “bunny trails”, as she calls the way her mind wanders from one path to another. It may be alright when you tell a story, but when you’re running a race, you end up losing sight of the finish line and may never find your way back. We are to set up road blocks to keep us off paths that send us in the wrong direction and untangle our feet from vine-like weeds that try to trip us up.
      Last, the writer begs us not to lose heart. Life is not a simple thing. It is hard. It is discouraging when nothing seems to be going as you planned it nor taking you where you thought you needed to go. Yet, as we keep our eyes on Jesus, each step is full of His presence and “in His presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). If Jesus could endure the cross because of the “joy set before Him,” how can we not have joy in our journey?
      Every day is a challenge. Good things happen unexpectedly or troubles hit you until you feel like a grape being squeezed dry. You always have a choice. You can see things as a coincidence and a burden, or you can look at each event and see God’s hand in bringing it into your life. The great things become “Look what joy God planned for me today” and the burdens become “Look at the opportunity God has given me to exercise forgiveness, learn a lesson or begin to trust in Him instead of myself for answers.” Sometimes the trial just serves to let you see that that you have more strength than you thought you had to get through a tough problem or to help you begin to empathize with people around you. Whatever happens, there is a story. How it turns out depends on your attitude.
      The benefit of viewing life this way is that it is never boring. Stories began to jump out at you from everywhere. In just recounting an event, things can fall into perspective and suddenly a trivial thing can become a story that adds insight and meaning to your life. Seeing a story is possible when you live with your eyes wide open.

Peace

20150801_181435Peace. What a wonderful gift it is when we are at peace. I don’t mean an absence of war in our country, but when my spirit is at peace with who I am, where I am, and all things around me.

There were times in the last six months when I wasn’t sure I would ever get back to peace. So much was being thrown my way that I wasn’t even sure peace would ever be possible. First we decided that God was leading us to move from a place we loved and people we loved to go across the country to the foreign land of New York. Although our children live there and the idea of being near them was exciting, the entire process of pulling up stakes was daunting. Next, being told you have two years to live and that a lung biopsy revealed no living parts is shocking. Then not being allowed to sell your home and losing eighteen years of equity, making it impossible to purchase a home in New York, was shattering. My equilibrium was in tatters. As I sat in a chair, wearing a face mask watching other people pack up my house and clean it, I was grateful for the help, but discouraged about who I had become—weak and helpless—and wondering if I would ever feel like myself again.

Today I read My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers and he spoke of holding my life to the standard I set for others instead of looking to Christ as the light that guides me. As I read it, I realized that peace was once again reigning in my spirit. We are in New York because God has called us to be here. Our daughter found us a home that has an apartment in it that will make our mortgage payment, so we were able to purchase a home without the equity money we had counted on being available to us. We believe God chose that home for us and we have already established a great relationship with our neighbors, even though it will be about a month before our renovations are finished so we can move into the house. We met the assistant mayor of Castleton on Hudson, the village we will be living in, and her husband had two lung transplants before he passed away of the same disease I have. We had an immediate connection. None of these things are circumstantial, but have been lovingly planned for us by our gracious Father who offers me His peace.

Peace is more than an absence of conflict. It is tranquility of spirit and a quiet assurance that your life is in harmony with the heart of God. My circumstances have remained unchanged. I am still ill, we have limited finances to go forward with renovating our 1870’s home, and we miss our friends and church in Oregon. However, my spirit is resting in the fact that God is not just in control, but orchestrating my life to be in the center of His will and in a place where I will be blessed and be a blessing. He has called me to be where I am and has directed my choices to bring me to this moment. I am content, and receive it all with a thankful heart.

Mustard Seed Faith

Has God ever pounded something into your heart that you already knew but He wanted you to see in a fresh, new way? I have been mediating o20150213_140025n verses about trusting in the Lord for the past few days and He has been doing just that for me.

From 2 Chronicles 14:11 and Psalms 18 I am hearing God telling me once again that He brings victory to the weak over the strong and that He is my rock, refuge and high tower. Nothing can touch me except it comes through His hand. Psalm 37:4-5 let me know that He longs to give me the desires of my heart and that my trust needs to be in Him. Isaiah 26:3-4 tells me that He will keep me in perfect peace as I trust Him and Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1 let me know that He will make me like a tree flourishing by a stream of water as I rely on Him.

Just as I am making a list of all the blessing that will come my way because I am a believer in Jesus Christ and because I trust Him, I hit the passage in Luke 17 that always stumps me. It’s a passage I can’t remember hearing a sermon based upon nor is it a parable that people ever say is their favorite. In fact, I imagine there are quite a few Christians who don’t even realize it is there. Luke 17:5-10 goes like this:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.
  “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?  But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?  He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

Jesus starts out by telling the disciples they don’t need more faith for with a very little faith they can work miracles. Wow! How many times have you heard this? Many times, right? You have the authority and power to cast trees into the sea. In other words, nothing is impossible to you, if you have even a bit of faith.

Then comes the parable. Jesus is saying, “Don’t you ever forget that God is the Master who commands, you are the slave who obeys.” What? Didn’t He just tell me my little faith can do great feats? Didn’t He just tell me that miracles will happen at my command? What is with the unworthy slave remark?

Jesus knew exactly what was in the heart of mankind—the desire for power and getting our own way. He let us know that, although faith is powerful, we are called to obedience first and foremost. God never is at our command, we are always at His. God never owes us anything. We are always undeserving, unworthy slaves. Everything God gives to us is pure grace. He pours it out on us, not because we deserve it, not because we have great faith, but simply because He loves us and loves to give.

This means that the miracles in my life came not because I am a great servant of God but because He is a gracious and kind master. It is not about me, my faith, my obedience or anything I do. It is all about Him.

You see, I started my meditation by asking God for a stronger ability to trust Him. I asked myself if I had the faith of a mustard seed, and if I did, why do some of my prayers seem to go unanswered. There are still problems with our house. I have not been miraculously healed. Although the doctor told me yesterday I am doing better than most people with IPF, he did remind me that it is a degenerating disease. I will not get well but only worse. Our only natural hope is that it happens slowly. As I read the second part of the Luke 17 passage I realized my entire approach had been wrong. It really has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with God. Is He loving? Is He trustworthy? Is He the Master? Once I answer all of those questions with a resounding “Yes,” everything is in motion. I am ready to accept His grace and know that that is enough.

I need to believe, not in Him, but believe Him. My trust needs not to be in the strength of my faith, but in who He is. Faith is to be shown by obedience, not great prayers and lofty deeds. Then I just open my hands to receive His grace.