Thank you for this day…

It’s so easy to start out a prayer with “Dear Lord, thank-you for this day…” and then continue on without much thought about what you’ve just said. Recently I decided to examine that little phrase more closely, and I realized there’s a whole lot of depth there that we routinely miss out on. It can mean so much more than the perfunctory opening it has come to be.

As I was mulling over this one morning, I decided to explore some of the reasons why I would thank God for the day. I decided to turn it around and see what I would not have if God had not given me a new day. Here is what I wrote:

Oh Lord, thank-you for this day, for if you had not given it,

…I would not have had the opportunities that presented themselves for proclaiming you.

…I would not have known the joy of fellowship with You and other believers.

…I would not have had another sunrise to praise You for.

…I would not have another time to soak in Your presence and love for me.

…I would not have been able to open that treasure trove of Your holy Word and glean its riches.

…I would not have to face the challenges of my day – which are really opportunities for Your power to shine forth in my life.

…I would not be able to continue to grow in the talents You’ve given me.

…I would not be able to glorify You.

When I was done, I looked at my list in surprise. Hidden in the depths of a simple praise to God for my day was a wealth of spiritual riches and joys that I could thank God for. Makes me wonder – how much of our existence do we take for granted? Or even are ungrateful about? How much do we acknowledge God’s hand in even giving us a new day? We ought to ponder and pray about such things.

What are you taking for granted?


Thoughts like birds


via pinterest

(Please also listen to the gorgeous music found at the end of this post as you read.)

The birds circle above her. Silent, except for the slight swish as they mass and melt overhead into jagged, flapping pieces. They swirl and sway, circling like the endless tide. Like her endless thoughts.

She looks out over the water, trying to ignore their mesmerizing movement. She came here to get away from her thoughts, not to have them visualized in front of her. Why can’t they just leave instead of repeating their endless what ifs? If these birds can mass up the courage to break pattern, perhaps her own thoughts will have space to escape. Perhaps they too can fly away and never torment her again.

The wind catches her hair and teases it into a curl in front of her face. Her breath stops. He used to do that. She can feel the slight edge of his fingernail catch on the wrinkles in her forehead as her eyes flutter closed. She tilts her face up subconsciously, waiting for him to draw his finger down her cheek. Even his tiniest touch sends a delicious shiver down her spine.

The wind slaps her hair across her face. A sting of salt in her mouth, sharp intake of breath, and he is gone. He never was hers in the first place.

The other day I heard this piece of music: “Spiegel Im Spiegel” (which means “mirror in mirror,” or a never-ending reflection), and it really touched me. I wanted to show you my imaginings as I listened to this piece of beauty. What do you see in your mind as you listen?

Listening to this music feels like being suspended in cool, clear water, observing the almost imperceptible ebbing of its current. The music flows around you, moving just enough to keep you afloat.

Or the effortless flying that only happens in movie screens or your dreams. A gentle push, and your head peeks above a filmy cloud. Air is your cradle, the sky your haven.

Or the long, deep draw of breath after you have cried right down to your soul. Your chest heaves and falls, but the sadness no longer strangles your lungs. Your eyes open and you realize the morning light is tinting your hands peach.

I feel the rustle of Beauty lifting the curtain to blow her sweet breath on me. Oh to live in this sound-world forever!

How to be a true encourager

I often find myself in a role of encourager. A friend calls me up with a problem, a family member is distraught or discouraged over something, or even an acquaintance seems down about their day. And before I know it, I’m trying to help them and give them all the answers they need. I think encouraging others is a very good thing to do, but often I don’t feel like I’m truly encouraging. I come to the end of myself and there’s nothing more to give.

In my devotions the other day I stumbled across this verse in 1 Samuel: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16) The NASB says encouraged him in God.

This struck me as being a biblical way to help those who need encouragement. Instead of wracking my brain for the right words for a pep talk, I can point my friends to the only One who has enough strength to help them get through their difficulty. My job is not to provide strength to others, but to help them find strength in God.

Think about it – if we think we’re supposed to provide strength for our friends, that actually enables them to continue to be weak. They’ll come to us when they need support, instead of going to God. And while that may seem great to people like myself who love to support and nurture others, it actually hinders both their spiritual walk and ours. It places myself in God’s place for both my life and my friend’s – and that is never a wise thing to do.

So does this mean that we should never encourage another person for fear of taking God’s place? Of course not! God says specifically in His word that people are made for community. Oftentimes He works through those around us to show us His love and care. The key is this: our role is to come alongside others in order to help them find their strength (or joy, contentment, love…) in Christ, not in ourselves.

My CU Graduation '14 269

So, how can we be true encouragers to those around us? Here’s three suggestions:

You can pray with them. Don’t just tell them you’ll pray for them and then begin spouting out your own wisdom – use the time to talk to the One who knows everything about that person and their situation. And when you do this in the presence of your friend, it will bless them more than anything else. It communicates to them that you care enough to take time and pray right then, that you understand enough of their pain to want to cry out to God on their behalf, that God is sovereign over their situation, and that He cares and really is listening to both of you.

You can also bring the conversation around to God and His word. This is something I had to learn when I was a teenager and had a friend who would always call me up and be so distraught over everything. I was a shy person who still was trying to figure out how to talk about God without sounding… well… cheesy. But I realized that if I tried to reason with my friend we would keep going around in circles. But if I asked her Have you prayed about this? or You know, God says this about your problem in His Word, then we would have a much more fruitful conversation. Of course this doesn’t mean that you have to be spouting verses left and right. Simply when you know God has spoken about this issue in His word, direct your friend towards that instead of giving them a general answer like “it will all work out.” Listen to the Holy Spirit, and He will bring the right words and verses to your mind.

And lastly, don’t try to answer all of your friend’s questions. You can’t. Point then to the God who can. Even if their question is about or against Him, He still has the answer for it. Recognize that you are finite and cannot completely fix the “problem” or smooth out all of their doubts.

And you know what? All of this hard work has a reward in it for you too. Your faith will be strengthened as you see your prayers for that person answered, as they begin to stand on their own spiritual feet and go to God first rather than you. And you may even find that the person you thought needed so much help will turn around and encourage you in the same way.

From the depths of NaNo-land

Woohoo! Words are coming, word-count is progressing, and this novelist is getting very tired! My characters have been through a lot of heartache in the past three weeks, but I am quite proud of them and how they are developing. And a couple days ago they actually helped me figure out the specific details of how their story will end!  It will be hard to say goodbye to them once I finally finish their story.

I would like to share an excerpt with you, but first, here is my (very short) synopsis:

Like a medieval fairytale you’ve never heard, Alphyri is the story of two people who both want something they can never have. Alphonzo is a prince, and yet he is not free. Phyri is a peasant, who has a demanding promise keeping her from love – the one thing she longs for most. Strange traditions, hidden identities, and a manipulative King will entwine the course of their futures. 

Alright, so this section is written from Phyri’s perspective, where she receives some very startling news. She’s gone through a lot of other things too, as this is in the last third of the book, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers!

Phyri was getting ready for bed when the knock came on her door. She assumed it was her maid coming to help her unbutton and unlace herself. “Come in,” she called, and continued fiddling with the buttons down her front. Her head felt fuzzy with a headache and she was getting impatient. Nothing had gone the way she wanted it to today.

“Phyri.” It was Alphonzo’s voice.

Phyri jumped and looked up quickly. She snatched up part of her bedspread to cover her half-open top. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

Alphonzo looked just as startled as she felt. “I’m sorry to disturb you… I have urgent news to tell you that could not wait.” He motioned to her bedspread. “I will turn my back so you can finish.”

Phyri felt her head throb. She did not want to see Alphonzo again, not after the horrid argument she had had with him earlier. “I was getting ready for bed,” she said haughtily. “I am very tired and have a headache from our last conversation. I don’t want to talk to you any further, no matter what ‘urgent news’ you have for me.”

Alphonzo just stared at her, his forehead furrowed. He looked like he hadn’t even heard what she said.

“Well, don’t just stand there, leave!” Phyri ordered, extending one thin arm towards the door. Couldn’t the prince take a hint?

“Phyri, your grandmother… is dead.”

She stared at him, her eyes getting wider and wider. The room suddenly felt very cold. “What did you say?”

Alphonzo took a breath. “Your grandmother is dead, Phyri. I went to visit her today to see if she could clear up any of the confusion about your birth, but when I got there, she was on her deathbed.” He hesitated.

Phyri continued staring at him, though her eyes were lost and clouded. “My grandmother… has died?”  Even saying it felt unnatural, like she was making up a story that could not be true.

Alphonzo lowered his eyes to the carpet under his feet. “I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but you had to know. She will be buried tomorrow outside the city.”

Phyri spoke as if in a daze. “The king promised he would have someone take care of her…” She shook her head. “It can’t be! She was getting better when I left her!”

“I’m sorry, but she was still in your hut. It looked like there hadn’t been anyone in there since you left – the fire was cold and the food over it was spoiled. I doubt my father had any intention of taking care of her, no matter what he told you.” Alphonzo said.

“No, no, no! It can’t be! You’re just making this up to put your father in a bad light. I just know it!” She felt hysterical with the hurt inside her. “I can’t believe it! I won’t believe it!” She buried her face in her bedspread, feeling her temples pounding. Her whole head ached from her outburst.

Alphonzo made no move. “Phyri,” he said in a half-pleading, half-correcting tone.

Phyri raised her head out of her bedspread barrier. “Leave me alone!” she spat at Alphonzo. “I don’t want to hear anything else you could possibly say!”

She watched him recoil unconsciously from her sharp words, and then stiffen. He set his jaw, gave her one last glance, then exited the room. He pulled the door firmly behind him, with a slam that set Phyri’s head pounding even harder.

Phyri exhaled forcefully into the bedspread, heartlessly happy at how her lungs burned. She wanted to scream or yell or do something to get this heaviness out of her heart. For deep down she knew Alphonzo had been telling the truth. He was too sincere for malice, unless he had learned something from his father in the last week since she had interacted with him. He had always seemed sincere, even if sincerely wrong.

Phyri pulled her wrap on over her half-finished garment, too distressed to finish unbuttoning or to call for a maid. Maybe if she had been in the hut with her grandmother, watching her last dying breath, the tears would have come. She would have felt the grief. But here, in this lush palace, all she felt was heavy remorse.

NaNoWriMo – Alphyri edition

The written word has been too rare in my life recently. Writing or reading – I’ve barely made time to do any of it. This little blog has suffered a severe shortage of words and pictures since I’ve begun my jobs of teaching and nannying for the school year.

So I decided, why not do NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who haven’t heard, where you write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I did it way back in 2008 and 2009, and won both times, and I remember having a blast. I want to get back into writing, into being creative again, and sometimes you just need to give yourself that little extra shove.

I also have this novel called Alphyri that has languished on the back burner for so long it should be obsolete. But it still captures my imagination. It deserves to be finished. So I am going to try to finish it, and then use whatever words I have left to start something new and fresh. Here’s the summary, to capture your interest:

Like a medieval fairytale you’ve never heard, Alphyri is the story of two people who both want something they can never have. Alphonzo is a prince, and yet he is not free. Phyri is a peasant, who has a strange promise keeping her from love – the one thing she longs for most. Strange traditions, hidden identities, and a manipulative King will entwine the course of their futures.

So here’s to more words – lots of them – in November.