Do everything without complaining or arguing.

Philippians 2:14 (NIV)

If I pitched a story to an agent or editor that promised an engaging and entertaining plot featuring sympathetic, relatable characters, riveting tension, twists and turns, the assurance of justice, mercy, character transformation, and a happily ever after, the chance of garnering interest are solid.

It might land me a contract offer. 

But what if I only submitted the first chapter? Because—stuck in a tenacious grip of ingratitude over the pain of disappointment, suffering, or hardship—that’s all I was willing (and able) to tell?

Grumbling, complaint, ingratitude. 

Our life is our most creative act, a story we tell the world about God. At the least, a life characterized by complaint makes for an uninteresting story. At worst, it muddies the truth about who God is.

And may I suggest that the genre God writes in our lives is an inspirational romance?

Because, by definition, a romance must at have three key elements, each of which are found in scripture: 

A hero (God)

A heroine (the Bride of Christ)

A happy ending between the two. 

If we are God’s medium with which He creates a great story, what does ingratitude tell the world about Jesus, the hero?

He’s not to be trusted. (He is forever faithful)

His love falls short. (His love is unfailing and endures forever.)

If he really cared, he wouldn’t allow this suffering or withhold things we ask. (He is wholly good and gives more than we ask or imagine.)

Refusing to move past the pain amounts to a life stuck in chapter one. A story no one wants to read.

When have you let ingratitude stall and muddle the beauty of your story?

NOTE: This post was inspired by The Artisan Soul, by Erwin Raphael McManus

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For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land … When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 8:7, 10-11 (NIV)

Shortly before my husband and I and our two small children left our hometown Houston to make the valiant move to the foothills of North Carolina—leaving friends and family behind—I was equal parts excited and equal parts uncertain. 

Okay, maybe 20% excited, 80% scared to death.

In a weak moment of no-way-can-we upend-our-lives, a dear friend directed me to this passage in Deuteronomy 8, saying very pointedly,

“God is bringing you to the good land.”

A Lone Star girl at heart, this was enlightening. (Who knew there was good land outside of Texas?) 

Her tone rang with certainty, an endorsement of sorts.

Rousing enthusiasm from those who were familiar with western North Carolina lowered my scared-to-death percentage until I was quite ready to make the change.

The more I pondered the move, the more I recognized God had called us to do good works he’d prepared in advance. (Ephesians 2:10)

And when we arrived, settled into a two story rental home near Lake Hickory … y’all, the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains! The people! The slower pace of life! The joy of four distinct seasons seen in leaves of gold and winters of white!

This good land did not disappoint. 

I reveled in it.

But therein lay the problem.

In no time, I got comfy.

Indulging in a literal feast for the senses, ideal neighbors, friends for the kids, a new church home, and … I began to forget.

Forgetful of the One who’d extended His gracious hand and gave me these good gifts. 

Gifts aren’t limited to the material, tangible. Because I’ve prayed for situations to improve or chains to be broken. And when answers arrived in my favor, amounting to a virtual flowing stream of relief, I’ve responded like that entitled child on Christmas morning who snatches the gift with nary a glance of gratitude at the giver.

Thus, God’s instruction and warning to his people: When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.  

That good land God had promised the Israelites pretty much describes the land where I live.

A land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. (vs 7-9)

In a land like that, it’d be incredibly easy—almost unavoidable—for Mary to forget the One who gave all these luxuries.

I know because I have. I know because I do. I know because it’s likely I will again.

He doesn’t ask his people to remember the stuff. Because the stuff is good. He warns them not to forget about … Him.

Knowing our forgetful tendencies, God could justifiably withhold these good things. But the problem isn’t in the abundance.

It lies within. 

When our bellies are full and our hearts are satisfied, God calls us to praise him and remember his immutable goodness. It’s a ready source of sustenance for times of scarcity.

May we Forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2

When have you experienced God’s good land and forgotten Him? What did it take to remind you of His provision?

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And God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Genesis 3:11 (NIV)

Make no mistake. Each pithy question God asks throughout scripture aren’t an indication he lacks wisdom and is in need of clarity. They are always intended to sift through the lies we believe in order that the seed of truth will settle into our brain and rightly align our understanding … if we ponder long enough.

His question to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden struck me in the frontal cortex, that familiar scenario following their disobedience that brought sin into an otherwise perfect, sinless environment …

“Who told you that you were naked?”

God wasn’t confused, massaging his forehead as he glanced around the garden searching for evidence of intrusion.

He knew.

He knew another voice had slithered into the garden and into their heads, empirical evidence being Adam and Eve were hiding when they’d not had need before.

Their behavior—and ours—tells God and the world what we believe about ourselves.

So, who who told you that you were naked?

Taking a little creative license here, I believe God is really asking,

“What voice are you listening to? Because it isn’t mine or you’d not have shame written all over your countenance, hiding precious parts behind leaves … an ineffective strategy as you will soon discover … when, instead, I’ve created you to live lives of authenticity.”

Far unlike me, God is purely loving in his address. “Who told you that you were naked?” His tone rings of justified anger, disappointment, sorrow, a hope they’ll realize they’ve traded his voice of truth with the voice—and message—of the enemy who’s part of the reason their paradise isn’t paradise anymore.

“Who told you that you were naked, Mary? Who told you you were anything less than a beautiful work of art meant to showcase a loving, gracious God?”

And maybe you’re listening to the wrong voices. And maybe they’re creating a false narrative, far from the truth of who God says you are.

Do you believe those unpleasant plot points in your life serve no good purpose? If so … Who told you that you were “naked”?

The story our lives have told (and will continue to tell) is, in fact, a great work of art, an offering for a world in need. Let’s not keep it silent or hidden.

✦Is there a pesky voice you listen to that you know isn’t from God? Where did you learn it?

✦Why is it difficult to embrace our hardships as a gift rather than let them hold us captive and limit the impact we are meant to have?

Thanks for reading!

Once voice in my head says it’s nice to share. If you found this helpful, please share! 😇

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The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. John 10:2-3, 12

This passage reads like a play, the main characters being Jesus, the good Shepherd, the watchman, the hired help, and the wolf (Satan). Being that I am not the good shepherd nor the wolf (may that not shock any of you), it begs the question:

Am I the watchman or the hired help?

Years ago during a week-long family camp in Colorado, my husband and I gathered with fellow campers to listen to the speaker each morning. One particular day, the speaker emphasized the need to show others the door that leads to eternal life. 

“Show them the door,” he’d said several times.

In other words, show them Jesus.

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep … I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. (vs 7, 9)

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Both of my older brothers took on the role of watchmen, introducing me to Jesus back in high school.

Since then, I’ve been privileged as a mom and in my former professional career as a Dietitian to show my children, patients, and clients the same door, even praying with a few who, after introduced to Jesus, received the free gift of salvation … 

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (vs 9)

As a fiction author, I behave as a watchman through use of fiction to accomplish the same objective, creating sympathetic and relatable characters in need of rescue from faulty thinking and restoration to God.

In that role, I invite sheep to listen to his voice and be lead safely through the gate into Jesus’s pasture.

But, for any number of reason, I don’t consistently act the watchman. The other character who appears in this story is Hired Help.

Fearful of attack and ruled by self preservation, Hired Help abandons the sheep when he sees the wolf (Satan) coming. 

Note: Hired Help doesn’t amble away. He runs! 

The world offers endless doors, gates, and passageways through which to pass. Promises of nirvana on the other side. As saved sheep belonging to the good Shepherd, we have a responsibility—a privilege—to direct others to Jesus. As the role implies, being a watchman requires vigilance, eyes alert in prayer and in study of God’s word in order to effectively distinguish the voice of the shepherd from wolves and wave wandering sheep safely toward the gate.

The one and only Gate.

Fellow Watchman, who will join me in remaining watchful and open the gate for the sheep?

What makes acting the watchman difficult? When have you behaved more like the hired help? Who is safely in the pasture, cared for by the good shepherd as a result of your decision to keep watch? Who in your life needs your fervent prayers for God to lead them to the watchman beside the gate?

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If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you?…Lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great.

Luke 6:34-35 (NIV)

For the past several years during winter months, our church has hosted a homeless ministry referred to as “the warming station”. (COVID being the exception this year). Over the course of six hours, these special guests are blessed with a hot meal, prayer and conversation, cots on which to sleep and movies for entertainment.

Last year, a man at our warming station approached me, face weathered by time and hardship, and boldly asked,

“Ma’am, do you have any blankets? It’s really cold outside.”

Dreadfully cold.

I hesitated. One, because there were no more blankets to loan, and, two, because the plaid blanket in pretty shades of purple and aqua I’ve kept in my car for many years came to mind.

Yes, that one blanket I favor and have used. A lot.

Because one never knows when one might find herself cold and in need of a blanket. And when Mary is cold and miserable so is everyone in her midst.

Fixing his stare, eyes pleading, dark and hollow, the man urged,

“I’ll give it back.”

Drat. He’d read my thoughts. Must have sensed the wrestling with my inner Linus Van Pelt.

With effort, I mentally released ownership of the blanket, dashed to the car to retrieve it. The instant I handed it over, I knew the teeny tiny act of kindness was an obedient decision.

And I knew I’d never see that blanket again.

Will I, Lord?

Lend without expecting to get anything backLuke 6:35

Like Jesus.

When God sent his baby son Jesus to earth, it was a selfless, sacrificial act. Even though his gift isn’t consistently and faithfully reciprocated by his children in loving obedience, (If you love me you will obey my commandments. John 14:15) he remains kind and merciful to the ungrateful and wicked.

Within reason—and when prompted by the Holy Spirit—he calls us to be generous and lend to sinners. That doesn’t come with assurance we’ll get back what we loaned or the sacrifice of time, talent or treasure won’t sting a little…or a heck of a lot.

But for the generous lender, the willingness to give without expecting to get anything back produces abundant blessings from God whose riches are immeasurable, both here and in eternity.

What need have I in heaven of a blanket in an environment that’ll deliver perfect warmth, illuminated by the radiant glory of God?

The maker of blankets.

When we freely give a man a blanket, we receive far more than we have room in our hearts to take in.

’Tis the season for giving. What are you willing to lend that might not make it back to you? 

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