"God our Savior showed us how good and kind He is. He saved us because of His mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done." – Titus 3:4-5
You've heard it before, and so have I: there is a naughty and a nice list created by Santa. And "you better watch out” because "Santa Claus is coming to town."
Now, I'm not equating Santa with Christ. That's not the point. I'm actually wondering if you've ever had the feeling that nearly everything is conditional. I mean, if you want to be truly happy, then buy the latest Samsung Galaxy phone, right? If you want to be stress-free, take this exotic vacation. And if you want to be slim and trim, drink this fat-dissolving concoction.
You get the picture.
But the really amazing fact about Christmas and God's Son's arrival on Earth as a newborn baby is that there were, and are, no strings attached. We don't have to be good enough to be accepted into the family of God. We can't! And we can never rack up enough points to earn it either.
So, if we can't be good enough, and if we keep failing at trying to be acceptable in God's eyes, what's left? A dead-end?
The answer is surprisingly simple. So simple it's easy to miss. Jesus urges us to come as a little child and fall on His mercy and grace. There, we open our hearts to receive His unconditional love and forgiveness. He alone holds the power to transform us out of our darkness and into His Light and Life.
It's a gift, plain and simple. And it's ours for the receiving.
Ah, yes, the reason we give gifts to each other—a reminder of God's best Gift of all time: the Lord Jesus Christ. Mind-boggling, absolutely!
Grateful for God's goodness and kindness to humankind!
A blessed Christmas Season for you, dear reader-friend,
"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." – Romans 12:12
"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" – Romans 5:3-5
In these two verses, there is a common thread. Do you see it?
It is hope.
And in my latest novel, Maggie Esh is in need of some of that hope, and fast. The young man she secretly loves deserves a strong and robust wife, as any young Amish man would certainly desire. Unfortunately, Maggie is anything but that.
On page 8 of The First Love—see excerpt below—you'll see that Maggie hasn't yet come to understand the importance of gratitude in all things:
Gratitude for sickness?" I had once whispered to Mamm when the others left to do barn chores and Dat headed off to work. Mamm had looked at me so sweetly, my heart nearly broke in two.
"Ach, Maggie-bird," she said as she opened her arms, and I limped into her embrace, letting her hold me while I cried.
"Will I ever be well again?" I whimpered.
Sadly, Maggie struggles...she strives...and she suffers. Just as we all do at some point in our lives. And when difficulties—such as illness, pain, or financial loss—come, we experience important aspects of life and living that we never would have embraced otherwise. Essentials like endurance and character and, yes, hope, “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul," as poet Emily Dickinson penned long ago. Without hope we cannot fly, spiritually or emotionally, and we cannot fulfill God's plan for us in this life.
So, each November, I sing rather tearfully the old hymn, "Thanks to God," offering praise to our heavenly Father "for pain and pleasure, for comfort in despair." And "for roses by the wayside, and the thorns their stems contain. Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, thanks for heavenly peace within. Thanks for all Thou dost provide! Thanks for Jesus by my side."
This month, I'm wishing you a time of reflection and thanksgiving, dear reader-friend!
Blessings and peace,
"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." – 1 Corinthians 15:58
My Dear Reader-Friends,
Happy, splendid autumn!
Vividly, I remember raking leaves of every hue and color as a child in Lancaster County, only to jump into the enormous pile with my little sister, Barbara, squealing and flinging leaves high, having loads of fun. Here in Colorado, the aspen trees are at their peak for golden color this week, and against a deep evergreen backdrop, well, it is a sight to behold.
I’m home from my recent Michigan book tour, wrapping up revisions for my April 2019 novel, The Tinderbox, and starting the outline for my next novel, coming in September next year. There is usually a new story idea brewing in my mind, as you know.
But I want to pause and thank everyone who made the book tour possible—Amy Green, my publicist, who worked so diligently behind the scenes; Steve Oates and Noelle Chew who were an enormous help to me…and a great support especially on the three-library-events-in-one day!
I discovered that Michigan must be the rheumatoid arthritis capitol of the country—so many readers said they could empathize with my Amish leading lady in The First Love, Maggie Esh. Many, in fact, were deeply touched by this story of my heart. One woman, a recovering alcoholic, said that my books take her to another place, a safe place from the cares of her life. She has not had a drop of alcohol in nearly nine years!
Another reader whispered that she had found the courage to live after her husband died, while reading my book, The First Love. There was also a lady who said she only read my books, and I told her she was missing out on some wonderful writers and promptly introduced her to all of my Bethany House author friends online!
I enjoyed a fantastic dinner, prepared by Dwight Baker, president of Baker Publishing Group, at his home, where good fellowship and like faith was shared around his family’s long table!
Oh, and the 8.2-mile bike ride around the perimeter of Mackinaw Island; all the beautiful brides and their dashing grooms riding in horse-drawn carriages (by horses that had once pulled Amish buggies in Lancaster County, PA!), and the Oklahoma! sing-a-long in the van between my author events back on the mainland.
I was so blessed to meet many reader-friends who are struggling with various life issues, and with tears glimmering, they thanked me for writing God-honoring books that lift the spirit and make a difference in their lives. To God be the glory!
Thank you for being such an encouragement to me, all these years. I am delighted to call you my friends and not just my fans.
Many blessings for October!
"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. . . ." – Philippians 3:10
My new novel, The First Love, features Maggie Esh, an Amish girl who secretly loves an Amish boy named, Jimmy Beiler. But because Maggie is sickly, she fears Jimmy's interest comes only from pity. So she declines his invitation, believing he deserves a strong and healthy wife.
In the summer of 1951, when tent revival meetings come to Lancaster County, inspired by Billy Graham's own crusades, Maggie sneaks off with her Mennonite cousin and hears, for the first time, a message of salvation...and of healing testimonies. She sees people weeping and walking the sawdust aisle to the altar. There, in her seat, she embraces the hope that she might be healed...and, if so, she could then be worthy, at last, of Jimmy's seeming affection.
The First Love's setting is inspired by my own experiences as a young girl attending my pastor-father's tent revivals, where evangelists preached the message of salvation boldly, and where prayer for the sick was offered. I saw, firsthand, the long healing lines, people waiting expectantly for a miracle, some in wheelchairs, others on crutches...and I wondered why God healed some, and not others.
Recently, this story began to form in my heart as I asked myself: How should we respond when it seems that God doesn't answer our prayers? And is the question of healing a matter of (enough) faith or the sovereignty of God?
One of my favorite love stories to date, The First Love will warm your heart as you witness Maggie's tenacious hope to live a normal life with those she cares about...and you may find yourself opening your heart wider to the Lord Jesus Christ, along with her!
Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts with you, while I eagerly look ahead to my Fall 2018 Book Tour to Michigan, September 5-13. Hope to meet many of you there!