Can God, the master plot builder, write you and me a happy ending, even if we’ve messed up the story?

Recently a friend and I were chatting online about a most stupid and aggravating character (Young Pere in “The Soldier in the Middle of the World”). Those of you who are reading it know that Young Pere keeps getting caught up in his own ideas of how things should be. Despite warnings and promptings, he insists on doing things his way, to disastrous ends.

My friend remarked, “I hate to admit that in so many ways, Young Pere mirrors my life.”

I had to agree. Far too often I’ve counseled God–told Him how I expected things to be–instead of taking counsel from Him. That’s how I got so much material for Young Pere—my own arrogant mistakes.

But then I told my friend, “The best part, though, has been writing salvation for him. Bringing in characters who help him, then developing for him an ultimately happy ending. Nothing has been more satisfying!

I could barely type those words before something big and beautiful bloomed from them: the idea that if I can so readily write a good ending for a character, couldn’t God also take my messed-up storyline and craft a happy ending as well?

I won’t detail my mistakes (it’s not THAT kind of blog) but I’ve made a few whoppers, and we’re still reeling, many years later, from some huge financial errors. So often I’ve decided there isn’t any hope, that this problem which grows yearly will go with me to my grave (the only way we’ll eventually be free from it).

But lately I’ve had this little niggling in the back of my head: What if there is a solution? What if God has seen the disasters caused by my younger arrogance, and has been quietly working on a subplot these past few years that will eventually surface and provide a glorious solution?

Then came to me the thought, “That’s exactly what I do. If you pay attention, eventually you’ll find it.”

In Moses 1:39 He says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

His “glory” is helping us secure a happy ending. Talk about a satisfying project!

I’ve written before that God’s the master plot builder, that through His twists and turns and even deus ex machina, He literally is the God in the Machine, frequently providing solutions and answers and lessons and growth that we never would have sought out for ourselves.

And He even provides miracles.

Daily.

Little ones. Big ones.

He hasn’t ceased to be a God of miracles.

And maybe, just maybe, He still has a few plot twists and miracles waiting for me. Perhaps even a most epic and glorious ending. Because, honestly, there’s nothing more wonderful than making a happy ending.

And I’m betting He’s got one for you, too.

 

You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?

“No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”

Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?

Young Pere let the words wash over him, some remote part of him beginning to accept that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

Isn’t it time to try someone else’s ideas for a while? The Creator has a plan for you, Young Pere. It’s been revealed to me, and my sweet boy, it’s wonderful!

He rubbed his face.

Do you trust me, Young Pere?

~Book 8, the final installment, coming in Summer 2018 (well, that’s the hope right now . . .)

weekly meme Creator has a plan for you

Book 7 Teaser: Tell God what you want!

“Your problem is that you haven’t told God that you need a miracle. Tell him! Demand a miracle!” That was the advice my friend gave me when, seventeen years ago, we were drowning.

I was pregnant with my 6th, my husband had lost his job and the part-time job he had in the meantime wasn’t paying, and my adjunct contract wasn’t going to be renewed because of budget cuts. We were falling behind in our mortgage payments and our savings were gone. Very soon we’d be in very dire circumstances.

“Tell God exactly what you need and get that miracle!” my friend insisted.

So I prayed—earnestly and daily—telling God what I wanted: a good-paying job for my husband so that we could meet our financial obligations, and the ability to keep the house we’d built so our family could be raised in a great neighborhood.

Not much—just what all of our other friends and family had. Not a fancy car, not a dream vacation, not a huge house—just the bare necessities.

Others also prayed in our behalf—intently and constantly—until finally the miracle came: my husband got a job.

But the not-so-miraculous part was that it was 2,000 miles away from that great neighborhood and my family.

And it wasn’t going to pay enough.

And we’d have to leave our house.

But maybe, just maybe—it’d be ok?

With enormous reluctance and huge tears, we moved our family cross county, put our house up for sale, and waited for the next miracles.

But they didn’t come as I demanded. Where we’d moved was outrageously expensive, and my husband’s education-based income would never cover rent, so he found yet another job, this one a couple hundred miles away, leaving me and our six children to mooch off of his family for several months.

The sale of our house fell through—four times—and because we couldn’t get caught up on the payments during those eight months, it was going into foreclosure with letters sent to us almost daily from lawyers and banks.

I was so humiliated and depressed, alone and still drowning. Did we not have enough faith to make those miracles happen? What more was I supposed to do to get my prayers answered? What did I still lack? Why wouldn’t God give me what I needed and what our family deserved?

I began to realize something: demanding miracles from God wasn’t how it was supposed to work. God is not, as Harry Emerson Fosdick once quipped, “a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button and get things done.”

Maybe I wasn’t praying for the right things. Maybe I didn’t even know what those “right things” were?

So I stopped telling God what I wanted and needed, and started asking Him to help me understand. I asked Him to change my heart to be submissive, to meekly take whatever was thrown at us. I was so low anyway, I didn’t have anything else to lose. I was hopeless, in heart and spirit.

I was broken. That’s what God was waiting for.

That’s when miracles began.

Miracle #1–We found a house to rent across the street from my husband’s new job. It was condemned and would be torn down in six months, had mice and skunks (in the cellar) and roaches, but we could live there for $350/month and be a family again for a while. The fact that I was grateful for such accommodations after living apart for eight months? Miraculous. (I’ve written about this house before here.)

virginia house

And when it rained, water poured in on all the edges where the walls met the ceiling. But that was ok, because the vines growing in the house needed to be watered.

Miracle #2–We finally found a buyer for our old house, and the day before it was to be sold at auction we closed on it and were able to negotiate payments for the second mortgage, which wasn’t covered, down to a reasonable rate. We paid it off five years later.

Miracle #3–Astonishingly, the mortgage company hadn’t reported our delinquency properly, and on our credit report was only that we’d missed one monthly payment. Our credit rating fell a bit, but three months later we were in a position to buy a brand new house at $600/month.

A full year after I TOLD God what I wanted, I realized I was in a completely different situation than I’d ever imagined but . . . I liked it!

Our new life was giving us experiences that we never could have had any other way. Our kids were flourishing, our new house was adorable, my husband loved his job, and I had work as well.

And I was very glad that God did NOT listen to my demands.

A couple years ago we drove through our old neighborhood to see the dream house we had left and lost in 2000. I was so grateful that we did NOT raise our kids there. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood, but I realized how limited and narrow our lives would have been had we never left, instead of the wealth of experiences God gave us instead by forcing us away.

He knew what we really wanted, rather than what we thought we should have.

The real problem, it turned out, wasn’t that I needed to demand a miracle and insist on my ways, but that I needed to ask God what His ways were for us. And His ways have always been far, far better.

     With growing despair, he sat back on his heels. It was time to send the general a message.

    “It’s the right thing to do, right, Puggah?” he whispered.

     It’s an intriguing idea, Young Pere. But is it the right idea?

     “Well, you did it! At least, you were trying to do it, then did it in another way—”

      Young Pere, think about that—I tried to do it but failed. It wasn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to be with you, either. 

     He scoffed. “But you just said it was intriguing!”

     Yes it is. But just because it’s an intriguing idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. Especially when the Creator has something much better in mind. 

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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In praise of regular days

My 10-year-old said, “I’m bored. What are we doing today?”

“NOTHING!” I shouted in delight. “Isn’t that amazing!”

“So,” she said, “we’re going nowhere and have nothing to do?”

“Isn’t that WONDERFUL?!”

She frowned but I was grinning. It’s been months–maybe even a year–since we’ve encountered so many quiet days. The frenzy of fixing things up, of taking things down, of moving cross country, of readjusting to new normals . . . all of it’s over, and for the past few weeks we’ve had boring days. Lovely!

I probably don’t appreciate regular routines as much as I should, but I am today. In fact, I feel guilty for not realizing that a couple of weeks ago we “settled in” because I’ve been glued to my laptop, deep in final edits of Book 7 (and Book 7 will likely be ready much faster than I expected–WONDERFUL!).

There’s immense comfort in knowing we’re facing another dull day, another routine with no pressing matters looming. School won’t start for us for a few weeks yet, and while we’ll have to move from this rental house again it won’t be for a couple months, so for right now we have blissful, sweet boredom!

It’s like God presses the pause button on occasion and says, “Let’s give you a few days, see if you notice that the biggest problems are that all the purple popsicles are gone and that the kitten mistook the bathroom rug for the kitty litter box again. For a few days, you can just be. Look outside, take a walk, notice the groceries aren’t running out too quickly, and breathe deeply.”

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When I’m done writing, I’m going to sit outside in this chair (apparently it’s not just decorative but useful), maybe get a few splinters in my behind, but enjoy it and a dull day.

Not everything is a crisis, not every day with children is chaos, despite what so many blogs and memes want you to believe. There’s no need to look for or create drama. We don’t even have to check the news or social media to find a reason to rage and roar at the world.

We are allowed, believe it or not, to simply sit back and enjoy the pause button days.

Real troubles will come again on their own, so let’s revel in the days that are dull.

“And what are you planning to do to Peto? Another dishonest distraction? I think Rector Shin is dealing with enough real problems without you creating a new one for him to chase!” ~Book 7, title to be announced VERY soon!

 

The chapter may be ending, but the book keeps going

Since last summer, I’ve felt I’ve been dying a slow death. We’re in the long process of moving cross country in June, but not until some major events in our family occur: a granddaughter born, a daughter off to college and back again, a son marrying, another son returning home.

I find myself looking at every day, every activity, and morbidly thinking, “This may be the last time that we ever . . .”

Miserable.

However, God isn’t pleased when I mope, and I’ve discovered Him slipping ideas into my head, such as, “Yes, but you’ve done that so many times, don’t you want to do something new?”

As I get book 6 ready to send out to my beta readers this week (yes, that means it’ll be revised and released in late spring!) I’m realizing that life is a number of chapters, but still all one book. I’ve had many chapters which could be called Childhood, High School, College, Husband and College, Small Children and More College, The Riverton House, The Maryland Year, The Virginia Years, The South Carolina Months, The Idaho Falls Months, The Hyrum House.

I rather expected that The Hyrum House chapter would take another 20 years. The house isn’t my favorite that we’ve owned, but the neighborhood, the views, and the rural location with access to big cities certainly is.

Everything was nearly perfect. Which, naturally, meant that God said, “Time to shake things up a bit.”

That shaking is making everything fall apart. Our family will be scattered, and we’ll be too far away from our adult kids and grandchildren to see them on a regular basis. Since we actually enjoy each other’s company, that’s a bit of a heartache.

That’s when I scowl at this chapter ending and think, “I’m starting to hate this book.”

Because surely the next chapter can’t fix anything, right? We’ve had a few chapters that I really didn’t like, and the photo albums from those years are never touched. I was grateful to slam the book on those pages when they were over.

(By the way, fair warning to my beta readers: there’s a chapter in Book 6 that you will hate. Maybe two. Ok, likely three. Three chapters you will want to slam the book on. But remember–the story’s not over yet.)

But other chapters, I let my mind revisit and enjoy them, but also find something odd happening: I don’t want to necessarily relive them. I was happy for that time, but there’s no going back, thank goodness.

I’ve never understood people who miss high school, even into their older years, wishing vainly they could go back to those glory days. Sure, there were good times, but aren’t there good ones coming, too?

It’s those little thoughts, that prodding from Above, that remind me it’s ok to bring this chapter of my life to a close. God knows that I get restless with stagnancy. That once I’ve worked on a project for a few months or years, I begin to look around for something new. When a job no longer is a challenge, I need a new one. (This book series has been the longest I’ve ever spent on a project, because it continues to challenge me every day.)

While I crave stability, I have to confess to myself, and my husband, that I don’t exactly mind that he changes jobs every few years, that my mind begins to feel claustrophobic in the same place, and while my anxiety disorder causes me to clench in fear at change, that trapped part of my head is screaming, “Lemme out!”

(Brains are messy places.)

It’s when I’ve memorized the street signs, the aisles at the grocery store, how long it takes to get to the pizza place, that I find myself simultaneously thinking, “How nice that I know that so well. That makes me feel secure. Now I’m bored. What’s new?”

So it’s with equal parts of excitement and dread that I watch the last few months of our Hyrum Chapter play out, that I remind myself that it’s still part of my book, that it’s shaped our characters in unforgettable ways, and that we take it with us wherever we go.

And I try to remind myself that the next chapter will also be interesting in unexpected ways, and that I very well may look back years from now upon our new Maine Years chapter, think, “Oh, but that was the best one yet!”

(I just barely looked at the date–which I haven’t done in days–and realized that yesterday was the anniversary of my mom’s death, three years ago. And yet, even her story still continues . . .)

Perrin quietly shut the door behind him and ran his hand along it. As soon as he let go of it, that would be the end—

He felt Mahrree squeeze his other hand, and she reached back and touched the door as well. “I’m sure they have oak where we’re going,” she whispered, and let her hand slide down the door.

And Perrin removed his, clasping it into a fist. He gripped her hand tightly as he whispered in her ear, “Come Mrs. Terryp. Let’s find our new world.”

And neither of them looked back.

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Four reasons why change is the best, crappiest thing that can happen to you.

I hate and love change.

Sometimes change is most welcome: when you finally get a new job; when you finally move into that better place, and when that baby finally decides to be born. There are times when change is desired, sought after, even prayed and begged for.
The change that cancer is in remission.
The change that you are no longer in debt.
The change that you get to throw away your “fat” clothes.

But change is also a nasty beast. When life is floating merrily along, change is the white water rapids which you didn’t expect to throw everyone out of the boat.
Chronic illness.
Loss of job and/or house.
Death.

It’s when God whispers, “Plot Twist” in your ear, and you know nothing will ever, ever be quite the same again. And often, it’s a huge battle in our minds to decide if this latest plot twist is a good one or not.

But change has to happen, for these terrible, marvelous reasons:

1. It’d be horrible for things to stay the same. Don’t believe me? Think about this: What if your baby really did stay little forever? Never learning to speak, or walk, or play? After a while, you’d grow annoyed, even dissatisfied with this creature who does nothing but leaches off of you, year after year, whining and crying and demanding you carry it around. While it’s sad to see our little one outgrow those newborn clothes, it’s also thrilling to hear their first laughs, see them figure out how to toddle, and watch their personalities grow.

We don’t really want things to stay the same. We’re excited when that baby is old enough to catch a ball, when we can take him camping, or to the movies. While one stage quietly fades away, a new, even better stage takes its place. Progress is exciting.

2. We’re not mean to be stable. It’s the one thing in life most of us crave—stability. Maybe we crave it because it’s so elusive. I cringe whenever I read articles about money management and budgeting, because our income is rarely the same each month. And our family life is always changing; kids never have the same schedules year to year, and someone is always doing something new, somewhere else, with someone else. They go to different schools, go to college or the army, and find significant others, once again changing the dynamics of our family.

And thank goodness. Because, honestly, I find I get bored with predictability. While we crave stability, I think a lot of us also crave adventure. That’s why we go on vacations, take up new hobbies, write books, take classes, take on new challenges. We need to be shaken up every now and then. Snow globes aren’t interesting until after they’ve been tumbled around.

life as a snow globe

3. What would we miss if we didn’t change? Years ago we built our dream house, with a huge yard, and plans that we’d stay there forever. It’d be where our grandkids came to visit us.

Four short years later, we lost that home and had to move two thousand miles away. I was bitter that we lost our dream.

After two more moves, we settled in rural Virginia, and our kids had adventures we never could have had otherwise. We traveled and learned and had a great time.

Not long ago we had the opportunity to drive by our old “dream house.” I was startled to hear myself say out loud, “I’m so glad we didn’t stay here.”

Because staying would have been terrible . . . for me. I realized then, as I looked at our old house, who I would have been had we never left. I would have been narrow-minded, fearful, and quite prideful, I’m ashamed to admit, had I stayed in my small town, with my small ideas, and with my small ambitions. I needed to change, in order to help my nine children who have so many different challenges. Our change changed everything, and I liked who I had become because I was forced to change.

4. The only way to grow is through change. And I’m not just talking about our children. I’m talking about us—adults. We’re not done improving simply because we hit a certain age, although some may think we are.

I once met a woman who lived in the same house she was born in. She never traveled out of her little town, except occasionally down to the “big city” ninety miles away, which she found a terrifying place. She married and raised her family and lived to be quite aged, all staying in the same neighborhood, and only occasionally crossing the state line to visit a grandson in another rural community.

At first, I envied her. She had a place that was home. At the time, we were moving around a lot, and all I wanted was a place to consider a permanent home.

But I was struck by a strange sense of stagnancy. Of dullness. Of fear. Of entrapment as I chatted with her. She’d never seen the ocean. The “distant” states of Colorado and California were evil and horrible places. When she heard of all the states we’d lived in, she literally pulled back, almost as if she feared I was contagious. She promptly turned to the person next to her—a long-time neighbor—and started up a new, safer, more predictable conversation.

I didn’t feel as nearly as contaminated as my acquaintance thought I was. Moving to new states, starting new jobs, beginning new projects are—initially—terrifying, but eventually invigorating. I think about how much I’ve changed over the years, and I like what I’ve picked up along the way.

This poor, dear woman, however, never felt she could leave. Her great-grandparents settled the area as pioneers, and she felt duty-bound to stay where they had landed.

I always wondered if it ever occurred to her that her ancestors once started somewhere else, and made a lot of changes in their lives to get where they finally ended? That perhaps they appreciated the changes they experienced, and maybe were sad that she never encountered any?

The purpose of life is growth through change, and that thought is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling.

Last month I was harvesting berries in our yard which, after eight years of work, is nearly exactly the way we want it. Our neighborhood is wonderful, the valley picturesque. We’re conveniently situated to all our children and the colleges they want to attend, and we love where we live . . .
Then God whispered into my ear those two words which terrify and thrill me: PLOT TWIST.

“No!” I nearly cried out. We’ve finally got some stability! Predictability! . . . Wait.

Have I become complacent? Narrow-minded? Or, even worse, stagnant?

Within a handful of short days, my husband was recruited, interviewed, and invited to take his dream job . . . thousands of miles away.

Change, coming again. I handled it in the most mature manner possible: I wept every day for three weeks.

Then God started trickling into my mind the reminders I listed above, knowing that while I’d “kick against the pricks” for a while, eventually I’d become intrigued. He patiently ignored my protestations, just like I do when I pat my children on the head as they whine about something they don’t want to do, but later will realize they really wanted all the time.

God’s smirking at me right now—yes, He does smirk. Because He also knows just how much I love a good plot twist.

But usually not while I’m in the very long middle of it, where I can’t see the outcome. While we’re trying to figure out if this change is temporary or permanent, who will join Dad and when, do we rent our old house, keep it, or sell it, then what will we move into, once we finally join Dad in several months . . .

Change.
I hate it.
I love it.
Right now, however, I just hate it. Mostly. (I have to confess, the coast of Maine is intriguing . . .)

Stay tuned. Plots change every day.

Crud and hallelujah.

Eventually Mahrree whispered, “I never wanted to leave this house . . . Every good memory is in this house.”

The woman answered just as softly. “And you take every good memory with you. Your life isn’t the house. Your life is your family. Things don’t matter. People do.”
Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

(And thanks to eBookDaily, who today just featured me! Ebookdaily125)