Would you want to know when a significant moment had just occurred?

I can look back on key points in my past when I made decisions which changed the course of my entire life. There are never any trumpets heralding the moment, nor any flashing lights or squeals from a crowd. (But it would have been really helpful if there had been, either as a stamp of approval or a shriek of warning!) Then again, it’s fun to look back and realize, “Oh, so that’s where it all started. Life rather snuck up on me. Again.”

pmost important events

For the month of December, I’ll be posting lines from my prequel, The Walls in the Middle of Idumea
If you haven’t read the series, this is a fine place to begin (and it’s the shortest book, if that’s important to you).
If you have read the series, it’s a fun insight into characters you already know or have met only briefly. (And it’s still the shortest book at 188 pages, which drew a few complaints, but I’ve got plans for even earlier prequels which will be much longer, so hold tight.)

Next weekend, it’ll be a FREE DOWNLOAD through Amazon. I’ll let you know when those free days are here. Snatch up a copy for yourself and everyone you know for Christmas! (They’ll never need to know you got it for free.)

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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What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

Image result for man in crowd not heil hitler

I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “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?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

What do we think about?

Over the years I’ve become more judicious in what I read, watch, and listen to. Everything I take in effects my thoughts, which in turn alters my behavior. 

Maybe it’s because in the past few years my parents and sister died, and a dear friend is losing her battle to cancer, that I’m acutely aware that life is short.

I don’t have time–nor do I want to have time–to waste. Every day needs to be focused on improving my mind and my heart.

Hugh Nibley, in “Zeal without Knowledge,” summed it up best:

what do we think about

The more I’ve decluttered my mind (as I’ve been doing with my house) the simpler everything is. There really is time and space for the important stuff.

No men who Jaytsy cared about were interested in fashion or the theater. It was all fake and contrived, and unappealing.
But she knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. She loved real things. Dirt on her hands and under her fingernails. Flicking insects off the corn. Filling wagons with potatoes. Braiding the greens of onions together. Measuring milk yields. Churning butter. Sampling cheeses. Looking into cows’ eyes.
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn