I do a lot of driving for my day job. That’s a lot of time spent between the lines. I drift, sure I do, and on rare occasions I sneak over the line. On rare occasions, mind you.
Most of my time on the road is spent minding the lines. Why? Serious stuff can happen if you cross them too much or cross them at an inopportune time. Lots can go wrong.
The lines are there to keep us and others safe.
But I’ll admit, sometimes I want to cross them. I do. And not only cross them, I want to jump off the road altogether and blaze my own trail.
The majority of my driving is in rural areas on roads that cut through farm land and orchards. Almost daily I have the urge to spin the wheel and go full throttle into one of those fields, plowing over corn stalks like toothpicks. I want to ignore those lines, abandon the road, and rebel.
But, alas, I refrain. There would certainly be consquences–both to my wallet and my car–for such behavior.
LIfe is a lot like that. At least mine is. I spend my life between the lines, between boundaries. Within those boundaries I’m free to roam, to swerve, to stop and go. But the lines are important, to cross them would mean to suffer consequences I’d rather not have to face.
The space between those lines is God’s will for my life. They are there to keep me and others safe, to keep me from getting myself in compromising situations, to keep me from making a fool of myself, to keep me from doing something I’ll later really regret.
But if I’m being honest I have to admit that daily I want to cross those lines. I want to rebel. I want to do my own thing. I want to abandon what I know to be right and good and pleasing to God and I want to hit those corn stalks going ninety and see what happens. It might be fun.
Most of the time I don’t. I refrain because I know there will be consequences. But occasionally I do cross those lines. I rebel. I go my own way. And yes, there are always consequences.
How do you feel about those lines? Do you ever want to rebel? Be honest now.
The other day my wife and I got in an argument. Yes, it happens. It shouldn’t because most of the things we argue about are totally avoidable and afterwards seem very insignificant . . . but it does happen.
It was my fault, too. I said something insensitive and hurtful. At the time I didn’t realize how hurtful it was or maybe I just didn’t want to realize it. I didn’t mean it to wound.
But it did.
And when confronted with it I didn’t want to admit it. Words were exchanged and then we both fell silent, the tension between us as thick as mud.
But there was a moment. I don’t know where it came from or how it got in my head but I looked at her sitting there on the sofa and didn’t see her as my wife who I was at odds with but as a person. A person with feelings and desires and dreams. I put myself in her shoes.
And it hit me. I was wrong. I hurt her. My tongue had caused a wound. My big jerky mouth had done it again. I felt the sting of my words, the disappointment, the loneliness they caused.
But still I couldn’t admit it. My pride was pushing back, telling me I didn’t mean it, it wasn’t my fault, she’s too sensitive.
I wrestled. Boy did I wrestle. If my inner turmoil would have manifested itself physically I would have been writhing on the floor, moaning, groaning, straining.
Finally, I threw pride aside and admitted I was wrong. I told her I’d been insensitive and that it wasn’t fair of me to say what I said. I apologized.
And then came the shame. Sometimes, I can’t stand to be me. My tongue can be so sharp, my sensitivity so dull, my pride such a bully. I wanted to crawl under a rock and not show my face for days.
Then God reminded me how he uses some pretty creative ways to reach us. His spirit spoke to me through my conscience. His forgiveness touched me through my wife. He wiped away the shame and restored my soul.
Today, look for those unique ways God chooses to touch you or speak to you or show you his love.
Back in early 2010 I was getting ready to release my third novel, Darlington Woods. I’d released The Hunted in 2008 and it enjoyed some moderate success, enough to land me another contract. Then in 2009 I released Scream and that did even better, almost doubling the sales of The Hunted.
So in preparation for Darlington Woods I planned for a big release that would net big results. I truly felt it was my best writing to date, both in style and storytelling. The plot was engaging and fast-paced, the characters were interesting and unique, the theme was right from the heart and I knew it would touch many lives. It was the first full-length novel I wrote after battling colon cancer and so much of myself, my journey, my emotional roller coaster was poured into every page of the story.
To launch the book, I’d scheduled a handful of book signings in Pennsylvania and Maryland and a fairly comprehensive online book tour I called the “Light the Darkness Tour”. Emotionally I knew, just knew, that this one was going to be big, this was going to be my break-out novel, the one to “put me on the map.” I spent a lot of time in prayer, dedicating the book to the Lord for him to do whatever he wished with it. Then, just a month before the big release Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book. Here’s an excerpt:
No shortage of vampire books stock bookstore shelves today, but few combine Christian themes with ghoulish vampire villains like this headlong rush of psycho-spiritual suspense . . . Never indulging in long boring tangents or fussy character descriptions, Dellosso’s pacing is perfect and passionate. Even though the choice of setting and parts of the plot mirror the popular novel The Shack, readers familiar with that book will find this new combo of Christian vampire fare a quick and breathless read and will scream for more.
Now, remember, this was when the Twilight saga was at its prime. Vampires were the in thing. And the fact that Publisher’s Weekly not only called it a vampire novel but also compared it to The Shack . . . well, I was sure that would seal the deal. And why wouldn’t it?
The big day came and to make a very long story very short . . . the book flopped. Sales were mediocre but worse than both Scream and The Hunted. I couldn’t understand it. I’d prepared more for this release than either of the other two. The book had gotten more exposure than I even planned for. Publisher’s Weekly had given it a glowing review. And both vampires and The Shack were still very hot. What went wrong?
You know, three years later I’m still asking myself that question. I still think Darlington Woods is my best book. It’s my favorite of all my titles. I look back on that release and the subsequent trip and can’t understand it. I think part of it is the environment of the Christian fiction industry. One, supernatural suspense as a genre was on the downslide in the Christian market (and still hasn’t recovered) and horror was never a hit. And two, maybe vampires were hot in the secular market (and still are) but in the Christian market there was (and is) little interest.
Funny thing is, never once in the book are the creatures referred to as vampires. They’re called darklings and though they act like vampires I didn’t even think of that while writing it. But it seems that Publisher’s Weekly comparison turned out to be at least one stake in the book’s heart.
The other truth I need to face is that it just wasn’t God’s time. I don’t know why and may never know but I have to accept it. So much of this business of writing is skill and talent and marketing ability, but so much more is reliance on God and faith in him to do what he knows is best. It’s a walk of trust every day.
And isn’t that so much like the rest of life?
Last week I posted about how a story idea came to me while sitting in church, how the extraordinary stood out from the ordinary. There’s plenty more where that came from too.
You see, I have what’s called an overactive imagination. I see stories in everything.
The little old lady walking her dog down a quiet street. The window salesman who I turn away on the front porch. The homeless man asking for help by the traffic light. The single guy who walks alone and takes pictures of other people’s homes (okay, that’s weird but true).
They’re all stories to me, or at least potential stories. It’s something I can’t turn off. My mind runs with even the most mundane activities and creates mayhem and mischief, suspense and surreality.
I consider this a blessing. It’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it comes in great handy when conjuring up story lines and plots and characters and twists and turns.
But it can also be a curse.
Case in point. Last night I was sitting in the living room working on some things for the upcoming week and daughter #2 (D2) was on the front porch with daughter #4, our 2-year-old (D4).
I was really minding my own business, doing my thing, when my imagination kicked on. What if D2 came bursting through the front door: “Dad! Some guy grabbed the baby took off!” I jump up and run outside in time to see the car pull away. We live in a residential area so it’s difficult to pick up speed quickly. I tell D2 to call the cops and set off on foot after the car, running down the middle of the street in my slippers, pumping my arms, tears blurring my vision, willing my legs to move faster. The car is putting distance between us. I pray, “God, please just this once give me inhuman speed.” The car’s front windows are down. If I could just catch up I could cause it to run off the road, into someone’s yard. But the car continues to accelerate and my legs eventually fail. It’s gone. She’s gone. I collapse by the side of the road, panting, sweating, crying, cursing, praying.
And then I wonder how I would react to God. He could have given me strength, could have given me speed. What harm would have come of it? My baby girl would have been saved, she’d be all right. Instead, she’s gone and who knows if we’ll ever see her again? Would I trust him? Curse him for allowing it to happen? Would I question my ability to ever trust him again?
See what I mean? With me it’s not just a wondering . . . what would I do if the baby was taken? No, that’s not enough, it has to be a whole scenario, a story, complete with characters and tension and pivotal moments and questions. Complete with stress and anxiety.
I don’t know where this came from, and I don’t know how to fully use it yet. And I’m still trying to figure out how to control it. But it’s not always a blessing.
So how about you? Do you have an overactive imagination? Has it ever gotten you into trouble?
Today is my birthday and my anniversary. I’m 41 and Jen and I have been married for 16 years.
I’m not one to put a lot of emphasis on birthdays. Really, for me it’s just another day. It’s a special day, don’t get me wrong. I took off work and we’ll do something special as a family. But it’s special more because it’s our anniversary than because it’s my birthday.
16 years ago I received the greatest birthday gift anyone could ask for: a wonderful woman as my wife. The woman God wanted for me. Like He brought Eve to Adam, God brought Jen to me. This was part of His great plan.
Every birthday I do a little reflection on my life thus far. And every year I come to the same conclusion: I’d be as dumb as a rock and blind as an earthworm if I didn’t see God’s fingerprints all over my life.
To sum it up in three words . . . I’ve been blessed.
Raised by wonderful parents; a full-time job I enjoy; survived cancer; overcame stuttering; published author; best friend for a wife; four beautiful daughters. Saved by God’s grace and promised eternal life in paradise. None of it deserved. All of it a free gift. A blessing.
For me, today is not a celebration of how many years I’ve been on this earth and how many years Jen and I have kept our promise to each other. It’s a celebration of God’s goodness, His faithfulness, His patience and love and kindness. He is the focus of the day!
I love talking to people who have suffered greatly. No, I don’t get some twisted pleasure from listening to the plight of others. Those who suffer or who have suffered have a unique perspective on life.
When I meet someone who has suffered, whether physically, emotionally, financially, or spiritually, I take the time to talk to them, to pick their brains, to dig into their experience. I want to know what they went through, how they felt, how they made it through, what they learned, how they changed.
No one emerges from suffering unchanged. These folk have discovered what it is to really live, the value of life and relationships. They know the importance of perspective and priorities. Life has taught them lessons you can’t put a price tag on; it has tempered their resolve, strengthened their courage, sharpened their wisdom. God has shown them a side of himself few get to see.
For them, suffering has been a blessing. And they’ll be the first ones to admit that.
I need that reminder, that refresher course in what really matters in life. In the midst of the busyness of life and the constant battle with expectations and desires and pressure, I need to be refocused by these folk.
Here is a sampling of life lessons I’ve learned from people who have traversed the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
- Relationships are what matter most, not success or image or climbing some ladder to nowhere.
- God is there even if you can’t feel his presence.
- It’s okay to be honest with God. He’s big enough to hear us put a voice to our emotions.
- Suffering is temporary. No matter how long you have to endure it, an end will come.
- When I am weak, then I am strong.
- It’s okay to accept help from others, they are God’s messengers of grace.
- When you have nothing else to hold on to, God is still there.
- When God is silent, that’s when he’s holding us tight.
- Suffering can be a blessing in disguise.
Have you learned any other important and noteworthy lessons from those who have suffered? Or from your own suffering?
Sometimes, I don’t agree with God. There, the cat’s out of the bag and now it can hiss and scratch and jump around and make me look like an idiot. But I doubt I’m alone.
It’s natural for us to question God, to observe what he does or what he allows and say, “Mmm, I’m not sure I would have done it that way,” or “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
It’s part of being human for us to read about God’s actions or decrees or intercessions in the Bible and cringe. For us to see the suffering around us and wonder why God allows it to go on. God instilled in us a sense of justice and fairness and sometimes his own actions (or perceived inaction) seem to offend those standards.
Ordering the Hebrews to kill ALL the women and children in the Promised Land? My author’s mind plays this scene out like a movie. Babies torn from their mothers’ arms and run through with a sword. Women, screaming, crying, begging for their life, or maybe begging to die after watching their daughter’s grisly slaughter. Toddlers running and hiding, watching their mommy succumb to a violent death.
God? Is this fair? How do you explain this? I’m sorry, I just can’t agree with you on this.
And then there’s Jericho. Think of all the elderly, the women, the children, who died when that city fell. We tell these stories in Sunday School and highlight the glories, the triumphant victories, but we ignore the carnage, the brutal reality of all the deaths.
I have a hard time being okay with these decisions.
I feel bad about all this. I do. I feel like my faith is weak, feeble, and even offensive to God. How dare I question him? How dare I set my own sense of rightness above his? How dare I pretend to know what is fair and just?
But at the end of the day, in spite of all my questions and cringing and wondering, I trust him. I know that his ways are above my ways, that his standard of justice and fairness is above my standards. I know that he doesn’t do what is right, no, he’s the standard . . . what he does is right. And I know that though my heart may cry out at these decisions of God’s, my head tells me he knows what he’s doing and I don’t always have to understand it. Sometimes his business is just none of mine.
Yes, there are explanations to the instances I used above, reasons God commanded the death of the Canaanites, and good reasons, mind you, but to my human (and maybe Western) sensitivities, it doesn’t take the sting out of how his will was accomplished.
Have you ever wrestled with not agreeing with God? Have you ever thought, “God, are you sure you know what you’re doing here?” If you have, rest assured that you’re not alone. You at least have me to join you.
Have you ever experienced the silence of God?
It happens. We pray, we talk to God, we cry out to Him, and there is no response. The heavens are quiet and still. It seems our petitions never make it past our own atmosphere.
Is God ignoring us? Is He giving us the silent treatment? In our greatest time of need, is He too busy to respond to our pleas for help?
Our questions are nothing new. David struggled with this too. Over and over again. O God, where are you? Why won’t you answer me? Do you even hear my cries? Where is your voice? Where are the answers? The words of comfort? Why have you forsaken me?
Admittedly, God’s silence is often a fearful thing, frustrating, even maddening.
So are we alone when He is silent? Has He abandoned us when we need Him most?
No. Here’s what I think. A few years back my oldest daughter, in third grade at the time, got an MP3 player for Christmas. Now, she was in third grade,mind you, and we weren’t going to pay a lot for that kind of technology so she got a Disney model that did the job just fine, and she was thrilled with it. When she returned to school she was so excited to tell her friends about her new gadget. When I got home from work I asked her how her day at school was and she started crying. The other girls laughed at her Disney MP3 player because they had all gotten iPods. My heart broke for her broken heart. (Even now, five years later, my throat gets tight and tears push on my eyes).
Do you know what I did? I tried offering words of comfort, tried telling her it didn’t matter what the other girls thought, tried saying the right things to take away her pain . . . but words didn’t help. She didn’t need words. She needed her daddy to just hold her.
And that’s what I did. I kept my mouth shut and just held her.
Folks, when God is silent, He hasn’t left us alone to struggle through our trial. When no words come, I believe that’s when He’s simply holding us close and protecting us with His love. Words aren’t necessary, only His presence.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
I thought this was very well said by John Stott in his book Basic Christianity (IVP, 2006):
For us to keep [the] first commandment [you shall have no other gods before Me] would be, as Jesus said, to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Mt. 22:37); to see all things from his point of view and do nothing without reference to him; to make his will our guide and his glory our goal; to put him first in thought, word and deed; in business and leisure; in friendships and career; in the use of our money, time and talents; at work and at home.
That’s a pretty tall order. We can never fully live up to it–all fall short–but we can sure try!
Stott goes on to say . . . “No man has ever kept this commandment except Jesus of Nazareth.”
He is our model, our guide, our Savior, our hero.