God Breathes

Something shifts
on the sixth day.
God spun the universe
into being by His Word.

But now
He bends down,
breathes life into dust.
Love into smallest substance.

Breath into flesh
meant to fill the earth
with beating hearts,
breathing lungs,
songs of praise.

But in the breadth of a breath,
teeth sink into pride.
Tasting glory,
swallowing mortality.
Baring souls
bearing shame.

The One who
set earth on its path
calls prophets to proclaim
the God-breathed Word.

He’ll crush the head,
snuff the breath
of the serpent of death
by His own death.

Mighty God is on His way.
Mysteries of the ages
will unravel
in the swaddling cloths
of a child.

But first,
centuries
of aching,
waiting,
longing.

 

Silence.

 

A virgin
overshadowed
by sovereignty,
conceiving divinity.
Accepting a plan
to usher in
The Promise.

A girl carrying
the King of Kings,
breathless
as all of history contracts
in a single moment.

On the manger floor
a baby enters the world
to save the world
and the Hope of the World
inhales oxygen.

Breath of life
from the Bread of Life
declaring life
to all who were condemned
to death.

The Son of God takes
a first breath
in a barn.
An infant’s cry
splits the skies
and breaks the silence.

The Word made flesh
bends down,
into the dust
to serve those He made
from dust.

A splintered cross
displays the One born
King of the Jews.
A man nailed to
beams and struggling
to draw air.

God breathes
one final time.
The earth quakes,
darkness falls.

The Lord of all
gives it all.
The Lamb slaughtered
for the sins of the world.

Three days in a grave,
lifeless.
Until lungs inhale
oxygen.

 

God breathes.

 

Something shifts
on the third day.
God spun the universe
into being by His Word.

But now
He conquers death.
Once-for-all battle
in a grave.

Breath of life
from the Bread of Life
declaring life
to all who were condemned
to death.

A promise of
a future restored,
a King to reign
on a throne forever.

Recorded on pages
passed down
through generations
as an invitation
to believe in
a God who breathes.

 

 

 

Advertisements

This Holy Ground

She bent down to pick up a stalk of grain the reapers had left behind, her fingers brushing the cool ground. She tucked the stalk into the front of her cloak she used to collect the pieces, then pressed her free hand to her tired back, stretching. Wanting the day to end, but needing to gather more grain to take home to her mother-in-law.

Her weary, sad eyes scanned the fields to see how much ground she still had to cover.

She never would’ve imagined ending up here: A widow, far from home, living with a grieving mother-in-law who had also lost her own husband.

IMG_2238

Though this was her mother-in-law Naomi’s hometown, it was unfamiliar to Ruth. She didn’t know the streets or the people…or the God so many of them worshipped.

Ruth was a Moabite, and from the whispers she’d heard, the God of the Israelites had declared none of His people were to live in Moab or intermarry with Moabites. They called her a pagan. Her family worshipped carved gods, rather than the invisible God her mother-in-law believed in.

But then a famine hit Ruth’s husband’s homeland, and they relocated. There he met Ruth and took her as his wife. He, his brother, and his father never made it out of Moab.

The tragedies were not far behind her, but Ruth knew she needed to begin a new life here in Bethlehem with Naomi. She’d promised to stay with her, learn her customs, get to know her family, and believe in her God.

Only, on days like today, when the sun beat hot and her back ached from the work, she wondered if this new God she chose to follow would really care for her.

As she bent again, she heard footsteps. Sandals appeared in front of her, and she slowly looked up, shielding the sun from her eyes with her hand.

“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly standing and shoving the grain into her cloak. “I was just about to leave.”

“No, don’t. Stay here. Stay close to the other women. Get some of our water when you need a drink. No one will bother you. And if you need anything, let me know. I’m Boaz.” The man smiled at her.

Ruth tentatively smiled back, then dipped her head. “Thank you, sir. You’re very kind.”

She didn’t know it in that moment, but she had just met Naomi’s relative, a man who would be the one who would redeem her tragedies by marrying her, providing a home, giving her children, and continuing Naomi’s family line. Her kinsman redeemer.

IMG_1783

The barley harvest and the kind landowner’s generation was long gone. The fields were no longer used for crops, but for sheep. In place of reapers, shepherds worked on the land. Poor and rugged and not easily accepted into society.

They’d worked long hours already that day and were settling into the night watch. Tired and aching from another day of work to earn just enough to survive, but fully aware of the dangers the darkness brought for their flocks.

The sun set, the air cooled, and everything went still and quiet.

Until light. Brilliant, blazing light. And sounds. Shouts. A declaration of “Do not be afraid!”

How could they not be afraid? Thousands and thousands of glowing figures filled the sky, exclaiming, “Gloria in excelsis Deo! Glory to God in the highest!”

IMG_1776

The shepherds shook in fear. Staffs fell to the ground, hands covered faces, knees quaked and buckled.

The figures in the sky told them a baby had been born just up the hill in the town of Bethlehem. He was wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.

The shepherds turned to each other. “Let’s go see what’s happening!”

As they ran up the hill and ducked their heads to enter the cave, they found the baby just like the angels had said. And as they reverently bowed in front of the swaddled newborn, they met their Kinsman Redeemer.

IMG_1790

A year ago, I sat in a cold, damp cave over six thousand miles away from home. Fellow travelers surrounded me, and I fought the claustrophobia threatening to interrupt the moment.

Around me, voices filled the cave. Rich bass and smooth tenor and soft soprano soaked into the stone walls, burst through the cave’s entrance, and filled the skies.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!
Come, and behold Him, born the King of angels!

O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

As our voices mingled in praise to the one born King of angels, tears filled my eyes. I looked up to clear my vision, and noticed a light shone from a star carved out of the cave’s ceiling.  A reminder of that night long ago, when a star led the way to the manger nearby.

IMG_1791

Exactly one week before this awe-filled moment, I sat by the Christmas tree with my family, wearing pajamas and unwrapping gifts. And now, on a rainy day just outside of Bethlehem, I sat in a cave once used by shepherds for shelter while they kept watch over their flocks by night.

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation;
sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

We left the cave, stepping over mosaic tiles spelling out Gloria in excelis Deo – Glory to
God in the highest. I looked out over this ancient land, the rocks and hills and shrubs and grass. Just over two thousand years ago, in that very same field where I now stood, a group of poor, rugged, weary sheep herders heard the news about the birth of the ultimate, once-and-for-all Redeemer. The One who came to bring humanity into the family of God. Who came to redeem us with the price of His own life.

IMG_2240

And now, on a rainy day on the outskirts of Bethlehem generations later, I stood. A small-town girl from America, standing on this holy ground. Grass and dirt and rocks like anywhere else set the stage for the announcement that changed the world.

Here, Boaz redeemed Ruth and Naomi’s family and continued the line that led to the birth of King David, then eventually to the birth of Jesus Christ. The landowner redeeming a mourning widow, changing her world for the better. A foreshadowing of Jesus Christ redeeming the world for all eternity.

And just up the hill from where I stood in my rain coat and jeans, a baby was born to a teenage girl. Jesus. God in the flesh. The One who gave His life for my redemption, His Spirit now living in me.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

IMG_1793.jpg

(The stories referenced here can be found in Scripture in the book of Ruth and Luke 2)

What’s Your Cover Copy?

I’m writing theIMG_5369 back cover copy for my newest book. Basically, that’s the little description you find on a book when you flip it over. It’s like a mini synopsis of the story, but it doesn’t give away all of the details…it gives readers just enough information to make them want them to read the whole thing.

It’s tricky because you have a little bit of space to work with. You have to decide which plot points and characters need to be mentioned, and which ones need to stay hidden. You have to show the voice/personality of the story, while also keeping it polished.

Here’s the back cover copy of All of This

Sadie Franklin is all about independence, but when one of her popular parties gets too crazy, her usually uninvolved dad sends her across the country to spend the summer with relatives.

Living in small-town Pecan Creek, Georgia, is culture shock for a girl from Seattle, and it doesn’t help that Sadie’s aunt and uncle are total church people. Sunday school? No, thanks.

Add a houseful of little cousins, an accidental friendship with the preacher’s daughter of all people, and the attention of a guy who might actually understand her murky past, and it’s enough to cue an identity crisis.

When life-altering news rocks Sadie’s world and reveals messy family secrets, she’s forced to face the God she’s avoided since her mom’s death eight years ago. Sadie is surrounded by people who say God loves her and has great plans for her life, but if God is really good, why does He let Sadie’s life unravel? Could there really be a purpose in all of this?

See how Sadie is the only character who’s actually named? There are several other people in the book, but it’s her show. Also, see how some things are mentioned but not completely explained? Like, who is the “guy who might actually understand her murky past?” If you’ve read the book, you’ll know. But if you dive into it for the first time, that’s something you figure out as you go.

The back cover copy also shows the theme of the book. Look at that question at the end of the last paragraph: “Could there really be a purpose in all of this?”

And finally, the back cover copy lets you know the character’s journey isn’t going to be easy. There will be conflict in the pages – with uncontrollable circumstances, with other people, and within the main character herself.

So that’s what I’m working on with this next book. No, it’s not getting shopped around for publication yet, but making the back cover copy is part of the process. Sadie will be the focus again, but I have to decide what parts of the story to share with people. I have to ask myself: What other characters do I mention? Which plot points do I include? How do I incorporate the theme?

To sum it up, the back cover copy is a quick glance at a much deeper story.

Fun fact: This post isn’t actually about writing. As I was thinking through the back cover copy for my project, it made me wonder: how would I honestly sum up my own life? If I were to write a back cover copy for The Life of Anna Schaeffer (still working on a title for my pretend memoir), what would I include? Who would I include? Which details of my life story would I mention? What gets to the heart of who I really am?

Naturally, I’d put my faith on there. But if I were being honest about the conflict in my life, how would that look on the copy? Would it say I don’t always pray like I should? Would it say I love Jesus, but sometimes I struggle to step out of my comfort zone?

What about my relationships with others? Would it say I’m a loyal friend, a daughter who honors her parents, a good sister?

What would be the theme of my story? The thread woven throughout the pages of my journey?

It’s a lot to think through, I know. But I think it’s good for us to evaluate our life like that – to take an honest look at what others see when they interact with us.

I pray the back cover copy of my life story points to Jesus. I pray it reads that no, I don’t have it all together, but Jesus holds me together. My hope is that others see grace as that theme woven throughout my story. And I pray that snapshot of my life and His grace makes others want to learn more about the theme.

What about you? What would be in the back cover copy of your life?

Remember This

As I write to you, I’m sitting criss-cross applesauce (is there another word for this for people who aren’t five anymore? I’m not sure) in the middle of my bed. I’m eating leftover squash straight out of a glass serving bowl wrapped in a dish rag (because glass gets hot when you microwave it, man). And it’s 10:30pm. If I can keep my eyes open long enough to head back to the kitchen, the second course might be chips and salsa.

Usually when you read one of my blog posts, it’s written in advance. Sometimes I schedule them out a couple of weeks ahead of time, or I at least write them then let them sit for a day or two.

But this one’s getting scheduled as soon as I finish typing, and it’ll go live at the usual 6:00am, which means you’ll probably read it before I see it again.

From that first paragraph about my fancy dining habits, you might be able to tell I’ve been a little frazzled recently. Not in a bad way, though.  Most of the things I have going on are good: Work, Bible study, time with friends, editing.

So. much. editing, you guys. This book draft and I need some healthier boundaries.

But as I sit here and think through how tomorrow’s schedule is just as full, I also think about this:

Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we forget some incredible truths.

Maybe you’re having a lot of fun being a person these days, your friends are amazing, your family’s getting along, and you have the best tan of your life (I imagine that would be fun), but at the end of the day, you need a reminder.

Or maybe life has knocked you down lately. Maybe you messed up again, you let someone down, you feel like you’re dog-paddling while you try to figure out what in the world you’re supposed to do in this world. And at the end of the day, you need a reminder.

Maybe praying is hard, or God didn’t do something you thought he would. Maybe your closest friend betrayed your trust or you’re feeling a little lonely at the end of the day. You need a reminder, too.

No matter how you’ll feel when you crawl into bed tonight with your journal or Netflix or leftover squash, the reminder is the same.

But just because it’s the same, that doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful or true. In fact, I think that makes it more significant:

You are seen. You are seen by the One who loves you. Everything you do, everything you feel, everything you are is not hidden from God.

You are heard by the God who gave you a mouth to speak and a mind to think. Every sigh, every question, every thought is heard by your Father in heaven.

You are known. From the number of hairs on your head to the freckles across your nose. From the circumstances that make you cry yourself to sleep to the tv shows that make you laugh uncontrollably.

To sum it all up?

You are loved. 

You are loved by the One who made your beating heart and your amazing brain. You are loved by the God who picked out your personality and where you live and what you’re passionate about.

So remember this when you click off your lamp tonight. Remind yourself of it when you open your eyes tomorrow morning. Tell it to a friend who could really use some good news, because it’s every bit as true for her, too.

And if you have some doubts about it all, reach out to me. I’d love to listen to your thoughts and share with you how I know this is all for real.

I’m reminding myself of this as I schedule this post and brush my teeth: I am seen, heard,  known, and loved.

And so are you.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 8:38-39

Thank You, God, for Plants

I have this maternal nature where I like to take care of people. Like, if you live in my town, I’ve probably invited you over for dinner.

I don’t even know how many times I’ve said something like this:

“Just stop by after work. I’ve got chicken in the Crock Pot.”

Or:

“Have you had real food recently? Let me fix you some veggies.”

Or:

“I’m doing a load of laundry. Got any towels you want to throw in?”

That last one is just for my roommates, by the way. I don’t ask my co-workers if they want me to wash their linens.

It’s in my nature, but I try not to mom my friends too much. That’s why, every now and then, I get this strong desire to get a pet.

Unfortunately, I can’t have a cat in my apartment. I know. Grieve with me.

I could have a fish, but those creep me out.

So I have plants.

(Does this sound pitiful? It’s not supposed to).

Anyway, a couple weekends ago, my sister and I went to this big plant nursery in Raleigh to add to our collections. They have outdoor plants and indoor plants, succulents and air plants, shrubs and bonsais.

They also have these miniature plants, which are, of course, our favorites.

On several occasions, my sister and I squealed, “LOOK AT ALL THE BABIES!!”

We are the people who call tiny ferns precious.

Walking around the plant nursery after a week of work in the office was so relaxing. Although we were in a greenhouse, we were in nature. We oohed and aahed over stunning hibiscus, ran our fingers through the foxtail ferns, smelled the organic herbs, and imagined how we could fit a fir tree on my sister’s front porch.

It was quiet, except for the occasional bird chirp or friendly employee greeting. We didn’t even mind the North Carolina humidity, because we were caught up in everything around us.

It made me wonder: When was the last time I stepped away from my routine and just enjoyed participating in life? When was the last time I went on an adventure after I clocked out in the afternoon, rather than collapse on my couch and scroll through Instagram? How often do I make a point of doing something without a specific point?

Because that time at the plant nursery? It felt like taking a deep, clean breath. Meandering through rows of annuals and orchids was somehow energizing. And the quality time with my sister was good, too.

So that’s my challenge for us this weekend: Let’s find something to do that doesn’t involve a lot of planning or cost a lot of money. Let’s do something that involves the beauty of creation and time with someone we dearly love.

Let’s do something that fills us up, rather than drains us. And, to really immerse ourselves in the experience, let’s not stop in the middle of it to post a picture of it online.

Let’s participate fully in this life we’re given.

P.S. In case you’re curious, here’s a slideshow of my mini plants and my newest additions: basil and parsley.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Where He Walked

This past winter, I had the life-changing opportunity to visit Israel. Just days after Christmas, I sat in a cave in the shepherds’ field outside of Bethlehem and sang “O Come All Ye Faithful.” I went on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and I stood in the empty tomb.

I’ve always said if I could go anywhere in the world, I’d go to the Holy Land. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ll never be the same after that trip.

I was asked to write an article about it for Southeastern Magazine, the publication produced by my alma mater (I’m still getting used to saying that!). It was an honor to pen these words, but it was also overwhelming to try to express just what it felt like to walk where Jesus walked. I’m so thankful for all of it.

Here’s a link to the article:

Click here to read “Where He Walked” – it begins on page 29. 

 

Open Hands

Three years ago, I published All of This, a young adult novel. Before the book even came out – pretty much the day after I finished revising the story – I wrote a sequel. That was three years ago.

For three years, I’ve known what happens after that final sentence in All of This. For three years, I’ve had the answers to the biggest questions readers are left wondering about.

Three years ago, I began writing a story that challenged me more as a writer than any other manuscript I’d written. I delved deeper into the mind of my main character and wrote some storylines that freaked me out a little because I wondered if I’d be able to pull them off.

I’ve loved that new project for three years, and I had plans to have it in the hands of readers long before now.

But then I felt God nudging me to grad school, and I moved away from home for the first time.

I stepped onto campus as a full-time Masters student and quickly learned that’s a whole other level than earning a bachelor’s degree. I found a local church, began to serve there, and joined a small group. I picked up a couple part time jobs. I grew friendships. I wrote guests posts for my school’s women’s blog, I spoke about writing in a few classes, I traveled, and I did everyday life stuff like cooking and cleaning and learning to keep plants alive (still working on that last one).

But I never forgot about that writing project.

For a while, I tried to work on it here and there. After all, the story was told – it just needed some work to make it look like an actual book. But homework kept me up late into the night and classes got me up early each morning.

I was so frustrated. When I’m not writing, I don’t fully feel like myself. I really thought I was supposed to tell that story, and I prayed about it. But I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t make it happen.

Then a little while ago, I realized something: Maybe God was asking me to trust Him with my dreams. Maybe He wanted my full attention on studying ministry during my time in seminary. Maybe He wanted to grow me in other areas, allow me to live new experiences, teach me my identity isn’t found in my author title.

When I realized that, I did something difficult: I stepped away.

I still thought about the story I loved so much. Still jotted some notes down here and there. But I didn’t consistently spend time with the manuscript. And while that bothered me a lot, it also felt like relief.

See, I had to learn to live with open hands. I had to put the story – and my heart for writing – in my outstretched palms and hold it out to God. I had to say, “Even if I never get to share this story with readers. Even if my life takes me in a different direction. You know my heart and you designed me with this passion on purpose. So  I trust you.”

Even if…I trust You.

And that’s how I’m slowly learning to live. Not just with storytelling, but with all things.

I like to feel a sense of control. A lot. But there’s freedom in knowing it’s not up to you to hold it all together. And if your faith is in Christ, you have solid hope that He knows what He’s doing and He has His glory and your ultimate good in mind.

I had to learn to be okay with answering people’s questions with, “I honestly don’t know when the story will be finished. I’m focusing on school right now.”

Which felt weird to say because I wrote two manuscripts while I was a full-time college student – one of which became All of This. Letting go of the story also went against the writing advice we hear all the time: “Just keep writing. Write something every day. If if matters to you, you’ll make time for it.”

All of that can be really great advice. But when you’ve given your life to living God’s plan for you, the best advice is to trust. To give your dreams and plans and projects to Him and trust Him to use them however He wants.

Now that I’ve said all of that…I’ve graduated. I have my diploma in my apartment. I’m not spending my evenings with my nose in a commentary. I’m going to bed at a reasonable time (who even am I??).

And I’m writing again.

I’ve dusted off that sequel, and I’m diving into it as often as I can. I’ve learned some things over the past few years that I’m able to pour into the story to make it stronger. I have a renewed sense of purpose for it, more energy to rearrange scenes and fill in plot holes, and even more of a desire to get the story into the hands of readers.

I don’t know what’s next for this project. I don’t have any ideas about when it’ll be completely done or how it’ll be published or when you’ll read it.

But honestly? That doesn’t scare me as much now. Because I’ve recently been reminded of why I do what I do in the first place: To point to King Jesus in all things.

It’s all by His grace and for His glory.

Question: Have you ever set something aside for a season, even though you loved it? What did you learn from the experience?

IMG_5197The first printed copy of my latest manuscript – ready for some serious editing!