Tag Archive | Jesus

Lessons Learned While Writing: Hero of My Story

After years of verbal abuse, I finally realized I had lapsed into helplessness and hopelessness. A friend once said to me, “Susan, you need hope.” I loved and served and prayed to Jesus and believed He was fully capable of rescuing me from my prison of pain.

During this time, I lead our church’s women’s ministry, and spent time encouraging other women and teaching them.

But I was stuck. I began to realize I was thinking and acting like a victim. A powerless victim. The more I read and understood about verbal abuse (which includes financial abuse and neglect and more), the more I began to seek the help I needed to grow and thrive even in the midst of my difficulty. Oh, I still cried, but I grew in my confidence and my ability to find the good in the midst of the pain.

I still struggled for hope that I would ever one day be released. The wonderful news is by the time I was, I was ready for the new life God had in store for me. The fears from the past had melted away. The belief that I was inadequate and unable to stand on my own, was gone. When God opened that door, freeing me, I was ready to walk into my new life without fear. He provided for me every step along the way and looking back I can only say it was by His grace that I made it, because on paper, I should never have been able to.

By God’s grace, I became a hero, a protagonist in my own story, not a pathetic byline. Now ultimately Jesus is the real hero. It was He who saved me at 15 years of age and has walked me through all of this. What a wonder that He could give me hope – in HIM and blessings beyond what I could have ever wished for.

In what ways do you perhaps feel a victim in your life? Look to Jesus for your hope. Change doesn’t take place overnight but He can move you and use you for HIS glory in the midst of your pain and in the future use that experience to bless others. Hold on, dear friend.


A Tribute to Her Father

steve and bindiLast week on Dancing with the Stars, Bindi Irwin did an emotional dance tribute to her father. If you’ve watched it you know, it was moving. Especially if you see the reasons behind the dance and the emotions she experienced as Derek Hough and her prepared.

You might shed tears.

But it also made me think. I was a fan of Steve Irwin and was sad when he died. It’s sweet to see his daughter growing into such a woman of conviction, authenticity and grace.

“I wanted to be just like my dad when I grew up.” 

The reality is, if we are followers of Christ shouldn’t our lives be lived that same way? Shouldn’t our work, whatever it is, be filled with dedication to the One who gave us life, physical and spiritual? As I write I hope my words will give testimony to the One who gifts me to do so.

But the same should be true of my parenting. All my relationships. Even the way I drive my car! (ouch, right?)

Every day, every action I can take should be out of dedication and devotion to the One who loved me first. The One who numbers my days. He is the One who sustains me after all.

It might not make people cry, but as much as Bindi’s dance reminded us of the vitality and impact of her father on the world to those who knew him (and possibly now to those who didn’t as well), how much more should ours invite others to see Christ in a new light.

Now we’re not perfect and all my efforts will be a dim reflection of His glory, but still, if my intention and worship is evidence in my actions, wouldn’t He be more glorified in this dark world longing for beauty and hope? The kind of beauty and hope only Jesus Christ can bring?

Dance on . . .

Interview with Renata Blake

Renata from Pesto and Potholes

Renata from Pesto and Potholes

Meet Renata Blake. Her story is featured in the novel Pesto and Potholes releasing March 27, 2015.

Renata, how do you feel about your story being told?

Initially I wasn’t too happy about it. I’ve had plenty of bad press in the past and the last thing I need is my family getting wind of this book. They already hate me enough . . . and they don’t come out looking too good in the retelling. But it is real. This is my life. All the ugliness and the beauty.

What do you hope will be the outcome of your story being shared in this way?

That those who are hurting would find hope. As the book cover says, “The road to healing is filled with potholes.” Also that if someone isn’t involved in a good church, that they would seek one out. The relationships I made at Orchard Hill Church were a significant part of my healing process.

PestoandPotholes2Tell us about Antonio.

*giggles* Tony is sweet and handsome, but more than that, he always respected me. That was so new for me to experience. I heard about that book and movie that came out, Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s not love. Trust me, no woman wants a man who is going to control and abuse her. But Tony, he’s one of the good guys and he loves Jesus which I think made a huge difference.

Do you like Italian food?

I’ve always loved Italian food . . . but I have a far deeper appreciation for it now. *she winks*.

Do you still battle ninjas?

(sly grin). I haven’t had the occasion to lately, but suspect I’m still capable.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited that my roommate Stephanie gets a chance to tell her amazing story next. I don’t know if I could have made it this far without her love and support and I’m glad I got to return the favor when life became difficult for her. I don’t want to give any spoilers away.

One last question. What’s your favorite song right now?

Oh, wow. I love so many but the one that resonates most with my soul is Broken Hallelujah by the Afters.  If I were a songwriter, I could have written that song. Hallelujah means to “God be praised,” and I’m grateful that even when I was weak and broken He could still hear and accept my shattered heart. I look back now in such gratitude for all He’s done. May all the praise and glory be to Him.

Thank you, Renata, or taking the time out of your crazy schedule.

Thank you for sharing about Susan’s book. I’m so grateful she had the courage to tell my story. Maybe others will find healing and hope in Jesus because of it. Pesto facebook header 2 PicMonkey Collage




New Life

Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The cross is empty as is the tomb. No body was found in the grave and a living, breathing Lord appeared to some. Those appearances were not simply that he was there and those people recognized him though.

One of my favorite stories, and not often talked about, is the story of two of Jesus’ followers walking to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13-35) They were heavy-hearted and had not been in Jerusalum to hear the rumors of Jesus’ body being stolen, or that he could have risen. As they walked, someone appeared along with them.  I can imagine that in their distress they didn’t notice a sudden appearance of someone on the road. He wasn’t there. Then he was. And he talked to them and asked them questions and pointed them back to who Jesus said he was. They sat down to dine together that Jesus broke the bread and recalled his own death. At that moment the men knew! It was Jesus! Poof. He was gone.

Isn’t the journey to faith a bit like this? We hear about Jesus and we may even know stories about him, but wouldn’t recognize him in our midst. Jesus came to those two men and showed himself.  It was up close and personal. He never once bragged to them. He wasn’t showy. Nor did he diminish their grief. He listened, comforted them and revealed himself to them. Jesus said in the book of John that he had to go away so that the Comforter (Holy Spirit) could come and dwell within us. We don’t have to look for him on the road once he comes to live in our hearts. But many of use have had to journey and struggle with the truth of Christ before understanding that Jesus was never about a religion or denomonation. He was about a relationship. He came to bring us back into relationship with God. A fallen, sinful humanity, blind to just how lost we are. He reached through space and time (the ultimate Time Lord) and rescued us from our narcissitic folly. When our eyes are opened to the truth of who Jesus is, the veil is torn, the blinders lifted from our eyes and he now walks through all of the highs and lows of life with us.

Yesterday I reminisced about how, 33 years ago, as a spiritually hungry teenager, God revealed himself to me during a Campus Life/Youth for Christ meeting. My journels before that time were filled with prayers and poems and seeking. I served in my church. I wanted so much to know God. But He seemed so distant. Untouchable. Impersonal. That night I learned the truth of Ephesians 3:17: ” . . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to  all the fullness of God.”

Dwell in your hearts. Can’t get much closer than that. Sometimes I struggle to live with the same passion of that new-found faith, but hopefully I’ve grown and matured over the past three decades plus three. I’m a new creation. I’m still being transformed and once He took up residence, God has not abandoned me. Even when I’ve struggled, He has always been there. Though others abandon or disappoint me, God stays faithful. When life is scary, God provides for my needs and sometimes, even my wants. When depression looms, He is the rock I cling to. Face it. Life is hard for everyone. The greatest love story though is a man who died on the cross to lead my heart through life and somehow, someway, use a fallen, flawed, human being for His purposes and glory.

That is something to celebrate and treasure.

Word of the Year

A few years ago on KLOVE radio I heard about the concept of having a “word” for the year in place of resolutions. I don’t like resolutions anyway. F0r the past few years I’ve been doing this. Previous words have been: courage and shine.

I prayed and journalled and tried to figure out what word God would  give me for this year. Finally, I had it.


Image by Tom Otte Photography, Fond du lac, WI


Proverbs 31;25 says. “She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs at the days to come.” 

I want to be that woman. I think I have, over the years, given away my honor and dignity as criticism, opposition and attacks have come at me from all directions. It’s hard to stand in confidence in who God has created me to be when so many people around have tried to shout down those truths with their own version of reality.

A reality that is really a lie.

I must be really important for people spend so much energy criticizing me. But being created in the image of God is a terrifyingly beautiful thing. When someone attacks me and tries to tear me down for my personality, or my gifts or even my appearance, they are really attacking the Lord of the Universe, Jesus, who created me in HIS image.

I’m far from being as much like Him as I long to be, but I’m growing. And I’m trying to scrape off the dirt that has buried parts of me and slowed me down in my journey to do all He has called me to do.

I’m still scared of some of these things, but if I weren’t I wouldn’t need God to walk me through.

More attacks will come from people who don’t know me. They already have.

I think a large part of walking in dignity is not only realizing my value as a child of God, but also recognizing that in others as well. I’ll admit my own thoughts are not always as edifying as I would like them to be and I am at battle within to stifle those internalized attacks so as to level them at others. Usualy this is a battle no one, other than God, really knows about. But they are stains on my own dignity when I hold on to them.

I’m going to stumble and fall and I expect to be challenged repeatedly by the Holy Spirit through this year which will be a turning point in my writing and one I have labored and prayed for.

Do you choose a word for the year? If you have, what is it? Please share in the comments below!

We Do Not Write Alone

I’ve been writing for four years now and it hit me today that God has taught me some cool things on my path to publication.

Photo by Tom Otte Imaging

Photo by Tom Otte Imaging

  1. There is a beautiful group of people out there who love the Lord and are seeking to serve them with their writing. They come in all shapes and sizes and genres. From a worldly perspective they are my competition for the attention and money of the public who would buy my work. But in reality – they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. They have become so dear to me and some I have yet to meet – and hug – face to face.
  2. We all have our own unique voice and if God has gifted us and brought our pen to paper or our fingers to keyboard, our only true audience is Him. I’m not to be anyone else but me as I write.  Other authors are the same. In that sense I do not have to be jealous of them because they are writing as God created them too, with their own unique “voice,” just as I am writing with mine.
  3. Writing is an act of worship to me. Yes, it is hard work and I am constantly learning, but ultimately I want my words to bring honor and glory to Jesus. I write Christian romance. I ultimately want me readers to understand that the greatest romance is between us and Christ.
  4. Writing is a community endeavor. How would I grow without submitting myself and my work to the eyes and wisdom of those who have come before me? I may put my words to paper in solitude but they are honed in community.
  5. Pride is the lure of authors but also hard to hold on to. Let me explain. I can write a book and feel like it’s my best work ever – until I get my line edits and or read it myself a few months later and realize how much it will take to make it better. Whether writing flash-fiction or a novel – the editing process strips away any sense that this is a phenomenal piece of work. I’ve learned to be grateful for the truth-speakers who have helped me grow as a author. I’m not saying that the comments don’t sting at times, after all those words that form a story were given to me by God to put down. It is hard to recognize at times that the failure them to sparkle perfectly lies in my humanness.
  6. Writing cannot be for money. I’m not saying I don’t want to make any. The hours are brutal the work long and hard. I love doing it. But I doubt any amount of money I could earn would truly compensate for the heart and soul and butt in chair time that I put into it. It has to be done because it is what I have been called to do and I cannot imagine doing anything else with as much joy.
  7. I could not be the writer I am without the support and encouragement of special people in my life. Someone said “Don’t forget us little people when you make it big.” Well – that “little person” has been my cheerleader and I hope I never forget the way individuals like him have cheered me on.  See, some people scoff. “Oh, you are a writer. How nice for you.” Or “Enjoy your hobby, you won’t make any money at that.” or this one. “So you publish your novel and you’ll be rich?” That one makes me laugh. Sure I will, after I put you in there. There are many ways to kill off people in my stories but as Arnold Schwarzenegger put it in his character in True Lies, “They were bad, very, very bad.” As another quote on the internet says “If people didn’t want to be put in your books, they should have been nicer to you!”

I feel sorry for authors who do not reach out and engage in the communities of authors that are out there, especially if they are Christians because it is such a delightful group to be a part of! At the conferences, in writing groups and on-line. It’s more than establishing a platform to sell a book – it’s about having people love you when the writing is hard. It’s about people who celebrate with you for even what may seem like the smallest of victories, because they “get you.” They understand. It’s about encouraging each other to follow the calling of God and do it with excellence. It’s about the bigger body of Christ seeking to reach the world and inspire others to faith and wholehearted devotion to our King.

For His Glory Alone – I write.

A Log Cabin Christmas Collection (Book Review)

Experience Christmas through the eyes of adventuresome settlers who relied on log cabins built from trees on their own land to see them through the cruel forces of winter. Discover how rough-hewed shelters become a home in which faith, hope, and love can flourish. Marvel in the blessings of Christmas celebrations without the trappings of modern commercialism where the true meaning of the day shines through. And treasure this exclusive collection of nine Christmas romances penned by some of Christian fiction’s best-selling authors.

A Log Cabin Christmas Collection is an anthology that contains nine novellas with Christmas and a log cabin as their common theme. The creativity and uniqueness of each story is heartwarming and compelling. This book has topped the best seller lists and deserves to do so. If you want cozy romances that take place in pioneer America, then this book will be a great one to cozy on up to on a winters day.

The stories contained in this book and authors that have partaken of this project are:

Snow Angel by Margeret Brownley

The Christmas Secret by Wanda E. Brunstetter,

Christmas Traps and Trimmings by Kelly Eileen Hake,

A Star in the Night by Liz Johnson,

The Courting Quilt by Jane Kirkpatrick,

Under his Wings by Liz Tolsma,

The Dogtrot Christmas by Michelle Ule,

A Grand County Christmas by Debra Ullrick

Christmas Service by Erica Vetsh.

There is not one dud in the bunch and it has been a New York Times bestseller for good reason. All the stories will leave your heart just a little warmer this holiday season.

Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence (book review)

I wanted to read Going Deep by Gordon MacDonald because I love the idea of becoming a person of influence. I enjoy reading leadership books. This one, however, was very different, at times frustrating and at times rewarding.

First of all the book is written like a work of fiction. I contains a journey towards developing deep people, but not in a clinical way. It details conversations and meetings and thoughts about the “big idea” of “cultivating deep people” (CDP in the book). SO where does reality begin and where is it end? If you like Patrick Lencioni’s style of elaborating leadership ideas in a fiction format, you may like this as well, although their styles are distinct.

The first part of the book where Pastor Mac comes up with this great idea, moves slowly. As a leader and a person with limited time, it seemed to drag. I wanted to yell, “Get to the point already, will ya?” But I read on. He elaborates the painstaking process of developing the idea and finally bringing it to reality.  The fact is, none of what he is saying is really all that new. The challenge to disciple others has been around since Jesus gave us the command. The methods used may have at times changed but the principles are laid out well in Scripture. Gordon goes through an elaborate process of meeting with business people and an a Rabbi and staff to flesh things out and gain buy in with the leadership of his church.

The actual implementation of the CDP was where the reading was more fun. To see people challenged, lives changed and the methods used and described on the page was good. At times it made me want to cry because I came to like these characters who were being transformed more and more into the image of Christ. To see authentic community develop at such depth made me realize how much of that I am personally missing and longing for as well. How much so many of us are missing out on and longing for in our church communities. I felt more keenly how desperately we all need it. And even if we are not to be leaders in the church we all can become persons of influence.

The church would do well to be more intentional in selecting people and developing to be the leaders for the future. To use specific training and mentoring and the kind of plan Gordon lays out has merit. I still think that parts of this book could have been a bit shorter. The book is 383 pages and most leaders really want to meat to chew on and not all the fluff because we tend to be busy. But for all that it is a book I would recommend if you are trying to figure out a way to help your church prepare the younger generation to be quality “deep” leaders for the future.

Flying Above

Have you ever been on a plane? I love flying, although I find it exhausting. There is something exhilarating about a huge plane leaving the ground and being fully airborne.  It’s like magic and I enjoy watching it as well as experiencing it!

From up in the air the world seems small. You realize how small you are as well. And then when you soar above the clouds, it’s almost as if you can touch heaven.

I once got to watch the sunrise from that high. It was amazing.

There are days I feel like emotionally and spiritually I am able to soar above my trials. Rising up with God lifting my wings and I can see the possibilities of the future before me.

Other days, however, I feel stuck on the ground. Mired in the trials and circumstances of life, and heaven seems so far away.  The clouds blot out the sun and life becomes a series of insurmountable mountains. I really hate those times, yet those are the times when I grow the most as I am forced to look at my own ugly sin that emerges. I am also forced to depend on God.

It might seem that depending on God would be something you would need when up in the air. When you are on a real flight, for some people, that’s where danger lies. You could crash and worst case scenario, die.

However the real danger lies when we are on the ground. When we are face to face with the temptation to sin and our emotions take us for loops that leave us crashing harder than if we had fallen from several miles above.

I long for the days when I am up. I am refreshed by them. However, as much control over I have of a plane taking off. . . is as much control I have over emotionally soaring as well. I’m not in the pilot’s seat. However, I know who is. God, Himself. Jesus. Yeshua. My Lord and the One to whom I dedicate my life.

He is with me when I soar and He is with me when I can’t get my eyes to barely lift up to the hills from whence my help comes (Ps 121).

How about you? Who are you clinging to today? Are you stuck or flying? Do you have any secrets for when you are “grounded?”

Memory Lane

Christmas memories accumulate like snowflakes, or ornaments on a tree. This year was the first that all three children decorated the tree by themselves. Every year they get an ornament, and I write their name and the year on it. It was fun this year to hear my 10,8 and almost 6 year old exclaim as they would hang their own treasures on the tree: “Oh, I remember this one!” and “Look! I was __(age) when I got this!”

The funniest part actually came before the ornaments, when my daughter said “Can we hang the garlic now?” (She meant garland). No vampires for our Christmas!

I remember the year after we moved, and we brought in our artificial tree from storage only to find that mice had made a home in the box and peed all over our tree. Oh, did that ever stink!  I figured it would be a tree-less Christmas until my hubby came up with the bright idea of soaking the tree in buckets of pine-sol in the bathtub. Yup, a disinfected tree that really did smell like pine!

I remember the Christmas after my daughter was born six years ago. We had been at Children’s Hospital for a week. I got to bring my precious daughter to church on Christmas Eve. I was overjoyed at this marvelous gift from God who let us keep her after her medical nightmare.  That was also the year we were blessed to be a part of the “Family Tree” at church and were given a gift card that was extravagantly more than expected.

Or how about the year when I got the tree up and my little girl managed to not only tip it over but break it in the middle? Irreparable. Had to get a new one. Totally would have expected one of my boys to have done this.

Or the year I invited a friend and her four boys over to bake and decorate Christmas cookies with us. Seven children and two adults in 7oo sq ft of space! One boy said “Wow, this is a lot of work!” It was also a lot of fun.

The kids look forward to Santa Claus coming at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. He didn’t make it last year. Something about falling out of a tree and breaking a leg. Thankfully my kids know the truth about Jolly Ole’ St. Nick and weren’t too terribly disappointed. Before you scold me on that, just realize, they still enjoy the tale and the imagination of it all even though if you ask them “What do you want Santa to bring you?” they will give you a blank stare.

2010 is a lean year. Usually there are gifts already piling up under the tree.  I put gifts under the tree as they arrive and get wrapped. We have no place to hide them. It adds to our enjoyment to see the colorful packages under the tree. So far there’s nothing there and the kids are beginning to get a bit worried! There will be something there by the end of this week, not a huge amount but something none-the-less.

My favorite part of the holiday is this: We slow down. We leisurely enjoy Christmas Eve with our church family, and celebrate the magic and wonder of Jesus coming to earth as an infant. We see the lights around town and go home to bed. In the morning we wake up when we are ready, and eventually we make a big breakfast. By 10 or 11 am we might sit and talk again about Christmas and what it means and then open gifts. Maybe later in the day we will visit with family – but generally the best times are just us celebrating our Savior together.

“Every heart that knows His name, lift your voice and sing

To the praise of God with us, this child Redeemer, King

There’s never been a greater love since the world began,

God the Father sent His Son and we held Him in our hand.

He wrapped His love in flesh and blood and took the form of man.”

(Bryan Duncan, “Form of Man”)