My Story’s Not Finished Yet


Having just completed my next book, Dangerous Ground, I’m extremely aware of what goes into writing a novel.

Usually the beginning is the easiest.

An idea grabs me, and my creative instincts take over, spinning a new tale with ever-evolving characters. It’s fun to get to know the players and see what they will do as the story unfolds. I also typically have a general idea of what the goal is, and therefore, what the ending will be.

But then, there’s the middle.

Ask any author, and they will tell you the dreaded middle is where we aren’t sure how it will all fit together, and whether the ending will actually play out, This is when we question our ability and desire to be a writer in the first place.

Recently, one of our pastors shared a message about having faith for the middle.

God often gives us a vision of what is to come in the future. He tells us where to start, and as we say yes to him, we’re launched into something we know will be great.

But then, the middle comes.

We don’t see the point, we’ve lost sight of the goal and we’re tired. And maybe confused. Things don’t look like we expected. As a matter of fact, they may even seem to be moving backwards.

Our pastor made some really great points about how to keep our hearts and minds in the right place when we’re in that middle space.

  • Don’t allow our feelings to determine our faith.
  • Don’t put our faith in things or circumstances.
  • Trust that God has a greater purpose while we’re in the middle.

I could relate to the idea of God working in the middle. That’s the messiest part. That’s the place where I fall in love with Jesus because I have to press close to him to get through. (You can watch his entire message here.)

Like in writing a book, the middle is where all the action is. It’s where the characters fall in love or start to see a solution to the crime. And that’s where we perfect the story.

In the middle, the story’s not finished yet.

Maybe you are in the middle of a story in your life. I know I am. It may feel like it will never end or certainly never end satisfactorily. But with God, there is always a good ending. Don’t give up while he’s writing the middle of your story.

I made it through the middle of Dangerous Ground, and while it didn’t exactly turn out the way I expected, I think it ended up being better.

Here’s a sneak peak of the cover. Thank you, CulpritMedia Group!

Look for it on Amazon in time for your Labor Day weekend reading!

Do You Rely on Your Own Understanding?


IMG_3840Last week we talked about resolutions, goals and seeking God for direction.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

So how do we do that?

I see a few simple success guidelines here:

  1. Stop trying to figure things out. God sees and knows far beyond my capability so don’t rely on my understanding of things.
  2. Before I consider anything, acknowledge God and his wisdom first. Then ask him.
  3. Trust God with everything in me. Even when I’m uncertain about circumstances, I can KNOW that God is God and he’s in control. He’ll work it out.
  4. Believe that when I do the above, God will make every twisted thing turn out straight. Some situations can look pretty messy, but God sees a bigger view — like from on top of the maze we’re in.  Imagine him saying “go left, now right, okay five steps straight ahead” – you get the idea.

I believe God loves us and wants us to succeed.

Therefore, he’s wanting us to look to him, ask for his direction and follow him when he tells us which way to go.

For more on this, check out Pastor Kyle Jackson’s message here. I think he does a good job of explaining how to hear God when he’s directing us.

https://subsplash.com/nextlevelchurch/media/mi/+vvvbzf5

What Turned My Heart to Christmas


DSC_0042This year the idea of Christmas has been rough.

With Hurricane Irma, all of us in Florida feel like we lost a month. I’m sure so many others across the country have felt the same with fires, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes robbing us of daily life.

So Christmas crept up with a suddenness that stalled me.

In addition, some personal challenges made it difficult to embrace the season. I cried at the thought of what this year may be like for my family and for so many in my area still struggling to recover from tragedy. But then my heart flipped.

It started with O Holy Night.

A line in that song (one of my personal favorites), says

“…a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”

I can relate to being weary. Weary of recovering from trauma. Weary of the emotional roller coaster of relational issues. Physically weary of biking each day to a new job. And weary of the spiritual attacks of an enemy that wants to destroy my peace, joy and marriage.

But that is why Jesus came.

And as I sang with our congregation, allowing tears to fall, my heart grew a little hope–a small thrill if you will–that held promise. Just a hint. Because Jesus is my hope. He’s given me such peace and faithfully provided for me during this season of weariness.

This past week I still couldn’t bring myself to play Christmas carols.

But after another day of singing them at church both in our worship service and at another get together, I found my heart opening up to the possibilities. Allowing myself to be swept into the presence of God and gratitude for the birth of our Lord and Savior, I found release in the tears and joy in the celebration.

God calls us to live today. Nothing more. Nothing less.

When the Israelites were in exile for hundreds of years before Jesus came, God told them to live well there. Marry, give in marriage, eat, drink. Live. Don’t waste away because you are in a place that is less than what you’d like it to be.

So I decided to focus on what Christmas is, rather than what it might not be this year.

  1. Christmas is celebrating Jesus coming to a lost, weary world to offer us a way to God.
  2. Christmas is a time for love, joy, peace and hope.
  3. Christmas is about sharing in relationships: friends, strangers and yes, family.
  4. Christmas is about giving. Whatever resources we have. Maybe we don’t have money, but we may have time, or a listening ear, or a hug or gift wrapping skills. We can offer a ride or be a personal shopper. Let’s be creative.
  5. Christmas is about traditions. Keeping some old ones, making some new ones. Memory making lasts forever. Let’s make some good ones.

So I sang my heart out in gratitude to God. I gave what I could to those who needed something. I decorated. Lit advent candles. Put on my favorite Christmas music. And the very things I didn’t think I could bring myself to do have created an atmosphere of peace and joy.

I’m not sure all of what Christmas will look like this year. But at this moment, it looks pretty good.

How have you found a way to embrace Christmas and Christ this season?

If you need a thrill of hope, check out my church’s Thrill of Hope series at NextLevelChurch.com and if you’re in the Southwest Florida area we invite you to celebrate with us on December 23 and 24th during one of our many services at three locations.

 

 

Can You Admit the Truth?


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This weekend’s service at my church began a new series titled Life, Money, Hope: God’s Way Works. I’m excited about this series because I’ve found that the Bible really does have the answers to every situation in our lives.

God knew what we would need to navigate life.

He didn’t randomly throw things together and then wonder how to make it all function. From the beginning to the end, intentionality marks the history of creation. All we have to do is be willing to ask God what to do in a situation, and he will point us to his word (the Bible) with the answers.

One of our pastors, Kyle Jackson, who taught us this weekend, gave us some clues about our financial lives and the hopelessness most of us feel or have gone through in the area of money. He offered four reasons we can get off track, and then showed us where God’s word gives us great instruction for living in peace and abundance.

So, how do we move forward in life?

The first, and I believe most important, point he made which aims not only at our finances but every area of life is that we need to…

“Admit the reality of where we really are.”

The Bible tells us that the truth will set us free, but often we hide from the truth because we’re ashamed, guilty, embarrassed or confused. I know there were times in my life when I didn’t want to face the truth because it meant I would have to deal with unpleasant or downright hard situations that may cause pain to me and/or someone else.

Pastor Kyle reminded us that pride is what keeps us acting like things are good when they’re not. But when we are honest and admit the truth about our mistakes, we get a second (or third +) chance to do something different for a different result.

Isn’t that what we want in all of our life?

If you want to take your life forward into hope, healing and redemption, I recommend this new series. Here’s the link for this weekend at Next Level Church where many of us are moving ahead in our lives. I invite you to come join us online or in person if you are in our area.

What is an area you’ve admitted the truth and found it freed you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or in a email laurabennet14@gmail.com

 

What Triggers You?


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No, I’m not talking about guns.

(But fun picture, isn’t it?)

Milan and Kay Yerkovich define a trigger as

…a strong reactive feeling about something that is happening in the present, a feeling turbocharged by a hurt in the past.”

Ever have one of those?

Yeah, I thought so.

It took me years to understand that when my reactions to situations or people were far greater or stronger than the setting warranted, it meant that some hurt or trauma from my past was amplifying my current emotions. I did learn to recognize the pattern, and it has helped me navigate my life better. But today, I discovered through reading How We Love, that ANYTHING can be a trigger.

Anything?

Apparently, and it makes sense why communication in relationships can spiral out of control so quickly and easily. If the tone of someone’s voice, or their opinion, attitude or behavior can trigger an unexpected, agitating reaction in me, then I can become defensive or angry at the other person whether they said or did something good or bad in that moment.

Even my sincere, valid emotions can trigger another person.

Wow. I had no idea.

Perhaps because of what that person has suffered and not fully dealt with in the past, my comment or start of a conversation that to me is neutral, or my sharing a feeling about something that occurred during the day or my tone of voice because of that situation can cause the other person to react negatively.

I probably wonder why they are reacting and may take it personally. After all, if I don’t know what is happening for them, and don’t know to ask, it seems reasonable that their response is directly related to me.

So I respond in a defensive manner.

They do likewise. I react back. See how that happens? We’ve now set a pattern of communication which is not desired, nor intended, but spins out of control leaving both parties shaking their heads in confusion, hurt and disbelief.

Crazy, huh?

Well, the good news is if we are aware of triggers in ourselves and others, we can deal with our past and have grace for the other person’s stuff. Maybe we can even help each other by using the following practical tools to build rather than destroy our relationship.

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Settle yourself. Take a brief time out if necessary.
  3. Ask yourself three things:

When have I felt this way in the past? Who was I with? What soul words describe my reaction? What would I like to say to that person (in the past)?

See, that wasn’t too hard, was it?

Okay, so it’s not always easy, and it can be painful. But the benefits to removing triggers by dealing with these issues is two-fold. We become healed and stronger, and we develop healthier relationships.

But there’s also a third benefit.

If we share those feelings with our spouse, and willingly listen to them share with us, we’ll build trust and a stronger, more intimate bond with them.

That’s a win-win.

I credit the Yerkovich’s with all these insights. I’ve been sharing what I’m learning from their book, How We Love. The great thing is that our church has been presenting a series on marriage called, A Love that Lasts. Our pastor’s teaching lines up with this as well.

I don’t believe that is coincidental.

As our pastor, Matt Keller, has shared (and I agree) we have an enemy who is out to destroy every marriage. Marriage is the foundation of community. There is a power in family that can’t be denied. That’s because the union between a man and woman was created by God as a picture of his relationship through Jesus Christ with his bride, the church.

Satan hates us and anything that displays God’s love for us.

So if you thought even for a moment that the enemy I mentioned in the earlier paragraph is your spouse, think again. Our enemy is Satan. But oh, how he’ll use each of us to hurt the other one if we let him.

But our spouse isn’t the enemy.

I for one am going to work hard to remember that, to deal with the triggers in my life and be open to the probability that triggers cause grief for my spouse as well. And other people with whom I interact.

Maybe that’s why God has grace for us, and asks us to love others the same way.

I’ve linked a number of resources in this post. I’d love to know in the comments below if you find any of them helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Joy?


2014 was a rough year.

Continuing illness from our house with mold, landlord issues, lack of employment, moving across country, saying goodbye to friends and family, and then a job loss took its toll on our family.

So when our pastor, Matt Keller, at Next Level Church here in lovely, balmy Florida began talking about choosing joy during his holiday sermons, you can imagine my divided thoughts and emotions. Yes, I know God’s good, and in all of it, he has done incredible things.

But we were challenged to choose joy. In every setting. You know the verse in James, “Count it all joy, brothers…”

REALLY??

Interestingly enough, around the same time, I was contacted about Margaret Feinberg’s new book, Fight Back With Joy. Would I be willing to write an honest review if I were provided a few chapters?

Naturally I said yes.

I don’t think this was a coincidence. Joy seemed a struggling commodity in our lives this past year. I wanted joy. I need joy. Maybe my word for this coming year should be “joy.”

Margaret says in her book that she always thought of “…joy as a natural byproduct of a life well lived.” I think that is what I believed too. But if that was the case, then I hadn’t lived well the previous year, had I?

Was joy the measure of whether my life was good or bad?

It couldn’t be. And if joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life, something God grants me then couldn’t I have it for the asking? Couldn’t it be cultivated in my heart?

What is joy anyway?

This is what Margaret Feinberg reveals in Fight Back With Joy.

And she goes a step further, showing how she chose joy in the midst of a diagnosis of cancer. Say what? Who does that?

In her typically engaging, lay-it-all out there way, Margaret shares how her life-threatening challenge created a compelling platform for discovering and communicating what true joy is and what it meant in her darkest time of need.

Defiant joy that declared darkness would not win.

We are encouraged that joy doesn’t deny hardship. It doesn’t sugar-coat our trials and pretend they are easy. No,

…joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.”

Wow. It seems my battles have been joy stealers. The concept that I can choose joy to fight gives me hope and fills me with – joy!

Margaret goes on to explain all the ways God gives us joy. Such as through embracing his love for us, looking for joy in each good thing, being blessed by people God sends to refresh us (like Philemon for Paul in the Bible) and choosing to create moments and situations of hilarity. Those are only a few of the thought provoking and uplifting discoveries this encouraging author offers.

I nearly cried when my first few chapters came to an end.

This is a book I needed. And I have the inkling that many others do as well. We need this honest look at how to deal with the trials of our lives. Life, especially these days, is rough. Not everyone is facing cancer, but as Margaret acknowledges, every one of us has dealt with or is going through some difficult situation.

And God intends for us, enables us to live in joy.

Even in the darkest, most heart-wrenching of times. Not putting on a fake smile of “Everything’s great!,” but existing with something deeper and stronger in the midst of pain or sorrow.

I for one need that.

Thank you, Margaret, for sharing your story. Thank you for showing us how to fight in life with true joy.