April McGowan

Another Brand New Year

579297_3776472893353_1699285100_nWe’re wrapping up the old year and bringing in another brand new year. Goodbye 2014. You were a challenge to me. I had some of my greatest writing achievements (a second book published, up for some awards, won an honorary award) this year. I also faced a long bout of multiple illnesses–it was a very hard spring and summer.

People I’m close to faced some pretty unimaginable trials last year–many are carrying on into the new year. I’d like to say tomorrow is a brand new day with no problems in it–that it really is altogether new and spotless, that being a new year carried some guarantees of wellness and will be trouble free. But I can’t. This new year will have high points and low for everyone I know. But I take comfort we can face anything if we’re trusting in the Lord.

In my prayer time recently, I began to feel uneasy. Some of the things I’ve been praying for a very long time. Was I praying right? Did I have the right words, the right faith, the right posture? Was my heart right, my intentions good enough? At that point I was reminded that I could never pray right enough to convince God of anything. You see, I’m imperfect. I sometimes have selfish motives. I can’t see the big picture like God does (who planned our Lord’s birth over thousands of years down to the last detail). I don’t know if removing a trial from a loved one’s life will, in the end, be a detriment instead of what God intended using it for (drawing them closer to Him usually figures in that equation). In fact, when it came down to it, I didn’t know anything at all. Well, except one thing–these circumstances I prayed for, they all needed God’s hand of strength, of peace, of patience, of healing. The details were not up to me, they were up to Him.

Jesus said to pray. I pray. Jesus said to ask for whatever I need in His name. I do. He also prayed the night before his arrest and conviction: “Not my will but Yours be done. *

That removes a lot of pressure, doesn’t it? At the end of us and our ideas of how things should be, it’s enough to pray, “Not my will but Yours be done.” I know I can pray that with all confidence because I trust Him. I know His attributes: He is the God of love, of mercy, of strength, of peace, of comfort, of provision.

Trust comes in every relationship as intimacy deepens. You share, they share; you listen, they listen; you’re there for them, and they are there for you.

Do you trust in the One who hears our prayers? If you’ve never given your life to Jesus, if you’ve never admitted your sin and need of Him and asked Him into your heart, then that first step of intimacy is missing from your life. You’ll never learn to trust Him if you’ve never met Him. Relationship with Him begins with that simple prayer.

But then it goes on. It has to or you’ll never get to know Him the way He’d like you to. Think of it this way: It’d be as if I met you on the street, we had an amazing bonding experience, and then you never spoke to me again.

I pray this new year will be full of blessings, but especially full of intimacy with our Lord. I pray for Him to work out His full, perfect will in your life.

* Verses used Luke 22:42 John 15:7 Luke 11

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Games People Play

Walk with MeI’ve been thinking about vulnerability lately. Our society doesn’t like being vulnerable. We admire strong people, go-getters. We don’t gravitate toward the weak, to exposed underbellies or chinks in armor.

As babies, we come into the world trusting and ready to learn. Unfortunately, for many including myself, some of the first hard lessons we learn are that people let you down, betray you, hurt you, and you’d better face the world as a boxer–your guard up, ducking and weaving for cover.

There are all kinds of games people play to keep themselves safe. They build barriers, hiding behind forced smiles and platitudes. How are you? You’re fine. Even if you’re not. Then they go on to act one way with one person, and differently with another. They become evasive and non-committal. They only let a few in past the walls…and secretly they’re pretty certain those folks are going to let them down any minute. In fact, a lot of people are subconsciously waiting to be let down, and might even orchestrate events to prove it. In doing so, they get the result they were so worried about getting.

But being vulnerable doesn’t have to mean we’re weak. If you think about it, being vulnerable goes against our grain. It’s hard work to keep those barriers down. Now, I’m not talking about exposing yourself to people who have hurt you in the past, tossing your pearls before swine. On the contrary, I’m talking about going deeper, trusting more, sharing more honestly with those closest to us, and then branching out.

Does that make you edgy? Do lots of reasons not to let your guard down race through your mind? What about that last time you counted on someone and they let you down? But what about that last time someone didn’t?

That’s where the Lord has been taking me these past few weeks, and it made me plenty edgy. He’s been revealing this weakness in me, turning it to a strength through my submitting it to Him. It’s been hard, but very good, too. God’s pretty amazing that way, using all our brokenness to reveal His love and His glory. His amazing strength.

Jesus knew what it meant to be vulnerable. He made himself available to people of all walks, made himself approachable, and knew what it was like to have those closest to him forget him, deny him, even betray him unto death. But those he was vulnerable with, those he loved freely were changed forever. Imagine for a moment your Savior was unapproachable, closed off, unsympathetic–would you be be drawn to him for any length of time?

Thankfully we have a High Priest who has experienced every part of this life right along with us. Hebrews 4: 15-16 says:  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Is there someone in your life you need to let down your walls for, reach out to, walk closer with? I encourage you to do so. Our journey is much too short to spend it alone.

 

 

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Stairway to Heaven

file0001539946518Everyone has seasons in their lives of joy and hardship. Sometimes the hard ones feel like they go on forever, though. We’ve gone through many years of health hardships. They don’t seem to stop, but continue to ramp. You can take a break from activities, you can take a vacation from your job—but you can’t get away from your health.
Imagine with me a staircase.

The stairs take you up. The first few get your blood pumping, the next set start taking a bit more effort and you breathe harder. You keep on going, looking toward the end, but now your breath comes in gasps and pants. You have to stop and grip the rail, but there’s no place to sit down. Sweat trickles down your back, so you take off your coat, and keep climbing, because there’s no going back—there’s just up. If you have a disability, you might be pulling yourself along by that rail, one shaky foot, one sweaty palm, at a time.

On a real staircase, there are landings. If you’re climbing at a park, there might even be a well-placed bench for you to take a breather, a respite, a time of recovery—a drink offile7681283666881 cool water. It might be pokey, and uneven, but it’s a bench, and you’re grateful for it. After you catch your breath, you continue on, and then the path, or the stairwell, turns a corner. You’re still tired, but not as tired as you were. You had a break. The best thing is, you know soon there will be another landing, another place to take a break—or you’ll have reached the top.

But, what if there are no landings?

What if those stairs just keep climbing? You crane your neck, squint your eyes and all you see are more and more stairs. That’s where we’re at. These past few weeks, I’ve been praying for a landing.
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Maybe you’re with me on those stairs, climbing relentlessly, praying for a break. Maybe it will help you to know you’re not alone. I’m here, too. We can hold each other’s hands as we go, pull each other up over that next step, urge each other along. Pray for one another. Jesus is there with us, He’s got your hand and mine.

Let me know if I can pray for you. You can message me privately on this page, or leave a comment below. Either way, I’ll see you on the stairs.

Psalm 73: 23-26 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (full passage here)

John 10:25-30 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (full passage here)

Philippians 4: 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (full passage here)

 

 

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Shine

Light In The DarknessAs I drove home in an information-overloaded stupor from a recent conference, I got to thinking about the advice my writing coach gave on going deeper into character and into the scene. She suggested listening to music from the time period you’re writing about, themed for romance, danger, introspection or whatever your scene is about. We should make a soundtrack for our novel. We should also cut out photos, put up quotes, have detailed information on what we think the character thinks, feels, sees, smells. She suggested writing about a time we experienced something similar to what the character had, just so we’d identify even more with where they were in the story.

Those thoughts tumbled around in my head a bit, and I remembered the Bible verse that tells us to put on the full armor of God. Really, there are any number of verses that tell us to be Christ-like. Here are a couple:

Ephesians 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

1 John 2:5-6 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. 

It was a light bulb moment for me. How do I stay in character, so to speak, with Jesus? Not just in affectation, but deeply and permanently changed. In effect, are special soundtracks, a few biblical quotes around my house, and some scenic photos enough to make me like Christ? Or does it take more, something deeper? And how much more invested should I be to become more like Jesus?

I suggest I should do everything to be like Him. Christians are supposed to be a light in the darkness for others, a shining reflection of Jesus. I can’t be like Him if I don’t know Him—and I can’t know Him if I don’t spend time with Him.

I did something stupid a couple months ago. I was tired, exhausted from my medication and from being sick for weeks on end. Someone posted something online that I felt justified in answering. Note: if you feel justified in saying something, you probably should just keep on walking. I was wrong. I should have scrolled away. Instead, I allowed myself to be drawn into an argument that ended badly. But, it got me to thinking. If I’d been pulling on Christ daily, delving into the Word, staying in prayer, would I have had that knee-jerk reaction?

Putting on the full armor of God isn’t just about the spiritual and sometimes physical battle, it’s about the likeness, the character of Jesus. If I’m immersed in Him, the barbs that come my way will be less likely to find purchase in my life.

Ephesians 6:10-17. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 

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Count Your Blessings

Here in the US it’s Thanksgiving week. It’s a time when a lot of people sit down and consider their lives and give thanks for what they have. I’ve struggled with this a lot since the diagnosis of my illness. It’s hard for me to thank the Lord for things that other people don’t have. Well-meaning people were telling me to be thankful I wasn’t sicker. But, when I joined support groups for my disease, there were plenty of people who were more ill than me. Did I feel I was more blessed than them?

People thank God for their houses and cars and their health. They thank Him for their secure job, their wonderful marriages, and their perfect kids. I mean, we’re told to count our blessings. But, what if what we think of as blessings aren’t limited to these things?

There are millions and billions of people who don’t have a laundry list of what the world would consider to be good things in their lives. They were just diagnosed with a scary disease, their spouses have betrayed them; they might be losing their homes, their jobs, their kids. Does this mean God doesn’t love them as much as the guy in the big house in the fancy neighborhood next to you?

Very simply: no. God’s Word says He loves His children and cares for them.

So, what if blessings aren’t all about these things; what if the Father’s ‘good’ is something different? His ultimate goal for us isn’t that we live in cushy houses and have everything we think we want. Rather, it’s having a personal, real, intimate relationship with Him.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not bad to thank God for all the good things in your life—our hearts are to be grateful. But, we’re told to be thankful in ALL things. Thankful for suffering? Yes. Thankful for heartache? That, too.

Think of this: if we’re only thankful for the things we like, then when we hit on hard times (and there will be plenty) then we’re going to be tempted to think that God is displeased with us. That maybe He doesn’t love us as His word promises. That maybe He even hates us.

I can stand here today and say I’m thankful for my illness. I mean it. It’s not easy to say—but it’s true. I’ve seen a lot of blessings come out of this. I’ve met some amazing, encouraging people. I’ve been astounded by their faith in the Lord. Most importantly, I’ve become more assured than ever in the reality of the Father and His hand in my life.

So, as the song says, when we count our many blessings—maybe you should be thinking about the friends you’ve made during your trials; about your ability to come alongside others in their sufferings; and ultimately about the closeness you feel to the Father when He carries you through another day.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (full text here)

John 3:16-21 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (full text here)

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