Investing in True Beauty

This is a post I wrote a couple years ago, shortly after I had the twins. I’m revisiting this because lately I’ve been struggling with my outer appearance (yes, I actually do sometimes) and it helped to reread something I wrote years ago. Hopefully you will find it encouraging too.

If your morning is anything like mine, you do the following: look into a mirror, evaluate the work that needs to be done and start pulling out the necessary equipment needed to transform the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. And there’s nothing wrong with that (trust me, after being up all night with twins, I would scare people by the way I look in the morning). But a thought hit me the other day that I would like to share with you.

How many of us wish we could change one part of the way we look? Perhaps it’s your hair, your legs, your face, fill in the blank… Unless you’re really rich and can afford plastic surgery, the best makeup, and constant visits to the beauty salon, you’re stuck with what you were born with (and for those of us with short legs, science has yet to figure out how to make them longer).

But there is a part of you that you can change. It’s what’s inside of you. God calls it “unfading beauty”. Eventually your outer body is going to age. You can color your hair, but someday it will be white. You can wear color contacts to get the eye color you always wanted, but someday those eyes will be hidden behind a pair of glasses or whiten with cataracts. You use every cream that promises to forestall wrinkles, but eventually they catch up. And your weight will change, especially if you have children (trust me, I know; been there, done that). Our bodies are fading beauties. Like flowers, we bloom. But then the petals droop and eventually fall off.

So since we really can’t change what we look like on the outside, we should start investing in that which we can change: our inside. Anyone woman can do it. It doesn’t require a lot of money. Just time with God, time in the Bible, and a change in our perspective of what true beauty is.

So what is this true beauty that every woman can possess? God calls it a “gentle and quiet spirit” which is so precious to Him. That’s right, this kind of spirit is precious to God. And it’s available to every woman, whether she is freckly, has frizzy hair, or weighs more than she did in high school. And it will never fade. When your outer body starts to succumb to the ravages of time, you can control what your insides look like. In fact, you can posses it now.

Jesus is the prime example of this kind of beauty. The Bible says “there was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.” (Isaiah 53:2b NLT). Yet as we read the gospels, Jesus is one of the most beautiful people who walked the earth. His “gentle and quiet” spirit shone through to the point that people ceased to see his physical appearance and saw his true beauty within. He served others selflessly, healed those no one else would come near, and loved the world to the point of dying for it.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of beauty I want. I want a gentle spirit (this word can also be translated “meek” which means power under control and I don’t know anyone who has more power than Jesus, yet his was always under control). I want a quiet spirit (this does not mean never speak; rather it means in all situations, we are quiet before God and allow Him to direct the way we respond to the situation). I want to serve selflessly, love unconditionally, and let kindness seep out of my pores. This is the kind of beauty that will never fade. This is the kind of beauty you can possess now.

Now don’t start throwing out your curling iron or mascara. It’s okay to make yourself look nice (I love to look nice for my husband). But consider how much time you are investing in your outer appearance and your inner self. One is going to fade, nothing can really stop that. But the other will last to the day you die. Not everyone can be a super model, but every woman has the opportunity to be the most beautiful woman on the inside. It’s not hard to realize which one is worth investing in more, is it?

“You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:4 (NLT)

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August 2010 CSFF Blog Tour: Your Favorite, Day 2

After visiting many of the participating blogs during this tour, it would seem both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were a big influence in our love of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I also discovered some other books while perusing other bloggers’ sites. One I had forgotten was Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead (Phyllis Wheeler posted about this book http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog). Great rendering of the story of Merlin (or more accurately, his parents).

I also discovered a book by C.S. Lewis that I have not yet read. Curious? Yeah, so am I. The title is Till We Have Faces. If you want to find out more, Becky dropped hints about it within her post http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/csff-blog-tour-your-favorite-day-1/comment-page-1/#comment-2964

For my regular readers, do any of you have a favorite Christian science fiction or fantasy book? Love to hear from you 🙂

August 2010 CSFF Blog Tour: Your Favorite, Day 1

First of all, for those of you who follow my blog and know that I only blog on Fridays, you may be wondering why I’m blogging on Monday. Today is my first day with the CSFF Blog Tour (no, not Christians Saving Furry Friends although I’d probably be all over that :p). It’s the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour!

Usually as part of the blog tour, I would read one of latest Christian speculative novels out, then review it along with my colleagues on each of our blogs. But this month is a bit different. We have been asked to share our favorite Christian speculative novel or author.

So I’m going to share the ones that ignited my love for Fantasy: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Yep, oldies but goodies. My dad first introduced me to fantasy with The Hobbit. I loved it! Thirteen dwarves, one hobbit, and one wizard on a wild journey to the Lonely Mountain (just writing that makes me want to go read it again :)). Its book filled with dragons, larger than life spiders, trolls and orcs.

My second exposure to fantasy was C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. My mom began reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my family when I was in second grade. I’ll never forget finding the book the next day, hiding in a corner of my room and finishing it. Then reading the next one and the next one and the next one :).

My last favorite is one rarely read. The Silmarillion. It’s basically a history textbook for all of Tolkien’s world. For those who have not read it, you’re missing out. One of the best fantasy romances (in my opinion) lays hidden within its pages. The story of Beren and Lúthien.

Want to find more Christian Speculative novels? Check out the links below. Each of these people will be sharing their favorites. Maybe you’ll find a new one too!

Brandon Barr

Thomas Clayton Booher

Keanan Brand

Grace Bridges

Beckie Burnham

Jeff Chapman

CSFF Blog Tour

Stacey Dale

D.G.D. Davidson

Jeff Draper

George Duncan

April Erwin

Andrea Graham

Tori Greene

Ryan Heart

Timothy Hicks

Becky Jesse

Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Mike Lynch

Rebecca LuElla Miller

New Authors Fellowship

John W. Otte

Donita K. Paul

Sarah Sawyer

Chawna Schroeder

James Somers

Speculative Faith

Rachel Starr Thomson

Steve Trower

Jason Waguespac

Fred Warren

Dona Watson

Phyllis Wheeler

KM Wilsher

One more thing. The Clive Staples Award voting will be coming to a close this week. Some of you might be going what? It is an award recognizing Christian Speculative writing excellence. To find out more, click here: http://clivestaplesaward.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/2010-clive-staples-award-voting/.

To see the list of nominees, click here: http://clivestaplesaward.wordpress.com/2010-nominations-complete-list/

Greed

There once was a little deformed creature that lived inside my heart. I rarely saw him; he preferred to live in a tiny out-of-the way hole inside my chest. He was smaller than his other brothers and therefore was usually able to perform his wicked deeds below my radar.

His name was Greed.

He seemed harmless enough. He never bit my hand and he actually made me feel secure. He told me if I had money in my savings, then I could face anything life threw at me. He whispered how nice that new shirt would feel or how cool I would be with that cell phone over there. When money issues were brought up at church, he would remind me that I had responsibilities first and needed to pay the bills at home. Besides, God doesn’t need my money? Right?

I began realize just how dangerous he was when I found my heart attaching to the things around me. My house, my car, the new dishware. He had thrown out ropes from my heart and wrapped them around the objects around me… and I never knew. Until those things were taken away.

And then I felt the pain of Greed.

Have you ever felt that? The roaring inside your heart when something you like is taken away or destroyed? The car gets scratched, the kids draw all over the walls, the dog throws up on the couch. My heartstrings were attached to the things of this world. And it was time for God to get out the scissors.

Snip. Snip. There went the house. Snip. There went the savings account. Snip. Snip. There went the TV, the furniture, the dishware. God took everything away (or put it in a storage shed) those few months my husband was unemployed. I was stripped down to nothing but the clothes I had and my computer (God didn’t take that away lol). But I learned a huge lesson those couple of months:

Greed lied to me. And Greed hurt me.

Nice salaries, a large bank accounts, a hefty retirement (or even being debt free) is not a security in life. God is.

A beautiful home, nice cars, the latest cell phone, designer clothes only bring temporary pleasure. But God brings a fullness to life that nothing in this world can give.

But I don’t have any of those things, you might think. Yeah, actually, neither did I. But you don’t need things in order for Greed to move in and start attaching your heart to this world. You just need to want them, hold them tightly when you finally do, and roar when someone or something takes them away.

The poorest person in the world can still have Greed living in their heart. And the richest person can be free of the bondage of Greed. Why? Greed has nothing to do with possessions or money, it has to do with the heart (where Greed likes to live).

So how do you kick Greed out of its hidey-hole?

Well, you could get rid of everything you have! I wonder if Jesus saw a major infestation of Greed when the rich young man ran up to him and asked how he could inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-27). Greed may be small, but the ropes it uses to tie us to the world can be iron solid. I love how Mark says, “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him”. God doesn’t want Greed to stay in our hearts. In fact, Greed can keep us from experiencing the true fullness God wants to give us. Mark ends with saying, “At this, the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Getting rid of everything may be a bit farfetched, but here a couple more doable ideas:

1)   Ask God to reveal Greed. Like I said, he’s small and seems relatively harmless. So we need God to shine light on his little hole and expose him for what he really is.

2)   Give away stuff. There is nothing like thinking about giving away something to get Greed to come tearing out of his hole and shouting why you should keep it.

3)   Tithe. Yep, tithe. I have come to believe that tithing is like taking a pill to keep the Greed away. You give to God and his church every week with joy and Greed just can’t stand that. Why? Because I believe giving then trickles into the rest of your life. You start giving stuff away. You give money to other things. And the ropes Greed was using to attach you to this world strain under that weight until they snap and you find yourself free.

And lastly, think about a big fire. When Greed comes knocking on my door, I imagine everything burning up (ok, yeah, there is a bit of a pyro in me). But the truth is, everything is going to burn in the end. And we can’t take the stuff of this world with us when we die. So then why let Greed have his way and tie me to things that are not going to last? I’d rather have the freedom God gives and His fullness and pleasure. So snip away God, snip away. And Greed be gone!

God’s Forge

I was reading through Psalms this week and ran across this verse: “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” Psalm 105:19. We all know how Joseph’s story ends (he becomes second in command and reunites with his family), but I had never thought about all those years of his life that pass within the thirty seconds it takes to read in Genesis.

Here is a quick synopsis: Joseph was betrayed by his family. He was sold into slavery. He served as a slave. He was tempted. He was lied about and unjustly imprisoned. He watched others released from prison while he languished in that dark place for years.

As I thought about Joseph more, I put myself in his place: the heartache brought on by the betrayal of his brothers. The fear he might have had as he was handed over to the merchants for gold. Perhaps discouragement, yet a choice to make the best of things as he took his place as a slave in Potipher’s home. The split second decision to run when Potipher’s wife tried to seduce him. The disbelief when Potipher believed his wife’s lies about him. Then the kicker: thrown into prison for doing nothing wrong.

Joseph sat in that prison for years. He was totally surrounded by darkness, both physically and emotionally (at least I would be). All he’s known in his life are lies, betrayal, and hardship. He sits there day in and day out, facing a bleak existence. Perhaps he tries to hold onto the promised visions he’d had that God was going to do something great with his life, but he can’t see how that’s going to happen now as he stares at the dark dungeon walls.

Even darker thoughts may have invaded Joseph’s mind. Should he have given in to Potipher’s wife? He wouldn’t be here now if he had. Or could God be trusted? Why hadn’t God kept his promise? Why had God allowed him to be imprisoned? Maybe jealousy tempted him as he watched Pharoh’s cup-bearer leave prison. The deep, painful depression as he waits for the cup-bearer to keep his word and get Joseph out of prison, only to have days turn into weeks turn into months.

Until the time came…. God tested Joseph’s character.

I feel like I’m in God’s forge right now. When I picture a forge, I see a dark room filled with heat, sweat and pain. I see a hammer slamming down on a heated piece of metal. It takes the heat, sweat, and pain to turn ordinary metal into something extraordinary and useful. But the process can feel dark and painful.

When I read the verse above this week, things clicked for me. I put my name in that verse: “Until the time came to fulfill her dreams, the Lord tested Morgan’s character.” Yikes!

Now unlike Joseph’s dreams (which were prophetic and a promise from God), my dreams are simply aspirations of mine. I am a writer. And like most writers, I would like to be published. But is that God’s plan for my life? Is my “writing in the dark” a time when God is testing my character?

I think so.

I do not know what kind of future God is preparing me for (he certainly has not promised me a book contract). But I do know that he considers my faith “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). So into the forge I go so God can shape me into the woman I need to be.

Writing in the Dark

I began writing about six years ago. Little did I know the steep learning curve that came with that particular “hobby” or the things God would teach me through the process.

At first I wrote scenes that came to me. I fiddled around with plots, never quite knowing where I was going. As I wrote, life continued to roll by. God move my family a couple times. I had a daughter, then along came the twins. When the twins arrived, I put writing away. My days were consumed with diaper changing, feeding children, and keeping the house from burning down (forget about cleaning it… Dan did that, bless his heart lol).

By this point, I came to realize writing is hard. I thought about putting the whole endeavor behind me. After all, when could I write with four little ones running around the house? But I could not shake the bug. I had to write. I had to finish the story inside of me.

When the twins were about one, I went back to writing. Sometimes only a hundred words a day. Sometimes I went weeks without writing because my family needed me. Life interfered again and my family found ourselves on the not-so-thrilling roller coaster ride of unemployment. It was then I started channeling the fear, heartache, and my deep search for God into my writing. I finally began to understand my characters. I understood their search inside themselves to choose the easy way or to choose God’s way: many times a path of hardship. I now had a plot.

We finished the roller coaster of unemployment (and lived!). By now I was half way through my first book. I was on a roll. I began to have goals of finishing the book and trying my hand at finding a publisher for it. Then I heard God speak. I knew in my heart he was telling me to wait an entire year. I balked at the idea and pushed forward with my own goals. God slammed back (note to anyone thinking about going through a door God is closing… don’t! He can slam hard lol).

I stopped fighting God and listened to him. I quietly put my goals of publishing away and instead continued to write. I finished my manuscript halfway through that year. I had two trusted friends critique it. They found all the things I knew in my gut I needed to work on with the story. I cried (yeah, its hard to work on something for years and find out you’re not quite there yet), then picked myself up by my flip-flops straps (I don’t wear boots) and began to work on the rewrites in earnest.

I learned a lot that year. I learned to finish a book. I learned to push through writer’s block. I learned to take criticism and use it to make my book better. And I was learning to put my work as a writer into God’s hand.

December came around again. Instead of my own plans, this time I asked God his. I felt his nudge to go ahead and start exploring the world of publishing. I signed up for the Mt Hermon conference. I tidied up my one page and pitch. And unlike last year, I totally felt scared about the prospects of publishing.

I met some amazing people at the conference. I had people interested in my manuscript. And I learned even more about writing. I came home refreshed.

During that year I also came to realize how much I had learned about the gospel through the writing of my story. Its not just about being saved from hell: it’s about being saved from something inside of us, something we cannot save ourselves from. It’s about God saving us and healing the darkness inside of us. What a beautiful picture!

The story of my writing is not done yet. No, I don’t have people knocking down my door wanting to publish my book. In fact, no one has knocked. But I felt God speaking to me again last week.

He is asking me to write in the dark now.

I can’t see where my story is going to go: I don’t know if it will ever be published or if it will only be something I leave behind for my children to read some day. What I do know is that I need to be faithful in the little bit of writing I do each day. And leave the rest to God.

(For anyone needing encouragement during their own writing in the dark, my friend Becky has done a series of posts this week. Check them out here:

http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/

Is Theology Important?

The new thinking in Christianity is to fall in love with Jesus. I totally agree with that. In fact, God agrees with that (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” Matthew 22:37). But at the same time, the concept of theology has become a bad word. Love Jesus, shun theology. Don’t talk about it, don’t bring it up. Only love.

My concern with this thinking is if you only love Jesus but never study him (after all, theology is “the study of God”), then you run the risk of falling in love with a Jesus that may not exist.

Without theology, we begin to shape a Jesus after what we want him to be. He is love, he is a good teacher, he is forgiving. Yes, Jesus is all these things. But as part of the Godhead, he is also holy, righteous, and just. I think sometimes those are aspects of God we are not comfortable with, so we choose not to associate them with Jesus.

It’s like saying you love your wife (or husband) very very much. But you don’t know her favorite color, her funniest childhood memory, or her deepest desire. You just love her, right? Can you really love your wife that deeply if you don’t know anything about her? I’d say go take your wife out on a date… nah, make that a month long vacation and get to know her more 🙂

In the same way, can we say we love Jesus if we don’t know who “he” is? Theology helps us understand who Jesus is. And love him as he is (God in all his glory).

Fall in love with Jesus. And through theology, discover him, so that you love him more.

In Darkness there is Light

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