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Trust the Clouds Will Part

During our latest trip to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, my husband James, our friends, and I enjoyed several hikes. The first two days were clear and perfect. No matter where we went, we had good visibility and conditions (even though they were a bit chilly for this Florida girl).

The last two days were a complete reversal. We woke to cloudy, drizzly skies. The forecast kept changing, and we weren’t sure if the sun would come out or not. Regardless, we took two slippery waterfall hikes. (When in doubt, hike anyway.) The views were absolutely worth the effort!

By late afternoon, though, the clouds still hung heavy and low. We had one planned hike left, but Roan Mountain required the longest drive yet and had the highest elevation.

Since it was our last day, we took the chance. As we neared the parking area, we caught glimpses of blue sky through the clouds. For a few minutes, the misty clouds cleared, revealing breathtaking mountains and deep blue afternoon skies. Moments later, the clouds rolled back in, but we swung on our hiking backpacks and started the climb anyway, hopeful the clouds would continue to give way.

When we reached the first outlook, they did. Waiting there were several photographers, and one practically bounced out of his skin for joy. “I’ve been waiting here all afternoon,” he said. “It’s been nothing but clouds. But now, would you look at that view!”

We agreed. It was stunning and totally worth the risk.

When Clouds Don’t Part

Sometimes in life, we take a chance, and the clouds still stubbornly hug the sky. Okay, you know I’m not talking about weather anymore, right?

We put ourselves “out there,” only to be disappointed. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve submitted a book proposal or made a pitch, only to receive a rejection or silence that speaks louder than words. All the effort that went into crafting the proposal to specific submission requirements feels like a waste of time and energy.

Maybe you’ve trained months to make the team, only to miss the cut. Maybe you’ve studied hard for entrance exams or standardized testing, only to miss the mark by one point. Maybe you’ve carefully groomed yourself for a promotion or new position, only to have someone else pass you by.

Seriously, we’ve all been there and felt our hopes deflate like a hot air balloon. But does that mean we should stop pressing on, taking risks, and giving opportunity every chance we can?

Absolutely not.

What We Can’t See Behind the Clouds

Maybe the skies of your current situation seem extra gray, but just because we can’t see the sun shining doesn’t mean it isn’t. God’s Word makes clear He has a plan for His children, a plan designed to give us “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

On that hike up Roan Mountain, we went through a thick forest, which felt spooky in the late afternoon. Only the faintest hints of light sprinkled through the woods, and I found myself walking extra fast to get through the forest.

Waiting for me on the other side was a clearing, and just beyond, a view that stole my breath. The clouds had parted again, revealing a spectacular mountain vista. Even more stunning was the sunset we savored on the return hike.

We would have missed the majesty of clouds parting for a sunset if we hadn’t taken the risk to hike the mountain. That said, my encouragement to you (and myself) today is simple:

Take the risk. Hike whatever mountain you’re facing. And trust that soon, the clouds will part.

No matter what, the adventure is worthwhile.

~ Kristen

The Challenge to Write Simply

Welcome back to Writer’s Block, a creative writing club designed for young writers. In this month’s meeting, we talk about how less can definitely be more with our writing, but writing simply is much harder than we might think!

In today’s video, we talk about ways to write tightly and clear. The writing activity is one you won’t want to miss.

Join us on YouTube, and take a moment to comment or share your thoughts on today’s class.

How can less be more with our writing? Join the conversation at Writer’s Block, a creative writing community on YouTube for teen writers. https://bit.ly/2oxdEBe

Write on!

~ Kristen

Too Many Turkeys Will Spoil Your Shot

Short on time? Listen to the audio version of this post.

Both my brothers are avid hunters, and although I am 110% for sportsmanship, I’ve never been hunting (unless you count shopping for good deals). As a result, I enjoy hearing my brothers’ stories.

Recently, one of them was telling me about a time he went turkey hunting, and there were so many turkeys he couldn’t focus on one to take the shot. Turkeys are ADHD creatures by nature, and they can’t stand still. Dozens of them together are like the blurry results of an overdue vision appointment.

I couldn’t help but think that we Christians can have the same problem in our spiritual lives.

Too many turkeys, too much calling for our attention, keep us from being effective in our calling.

How can we get anything done when we’re not focused on purpose-driven work?

Calling Out the Turkeys in Our Lives

First, I think we have to identify what our turkeys are. Each of us has unique challenges based on our work and responsibility, but my guess is that we also have a few in common.

  1. Social media: Access to our social networks is literally a hand’s reach away. The notifications and lit-up screens snatch our attention from where it needs to be.
  2. Comparison: Nothing wrecks our focus so instantly as the comparison game. When we start comparing ourselves to someone else, we derail our progress and lose a productive mindset.
  3. Over-commitment: When we say “yes” to more things than our schedules can handle, we become ineffective and exhausted.
  4. What other turkey-time-stealers would you add to this list?

Re-Focusing Our Sights on What Matters

Calling out the turkeys that steal our time and focus is step one. Step two is much harder, because it requires acting on the information. We have to renew our minds daily, or even several times a day, if we’re going to fix our aim where it needs to be.

Scripture gives us a guide for evaluating the claims on our attention. Let’s put those turkeys to this test:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:8 NKJV

True, Noble, Just, Pure, Lovely, Praiseworthy. That list is a pretty good litmus test to see if our focus is purpose-driven or simply distracted.

What turkeys are wrecking your focus, and what steps can you take to get your attention back where it needs to be?

~ Kristen

Welcome to Tales of the Lonely Sun!

Calling teen readers and writers! Here’s a new website worth visiting. These four talented teen writers have joined forces to start a community just for you.

Tales of the Lonely Sun

Hello and welcome!

Tales of the Lonely Sun is a blog for writers and readers who want to celebrate the light that literature can spread rather than the darkness that is so prevalent in today’s world. It is run by Carlye Krul, Merie Shen, Jorja Ayres, and Mya Gray. We are all teenagers, followers of Jesus, avid readers, and fiction writers. You can expect posts about writing and reading as well as author interviews/guest posts twice a week.

To help you get to know us better, we put together this ten-question Q&A:

Q&A About Us

What is your name and 5 words that describe you?

Jorja: My name is Jorja Ayres (pronounced Georgia Airs) and 5 words that describe me are: talkative, perfectionist, unique, tall and a total fangirl.

Carlye: My name is Carlye Krul. I would probably describe myself as thoughtful, a daydreamer, patient, passionate, and organized.

Mya: My…

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Big or Tiny House? The Heart is What Matters.

Short on time? Listen to the audio version of this post.

Have you seen the Amazon Prime series called Tiny House World? James and I started watching recently and are basically hooked.

The episodes are short and follow a script: A couple, family, or single person is looking to downsize or diminish their footprint by going tiny. The episodes cover international settings from Ireland to the UK to Australia, and the featured individuals have three options from which to choose.

Most of the time, they don’t pick the one we would, which is both aggravating but also not the point. The point is that they discover they can do more with less.

Even “Tiny” Can Miss What Matters

The tiny house movement certainly has its appeal. The incentive for these people is to be more environmentally friendly, rekindle family time in a smaller space, or enable themselves to travel more. While those are all great reasons to try an alternate lifestyle, the tiny movement can easily become as self-absorbed as the materialism that is its opposite.

Although there is no tiny-house movement in Scripture, Jesus clearly teaches several principles about what we should do with our “stuff” in the parable of the rich fool. It’s so short, I’m including it here:

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:16-21 NKJV

Regardless of where we live or what lifestyles we choose, are we “rich toward God”? Do we remember that everything we have comes from Him and act accordingly? That’s the bottom line.

Takeaways for Any-Size Situations

At some point, you’ve probably heard that even middle-class Americans are “rich” in the global arena. That news may not make you feel great if your credit card bill is higher than you’d like or your car is threatening to go on a permanent holiday, but essentially, this reality means we are all able to give something.

Whether our proverbial barns are threatening to overflow or we’re simply meeting the month’s budget, Jesus’ words are a one-size-fits-all challenge.

  1. What do we value most? Are we sharing those things or keeping them to ourselves? That one thing could even be our time. Do we use it to bless others?
  2. Are we content with what we have, or are we always looking for more?
  3. Are we giving of our gifts and resources, or are we self-absorbed with our own pursuits and pleasures?

We have to be careful not to point fingers at those “richer” than ourselves and expect them to carry the heavy load. For the record, I know some people who are very blessed financially and are also incredibly generous. The key to remember is that we’re not responsible for how others handle their “stuff.” We’re responsible for how we steward what God has given us.

Ultimately, God cares about our hearts, not the size of our houses.

There’s another story in the Bible that reveals that the condition of our heart, not the size of what we own or have to give, is what the Lord prizes. In the parable of the widow’s mite (Luke 21), Jesus tells the story of a woman who gave to the temple all she had, which was next to nothing. Her gift demonstrated great faith that God would provide for her needs. Again, the issue is not how much we have or how much we give, but rather the attitude with which we view our possessions.

At the end of the day, the size of our home doesn’t matter. How we live does. Let’s live abundantly, give cheerfully, and love others generously.

~ Kristen

October Book Sale

There are so many reasons I love October. It’s the month James asked me to marry him. It’s also the month that introduced my best friend to the world. Happy birthday month, Devon!

To share my gratitude for this beautiful month, I’m offering my Wings of the Dawn trilogy on sale for $.99 each (Kindle versions). These contemporary suspense novels are for young adults and the young at heart, or anyone ready for an adventure.

Happy October! Enjoy my Wings of the Dawn young adult fiction trilogy for $.99 each on Kindle for a limited time.

Wishing you the happiest of Octobers!

~ Kristen

When Is Choosing the Easy Path Okay?

The last few Saturdays have brought the faintest hint of fall in Florida, just enough to encourage my husband James and me to get back on our bikes and explore new off-road trails. Several months have passed since the last time I went mountain-biking, but I was feeling pretty confident I could handle easy “green” trails. (I use the term “mountain-biking” loosely, because there are no mountains in Florida.)

Croom Wildlife Management Area offers over sixty miles of trails and a few more advanced “blue” ones James wanted to try. We geared up, checked the air in our tires, and started out.

Only a few minutes in, I was starting to feel on edge. Compared to the trails we bike in the Tampa area, the elevation gain here was much more noticeable, and the trails seemed even more narrow. I struggled to get the speed I needed while still feeling in control of my bike.

James took the lead, and although he kept shouting tips at me, his skill level is light years more advanced than mine. What seemed like a gradual downhill to him felt like speeding off the side of a mountain to me.

However, I held things together until I rounded a tight downhill bend in a section of the blue, more difficult, trail.

“Peddle hard!” James shouted ahead of me. “Hill!”

I gave it my best, but my best wasn’t enough. I didn’t have enough momentum to get to the top and watched in terror as my bike started sliding backwards.

James jumped off his bike and grabbed my handlebars to slow my fall, but I landed in a heap of bushes with my bike on top of me, more scared than hurt.

After that shake-up, we came to a sign with two arrows. Next to one was the word “easy,” and next to the other was the word “hard.” I waited at the junction while James tackled the hard section and felt rather bummed that all I could clearly handle was “easy.”

That’s when I remembered there is a time for everything. A baby doesn’t go straight to walking. He crawls first. A girl doesn’t go from biking the smooth Suncoast Trail to off-road biking without a few falls.

Sometimes, we have to be content with easy tasks before we can dare to achieve harder things.

For an over-achiever and recovering perfectionist, that reality isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I like being challenged. I like cresting the hill toward success. I have to remind myself that some situations require me to choose the easy path, and that’s not a bad thing. It just prepares me for one day advancing where I want to be.

Be content with small beginnings

There’s a phrase in the book of Zechariah that offers encouragement on this topic. The context is the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and the people are feeling discouraged. The rebuilding efforts appear as “nothing” compared to its “former glory” (Haggai 2:3 NKJV).

However, the prophet Zechariah poses a rhetorical question to the people: “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10a NKJV). In order to rebuild, they had to start somewhere. They had to start small.

I like what the Pulpit Commentary says: “Small as the present work was, it was a pledge of the full completion, and was therefore not to be despised. “

Whether we’re rebuilding or simply starting from scratch, we have to take baby steps. The first few steps might seem embarrassingly easy, yet we have to climb them first before we can get where we want to be.

Embrace the easy tasks and build from there

Despising “easy” tasks will only keep us from reaching our goals. We should never quit because we’re not ready for the advanced levels we want to achieve but welcome the practice needed to reach them.

The bottom line is that it’s okay–it’s necessary– to choose the easy trail until we’re ready for the harder one. The practice might seem unglamorous, but it’s the training we need to grow.

What “easy” tasks do you need to welcome today?

~ Kristen