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

Dear Student Me: A Thirty-Something’s View on College

The last two months have been a blur with the wedding, honeymoon, speaking event, and travel. In addition, I also started a summer college class for my teaching re-certification, because that’s just how the timing worked out. But when is life not busy?

However, I’m making the best of the course about technology in education, which is actually quite interesting. Besides, having a student ID again has its perks. Who knew I’d be claiming student discounts at thirty-something?

In all seriousness, though, this going-back-to-school experience has shed a new perspective on college that, if I could, I’d share with my teen- and twenty-something self. Maybe you’re in college or know someone who is. If so, I hope these thoughts will be encouraging to you.

Be less of a perfectionist.

Hands down, I struggled with perfectionism in college. I remember crying on the sidewalk outside my history class because I scored an 88 on a test. I did all the bonus essays in speech class to get my grade to an A. I even volunteered to do most of the work in group projects because I didn’t trust the other members to do the work right. (They were usually very happy about this arrangement.)

While I’m proud to have graduated Summa Cum Laude, I wish I could have told my younger self to be less hard on myself. I still strongly believe in the importance of doing my best work, because the Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NKJV)

However, no where does the Bible praise perfectionism. When I spoke with the ladies of Connersville Baptist Temple in May, we looked at Martha as an example of someone whose well-meaning expectations almost stole from her something far better. She wanted to be the perfect hostess, but that’s not what Jesus cared about. He cared about her heart. Listening to what He had to say was more important.

“… Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Maybe we perfectionists mean well, but we miss the mark and often life’s greater blessings.

Dear student me, do your best but don’t obsess.

Prioritize better.

Even though I had a campus job and full load in college, those responsibilities hardly compare with the ones I have today. As a newly-wed student working a full-time job, I definitely have more on my plate now than I did back then. The beauty of this reality is that homework can’t get first place, and as a result, I have to prioritize better.

In college, students are discovering freedoms for perhaps the first time away from Mom and Dad. The perfectionist in me, as we already discussed, didn’t take advantage of free time like some students might, but I was perhaps just as guilty of misplaced priorities.

The Bible places a high value on how we use our time, because no one is promised tomorrow. Regardless if we live out the length of our days or find life cut short, we need to be good stewards of the time given to us.

Although there are many relevant verses on this subject, I’d like to focus on I Peter 4:7-10 today, because it provides some guidance for how we’re supposed to spend our time. I encourage you to read these verses on your own and then consider these takeaways:

  1. Pray seriously.
  2. Love fervently.
  3. Give generously.
  4. Serve specifically.

These points could be a post in themselves, but for now, let’s focus on that last one, which was a real stumbling block to me until I learned that I didn’t have to do everything to serve Jesus. Instead, we should prayerfully consider the unique gifts God has given us and His will for us in whatever season we’re in before we sign up for the next service (or class) project. For young people, time seems abundant, but that’s no reason to spend it foolishly.

Dear student me, prayerfully consider how you use your time.

Switch up your setting.

In college, I was guilty of retreating to the desk in my dorm room and hobbitting there for hours on end. There was no interaction with other people. I enjoyed the blissful quiet (because my roommates were extroverts or actually had social lives). My goal was efficiency, and I knew myself well enough to understand that I did my best work in quiet spaces.

However, I wish I had relocated my laptop to the cafe or even spent more time in the library instead of hauling the books back to my dorm room. A change of setting can be equally refreshing, and honestly, being with people wouldn’t have hurt my social life.

God never intended for us to do life solo. A very important point here is that I’m not talking about singleness or marriage. God’s will for people in this area is a completely different topic. What I mean by solo is to live in isolation of other people. After all, how can a person who’s isolating herself carry out any of these biblical commands?

  • “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

These verses just scratch the surface and hold more life application than one post can discuss, but I hope you see the point that we’re meant to do life with people.

Today while I tackle homework, I try to be more intentional about unplugging my laptop and camping out on the couch next to my husband. We might both be working on our laptops, but we’re doing so together.

Dear student me, don’t be a hobbit.

Wherever you are in life, whether college or otherwise, may these thoughts encourage you to be your best self in your season and steward your opportunities and time well.

Kristen

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Thanking God for Closed Doors

When my older brother’s children would stay at my parent’s home, my mom and dad would often close some doors so that my nieces and nephews wouldn’t get into things they shouldn’t. Naturally, their little hands would reach for those doorknobs.

There’s something about closed doors that we inherently dislike. The mystery of what’s on the other side tempts us to pry open doors we have no business entering.

As a writer, I know my professional life will have its share of rejection letters, but recently, I’ve received nothing but them. Thank you, but our publishing house is changing directions. Thank you, but we’re no longer representing fiction. Thank you, but this project doesn’t meet our needs at this time. 

On the plus side, every one of the rejections has been positive. The agent, editor, or publishing board liked my writing and the potential to work with me  in the future… but not today.

Closed doors hurt, especially when we keep our noses too close to them. That’s why I had an honest talk with God. Why all these closed doors? What are You trying to tell me?

And then the truth smacked me: God is closing doors, because I need to focus on the amazing open doors staring me in the face. Next month, the last book in The Rogues trilogy publishes, becoming my sixth book published. Completing this project is a blessing and accomplishment, and I’m thrilled for my readers to enjoy The Reactionary, the final saga in Portia’s story (releasing February 19).

Beyond that, I’ve been praying over a decade to meet and marry a godly man. The dating road was strewn with disappointments, as many of you can relate. I’m thankful for my single years, but they weren’t always easy. However, as I’m preparing for marriage now, I realize it won’t always be easy either, but it will be worthwhile. According to Sacred Marriage, the union of two sinful people offers the greatest opportunity for sanctification possible. In other words, both singleness and marriage have their joys and challenges.

The bottom line is that God has answered my prayer for a godly husband in James, and this is perhaps the biggest open door of my life (apart from my salvation).

In fact, by closing so many writing doors, God is allowing me to focus on and enjoy the wonderful opportunities before me. If He had opened doors for more projects at this point in my life, I would likely become overwhelmed with all the commitments and unable to give myself wholeheartedly to what matters most.

So today, I’m thanking God for closed doors and ignoring the enemy’s whispers that God is through with my writing. Instead, I choose to celebrate the writing journey that is before me, and even more than that, the adventure of becoming Mrs. James Parnell.

Photo credit: Aja Skye Photography

Has God closed any doors for you recently? If so, what open doors might He want you to focus on during this time instead?

~ Kristen

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Dreaming Isn’t Dangerous. Doubt Is.

If you told me a few weeks ago that I’d be planning a spontaneous trip to Italy in a month, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’d probably have laughed and then sighed, Wouldn’t that be nice?

Truth. I really am planning a spontaneous trip to Italy next month.

Let me back up the story. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a colleague and landed on the topic of travel. I told her how much I admired her working from Italy last spring, and that in my dreams, I’d do the same thing some day. I shared how my next novel takes my heroine to Italy and that seeing those places first hand instead of through research would be amazing.

She replied, “Well then you have to go! I’m planning a trip soon. Want to come?”

I hesitated for only a moment. Although some logistical questions ran through my head, my answer was yes.

She came back to me a few days later with a more concrete plan and a question: How serious are you about going to Italy? 

If I remember right, I told her 88% or some random percentage like that, because once again, there were some work details that had to be approved. (And then there was the matter of begging someone to watch my cat Ness, who has a reputation for not being the best house guest.)

But guess what? That elusive 12% worked out. I might just have the best boss in the world, and I do have the most amazing family, because they agreed to keep Ness from starving.

As I tackle the next challenge of packing only a backpack, I see a few takeaways I hope might encourage you.

Focus less on obstacles and more on the prize.

As you read my story, you probably noticed the times I hesitated. Caution raised a flag. What ifs popped in my head. If I hadn’t investigated those questions and pursued the possibility, I might still be sighing to myself, Maybe one day.

I think the same is true in our Christian lives. Sometimes, God calls us to an opportunity, and we spend more time stressing about all the reasons it won’t work instead of realizing all the ways it very well could.

I’m learning that dreaming isn’t dangerous. Doubt is. After all, Jesus never criticized people for having too much faith. He chided them for having too little (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:31).

How much we miss when we doubt! But when we dream and allow God to shape those dreams, possibilities often unfold in ways we could never have imagined.

Dream bigger and expect great things.

Maybe life jades us a bit as we grow up. As children, people tell us we can be whatever we want to be, but the truth is that life has many gatekeepers that prevent some of those dreams from coming true. (Sorry, kids, but only so many people can ever be president.)

However, we shouldn’t always conform to what’s reasonable or realistic, because sometimes, God delights in impossibilities. After all, Jesus turned water into wine. Peter walked on water. Paul turned from persecuting the church to boldly proclaiming the gospel he once sought to destroy. The Bible is full instances that defy logic or even nature itself.

You may say, Sure, but that’s the Bible. That’s not my life. Perhaps instead of focusing on what seems impossible, we should start risking, start daring. I like what my pastor said Sunday on the subject of taking risks for God.

“The problem is not that we dream too big. It’s that we dream too small.”

– Pastor Ken Whitten

Choose adventure over comfort.

I confess. I like my routines, things like 8 hours of sleep, a cup of coffee in the morning with my quiet time, fresh laundry, and a clean house.

Travel hacking with only a backpack isn’t going to guarantee any of those things and will likely stretch my comfort zone. But that’s a good thing, right? Because which would you rather be: Home and perfectly comfortable or sleep-deprived in Italy? Allora. (That’s Italian for “um,” I believe.) Yeah, 100% the latter.

The Christian life is something of an adventure, too. We can content ourselves with our church and devotional routines, or we can step out and try something that might seem a little scary. Maybe you’re not sure what that might be. I’m not either. But we can pray about it, and ask God to show us how He’d like us to step out in faith. Perhaps the answer will surprise us.

How might God want you to dream bigger? 

~ Kristen

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Dreaming isn’t dangerous. Doubt is. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

 

 

3 Habits of Satisfied People

More than likely, our lives have or will turn out differently than we plan. Even so, we can know the satisfaction of a life well-lived. The deciding factors have less to do with mountain-top moments and more with our everyday habits.

Last month, I had the opportunity to share with Alpha Omega Academy’s graduating class some habits that will help them live meaningfully, and I don’t think these practices are just for teens. They’re ones I have to work on intentionally every day. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

Habit #1: Guard Your Priorities.

We might be able to multi-task, but we can’t do everything. Or, if we try, we’ll do less well. Guarding our priorities means saying “no” to good things so we can “yes” to better ones.

By “better,” I don’t mean in terms of importance but in terms of our calling. Is this task or responsibility part of our God-given assignment? Is it something we should do or just something we could do?

The truth is that guarding our priorities sometimes means letting go in order to respect our commitments. But in the end, honoring our calling is more important than pleasing everyone.

To read about the other habits, click over to DailyPS.com. I look forward to your comments. 

Have you implemented these habits into your life, or what habits would you add to this list?

~ Kristen

 

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