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Forty Years!

May 21, 2017

Today I celebrate 40 years of marriage to my best friend. If you had asked me back then to see into the future of what those 40 years would look like, I could not have imagined in my starry-eyed youth. But I couldn’t have been given a better man to love. We actually celebrated a few weeks ago in Florida where we spent part of our honeymoon, but today is the actual day.

We listened to our pastor this morning talk about Psalm 127, written by Solomon, in which he writes, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Our pastor said the word “house” could also be interpreted “home.” And given what this day means to us, I thought back to those days of my youth and my longing to be married. I had dated several guys (as most of us do) and none were the “right fit”.

One day in frustration, I realized, I was tired of dating just to date. I wanted to meet the man God had for me. So I asked Him to please send that man. I met Randy shortly after that prayer.

Some people might say that God isn’t interested in those kinds of prayers. Others might suggest that there is no one “right” person for each one of us. I tend to believe otherwise. That is, I think that God does care about those kinds of prayers and I believe He honors our desire to let Him build our home. Maybe that means we don’t get the answer to that prayer as quickly as I did, but trust me when I say God has said “wait” on far more prayers than He’s given immediate answers as He did that time.

The point is that He wants to be invited into the process. Whatever we are choosing in this life, whether that means our homes, our careers, our ministries…whatever work or whatever relationships God has put before us, if He isn’t the one building them, if He isn’t invited to be at their core, Solomon said the one building them is wasting their time. The guards on the city wall watch (protect) in vain. It will do no good without the Lord.

I hope we’ve modeled this idea for our family and friends these 40 years. Sometimes it’s easier to just live life without thought to what God wants, isn’t it? We get up and do the same things day after day and maybe it takes 40 years to sit back and reflect on what could have been better, what was done right. And what can be done best in the future?

One of my favorite bands, Tenth Avenue North, sings a song called “What You Want”. It talks about us wanting what God wants, to follow Him and not keep trying to shoulder the burdens of our own dreams, when we are are “wired to let You lead.” To love how He loves. To want what He wants.

And that’s the point of letting God build the house, watch over the city, guide our careers, give us children or whatever other dreams we might have. He gave Solomon wisdom in his sleep. He gives to us gifts when we least expect them, but He does ask us to trust Him. To ask Him to be involved in the process. Kind of like I did in my youth when seeking His plans for my future.

The future hasn’t always gone the way I expected or sometimes even wanted, and Randy and I have walked some tough roads together these 40 years. But I wouldn’t have wanted to walk them with anyone else, and I’m grateful for each new day. Each small blessing because none of us knows what tomorrow might bring. We are a lot different today than we were back then, but then God has a way of working on our character and molding us to be more like Him. I hope we both reflect Him better today than the day the singer sang “God Bless This Marriage,” at our wedding.

For however many years we have left together, this is the day we celebrate us!

~Selah

by jill at 3:25 pm in ,

Searching for What We Don’t Understand

May 18, 2017

Have you ever over analyzed something? Tried to figure something out that is simply beyond your ability to comprehend? I have.

I remember as a kid trying to figure out how God could have always existed. My finite mind thought as far back as it possibly could until my brain hurt! But try as I might, I could not understand how God could have had no beginning and no end.

Psalm 145 verse 3 states: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable (beyond our ability to understand).”

There are a lot of things that I personally don’t get. Take a car’s engine, for instance. My husband can tell you all about pistons and rotors and intake valves and spark plugs, whereas I’m just happy if I can get behind the wheel and the thing runs. He understands about changing the oil every 3000 miles. If he hadn’t told me that, I would run the car until the engine died, never knowing the difference.

My inability to understand the inner workings of a car’s engine does not mean that engine does not exist or that someone else doesn’t understand it better than I do. It simply means that I don’t know everything, and there are things out there that are bigger than I am.

People are another mystery to me. I spend my days trying to imagine the motivation behind the behavior of people in Scripture for my stories, but then I make the sometimes costly mistake of trying to assume motives for real people I come across in my daily life.

One is fiction and those people aren’t going to care whether I got it wrong – at least not this side of eternity. But the other can affect a relationship if I jump to a wrong conclusion. Ever done that?

Boy is it easy to assume and be wrong! And the truth is, it comes down to the fact that we just don’t know everything. We cannot search the unsearchable depths of the human heart.

What makes us think then that we can understand the deep mysteries of God?

Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom and how wisdom was with God when He created the earth and “When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the horizon.” What kind of God commands the seas, builds the mountains and fields, calls stars by name, establishes the skies, creates all that live on land and in water or inhabit the skies and breathes life into human beings?

A God whose greatness is unsearchable.

A God who is knowable yet unknowable.

A God we will never fully understand yet knows us intimately and understands us fully. And loves us anyway and always.

Just because something is beyond our understanding or ability to search out does not mean we should toss it out as either nonexistent or unworthy of our attention. Perhaps we are assuming something that is not as it seems.

Perhaps we simply don’t know as much as we think we do.

Selah~

#livegrace #searchingwhatwedontunderstand

From Coast to Coast

May 16, 2017

These past few weeks I’ve been taking a break from social media. My assistant scheduled some blog posts ahead of time but we ran into a family situation that left me unable to craft more for her to schedule. The time away has been refreshing and healing, though when dealing with life’s struggles, it has also been difficult and trying. I thank you for your prayers.

We took two trips in two weeks that were the biggest whirlwind of travel I have done in a long time. Our first was to visit family in Washington State–a blessed time we will always treasure. From there we drove to Oregon to see two of our children–also a wonderful pleasure that we hadn’t expected this year–then flew home to Tiger for two days, to hop another plane to Florida for a week.

The Florida trip was two-fold. We wanted to see our son’s work on the new Pandora world at Disney World, which opens May 27th, and to celebrate (early) our 40th wedding anniversary. Forty years ago (where did the time go?) we spent part of our honeymoon at Disney – back when the only theme park was the Magic Kingdom. We have been there with our kids since, but this time our son Chris, who is an Imagineer at Disney, invited us to see his work on Pandora. It was a sneak peek for friends and family.

We managed to walk our feet sore through all four of Disney’s parks and stayed at the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort. These two trips allowed us to see all of our children and granddaughter and even some friends that we’ve known forever–another blessing we had not expected this year. But it left Tiger in a state of unrest, unfortunately. We came home to find him a pound lighter–not a good thing–and off to seek another opinion from a new vet. He is doing better since we’ve been home, for which we are grateful.

Of course, travel usually manages to take a toll. Weight gain. Sleep disruptions. Lessons learned. Life, even on vacation, doesn’t always go the way we’ve planned. If I ever thought I was in control of anything in life, I was at my most naive. I’ve heard it said that those things that make us anxious are the things that really tell us that we think God can’t handle the situation so we have to.

I think I’m starting to grasp that thinking. On a trip you are literally at the mercy of everyone around you from the pilot to the security agents to the bus drivers to the restaurant chefs to the people you cross paths with. Our precious life here is far more fragile than we know and we really are not in control of it. Of course, we think we are. (Confessions of an often-tempted control freak – waving my hand here.)

But for the grace of God…if I can’t let go and trust Him with these life things that I think I have some influence over, then I’m giving into worry. And worry makes me want to force my will on others. Anxiety breeds impatience. And makes us think we have power we really don’t have. Sometimes when we pray God will work things out in ways that please or help us, but sometimes He doesn’t. 

We saw small examples of grace, like the time a man was in the wrong seat invading our space – uncomfortably so – and suddenly a young woman walked down the aisle of the plane with the ticket for the seat he was using. Problem “whew” solved.

But there were other times when prayers were left in uncertainty. We can’t know the outcome yet. We can’t control the future, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask. Because humbly asking for God’s help shows our need and admits we cannot do this alone. Our God always hears those kinds of prayers.

So I’m not in control. I knew that. But I had no problem trusting the pilot, even as I prayed for a safe flight, which I knew was ultimately in God’s hands. As is every breath I take each day.

Of course, lessons learned might cause me to think, but they aren’t nearly as fun as the joy of seeing our family and going on some amazing rides. If you are anywhere near Disney World, go to see Pandora and ride both rides. They are the best in the parks, in my humble opinion! And the Na’vi River Journey just happens to have our son’s creative work behind it. So it was a proud parent moment for us both.

From coast to coast we saw thousands of people in airports and shops to imaginary worlds to the reality of getting stopped by two Seattle policeman in our confusion of getting around. (Nice guys, by the way–very helpful.) We learned that rental cars can be far cheaper off site of an airport and that airports have schemes that prey on the unsuspecting.

We saw God help us pull together hotels and flights and all things needed on a night we lost power and had to do almost everything by cell phone. We were exhausted and exhilarated and I’m glad we did the hard things. Because it’s in the hard things that we find the greatest grace. 

We returned just in time to leave 100 degree weather in Florida for beautiful 60-70s in Michigan springtime. A lot of emotion is still running through my heart from all that we experienced and are still experiencing, but it is good to be home and back to work–where I get plenty of chances to turn anxiety over to God and let Him teach me to live grace right here where He has placed me.

Selah~

by jill at 2:45 pm in ,

Does God Mind Our Oft-repeated Prayers?

May 11, 2017

I learned to pray as a child probably from listening to my parents or pastors pray. I don’t recall anyone teaching me any specific prayers – as in our family did not quote memorized prayers even at bedtime. Though I knew “Now I lay me down to sleep…” I never prayed that way.

Prayer became personal to me through journaling. I think in my teens I might have journaled for the sake of keeping a record of my thoughts, but that didn’t last long. My “thoughts” turned quickly to prayers and I have stacks of notebooks or actual designer journals in various places in the house.

I guess prayer always seemed like talking to a friend for me. I would talk to God as I walked to school, but prayer became most real when I could get it out on paper. When the Bible tells us to “cast our anxieties on Him because He cares for you”, I could only let those feelings go once I knew they were not only prayed in silence or even out loud but written.

Over the years, however, I’ve looked back at some of those prayers and discovered that I have a tendency to repeat myself. Can you relate? Do you ever ask God for the same thing over and over again?

I did so for years with my writing and now I look back and wonder if God ever grew tired of those oft-repeated prayers? Now I’m doing it again for different reasons and sometimes a repeated request begins to feel like it’s endless. Is God even listening?

Or does He have my desires memorized? Of course, being God, and knowing all things, He already knows the words before they are on my tongue, so He could easily recite the prayer to me before I even speak.

But for some reason, the Bible tells me that God wants to hear me say the words. It’s not that He longs for or even listens to rote prayers that are repeated without coming from the person’s heart. Jesus warned us against thinking we would be heard for our many prayers.

And yet on the other hand, He told us to “pray and not give up.” Following that statement, He told a story of a woman who kept asking for the same thing over and over again. The difference, I think, was that the woman’s petition came from her place of deep need and an honest seeking heart. She wasn’t just repeating herself to be heard or to show others that she knew how to pray.

I realize that this also needs to be true of me. My deepest heartfelt longings are so similar in content that they could be copied and pasted from one year to the next. There is one exception, however. My prayers do make subtle changes along the way. The kind that reminds me that God is slowly maturing me, and the prayers that were once desperate are now a little more willing to surrender to His ways. A little more grateful and satisfied with where He has placed me now, realizing that His ways are not mine and His timing is His.

Does God mind our oft-repeated prayers? I think it honestly depends on the state of our heart.

How about you? When you pray, do you do so by rote or because you should? Or has prayer become like a continuous conversation with someone you trust beyond anyone else? Can you give God your secret dreams, ambitions, your pain, your hurt places?

When we can do that, even if we have to keep reminding Him of those dreams or that pain, we are closer to the place of prayer that makes a difference both in us and in the way He chooses to answer.

~Selah

#livegrace #nevergiveup #prayalways

© 2017 Jill Eileen Smith

May 2017 New Releases

May 4, 2017

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Amish Brides by Jennifer Beckstrand, Molly Jebber, Amy Lillard — Under bright blue skies, wedding bells ring–fulfilling sweet dreams, impossible wishes, and joyous new beginnings among these three new stories. (Contemporary Romance from Kensington Publishers)

 

 

Sprouts of Love by Valerie Comer — An overzealous community garden manager delivers more than the food bank manager can handle. Can love sprout amid the tsunami of vegetables? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

 

 

Summer Dreams by Delia Latham — God’s love…reflected in the waters of the Pacific, and in the eyes of a young couple who walk its moonstone shores. (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

 

 

Right Where We Belong by Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, Courtney Walsh — Three sweet stories of small-town romance by three tried-and-true authors. Whether in a quaint home bakery in Langhorne, Missouri, a cozy boho coffee shop in Maple Valley, Iowa, or a charming lakeside cottage in Sweethaven, Michigan, love grows best in small towns just like this! (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

 

A Spring of Weddings by Toni Shiloh and Melissa Wardwell — Two Spring wedding novellas, “A Proxy Wedding,” and “Hope Beyond Savannah.” (Contemporary Romance from Celebrate Lit Publishing)

 

 

True to You by Becky Wade — Former Navy SEAL John Lawson hires genealogist Nora Bradford to help him to uncover the identity of his birth mother. As they work side-by-side, this pair of opposites begins to suspect that they just might be a perfect match. (Contemporary Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

 

Cozy Mystery:
 

What the Bishop Saw by Vannetta Chapman — A fire blazes out of control in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, leaving an elderly, Amish bachelor dead. Bishop Henry Lapp rushes to the scene, and he learns the fire was no accident. When the police point the finger at a suspect Henry knows is innocent, the bishop must decide whether or not to use his mysterious, God-given gift—one he’s tried desperately to ignore all these years—to try and set the record straight. (Contemporary Romance from Harvest House Publishers)

 

General Contemporary:

A Season to Dance by Patricia Beal — The heart wrenching love story of a small town professional ballerina who dreams of dancing at the Met in New York, of the two men who love her and of the forbidden kiss that changed everything. (General Contemporary from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

 

Looking Glass Lies by Varina Denman — A poignant and relatable novel, Looking Glass Lies captures the war women wage against themselves, and the struggle to see beauty reflected in a mirror not distorted by society’s unrelenting expectations. (General Contemporary from Waterfall Press)

 

 

Historical:

Blind Ambition by Carol Ashby — What began as a bored man’s decision to try a different road turns into an emotional and spiritual quest that changes the direction of his entire life. (Historical from Cerrillo Press)

 

 

Wings of the Wind by Connilyn Cossette — A broken and bitter Canaanite woman dresses as a man to fight against the invading Hebrews, never expecting that she would live to be captured and married to one of her enemies, and certainly not to find love and healing among the very people who killed her family. (Biblical/Historical from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

 

Historical Romance:

The Secret Admirer Romance Collection by Amanda Barratt, Lorraine Beatty, Molly Noble Bull, Anita Mae Draper, CJ Dunham, Jennifer Uhlarik, Becca Whitham, Kathleen Y’Barbo, Penny Zeller — Shy expressions of love lead to nine historical romances. Declaring one’s love can be hard–even risky–especially when faced with some of life’s greatest challenges. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

 

The Noble Servant by Melanie Dickerson — She lost everything to an evil conspiracy . . . but that loss may just give her all she ever wanted. (Historical Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

 

 

My Heart Belongs in Ruby City, Idaho: Rebecca’s Plight by Susanne Dietze — It’s a mail-order disorder when newlyweds realize they’ve married the wrong partners with similar names. An annulment seems in order–and fast. But when the legalities take longer than expected, Rebecca Rice wonders if Tad Fordham wasn’t the right husband for her all along. . . . (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

 

A Love So True by Melissa Jagears — They begin with the best of intentions, but soon the complications pile up and Evelyn and David’s dreams look more unattainable every day. When the revelation of a long-held secret creates a seemingly insurmountable rift between them, can they trust God still has a good plan for them despite all that is stacked against them? (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

 

Road to Harmony by Sherry Kyle — When Jonas returns to Harmony, Elena’s heart is torn between her secret love, and the storeowner her parents hope she marries. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

 

 

Hills of Nevermore by Janalyn Voigt — Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish preacher bent on helping her survive? (Historical Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

 

 

Romantic Suspense:

Fatal Mistake by Susan Sleeman — Each day could be her last…but not if he can help it. An FBI agent must protect the woman who can identify a terrorist bomber in bestselling author Susan Sleeman’s riveting romantic suspense novel. (Romantic Suspense from Faith Words [Hachette])

by jill at 6:00 am in ,