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In search of…joy

August 11, 2015

IMG_6012Have you ever sought joy? Ever find that it seems to hide in the shadows of life? I feel that way too often. I think part of it comes from not understanding the link between thanksgiving and joy. I was taught (and it’s true) that joy is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but no one ever taught me that the Spirit works in us to a greater degree when we offer the sweet sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, no matter the circumstances.

Giving thanks sounds like something we do around a dinner table or once a year in November on the national holiday that seems more like it is about parades and football than thanking God for life, for grace, and so much more. I’ve read the verses that tell me to offer God a sacrifice of praise. That God is pleased with the sacrifice of thanksgiving, but I didn’t understand. Not at a heart level. Give thanks as a sacrifice?

IMG_6032The thing is, that statement is truer and harder than it seems. It is easy to give thanks when life is going well, when things fall into place as we’d hoped or planned. It is easy to give thanks when we are all healthy and life seems good, when our dreams are within reach.

But what of the family who stands at the grave of a 26 year old who fell asleep at the wheel? What of the aged father who weeps over the daughter who was stricken with lung cancer and taken at 45? What of the child who is born with a syndrome that will affect his mental capabilities for the rest of his life? Or of estranged relationships among friends or family? Or…the list could go on and on. Where do we find the joy then?

The Greek word for joy or grace, which is wrapped up in gratitude is Eucharisteo. I’ve been reading about this joy a lot in my second time through One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Yesterday I read and underlined these words from that book, “Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?”

So true. And yet it is the shadows that try to hide the joy. God gives grace in the shadows. He is IMG_6078with us in the valley of the shadow of death, which I believe also means He is with us in the valley of the shadows in life too, because the “shadow of death” is not necessarily death itself. But some things in life can feel like death, can cause us to grieve in such a loss, can hide His presence where joy lives.

But when we sacrifice thanks to Him even in the trials of life, when we give thanks even in the valleys and when joy seems hidden out of sight, we find the buried treasure that is joy. Thanksgiving casts light on the shadows and joy emerges when it is joy in Christ. Gratitude for His grace gives joy.

Maybe we are simply grateful for another day to breathe. Maybe we are gIMG_6067rateful for something as simple as a sunset outside our window. Maybe we are grateful that He is hanging onto us, we are on His mind and in His heart and He holds us in the palm of His hand. We find joy in being thankful to Him for the little things and the bigger things. And we find the greatest joy when we sacrifice thanks for the hard things, with eyes of faith for what will be. When we thank Him based on His Word. When we thank Him for keeping promises He has promised to keep but has yet to fulfill. We have greater joy when that thanksgiving accompanies faith that He will see us through the shadows and valleys and hard places. When we know that He can fix what is broken, heal what is hurt, forgive what has offended Him, and wrap us in His arms in unconditional love.

IMG_5567Joy is indeed part of the Spirit’s fruit, but if we are honest, we don’t always let the Spirit fill our hearts with gratitude so God can pour that joy into us. We give in to doubt and hurt and sadness and pain. We focus on the shadows and live in the dark valleys without the light. We avoid the truth that we are ungrateful.

But I’ve discovered that every bit of what we avoid in our walk with the Lord can be changed in a heartbeat of faith and thanksgiving. Tears can shut off like the flip of a faucet and joy and peace can take their place. It’s starts with a heart willing to look for, search for, even fight for joy. And remembering that it takes sacrifice on our part, sacrifice of thanksgiving and gratitude to find it.


by jill at 9:24 pm in ,

In search of….hope

August 8, 2015

IMG_5943What do you hope for? Perhaps a better question is–what do you define hope to be?

We use the word rather flippantly sometimes when we say things like–“I hope it doesn’t rain at our picnic, or I hope I win that contest, or I hope the house sells quickly, or I really hope I get the job, or I hope I get a raise, or I hope…well, you get the idea. So many things in life turn into wishes and wishes grow into hopes and dreams. And when we pursue those dreams, we do so out of hope that we will see, feel, taste, touch, the things for which we hope.

But is it really hope to just wish and dream?

Some would say so. Even Proverbs tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I’ve known that feeling, haven’t you? But I think that type of hope qualifies more as a deep longing, because I don’t think I have ever felt heartsick over rain at a picnic or loss of a contest. Like the word “love”, “hope” has many depths of meaning, and I think we miss the truest sense of hope if we only apply it to superficial life things.

IMG_5937Hope in its truest sense is linked to the Giver of hope. It is also linked to faith and love.

Have you ever felt truly hopeless? Emotionally, I’ve come close. But my feelings, as true as they were at the time, can’t compare to the real hopelessness in the world. Just read about the devastation going on in parts of the Middle East, see the haunted look in the eyes of children in war-torn Syria, see the fear and hopelessness in the faces of terrorist victims. Many people on earth have reason to feel hopeless. Suicide rates aren’t just numbers, they reflect the lives of emotionally tortured people who lost all hope in living. That kind of hope deferred truly does make us heartsick. And heartsickness leads to despair and despair to desperation.

Desperate people do desperate things.

But hope can change that, if we will let it.

IMG_2436Where do I find this hope? Like the woman at the well asked Jesus, “Where do I get this living water so I don’t have to keep coming to the well.” (Jill’s paraphrase) Another way of applying her question might be, “How to I get this living water, this source of hope you are offering me, so that I don’t have to keep feeling this way?” The woman at the well couldn’t have been pleased with her life or she wouldn’t have avoided the rest of the women in town and been at the well when Jesus saw her there. But I suspect she was just desperate enough to avoid the gossips, the arrogant glances, that she couldn’t take it any more.

Hopeless people grasp at any glimpse of hope offered. As Jesus offered that Samaritan woman that day. And she grabbed hold with both hands, desperate to be filled with something to fill the ache hopelessness had left in her.

Living water, was the term Jesus used to offer grace to this hopeless woman. Living…He came to give life and to give it to us in the fullest possible way we could live it. Abundant, overflowing, joyful, faith-filled life. As if He was echoing the woman’s ancestor Moses when he’d said, “Choose life that you and your descendants may live.” I’m offering you living water…Living…Jesus has the power to turn life into something worth living–real life–full life–true life.

IMG_2428Water…Why did He choose to use this metaphor for grace? Think about it for a moment. We are told we are made of water – lots of it, and we are supposed to drink many glasses of it daily. Living water moves, it is not stagnant. Standing on the shore of a lake or ocean is one of my favorite places on earth to be. Water lapping the shore is restful. Waves pounding the surf, can have the opposite affect and bring fear and destruction. But it is not stagnant, and it’s living liquid shows the power of the Creator who told the waves just how far they could go before they must stop. (Job 38:11)

Living water is also a symbol, I think, of the Holy Spirit who lives in us when we put our trust in Jesus, when we lay aside our hopelessness for His hope. We do not live as those who have no hope. When real life hits hard, when we stand at the graveside of a loved one, when we hear news that devastates, when we walk through the valleys of life and the wastelands where living water seems far away, we can cling to the hope God gives us each moment. Hope that He keeps His promises because we’ve seen Him do it.

IMG_5127“I will never leave you nor forsake you,” even if everyone else does.

“But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

“Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (Emphasis mine)

The kind of hope that lives, the living water, the living hope, comes from God. We can search the whole world for superficial hope, but hope in things or people will never last. Everyone will eventually let us down. Everyone but the only One who can be trusted and who is here now, I AM, living forever.

So we live in search of knowing Him better, of knowing His peace…His hope…and so much more. Where does living hope lead?

I’m ready to find out, aren’t you?



by jill at 12:53 pm in ,

In search of…peace

August 3, 2015

IMG_6027We just returned from a mini vacation to Traverse City, a town on the northwestern side of our state. We were guests at my sister’s house, which is set apart in a peaceful subdivision where deer roam the backlot and little yellow and red finches feed off their deck. Summer is a beautiful time to visit this city, which happened to be hosting the annual film festival that week. (We didn’t attend any films–too many beaches to visit.)

IMG_6002The lakes around Traverse City are the purest blue-green waters I’ve ever seen, far different than my beloved Pacific Ocean. The sand dunes dot various shorelines, bluffs, lighthouses, beaches, and more make this area a perfect getaway for the hurried and frazzled lives we live down state (southeastern lower MI where we live).

We went for a number of reasons but one was to get away, to relax, to seek peace in a fresh location. Not that I lacked peace at home, but there is something about the water and nature that gives me that feeling of renewal. Out on my sister’s kayak, Randy and I floated on the lake and just let the breeze move us for part of the time. It would have been so easy to stay there indefinitely, to gently bob with the waves. Like floating in the Dead Sea. So relaxing. So restful.

IMG_6020I think I feel closer to God’s heart near the water, strange as that probably sounds. It’s as though each wave lapping the shore, each touch of the liquid on skin is a reminder of God’s gentleness and His power all wrapped into one. We are at His mercy out on the water where storms can rise up and devour or Jesus can speak “Peace. Be still,” and make the waves stop.

But this week He added to my gratitude journal and whispered peace to my heart in each thing we did. In church where my brother-in-law is a pastor, God spoke peace. “I’ve got this,” He seemed to speak to my heart. Whispered words to things that trouble me. And I know He does – He has all of it in His very capable hands.

DSC_3363I can’t be a bird and soar high in the skies carried on the wind. And I can’t spend my days in the kayak or floating on the waters indefinitely. And it doesn’t really matter whether I live in a place like Traverse or my own home town or whether I move to a different state entirely, should God so lead. Peace isn’t found in a place. Places can add to our peace, as can people who care about us and share their love. But peace is truly only found in One Person–Jesus.

“Peace I leave with you,” He said. “My peace I give unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe…”

And that’s what I think I enjoyed best about our little trip this week. The whisper of God was in every place. Trust Me. I’ve got this. Believe.

And when I do, peace follows.



by jill at 6:28 pm in ,

Our short life here

July 23, 2015

IMG_3380The other day, a few weeks ago now, I wrote at the top page of my journal, “I have always been afraid.” That may seem like a strange thing to hear coming from someone who might look like she has life figured out. But I’ll be honest. I don’t. There are a few things I know with certainty, but many others that I don’t.

What I do know? That God is real. I know that with the certainty of faith in the invisible, absolutely powerful, radical, untamable, Creator. I know it at a heart level that cannot be explained until it is experienced. But it is founded in absolute truth. (Yes, I believe there is such a thing.)

IMG_6670So if I believe God is real, what do I fear? King David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Really, if I truly believe that, there shouldn’t be any fear left, right?

But that’s not how I grew up. I think the fear began the year my great aunt died and I looked into her casket and imagined, “That could be my mom!” I was eleven.

Now I’d just begun to know Jesus when I was eight, and the fear of hell had left me in that moment of pure, honest surrender to Him, and has never returned. But this was different. I didn’t know how to apply trust to everyday life. So I feared.

IMG_6693I feared loss of loved ones.
I feared rejection.
I feared the disapproval of people.
I feared not being liked.

Fear has a way of controlling our actions, doesn’t it? When we fear people, we are really saying that we don’t trust God more. We don’t love God more than the approval of others. God is not big enough in our eyes to conquer the little daily stuff. He might be big enough to conquer hell, but that is such an abstract concept to us because we’ve never seen it. So sure, we can believe Him for an eternity we really can’t fathom.

IMG_5128But God is invisible. It’s not like we can go out for coffee with Him and chat with Him over Starbucks. Not like we can a human friend. So trust comes through faith in what He’s revealed to us in Scripture, and sometimes that can seem like a lot to trust.

But what if I did? What if what Jesus said is true, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” What does it really mean to believe in him?

It means a lot more than mental assent – acknowledging something is real. It means going so far as to lean into God with all you’ve got, to trust Him to be everything you need. To trust Him even when He is silent. To thank Him for His promises before they come true. Abraham believed God when He was promised a son, 25 years before that son was born.

IMG_3168To believe God is to love God–more than anything or anyone we can physically see.

And that’s the only thing God requires of us to be part of His family. Believe the one whom He sent.

I’m not sure I’ve always done that so well. I grow impatient in my prayers. I want to see God at work right now! I tend to want God to work things out the way I envision they should be. But that’s not faith. That’s not trusting the unpredictable Author of my story to craft my short life’s tale to bring Him glory and write it for my greatest good.

Why do I sometimes find it so hard to trust Him when I’ve believed in Him, even loved Him for so long?

IMG_2375Jennie Allen says in her book Anything, “There are always doubts. We doubt because God, while he gets louder, is still invisible, because of the people questioning your sanity and the difficulty of just following a wild invisible God into uncomfortable spaces. We doubt because of the risk, the cost, the abandonment of rights and comforts, the disapproval of people you really love, and then on top of it all, because you have now officially picked a fight with the devil. The devil is real, and nothing ticks him off more than people waking up from the numb stuper he has crafted to keep us harmless.”

Fear keeps us numb. It keeps us too afraid to surrender everything. To tell God we are willing to do anything in our short life here. It keeps us from taking the risk of giving God our dreams, surrendering our hopes and plans and all we thought most important in this life. We forget that “heaven is coming and we are not there yet.” (Jennie Allen, Anything)

In a recent blog post, Ann Voskamp said, “It takes courage to listen with our whole heart to the tick of God’s timing, rather than march to the loud beat of our fears.”

But that’s what we need to do if we really want to follow the real, true, living God. We have to believe Him. And that means we trust Him with every part of our lives. Because eternity is coming when faith will be made sight, and all of the waiting and worrying, all of the wanting our way, impatiently demanding, not trusting that He knew best all along, all of the fear and guilt and shame and unwillingness to surrender our pride for fear of what other people might think, or what we might discover if we really take that leap and trust Him, will take on a whole new meaning then.

We were made for eternity, and I think deep down, we all know that. And a God I believe in is asking me to truly trust everything about Him, even though I don’t know it all. I can’t predict Him. I can only know what He has revealed. And even then…He holds the right to mystery.

But isn’t that the best kind of faith? The kind that requires more of us than we can even imagine?

I don’t know how many more years God has planned for me on this planet called earth, but one thing I do know, it’s a blink compared to eternity. And with what is left of my life here, I want to live in faith, not fear. God is worth that kind of trust. How do I know that? Because I’ve experienced Him. Because I believe Him.

I hope you do too!


by jill at 6:31 pm in ,

Two new cover reveals!

July 18, 2015

I’ve posted these on Facebook, but I realize that Facebook does not reach many people these days. And I must say, I’m excited to share the latest upcoming novella with you all, and the next full-length release coming next February.

First the novella (e-book only short story): The Shepherdess (You can find the info also on my books page.)

Smith_Shepherdess_EB CoverThe Shepherdess is the story of Abishag, the last legal wife of King David. She was more nurse to the aging king than wife, and in the Bible she becomes a pawn between two half-brothers, both with claims to King David’s throne. This story is my imaginative take on her early life, along with some actual events that took place in Scripture. It was fun putting myself into her sandals and walking along with her on the short journey we shared. I hope her short story will bless you!

The Prophetess from AmazonThe second cover reveal (and available for pre-order on Amazon) is for the full-length second book in the series Daughters of the Promised Land, The Prophetess, Deborah’s Story.

This story was by far harder to write than stories past, though I know friends will tell me I’ve said that before. I said it of Rebekah and fretted much over that book! But worry never accomplishes anything constructive and as I discovered when the end of that book finally came to be, there was a story in her short tale in Scripture after all! But Deborah – oi! She has one chapter and a song. We have little history on her or her surroundings and figuring out her story took some creative study of the song and a lot of brainstorming. One friend spent three hours on the phone with me to help me fix what was wrong that I couldn’t see even after I thought the book finished. I thank God for friends!

Deborah’s story is in the editing phase, so I can’t offer a first chapter to read or anything yet, but hopefully soon. I think the story, set in a time of terrorism and spiritual chaos can remind us that the times in which we live are not so very different. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. And Deborah noted in her song, “When new gods were chosen, war was in the gates.” I think she has much to teach us.

Other than that, I’m enjoying summer weather – until today (in the 90s) it’s been absolutely gorgeous! I’m up to 338 gifts to be grateful for in my gratitude journal – I plan to just keep going even past 1000. I’m reading a new book called Anything, The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen. So far – wonderful book! I’m also reading a novel for possible endorsement, which has already planted its characters in my mind. I’m looking forward to finishing it!

LoveAnd in my spare time, just for fun, I created my first acrostic for the word LOVE. (I’m sorry it’s hard to read in this picture. My website would not let me upload a larger version.) This is what it says: LAMB OFFERS VICTORY ETERNAL, LIBERATES OPPRESSED VINDICATES ENSLAVED, LION OVERCOMES VIPER’S EVIL, and we are LAVISHED OVERJOYED VALUED ESTEEMED.

I intend to do more for a few more favorite words like HOPE, JOY, PEACE, etc., but for now I did LOVE. The photo was from one of our California trips that I played with in a photo editor. Coming up with singular words for each letter in LOVE, that matched the true meaning of the word was not easy. Especially when it came to “o”!

Had I not been looking for words that fit the letters, I would have said that IMG_5494“Love is patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. Love is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13)

Of course, that kind of love is supernatural because not one of us can say we could keep this list all of the time. It is God’s “agape” unconditional love. Love that loves no matter what, no matter why, always. I take so much comfort in knowing God loves me that way. I don’t deserve His love. But how gracious He is to offer it anyway!

How about you? What have you been up to this summer? And how would you define love?

In His Matchless Grace,