On faith in the hard.

In my newest release, Then Sings My Soul, the main character, Jakob, has lived through 94 years of tumult and suffering. As a young Jewish boy who escaped Russian pogroms of the early 20th century, he witnessed many loved ones die for or because of their faith.

As with many of that generation, Jakob grows up keeping his faith relatively quiet, stuffed within him, covered and safe by shrouds of doubt and anger, shame and fear. 

I can’t give away too much more, so you’ll have to read the book to see how that does or does not change for Jakob as he nears the end of his life.

The idea of steadfast faith in the midst of trials and persecution influenced the main storyline thread in Then Sings My Soul. The book, Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner, influenced it as well. A former Orthodox Jew who converted to Christianity, Winner writes that she, “found that her life was indelibly marked by the rich traditions and spiritual practices of Judaism. [In Mudhouse Sabbath, she] presents eleven Jewish practices that can transform the way Christians view the world and God.”

In one scene of Then Sings My Soul, Jakob’s older brother, Peter, tries to encourage him to keep the faith in his head going, even when he doesn’t feel it in his heart. One way the Jewish people have done that is by reciting a sort of liturgy called the Kaddish during seasons of mourning. Here is what Winner says,

“Even in the pit, even in depresssion and loss and nonsense, still we respond to God with praise. This is not to say that the mourner should not feel what he feels–anger, disbelief, hatred. He can feel those things (and shout them out to God; God can take it). You do not have to feel praise in the intense moments of mourning, but the praise is still true, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises.”

Whether at the beginning, middle or end of our lives, there is always a battle going on for our hearts...a battle for truth, a battle for hope, a battle for our loyalty to God. Often, we struggle to understand what in the world about following Jesus Christ is worth it anymore.

Reciting the truth like Jewish mourners do, choosing or even writing out our own psalm of praise, and saying it whether we feel like it or not can work to bring the head and the heart back together in times of uncertainty and persecution.

Dear friends, so much of what we fight in this world is unseen.

In faithfulness we can find joy once again. 

*****

  
 

Desperate or deliberate? 

My favorite college literature class focused on American Transcendentalists. A famous passage from that era from Henry David Thoreau reads:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”



Note that Thoreau did not write: “I went to the woods to live desperately.”

Because I think that’s how many, if not most, of us live.

Desperate.

We are the Great Martha (Luke 10:38-42) Generation, the do-ers, the be-ers, the movers and the shakers.

We not only force our own lives to happen, we ultimately force what we believe to be the hand of God in our lives…even onto the lives of others.

We make the plans and then tell God to join us.

Our constant heart cry is, “Are we there yet?” when God wants us to be still and know and perhaps…perhaps to enjoy the ride. Our constant posture is shoulder-to-the-grindstone instead of resting in the easy yoke of His guiding hand.

We forge ahead when God says wait.

I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference this weekend to sit at His feet, to renew my writing purpose, to refocus my all on Him, to clear my mind of everything that distracts and burdens and sucks the marrow out of my soul. The world does those things to an artist. The blessing and the curse of a creative is that we are born with ears that over-hear, with hearts that over-feel, our senses skittish and overwhelmed by all the world tells us we should be doing, rather than what the Creator made us to be. Spending time shoulder-to-shoulder with other writers seeking Him beneath ancient redwoods centers me again. 



Being with other writers and creatives makes me determined again to live deliberately.

Walking with Him, and not sprinting ahead.

Listening for Him, and not talking at Him.

Refusing to act on any muse other than the Spirit moving in my heart.

It is only in that intimacy, only in that grace, only in the mercy of his light and loving load that life becomes worth living.

Only then can story be written.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

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*****

What about you?

Do you live desperately or deliberately? 

Is your burden heavy or light?

What can you do to live more intimately, more in-step, with God, today?

On lapidary and artists: The story behind the theme of Then Sings My Soul

I think one of God’s favorite things to do is to make and shape people. Of course I can’t speak for Him, but the works of God’s hands are mentioned not infrequently throughout the Bible, how God sculpts the land and the heart, and how He creates artists, too.

Moses talks about an artisan named Bezalel who may have been one of the earliest lapidarists.  Exodus 31:5 (NLT) reads, “[Bezalel] is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!”

And in Isaiah 64:8 (NLT) we read, “And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.”

Jakob, the main protagonist in Then Sings My Soul, is a lapidarist–one who works with and fashions stones and gems. Jakob’s father (Josef) was a lapidarist, too.

This is a piece of raw aquamarine, the sort of stone Josef  would have worked with and passed on to Jakob in the story.

I used the trade and theme of lapidary in this novel because my grandfather was a lapidarist, too. In fact, he actually made the stone on the cover of the novel, and you can read more about that providential story in the afterwords in the back of the novel.

As a special treat for you today, here are the actual diagrams and notes my grandfather used to make this stone:

When you read Then Sings My Soul, I think you’ll discover why the theme of lapidary lends itself so well to Jakob and his daughter, Nel. They both start out pretty rough, living in ways not everyone would approve of. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t see the beauty He knows they can become.

The same story can be yours, friend. If you feel dirty and rough, unnoticed, worthless…God sees the new and clean, the priceless and sparkling person He is making you to be.

The work a lapidarist does on a stone is harsh at times. There are cuts and chisels, chunks hacked off and angles shorn. But in the eye of the Lapidarist, all these steps are necessary.

More than that, as He works, the Lapidarist holds you in His hand and never lets go.

What about you? 

Do you have places in your life that need polished? 

Do you wonder where God is in the midst of your journey?

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