Counting All Joy: Thanksgiving, Lament, & 7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

I first wrote this list of questions in October of 2016. At that time, the list was titled “7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask Ourselves in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew (or Any Tragedy).” It was a Sunday morning then, and Hurricane Matthew had just torn through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, headed straight for my town. At the last minute, he’d wobbled slightly into the Atlantic, sparing us a direct hit.

Our church family had made their way through streets strewn with debris and downed power lines, praising the Lord that we were able to meet and worship together in our intact church building. At the same time, we were grieving losses of our sisters and brothers in Christ along the storm’s route who had suffered great loss and praying for those in the still-moving storm’s path. Thanksgiving and lament, praise and supplication, all bundled together.

I’ve been revisiting these questions in recent weeks, especially as we’ve moved toward the Thanksgiving holiday. First, for those currently enduring trials, this season can spark complicated emotions. Second, given the link between suffering and spiritual refinement, sometimes I’m not sure what I should actually be thankful for.

While I’m truly glad to be enjoying a measure of health and happiness with my friends and family this week, I’m aware that even when all is not as I would wish it to be, God is worthy of worship regardless.

7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

  1. Given the relationship between suffering and Christlikeness, is being spared suffering necessarily a good thing? (1 Peter 2:21-25)
  2. Why would the Father ever spare me suffering–especially since he did not spare his own Son? (Romans 8:31-32)
  3. Do I secretly believe that the people who weren’t spared deserve to suffer in a way that I do not? (Psalm 103:10)
  4. Have I devoted prayer and/or resources for the relief of my sisters and brothers who are currently suffering? (Galatians 6:10)
  5. If I really believe that death will usher me immediately into the presence of Yahweh, why am I so relieved to find myself still here? (Philippians 1:20-26)
  6. Am I praising God’s name because I have escaped suffering or because he is worthy of praise regardless? (Psalm 96)
  7. Would I still be praising his name if I had lost everything? (Job 1:21Job 2:9-10)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

In Other News

I can’t believe it’s already November–and nearly the end of the month, at that!
Besides keeping the plates spinning at my day job and enjoying a bit of travel, I’ve mostly been absorbed this month with NaNoWriMo. I’m over 22,000 words into the first draft of my next novel, a stand-alone dramedy I’ve had in the works since before Bookmageddon. The drafting pace is a bit frantic, but I’m having a great time developing totally new characters. I’m hoping to have it in front of your beady eyes somewhere in 2020!(Pending publisher acceptance, of course. It’s fine. Totally fine. I’m not even worried about it! *cue screaming*)

Speaking of books, this week two of my 2017 releases will be enjoying Black Friday sales on Amazon. Well, Black Friday-ish Sales. Prices are scheduled to drop over the long weekend; but as ever, the ways of Amazon are unpredictable. Keep your eyes peeled for discounts on the Kindle versions of The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles and Murder on Birchardville Hill, both of which are slated to drop to $.99.

Black and Gold Dotted Border 21st Birthday Social Media Graphic (1)

For all of those celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you a truly wonderful time of rest, reflection, and refreshment. May your turkey be succulent, your family dinners drama-free, and your coffee always within reach.

Expectation, Reality, and Hope

Recently, a former student of mine found a typo in a book. Normally this would thrill me. I love seeing my students apply what they’ve learned–especially post-graduation. This time was different, however. This time the book was mine.

“I found a typo in your book.”

Her comment sparked an inner war.

Obviously, I make no mistakes; therefore, she must be wrong. But she can’t be wrong. She’s my student. She knows her stuff. To doubt her is to doubt the quality of her English education, which I can’t do. I was her English education. Besides, I want to be proud of her. In a small way, she’s an outflow of me. But so is my book.

Moments like these underscore two basic truths. First, we desire perfection. Because we’re made in the image of a perfect God, we keenly feel the tension between that desire and the reality of our lives. We are completely incapable of the perfection we require. Every day, in incalculable ways, we fall short.

I’m not just talking here about sin, although that’s also true. I’m talking more about faulty memories, missed turns, slips of the tongue, and yes–even typos.

What do we do when we’re forced to confront our own inadequacy?

We thank God that once, there was a Person who held it together. Though he suffered the same human frailty we battle every day, he surpassed expectations, ushered in a new reality, and is our source of hope.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

Without the hope of mercy and grace found in Jesus, the frustration and shame of our own inadequacy would crush us.

Fortunately, because Christ was perfect, we don’t have to be. He freed us from the frustration of trying to meet an impossible standard.

Our hearts can rest in him.

~  ~  ~

For more information on my books, see here. To read along and check for typos, see here.

What’s the best/worst typo that you’ve ever found in a book or–perish the thought!–caught in your own work? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Happy Monday, everybody!

When Life Has Continuity Issues

Recently I stumbled across a list I’d scribbled in one of my writing notebooks while editing my first trilogy. At the top of one page, in giant loopy (and–let’s face it–slightly manic) handwriting are two words: CONTINUITY ISSUES!

In crafting fiction, continuity issues crop up for a number of reasons. The most common reasons include late-date tweaks to a plot or a character that are inevitable and yet frustrating because they nearly always require total book (or, in my case, total series) checks to ensure that the story still hangs together as a unified whole. This is a time-consuming process, but a relatively simple one. Once I root through my manuscripts and make the necessary changes, no one is the wiser–except perhaps my editor, who either approved the changes or suggested them in the first place.

jess-watters-519012-unsplashThough I occasionally offer justification or pushback against editorial changes, I know deep down that there’s no way I can be objective about my writing. I’ve spent too much time with my nose buried in the page to see the big picture clearly, and my insane emotional attachment to the time I’ve invested in certain sections unduly influences me to champion them even when they add little overall value. That’s why as a writer, I’ve learned to trust my editors. Although the process is sometimes painful, each edit is a kindness.

In life, I also have an Editor. He’s constantly reworking the narrative, adjusting my story goals, adding and subtracting characters, and tweaking the timeline. When I recognize this happening, I have two options: I can try to superimpose my will over His, or I can learn to trust his firm editorial hand.

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9 NKJV)