Intentionality.

Intentionality.

It’s a word that popped into my mind when I wanted to choose a few theme words for this year, and it’s a word that’s continued to force itself upon my consciousness throughout these months.

Intentionality.

I want it in my life as a Christian. I want it in my life as a daughter. I want it in my life as a sister. I want it in my life as a friend. I want it in my life as an employee, a writer, a student…

I want it to define my life, because my days are short and few. A moment slips by without notice or effort, and then it’s gone forever.

So I want to be intentional.

To intentionally put God first in my heart, my mind, and my days.

To intentionally battle procrastination so I don’t have to push people away when I’m scrambling for a deadline.

To intentionally do my best work on the smallest of tasks, whether at the farm, at the keyboard, or in the home.

To intentionally send a text or letter just to let someone know they matter.

To intentionally put down my phone or close my laptop or book to be all there when someone calls my name.

To intentionally drink in the beauty of life.

To intentionally battle introverted tendencies and strike up conversations with people I don’t know well.

To intentionally be transparent, tearing down any false fronts I’ve set up in my life.

To intentionally thirst for wisdom… and then intentionally seek it.

To intentionally take up my cross and follow Jesus, every single day.

To intentionally live for God.

The Valentine’s Day Post

The Valentine’s Day Post

Happy Thursday, people! Happy almost-Valentine’s Day, as well.:)

Yesterday morning, as I finished reading the book of Jeremiah, some of the very last verses caught my eye, stopped me, and made me think. My train of thought led me to ponder what love really is and does, so I decided to share the whole works with you today and dub it a rather unconventional Valentine’s themed post.:)

So here are the verses that started it all…

“Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. So Jehoiachin changed from his prison garments.” – Jeremiah 52:31b and 32a

This in itself is just a fragment of a historical account. Nothing outstanding. But a parallel jumped out at me here, and I remembered…

I’m no longer in the prison of sin. Jesus freed me from that. So I need to leave my prison garments behind, and Colossians 3 says they are…

“… anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.”

And what does the clothing of this “new man” look like?

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

“But above all these things…

“put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

We’re not talking about the frail manifestation of dutiful affection that seems to abound at this time of year. We’re talking about the real deal.

Honest-to-goodness true love.

The stuff that remains when all the beauty and romance of life is gone. When there are no happy emotions. When sin has left deep, open wounds on the heart and there seems to be nothing left but hurt. When everything that’s in you screams to leave it all and run…

Love is what picks up the pieces and painfully carries on when the road is so broken, life seems to have no direction or meaning anymore.

Love suffers long, and it’s kind.

Love doesn’t envy.

Love doesn’t parade itself… it’s not puffed up.

Love doesn’t behave rudely.

Love doesn’t seek its own.

Love is not provoked.

Love thinks no evil.

Love doesn’t rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things.

Believes all things.

Hopes all things.

Endures all things.

Love never fails.

So let’s celebrate it. Celebrate true love this season. It’s tempting to glaze over all the flaws and rough spots in our relationships with glitter and flowers and such…

But how about making this Valentine’s Day different from the rest?

How about digging deep into our hearts right now, crying out to God, and asking Him to root out everything in us that isn’t born of Him… that isn’t born of love? We may not have much left when we’re through… but it’ll be pure. It’ll hurt… but it’ll be worth it.

I’m not an expert on relationships of any sort… and maybe that’s why I’m writing this. Because I know I can’t be a good friend, daughter, sister, you name it, without God. Without the deep, unshakable love that He alone offers me. And I can’t offer it to others unless I have received it from Him.

Two things, people. Love God, love people.

Happy Valentine’s Day. ❤

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Being a Christian: What Does That Look Like? – Guest Post

Being a Christian: What Does That Look Like? – Guest Post

Happy Monday, all!

Today’s post was written by my role model, counselor, fellow jokester, debater, and one of my very best friends: my brother Peyton.

I’m laughing here as I see him saying he’s not a good writer… because I’m of the absolute opposite opinion. Some of the things I love most about him are his hard honesty and unwavering devotion to the people and causes he loves. Here he displays those qualities perfectly.

Without further ado… here he is.:)

My name is Peyton Luehmann. I am Laurel’s younger brother and I will begin by warning you: I am not a blogger! I am actually not even a good author, so it was incredible that she let me do this.

I told her I would write an overview on what it means to be a Christian because that is, to me, the most important element of our lives. I find my purpose, identity, and fulfillment in the sacrifice made at Calvary, and feel that all Christians are called to that perspective. I have put this post together in the form of answers to the title.

It means that Christ becomes everything to us.

This is really the biggest point. The reality is that we are criminals convicted (by a just God) of infidelity and hostility towards Him, and that instead of having to bear the death penalty for sin (without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin) we are met with the news that someone has taken our penalty for us, and we can go free! What news indeed!

Now I pose the question: would not this person who took the penalty for us be deserving of some form of gratitude? The answer is absolutely. A perfect Being came as a real live human and suffered an unthinkable death to pay our fine. Such a Being would be more than deserving of simple “gratitude”! He would deserve our very lives.

Therefore, we come to a place of realization that we are forever indebted to this God, this Christ, this Holy Spirit. Our only just response can be the complete surrender of our will to His, the reverence-filled obedience to His instructions, and the act of losing ourselves in His love; this is a perfect and holy love, unparalleled by human feeling.

It means that we must lose sight of all trivial matters.

2 Timothy 2:4 says, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life. . .”. Our relationship with this world must become wary and untrusting; we must view the surrounding world as a net that threatens to entangle us. It is true that we were put here by our God, but in light of the fact that He is now all to us, we have no choice but to abandon our flesh and march after our King.

We are also told that all of mankind will hate us for our connection with Christ. Our journey will be that of despised outcasts if we are living in accordance with the instructions given us. But our home is in a better country; we have the promise of a perfect land where sin and death have no power. This world is simply a preparation for Eternity.

It means that we must become oblivious to the opinion of others in our pursuit of Christ.

This is one that I really wrestle with a lot. I read stories in the Bible (and elsewhere) of real people who, in their devotion to God, ignored what surrounding people might think in their obedience to perform His will. People like Noah, Abraham, Daniel, Mary, and countless others. Our culture today especially is constantly concerned with their reputation, other people’s perception of them, etc. It is all a disgusting swamp to me. We are letting our connections with the world (which should be completely severed at our union with Christ) hold us back from living delightfully all for Him. The concept of a mind freed from concern of status is a beautiful image to me, and one that I puzzle over constantly.

I hope that this gave you a renewed view of Christianity, and that you would either claim this unspeakable gift if you have not already done so, or that, if you have, what you just read would spur you on to a deeper, fuller, and more amazing relationship with Jesus. Again, this life is all about Him and the promise of what is to come. Keep living for Christ!

Straight from the Journal – Tough Gentle Love

Straight from the Journal – Tough Gentle Love

Hey, friends! Here’s an unedited taste of this week’s journaling.

For months the topic of Christian love and how I need to be living it out has been on my heart… and that’s what this entry is all about.:)

True love is to walk according to God’s commandments. “be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;” (1 Peter 3:8)

I want this tough gentle love for others, Lord.

of one mind – clear up misunderstandings, talk through things, don’t hold grudges, pray for understanding, argue to find the truth, not advance your own interests, fight to understand one another.

have compassion for one another – go out of your way to make someone’s load lighter, be sensitive to the feelings of others and act on what you see, speak in a way that induces others to be compassionate rather than judgemental.

love as brothers – strong, deep, committed love. Easy to understand, but hard to put into practice.

be tenderhearted – be sensitive and act on it, love others as you love yourself, be understanding and patient with the emotions of others, even if you don’t understand.

be courteous – look out for others the way you look out for yourself, consider how a decision will affect everyone before making it, ask for opinions, consider the feelings of others.

This indeed is tough gentle love, Lord. Help me to put it into practice in all of my relationships.

Eighteen – My Mid-Term Reflections

Eighteen – My Mid-Term Reflections

I’ve hit the half-way mark in my eighteenth year.

Did it meet my expectations?

Uh, no. Big no. My little-kid self assumed that when one turns eighteen, one magically becomes an adult, assumes adult responsibilities with ease, has everything figured out in life, and does big things.

Maybe that happens to everyone else… but it sure didn’t happen to me.

Looking back, I see that much of this slice of life was spent just trying to get the hang of life as a graduated adult with work instead of school, and a whole lot of things to figure out. I did a lot of journaling. And crying. And laughing. And praying. And thinking. And writing. And smiling. And farming. Lots of little things filled my life – and joy – to overflowing.

I had big plans to write my novel, take writing classes, and probably stop mixing feed for the cows on the family farm. (No offense, cows…) I wanted an orderly lifestyle with few or no complications. Ha.

Instead, I grew to love the crazy diversity that defines this season of my life. I fell mostly in love with my job on the farm and decided to keep it. I got to take on some babysitting. I didn’t take many writing classes. I didn’t make as much progress on my novel as I had naively planned. I got shoved into situations that stretched me…

But am I happy with how the last six months have panned out?

Absolutely.

They most certainly did not go according to my tidy, boring little plans. Oh, no. Instead, they gave me the opportunity to experience a huge, crazy mash-up of joy, pain, humor, irony, sacrifice, stumbling, disappointment, failure…

And fulfilment beyond my wildest dreams.

When God starts to change my plans, my first response is to wail, No, God. You don’t understand. This is how it’s supposed to go. Really.

To which He gently, but firmly, responds, Ah, but this is how it must go. Just wait and see… and soon you’ll know why.

I’m not at the end of my story, but I can already see some of the blessings that have come because God turned my plans upside down. I’m not holding so tightly to the security offered by things, plans, circumstances, or even people anymore. I’m not as scared of trying new things. I want Him more.

And I’m actually excited to hand Him the pen for these next six months – for the rest of my life – and to watch in breathless anticipation as He continues to write my story for me.

What are some things that you learned in your eighteenth year of life? Or are learning? Or wish to learn?

Photo credit: Jonna @thru.t.h.e.lens

God and Current Events – My Thoughts

God and Current Events – My Thoughts

If my emotions depended just on the news…

You probably don’t want to know.:)

But honestly… I think that no matter where a person stands on politics, coronavirus-related policies, etc., every single one of us has a fairly legitimate reason for being sickened/depressed/frustrated by the news. America just left an epic year of division and unrest in the dust… and by the looks of it, 2021 isn’t looking promising, either.

Honestly, I’m pretty frustrated.

I want my nation to be indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Most of all, I want America to be one nation under God… but she’s not. She’s broken and hurting and sinful, spitting in the face of the One who has been so patient with her.

This wasn’t my plan, God.

In the past year, the one truth keeping me at peace with what’s going on in our nation is this:

God retains complete control over everything.

When I find myself getting worked up about what’s happening, I come back to this and calm down. There is nothing else that brings me more peace than this fact – that the One who loves me more than I can fathom is the One with whom nothing is impossible. The One who has all of what I see as a mess ordered in His perfect will.

I wanted to remind you of this today… just in case life has you in the dumps. Come on out of there, friend. God’s got this. He’s working all things out for His glory and the good of those who love Him. Rest in Him. ❤

-Laurel

Christmas Reflections… Am I Playing Herod?

Christmas Reflections… Am I Playing Herod?

A few days ago I was reading the Christmas story to my littlest sister… a story I’ve heard a thousand times over. Sadly, being so familiar with it sometimes hardens my perception of its wonder. But a new thought hit me as I read to her the part about Herod.

Am I being Herod?

You’re probably thinking, What an terrible thing to say. But hear me out. Herod was the king of Judea… and very comfortable in his position of authority. Even though Jesus was a baby, and destined to save His people in a far different way than anyone imagined, Herod saw Him as a serious threat to his authority.

When Jesus comes into our lives, He poses a very serious threat to our position of authority. It’s His nature ’cause He’s, well, God. Completely deserving of all authority.

So how do we respond to this? Do we accept His rule in our lives? Or do we follow Herod’s example and try to retain our own authority?

Obviously, our desperation to remain king of our own lives is manifested in a far different way than Herod’s was. We fight for our rights in tiny, subtle ways… and therein lies the danger.

Choice by choice, thought by thought, little deed by little deed, we cling to our authority in rebellion. Somehow we think that we’re wiser than God. That His ways are not the best ways… ours are.

We’re wrong, of course. But still we fight Him.

How foolish.

First of all, as Christians, we have been bought at a price. We belong to the Lord – we’ve given our lives to Him, and we have no right to take them back.

Second of all, it’s unreasonable. Romans 11:36 and 12:1 state, … of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Surrendering all that we are to God’s all-deserving authority is the only reasonable thing to do. Think about it – why wouldn’t we surrender our lives to the all-knowing, perfect God of love?

How can we look at history and see the way God has beautifully woven it together and not trust Him with the story of our own lives? How can we look at Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection – the ultimate proof of God’s love – and not trust that God will rule our lives in the most loving and perfect way possible?

Seriously… how?

Let’s not be fools. Let’s not be like Herod and resist the authority of the Lord. Let’s surrender everything we are to God this Christmas season… and every day until eternity.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Take My Life, God… Really?

Take My Life, God… Really?

It’s a song I love. It’s a song I love to sing. But it’s a song that’s really hard for me to live.

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

There are days when I don’t really want to live this. Instead, I end up living an oxymoron. In the morning, I come to God and re-surrender my life to Him. Here, God, it’s Yours. I live for You.

Fast-forward a few minutes to where He’s taking me up on my offer. I’m suddenly snatching my life back and clenching it in my fists.

God, You know that conversation is going to get really stretched out, and I don’t want to give that much of my time…

You want me to love them??? Didn’t You see how they hurt me???

God, it was a long day and I’m exhausted… I don’t want to go on a walk with her.

But anyway… take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

I’ll sing it, God… but I won’t live it.

You are near in their mouth but far from their mind. – Jeremiah 12:2b

It breaks my heart when I find myself living this awful oxymoron. How can I claim to love God, yet trample over His desires for me in pursuit of my own? Christianity can’t work this way. It doesn’t work this way.

Surrender is surrender. No bones about it. When we surrender ourselves to God, we give Him everything. Literally everything.

We give Him our time and the way we spend it. We give Him our family and friends and our interactions with them. We give Him all of our possessions and what we do with them. We give Him our talents and the way we use them. We give Him our longings, our passions, our hopes, our dreams…

We give Him everything.

And we don’t take it back.

That’s what it means to be an all-out disciple of Christ.

I don’t wanna spend my life stuck in a pattern
And I don’t wanna gain this world but lose what matters
And so I’m giving up everything because

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different in me

-from Different by Kyle Lee and Micah Tyler Begnaud

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Psalm 138 In My Own Words

Psalm 138 In My Own Words

With all that I am, God, I will praise You. In the face of all that seeks to turn my eyes from You, I will sing Your praises loud.

I worship You, Lord – because of Your tender affection. Because of Your truth. Because You have magnified Your word above all Your name.

When I cried out, You answered me; You filled my soul with strength and made me fearless.

When the rulers of the world hear Your words, my God, they will cry out in praise of You.

Yes… they will sing of Your ways, for great is Your glory, my King!

Though You are exalted above all, my Lord, You still take interest in the lowly. With the proud, however, You do not have intimate fellowship.

Even though I’m walking in hardship right now, You will revive me – with Your hand You will ward of the wrath of my enemies – You will save me with Your right hand.

Lord, You will bring to perfect completion all that weighs on my mind. Your mercy endures forever, my God – do not forsake those You have created.

The Problem with Christian Fiction

The Problem with Christian Fiction

Shocked you again, didn’t I?

But seriously, though… today I want to share with you about the problem I have with many works of Christian fiction.

They force a message/moral on the reader.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been turned off of a Christian fiction book because of preachiness. A stiff sermon in the form of fiction really frustrates me. If you really want to write an essay on Christianity, please just go do it. ‘Cause that’s what your exposition should be. Please don’t mask it with fiction.

I firmly believe that fiction should not be a platform for preaching. Tell your story and let it do its thing.

Disclaimer: please understand that I’m not knocking sermons or essays… I love them. I’m just saying that they have their own distinct place… they don’t need to masquerade in fictitious literature.🙂

Believe it or not, it’s possible to glorify God through fiction without preaching at your readers.

The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mould [sic] us.Oswald Chambers

I believe this applies to fiction, as well. I can’t tell you how many works of fiction have made me stop in my tracks and evaluate my relationship with God and how I live it out… without being preachy. The writer just let the story play out… and let me, the reader, learn from the natural flow of the story.

In my opinion, writing a story to teach your readers a lesson is stepping into dangerous territory.

A couple of years ago, God was teaching me something amazing. My natural reaction was to share my new-found knowledge with others. And so I thought…

Why not write my (beloved) Civil War story so the main character learns the lesson I just learned?

So I started doing it. I planned to put my main character through a series of disastrous and depressing events (which is something my writer’s heart morbidly enjoys doing), and have her come through this scarring experience with the realization that Jesus was enough for her, no matter what.

Thankfully I set that project aside for a time. When I came back to it, having learned more about the writing craft and just life in general, I realized I had messed up.

I was trying to force my story into a preconceived mold. A preachy mold.

I know people laugh when writers complain about their characters getting out of control and doing things the writer never meant for them to do… but it’s a real struggle. A well-developed character should surprise its creator and do things that it was never “supposed” to do. Annoying as this is, letting the characters live their lives authentically is one of the best things a writer can do.

Trust that your readers can learn from your characters’ experiences without preachy interference.

I’m certainly not implying that stories shouldn’t have themes and morals… they should. True stories have these! In short, I’m saying that the stories you write can (and should!) be meaningful and convicting without being awkward and preachy.

Let your story be just that – a story. Trust the incredible power of fiction… let your story play out and let your readers glean from it what they will… just like they observe real life and glean from it without exposition.

This is my opinion… what’s yours? Do you agree with me? Disagree? A little bit of both? Please share… I always love feedback and discussion.:)