One Nation. Under God.

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American flag on display in a museum in Belgium. A battle-scarred Tiger tank sits outside in ruins.

I returned to the USA from my missionary work in Spain a week ago. I had a few detours along The Way which I never expected but God never let go of my hand. This Independence Day means more to me than any other.

I helped serve pilgrims with a team of people on El Camino de Santiago’s Camino Frances. A 1200-year old, 500-mile pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James (Santiago), one of Jesus’ disciples. As we prepared for our ministry in Spain, our advisors suggested meeting people where they are on their walk of faith. I believe this wise practice for ministry is also a great way to meet people in life. Simple in concept but difficult in practice.

One day this practice meant finding a “zapatero,” or cobbler, to fix a pilgrim’s pair of shoes. Another day we provided pilgrims with hot tea and carrot cake or hummus and vegetables. On another we helped a paralytic pilgrim find shelter in our ancient village where he was told there was no room at any inn. A few days later we shared our testimonies with a double-lung transplant recipient. Many of these conversations took place in my second language of Castellano and rarely in my very poor French– the later took place in both.

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From my final Camino in Spain this summer

WHAT SURPRISED ME

Pilgrims and the townspeople wanted to know my story. They wanted to know what lead me to work there and why. How I came to know The Lord. So many times the other American working there and I fielded questions about American presidential politics and gun violence. Frequently during these discussions, pilgrims shared titles of books they’d read that influenced their lives––spiritual books, adventure stories, thought-provoking essays, and whatever books they had in their backpack.

Books are a real luxury item when hiking 500-miles across Spain. Pilgrims are advised to only carry 10% of their body weight. You can image how difficult it is to put that into practice. Especially when you’re like me, who packs just about everything (read: writer). If you want to check out what I took with me on my Camino last summer you can see a short video here. My “mochilla,” backpack, weighed more than the 13 lbs. it should have, way more. This made my Camino much harder than it needed to be and took a toll on my body (doctor-ordered rest for two days) and spirit. I discovered I had to get rid of things by donating them to others along The Way. Lightening my load, another wise way to live life. Another simple but difficult practice.

What does lightening my load look like for me today? Holding things up one at a time in my decidedly less cluttered storage unit to see what more I can let go of. What can you do today to lighten your load? Physically? Spiritually?

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I met lots of people who had heavy spiritual loads. People at a crossroads. Trying to make peace with God. Trying to find God. Trying to answer life’s biggest questions. Trying to run away from everyone and everything, including God. Some who sought to harm me. People who had never heard the name of Jesus. And when people wanted to know Him better, one of the first questions they had concerned my church affiliation. I replied non-denominational and that I only hoped to have a real, personal relationship with Jesus.

WHY PEOPLE ABANDON THEIR FAITH

In my conversations about faith this Spring and Summer in Spain, I discovered two things that caused people to abandon their faith––hypocrisy, and the inability to fully understand the concept of God’s grace. People told me they abandoned their faith when a hypocrite in their life caused them to suffer, sometimes within their church family. Usually this pain happened at a young age, a difficult time to try understand our fallen world. A great sermon to listen to if you struggle with this wound is here.

I often heard people saying all the world religions are the same. They talked about how every world religion speaks of loving-kindness and doing good works. But grace is uniquely Christian. It is a gift freely given. You don’t have to do any good work. The minute you put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, a perfect sacrifice that died for your sins, is the minute you are forgiven. Jesus is enough. That means that you don’t have to carry 20 lbs. in your mochilla anymore. God’s got you. You don’t have to feel the guilt, pain, doubt, or shame. You can let it all go. You are good enough.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5

How do I put this proverb into practice today? I say a prayer for the Lord to watch over and guide someone I love. I trust that the words that I am inspired to write and say matter. That they’re important. I pray to have peace, patience and self-control as the Lord reveals His will for my life. How might you trust in the Lord today?

COURAGE

On this Independence Day, a time Americans remember what courage it took to stand up to tyranny, to fight it and then create a future as one nation, under God, it is my prayer that today you may find yourself one step closer to living and loving like Jesus in your own life. Free to meet the people in your life where they are, wherever they are, be it serving them carrot cake, asking a friend to a picnic, saying yes, speaking a difficult truth, telling a joke, sharing your testimony, learning a language, making friends in far away places, forgiving, or digging deep into your well of patience to understand, one more time, again. Lighten your mochilla. Accept grace and let your light shine no matter who or what in your life has tried to dim it. We were not created to only survive. We were created to thrive.

Happy 4th of July. May the fireworks of your life far exceed the beauty of those in tonight’s sky.

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“Lo fácil ya lo hice,

lo difícil lo estoy haciendo…

y lo imposible me tardaré,

pero lo lograré,

con la ayuda de Dios.”

“The easy I have done,

the difficult I am doing,

the impossible takes a while,

but I will succeed,

with the help of God.”

YA Storytellers “fireworks” excerpts — so hot they explode!

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I’m excited to giveaway a signed paperback to a random Goodreads commenter in the YA Storytellers Book Club Group discussion of Shadow Slayer. Click here to participate….

 

Cover for the paperback copy of Shadow Slayer
Cover for the paperback copy of Shadow Slayer

 

Click here to listen to the series playlist!

Here’s the “fireworks” excerpt from Shadow Slayer:

He finally slows to a stop at the last deserted bonfire. The couples gathered here when we first arrived are inside the mansion, dancing no doubt. Drew turns toward me, grabbing both of my hands and says. “You are the Shadow Slayer.” I’m not sure if it’s his torment or desperation or the fact he believes this shadow stuff with all his heart that sends shivers up my spine in the warmth of the bonfire. I swallow hard. “What’s a Shadow Slayer?”

“You’re the only human who can stop the onslaught, who can turn the tide.” Drew tilts his head as if he doesn’t know what to say next. “It’s sporadic when you’re new. Visions come fast. Some are to be trusted. It’s part of the initiation.” I miss his smile, the one he flashed in the cafeteria when our eyes first met. By the glow of the bonfire in the light of the almost full moon, Drew’s so much more than a ten, his hot factor. This simple thing, being caught in his golden gaze in the heat of the bonfire, makes me realize I’m about to believe anything he says.

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The land of the free and the home of the brave…[photo: courtesy Bryna Butler]
Where will your thoughts take you when fireworks light up the night sky this weekend?

For many years I haven’t been able to see fireworks on the 4th of July. So many years, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw fireworks. Fire danger in California played a part. Financially strapped cities too poor to put on shows was a factor. Over the past three years, these themes of danger and lack would unfortunately become forces with which I’d have to contend on a much deeper, personal level.

Tonight I thank the universe that I’ll see fireworks again. Seeing them with those I love is pure magic. Thanks for sharing some of your holiday weekend with me here at Laurasmagicday.

The YA Storytellers are all posting “fireworks” excerpts – so hot they explode! Reading excerpts from my fellow society authors – Bryna ButlerKasi BlakeHeather HildenbrandPatti LarsenQuinn LoftisLiz LongMelissa PearlL.M. PrestonStacey RourkeChristy Sloat and Suzy Turner is a fun way to beat the heat this holiday weekend. For more “fireworks” excerpts click here!

 

Monday Muse : the girl on the rock

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Hubby, Oso and I went to a great BBQ potluck on the 4th. We love the mountains and hubby’s family has been going up there for generations. So, there were a lot of new and old friends at the BBQ. Not only did we celebrate the country’s birthday, but a few actual birthdays too 😀 Anyway, during most of the party there was this girl in purple pants sitting  far away from everyone on her rock. She went and got her food (oh, man was there some AMAZING food!) and went back on her rock to eat by herself. When her brother came and sat beside her, she didn’t really get mad, but she didn’t want anyone to sit with her on her rock either. I loved her tenacity and wondered what set her up on that rock. Sometimes we all need a little time on our own rocks, I guess, don’t we.

Hope you had a wonderful 4th of July. Any good potluck recipes you shared/ate this weekend? Here’s the recipe for the salad I brought, it’s one of my favorites 😀