Things I Learned on my Retreat

Quiet. Rest. Contemplation. Uninterrupted work. Meals prepared for me by others. Evenings curled up by the fire. If this was the Pyramid game, the answer would have to be: Things I Rarely Experience in my Everyday Life.

pyramid

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have spent this week on a writing retreat at a friend’s cottage. While the focus for the three of us is always writing, we manage to find time, here where our regular duties, responsibilities, and activities do not rudely insinuate themselves into our “me” time, for other things as well. Eating, of course. Long walks out in frigid temperatures made bearable by the breath-taking beauty of our surroundings.

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And contemplating all aspects of life. Here is what I have learned in each:

Spiritually: I’ve been more conscious and intentional than usual about starting my day in the Word, praying, and just being still and listening for God’s voice and leading. When I do that, I worry less, I am more at peace, and I remember that I don’t have to do it all myself. God is with me every moment of every day, no matter where I am or what I am doing, and he will provide me with the strength, resources, and wisdom to do the work that he has called me to do.

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Physically: long walks, good, relatively healthy meals, and more sleep than usual have left me feeling refreshed and strengthened to return to regular life. A good reminder to take care of myself whether I am on a retreat or not, so that I can take care of others.

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Mentally: I’ve been able to focus this week, more than I have in a long time, on what I am doing with my life and my writing career, and where I want to take both of those from here. With time and discussions with my friends, clarity has come. If I’m serious about my writing, I need to give it a place of more importance in my life. I need to devote more time, effort, and energy, not only to writing, but to promoting and marketing (ugh) my work. So I have devised a plan to cut back on certain other responsibilities and carve out more time to focus on my passion, calling, and ministry.

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Emotionally: having the time to make headway on my lengthy to-do list, even to cross several projects off of it, has lightened my load, relieved my stress, and helped me to lift my head from my feet, trudging along one step at a time, to take in the panoramic view of the future spread out before me. 

I’m sad the week is nearly over. But, newly equipped for what lies ahead, I am excited to return home too, to the people and the life I love and am so grateful for. And that’s one of the best and most beneficial rewards of going away – realizing how much you appreciate what–and whom–you have to return to at the end of your journey.

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

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Mountain Brook Ink Holiday Blog Tour – Stop #24 – A Canadian Christmas

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Welcome to Mountain Brook Ink’s 2018 Holiday Blog Tour! We’re so excited you’ve decided to join us on this journey of family, friends, traditions, and memories over the next month. You as our reader have done so much to pour into our lives, and this season we want to give back to you with insights into our lives AND some giveaways. The more days you follow, share, comment, and engage with us, the more entries you’ll have toward a Kindle Fire Grand Prize (US addresses only) or one of three Amazon Gift Cards! For more information about the blog tour go to: http://mountainbrookink.com/2018/10/23/2018-holiday-blog-tour/

Luke 2

I realize that, with American Thanksgiving just two days away, a Thanksgiving-themed post might seem more appropriate than a Christmas one here, but I am Canadian, so this is just a regular week for us. We celebrated our Thanksgiving back in October, and you can read my post, “Thanksgiving is Not a Feeling”, dated October 5th, just below. While I do try to cultivate a spirit of gratitude all year long, for me, this time of year is all about Christmas. My husband Michael and I have been married almost twenty-three years, and we have carried on a lot of the traditions we grew up with, as well as incorporating some of our own. Christmas Eve is my favourite time. We always go to church, and I love the mixture of barely-restrained excitement and reverent awe that his evening—and the remembrance of that little baby’s birth in Bethlehem two thousand years earlier—always elicits. I love the carols too, and look forward to this service as a highlight of my year.

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After church, my family heads home to eat dinner and watch The Polar Express. We actually own more than one copy of this DVD so that, if something happened to one of them, we wouldn’t have to sacrifice what has become an important Christmas Eve ritual. Of course we drink hot chocolate while viewing, so we are prepared to join in on the scene where the hot drink is served on board. As soon as the movie ends, the kids leave a note, cookies, and a glass of milk on the table for Santa and his reindeers before heading off to bed. Okay, not so much anymore, since they are all in their late teens (our oldest is 20!), but personally I really miss this part of the evening, you know, when they looked like this:

My beautiful picture

When Michael was a child, Santa always left a stocking on his and his brothers’ beds so that when they woke up early Christmas morning they could spend time opening them and playing with the contents, thereby buying his parents a precious extra hour of sleep. While I can definitely appreciate the sentiment, I have always been far too excited about my kids’ reactions to what’s in their stockings (they love those even more than their gifts) to miss out on watching them dive in. As a result, my family does what my sisters and I did every Christmas morning while we were growing up: we wait until everyone is in the hallway then, oldest to youngest, we march downstairs together and open our stockings all at once. After stockings we eat breakfast (strata made the night before and baked that morning, coffee cake, and fruit) before heading back to the living room.

breakfast

Someone reads Luke 2 and we pray together before opening our gifts, one at a time. Which we still do, even now that they look like this:

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After that the day is pretty quiet. We play games or read and enjoy our presents and spending time together as a family. More family get-togethers will happen over the next couple of days, so this day is a welcome reprieve and offers a great opportunity to reflect on what Christmas really means, and who it is all about. And to be thankful for the gifts God gives us every day of the year.

Join us tomorrow for Stop #25 with Taylor Bennett. The links for Taylor’s and all the blog stops can be found here: mountainbrookink.com/2018/10/23/2018-holiday-blog-tour/

AND don’t forget to leave a comment below and enter the MBI Blog tour giveaway (void where prohibited by law). I’d love to hear all about your holiday traditions too, so please share.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

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To Be Still and Know

Just throwing a few last minute things into my suitcase before heading out on a week-long writing retreat. Two friends and I go to a cottage for a week in April and a week in November every year, with the goal of getting a lot of writing done. We also eat fabulous meals, go for long walks along the waterfront, watch movies, and head into town one afternoon for coffee and shopping. Every evening we read something we’ve written that day to each other and get great, constructive feedback. Some of the favourite chapters in my books have come out of those critique sessions. I always say those weeks are the two most relaxing and productive ones of my entire year.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being at home with my husband and kids. I love my office where I work and my dogs and my own bed. Most of all I love not feeling as though I am missing out on what is happening here, or worrying that someone will need me while I’m gone. I love keeping up with laundry and dishes and cleaning so I don’t have a mountain of it to do when I get home.

laundry

The truth is, though, we need times away. Retreats are a time of renewing and refreshing. They restore us physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Jesus knew this. As much as he loved being with people and ministering to them, he showed great wisdom and self awareness in knowing when he needed to go away to a quiet place, alone or with his disciples, and spend time with God. He needed to be somewhere where no one demanded his time or attention, where he could rest, where he could be fed so that he could return and feed others once again.

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My retreat will not be as much of a spiritual one as those were, but I do find that I am able to spend more time reading my Bible and praying, and my friends and I often have great discussions on Biblical passages, even theological debates, so when I return home my soul has been fed and refreshed along with the rest of me.
We live in a loud, chaotic, stimulating culture. Very rarely are our senses given a break. Most days I feel like Job, who said, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” While I have never experienced anything like the trials of Job, these words still seem to sum up the state of the world and, too often, the state of my inner being.
We are rapidly losing our ability to be still. And God commanded us to be still, because it is in the stillness that we hear his voice and remember that he is God (Psalm 46:10). It is in quietness and confidence that we renew our strength (Isaiah 35:15b). Of course, the beginning of that verse states that it is in repentance and rest that we will be saved.

Times of coming away from the demands of life, the noise, the busyness, the stress allow us to examine our hearts and our lives and to repent and confess before God those sins that create barriers in our relationship with him. Barriers we may not even realize are there until we take time to sit still, talk to him, listen to him, meditate on his word, and contemplate our lives and the condition of our souls.

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As we head into a very busy holiday season, I encourage you to find a way to get away, even if just for a few minutes here and there. We are created to be in community, but we serve that community best when we take time to be alone with God, to rest, to create, to relax, to go for long walks in nature, and to eat great meals.
When we do, we will ourselves renewed, refreshed, and newly strengthened for whatever it is that we are called upon to do when we return.

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

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A Wartime Mother’s Story

I thought I’d share a bit of my writing with you today, in honour of Remembrance Day here in Canada on Sunday, November 11. This is a monologue I wrote, one of a series of three that were performed at a Remembrance Day event a few years ago. Posted with gratitude to all those who have served this country in the past, and to those who continue to serve, protect, and work for peace around the world today. And to the ones they leave behind. May God bless and keep you all.

poppies

My son left today.
It’s something almost too unbearable to put into words: the sight of your boy, your only child, standing on the bottom step, clinging to the rail with one hand and waving with the other as the train pulls slowly out of the station.
He was handsome, though, in his uniform. He looked so much like his father that for a moment… well, it certainly took me back. His father was the same age my boy is right now when I first laid eyes on him. We met one Friday night and that Sunday afternoon we were married.
It happened like that often back then. It was 1917 and the war in Europe was raging. Three years earlier, when it all started, we thought it would be over in a matter of weeks. By 1917 no one was making predictions any more. And none of us knew, when we said good-bye to our men at the station, if we would ever see them again. So we got caught up in whirlwind romances and marriages, a way of forgetting, for a few hours, anyway,  what was going on in the world. About how the happiness we had found could just as quickly be torn away.
That Monday my husband shipped out. He stood, like my son did today, on the bottom step, holding on to the railing as the train pulled slowly away. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised, lifting a hand in farewell.
I watched him until the train had disappeared, until the last billows of black from the smokestack had dissipated in the warm spring air.

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My son said the same thing today. “I’ll be back soon.” The words hung in the air like the smoke had that day, gradually thinning to wisps before fading away. I smiled when he said it, but my throat went so tight I could hardly swallow. No one knows better than I do that a soldier going into battle may want to, may try with everything he has in him, but he can’t always keep that promise.
His father didn’t. Passchendaele. I had never even heard of that place but it was there, on the sixth of November, 1917, that the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions attacked. By November 10th the Canadian Corps had taken Passchendaele in one of the decisive victories of World War I. My husband did not live to see the end of the battle.
And I was fighting my own battles at home. Battles against fear, against loneliness, against hunger and, when the news came that he had paid the ultimate price for freedom, against despair.
But God was faithful. In my darkest hours, all I could cling to was that He was there and that He alone could promise to never leave me.
The son my husband would never see was born two months later. I called him Jonathan, God has given. And that is what he has been to me, a gift from God.
But now a new threat has come. The German leader, a terrible man they call the Fuhrer, is threatening to invade all of Europe, and just 21 years after the war to end all wars finished, another has begun. I want to hold on to my Johnny, to grasp his hand in both of mine and refuse to let him go.

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But I cannot. He isn’t mine, not really. He is a gift and I gave him back to God the day he was born. If he thinks God is calling him to go, to fight for his country and for peace and freedom here and around the world, what can I do? Only the same thing mothers have done for thousands of years: let him go and then get down on my knees and pray for his safe return.
The price of freedom is high, as I well know, and it is not only those that go that pay it, but those they leave behind. Still, after all of this, I can say with all my heart that it is something worth fighting for. And when my son comes home, riding into this same station wearing the same uniform and, God willing, the same smile he wore when he left today, I will tell him how proud I am of him.
And I will thank him for having the courage to fight for the peace and freedom we will all enjoy when at last this war is over.

Press on, my friends.

Press on. And never forget.

soldier2

Sara

 

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When it’s Hard to be Salt and Light

It was definitely a dilemma. Forty or fifty cars pouring out of a church parking lot and being stopped on a side street, a court where the only exit was blocked by trucks, bulldozers, and a construction crew. Other than retreating back into the parking lot, and that opportunity quickly closed, there was nowhere to go, no way to escape. And there did not appear to be anyone managing the site, certainly not anyone who had a clue how to maintain a flow of traffic. So we sat.

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We had an hour-long lunch break in the middle of a packed conference schedule, and every single one of us in those vehicles was anxious to get to a nearby restaurant, eat, and return to the church before the next session began. That plan was being effectively foiled by the machines working diligently away on the road and the crew members wandering around, one of them holding up a sign that said slow and one holding up a sign that said stop, both facing the same direction. Not a single workman appeared to be aware, or at least the tiniest bit concerned, that traffic had been sitting there for at least twenty minutes.

If others were like me, impatience was growing. Impatience, frustration, incomprehension at the mind-boggling incompetence of the work crew, and a rising anger, helped along by hunger pangs and the relentless numbers changing on the digital clock on the dashboard.

But here lay the dilemma. Under normal conditions, it would have been incredibly tempting to lay on the horn, or to roll down the window and call out a strongly-worded question or opinion to a passing workman on the state of affairs and about when, if ever, traffic might be allowed to move again.

The problem was, these weren’t normal circumstances. We weren’t in the middle of a highway surrounded by strangers who had no idea what our values or beliefs might be. We were all part of a long line-up of cars spilling out of the parking lot of a building with a massive cross on the roof that towered over the entire neighbourhood. There was no mistaking who we were, what we stood for, or who we claimed to follow.

salt and light

We are called to be salt and light in a dark world. Our words and actions are meant to set us apart, to be a witness and a testimony to those around us, and to glorify the God we worship. I can’t speak for the occupants of the other vehicles, but the temptation to do or say something that did not fit into any of the above categories was strong in those moments.

Through the grace of God, we all managed to rein in that sinful human nature. No one honked. No one yelled and, eventually, we were all allowed to exit the court in a slow, painful trickle, wolf down our lunches, and return in time (more or less) for the session.

Of course, there was a lot of pressure in that situation to maintain our witness. The people in the cars behind us and before us—miles behind and miles before—were the people we had just been sitting with in the sanctuary of that beautiful church, and would be again that afternoon. That was powerful motivation not to lose it on the heads of that construction crew, which helped to keep me, and the others in that long line of vehicles snaking out of the church parking lot, in control of ourselves.

But it got me thinking. If circumstances had been different, would I have maintained that same self-control? Actually, it didn’t take me long to answer that. I have been in similar circumstances before, without the visible crowd of witnesses, and have not done quite as good a job at maintaining my testimony. The incident this week reminded me that I absolutely should. Because of course, even if no one else is watching, God is privy to all I do, say, and think. And if I am motivated to control myself when surrounded by human witnesses, how much more should I do so in the presence of God?

cross and steeple

I hope we were all salt and light that day. I’m pretty sure the work crew had to notice that no one gave them a hard time, in spite of the ridiculousness of the long, unnecessary wait. I pray some of them glanced over to see the building we were exiting out of and pondered the possibility that those two things were somehow connected. And I pray that the next time I find myself in a situation like that, I will “conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”, as Paul exhorted in Philippians 1:27, whether there are hundreds of witnesses around me at the time, or only one.

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

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Christmas Blog Tour

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The publishing company I have contracted with to put out my new trilogy beginning in June 2019 is conducting a Christmas blog tour over the next month! The staff and authors of Mountain Brook Ink are so grateful for the support and encouragement of our readers that we are holding a blog tour with insights into the lives of all the authors AND some great giveaways. The more days you follow, share, comment, and engage with us, the more entries you’ll have toward a Kindle Fire Grand Prize (can only be shipped within the US) or one of three Amazon Gift Cards (available worldwide)!

Christmas gift

I will be sharing a little of myself, my life, and my work on November 20th, but in the meantime, check out the posts of these other great authors and get into the Christmas spirit a little early this year! 

 

Press on, my friends,

Press on.

Sara

 

Blog Tour Stops:

Stop #1: October 28 – Kimberly Rose Johnson
Stop #2: October 29 – Christina Coryell
Stop #3: October 30 – Mary Davis
Stop #4: October 31 – Angela Ruth Strong
Stop #5: November 1 – Susan Page Davis
Stop #6: November 2 – Amy K. Rognlie
Stop #7: November 3 – Gayla K. Hiss
Stop #8: November 4 – Christa MacDonald
Stop #9: November 5 – Linda Hanna & Deborah Dulworth
Stop #10: November 6 – Richard Spillman
Stop #11: November 7 – Annette M. Irby
Stop #12: November 8 – Miralee Ferrell
Stop #13: November 9 – Jeanette-Marie Mirich
Stop #14: November 10 – Anna Zogg
Stop #15: November 11 – Teresa H. Morgan
Stop #16: November 12 – Kelsey Norman
Stop #17: November 13 – Barbara J. Scott
Stop #18: November 14 – Patricia Lee
Stop #19: November 15 – Linda Thompson
Stop #20: November 16 – Janalyn Voigt
Stop #21: November 17 – Cynthia Herron
Stop #22: November 18 – Trish Perry
Stop #23: November 19 – Heather L.L. Fitzgerald
Stop #24: November 20 – Sara Davison
Stop #25: November 21 – Taylor Bennett
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Trust and Obey – Is There Really no Other Way?

One of the earliest Sunday school songs I remember singing is, “Trust and Obey”. As I’m sure many of you remember, the words are: trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey. I remember singing those words with all my heart, believing them in every fibre of my being.

children singing

Somehow though, as life went on and problems and challenges got bigger and bigger, it became harder and harder to abandon myself to the absolute truth of those simple but profound lyrics, at least without nagging thoughts darting through my mind as I did. Thoughts like, Yes, but what if God doesn’t heal my friend who is going through cancer? Or can I really trust that God will work for good the implosion of the marriage of good friends, both believers? Or what if God doesn’t provide what I need in this circumstance the way I am trying to trust that he will? Can I still be happy in Jesus, resting in the fact that God’s ways are better than my ways and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts? Can I fully trust in the fact that, given His all-knowing, loving, merciful, infinite perspective, He can and will do what is best for my good and His glory, even if that does not look anything like what I am hoping and praying for?

Unfortunately, complete trust is easier said than done when in the midst of a daunting situation in life. At the moment, my family is going through a relatively minor crisis, compared to what so many people I know are going through. It is a crisis of a financial nature, and every day, on my knees, I cry out to Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides, for provision for a specific situation. I ask Him to help me to stop worrying. Worry, after all, indicates a lack of trust, doesn’t it? And I want to trust, but it’s tough. I feel like the father of the sick boy who, in Mark 9:24, says to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” In fact, my prayers sound a lot like that these days: “I do trust. Help me with my lack of trust!”

praying to God

Somehow we go from “trust and obey, for there’s no other way”, to singing the hymn, as adults, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er; Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! Oh, for grace to trust Him more!” An admission that, although yes, it is so sweet to trust in Jesus, and yes, He has proved his faithfulness over and over, we still need His grace in order to trust him more.

Maybe another key is the obedience part. What does God command me to do in His Word? Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him…” And, as so often with our covenant God, the command comes with a promise: “And he will make your paths straight”. When I don’t trust, but take matters into my own hands and strive and scrabble and attempt to solve the problem on my own, something I am very prone to do, the last thing it feels like is that my paths are straight. In fact, the more I struggle, the more convoluted, crooked, and winding the path beneath my feet feels.

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The psalmist exhorts us to “Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5). Trust then, is not just an act of obedience, it is a sacrifice I can make to God, in acknowledgement of his goodness, power, and sovereignty over, not just my circumstances or my life, but over all things.

The prophet Isaiah issues another command, to “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.” An eternal rock. That sounds like something I can put my trust in, something that cannot be shaken, that will exist forever, that will not be moved. If fact, if I cannot put my trust in a God who is sovereign, powerful, loving, merciful and as steadfast and immovable as an eternal rock, what can I put my trust in?

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In my book, The Morning Star Rises, my main character Jesse says, “I used to be sure of so many things in life.” When Hope, another character, says, “And now?” he responds, “Now I only know two things to be absolutely true: God is still on his throne. And he has not abandoned us.”

I put that in my novel because I believe it. Even now, in the midst of a crisis that may not seem huge, relatively speaking, but that is affecting me and my family deeply, I believe those words to be true. God is on His throne, He has not abandoned us, and after I obey and do whatever I am led to do to contribute to the solution, I can, with His help and in His strength, trust in Him to provide, however and whenever He deems best. In fact, those words I sang as a child are just as true today, there really is no other way.

Lord, help me to trust.

Press on, my friends.

Press on,

Sara

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