The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

#LiveChosen: Step Out in Faith

Ladies and gents, today I’d like to share my friend, author and youth pastor Tabitha Caplinger, with you. She’s a treasure trove of wisdom, and today she’s sharing about a snippet from her devotional, Daughters Arise, about stepping out in faith.

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November of last year I released my first novel, The Chronicle of the Three: Bloodline. Alongside it I published a companion devotional, Daughters Arise. My hope was that beyond writing a story that would entertain I could offer glimpses of my faith and the hope we have in Christ. I want young women to understand their worth and purpose. To that end I took small moments in the lives of my fictional characters to highlight lessons we can use to live chosen ourselves. Below is an excerpt from Daughters Arise.

   

    “I know it’s hard, but I need you to trust me on this one. I wouldn’t make you move right now if I didn’t believe it was the right thing.” Claire calmly patted the sofa next to her.

    Zoe studied the empty spot next to Claire with squinty eyes before walking over and plopping down next to her aunt, anger melting under another round of hot tears.

    “I’m scared.” She stared down at her fingers, picking at chipped nail polish.

    “Of a new place? Making new friends?”

    Zoe let out an imprisoned breath. “That moving means leaving them behind.” Her eyes reached Claire’s, more tears hanging on the edge. She bit her bottom lip in a failed effort to quell them.

    “Aww, Zo. This is just a place. An important one for sure, but just a place.” Claire wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, letting her head rest against Zoe’s. “The memories can be taken anywhere.” (Excerpt from The Chronicle of the Three: Bloodline)

 

God has chosen you. You are not the consolation prize to Him dying on the cross. You were never the default option. No, God in all His omniscience, His eternal knowledge, chose you. He saw you, where you are, exactly like you are and made a very conscious decision to love you.

Don’t believe me?

 

1 Peter 2:9 ESV

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

 

John 15:16 ESV

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

 

Jeremiah 1:5 ESV

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

 

And He didn’t just choose you, He chose you for a purpose. He has plans for you. Good plans. Great plans. Plans that are better then even the best plans you can dream up. And He wants to get you to that place, to those plans, more than you want to get to them. It’s easy right? Or maybe it’s not. Why? If God has chosen us, made great plans for us, and wants to see us succeed in them then why isn’t it easy?

 

Because we make it hard.

 

Maybe we don’t believe God really loves us. Maybe we don’t trust enough in the character of God to believe that His plan is the best plan. Maybe we think we know better. Maybe we are just afraid.

 

Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of what we are leaving behind. Afraid we will fail.

 

In the opening book excerpt we see a young girl who is afraid of what is to come. She is afraid of forgetting where she came from, who she is. What she doesn’t know is that what is coming will show her who she really is and she won’t have to forget where she came from, because that will be the foundation for everything. It is the same with us. We follow, we step out in faith and God reveals the real us. The one He sees behind the fear and facades. And He uses our past, good or bad, to propel us forward; the Great Revealer and Great Redeemer.

 

Romans 8:28 ESV

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

 

Faith is scary. It can be risky because we don’t always see the outcome of that first step. We want it all mapped out for us with all the details given and questions answered. It doesn’t work that way. Because while God has chosen you for a purpose He loves you just for you. And the person you are is more important to God then the things you will do. He knows that we grow and learn with each step we take, especially when we have to choose to take it in faith rather than bowing to fear.

 

How do we step out in faith?

 

We get to know who we are following. When you spend time with Jesus, really getting to know who He is. Not the surface Sunday School stories but the deep layers of His character, then we can really trust Him. And when we can trust Him because we have learned His promises and seen His faithfulness and felt His unending love, we need not fear His plans. Knowing God means knowing that He really does know best and even when I don’t have all the details I can follow His path, His plan.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG

Trust God from the bottom of your heart, don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go,  he’s the one who will keep you on track.

 

The best part of all of this is while you are drawing closer to God, while you are growing in your faith and maturity, you are also getting ever closer to the abundant, joyful, successful, life that He dreamed up for you in the very beginning. Remember…

 

You are chosen. You are safe. You are loved.

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Tabitha Caplinger has been in student ministry for close to 15 years, and currently pastors at Faith Community Church in House Springs, Missouri with her husband Brian. They have two sassy daughters, Lila and Rory. Student Ministry is core to who Tabitha is; she loves discipling others and helping them see themselves through Jesus’ eyes. Her goal is for every young woman to be confident that, “she is loved more than she will ever know by someone who died to know her.”

When not working, Tabitha and her family like taking in a good movie or walking through the park. She also admits to being a little obsessed with TV.

Connect with Tabitha online:

Facebook: Tabitha Caplinger

Twitter: @pastortabitha

Website: http://www.tabithacaplinger.com

Visit Tabitha Caplinger on Goodreads

 

Shake Before Using

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“Did you shake this?”

“Yes.”

My dad eyed the salad dressing critically. “It doesn’t look like you shook it.” Then he took the bottle into both hands, held it out, and shook it vigorously.

Well, yeah, I suppose compared to that, I had only swished the salad dressing around a little.

I didn’t understand that the salad dressing had elements that naturally separated, and so it had to be shaken before use to bring those elements back together to balance the taste.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how, sometimes, people need to be shaken before they can be used, too. I just finished reading The Curate of Glaston by George MacDonald, which is all about that kind of shaking, and one passage particularly stood out to me: “Sometimes a thunderbolt, as men call it, will shoot from a clear sky; and sometimes into the midst of a peaceful family, or a yet quieter individuality, without warning of gathered storm above, or lightest tremble of earthquake beneath, will fall a terrible fact, and from the moment everything is changed. That family or that life is no more what it was – probably never more can be what it was. Better it ought to be, worse it may be – which, depends upon itself. But its spiritual weather is altered. The air is thick with cloud, and cannot weep itself clear. There may come a gorgeous sunset though.” And so recently, I’ve been reflecting on the seasons during which my own spiritual weather has been altered.

I remember meeting with a friend several years ago, and as we discussed our lives, she said, “I don’t feel like I’ve had the one great trial of my faith yet, do you?” I didn’t really know how to respond. Even then, before I had really gone through much in my walk with Christ, I felt like my faith was never too far from one of those thunderbolt moments – those seasons when everything was shaken, sometimes even what I had thought were the most foundational elements. I never believed it would be just one great trial, one great thunderbolt, one great shaking; I thought it would be more like a video game, where I would graduate to levels of greater and greater difficulty. I was, however, slightly jealous that someone could have the somewhat romantic notion that there would be just one great trial of faith, when I didn’t have that luxury.

They are not bad things, these spiritually-altering seasons. They often feel like bad things, because everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and how everything settles after that shaking is outside of our control.

[F]rom the moment everything is changed. That family or that life is no more what it was – probably never more can be what it was.

That’s not to say we don’t try to control it – to short-circuit the thunderbolt, to try and hold things in place as they are coming down around us.

We don’t understand we’re often better off going through spiritual alterations and releasing the shaky things. It produces value within us:  “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3b-5a NIV). This thunderbolt passage in Curate is about Helen Lingard, a character who has little in the way of passion – described as someone who doesn’t really think for herself, doesn’t fall in love, and whose face doesn’t show much. Without being shaken, she would have gone on, just as she was, and of course, there would have been no story and no character worth mentioning.

These seasons will also bring us closer to God if we let them. I am frequently reminded of something C. S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, after his wife passed away: “…My idea of God is a not divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?…” God Himself says, “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come” (Haggai 2:6-7 NIV). The writer of Hebrews expounds upon these sentiments: “The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27 NIV). With every shaking, I get closer to Him, and His nearness germinates His life within me.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and in the patron saint of the Irish we have a great example of someone who was shaken before use. As a young man, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave. After making his escape, he felt a call to return to Ireland to walk among the Irish, so he studied to become a priest. Even then, the Church refused to back his calling because of his youth and inexperience. He opens his Confession this way: “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” He remarks about his calling, “So I want to give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence, and more than once did not become very angry with me, the one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life … Indeed, I was not quick to recognise the grace that was in me; I know now what I should have done then.” If he hadn’t been shaken, St. Patrick would never have ministered in Ireland the way he did.

What will come of my being shaken today? I hardly know, except I will be brought closer to God, and in His closeness, I will become more. And I believe with my whole heart there is a gorgeous sunset in my future.

Fine Linen, White and Clean: The White Gown Motif in My Work

“And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:8a KJV).

It came to my attention this weekend that a white gown has snuck its way into each of my books. In The Field, Lilly wakes up one day in a white gown. In A Year with the Baptists, Emma tells a story about a girl who is given a white gown from a prince. And in my work-in-progress, The Sisters Woods, in an after-earth scene for which I will be labeled a heretic for years to come, Rachael is led to a wardrobe where a white gown is hanging, just for her.

It’s there, but I’d never considered its significance. As I began to ponder it, this verse that my family had long since memorized from Revelation popped into my head: And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, white and clean…

Of course, the her in Revelation 19:8 is the bride of Christ, the body of believers brought back to God by Him. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, as God has been speaking to my heart about abandoning the spirit of widowhood.

Here in Revelation, the tone is celebratory, “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:6-8 KJV). I’ve also been meditating on Psalm 45: “All glorious is the princess within her chamber; her gown is interwoven with gold. In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her—those brought to be with her. Led in with joy and gladness, they enter the palace of the king” (Psalm 45:13-15 NIV).

So, part of the significance is obviously celebration, but there’s more to it than that.

On Wednesday night at Bible study, my pastor taught from the book of Ruth, and while it’s a well-worn story for us single ladies, I was reminded again of the concept of a kinsman-redeemer. For those who don’t know, Ruth was a widow from a cursed country working to support herself and her mother-in-law. It just wasn’t done, you know? Then she meets this distant of her deceased husband, Boaz, and for some reason, he takes a liking to her. Unfortunately, there’s a relative closer to Ruth who stands to inherit Ruth’s deceased husband’s property first, which he is more than happy to do. Until he hears about Ruth. You know, the widow from a cursed country, working to support herself and her mother-in-law. But Boaz – God bless Boaz – wants Ruth, so he marries her.

And that is the entire significance of the white gown: being given something beautiful and new and valuable, even when it seems like everyone tells you that you’re not worthy. To the lost, cursed, and laboring, Jesus comes and says, “I want you.”

Let me tell you something, God counts you worthy.

But imagine. Imagine on Christmas morning, there’s a present under your tree. You open it up, and inside is an epic white gown of wedding-like proportions. It’s breathtaking, but you look down at your T-shirt and sweats and think, “I could never wear something like that.”

God counts you worthy.

Or maybe. Maybe you put it on, but you don’t live like you have it on. You’re out doing yard work in that beautiful gown, because you don’t realize this dress is for a bride, not a gardener.

God counts you worthy.

Dress like the bride. Act like a bride. Celebrate.

God counts you worthy.

And that’s the best news I can give myself this Christmas season.

I celebrate because even though it took me forever to put on the white gown, God tells me I am worth it and worthy of it. I celebrate because even though I haven’t taken the best care of it, God still tells me I’m worth it and worthy of it.

And…

He tells me I am celebrated, too. The cause of joy and excitement in a white gown.

Yes. That’s the significance of the white gown.

Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter: A Review

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

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About Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter (from Amazon):

In a bittersweet twist of fate, I started out “too Jewish” for my Catholic friends in elementary school, but not Jewish enough for the kids I met at summer camp, with their youth group logos and wristbands. In Israel, I didn’t feel I had the right to call myself Jewish at all. Now I was too Christian for Jews everywhere, but still too Jewish to completely fit in with my new bible study friends. In my most pessimistic moments, I wonder if I’ll never fit in anywhere, with anyone. It’s interesting because Christians are called to be pariahs, to go against the ways of this world. But I am a special kind of pariah.

About Sarahbeth Caplin (from Amazon):

Beth is a stay-at-home author, blogger, editor, and freelancer in northern Colorado with a degree in English Literature from Kent State University and an MFA in progress at Colorado State. Her first book, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, ranked #1 in Amazon’s top 100 bestselling books on personal growth in summer of 2015.

You can connect with her on blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

My Review:

I give Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter by Sarahbeth Caplin 5 out of 5 stars.

I have mad respect for Sarahbeth Caplin. I read a post on her blog a little over a year ago – something about marriage not being a reward for singles in the church (I am paraphrasing, but you get the idea) -and I’ve been following her ever since. In addition to writing one of the most thought-provoking blogs I follow, she has also authored some fantastic YA/NA novels that grapple with heavy topics, and a collection of poetry. (I have yet to read her newest, A Stunning Accusation, but it’s on my list).

I think Sarahbeth Caplin is a brilliant writer, so naturally, I went into Confessions with high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed.

Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter details Caplin’s captivation with the God-man, Jesus, a taboo interest in her Jewish family, and her questions about how Christianity and her Jewish heritage can work together, if they can work together at all. She doesn’t shy away from the cost of following Jesus, especially as it plays out in her life.

I can’t overstate how incredibly important this book is, especially for those of us from a heritage of Protestant Christianity, who really don’t know anything different, and who have really not experienced any kind of discomfort for the belief that God became man in the person of Jesus to restore us to Him. (Oh, I know we think we have…) Although I am certain she would not say she’s been persecuted, Caplin’s journey of following Jesus has been far less comfortable than most of ours, but unlike most of us, she doesn’t seem to think it should be easy. (Mind-blowing, I know).

If you’re looking for a challenging read about a young women’s faith identity, I highly recommend Confessions.

That being said, if you read this book, or any of Caplin’s writing, you will encounter some frustration with Evangelical Christanity. Being a second generation Evangelical (and deeply proud of that heritage), Caplin’s work does raise defensiveness in me from time to time, and if you’re from a similar background, it will in you as well. That’s okay: we don’t always have to agree with each others’ conclusions to recognize and respect an important voice. Caplin’s is such a voice. Don’t miss out on her story because it’s not yours, or what you think it should be.

While this may not be a happily-ever-Christian book, Caplin brings around again and again to what really matters: Jesus. Caplin freely admits,

My story of faith is—and continues to be—a process where I learn a little more, backslide and contemplate giving up, take sabbaticals from prayer only to realize I miss God and come crawling back, and come close to brushing up against some truths while struggling to comprehend others…

I continue pressing on because, as confusing as Christianity can be, I still believe Jesus is a man worth knowing. A man worth living for.

(Can I get a witness?)

Update on ‘A Year with the Baptists’

Well, it’s February.  You know, the month I was supposed to release A Year with the Baptists into the big, wide world.  (Best laid plans, and all that jazz).

Several months ago, I was plugging away at the first draft of A Year with the Baptists, a little over half way through one of those stories-within-stories (the story of how Emma came to be the way she is at the beginning of the book), and I had an epiphany.

This was not the story I wanted to tell.

A Year with the Baptists was always supposed to be about Emma finding her voice, from the first note I made.  Instead, I found at the end of October, the majority of the story (about 70K of 90K words) was about Emma not having a voice, and not really caring, until she runs herself into the ground.  Obviously, that kind of history is important, and being part of Emma’s story, I have to reference it, but it was never where I wanted the bulk of the focus to fall.

I made a decision to nix the 70K backstory, and write A Year with the Baptists as a short story instead, and as it turns out, it was a good decision.  These later drafts have been more focused and more what I want them to be.

But.

I don’t just want to release one short story, so I’m pulling together a collection on identity.  Faith and family are strong secondary threads.  As it happens, I have quite the arsenal when it comes to these themes.  I plan to include Emma’s story (A Year with the Baptists), a poem about growing up in a passionate (read: strongly-opinionated) and faith-filled family (Heretic Is a Word), the story of a minor character from A Year with the Baptists who kind of took off on her own (P.K.), and a story about four sisters that I’ve been working on for over ten years now (no title yet).

So, A Year with the Baptists is now A Year with the Baptists and other stories.  I’m not sure when I’ll be releasing it, or even how.  I’d like to say you’ll have it in your hands before my big relocation, and that I’m taking the self-publishing route again, but the truth is, I really don’t know.  I will just be taking things one step at a time, and keeping you all posted as I go.

A friend recently asked if I felt bad about having written so much that I’m now leaving behind in favor of a shorter story, both in A Year with the Baptists and the final story in my collection.  Honestly, it’s hard to leave behind beloved characters and scenes – it’s known as killing darlings for a reason, but it’s ultimately going to make for better stories.  I’ve come to view these backstories as notes, the kind where I’m really getting to know my characters and how they tick, and I’m reminded of that every time I try to make something happen in the story that’s just not gelling.  I think, “Oh, yeah, no, so-and-so wouldn’t do that.” In other words, I feel a little bad, but not too bad.

I have this weekend to really focus on writing, so guess what I’ll be working on?  That’s right, A Year with the Baptists and other stories.

Let’s do this!

 

Run It In

These last two games from the Seattle Seahawks have really got me thinking that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  First that comeback against Green Bay two weeks ago, and then that intercepted pass that cost the game against the Patriots last night after an otherwise well-played game.  One was a good experience of it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, the other – not so much.

Richard Sherman’s face really said it all: joy, shock and disbelief, and finally, crushing disappointment.  Fans left asking, Why, oh, why didn’t they run it in?  It might have taken a few seconds longer, they might have encountered a little bit more opposition, but they could have won it.  (Coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’, am I right?) It only took one critical error in judgment for Seattle to lose the game.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

I was thinking about how this principle relates to my personal testimony, especially regarding the vision God has given me for Seattle.  The whole situation has not been unlike a football team’s journey to winning the Super Bowl. (I’d apologize for what’s coming next, but illustrations are kind of my thing – it’s the teacher in me).

As most of you know, God laid Seattle on my heart four years ago, as I prayed about ministry after college.  Obviously, I didn’t end up going, and it looked like Seattle was off the table, until one of my friends basically asked, “What about Seattle?” From that point on, it was at least in the back of my head, but I was pigeonholed in this job that I desperately needed, so I didn’t do much about it.  About a year after that came the dreams, which I didn’t understand at first, but I prayed for several months, and God eventually made it clear that they were about Seattle.  At that point, I just accepted that Seattle was where I needed to go, and started making concrete plans: you know, packing, gathering stuff for life on my own, and applying for jobs.  It seemed like Seattle was a go at the beginning of 2014, but nothing happened.  Nothing in Seattle, that is, but God was closing plenty of doors here in Dallas, and I wrote the word hypomone on my wrist every day to remind myself about remaining under.

Still, I was tired of waiting, and I met this guy.  Please don’t get me wrong, he was a good guy, a great guy, even, but I wasn’t going to be with him and go to Seattle, and I knew it from the moment I laid eyes on him.  I wrestled with wanting this relationship and knowing that God had other plans for me in Seattle all of last summer and into the fall.  Honestly, it looked like the relationship was going to win out, but then at the end of August momentum started to shift, as a result of several factors.  I continued wrestling until I grudgingly agreed to go to Seattle at the end of October, and even then, I decided I was going to try to have both the relationship and Seattle (long distance, you know).

At the beginning of December, God just shut that door, which allowed me to stop striving for my way.  It wasn’t even a resentful thing, it was just, “Okay, God.”  And I was from that moment, fully recommitted to doing Seattle God’s way (and He has expanded on that vision), and I knew that was a win, my own personal comeback.

But, as my dad said after the Patriots scored their final touchdown last night, “There’s still a whole lot of game left.”

With the vision God has given me for Seattle (and let’s just say, it’s more than just me), I feel like I’ve got the ball in the end zone, just feet away from a victory touchdown, seconds left to play, and God is calling me to run it in.

Honestly, I’m overwhelmed.  I was overwhelmed when it was just me, but now it seems there are bigger things at play.  It would be so much easier, and faster to pass the ball off to someone else, but it’s lazy, and I run the risk of a costly interception, so I’m going to run it in.  For me, that means lots of prayer, lots of intercession, and absolutely anything else God asks me to do until the clock runs out.

What about YOU? Have you ever had a personal comeback, that no one would have seen coming? Where is God calling you to run it in in your life?

And here’s a question for only some of you to consider (you already know who you are), but I’ve got to ask: is God calling YOU to Seattle?  If so, we should most definitely talk! You can private message me on Facebook, direct message me on Twitter, or email me at lydia[dot]evelyn[dot]thomas[at]gmail[dot]com.