A Servant’s Heart is Here!

Beautiful young woman with bouquet of lilac in spring garden

I am pleased to share that my Christian historical romance, A Servant’s Heart, is now available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle. This is the long-awaited story whose original title was River Farm. 

Idealistic, independent, and utterly alone, seventeen-year-old Catherine Abbott arrives in the Virginia colony in the spring of 1774. Now an indentured servant, she is determined to leave her painful past behind and build a new life.Dr. James Craig has lost his entire family and his fiancée. He immerses himself in his work and surrounds himself with a surrogate family of employees and servants to assuage his loneliness. When he hires Catherine and she comes to live at his farm on the Potomac River, it seems as if God has brought them together for a reason. But has He?

As the colonies teeter on the brink of war, the future is uncertain. James joins the Continental Army as a surgeon and is shaken by the suffering and death he witnesses. As Catherine’s steadfast faith draws her closer to God, James finds himself doubting God’s goodness.

A Servant’s Heart affirms that God is present and working for good even when we can’t understand the process or know the outcome. It is the story of a woman searching for a home, a man standing in the way of his own happiness, love thwarted by the course of history, and a message of hope about the power of God.

 

 

Good Night, Oppy. You Were Us.

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I have spent the better part of the day going back and forth between crying over the “death” of Mars rover Opportunity, and trying to understand why it has affected me so deeply. There is something at once poignant and terrifying at the thought of a small, silent ambassador of humanity stranded—perhaps forever—on a distant planet. Cut off from any and all contact with those who sent it, disconnected from the mission that once gave it purpose, beyond any hope of return or recovery. Dead.

Tributes have been pouring in from all over the world. An achievement like this captures the imagination. It confirms our shared humanity. It is a communal triumph of the human spirit and of human ingenuity. It affirms our thirst for knowledge, our drive to discover, our insatiable need to ask “why?” and perhaps more importantly, “why not?”

Opportunity was meant to last 90 days. Three months. A span of time smaller than a blip, not even worth mentioning or quantifying in an infinite universe where millennia have passed in the blink God’s eye. Yet Opportunity outlived its expected lifespan and increased its usefulness. Months turned into years. And for nearly two decades, much less than one human lifetime but longer than anyone could have hoped or predicted, the little rover that could gathered data, processed information, took photos, and brought us all just a little closer to the stars.

Now that contact has been lost and Opportunity has been declared dead, my mental image of a brave and intrepid little robot trundling over the surface of Mars has changed to that of a sad, lonely, and abandoned heap of metal and circuits. Logically I know that Opportunity is not a person, not an animal, not a sentient being. Emotionally, though, my heartstrings are remorselessly stretched to the limit by the message, “My battery is low and it is getting dark.” Even now, reading these words makes me want to sob with despair, and rage against some kind of unfairness I can’t define. And as I ask why this should be, an answer suggests itself. Perhaps it’s not the defunct machine I am crying for, but for myself, and for all of humanity.

How often have we felt similar sentiments? I am tired. The darkness is too deep. It’s so cold. I can’t do this anymore. I am alone.

Somehow, a little rover on exploring a new world gave us a reflection of ourselves. It moved over the surface of a planet that has stirred our imaginations since we first knew of its existence, and has starred in our popular culture since we created such a construct. It did just as you or I would do, have done, when set down in some new place. Explore, learn, tell our friends what we have discovered, take photographs, share selfies. In this way, a manmade machine was humanized. It was like us.

Human beings built Opportunity and launched it to the stars. Humanity is its creator and commander—we sent it out into the world to see what we could not. And we waited and watched to see what it would do. And now it sits, abandoned, in a world colder and darker than we can imagine. It’s not so different, really, from the story of us. After all, God created people, and launched them into a new world. Granted, it was a lush garden where every need was met, a far cry from an alien world of dust and rocks, a true howling wilderness. But then God found it necessary to banish humankind from that ideal, into a world that was bigger, harsher, scarier, and more dangerous than anything we had seen before. And while He hasn’t abandoned us, I know it sometimes feels that way.

The banishment from the Garden of Eden is the world’s first morality story. A cause and effect narration that explains the introduction of sin into the world. Yet God himself placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden, along with the Tree of Life. Of course he knew that His people would seek knowledge. I’m sure He expected it. The Bible tells us that wisdom is more valuable than gold and that only fools despise knowledge. When humans moved from the Garden of Eden into the wider world of God’s creation, I am sure He watched with great expectation to see what we would do. Like Opportunity, we began to learn, to explore, to investigate, and to discover. But unlike Opportunity, we are not abandoned. There is no place dark enough, cold enough, far enough, that we can go where He won’t look for us, find us, and call us back.

Even if, like Opportunity, we can’t, or won’t answer, He won’t cease communication, end the mission, or declare us dead. God’s grace is everywhere and we can’t lose it or shake it off. God Himself may call us to go where we don’t wish to go. Far from friends and family, into places that are dark, or cold, or lonely. But He goes with us. Opportunity allowed us to look beyond ourselves, into the infinite worlds of God’s creation and to find, not only the eternal, but ourselves.

The Death of Personal Responsibility

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I thought it was just Twitter, but apparently there is nothing you can post on Facebook that isn’t subject to provoking someone’s existential angst. People will make it all about themselves, use it as an opportunity to “educate” you about some non-issue, invite you to check your privilege, suggest you’re not being nice, police your tone, or flat-out tell you you’re wrong. Trolls and gatekeepers don’t care about starting productive dialogues, they just want to be right, even at the expense of making things worse instead of better. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, of course, but words have consequences and we need to be aware of just what it is we’re saying, and what kind of messages we are sending to society at large.

I just don’t understand people’s need to shame some of their peers, and choose to die on some random, unimportant hill for others. I’m referring to a rash—no, an epidemic—of people sticking up for virtual strangers no matter what they’ve done. Today, I saw two different posts in local Facebook groups that I follow. In the first, a woman posted a photo of a motor vehicle (no license plate) with the information that the driver had raced right past a school bus that was stopped, with its lights flashing and stop sign fully extended, loading children. She suggested that if anyone knew the driver, they might remind her that her behavior was reckless, dangerous, and selfish. Many people reacted to the post with the angry or sad emojis, but there was more than one person who immediately leaped to the driver’s defense. It’s always the same: you don’t know what that person is going through.

Really? That is a valid and legitimate excuse?

Of course people have issues. People have problems. People have cares and worries and fears, often beyond anything we can imagine. So we try to be understanding. We try to be kind and tolerant. We try to be patient. To have empathy.

But there is no excuse whatsoever for putting the lives of children at risk. You are running late? Leave earlier, or just be late. You’re distracted? Don’t drive. Personal issues don’t trump the law and every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle has an obligation and a responsibility to operate it safely.

It’s kind to suggest we should offer grace. It’s wise to suggest we should consider what someone else’s life might be like on any given day. When someone deliberately bumps my cart in the grocery store, or yells at a service provider, or cuts in line, it’s okay to let it go. It’s wonderful to practice grace and assume the best. But when it comes to automobile versus human, there are no do-overs. It’s not okay to say, “whoops,” and move on. The possible outcomes are too severe, and they are permanent.

In the second post, someone related that they had narrowly missed hitting a dog that darted into traffic. Several steps behind the dog, was an owner, leash in hand. The law in our community is that dogs must be leashed. This is for their safety as well as the safety of others. Immediately, other people began to clamor that the original poster did not know the whole story. Maybe the dog slipped out of the house, or jumped a fence, or any number of other, more innocent possibilities. These could all be true. But why the dog was off leash would not change the outcome if the driver had hit the dog. Calling attention to these issues is not necessarily “judgy,” as someone rather judgily suggested. If we are going to continue to push the you don’t know what other people are going through scenario, then we shouldn’t assume we know why a person makes a particular post. ‘The dog was off the leash accidentally’ is believable and true, but the original poster just wanting to call attention to a safety issue is not believable or true? Her only motivation was to shame and judge? Nope. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to insist on extending grace to one person, then you must extend it to all people.

A few months ago, I posted an anecdote where a woman literally shoved past my child on the way to the (one-person, and only) restroom in a store, slamming the door in my child’s face. My only reason for posting the story was that it was so incredible and I thought I might see some solidarity from others who might empathize and believe that it is bad behavior to take advantage of a child that way. Most people agreed that the woman’s actions were in poor taste. But I got plenty of the you don’t know what she’s going through variety of responses. Maybe she had a medical condition. Maybe she really, really had to go. No one considered that my child might have a medical condition (she doesn’t). No one considered that my child really, really had to go. (She did). And she got there first.

All these knee-jerk reactions online are essentially people blaming the victim. We are seeing the death of personal responsibility, not just by the perpetrators who think their time and their feelings and their physical needs are more important than those of others, but a whole group of other people out there who agree with them and their behavior. That is what is most disturbing to me. The person who takes a handicap parking spot may have forgotten to display their permit. The man who parks in the fire lane to drop off library books or dry cleaning might have mobility issues. The woman who darts around a school bus might be running late. The person who takes up two parking spaces at the grocery store might be a teenager learning to drive. I can have empathy for others without being stupid, because none of these things matter. We have rules and laws and yellow lines painted on pavements for a reason.

This problem is even more insidious when it comes to victims of crime. How dare a man operate a motor vehicle while being black? What did that woman do to make her husband hit her? Why didn’t the young man in his own apartment not respond to verbal commands by a police officer? What was that rape victim wearing or drinking? Why was that young woman jogging by herself?

We are asking the wrong questions, and creating sympathy for the wrong parties. We are normalizing bad behavior and blaming victims for things that are no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s.

When everyone blames the victim, and everyone comes up with excuses for the guilty, we have an awful lot of people who begin to believe that any excuse for wrongdoing is a good one, and that no one will be held accountable. Even our president is not being held to any standards of decency or personal responsibility. If he can’t or won’t govern his own words and actions, why would anyone else feel the need to behave appropriately?

God forgives us and calls on us to forgive others. But he has given us commandments to follow, too. No commandment that begins with Thou shalt not continues with the word unless. No caveats, no excuses, no wiggle room.

Empathy is great. Kindness is so important. Trying to understand the struggles of others is a wonderful exercise. But we can do all these things without excusing bad behavior. We live in a civilized society. It is still up to us to say: No. This is wrong. This will not happen here. It’s okay to be annoyed. It’s okay to be angry. And it is vital to speak up. Our safety, security, and well-being depend on it

Profile of Lonna Seibert and her manuscript “A Servant’s Heart” on Susan Preston’s blog

I’m so pleased to be featured as a writer of Christian/inspirational fiction on Susan Preston’s blog. Susan is the award-winning author of the Apostle John series, books that explore what was like to be a Christian in the first century, A.D. You can find the post about my manuscript, “A Servan’ts Heart,” here:
 

The Painful Art of Letting Go

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My life has been the same for so long I can’t remember anything different. One day, I was a stay-at-home mom struggling with the question of whether my life had meaning, and floundering in my new reality. I was no longer an employee or a professional, but my workload was heavier and more significant than ever. My self -esteem was ebbing away and I was depressed. I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. I felt like a failure. And then, I was given a life-changing opportunity to turn everything around. Of course, it wasn’t really as quick or as easy as one day, this; the next day, that. I struggled for years, and just as quicksand is said to suck its victims under all the faster if they fight the inevitable, the more I searched for a way out of my self-loathing, the more mired I became.

I prayed for a long time for something to change. For some great and profound development that might positively affect everything. I always kept my faith, but my hope was waning. And then, coinciding almost exactly with the jarring crash of hitting rock bottom, there it was, a light shining out of the darkness, a hand reaching out, offering help and hope and salvation. Everything was going to be all right. Not right away, and not completely, but soon enough and enough-enough that I was saved. I will always be grateful for that.

Fast-forward to now and I’m stuck. Stuck in a salvation that feels more like a prison. I’ve reached a crossroads and I don’t know what to do. I was so loath to make the decision that I must make that I am ashamed to say I briefly stopped praying about it. I was afraid of what God’s answer would be. I knew that this was shortsighted. I knew I was making a mistake. But my fear was and is very real. Still, after days and weeks of pretending I was not facing a great change in my life, I began to pray again. I asked God for forgiveness and for direction. For the wisdom to know the best course and the humility to accept His will. I asked for a sign, a sign that would be unmistakable. Because my greatest fear is that my discontent comes from Satan. That I have been happy for so long, that I have been glorifying God and rejoicing in his light, so that Satan is jealous. Satan is angry. And maybe he wants to wreak havoc. Wouldn’t the perfect way of doing that be to turn me away from the right path, to turn me against the people who have been my friends and champions, to turn me away from the community I have created? Yes. And no.

Just because God guides us down a certain path doesn’t mean we are meant to follow that path for the rest of our lives. Change is constant and necessary. Without change there would be no growth, no learning and no chances for salvation. Change is hard and change is scary. This is especially true for me. So when I see change looming on the horizon, I don’t go boldly to meet it. I run and hide. And that’s what I was doing when I stopped praying. It didn’t work, though. The more I hid, the more obvious it was that change was coming, whether I wanted it to or not. And now it’s here. Or almost here. I am still scared. It’s up to me to look that change full in the face, to acknowledge and accept its inevitability. And especially, to take it in hand and make sure it works for me, rather than against me.

I asked God for a sign. And that very night, I had a dream. Its meaning was crystal clear to me. In the dream, I was having a meal with a group of people who make up a big part of my life. I didn’t want to be at this meal. I didn’t exactly resent that my presence was required, but I would have been happier if I were somewhere else. That was the first sign. Being in a place you don’t exactly hate being, but knowing you’d be happier elsewhere is a pretty big red flag. Of course we won’t love every place, every moment, every event in our lives. Not everything can be the best, the favorite, the most loved. But spending large chunks of time in a place that drains our energy or costs too much effort is not a good use of our time.

In the dream, delicious-looking food was being passed around the table and I couldn’t wait to serve myself. As it was passed, each person broke off a piece of the food for themselves, taking what they liked, taking what appealed to them. By the time the food reached me, the last person at the table, it was almost gone. And then, the person next to me, who had already served herself, broke off a piece of food for me. It was the smallest portion that anyone received. It wasn’t a part that I liked or wanted. And I didn’t get to choose for myself. This was the second sign. I don’t have much control over certain aspects of my life right now. I am not resentful about this, but I am disappointed. I like to have ownership over the things I contribute to. I like to have a certain measure of control. Not control freak-control, but some say-so in what happens or how things will proceed. I like to feel that my opinion is heard and valued. I like to be acknowledged and appreciated. I especially like to feel that I exhibit some level of proficiency in what I do. In the distant past, I had a great deal of autonomy in my life. Leadership positions and the opportunity to use my special gifts and talents. I was good at what I did.

Finally, in the dream, I left the table for a moment and when I returned, someone had put some more food on my plate. And everything that was there was something I didn’t care for. Foods that I don’t, or won’t, eat. This was the third and final sign. The things that are being put “on my plate” are things that I don’t want there. That should be all I need to know.

Still, I worry. I worry that my decision will hurt people’s feelings. I worry that it will change their perceptions of me. I worry that they won’t like me anymore. And I worry that once I have relinquished what I no longer want, I will suddenly want it again and it will be too late. All of these worries are simply excuses, though. Excuses to keep me from making the right decision, which is to move forward with my life. I am not being held back, not really, but I’m not being fulfilled, either. There are so many aspects to what I am giving up that I absolutely love. But when I don’t have ownership, when I am not in a position to receive appreciation, when I fumble and feel unsure of myself, when others reap the benefits of time and effort I have expended, I feel the only way I can be true to myself is to become a little selfish.

I go forward with no idea of what comes next, but with complete acceptance that God has directed me toward a more fulfilling future. I am going against everything in my nature and taking a leap of faith. I am stepping out blindly, yet secure in the knowledge that this is what He wants from me. I’m terrified by my boldness even as I am certain in my obedience. Someone once told me that my presence was an answer to a prayer. I don’t pretend to understand the ways of God, but that sentiment, while sounding lovely on the surface, bound me with guilt to an unhappy existence. I thought, if I was the answer to a prayer then I must have been where God wanted me to be. I have since discovered that I want and need to find out what are God’s answers to my own prayers. He may use me to help others, to fill needs and smooth the paths of the people around me, but He will also work everything to my good. And when what is happening is no longer to my good, He will make that abundantly clear. And so He has.

God, I’m listening.

Future, I’m here.

There’s Something to be Said for Traditional Church Music

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I recently came across an online post that listed what are, in the author’s opinion, the fifteen best Christian hymns. It made me think how much I miss traditional church music. I clicked through the post with interest, wanting to see how many of my personal favorites made the list. It turned out the list was divided into three components: hymns I love, hymns I do not love, and a few hymns whose names were familiar to me, but that I have never sung. The list of hymns I love was the longest.

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran church that was founded in 1770. The sanctuary, constructed between 1795 and 1806, is historic and gorgeous. There are carved wooden pews topped with velvet cushions. There is an altar dressed with cloths that change according to the church calendar, with colors and symbols that correspond to Holy Days. There are stained glass windows by Tiffany lining the chancel. There are mosaics under a vaulted arch. There are fat hymnals whose pages are edged with gold. And there is a pipe organ whose voice is powerful, poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful.

When I was growing up in the church, the only microphones were to amplify the voices of the clergy and the lectors. On special days we might have brass or strings or timpani. Handbells on Palm Sunday. Triumphal trumpets on Easter. Harps and acoustic guitars on Christmas. Sometimes the children’s choir was accompanied by a piano. There were no electric guitars or drum kits. There were no amps or wires. The front of the church did not resemble an arena just before a rock band takes the stage. There were no lightshows.

In so many churches now, this is not the case. The music is not so much a part of the worship as it is part of the entertainment. I don’t know how everyone feels about this, but I, personally, do not go to church to be entertained. Nowadays there seems to be so much loud, electric music that there is little time for anything else. No readings from the Scriptures. No order for confession and forgiveness. Prayers that do little to ask for God’s intercession in our lives and in our troubled world. Instead we refer to God over and over again as “awesome,” with the implication that He is more “cool” and “neat” than He is glorious and almighty. We seem to address Him now as if He is a next-door neighbor, our bro, our bestie, our equal.

I suppose I could take the path of least resistance and declare that my words are not meant to diminish, demean or belittle contemporary Christian music. To say that it has its place, or to excuse it by saying it’s what the younger generation wants, or it is the magic bullet that will have potential new members flocking to church doors. But I’m not sure I believe that. During the several years I have been exposed to contemporary Christian music, I have found a few songs that I can tolerate, and only one that I truly love. The key difference between the songs I dislike and the one I love is, predictably, in the lyrics and the message. It acknowledges the pain of human existence, the power of God, and the reward for faith. Its message is true and sound, the language is grown-up, and nothing is dumbed down. I appreciate that.

The songs that I dislike are repetitive and simplistic. And when I’ve finished singing one, I feel depleted, exhausted, and strangely empty. When the songs sung in church are reduced to a handful of words, they become repetition and in repetition we see the loss of meaning. Words repeated ad nauseam, growing louder and louder with each iteration, aren’t delivering any message that anyone particularly needs or wants to hear. Where are the songs that are rich in emotion, that declare the true glory of God, that are unmistakable in their praise? Give us a few words and a catchy tune and it is nothing but spectacle. It is a show. And it is a distraction. If music is meant to set the mood, then the mood is irreverent. How I miss sitting peacefully during the Offertory, listening to the choir sing, or the organist play, calm and relaxed, feeling myself drawing to closer to God. My belief is that traditional hymns make worship a more personal experience, and a thousand times more meaningful.

We might sing to God about how He numbered the stars or can hold back the floodwaters, but He already knows that. As much as songs should be about worship, they should also be a way for us to connect with God, to come to a deeper understanding of His power and might. And to remind us that the path to salvation was not an easy one, riddled as it was with the pain and suffering that God’s son took upon himself, for our sakes. The contemplation of such unimaginable and undeserved sacrifice merits dignified language of beauty and grace, and a dignified presentation.

The old hymns have much to recommend them. Through their words, we remember everything that God has done for us, and we celebrate his remarkable love and sacrifice. Children learn, not only about their God, but through hymns, their understanding of Christianity is enhanced and their vocabulary grows. How many seven-year-olds are regularly exposed to words like bulwark, sphere, tribulation, prostrate, successive, cleft, almighty, and so on. I don’t know whether J.K. Rowling’s wizards go to church, but I always suspected that if Harry Potter’s best friend Ron Weasley had ever been to youth choir, he never would have had to ask, “What’s a diadem?”

And personally, I feel that’s the way it should be.

Mending, From Clothes to Hearts

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Here is something that not everyone knows about me. I have a mending basket. Yes, I do, and I use it, too. I also have a sewing box my Nana gave me for Christmas when I was eight years old, full of all sorts of curious notions, needle books that were made before I was born, and spool after wooden spool of thread in every imaginable color. I feel very content, rather feminine and a bit nostalgically, romantically old-fashioned with a mending basket by my side, a holey sock or torn pillowcase or shirt with a missing button in my hands. It feels good when I can fix something. Sewing is a skill and a handy one to have. It makes me feel capable and clever. It is wonderful to patch something up so it can continue to be of use instead of the all too easy alternative of simply throwing it away. I love being able to make my kids’ favorite clothes wearable again. I love to repair a stuffed animal that has been loved a little too hard. And I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

I can’t fix everything. I can refill our car radiator but I can’t change a spark plug. I can replace a light bulb but not a fuse. I can use a screw driver to open the battery compartment of a toy and install those new batteries. I can hang a picture, change a tire, replace the presser foot on my sewing machine and glue broken figurines back together so you can’t tell they were broken in the first place. But I can’t fix everything. I can’t even fix every bit of damage that requires a needle and thread. When my husband’s favorite shirt has gotten so old the fabric is practically disintegrating or my daughter has taken out the knee of her most comfortable pants in a way that just can’t be remedied I often feel sad. Those failures are hard, especially when someone is counting on me. But in the vast scheme of things, these are small matters.

There will be other things I can’t repair. A broken heart, a bruised ego, a dispirited soul. I may be able to offer comfort, wisdom, hope, but a full-on repair—not so much. What a comfort to know that I alone am not responsible for fixing things. I possess a fierce and steadfast belief in God’s goodness. I rely on His mercy and strength to carry me when I can no longer carry myself. And I know that my heavenly Father will be there to help me when I can’t help my family. The rend in the soul, the hole in the heart, the hard-learned lessons—life’s bumps and bruises, are all things I don’t have to address on my own. My mending basket holds many little projects to be tackled. My sewing basket holds the tools. Living in today’s world will cause damage that needs to be repaired. And because I have invited him in, God will give me the tools I need. He will direct my actions and my words. He will guide my heart and my hands. Praise God!