I’ve been revising the chapter in my book, where Emily, my protagonist, experiences the darkest moment of her journey. She has exhausted her resources. Overtaken by despair, Emily wonders if she deserves to get out of the prison where Dr. Henbane, the antagonist of my story, has locked her away. Henbane has convinced Emily the people she loves will be better off if she were dead. Will Emily say YES to the Truth and surrender her future to God, or will she believe Henbane’s lies and give up?
As I took the time to zero in on what decision Emily will make, I decided to ask myself the hard question Emily had to answer for herself. I felt my writing would be more authentic if I took the time to be real with my own heart before answering the question for Emily.
Can I trust God with my future, even if the outcome isn’t what I want?
For years my answer lingered in my mind like a revolving door, swirling between taking charge of my life or surrendering it to God, until one day, the Lord showed me how to stop going in circles.
As I was praying one morning, I looked out over the lake behind my house. It dawned on me that I saw the Lord on an island in the middle of the lake, not sitting with me as I read his word. I believed he was listening to me but from a distance. That’s when I realized I didn’t believe him. His word said he was always near, but I felt he wasn’t. Tears rolled down my cheeks as this reality seeped into my consciousness. I wanted to believe him, but I was afraid. I was honest with God and told him I was scared but that I didn’t want to be. That’s when I started to see that I believed facts about God in my head, not my heart. I wanted that to change, but I didn’t know how to improve.
So, I asked God to teach me about himself as a real person and to show me how to trust him from my heart.
Can I trust God with my future, even if the outcome isn’t what I want?
My courage to surrender my future to him one day, one moment at a time, is growing as I learn about how intimate and good he really is. I’m still exploring the Truth about His presence and learning how to surrender my future to him. Now, I can say with confidence, God is trustworthy.
My reflections about how God is teaching me to surrender my future to him helped me write Emily’s decision with more authenticity. I look forward to sharing her answer with you in PREMONITION.
Do you sometimes feel afraid of the unknown? How do you wrestle your fears down and choose God?
Here’s a song for us to share as we remember where to go when we feel afraid or doubt God’s goodness.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. —Psalm 121
Stay tuned for more writing updates and other explorations of Truth through Story.
Do you believe in evil beings? Do you think evil exists in our world?
Many people don’t but I do. I don’t only believe evils exists, but I know it exists because God says so.
Although I do believe in good and evil, my feelings ebb and flow over the years as I have underestimated or overestimated the power of supernatural beings.
As I work on Premonition, I’m learning how I have erred in both directions.
I avoided writing in the Christian Thriller & Suspense genre for years because I overestimated the power of evil. had a scary encounter as a child that kept me afraid of dealing with the duality of life on earth amid the supernatural because I couldn’t tell whether the event was a dream or if it really happened.
I was afraid of the enemy, signing over power to him in my life. As a result, I diminished the power of God. When I realized what a slap in the face that was to my Father, I apologized and opened myself up for Him to lead me where I ought to go.
He was kind to me while I avoided writing scary stories that the enemy’s schemes and even more gracious after I apologized.
During my avoidance years, I tried to write in so many genres: Sweet Romance, Romantic Suspense, Young Adult Fantasy, and Cozy Mysteries. In November 2018, I was ready to give up writing. The stories I wrote weren’t bad, but an essential element was missing in all of them.
Not me as a character in my books, but the heart of what makes me Ali Dent, my faith and compelling desire to share about Jesus in person and in my work.
Rather than give up, I cried out to the Lord, “What’s wrong with me? Should I stop writing?”
After that prayer, I had a strong urge to go to the library. I usually work in a local coffee shop, but not that day. I climbed the stairs to the top floor and set my computer bag and purse on a table facing a long wall lined with aisles of fiction books organized by genre.
I thought I was there to write. I sat down but didn’t start writing. Instead, my gaze drifted down the right side of the wall reading the labels on the end cap of each shelf. I felt at home among so many of my book friends
I’ve written YA Fantasy. Cozy Mystery. Yep, I have a mystery story in my files. I skipped over the Christian fiction aisles to the romance section. Recalling the stories I had written that would fit on those shelves, I began to feel pretty down on myself.
A gentle nudge in my heart drew my attention to the Christian fiction section.
I stood up. Paused. Then I entered the aisle. I ticked off dozens of books I had read in that section until my eyes focused on the Ted Dekker section. A friend had recommended his books to me a few years earlier, and I had read a couple of them. I pulled Eyes Wide Open off the shelf and returned to my seat. Six chapters in, and I stopped reading. A sense of contentment washed over me and I felt a Cheshire grin spread across my face so fully that an onlooker might have guessed I was reading a comedy.
I whispered, “Yes, Lord.”
My Precious Father pointed me in the direction that would please him and make me happy even though I had held back on Him for so long. He never stopped wooing me to write in the genre that had appealed to me in my early 20s, starting with a book called This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti.
Would he have minded if I published in another genre? I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think so. However, he knew how he had knit me together in my mother’s womb and that my highest satisfaction comes when I share the gospel. I not only had left me out of the other stories I had written. I had left God out too.
What I understand so far
I have nothing to fear because God is my protector.
I need the Lord’s constant guidance to keep me from overestimating and underestimating the power of evil.
You, my Thriller Family are worth writing mind-bending stories about people who learn how to thrive in the realm BETWEEN good and evil.
For those of you who have known me for a while, you know how important accuracy is to me, especially when it comes to the Truth. Writing a fun story for you to read is super important to me. Getting the Truth right is vital to my happiness while I’m writing the story.
So, I reach out to God to teach me. Tim Keller is one of my trusted teachers. I’ve been reading and watching his videos on the subject of spiritual warfare. The video I’ve linked to below might appeal to you if you want to learn more about spiritual warfare.
“Modern people are uncomfortable with the existence of evil, let alone the existence of the Devil. Yet, the Bible teaches that we cannot fully understand the world we live in unless we realize that there are supernatural agents of evil. But it is not enough to believe in the Devil; a Christian must study his methods. Satan practices evil subtly. He tempts and accuses people rather than overthrowing their will. Temptation is when the Devil asks us to ignore the holiness of God. Accusation is when he blinds us to the love and grace of God.” — Tim Keller
It was time to review 2019, and I dreaded the process because I wanted to be done with last year and move on.
The suffering of 2019 had been intense. The year had been unpleasant on a personal level as I watched those nearest to me suffer.
Instead of focusing on writing, I gave over large chunks of my time and energy to assist family members who were in crisis.
This trade-off left a massive glob of unfinished professional goals which, by the start of the new year, I had grown ashamed of. I could see other people juggling work and relationships, so why couldn’t I?
Did I plan wrong? Were my goals too lofty?
Then came the more soul-crushing questions: what if I wasn’t meant to write stories? What if my failures were God’s way of steering me in a new direction? Was I failing God? Why couldn’t I finish what I set out to do?
By the end of the year, I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and never get out of bed again.
I have enough life experience behind me now to know review and reflection are smart, but I wanted to put 2019 behind me. It had been a year filled with pain that I wanted to forget.
But the Lord knew better. I needed to see the way He does. To see the successes and failures from an eternal perspective.
So, I reviewed the year by asking myself a series of questions from an annual review template created by David Allen, the author of The Art of Getting Things Done.
The answers to those questions helped me form a month-by-month overview that looked like this:
Began 2019 with optimism and hope by setting a huge goal for myself: I would publish my first Christian Thriller book in March.
First bombshell: We learned our daughter was living in a shocking situation. Nothing in my life before then had prepared me to take in the kind of pain we heard on the recordings she shared with us.
March, April, May
Daily phone calls and emergency family planning meetings took up my time. I postponed publication to June. I felt frustrated and unsure of what I could have done differently to meet my family’s needs and my writing goals.
My daughter decided to flee to a shelter with her children. Pain for everyone involved consumed me. I had no space in my heart to write, but I felt I should be doing the work.
June publication deadline delayed to November. Instinctively, I understood the Lord was in charge of my work and relationships. Still, I didn’t know how to adjust my expectations.
After helping my daughter and grandchildren transition out of the shelter and into a temporary home I was hit with the second bombshell. On a flight of a long-planned vacation with friends, I passed out. A doctor on board had to give me a shot of epinephrine to help me regain consciousness.
Doctor’s visits and tests to discover the underlying cause of my episode. Finally, my doctor and I agreed exhaustion was the culprit.
Although spending a lot of my time helping my daughter with legal matters I was determined to publish my first book. My editor agreed it was on target for the November release.
After moving my daughter into a new home, I remained to help her and my grandchildren adjust to their new lifestyle. My daughter lives four states away so I did not have access to my home office.
After a heart-to-heart talk with my editor, I chose to put my publication date on hold so I could continue to give my time and energy to helping my family.
As I reflected on this list, I was reminded of a question my family asked me over and over and over during 2019. In the midst of all the chaos, they wanted to know, “Why are you so calm?”
Their question puzzled and worried me.
Was I really calm? I felt so much pain. So very helpless.
The pain I felt for my daughter suffocated me. Had I disassociated myself from the intensity of it all, and it just came across as calm? Was a calm demeanor a weird response? Was I an uncaring mom?
I took time to reflect on their question and it seemed to me that my daughter’s situation had created an opportunity for the Lord to show himself through the trust and surrender he had already deposited within me through my own trials. To my family, it came across as “calm” which I realized was the sweet gift from the Lord. He had been at work in me even while I felt buried in pain and suffering. He was sourcing himself out to those around me, and I had no idea. I was just clinging to him through it all and crying out to him for her whole family.
What did I learn from taking the time to reflect on the previous year?
It’s easy to miss the eternal implications when I’m in the middle of chaos and pain.
I’m prone to measure my worth on my performance. Therefore, at the end of a whole year, when my practical goals were unmet, it was easy for me to forget the reasons I chose to put the work aside and conclude I was a failure. Reflection allowed me to throw that idea away.
Our practical work and intangible work are equally valuable. I have more to learn about the ebb and flow of these.
I have much to learn about setting goals and leaving the outcome to the Lord.
“These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last long [in light of eternity.] Yet, this short time of distress will result in Gods richest blessing upon us forever and ever!” 2 Corinthians 4:17
If you had asked me if I had reached my goals for 2019 in December I would have stammered and stuttered to give you an honest answer, But, after reflection, I can clearly say without hesitation that I was not a failure in 2019.
Exploring TRUTH through story, Ali
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