The Call to Mastery: A New Podcast

The Call to Mastery: A New Podcast

Jordan Raynor, The Call to MasteryI recently had the privilege to sit down for a podcast interview with my friend, Jordan Raynor, to discuss the the sometimes tense, but often beautiful, writer life from the perspective of faith and work.

Say that five times fast.

Jordan is the bestselling author of Called to Create, a book that “restores God’s position as the first entrepreneur, helping readers see the eternal value in the work they do today.”

Jordan’s upcoming release, Master of One, Jordan builds on that message, using his “story-driven, gospel-centric style to make the case that it is through excellent work that we glorify God, love our neighbors as ourselves, and earn the right to be heard by a world thirsty for truth.”

With this as his underlying message, Jordan’s podcast, The Call to Mastery, assembles a line up of speakers from all vocations who are intent upon working with excellence all to the glory of God and the good of others.

Jordan and I had a wonderful conversation about my work as a fiction author. We discussed the crazy dinner that Jordan and my husband had in London with Douglas Gresham, C. S. Lewis’s stepson and head of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, which resulted in a developing friendship between Doug and myself, ultimately culminating in a surprise endorsement from him for my newest novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore.

Over dinner and, cigars, Jordan and my husband and one other friend spent an entire evening talking with Doug about life, art, C.S. Lewis and theology. That night is now logged in my husband’s book as one of the most epic of his life. It may have even edged out the day we got married.

Jordan and I went on to discuss what it might look like to work as a Christian who is an author, but not necessarily define as a “Christian author”.

The discussion was rich and fun and multifaceted, covering everything from my daily habits as a writer to my most recommended books, to the unlikely person I consider a mentor.

I would love for you to take a listen! 

Jordan’s podcast is rich, and I highly recommend adding it to your weekly playlist. Likewise, I cannot recommend his books enough! I’ve read them both and gleaned so much encouragement from them.

Click here to order Called to Create.

Click here to preorder Master of One.

Click here to listen to Jordan and I discuss faith and work from a writer’s perspective.

A Silver Willow by the Shore, released October 2019!

The verdict is in, and readers are loving my newest novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore! I couldn’t be more thrilled with the messages I am getting from readers about the impact this story of mothers and daughters, and of the longing for home, is having on each of them.

A Silver Willow by the Shore weaves together the stories of three generations of women, from the gulags of 1930’s Siberia, to the quiet oppression of 1980’s Soviet Moscow, to present day Tennessee. It is an unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and of the light that unites the heart of a family.

Click here to purchase your copy of A Silver Willow by the Shore!

Hope is Slow: The Story of Adoption (Part II)

Hope is Slow: The Story of Adoption (Part II)

Hurricane Florence has stalled out over the Atlantic as the Carolinas hunker down and wait for her to make landfall. I’m watching it all unfold with a mild sense of PTSD after we rode out Irma last year (which hit us at a Category 2 when it was all said and done).

It’s an odd sensation, preparing for a hurricane. Your mind is a whir of details as you decide what valuables you need to try and secure, and which ones you need to be okay with losing. Suddenly, you find that you’re able to boil down the most important things in your life to only a handful of people and possessions.

You prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best. There’s an analogy here.

 

 

Back in late January, I got an email from Rainbow Kids, an adoption and child welfare advocacy group that sends out lists of children who are waiting for their forever families. These are usually the children who are most vulnerable, have special needs, or risk aging out of the orphanage and losing their right to be adopted.

I don’t remember ever having signed up for this list, nor had I ever seen an email from them before. It’s quite possible I’d been receiving these emails for years and simply hadn’t noticed, but for whatever reason, on January 28 I had an email in my inbox with the subject line “Waiting Child: Sawyer”.

Way back in 2005, when I was pregnant with our second child, my husband and I happened to be mildly obsessively addicted to the show LOST. We chose not to find out the sex of that second baby, and after much discussion and convincing, I got my husband to agree to name the baby Sawyer. It was partly in homage to our favorite show, and partly just a name I loved.

Then our daughter, Katya, surprised us all (shattering a long-running streak of Stuart males), and the name Sawyer was reluctantly retired. When our third child came along, Sawyer didn’t fit, and so I resigned myself to the idea that I’d never get to utilize that name I’d so come to love.

So on this day in January, I opened that email merely out of curiosity because of the name “Sawyer”, and when I did, the most beautiful little boy I’d ever seen stared back at me. He had a head full of thick, black hair, large curious eyes, round cheeks, and the sweetest little lips.

And he needed a home. The only problem?

 

He was in China, and this hadn’t been part of our family plan.

 

I called Lee that day and tentatively told him about the little boy nicknamed “Sawyer” who needed a home. I figured he’d shake his head and laugh at me. My sweet husband has endured many a phone call in our eighteen years of marriage about children who needed homes. This longing to adopt isn’t something that sprung up in my heart overnight.

It was planted in me many, many years ago. Why I’ve had to wait this long to see the Lord answer this desire in this particular way is a mystery to me. All I can say is Hope is Slow.

So as I explained the situation to Lee, he listened quietly and said, “Okay. Let’s get more information.”

Then…I LAUGHED! I thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t, and so I emailed to inquire about the little boy in my inbox. By the end of that week, we’d spoken with numerous specialists and medical professionals who helped us read his file and get an idea of what issues he faced. We’d called a couple of friends in the adoption community and asked their opinions.

And then we just…made a decision. There was no A-ha moment that made us jump up and say “Yes! This is our son!” It was more an understanding that this situation was in front of us, and we had no reason to say no.

We took tentative steps forward, and within two weeks we were meeting with a local agency to begin our home study. We had just submitted our Letter of Interest to China less than two days earlier, which requested permission to pursue the adoption of this specific child, and we’d been told to expect a reply in 10-14 days.

As I drove to the home study agency, I was seized with fear. It felt a little like the beginnings of a hurricane swarming in my mind. Thoughts swirled, and my stomach tied in knots. Fear gripped me as I thought of all the possible things that could go wrong.

What if we ended up walking through another terminated adoption? What if the adoption went through, but the child had issues we weren’t prepared to face? What if he couldn’t transition to a large family? What if this damaged our biological children? 

Round and round, the fears buzzed and hummed, and by the time I arrived at the agency’s office, I was approaching a full blown panic. “Lord!” I called out, tears stinging the corners of my eyes. “If this is wrong, then stop it now. Don’t let us move forward. But if it’s right, please show me that it’s right.”

I sat in the quiet for a moment, gathering my thoughts, before reluctantly pushing open the door to head inside and meet with our social worker.

And then my phone pinged.

I looked at it and saw an email had come through. The email was from the adoption agency that held Sawyer’s file.

“Kelli,” it read. “You have been granted approval by China to pursue this adoption. This came through incredibly fast. We rarely see it happen this quickly. Congratulations!”

Hope is Slow. Hope is Real. Hope is Here.

To be continued…

(And I promise to get back to the dream in Part I. It’s all coming full circle if you’ll stay with me.)

On Waiting, Praying, and Not Sneaking a Peek

I tiptoed down the stairs moving slowly and deliberately. Every once in awhile I’d freeze, certain I heard footsteps approaching, then resume my movement down this deviant path.

I’d laid in bed for a long time thinking about this. I’d tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t do it, but the tug of curiosity outweighed reason, so I finally gave in to the temptation.

I approached the Christmas tree, it’s piney scent strong and full in the dark room. Christmas morning was still a week away, but the urgency to know what was wrapped under the tree was more than I could handle. Reaching over to the lamp on the table, I quickly flicked it on, then swiveled my head down the hall toward my parent’s room to see if they’d noticed.

When I was certain the house was still, I made my way to the large gift under the tree – the one with my name written on it. Very, very slowly I pulled back the taped sides, and I peeked beneath the wrapping to see what it was.

All these years later, I don’t actually remember what the gift was that I peeked at in the dark. I must have been eight or nine that year, and I was certain that I couldn’t wait all the way until Christmas morning to know what was in that mystery package.

One thing I do remember, though, is the disappointment. Not in the gift – I’m sure the gift was great. No, I was disappointed on Christmas morning because the thrill of opening the gift was gone. I’d peeked under the cloak of night, and with no one around to enjoy my delight, the magic of the moment disappeared.

If only I had waited.

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5: 7-8

I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting lately. Waiting is hard. It is as active as anything else we do in this lifetime.

Likewise, I’ve been wrestling through this idea of waiting when coupled with prayer. Both seem so easy, requiring little to no physical exertion, but paired together they can sometimes feel like an emotional marathon.

I don’t want to wait; I want to know right now. I want to see beneath the wrapping, just a tiny glimpse of the waiting gift. I want to assess if I’ll even like that gift with my name on it. I want, I want, I want…

Waiting on answered prayer makes me feel like the little girl lying in her bed, wondering and wishing she knew what was on the other side of Christmas morning. I cling tight to the hope and dream of seeing this desire of the heart answered while also wrestling fear that I will never see the other side of this waiting.

Sometimes I pray as though it is a magic potion, an incantation that will produce immediate results. Most often, these prayers that I pray are good prayers. They are in line with God’s character, and with His spoken desire for His people. I’m not praying for a new car or a better life. I’m praying for healing, for restoration, for reconciliation, for the fulfillment of His goodness here on earth.

But the waiting part? I’m afraid I’m still not very good at it. 

There is a frustration that can creep up when waiting on an unanswered prayer. We speak our words of petition into the quiet sky and watch as those heart longings drift up into the void, and we wonder if it even means anything. 

Maybe you, like me, are waiting for an answer to a deep, heartfelt plea. Can I offer you this encouragement?

Keep waiting. Don’t give up hope. Hope is Slow, after all, but it’s real.

And while you wait, watch for the little ways that the Lord is reminding you of His goodness. See the ways He’s showing you that He’s still at work, even if it feels so very silent.

And whatever you do, try not to take matters into your own hands. Don’t look for a peek at the gift that’s waiting. It just may taint the glory of the surprise.

Trust me, I know.

Where the Present Touches Eternity

We didn’t really know what to expect when we stepped into the house. We only knew it would be a unique experience.

A Nigerian family from our church had invited us to celebrate the 50th birthday of their oldest sister with them. She is visiting America for the first time from Nigeria, and they planned a night of unabated joy.

As the evening wore on, more and more people poured through the doors, all of them dressed head to toe in traditional clothing. The women’s dresses were handmade by one of the sisters, their head wraps bold and bright, heels high, and jewelry big.

We began the evening with a hymn, following by praise songs, words of wisdom from the brother and our pastor, then words of affirmation for the birthday girl from anyone who wanted to speak.

They were effusive in their praise, voices singing loud. No one cared if they were on key or not. It wasn’t about a perfect rendering of the song. It was about praise. It was about joy.

It was a celebration.

“We want to thank God that you are still alive today!” they said, over and over. “We praise God because He could have taken you before today, but He didn’t. He gave you 50 years, and we thank Him for that.”

They pulled out drums and sang, the women all gathering around the celebrated sister, and they danced, laughing and clapping. The younger brother dropped to his knees, his arms raised high to the sky. It was worship. It was celebratory. It was praise.

It was joy.

And I sat in the corner with tears wetting my cheeks because this is the joy I long to fill my home. These people come from a country that has seen deep and lasting hardship, but you wouldn’t know. There was nothing melancholy or solemn about the evening. Only smiles that split wide their faces, and the overflowing joy that comes with praise.

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It’s something I’ve seen before. I don’t know why, but I’m forever amazed at the ability of those who have walked through pain and suffering to live in the present with great joy and gladness. But what do I expect?

Bitterness? Anger?

Why do I look for these things in those whose backgrounds have been less blessed than my own? Is it because I’ve been so immersed in the American mentality my whole life that I falsely and wrongly believe that hardship must naturally be dwelled upon? 

Is it because I have seen so many people I know, people who have been unendingly blessed, dwell on hurt feelings and heartaches, simmering in anger rather than living in the blessed beauty of forgiveness and joy?

Oh, America. How much we miss when wrapped inside all our ‘blessing’.

We miss the opportunity for joy when we aren’t willing to look past our anger.

We miss true, unadulterated praise when we get stuck dwelling on the heartaches of the past.

We lose sight of every good thing when we constantly look toward an unknown future in fear.

I’m saddened to think that my country is missing out on a great deal of celebration because we’re so blinded by ease.

Easy Street has made us boring.

“In a word, the future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. Is is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flow, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Our nation is caught up in the uncertainty of the future right now. We’re rolling in our hopes and our fears, and it’s stealing joy, siphoning it right off before our eyes.

We spend so much time looking into the past, hoping that it will dictate the future, that somehow we seem to have forgotten how to enjoy the present, which is bright with the rays of eternity. The present is where love takes shape – it’s where memories are made, life is lived, and joy is found.

Oh, friends. May we all experience the joy of living in the present today. May we let go of the anger and hurt of the past, and fear not the uncertainties of the future.

May we touch eternity today, right now, in this very moment.

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If you haven’t preordered your copy of my novel, Like a River From Its Course, what are you waiting for?* It’s based on the true stories of men and women I spoke with personally – people who did not dwell on the past, but who lived joyfully in the present. This is a book you don’t want to miss!

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Raising Empowered Girls in a “Lemonade” World

Last night, I tucked her in and marveled at the way her body stretched the length of her bed. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I breathed her in, her freshly washed hair sweet and powdery against my cheek.

It wasn’t long ago she was toddling around the house like her little sister. Now she’s a young lady. She’s compassionate and kind. She’s strong, both in character and physically. She doesn’t get caught up in girly pettiness, but rather walks her own line.

I love that about her.

Raising girls in today’s world is an exercise in faith. There’s a lot of talk on what it means to raise strong men, but there’s even more talk about how we’re supposed to be raising strong girls.

Train them to be dragons, to breath fire in this oppressive world. That’s the most common message I hear today, but what does that strength really look like? How’s a fire-breathing girl supposed to behave in this evolving world of ours?

empowered girls

Unless you live under a rock (and sometimes motherhood feels like just such rock), you’ve probably heard that Beyonce just dropped a new album that’s got the world buzzing.

Now, I’ve heard only bits and pieces of the album. I have not listened to every song because, you know, who has time to listen to Beyonce?!

But I’ve listened to a little bit, and I’ve read several of her lyrics, and here is my first impression. Visually, Beyonce’s new videos to go with her songs are appealing. There’s no denying Beyonce can entertain.

The songs are catchy, too. Not in a Hansen’s “Mmm-Bop!” sort of way. Heaven’s, no. They’re catchy in a stop and listen sort of way, because that’s also Beyonce’s skill. She can deliver music that makes you want to stop and listen.

But the message of the album? Well, I’m not a fan.

Clearly there has been some hurt in Beyonce’s home life. Her lyrics about a cheating spouse are not, I believe, merely fictional. I don’t think Beyonce wrote that album as a creative exercise. It came from a place of experience; it came from a woman who walked through the fire of betrayal, and made it through to the other side.

For her strength, I applaud Beyonce. I’ve watched friends walk through the devastation of infidelity. It is a betrayal unlike any other to have your spouse turn away from you, and the only way to recover is to fight: Fight for your marriage, which I’ve seen people do and make it to the other side. Or fight through divorce, a sometimes heartbreakingly inevitable consequence of infidelity.

In a world that sees marriage as a dispensable commodity, I commend Beyonce for (apparently, based on her lyrics) fighting for hers.

But…

Tidal, the production company that dropped Beyonce’s album, has described it as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self knowledge and healing.”

Really? EVERY WOMAN? That’s a bold claim.

As women we are bombarded with the message that we are good enough and strong enough, and we don’t need any man to “complete” us.

Well, sure. There’s some truth to that statement. I’m raising my daughters to be strong, independent women because marriage isn’t a guarantee. I’m not looking to raise little Stepfords who can only function in the protective arms of a man. I want my girls to know they don’t need to find their self-worth in men.

But they shouldn’t be looking to find their worth in themselves, either. This is where Beyonce’s message of empowerment is not just wrong – it’s dangerous.

Take the following lyrics, for example: “Who the f*** do you think I is/You ain’t married to no average b**** boy/You can watch my fat a**twist boy/As I bounce to the next d*** boy/And keep your money, I got my own.”

Let’s set aside the terrible language for just a second, as if that wasn’t reason enough to caution girls away from Beyonce’s newest album. Let’s ignore that and simply focus on the meaning behind the words.

Is this really the message we’re applauding today? This is the anthem of strength we want our girls to emulate?!

If this is what raising a fire-breathing dragon looks like, then I’m kindly going to step out of the ring, and I’ll bring my girls with me.

Raising girls who can stand strong in a world that tells them they’re nothing but sex symbols, now there’s the challenge. It’s such an oxymoron to listen to Beyonce sing while also watching her gyrate half-clad through most of her music. The message is conflicting: You’re good enough on your own merits, but your empowerment is entirely dependent upon your sex appeal.

Girls, hear me: You are worth far more than simply well-toned bodies.

It is a great honor and privilege to be a wife and a mother, but those things do not a woman make. Equally as important, however, is the understanding that strength isn’t dependent on your ability to wield and lord power over a man. Using sex as a weapon against your man? This is not a message we should be celebrating!

Strength isn’t elevating yourself above everyone else, particularly not over the men in your life. You want to show strength and beauty of character, young ladies?

Learn to let a man lead.

This is the beauty of womanhood. It is kind and compassionate, gentle and, yes, it is very, very strong. A woman’s worth doesn’t lie in her self-knowledge or her sexuality. Her strength does not reside in her ability to make men bow down at her feet and worship the ground she walks on.

Oh, no. A woman’s worth lies in the fact that she was merely created.

You are women created by God Himself.

You were knit with strength from the Creator of this world – a strength that cannot be explained. It cannot be sung. It cannot be wrapped into lyrical prose.

It can only be lived.

This strength is what will walk you through the hardest times of life. Accepting and believing that your worth lies only in who you were created to be by God is the anthem I want women to sing. It is the anthem I want my daughters to hold high.

Believing that they are worth more than they could ever imagine on their own, that “self-knowledge” is actually a myth, is the song I want to dictate their days.

This is the lemonade in a world full of lemons.

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