All sorts of things pop up on social media and more often than not we are snared to read memes or watch videos without really thinking about it. This happened to me recently with a video about some fashion designer (sorry, forgot the name as this is way out of my range of interest) who apparently had a rough personal history and only found her calling late in life.
What made me really angry about this video was the contrast between “I have cared for other people all my life and was hurt and rejected” and “Now I only care for myself and am successful and happy”.
Sorry, folks, but that really made me sick. I understand perfectly that there are many women out there who get hurt and subdued and I truly believe it is necessary to care for oneself. But not for selfish reasons. There is nothing wrong with investing in family, friends and community. There is nothing wrong with investing, even if you get nothing back. But in my opinion, there is something seriously wrong with focusing on oneself with the sole aim of putting oneself ahead of others.
Why? Because women aren’t made that way. It is ingrained in us to care and to support. That is our original task, given to us by our maker. (Look it up in the Bible, Genesis 1, 18-24.) We were made to help. Turning our back on this task is not going to make us happy. Revolving around ourselves is not going to make us happy.
So why do so many memes that are meant to give value to women and to raise awareness for women’s needs often contradict our caring nature, calling women to put their first priority on themselves without following up with a life purpose? And we are agreed that we need a purpose in life, right? If there is no purpose to our existence, we feel totally and utterly useless and lost.
I have found the solution in the command that Jesus referred to as the most important of all.
37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 “This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22)
There is an order to this. First, God loves you. Then you love God. When you understand that God loves you, no matter what, you will be able to love yourself. And when you love yourself, then you are capable of loving others.
Many women have suffered violence and abuse, both physical and/or mental. I am no exception. And in my experience, the capability of caring for myself, accepting myself as a valuable human being, loving myself and not feeling worthless could never have happened if I had not understood that I am unconditionally loved by God. You could have told me a hundred times and more that I should take care of myself, should love myself and I could not have done it.
I didn’t know how. But now I do (Thank you, God!) and it fills me. I am not responsible for loving myself and caring for myself. God does that. All I have to do is accept it. And then I can go and open my hands and my heart and let it pour out to others. There is not only purpose in that, there’s also fulfillment. Satisfaction.
It doesn’t mean life is all pink fluffy unicorns. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a care in the world. It doesn’t mean I’ll never get hurt or disappointed again. It means I’m no longer lost and I know where to turn with my pain. It means the people around me benefit from my presence. It means I can make this world that little bit better.
With your eyes locked onto yourself and your own needs, that’s not going to happen. And if women stop caring for the people around them, we have failed on an epic scale.
Can you believe that 2019 has already shed one month? I remember that time had no relevance for me as a child. If ever I noticed its passing, it was because it had a tendency to drag out like chewing gum. Never did I wonder how come another week already passed. Talking to my children about this lately, their experience is totally different. They perceive the fast passing of time and even comment on it. It makes me wonder, if time has really sped up over the past 40 years.
In my Bible studies I’ve been reading the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah lately, as well as giving Revelations another run-through for research reasons (I’m basing my current WIP on it, what a challenge!). Looking at the strange developments throughout the world, I do wonder if everything is drawing to a close, like water going down a drain that speeds up and creates a twirl before disappearing altogether.
Especially when watching the news, taking in wars, migrants drowning in the Mediterranean while Europe turns a blind eye, natural disasters, global warming and all those other disquieting issues, I catch myself thinking ‘It’s enough. Please, Jesus, come back soon. Put a stop to this craziness. I want peace, your peace.’ How blessed I am to have this hope accompanying me through every day.
A busy month January was for me. Apart from a long list of doctor’s appointments with various family members and some not so nice experiences along the way (I never thought I’d ever get kicked out of a dentist’s office for not agreeing to the recommended treatment!), I have started a new translation project, worked on book 5 of my German Christian children’s adventure series, made slow progress with the translation of my Way of Life series into German, contacted a professional cover designer to create some stunning covers for the series and helped some fellow Indies with proofreading. Two of my German books are published now and collecting positive feedback, while my publisher has secured our cooperation all the way through 2020.
It feels so right, this decision to go freelance. I’m deeply grateful to be able to do what I love and touch people’s lives in a positive manner along the way. My personal little light that I may hold up to fight the darkness in this world.
Remember Lisa? I’ve done an interview with Lisa a while back. Lisa is my protagonist’s older sister, and she sure knows how a Christian should behave. She knows all the rules and sticks by them. She expects everybody else to stick by them, too! To give you a little impression, here’s an excerpt from “Out of the Dark“, where Lisa meets Josie for the first time, the woman her brother Jim fell in love with – unbeknownst to her.
“We don’t drink alcohol,” Lisa cut in. Josie’s eyebrows shot up. “You don’t?” She looked at Stacey. “Oh, Lisa, come off it. YOU don’t drink alcohol. I do once in awhile, but you have yet to see me drunk. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.” Lisa ignored this statement completely. “Are you a Christian?” she asked Josie instead. Josie hesitated a moment. “Is that a prerequisite for moving in here?” Josie asked back, to gain a bit of time. She was already aware of the fact that while Stacey was an uncomplicated and warm-hearted person, Lisa on the other hand was a bit peculiar. She hadn’t quite put her finger on it yet, but it seemed to her that Lisa liked to be in control and set the rules. She was probably friendly and sweet as long as everybody played her tune, but might turn nasty if one decided to play one’s own little melody. “No, it’s not,” Stacey said very decisively in response to Josie’s question. “Would you say you are, even if you’re not, if it was a prerequisite?” Lisa went on, eyes shining eagerly like a cat smelling rat. Josie leaned back in her chair and smiled charmingly, envisioning a tail twitching with excitement sticking out through the back of Lisa’s chair. Now she knew exactly what Lisa was like, but it didn’t bother her in the least. Lisa loved the challenge of getting her way without people noticing it. But – Josie relaxed completely – she was not very good at it. Josie chuckled quietly to herself. Her mother was like that. And her mother was extremely good at it. And so was Josie herself, having learned from her – and used it on her successfully. “No, I wouldn’t,” she replied to Lisa’s question. “If it was a prerequisite, I would think you are religious freaks and would most certainly not want to live with you. Are you religious freaks?” Stacey giggled again. “I don’t think I have laughed so much in the past three weeks together,” she said cheerfully. Lisa’s smile appeared to be a little strained, but she made no further comment on matters of faith.
Out of the Dark, Chapter 3, A Good Move
Do you know people like that? I have encountered them and I must admit that they are not the ones who made the Christian faith attractive to me. I tend to do things my own way and people who want to impress their rules on me usually make me squirm and snap.
But faith is all about rules, isn’t it? God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to keep and even Jesus himself said “You love me if you keep my commandments” (John 15:10). Obviously, there is a connection between the rules and love. Most people think the connection is this: If I keep the rules, God is going to love me. I know many people who see it that way, some of them Christians, some of them not.
For the Christians, this attitude means they can earn their way into heaven. And if they can earn their way into heaven, so can everyone else. All you have to do is keep the rules. It gives them the perfect excuse to act like Lisa and call everyone out who is NOT keeping the rules.
For the non-Christians, this attitude is a monstrous barrier between them and God. Either they don’t want to keep all the rules because there are just too many of them and life is no longer fun if you stick by them, or they feel they will never be able to keep all the rules, well aware of their own weakness.
The good news is: It’s a lie. Nobody can earn their way into heaven. Salvation is a gift, and the only thing you have to do to receive it is to accept it. The connection between the rules and love is this: Keeping the rules is just a symptom of loving God.
When I accepted the fact that I needed a saviour and Jesus was the only one adequate to deal with all of my problems, I was far from perfect. I didn’t keep the rules. I didn’t even know all the rules. Some of them I knew and broke willfully, because I wanted to. The only thing that happened was that I hurt myself. It did not diminish God’s love for me. The longer I’ve lived in this extraordinarily loving relationship with God, the clearer the rules became. And with this growing awareness, my wish to keep the rules increased. Not for the rules’ sake, but for my sake. Not to please God and make him love me, but because I learned from experience that breaking the rules hurts – either me or others.
It makes me sad to hear Christians call people out on their sins, because I know it will only drive them away from God. It doesn’t help. Acceptance helps. Helping helps. Sharing in the pain of a broken heart helps. Good advice or empty prayers rarely do. Another small excerpt that shows the difference.
Josie didn’t reply but stared into her coffee cup, wondering why this was so utterly different from what Stacey had said to her about Jesus. Of course, Stacey hadn’t asked Josie to pray with her, she had only spoken about her own experiences. But Lisa had also spoken of her experiences, so why did she feel offended? It felt like an intrusion, this offer of prayer. As if Lisa tried to make things right from a distance, without getting involved. Stacey had gotten involved, had not been afraid to get real close to what was happening.
Out of the Dark, Chapter 7, The Workings of the Heart
There are those who are not afraid to get involved. Those who do not judge. Those who stand by you without asking questions. They might tell you their opinion, but they will never condemn you. They are the forgiven ones. The ones who remember the times when they themselves were helpless, hopeless and in need. The grateful ones who serve God not out of duty, but for love. If you meet one of those, don’t be afraid to trust them. They make great friends.
This collection of short stories by highly acclaimed Sri Lanka author Shirani Rajapakse has touched me and left me with one dire, unanswered question: Why?
‘I exist. Therefore I am’ is written in a very quiet, yet poetic style. For the difficult topic it addresses, it uses no drama and no judgment. The stories tell individual episodes of lives of women in India from all ranges of society, thereby drawing a devastating picture of an entire culture. Even before I read the book I knew that women are not highly regarded and suffer a lot in India. Arranged marriages, infanticide and lack of rights or education were familiar topics. But the depth of hatred running deep in the mindset of an entire people shocked me and left me speechless.
‘Why?’ I asked myself after every story. Why would a mother poison her newborn child, just because it was a girl? Why would a girl spend all of her family’s money just to get a socially acceptable husband? Why, oh why would a woman douse her daughter-in-law in kerosene and burning oil and watch her burn to death? And why are these things not only accepted by the majority, but passed on through generations?
For me, the most striking piece of the collection is the one that gave the book its title. The reader gets to share the thoughts of an unborn girl from first awareness to the point of abortion. As a Christian and a mother of two (I would be highly esteemed in India, having borne two sons!) it is inconceivable how women can be put under so much pressure (by other women!) that they begin to hate that which they are called to love and protect, nourish and raise.
It makes me sad and calls me to pray for a nation hopelessly lost and without love. This is a far cry from Bollywood!
I read the book knowing it was not an easy topic. I’m glad I read it because I cannot close my eyes to the fate of millions, even if they live far away. The author has done a marvelous job in portraying each of the women without making it garish sensationalism. Her calm recounting of facts and feelings make the stories digestible, despite their often cruel contents; and her poetic language give the thoughts and feelings depth and beauty.
In the introduction she states that she has lived in India for eight years, taking the risk of leaving the tourist trails to discover the true heart beating in that big and wildly differing country. I commend her for that and for her aim of raising awareness on behalf of women who are so deeply suppressed they often have no way of standing up for themselves.
I highly recommend this book. It has filled me with gratitude for my own loving family, the respect I am treated with and the freedom I may enjoy every day. I am also deeply grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ, which has given my life purpose and meaning and has established an identity and value as a person that nobody will be able to take from me. I exist. Therefore I am – able to love with the freedom to do so.
My prayers go out to women in India now more than ever.
For the beautiful language used, the touching storytelling that kept me turning the pages and the depth of topic I gladly award ‘I exist. Therefore I am’ a Chatworthy Read badge.
This curious combination of topics made me exactly that: curious.
Lucy is the victim of years of mobbing at school. Her only consolation: She repeatedly falls into a deep sleep and wakes up in a different time, where one family, and one boy in particular, always take her in. She lives in stone age Africa, in Pompeii just before it is wiped out, in Scotland before the battle of Culloden and every time she can only leave again by dying.
At times, I found the tale confusing, because references to names or places are not always clear and keep the reader guessing, and the tense the story is told in is not consistent. I’m not sure if the author did this on purpose or not, but the effect enhances the suffocating atmosphere of the novel. Told from Lucy’s perspective, the reader cannot help but feel the load of self-doubt, fear and agony that comes with every new, vicious attack of Lucy’s classmates. The loneliness in her home with her ever working mother is palpable.
If anyone is wondering what drives teenagers into suicide, this book gives an answer. In my opinion, the idea of combining this difficult topic with time travel is ingenious. It opens a route of escape, adds touches of hope combined with the fun of having the main character face the challenges of different time periods and it provides a lot of tension, because the reader keeps wondering what the heck is going on. Is she dreaming? Do these things really happen? It kept me turning the pages right up to the end, always hoping that Lucy is not crazy and that she finds her way out of her depression.
I don’t want to spoil the reading fun, thus will only say there is light at the end of the tunnel. ‘If I wake’ is amazingly different and I highly recommend this read.
On a personal note: The thoughts and fears of Lucy, her loneliness and feeling superfluous are very familiar to me. Even though my own classmates weren’t quite as mean as those described in the novel, I distinctly remember how I turned into myself to become invisible and avoid notice, just like Lucy. Even today, when I’m going on fifty, I still have to take a deep breath and steel myself before I enter a room full of people or pass a group of adolescents. I have come a long way of healing and I fight hard for the mental health of my children, so that they make it through school unscathed.
It nearly tore me apart when my older son went through a phase of depression in fifth and sixth grade due to the mobbing of three classmates. We talked and prayed a lot, trying to support him and strengthen his self-esteem. In grade seven, the group broke up and now he is not only fine again, but goes out of his way to keep other kids from suffering the same. It makes me immensely grateful and proud of him!
In autumn last year I re-organized my flowerbeds to have some space for vegetables. This included moving a few plants and I was curious to see how they would do in their new environment. One of them was a coneflower, which had spread widely in its old spot and bloomed like crazy every year. When spring came, almost no leaves showed up and I was afraid I had killed it by moving it, but then a few green leaves poked out of the ground and I was relieved. I took special care of it, watering it faithfully throughout the long, hot summer, but it didn’t bloom. The leaves grew, healthy and strong, but no flower appeared. I was a bit sad, but then I winked at it. ‘Next year,’ I thought.
And then it struck me what a great investment I had put into this plant, caring for it all year long without the reward of pretty yellow flowers shining in my garden. Especially on rainy days these flowers give me special joy, because they look as if the sun is shining anyway. Not this year, though.
My brain did a major leap to my horse. Investment is a large issue there, as well. I bought my horse before it was even born. I felt her kicking in her mother’s belly and was overwhelmed with joy when she was finally born. I aptly named her ‘My Curious Delight’ – and started investing. There’s not that much you can do with a young horse. Teach it to wear a halter and follow your lead. Teach it to pick up its feet so you can clean them. Make it stand still for brushing down. Tell it kicking and biting are not tolerated. And apart from that – just watch it play in the pasture. It’s a long, long way before you start to ride it. At some point you start working lessons with the lunge line, throw things over its back so it can get used to that, teach it voice commands. But it’s still a long, long way before you start to ride it.
I invested three years before I first sat on her back. And what I did then couldn’t be called riding, either. It was still investment. Teach her the clues. Teach her the moves. Hang on for dear life when she suddenly decided she’d had enough now. It took a long, long time before I could relax and say ‘Now I’m riding this horse. I’m enjoying it. The investment is finally paying off.’
I know there are lots of people out there who don’t have the patience for such an investment. They want quick results and take the shortcut. In the flowerbed they would clear out the roots and buy a new plant from the store, already in bloom. With the horses, they often start way too soon and use force to drill the required routine into the animal. There’s little love in such an approach, because the creature doesn’t count. The result does.
What would our world look like if God had no love for it? If He would take the shortcut to get the results He wants? I’ve heard a lot of people accusing him of not doing that. Why doesn’t he stop the suffering? Why does he allow these natural catastrophes? Why doesn’t he end the wars? God, please! Take the shortcut! Make it happen now!
He won’t. His love is totally different from anything we’re able to imagine. He is not afraid to invest hundreds and thousands of years and even His own son to reach His goals. He’s not interested in results. He’s interested in your soul and whether or not it’s with Him. Believe it or not, His main focus is simply to be with you. And that goes for every single human being that has ever lived, lives now or will ever live on this planet. The sheer magnitude of that is bowling me over.
So when we learn from God, we learn to invest. We learn to love people for who they are and not what they achieve. We learn to bear with them through pain and sorrow, if need be, so they may eventually reach their full bloom. And we don’t do it for the bloom, we do it for the person we love. Sometimes we will wish for a shortcut along the way, because some people go through very deep and dark valleys and it’s so hard to stand by them. But the shortcuts never pay off.
Don’t be afraid to invest time and love, even if you don’t see immediate results. It’s not about results, it’s about love.
My ‘Way of Life‘ series is firmly set in the romance genre – for want of anything better. One reader suggested the genre “adult Christian romance”, but even that would not be sufficient in my opinion.
The story around Josie and Jim encompasses so much more than boy meets girl, sparks fly and they fall in love, overcome a few obstacles and live happily ever after. They come from completely different backgrounds, they have almost opposing views on life, they each have their own demons to tackle and on top of that they need to find their way into a relationship, when their definitions and expectations of a relationship are incongruous.
I like reading romance novels, once in a while, even though I often think that they are one step removed from reality. Maybe that is exactly the reason why they are so popular. People (women in particular) don’t want to read about the hard work a relationship normally is. They want to get lost in the fluttering hearts and hopeful dreams that inevitably come true. They want to be swept away by Prince Charming who instinctively knows what they need most (and, I have to admit, Jim is no exception there), fulfilling every secret wish before it is being uttered. It is an escape from day-to-day chores, healthier than chocolate, but just as addictive.
The question is: How does it affect us? What do we, as authors who write in the romance genre, do to young girls who read our books? Do we raise the wrong kind of expectations? How will young women know how to invest into a relationship when all they ever read about is happily ever after? How will they know that love takes a decision for the partner each and every day?
Are romance authors guilty of ruining relationships because guys cannot meet the expectations we created? Are we involuntarily feeding the concept of ‘if it doesn’t feel perfect, I’ll quit’?
I deeply believe that love doesn’t just happen. Attraction happens. Attraction happens all the time and it doesn’t care whether you’re married or not. Our mistake is calling attraction love. But love is something different altogether and it has nothing to do with butterflies.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
What the Bible (1 Corinthians 13, 4-8) defines as love surely sets a very high standard. Be honest: Could you vow that you love your partner like that? Is it even possible?
No. Only God can love like that. Humans usually fail – miserably. We do keep a record of wrongs. We feel entitled to remember when we were hurt. We are angered, some of us very easily. We do not always trust, but rather check to make sure.
The only way to make a relationship work is to forgive and forgive and forgive, each and every day. And that goes for both parties. It is a conscious decision, something you have to really want to do. And it is often hard. But it is also worthwhile, because a strong relationship is very rewarding. Much more rewarding than the immediate pleasure of a one-night-stand.
So how do Josie and Jim handle the question of attraction/love in their relationship? Here’s an excerpt from “The Way of Life”, a crucial turning point in the story.
“No sex before marriage,” she said, wanting him to confirm that this was what he was talking about, while everything inside her wanted to scream and hit him and tell him he was an idiot if he believed in such a thing. She barely heard his answer. With an almost inhuman act of self-control she asked calmly, “Why?” while she groaned inwardly. “And because it’s in the Bible is not a sufficient explanation,” she added as an afterthought, just in case.
Jim looked at her sheepishly, trying to figure out if she really meant him to explain. She looked back at him with what she hoped was a patiently expectant expression. He swallowed hard and went back to studying his boots for a long time. When Josie was about to turn and simply walk away he finally started to speak.
“The Bible says that when a man and a woman marry, they become one flesh. I don’t think that refers only to sex; I think it’s a lot more than that. You grow together, change, adapt, become an entity. I can see that in my parents. They’ve been married for almost thirty years and they know each other inside out.” He paused a moment to let that sink in. “Society today wants us to believe that sex is nothing more than eating or drinking or dancing or any other pleasure. I think that’s wrong. Sex is a lot more than that and that is why God sort of erected a frame for it – marriage. I don’t think you can get closer to a person than when you’re having sex and to let someone come that close to you, you need a lot of trust and faith in the other person because you always leave a bit of yourself. I think sex is like gluing two sheets of paper together; you can’t separate them without tearing either one or the other – or both.” He turned toward her, looking imploringly at her.
“That’s why there are so many heartbroken people in this world! They think they can have a little fun having sex and then there is betrayal or separation and hearts are torn to pieces. People are no longer prepared to make a commitment. They are no longer prepared to make a relationship work. They move from one partner to the next, leaving bits and pieces of themselves all over the place and wonder why they never find the right one. But that’s not what God intended when he invented sex. His intention was for one man and one woman to share this gift exclusively. All their lives.”
Josie said nothing. The sheer magnitude of his thoughts baffled her. She had never given this subject any thought at all, or questioned the way her friends and acquaintances had handled it. She was glad he did not throw some general statements and Bible quotes at her the way Lisa had, but it would take her a little time to think about his arguments. Jim saw that she was seriously listening to him and continued quietly, but a little more securely.
“I know you’ve had sex before and I haven’t. So tell me, am I wrong?”
Even though Josie wanted very much to contradict him, she couldn’t. His example with the paper rang true. She had always pushed the pain or discomfort away she had felt when sleeping with a near stranger, thinking herself silly. Perhaps she hadn’t been. She still said nothing. Jim went on.
“Tell me, how can you ever be sure your partner will stay faithful if you went to bed with him on the second date? What’s to keep him from doing that with someone else when things get a bit difficult? Or when you get pregnant and feel huge and unattractive?”
Josie gasped and shook her head. Getting pregnant was unthinkable. Before she could say anything, Jim came one step closer and looked intently into her eyes.
“I believe that by staying virgin until our wedding night I can prove to you that I can control myself. That I can resist temptation. That I’m not going to follow every sexual whim that enters my brain. I can prove to you that I love you, that I respect you and that you are worth suffering for, worth fighting for. And then you will know that I am faithful and trustworthy. And I will know the same thing about you. We will have no reason to doubt each other when things get a little rough. And they will get rough. Every relationship needs working on and has its ups and downs. We’ve had our ups and downs already and we handled them and they made us stronger. Josie,” he said and stood close to her, caressing her cheek with the back of his index finger, “I want to spend my life with you. Get married, have kids, see what God has in store for us.”
Josie still said nothing. She stood rigid as a statue, staring at him with a strangely remote expression. Then she blinked suddenly and drew a deep breath. Jim saw it in her eyes that something was off key. He had dreaded it. When he had started to speak and she had listened to him without laughing he had hoped it would be alright. But it wouldn’t be. He could feel his heart begin to crumble even before she said, “You can’t marry me.”