His Gift takes place at the onset of The Great Depression, October, 1929. I had someone suggest I shouldn’t write about such a “depressing” era because who would read it? I countered the argument with my belief that His Gift isn’t about the sadness of that historic time. Instead, it is about how God is faithful throughout our trials, and He makes all things beautiful when … yes, when … we yield our dreams to him.
I began writing His Gift after my mother passed away. While reading her diaries, I heard her “voice” in a unique way, not as my mom, but as a young woman with dreams and a determination to see them come true. I knew snippets of “her story,” but suddenly as an adult writer, I knew her life possessed a drama to be shared. My mother was a gifted musician who pursued her ambition to become a professional concert pianist upon graduation. In the fall of 1929, she won a student audition to play the Rahcmaninoff Concert #2 with the Detroit Symphony. Then, weeks later, Black Tuesday occurred, the worst day in stock market history. What happens thereafter is the “rest of the story.”
My husband and I traveled to Royal Oak, MI, the setting of the story, to do primary research. We located my grandparents’ home, and the local music conservatory where my mother studied with a then retired concert pianist. We researched what seemed like miles of micrfiche about the 1920s at the Detroit Public Library. With this information download, I felt prepared to write, write, write.
Armed with ideas, I began writing the novel–without having completed a synopsis from beginning to end. To my surprise, my plot development came to an abrupt halt once I developed the conflict. Why? I didn’t know what happened once my grandfather was forced to move the family into Chicago. My mom was not around to explain the facts. I didn’t know of a true conflict resolution in my mother’s life. I had no confidence to invent a completely fictional ending. So, sadly, the story sat dormant–for a long time. I knew if it would ever be finished, I needed God’s help. I prayed, I read, and like Franz Schubert’s mostly Unfinished Symphony, His Gift, remained unresolved.
One day, I finally had revelation. I knew what needed to happen. I felt it was inspired. I wrote with great energy and passion as if God were whispering ideas in my ear. I was thrilled as this novel’s resolution pointed readers to seek Christ in life’s obstacles. In our yieldedness, we can find the peace for which we yearn. My heart was full because I knew His Gift could bless readers, and encourage them in their individual walks of faith.
That, my readers, is the story behind the story. I hope you find it interesting, as well as hopeful for whatever dilemmas you may face.
It was a blustery cold morning, and as usual, I was walking my dog. It was what we always did after breakfast. Why, I wondered, did he always seem to stop to investigate a good scent when we were walking in the shade? It felt at least ten degrees colder than when we were in the sunlight! The windchill didn’t seem to bother my furry friend, but it was biting through my parka in a most piercing way.
Since our home sits on the shady side of the street, I decided I needed a course correction. A new routine. Going forward, I took command of my “mostly” obedient German Shepherd, and crossed the street as soon as we exited our cozy home. I made a deliberate choice to walk in the bright sunshine and relative warmth. After a few days of this new plan, I started to sing, like a young child, making up my own tune: “Walk, walk, walk to the sunny, sunny, sunny side….” The more I did this, the more clearly the Lord spoke to my spirit.
The parallel seemed clear. “God is the light …” we are told in Psalms 27:1. When we make the decision to walk in his light, with God beside us spiritually speaking, he does make a difference, no matter what pain and discomfort we encounter. Scripture confirms this cause and effect in James 4:8 (ESV). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Notice how we are to make that decision first. God is waiting for you.
When you face the raw chill of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, what do you do? Perhaps you experience the normal emotions of human grief. You want to deny what has happened, at least in the beginning. It feels so impossible. Once reality shakes out the truth, you may feel the grip of anger and sadness. Whenever you feel like a victim and all is lost, choose to run into God’s light. It’s our choice to remain in the misery of the season of despair, or to take steps to draw nearer to God. There, we are assured, He will draw near to us.
Psalm 91:4 provides us with a beautiful word picture: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge, (NIV)” In his refuge, you can find healing. Run toward his light and be warmed. It is there where we will be overcomers.
Witnessing the cultural and political landscape of my beloved America in the past few days, I grieved. It felt like someone had punched me–hard. So many things went wrong, all of which will ultimately hurt our nation. But, this I believe with all my heart. God is greater than any human power, any political party, or any government. He will not be undone. America was his shining light on the hill and God desires it to remain a place of freedom and truth.
It is obvious that more recently, many Christians became engaged in the political arena, even if it was only to cast a ballot. For the most part, I don’t believe it was because they became enamored with a charismatic personality. They campaigned, donated, and voted in large numbers for local to national candidates because their biblical principles were at stake.
Those who believe they can politically silence conservative Christian voices are missing something. Our beliefs are not solely political. They are based on our hope and trust in a God we believe formed the universe. We can be expelled from social media, from book contracts, from all forms of media, but we will not be silenced–forever. Why do I say this?
I don’t adhere to my principles because I think I am right. I adhere to my principles because God says they are right. Some feel that makes me a dangerous zealot; I say it makes me a person of integrity, where faith and action align. Biblical principles inform my political and cultural views so they aren’t negotiable. They cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen, with the claim they are outdated.
Therefore, if governing powers designate more progressive laws, antithetical to biblical principles, it is not likely followers of Christ will simply “sit down and shut up.” Although they will bow to the laws of governing authorities, silencing their views has never been a positive solution. This goes to the core foundation of our nation. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are synonymous to America. People left their countries in Europe and struggled immensely to establish a new land where they could live according to their religious beliefs.
Remove my right to speak or write, and I will find another avenue to express what I believe. Oppression has always created an atmosphere of determination. Thankfully, in my lifetime, America has never demanded the ugly choice between silence or death as in authoritarian countries and I pray it will never do so. Let’s return to the founding principles of our great nation and live in freedom to legally express our views.
God is greater and His plans are higher. His purposes will not be silenced.
Whether it is a minute, an hour, a day … or a year, what will you do with your gift? Sometimes, God’s gifts come in packaging we don’t anticipate. Sometimes, our expectations and plans are diverted. We stand in awe, asking, “How can this be?”
In 1929, Molly, the gifted and aspiring young woman in the historical fiction novel His Gift knew her destination. She was talented, and had worked hard to perfect her skill. Molly knew nothing about the economy, but a stirring dark cloud over the nation was growing in that fall of 1929. What happens next in the twists and turns of Molly Martin’s young life can be discovered by reading His Gift. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online, written by author Joan C. Benson
In 2021, what happens next in the twists and turns of your own journey on Earth? Do you have plans etched in stone? Have you worked hard to achieve your dreams to watch the pandemic rob you of the positive outcome? Where do we turn when our dreams turn to ashes with deterrents bigger than we can control? Seek God first, and ask for wisdom to navigate the rough seas. He will lead you through it all, one step at a time.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!
Most of us would like to slam the book of 2020 closed. AND, never look back! Even amidst the rubble of the past year’s worst events, if we’re honest, most of us can identify a few positives. For me, I discovered (once again) how detrimental busyness can be on the human heart and mind. Having no place to go for weeks on end was restrictive– as well as freeing. No guilt for stopping to read, reflect, pray, and align my priorities with God’s will. On a less happy note, I acknowledge there were losses from 2020, the kind which were not recoverable. We have grieved over those, and admittedly pray for a less tumultuous and painful year in 2021.
Yet, I choose hope. I will pray for good things ahead. No matter what lies in those unopened chapters, life has taught me to trust and believe God will sustain me, not ever leaving or forsaking me in the midst of the storm.
As the disciples were caught up in their “unexpected” storm (Mark 4:35), they called out in fear. “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus was the human embodiment of the all-powerful Creator of ALL. These men had heard him teach, watched him perform miracles, but in that moment, they were afraid. In such a crisis, we all can resort to desperation, defaulting to fear, not faith. Jesus was surprised at their lack of confidence, but he didn’t leave them in a sinking boat. He was there with them, and they got through the storm. He calmed the seas.
We sometimes wonder “why?” Where is God to deliver me? “Calm my sea, Lord! Take this pain away!” We are not in Heaven yet where every tear will be wiped away … no more death, no more sorrow (Revelation 21:4). God’s first plan was for a perfect place where he had intimate fellowship with His children. God granted them free will, so they would be able to choose relationship with him, not merely be his puppets. In a moment of temptation, they chose to let their desires get ahead of God’s will, releasing evil just so they could be like God themselves.
God desired a relationship with his children so much, he didn’t want to leave them wandering on their own forever. He sent His only Son, Jesus, to Earth. Why? He wanted to be WITH US again. Though Holiness cannot dwell in fellowship with sin, Christ made a way for us to have spiritual intimacy with our Maker the way He intended from the beginning of time. Therefore, I can have hope. I can choose to believe I will never be forsaken, or abandoned in my time of need.
Let’s imagine all the best of blessings in the coming year, knowing God is WITH US. Do not be afraid, but draw close to your Father who loves you dearly. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” (James 4:8). Now go have a year– a good year, a year of promise, a year of hope — a year of God-relationship. He will be with you. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!
It was a December, long ago, far away. I was a sixth grade teacher in a large Christian School delegated with the task of putting together the annual Christmas program. I began praying about our message as we celebrated the birth of Christ. Imagine approximately sixty sixth graders as your “cast.” Wiggles, giggles, and antics were to be expected. They were heartfelt, loving kids, most of the time, but they were also self-conscious young beings who didn’t know who they were from one day to the next. “Transitioners,” one could say, changing before our eyes from children to teens.
After choosing other basic elements of the presentation, I decided our final piece should be “O Holy Night.” We faithfully practiced in class during our music time. The girls were to be our “multitude of heavenly host praising God.” The boys were our “shepherds watching their flocks by night.” (How “unpolitical” we were in that era.)
When the words were sung, “Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!” our representative shepherds were to — fall on their knees. Of course. What else? This was a big deal — God’s announcement to the world of His newborn Son! My shepherd boys couldn’t get through “O Holy Night” even once. Instead of falling on their knees, they would fall apart. Oh, my. The giggling would begin, even with my teacher admonitions regarding our serious message. The classroom didn’t set the scene very well as they bumped into the myriad of desks to kneel. Sometimes I couldn’t stop myself from laughing with them.
At last our big night arrived, and the auditorium was packed with families. My young shepherds showed up donning a variety of types of bathrobes with towels and headbands for the finishing touches. You know the scene. The young angels, beautifully draped in white with glitzy halos on their heads, floated around our pre-show dressing area as if they were — in heaven.
The platform, our stage, was lit with professional touches: twinkling stars in an imaginary sky, and a beautiful Bethlehem star above the baptismal. My students sang a few other Christmas songs and did some Scripture readings, but none I can specifically recall so many years hence. It was pretty much the usual Christmas presentation.
Then, it was time — the moment for which we had prepared so unsuccessfully. But, even decades later, I remember what happened next in glorious detail. Blue lights hit the stage, mimicking darkness in the fields as the stars sparkled in the “sky.” The “heavenly host” sang with great sincerity and jubilation. It was beautiful.
“Fall on your knees …” rang out. I stood in disbelief watching. The shepherds bowed down in the dark “field” as if no one were watching. A spirit of worship filled the huge sanctuary as the angels sang. You could feel it. A tear trickled down my cheek as I looked on with awe. This was God’s work, not mine. Jesus Christ had been born one holy night two thousand years before. But, as we retold that important event, God honored our meager effort with His presence, HIs gift. It was a Holy Night.
This is our God, willing to enter our lives in the here and now, into our messes, failures, and outright rebellion. Look for Him, and invite Him to join you in your journey today.
October 1929 was glorious, as most fall months in Michigan tend to be. Oak trees lined the streets in the small bedroom community of Royal Oak, Michigan, dazzling viewers with the spectacle of red, yellow, and burnt orange as the weather turned crisp. Signs of change were all around. The possibility of a brutal winter remained hidden from view even as more serious devastation brewed just below the surface in America.
Situated just outside of Detroit where most Royal Oak residents worked, life was good in that small town. Oh, there were a few antagonizing people like the nosy telephone snoop listening in on the party line, and the chemistry teacher who thought he knew everything about everything. Yet, overall, Royal Oak was just a positive place to be.
Molly Martin was a young woman with big dreams, and the perseverance to make things happen. Yet, the world around her was stirring in ways she never imagined would impact her life. She felt the shaking, saw her father’s stress, and it seemed odd. But, what did that have to do with her dreams? Nothing at all, Molly thought. How could the national economy have anything to do with her dreams to perform. She was gifted, that was clear. God gave her that talent, didn’t He? She worked hard to perfect her skills, and she won the honor of playing a piano concerto with the esteemed Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Nothing could stop her now.
Resulting from the national turmoil, Molly’s circumstances soon become uncontrollable. Suddenly, her ability to direct her own course seemed in jeopardy. Where was God? He gave her this gift of music. Why, God? Haven’t we all asked that question at one time or another? Read His Gift and share it with friends and family in this time of great uncertainty in our great America in 2020.
Molly does question God. She looks for answers in her storm. Read to discover how she finds her peace and purpose. When life turns upside down, we all need to know where our hope can be found. Sometimes our dreams take a shape we never imagined!
I had the opportunity to interview Macy Mc Combs, a freshman at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) when the 2020 pandemic hit our country. It is through her personal lens that I bring some insights today.
So, Macy was thoroughly enjoying her new college life last February–new classes, new friendships, and a new future in accounting. She was busy from dawn to the time she crashed, happy, but exhausted. When the surprising lockdown came, despite everyone’s expectation that it would last only a few weeks, it was soon apparent, all classes were going virtual. But, Macy kept her nose at the grindstone, and finished from home with straight A’s second semester.
So, what’s the big deal, you may ask, and what changed in Macy’s world? Life came to an abrupt halt in the McCombs household during the Covid-19 mandate to “stay home and stay safe.” A daughter of a pastor, Macy and the entire family was accustomed to being engaged in church activities. Macy’s father knew he had to do something in order to provide ministry to his flock. Instead of engaging in the many opportunities at church, suddenly, “…church came home and there were no boundaries anymore.”
Macy writes about how the entire family was thrown into leadership responsibilities to make everything run smoothly virtually. Without question Macy and her siblings were eager to their father and mother. Yet, over time, one fact loomed over all the rest. There was no choice. There was no going home to rest. Home and church were one. Eventually, that took its toll. At the time of Macy’s writing a few months ago, she had led worship every single week for 17 weeks straight, and many more after that, I am sure.
The exciting part of Macy’s unique experience is what she learned. That is always the essential component of our life trials. How do we grow from being squeezed from pressures beyond our control? Macy shared a number of things she learned. Among the most important lessons, Macy had time to contemplate her former lifestyle, on-the-go constantly, participating in all the opportunities her young life held. That’s America! In her own words, Macy said, “I have learned that I can never take life for granted. I learned that it is necessary to slow down sometimes and spend extra time with God.” Macy has seen how fractured her days were rushing from one thing to another to make it all fit into her finite hours. She was overwhelmed, though wanting to take in every available opportunity! Learning to slow down in our culture is a big thing, and not easily done.
Having chatted with many adults as well as young adults or teenagers during this Covid revolution, this is a common theme. Everyone is seeing how a little slower pace has some positive results. If one is a person of faith, it may even help roots go deeper and spiritual strength grow stronger. More Bible study time, more prayer time, more contemplation and reflection can be very nurturing to one’s being. Macy shared her time in a Kelly Minter Bible study called “No Other Gods.” In her words, “God totally rocked my world and my heart through that Bible study, and I wouldn’t have been able to go through it so intently if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.”
Macy, thank you for sharing your heart with me, and with all my Blog followers. You are a light to those around you, I am sure. I will close with Macy’s reflection on God’s intentions for all of us who will gather near Him. “I think God was using this time to make the world lie down in green pastures like it talks about in Psalm 23. He wanted us to slow down and come back to Him so He could restore us and give us rest.”
Macy has taken advantage of this time to rest in God’s love, to be refreshed. Have you?
Take a minute to read my thoughts and ideas on the topic of family chores recently published in MTL magazine: