Friday, November 24, 2017

Thankful Through Tough Times

When I first put this down as my Thanksgiving post title, I didn't realize how appropriate it would be for what our friends have been going through. 
Even though our family has been spared the loss of a child, two other pastor's families that we are very close to have not. Today is the first Thanksgiving that both these families will have to celebrate without their beloved boys. The Houston's will not hear the bubbly baby laughter from little Lemuel, and the Simao's won't have their energetic Isaiah asking every five minutes if dinner is ready yet. 
It's a sobering thought, and should remind those of us more fortunate to have all our family around us to truly be grateful for another holiday in their presence. 
As I watched these two families struggle through the hope that God would work a miracle, the pleading prayers offered up on the boys' behalf, the eventual acceptance that God had a different plan for their precious children, and the grieving process, I was convicted. The Houston's and the Simao's both showed such an amazing testimony of faith and trust that I don't think I could have if I had been in a similar situation.
The truth is, we all need the reminder to be thankful in EVERYTHING. 
It's easy for us to thank God when things go the way we want them to. If we happen to pass that one college test we were worried about, or if we get that raise we were hoping for, or when the weather clears so your favorite football team wins, or when you manage to somehow crush that writing goal, praising God is easy. 
But what about when things don't go your way? What about when God gives you something you don't want? What about when you fail that test? What about when you lose your job? What about when you lose someone precious to you that you had hoped and prayed would somehow recover? 

We want to hold it against God. We feel bitter. We know we shouldn't, so we tell our friends that surely God knew what He was doing and that it will all work out for His glory in the end, but deep down in our sinful souls we're angry. We make all sorts of convincing arguments to ourselves and others that God is in control and knows what is best for us, but at that same time, there's that nagging voice in our heads asking: but why? Why would he do something like that to me? I'm pretty sure I have a better idea of what's good for me, because I really don't see how that terrible thing could possibly have been good. 
It's pride. And that pride is what makes it so hard for us to admit that God is right and we are wrong. 
God is in control. And His ways are not our ways. 
So how do we stay thankful when things are tough? How should we show gratitude when we're in the midst of trials? 

~ Give Thanks for the Good Things God HAS Given Us ~
The Houston's and Simao's thanked God for the time they had with their boys, though it was cut short. They thanked God for the precious memories that they would be able to keep in their hearts forever. They thanked God that they still had their other children and people who loved and supported them through their grieving. 
I think this is such an important point. So often I find myself feeling down about everything going wrong in my life when I could be instead showing gratitude for all the amazing things that happen to me on a daily basis. 
Why grumble about things you don't control when you can enjoy all the free gifts God gives you with every breath you take?  

~ Give Thanks for the Things We Take for Granted ~
Ever take a moment to say thanks for things we tend to look past and take for granted? Like the fact that you probably drink clean water every day and have the ability to shower inside your house without critters crawling up the drain? Or that you can own your Bible without endangering your life? Or that you actually have a family that loves you and supports you? Or that your have shoes? And clothes? And TURKEY? (Even though I'm not a huge fan of that.) When was the last time you thanked God for candy corn? Yeah, it may seem silly, but think about it. I don't think God would object to us telling Him that we appreciate the fact that our dad's have jobs and that we have money to spend on stuff, even if that stuff is somewhat frivolous. And if you're at a complete loss as to what you could POSSIBLY thank God for, consider the fact that you're still BREATHING. That's a pretty major blessing when you stop and think about it. 

~ Give Thanks When You're Put Through Trials ~
This is by far the toughest thing in which to give thanks. I mean, who thanks God when they find out they have cancer? Who decides to thank God for losing a friend or loved one, whether to death or to something less fatal like a move away from your state? Who thanks God for pain? For hardship? Or even something as little as an inconvenience like the loss of power or your favorite Walmart parking spot? Usually we just start asking God to take it away, right? Rarely, and I say rarely because there are Christians out there who show amazing spiritual maturity in this, do we stop to THANK God for using such trials to show us how we need to grow closer to Him. But the truth is, that is why trials happen to us. They're God's way of giving us a little, or larger, nudge in His direction. Because admit it, the second a trial does appear in our lives, who do we immediately turn to? (I hope!) God. 

~ Give Thanks for the Little Things ~
Laughter. Hugs. Quiet rainy days that you can spend inside reading and writing. Pillows. Fuzzy socks. Hot chocolate (with marshmallows) right after you come inside from a snowball fight. Another day of a safe commute to work. Ever said thank you for those things? It's so easy for us to remember to show proper gratitude toward God when a huge prayer request is answered, but do we take the time to thank Him for the everyday things that make us smile? These are some of the biggest blessings in our lives...but we only realize that when they go missing. I'm sure God is happy that we thank Him at all, but imagine how glad He is when we notice the little things He does to help us have a good day and take the time to be grateful. And really, it doesn't take that much effort on our part to realize and thank Him from the bottom of our heart. 

Anyways, I hope this post made you stop and reevaluate your attitude a little bit. I have to admit, even as I wrote this, I had to consider all the times I've failed to thank God for things. It's hard to remember to be thankful, but I think the more we do it, the easier it becomes. Make sure it never becomes an involuntary kind of reflex, but at least make yourself notice blessings sooner, and start perceiving the trials we face as blessings in disguise. 
Throughout this post I've included a few of my favorite songs that went with my theme so well I just had to include them. :) I hope you were encouraged by this post, and I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Please Read This...

Some of you may have heard about the tragic accident that happened to Isaiah Simao, the nine-year-old son of a pastor's family we are friends with. I wanted to share this post his oldest sister wrote and posted on Facebook this morning with you all. 

Our dear dear Church family, friends, and loved ones,

A few of you have heard the latest news on my little brother. Last night and today, for hours and hours on end, the doctors at Harborview performed all of the scans necessary to determine Isaiah’s brain activity. He has no brain activity. He is still currently on life support, and his hands are warm as we press them, his forehead is warm as we kiss it, his little heart is still fluttering beneath the bandages and tubes. But his brain is not functioning or responding at all. He cannot feel anything, and so is not in any pain. Nor was he even in pain yesterday, on the ground in our arena, when he was still struggling to fill his lungs with air, all on his own. 

Our family and many good friends were able to see him again today. We sang hymns together over his bedside. His favorite is Nothing But the Blood of Jesus. When we have our morning Bible times and it is his turn to pick the song, that is always his favorite request. We sang it for him tonight, and many other songs, crying, and praying, and holding him close. Maya played beautiful songs on her violin for him. He always loved music so much. He knew all the composers and soundtracks to his favorite movies, and often times we would hear him plugging away at his cello in the bedroom before he came out to breakfast in the morning. The same couple notes, again and again and again, scratchy and shaky as these were his first couple weeks, but he never gives up. 

Many of our family and friends were able to say their last goodbyes this evening. My parents are spending one last night with him, before my siblings and I join them again in the morning to spend the day with him and say goodbye. We want to offer tomorrow afternoon for anyone who would like to visit him in his last few hours on this side of his glory. Tomorrow evening, we will be turning off the machines. Tomorrow will be the best day of Isaiah’s life. 

This time is unspeakably hard for all of us. There are no words. There is only a dull, weary ache in every part of our bodies and souls, and sometimes, this sharp, sudden pang as the needle of reality pricks into our hearts. The painful realism is sweeter than the dull ache, but God is with us through every moment. There are so many things I want to say, but all that comes out is broken sobs, and a screaming in my soul, and the thought: I miss you. I miss you. I love you so so much, little brother.

We are so thankful for the time God gave us with our sweet Isaiah. We kept telling stories of him and sharing memories in the hospital around his bed. There was much laughter and tears. He is such a sweet, caring boy to all of us sisters, offering us his seat and putting his arm around his little sisters when they were frightened. He has this dry, literal sense of humor and liked to share jokes with us he “made up himself.” Tonight during dinner, my siblings and I remembered as many as we could, and never have we smiled more from them. 

Looking back, we can see the hand of the Lord preparing his heart for these very moments. Lately, he has been so interested in learning all he can about heaven. A few weeks ago, during family worship, he said very suddenly, “I can’t wait to die.” We all just sat there for a moment, looking at him in sadness and confusion and wondering what was going through his mind and heart to speak those words so suddenly. We told him that it is such a good thing to look forward to heaven and an eternity with Jesus, but that we must enjoy and be grateful for all the time He gives us here too. He just kept smiling and saying, “I know. I know. But I can’t wait. I can’t wait to go to heaven. I wish I could go there soon.”

It is moments like these that bring us to our knees before the Lord, knowing that from the very beginning, He has been working a very special gift in Isaiah’s heart. Some of his favorite books are the Chronicles of Narnia, and his favorite character in these stories was the brave mouse, Reepicheep, a heroic knight. In the last book, Reepicheep leaves Narnia, and goes to Aslan’s country. When he gets there he says, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” 

On the last page, Isaiah had a very favorite part that he liked to tell to us. It said: “But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they lived happily every after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Our Dad was sharing at his bedside about a time a few weeks ago, when we went to Port Gamble as a family. The kids were full of energy and he set up a race across a grassy field, to a tree and back again. All of us kids got ready, and when Dad called we took off running. Isaiah was lagging behind a little and we kidded him after that one of his little sisters got in a few paces ahead. Now this is the race that Isaiah wins before all of us. He gets to the goal first. He will wear the victor’s crown and receive his reward and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come enter into the joy of your Master.”

God was not surprised by Isaiah’s accident. From the beginning of time, He had counted and ordained each of Isaiah’s precious moments and has loved and chosen him from before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Pastor and theologian, Ian Hamilton put it this way: “The best proof that God will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.” The Bible says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” His love for Isaiah was the same before creation, as it was at his birth, and now in these last hours, and it will be the same tomorrow, when my little brother sees for the first time, the God who has always seen him. 

Death is a terrible, terrible thing, and we are right to grieve, for it is a part of our broken and fallen world. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We are in a story that is to big for us to see, but God is the one who is writing each page, and who is constantly reminding us, that this is not how the story ends. There is a final battle, in which death will die, and all sad things will come untrue. The King will return. This is the shadowlands. Real life hasn’t begun yet.

The apostle Paul said in Romans 8:18 that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

Sometimes, in our pain, God lies the scales from our eyes, allowing us to see past the transitory things of this world. To those who don’t know Christ, joy is temporary and pain is fundamental. But to the one who trusts in Jesus, pain is temporary and joy is fundamental. All these things will pass away. We look back to a Cross where pain and death and suffering were defeated, and look forward to a day of triumph when that victory will be made complete. Death and pain will be no more. And there will be no more tears. 

We do not serve a God that is just a sovereign author over a cosmic story. We serve a God who, while remaining the Author, became a Character and entered into His story. He walked with His creatures and spoke with them, He healed them, He rejoiced with them, and wept with them. He became flesh and dwelt among us. 

This is God’s answer to all evil and pain. He does not stand aloof, nor does He try to understand or attempt to sympathize with our grief from afar. He takes our pain onto Himself. This is the God who Authored a Story where He bleeds, and He dies, and He lives again; where He becomes a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief and suffering; where He not only sympathizes with our weakness but takes them onto Himself. 

This is the God who takes up all of the sin and sickness and pain and death in this world, and He swallows it whole by letting it swallow Him. Our King killed the Dragon, by allowing the Dragon to kill Him. 

Mary and Martha did not weep alone at the grave of their brother, and neither do we beside ours. God weeps with us. 
But He weeps as an Author with a great and wonderful plan, and He promises to direct all things to an ultimate and victorious end. He is all-good, and never, never, does evil. His ways are perfect, and when we cannot trace His hand, we may trust His heart. He does no evil now, but instead, reminds us that He has conquered all evil by enduring the greatest evil, and He promises that He will come again, to deliver us from evil into eternal joy and glory. Isaiah will be there waiting for us there, as we cross the Jordan and see him again.

He gets to spend Christmas in heaven with his King and Savior, who came to this earth at Christmas with Isaiah in His heart and perfect plan. As we enter this Advent season, beginning with our day of Thanksgiving this Thursday, we are so blessed in clinging to that promise. As my Daddy said through tears tonight, “We have so so much to be thankful for. This will be the best thanksgiving ever."

Isaiah’s story is not over. It is just beginning. It is us, in our grief, who must remain for a while longer in the land of the dying, before we can meet him again at last in the Land of the Living. 

“In God’s great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power, until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuine of your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Thank you all for your love and prayers during this time. God’s love is with us, Isaiah, and each and every one of you. He holds us all and will never let us go. 

With great love and in His bountiful mercies,
Sydney, for the Simao Family

Please continue to pray for this family, as well as all of us who had the incredible blessing to know their precious son. My younger brother, William, took this news really hard since he was probably the closest in our family to Isaiah. I can't imagine how difficult it is for him to reconcile himself to the fact that he will never get to play with his friend again. 
Thank you to those of you who have been praying and continue to do so. It's greatly appreciated. <3 

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Peek into My Crazy Life (a.k.a. "I'm too embarrassed to call this my October wrap-up, yeah")

Heeeeey, guys. Long time no see, right? Heh, yeah my life (as described in the title) has been CRAZY. There's been a LOT going on. I'll try to clue you in a little bit, but this list may be a bit scattered. Count yourself warned. No, this is not a normal wrap up post. Yes, I actually have a life. *gasp*

1: College
School alone could probably be to blame for my absence on social media in general lately.
I'm currently studying psychology, which has say the least. I've had a lot of story ideas pop into my head while working away at the different things that go on inside people's minds. However, there's a lot of things I don't agree with going on in this branch of science, and so MUCH for me to remember. Sheesh. It's like I'm expected to be SMART or something! :P

2: Family
My Eddy grandparents have been dealing with a lot of health issues over the last couple months, and that means us grandkids have been spending a lot of time working on various household and landscaping stuff over at their house. Sometimes we go over up to five times a week to get all the this done that they need done.
Then of course, there's all the regular chores I'm expected to do at home that keeps our boat afloat, AND time I want to actually spend with my parents and siblings. Like going out to eat with a couple sisters or watching a football game with my brothers.

3: Church/Social
So basically my church is my social life right now. XD Which is kind of nice, because every service is killing two birds with one stone. But, it does take time...not that I would trade that time for anything else. I love my church and the stuff I do there.
A lot of musical things are coming up with the approach of Christmas, and that's been fun. :) My siblings and I are working on a song to perform during the Christmas Eve service which I wil try to have someone video so I can share it with you all. :)

4: Reading
You would think with all the other stuff I have going on that I wouldn't be finding time to read...BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG. Strangely, I've read more fiction the last couple of months than like, ALL of summer. The irony. (Actually, it's probably due to my procrastination on certain college tests. *cough* But we won't go there.) I've discovered several new authors and even wrote a few reviews on Goodreads, which you may have read if you follow me on there.

Special thanks to Chloe W. for sending in this picture.
If you remember, this sweet girl was the winner of my book
 "The Princess and I" in the giveaway I hosted. :)
5: Writing
As you may have noticed my lack of NaNo-ey posts and correctly assumed that I'm not participating this year. This is due to several exciting (as well as frustrating) things that are going on in my life as an author. Ready? (You MAY want t be sitting down for this...;)
Guys. I have some amazing news. I HAVE A PUBLISHER WILLING TO PUBLISH MY FUTURE BOOKS. Due to my typical lack of funds as a college student, I'm waiting until next year to actually take them up on their offer to market my book and everything, but they graciously said that they would still take my books even if I had to wait until I felt more financially stable.
So that has been a pretty huge step in my life that I've only dreamed about happening. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think that a publishing company would take me up so willingly and quickly! Thanks so much for all of you who promised to pray for me when I first announced that they had called me. It means more than words can express to see you guys give so much support to me while I'm freaking out over something like this. :D You are seriously the BEST people an author could ask for. <3
Also, in other news, my current WIP, "A New Name", is almost 40,000 words long and going strong. By far the hardest project I've ever tackled, I've gotten an immense amount of brainstorming in, and can't wait to show you guys some more snippets!
At the same time, I've been sloooooooowly editing "Ocean Mist"...*sigh* It's needed a LOT of help, but I'm really hoping to get out the rest of the first round of editing in before Christmas. Please pray that I can find time to finish this up because I HAVE a final proof-reader/editor...I just need to get the suggestions worked in.
One more thing that probably belongs in this category is some more random fun stuff.
I'M WORKING ON SOME BOOKISH MERCH. Yep, you read that right. I'm getting some shirts, mugs, bookmarks, etc. with quotes and stuff from various books of mine. You'll see a shirt sample shortly, because I ordered one already with MY favorite quote from "A New Name" and I'll post pictures when I finally get it.
BUT GUYS I NEED YOUR HELP. I need those of you who have already read my books to give me some of your favorite quotes to put on this stuff. Any quotes from "The Silver Flower", "Ocean Mist", "Alice & Alyssa" or "The Princess and I" would be greatly appreciated. :) If you're interested in helping me out, click THIS LINK and it'll take you to a google form where you can sign up as a quote searcher (yes, that's absolutely a real not question this fact.)

6: Blogging
Besides it being painfully obvious that this has fallen behind in the list of priorities, I do have a couple posts in working progress, including a call for beta readers for "Alice & Alyssa" (I know, FINALLY). A post on the incredible impact a "boring" testimony can have, several tags I'm waaaaay behind in, and the next 21 Answers post are just a few.
Also, a friend of mine made me a GORGEOUS new blog template that I just fell in love with...but you don't get to see it until next year. B-) All in due time, my minions....all in due time.

7: Some goals
Yeah, apparently I have those still? XD I guess I'll never learn. I'm hoping to have 45 college credits by the end of January, finish publishing "Ocean Mist" by February, write the complete first draft of "A New Name" by March, and start outlining the sequel to "The Princes and I". And all that is only AFTER I make sure I'm still keeping my family and God as the first priority in all the hectic life that happens.
Hmm...maybe I should write a post on the importance of priorities? ;)

So yeah, those are a few things that have kept me from haunting the blogosphere as much as I wanted too. I've tried to keep up with most of the posts you all have written, but I wasn't able to comment as much as I wanted to.
I'm sorry I haven't been on here as much as want to be. Please know that if each day had about 36 hours, I'd get way more of this in, but I simply don't have the time to have a job, study for college, live life as a pastor's daughter and author and still get eight hours of sleep every night PLUS write blog posts twice a week and comment whenever I want to. But I wish I could. I'll try to be more consistent, but I make no promises. B-) You'll just have to check back occasionally to see if the shadowy form has left a post recently. :P

Until then, let everything you do be done for the good of God! :D

Blog Tour for Project Canvas!! *cue intense celebration*

GUYS, I couldn't be more excited to share about this incredible book that is going to be available for you to get your hands on in just ...