Devotionals and Bible Study
Emily, the main character in Sticks and Stones, questions where God is in her struggles. I hope these pages provide some inspiration for your own struggles and help you find faith in the midst of it all.
Faith Fuel #1 Overcoming Fear
I woke up to fists pounding on the front door that winter morning, shouting voices, “Police! Open up!” Next, the scurry of Mom’s slippers, the opening and closing of cabinets and drawers, my mom’s voice, high-pitched and frantic. -Emily from Sticks and Stones
Fear – the emotion strongly expressed by Emily in Sticks and Stones as she hears the police at her door, and the feeling all of us feel at some point in our lives, or possibly continue to feel on a daily basis.
Fear can be good. It can cause us to react quickly in a dangerous situation, or keep us from doing something hazardous. But when irrational fear creeps in and settles down, it is crippling and detrimental. It can destroy our sense of identity, our purpose, our freedom.
It’s interesting that the most frequent command in the Bible is to NOT fear. In fact, the topic of fear is mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible, and supposedly the specific words to not fear or not be afraid can be found 365 times. That’s right, the same amount of times as there are days in the year, we are told to not be scared.
Why would God tell us this so many times, enough for every day of the year? Clearly, he knows it’s something we need to hear, and I’m sure none of us would deny that reality. The world is kind of a frightening place.
We turn on the news to see frightening events in our schools, our malls, at concerts, in people’s homes, in our own governments, and across the world. We scroll through social media and feel inferior compared to the happy perfect smiles on the screen, making us fearful of how we might be viewed, or afraid we may never match up and be enough according to the world’s standards.
Like all of us, Emily has reasons to be afraid. Who wouldn’t be afraid to wake up to police knocking on the door? But also like Emily, we have a God who is with us in the scary places, every single minute, of every single day.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we always knew that? How might we live differently with the confidence of God with us every moment? With the world loudly speaking, it doesn’t come naturally for us to remember. It’s something we need to consciously remind ourselves of or we risk hearing and seeing all the things of the world that go against the comforting and encouraging words God wants us to hear.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 41:10:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
If I can remember this and picture God’s hand upholding me, strengthening me, helping me, I can then move my focus away from my fears, off myself, and onto the one who is stronger than anything that comes against me. I can speak the words of Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
These words are powerful. They are the words God gives us to remember who to turn to when the world tries to take us down, tries to steel our joy, tries to make us live and act in fear.
We aren’t promised a trouble free world. In fact, Jesus tells us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
So when facing difficulties and frightening situations, we can proclaim the win. With God at our side, holding us in the palm of his hand, we will come through as conquerors.
What are some of your biggest fears? Like Emily, has something caught you off guard? Has something happened that seems to have taken away your security, your stability?
Journal and Ask
Write down some of your fears. Try writing them as a letter to God, telling him what scares you and asking him for help.
Look up verses about fear on an app or website such as blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com. Write them down in your journal or post them where you will see them. What do you hear God saying to you in these words? Maybe record your thoughts.
Remember and Pray
Speak these words whenever you feel scared and ask God to help you remember them.
Here are some verses you can start with:
Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Isaiah 41:13 For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Matthew 6:25-27 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
The police knocking on Emily's door is just the beginning of her journey through fear and insecurity. You can read more of her story in Sticks and Stones, to be released in March.
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Faith Fuel #2 – Need an Escape?
I heard the rumble of a car engine, turned and saw a blue boat of a car inch behind the line of cop cars. “Looks like Grandma is here,” I said. I blew the pink flower off my hand, watched it float and land, wished I could float away too.
Emily – Sticks and Stones
Do you ever wish, like Emily, that you could simply float away from the things in life that are too much? At this point in the story, Emily has been hit with a lot. She hasn’t even had enough time to process it all. She just knows none of it is good, and she wishes there was an escape route, an emergency exit that would take her away from her circumstances and make her feel safe again.
Life has a way of doing that sometimes – feeling heavy, overwhelming, like more than we can handle. We all have those moments, some for a short while and some for far too long. But in those times, when life feels like too much and there’s no way out, God promises to be close.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
Let those words soak in for a bit. He is CLOSE when our hearts are broken. HE is the emergency exit for our weary, sad, or scared hearts. He will rescue us. This doesn’t mean the situation will magically go away. But, he will help our brokenness. He will help and heal.
I think one of the most difficult things about being in the midst of difficulty is the isolation and loneliness it can stir up. We can feel as if we’re either the only ones going through something so terrible or the only ones who can’t handle it. We might look at others and think they have it all together, everything is fine, so what is our problem?
But, in truth, everyone is fighting something, everyone needs help getting through it, and everyone has access to the escape route of God’s love and power.
What feels heavy today? What do you wish you could escape? In what situation do you need to remember that God is right there with you? Talk to God about it, write to him in a journal.
Read Psalm 34:18. But, don’t just read it. Picture what it actually means. Picture God so close to you, and repeat those words. Tell yourself something like “God is close. God will rescue my crushed spirit. He will mend my broken heart.” Write these words down. Illustrate or color them while you reflect on them.
Rewrite Psalm 34:18 as a prayer, asking God to help you remember he is close when you feel sad about (fill in your hurt). Ask for his wisdom, discernment, love, comfort, peace. Thank him for rescuing your crushed spirit, for helping you through (fill in your difficult situation).
Speak Psalm 34:18 or the words that he is close, he is healing your broken heart, he is rescuing your crushed spirit, as often as you need, all day long, over and over if necessary. You can never hear them enough. Remember that this is not a magic pill, it’s not an escape route where you will actually float away as Emily says she wishes she could do. But the more you remind yourself that he is there, the more you will feel his peace, the kind that passes all understanding whatever comes your way.
More verses to look up and reflect upon:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
Faith Fuel #3
Bad days. We all have them. I had one the other day, and although nothing catastrophic happened, rather than being thankful for the good in my life, a string of nuisances managed to put me in a bad mood. I had been up most of the night with my dog who was not feeling well, so I was tired. I made tea in an effort to feel better and spilled it all over after realizing too late that I had filled the tea press with more water than it could hold. I burned my hand when pulling a baking dish out of the oven. At that point I actually laughed with the ridiculousness of it all, but inside, I was frustrated.
In Sticks and Stones, Emily has some reasons to actually be frustrated. Here’s a glimpse at a scene from Chapter 4 where Emily becomes frustrated with her grandmother:
Finally, she placed the stick in the center of the table and stared at it like a mama, proud of her newborn baby.
She snapped out of her worshipful moment when she saw we hadn’t followed. “Come on, you two.” She waved us over. “Didn’t I say to come sit?”
Jared led, we sat down, Grandma began. I waited for her to somehow connect the stick to a way to get my mom out of jail, or to a way to get us back home soon. “Well, one day I was walking to the grocery store, noticing every little thing on the ground that was so boring, and I thought to myself that nothing God makes can be boring. Nothing. So, I picked up this stick, and then . . .”
I stopped listening.
Emily is certain at this point that whatever her grandmother has to say about this boring and meaningless stick is not important. Emily has much more important things on her mind, like how she is going to survive listening to her grandmother’s stories about things like sticks, and more importantly, when her mom will get out of jail. We can relate to Emily here. We know how it feels to be so weighed down with worry or so frustrated with life that listening to someone else’s positive perspective is nearly impossible. But it’s during those times that tuning our minds to something other than our problems is exactly what we need. For Grandma here, it was a stick that changed her perspective. While that might seem a bit odd, to find hope in a mere stick, it wasn’t really the stick that gave her joy; it was how the stick reminded her of God that actually changed her thinking.
Most of our life is spent in the mundane stuff of life. We get up, go to school or work, do homework if we’re still in school, pay bills, cook meals, clean floors, wash dishes, feed the dog, the list goes on and on of things that aren’t necessarily exciting enough to pull us out of a slump. Sometimes we go through really difficult things, and then these little things can become even more burdensome. But if we can find the joy in even the small little miracles in front of us, like Grandma in Sticks and Stones manages to do with little things like sticks, we can transform our thinking.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
But this transforming of thinking doesn’t happen by chance. It takes conscious effort. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts. If we repeat those negative thoughts, we think negative way more than we think positive thoughts. So, in order to turn this around, we need to be aware of these thoughts and turn them into God’s truths.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
A fellow teacher and dear friend of mine recently shared an experience that could have been quite sad and disturbing. She had gone on a trip to the wall on the Mexico and California border. While standing in that place, which is clearly not one that is uplifting and inspirational, she noticed something. Looking at the wall, there were hearts painted at the top of and along the rails. Looking up at the barbed wire along the top of the wall, she noticed they curved into the shape of hearts. She then noticed hidden hearts in all kinds of unexpected places – in the shape of a small hole in the wall, in the shape of grains of sand she held in her hands, in the clouds. She noticed them everywhere, and shared this with others when she returned and told others about her experience.
These heart shapes could have gone unnoticed. But she saw them and was reminded of God. In a place where there is division, she saw the hope and love of God, and has continued to see these “hidden hearts” and inspire her students and fellow teachers and friends to seek them out as well. That is an example of transformational thinking that has the power to positively impact others. Like Grandma with the stick, we have the ability to look at things in a way that uplifts rather than tears down.
We also have the ability to take captive any negative thoughts and replace them with God’s truths. Here are a few examples:
If we say: I’m not enough.
God Says: I have adopted you as my child. (Ephesians 1:5)
If we say: I’m not smart
God says: I have given you a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)
If we say: I’m not pretty, or someone else looks better or cooler than me.
God says: You are my masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
If we say: This is too hard for me. I can’t do it.
God says: I will help you. (Hebrews 4:16)
If we say: I’m all alone. No one understands.
God says: Nothing can separate you from my love. (Romans 8:38-39)
These are a small smattering of the many truths in God’s word that combat all the lies we start to believe. By reading and knowing what God says, we can feel his peace and strength, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in. And Grandma’s ability to find God in the ordinary is also good advice. He is always present, he is in the details of sticks, of stones, of leaves, of all things, and when we truly seek him, we are promised to find him. (Matthew 7:7-8)
And guess what? That bad day I was having? Well, nothing super spectacular happened to change my attitude. But I did get a little reminder of God in a very ordinary yet unexpected place – spaghetti squash. Yep, you heard it right. Spaghetti squash. This was what was in the baking pan that burned my hand. But, when I turned over the squash and started pulling out the squash with a fork, I was reminded of God’s amazing handiwork. I hadn’t cooked spaghetti squash in a long time, and I had forgotten how much it actually looks like spaghetti when it is pulled apart. I pulled out all those stringy strands and said to my husband, “Wow, look at this. This is fun.” He was wowed too, and in my mind I thought about how cool it was that God made things like this. And it reminded me that even in squash, we can find the joy that only God can bring.
Reflect: What are some negative thoughts you have told yourself today? Are these thoughts true? What does God say about them? Most Bibles have a concordance at the front or back that lists topics and where to go in the Bible to read about them. You can also use apps like blueletterbible.com to search topics, or do a quick internet search. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you can type in “Bible verses about anxiety,” or “What the Bible says about feeling anxious.” This can help direct you to what God says is true.
Journal: Look up these passages you find or the ones listed in this devotional. Write them down in a journal. Write your thoughts about them, your questions for God, your prayers to Him.
Pray: Ask God to help you believe these words and thank him for his truths.
Remember: Read these verses often so you can remember them. Notice that some of the verses above are paraphrased to a statement that’s easy to remember. This can help us speak truth whenever we need it.
Remember to look for God, even in simple or unexpected places. Nature is often the best place to find him. It’s hard to look at a beautiful sky, the intricate details of a flower, roaring ocean waves, or even in a spaghetti squash and not think of the magnificence of God’s creativity and power.
I hope you find God today, everywhere you look, and are reminded of how much he loves and cares for you.
Subscribe below for more updates on Emily’s journey in the novel Sticks and Stones, to be released March 18, 2020
"I’ve never received a better gift, a simple stone, wrapped in love and hope."