Do you have a FACE?

When it’s 2 AM and your brain is shot because you were up to 4 AM last night transferring files onto your new laptop, and you’re still busy doing it tonight and you’re sooooo done…

You get weird thoughts.

There was a line in a George MacDonald book I was reading called “The Fisherman’s Lady” that is sitting deep inside of me and making me think.
In it, the character of the blind bagpiper is this really quirky old man. He’s been blind his whole life. He adores his family but hates his enemies. He’s a stubborn, stubborn, passionate man with a few obvious strengths and a few glaring faults. Someone with the last name of Campbell killed his great grandmother, dooming that generation of his family members to a hard life. Even though that doesn’t affect his own personal life, he’s sworn to DESPISE anyone from the Campbell family – going so far as to wish them dead. Like it runs deep.

At one point, someone tries to challenge him biblically on his hatred and lack of forgiveness – this didn’t even happen in his generation! The guy is a really decent grandfather, good citizen, and Christian man, yet he can’t forgive this enemy of his ancestor. It’s like he needs something to passionately hate. His pride is a scourge on his heart.

Her words just don’t get through to him, and she finally approaches his grandson, the main character, Malcolm.
Malcolm has a thought that keeps sitting in my brain.

Okay, look at this picture of these babies. Just look at each one’s FACE. See the vulnerable, adorable HUMANITY in that face.

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Well, everyone started out a baby just like that. And everyone has a FACE. A face with humanity all over it.

Malcolm points this out and tells the woman,

“When I was a young laddie at the school, I once heard that a certain boy was mocking my grandfather. When I heard that I thought I could have just cut the heart out of him and sunk my teeth right into it. But when I finally found him and got a grip of him, and the rascal turned up a frightened dog-face to me, I just couldn’t drive my clenched fist into it. Mem, a face is an awful thing! There’s something looking out from inside that just prevents you from doing what you might otherwise like to it. But my grandfather’s never seen a face in his life.”

I wonder if that’s why people can be so vicious on FACEbook – because there really isn’t a FACE to be seen anywhere in the conversation. If that’s why the real wicked lurking in people’s hearts actually come out online. We don’t really see the eyes – the window to the soul – of the people we’re talking to before we cut their hearts out and sink our teeth into them.

And then there’s Charlottesville.

Seriously, I don’t even use the word “race.” There isn’t such a thing. There are different levels of melanin in the skin, and, to be honest, melanin doesn’t interest me a hoot. I don’t give a rat’s behind about melanin. Now we all have a FACE. And the face is always, always beautiful. The face says we are all human beings. ❤

Some people who have eyes that work are actually blind. Look into the FACE. And see people God created and loves. That’s all that matters to me!

Forgive, love, give, serve, and be the FACE of Christ to others!

 

Clean Romance, Infertility, and Marriage Advice from Melanie D. Snitker!

MelanieDSnitker2016Melanie D. Snitker is a sweet author friend of mine from Texas.  She writes stories with a heart – an emphasis on a deep love for each character, and a romance to go with it!  I’d like to think that if you enjoy my novels, you’d enjoy hers.  🙂

Melanie has prayed for me, knit baby cutesies for me, and encouraged me at the hardest of times.  I hope all of you can support her worthy books!  Thanks for being you, Melanie!

You can purchase Melanie’s books here on Amazon.com!

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Me: Hi, Melanie! Here at BlondeRJ, we’re all about Myers-Briggs types.  Share about being an ISFJ and what your personality is like. 🙂

Melanie: You know, I’d never thought much about the Myers-Briggs types until I met you, RJ! I find it all fascinating. Like you mentioned, I’m an ISFJ. I’m definitely quiet and very introverted. I get along well with people, and I tend to be a really good listener. If I say I’m going to do something, not only will it get done, but I’ll do my best while I’m working on it. I’m organized, and I rely heavily on lists and my online calendar. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced ties into my being an introvert: I also tend to worry about what others think. I’m slowly getting better about this as I get older, but it was something that held me back for a long, long time. I think that it will always be something that’s in the back of my mind to a degree. I have to admit I really admire those who can say and do anything and not worry what others will think!

Me: Even we 100% extroverts can be people-pleasers and worry what others think, for sure.  I’ve been LOVING the book When People are Big and God is Small by Edward Welch, and would love to recommend it right now to my readers.  It’s helped me put God in His proper place, and see my need to love others instead of just *need* them.  🙂
Speaking of loving people, you write the sweetest romances ever. What first inspired you to help and write about clean romance for Christians?

Melanie: I enjoyed romance novels as a teen, but didn’t really read much beyond Janette Oke, Dee Henderson, and a few other Christian authors. When I got into high school, I started to browse through some of the other romance novels at the library. I was shocked to find that clean romance was a difficult thing to find. That’s when I decided I would start writing the kind of romance novels I wouldn’t mind my own daughter reading some day.

Me: What a sweet legacy!
How many different places have you lived, and what is your favorite?

Melanie: I’ve lived in Arizona, both in Flagstaff and Phoenix. A lot of people that haven’t been to Flagstaff are surprised to find that it has a lot of mountains, and it can get a fair amount of snow in the winter. I’ve also lived in many different places in Oregon as well as Texas (where I currently reside). My favorite place to live overall is Texas. The people here are incredibly friendly, I like the mild winters, and I love all the wildflowers (bluebonnets, especially) in the spring. My second favorite place would be Oregon, especially in the fall when all the leaves turn. Gorgeous!

Me: I live in the gorgeous pacific northwest as well!  Love it!
Melanie, you were a huge encouragement to me two years ago. Can you tell us about one of the hardships you’ve experienced and how God has used that in your life? ❤

Melanie: I have endometriosis and it has resulted in a lot of infertility issues that I’ve dealt with for a long time. It took two and a half years of tests and a surgery for my endo before we found out our son was on the way. After he was born, we’d hoped that the next baby would be much easier. Four and a half years later (after another surgery and different medications), we were finally able to try one round of IVF. Praise God, one of those sweet embryos burrowed in to stay, and our daughter was born eight months later. There were so many times during this journey when I wondered where God was and why this had to be so hard. But I learned more about patience than I would’ve liked to, and I also learned about God’s perfect timing. There have been many times in the last six years since our daughter was born where I’ve looked back and realized that, even though I didn’t think so at the time, God really did know what He was doing!

Me: I loved your faith when I was going through that hardship myself!  And you have absolutely beautiful kiddos!!  You have absolutely beautiful characters too.  😛 Which character, in all of your books, is your favorite?

Melanie: I’m going to have to go with Lexi (although Lance is a close second). She’s introduced in Finding Peace, the first book the Love’s Compass series. Then she and Lance get their own story in the second book, Finding Hope. She’s my favorite because she goes through a lot in her life with a cancer diagnosis that leads to a complete hysterectomy which saves her life. It also means she’ll never have children of her own. What causes her inability to get pregnant may be very different from what I or many of my friends have experienced with infertility, but many of the emotions are the same. She’s definitely a character that was written straight from my heart.

Me: Awww.  I remember Lexi!  So what’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your books?

Melanie: I’ve had several readers thank me for creating quality, clean romance novels that they can read without the guilt, and that they wouldn’t hesitate to let their teen daughters read as well. It’s what I originally set out to do, and even though the road of an author can be a rocky one at times, it’s encouragement like that which reminds me it’s all worth it!

Me: Amen! On a real-life front, how do you think we, as Christians, can learn to love like Christ more in our marriages?

Melanie: I think it’s easy to get caught up in every day life. Things get hectic, the kids always need something, and by the end of the day, it’s easy to feel like we have nothing left to give. But it’s the little things that show Christ’s love in a marriage. Like when my husband is completely exhausted, yet takes the trash out with a smile. Or when I’ve had a rough day and I’m tired, but I bake my husband the cookies he loves because it will brighten his afternoon. The other day, we had a busy afternoon full of cleaning and grocery shopping. I’ll admit, I was a complete grump by dinner and not much fun to be around. Instead of getting upset with me, or even letting my mood change his, my sweet husband made a trip to the store to find something I was looking for, and even brought something else back that made me laugh. Finding ways to put our spouse first, even when it isn’t easy, can give us even a small glimpse of the kind of unconditional love that Christ has for us!

Me: I think your home must be very joyful and warm.  🙂  Thank you, Melanie!

Melanie: Thanks again, RJ!

On Being Married to Four Very Different People

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I’m married to four different men.  

Seriously.

I’m married to three at the same time, and keep getting remarried to one over and over again.

And no, I’m not a polygamist.

Let me explain.

I was at a bridal shower last month and the host opened up the floor for people to give the bride-to-be advice.  I hadn’t come prepared to say anything.  I had a newborn, was sleep-deprived, and was barely clearheaded enough to know what day it was.  But as I listened to the advice she was getting, I felt a sudden desire to share what she wasn’t hearing.

So many people told her, “Put Christ at the center of your marriage.”

“Make Christ the center of your marriage!”

“Keep Christ at the center!”

Like, seriously people, what does that MEAN?

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No offense to the advice-givers, but I’ve been married for 7 1/2 years, and I have no idea what that means.  How would a young woman who’s never been married have any idea what that means?

It’s not even biblical.  Nowhere in Scripture does it say, “Make Christ the center of your marriage.”

It says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33) and to let Christ rule supreme in your OWN heart, but it never says “Make Christ the center of your life AND this other guy’s.”  It’s impossible.

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For some people, I know what they’re trying to say, but I think this is a trendy comment. It feels like a very cute phrase, but what does it mean?  Ask a Christian couple in head-over-heels happiness on their wedding day if “Christ is at the center of their relationship,” and they’ll tell you YES because they’re happy and things are blissful right then.  Let alone the fact that both of them could be living as selfishly as all get out and have no idea what real marriage looks like.

Ask another Christian couple if “Christ is at the center of their relationship” after their child has died and their finances have fallen apart and they’re struggling and seeing a counselor, and they might say NO, because everything looks bad and they feel unhappy, let alone that it may be at that moment that they are drawing close to God like never before.  I think we often have a lousy idea of what being Christlike actually is – and are far more concerned with what it outwardly looks like.

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For others, they might mean that the bride-to-be should be actively pursuing putting their marriage in a focused-on-God state.  But that’s even worse advice!  Many women are running around stressed and weary trying to force her marriage to be more “spiritual.”  Trying to force her husband to spend time with the Lord with her, trying to force prayer time, force service, force giving (and vice versa!) and it’s just not possible.

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Controlling something that takes two people is just not possible.

Many women spend more time and energy worrying about whether or not their husband or their “marriage” is righteous and God-focused, when all she is supposed to do is focus on whether or not SHE is righteous and God-focused.  What we should be telling a bride-to-be is that her “marriage” and her husband is not a fixer-upper project she controls, and that when she and her husband individually make sure they have a personal relationship with the Lord, that sanctification will follow.  That she’s not responsible for both halves of her marriage – only her own half.  That she and her husband will not go to heaven “as a set” but will be responsible for their own individual salvation.  That spending time pursuing God as a couple is wonderful and worthy, but will never take the place of pursuing God individually – it’s just an added bonus.  That if her relationship with God MUST involve her husband holding her hand, that she may not have a relationship with Christ at all – and it’s not going to stand the test of time if (God forbid!) something happened to her husband.  And that each spouse spending their energy trying to force the other to “make our marriage Christ centered” is a waste of time.  If only we taught brides to be more focused on their own personal walk with Christ, and not to idolize their husband.

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Because your spouse is a rapidly changing, growing living being.

Which leads me to my four husbands. And the advice I gave the bride-to-be that day.

My mom always said that you marry three people: the person YOU think he is, the person HE thinks he is, and the person he really is.  I think that’s dead right, but I think she’s missing the fourth guy: the person he will become.

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I met my husband when I was 19 and he was 18 years old.  Today, we are downright unrecognizable from back then.  Some things I miss, most things I cringe when I remember.  Most of the changes have been great, a few a little sad.

And 7 more years of marriage from now, he and I may be downright unrecognizable from where we are today – and I don’t just mean physically, although we do drastically change physically as well!  Currently, we are 29 and 30 years old, parents of three little girls under the age of 6, homeowners in the pacific northwest, members of a small church, anime aficionados, an author, a League of Legends player, a K-drama enthusiast. But 7 years from now, none of that could be true.

No one warns brides-to-be and husbands-to-be that you’re also marrying a stranger.

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Age, situations, accidents, promotions, jobs, friends, parenting, LIFE… it changes people. The things you love about your spouse today could disappear tomorrow.  The things that irritated you about them last year could be endearing traits you miss with all your heart next year.  The personality traits you thought you could count on could morph into something else entirely.

You are committing to marry someone who WILL BE, in ways you can not predict.

It’s a bit frightening!

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Have you ever answered the question, “Why do you love me?” with “Because you’re you?”  Well, what if they stop being “them”?  And become someone else?  We all do.  And that’s true love – committing to love that person no matter who they are tomorrow, no matter how life and trials and growth warp and change and mature and harden and soften and challenge and strengthen and weaken and bruise and injure and purify and solidify them.

Can you love a person you may not know tomorrow?

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That’s the thought I want to share with brides-to-be.  Can you let go of everything that person does FOR you today that makes you feel good, and love a person who may do none of those tomorrow?  They can’t really answer, “Yes, I can,” because they’re not there yet.  What they need to answer is, “Yes, I choose to commit to do so” because they are making a choice, and God promises to help them to succeed.  Love can grow and change and morph as well, and, while the devil wants to tear apart marriages, God vows to help us love like He does, which is unconditional and completely inclusive, no matter what life throws our way.

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ASTOUND!

Do you remember that I mentioned starting my first non-fiction project a few posts back?  In “Your Child Doesn’t Love God,” I talk about dealing with an ongoing behavior with one child, and feeling the call to write a booklet on the gospel, God’s love, and His greatness for preschool through young-elementary-aged children.

That booklet is complete!  And will be on Amazon in a matter of days!

The Lord has really grown and stretched me through writing this 29-page, pocket-sized booklet, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to write it!  My husband helped immensely, and an amazing team of beta readers has critiqued the thing’s socks off 😛  until it’s shiny and as perfect as it can be.  🙂

An old California friend, and fellow Christian mom, also graciously offered her services to provide artistic touches throughout, and you can check out the whimsical watercolor artist, Kelli Hoekendorf, on her Facebook page here.

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the first pages of the booklet with her adorable art!

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The booklet has been endorsed by fellow Christian non-fiction author, Bruce Ray:

“ASTOUND is a big concept (sanctification) simplified for little hands and little feet. In these few pages RJ Conte avoids the big traps of legalism and lawlessness and tells children (and their caregivers) that the way to become holy is by learning about God and loving him so much that you don’t want to displease him. Easy to read, but big ideas!”
~Bruce Ray (pastor, police chaplain, author, and grandfather)

and by author, editor, and #WIPjoy creator, Bethany Jennings:

ASTOUND is packed with beautiful, thought-provoking doctrines
for young hearts to ponder, written in a way that makes them
easy and accessible for parents to discuss with their little
ones – Bethany Jennings (mother of 4, author, and editor)

Be watching for the announcement that the ebook version is available later on this week!  (The paperback pocket version will be available in the following weeks.)  Please be in prayer that God would use it for His glory!

Also please be in prayer for me.  I will hit 38 weeks, in this pregnancy, on Tuesday.  I’m getting over a cold, and am still wanting to attempt a VBAC after two c-sections.  I’d love prayer for a safe delivery and healthy baby!

Thank you, everyone!
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Top Posts of 2016!

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It’s time for the list of the top 10 posts of the year!

This was a slower year for me, mostly due to pregnancy and all that comes with that, so I only wrote almost half of the amount of posts of the previous year.  In 2015, I wrote 93, and this year I wrote an exact even 50.  BUT, even with half the posts, I actually, just barely, got more views and visitors this year than last year, meaning that my posts are bringing in more readers than ever!  Hooray for that!

This year, I had 11,687 visitors to my blog with 16,043 views and ended the year with 118 blog followers.  *cheer*  (To follow this blog, click FOLLOW on the right hand side of this page) 

Without further ado, what were the most popular posts of this year?  Well, not all of them were even actually published on this blog this year – some have remained super popular from previous years, and have lived on with lives of their own all over the Internet.

Sitting at #1, by far, with no competition, and with around 35 hits A DAY is:

Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type (with 7,164 individual views this year!!)mami_tomoe_render_by_moeblueberry1771-d5evnl7

This post is also #1 on any Google search for “anime characters by Myers-Briggs type and continually brings in guests to my blog.  Kind of exciting, even if it is very niche.  So if you like anime AND personality typing, this is the post for you.  Identified by name, show title, and picture, I have anime characters from various shows in neat little groups according to their types.  🙂

 

The Day I Met Job (with 996 individual views)PCOS Challenge Infographic

This makes me so happy that it’s #2.  This is the deeply personal testimony of what God did in my heart and life last year after suffering with secondary infertility.  It is also about my best friend and her daughter, an appreciation of my mother-in-law, a nod to a fellow author, and mostly a testimony about a hero of the faith I met last year.  Please read the article.  I hope my vulnerability and sharing of God’s greatness touches your heart!

 

An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister (with 460 views)beautiful-wedding-tiara

Still going strong.  This is a writeup I did for baby showers that I first composed for my sister 2 1/2 years ago, and have tweaked a few times since to share with other expectant moms.  There must be a need for this, as people continually search for this online and find my site.  🙂

 

Tied with “My Pregnant Sister” is: Setting up the Romance Ship (with 460 views)austenland-holding_13254521245

How fun that my breakdown of the smart secret to writing a winning romance story did so well!  I thought this one was a bit obvious until I read (and watched) many people miss this key point to setting up their relationship story. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I threw my own theory out there, and it did very well!

 

Should Married Women Vote Against Their Spouse? (with 349 views)your_vote_counts

This one was a hot button when I first posted it a few years ago, and it continues to be something people search for and find through my blog. Read at your own risk…  🙂

 

Could You Love This Genderless Person? (with 287 views)5

Maybe it was just a catchy title, but this was a very niche article about genderbender dramas that I posted. A “genderbender” is when a guy dresses up and pretends to be a girl, or vice versa, and the opposite sex falls for them.  I explore this trope and why it means so much to women, and maybe what’s spiritually at the heart of this “forbidden romance” story.

 

In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte (with 262 views)conte-052

A year and a half after the sudden and tragic passing of my husband’s baby sister, this post, written by *him* not me, still makes the top 10 on my list.  Please read my husband’s beautiful, tear-jerker tribute to a lovely life that sits very dear to our hearts.

 

NAME THE BABY! (with 221 views)namebabygirl02

I’m legitimately shocked that this made the top 10!  Last year I teamed up with lovely author Melanie D. Snitker to do a giveaway and promote each other’s books.  Readers named the baby that her main couple was pregnant with, and we got some great responses.  I need to do more on this blog with fellow authors next year!  In the meantime, check out Melanie’s very successful books on Amazon.

 

Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer (with 188 views)patemainverted_dvd-f

This is a fun list that I kept on my sidebar.  Always hearing me talk about anime and kdramas but have no idea what’s safe or good to watch or where to start?  Not sure you’d even like Asian TV?  I put together a “starter” list of Asian TV for people who don’t like Asian TV, so to speak.  These are storylines and shows that I think any American could love without feeling too “eastern” in the storytelling style.  Give any of these shows a chance, and let me know if they did not disappoint!

 

And last but not least: Sarcastically Realistic Movie Descriptions – Name That Movie!2a3

This one also surprises me that it made the list.  This was a funny little game I posted on my blog a while ago, and it’s done well recently.  Someone must have reposted them.  If you’re looking for a comedic way to describe popular movies, as a game for a party you’re hosting, this might be the post for you.

 

So which blog post of mine was YOUR favorite this year?  Leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Which I Say the Big, Bad C Word: Courtship

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Courtship…

…is a hot button these days, and I’m not always sure why.  Some Christians have been the victims of dictatorial, patriarchal homes, but most don’t even have a clue what the word actually means. As a society, I think we’ve swung back and forth so many times on relationship norms that most of us are dizzy.  I think every generation “does it differently.”

Recently, my uncle, Richard Briggs, in an author Q and A query, asked me about my own ideas on courtship (I had a very successful and happy one!) and how it plays into my writing love stories.

Since we’re raising a new generation of children – my own included – and I’m seeing the pendulum swing again to “get rid of courtship altogether,” I’d like to say to look past the big, bad C word.  What even IS “courtship”?  Every single group I’ve ever been in defines it differently.

Let’s just talk relationships on the whole. My girls are young now but it is NEVER too early to start planning for and being aware of this.  You are raising children not just to be obedient kiddos in your home, but to be godly adults out in the real world.  Your home is just a stepping ground for all of life and, let’s face it, most of our kids are going to get married. So that relationship with their spouse will last the rest of their life, and be the most important relationship in their life.

So what are my views on courtship?  Here’s my succinct personal definition:

Committing to love, serve, and honor God by being intentional in doing the best for others and looking at relationships through the lens of future marriage. Being future-mindful and Christ-centered in your relationships, not selfish in your physical affections and giving into lusts, and not causing anyone else to sin, including yourself. Eschewing the worldly, selfish ideas of playing around before finding a spouse.

Beyond that, my ideas are so simple, and yet so foundational.  I think, when you muddy it up with more than this, you get into legalism. Let’s leave out all the common sense physical rules like what’s your curfew, if you’re chaperoned, if you kiss before your wedding day, etc. etc.  That’s up to your home and your child. My husband and I haven’t set any of those in stone. We’ll see what we decide when the time comes and where the child’s heart and temptations are.  And our “common sense rules” may be different from yours – and there should be no judgment from house to house on those types of safety rules.  But honestly, that’s not what I’m thinking about or looking for when I’m training my children to be spouses.

I want only three things.

A. I want them to so love God that they’re committed to honesty, morality/godliness, and Him most of all.

(See the previous blog post in the link above.) It’s why I’m seriously, seriously addressing sneakiness and dishonesty and selfishness and other traits now.  My child lies to me or selfishly hoards me or is disloyal to friends?  He’s going to be those things to his spouse too.  They don’t just disappear in marriage or adulthood.

B. I want to so strongly have my kids’ hearts – be such good friends with them and be so close to them that they trust me and communicate with me.

It takes two to tango on this one.  I can only do my part, and pray that God leads them to value me as their mother and counselor and friend.  ❤

C. I want them to so love others and think much less of themselves that they’re committed to protecting and doing what’s best for the opposite gender always.

At the heart of the “courtship model” that I know is protecting others because you value them so much as fellow human beings, and you love and care about their safety, their hearts, and their emotions.  Leading the opposite gender on when you have no intention of marrying or committing to them – whether it’s through mass dating or just being too affectionate as friends – can injure them greatly.

At the heart of relationship values that I was taught was protecting and loving others as better than yourself. (Philippians 2:3)

This starts in just sharing toys as toddlers and choosing to go last to getting your piece of candy.  These foundational things prepare them for why they choose what they do with the opposite gender in the future.

 

2DRJ Conte is a Christian, realistic, issue-driven fiction authoress with six books on Amazon, including the novel, Heartsick, for young adults. In Heartsick, the main character, a homeschooled college student, who has devised a picture-perfect courtship model with her father, turns her back on it to get entangled with a guy who has a very mysterious and dark past.  The novel has been likened to A Walk to Remember meets Hitchcock, and is recommended to any young Christian lady starting out on her own.

$2.99 on Amazon.com

 

Your Child Doesn’t Love God

I have a child, a young child, who is currently actively rebelling and deceiving me daily.

It breaks my heart to watch it happen over and over again, even in the face of constant correction. Sure, she’s very young – not even a teenager – and so her mistakes are small in the grand scheme of things, but sneaky deception and disobedience are not small issues, even if it just involves hiding her toys that she was playing with when she was supposed to be cleaning her room.  No matter what her age or offense, watching your child do these things is always crushing.  But I get an opportunity NOW, while she’s very young, to tackle some of these issues at their root, before she becomes a chronically lying young adult like her mom was at one time.  I have been convinced, up to this point, that she is a born-again Christian, so my tactics with her can be very specific to a baby believer.

At first, I lay in my bed mulling over what this meant about me.

“How could she do this to me when she sees it upsets me every time?”

“Does she not care about her parents?”

“Am I just a terrible disciplinarian?”

“Where have I failed?” etc.

But if you ask yourself these questions when your child struggles in an ongoing sin, you’re probably missing the mark.  Sure, as a parent, it’s important to make sure we’re setting a good example, leading in Scripture and prayer, and being consistent, loving, and patient, but the truth is, your child isn’t sinning because he doesn’t love you.

Your child doesn’t love God.  

Not like she should.

It hit me, as I prayed and mulled and thought last night over discipline tactics, that nothing was quite right.  I thought about assigning her Bible verses to write and/or memorize on truthfulness and obedience.  I thought about taking away any TV watching for a week.  I thought about giving her more chores.  But everything felt so superficial, like they were tedious activities that wouldn’t actually speak to her heart.  Yes, she needs to have a consequence for her ongoing disobedience, but then what is the training I can start to incorporate?

The root problem is that she doesn’t know God enough to be intimately in love with Him and want to obey Him.

That hurting Him breaks her heart and that His commands are precious to her, like gold and silver. (Psalm 119:127).

You say, RJ, this is a big task.  I, as an adult, don’t even love God like I should, or want to obey Him like I should.  I know!  Me too!

So maybe, in preaching to her, I can preach to myself.

51r9pfxl22bl-_sx327_bo1204203200_The first book I thought of, that really cultivated a love for God in me, a book that spoke so highly of God, His character, His plans, and His love for me, and my should-be love for Him, is Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Because He Loves Me – a fantastic book that describes the high grandeur of the gospel in new ways you’ve never thought of.  Makes you truly love God for who He is and what He has done!

But much of the writing might go over my little one’s head.  How does one cultivate a high view of and passion for God in an young child?  Or an elementary student?  Why is almost nothing written to kids that give them a higher view of God?

I’ll never, ever forget what my best friend in CA told me while I was out visiting her last month.  She said, “The thing I can’t stand about most Sunday schools and programs for Christian kids is that it revolves around the child.  That they are the center of the universe and God just wants to dote on them and love them and that they are just perfectly wonderful little balls of perfection.  That, from a young age, we aren’t showing kids that they’re one cog in the great wheel of God’s plan.  That He’s sovereign and powerful and mighty.  That He demands our obedience, and we are desperate sinners, but He loves us immensely.  That we are called to love and pursue Him and have a relationship with Him.”

Our children’s faith can be so intellectual.  So rote.  So tedious.  So dry.

Our relationship with God, even as children, shouldn’t be dry.

Who among us has seen a child light up with absolute passionate wonder at a fireworks display?  When meeting Santa Claus?  When seeing a magic trick?  When decorating the Christmas tree?

There is so much wonder and awe in children, and yet it is either snuffed out, or completely ignored when it comes to the most Wonderful Being in the universe: their God and Savior.

So, as of this moment, I’m ditching all of my other writing projects for this new one.  I had so little motivation lately anyway, and maybe this is why.  I’m writing a pamphlet.  A booklet.  For my child.  For me.  And maybe for your child too.  And it’s going to be on the amazing wonder that is our God, and the fact that we get to love Him!  Like Elyse’s book, it will be on how the cross is applicable to daily life, but it will be in the language of children.

Pray for me and my children.  I will pray for yours!  Pray that this is a God-led project that I can do to benefit and convict and excite and cultivate God’s love, not only in my daughters, but in myself even more and more!

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Philippians 1:9

 

Being a Minor Sufferer

I have the most mediocre, run-of-the mill trials.

I mean, really.thinkstockphotos-469098080

And, since I know You’re listening, Lord, that doesn’t mean I want them ramped up to a Daniel or Job on the scale of suffering!  Just making sure You know I’m okay with my Mary and Martha level.  I’m good with that!  😉

Unlike my Job-like friends I talked about in this article, I’m kind of this mediocre sufferer.  My trials are always highly obnoxious, only a little scary, and a bit sad.  Not real earth-shattering.  Let me make a “RJ’s Suffering List” in a Paul-like way.  You remember the Apostle Paul’s list, right?  Involves a lot of beating, people trying to kill him, and even a shipwreck? AND his list is all stuff done in the name of Christ!  Like real persecutions for his faith.  MY list is just regular life woes.  Would only count as “thorns in the flesh”!

So, that disclaimer being said, RJ Conte’s very vulnerable, honest, and pretty complete list would go something like this:

Separated her shoulder and ankle ligaments – twice each

Had hormonal imbalances.

Had a doctor perform the wrong test, which scared her senseless for a bunch of years

Had to deliver two healthy babies by emergency c-section – couldn’t have her perfect births

Lost relatives to spiritual and physical death

Went through 18 months of infertility after having two children successfully 

Lost some cartilage on one side of her knee 

Has chronic environmental allergies to everything, including most animals

Gets pneumonia or some other respiratory infection once a year from colds

Has a couple ex-friends who won’t talk to her due to her infuriating stupidity in her young adult years

Has had other friends get caught in serious sins

Has occasionally been treated selfishly and not loved the way believers should love one another

Has a daughter with a massive amount of food allergies – none that are life-threatening, but all that lend itself to obnoxious hives and maybe vomiting

Has had to move a little bit often, and leave churches a couple times

Doesn’t make money on her novels…

Because her novels are overtly Christian, and the world isn’t quite down with that

Had to have Accutane because the acne went on FOREVER. And, even now, in adulthood, some of it has come back

Has been insulted on her physical appearance…

Maybe because she’s never at a perfect weight, but always has those last 15 pounds she’d love to lose…

And what do you know? Finds out she has gestational diabetes in her recent pregnancy, and probably some insulin resistance, which probably caused her infertility to begin with…

Therefore, has to give up regular Mountain Dew  *sob*

 

Woot!  That’s my LIFE Trial List!  I put ALL of those on there so that you can hopefully identify with one or two or five or all of them.  See?  I’m a normal human being like you. Please tell me Paul isn’t laughing up in glory. No offense to anyone whose list is identical to mine, but it’s kind of measly.

What do you do when you’re the “normal friend” with the normal, daily life trials?

The person who doesn’t have much to say or help to give out because you’ve not gone through much of anything that interesting – or that every other Christian hasn’t gone through to some extent?

And sometimes you wish you could trade in the whole group of the small guys for one big, God-glorifying trial that’s over a few days after it begins but makes you this awe-inspiring Christian with a great testimony?

And then you’re ashamed of yourself for saying so, because the Elijahs and Jobs of the world look at you like, “You’re thirty years old, for grief’s sake, and have it all.  Seriously?”

Okay, maybe they don’t do that, because they’re freakin’ Job, for goodness sake, and have so much love and compassion and godly character that they could drown you in it.  But you’re convinced they probably are tempted to think that way about you.  That they’re secretly wringing their hands at home, staring at your Facebook posts, and hating your guts. Right?

I have a dear person in my life whose short years are littered with a few, scattered, mediocre trials.

“I kind of had a crush on someone but they didn’t like me back.”

“I have some big fears.”

“I didn’t make the grades in college that I liked.”

“My managers didn’t treat me well.”

“Someone close to me moved away.”

But this person has completely walked away from the Lord. They can’t see beyond their own suffering, which they see as horrendously awful, even though very few in their life have any clue what would warrant their dramatic, victim response.

The little ongoing things are REAL, folks.  They’re sneaky.  They creep in and go on and on and on, making us think our life is less than perfect, will never BE perfect, and drive us crazy with their prickly itchiness.  Sure, we may not have lost our entire family to death or been tortured for our faith or be stricken as a paraplegic, but things are still NOT RIGHT.  And, as pathetic as we can feel, those things linger day after day after day and break down the joy that we’re supposed to have.

I’m going to introduce a radical concept: all trials are trials.

Call out!  Ask for help.  Reach out.  Ask for prayer. Get godly advice. Don’t be ashamed.

Sure there’s some validity to saying, “Wow, I’m a stupid, babyish ninny.  Get a grip and move on with life, and don’t let these little things bother you.” But I really don’t think that’s always helpful or productive, and few human beings are in that kind of place. And God totally gets that.  You don’t hear him calling us “stupid, babyish ninnies.”  God only gives us the trials He knows we can survive and also come out the other end (1 Corinthians 10:13). So for some, those may seem “smaller” but there’s no belittling comparison scale in the kingdom of God.

And His GRACE is sufficient for ALL of them.

If you or I are really struggling in a little Martha trial (“My sister drives me NUTS, Lord.  Make her clean house and play host with me!”) chances are, that’s where my spiritual idols are.  And the feeling of being used as a slave by one’s lazy sister, whether the right perspective or not, has the same capacity of driving us away from the Lord as the massive shooting of one’s whole family does for someone else.

DON’T let that make you feel small, pathetic, or worthless.  All things that make us believe that God is making a mistake (Martha: “Jesus, why are you letting her SIT there?  Jesus, do something differently!”), all of those things that make us doubt that God is good, drive us from Him.  And, before you know it, your “mediocre list” has become a gigantic battleground for the devil.  It’s a fight for your very soul.

Can I highly, highly, highly recommend One Thousand Gifts, which I’m re-reading for the51vwntxh1sl-_sx347_bo1204203200_ 2nd or 3rd time? Ann Voskamp is a very, very average homeschool mom and housewife.  She had her one “big tragedy” in young childhood when she was hardly old enough to even get it. But, besides that, her trials have been run of the mill.  Compared to anyone else maybe.  However, Ann saw that bitterness, ingratitude, and a coldness to God were sneaking in right under her nose while she washed dishes and did laundry and made dinner for the millionth time day after day. And, in beautiful, poetic words, she explores the beauty of all of life – everything God gives – the great and the impossible. And how her entire life’s perspective changed.

This Christmas I asked for butcher paper.  Yep, this giant, larger-than-life roll.  My sweet mother-in-law, without question, went and bought it for me, and it sits under my tree like a giant possibility of gleaming white.

I know what my very first use of it is going to be – the making of a floor to ceiling list.  Of gratitude.  That the Conte family can walk by and add to at any time.

So that those little bugs don’t get in the way – my shoulder is aching again as I type this, and I’m really, really hankering for a piece of holiday pecan pie that I shouldn’t eat.  (Man alive.  Die, taste buds, die!  You cruel villains!) Because those little bugs grow and grow and grow in our hearts to become the most giant of Godzillas. To become life or death to our souls and our First Love (Revelation 2:4).

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This guy has it all.  Pure happiness in liquid form, baby.  😛  😀

So no one is a “minor sufferer” at all.  Even giving up the Mountain Dew can be a giant
battle that leaves you a little breathless, a bit bruised, and more surrendered for the kingdom of Christ.  Hey, if you’re going through a sugar detox, come to me, and I will WEEP with you, bro!

 

It all matters in the Great Fight that is this Christian life.