Monday, February 28, 2011

How I Figured Out I'm Not the Center of the Universe

My friends know that I tend to see the world in a different way. They know that when I start a conversation with “God reached down and thumped me on the head” that I’m going to reveal something God has taught me. It usually means it’s something that many already know, but I needed a little extra thump to get it through my thick skull.

Well, God reached down and thumped me on the head recently. I’ve said for a number of years now that singleness can make a person selfish. Not in a mean-hearted way; rather in a “my universe revolves around me kind of way.”

You see, at my house I:

• Make the rules

• Control the remote

• Decide what’s for dinner

• Decorate to my liking

• Leave my socks lying around if I choose

In short, at my house the world revolves around me (although the cat still thinks it’s all about him) and I tend to get caught up in my own self importance. Sometimes when I go out into the real world I forget that’s not the way things work.

In an attempt to get me out of my own head and back into the real world, God used a series of things this past week to thump me.

First, there was an episode of The Big Bang Theory on CBS where Sheldon learns that his social circle actually is centered on Leonard and not him. He tries to create a new social circle, but eventually realizes he misses the way things were and seeks out his old friends.

Second, there was a chapter entitled "Community" in the book Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. In the chapter Don writes of his own realization that the world doesn’t center on him. He likens his view to being a player on a stage where everyone else has bit parts and are just there supporting him. (If you haven’t read Blue Like Jazz, I recommend it.) God revealed to him that it’s not that way at all and showed him the value of being involved with people’s lives.

Third and finally, there was the post God speaks through network television by my friend, Lori over at Deeper with Jesus in Rhode Island. Lori also uses The Big Bang episode to highlight God’s desire for us to be in community with others. Of Sheldon, Lori writes, “In the end, he realizes life is better in relationship than alone at center stage.”

What each of these three instances of thumping showed me was that God created us to be part of a community. He made us relational beings for a purpose and when we walk away from that purpose we and others lose out on His plan. I guess I will try to step off my own little stage and re-focus my world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Beloved, Let Me Tell You Something

Oh the joy of coming together with several hundred like minded individuals to worship the Lord, learn the craft, and share our work! Writing for the Soul was such a great time. If you’re a Christian writer and haven’t attended, I highly recommend you start saving your pennies.

This year we had the pleasure of Liz Curtis Higgs sharing her love for God not once, but twice during the weekend. If you’ve read any of her books, you know her great love for the Lord. In person, it’s exuberant and all enveloping like a big bear hug. It made me want to shout from the rooftops how great our God is!

Liz started the conference with a bang with her keynote speech on Thursday night. Through sharing her own sometimes painful experiences she spoke the truth of God’s love. That truth is that God loves each of us, just as we are right now. He doesn’t require we change or be someone different to be worthy of this love. He just loves us.

One of the words used to describe this little bundle of enthusiasm named Liz is encourager. It’s a job that she is really good at! I’m going to let you in on a little something I figured out after hearing Liz speak. When she looks at you and says, “Beloved, let me tell you something” she is going to reveal just how much God cares. Liz experienced God’s care and you can tell she just wants everyone to experience that.

You may be wondering how this subject relates to writing. Sure, it’s great that God loves and cares about us, but what does that have to do with the words we put on the paper? Everything! As Christian writers our most important job is to point people to God so that their lives may be changed. We can’t do that if we haven’t gone deep into His character and learned just how much we mean to Him.

Writer’s conferences and the encouragement of other writers are important to our work. Thankfully, we have a great host of Christian writers who want to give us a hand up the ladder.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Writers Conferences - Networking

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Christian Writers Guild Writing for the Soul Conference. This was my second time attending. The first was in 2009 and I think I was so nervous about the whole thing that I really missed out on the fun and benefits. This time I was much more relaxed and really came away with some great insight and inspiration.

This week I want to highlight some of the insights I came away with. Today I’m going to share some thoughts on networking.

In the weeks before the conference I realized I didn’t have any work at a place that I felt comfortable pitching. At first I was stressed by the thought that I was wasting my money. Then I figured out that I could still network, learn, and gain valuable support which would still be a winning situation for me.

When I first began writing I thought writer’s conferences were just for either those who needed lots of help or the pros who needed to talk about all their accomplishments. Since then I’ve found that conferences are an important part of a writer’s work. They offer networking opportunities, support and encouragement, and a chance to learn from teachers who’ve walked the walk.

Networking is one of the big benefits of attending these functions. Many of the big conferences and even some of the smaller ones have editors, publishers, and agents on hand to meet with attendees. In the tough world of publishing these days meeting one of these folks at a conference can be a great foot in the door.

However, there is also a great opportunity to meet other writers and that is a great thing. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t network well. I lean a little toward the shy side and I don’t make small talk easily so the thought of meeting people and hopefully building meaningful relationships worried me. I prayed about it and decided to just be myself and let the Lord lead. And lead He did. I met some great people and really enjoyed myself.

The meals and general sessions were held in one of the big ballrooms. For lunch and dinner each table was hosted by an agent, editor, or mentor. I loved being able to sit at tables with someone I admire or someone I want to get to know better. It’s a low key way to get to know more about their work and have them get to know your work.

During meals you also get to meet other writers. We talked about our work and our lives away from writing. One morning as I had breakfast I talked with a writer from Denver. At the end of breakfast and the morning keynote session she looked over at me and said, “This was just what I needed. It really helped me organize my work in progress and know where I want to go with it.” Sometimes just talking through what you’re writing is what you need to be able to figure out what needs to happen next.

I loved meeting all the different people over the weekend. It was encouraging and inspiring. Getting to know other writers is a great benefit of attending writers conferences.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How Do You Feel About Obedience?

Obey is a word that is often maligned and feared. In our current culture the concept of obeying is not a popular one. The word has been taken out of wedding vows many times simply because we independent people don’t want the responsibility of being obedient. Children don’t want to have to be obedient to their parents because it is no fun. Even Christians sometimes bristle at the idea of having to be obedient to God.

The Bible, though, is full of examples of people being obedient. Abraham placed Isaac on the altar because God asked him for obedience. Even Jesus was described as being obedient in His death on the cross. Like it or not, God does require obedience from us.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes the Old Testament use of the word as “to hear” and “to listen.” Really, that is what God asks of us; that we hear and listen. Often I hear, but I still struggle with following through. This week brought an example.

During my commute I listen to a Christian radio station that highlights a verse from the Bible each morning. Many times I hear the verse and then promptly forget it. Friday morning the verse was Isaiah 41:10. As I listened I thought “I should share this with my friend.” It didn’t make any sense as to why I should share it and I pondered what it could mean to her.

My friend is, as she describes it, a “brand new, baby Christian.” She is a coworker. I know little of what her life outside of work is like. Still, as I drove I questioned what good would be done by sharing this verse. As far as I knew it didn’t specifically speak to anything she had shared with me.

However, when I got to work I shot off a quick email to her with the verse and let her know I just felt like I should share it with her. As I walked by her desk a little while later she stopped me. She thanked me for sharing the verse. It was just what she needed to hear that day. She didn’t share specifics of how it spoke to her, just that the timing was perfect.

I told her the truth; I didn’t know why I should share it, just that I felt I should. She then thanked me for my obedience. I was humbled to think that God had used me. I was grateful that I had listened that day. God knew what she needed that day and He chose me to pass an important message along to her. If I had insisted on knowing why I should share the verse my friend wouldn’t have been blessed that day.

This incident was a good reminder for me. My obedience isn’t always about me. When I first heard the story of Abraham and Isaac I was tempted to believe that my obedience would always bring me good things, like rubbing the magic genie lamp. Today as I write this I know that my obedience isn’t all about me and I won’t always know what God is working through me, but that He is working.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

100 Moments in Time - Rose

It's been a while since I have posted a 100 Moments picture. In anticipation of the coming spring I wanted to share this with you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't Go to the Grave Your Song Still in You

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. ~Henry David Thoreau

I just returned from the Christian Writers Guild Writing for the Soul conference. This annual conference is a time for writers, editors, publishers, and agents to come together for encouragement, learning, and networking. This was my second time at the conference and I came away with a very long TO DO list of projects and things to work on to build my career. I also have new friends and connections in the writing world. Perhaps the most important, nay, the most important take-away was renewed fire in my heart for this life to which God has called me.

We had the pleasure of great key note speakers this weekend including Liz Curtis Higgs, Dennis Hensley, Brandilyn Collins, and Ken Davis. What amazing stories and advice they gave. I was so enthralled that I took very few notes. I just sat and absorbed, but several things stood out for me and I wanted to share one of them with you.

Ken Davis spoke of looking for signs of life. When he talked about sledding down a mountainside with his grandkids, flying his plane, and other adventures I couldn’t help but nod my head.

Some of you may remember 3 years ago when I had my Year of Living Adventurously. After my mom died much too young I realized I needed to stop living in fear and start living. I did what Ken referred to as looking for signs of life. I stepped out and tried new things. In that year I came to believe that we are meant to do more than just survive life. I believe we are to thrive in our lives.

Ken quoted Henry David Thoreau during this part of his keynote. Thoreau said “most mean lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.” We fail to live because we get caught up in the day to day. And, when we forget, we risk not singing the song that is ours to sing.

Looking for signs of life doesn’t have to mean living life on the edge of danger. It doesn’t have to mean traveling to exotic lands. It doesn’t even mean writing the next best seller.

It does mean taking time to enjoy this incredible world. We show signs of life when we step out and experience new things. It’s about being who God created us to be. Within each of us is a life that it completely unique and all God asks of us is to life that life. He wants us to sing our own song.

Where do you see signs of life your world?

Friday, February 11, 2011

What Can Separate You from the Love of God?

This is another repost from 2008, but the words are still true today.

Life snuck up on me all at once this week. It was really just little things, but so many of them that I began to feel overwhelmed with them. I have been waiting the outcome of an important decision this week and it didn’t come. For the first time ever I had to pay taxes at the end of the year and then found out that my electronic debit couldn’t go through and so I am late on my payment; now I owe interest and penalties. The same day I found that out I learned my debit card number had potentially been compromised. And then I came home to find the homeowner’s association had decided to paint the woodwork on my house green. Mind you, I do like green; I just don’t think it looks great or goes with the style of my house. All these things by themselves wouldn’t have been too bad, but they came all together and by the end of the week I just wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.

Do you ever have weeks like that? They are frustrating for sure. This morning I was reminded of the verse in Romans 8:31 - “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Such truth in that little verse. The things in this world often threaten to overwhelm us. Still, God is in control. I reminded myself that God knew what the answer to the decision would be even before I realized a decision needed to be made. He knew about all of the things that would hit me this week.

The trick to this verse is that knowledge of it isn’t enough. I can say all I want that if God be for us, who can be against us? Until I make that verse a part of me they are just words. Until I believe and accept that God controls all, the words just lie there in my mind. I have to take those words to heart, believe, and trust. When I do that the power begins to infiltrate my life. Romans 8:35-37 goes on to remind us:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

"For Your sake we are killed all day long;

We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Shall tribulation, distress, delayed decisions, late IRS payments, stolen bank card numbers, or crazy house paint separate us from the Lord? No, they cause bumps in our road, but they really don’t change the journey. We are still conquerors and God is still in control.

PS - The green has grown on me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It Blossomed into a Beautiful Thing: The story of a prince among men

Once upon a time in a magical land known as Southern Indiana there was a boy who fell in love with a girl. They married young and though life was hard, their love blossomed into a beautiful thing.

Shortly after, a baby girl was born and then a boy and another boy and another boy and another girl and another girl and another boy and another boy and another girl and another girl and another boy and another girl and another boy. Yep, you counted right – 13 in all, six girls and seven boys. They all lived happily together in a little house.

The man worked hard for nigh on 70 years to guide the family. The family prospered and grew.

Spouses were added and then a baby boy was born and then another baby boy and then a baby girl. Soon there were almost too many grandbabies to count.

Before the grandbabies were done being born more spouses were added. Then a baby girl was born. And soon more great-grandbabies came.

Over the years the family tree has grown strong and beautiful. The branches are full of leaves and the new buds continue.

The years have brought change but some things remain constant. That boy still loves that girl and it’s still a beautiful thing.

That boy is my grandpa and the girl is my grandma. This year they celebrate 70 years of marriage. I am so blessed to be a part of what my brother calls a rather large and wonderful family.

Grandpa will turn 94 years young next week. He is still the strong and true patriarch of the family.

From the start he worked hard. That included time in the Army during World War II, working for the highway department, and running the family farm. Possibly the hardest and definitely the most important job he has had was raising a family of 13 children.

As a child growing up I knew Grandpa mainly as a farmer, but I never really knew how hard he worked at that. Farming can be tough work. Grandpa has never shied away from hard work. When visiting the farm I would look at the fields of corn and not realize how much sweat equity those stalks represented for Grandpa. He was able to coax and nurture until the land produced its bounty.

I often tell people that even though I am a city girl farming blood runs through my veins. I do believe the life gets inside a person and takes root. Even after Grandpa “retired” and turned the farm over to my uncles he continued to head out to the fields each day. When his health problems began to slow him down he still got outdoors as much as possible. When I was home last year I was told that earlier in the day Grandpa had taken Uncle Allen out to the garden. He walked the rows of watermelons and tapped them with his cane. “This one’s ready, but leave that one; it’s not quite done yet.” Allen would pick the melons Grandpa indicated and put them in a wheelbarrow. It was just like Grandpa to do that.

Grandpa isn’t the most boisterous of people. He tells a good story, though. As I write this I can hear his unique timbre as he would tell stories of days gone by. I love the sound of his voice and that hasn’t changed over the years.

He is a man who is loved by many. One of my favorite pictures of Grandpa hangs in the kitchen/dining area of the farm house. In the picture Grandpa is sitting in his recliner and a bunch of grandkids are sitting in his lap and on the arms of the chair. The smiles on the faces of those kids and the smile that lights Grandpa’s face tell a story of a man who loves and is loved.

People are drawn to him because of that smile and his sweet, gentle nature. Not just family, mind you, but most everyone he meets. Grandpa was hospitalized this week and the report I got this morning was that the nurses are all sweet on him and are making sure he is well cared for. As my sister said, “How could they not be drawn to him?” As much as he nurtured the land and the crops, he has done the same with the people he meets.

Grandpa truly is an amazing man. I am blessed to be a part of the family he has created. As his birthday comes next week I am grateful that we have had him with us for so many years.

Happy Birthday (a little early) Grandpa! I love you!

PS – Grandma is amazing in her own right and someday soon I will tell you about the dynamo she is and how incredible it has been to grow up as her granddaughter!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Writers in a Vacuum

Writers can’t write in a vacuum. We need real life experience to hold up what we are writing. We need each other to support, critique, and comment on our work. Writers are people who need people. As that old song goes, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

This is the year that I am focusing on building my writing career so that means this is the year that I am also building my circle of writer friends. One of the things I have written about before is that I fear rejection and that makes it hard for me to let others read what I write. I do believe though, that God gave me this talent for a purpose and keeping my writing to myself really doesn’t fulfill God’s purpose. I began this blog in 2007 as a way to begin putting myself out there and working past the fear. That has helped. Still, I’ve been slow in building a circle of writer friends because of this fear.

To step out of my vacuum I attended a conference sponsored by the local chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers group. The conference was Saturday and the speaker was Karen Ball. Can I just say that I should have joined this group a long time ago? I enjoyed the energy in the group and I loved Karen!

Karen is Senior Acquisitions Editor at B&H Publishing Group and a multi-published novelist. She came in with an energy and spunk that kept the day moving and exciting. She was honest and open not only about her work, but also her own life and her faith. She was amazing! I came away with 2 of her books and am excited to read them.

The topic for the day was “Taming the Fiction Dragons”. It was full of things that any fiction writer who has studied the craft has heard or learned. The thing I loved about this was that she gave real examples. She demonstrated show versus tell in a way that brought new light to it for me. Her latent actor came out when she talked about how to make dialogue ring true. Her presentation wasn’t just lecture. It was a combination of information, demonstration, and interaction. I was enthralled throughout the full 8 hour day.

Having the pleasure of hearing Karen speak would have been worth the time and money spent, but I also got to meet some local writers. I will definitely be checking out the group that meets once a month and look forward to getting to know these folks better. It was fun to meet other writers and hear what they were working on, what their challenges are, and how they integrate -their writing with their day-to-day life.

All in all it was a fabulous day. Can you hear it? The vacuum has been broken and air is beginning to hiss in.

Friday, February 4, 2011

He's Not Heavy, He's my Brother: How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders

This is another repost from the now defunct blog for which I used to write. Next week I will be back with fresh posts for you. I am working on a series of posts on lessons I have learned about prayer.

Have you heard the story about the boy who was carrying his younger brother on his back when a friend said, “It must be hard carrying your brother. Surely he’s heavy.”

The boy responded, “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother!”

I imagine Jesus must say the same thing while he carries me through the tough parts of life. “She’s not heavy, she’s my sister.” Just as Jesus carries our burdens, Gal 6:2 encourages us to carry each other’s burdens. It’s an act of Christian love for us to help each other make our way through life.

I’ve had my own heavy weight to carry lately. All week it has been a struggle for me. I feel the weight of my burdens and from those I love. I have felt that the burden is being piled on me and I have cried out to God that I don’t want to continue bearing this weight.

It has felt oppressive and today I reached a point of frustration. In my car, on the highway I yelled and berated another drive because of some “fault” in his driving. Afterwards I felt defeated and small. With a huge sigh I declared to God, “I can’t do anymore.”

Still, the words from Galations haunted me. The Bible says to carry one another’s burdens and I was telling God that I couldn’t. I know that others have carried my burdens over the years and I want to be able to respond in kind.

I began to question God about why I was being asked to bear this much. Why doesn’t my load lighten and how can I continue when I am feeling worn out, tired, and frustrated?” Slowly, the light began to dawn. It always does when I slow down enough to listen to the still, small voice of God.

Once again I was trying to do it all myself. Like a three year old I was asserting “I can do it myself!” I am a strong person and can take on a lot. Sometimes I pride myself in that. At times like that I forget that my strength comes from God. He waits patiently until I finally get a clue. He gently reminds me that I can’t do it all and I don’t have to do it all. He is there to help.

He still wants me to be there for my loved ones as they deal with things that make their lives hard. He just doesn’t expect me to be there alone.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden in light. Matthew 11:28-30

I began to write this post and as I searched in the Bible for the passages that I have quoted I felt the burdens drop away. I felt my shoulders relax and my breathing slow and calm. I knew that I had finally been able to put down the weight I carry and it felt good. I had rest for my soul.

When I got up the next day I felt refreshed despite having little sleep. I was once again ready to face the world. I knew that my cares were being carried by God and I knew that would allow me to bear other’s burdens with love and kindness.

So, as you read this I encourage you to cast your burdens on Him. Let him help you carry the weight today and all days. He is there for you and He shares the weight of your burdens. He will give you rest for your soul as you allow Him to shoulder your burdens with you.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fallow Fields: Why You Need Down Time

I originally posted this in October 2008 on a blog I used to write for, but is no longer in existence.

A recent trip took me took me to the small farming community in Southern Indiana where my grandparents live. Grandpa is a farmer and has been all his life. I am a city girl, but over the years have learned a little about farming.

With the end of the summer growing season some of the fields are still full of their bounty and others have been harvested. All that remains in those harvested fields are the dried stalks of what was previously growing there. They are brown and seem somewhat desolate. They aren’t as vibrant and beautiful as fields in full bloom.
I spent a week in the area and drove by one such harvested field as I came and went from the place I was staying. Every time, the words of a song came to mind. It was written by Roger Hutley who was the Music Minister at the church I attended while living in Oregon. I can’t remember the whole song, but I do remember the song asking God to break up the fallow ground in my heart.

With these words running through my head I began to think about those fields that will lay fallow now for a season or more. This is a common practice in farming since it allows the soil to replenish itself of the nutrients that are depleted while crops are growing. Time is needed for nature to run its course and rebuild.

The fields don’t look pretty while they lay dormant. They lack the vibrancy and color of a crop in full bloom. We tend to think of the growing fields as more alive and active. Yet that’s not necessarily so. The rebuilding and replenishing is an active process and is just as important for the health of a crop.

Our lives are like fields. We have times of great produce and harvest. We blossom and grow. Our lives are productive and God is able to use us. Don’t we all wish our lives could look like that all the time?

The truth is that we need the fallow times. When we are full of life and energy we give and that depletes us. It is the fallowness of our lives at times that allow God to replenish us and rebuild. He is just as active in those times and we are better for that activity. It allows us to blossom again in season.

The seasons come and go in our lives the same as in nature. We need both growth and rest to live a full Christian life. The next time you are fallow search out those ways that God is working to restore you and remember the giving season will come again.