Bread and Jam for Francis. Along with a wide selection of Berenstain Bears books, that is the first book I can actually remember reading. I got it from the school library. That’s where I got most of my books until junior high. I was one of those students who took home the book club order sheets and painstakingly chose which books I wanted. I didn’t get them all. I rarely got them, but I studied those flyers just the same. To be honest, I still love to go through them, circling all the best children’s books and wishing I had an unlimited supply of money.
I can’t imagine a world without books. I’m a re-reader. It is with great pain that I part with a book I enjoyed. If it was just me, I wouldn’t mind a house full of books. More book shelves than chairs? Not a problem. You only need one comfy chair to enjoy a good book. My husband and children do not agree. So, I’ve known the pain of downsizing my collection. I keep only my absolute favorites. That’s going to change soon. My oldest son is getting married, and I’ve laid claim to his room for a writing office. In my space I will be able to have as many books as I want. Victory!
Books are my earthly treasure. They’re the material thing I value more than any other possession. Notice I do say possession. There are things I value more than books like faith and family. No matter how much a book has impacted my life, it will never be as important to me as those I love. There will never be a time when my passion for books is more important than people, not just those I love but people in general. My treasure has its place.
Treasure for Alison Schuyler in Where Treasure Hides by Johnnie Alexander is found in art, not books. As an artist herself, Alison has more than just an appreciation for art. It is her passion. Not only does she value the old masters of the art world, she also participates in the creation of artistic works. Whether sketched in her notebook or painted on a canvas, Alison’s works of art are an outpouring of her connections to the world around her.
Alison’s whole world revolves around her passion. The family art gallery located in the Netherlands at the start of World War II has been passed down through the years. With everything in her life depending on and springing from the art she treasures, Alison has learned to place it at the top in her priorities. That belief is challenged as Hitler’s reach begins to extend into her world. Alison is confronted by the harsh realities of life for those around her. While trying to protect the beautiful works of art men have created, Alison comes to understand the need to protect the works of art God has created in each individual. Finding love and experiencing loss and life-threatening dangers grows in Alison an understanding that every treasure has its rightful place.
What we treasure shows in how we live our lives. In the New Testament, the Pharisees would say they treasured God above all else. Until Jesus came, everyone accepted this almost without question. They were, after all, the religious leaders. They should have known more than anyone what it means to love God. But they were wrong.
Time and again Jesus confronted the Pharisees with the idea that they were treasuring the wrong things. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath and they corrected Him, Jesus reminded them loving people is more important than specific Sabbath rules. At one point he basically called them beautiful looking graves full of death. His point was that they said they treasured God, but their real treasure was in rule making and keeping. When the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 came to Jesus questioning the way to eternal life, Jesus started where he was in understanding. Jesus pointed out all the basic commandments and ended with loving your neighbor as yourself. The rich young ruler assured Jesus that he had kept all these laws since his childhood. This is where Jesus turns the young man from what he understands to the deeper truth. He tells the man to sell all his goods and give them to the poor. The man leaves disappointed.
Why? Because he couldn’t take Jesus’ message that loving Him was more than living with a constant spiritual to-do list. I’m sure that for the most part the young man did keep the letter of the law. The law says don’t lie. I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell the whole truth.
The man was following law, but he wasn’t following God in his heart. The heart goes further than the law. Following God in your heart is what Jesus referenced in Matthew 5:21-28. He pointed to the written law and then urged people to look at what the law really meant in relation to being right with God. Jesus used these challenge to show them and us that following Him is about more than the exact written law. It’s about the heart. It’s about what the heart treasures.
By the Book: Read the passages referenced above. What do you treasure most?
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
The afternoon was hot. The sun beat down. However, the evening brought a cool breeze.
Waves of heat rose from her cheek, blistered by the merciless afternoon sun hours before. Only the cool evening breeze brushing across it offered brief relief from the unquenchable flame.
Both paragraphs give the same information. The day went from hot to cool as afternoon became evening. The first paragraph is functional. It gives facts. We’ve all experienced a hot afternoon and a cool evening breeze. But reading facts doesn’t draw the experience out of your memory. It doesn’t make you picture it or feel it.
The second paragraph shows you the effects of that hot afternoon. It creates a picture in your mind. You can relate to it because you’ve felt a sunburn. You know how relief feels whether through a cool breeze or aloe. And you know how quickly that relief fades, leaving heat waves to rise off your skin again. You can see and feel the heat of this imaginary day because the paragraph does more than give you facts. It shows you the story.
Showing versus telling. It’s drilled into the minds of writers in every book and conference. It’s a little thing with a huge impact. Do you want people to simply read your story? Or would you rather they get drawn into the story, reacting to each scene through the connections you create?
With a plethora of books, classes, and workshops on the craft of telling versus showing, we should be experts. We’ve listened to and agreed with the teaching. We’ve implemented the lessons. And then, when we think we’ve outgrown it, we find ourselves slipping back into old habits. That last scene lacks the ability to draw in the reader. We’ve reverted to telling instead of showing. And with that change, we’ve lost the interest of the reader.
Showing rather than telling is vitally important for writers but not only for them. It’s a necessary skill for believers as well. We talk a good game. In our efforts to “go into all the world and preach the gospel”, we memorize John 3:16. We can tell the story of how sin separates us from God. We share how helpless we are to correct our current situation. Praise God that we don’t have to, because He sent Jesus to take the punishment of death that we owe. We can use the Roman road of salvation to help someone each step of the way. We can lead them in a heartfelt sinner’s prayer of repentance. We welcome them to the family and rejoice that they are now reconciled with God. We’re good at these things. We’re good at the telling of faith and love. And please believe me, I understand their importance and am not making light of them. But as with writing, we lose can lose impact if all we have is words.
God gave His people in the Old Testament very specific ways to live. He didn’t do it to hinder them. He did it to make them stand out. He wanted the world to see the difference He made in their lives. If the Old Testament serves as a physical example of the spiritual truth of the New Testament, a foreshadowing of the time during and after Jesus’ ministry, then isn’t the lesson of being different one we should take seriously?
God is love. Scripture says so. God’s love is unconditional, unchanging, and does what is best even when it’s hard. God’s love is active. It sent Jesus to the cross in our place. It meets people where they are without letting them excuse or continue sinful behavior. It changes lives. Can we say the same for our love? We can say God is love. But are we limiting ourselves to telling the world this or do we strive to show it in our actions each day?
Faith is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”. It is “by grace you have been saved through faith”. Faith is more than knowing something to be true. It is taking that belief so far into yourself that it changes the way you think and act. Knowledge that a bridge will let you cross a river safely does you no good if you don’t believe it deeply enough to step onto the bridge and cross the water. James 2:17-18 says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’.” James was saying without action to back it up, you’re telling faith and not showing it. He goes even further to say that when you do this faith is dead. The faith isn’t rooted deeply enough to cause action, and without action, it loses its power.
As believers, it’s time we learn the lesson of the writer. It’s time to learn how to show our faith and love rather than simply telling the message.
By the Book: Like a writer, do you find yourself slipping into old habits and telling more than showing your faith and love? Consider what causes this in your life. Are there any ways you can safeguard yourself against slipping into telling when those times come up?
Welcome to Main Character Monday. It’s a little different than my regular blog posts, a little more lighthearted. But stick with it, and you just might find some characters you’d like to read more about. And even though it isn’t my usual devotional style, you may still come away with an encouraging word from the Word. I hope you enjoy MainCharacter Monday!
Today’s Guest is Anne Carty from Keeper of Coin by Mary Kay Tuberty. Thank you for joining me.
It is a pleasure to come to know you Heather.
What is your favorite book of the Bible from both the Old and New Testament?
Genesis, for sure. Each evening back home in Ireland, my father read to us from the bible. He began with the first chapter of Genesis. We children heard the words so many times that as he began with ‘In the beginning…’ we recited the rest along with him. Ah my, that is one of my dearest memories of home. I can hear their sweet voices now.
In the New Testament, there is no question: the story of Jesus’ birth from the book of Luke. Father held it so special, he read it only on Christmas Eve, and we all treasured the words.
Those sound like wonderful family memories. If you could meet anyone from scripture, not including Jesus, who would it be?
Jesus’ mother. I have always wondered about her. She was so young. Did her mother help her with the baby? Could she cook? And how did she bear the heartbreak of her sons’ death?
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about Mary that way. What kind of mother was she on a day to day basis? That’s a great idea to think about. Jesus had twelve disciples. Which one do you feel you are most like?
I suppose it would be Thomas. Like him, I am forever questioning. When my father said go to America, bring your brothers and sisters out to join you, I doubted I could accomplish the task. Unlike Thomas, though, I was afraid to ask too many questions and simply did his bidding. I am not sure which of us Jesus would prefer.
I’m so thankful Jesus understands both the questioner and the one who sometimes fears bringing the questions to him. And it’s wonderful when he answers the questions we’re afraid to ask.
Jesus says we are to be His light in the world. What does this mean to you?
In my position as shop girl in Dempseys Bakery, I endeavor to treat each customer who comes through the door as a child of God. I must say it is not always an easy task. Thank you for reminding me Heather, I will begin early tomorrow morning, attempting to be Jesus’ light.
If you could give one message to those reading this interview, what would you tell them?
Leaving my brothers and sisters behind in Ireland and sailing off to America felt like ripping away parts of my skin, surely it was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I work hard to fill every moment of my day or else I would be in a constant state of weeping for missing them all.
Sounds like you really have a heart for your family. I wish you well in your efforts to bring them to you in America.
Just for Fun:
Dark or Milk Chocolate? I had never tasted chocolate until I came to America, but Mary Dempsey’s dark chocolate frosting is a wonderful thing to behold. When I have an opportunity to taste milk chocolate, I’ll let you know my favorite.
Roses or Daisies? Daisies bloom in profusion everywhere in St. Louis. They are so cheerful and colorful I just love them. Though my customers tell me many ladies in the city grow roses and some compete to cultivate new varieties, I have seen but few of them.
Salad or Soup? Soup. Thanks to our wonderful cook, Mary, we often enjoy tasty soup here at Dempseys. Salad is another new taste I am only now beginning to appreciate.
If you, Anne Carty, could describe Mary Kay Tuberty in three words, what would those words be?
Serious and hard-working, like her great-grandmother. However, I do believe she is more accustomed to idleness and frivolous pursuits than I’ve ever had an opportunity to experience. (Sorry I’ve replied with more than three words. I am an Irish girl, you know.)
I want to thank Anne Carty for joining me today. If you would like to find out more about Anne’s story, Keeper of Coin by Mary Kay Tuberty is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book forms. While you’re there, you can also pick up the other two books in the Carty sisters trilogy, Keeper of Trust and Keeper of Flame.
I don’t know who I am. I’m not speaking philosophically. I’m referring to a literal understanding of my family roots. There’s supposed to be a lot of German in my family tree on my dad’s side. And on my mom’s side there is a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, which is just a fancy way of saying I have German speaking immigrants in my ancestry. But somewhere along the line, I’ve also heard I may have Irish, English, and even a tiny drop of Native American DNA.
As a child, I wanted the Irish part to outweigh the German part. No offense to anyone with German heritage, but there wasn’t anything I knew about Germany that made me want to identify with it. On the other hand, I loved everything I believed symbolized Ireland. I loved the idea of fair skin and red hair. Green was my favorite color. And I wished with everything in me that I could speak with an Irish accent. I mean, who wouldn’t want to speak with an Irish accent, right? But as little as I know about my family history, I do know my childhood hope was an impossible dream. I know German DNA plays a part in who I am more than any other DNA out there. But I still don’t know who my ancestors were or what their stories would tell me.
One day when life’s demands are not as great, maybe I’ll find out more. I doubt it would change my life in a drastic way, but you never know. Seeing their stories played out could lead to new understandings about myself or even my circumstances.
This was definitely the case for Abby in Saratoga Letters by Elaine Marie Cooper. In fact, it was so true that the book itself is really two stories in one. Part historical and part contemporary fiction, Cooper did a wonderful job drawing me into both stories and keeping me engrossed until the end where she allowed me to see the complete picture.
Set in Saratoga during the Revolutionary War, the first half of the book tells the story of a young woman named Abigail whose Loyalist uncle forces her to work in a hospital for the British army. Through her time of service, Abigail must carefully guard the secret of her true allegiance. And while she wishes to see the war won and the British leaving the colonies, her time tending the wounded changes her perspective about the enemy. She sympathizes with their losses, and she learns to befriend and even love them for who they are as people. Her time isn’t without struggle though. She is plagued by fear of being found out, but fear of her uncle keeps her silent. She faces dangers too, as a woman in a camp filled with men who haven’t seen home in far too long. Abigail’s experiences are enough to fill a book in themselves, but thankfully, the author didn’t agree.
It’s in the contemporary second half of the book that we finally meet Abby. She’s like a lot of us. She’s trying to live her life. She doesn’t have time to dig into her family’s past. The little she does know has been passed down through her father, and it’s her love for him that sends her to a celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga after his death. Abby learns a lot about the general history surrounding her family’s involvement in the war, but it’s what she doesn’t know that takes her time in Saratoga from relaxing vacation to deadly excursion. When the past threatens her future, Abby has to figure out the rest of the story before it’s too late.
I doubt any of us would have our lives altered as drastically by our ancestry as Abby does, but that doesn’t mean the past doesn’t play a part in who we become. And the past’s ability to shape our future doesn’t stop with our physical DNA. Each believer also has a spiritual ancestry. While it includes those of faith in our family trees, our shared ancestry comes from scripture. We have a spiritual heritage recorded for us and passed down through the years. God means it to shape and direct our lives today in a real way. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us the entirety of scripture has been given by God for our “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that God wants His followers to learn about Him and the history of our faith. It’s been clear since the beginning that while He doesn’t want us to live in the past, He does want us to remember it and learn from it. When we study the Old Testament, we find God’s people instructed to set up 12 memorial stones after crossing the Jordan. They did this so when future generations asked what the stones meant, the story of God’s provision would be passed on. Festivals were set by God to help His people remember the ways He intervened in their lives. The Passover and Purim recounts God’s salvation of the people. And in the New Testament, when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples for the last time, He instructed them to “do this in remembrance of Me.”
And the great thing about our spiritual heritage is that we don’t have to work hard to find it. We don’t have to shell out a hundred bucks and a swab of our DNA to know what God wants us to know about Him or faith. We don’t have to spend hours scouring web sites and pouring over the faded writings of long gone ancestors. Our spiritual heritage is as easily accessible as the nearest Bible.
By the Book: Have you given any thought to your spiritual heritage? Have you let it change your life?
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” Anne Lamott
Next year is my twenty-five year high school reunion. Other than making me feel older than I think I am, it brings to mind all the writing I did in those years. I have a three ring binder I’ve kept through the years that holds most of what I wrote. There’s the paper I wrote about Walt Disney and the play that won judge’s choice in a local writing contest. There are the poems that prompted my senior English teacher to comment that there must be a dark humorist lurking inside me. (In my defense, I was going through a pretty angsty time that year.) I think there may even be a short story I wrote in grade school called “The Case of the Missing Idea”. Catchy title, huh?
Occasionally I’ve re-read these great masterpieces, and do you know what I’ve found? They aren’t great, and they definitely aren’t masterpieces. Some of them are quite laughable. Some are decent, but I’ve grown as a writer since those days. I’ve become more proficient technically, and I’ve developed in my ability to tell a good story. Improvement in the craft of writing is to be expected if someone writes with regularity. It would be odd if I didn’t continue to grow as I continued to write.
Even in a single piece of writing, one expects growth from the first draft to the last edit. A good story can be shaped into a great one if the author is willing to work with it. My first draft of Faith’s Journey is very different from the finished product. As I wrote, trusted friends and the members of the writers’ group I’m in offered feedback at regular intervals. Some of the feedback was geared toward the themes and overall effect of the story. Other comments were more technical in nature. I implemented some suggestions. Others I passed on.
There was one specific piece of advice I remember passing on. Near the beginning of the story, group members felt there were two chapters where the story lagged. I kept them in as I sent my manuscript to the publisher. Sure, the chapters were a little lighter on action, but they held important information. Imagine my surprise when one of the first things the publisher asked me to do was get rid of or revamp those exact chapters. I should have listened in the first place. I have learned from that mistake. I re-wrote those chapters, and I found they were completely right. Once combined, the chapters still gave the information I wanted, but the way it was done kept the story from being slowed down. The result was a stronger story than I began with.
It’s a lesson that runs parallel to our faith walks. When we accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the punishment for our sins and begin a relationship with God, we don’t start off as the saints we want to be. Scripture tells us we start as babies learning the simple lessons of our faith. The Holy Spirit inside us gently guides us and corrects us. He shows us truths from scripture and helps us implement those truths in our lives.
But we can’t stay in that starting place forever. Just as it would be odd if I were to write regularly yet remain at the same level of proficiency I was in high school, it should be odd to us when we see someone who professes a relationship with God that does not grow through the years. It should be more than odd if we are that person. It should be a red flag that all is not right in our spiritual lives.
Paul told the Hebrew church in Hebrews 5 that they were not growing like they should. He said they were stuck with the simple teachings of faith and not progressing into the deeper ideas of faith. Other verses tell us we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and that as we grow from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood we put away the childish things.
To remain unchanged in our writing probably means we won’t have a very long or successful writing career. To remain stagnant in our faith has devastating effects. With spiritual growth comes greater spiritual understanding. With that understanding comes greater discernment to protect us from sinful teachings and temptations. When we fail to recognize sin as sin, we allow it into our lives where it stands between us and God. We begin to follow the world in our beliefs and desires instead of God.
It isn’t just us our lack of growth can affect. Matthew 5 speaks of our mission to show God to the lost in the world. Several scriptures implore us to live in ways so foreign to the world that the people we come in contact with can’t help seeing the difference. In this way, doors are opened to share our faith and bring God glory. Which friend or family member in our lives might miss the chance to have a relationship with God because they don’t see the difference God makes in us?
By the Book: What time do you spend trying to grow as a writer? What do you do to encourage that growth? How much time do you put into growing in faith? What has helped you grow?
I need your help. Think about your favorite book characters. What makes them your favorites? Do they share a common trait, talent, or temperament? Do all your favorite characters herd sheep or make origami? Do they all come from the deep south or from the wilds of the Alaskan wilderness? Do you favor the blonde hair, blue eyes, and golden tan of the stereotypical surfer? Maybe you prefer auburn hair and green eyes?
If you’re like me, your favorite characters are probably not chosen because of any of the criteria above. Instead, you choose your favorite characters based on, well, their character. Maybe you choose your favorites because they are shining examples of what a believer should be. They have unshakeable faith in the midst of challenging circumstances. They choose the right path, even when tempted toward the wrong one. They are champions of the faith, and you can’t help applauding their ability to live God’s way on every page.
Maybe these are the characters you are drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I am not. I actually find them a little discouraging. We all know those believers in real life who seem to have it all together. In our heads we know they have to mess up sometimes, but we never see it. Everything they say and do is the perfect extension of their faith. I’m happy for them. Really I am. I’m glad they have it all together. But that’s not my life.
I mess up all the time. I’m not proud of it. I don’t want it to be that way, but I don’t have it all together. Being around the people who do or who present the public picture of perfection only serves to highlight how far I am from where I should be. Why can’t I seem to get it together like they have? I love God. I have faith. I want to be the person He wants me to be. So, what’s the problem? It can be discouraging in real life, and I’m not drawn to it in the characters I love either.
I want to read about characters I relate to. I want to be encouraged through reading about God using someone who gets as much wrong as they get right. I want to see God using the willing person, even if the willing person is sometimes guilty of rushing ahead of God or being hesitant to move at all. I want to see God redeem a sinful past or present when the character has repented of their sin. I want to see God working in the life of a character who sometimes struggles with their faith when the going gets tough. I can relate to these people, and I find it encouraging. Their faults seal them in my reader’s heart.
But don’t I want to read about people who exemplify the same wholesomeness and holiness as the heroes of faith from scripture? Yes, I do. That’s why I’m drawn to the flawed character. I love the one who struggles with too much ego and impulsiveness only to be tempered through trials like Peter. My heart aches for the one who has to deal with painful, guilt inducing consequences of previous sin and still keep moving forward in their faith like Paul. And as mad as his actions make me, I can’t help finding encouragement in the fact that a man who would sleep with another man’s wife, connive to cover up his sin, and then arrange to have her husband killed when he’s too honorable to comply is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart. David became one of the most adored kings of Israel, even though he acted despicably during the whole Bathsheba incident. And looking past their failures, you can find why he and the others are heroes of the faith despite their imperfections.
When Nathan confronted David with his sin, David was heartbroken. Psalm 51 describes the depth of pain he felt over his sin and how intense his desire was to be purged of that sin and reconciled with God. When Peter’s eyes were opened to the way he betrayed Jesus in denying Him, Peter was distraught. He wept over his sin. He longed to be restored. Paul didn’t hide from his past sins. In fact, he claimed them as an example to others. He listed his spiritual pedigree that should have set him apart as holier than thou, but reminded his readers that those things were not of God at all. They were against God and worthless in respect to the real relationship with God that he came to have.
These are the reasons such broken failures are faithful heroes. Their desires for godliness were strong even when their flesh was weak. These heroes didn’t have it all together, but they had faith. They had repentant hearts, and they desired to move past their failures and let God use them. God honored that desire in their lives. And since He is the same God today that He was then, I find encouragement in their stories knowing He will do the same in my life. That’s the kind of character I love, and that’s the kind of character I want to be.
By the Book: Which true stories of the faith do you find most encouraging? If someone wrote a book about your life, what kind of character would you be?
“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary. How potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Think of the most influential book you’ve ever read. It could be non-fiction, but often, fictional works are just as powerful in their ability to impact readers. Disguised as entertainment, the fiction author’s message comes in a user friendly package. The trappings of the story invite us into worlds created especially for the story. We are introduced to characters we relate to or despise depending on their purpose. We are drawn in, and when we’ve become fully immersed in the story, the message takes on meaning we might have otherwise tuned out. Truths about life, love, and even faith are sweetened with the sugar of realistic characters and intriguing plot lines, and we swallow them down without the battle that would otherwise ensue if the points were blatantly shoved down our throats.
It’s not that we’re ignorant to what is happening. We aren’t powerless to stop it or tricked into accepting an idea we don’t agree with. We’re being shown a picture and left to determine how it is going to affect us. Sometimes the impact is in the characters. We see a belief or quality in them that we hunger to have in ourselves, and we come away looking for ways to embrace it in our own lives. Other times it’s the theme of the story that speaks to us and leaves us challenged to grow in ways we haven’t considered or possibly fought against.
The words of a writer can be powerful. They can confuse or enlighten. They can challenge or convince us there isn’t a reason to try. Understanding this is essential for writers, especially for those who are choosing to infuse their faith into their writing. We have a responsibility that other writers don’t necessarily share. We become teachers as we let our writing become an outgrowth of our faith. James 3:1 cautions that those who teach others should be careful because they will be judged more strictly. It’s not said to scare us away from sharing the things God has shown us. Instead, it is to safeguard the gospel from those who would treat it lightly and then go on to share those twisted teachings as truth to others leading them down a dangerous path.
But maybe you don’t write or teach. Your words are still powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life can be found in our words. Ephesians has a command for all believers to keep away from corrupting talk and only speak those things that would be good to build others up. James talks about the power of the tongue and the difficulty we face in trying to keep it under control. There are several verses worthy of being highlighted, but I think Matthew 15:18 gives us the perfect verse to consider. And it doesn’t have to do with the results of our words but where they come from in the first place. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles the person.”
By the Book: Based on your words, what is in your heart?