By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Month: September 2019

What I’m Reading: In Pursuit of an Emerald

I’ve got four amazing kids. I know, every parent says their kids are amazing. They’re probably right. I don’t know their kids, but I know mine. They are amazing. This isn’t to say they’re perfect. I can’t say I agree with all of their life choices or beliefs. And while those things matter to me and I spend time in prayer for them every day, my kids don’t have to be perfect to be amazing.

It amazes me how different they are from each other. There are physical traits linking them together, some more than others. There are looks and attitudes they have that mirror each other. But they are each very much their own person. They grew up in the same house. Their father and I had the same set of core beliefs we tried to instill in each one. But they still turned out remarkably different from each other, and I find that amazing.

Two are athletic. Two couldn’t care less about sports of any kind. All of them are creative though two focus more on the written word, one focuses on music and art, and one tends to put it all together. One is book smart, given to the role of student. The others are just as smart but not given to the strict structure of a traditional classroom. One has a natural talent to business that the others don’t possess. One is completely organized making lists while another flies by the seat of his pants. They are each their own unique person, and I love them for it.

A parent’s love and parenting style is as varied and complex as their children. Each child’s personality plays a role in how a parent chooses to encourage and discipline them. But a parent’s past can also make a difference in how they approach parenting.  Just ask Viollette McMillan, the main character from Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock’s book In Pursuit of an Emerald.

Viollette has a lot to overcome, not the least of which is parenting her child when her child believes Viollette is her older sister and not her mother. Emerald’s childhood years were spent as a slave on a plantation before the Civil War made her and Viollette free. Viollette’s decision to pass her daughter off as her younger sister was born of a desire for safety for both of them, but it has come with a hefty price of guilt.

As Viollette and Emerald struggle to learn what it means to be free in the post-Civil War south, they fight fear of the past, concern for the future, and long held prejudices. They even find it difficult knowing who to trust. Though it’s supposed to be a new world for them, many negative attitudes from the past still burn in those who could do them great harm.

While learning to navigate the confusing times, Viollette yearns for the mother-daughter relationship to grow between her and Emerald. Stretching her wings as an adolescent, Emerald equally wants the mother she doesn’t think she can have and the ability to think and act for herself. Secrets and regret often cloud Viollette’s attempts to parent her child. She wants what’s best for Emerald. Everything she does is to better Emerald’s future, but the past keeps all the dreams she has for her child out of reach. With everything falling apart around her, Viollette has to face the past and embrace truth if she’s ever going to realize the dreams she has for the daughter who means so much to her.

By the Book: Parents, even the most well-meaning Christian parents, make mistakes. Our past experiences color the way we see the world and often impact the way we raise our children. Our sins, both those we’ve sought forgiveness for and those we have yet to purge from our lives, can create difficult circumstances to overcome in our efforts to be the best parents we can be. The influence of society can also be a roadblock to effective, godly parenting by telling us we need to do this or avoid that without any respect to what God tells us about the same subjects. But through His word, God’s given us what we need to be godly parents. He’s given us His Spirit to guide us in our decisions if we’ll listen to Him. And when we mess up, isn’t it great to know we are covered by grace and mercy? Our parenting mistakes can’t hurt our children beyond God’s ability to set things right. And if we have a heart to raise our children according to His word, God will be faithful to show us how best to parent each of our amazing children.

New Beginnings

“’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.”

– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Pen writing once upon a time on blank paper

It never fails. The sudden flip of the switch turning on the light bulb of an awesome idea comes when you’re smack dab in the middle of your current project. You may grab a notebook and jot it down for later or even take the time to type out the opening paragraphs to use when your time is your own. But first things first, you have to finish what you’re working on. You’ve got a deadline and a blank page to fill.

In my last post, I discussed the difficulty of endings and that anxious feeling one gets when the end is in sight but still unreached. When you’ve got a new project waiting, the feeling intensifies. You’ve tried to purge it from your mind so you can continue on with your Work In Progress, but it calls to you from where it’s hidden in the dark corner of your mind. You keep telling it to hush until finally, your WIP is complete. You’re free of the deadlines and free to pursue a new WIP.

You approach your idea file almost bursting with anticipation. You flip through each possibility wanting to make the right choice. All the voices of all the ideas shout for your attention, but one invariably raises its voice above the others. This is the idea you choose to pursue. The others slink back to their hiding spots in those dark corners of your mind, pouting until their turn finally comes.

You turn on your laptop and open your word processing program. A blank page fills the screen full of possibilities and waiting to be full of life. The cursor blinks in anticipation of the words that will soon cover the page. It’s time. The idea steps into the light, and its energy courses through you and into your fingertips loosing itself through each touch of the keyboard.

Worlds take shape. Fully formed characters emerge to take their place on the stage your idea created. Characters and plot step in time together creating a beautiful dance of tension and resolution in the ballroom of your setting. It’s a passionate dance that will leave future readers steeped in emotion and fully invested in it. The story becomes a thing of unrivaled beauty. And it all starts with a new beginning.

By the Book: With the three books in Katie’s story complete, I find myself at a place of beginning. I love Katie’s story, but I can’t deny the fresh dose of excitement I feel for my new WIP. Starting something new can be scary, but it can also infuse your life with new energy and excitement. If you’re facing a new beginning with trepidation but know it is where God would have you, pray for Him to reveal aspects of this change that you can be excited about. Ask Him to give you a different perspective about this new adventure and fill you with hope and anticipation for it.

Endings

Chalkboard with the end written on it

It is finished. At the beginning of August I turned in book three in Katie’s story to the publisher. I’ll have edits to complete once the editor has finished with it, but Katie’s story has reached its conclusion. There will be no more days filling in the blanks for her. She has her ending, and I hope everyone thinks it’s a worthy one for her.

When I started writing Faith’s Journey (and at the beginning that’s not even what it was called), the words poured out of my fingertips into my laptop. I was excited to sit down each day and put her story on paper. By the end of Faith’s Journey I had read my own words often enough that I was dull to it, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for beginning the next chapter of her story with Grasping Hope.

The second story was harder to write, but I still found myself enthusiastic for the telling. And as I grew close to the finish line, I again found myself ready to reach the end. I was more than ready to begin the final installment of the telling of Katie’s life.

Looking back at Faith’s Journey and Grasping Hope, I now realize I didn’t know how hard writing could be at times. Relentless Love pushed me further than the other two books. I looked forward to giving readers an end to Katie’s story. Excitement to see where her story took her and the growth she would experience kept me at my computer, but the final piece to her story was the hardest to write. Why?

I think part of it stems from the anxiousness I feel to have the story completed. By the time I got to the final chapters of each book, there was an unsettled feeling in me. I’d read my own words enough times that I needed distance from them. And, like any long journey, the last few miles from home seem to take the most time to complete. You know the destination is close, you want nothing more than to reach the destination, and the miles you can cover so swiftly in your mind do not go so quickly in reality. I’m finding the same anxiousness as I travel the last few chapters to each book I write. The end is close enough I can almost touch it, but not quite.

This feeling played into the writing of Relentless Love, but it was more complicated than that. There was added pressure going into the last book of the series. Knowing it was the conclusion to Katie’s story, I wanted it to be the finale everyone needed. We met so many people along the journey, and I didn’t want to leave readers in limbo about how their lives ended up. I wanted Katie’s story to be true to life and show her growth in a way we could relate to it. And after all she went through, I knew Katie’s story should end on a positive note. All this played through my mind as I wrote Relentless Love making it the most difficult of the three to write.

Endings can be hard whether we’re talking about writing or life. Fear can threaten to spiral out of control when we unexpectedly lose a job or face a deadly diagnosis. Anything that makes us turn from our current direction without warning or want on our part can settle like weight on our shoulders. It can affect our interactions with others, our self-esteem, and our outlook.

Even when it’s something we desire, stepping from the known to the unknown can be difficult. To leave a job we don’t like for a new one seems easy, but it can cause unease. If we’ve been at the job any length of time, we may not like it but we will have gained a level of understanding of how things work there. To leave this known entity, no matter how bad, and begin again in a new environment can be unnerving. Our joy at the possibility of something much better is tempered with the hesitation of moving into new territory.

While it may be natural to struggle with these issues when coming to the end of things, we don’t have to fall under the weight of the struggle. As Christians, we have scriptural promises to turn to for comfort and strength. With access to the internet, we can easily find God’s promises to us in any situation we face. Simply focusing on the character of God as seen in His word can bring peace, hope, and strength for the endings we face. Taking time with Him each day can change our perspective and help us go with grace through whatever we face.

I would issue a word of caution about relying on others to point you to your hope whether it’s an internet search, your pastor’s sermon, or even this blog. It’s easy to find a verse in scripture to back up anything we want to believe. We are responsible to keep God’s word in context. An individual scripture has to be taken in light of the whole to find its true meaning. To do this, we have to do what Timothy says and study the Word to be able to understand the Word.

What I’m Reading: Faith and Hope

I am the youngest of three and the only girl in my family. It was rough growing up with two older brothers who thought they knew it all and believed there was little use for a sister other than trying to traumatize her with scary stories, spiders, and snakes. I was the annoying one who wouldn’t leave them and their friends alone. In my defense, their friends were the only ones that came to the house. Who else was I supposed to play with?

Like most siblings I’ve met, we saw each other through the lenses of our own experiences. My oldest brother was the one who got rewarded for grades that my other brother and I got naturally. My middle brother was the one who got away with anything because my mom and dad thought he was perfect. Both of them got to do fun chores because they were boys, while I got stuck inside washing dishes and cleaning toilets. Of course, to them I was the little princess who got off easy due to being the only girl and the baby of the family.

These perceptions mixed with our differing personalities created plenty of drama while we were growing up. They can still create drama now, though it’s less frequent and far less intense than it was when we were children.  Now, it tends to stay at fun-loving ribbing and recounting the woes of childhood. But back then? Our differences could have started a new world war.

Faith and Hope, the sisters in Amy Anguish’s book by the same name, are just like the rest of us. Faith sees her younger sister Hope as one in need of growing up. When Hope is all-but forced to spend the summer with her, Faith steps into the role of mother whether Hope needs one or not.

Hope doesn’t need a mother. She needs a new job that fits with her plans for her future. She especially doesn’t need a mother like Faith whose dreams have effortlessly fallen into place for as long as she remembers. There’s nothing more frustrating that struggling to see your dreams become a reality when everywhere you look you see them coming true for others.

Their differences create tension and drama for the sisters as they struggle to learn how to get along as adults living in the same home. But things are not always as they seem, and the close proximity forces Faith and Hope to see things below the surface in each other’s lives. As they gain new understanding of the events going on in each other’s lives, Faith and Hope have a new opportunity to learn how to appreciate each other and forge a friendship that reaches beyond their differences.

It’s an opportunity we all have in life whether we have siblings or not. Biases based on our own perceptions are easily seen in siblings, but they enter into all areas of life. At work and church we see people and make assumptions. This person is unfriendly and to be avoided. That person has everything they’ve ever wanted handed to them on a silver platter and doesn’t know how to work for anything. We look at one facet of their lives and determine whether they are worth our friendship, trust, and time.

While we do this, they do the same with us, and we all miss the opportunities God may be trying to give us. Differences don’t have to be bad. Working together with other personalities can provide balance we lack. And that cranky person we avoid like the plague? When we take the time to get to know her, we may find she’s overworked and underpaid and feeling like she’s in over her head. Alleviate her suffering or simply walk beside her, and you may find a completely different person than you originally thought existed. You may find a friend to walk beside you too.   https://www.amazon.com/Faith-Hope-Amy-R-Anguish/dp/1945094834/

Life of Pie

“Worshiping God is for all our moments, but we often divide our devotion to God. Compartmentalizing life like slices of pie, we offer Him one slice and keep the rest for ourselves.” – Holy in the Moment by Ginger Harrington

I love the way Ginger creates such an understandable, vivid image. I picture a sweet, tangy lemon pie covered in meringue with perfectly toasted peaks. I see my knife’s point cutting it, first into fourths, then eighths. Each piece exactly the same size. Each piece ready for those waiting to savor that summery flavor.

Reality varies from my perfect slice of pie dreams. The pieces aren’t ever exactly the same size. One is invariably smaller, or at least it always seemed that way when I was the only girl with two older brothers vying for the best piece of whatever dessert our mother made to accompany supper. Were we the only children who suddenly became scientists, measuring each dessert offering with perfect precision, paying attention to height, width, and depth in order to ensure all were equal? Could we be the only ones who judged the separate components of the dish to make sure the piece we grabbed wasn’t the one that was overdone or underdone but just right? That it had the perfect amount of chocolate chips or nuts? It was of vast importance to feel like what we received was equal if not better than what our siblings received.

When my own children did the same, I realized desserts don’t cut evenly. There is always a fraction of an inch difference. What each child was given was essentially equal whether they wanted to believe it or not. Hopefully, I’ve had an increase in manners since childhood and don’t demand the “best” for myself but instead give those I’m with the first choice. In inconsequential things I hope I think of others more than self. I pray it happens in the truly important situations too.

But it’s about more than my attitude toward others. Ginger’s quote makes me consider whether I do the same to God. Do I hoard my time, allotting Him only what I feel I have to spare? Often I’ve looked at ideas like these and thought they pointed to the Sunday morning Christian. Through the week, they may be good people, but they reserve all thoughts of what God might want for Sunday morning services. Their work and faith don’t intersect. Their family and faith don’t work in cooperation on a daily basis. Faith is only wielded when it benefits. “Children obey your parents”, flows from the tongue with surprising  ease considering it’s the only time His word is really given place in their Monday through Saturday lives.  

When I looked at the idea of worshiping God with our lives, I would consider the Sunday morning Christian and walk away with a false sense that the message wasn’t for me. I believe my faith should enter into every decision, my values, and the way I conduct myself every day wherever I am. As a Christian writer, I have a strong belief that my God-given talents and passions can be put to best use when they bring glory and honor to the Giver of those gifts. That being the case, I must be fine. Message received and applied. Right?

Not necessarily. When I stop to consider the actual pie and the way my siblings and I painstakingly reviewed each piece to find the absolute best, I’m struck by two truths that are not easy to swallow. The difference between what is and what should be tends to get stuck on the way down.

My siblings and I painstakingly judged each piece of dessert looking for the absolute best. Do I spend that same amount of effort giving God my absolute best at all times. He’s not the God of leftovers. He’s not the God of good enough.  He gave His all for me, and I should look to do no less for Him. Galatians 2:20 states it this way, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Am I guilty of neglecting Christ in me during any part of my life? Have I forgotten the direction in Philippians chapter two that I should have the mind of Christ in all areas of my life? Have I made myself of no reputation in order to look to the needs of others before myself? Have I adopted the heart of a servant faithfully in each thing I do?

Then there are also the slices of the pie. We want to make sure that God is in each slice of our life, but we don’t want to forget one important fact. The whole pie is God’s.  Each and every slice is a gift He’s given us to bring honor and glory to Him. Whether or not we do that, it doesn’t change the truth. Our lives are His. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 puts it this way. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Our work life, church life, home life, friend life, and any other slice of our lives are to bring God glory not simply because it’s a way to give back the love He’s given us, but also because they all belong to God to begin with. He put us together. He wrote our days before we were born. He is the one who bought us back from sin with Jesus’ death on the cross. God and His love is not just the reason we do, they are the reason we are to begin with. Do I make the conscious effort every day to remember that truth and consider how it should change my outlook, priorities, and actions? I know I do sometimes. But can I say I do all the time?

In light of these truths, I think I need to revert to my childhood and study with equal intensity the pie of my life to see where God wants to grow me. How about you? 

Best Laid Plans

Botanical garden pictures, fountains, hedge mazes, flowers.

You know what they say about best laid plans. Or if you’re like me, you have to google the rest of the saying because people stopped using the complete phrase. It’s actually, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That was my weekend.

The main character in my work in progress owns a cupcake truck. Rural southern Illinois is not known for its food truck options. The closest place for sampling the fare is St. Louis, Missouri. I researched to find one with great reviews and my husband and I left Friday night. We would spend the night and be at the food truck when it opened on Saturday.  The day would give me valuable insight into locations, ability to operate in the cold winter months, and the food truck atmosphere.

While enjoying the botanical gardens Saturday morning, I checked Facebook every hour for the food truck to post the day’s location. When opening time came and went without a post, I messaged them. The return message was prompt and disappointing. They were closed for Labor Day weekend! I tried to find other trucks, but none really appealed to me. I couldn’t find locations for the couple that we agreed sounded okay. I couldn’t keep searching because reading in the car was making me sick. We stopped looking. My research trip was suddenly research-less.

Choosing to stay positive, we visited an antique mall we’d seen. We were unimpressed. Everything on our list of things to do was failing to deliver. We were having a pleasant time and enjoying the time spent together, but our plans weren’t working out as we’d hoped.

On a whim, I found a used bookstore since Andy and I love the one we go to in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  We stopped. Like everything else, we enjoyed ourselves, but it probably won’t receive a return trip. It did, however, give us the prompting we needed to take a less familiar way home, off the interstate.

Barn, tractor with wagon, country store

While we drove the highway through forgotten small towns, we decided to pull over if anything we saw looked good for lunch. If not, we’d just wait until we got home. That’s when I saw the sign for Eckert’s orchard. We have several orchards in our area, but even the most commercial ones are not like this. It was home-grown fun for the entire family. Eckert’s boasts a restaurant, custard stand, country store, garden center, and U-pick apple and pumpkin fields complete with tractor pulled wagon rides to the trees or vines.  They even had a carnival area for the kids.

Our first stop was the country store filled with products made from the produce of the farm. The store contained everything a small country market would have along with gifts and home décor. We quickly had more on our list of things we’d like to try than we guessed possible and decided to eat first, shop second.

We weren’t sure what kind of quality could be expected at an orchard restaurant, but we were pleasantly surprised. The portions were good, and the food was too. The service was excellent. Everyone we met at the restaurant and in the store was pleasant and helpful, taking the time to chat with us. With our hunger satisfied, we went back to the store and spent way more than we should have on fudge, cider, pancake mix and syrup, flavored coffee, cider doughnuts, and grilling sauces.

Eckert’s orchard wasn’t on our list of things to do when we set out for the weekend, but it was the highlight of our trip. On the way home we talked about how we would have missed it had the food truck been open or if we hadn’t veered off course to find the used bookstore. We wouldn’t have seen it if we’d taken the interstate as originally planned or decided to call the trip done and wait to eat until we arrived home. So many things in our plans had to go wrong for us to end up in the one place that turned into the most memorable part of our weekend.

How many times do we gripe and whine to God when things don’t go the way we planned? How many times do we pout over missed opportunities and unexpected twists in our lives? We lay out great plans for our marriages, families, careers, and ministries only to lash out at God as if He’s betrayed us when something we didn’t plan and don’t like enters into our carefully constructed pictures. We intended to go through life on the fast-moving interstate only to find ourselves on the backroads of a country highway. And I can’t help but wonder how many times we’ve missed the times of joy, redemption, and restoration God has for us around the next bend in the road because we’re too busy focusing on how all our best laid plans have fallen apart.

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