Courage to Be

I may have used this quote in the past. If so, I apologize. It seemed fitting for this second day of 2019. It’s something I definitely want to get better at this year. I hope you will too.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  e.e. cummings

For a long time I had trouble accepting the title of author or even writer. Mother was no problem. Wife was easy. I never stumbled over the title of daughter, sister, or even receptionist. Though I have to admit I never really aspired to earn that last one. Life simply took me there. But writer was another story.

Writer was, and still is, the dream. But dreams are full of unknowns. Dreams hold the possibility of failure. What happens if you reach for the dream, accept the title, and then fail? You’ve become associated with the name only to lose it again. For an introvert who doesn’t like attention, especially negative attention, this would be a humiliation hard to live down.

I didn’t run from the action of putting words on paper. Reading and writing have been part of who I am from the beginning. I think it must be in my DNA like my height or my green eyes. I cannot imagine not writing. But the act of writing is very different from accepting the title writer or author.

Like any dream that tries to define us in life, it brings with it the fear of failure. It is this fear that causes us to hem and haw when confronted with the innocent question, “What do you do?” It’s much easier to spout the easy answers, wife, mother, and even receptionist. The first two cannot be denied. The fact that I am married and have given birth means I belong to those clubs. The last one is easy to admit because it’s what I spend most of my time doing and it’s secure. But the thing I want most? That thing that is so deeply a part of me? To try and to fail at that would be like losing part of who I am.

This is why it takes courage to accept the title. This is why it takes courage to answer the questions with, “I am an author.” To live beyond the fear and not only accept that part of myself (accepting is easy) but to make it known to the rest of the world, this is what it means to grow up and be who I am.

You may not be an author. That’s the dream God gave me. That’s the passion He planted inside my heart. It doesn’t matter. What passion did He give you? What do you feel He is calling you to do? What do you feel if you couldn’t do it part of yourself would be missing?

Are you going after it? Are you praying about how and when God would like to use it in your life and the lives of others? I hope you are. But I also hope this coming year you find the courage to live out loud what you know God has called you to. I hope you find freedom from fears that hold you back and find yourself able to answer the question, “What do you do?” with whatever dream  God has blessed you with.

Crooked Calendars in 2019

calendarChristmas gifts added several things to my writing space this year. I got a new lap desk to use with my lap top, almost a necessity since I refuse to write at an actual desk. Although it arrived a few days after Christmas, I received the latest edition of The Christian Writers Market Guide. And even though it couldn’t be wrapped up in a shiny box under the tree, I was also given membership in ACFW. Now, if I can just find time to use the site to its fullest potential, it will help me in my writing journey.

I asked for all of these things because I believe they will be beneficial to me as an author. But there is one gift, or maybe four depending on how you look at it, that has already started helping me in more ways than I originally hoped it would. I spent part of the day after Christmas hanging four dry-erase wall calendars on my office wall behind my writing chair. Four? Yes, four. If I wanted to track that many months at a time, why didn’t I simply get a planner? I’m horrible with using planners. I start off with great intentions, but I fail before I’m out of January. Dry erase boards are different.

These four calendars help me track a quarter of the year at a time. And I put them up for a specific purpose. One of my goals for 2019 is to improve in my marketing ability. With a full-time non-writing job, it’s hard to keep on top of things. With purple representing people scheduled to be guests on my blog and orange showing times I’m scheduled to appear on other people’s blogs, a quick look at my calendars can give me all the information I need to determine where I need to step up my game and where I’m doing alright.

I also don’t have to find my calendar every time I want to record something. I grab a marker out of the marker basket hanging on the wall and fill in as much or as little detail as I want. A planner is always a bit inconvenient. You have to carry it with you at all times or go find it every time you need it. I don’t have time for that. Besides, I’m notorious for losing things. I can’t count the number of times in a week I have to grab my spare keys because my main set is not where I thought I left it.

I asked for these four calendar boards for these reasons, but they’ve also proved useful in an unexpected way. If you actually look at the boards hanging on the wall, you can see the boards on the right are about ¼ of an inch away from being level. I purposely hung the bottom right one that way so it matched the top right one. I figured it would bother me less that way! But originally, all four boards were meant to be straight and level. I measured each one with a tape measure and pencil. I even measured multiple times before drilling the holes I needed in the wall. My first attempt left me feeling pretty good about my abilities. I placed the calendar on the hooks, and it lined up perfectly. The second one deflated my ego a bit as I realized I’d miscalculated somewhere. Maybe I stepped on the end of the tape measure with more pressure and forced it further into the carpet? I don’t know. But it’s a little off.

Why didn’t I use a laser level to project a beautifully, perfectly straight line on my wall to mark my drilling spots? It makes sense. It would have been nice. My calendars would all be straight. There was just one problem. I don’t own a level. The tool I needed to do my job efficiently and completely successfully was missing from my tool box. The result is a functional wall of calendars that would drive some people crazy due to ¼ of an inch.

When I look at my calendar, I’m reminded how important the proper tools can be. In writing this doesn’t mean I can’t write without the physical tools like my wall calendars or my lap desk. These are frills that make things easier, but they aren’t the tools that will improve me as an author. Taking time to learn from and network with other authors who are farther into their writing journey can help tremendously. Reading books on the craft of writing and the marketing side of writing will help equip me to be more proficient and efficient in what I do. Taking part in local writing groups, interacting on ACFW boards, and attending conferences are all tools authors have available to do their job and do it well.

As we come into a new year, I want to become better about using the tools I have as a writer. But more important than that, I want to apply the lesson to my faith walk. I’ve been given all the tools I need to live a life of faith that will add up to hearing “well done good and faithful servant” when my time on earth is done. There are churches on every corner, apps let us take the Bible with us everywhere, devotions and Christian living books are easily found on every topic, Christian radio can fill our cars and homes with praise, and guided journals provide easy ways to track our ups and downs. But all of these are just the extras. They aren’t the tools we have to have. They are the tools we use to make the journey a more pleasant experience. They help us, but just like my tape measure and pencil were not the perfect tools for hanging my calendars, these tools alone are not the perfect tools for growing my faith. When Jesus went back to heaven, He promised help in the form of the Holy Spirit to live in the heart of each believer. The Holy Spirit teaches and corrects us. I need to commit to listening to His quiet voice with more consistency. God gave us prayer as the way to communicate directly with Him.  It’s a powerful tool that too often gets relegated to the equivalent of rubbing a genie’s lamp and making a wish. I need to be vigilant to fashion my prayers and my reasons for them after the examples given in scripture. And that’s the final tool I need in my toolbox of faith, God’s word. Without scripture we can’t get the full picture of who God is. Scripture is able to cut to the heart of the matter and show us where our motivations fall short of our loving God. It is God’s word to us about how to live like Jesus lived. It gives us encouragement, strength, comfort, and correction. It doesn’t stop at leading us to salvation. It provides the instruction we need to live a life of faith and walk in close communion with God.

Have I been using these tools the way God intended when He gifted them to me? Do I study His word, listen to the Holy Spirit, and pray with the motives of His will being done? I have all the right tools. I need to use them. What about you?

By the Book: Read the following scriptures referenced in this devotion. Matthew 25:14-23, Luke 22:41-42, John 15:26, Acts 1:8, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16

Christmas Quote Fun #4

the santa clauseLast week’s Christmas movie quote is from The Santa Clause! Great work to all of those who guessed it correctly. I’ve always enjoyed the Santa Clause movies. I can’t even say for sure which one is my favorite. How about you? Do you have a favorite from the Santa Clause series?

And CONGRATULATIONS to our Christmas Quote Fun winner: Lensey!! Email me your information at bythebook724@gmail.com to claim your family Christmas movie.

A Foreign Way to Worship

martialFrom the time my middle son was five until he turned twelve, my three sons and I were involved in martial arts .Their dad joined in later, and he is the only one still practicing. But for those early years, it was me and the boys participating in classes and tournaments. We traveled to Indiana, central Illinois, and even Tennessee for tournaments. I loved watching the boys compete.
My oldest is built differently than his brothers. He wasn’t the one whose forms showed long, lean lines. He was built for power, and his favorite area of study highlighted that. More than the Tae Kwon Do forms, he enjoyed weapons. More specifically, he enjoyed the Korean sword art known as Gumdo.
My middle son was built for forms and loved breaking. One of my favorite pictures that ended up in the paper is of him doing a flying kick towards a board. He enjoyed breaking and sparring. And he was good at them.
Their youngest brother was only a little guy when he started competition. His first one was when he was about three or four. He just wanted to have fun. He knew his forms. He sparred as only a kid who isn’t aggressive can, standing there letting his competitor score all the points and being happy about it. But he could draw a room’s attention with his musical forms. He would take his mini bo staff and start as soon as the music played. It wasn’t that he was so proficient. Really, he made it all up as he went along. But he was so tiny and cute, the adults in the room would stop to watch him perform. He just wanted to do what his brothers were doing.
My boys are completely different, and their martial arts interests and styles highlighted those differences. But the great thing was that they could enjoy the competitions together. They could cheer each other on and help each other out. They didn’t have to excel in the same events. They were unique in their talents, and the competitions had a place for each of them.
I was reminded of this while reading The Christmas Bride: A Legacy of Love Novel by Melanie Dobson. In this historical fiction the main characters were part of Moravian religious group that moved to Pennsylvania in the 1700s to evangelize the Native Americans in the area. I understood their desire to remain neutral in the skirmishes between European settlers and the native people. I could relate to their passion to share the gospel with those who’d never had a chance to hear it. But from the first page, I was drawn into a story that showed a way of living completely foreign to me.
Christian and Susanna didn’t meet until their wedding day. In fact, Christian wanted to marry someone else, but the elders deferred decisions like that to the lot believing God would guide the choosing of the slip of paper that would read yes, no, or wait. Christian’s first choice received a no, but he felt led to missions work in the colonies and a wife was needed for that. Elders led him to Susanna, and the lot agreed.
But the lot wasn’t the most intriguing difference in how the people lived and served God. At a time when Susanna and Christian are strangers to each other trying to figure out how to love each other, they’re kept apart by the rules of their religious group. In effort to keep its members focused on their calls to serve God, men and women lived separately. Strictly enforced tasks kept Susanna and Christian from each other through the day, and their nights were spent in separate homes called choirs. Even children were separated from their parents to be raised by women in the group gifted for the task.
Add to these marital roadblocks to intimacy the harshness of the mostly unsettled land, the tensions between English and French settlers, and the tensions between all European settlers and the native people, and it’s easy to see why Susanna and Christian struggle to make their marriage something they can take joy in. All of this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the woman Christian desired to marry and still desires is his wife’s best friend who has also accompanied the group to Pennsylvania.
While I couldn’t relate to the way the people lived, I could relate to the struggle to do what God would have them do. I could empathize with Susanna when doubts and fears plagued her. I could call to mind my own frustrations as I considered Christian’s overwhelming passion to live out the calling he felt God had for his life only to be held back by forces beyond his control.
My life may be very different from the lives of Susanna and Christian, but their story was intriguing because of these differences. But just because our circumstances and choices in how to live are very different, it doesn’t mean their story was without meaning for me. As I read of their journey, I found myself and my struggles in theirs.
What Christian and Susanna or my own sons have shown me is that there is a place for differences in our faith. As long as we are sinners saved by grace through the sacrifice of God’s Son made man, Jesus, on the cross our differences don’t have to keep us apart. You may take communion every week while I may take it each quarter. You may have a rigid, methodical style of worship and mine may be more flexible. Your preacher may dress in a full suit while mine wears jeans and a polo shirt. It doesn’t matter. We’re all part of the body of Christ. We can come together to pray for, encourage, and challenge one another to deeper faith.
While false teachings and perversions of the gospel message should hinder our worship together, we need to start looking past the superficial differences in how we choose to worship. We need to start working together and caring for each other as a unified body. There’s room in God’s family for you whether you raise your hands in worship or sing reservedly, participate in responsive readings or simply listen, take communion weekly or quarterly, have small groups or Sunday School, sit on pews or in chairs, dress us or dress casual, or if your preacher remains calm or shouts and walks the aisle. We need to start loving and serving others together as a way to bring the light of God’s love into the darkness of this world.

By the Book: Do you frown on others’ worship styles because you don’t “get it” or are you open to working together for the sake of the gospel?

Traditions and Recipes #7

Sometimes you have to take a little bit of what’s worked in the past and blend it together with something new to get the results you’re looking for. And while I think the message is true in our daily lives, I think it takes on unique importance during the Christmas season. There are times when the old traditions we’ve enjoyed with our families and friends simply don’t produce the desired results anymore. But there are still parts of these familiar traditions we can salvage. And when we marry those to new traditions, we can find ourselves with new traditions to treasure for years to come.

It’s a lesson I was reminded of this week through my love of Christmas baking. I was given a bag of Hot Cocoa Flavored Hershey’s Kisses for my birthday. Milk chocolate filled with marshmallow cream is always a good thing, right? But I wanted to do something with them other than eat them by themselves. Why not make a Hot Cocoa Cookie? I make a cherry cookie every year that’s topped with a Hershey Kiss. Everyone enjoys them. And I’ve made Chocolate Snowball Cookies rolled in powdered sugar before baking. Those are fun and festive. I just needed a chocolate cookie dough for the base. Thumbprint cookies would offer the right consistency. I scoured my cookbooks for a chocolate thumbprint cookie that looked good. Finally, I found one in the Taste of Home Christmas Cookies and Candies book from 2008. They were called Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints.

I wouldn’t need the nuts to coat the cookie with or the caramel sauce for the topping. Although, I have to admit both of those sound amazing, and I may have to try them at some point. But for this recipe, I needed the base. I blended the new recipe base with the familiar elements of a couple of my traditional recipes and the results were exactly what I wanted. The finished cookies were reminiscent of a cup of homemade hot cocoa, and they were a big hit. I hope you enjoy them.

Happy Baking!

hot cocoa cookieshot cocoa

Christmas Quote Fun #3

santaLast week’s movie quote was from Santa Claus is coming to town. No, the story is gives for Santa Claus is not the story of the real Saint Nicholas, but it has some surprising times when Christmas’ true meaning shines through.

Here is the quote for this week. Remember to leave your answers in the comments. One randomly drawn name will be the winner of a family Christmas movie. Every time you answer one of the quotes correctly, you get your name entered in the drawing. You must live in the United States to win. The answer to this week’s quote and the winner of the movie will be announced next Wednesday.

Happy Christmas movie watching!

“Name.

Kris Kringle.

Name.

Sinter Klaas.

Name.

Pere Noel. Babbo Natale. Pelznickel. Topo Gigio.”

Traditions and Recipes #6

Sometimes you look at a recipe in a book or online and know it’s one you want to try. Other times you get the chance to try something at a get together and have to have the recipe to add to your collection. But there are times when a great recipe finds you out of necessity. Today’s recipe is like that.

My co-workers have always gotten to benefit from my love of baking. I can’t have all those cookies and sweets in my house. So, I bake them and take them to work with me. Then, people started requesting special orders and my baking hobby became a hobby business.

While hosting a shower for her sister, my co-worker Autumn made one such request. Snickerdoodles are a favorite of hers, and she wanted them made to look like sand dollars. I agreed, but I didn’t make Snickerdoodles. I didn’t have a tried and true recipe to use even though Snickerdoodles have always been a popular Christmas cookie.

With no recipe and a deadline looming, I hit the internet. I scoured site after site reading reviews to determine my best option. That’s when I found this recipe. It really is the best. Try it. I think you’ll agree. snickerdoodles

Christmas Quote Fun #2

Charlie Brown ChristmasLast week’s quote came from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Thank you to those who took time to answer! Remember for each right answer you get between now and December 19, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a fun family Christmas movie! The rules are simple. You must live in the United States, and please, no cheating by searching the internet. I’m trusting you on that one!

Here’s today’s quote:

“It wasn’t a hard decision to make. They chose, of course, the holiest night of the year, the night of profound love, which was the perfect night for giving. Christmas Eve? Christmas Eve.”

Remember to post your answers in the comments! Happy Christmas movie watching! And come back next week to find out which movie this quote is from!

Holiday Help Wanted!

christmasThe only thing better than getting cozy and watching the newest Hallmark Christmas movie is getting cozy and reading a great Christian Fiction Christmas book. I’d like to use my review days this month to highlight some great holiday reads.

Here’s where my “Holiday Help Wanted” comes in. Maybe you’re an author with a book that fits this description. Or maybe you’re just a person who loves to read as much as I do, and you’ve read the best CF Christmas book on the market. It doesn’t matter how you found this book. I want to know about it. It doesn’t mean I’ll be able to read them all before Christmas, but it will give me a place to start. So, think about your Christmas favorites and let me know the title and author in the comments. Thank you for your help!