Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: belonging

My People

When I arrived at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference I felt out of my element. The idea of a large gathering of writers of all skill levels getting together to challenge and encourage each other to grow in the craft and business of writing was exciting. The reality of mixing and mingling with members of that group, complete strangers no less, was daunting to me as a card carrying introvert. I was never more thankful for our small local writers’ group that attended the event together. We would go our separate ways for classes, but they could be my lifeline during less structured times.

It didn’t take long for me to acclimate to my surroundings. Over the five days of the conference, I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and speak with people I didn’t know. At the end of the first full day I called my husband and announced, “I have found my people.”

It didn’t matter that we came from different walks of life. Our various theological beliefs didn’t drive a wedge between us. Our varying levels of skill and success as authors were inconsequential. We were connected by something more, by the God-given desire to minister to others through the creative art of writing and a love of God. Never did I feel this more clearly than the first worship service of the conference.

When the husband and wife praise team led us in the first song of the conference, the connection of everyone in the room became its most clear. Some raised their hands in praise. Some stood still while lifting their voices. Others were unfamiliar with the songs but joined in as they caught on. In that moment, our differences didn’t matter. We were joined in praise of the One who blessed us with salvation as well as the ability to use our passions to further the gospel and build up the body of Christ.

It was a beautiful sound. For a moment I closed my eyes and listened to hundreds of voices raised in praise together. Even small groups lifting their voices to God in song can be beautiful. But listening to that many voices, united in purpose and ministry, bringing praise to God left me feeling completely connected to God and His people. We were part of something real together.

This time of completely united worship came to mind today during my quiet time. Revelation 5:13 says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Did you see it? “Every creature” is praising. I was moved by the beauty of a couple hundred people united in praise. I’ve had opportunity to hear a few thousand do the same at a Women of Faith conference. But these are going to pale in comparison to the connection and love and beauty of every creature in creation bringing praise to God in unity.

Can you imagine the sound? The power of that praise? And we will be part of it. The connection I felt as I found “my people” at the conference will seem slight in comparison to the connection of all creation joining in unified praise. I don’t doubt that in that moment we will feel the full realization of being joined together as God’s people for eternity.

Where to Belong

home-429571_1280My grandparents owned a farm. By the time I came along, the livestock was severely diminished. I remember chickens and maybe a few cows early on but not much other than that. My brother remembers a peacock or a turkey, not sure which. The only reason he remembers is it because the thing chased him around the barnyard. That’s traumatizing to a kid.

I don’t remember the animals, but I remember the house and the land. We spent Sunday afternoons there when I was little. My brothers and I would play with two of our cousins if they were there. If not, we would hike through the pasture and into the woods to explore.

There was a drawer in the kitchen by the sink that always had bubble gum in it. This was back when Hubba Bubba and Bubblicious contained only real sugar and made the best bubbles ever blown. My brothers preferred orange and grape. I loved the rare occasions when my grandma would stock the drawer with watermelon.

The house itself was nothing special, just your average old-fashioned farm house. But even though I’ve not stepped foot in it for thirty years, I can remember each room. I even made it the home Katie grew up in my book, Faith’s Journey. One day I would love to see it back in the family, but it wouldn’t be the same. The new owners renovated, updating the look and removing the memories. But it will always be the same in my mind.  It’s amazing what one can remember when fueled by pleasant memories.

That’s why I immediately felt connected to Where She Belongs by Johnnie Alexander. Shelby Kinkaid has similar feelings about the home her grandparents owned when she was a child. She made sweet memories there that helped her in the dark times. It’s a home that was ripped from her family by others who took advantage of her grandparents and left the home abandoned and in disrepair. The disappointments of her present make the pull of the past’s joys even stronger. Determined to give her daughters the same beautiful memories she treasures, Shelby arranges to buy her grandparent’s home and restore it to its former glory.

Though there is a lot of work to be done, it doesn’t deter Shelby from her plan.  But the descendants of the man who took her family’s home are working against her to regain the property for their own benefit. Add to that the mystery of the past that continues to haunt and hurt the current generations, and Shelby has to determine friends from foes all while trying to make the house her home once again.

Shelby’s story starts with a house and her memories, but it doesn’t end until she comes to understand where she belongs.  And I think that’s something we can all relate to.

The desire to belong starts young. Even on preschool playgrounds children want to be part of the group. It can tempt us into friendships we would be better off without. As we age, I’d like to say we outgrow this desire, but I don’t think that’s true. For those who never quite felt they measured up, it may be a life-long battle. Sometimes even our faith can leave us feeling like we don’t fit.

We’re called to have the mind of Christ. This means we strive to live the way Jesus lived, love the way He loved, and have the same standards and priorities. It’s a tall order that we fail to meet, but even if we only live it a small percentage of the time it’s enough to set us apart. We can see it at work, with our friends, and with those who aren’t believers in our families. Our language can set us apart. Our unwillingness to cut certain corners can make us stand out. Our refusal to participate in certain activities or watch certain things can leave us on the outside looking in.

Sometimes we may wonder if it’s worth it when all we want to do is belong. In these times it’s important to remember we do belong, just not to this world or the things in this world. First and foremost we belong to God. We are His children, and our home with Him in eternity is the home we were created for. That is where we belong, and until we reach it, there will always be the feeling of not quite fitting in. We aren’t supposed to fit in with this world. We were made for more.

We also belong to the body of Christ. Believers aren’t meant to be on their own. We’re meant to encourage, teach, and challenge one another to walk in faith every day. We’re to celebrate each other’s victories and support each other through the hard times. Ministering to each other is why God blesses us with spiritual gifts. We need to seek out other believers to be in fellowship with. Shared faith experiences can strengthen us and give us a glimpse into what this world was supposed to be.

When the differences between our faith and the world we live in leave us feeling alone, we need to look to Jesus. With Him, we always have a place to belong.

Cover to Cover – Part Three

After writers write their stories, their job continues. Now, come the re-writes, the first phase of editing the story. Yet even after they’ve gone through each word with a fine toothed comb picking out all the best ones and cutting out the ones that bore, the editing process has only just begun. The story has merely been prepared for the next step of the publishing process. So, after researching the best publishers and agents, preparing a professional sounding query letter, and writing an attention grabbing synopsis of the story, the complete manuscript is (hopefully) requested and the next big editorial hurdle approaches. Yes, your story has made it to the desk of the Acquisitions Editor.

But what does an Acquisitions Editor do? Kathy Cretsinger, Acquisitions Editor for Mantle Rock Publishing, took time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions that give insight into her part of the editing process.

What is your job as an acquisitions editor?

Proposals come to me first. It is my job to read them and decide if they will fit our publishing company. I look at the market analysis, check Amazon it make sure it is a new book (not previously published), check out everything I can find out about the author and their writing.

Everyone has favorite genres and styles of writing they prefer to read. Do you find it hard to get beyond your natural inclinations as a reader when presented with a book outside your chosen genre/style?

At this moment, I love Romantic Suspense, but I love all writing. I’ll read just about anything, even the backs of cans and jars. We have an idea of how many of each book we publish each year. I have no problem reading any proposal if it is well written.

What is the hardest part of your job as an acquisitions editor? The most rewarding?

The hardest part of an acquisitions editor is rejecting a book. I should be getting used to it now, but if I can see a good story which needs some work, I’ll probably take it. The most reward? Seeing a book completed, ready to put on Amazon.com. I love to see a finished product with good content and a good cover.

What is one of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen from potential authors in their submissions?

The biggest mistake from most authors is not having their manuscript edited before I see it. I’m not the best in grammar and spelling, but I know if I see a red squiggly line under a word it is misspelled. I know I need to change it. Another big mistake is not learning the craft. Head hopping is a big error I see with first-time authors.

What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring authors?

Learn the craft. Read all kinds of books. Read books on writing in addition to fiction. Read the submissions page of each publishing house and agent. All are different.

Kathy’s desk is the first of many stops for a manuscript published by Mantle Rock Publishing. The story will change through the process that lies ahead, and the author might too! But here, with the acquisitions editor, is where the book is accepted or rejected. It is where an author first finds out their work was chosen.

There is a lot of emotion that comes with finding out your manuscript has been chosen for publication. It says someone believed in your story and ability enough to take a chance on your work. It can be exciting and scary at the same time to know in a few short months you will be a published author. It is a privilege and a responsibility. And knowing that the acquisitions editor sees something of worth in what you’ve written is encouraging to the author who put so much time and energy into the manuscript.

Being chosen creates powerful emotions in all of life, not just publishing. Deep down, everyone wants to belong. They want to feel like what they have to offer is worth something, that they are worth something to those around them. Even those who have known what it is to be accepted on a regular basis, still struggle at times. Some feel they have to keep performing in all the right ways to keep the acceptance they crave. Some feel they can’t ever reach a level of belonging. So, they act out in rebellion to prove they don’t need it even though it goes against their desire for unconditional love. The world is full of broken people who haven’t ever felt that feeling of being important to someone else.

It’s sad because each person has access to the greatest source of unconditional love ever. John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world so much He gave His Son to die on the cross for our sins. Romans chapter five assures us that Jesus’ sacrifice came while we were enemies of God because of sin. How much more unconditional can you get than someone dying in your place even though you’re their enemy and want nothing to do with them? God’s love for us isn’t based on performance. Scripture tells us God loves us because God is love.

And it goes beyond being loved. We are chosen. 1 Peter 2:9 says we are a chosen generation. When we accept God’s gift of forgiveness and enter into relationship with Him, scripture tells us God adopts us into His family. Children who are adopted are children who are chosen. God chose us to go out and make a difference in the world for Him. God wants us. We are chosen.

By the Book: God wants each of us. As believers, we know the freedom that can come when we truly believe that we are chosen by God. But we don’t need to hoard that love and acceptance. There is enough for everyone. What difference could we make in the world if we started showing others God’s love in practical ways each day? Consider how your actions today could help someone else feel what it’s like to belong. In doing so, they may come to understand God’s love and realize they are chosen too.

© 2020 Heather Greer

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