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

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?

Write Stuff Wednesday: Hidden Stories

old-farmhouse-2535919__340“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott

There’s a small dilapidated house down the road from my grandmother’s house. The wood siding has long since faded and worked loose from the house. Shutters hang in crooked lines refusing to give up their final hold on the window and plunge to the ground. The porch is in shambles, and the yard is overgrown. I wonder why the owners don’t tear it down. It doesn’t serve a purpose.

Still. It draws and keeps my attention. The dark windows pull me in to find the house’s story. It’s the story of an old farming couple, shriveled through years of manual labor in the hot southern Illinois sun. It’s the story of disappointment, a childless couple with no one to care for the home they worked so hard to create once they’re gone. It’s a melancholy story that is as beautiful as it is sad.

It’s a very different story from the one birthed by the abandoned farmhouse near my in-laws house. The simple white house is newer in style. White siding is dingy but still intact. Large, glass windows stare out at me without shutters framing their dark depths. Another farming family lived here. They worked the land but with more modern conveniences. They shared meals with their children around a large kitchen table. There was laughter and love, but there was also discontent.

As the children grew, the life of the farm didn’t offer enough to satisfy. Though it left their parents with no one to carry on the family legacy, each child chose to leave for more lucrative lives in the city. The couple worked their farm, selling off bits and pieces to make up for the bad years, until their bodies could take no more. The home was reduced to a house after their deaths, and the land waits for a time when the children can agree on the proper way to dispose of it. It’s the story of the loss of a way of life and a lack of appreciation for all it held.

Two empty houses. Two different stories. But they’re each only one of many that could be told. Who knows where the truth lies? These are simply the stories I see first when I look at the two houses. What do others see? Two empty houses.

This is why I write.

The stories I see are different from the stories anyone else may see. And some people may not see them at all. That’s why writing is important. We can share stories others can relate to but not otherwise get to hear. We can put life back into empty houses.

But it doesn’t end with story-telling or houses. As believers, we each have a different story. We also have unique ways of approaching life. Just as writers need to see stories in the world around them, believers need to see the lives of the people around them.

We’re called to be salt and light to the world. We’re called to reach into the lives of others and change them through practically showing them the love of God. To do this, we must see their story. With empty houses and a laptop, I can imagine a story and shape it to fit my desires. With people, we need to dig deeper and find the truth. What do they need? How are they hurting?

When we see these things, we can act on their story. We can give love in an unlimited number of ways that will speak to their need. We can show them God through joining them in their story for a time.

And the beauty of it is, the people in need aren’t the only ones like empty houses. Each of us is a unique house on our own. When I step into someone else’s story, I bring my unique perspective, my own story into theirs. I can minister to their needs in a way that is different than anyone else.

This carrying of each other’s burdens, sharing in their joys, and showing them God’s love in practical ways is a believer’s calling from God. Not everyone may look at an empty house and come away with a story like a writer does. But seeing and responding to the stories of others is a trait every believer should cultivate in order to live their faith each day.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Writer’s Toolbox

tool-box-2124616_1280My son recently moved out. I now have an office to write in. It’s a room set up exactly like I want it. My office may be different than one you would design. I have a comfy chair and ottoman. You might prefer a desk. My chair faces the window. You might find that too distracting. I have three jars filled with various candies (one is chocolate, one is caramels, one is fruit flavored) to snack on when the urge strikes. You might prefer celery. (But really who would prefer celery?)

I have everything I need to write in my office. I have whiteboards to keep notes on. I officehave bookshelves full of the books I’ve read and my TBR pile. I’ve got a cork board with notes about potential reviewers pinned to it in a pleasing pattern of colored index cards. I even have a diffuser to fill the air with whatever scent I fancy that day.  I have everything I need to write productively.

But the smallest word in that sentence makes all the difference. I. My office is not set up for you. You might be completely uncomfortable in my office. You might stare out my window and fail to look back to the computer screen. You could fall asleep in my comfy chair. My office might not work for you, but it is amazing for me. It’s one of the best tools in my writer’s toolbox.

Some of my tools are meant for the writing part of being an author. I love the Write Track site. It encourages my competitive side and keeps me on target with my word counts. My tablet is great for researching information without coming away from what I’m writing on my laptop. I’m part of a writing group that encourages and critiques my writing. And I have shelves full of books dedicated to helping me become a stronger writer. I’ve found all of these tools helpful in my writing journey.

fallBut there are other tools I use too. I discovered the importance of these tools after receiving a contract for the publication of Faith’s Journey. These tools I’m less comfortable with, but my proficiency is quickly improving. These are the tools needed to market my book and grow my audience. My author page on Facebook helps me stay connected to readers and other writers. WordPress allows me to have my own web site and blog. Canva and Pixabay are amazing resources for designing publicity from social media advertisements to postcard invitations for book launch events. Social media sites I’d given little to know thought about before Faith’s Journey was published are now easily accessible from my phone.

I need all these tools and then some in my efforts to be a successful author. And I can’t just have them. I have to use them properly for each tool to be beneficial to me. It can be overwhelming. “I just wanted to write!” There are days that frustrated cry comes from my mouth. It’s usually after I spend an hour trying to develop the perfect advertisement or post only to have it not work out at all.  If I were more proficient with the programs I could accomplish my goals with ease. I’m not. But I’m not giving up either. I keep learning and as I do, each project becomes easier to create. I become more comfortable with the tools in my writer’s toolbox, and they enable me to do exactly what they were designed to help me do.

There’s a lesson here for living our faith too. We also have tools of the trade in our Christian lives. We have scripture, prayer, Bible study groups, small groups, church services, fasting, and fellowship. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Just as the tools in my writer’s toolbox can help me be the best author I can be, the tools of our faith help us be the people God would have us be. These tools can help bring us peace in our storms, encouragement for the days when nothing seems to go write, direction on what our next move should be, and correction when we stray from the path.

To grow as believers we need to find out what tools are available to us, and we need to learn how to use them. Some may feel more comfortable than others, but we keep learning and trying. Some tools may seem more useful for a time, but that doesn’t mean the others aren’t important. I can’t use my thesaurus to create a social media advertisement. That doesn’t mean my thesaurus is useless. It just means I need Canva for this project and my thesaurus for creating variation in my writing. Know which tool is best for which circumstance and don’t be afraid to use them.

Whether in writing or faith, we don’t have to rely on our meager abilities alone. To be the best we can be we need to learn and grow. We need to pick up the tools we’re given and use them to get the job done.

Erasing the Caricature

caricatureErnest Mille Hemmingway once said, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” It seems on the surface that all writers and possibly the most avid of readers have issues with telling fact from fiction! I assure you, we are completely capable, but we choose not to. Hemmingway’s quote tells us why.

Authors want readers to connect to their stories. If they don’t, the story won’t be read. A reader can be drawn to a plot, but if the people in the story are unrealistic, the reader will find a similarly plotted book with characters they can relate to. The people inhabiting our stories should inspire the same emotions as the people we work with or sit next to on the bus. They should be real in the depths of their emotions, their reasoning, and their actions.

Even the most unbelievable characters can be written in realistic ways. That’s why a hobbit or a faun can capture our attention. We know they don’t exist, but thanks to the talented author, they do for the space of the story. Likewise, the characters that should be believable can become cartoon examples of people. The villain that is nothing but pure evil without reason can turn into the next Snidely Whiplash. He’s bad. That’s obvious. But there’s no substance to him. He’s just a bad guy out doing bad things. The hero that has no struggles, doubts, needs, or failures is not only boring, he’s unattainable. Readers can’t relate to him, because there is no one in their lives that matches that level of perfection.

As writers, we need to pay attention to the people inside our stories. Do they have reasons for their behavior? Are they fleshed out or have they stayed card board cut outs? Readers don’t have to like the person we create, but they do have to be able to see them as relatable and realistic if we want them to keep reading.

Relatable and realistic are good things for Christians to keep in mind as well. We are supposed to show others the love of God and point them to the salvation He offers through Jesus’ death on the cross. But sometimes in our desire to be different for God, we end up putting on a show. We create a Christian caricature of ourselves by covering over our flaws, doubts, and struggles. We paste a smile on our faces when we’d rather be frowning. We say, “Have a blessed day” or “I’ll pray for you” as mindlessly as we put on our socks each morning. It’s not bad to want someone to have a blessed day to pray for others. But when we say them to say them, phrases like these turn us into cartoon copies of what real Christians should be.

While Christians do have an amazing amount of resources at our disposal from peace and joy in trials to the fruit of the Spirit, I haven’t met any yet that are adept at employing them successfully 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But I have met several Christians who would like you to think they’ve got it all together. Upon closer inspection we find that they don’t. The world sees this as well, and it waters down their witness.

So what’s a Christian to do? First we need to be willing to admit our failures and that there are things we don’t understand. We need to be real. If we can say and show the things we believe with sincerity (even if we mess up once in a while), then by all means, live it out. But if we’re only saying things or acting in certain ways because it’s what one expects a good Christian to be like, then we need to stop. We need to admit to ourselves that we’re not quite there yet in whatever way we’re falling short. And after that, we need to be honest enough, real enough to allow others to see our struggle and the path we’re taking to growth.

When the world can see people living their faith genuinely and openly admitting where they’re still growing and learning, the cartoon Christian is erased. A real Christian with a powerful testimony takes its place. The falseness fades away, and an honesty those in the world can respect comes into the light. It’s time to stop letting fear of failure turn us into caricatures of faith. It’s time to be real, living Christians complete with our flaws and a desire to see God work them out of us.

By the Book: Read Luke 18:9-14. Which man was real and which was reduced to a caricature by his attitude and actions? Take an honest look at which one of these men you most see yourself in.

Giving Back

Usually I post character and character development related things on Mondays. Forgive me for not following protocol today. While we’re at it, why don’t you consider forgiving me for being a little less than consistent with writing any of my posts in the recent weeks. I’m trying. I really am. But with a deadline hanging over my head and life events or misfortunes happening one on top of another around my house, I’m lucky I haven’t shut down completely!

But all of that isn’t what I want to discuss today. There’s a lot of people in the world, good people who are completely misinformed about how Christianity and a life of faith works. They’ve been given the impression that if you accept God’s gift of salvation, you enter this amazing life where it’s all rainbows and sunshine and unicorns.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think a life of faith is amazing. There’s nothing more exciting than watching God show up in an unexpected way. Whether it happens in your life or the life of a friend, seeing God work in and through circumstances strengthens our faith and gives us glimpses into who He is. There’s nothing better.

But a life free of betrayal, pain, sickness, or problems is as realistic as the mythical unicorn. Though we are not intended for it, though it isn’t our home, we currently live in a sinful, fallen world. Hurtful things happen. To expect they won’t simply because we have God in our lives is like expecting to wade through the mud without getting dirty. It’s not going to happen.

But that doesn’t mean our faith in God does us no good. God’s right there with us when we’re wading through the muck. He’s helping us not get sucked under. He’s encouraging us to keep going. He’s showing us how to have peace, hope, and strength in those times when it doesn’t make any sense. And He’s with us to make sure the mud doesn’t leave it’s stain on our lives.

Our path through the mud can go one of two ways. We can cling to God, keeping our eyes on Him, and end up with stronger faith in the end. It doesn’t change the circumstance, but it reminds us the truth about those circumstances. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t take away the pain and heartache. But it does help us stay strong and find the peace God has for us in it.

Or we can fight it. We can try to “do it God’s way” for the selfish reason of wanting Him to take us out of our situation. We want God to work like a genie in a bottle there to grant our every wish. So, we adjust our behavior in order to earn God’s favor and a get out of jail free card. When we find it doesn’t work that way, we declare faith useless or worse, false, and throw in the towel. We walk away from God without truly understanding what faith is all about.

Giving lip service to God in order to have our path cleared of the mud doesn’t do us any good. But as counter-intuitive as it sounds, living our faith out through the muck does a world of good. In my hardest circumstance and my deepest pain, I couldn’t see what God would do. To be perfectly honest, I wanted out of it. But that wasn’t how God wanted to use it in my life. When I decided it was best to trust and do it His way, I found God grew me through that pain. But it was more than that. At least two people had the opportunity to accept salvation because I was willing to go through it God’s way instead of my own. If that wasn’t enough to make it worth it, I’ve seen God use my experiences to speak to others through teaching and writing.

That’s the beauty of living a life of faith. When we allow God to grow us through our circumstances, He can later use us to minister to others facing pain in their own lives. He allows us to become part of their faith growing process. We share in the hurts and joys of other believers, and we all reap the benefits. It’s a way to give back to God after He’s carried us through so much. It’s a way to practically show God’s love to others. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.

By the Book: Has God brought you through a trial? What did He teach you in it? How have you used it to reach out to others?

Write Stuff Wednesday on Saturday

My internet was acting like a spoiled child refusing to do what it was asked to do this week. Due to it’s stubbornness, I was unable to post on Wednesday. So, instead of a book review today I’m going to post the Write Stuff Wednesday I wrote on Wednesday. I hope you enjoy it!

“Every scene should be able to answer three questions: Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?” – David Mamet

I finally finished my first book, Faith’s Journey, and I turned it over to our local writer’s group to proof read and edit it. I wanted my story as polished as it could be before sending it out to agents and publishers. What came back was unanimous.

“You need to do something about chapters 4 and 5.” But I needed those chapters. They gave some very crucial information and helped explain the tension in Katie’s relationship with her father and mother. I made some very minor changes and sent the book out. When I received the contract for Faith’s Journey and the subsequent revisions, I was ecstatic finding relatively little that needed major rewrites.  I had a scene that, due to preferences of the publisher, needed a new setting.  But I also had two chapters that either needed cut or combined.

You guessed it. Chapters 4 and 5 came back to haunt me. I still felt the information was crucial, but I needed to honor the publisher’s revision request. The challenge would be to save the information and step up the action. How could I get the same details into the reader’s mind in less time and make all of it more active?

It made me consider more deeply the why behind the backstory. It made me consider my characters’ motivations and what events could help show them to the reader. The need to revise ended up making my writing tighter. I was able to put in more action to show the same themes the back story had originally told. In the end, it made Faith’s Journey a stronger story when I went back and analyzed those scenes with a more critical eye.  If only I’d listened when my writer’s group suggested the same thing!

I think there are times I’m guilty of doing the same thing in my daily life. I want to live the life God would have me live, but I sometimes I fail to dig deep enough into the scriptures to get to the whys. If others were to question me, my only answer would be because of my faith. That’s good enough for most things, but when someone is struggling to believe. Because God said seems a little bit like back story without getting to the real reason behind it, and backstory doesn’t help answer their doubts. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”.

I’m supposed to sanctify God in my heart. I’m supposed to set Him apart from everything else in my life as the One who is holy and worthy. If I’m doing that, I’m going to give Him and His word the time and attention their position deserves. I’m going to spend time getting to know Him personally. And when I’ve taken the time to really get to know God, I will be able to answer those with questions and doubts with passion, truth, and an understanding of why I’m doing what I’m doing. When I take time to understand God’s word more deeply, I live it more honestly and consistently. I move beyond telling the world about my faith and into showing them it in a life changing way.

By the Book: Do you spend more time telling your faith or showing it? Have you seen a correlation between the time you spend getting to know God through His word and your ability to fully live His truth in your life?

Write Stuff Wednesday 4

queen-2941437__340“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” Beverly Cleary

Do you remember the movie The Princess Diaries? Awkward girl, Mia, finds out she’s a princes. Cue the makeover. Contacts, a stylist, and hours of princess lessons transform her from nobody to the girl everyone wants to call friend. Mia is a ruler in training, and though she has some missteps, by the end of the movie she’s getting the hang of things. It’s like she’s a whole new girl. Only she isn’t. She’s still Mia. The wrapping is just a little bit different.

How about Miss Congeniality? Awkward girl, Grace, finds out she’s the agent chosen for an undercover mission in the Miss United States pageant. Cue the makeover. Contacts, a stylist, and hours of beauty pageant lessons transform her from nobody to the girl everyone wants to call friend. Grace is pageant girl in training, and though she has some missteps, by the end of the movie she’s getting the hang of things. It’s like she’s a whole new girl. Only she isn’t. She’s still Grace. The wrapping is just a little bit different.

The same can be said of the movies. Sure, each one has its own unique spin, but several of the elements are shared. It’s no different when writing. We write because we have stories to tell, but that’s not to say we’re the only one who’s going to write a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back story line. Or maybe our plot is more person finds a dead guy, person follows clues to find the killer, person gets targeted by the killer, person ends up trapping the killer kind of story.

Just because our stories share some of the same elements as others in the genre doesn’t mean our story shouldn’t be written. Our story hasn’t been told yet. Our way of wrapping the familiar elements in our own voice and specific details hasn’t happened until we sit down and write. And it’s important that we do so. Your style of story wrapping is going to appeal to people who might not like my style of story wrapping.

That’s why readers don’t have to like every book in a genre they generally love. The various wrappings of the story are powerful factors in whether or not a book draws each reader in. We’ve all picked up a book from the shelf only to place it back in favor of another. And as writers we’ve all had that spark of an idea that won’t let go. And no matter how many other authors have written a story like the one growing inside us, we still have to write it. Because no one has written that story like we will.

As writers, we don’t let similar genres or basic plots deter us from writing our stories. We can see that the story we want to hear, while similar is unique, and it deserves to be written. No one has written our book yet. It isn’t on the shelf, and we want to put it there. But often, we’re guilty of doing the opposite in our faith.

How many times have we heard the excuse, “I would go to church, but they’re all the same” ? The people sharing these sentiments don’t mean them in a positive way. They’re the same people that say, “if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it”. For believers, it can be discouraging. We look around at churches that look like social clubs and wonder if there is a point. We see self-centered churches that don’t reach out unless it directly benefits their church, and we know there’s something wrong with that picture. We see the larger body of believers failing to impact the world, and we get discouraged. Instead of living the faith story we want to see, we give up. We join the crowd.

The basics are the same. We’re people of faith. We want to follow God. We’ve come into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But looking beyond that, we see all these other Christian wrappings that don’t sit well with us. They aren’t what we believe Christians and churches should be. They aren’t what we believe scripture tells us Jesus’ followers should be. So, we stuff down our disappointment, deciding if that’s what Christians are then that’s what we’ll be. We let the common elements keep us from telling our faith story in our own voice.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When we don’t find in Christianity what we believe God wants shown to the world, it’s time for us to step up and be that example for the others. We may share the same basic faith but our voice is unique. Our walk with God and our story of faith is one of a kind.

We don’t have to settle for following the spiritual crowd into a life of entertainment, self-centeredness, or inactivity just because that’s the faith story everyone else seems to be telling.  Jesus bucked the religious trends of the Pharisees. He interacted with people in a very personal, life-changing way. He gave us the real example of what a life of faith should be. If no one else seems to be following His lead, who cares? We can. We should. If no one else is living the life of faith Jesus modeled, go out and live it yourself.

By the Book: What wrapping of the faith have you gotten comfortable in that God might want you to rip off and replace with one from Jesus’ example?

Treasure

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?

Write Stuff Wednesday 3

glass-ball-1667668_960_720“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?