Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: reading

NaNoWriMo or NO

Writers, both experienced and beginners, are gearing up for the start of NaNoWriMo in just two days. I’ve never participated in the event, but I know several who have taken part faithfully every November. Even my sister authors from the Once Upon A Page YouTube channel participate. They gave our viewers and me some great information about how to complete NaNoWriMo successfully in our video that posted last Saturday. I’ll add the link below.

While the event gets splashed all over people’s social media pages from the end of October to the beginning of December, it’s important to remember it’s okay to NOT participate. You can be a successful author without ever taking that challenge. You don’t have to feel guilty if last year wasn’t good for you to join in and this year doesn’t look any better. Just as there are plotters, pantsers, and those who are somewhere in between, there are writers who thrive on challenges like this and others who find it creates more anxiety than they want to add to their lives.

So if you’re participating, feel free to friend me. I may make you feel really good about yourself. I’ve not been known to have the self-discipline to get those rigid word counts in. I may surprise myself, but I doubt it.

If you’re not, I’d still like to encourage you in your writing. Add a comment about what you’re working on and your goals for it. We aren’t in competition here. There’s room for everyone at the author table, and we need to build each other up.

And if you’re a reader and NaNoWriMo means nothing to you, I get that too. I’m glad you stopped by and read this post anyway. National Reading Month is supposed to be in March. Maybe someone will develop the reading version of NaNoWriMo. It could be called NaNoReaMo, and we could challenge one another to read and review a certain number of novels during that month. Some novel loving person might want to look into that. I know I’d get behind it.

And here’s the link I promised.

Pick and Choose

I’ll admit it. I only bought Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs because of the setting. Ireland and Scotland have always been areas of interest to me. So, I bought the book. I bought the rest in the series because of the story in the first.

I bought The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson because someone at the book store recommended it. I bought more of her books because I enjoyed the stories.

It was the cover of Carolina Dream by Regina Rudd Merrick that first drew my attention. It’s beautiful and inviting. The images on the front made me want to visit the world within. I’ve visited twice more since then as the next two books in the series were published.

I’ll buy anything with Kristen Heitzmann’s name on it. I’ve yet to find something she’s written that I don’t enjoy. In fact, she is re-doing one of her earliest sets, and I will get those when they become available. It doesn’t matter that I have the originals. Her skill has earned her books a place on my shelves every time.

Whether it’s the setting, a recommendation, a cover, or a name there is always something that draws a reader to a particular book. Occasionally we stumble onto a new writer by accident. I found Morgan Busse when I won a copy of Tainted. The book is not in my preferred genre, and I would not have purchased it for myself. It would have been my loss. I couldn’t put the book down, and I bought book two immediately. But happy accidents like this aside, most of the time some element lures us in and inspires us to choose a particular book.

In a similar way, we tend to gravitate toward certain scriptures or books of the Bible. I love a good story. Genesis, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles overflow with stories. The four gospels in the New Testament all tell the story of Jesus’ life.

I don’t like cliff-hangers. That’s why Jonah tends to frustrate me. It just sort of ends. I’m also not a fan of having to decipher between literal and figurative. I like it when things are clear and easy to follow. Though I have read it, Revelation isn’t usually my first choice because of this.

I will always have my favorites and the reasons I love them. I think most people do. But I don’t want that to stop me from seeking out God’s truth and wisdom from the entirety of scripture. The Bible, while separated into individual books, is meant to be taken as a whole as well. Each part backs up and enhances the message in the rest. It’s when the parts are put together that we get the clearest picture of who God is and what His plan for us is.

Besides, sometimes the most impactful lessons come from the place we least expect them.  Much like I was surprised by Tainted when I read it, I’ve been surprised by scripture. Doing an inductive Bible study of Romans was not something I looked forward to. Our group finished Kings and Chronicles which I loved. There was story after story to learn from and enjoy in those books. The idea of going to Romans was not as appealing. But I joined the study and gave it my best, and I came out with a new appreciation of the book. The lessons I took from that Romans study have had a big impact on my faith. Years later, truths I learned come flooding back with clarity when I need them most. I would have missed these if I’d decided not to take part.

How do you choose the books you read? Have any surprised you?

Which books of the Bible are your favorite and why? Have you ever been surprised by scripture?

Saying Goodbye

I love quotes. I guess that’s why I came up with Write Stuff Wednesday. Usually, I share a writing related quote, but really I’m a fan of any type of quote. I especially love quotes from children’s books. Today’s quote falls into this category.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh

I’ve had friends come and go in my life. Some have been incredibly hard to say goodbye to and even now, years later, I still find myself thinking about them. Their friendship was that special kind of relationship that shapes who you are. They are beside you in the bad times and laughing with you in the good times. You grow together and support each other. You can trust them just as they can trust you. Their absence doesn’t go unnoticed.

Some books are like that too. Some end and you go about life as usual. You enjoyed them while reading them, but as you turn that last page you’re satisfied with the end. Their story is over, and you are ready to move on.

Other books are harder to place back on that shelf. Whether it’s the characters or the message or both, you connect with the book in a deeper way. You empathize with the characters’ pains and relate to their struggles. Maybe they’re dealing with the same doubts you face. Maybe you’ve experienced a similar loss. Whatever the reason, reading these books is like holding up a mirror and seeing yourself. You connect with people dreamed up in the imagination of someone else. Reaching the end of these books isn’t as easy. The resolution of their problems may be satisfying, but their story has not left you unchanged. You’ve been encouraged or challenged as you’ve read each page. These are hard books to leave behind. These are the books you visit again and again.

These are the books I want to write. I would love nothing more than for people to come away from my stories changed for the better. I would count myself successful to know that others have connected with the characters I created and come away encouraged or challenged in their faith. As I strive to learn and grow as a writer, it is my hope that those who read my books will find “something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

 

More or Less

It’s getting close to that time of year when stores entice customers with pastel colored jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. I know we haven’t passed Valentine’s Day, but I’ve already seen a few Easter treats taking up residence near check-out counters. I love Easter candy. It’s better than chalky conversation hearts and blobs of peanut butter cups that are supposed to be hearts but somehow lack that tell-tale shape.

My favorite confections by far are made by Cadbury. Mini eggs are addicting. And for a long time it wasn’t spring until I had my first crème egg. I like the caramel ones as much if not more. But as I’ve aged and developed a few stomach issues, I can’t enjoy these treats in abundance like I used to. A full-size egg makes me queasy. The person who came up with the bite-sized versions deserves a Nobel prize. They took everything I love about a crème egg and put it into a perfectly proportioned miniature version that doesn’t offend my tummy’s sensitivities. Add cute packaging that resembles a dozen eggs, and you’ve got the best Easter treat on the market. It’s perfect when I want to enjoy a favorite treat without feeling sick after.

I’m learning bite-size can be great for a lot of different things. Since Christmas, I’ve enjoyed two books made up of three novellas each. I love to read, but I also have a lot of demands on my time.  I work 40 hours a week as a receptionist. Local ministry needs take up time. I have a family and a writing ministry that both need my attention. There are times I want to be able to sit down and enjoy a good story in a sitting or two, and all of these things prevent that. Or they did until I got my first compilation.

My most recent foray into the world of multiple novellas in one book was just what I needed. To Have and to Hold is, according to the cover, a collection of three autumn love stories. Each stands on its own. Love Takes the Cake by Betsy St. Amant is a sweet story about a baker (see what I did there?) who has been less than lucky in love. But her luck may change when she’s thrown together with a difficult bride’s best man to plan the desserts for all of the wedding festivities.

The Perfect Arrangement by Katie Ganshert is a fun story about a chance meeting and a friendship that starts by accident. It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, with the main characters developing their friendship through email. And though they don’t find out that they’re mortal enemies, they do have a few roadblocks in taking the next steps in their relationship. The story leaves you with a smile on your face and a list of old movies you need to watch.

Becky Wade wrote the final novella in the set. Love in the Details brings former flames back together in order to help plan a friend’s wedding. Two broken hearts that never healed and a secret reason for the break up mean neither of the main characters can move on and trust is fragile to try to move forward. There’s no escaping a hard look at their real feelings for each other as they work together to make the day special for their friend. And neither can deny the love they still feel for each other.

All three stories were the perfect length to let myself dive into them without worry over having to set them aside in favor of other activities. All three gave me the time of relaxation and enjoyment I look for in a good book. Am I going to abandon full-length books in favor of shorter compilations in the future? No. There is a depth that can be achieved in story and character development only when time is given to it. There is something comforting about following a loved character through various seasons of life as you read additional books in the series. I will always make time for full-length novels and book series.  But I guarantee I won’t turn away a good collection of novellas like this in the future either. There’s a place for both in my reading life.

There’s also a place for this type of thinking in my spiritual life. Busy lives pull us in many directions leaving us exhausted and unable to think clearly. Too often we may be tempted to neglect time in God’s word because we can’t dive in deep.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

From books to apps on our phones we have a variety of devotional materials at our fingertips. We can find them on any subject we desire. They’re bite-sized nuggets of truth from God’s word to turn our hearts and minds to Him. Using them can help change our attitudes for the day ahead or convict us of sinful behavior from the day we’ve finished. They can foster praise and worship in our hearts as we go about our day. And they’re perfect for us when we need a little reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

We also have books that serve as guided studies for us. They may lead us through a subject or scripture and expand on a theme. They present questions and allow us time to participate in the learning process. They take us deeper than devotions, but they tend to be lighter in the actual study part with a heavier focus on explanation. More time is required, but we will come away with a bit more complete understanding of the subject.

But we don’t have to stop there. We shouldn’t stop with what someone else tells us about scripture, whether it’s a devotion, sermon, or book. We have the scriptures at our disposal. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us to testify to the truths contained in God’s word. Devotions and books are wonderful tools, but there is something special about diving deep into scripture on your own. A good study that leads you to search out the context and meaning of a scripture for yourself is invaluable. As with the books mentioned above you a participant in the learning process. Because you are uncovering the truths for yourself, they become part of who you are. To dig deep into a passage and find out the answers to who, what, when, where, why, and how, to understand the words in the context of the surrounding scripture, and to ask yourself “what does it mean for my life” are all powerful elements of study that will change the way you live.

It’s amazing to know whether I have time for a little or a lot, there’s always a way to spend time with God.

If you’d like to read To Have and To Hold you can find it here:

The Baby and the Bathwater

You’ve probably heard the phrase “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. I recently heard that it dated back to a time in early American history when washtubs were used and baths were taken in order from oldest to youngest. This left the baby to be washed in murky water that could lead to mistakenly throwing out the baby when you emptied the tub. A quick search of the phrase’s beginnings show this to be nothing more than the product of someone’s imagination and the willingness of people to believe everything they read on the internet. Aside from it being wrong, this story is also quite disturbing. What mother would walk away from her baby in a washtub for a long enough time that when she came back she wouldn’t remember the baby was in the tub in the first place? It doesn’t make sense.

No matter its beginnings, the phrase does carry an important lesson, and one I have wrestled with this week. Usually on Saturday I post a devotional review of whatever book I’ve read during the week. Today, I finished the book I initially thought would be the focus of this week’s post. I liked the book’s story and characters. I would recommend it to fans of historical Christian fiction, but I wouldn’t recommend it across the board.

I don’t pretend to be perfect. I’m far from it. I’ve been told my own book is missing one word. I’m not sure where, but I trust the one who told me though she couldn’t remember the passage either. As careful as I’ve been, I know there have been errors in my posts too. Mistakes happen. I understand that. I’ve found mistakes in books by my favorite authors which were published by some of the big publishing houses. It doesn’t bother me.

But this one did. Aside from formatting errors, which happened a few times, there were also missing or incorrect words in various places. But even those weren’t too distracting. What took me out of the story more than anything was the author’s use of phrases or words that didn’t seem to fit the time period of the book. A few I couldn’t let go. I had to look them up. One actually could have been used, though I still have serious doubts. The others were words out of time and place.

So I have questions for you readers out there. Do you let the errors stop you from reading what would otherwise be a pretty good book? How would you want a book like that reviewed? Would you even want it reviewed?

Now questions for the authors out there. Would you want someone reviewing your book if they were going to include the above information? If someone had to say they liked the story but…? Would you want a reader to contact you with the errors? Keep in mind this would be out of a desire to help them become stronger writers, not to bash them.

And let’s round it out with a life lesson for all believers. How many times have we been guilty of throwing the baby out with the bath water in our churches? When the going gets tough at church, and face it we are dealing with a group of people trying to function as one so there will be rough times, how do we respond? Do we pack up and move on? I’m not saying it’s never God’s time to leave a church, but it should not be our “go to” move every time something happens that we don’t like.

Or maybe you’re dealing with Christian people who seem to fail repeatedly. The temptation is to label them hypocrites. They aren’t true believers, and we don’t need to worry ourselves about them anymore. We spend our time and energy on those who get it right more often or at the very least fail in ways we find more palatable. There goes that baby again. Yes, there are true hypocrites, people who are willfully living in ways contrary to what they say they believe. They are nothing more than liars and fakes. But it’s good for us to remember there are sinful strongholds we all face in our faith. There are sins we may fight for years before we finally learn to conquer it. This doesn’t make us fake in our faith. It makes us weak. It makes us human. When we see someone struggling  (and the key word is struggling) with a sin or question of faith and belief, let’s not be so quick to slough them off. Let’s extend mercy and grace and love. Let’s help be the encouragement and example that can help them in their fight.

There are enough reasons to let go of certain things in our lives. Let’s learn how to celebrate the good and deal with the bad in godly ways instead of running or pushing away so quickly.

Write Stuff Wednesday: Grow

grow“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

Reading is my superpower. With the current fascination with super heroes, statements of an individual’s superpower aren’t unusual. Everything from hobbies to activism is touted as superpowers. But in this case, it’s a little bit true. For a writer, reading has power.

In order to grow as a writer, all the successful writers agree, you must read. Currently tucked in amid a plethora of Christian fiction is a book by Brandilyn Collins on creating characters. I want to read it not because I know nothing about creating characters but because there is always something new to learn on the subject. There’s always a tip or trick or different perspective that I can incorporate into my writing to make it better. As I writer I read because I want to grow. There will never be a time when I’ve learned all there is to learn.

And my lessons aren’t only found in books on the craft of writing. I find inspiration in addition to pleasure in the pages of fiction. In reading well-written stories, I expose myself to writing techniques without conscious effort. I’m not trying to learn. I’m simply enjoying the story, and my brain captures lessons on technique and style and characterization I don’t realize it’s taking in. Even an occasional poorly written story isn’t a total waste as it drives home the things I want to avoid in my own writing.

In accepting the idea that I don’t have it all together as a writer, I create the environment and drive to become better than I was yesterday. I don’t stop with reading and understanding concepts about writing. I apply them to what I write and in doing so, my writing is strengthened. Reading becomes my superpower to better my writing.

But reading is more than just a superpower for writers. It’s also a spiritual superpower. There’s a whole chapter in Psalms (119, in case you’re wondering) dedicated to the benefits of God’s word. The New Testament tells us scripture is good for teaching us, correcting us, and training us in the ways a righteous person should think and act. Scripture is our way to get to know God and understand our relationship with Him. Scripture gives us direction, encouragement, strength, and conviction (both the “I know I am wrong” kind of conviction that leads us from sin to forgiveness and the “I shall not be moved” kind of conviction we need to stand strong in our beliefs).

As believers in 2018 we have an unheard of number of ways to grow in our relationships with God. We can listen to godly music everywhere we go. There are numerous Christian books and movies. Christian speakers and teachers pack conference halls to hear their messages. These are wonderful tools we have in our lives as Christians, but they can’t compare to the word of God. They are the tributaries, but God’s word is the source they spring from. It is what gives their words meaning and power.

Scripture also gives meaning to our actions and power to the way we live. It transforms us into something new, something closer to the image of Christ, as we let each word soak into our souls. Time spent reading God’s word is more than a mere superpower. Reading scripture is a believer’s supernatural superpower.

By the Book: As a writer, do you spend time growing through reading? Feel free to share a favorite book in the comments. As a believer, do you spend time through reading God’s word? Feel free to share a favorite verse in the comments.

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