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Archive for January, 2013

 

Wow – JanuarMB900442471[1]y is over. It hardly seems possible. Why do the days, weeks, months, even years seem to speed by so quickly as we get older? Children complain often about time standing still, while most of us complain about how fast it goes.

When you really think about it, the explanation is clear. Children live for the moment. They seldom plan ahead because what is happening right now consumes them. They are focused on getting the most out of whatever they are currently engaged in.

For us it’s different. We are constantly looking ahead, planning ahead, making lists and getting into a panic because it seems we won’t have nearly enough time to complete the lists. We gloss over where we are today thinking about where we need to be tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in planning and organization. I make lists and I keep a detailed calendar. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been participating in one activity while looking at my schedule and thinking about the next activity.

And when I do check something off my list, I can’t always say it’s been done well. And I can’t always declare I thoroughly enjoyed it because I realize I wasn’t fully engaged in it at the time it was happening.

I am challenging myself this year to take more time in the moment and less time in the future. By that I mean that I will lay down the list of upcoming events and tasks and concentrate more on where I am right now. 

One of the ways I’ve started doing this is with my morning devotions. Every morning as I go through my Bible reading for the day I’m not just checking it off the list so I can complete the entire Bible in a year. I am taking the time to look for one nugget I can pull out and apply to this very day.

Today, for instance, I finished up Exodus and read about the priestly garments God designed for those who ministered to the people. God wanted the people who ministered in the temple to be easily recognizable. When they were dressed in their business clothes, no one would mistake them for anything else but Godly men serving in a priestly role. Everything people saw when they looked at Aaron and his assistants screamed “holy”.

As a Christian and as one called to ministry, do I dress with the same meticulous care? When people look at me do they recognize my role as a witness to His faithfulness, a follower of His word, a vessel for His use?

  • Am I wearing the face of contentment regardless of my circumstances? (1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.)
  • Am I thinking and speaking words that build up not tear down? (Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whateveris right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.)
  • Am I covering myself with compassion, kindness and generosity so that others are drawn to me?  (Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.)

Taking time before I start my day making sure I am ready for whatever comes my way is one way I am slowing down and assuring that I “thoroughly live” instead of “frantically live”.  

My next step is …. I’m not sure. This slowing down is a real challenge for me. I’m thinking I need to gather some children around and let them drag me into their world for a while.

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MB900422771[1]With this being the 40th anniversary of Roe versus wade, the news has been filled with commentary from both sides. You can read the pro life side and you can read the pro choice side and both have parts and pieces of logic.

I firmly believe the reason we can’t come to an agreement on the issue is because we have never had the right to even have a choice in the matter. Only God has the knowledge and foresight and vision to know whether a life is valid. And since He is the one who creates that life in the first place, He is wise enough not to create something of no value.

All of the arguments aside, I got a practical lesson on the whole issue this week. It was a beautiful illustration of life value and I wish I could pass it on to every pro-choicer out there.

The real story began over 60 years ago when a baby boy was born to the parents of one of my best friends. He was severely handicapped from the start, his body twisted and useless. And though normal communication was not possible, it soon became apparent that his mind was sharp and comprehension of the world around him keen. His fierce determination to fight for life earned him the nickname of Tuffy.

For 60 years his family has faithfully loved and cared for him. They were his advocates when the long term care facility was giving less than adequate care. They went out of their way to make sure he spent holidays with the family. They visited regularly – almost every day – for 60 years to make sure he knew he was loved. They managed to understand his method of communication and did everything they could to address his needs.

I have seen them kiss him and hug him, shave him and joke with him. I have watched them turn his chair for the best view out the window, readjust his pillows to assure comfort, get in the faces of medical staff to get them to listen, and nurse him through fevers and infections.

My precious friend has her own serious health problems, has a very challenging marriage, lost a daughter in her twenties to cancer and fights every day to keep her head above water. Never once have I heard anger, bitterness, regret or impatience over the demands of keeping Tuffy safe and secure. While from the outside this did not look like a regular, gather around the dinner table every night kind of family, it was no less a family because of Tuffy. In fact, the extra effort needed to hold them together probably made it more of a well bonded family than most.

Several times, especially in the last few years, Tuffy became critically ill. Never did my friend wish for it to be over. Her prayers were always for comfort and healing. She never asked that her life be easier, only Tuffy’s. 

Tuffy passed away this past week and my friend along with her family have deeply grieved.

To my friend he was never a burden, he was a brother. His life served a purpose regardless of his ability to walk and talk in a “normal” manner. I believe Tuffy’s life made her kinder, more thoughtful, more compassionate, more tolerant and more thankful than life without him would have.

Was their life easy with a child like Tuffy? Not in the furthest sense of the word. Was their life better because of Tuffy? You bet it was. He brought a light and a love, a focus and family closeness, and  lessons beyond measure.

Tuffy was different but no less dear to his family than any other son or sibling. I rejoice that he is free of his twisted body and running around heaven shouting and singing today. And I thank God for my friend and the life lesson she passed on by embracing what others might have called a life of little value.

If we could all let God handle life and death and just tend to the things He gives us control over, events like Roe versus Wade would not exist. Instead, love and compassion would take their place.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16 

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MB900427740[1]Two interesting stories came my way recently and made me examine our tendency to generalize.  It also caused me to examine the way Jesus listened individually not collectively to the people He came in contact with.

The first story hit the headlines in our town, was repeated several times on the local news stations and stirred many heated discussions.  A 50 year old man, a familiar figure because of his daily begging on the same busy street corner, was found dead in his vehicle from an apparent drug overdose.  The police also found $1,700 in cash and over $83,000 worth of cocaine in his possession. Week after week this man had put on his beaten down face, shuffled back and forth in a humble, down on his luck manner and and carried a sign pleading for “just one dollar”.

You can only imagine the reaction from the community.  Much ranting and raving about how these street corner beggars are all con artists, dangerous criminals, only used the money collected to buy drugs, and should be outlawed. I can honestly say not one radio caller or letter writer voiced any kind of compassion. I can also honestly say I did not feel one ounce of compassion for the main character in this story.

My second story didn’t hit any headlines or talk shows. It was related to me by a co-worker who had walked from her home to a local convenience store. As she approached she saw a man standing by the door and could tell right away he was going to ask for a handout. Her mind flashed to the recent news story noted above and she shoved her hands deeper into her pockets where she was carrying several bills of different denominations.

Sure enough, the man approached her and asked for seventy cents. She was surprised at the amount and asked what he was going to do with the money. He answered that he was hungry and the convenience store sold corn dogs for seventy cents. She sensed honesty in his statement and quickly prayed for God to guide her. She felt compelled to give the man whatever bill she pulled out of her pocket. She had a twenty, a ten and a five. So she added to her prayer that God would let her fingers grasp the five.

Pulling out her hand she offered the money, which happened to be a ten dollar bill, to the man. To her surprise he refused it, reminding her he only needed seventy cents. She tried to encourage him to take the entire bill but in all humility he explained that all he needed was seventy cents and he would feel bad taking more. She went inside, picked up her purchases and on the way out handed the man seventy cents.

She couldn’t help but look back as she walked away and sure enough, the man was inside purchasing a corn dog.

Two beggars, two different motives, two different actions – proving not everyone lies, not everyone cheats, not everyone takes advantage of generous people.

We are so prone to generalize and paint similar groups with the same brush, be it race, ethnicity, gender, occupation or whatever else we can pounce on.  Jesus didn’t stop healing lepers because one was ungrateful. He addressed the honest questions of Nicodemis even though other religious leaders had ulterior motives. And when a crippled man was lowered through the roof, Jesus assessed his faith and addressed the real problem, not of his infirmity but of the sin in his life.

Jesus weighed each scenario, evaluated each need, studied each circumstance to make sure He did the right thing at the right time.  Very few things fit neatly in a box with a generic label. It takes an open mind and an open heart to seek the proper response in each situation.

There are plenty of people and talk shows and written articles to try to convince you that everyone is up to something. They will say don’t trust, don’t love, don’t give and don’t take a risk.

There is still one very good resource, however, to remind you that God listened to your story. He didn’t toss you into a pot of you’re-just-like-all-the-rest stew. Instead, He listened, He loved and He gave you what you needed. That resource is called the Bible, the precious Word of God. The more you study it the better you will be able to discern your part in the scheme of your every day encounters. Sometimes you will know to turn away and other times you will feel led to reach into your pocket.

Two stories, One God with all the answers.

“When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the crippled man, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5

 

 

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It's a ... novel!

It’s a … novel!

As I put the finishing touches on a manuscript I will enter in the Genesis contest with American Christian Fiction Writers I am deluged with advice from the blogs of other writers, critique comments, bullet points from books on the craft of writing and of course, my own gut feelings.

When you have a baby, you want the best for it.  You want to be the best parent, give great counsel, love unconditionally, and have moments when you can sit back and beam proudly at your accomplishment. It’s no different with the birth of a manuscript.

The problem with parenting is that often love is blind and you find yourself overlooking things that should be corrected, behaviors that should be stopped, disciplinary action that should be taken and a few other mistakes. The problem with writing – ditto.

My first big struggle came when input from a contest judge stated my story was good and publishable but she questioned whether first person was the right point of view for the story.  Two other judges in the contest gave feedback that my voice was light and funny and really lent enjoyment to the story.

So what to do?  I decided to take chapter one and try a different point of view.  I worked diligently, but in the end I couldn’t do it.  It just didn’t feel right. The story didn’t flow and it didn’t make me smile when I read it back.  I made an executive decision to leave the point of view alone.

My second struggle came with the advice every writer gets from every critique, every article and every bit of advice from seasoned authors – too much back story.  My first reaction,  “But you have to get to know my MC before you will really understand the story.  She is her history. You want me to cut all that good stuff out?  I’m going to need a lot of anesthesia for that kind of surgery.  And a supply of pain killers afterward.” 

I began cutting, bleeding and moaning at each step.  What I discovered in the long run was all that history is what led me to know my character intimately. And because I knew her so well, I could tell her story in the present letting her personality and her actions suggest the history that made her the way she is.  Brilliant!

The third big struggle was with the story being “overwritten”.  I had to study that comment because I wasn’t sure what it meant.  Reading back through the manuscript I found  it was all action.  Action is good.  Action is key. Action is what moves the story forward. However, as I observed from some of my favorite reads, now and then the reader needs a chance to catch a breath, experience a golden moment, bask in a lazy description of the scene, the prophetic moment, the romance, the MC’s dreams, even a crazy conversation between two characters that seems to have no relevance to the main theme.

When I went back and broke up the action a little with some of this frosting on the cake stuff, I loved it.  It began to read like a novel you can’t put down.

I’m excited about one or two more edits before submitting it for the contest.  And I’m excited that once again I learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process.

  • You can love your work too much and it will cause you to ignore valuable guidance. Just like parenting, once in a while you have to look past the “my perfect child” part and address the little flaws that if not corrected can result in a big problem.
  • You can love your work too little and let the miles and miles of advice take you away from your core idea. Editing and correcting, cutting and revising are good until you find you’ve lost the “you” in your writing. Each writer is unique in some way. Don’t lose sight of your special something that exists in everything you  compose.
  • You can never know too much about your character, but you can certainly reveal too much about your character. Back story is like Elmer’s glue – a little goes a long way. Don’t put so much in that your reader gets stuck . But include just enough to get the reader attached.
  • As in all things, seek guidance, pray, trust your instincts and be willing to take a risk. Every parent knows there is a lot of “seat of your pants” parenting that goes into a well raised child.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”   Kurt Vonnegut

Psalms 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

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It happens every January 1, a new year like a blank page begging for a story.  It stretches out before you, not yet sullied, not yet marked by disappointment, not yet peppered with regret.  You look back and analyze the past year and there are always parts you’d like to erase.  You look forward and begin to make resolutions that will guarantee improvement.

There is excitement and enthusiasm for a while.  If you are like me, you get into a cleaning frenzy.  You reorganize.  You dust corners you’ve forgotten about for the past several months.  I would love to start every year by throwing out the old wardrobe and starting over with everything brand new, never worn. 

The first day of a new year is perfection – for about five minutes.  Hard as you try you can’t keep it that way. Before the day ends you’ve probably said something you wish you hadn’t, neglected something you should have taken care of, and shoved an item into a place it didn’t go. All those wonderful resolutions already starting to crumble and you have another 364 days to go.

Still, I am a hopeless resolution maker. I am a dreamer of better decisions, kinder thoughts, more generous actions and a deeper walk. I am a seeker of more meaning and richer relationships.  I am a planner of more organized days and fewer busy nights.

For several years now I have been reading through the Bible, beginning January 1st and finishing triumphantly December 31st. I have not failed to live up to this commitment yet.

And God has not failed to reveal new ideas and thoughts to me through His amazing words.  Here is the perfect example.

It’s January 3, 2013 and I have just read through the story of creation again.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve studied this particular section of scripture. However, this is the first time I was struck with how it parallels the start of a brand new year. Picture God looking out on nothing and deciding to create something, so He starts with light.

Now here is the clue God gave me for how to improve my life in 2013. God didn’t create light and jump to the next step. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good,…” Genesis 1:3-4a

God took time to look His first step over and make sure it was good before moving on. What a thought!  Take time to make sure where you are is right and good before you move forward.

To me that means when the realization comes that I’ve stumbled in thought, word or deed, I need to stop and make amends. When I’m short with my husband, who is one of the few people who can push me from my normally tolerant and gentle self to irritation, I can’t just walk on.  I have to stop and ask forgiveness because I desire to please God in all things.  I want Him to look at me and say “that was good, move on.”

When I neglect my devotions or don’t take time with someone who needs time, or spread gossip, or fail to put all of my effort or talent in what God has called me to do, I need to go back and make it right.

God stopped several times in the creation process and assessed His work. Did the world He created stay beautiful and unsullied? Nope.  Man messed it up within a very short time, and continues to distort it every day. But that doesn’t change what God did.

Take some time this first week of 2013 to look for the original good in God’s actions that first week of the very first year ever.  Here’s what you will find:

  • There is still heart wrenching, soul moving beauty in a sunrise. 
  • There is still tranquility in the still waters and breathtaking power in a waterfall.
  • There is still majesty beyond description in the mighty mountains and cool, soothing peace in the lush valleys.
  • There is still hope in the shimmer of moonlight, laughter in the antics of animals, wonder in the effortless soaring of a bird, faith in the ebb and flow of the ocean.
  • And never doubt, there is still goodness in man. The news may try to hide it, evil will try to cast a shadow on it. But it’s there, every day, in the heart and spirit of the ones who choose to walk with God and live out love, forgiveness and grace.

Look for it and you will find it. When you do, remind yourself “it is good”.

 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good….” Genesis 1:31a

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