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Wednesday

Running for Our Calling


I Corinthians 10:31, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

Recently I saw a teenager from church post this verse on his Facebook status as a way to shame people out of watching movies because they can't glorify God, apparently. And that bothered me, so it got me to thinking, why do we as the church have such a hard time with this concept? And what does living our lives for the glory of God really look like?

The best I can tell, it has a lot more to do with the motivations behind our actions than the actions themselves. Sure, we should avoid sin, but what if there's more to it than that? What if we have a higher calling, something to run . . . towards instead of away from?

into marvelous light I'm running


We often hear this verse associated with things we shouldn't do. Don't watch R rated movies. Don't have sex out of wedlock. Don't say curse words or look at pornography. And I agree wholeheartedly--it's of vital importance that as Christians, we avoid these things. That we avoid the sins that would burden God's heart and make Him displeased.

But there's so much more to live for.

Notice what the verse is really saying. It's not a list of things we shouldn't be doing. You often hear teenagers asking youth ministers about the lines of appropriate behavior. How much is too much when it comes to difficult friendships, dating unbelievers, even kissing. But what is wrong with our doctrine that we've encouraged young believers to ask these things, to come to think of faith as a line we shouldn't cross rather than a marvelous light we're running toward?

Far from a list of sins to avoid, this verse takes on a different tone entirely. The English major in me can't escape the word "for" in the latter part of this passage. We are to do everything for the glory of God. Wow. Now there's a new thought entirely.

God has given you, and He's given me, the blessing of today. Often, I find myself going through the day, satisfied to not commit any blatant sins. But battles are never won simply because warriors didn't do anything that day worth mentioning.

God has placed a purpose upon your life, upon your heart. Allow me to encourage you today. We aren't made to be running away from something. We're meant to run toward something else entirely. Whether that's smiling at your kids while you're doing the dishes, or whether that's polishing the WIP you feel will never see the light of a bookstore, remind yourself today. God has a plan for your heart, for your life. And sometimes the littlest steps accomplish the biggest things.


Sunday

Happy Memorial Day!

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Memorial Day today! I was thinking about this holiday earlier this morning. Have I ever really taken a step back to let the level of sacrifice sink in? The fact that people have willingly given their lives for this legacy of freedom I am so used to living every day? If you or a loved one has personally sacrificed something for our country, I say a special thanks to you today. I have close friends, best friends, whose husbands are facing deployment, and I've come to see those sacrifices with a whole new level of appreciation lately. Let's take some time to thank God and our peers for what we have come to know as normal in our country.

We'll get back to the regular post schedule again Wednesday, but until then, if you have a second, please share your thoughts with me in the poll below. Thanks everyone!

Poll!

Hi y'all! I'm doing some research for a blog I'm writing and would love to hear your answers to these questions:

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by that first draft of a book? What strategies do you have to keep yourself on task?

Thanks in advance for your help! I can't wait to hear your responses.

Tuesday

Be Still


Psalm 46:10-- "Be still, and know that I am God."

How hard is it sometimes to just be still? Think about that. Even when we have down time at our disposal, how often are we actually still? How often do we turn off all the "noise" in our lives and just quiet ourselves before God?

I am so bad at this. Now that summer's here, I have a lot of free time, and yet I find myself so quickly filling it with things that don't matter... Etsy shopping, watching endless hours of Everybody Loves Raymond... you get the picture. But at the end of the day, do these things really matter? Sure, they're fun, and sure, they're great in managed quantities, but what effect do they have on our ability to be still?

Maybe you're the opposite. Maybe you have two kids under five and life is so fast-paced right now that you're lucky if you even have time to bathe, let alone get some peaceful, quiet time.

We live in a hyper-paced world. And I, for one, feel like I always have to keep up with it. I want to see the Dancing with the Stars finale when it first comes on (which, by the way, how disappointing was that finale?!), I want all the aqua-colored trends I've seen on Pinterest, and I like reading books by my favorite authors right when they come out. Information comes so quickly in our digital age that sometimes keeping up is just plain exhausting.

But today I want to challenge our idea of what it really means to be still.

When I think of "being still" before God, I think of a very pious person, bowing before God on a glorious morning filled with newly-lit sunlight and the splendor of fresh flowers on a hillside. This does not happen for me, at least not usually, because I'm completely not a morning person, and every day I end up feeling guilty for sleeping a few more minutes (sometimes many more minutes-ha!) than I'd planned.

But what if we've got it all wrong? What if "being still" means something else entirely?

Today I took my dog Maddie to the vet because she's been really stiff for months now, and she's only three. She had to be sedated so they could take some x-rays--not really a big deal--but I hate the idea of leaving her at the vet for the day, and I always get nervous when she has to be sedated. Not to mention, I hate seeing her loopy like that and knew she'd be really sore afterwards. So last night, I am laying in my bed, begging God for every little detail I can think of. The sedative (which at that point I thought was going to be full-blown anesthesia), any germs she might come into contact with, the other dogs around, wisdom for the vet, that nothing would go wrong, that she wouldn't get scared or sick from the medicine. You name it, and I probably imagined it and prayed for it. You may be thinking, "all this for a dog?" but to me she's so much more than a dog.

But somewhere along my long list of items, God stopped me and said, "Be still."

He does this often with me. You'd think I would've learned the lesson by now. Somewhere in my mind, when confronted with a challenging situation, I feel like I can pray my way out of it by thinking of every possible scenario and praying against that. Don't get me wrong--I believe praying in specific terms is very important. But whenever we feel a compulsion to imagine the worst case scenario and then beg God not to let those scary things happen, we have a problem. We are taking things into our own hands and asking God to stamp his power on our plans.

And so last night I stepped out in faith. I stopped listing all the possibilities, and in brokenness just said to God, "Please take care of her."And the thing is, that's what He wants. He doesn't need me to handle it for Him, and when I pray in fear He doesn't think to Himself, "I hadn't thought of that! Thanks for pointing it out." He. Is. God.

There is peace in surrender. I think this concept goes hand-in-hand with the verses that say to "pray continually" as well as the verses that exhort us to think about those things that are "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8). It is one thing to have legitimate fear that we give to God. It is another thing to take that fear and hold on.

So this brings me to a question. What if being still doesn't always mean bowing by your bedside on a quiet morning. Sure, it can happen there. But what if being still is more a matter of the heart, of surrender? What would it look like if, instead of trying to fix everything we bring to God, we simply bring these things to Him with broken hearts and said, "I need You, God. I need You so badly, right now." What if we trusted Him by surrendering our hearts and continually lived in the peace that comes from being in His hand?

I wanted to share this video with you because I love this song. The Fray isn't a Christian band, per say, but I don't think you can escape the spiritual tenor of these lyrics. I hope it ministers to you today and encourages your heart, in all its wanderings and all its worries, to simply be still.



Monday

Perfectionism and Procrastination

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the toll procrastination takes upon our writing. I'm starting a new book right now, and I've fought to get really going on it because every time I sit down to write, I feel like my story isn't yet good enough. Can you relate to that?

While I think pre-writing planning is extremely helpful. And I know with my current novel, it's made all the difference in helping me craft well-rounded characters and giving me an idea of their motivations. I've also already charted out some of my most important scenes and have a good idea where everything is heading.

But at some point, all that is not enough. At some point, you have to sit in the chair with your computer and just write.


And the first draft will probably be bad. That's okay. It happens to all of us. The important thing is pushing past those feelings of, "Oh my goodness. I have to delete this whole thing. Give me some chocolate," toward feelings of "Well, this is at least tolerable," toward a moment (perhaps far in the future) where you think, "Hey, this isn't half bad."

Michael Hyatt posted as his Facebook status tonight: "Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination."

Isn't that so true? When I read that, I thought to myself, "What a perfect way to phrase what I wanted to write my blog post about."

I have a problem. I like things well-done. Very well-done. So well-done that sometimes it keeps me from jumping toward the thing at all. But think of it this way. A poorly-written first draft can be edited. An unwritten story is of no benefit at all.


Sometimes we just have to step out and put one foot in front of the other until we learn to walk, to step into our story and into uncharted ground. Eventually we will find the beautiful fountain that is the story God has put within us. But we won't find that beautiful thing if we don't keep walking. It's the same thing with the Christian walk, really. Faith requires a certain element of stepping out into the unknown. Many times, we're okay with that. But it gets a lot more challenging when we're not sure of the steadiness of our own ability.

But what has God said of that? Philippians 1:6, "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." Take a second to let that soak in to your heart. When God calls us, He equips us. Sometimes He only gives us the tools we need for that next step of the journey, when we'd really like to have them all at once. But He knows how much we can handle. And the important thing is, the work He is doing in us is a good thing. It is a process. We do not step out in faith and suddenly arrive at spiritual perfection, and in the same way, we do not start writing and suddenly materialize a perfect story. But somehow, after many afternoons of sitting at the kitchen table alone and writing, or many late evenings filled with only the light of our laptops, we find a story. One that really sparkles and goes on to touch the lives of many.

So here's the thing. Keep writing.

:)

How do you combat those, "My story stinks" blues that inevitably come at the beginning or perhaps the middle of your story?

Photo from http://www.kineticfountains.com/articles/selecting-the-right-pond-fountain/

Wednesday

A Shrinky Dink God

Do you remember Shrinky Dinks? Maybe you played with them as a child or have kids who enjoy them now. Many an afternoon, I'd carefully color in my design and anxiously await beside the oven as they shrunk.

The concept is simple, really. You colored in between the lines of this special paper (or drew your own design) until you got it just how you wanted it. Then you put them in the oven at a certain temperature and watched them bake. I can still remember watching as the edges began to curl, and how excited that made me. Then, little by little, they shrunk down. By the time they came out of the oven, the Shrinky Dinks were drastically smaller and tough. No more flimsy paper. They felt more like hard plastic.

So why I am I bringing up Shrinky Dinks? Well, besides the fact that they are very cool, it hit me that there's a parallel here with our relationship with God. Yes, I know Mr. T is in the photo above. Try to stay with me here.

More specifically, the Shrinky Dink process is similar to what happens in our perception of God.  We take this God-template, we color Him in how we want Him, and then when we put that perception under a little bit of heat, what happens?

Our understanding of Him begins to shrink under the pressure heat.


Questions like "Why do bad things happen in the world?" and "God, why aren't you pulling through for me?" move from doubts to something else entirely, a stumbling ground, as they heat up the perception of God we have in our hearts and minds. And suddenly, our view of God and His power, His love, His sovereignty begins to get smaller. And smaller. Until our hearts become hardened in the heat.



Here's the thing. God Himself is constant and sure. We're the ones who are changing. But how do we manage to remain flexible under the heat of life's oven? How do we keep our view of God and His ability from shrinking?

We must examine our hearts and ask if we only know a "shrinking" perception of God, or if we know the real thing. A genuine relationship with Christ will not bend under the heat. That's not to say doubts and challenges will not come. But God will pull you through those things, and you'll come out of it in awe of His grandeur rather than doubting His ability. 

(More like those dinosaur capsules that expand in the water.--Sorry, couldn't resist!)



So how do we move from a "shrinking" perception of God to one where, as the Bible says, we can "rise on eagles' wings"? 

1) Pray and read the Bible continually. Seems we all struggle at one point or another with making the time and having the self-discipline to do this regularly. But why should God reveal Himself further to us when we haven't even invested ourselves in knowing what He's already spoken?

2) Listen for the Spirit's voice in our hearts and lives. Sometimes I get really anxious, usually about dumb things. And this little whisper inside my heart says, Give it to Me. I love you, and I care about this thing that matters so much to your heart. You can trust Me.

3) Surrender to the sufficiency of grace. What this all comes down to is a faith issue. When I find myself doubting God's ability to handle a particular situation, and when I find I'm trying to take care of everything on my own, I realize the problem is faith. The problem is surrendering. For faith is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." Our attempts to control all the circumstances of our lives instead of giving them over to God are what should be shrinking.

4) Let go. When things heat up in our lives, it's actually a great opportunity to see what's shriveling up and what remains. Because God's love and truth and grace will always remain. Try to see trials, and even just difficult situations, as opportunities to grow and weed out those things you've been holding on to that you probably shouldn't be. Maybe they're misperceptions about God, or about yourself. Learn to let go of these things.

Have you ever found yourself feeling like your faith in God's ability just keeps dwindling? What has He done in your life to show you the greatness of His sufficiency? Do you have anything else to add to this list?

Photos from: http://blog.giddygiddy.com/giddygiddy/2011/01/shrinky-dinks.html, http://bagalicious.biz/shrinky-dinks-are-not-just-for-kids/, http://www.genxtinct.com/2011/05/shrinky-dinks.html, http://www.inandoutgifts.com/instant-products-prehistoric-2-pack-of-12-sets.html

Monday

Snappy Dialogue

Today I want to talk about something that relevant to all writers, no matter the genre, and that is dialogue. I read an excerpt yesterday from Denise Hunter's newest book, and one line in particular stood out to me. In between the dialogue itself, one of the characters crossed her arms.

Now, the first time I read this, the detail slipped passed me (and I tend to be a very OCD reader). I think it's because we often read through the space in between the quotes more quickly than we read the quotations themselves. But even still, I had this feeling in my gut that her character wasn't happy about something, that she was closed off. That's the power of a well-used dialogue tag.

So how can we achieve this effect for our readers, even if they don't consciously realize our characterization strategy?

1) Be intentional about dialogue and its setup. The dialogue itself is very important, yes. But so is the space between what the characters say verbally. What are they saying non-verbally? Are they sitting down, looking off, rolling their eyes, fidgeting their thumbs? These things matter because they give us a particular way to interpret the dialogue.

2) Be specific. The more specific you are with dialogue tags, the better. Having a character sip of a melty Coke float gives us a lot more imagery than having a character raise their overly-glass.

3) Use characterization. Use dialogue tags as a way to express a character's unique traits and quirks. Ever notice how in real life some of your friends do the strangest things? Maybe they talk with their hands or make this funny "I don't know what you're talking about" face. Give those kinds of traits to your characters too so that you not only make them likable and unique, but you also make them realistic.

4) Subtext. Dialogue tags or beats are an excellent opportunity for subtext and for letting your reader know if he/she should trust what your characters say. So you may, for instance, have a character verbally say "I'm fine" while tapping their foot against the bottom of the table. Dialogue tags can add great layers to what is verbalized by the characters.

What other aspects of dialogue tags do you think are important or helpful to note? Do you find you enjoy writing them?

Wednesday

The Power of Prayer



There's a woman I know who's battled cervical cancer for years. Two years ago, God laid her upon my heart while she was in remission, and I didn't know why because I don't know her all that well. One year ago, she relapsed. She was unable to eat solid food for months and spent a lot of time being fed in the hospital through tubes. Her outlook was very grim, to put it mildly. 

Today she found out she's cancer free. That woman's name is Diann Hunt.

There's a baby I know who was born April 12th of last year at 23 weeks of age. In some states, abortion is still legal at this stage. Pierce was born weighing in at a grand total of 1 pound and 8 ounces. In the days that followed, his parents were told that his fatality was certain. Doctors did everything they could to save Pierce, but too many things were going wrong, and his potassium levels were so high (9.9), his outlook seemed completely hopeless. His heart was supposed to stop beating. But it did not. Pierce kept living, kept growing strong, defying all odds. 


Today he weighs over 19 pounds, is developing well, and continues to defy all odds. If you would like to follow Pierce's journey or read his miracle story, his mom Lindsay writes a beautiful blog at http://littlebabypierce.blogspot.com. The picture above shows Pierce next to an ink pen shortly after he was born. The picture below shows a comparison a year later. God is good.

I'm writing this blog today because God has put his healing power on my heart. I believe that the God of the Bible is still doing miracles today, and that there is hope for our lives. We get used to the power of God when we've been in church long enough. We're used to His story of mercy, to conviction in our lives. But we need to open our eyes.

Do you believe that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective? Do you pray like that? Think about how much more we could accomplish in our daily activities and our prayer lives if we saw the person God wants us to be and allowed that to be the person we are, allowed that to shape the kind of prayers we pray.

If you knew your prayers to God were powerful and effective, would it change the way you pray today? Maybe you've forgotten what it even feels like to pray that way. Something I've been learning lately is what it means to come to God like a little child. Maybe encourages you too.

When we start believing who we are in Christ, miracles happen in our lives.

It seems fitting that we welcome prayer requests on the blog today, so if something is laying on your heart and you'd like to mention it to us (or even just to mention that you'd like prayer), please feel comfortable doing so. I believe that God is wanting to do something in your life.

While we're on the topic of prayer, if you're having trouble staying focused in the presence of God (and don't we all struggle with that sometimes?) I wanted to mention that recently I've been listening to worship music on Pandora that has really helped focus my mind. Just go to Pandora and search something like "Bethel Music."

*Prayer photo from http://www.nyuseed.com/2009/0405/pray-for-new-york-city/

Monday

Secret Strength: Worry

Imagine what you look like when you're in the middle of reading one of your favorite books. Now pretend someone pauses that image. What are you doing? How do you feel? I imagine I'm probably biting my bottom lip, leaning forward toward the book in my hands, and holding my breath.

What is it that causes us to become so invested in a story? Why does this happen in a really good book?

Because we are worried about the characters.

Readers secretly want you to scare them to pieces. I know this because that's what I want when I read. They might not admit it, but think about it--a story where you're not concerned about the characters is probably a boring story. We like to think the status quo is interesting, but really, it's not even a story.

So how do we go about using worry to keep our readers flipping the pages?

1) Make your characters likable. Before we're willing to worry about someone, we first must want what's best for them. We want them to achieve their goals and dreams, and we just generally like hanging out with them throughout the pages of the story.

2) Make the stakes clear. Be sure you give clear emotional as well as external stakes. We need to know what the characters stand to lose, and what the consequences are of that possible loss. Usually speaking, the bigger the stakes, the better, so long as it's believable.

3) Threaten the characters with these stakes. Character growth happens when characters are challenged. But not only do these challenges make for better-rounded characters, they also keep the reader hooked because she's so worried about how the characters will handle the challenge. Think about your character's greatest fear. Then think about how she would respond if confronted with that fear. Then make her confront it. That's the secret behind a great story, because if your readers really care about your character, they will journey with her as she overcomes these obstacles and comes out stronger... and you'll keep them hooked along the way!

Have you ever used a suspenseful thread in your stories? How do you keep your future readers hooked by your writing, and have you ever used the strategy of making your audience worry about your characters?

*Photo from http://www.sheknows.com/pets-and-animals/articles/947909/top-5-books-for-pet-lovers

Wednesday

The Little Cocoon

Hi faithful readers! I hope you all are having a nice morning. Ever have one of those weeks when you catch yourself putting your cell phone in the garbage can and stop in the middle of your own story because you realize you've forgotten what comes next?

Uh, yeah. That was this week for me.

I guess the fender bender shook me up more than I realized. Then I locked my keys inside my truck (totally embarrassing!) and spent the weekend discipling an adorable group of 6th grade girls, albeit without much sleep to go off. By yesterday, it was amazing I remembered to take my shoes off. At one point, I realized I was no longer wearing my earrings but had no recollection at what point I had taken them off or where I had put them. Thankfully, my subconscious is reliable like that and put them inside my jewelry box.


Plus, my adorable dog Maddie has been having some stiffness issues, and we're not sure what's going on at this point. Could be anything from arthritis to Lyme disease. We're pretty confident she's going to be fine, but seeing her in pain is just the saddest thing.

Sometimes in these moments it's hard for us to get motivated, isn't it? It's hard for me to summon the energy to write this blog. Hard to get motivated to write. Hard to find the courage to battle the newly-emergent wasps so I can water my flowers.

But then I get these reminders of how good I really have it in life. Did you all watch Dancing with the Stars tonight? I pretty much love that show, and tonight they featured a story about a young man named Richard "Steelo" Vazquez who suffered a sudden brain aneurism and lost his ability to speak and walk. One year later, he danced (tonight) on Dancing with the Stars. He still has a long way to go, but his progress and story literally brought tears to my eyes. I'm sitting here in my fuzzy pajamas with my fuzzy blanket and feeling sorry for myself because my car's in the shop. Can you say, "humbling"?

Sometimes we have mountaintop experiences with God, but many days we do not. Many days we spill French fries in our car and find an army of weeds in our yards. 


What do we do on these days?

Galatians 6:9 has been on my heart all week.

The NKJV says, "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." 


The Message says it this way (verses 9-10): "So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a crop if we don't give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith."

While we have the chance. How powerful is that phrase?

Life brings seasons, whether we like it or not. I, for one, would prefer to perpetually exist in a nice autumn-like climate with perfectly blooming flowers and with a fully-functioning cardigan collection at my disposal. But I love in Florida. And much of the time, in actuality, I am wearing sweat-drenched sundresses and considering chopping off my hair like that girl on Once Upon A Time.


But what I love about these verses is their appeal to seasons. Another season is always coming in life. So if we are tired of planting and tending to little seedlings, we can take heart, because they're going to turn into a harvest, and harvest is just around the corner.


I found a little cocoon last week, and I've been watching it ever since. Today, ants found it too. So I spritzed them off with water, scooped up the grass the cocoon is on, and relocated it into a casted-off Amazon.com box, then put it out in the much-safer garden in the front yard.

I don't know what's going to come out of that cocoon. I can tell you what's come out of cocoons before. Butterflies and moths like the beautiful one pictured on one of my daises above. But I'm going to do everything I can to help that little bug survive.

Some of you might be in a cocoon stage of your writing life. Maybe you're wrapped in this dark place and changes are going on. Maybe you don't know what you're going to look like when you come out on the other side. But I can tell you one thing that will happen if you don't lose heart.


You'll fly.

My question today is how do you prepare for that flight? How do you combat those spilt-French-fry days when you can hardly even remember your name, let alone your plot? Because I for one would love to hear your thoughts and advice! Wishing you a day filled with grace and butterflies.







Flower photo found from: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/pictures/view/81421552/