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Wednesday

The Language of Christianity

So, I have this deep interest in literary theory. Yes, I know, total nerd subject. I don't write about it much because I am aware that the general population is probably not as interested in linguistic graphs as I am. :) But today I thought I'd share something I've been thinking about this past week: the way we in the church use language.

Why is this an important topic? Well, I believe the way we use language says a lot about our perspective. It's that whole glass-half-empty/glass-half-full cliche in action. Have you ever thought about the implications of Christian lingo?  How often do we drive people away from Christianity, alienating them, without even realizing it? So much depends on the way we use discourse that I think we ought to be cognizant of what we're really saying.

Think about how many "spiritual" or even "conservative" terms are polarizing.



  • Saved versus unsaved.
  • Christian versus non-Christian.
  • Believer versus unbeliever.
  • Baptized versus sinner.
  • Spiritual versus secular.


But what are these phrases really doing? They are creating an "us" versus "them" approach that does not support the Biblical teachings of equality. We are also playing into postmodern philosophy (and theology, really), which argues that everything can be categorized into sets of opposites, and we only know one thing in terms of its difference from something else.

The problem here is that these kinds of phrases, intentionally or not, undercut the necessity of the true presence of God.

God has said in no unclear terms, "I AM that I AM." He doesn't just possess truth. He doesn't just have a presence. He is truth. He is pure presence. Eternally.

This is powerful, because when we are called by His name, when the Holy Spirit inscribes that eternal relationship upon our hearts, we too have access to His truth, His nature. We are drawn into the center of all meaning, and in that moment, our lives themselves take on the purpose God created them for. We become whole because we are His.

We are not "saved" because we're no longer "unsaved." We don't know God or truth in their differences from deception. We know God, because God eternally is. 


Think of it this way. Darkness is not the opposite of light. It is the absence of light's presence. The same goes for heat and cold. What might seem like a slight variation is actually a very important theological principle.

Another example are the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life." Have you ever heard the term "anti-choice"? If you're pro-life, how did that make you feel? Did you respect the pro-choice position more or less for undercutting the heart of what you believe and forcing your political position into a binary? Does "anti-choice" not imply a very different thing from "pro-life"?

The same goes for often-accepted "Christian" terms. How easy is it to categorize someone as "unsaved," when there's so much more to their story. Maybe they don't know God, and they want to, but they're afraid to come to church because they were sexually abused as a child. Maybe they're mad at God, and seem vindictive, but their mother, who was a devoted Christian, just died of breast cancer. Maybe their child has a handicap, or they live with chronic pain. These are the realities of peoples' lives. These are the complexities of their situations. It's so much easier to just call them "lost" than to ever get involved, isn't it?

The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and out of the heart the mouth speaks. It's oh, so important that we pay attention to what we say and to the assumptions we're making.

Next week I'll be talking about how these concepts affect our perspective of our calling as believers, and how a healthy view of truth and God's presence can lead us to greater levels of assurance in grace. But for now, let's talk. Have you ever been subjected to a polarizing term? What happened? How does the use of these terms turn people away from Christ and potentially affect our ministry?

Monday

Making Your Writing Time Productive

Imagine this. The dishwasher needs to be unloaded. Hey, at least you ran it, right? The laundry needs to be put in the dryer. The dogs are out of food. And if you don't blow dry your hair today, you're going to look like Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus... again. Maybe you even have kids tugging at your pant legs.

But finally you get a few minutes of precious writing time to sit down at your laptop. You look at the blinking cursor and the blank new chapter, and... where are you supposed to start? And then the oven timer goes off. And your window of writing opportunity ends as soon as you smell those freshly-baked brownies.

Several months ago, I read a strategy on Kristin Billerbeck's blog. She said she thinks about her characters and plot throughout the day so that whenever she sits down to right, she's ready to go. She's already brainstormed all that other stuff. This stuck with me, and I began to think how much more productive my writing time would be if I focused my attention throughout the day on my story. That way, even if I am away from my computer, I can still be working on my novel.

This week, I'm really going to make an effort to use this strategy and see how it affects my writing productivity. I've done this before, and it always works like a charm. Here are some ways I've found that preplanning, or brainstorming throughout the day, can affect your writing in a positive way:

1) It helps you stay focused on your goal for the scene.


2) It allows you to develop that goal well.


3) It helps you have a general "map" or outline of the scene, before you begin it, even if you like to write as a seat-of-the-pantster. 


4) It helps you make style-specific choices like POV that can save time during rewrites.

The cool thing about making up stories for a living is that you can do that wherever you are, whether it's a baseball stadium or a movie theater. Start looking for inspiration all around you, and not only will it save you time, but it will also broaden your imagination and your ideas for your characters.

Have you ever tried this strategy before? How does it work for you? What do you usually do to prepare for your writing time? Or do you prefer to just sit down and write?

Wednesday

Those Little Voices

I'm listening to Michael Hyatt's teleseminar on platform right now, and the whole thing has been great, but he just said one thing in particular that really struck a note with me.

He said when we set out to do something great, we all have little voices in our heads telling us why we can't. For you, it might be that you don't have the financial resources, or the amount of time, or even that your message will fall flat--that what you have to say isn't important. But he said that these voices of resistance should actually be used like a Geiger counter to let us know we are getting very close to something dynamic.

What a powerful thought! The way he phrased that really resonated with me, because I struggle with this every day. I think everyone does. I set out to do lofty things, and I get excited, and then I start hearing these voices in my mind that drive feelings of insufficiency. My plot doesn't have enough conflict. My stories are not funny enough. I am not spending enough time writing this. I am not being productive enough. And so on and so on.

But wouldn't it be powerful if we turned that line of thinking around? If instead of becoming discouraged when these voices of resistance come, we allow them to empower us? What if we started looking at doubt and discouragement as a Geiger counter, like Michael said, that shows how close we're getting to our big picture dreams? What a cool strategy to fight against those doubts when they come.

What do you think about this idea? What excuses do those little voices in your mind make for why you can't achieve what you want? How do you work past these voices?





You can find more about Michael Hyatt and the resources he's compiled for writers at his blog: http://michaelhyatt.com/

Sunday

Moments of Intersection

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or in real life, it won't come as any secret to you that this weekend my hubby and I had an opportunity to see some of the Dancing with the Stars professional dancers at a charity event. And let's just say I was a tiny bit excited. :D It's no secret how much I love DWTS, but when the dancers came off the stage and down into the aisles, I had this sixteen-year-old-girl-on-stage-with-Audio-Adrenaline moment (yes, that really happened too), resulting in the fabulous photo op with my favorite dancer from the show:




I didn't even realize Val was also in the picture until I looked at it later. And I'm pretty sure he's touching my elbow.

I look just a little bit happy to be there, eh?

I would like to say the three of us had a heart to heart about how much they love dancing on the show, and then they taught me the proper way to Viennese Waltz. 

But in reality, the conversation went something more like this:

Me: "Tristan, can I get a picture with you?"

Tristan: "Of course!"

(Husband takes the photo---which, by the way, he totally gets bonus points for what a good picture it turned out to be)

Tristan: "Beautiful. Thank you!"

And then they were back on stage in a flash.

But those of you who frequent my blog know that I'm loosely patterning the hero in my WIP after Tristan, so this was such a cool moment! And I'm also just a really big DWTS fan. I've decided that someday when I've sold five million books and they beg me to be on the show, I'm going to request Tristan to be my partner because he's the nicest pro and is such a great dancer.

So, I started thinking about what a cool moment this was, and I realized that in life, we all have these moments of intersection. Some seem significant to us, like meeting our spouse for instance, and others seem insignificant. But each one of these moments matter. Every day, every time we interact with someone else, even if it's only online, it's almost as if we're at an intersection, and we cross paths. These moments bring opportunities to make a difference in the world.

I am fairly certain Tristan has no recollection whatsoever of my existence. And yet I am writing a blog about the picture. And that's kind of funny. But on a deeper note, it really does apply to all of us. How often do we have contact with people, and that one moment changes them? Maybe it's a smile or offering to pay for someone's coffee. We may not even know who they are or what they are going through, but these little things matter. And sometimes, they really matter.

I hope that encourages you today, especially as you are writing, to know that your story might seem familiar and commonplace in your own mind, but that's because you live with the characters all the time. To someone else, it might make a big difference someday. It might even change their life. So don't be discouraged when you get bad reviews or rejections from agents. Just pretend you're one of the dancers on DWTS, and remember that even the little moments of your life make a difference to those around you. :)

Oh, and here are some more pictures for those of you who might be interested:








Wednesday

Now, Faith...


I have a sensitive heart.

I worry about dogs wandering the side of the road, butterflies in traffic, and kids who seem sad.

I carry these things with me--all the time--until, after a while, they get heavier, and heavier, and I break down. I give them to God, and I lay them down. And then when I'm feeling strong enough, suddenly I find myself in a new day, picking up new burdens like little packages that need my care. And I start to worry more and more that if I don't tend to them, no one else will care.

This is a problem in my life.

This might be my biggest struggle against God.

I have a hard time letting go because I care so much. Recently, a mockingbird made a nest in our maple tree, and I started using leashes when I took the dogs outside because I was just sure they were going to get the birds. I fretted and fretted and prayed and prayed and prayed, and one day I went out there and found the nest on the ground. This was very upsetting to me. Just three mockingbird eggs, but they had life. And I feel this ever-present responsibility to care for life.

Have you been there? Maybe your circumstances are different, but do you pick up little burdens throughout your days and hold on to them as if they won't inevitably bring you down? As if they somehow need your care to be okay?

God has been teaching me two things lately. Letting go, and that little acts of faith matter. Let me explain.

What is faith if we cannot, at the end of it all, simply let go to God? 

Many times, when we feel this urge to tend to things, it comes from a good heart. I am passionate about creation and want to care for it the best I can. Praying about these things is good. Praying as a vehicle for control is not. There's this fine line where we step back and realize that our attempts to please God are nothing and that He simply wants us. Not that we shouldn't bring our concerns, our hearts to God, but rather, if we pick them right back up afterwards, what good has it done?

And then the other thing--how little acts of faith matter. I don't know about you, but I live under this constant feeling of not being good enough. I don't know where this came from. I was never in an environment that perpetuated this tendency, so the only conclusion I can draw is that it must've come from somewhere deep within. I am a perfectionist. I like things well-done, but I am rarely satisfied. And so when I am filling my figurative backpack with all these heavy rocks, they begin to weigh on me. I inevitably try to tackle the problems myself, all at once. And I always, always fail. Oh, it may look like a great success to the outside eye. But I know where I could've done better. And this makes me tired.

But is this the life God has called us to? Has He not given us a framework for laying these burdens down, once and for all? Has He not offered us peace instead of the worry that comes when we become overly invested in solving our own problems?

Last night, God led me to Hebrews 11 before bed. Speaking of which--daily quiet times, there's a great example of a situation where I always feel like I'm dropping the ball. Can you relate? I wish I had space to copy the whole chapter here, so instead, I'm going to give this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+11&version=NIV

"Now faith," it says, "is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for."


The rest of the chapter goes on to outline some of the giants of the faith and all of a sudden, you come to see the Old Testament is this beautiful outline of people who believed God, and it was counted to them as "righteousness." Moses is one of the examples given, and I'm always amazed by that, because really, it would seem Moses lost his faith in God's promise, would it not? But he still gets a shout-out. Which is so encouraging, isn't it, to know our faith doesn't have to be perfect in order for it to count.

I hope you're encouraged today to know God loves you right where you are. And as well all strive to be better, to do things well as we run around throughout the day, may we also remember the reason behind it all.

Monday

Staying Organized

Lest you read the title of today's blog post and think I actually am organized, let me begin my saying I often choose blog topics according to what I am learning at the time, and organization is definitely something I'm still in the process of learning. Moment of transparency: sometimes it is so difficult to just sit down and write! Why is that? Do you ever feel that way? I get everything set up and ready to go... candle burning, Peppermint Patties in hand... all the writing essentials... and then I end up watching Everybody Loves Raymond.

But God always equips us with the tools and the resources necessary for our calling. He never expects us to produce something that's out of our capacity to achieve. That's the thing about grace. But the thing about faith is, it always pushes us farther than we knew we could go. Which can, at times, be scary.

So how can we take charge of our time and resources, even our ideas, to use these things in the most productive manner? Some of you lead super busy momma lives, struggling to find any free time; and others of you are like me--depending on the semester you may have so much free "writing" time that you find yourself always getting distracted in a season that's supposed to be uber-productive.

I think these concepts also apply not just to time, but also to ideas. Something that frustrates me about the first draft of a project is that I don't have all my ideas in place yet. So I hope these concepts help you in that arena as well.


  • Get time where you can. Even if it's only fifteen minutes here or there between washing dishes or folding laundry, those fifteen minutes add up.

  • Make the most of your thoughts throughout the day. Brainstorm and daydream about your characters, as well as their emotional responses, in the Chick Fil A drive through line so that by the time you get back to your laptop, you waste no time before fleshing these ideas out.

  • Keep things (ideas, chapters, writing, books, resources, laptop) easily accessible and keep yourself from distractions.

  • As best you can, dedicate a writing "time" like a regular office job would dictate. Organize your time and protect it. Be sure others respect it as they would a more formal job because it is, indeed, a "real" job.

  • When it comes down to it, relax. You are not going to be completely organized all the time, and that is okay. You have to think about what is really important in life, and be satisfied with productivity. You are not going to be able to achieve all things at all times. So are you going to choose to always feel inadequate, or are you going to be proud of what you have accomplished?

Do you ever struggle with organization, whether it's time, mental organization, or something else? What helps you stay organized?

Tuesday

Therefore, Encourage

Yesterday, I met one of my friends from college at a coffee shop and talked about writing. Talking with her has been such a privilege because for years now, I have considered her one of the most talented writers I know. Throughout my graduate work, she was this ever-shining beacon of faith amidst the cynicism that often accompanies a secular university. We don't even know each other that well, but I have always looked up to her.

Recently, after taking several years away from writing, she's felt God calling her back to the craft in a new way. I sat there listening as she explained what a cool thing it's been to watch God use her education training in a direction she never would've expected. She's been coming up with all these article ideas left and right, and the more she writes, the more that comes to her mind.

As she continued to tell me about her journey, I felt myself getting excited, because I can see what's ahead of her. I can imagine and envision things she's yet to even imagine or dream.

I often feel this way about Angie Dicken, my critique partner. You may think I'm biased because I adore her, but I promise I'm being fair! She really is as great of a writer as I make her sound. Side note, you can find here blog here if you're interested: http://www.supamomthoughts.blogspot.com/ . So Angie writes historical romance, and she has this ability to intricately weave cultures. She also is mind-boggling good at constructing the story world so that you as the reader just want to jump right in to the setting alongside the characters. Because she writes something more unique, she hasn't had as easy of a sell as some others who fit the formula mold. But the thing is, I see God's hand all over her writing, and mark my words, she is going to make it BIG someday because her skills and voice are unmatched. When I'm reading Angie's writing, even her first drafts, I am always floored by how beautiful her prose is, and I wish she could see how truly talented she really is.

Do any of you subscribe to Bible Gateway's verse of the day? Well, the verse today was 1 Thessalonians 5:11. It says, "So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing."

Aren't the effects of community and encouragement amazing? I look at my own writing, and how far a little bit of encouragement or kindness has taken me, especially when spoken from someone I look up to. And then it dawned on me--what if I have the power, the ability, to uplift other people in the same way?


What if I can see a vision in other people's lives that they can't see in themselves? And if that's the case, what am I going to do about it?

So as you go about your day today, I pray you feel the encouragement of others who God has put alongside you in this journey. Maybe you see amazing fruit coming out of someone's life. Speak words of vision into them, because chances are they don't see the same thing in themselves.

Do you have any people in your life who this applies to? How have you been affected and encouraged by community? What can we do to foster an environment of encouragement?

Monday

Writing The Alpha Male

This post is predominantly for romance writers, but regardless of your genre, I hope you'll get something out of it! Thanks for all the comments lately and the recent follows. It's a lot more fun writing blogs when you know someone is reading. :)

What do you think of when I say "alpha male?"

Because what I think is, "Gag me. This isn't 1945." Alright, alright--that's a little harsh. But I have this sensitivity toward the demeaning of women's God-given roles, particularly the beautiful strength of a nurturing heart, and this is something close to my heart.

But last weekend, my husband and I watched Thor. And let's just say I had a change of heart.

Helllloooooo, alpha male.




Could be that I have a weakness for Norwegians, but really, I think it's more than that. I'm watching this movie that I expected to only-kind-of like, and falling in love with Thor's character. If you haven't seen it yet, it's at Redbox now. Go watch it and consider it homework.

So I'm sitting there, thinking to myself, what is it about this guy that I like so much? Why is his arrogance not bothering me at all? And how can I write characters who readers will love so much? Here are a few things I came up with. Please keep in mind that these are generalizations that will not apply to every character, every situation, or every reader. They're just helpful guidelines.

1) Women like a man who can take care of them. But they also want to have their own hero moment. That's why so many alpha male characters are strong, witty, or otherwise very gifted at something. A dashing physique is always a win, but think about characters like old-school Rick Castle (early episodes)--they show competence through intellect. Another character who comes to mind is McGarrett from the new Hawaii Five O. Who doesn't want a guy like that around? Be sure the heroine gets her own moment in the spotlight, too. We like a woman who's brave. She might not be fighting off dragons, but maybe she's got to make a tough choice by sacrificing something important to her. It helps if she's choosing the protection the hero is offering rather than having it dumped upon her. (Having a persistent hero wooing the heroine also works well because you're showing not only the hero's confidence, but also the heroine's own spunk.)

2) Women like a man with confidence. Sometimes this will include arrogance for an alpha male character, but you have to be careful that doesn't go too far. A little pride is charming so long as it's channelled in the right place. Think of Mr. Darcy. That's part of the reason we all love him. But if the arrogance is causing your hero to be demeaning toward your heroine, that's going to become a problem.

3) Women like a man who's suave. Think Cary Grant. The guy from Footloose. We like a man who knows how to compliment us. Awkward flirting might be cute in real life, but it's not cute in novels. At least, not more than once or twice. At heart, your hero's got to find his charm. Readers want to imagine themselves with this guy.


4) Women like a good leader. I honestly think this stems back to an innate desire for the marriage relationship to parallel the relationship with Christ and the church. So if you're thinking about how you can go about making your hero a good leader, look to God. Keep in mind your hero won't be perfect, though... he needs flaws. But he should have the capability of handling situations well. Once again, be careful you don't make your heroine look stupid in the process. You want these qualities of the hero to compliment the heroine, rather than stomping her down.

5) Women like a man who's romantic and sensitive under it all. The best alpha males are the ones who have a sensitive side, because we as women really like to see a tough, bad boy male character open up. It's a challenge to us. So first create the hard shell, and then show why it's there... what's the soft spot? The contrast this will have with the typical alpha male characteristics will help with sparks-fly romance.



I hope these tips have helped you think about ways to create that masculine charm in your male characters. Can you think of anything else to add to the list? Who are some of your favorite alpha males? Why?

Photos from http://moviecarpet.com/2011/01/11/french-thor-poster/, http://www.soundonsight.org/score-at-the-half-–%C2%A0hollywood%C2%A0-zero-audience-even-less/thor-movie-500x333/