Thursday, September 29, 2005
Hi, my name is Melody Carlson. Some of you may already “know” me through my teen books (Diary of a Teenage Girl, TrueColors, etc.…) but I’ve been asked to “officially” introduce myself. First of all, I have to admit that I’ve never been a blogger, and that I tend to be a little e-challenged (I have a hard time keeping up with my own website). I guess it’s because I spend so much time writing, or maybe I just have an e-block. But back to introducing myself…. I grew up in what was considered a “non-traditional” home (at least back in the dark ages when I was a kid) because, due to my dad’s alcoholism, my parents got divorced when I was really young. After that, my mom remained single and went back to college. As a result, my older sister and I had quite a bit a “freedom,” meaning we pretty much came and went as we pleased. Not exactly an ideal way to grow up, although it was rather interesting at times (and I can still draw some good stories for my fiction from it). Then at the ripe old age of twelve I announced to anyone listening that I had become an atheist—not that it was such a big deal since we never went to church anyway. But for some reason I had the need to make my stand clear. And so I went through my early teens totally denying God’s existence and rebelling against pretty much everything and anything. But when I was fifteen and a half, I began to experience very real depression. To the point where I sometimes felt suicidal. I’d always enjoyed being a daredevil and doing crazy things like jumping off the railroad bridge into the river, but suddenly I found myself standing on high bridges with cement below and considering doing a swan dive. It didn’t really make sense to me because, despite my rebellious attitude, my life wasn’t that bad—I mean I had friends (even if they were wild), I got good grades, was popular enough to be a cheerleader (which I made fun of even back then), and I never had any problem with the boys either. So, what was my problem? Looking back I think it there were a couple of things at play. 1) I did have an undiagnosed chemical imbalance (a little on the manic-depressive side with what they now call “bipolar with hypo-mania” meaning you don’t have the extreme highs, but you do have the low-lows) which I probably inherited from my dad. And 2) I had this great big empty hole in my heart—that by itself should’ve been pretty depressing. Of course, I didn’t know that void was the space that I needed for God to fill. All I knew was that something was missing.That missing something was driven further home when, just before my sophomore year, a carload of kids that I knew were killed in a terrible wreck. It really made me aware of our mortality. And despite my claim that God wasn’t real, a part of me yearned for something beyond a short earthly life followed up by being planted underground and growing worms. And I remember crying and saying, “God, if you’re real, please show yourself to me.”A couple of months later, I was “kidnapped” by some Christian kids and literally taken, against my will, to a Young Life meeting. Man, I was so ticked (I probably used another word at the time). By then I’m sure I’d forgotten my desperate little prayer as I fumed in the backseat, wondering how I could escape these “friends” and what I knew would be a “religious gathering.” But by the time we were there, and the skits and songs and craziness had all transpired, I found myself caught totally off guard by the message. I had never heard the gospel before. And it was like something in me just clicked. Of course, I was too stubborn to give my heart to God just like that.So I attended a few more Young Life meetings, listening carefully to the messages, and then I went to what were called Rapp Sessions, a place where kids could talk about God, ask questions, or whatever. And finally, after several weeks of “investigation” I knew I could hold off no longer. During a Rapp Session, after I’d asked some challenging questions and received some good answers, I went outside into the drizzly night. And there, all by myself, and I asked Jesus into my heart. I had no idea what the long term ramifications for this commitment would be, but I knew that I needed God—desperately. I knew that I could not survive any longer on my own.The entire course of my life drastically changed that night. Oh, it wasn’t all easy-breezy from that day on, and I still dealt with my highs and lows, but I had Help now. And, never having had a real father, I was hungry to get to know my Heavenly Father. Consequently I devoured the Bible, started going to church, youth group, camps, Bible studies, whatever….I asked God into my life 34 years ago this week. And I’ve never regretted it. God has done amazing things, taken me to incredible places, and used me and my gifts in ways I never dreamed possible. What a ride!Okay, I better keep this short, but I’ll try to quickly bring you to date. After college, I worked as a Young Life leader where I met my husband, also a Young Life leader. We got married, had two sons, who are now grown. We’re still happily married, we live in a beautiful part of the country, I have the best job imaginable (full-time writing) and while life’s not perfect, it’s pretty good. And that is only because of God. Without God’s hand on my life…well, I seriously doubt that I’d still be here. God is good!
I finally arrived home late last night after being delayed by lightning storms for two hours in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. It gave me a chance to observe how people waited. Some waited productively and patiently, and others ranted and stomped off to check other airlines’ available flights (thus missing boarding when there was finally a break in the lightning.) In the interest of posting my blog on time today, I am including (below) a short devotion from Girlz Rock (Zondervan 2005) about the importance of patience if you hope to obtain God’s promises…
“Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” ~~Hebrews 6:12 (NIV)
The Bible is full of promises for the believer: promises for peace, success, joy, love, friendship, rewarding work, and much more. It takes two things for these promises to come true. The first ingredient is faith: believing God’s Word is true. The second necessary ingredient is patience: keeping a positive attitude while you wait. Many believers have faith; few have patience. You need both. “After he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (Hebrews 6:15 NKJV emphasis added).
Jillian’s best friend was moving away. They’d been best friends and next-door neighbors for five years, and Jillian was brokenhearted at the news. She claimed Psalm 147:3: “[God] heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds” (MSG). She truly believed God would do that for her, but when a week went by and she still felt sad, she decided the promise didn’t work. Jillian was wrong. The promise is sure, and God’s Word can be counted on. Jillian had faith—but she was missing the ingredient of patience.
Patience is the ability to stay steady during the challenging storms of life. You usually have to wait a length of time before you receive your promise. It’s like planting a seed (your faith), then waiting for the harvest to appear. The waiting time is the testing time. Will we continue to believe God for the promise when things get tough? Will we trust that God is bringing his promises to pass even before we see the results? “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise” (Hebrews 10:23 NLT).
Are you waiting for a promise of God in your life? Then practice both faith and patience. It’s a winning combination.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
When I first met Rob*, I thought he was something special. He was a football player, an honor student, and very handsome too. The best part was, he liked me. I was head-over-heals-excited. I thought I was in love.
“Dating” in my small town, consisted of being together at dances, at sporting events, and in cars hidden away on dark country roads. Our relationship became physical even before we had a chance to get to know each other’s heart. Then there were the attractions--mine to other guys and his to other girls--that caused all types of problems.
We dated from my sophomore year to my senior year—with more turbulence than a jet plane in a windstorm. When I found out I was pregnant, it was the final strain on the relationship. Our “romance,” as I knew it, was over.
My parents were upset, but they were committed to helping me stick it out. I’d already had an abortion the previous year--due to Rob’s insistence and my own fear--and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Though he wanted me to have a second abortion, I couldn’t do it. I already hated myself for the first one. I lived with the horror of the abortion decision every day and had nightmares about it every night.
You may remember that feeling of attending class, knowing--in secret--that you have a baby growing inside you. I felt hot and tense and unable to focus. Soon, the word got out and rumors spread. Glances were cast my way as I walked down the halls. Whispers behind my back. My friends acted awkward around me. Rob began dating someone else. I wanted to move away and never return. The next best thing was for me to drop out of regular school, which I did.
I was sick, tired, and getting bigger by the day. I enrolled in a school for “needy” teens, and I fit right in.
This all happened during my senior year, and while everyone was attending Homecoming and Prom, I was staying up late watching old movies and sleeping until noon. What had become of my life?
I clearly remember waking up one day and flipping on my favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless. What an appropriate title to what I was feeling.
I rolled to my side, wrapped my arms around my expanding stomach and considered what a mess I’d made of my life. What happened to my dreams, plans, and goals for a good future?
Then I remembered . . . like a ray from a lighthouse breaking through a foggy coastline, I thought of the stories I’d heard as a child while attending Sunday school. Stories of God. God who loved me, not my performance. God who accepted me as I was, without my need to make myself look good.
So at that moment, I prayed. It wasn’t elegant, but it was from the heart. “Oh God, I’ve really screwed things up this time. If you can make things better, please try.”
And then that beam of light not only touched my memory, but also my heart. And in an unexplainable way, I felt different inside. Something birthed inside me. That something was hope.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tunes without words and never stops at all,” said poet Emily Dickinson.
And at the moment, my soul sang.
I couldn’t count on people, but God proved I could count on Him. I was unmarried, pregnant, angry, and lonely. God was okay with that. I didn’t know where to go or what to do next. But the peace of God told me things would work out. I needed love, and He loved me. He wanted to prove I was someone special in His eyes—even when I felt far from special in my own.
Hope made its home in my heart that day. My life wasn’t suddenly “fixed.” I still didn’t know what to do with the mess I was in. I didn’t have all the answers. But hope told me it would be okay. It was a miracle, and I was full of wonder.
I heard God again this morning
Quiet and fresh, a voice that brushed
not only my ears, but my senses
A voice I had thought far away
until now and then all over again
He stepped into the silence
and let me know he was there
in me, in my life, always and ever present
But I had crowded him out,
filling the strong and quiet places in my life
with empty noise and wasted moments
Last week I turned it away and down,
and then off, and I realized
that he was there all the time, waiting
for me to sit quietly, face to face
Monday, September 26, 2005
I don’t know who Jane Haddam is, but she has irked me. The phrase "in my day" implies that her day was superior to my day. Now the thing is that I agree with what she is trying to say. But by starting out with the clear intention to slam "my day," completely stopped up my ears so that I could not listen to what followed.
What a shame.
Now if I was so offended that I couldn’t hear what she had to say, how do I know that the last part of the message has any worth to it.
Somewhere along the line, you learn to look at things in spite of how they are presented and judge the worth aside from the presenter.
It goes both ways. Sometimes the presenter has charisma and fills your ear with a bunch of nonsense that sure sounds good.
Or the presenter has the personality of a wart-covered toad and has a message of truth that sounds like a scum-covered pond full of insults.
Discernment comes with maturity. When you can
strip away the distracters and
focus on the content of the message and
make your judgments at that point, then you are operating on a standard God will bless.
Ms Jane Haddam was trying to say that self-esteem handed to you because the teacher or parent is afraid of bruising your ego isn’t worth much. Self-respect gained from your doing a job to the best of your ability will earn you a glow from the inside out.
At least, that is my interpretation. What’s yours?
Saturday, September 24, 2005
“The writer who emphasizes spiritual values is very likely to take the darkest view of all of what he sees in this country today. For him, the fact that we are the most powerful and the wealthiest nation in the world doesn’t mean a thing in any positive sense. The sharper the light of faith, the more glaring are apt to be the distortions the writer sees in the life around him...
My own feeling is that writers who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times, the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, and for the unacceptable...
The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.”
Friday, September 23, 2005
"Shift-8" on a keyboard may not seem like a powerful player when it comes to the written language, especially compared with letters or numbers. But this summer, I discovered how important a role it can play. Since writers aren't the most healthy people in the world, I decided to champion my poor, neglected body and lose a few pounds. I also started taking fish oil capsules, which are supposedly why Scandinavia is full of robust, energetic ninety-year-olds.
"Ten calories each," I thought, glancing quickly at the label. "This is good stuff."
After fifty days of dieting and taking fish oil capsules, that terrible red digital counter on the scale actually climbed to a higher number instead of obeying my desperate command to "STOP! STOP!"
That's when I took a closer look at the label on the bottle of fish oil capsules. Instead of 10 calories per capsule, as I had thought, the number actually read 10*. At the bottom of the pill, the asterisk was explained in extremely small type: "10% of a 2000 calorie daily diet." By overlooking the asterisk, I had consumed 50 pills at 200 calories each, for a total of 10,000 extra calories, adding five "daily calorie intakes" to those fifty days. To put it into perspective, I would have had to run 100 extra miles during those fifty days just to avoid gaining weight — two miles a day per pill.
Thanks a lot, asterisk.
The bad news is that these sneaky characters aren't just on pill bottles. They qualify "great offers" with time limits, hidden costs, and expiration dates, usually described in easy-to-ignore tiny type at the bottom of the page. Like most punctuation marks, asterisks can change the entire meaning of words, sentences, paragraphs, and entire manuscripts. Maybe that's why God, who is passionate about communication and truth, chose writers who were proficient in ancient Hebrew and Greek — two languages with no punctuation marks whatsoever. Especially that shifty-8 asterisk. What you read is what you get. Anyone need half-a-bottle of fish oil capsules?
Thursday, September 22, 2005
I just returned from the doctor's office. I'll spare you the details of why I had to go there, because they are mundane and would quickly launch us into too-much-information land. Mostly I wanted to pass along a sweet story that made me happy and will remain in my memory--a soul smile I can always look back on when life enters a season of purposes crossed and dreams unreached.
Here's the story, from the beginning.
A woman in our church recently gave birth to twins--a boy and a girl. She told me that, even while she was pregnant, one of her babies always reacted whenever I started leading worship. After the twins were born, she said the boy, Jace, noticeably calmed when he heard me sing.
Last night I led worship for a women's meeting. Just me, a piano, and a microphone. The women were seated in a different part of the room from the piano, so I felt like I do when I'm home alone, just playing and singing from my heart to the Lord. A nurse who works for my doctor held Jace as I sang.
So, today when I went to the doctor's office, my nurse friend said, "I want you to know, as soon as he heard your voice, Jace relaxed in my arms and peace came over him. His mom had told me your singing always affects him that way, but I saw it for myself. It was amazing."
Wow. Just wow. I can't really tell you what this does to me.
As a writer, I want to write books many people will read and love. I want to make a difference. But I also know, if I connect with only one person in an eternal way, that's enough.
Likewise, I'd love to make music that touches many. But if that never happens, it's okay. My song touched a baby named Jace, even before he was born.
For me, this is amazing. And it's enough.
Whatever your dreams may be--whatever lofty goals you've set--look for the little ways your life touches others. It helps keep the disappointments in perspective and lends a sweetness to your days. Who knows? In God's eyes, one baby's smile may be worth much more than the applause of millions. I hope today you'll sense God's pleasure on the small things you do for Him.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Yet, I took the Myer's Brigg's test, and here are some things that especially hit a chord with me:
"INFJs have an internal picture of how they would like their work to contribute to the general good." (Well . . . I do like to work with teens and teen parents.)
"Through persistence, diligence, and conscientiousness, they complete their assignments on time. They are likely to enjoy research and will go great lengths to find answers." (Yeah . . . I write World War II novels that are heavily researched. And 99% of the time I complete my writing assignments on time. And if I don't, I get super stressed!)
"They also like the written word (and rely on it more than the spoken word) since it is usually better structured and more coherent with a ready-made framework." (Uh, yeah, every time there's conflict in my life, I'm more likely to write a letter than talk to someone about it. That way I can make sure I say what I want to say.)
"INFJs write and communicate well because they want to formulate their ideas clearly. They place high regard on their reader and audience. They seek to communicate their ideals to others. When their ideals need to be championed, they speak up in an enthusiastic and impassioned way." (Yes, that's me!)
"This unfettered imagination often will enable this person to compose complex and often aesthetic works of art such as music, mathematical systems, poems, plays, and novels. In a sense, the INFJ is the most poetic of all the types." (Did someone say novels?)
I found these results highly interesting because I always felt so disjointed before: being a champion and support for teenage mothers, writing non-fiction books and articles providing encouragement and helpful ideas, AND writing historical fiction in which I research every little detail, almost to a fault. It was amazing to see that all these things fit into one personality type. I'm not a disjointed mess after all!
The test can be found here.
And the best explanations are at:
(Just change the last part with the correct type.)
At first, I was awed how a simple test could describe me so well, until I realized this testing system is simply man's discovery of the personality systems God has put in place.
Just as God created the smallest atoms in our body in great detail, He's also designed an order to our personalities, gifts, and talents. And that's something we should praise Him for!
Psalms 139:13 says, "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."
So what's your personality? Take the test and be sure to let me know the results. I'd love to hear about the unique way God created you!
Sunday, September 18, 2005
One grabbed the bottle and ran to the phone. One scooped up the kid and examined his mouth. One reached for the emergency first aid sheet taped to the inside of the bathroom cabinet.
The child threw up, and poison control asked exactly what ingredients were listed on the label. They looked through their database and determined that nothing was toxic, then counseled the parents that everything would be just fine. The child probably vomited in response to the nasty taste.
In thirty minutes the crisis had passed. Even the parents’ heart rates were slowing to normal.
I think of the poisons that enter our minds and hearts through various forms in our society and shake my head. No, I’m not advocating a dose of ipecac every time our children see an unsavory commercial. But maybe we should be more vigilant in putting that poison out of reach. Maybe we should grab the child and pour in the antidote, Scripture and the role model of loving parents.
Do you think your parents over-react? Maybe they don’t. Maybe they under-react. What are you doing to keep the poisons out of your system? Maybe at your age, it isn’t so much the responsibility of the adults anymore. After all, you aren’t a toddler and don’t want to be treated like one.
It was my grandson who held the bottle of weed poison.
Friday, September 16, 2005
. . .and not for a big mac.
Lately there is something inside of me that wants God on such a major level. I'm hungry to know him more. I'm running after God, reading His word, checking out what he has to say to me in our private time. I'm reading books, checking out deeper levels of His word.
It's a funny thing about spiritual hunger. It's not like our ordinary craving for the cheesy garlic biscuits at Red Lobster. You see, with ordinary hunger, once you've filled up then you're good to go--at least for a while.
But with spiritual hunger, the exact opposite kicks in. The more you eat, the hungrier you get, so you eat more, and the hungrier you get. So every time I read a cool or challenging passage in the Bible, I long to know more. Every time I'm challenged by a really great book (just finished Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis and Erwin R. McManus' Uprising), I'm ready to allow God to change my heart by what I learned.
There have been times in my life that I didn't feel God. I believed in him. I trusted him. But I couldn't sense his presence. Those weren't bad times in my life. I believe they were times that I was shaped and carved into a stronger follower of Christ. I learned to live by something other than feelings. It was important that I continued to eat spiritually during those testing times.
There have been times that I wasn't hungry for God coz I let everything else get in the way. I filled up the God-shaped hole in my life with stuff like activities and work and family and even ministry, but as cool as those things are they didn't come close because nothing can take the place of God. I became spiritually dry, almost barren like the wilderness. Not a place I like to hang out.
Whenever teens talk with me and share that they really want to know God, I tell them about this backwards hungry thing God has going on. I nudge them to eat spiritually in spite of their feelings. I ask them to get alone with God even if that seems like a lonely place to be right now. I tell them that the first few days everything will distract them, but to hang tight and just be real with God. I ask them to unplug--the cell phone, the computer, the Internet--and find a place that is reserved for just them and God, every day.
I tell them that something very cool jumpstarts in your heart and one day you wake up hungry -- really, really, hungry . . .
and it's not for a big mac.
It's for the God of the Universe -- the one that rocks the oceans and spins the earth on its axis and yet still sees you and me.
And that's just plain cool. So, if you aren't hungry, but you want to be, maybe right now is a good time to start eating. Want to dine together?
Whether you've been into writing all your life or you're just getting started, you know one of the best ways to learn about writing is to learn from the best. So here is my list of some of the "best" books for writers, especially children writers. The nuggets I've learned from these resources are invaluable, and I think you'll find them equally insightful. All of them are available at Amazon.com. So let's get started...
|The Writer's Market is perhaps the #1 resource for any professional writer. Not only does it have some good articles on all aspects of writing, but it also is jam-packed with listings of just about every available publisher out there, as well as agents, writer's organizations, websites and more. If you're serious about getting published, you have to know where to pitch your ideas--and the Writer's Market will tell you.|
|The Christian Market Writer's Guide is very much like The Writer's Market (above), but custom-tailored for the Inspirational market. If you write Christian/Inspirational material for any age group, this book by Sally E. Stuart should definately be on your shelf.|
|Insights into Writing for Children |
|Writing for Children and Teenagers is a good "overall" book about writing for preschoolers through teens. You'll find great tips on writing and submitting that picture book, as well as story structure for that middle-grade novel. It's a great place to get started.|
|The Children's Writer's Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner--there's nothing quite like it! If you write for children: BUY THIS BOOK. Inside you will find two valuable resources. 1) You'll discover lists of subjects and concepts that age groups of children can understand. This helps you know whether your idea is understandable by the age group you desire to reach. 2) It contains Thesaurus-like lists of words sorted by grade level. With this feature, you can "test" the words in your story to see if your target audience will understand them...and if not, you can usually find a simpler substitute.|
Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 is a book I have torn apart and worn out. When it comes to plotting, Hollywood instructor Lew Hunter dissects screenplays so you can better understand characters, motivations, the three-act structure and plot secrets. I recommend this book to anyone who writes chapter books, even though it was really meant as a book for screenwriters. The principles of plotting are generally the same--and Lew teaches in an entertaining, non-threatening way.
|Finally, 20 Master Plots (and How to Build Them) by Ronald B. Tobias is hands-down the most important book I own. I read chapters from this book every time I write a new book. If you plot your chapter book based on the guidelines in this book, your manuscript won't have the holes and missing plot elements that make so many promising manuscripts fall short. Whatever you do, add this book to your library. You won't be sorry.|
Now, once you've built up your writing library, have fun reading, and then don't forget the most important thing to do next...write!
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Peer pressure doesn’t end with the teen years. It was a shock to me as an adult to discover that. No matter what our age, I suspect we’ll have to be discerning about the people we choose for friends. Even in the church, you’ll find gals who gossip, are totally materialistic, dress immodestly, and have worldly values. If you hang with them, you’ll feel the pressure to be like them.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that it doesn’t matter what kinds of friends you have. Hanging out with immoral and dishonest girls and guys can change you! Sometimes believers think that they can hang out with such friends because Jesus did it. After all, he befriended thieving tax collectors and prostitutes. Shouldn’t we do the same thing so that we can be good witnesses to them? Yes, and no. There is a difference between talking with “bad company” and choosing them for your closest friends.
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV) Consider these examples. When you mix a glass of pure clean water with a glass of dirty water, it all becomes cloudy. The dirt spreads—not the purity. If you’re healthy when you sit next to a very sick person, you can catch his flu, but he won’t catch your health. In the same way, bad company is “catching.”
How does it happen? Often it starts with our words. Timothy compared ungodly talk to gangrene. Gangrene occurs when tissue on your body begins to rot because there is no blood supply. “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.” (2 Timothy 2:16-17 TNIV) In other words, talking in a godless manner kills off your morals bit by bit.
Do be friendly with everyone, but choose girls with godly character for your closest friends. Then you can build one another up and grow in godly character together.
Food for thought: Who are your closest friends? How do they behave? How do you behave when you’re with them?
(partial excerpt from Girlz Rock, Zonderkidz 2005 devotional)
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Didn't like 'em. Yes, I was critical of the hyper-sexualized, anti-woman content, but when I reflected on my distaste, it also had a lot to do with the genre of music videos as a whole.
A good song has the power to weave into your soul when the rhythm of the music and the beauty of the lyrics become a 2D poem. But it seemed to me that the third dimension of video diminished and overwhelmed both the music and the lyrics. The songs themselves became secondary, playing like background music to the in-your-face visuals. Music videos skew the relationship between the listener and the artist, giving the latter too much control over what should be a shared musical experience. You listen to a song. You don't watch a song.
Convince me I'm wrong. Please. I'll watch any music video if you think it honors the song. And the listener.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
We have a tentative court date now-- December 15-- for finalization.
We went out tonight to celebrate, and some friends were at the restaurant. One of them mentioned being rewarded for our faithfulness, and that turned the conversation to Moses and Elijah. (These are not the kind of friends that we usually sit and talk Bible cast with either, so that made it even more cool.) The whole way home then I was thinking about whether I could really be as faithful as Moses. Sure, he messed up, but he died still faithful to the promises God had made about the promised land.
I think back to those days of yet another child leaving my home, sobbing in my pillow and begging God to bring me my baby, and I don't think I could have that kind of faith. I know I didn't then.
Faithful or stubborn, whatever the case may be, I'm just so thankful that He's given us this little boy. Hopefully, he can grow up to be a little more like Moses than Mama in the faith department.
Maybe I'll learn a thing or two more along with him...
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, or The OC. (Am I the only one who nicknames people in my head for my own amusement? I hope not.) The devotions are written versions of chapel talks he gave from 1911 until 1917, when he died a young man. They were all aimed at students who desired to live for Christ.
So often as Christians we pray, but we can't understand what God is doing. Is He answering? Here's what Oswald had to say (from the September 12 entry):
Ye know not what ye ask. Matthew 20:22
There are times in spiritual life when there is confusion, and it is no way out to say that there ought not to be confusion. It is not a question of right and wrong, but a question of God taking you by a way which in the meantime you do not understand, and it is only by going through the confusion that you will get at what God wants.
The Shrouding of His Friendship. Luke 11:5-8. Jesus gave the illustration of the man who looked as if he did not care for his friend, and He said that that is how the Heavenly Father will appear to you at times. You will think He is an unkind friend, but remember He is not; the time will come when everything will be explained. There is a cloud on the friendship of the heart, and often even love itself has to wait in pain and tears for the blessing of fuller communion. When God looks completely shrouded, will you hang in in confidence in Him?
The Shadow on His Fatherhood. Luke 11:11-13. Jesus says there are times when your Father will appear as if He were an unnatural father, as if He were callous and indifferent, but remember He is not; I have told you--"Everyone that asketh receiveth." If there is a shadow on the face of the Father just now, hang into it that He will ultimately give His clear revealing and justify Himself in all that He permitted.
The Strangeness of His Faithfulness. Luke 18:1-8. "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" Will He find the faith which banks on Him in spite of the confusion? Stand off in faith believing that what Jesus said is true, though in the meantime you do not understand what God is doing. He has bigger issues at stake than the particular things you ask.
I love that! And I couldn't have said it better, so I let The OC say it. Be encouraged today that God is near and working out His will in your life. Ask, and you will receive--exactly what is best. When we hold on to our faith in times of confusion, we delight God's heart.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Maybe one big thing comes to mind. Or maybe it's just all those little things that keep piling up.
I'm usually an easy-going type of person, but when I started feeling tense and cranky, I know it's time to pause and figure out what's going on. Here's a few things that help me:
1. I stop and figure out what I'm worried or stressed about. Is it a deadline? The mounting pile of paperwork? Those urgent emails? Family problems?
2. I try to seek the Truth of the situation. Henry Blackaby says that, "We don't know the truth of any situation until we seek The Truth--which is Jesus." Usually my longest quiet times happen when I'm under writing deadlines (which has been constant lately!). Sitting quiet before God, praying, praising, reading His Word brings me to Truth and settles my heart.
What is this truth? A quote I read recently sums it up well:
"I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking Him to do His work through me." -Hudson Taylor
This quote helps to remind me that I don't need to be stressed; I simply need to open myself up to be a conduit for Jesus to work through!
3. I also have some personal mottos that I cling to:
"Faith and fear cannot reside together." Either I fear the future or have faith in Jesus. I choose faith!
"God will provide the words/answers/help like He provided manna in the wilderness." God didn't dump a year’s worth of food on the Israelites. He provided enough for THAT DAY. That's how He provides His words to me as I write . . . enough for that day.
"God sees the end of the story." This can relate to the article or book I'm working on. It also relates to the story of my life, and the His story of saving work through man.
"God knows the plan for today." Sometimes it involves writing, and other times it doesn't. There are mornings when I seek God, and I clearly hear, "Writing will not happen today, don't stress." This gentle voice is always right. There will be family needs or teenage moms that I need to spend time with. It helps me to remember that this is all part of God's plan too. Being obedient to Christ moment by moment is far more difficult than sitting down and pounding out a 100-page novel--believe me. But obedience is always the better way.
Which leads me to my final motto:
"God knows." Our hearts, our life, our hopes, and His perfect way. God knows!
Sunday, September 11, 2005
My friend has a baby due today. Whether he will born today is yet to be seen but waking up this morning, as an American, was a little sad.
It's one of those moments we'll all remember where we were when it happened. I was at my daughter's gymnastics class that morning, pregnant with another baby on the way way. Someone came running into the gym and turned on the TV.
"A plane hit the World Trade Center."
"That's strange," I thought. "How did someone not see that?"
You see, in my mind, I imagined it was some bi-plane that got off course. I watched the TV, just smoke and fire, not realizing how large the hole really was. Then they showed the re-play. And I realized that someone had actually done it on purpose. A jetliner was shown over and over crashing straight into the building. It was no accident.
I squeezed my daughter to me and the only place I wanted to be was home.
I drove home, my eyes on the skies wondering what was happening, glancing at my toddler in the backseat blissfully unaware how her future was changing. I threw open my front door yelling for my husband but he was already in front of the TV.
"Did you hear?" I asked.
"Yes, both towers are hit."
"Both?" I dropped on to the couch and stared in shock at the smoke billowing from the buildings.
We watched the TV as the live reporting we have come to expect now shows horrible images. We learn of the attack on the Pentagon...just a few miles north of us...and we begin to wonder where it will end. We hear random reports of other highjacked planes. We wait and watch to see if more crashes will come, for the first time feeling unsafe in our own country. I think for a moment that I wish we didn't live so close to DC. My mind runs down my friends who have husbands that work in the Pentagon - I can't imagine what they are going through.
On live TV we watch a tower collapse and then almost half an hour later, a pile of rubble remains where the towers stood.
"I can't imagine New York without the Twin Towers."
"They're just...gone. How can that happen?"
For days we watched the coverage, unable to tear ourselves away. The deathtoll figures that jumped higher then lower. The reports of heros...and victims. The heartbreaking pictures of those looking for loved ones.
Over the next few weeks, we also watched the American flags begin to fly. everywhere you looked, people felt more American. We felt more like a community. As horrible as 9/11 was, it drew us together as a nation. We have to remember what happened so we'll remember what we are still fighting for.
Say a prayer today for the families that lost loved ones on this day. Where September 11th does not hold the anticipation of a birth but the rememberance of a loss. May God comfort their hearts and surround them with His peace.
Friday, September 09, 2005
When a child bounces into the classroom, I see potential.
I know they have unperfected behavioral skills. Their world is decidedly me-oriented. They know only a fraction of what I know, and a lot of their perceptions are skewed. But I see the potential.
I see their eagerness to connect with others, even if they go about it in a "young barbarian" mode. I see their excitement in discovery, even though at times they need guidance to draw right conclusions. I see them yearning to fulfill their unique talents.
Last week I got a glimpse of how God loves me. A rambunctious preschooler vaulted into class, seeking life! This guy tickled my heart.
Then the metaphor hit me: I too am God’s imperfect seeker.
Re-read the second paragraph and you’ll see a description of myself in God’s eyes. I struggle to maintain worthwhile relationships, understand my place in the world, and use the talents He has given me. Thankfully, God sees my potential. God loves His children.
I'm reading "It's Not About Me" by Max Lucado. It's a fairly cool book written for teens. Anyway, this morning I was sitting outside checking out the kitties playing at my feet and appreciating the beautiful green Oklahoma scenery all around me, and reading this book.
I stumbled on a passage that caught my eye. Did you know that the average North American with an average life span of 75 years will spend:
- about 25 years sleeping
- about 15 years working
- some 10 years watching TV
- four years eating
- three years driving
- three years in the bathroom
- three years getting dressed
So, the question kicked around by these stats is: how do we spend our moments?
I write full-time and work out of a home office, so I can chalk up writing for some of my moments. Let me splash in sleeping, eating, bathroom time (it's a fact of life), driving and getting dressed, as well as playing with my friends and family. I can throw in ping pong, ministry (not in that order), and study.
But if I'm honest I spend a lot of my time tuned in to watch TV programs that I don't even really care for while I snack on kettle corn. Why? It's a distraction. No, I don't spend hours a day zoned out, but if I'm honest I lose a lot of my life's moments when I could be pursuing something greater for my life. Cool stuff, destiny stuff, life-changing or fun stuff.
Am I downing TV? Not really, rather I'm just taking an honest look at the 75 or so years I will be given (hopefully) and checking out where I'm spending my time.
Makes me think, anyway.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
One of the essential tools for any writer is her computer and a good keyboard. But are all keyboards alike? Of course not. Some have split keyboards, some have different weights to the keys, some have fancy buttons for added features. But most writers are surprised to hear that I've written all of my books using a different keyboard layout.
My favorite way to type is using a layout called the Dvorak layout, which comprises an entirely different placement of the keys on the board. It's easy to switch to this layout in Windows right from the Regional and Language Options tool in the Control Panel. I started typing in this layout years ago to battle the possibility of carpel tunnel syndrome. I've not had pain from typing since. Here's what it looks like:
Funny, huh? The normal keyboard layout, called the QWERTY layout (named for the first 6 letters on the top row), was actually created to make us type slower. When typewriters were first created, people learned to type very fast on them. Unfortunately, the striking keys would always get stuck together, so manufacturers realized they needed to do something to slow typers down. In response, they switched keys around to make the most common keys in harder to reach places. Of course, with computers, this is no longer a problem, but we're stuck with a layout from an ancient system.
The Dvorak layout does just the opposite. The most commonly used keys are on the home row and off your strongest fingers. I 'm actually able to type faster now, with less movement than before. Here's a fun comic explaining how the Dvorak keyboard works, along with a tutorial and more.
Of course, this messes me up a little when I go to use someone else's computer, but with a little refreshing, I can go back to QWERTY if needed (it's like riding a bike--you never forget).
Anyway, if you've been wanting to try something new, I encourage you to give the Dvorak layout a chance, if nothing else than just because it's fun. I learned the layout in just a few weeks since I forced myself to use it when doing regular work.
Let me know of your progress! :)
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
But what about the rest of us?
The first and most powerful thing we can do is pray. God wants to meet the needs of the hurting. If we ask, I believe He'll provide for those in need and open doors to allow us to help.
We can give money. If we don't live close enough to offer a physical hand, we can donate to numerous organizations working to bring aid and relief. Samaritan's Purse and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief are two groups getting their hands dirty right in the midst of the suffering.
We can listen and respond. I live in East Texas. Hundreds of evacuees are living in our small town's Civic Center, hotels, camps, churches, and homes. Obviously I can't reach out to each one of them, but I can offer myself to the Lord and do what he gives me to do.
Trish, a young woman from our town visited various places where evacuees are staying, met people, and asked about needs. She told me about two sisters she'd met who were enrolling their two teen-aged daughters in the local high school. The teens had only the shorts and tee-shirts they'd been wearing when they fled the storm. Trish sighed and said, "I just wish I had clothes in the size they need."
"What size do they need?" I asked.
You guessed it. Both girls wear my size. I'm not a teenager any more, but I shop in junior departments. And I buy cute, stylish clothes--things my 22-yr-old daughter asks to borrow. I went through my closet, picking out items I like but could easily spare. Jeans, capris, skirts, fitted tees, button-down tops, dresses. I felt ashamed to have so much when these people had lost everything. After filling two boxes with nice clothes from stores like The Gap, 5-7-9, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, American Eagle, The Buckle, Aeropostale, etc., my closet was still jam-packed with more of the same. I won't even miss those clothes, and two teenagers will be able to walk the high school halls without being embarrassed about their appearance.
Since then I've met the girls and their moms. We've begun a friendship, and only God knows what will become of it.
Other opportunities abound in our community. Churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals are stepping up to the plate, including my church and at least one other organization I belong to. As long as there are hurting, homeless people here, the need for volunteers will remain. One person or one group could never handle a disaster of these proportions. But person-to-person or family-to-family or church-to-church, healing can take place and needs be met.
If you're feeling helpless, pray for those on the front lines. Then ask God to lead you to the open doors He has for you. Together we can shine His love and offer His hand--one check or meal or pair of jeans at a time.
Monday, September 05, 2005
My middle daughter, Laurie, came home last year from serving in Iraq, and this morning her military police unit is in New Orleans. My big faith tests always concern my kids. The “mom” in me fears what Laurie will experience in the coming weeks—the violence, death, danger, disease—and how it will impact her. She was issued more body armor for her duties in New Orleans than she had driving a convoy in Iraq. My writer’s imagination has a field day with that. The day I heard she’d been pulled out of college to go to Louisiana, my imagination ran rampant, focusing on looters with guns, dangerous rescues in rotting houses, near drownings, and alligators. I knew there wouldn’t be any contact with her until phone lines and cell phone towers were back up.
I also knew I’d drive myself crazy unless I got a firm grip on my thoughts—and pronto. First I reminded myself that “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) And from past experience I knew that the fastest way to a sound mind was found in Philippians 4:8 (KJV): “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Talk about a challenge! What could be virtuous or just or praise-worthy about this situation? Actually, as I prayed, there were many possibilities. Instead of focusing on fear-inducing images, I started picturing Laurie giving food and water to those in need…finding missing children…encouraging those who lost all their belongings…and (if necessary) subduing criminals who have taken lawlessness to whole new (low) level.
Yes, as a mom, I wish Laurie had chosen a safer way to serve. Yet I’m so proud of her for volunteering even before she got called. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV)
God bless those hurt by the flood—and those giving help.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
We were on vacation in the Rocky Mountains when I came up with the bright idea of taking a short walk in the mountains. Alone. Without telling my family. At first it was glorious. I marched up the trail, swinging my arms, feeling just like Maria.
Suddenly, a bunch of rocks fell from above. I dodged them, my heart racing. These were BIG rocks. Only something BIG would have made them tumble downhill. That was when I thought of something else. Something important that I'd forgotten when I'd started this lonely walk.
I was in bear country.
Forget about Winnie the Pooh or Country Bear Jamboree. I'm talking big, mad mama bears protecting their cubs. I'm talking wild bears with claws, hungry after hibernating, ready to feast on me.
Suddenly I didn't feel like Maria at all. This walk by myself had been a stupid idea. Why hadn't I told anybody where I was going? I turned around and began to run back toward the hotel.
As I jogged along the path, I remembered that out in the mountains you're supposed to talk loudly to scare the bears away. It's sort of hard to have a conversation when you're alone, though, so all I could think of was to sing. I sang softly at first, feeling silly. But then another rock fell behind me, and I turned up the volume.
"The hills are ali-i-i-ive with the sound of mu-u-usic!" I bellowed, totally off-key. Might as well scare everything else away along with the bears, I thought.
Halfway back to the hotel I was holding my arms out and waltzing along, just like Maria in the movie. I sang and sang and sang, mostly songs I'd heard in church. Before I knew it, I wasn't scared at all. In fact, I was feeling downright cheerful, even though I had to find my family and tell them what I'd done.
That experience taught me how important it is to sing out loud. The sound of praise drives unseen enemies away. It helps you stop feeling scared. And best of all, it cheers you up–even when you do something stupid like taking a walk out in bear country alone.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Too often when it comes to relationships, we’re blind to what’s obvious to those around us. A bad “pick” is easier to see in someone else’s relationship than in our own. We easily notice the faults in our friend’s boyfriend, but we are blind to the faults in our guy.
After a bad break up, young women (or men!) often find themselves saying, “I should have listened to my mom . . . or my friend. They could see what he/she was like all along.”
“Whenever the truth is threatening, we tend to reach for the blinders,” says Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, author of Reading People. It’s time to take off those blinders and take a good look. Who are you choosing to commit to? Can he be considered your “best”? If not, why are you settling for less?
If you are currently in a dating relationship, ask yourself how you would view your boyfriend if you were an outsider looking in. Are you sticking around because you’re needy? Because of fear?
The person with the biggest needs or fears are usually the ones that fill their lives with the biggest Mr. Wrong.
Also, our judgment in relationships disappears when sex is thrown into the mixture. Once the powerful and pleasurable ingredient of sex is added we tend to overlook even basic flaws . . . until the passion subsides, of course. But by then it can be too late. By then, your emotions are in a tight knot.
What do you think? Have you ever reached for the blinders in a past relationship? Have you gone too far that your emotions became entangled in a tight knot? How did you deal with it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Friday, September 02, 2005
What are you called to do? This question that has perplexed individuals for ages. Are we called to be missionaries? Accountants? Parents? Servants of God? Musicians? People who just enjoy life? A little bit of all of the above?
Trying to figure out the exact answer to that question can be a little bit like trying to dismantle a time bomb having only had experience with Lego construction. Still, there’s something innate within each of us that yearns for the answer to that question. We read books, attend seminars on purpose, discuss it at length. But when it all comes out with the wash, we’re right back where we started, questioning the meaning of our existence and hoping it’s not just “42.”
As an author, I’ve contemplated this many times, knowing with every beat of my heart that I’m called to be a writer. When I sit down to write, there’s an energy that flows through my veins that is unmistakable. Of course, the same thing happens when I’m eating McDonald’s fries, so what do I know. Because also being married and having a child, I know that before I’m called to be a writer I’m called to be a husband and father. And before that I’m called to be a servant of God. So maybe it’s a matter of priorities.
I don’t know if mankind will ever discover the answer to this question on their own. Fortunately, the Apostle Paul has the answer to this question for us:
“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
Now there’s a calling.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Hundreds of professionals have descended on the region, Texas has opened it's arms for the refugees of New Orleans and agencies from all over are ready to help. And there are countlee other communities that have been devastated as well.
So what can we do as we sit in our nice safe homes with power and water and food in the fridge?
Truly, these people need our prayers...and not just for help and the water to recede and safety but for God to restore their hope.
So many people lost absolutely everything to the floodwaters. They have no homes, no jobs, no hope. I was talking with Clint van Zandt yesterday and as we were talking about the problems with looting down in the region, he said "They need hope." How true. We might think they need more police, more national guard - but it is hope that is really needed. The Bible says that without a vision, people perish. And with everything gone people are left lost and aimless. He had a great suggestion, too. That the federal government hire all the displaced people to rebuild themselves. Help them have a real hope of a future there...as well as a paycheck.
The problem with prayer is that we'll start forgetting and what they will face will go on for many, many months. We need to keep praying as the shock of what has happened gives way to grief and anger.
Every bit will help. These are our friends and neighbors and the church is all about reaching out to those in need. Those who love the Lord should be the most generous. Since we are the church it is our responsibility to ask God what it is we are supposed to give...and then be faithful to give it. No matter what our age, no matter what our financial circumstances, we should help.
Where do you donate?
Most places you can do it right online or over the phone. Check out these places:
The Salvation Army
Their site says "A $100 donation to The Salvation Army will feed a family of four for two days, provide two cases of drinking water and one household clean-up kit, containing brooms, mops, buckets, and cleaning supplies."
Giving help to the body, soul and spirit.
The Red Cross
We've all heard of them and they are usually the first on the scene.
The Humane Society
From their site: Some people were forced to leave their pets behind. Others were never able to evacuate at all. Now, in Katrina’s aftermath, The HSUS's Disaster Animal Response Teams are primed to help the pets and other animals left behind in the region’s most devastated areas.
The God we serve is not to be trifled with. Events such as these should cause us to look up to God and remember all that we have to be thankful for. Bless God today for all your creature comforts, the food on your table, and a bed to sleep in - and mean it in a whole new way.
Lord, we do ask for your favor upon the people in the Gulf right now. We ask you to bring comfort to their hearts and that help would come swiftly. For those that are grieving Lord, be their Comforter. For those that are fearful, be their Strong Tower. For those that have lost their hope, make Your Presence known to them. Stir up the hearts of your people, Lord, to be prayerful and generous. Help this tragedy draw us together, and not split us apart. We ask for abundant wisdom to those in authority over the towns, electrical and water companies. Help them find the solutions they need and pour out Your grace as they set about the work of restoring these cities. Have mercy on them all O Lord, according to your unfailing love and may Your glory shine during this dark time.
All the anarchy there now. Wow. I don't understand how people can get so far gone from morality to do some of the things that are being said are going on there now. My heart and prayers go out to those people who are stuck in the middle of the bad elements and the suspended rescue attempts because of concern for the rescuers' safety.
And, then, on Headline News, a little passing story-- one that just got lost in all the looting and violence stories. It is the efforts of a young man-- a lanky, tired boy of fourteen-- with an axe. A rescue helicopter came for him on a rooftop, but he refused to leave yet. He pointed to a house submerged to its second story just a few rooftops away. "Ya hear that pounding?" he asked the cameraman. "There are people in there with no chance, but I got their chance right here." He held up the axe. Seems that boy had cut holes in a number of roofs yesterday, freeing people trapped by water and heat in attics with no means of escape. He estimated somewhere between 30 and 60. He was tired and he was thirsty, but he wasn't interested in getting in that helicopter just yet. There were more people who needed his help.
Wow. I'm challenging myself to take that boy's lead for the rest of the week. To put someone else's needs before my own. I don't know if that boy's a Christian or not, but how can you argue that Christ is not shining through him right now? Especially to those faces who have a chance thanks to an axe.