In a sense, I felt like I lost one of my wheels today. As a bicyclist, I think this metaphor is particularly appropriate. I have been prepping for DFWCon for weeks (a writers conference billed as the largest one in Texas, with lots of wonderful industry professionals and fellow writers in attendance). I was looking forward to being a part of the conference, going to the classes, making new friends, and pitching my science fiction novel, Alien Neighbors. To my frustration, I developed a minor (although thank God, easily treatable) medical issue, but it was enough to stop me from attending. I think there is an important lesson here. There are NO career breaking moments. My writing career was not dependent on this conference. What it is dependent on, is that I stay the course. I must admit today was a bit rough, but I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue the journey. We are writers – that is what we do.
I am learning what it truly means to be a writer. Perhaps we should be called “revisioners.” Writing excellence typically requires rewrites. While it may seem like a painful and tedious process – it can actually be fun. Seeing your story improve is like watching your child practice something and start to get really good at it. Remember, it’s all in your perspective. When you find yourself needing to rewrite something – view it as a wondrous opportunity, rather than a chore. You’ll be so glad to see the results when you are done!
When I woke up on my birthday morning (three days ago), the thought immediately came to me “Today is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it.” I was very grateful for that, because the day before I had been struggling. I was struggling with the fact that I have been battling lower back pain the last few weeks, the knowledge that my body is getting older and telling me that in not always so subtle ways, missing those who have gone on to be with the Lord, especially my Mom, working towards getting a literary agent for my book (which can be a long, arduous process) and seeking where God is leading next. So when God had so graciously placed that thought in my head, He positioned me to see my life from a completely different perspective.
“Today is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it!”
Rejoice and be glad for:
A wonderful husband – Phil is my best friend and soulmate. He believes in my dreams, encourages me, and supports me.
An incredible son – Josh is seeking God’s will for his life and has recently been blessed with a wonderful job doing video work for a local church.
An amazing array of family – daughter Melissa – son-in-law Aaron – awesome grandkids / brothers – Eddie and Vinny / Sisters – Janet and Lynn / Sisters-in laws – Jane and Sara / loving nieces and nephews – the list goes on and on…
The gift of friends, near and far, many of whom expressed their Birthday wishes for me. Friends are truly a gift from God and I am grateful for each one.
Incredible experiences in my life – from climbing mountains to managing an engineering department. Leading an ESL ministry to being a college professor. Training horses and ranch work to writing two books. Preaching a sermon at a small country church to coordinating a school science fair. Getting to be a wife and mom and grandma. The list goes on and on, and I am truly humbled when I think of all of these blessings God has provided for me. Ephesians 3:20 comes to mind.
And most of all, for a Savior that loves me so much that He died for my sake and rose again to defeat death, so that I can be cleansed of my sins and have eternal life with Him. Not only that – He walks with me each day!
Thanks to everyone who took time out of your day to bless me with your Birthday wishes – I love you and I treasure them in my heart. And my prayer for each of you is that you too wake up each morning with the thought in your head:
“Today is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it!”
I woke up this morning thinking about how to reconcile celebrating Valentine’s Day with observing Ash Wednesday, when I realized that there isn’t any need for reconciliation; the two events complement each other beautifully. As we reflect solemnly on our sinful state and the admonition that Ash Wednesday brings to the forefront in Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” it is certainly a time of repentance. But it is also a time to draw us to closer to experiencing God’s love through the Gospel.
So let me explain the correlation I think we have between these two seemingly dissimilar events. To begin with, it would be good to get a better understanding of the word love. In the English language we use one word to describe many things. We can love our brothers and sisters, we can have a more intimate love for our spouses, we can even love hamburgers, but none of these describes the love that God has for us. When we go back to the original Greek, we see that all of these types of love have a different word assigned to it. Family love or love of an object may fall under Storge στοργή. The brotherly love of friendship is expressed as Philia φιλία, and sexual love as Eros ἔρως. The love of God for man has its own word too. It is called Agape ἀγάπη. God’s love for us is relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial and unconditional.
I read a quote about Agape love by Paulo Coelho that beautifully expresses the magnitude of God’s love for us: “This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of man’s history.”
When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of love. The Scriptures tell us in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder as to why each of us needs that love. In Ash Wednesday we remember our mortality, that we are dust and will return to dust. We are reminded of our sin, but the Gospel message tells us we have victory over our sin if we repent and believe. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 gives us hope:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 John 4:8 proclaims, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” The message is clear. We are to love one another. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22:37-39 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Today is a day we can celebrate love in all of its facets: the love that God has for us, and the different types of love that we have for one another. Today, Phil and I will contemplate the incredible love that God has for us as sinful mortals with gratefulness and repentance, and we will also celebrate the love we have as husband and wife. When you think about it, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates romantic love, but what could be more romantic than sacrificial love? Ultimately that is the type of love that lasts when the trappings of Valentine’s Day fades into the busyness of life.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and we have the season of Lent ahead of us. Another Lenten tradition for some folks is to “give something up” for Lent. The purpose is to recognize and share in Jesus’ sacrifice as he withdrew into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Another way we can share in this tradition is rather than give something up, we can commit to do something, as an expression of sacrificial love. For me, I choose to write one card of encouragement each day of Lent (to the person God puts on my heart that day), and mail it. One has to be intentional, and carve out time to do this. Not a great sacrifice perhaps, but it serves the purpose of giving time to God to bless someone else. Just another way to show that ultimately, Ash Wednesday and Lent, while a season of repentance, is grounded in the greatest love of all and is a great way to live out the command Jesus gave us in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
Another GREAT thing to do today is to forgive someone if you have been allowing bitterness to fester in your heart. I know many people who struggle with forgiveness, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it, we read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ. If you are in this category, you can read more at my blog post: Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving Others.
There are all sorts of ways we can live out loving one another. A friend of mine is planning on choosing one item each day from her family’s clothing closets, so that at the end of Lent she will have 40 gently used items to donate to those in need. Sounds like both a sacrificial and practical plan to me! May you find special blessings each day as you spend this time preparing your heart for celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. And if you have never participated in Lent before, you might want to give it a try. It’s a wonderful way to deepen your spiritual journey.
Happy Lenten Valentine’s Day!
As writers, we often find ourselves working in a solitary place. For some of us, that is the only way we can unleash the thoughts in our head in a coherent fashion. It is time that many of us have to work hard to obtain – perhaps by shutting ourselves away from our busy and boisterous families by sneaking into the back bedroom for thirty minutes. For others it might look like a trip to the local library or Starbucks with our laptop in tow, hoping we don’t bump into someone we know, so we can use the precious minutes we have carved out of our busy schedules to actually write. Our understandable predisposition to gain solitary time in order to respond to our calling may become an obsession if we aren’t careful. It can become quite easy to duck out of social activities when our work-in-progress is tugging at our hearts. But many famous writers were notable as recluses, so what’s the harm?
Actually, it can be harmful. I think it is important to recognize that God created us to be in community. Not only is it good as a writer to enter the social sphere, it is good for our souls. Writers are observers of life, and our writings reflect the truths we have found through our observations and experiences. You can’t observe or experience if you keep yourself segregated from the rest of humanity. Being in community also satisfies the yearning we all have to be part of something greater than ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. That is why I am so excited about the upcoming writing conference I am attending: Lonestar.Ink in Dallas this February. I have been a writer for many years, yet I have never made the time to attend one. I am not sure what to expect, but I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, I expect to learn some good stuff from some successful authors and editors who are willing to communicate their knowledge with others. I am also anticipating that this will be an opportunity to network. But I also see it as something else – as an opportunity to break out of my solitude and connect with other people that have similar dreams and goals. People who will get my grammar puns and appreciate them without rolling their eyes (well, maybe…) and of course enjoy the conversations and debates that arise as writers compare notes on both technique and content.
Another strong reason to get out into the community (and attend a writers conference) is explained by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. She reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness, but could also be key to health and long life in an intriguing TED Talk where she explains that social interaction is the number one predictor for longevity. She explains that this is not limited to close acquaintances, but includes everyone that we interact with as we move through our day. Further, “Face to face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like vaccines, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” As a matter of fact, her entire speech made me really glad I signed up for the conference. Her research shows that brain activity becomes much more engaged with a live partner. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies thought the candidates were smarter if they heard their voices, compared to when they read their pitches from a text, email or letter. So theoretically, pitching an agent or publisher at a writing conference makes me smarter then sending a query letter…quaking knees and all.
Pinker says, “It’s a biological imperative to know we belong.” She points out the benefits of social contact, “Building inter-person interaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters the immune system, sends feel good hormones surging through the blood stream and brain, and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.” So now I can extrapolate from this information that attending the Lonestar.ink writing conference is a matter of life and death. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating, but hey, it’s still a great idea and what’s a little hyperbole among friends?
I read this on Facebook and asked my friend Abigail Harper Christie if I could share it, because it really spoke to me about the value of reading and having access to books. As a writer, it validates my own endeavors as a way to contribute to humanity. Abigail’s story tells of the life-changing impact that books made on her:
As my trip to London and our Harry Potter Pilgrimage draws to a close, I have been thinking about the impact that Harry Potter has had on my life. I understand that it is just a book series, but for me it is a tiny bit more. Pre-HP, I had absolutely no interest in reading and was reading pretty significantly below grade level. I just didn’t care. My mom would try to force me to read to her at night and I would put up a fight every time. Then someone gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in third grade. I couldn’t put it down. Within weeks I had read the first three books. Before I was done with third grade I had read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit while waiting for the fourth one to come out. By the next time they did reading evaluations I was then reading/comprehending significantly above grade level. I remember taking my books with me everywhere and talking about them a bit too much.
Harry Potter is more than just a series of books for me, it was the catalyst to a love of learning and reading. So I know we are all busy these days with relationships, school, work, adulting, etc., but try to take the time to stop and read a book. It might just lead you to places you never imagined possible.
Thanks, Abigail – I spent many a night in elementary school hiding under the covers with a flashlight and Nancy Drew mystery book (I am a bit older than you, okay, maybe more than a bit…and Harry Potter was still a long way off, but Nancy Drew had the same effect) so I can really identify with your experience and I wish that for everyone. Reading transports us to another world and allows us to see possibilities that we wouldn’t know existed otherwise. It empowers us with knowledge and reassures us with familiarity. It helps us cope by providing a means to take a break from our troubles. I think one of the best gifts you can give a child is to facilitate a love of reading. Thanks for sharing about the impact that books have had on you – as an author the best thing we can possibly hear is that we have made a difference in someone’s life!
It’s been quite awhile since my last post and a lot has happened along the way. At Chapter 24, my science fiction novel is almost 2/3rds complete and is a blast to work on. Life has been busy as my husband and I have let go of some responsibilities and taken on new ones. But what I have really felt impressed upon me lately is finding joy in the moment.
If you are like me, your days are filled with tasks to be completed. As soon as I get caught up in one area, more things to be done appear on the horizon. It is so easy to get caught up rushing to the next task that we don’t pause to enjoy the moment that we are in. I often have to stop and ask myself, “Is there a neighbor I need to check on? Is there a friend I have not talked to in awhile? Is there someone I have meant to get in touch with that I haven’t made time for? When is the last time I went with our teenage son for a walk in the park, to the library or a breakfast outing?” I am so grateful for so many things, and especially for my husband Phil. His birthday was this past Tuesday and I knew he always wanted to drive a bulldozer, so I surprised him by taking him on an adventure that he truly enjoyed. We set aside all of our thoughts about our responsibilities and just immersed ourselves in the day. I am grateful we had that opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. Who knew pushing huge mounds of dirt could bring so much joy!
While life continues (along with the pressures and stresses of life) I am learning to keep my focus more on God and loving people and less on the stuff that I can’t change anyway. When you really do make an effort to see the glass as half full, and further, to be grateful that you have that glass in the first place, it changes your outlook and joy becomes resident where disappointment or anxiety used to reside. While there is a degree of necessity in doing many tasks, it is the perspective we choose and how we prioritize our day that allows us to make room for the special experiences of life that are truly meaningful…and reminds us to take joy in the moment we are in.