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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 40-Year-Old Coffee Virgin

I've spent the past couple of months on a quest for coffee. I've never liked coffee, but this past year as I have frequented the quiet seclusion of my new writing life, I have begun to desire a coffee-like substance. Something with an energy kick that will keep my fingers moving no matter how exhausted I am. Being a middle-aged mother of two vivacious young boys, I'm almost always exhausted. And since cocaine doesn't fit into my budget, coffee just seems to make the most sense. 0:)

My problem with coffee is the flavor. Put some dirty dishwater in a cup and add a few dashes of bitters and some rust extract. Now take a sip - YES, that's it - that's how coffee tastes in my mouth.

If coffee tasted like its aroma there'd be no dilemma. I would have been chuggin' the stuff at age five - I've always loved the smell of brewing coffee. But that taste...

I decided to lean on some coffee-drinking friends for some advice. "How does a flavor-challenged individual embark upon a quest for coffee?" I said.

I received many responses: "Use lots and lots of creamer." "Use less coffee than the directions call for." "Add some water to the pot before it brews." "Add sugar." "Add flavoring." One friend said she never liked coffee, but when she became an adult she decided to start drinking it anyway because... well... that's what mature adults do.

Suddenly my quest for coffee wasn't just about coffee. Now it was about maturity as well. Almost forty and I'd never had coffee. I was about to be the 40-year-old coffee virgin. Could people look at me and tell I wasn't partaking in a sacred act of adulthood - that despite my graying hair, I was not yet mature?

And I'm supposed to be a writer. Can I even call myself a writer if I don't drink coffee? It's on the job description, I think. Maybe that's why I get so many rejections.

I decided the best way to become experienced at coffee was to start exploring the coffee field.

Rich creams, mouth-watering sugars, different measurements, exciting flavors, watered-down weak, in-your-face bold - I tried a variety of coffee personalities. I discovered that each person's perfect cup of coffee is as individual as their own fingerprint, and my goal was to find the cup of coffee that was just right for me - the one I would look forward to enjoying each and every writing day.

In the end my perfect cup of coffee is 1 1/2 Tbsp. of caramel truffle coffee, 12 ozs. water, 1 Tbsp of vanilla caramel creamer, and a large dollop of whipped cream topped with a pinch of chocolate powder.

What do you mean that's not coffee? It is, too, coffee! I admit it's kind of pretty and fluffy, but it IS coffee.

Just because the girl's drinking coffee doesn't mean she has to grow up.

What is your perfect cup of coffee?

Friday, December 25, 2009

KaNoWriYear or Picking Up the "Pace"

As 2009 draws to a close, I am beginning to dwell on my writing future. In the past twelve months, I have gone from hobby writer to student writer to published writer and have even placed in a couple of writing contests along the way. I do not mean to imply any grand success --in the beginner's writing world, "published" and "contest winner" does not necessarily mean there's cash rolling in. But what it has meant for me is a start, and for someone who has never had a high degree of confidence, "a start" is a huge step.

Lingering right here at "a start" would be so easy to do. I'm writing, afterall, and I love to write. I'm comfortable here -- I turn in my Christian Writers Guild lessons every two weeks, write an occassional short story, study writing, dabble with my couple of half-written novels, blog, submit an article or a short story once in a while. Yeah, writing life is good right now.

But God doesn't like for me to get too comfortable. Through the guilt I experience over not writing harder for Him, His message is bold and burns in my gut: I've given you "a start." Now show me what you can do with it. Let's pick up the pace. And I realize that's exactly what I need. A pace.

So I am declaring 2010 my "pace" year. My foot is in the door, and now I need to get the rest of my body in there. How do I go about doing that, you ask?

My (gasp, choke, hack)... left brain. I know that's a dirty phrase to many fiction writers. Most fiction writers aren't wired to be (gasp)... left-brain... people. We're right-brain people by nature, artistic and creative -- at least with words (please don't ever ask me to draw a picture). Writing, yes even fiction writing, requires both sides of the brain to be successful. Read here to find why writers have to have both right- and left-brain strength to be good writers.

As I prepare for 2010, my "pace" year, I will be setting writing goals, creating action plans, and developing a schedule. You know, all that left brain stuff. So you can all hold me accountable, here is a sneak peek at a couple of my goals:

KaNoWriYear - Those of you who are familiar with NaNoWriMo will understand this play on the acronym. 2010 is Karen's Novel Writing Year. I will write a novel this year and have the final draft ready for CWG/Tyndale Publishers Operation First Novel on Oct. 1. I probably won't win, so I'll also take it to the CWG Writing for the Soul Conference in 2011.

Freelance - It's time to make a few bucks, and I will be actively seeking freelance writing opportunities. I'd love to find a newspaper or magazine looking for a parenting humor columnist. I have a binder filled with writing that would really embarass my kids and family, but if I got some cash for it, I think they'd forgive me. I would also enjoy doing devotionals, greeting cards, newsletters - anything really.

I won't tell you the rest of my writing goals because I'm not sure I want to be that accountable.

Dig into your left brains, Writers, and tell me what your 2010 writing goals are.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Finding Jesus in Santa Claus

I didn’t want to attend the Christmas event at my son’s school. The event would be held on a Saturday and would include crafts, story time, snacks, and a visit with Santa Claus. We had already visited with Santa Claus once that season, and I was trying to minimize the commercialism of Christmas in our family. Christmas wasn’t about trees and toys and lights and men in red suits. Jesus, not Santa Claus, was the real reason for Christmas, and I wanted my children to focus on Jesus.

Despite my feelings about our Christmas focus, I found myself at the school sitting on a rug surrounded by children anxiously awaiting a Christmas story. I dreaded the story – it would be just another secularized version of all of the wrong reasons for Christmas, and I would have to find a way to repair the damage done to my kids’ Christian minds.

A jolly looking man with a fluffy, salt-and-pepper beard entered the room and greeted us. He sat on a stool at the front of the room and asked the kids some questions to warm up the crowd. He pulled a ceramic statue out of a box, and I instantly recognized Santa Claus. But there was something else there. Wrapped in a blanket and cradled in Santa’s arms was a newborn baby. I thought it was odd that Santa would be cradling an infant instead of embracing a child.

Our storyteller asked us about the statue. Who was the man in red? What did we know about him? There was plenty of dialogue from and among his young audience. Everyone had something to offer about Santa Claus. Then the storyteller said, “Why is Santa Claus holding this baby and who is the baby?” No one knew.

Baby Jesus never crossed my mind because I had never associated Santa Claus with baby Jesus. So when the storyteller said “This is baby Jesus” I began to pay closer attention. In those few minutes, as the storyteller spoke, I learned that in my attempt to remove all things that didn’t directly display Jesus, I had removed love from Christmas. Love, the most important thing Jesus asks us to share, I trampled, because in my mind it didn’t seem Christian-like to focus on others when we should be honoring Jesus’ birthday.

The best way to transform ourselves into the likeness of Jesus is to love others, and Christmas provides us with an opportune time to share Jesus’ love. What good does it do us to display a nativity scene in our front yard if we are not pouring into others what baby Jesus in the manger stands for?

Santa Claus was created in the likeness and character of a man named Nicholas who was born in the third century. Nicholas was a devout Christian who dedicated his life to serving God. He helped the needy and loved and protected children. Nicholas obeyed Jesus and reflected His love and compassion so boldly in his life that Nicholas was honored as a Saint. It is believed that God worked through Saint Nicholas performing miracles and accomplishing extraordinary deeds here on Earth. Saint Nicholas obeyed and adored Jesus. Saint Nicholas allowed Jesus to shine through him, and that is Saint Nicholas’s connection to Jesus. Although Saint Nicholas never actually cradled baby Jesus in his arms, the symbolism is of Saint Nicholas protecting all that Jesus was and all that Jesus came here to do.

Has Santa Claus replaced Jesus? Only in the minds of those who have allowed it to. In my house, Santa Claus is Jesus’ helper. I no longer seek to eliminate the things that don’t directly display Jesus during Christmas. I simply share the love of Jesus in all of the beautiful things that surround us. Blinking lights are Jesus’ birthday candles or stars on that sacred Christmas night. Christmas trees are the wood used to build the manger. Santa Claus reminds us of Saint Nicholas and how he lived his life for God. Presents symbolize the gifts presented to the newborn King. Delivering food and presents to needy families show how Saint Nicholas pleased God and allow us to demonstrate the love of Jesus.

If we are slathering our houses in lights and inflatable Santas and snowmen, does it make us any less Christian? If we are sharing the love, joy, and celebration of Christmas, we are reflecting the character of Jesus and honoring God’s arrival on Earth no matter what decorations we use in our celebrations.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Art of Fabrication

In the fiction writer's world, the art of fabrication is otherwise known as writing great fiction. In the past couple of years, since deciding to take my writing from the hobby arena to the professional arena, I have been learning volumes about great writing.

I've been brushing up on my grammar, building my vocabulary, researching marketing techniques, leading and participating in critique sessions, developing creative writing sessions, networking with other writers, and studying great works of writing. Through the Christian Writer's Guild, I have been and will be learning about all different kinds of writing (news articles, magazine articles, personality interviews, poetry, devotionals, screenwriting, non-fiction, and fiction) as well as writing techniques and tips. And the list displaying my preparation for a career in writing goes on and on. But for my non-writer readers, I will not bore you with the interminable details.

Academically speaking, I guess you could say I'm covered.

But for a writer, especially a fiction writer, there are two things that you must have that all of that academic preparation just isn't going to fully provide.

Imagination and a curiosity about the human condition.

And the real challenge is the ability to tie the two together. If you write fiction, that ability is the art of fabrication - to be able to weave a completely plausible lie that throughout and in the end implants something in the reader that they just can't let go of.

It's easy to determine if you have a curiosity about the human condition. It can be as simple as wondering why someone is the way they are. For example, recent news made me ask this question: "What would make a 15-year-old girl murder her sister's 9-year-old playmate?"

In my last post, "Did Jeffrey Meet Jesus," I wrote, "I probably should have been a psychiatrist because I've always been interested in what makes the darkest of the dark in humanity tick." My friend Stephanie left a comment that read, "I've found the same traits that would have made you a good psychiatrist also make you a really good writer. It's a fascination with our fellow human beings and the human condition." Thank you for your comment, Stephanie, because that response has tumbled around in my brain for the past few days and made me realize something about writing I hadn't considered before. The result is this blog.

Curiosity also shows itself in your heart and mind through something as simple as a look. The deep crevices chiseled into the leathery face of a street-stained homeless man. The apathetic countenance of a neglected child. The artificial joy frozen on the face of a woman who carries a reflection of internal torment in her eyes.

Words and body language can also give a fiction writer a shot of creative caffeine. Driving in my car one day, I once wrote an entire poem in my head when I heard the word "tragic" in a song. The word combined with a situation going on in my life, and I simply couldn't stop my brain. I later turned the poem into a six-page short story - it was fiction but fiction stimulated by observations of the human condition. And although it's rare, sometimes that human condition I observe is my own.

Add imagination to a curious nature, and it sparks fireworks that explode in the mind of a writer. When I have trouble getting my imagination to soar, I read books by writers who have bold and brilliant imaginations. C.S. Lewis is probably my favorite, but there are so many others depending on what you like to read. Cormac McCarthy is a dark writer, but his imagination is so vast and rich. If you like poetry, it may be the most prolific way to jump start your imagination - especially romantic era poets like Coleridge, Shelley, and Byron. A couple of great modern day poets who write great visual poetry are Stellasue Lee and Ramon Presson. Books of great short stories can also give you a quick imagination high.

I constantly remind myself not to limit my imagination. I used to love to read vampire books, and they all basically followed the Brahm Stokers list of vampire rules - until I started reading Anne Rice. She broke all the rules and created super vampires. Things the other vampires couldn't do, her vampires could. And why not, the characters are only limited by the writer's imagination. I still battle with limiting my characters, but I'm healing, and I like to think eventually I'll be cured of this yield in my creativity.

So, take something you observe about the human condition, combine it with your imagination, and voilà - you have the art of fabrication. Put it all on paper and BAM! you're a fiction writer.

Of course, all the academic stuff certainly helps you assemble it all together, but no matter how well assembled it is, no one is going to read your writing if your imagination doesn't reveal something thought provoking about the human condition.

So unleash your thinking, and pay close attention to the world around you. There's a story waiting to be fabricated everywhere you look.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Did Jeffrey Meet Jesus?

The man slumped to the floor, his glasses crushed, his head bleeding profusely. He looked up at his attacker, the man wielding the blood-soiled, solid-metal weight bar and said, "I don't care if I live or die. Go ahead and kill me."

The man with the metal bar gladly met the bleeding man's demand and administered a vicious adrenalin-infused blow to the man's head. The bleeding man was rendered unconscious as his attacker countinued bludgeoning until he had pulverized the man's head. The man's body survived long enough to make it into the ambulance where he was pronounced dead from severe head trauma.

What do you feel for this bleeding man as he is experiencing this attack? Pain? Sympathy? Anger at his attacker?

What if I tell you both men were prisoners and the bleeding man was serving a life sentence for murder? Do you still feel pain? sympathy? anger? Do you feel less of it because this man was a murderer?

Witnesses say that guards walked away from the attack, closing the doors behind them, allowing the attack to happen. Some say it was planned and that even the guards allowed the plans to play out. Witnesses also say that despite the bloody, gruesome scene, some time passed before the guards called for medical help.

What do you feel now? Anger? Apathy?

What if I tell you the bleeding man with the pulverized head was Jeffrey Dahmer? In 1991 Dahmer confessed to raping, torturing, killing, and dismembering 15 men and boys and murdering 2 other men. He also confessed to committing post mortem rapes and cannibalism on his victims.

What do you feel about this vicious attack now? Anything?

In the early 90's I was in my early 20's. I remember I couldn't turn on the news for months it seemed without being inundated with Dahmer details. We learned more than we needed to know about what this guy did, and the details were so disgusting and shocking that as time went on and more details emerged, the schock drifted into a complacency. Not because we didn't care but because the recent week's horrid revelation just didn't seem to out-disgust the one they shared the week before.

I probably should have been a psychiatrist because I've always been interested in what makes the darkest of the dark in humanity tick. And I truly thought I could never hear a another detail that would surprise me about Jeffrey Dahmer.

But this past Saturday, I did.

I wandered across an old prime time news program that consisted of a 1994 interview with Dahmer shortly before his death. The interview shocked me - not because of any of the horrid things I already knew about him but because of one shocking thing I'd never heard.

Dahmer who had believed in the theory of evolution and felt that it made him his own god - Dahmer who also believed he was the devil - had prayed for the salvation that only Jesus Christ offers and was baptized - both while incarcerated. Dahmer's father had shared creationism and Jesus with Dahmer after he went to prison, and according to Dahmer, his heart accepted it.

If his heart truly was right with God and if there are no unforgivable sins, this means Dahmer slipped out of his flesh and into the arms of Jesus.

Now, what do you feel?

I leave you with these questions:

1. Are there any unforgivable sins?

2. Do you think when Dahmer slipped out of his flesh that he landed in the arms of Jesus?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Evil Is God's Megaphone"

Question: Why does God allow His children to be the object of evil?

I usually leave my conversations with God with answers. Today, however, I left with this deep and troubling question. Evil was not on my mind in the least when I snuggled in close to God this morning. But when He released me to face the world, I was left unsettled by the concept of evil.

I don't mean evil like ghosts and goblins and witches and other make-believe fantasies. I mean REAL evil. Someone who kidnaps and murders a 7-year-old girl and dumps her in a landfill. A mother who gets liquored and doped up and kills a carload full of children driving the wrong way on a highway. A man who kidnaps an 11-year-old girl, rapes her, gets her pregnant twice, and holds her and her two girls hostage in a shed in the back yard for 18 years. Teenagers who douse a fellow teen in alcohol and set him on fire.

This is the real evil that exists in our world today, and I haven't even scratched the surface.

John 3 was on my reading list today which is what led me to start thinking about evil in the first place. Around verse 19 or 20, Jesus talks a little about evil. He says that evil men do not come to the Light for fear that their evil deeds will be known. And those who do evil hate the Light. Jesus, of course, is the Light.

So today's Bible reading collided with recent news and I was left with: Why does God allow his children to be the object of evil?

I can honestly say I've never asked the question if God is so good, why does he let bad things happen? Partly because I've just always trusted that He knows what He's doing and partly because I read the C.S. Lewis book The Problem of Pain early in my Christian walk. It answered that question before I even knew to ask it. Another great book that explores good and evil, also by C.S. Lewis is The Great Divorce which takes the reader on a fictional journey through Heaven and Hell. Read both of these if you grapple with the question of evil in the world.

As I meditated on today's question throughout the rest of my day, answers came to me. I am not a theologian in any way, so this is a commoners thoughts.

Question: Why does God allow His children to be the object of evil?

  • It solidifies our connection to Him.
  • The result is feeding a larger plan.
  • To prove to the devil that unconditional love of God does exist.
  • Evil is God's megaphone to a sick and dying world. His children have security in Heaven regardless of the result.
  • Because eliminating evil would mean eliminating choice. Eliminating choice would mean eliminating free will. Eliminating free will means eliminating good and evil. If there is no evil, what would we consider good? If there is no good, what would we consider evil?

And why evil specifically on His children? What is the solution? Segregate the evil people from the good? God could not do that and still allow us free will could He?

A day will come when He will segregate us and when the result of our choice to love Him, possible because of our free will, will be made pure and complete. Are you ready?

"Evil is God's megaphone to an unbelieving world." - C.S. Lewis

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Caught in a "Web" of Confusion

I have a confession to make. I love Halloween. I love dressing up in silly costumes -- yes, I still do that (last year, I was "woman covered in spiders"). I love looking through my kids' candy scores. I love carving jack-o-lanterns. I love haunted houses. I love those CDs with scary laughter and music. I love pretend ghosts and bats and witches and vampires.

It's the one day of the year when I can just be goofy and no one questions my sanity.

I don't know much about the reason for Halloween. Why it exists. What it symbolizes. How it came to be. Sure, I could Google it, but I'm afraid I may read something that will make me feel guilty for enjoying it. So, I free myself from inaccurate resolution by choosing to remain unstudied in this area.

Besides, sure enough, if I find something incriminating on one "Web" page, I will find something acquitting on the next. Then I have to determine which "Web" sites are credible and which are unreliable. And by then, I'm really confused, I have a searing headache, and I'm dwelling on my guilty feelings over the really bad thing I read even though I have no idea if it's true or not.

Are you "Caught in a 'Web' of Confusion," too?

Last year, I went with my son's first-grade class to the book fair at his school. My son loves Pokemon, so as we were looking through the Pokemon books, one of the girls in his class came up to us and said, "I love Pokemon, but my mom won't let me have Pokemon stuff."

I said, "why?"

She said, "Because she says it's of the devil."

It wasn't the response I was expecting, and all I could squeak out was, "Oh."

After watching lots and lots and lots of Pokemon, "of the devil" is not something I would have used to describe the show.

Good versus bad - yes.

Dark versus light - yes.

Happy versus angry - yes.

"Of the devil" - NEVER crossed my mind.

And the puzzling thing is, on Pokemon, the good guys always win. Similar to superhero programs, there is usually a lesson in the battles portrayed. Sometimes, Pokemon can be so shiny and happy, it almost makes me gag just a little.

So, what was up with this mom? My guess -- she Googled it.

Then, she believed only the incriminating stuff she read without actually viewing the program and forming her own opinion.

OR

She allowed the poorly-researched, incriminating stuff to weave itself into her judgement-making capabilities and then viewed the program through the tunnel of someone else's bad opinions.

I never Googled Pokemon and never will. I would rather form my own opinions of the show. There are many many cartoons I do not let my kids watch due to content I have observed. So far, Pokemon has not raised a red flag in my head.

NOTE: While searching for appropriate Pokemon videos on YouTube for my kids to watch, I encountered some Pokemon videos that individuals turned into ugly things that children should not be viewing. PARENTS - ALWAYS BE AWARE OF WHAT YOUR KIDS ARE VIEWING IF THEY BROWSE YOUTUBE or any other site that individuals can add their own creations to.

"Web" confusion doesn't just happen with things that are supposedly evil, it happens in the Christian world, too. Probably especially in the Christian world. Have you all seen this video that is going around that asks "Did Jesus give us the name of the antichrist?" It claims that Luke 10:18 which states "And he said unto them, I beheld Satan falling as lightning from the heavens" when spoken by Jesus in His language actually said the antichrist's name. According to the videomaker, in Jesus' language, "lightning from the heavens" is translated as "Baraq U Bam Maw."

Okay, you see where the video is going with this right?

Because I recalled something in the Bible saying something about not knowing who the antichrist is until the time of tribulation, I had to Google this one -- not to form my own opinion (I already had that), but to see what others thought. Of course, I found arguments on both sides. Although I see signs in this world that "Baraq U Bam Maw" is playing a key role in Biblical prophecy, I seriously doubted that Jesus would flat-out name the antichrist. So, I have to say, I'm not buying the video (which is why I'm not posting it here - but I'm sure you can find it if you - you guessed it - Google it). It doesn't mean I believe "U Bam Maw" is, and it doesn't mean I believe he isn't. It just means, as a pre-trib Christian, I do not believe I will know who the antichrist is while I'm here on this earth.

So here are my questions:

1. Is it okay for a Christian to enjoy Halloween?

2. Pokemon (if you've seen it) -- innocent fun or evil intentions?

3. The antichrist video (if you've seen it) -- bold reporting or baloney?

4. "Web" searching -- fact finder, entertainment tool, or simply a "Web" of confusion?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Death

My death occurred on a mild April day in 1997. I knew I was dying. I had been cleaving to the earth for a long time, but suddenly something was peeling me, pore by pore, off of the sludge and grime of this vicious world. And in the process, something good and pure was digging under my skin and eating at my flesh. As my filthy, sour flesh sunk beneath the water's surface and died, it was good. It was very very good.

But the world, you see, loved the influence my wickedness had on others and wasn't the least bit happy about my death. So it pulled me back, and it didn't take much effort. In fact, we had a deal, the world and I -- I could go to that place that brought about my death for a couple of hours on Sunday mornings, but when I escaped its doors, I belonged to the world again.

Ah, but when the world has hold of you, it can be wildly jealous and the flesh uncontrollably stubborn.

"Saturday night is fun night," World said. "You'll be back in time to do that thing on Sunday morning. Let's go party."

In my flesh, I was weak, so I agreed with World and went along.

But World was still unsettled, "You're having too much fun tonight. You can't go home now. You can miss one Sunday."

World is right, I thought, I can't possibly go home now. What's one Sunday?

Before long, one Sunday became two and two became four, and four became eight -- and before I knew it, I only occassionally went through those doors on Sunday morning.

When my flesh began to feel guilty for the things I did outside of those Sunday morning doors, World was always there to hand me the things that would make it all feel better -- the things that gripped my connection to the pleasures of my past -- the things that helped me forget about my death on that beautiful April morning just a few months earlier.

And suddenly, it was all good again - but for all the wrong reasons.

Soon I began to wonder if I had really died at all beneath that water's surface.

In the years since, I have learned that I indeed died that day -- that even though I let go of Him in those early years, He never let go of me. In the moment of my death, His arms opened wide. Even when I do something stupid, like fall under the spell of the world, all I have to do is turn my face toward Him, and He is there loving me and giving me the strength to resist the world's next attack.

And thanks to His love and His sacrifice, I grow stronger every day.

Thank you, God, for fighting for me and never letting go even when the world fights back.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Beware of the Writer Who Isn't Writing

I didn't make it out of the library parking lot before gently cracking the cover of The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come and absorbing page one and two. I had to crack it gently because it is a very old book -- written in 1903. This particular edition, published in 1931, is probably a second edition. Nevertheless, it's very old, and the crispy, yellowed pages are fragile. I was so enthralled by the first two pages, I probably would have finished the first chapter, sitting right there in my car, had I not been on my way to pick up my son at school.

First of all -- no, this is not a book review, so read on.

Just by reading the first two pages, I already knew some special things about this book. I knew it was going to be visually rich and stunning. I knew it was going to weave historical truths into fictional beauty. I knew it would flow with a poetic rhythm that would make me feel like I was dancing from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, and chapter to chapter. And I also knew that I would need to go to the online library catalog tonight and order another book by John Fox Jr. and have it delivered to my local library -- afterall, this one will only last a few days.

As I drove, the book laying in the seat next to me, I was thinking about a friend from my writers group who just lost her husband, whose visitation I had just attended earlier in the day. It occurred to me that as I was leaving the visitation and telling her goodbye, she had said she'd be coming back to our writing meetings soon.

Well, of course, I thought as I drove along. Because that's what writers do. We write no matter what. We write in spite of everything else and probably because of everything else. We write because what else would we do?

I've read that people who truly love to write, especially those of us who who love to write fiction, must have some degree of schizophrenia. Well, I say BEWARE OF A WRITER WHO LOVES TO WRITE WHO ISN'T WRITING. Has your husband or wife, who loves to write, been irritable, short tempered, or moody lately? Ask them what they have written lately - I bet the answer will be, "nothing." A true writer must write because it balances our psyche and keeps our pseudo schizophrenia under wraps.

Back to John Fox Jr. -- from The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come:

"The days of that April had been days of mist and rain. Sometimes, for hours, there would come a miracle of blue sky, white cloud, and yellow light, but always between dark and dark the rain would fall and the mist creep up the mountains and steam from the tops -- only to roll together from either range, drip back into the valleys, and lift, straightway, as mist again. So that, all the while Nature was trying to give lustier life to every living thing in the lowland Bluegrass, all the while a gaunt skeleton was stalking down the Cumberland -- tapping with fleshless knuckles, now at some unlovely cottage of faded white and green, and now at a log cabin, stark and gray."

Ahhh... as I stand between the mountain ranges in the lifting mist and steam, I relax but only for a moment as the author shatters my calm with the sense of brewing conflict. If it does that to me as a reader, imagine what a release it must have been for John Fox Jr. as he wrote it and twiddled with it until it was just right. When you have something like that inside you, it has to come out because if it stagnates inside you, God help anyone who comes into contact with you. In those first two pages that began with the quoted passage above, I knew why John Fox Jr. had to write.

And I questioned -- why do I write?

My answer:

I write because it helps me remember -- and I write because it helps me forget. I write because sometimes, oftentimes, this wretched world just doesn't make sense, and writing relieves my agitation. I write because it allows me to let go -- and I write because it forces me to grab on. I write so I can sleep at night -- and I write when I can't sleep at night. I write to protect my sanity -- and I write when I need to be a little nutty. I write to reclaim something, anything -- innocence, love, anger, security, fear, pain.

And most of all, I write because God makes me -- and I write because the devil dissuades me.

Why do you write?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gateway Man Saves the Day... Sort Of

"What do you mean... there's no nail in my tire?" is what I was thinking at Gateway Tire Center today. I had driven all the way out there just so they could remove the ominous looking thing from my tire.

The nail head was huge, and I was afraid to touch it. I didn't want to wiggle it loose and flatten my tire. So, I risked, at best, getting a flat tire on the 20-mile journey from my home and, at worst, having my tire blow. But someone had to get that nail out and fix my tire, and Gateway does it for free.

Yes! Gateway would save the day, so I headed straight for my superheroes.

I had a plan. Get to Gateway. Get my tire fixed. That was it. Simple. I could have cared less about the journey, I just wanted to be at Gateway hearing someone say, "we patched your tire - you're ready to go." The journey out could be challenging, and I just wanted to reach my destination and put the journey behind me.

So, when Gateway Man said, "Ma'am, the nail wasn't in your tire, you're free to go." It completely shattered my goal. I was irritated, I drove all the way out here, and there's no nail in my tire -- you've got to be kidding me.

"There's no nail?" I asked.

"The nail wasn't in your tire," he said.

"Okay," I said as he turned to walk away.

But something told me that wasn't enough information for this terrible inconvenience in my day. I had to know more. I saw the nail head plastered to my tire. Where else could the rest of it have gone? I guess I just wasn't going to be happy until Gateway Man either confessed to his lie or went out and punctured my tire himself so that my drive out would have been worth it and my goal achieved.

I said, "Um... Gateway Man..." (okay, I didn't really say Gateway Man, but he was supposed to be my tire superhero, so I'm sure I thought it)"Where was it? The nail? If it wasn't in my tire." **This visual is a lot more fun if you imagine me as a 110 lb., 5'9, chesty redhead with flowing hair, porcelain skin, pouty lips, and a ravenous voice. **

He turned back and said, "It was in the groove and it was really short, so it didn't penetrate the tire."

"Oh, okay, thanks," I said, feeling a bit like Mary Jane (Spiderman heroine for you non-superhero fans) being rescued from a hissing kitten.

Okay, Karen, so what's the analogy, you ask? Oh, you all know me too well. I'm a writer -- my whole life is an analogy. And if I know you personally, so is yours (oh, I'm so facebooking that). :)

Oh, and I just realized I can make a double-duty impact with this analogy -

Writers AND Christians - Are you enjoying and savoring the journey? Even when the trip is hard, challenging, or maybe even a bit dangerous? Or are you so focused on the destination that you rush the journey and learn nothing in the process? Sure enough if you focus on the nail in your tire, you're going to be very dissapointed when the destination isn't what you expected and you missed the entire journey worrying about that stupid nail.

I leave you with this great quote:

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." - Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Blog Clothes and "Steph in the City"

I want to say an extra special "thank you" to my friend, fellow writer, and fellow blogger, Stephanie Faris, for naming my blog as one of her favorites on her top, award-winning blog, "Steph in the City." Stephanie recently moved to Blogger from My Space where she was a Top Blogger drawing thousands of visitors to her posts daily. She instantly gained a huge following here on Blogger, and I know you will enjoy reading her blog. She posts on a variety of topics, so there is something there for everyone. Click on her picture below to link to her blog.

Also, a very special "thank you" to Stephanie's readers who have hopped over here to read my blog. I hope you keep visiting.


My Father's Tears


Do you like my new blog clothes? My old blog clothes looked like this:




This was, and still is, my dream loft. "My Writing Loft" is actually in the corner of the guest bedroom under a sloped ceiling. Right now, I am looking at a bed holding only the box springs (we're using the mattress in my son's room). The chest of drawers is in front of my desk and holds all of my ideas, via post-it notes, on the side of the chest. A stack of books, thigh high, are on the floor behind my chair. Another stack of books, magazines, and newspapers rests next to a small bookshelf a few feet away. Oddly enough the bottom shelf of the the bookshelf is empty. And some books from the top shelf have fallen off of the unprotected sides. They've been laying there for a few weeks. In fact, here's a peek:



I know! It's not very glamorous is it? No one ever said the life of a writer is supposed to be glamorous. Even Stephen King uses a desk shoved into the sloped corner of a room, so I guess I'm in good company. You can see why I used my dream loft picture instead of the real thing.

I hope you like the new clothes. It truly does look like me -- sitting here in my "loft," slumped over my desk, typing away on my keyboard. I even prop my foot up like that sometimes -- when I don't have them criss-cross-applesauce in my chair. Except, I guess I better go ahead and confess that I don't really have blue hair.

Writing friends -- tell me about your writing space. Is it as glamorous as mine? Don't leave out any of the glamorous or not-so-glamorous details.



Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's Your Motive?

My son occasionally asks me questions about Heaven: “Will my toys be there?” “Will our dog be there?” “Will there be swimming pools?” “Will our house be there?”

“Of course those things will be in Heaven,” I used to say. “It wouldn’t be Heaven without it, would it?” My imagination bridged the gaps, creating my own personal Heaven. In my Heaven, I envisioned a resplendent farmhouse nestled in rolls of majestic mountains surrounded by God’s perfect nature. I was surrounded with all the treasures with which God had awarded me. And there would be many treasures – after all, I would have lots of service tally marks to trade for my treasures.

How do you envision Heaven, and what is your motive when you are serving God? Are you, like I was, collecting tally marks that you hope to trade for treasures in Heaven? Deuteronomy 10:12 reads, “What does the LORD your God require from you, but to… serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Your desires to serve may be authentic, but could your motives be tainted?

In the book Room of Marvels by James Bryan Smith, the main character gets a sneak peek of his home in Heaven. Inside, he discovers a wall filled with tiny pictures of people. As he touches each picture, the person talks to him, sharing how he spiritually impacted them during his time on Earth.

I began to view my opportunities to serve as tiny pictures hanging in my ever-expanding mansion being built in Heaven. God’s Word does not promise material abundance in Heaven, but my human do-more-get-more experience had tainted my expectation of Heaven. The more pictures I could collect, the bigger my house would be.

Last summer, my overloaded schedule was burying me. A tragic realization gripped me: my heart was not joyful, it was burdened. I was scattered and without focus, and I had reached my breaking point. I didn’t know who I was doing it all for, but it wasn’t God. It was time for me to listen to God’s expectations of me instead of following my own expectations of what I wanted Heaven to be. With God’s guidance, I adjusted my areas of service and refined my motives for serving.

How do you feel about each area in which you serve? Is it a joyful experience, or is it one more thing to scratch off of your to-do list? Are you well prepared and excited when you arrive, or are you rushing in at the last moment, scrambling to prepare your materials? Do you thank God for giving you the opportunity to serve and grow His kingdom, or do you thank Him that it’s over? Are you instilling a spiritual lesson in your life or someone else’s life, or are you making no spiritually significant impact in anyone’s life? Are others inspired by the way the Holy Spirit works through you, or would they describe you as bored, exhausted, or fake? Finally, what is God telling you? He will tell you where He wants you to serve Him. Be quiet and hear Him, then do what He says, and do it joyfully.

Search your heart, and determine if your motives are kingdom-serving or self-serving. Are you fascinated with worldly materials? Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill said, “Is the world crucified to you tonight or does it fascinate you?” If the world fascinates you, consider if you are expecting Heaven to materially fascinate you as well. If so, your motives for serving may need to be adjusted.

I have changed the way I answer my son’s questions about Heaven now. “I don’t know if those things will be in Heaven,” I say, “but I do know we spend our entire earthly lives anticipating Heaven. And I am certain that once we get there, we will never miss the things we left behind.”

What's your motive? And how do you ensure your motives stay pure and untainted?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sculpture In Process

I wonder how many people give up on Christianity because they feel like they aren't very good at it. I'll bet there are more of them than there are of us. You know "us" right? We are the ones who don't give up on it even though we know we aren't very good at it. No matter how hard we try, nothing feels good enough.

We work every day to sculpt ourselves into the image of Jesus, but we never quite get it right. Some days, it's something simple like maybe our mouth is not forming appropriately. Other days, it might be more severe - so severe that maybe we have to resculpt our entire head. Then there are those days, weeks, months that we have to destroy our hardened sculpture and start with a whole new lump of clay.

This is called sanctification. Once you become a Christian, you have experienced salvation. The next step is sanctification - working hard to mold yourself into the holy image of Christ.

This is where it gets tricky. On this side of Heaven, our sculpture can NEVER be complete.

Each day, I can measure my sanctification effort by visualizing my sculpture. Some days it looks pretty darn good. Other days it can be a huge lump of clay that overwhelms me with fear and exhaustion just looking at it.

So here's my problem. I like to complete things, and since I can't finish my sculpture, I always feel like I could be doing better.

God has given me two ministries to glorify Him through. I help collect food for hungry children in Kentucky and talk to people about a maternity home called Lydia's House through Backpack Mission Ministries. God worked through me this summer to collect enough food and donations to feed 125 kids for a month. He also worked through me to collect some financial donations and allowed me to make some incredible contacts for Lydia's House. I rejoiced and praised Him for what He did. Then I looked inside myself and became despondent. Should I have worked harder for God? Maybe He wanted me to collect more money, more food. Why do I do this to myself? Do you do this or am I alone?

The other is my own personal writing ministry. For my Christian writing friends - you do consider your writing a ministry don't you? If you don't you must change how you think. Each day before you tap your first word into your computer, ask God to pour His message through you. Will it be perfect? No. Will pieces of your flesh seep in? Yes. Your sculpture is still in process, remember. But, His message will come through if you ask Him for it.

I wonder if some of those Christians who many of us view to be great soldiers for God ever felt like their efforts just weren't good enough. I recently read James Lindquist's blog post, "The Little Brown Cardboard Box." It was about our worth -- about how when we die all of our stuff will be burned away, while all that is pure in us will be refined. It reminded me of John Wesley.

John Wesley was a Christian theologian who is credited with the founding of the Methodist movement. He also published Bibles and hymns. He founded orphanages and funded missions. He made a lot of money in his lifetime. When he died he owned a preaching gown, a few books, some silver spoons, and six pound notes (a total worth of $30). Everything he made, he gave to God. Do you think he ever said, "I'm just not doing enough." I'll bet he did because, like us, he was human and imperfect.

I think as long as you are sculpting every single day, you are pleasing God. Your sculpture doesn't have to be perfect or complete, -- in fact it never will be until the day of judgement when your salvation is complete -- but it does have to be in process.


What does your sculpture look like today?


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Keeping It Fresh

One of my biggest writing fears is that I will run out of writing ideas. In fact, it probably is THE biggest writing fear I have.

I often wonder if the reason I am such a night owl is because sleep makes me anxious about what I might lose (you can read my humorous thoughts about my writing/sleeping struggles here). What if I wake up in the morning, and all of my ideas are gone - poof, right out the window, never to return again. All of the time and energy spent getting to this point, wasted. And all I'll have to show for it is $7 for one short story. And in time, my poor kids will be stuck with a folder full of my useless ramblings that they would like to toss but doing so would weigh them down with an immense amount guilt.

Somewhere in the future, I imagine Brandilyn Collins's children explaining to their children, "Yes, children, your grandmother is a famous author. She has so many great ideas, she can't stop writing, and all forty of her books are still in print."

Then I imagine my kids talking to their kids, "Yes, children, your grandmother used to like to write. She made $7 for a story once, but she ran out of ideas when I was a kid. Her stories are in the bottom of a box somewhere in the back of the attic."

I know most of us will never achieve the kind of idea factory that Brandilyn Collins has, but how do we strive for something more than what we have? How do we reach something somewhere between $7 and 20+ novels (Brandilyn Collins is currently working on 21 and still has 19 in print - amazing!). How do we keep it fresh? How do we keep it flowing? How do we keep ourselves excited about our own writing?

It seems logical to me that if a story (fiction or nonfiction) doesn't excite the one who wrote it, the writer can't expect it to excite another reader. Are you excited by what you write? When I use the term "excited" what I mean is, does it touch on an emotion: fear, anger, sadness, humor, happiness, etc... ? And does it do so in a moving, unique, or extreme way?

What does excitement have to do with ideas? There is nothing better to fuel the idea engine than to be excited about what you are writing. Find what excites you, and write about it.

I am so afraid of running out of ideas that I stay involved in a number of writing activities to keep my thoughts fresh and flowing.

First is my local writer's group. It was here, about a year ago, that I regained a new exitement for writing. Our writer's group has a subgroup that meets to do creative writing exercises and another subgroup that meets to provide critique and be critiqued. We meet 2-3 times per month and I rarely miss a meeting, because the activities keep my ideas fresh. If you don't have a writer's group, consider starting one.

For my Christian Writer's Guild (CWG) peers, I love to participate in the monthly Armadillo writing contest at the Christian Writer's Forum. This forum is only open to CWG members and students, but I am sure there are similar forums for other writers. The thing I like most about this contest is that it keeps me writing, and it gives me ideas to write about. Each month, they provide a topic and contestants write up to 1,500 words (fiction or nonfiction) on the topic. Currently in my CWG lessons, I am writing articles. This contest allows me to feed my fiction addiction (my favorite thing to write), and I have a small collection of short stories that are being added to monthly, thanks to this contest.

Although I have not utilized the weekly writing contests at Faithwriters, this is another great contest. A topic is given here as well. The maximum word count is 750, and you submit into your specific skill category (I believe there are four options). If someone has experience with this contest, feel free to expand.

I also read, a lot. Read everything you can get your hands on because reading is a great idea generator. I don't know how many times I've been stuck on something I'm writing only to have it jogged loose by something I've just read. It can even be a single word. I once wrote an entire short story just from seeing the word "tragic." The only thing more powerful than reading is being an avid observer of real life.

Warning: By "real life" I do not mean reality television or television in any form, really. I truly think television and movies can have a reverse effect - leaving so little to the imagination that ideas have no room to grow. There are always exceptions, I realize, but as a general rule...

Finally, if you just need something to give you a little creative jolt while you are sitting at home, try these creative writing prompts. This web site has over 300 fun writing activities to get your ideas flowing.

How do you keep your idea factory crisp, polished, and producing? Let us know - your techniques may help the rest of us.



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thankful Thursday 7/30

Thankful Thursday at Truth 4 the Journey


1. I am so thankful for my family, friends, local writer's group (Living Writer's Collective), CWG mentor, CWG friends, facebook friends, blog readers, and everyone else who supports and encourages me in this crazy habit I have of writing. You all ROCK!

2. I am thankful that I'm just barely getting my "Thankful Thursday" post in before the deadline... sort of.

3. I am thankful for all of the ideas God feeds me each and every day. I could spend all day writing for Him and still need more time. Thank you, God, for keeping my mind full.

4. I am thankful for the happy crickets chirping in the wet, green grass (odd to have wet, green grass in July in Tennessee) outside my window. Their lullaby will lull me to sleep tonight.

5. I am thankful each and every day that I know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). I pray for those who do not yet understand that.

I Was a Fifth Grade Plagiarist...

...or so it was alleged. Here's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth -- so help me God:

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher gave my class a poetry writing assignment. When she passed out the graded assignments, my poem was not graded. Written at the top of my paper, in big red letters, were the words "SEE ME".

When I went to see her she said, "Where did you copy this from?"

I had done nothing wrong, but her accusation scared me a little. I cowered and squeaked a reply. "From my head."

"Well," she said, waving me off, "when I find this poem, you're getting an F."

That poem had indeed come from my head, but it never occured to me, until adulthood, to be flattered by the fact that she thought my poem was that good. At some point during that school year, my paper was uncerimoniously returned to me with an "A" written at the top.

A good teacher might have apologized and said, "your writing is good - maybe we should try to develop it further" or "keep writing, I think you could do something with this." Even a simple "good job" would have been nice. But my paper just appeared among a stack of papers, and no words were ever spoken about it.

It was, however, the conception of something deep inside of me that wouldn't start to spread it's wings until almost thirty years later.

(pause) - *I can't believe I'm embarrasing myself like this, but see the bottom of this post to read my 5th grade poem.*

Even though I have never loved my writing, I have always loved to write... for myself. I have always had notebooks filled with poems, short stories, and journaling shoved into the nooks and crannies around my house. What had been conceived in childhood had been growing for thirty years, but I had no intention of ever letting it leave the nest. It was for my eyes only.

But then, God got in the middle of things.

I was saved in my late twenties, and it took a few years after that, but my writing began to shift. God was filling me with stories and ideas, and I soon realized that what I was writing was no longer for my eyes only. Then fear set in. I had no idea how to write for other people.

My vocabulary was weak, my language skills clumsy. Why would God call me to do this?

But I am obedient, so I did what anyone in my position might do. I began writing a novel. Yeah, I just jumped right in the deep end, knowing I couldn't swim. If nothing else, it would prove to God that I couldn't do what He was calling me to do.

My novel was, and still is, halfway through and yes, it was REALLY bad. But it showed me something I didn't expect. There was potential there. If I could just develop this and brush up on that and fine tune a few things here and there... but how?

I had decided on a writing program, but for two years God kept closing the doors to the one I had planned to take. I used that time to study grammar and strengthen my vocabulary. At the end of that second year, God closed that same door one more time, and I began to get frustrated -- maybe God didn't really want me to write.

One night, after meeting with my writer's group at Books-A-Million, I decided to pick up a writing magazine. I grabbed a Writer's Digest and sat down right there in the store and started reading it. I came to an ad for the Christian Writer's Guild. I had never heard of it before, but I had an attack of Holy Ghost bumps that instant and knew God was telling me something.

I spent a week learning everything I could about the CWG, and in that time God opened the doors wide for me to start the writing program. Then I knew, all at once, why He had been shutting doors for two years. The secular program I had planned to attend wasn't where He wanted me. He wanted me intensly focused on Christian writing - something I would have missed in the secular program.

We've all heard the saying, "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called." Well, that is definitely me. I am so completely a work in progress, but He is doing something amazing in me. I know because I have never been so at peace with any other task He has ever given me.

As soon as I started the Apprentice program at the CWG, I studied the scripture below during my quiet time. Anytime I become unsure of my abilities, I jump full force into this verse and I know God's got me covered:

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

For humor purposes, here is my 5th grade poem that caused all the trouble. It's been in my head for years, and reading it written, I'm thinking my 5th grade teacher may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed.

Butterfly

Way up high, high in the sky
There flies a lovely butterfly

Yellow, orange, black, and red
Once a caterpillar, now has fled.

The prettiest one that you should see
Should be the one you choose for me.

But if it should fly a long, long way
We could just go outside and play

Until it returns, soon again, someday.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Writing From an Honest Place

I once took a poem I wrote and converted it to a short story. The story ended up being stunning and rhythmic. And because my poems tend to be more personal and written in darker moments of my life than my stories, it was the most honest and uncompromising story I have ever written. I loved the result.

I wrote this to a friend on the Christian Writer's Guild forum tonight and realized I gave myself some insight in the process. Lately, I've been burdened in my writing. I feel like I'm trying to squeeze myself into a style of Christian writing that isn't quite fitting. It's not from external pressure but from my own internal uncertainties.

What I'm finding when I write is that I am somewhat removed from my stories. There is a density there that I can't seem to poke holes in. I am making my own personal compromise in an effort to appeal to a Christian audience.

And yet, I am a Christian writer. I wouldn't even be in this writing place if God hadn't led me here and told me to write for Him.

Maybe my ideas of what a Christian audience wants are inaccurate. There are times when I write that I come to a split in the road. One way leads me on the straight and narrow, and the other explores something a bit more crooked and broad - maybe even dark at times. I almost always choose the straight and narrow because that's what Christians want to read... right? When I do this -- choose the path I'm less inclined to choose -- I sacrifice the passion, the honesty, the connection of my story.

The funny thing is, every time I take that straight and narrow path, something tells me I'm on the wrong road, but I persist because it's safe.

I have considered that maybe God didn't send me to this place to write to a Christian audience. I can be a Christian writer and appeal to a secular audience. What an incredible honor it would be to be sent to the writing field to speak to God's lost children. How does a Christian writer balance such a call? In this day, how do you meet unbelievers where they are and not compromise your Christian values and commandments?

Is it possible to appeal to both? Is a story that is not blatantly Christian throughout, but that you know is nothing but Christian in the end, going to hold the attention of a Christian reader until they realize its message? Is a story that isn't filled with graphic sex, morbid violence, or a multitude of obscenities going to hold the attention of an unbeliever long enough for them to be gripped by the possibility of Christianity?

I love thinking things out in a blog because as I read through what I've just written, something occurred to me. It doesn't matter which path I follow as long as it's the path that God is on. If I look ahead and He's not in front of me, I have to change paths. If I stay on the wrong path, then it's not actually His message I'm delivering.

Father, may I always write from a truthful, passionate, and connected place, and above all else, may I carry only Your message as I go. - Amen


Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Wow! I'm a Good Writer... or Am I?"

I've always been an "I'll believe my writing is good if..." person.

Before I was brave enough to show my writing to my family and close friends I said, "I'll believe my writing is good if someone else likes it."

When my friends and family loved my writing I figured it was just because they are close to me, so I said, "I'll believe my writing is good if someone else who writes likes it."

When I joined a writer's group, and they were moved by my writing, I decided they were just being nice, so I said, "I'll believe my writing is good if someone who is a published author likes it."

When I began my Apprentice program at the Christian Writer's Guild, my mentor was a multi-published author. She has given me helpful criticism but also incredibly positive feedback on my writing ability. I assumed she was just going easy on me since I was new, and I said, "I'll believe my writing is good if someone actually publishes something I write."

When I received my first publishing acceptance with an online magazine, I thought they must be desperate for writers (even though I had to wait 3 months to see it published), and I said, "I'll believe my writing is good if I actually see it in a print publication."

A couple of months ago, I sold a fiction short story to The Storyteller -- it will be printed this winter. This publication is a well-respected, high-quality magazine, and it is an honor to be printed there. I will receive a one-digit figure for it (chew on that for a sec - here's a hint: I spent more on the subscription so I could see it in print than I will make). Then I said, "I'll believe my writing is good if I ever make a two-, three-, four-digit figure for it."

Then there's writer's schizophrenia. Why is it that I can read a story I've written one day and think, hey, that's pretty good. Then two days later I can pick up the exact same story and think, what was I thinking - this is the crappiest story I've ever written. And I guarantee you, if I let the same story rest another couple of days, I'll like it again.

Okay, so we've established my insanity (which is supposed to be a requirement for a writer so I think I'm already ahead of the game).

My fellow writers, I just have to ask - if there are any of you out there whose minds work like mine and you are willing to admit it, does this cycle ever stop?

When do you finally look at your work and say, "Wow! I'm a good writer?"

Thankful Thursday 7/23

Thankful Thursday at Truth 4 the Journey


1. Thank you, Father, for Your abundance at our Backpack Mission table at my church's preschool VBS this week. I prayed asking You to fill up at least one kiddie pool with food, and with two nights and one day left to go in VBS, my table looked like this:


2. Thank you, God, for all of the blessings you are currently pouring over our other Backpack Mission ministry, Lydia's House. Thanks to the love, support, and time of so many of Your children, this maternity home in Kentucky is being created according to Your plan.



3. Thank you, God, for giving my boys the opportunity to grow even closer to You during their time in VBS this week.

4. Thank you, God, for the spring-like weather You gave us this week during a time when we are typically scorching hot in Southern Tennessee.


5. Thank you, God, for making my shorter writing times, due to the boys being out of school for the summer, seem doubled.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Alone" in My Car

God and I have the best conversations when I am alone in my car, driving on the interstate. It has to be the interstate because it is constant and unrestrictive, and as the car penetrates the air before it, a gentle hum fills the car's interior creating the perfect meditative environment. I was blessed today to have some alone time on the interstate. And, of course, God was there.

I was driving the stretch of I65 North from Spring Hill toward Nashville. My destination was the Applebees on Thompson Lane (just south of downtown Nashville for my non-Nashville readers) where I was meeting my dear friend Diane for lunch. I was absorbed in some awesome worship tunes -- Travis Cottrell's newest CD, Jesus Saves Live. Visit Travis's blog to hear one of my favorites off of the CD and see some great pics from the most recent live event.

So, I was singing along (at the top of my lungs because that's what you do when you're alone in the car - even if you can't sing, which I can't):

"Hear the heart of Heaven beating
Jesus saves, Jesus saves
And the hush of mercy breathing
Jesus saves, Jesus saves..."

Then suddenly an interruption in my worship time:

"Diane needs this CD!" God said. Diane, remember, was the friend I was meeting for lunch.

Yeah, I thought to myself, she would enjoy it.

Back to my singing:

"...And the sounding joy repeating, Jesus saves
See the humblest hearts adore him
Jesus saves, Jesus saves
And the wisest bow before him
Jesus saves, Jesus saves..."

Another interruption:

"Diane NEEDS this CD!" He said again.

"I know, God, this is a GREAT CD!" I said out loud.

On with my song:

"...melting darkness in it's blaze
There is light forevermore, Jesus saves"

"KAREN," God said, a bit perturbed," Diane NEEDS this CD!"

"Diane needs THIS CD? But this is my Travis CD, I love this CD." I said.

God said, "Not YOUR CD, goofy girl" (yeah, God sometimes calls me "goofy girl") "but this CD. Lifeway is at the next exit. It won't take you five minutes to run in and grab it."

Oh, I understand, Diane needs this CD. Yes, I can do that.

After picking up the CD, I was a few minutes late meeting Diane for lunch, but I happen to know that God likes to ride in Diane's car too, and apparently He really wants to hear Jesus Saves Live when He's in there. So she understood.




Friday, July 10, 2009

Lydia's House

As the opening prayer began, my calm began to dissipate. My mind was telling me, "Focus on the prayer, and don't worry. You're going to do just fine." My heart, however wished to be speeding down its own private autobahn and was not happy being restricted to the confines of my pericardium.

Ten seconds into the public prayer I faded into my own prayer. "Be still my heart, Lord. Be still my heart, Lord. Be still my heart, Lord." I must have said it twenty or thirty times before I heard the speaker introduce me. "Please welcome Karen Aldridge who is going to come up and talk about our summer mission focus."

Okay, let me back up just a smidgen. I have talked in front of groups before. Talking in front of groups is not a problem for me. This was a much larger group than I have ever talked to, but that in and of itself really wasn't an issue. Although, I did experience a first with this group: I have never used a microphone... ever. I can't sing, so I've never even attempted karoake. I've never been in a play. Unless you count those little colorful, plastic, preschool, echo microphones, which I don't, I've never used one.

I'm not sure what I expected. I guess I thought I'd stand on the stage and holler at the top of my lungs -- I don't know. I just never considered the microphone. So when the speaker handed me the microphone, I panicked just a little. Many questions zoomed through my head in the three seconds or so it took me to climb the steps and approach the podium. Do I hold it up to my mouth? Do I hold it down low? Do I hold it straight out? Should I hold it with one hand? Should I hold it with two? Do I talk loud? Do I talk soft? WHY, OH WHY, HAD I NOT PAID CLOSER ATTENTION TO PEOPLE HOLDING MICROPHONES ALL MY LIFE? The only microphone vision I could conjure up was Steven Tyler and all his scarves, but I had no microphone stand, and I hadn't worn a scarf.

So, I decided the best possible solution was to just admit my microphone ignorance to the group. It was the best thing that could have happened because right away the crowd laughed which calmed me and slowed my heart back to country road speed. I hadn't even intended it as my opener, but there it was, and it was a success. It's amazing -- God can even work through the clumsy mechanics of a microphone to answer a prayer.

But none of this was the reason my heart began to race in the first place. This time and this group was different. I wasn't talking for me or for the crowd or for a company I worked for. I was carrying God's message, and having Him entrust me to deliver it with the power that only a message from God deserves was a bit scary. I couldn't mess this up -- it was for God -- it was for the ministry -- it was for Diane, my sweet sister in Christ and spiritual mentor -- and it was for the unborn babies.

The ministry is Lydia's House. Lydia's House (pictured below), when it opens, will be a maternity home deep in the Appalachian Mountains of Southeast Kentucky in a little town called Benham. Lydia's House is part of Backpack Mission Ministries Inc. which feeds hungry children in this extreme poverty-stricken region. Through God's prompting, Diane Durham created Backpack Missions and through her work with the children she found out about another desperate need in the area.

There are unborn babies who could be saved if only their young mothers had some place to go. In many cases, the families of these young, pregnant women cannot afford to feed the family they have much less another mouth. And the fathers of these unborn babies don't want to have anything to do with the woman or baby once they find out the woman is pregnant. Abortion, to these women, is an easy solution -- and in their minds, it's the only solution.

Lydia's House provides another solution. Pregnant women who choose Lydia's House will find:

  • a respite from the harsh environments in which they live (rumbling creek running through Lydia's back yard pictured right).

  • a soothing haven in which to grow and nurture their unborn babies.

  • Christian people who will feed their souls with the good news of Jesus Christ.
  • the time to focus on their situation and make the best choice for their unborn babies -- not abortion, but whether to raise the baby or place baby for Christion adoption.

  • if they choose to keep baby, skills lessons and all the support they will need to help them prepare for a return to the real world with their sweet babies.

We are finishing up remodeling and reconstruction projects at Lydia's House, but God has already done some great things there. Some big and some small, but all are a part of His plan.

There are four bedrooms, each holding two women. A few months ago, Diane and three others were there painting and someone said, "What are you going to name the girls' rooms?"

Diane said, "I haven't thought about naming the rooms, but I would definitely call one of them Hannah's room."

One by one, they each gave a name they liked. Elizabeth, Sarah, and Mary were the three additional choices. Just like that the girls' rooms were named and they painted scripture to associate the biblical woman with the room on the focal wall of each room.

A little later someone said, "do you realize that all of those names we came up with are the names of women who had miraculous births?" God is so sweet! At Lydia's House every baby saved from abortion will be a miraculous birth.

By the way, God kept my presentation focused and powerful (just what I had been praying for in the days leading up to the event), and the night was a success. I made some great contacts -- people who may like to share their talents or time at Lydia's House, and we received over $300 in donations.

If you want to learn more about Lydia's House or Backpack Mission Ministries, click here.

Scripture inspiration for the naming of Lydia's House -- "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." - quote from Lydia in Acts 16:15

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Result of Passionate Faith

The result of the drought was parched, sooty earth making planting conditions impossible. The South African farmers were losing profits and their land. Financial ruin was inevitable for those left, especially if crops were planted in another El Nino season. The farmers were paralyzed.

Angus Buchan was an angry farmer experiencing the devastation. He was a Scotsman who had recently come to Christianity, and his fiery nature began to feed his faith. Angus gave his anxieties to God, and God turned Angus’s passion into a love for South Africa, its people, and his fellow farmers. He began spreading a message of faith among the farmers.

“To heck with El Nino,” he said, “put your trust in God… Don’t be gripped by what El Nino can do to you, but be gripped by what God did for you through Jesus on the cross. God answers the prayers of His people, and that’s why we’re going to plant potatoes”

“Potatoes. In the middle of a drought. It’s impossible,” some said.

“Potatoes need too much water,” others said.

Though most thought he was crazy, Angus never wavered in his faith. He listened to God and planted his potatoes. The entire village came to the harvest. With a pitchfork, Angus loosened a potato mound. As the people watched, he plunged his arm into the dust. He pulled his arm out and looked down at the plump, flawless potato in his hand. Excitement washed over him, and the community celebrated with him, their faith likely strengthened by what they had witnessed.

What do we do when we are confronted with an issue that requires great faith? Do we dwell on the obstacles, or do we respond with the passion of Angus?

The Israelites were confronted with this issue in Joshua 6. God said to Joshua, “I have given Jericho into your hand.” The city was surrounded by towering walls and sealed to keep the Israelites out. A person with small faith might have fallen under the weight of this obstacle and turned away. Joshua demonstrated great faith and listened to God.

Joshua instructed the people to march once around the city in silence, following the armed men and the priests blowing trumpets and carrying the ark of the covenant. For six days, Joshua gave the same instruction. Do you think any of the Israelites thought Joshua was crazy? In their camps, were they discussing ways to get out of these daily marches? Were they saying, “This is never going to work?” Given their history of complaining, it is likely.

Finally, on the seventh day, Joshua’s instruction changed. They marched around the city, not once, but seven times. Then, at the blowing of the trumpets, the people shouted, and the wall fell. They had just witnessed the result of Joshua’s unrelenting faith. With the power of that realization sinking into them, they fought valiantly and overtook the city.

Unrealized faith makes us question, search, and wonder. Faith in action has the power to grow in the most infertile places and knock down walls that an earthquake couldn’t budge. It inspires others and pleases God, and faith like that – like Angus and Joshua – is rewarded.

Friday, July 03, 2009

"Death of a Whippoorwill" and "Anticipation"

Here is an excerpt (1st paragraph) from my newest story, Death of a Whippoorwill. Enjoy -

----- In the distance I see the low-lying creek bridge and our cabin just beyond. I listen to the river grumbling along just outside my passenger window, oblivious to the fact that I have come here to die. If the river only knew that the reason I chose this place is because of the peace that river offers, it might respond more respectfully – stilling itself in honor as I pass by. The fish, if they knew, might gather along the banks in a show of appreciation that I always threw them back. The dozens of turtles I’ve moved off of this tiny river road over the years might stretch their necks out of their shells and, with tears in their eyes, mouth a little prayer to thank me. But no, this river does not love me like I love it. And yet, it does. I will listen to this river’s voice in my last days, and that voice will deliver me home.

***************************************

Okay, I'm on a kick. Here's a poem I recently wrote as well. I'm still working on the accents (poetry is not my strong point), but this is the general framework of it. Enjoy -

Anticipation
(title may change - it hasn't grown on me)

I wait,
anxious for His
rapture while I wander
this virtue-stripped earth distended
with goods.

Heaven
beckons my dry
soul sending quenching drops
of anticipation as I
question.

“When,” I
plead, “will You come
and rescue me from this
slow death of flesh upon Satan’s
playground?”

“When,” I
beg, “will You shout
my name and bestow grand
ascension in a flickering
moment,

Bringing
enduring peace
to my restless spirit
and revealing a salvation
complete?”

Let me know what you think. Don't forget, when you click on comments you can respond anonymously - you know... just in case you don't want to tell me openly how much you hate it. :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All That Jesus Is

I am so completely cheating today by sharing something I have not written, but a friend e-mailed this to me and I just felt the need to pass it along.

Here are some beautiful thoughts about Jesus from an anonymous writer. Enjoy -

The First and The Last

He is the First and Last,
The Beginning and the End!
He is the keeper of Creation
and the Creator of all!
He is the Architect of the universe
and the Manager of all times.
He always was, He always is,
and He always will be...
Unmoved, Unchanged, Undefeated,
and never Undone!

He was bruised and brought healing!
He was pierced and eased pain!
He was persecuted and brought freedom!
He was dead and brought life!
He is risen and brings power!
He reigns and brings Peace!

The world can't understand him,
The armies can't defeat Him,
The schools can't explain Him,
and The leaders can't ignore Him.

Herod couldn't kill Him,
The Pharisees couldn't confuse Him,
and The people couldn't hold Him!

Nero couldn't crush Him,
Hitler couldn't silence Him,
The New Age can't replace Him,
and "Oprah" can't explain Him away!

He is light, love, longevity, and Lord.
He is goodness, Kindness, Gentleness, and God.
He is Holy, Righteous, mighty, powerful, and pure.

His ways are right,
His word is eternal,
His will is unchanging,
and His mind is on me.

He is my Savior,
He is my guide,
and He is my peace!
He is my Joy,
He is my comfort,
He is my Lord,
and He rules my life!

I serve Him because
His bond is love,
His burden is light,
and His goal for me is abundant life.

I follow Him because
He is the wisdom of the wise,
the power of the powerful,
the ancient of days,
the ruler of rulers,
the leader of leaders,
the overseer of the overcomers,
and is to come.

And if that seems impressive to you, try this for size.
His goal is a relationship with ME!
He will never leave me,
never forsake me,
never mislead me,
never forget me,
never overlook me,
and never cancel my appointment in His appointment book!

When I fall, He lifts me up!
When I fail, He forgives!
When I am weak, He is strong!
When I am lost, He is the way!
When I am afraid, He is my courage!
When I stumble, He steadies me!
When I am hurt, He heals me!
When I am broken, He mends me!
When I am blind, He leads me!
When I am hungry, He feeds me!
When I face trials, He is with me!
When I face persecution, He shields me!
When I face problems, He comforts me!
When I face loss, He provides for me!
When I face Death, He carries me Home!

He is everything for everybody everywhere, every time, and every way.
He is God, He is faithful.
I am His, and He is mine!
My Father in heaven can whip the father of this world.

So, if you're wondering why I feel so secure, understand this...

He said it and that settles it.
God is in control, I am on His side,
and that means all is well with my soul.
Every day is a blessing for GOD Is!
-Anonymous

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stellasue Lee Poetry Reading

The room at Rippavilla Plantation, in Spring Hill, Tennessee, was swollen with poetry lovers last Saturday night. If there was a poetry skeptic in the room, maybe dragged there by a persistent spouse, I am quite certain they left with a new fervor for the art.

The event was, Firecracker Red: This Ain't Your Grandmother's Poetry Reading. Pulitzer-nominated poet, Stellasue Lee, was the main attraction, and her apprentice, Ramon Presson, was the opening act.

Presson is a highly respected and successful Psychologist in the field of marriage counseling. He has authored ten books on the subject. On Saturday night, he took off his counselor shoes and shared his passion -- poetry -- with the audience. Under the mentorship of Stellasue Lee, he has refined and chiseled his gift of poetry into a precise soul-awakening tool.

I became quite distressed afterwards to find that Presson did not have a book of poetry. There were so many lines that moved me, and I wanted to remember them fully. There was the pregnant robin preparing to drop her luggage; the taste of Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream that lingered so vividly, I had to pick some up at the store the next day; the emotional scars of young Staci, looking out her car window at the grotesque wounds of a dead deer on the side of the road in the elitist Brentwood, Tennessee of all places; and the note to Pablo Neruda whose poetry gave Presson something, he just wasn't sure what. Presson instilled a bit of southern dialect into his writing giving us all a chuckle at times.

Imagine my excitement when I found his blog site with all of his great poems and many more. Click here to read his poems (click on each month in his side bar to read more). I found this great quote on his site that explains why his and Stellasue Lee's poetry is so intoxicating:

Folks, here's the bottom line....if a poem or a poet's body of work is so dumbed down that most of it would work in a Hallmark card, it's not great poetry. If a poem or a poet's body of work can only be understood by elitists or by readers on LSD, while it may even have some elements of genius in its lines, it is not ( in my opinion ) great poetry. In my opinion great contemporary poetry makes language dance to a tune that a skilled reader can follow. It is said that 'art is man's attempt to explain his humanness.' If the only one who comprehends the (published) poet's 'explanation' is the poet himself, he has pleasured himself rather than serving his reader. Thus great modern poetry is both artistically exceptional AND intellectually accessible. -Ramon Presson

Stellasue Lee took us on an emotional journey through pieces of her life. There were glimpses into the despondent life of her alcoholic, homeless father with a glass eye, who suffered from haunting demons of his military past. Lee's transparenecy induced tears in my eyes as she read of her daughter's death. We traveled back to Lee's childhood when she was the self-proclaimed "Queen of Jacks". Her husband was not immune to her poetic musings, and, to be fair, her battle with pizza was a crowd pleaser. There were also her wavings to the John Lund cross on I-65 because she felt it was important to make contacts on the other side.

We had the privilege of being the first to hear work from Lee's new book, Firecracker Red, due out later this year.

I was able to pick up Stellasue Lee's book, Crossing the Double Yellow Line, and she signed it. You can read some of her poetry here.

Both Stellasue Lee and Ramon Presson emphasized in their readings that poetry can be fictional. People always assume poetry is so personal that it has to be true. Stories can be made up and told through poetry. Both Lee and Presson use this technique. Much of their poetry is created through experience, but not all, making the poetry mysterious at times (leaving the audience to wonder, did that really happen?).

They both made poetry sound so easy. As if the words they used were just always meant to be together, and indeed that is poetry isn't it? The challenge is using the perfect combination of the perfect words to create the perfect poem. Lee and Presson appear to do it effortlessly, and I was thoroughly inspired.

If you have never been to a poetry reading, I encourage you to seek out a good one. I will be attending more in the future. In fact Stellasue Lee is planning another one this summer. I will keep you updated.



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pigtails, Xanadu, God, Etc...

I'm in the mood for a little fun tonight. Jump in with me.

In my creative writing group, last week, we wrote letters to our 10-year-old selves. I have some thoughts to add before I send my letter to me.

Things that are not nearly as good at age 39 as they were at age 10:

1. A big, chilled glass of Tang (yuck, has that stuff changed? It used to be so good, didn't it?)
2. A PB&J sandwich (on white, not wheat and with the good old processed PB, not the natural or organic stuff)
3. Candy corn (wasn't that the best stuff when you were a kid -- have you tried it lately? It's like eating wax)
4. Spending summers in a swimsuit (at 10 I could just throw on any old suit and go -- now I have to work out for a few months beforehand, find just the right suit, shave -- there's just too much preparation involved)
5. Pigtails (I've tried them, not nearly as cute now)
6. Dressing up in my mom's clothes (ummm... kinda weird now, and her high heels are two sizes too small)
7. Swinging high enough to touch the sky (makes me a little dizzy now)
8. Riding my bike with no hands (I simply can't do this now -- I've tried -- I can't do wheelies or stand on my seat either, not that I ever could, but I have two boys now so I've tried)
9. Roller skating to "Another One Bites the Dust." Roller skating backwards. Roller skating limbo. Roller skating girl's choice. (okay, I know that's technically four, but it's in one topic)
10. Bubblegum music (click here to listen to some Bubblegum tunes), Shaun Cassidy (click here to listen to some Shaun Cassidy tunes), and my Xanadu soundtrack album (click here to listen to some Xanadu tunes). Okay, who am I kidding, this music is still super cool, even at age 39.

Things that are much better at age 39 than they were at age 10:

1. God (I didn't know Him when I was 10)
2. Summers (now I get to watch my kids live in their swimsuits)
3. Beets and spinach (self explanatory)
4. Gardening (I can honestly say I never had a conversation with a friend about my struggles with beetles on my basil when I was 10 -- now I anxiously post it on Facebook)
5. Tom and Jerry (seriously, I think I laugh harder now than I did at age 10)
6. Books (I wish I'd enjoyed them and read them as a kid)
7. Easter (now I know it's not about the bunny)
8. I can see the top of the chest of drawers (this was a huge goal when I was too short to see it)
9. Getting my teeth cleaned (because I know if I don't do it regularly, at my age I may end up needing a root canal)
10. My purpose (now it's raising my kids and serving God -- then it was catching frogs and climbing trees)

What was better for you at age 10, and what is better for you now?