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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.