What Prevents Us from Turning Cynical?–Questions to Consider–Part 5

I didn’t think I would be asking this question the week after Thanksgiving, but several things brought it to mind, and I thought I would address them in today’s post. I do need to make it clear though that I did have a good Thanksgiving. This is just a culmination of something that happened over the holiday and questions I’ve been considering over the last few weeks.

What does prevent us from turning cynical? Is it violence on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, my city had a mall shooting that evening. People were hurt and killed, and many people’s lives were disrupted including people close to my son. I keep thinking of a line at another store which prevented another person from walking back into that mall when the shootings were happening. That was a “praise God” moment for us, but I think of the people’s lives that were disrupted. Of people who are no longer here. Of people who were injured or scared. And it brings me back to God. Why did He let this happen? There are no answers, of course, and I am tempted to let my heart turn hard and cynical. Of course, I could be honest and say let my heart turn harder and more cynical.

What about people who are told they’re not wanted in churches? I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has happened to a friend of mine who runs a ministry to the “least of these” in another city. She was told flat-out that the people she was bringing to church were not welcome. It hurt my heart so much to hear this. I asked, ‘Why God?’ Aren’t we supposed to welcome all people to church and share about Jesus’ love? And my heart turned harder and more cynical.

Finally, what about the people who are closest to you? I tried a few weeks ago to protect one of them from overworking himself in the church. He’s on a sabbatical now, but I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. God is convicting my heart we should all be willing to serve Him, and I do agree with that.  But, at what cost? Health? Family? Marriage? All of it? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. Should we still love the people who refuse to serve because they’re afraid they’ll be overworked? My heart says yes to that question, but then it turns harder and more cynical towards those who won’t help and who won’t give leaving the work to the 5-10% of the membership who will. I count myself, to my shame, in that first group right now. Between the times I’ve failed, the times where my help wasn’t needed, and the times where I’ve just felt overlooked, I’ve become confused about what my role in the church is supposed to be.

Of course, none of the situations I’ve mentioned can prevent you from turning cynical. In fact, I’ve become more cynical with each one. But, I was recently looking at the You Version plans, and I saw one entitled Beating Cynicism. It intrigued me which is why I started it on Saturday. And I learned that my heart had hardened. Hardened to almost where it could be shattered. My attempts to protect because of fear were not what God wanted for me. He wants me to serve with hope. He wants the people I love the most to serve with hope. I thought I had moved past the situations that had hurt me so badly, but I just pushed them into a box never to be dealt with again.

Isn’t that what we do in the church? We don’t talk about the hurts and pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we move on to other relationships or other churches. I don’t think God wants that for us either. But, what does He want? What does He want us to have the courage to do?

I believe it starts with one of the prayers included with the devotions. “Dear God, I admit it. I have stopped hoping, stopped believing, and stopped trusting. But, you haven’t. And because you haven’t, I don’t want to stay the way I am. Give me the courage to hope again, trust again, and believe again. Amen.” Because, I do want my heart to be soft again. I want to be able to say I can trust people as well as trusting my Lord and Savior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our Lord and Savior. I’m saying I don’t want to go into a situation always thinking that the other person is going to let me down.

So, can I ask a favor of those of you who are believers? Can we offer each other encouragement instead of judgment? Can we let each other cry when we are in pain? Can we try to understand instead of condemn? Can we be the community Jesus wants us to be instead of pretending? I promise I will try, and I hope you do too.

God bless you all!


Why I’m Thankful for Writing

This might be the obvious post for today seeing that it is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, but bear with me. I’ve been thinking about my reasons for a while and decided I needed to write them down today.

First, I’m thankful for writing because of the faith I follow. I wrote about why God says we should be thankful here. (http://thrivingingrace.com/thanksgiving/), but it’s not just because of what the Bible says that I say this. I found this quote by Anne Frank in Anne Frank’s Diary:The Graphic Adaptation by David Polonsky. “I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.” It’s easy to concentrate on the misery. Anne Frank could have. I do myself more than I should. But, when I go outside and especially when I write outside, I find I focus more on the reasons why I’m here, and the words come easily as I think about what I need to say.

I’m also thankful for writing because of the images that form in my head when I read the words on the page. There are so many lively and delightful words in the English language as E. E. Cummings says in the book E. E. Cummings by Susan Cheever. “I thank you God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of the trees and a blue dream of sky.” For me, the word “greenly” brings immediately to mind a bright, spring day. I’m sure we can all think of words that bring detailed images to our minds.

Another reason I’m thankful for writing is because it is done in solitude–I can see my own words on a page before anyone else can see them. I can reflect on the pain and happiness in my life by writing about it. I can also give thanks and pray as Victor Hugo says in his work Les Miserables. “To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do.” It is such a lovely image for someone who needs solitude as I do.

I know this will seem diametrically opposite to what I just said, but I’m also thankful for writing because of my friends. While writing is done in solitude, writers could not make it without the support of their friends. Ralph Waldo Emerson said this in The Portable Emerson. “I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and new.” All of you who have supported me with likes and comments on this blog, on Facebook and Twitter, and even in person have made me more aware of the power of words and how they can change people’s lives. I am grateful for your support and for the lessons learned as I’ve continued to move forward on this journey.

Finally, I’m thankful for writing because it does have the power to change the world. The words William Faulkner wrote in The Essential Faulkner about gratitude have helped to reset my mind about the nature of gratitude. “Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity; it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I hope we can all remember to be grateful for everything we have, to help where we can, and to not judge others since we all have failed.

Happy Thanksgiving!




I’m taking a break from my “questions to consider” series to consider this uniquely American holiday that is coming up in just a few days. To be fair, God wants us to be thankful all of the time, but we tend, at this time of year, to put a little more thought into it.

So, what does God say about being thankful? Scripture has numerous examples of which I will share only a few. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

I also like Philippians 4:6-7 though it is so hard to do. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, there are two verses, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, similar to one another that I think express God’s thoughts about thankfulness. From I Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Then, from I Chronicles 16:34, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

God wants us to be thankful, but we often forget. We often forget to even look for His presence which I am most definitely guilty of. Last night though, I made a deliberate choice which brought me a tremendous blessing. Let me set the stage. There was a community Thanksgiving service I really wanted to go to. Illness and lack of desire made sure I would have no companions from my household. Now, this is a thing for me. I hate walking into somewhere by myself where the expectation is that others will be with me so I almost didn’t go. But, then I said to myself that maybe this was my chance to encounter God, on my own. So, that’s what I did. I went, sat by myself, and had an amazing time of worship on the back row. God spoke to me through the music and through the words, and I was able to focus on Him alone. He gave me insights and a deep sense of peace and thanksgiving. It was what I needed.

I’m very thankful for a God who is always present in our lives!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Season of Change and How it Relates to the Theme of my NaNo novel

This fall has been a season of change for me and my family. Things are different now. Both of my children are now in college, and I’m no longer homeschooling. My husband and I are now empty nesters though our younger son still lives at home. I’ve spoken of this before. But, what I haven’t spoken of is how different it feels to be in the season as opposed to anticipating it. It hasn’t been easy to find a place where we fit. We’re not actively parenting, and we’re not grandparents yet. (Hopefully, that won’t happen for a while. 🙂 ) I’m trying to launch a freelance writing career and learning how that works in scheduling my days. And I’m learning who I am again and what it is I have to contribute.

When I was considering the topic for this post, all of this and my novel came to mind. In my first post of this month, I spoke of the theme I was hoping to weave throughout the pages of my novel–acceptance of self and love of family. While this is still my theme, thinking about seasons of change has enriched it. If you write, you are familiar with the term “inciting incident.” Here is the definition if you’re not. “The inciting incident is an episode, plot point, or event that hooks the reader into the story. This particular moment is when an event thrusts the protagonist into the main action of the story.” (from www.nownovel.com/blog/incitingincident) It’s what makes the story interesting to readers. Anyway, I’ve already written the inciting incident for my novel, and I was thinking how similar this was to a season of change. My protagonist can’t go back to the way it was before the story began, and I’m not sure she would want to. By the time I’m done writing, I hope to have shown how much she has grown as a person by how much she has changed. I believe that would be a season of change by any definition.

As I’ve thought of how “season of change” has enriched the theme of my novel, I came upon some questions and quotes from one of my writing books. Jennifer Probst had this to say about theme in Write Naked. “Think about what is important to you and what you want readers to remember about your book. What are your characters really fighting for? What do you want to explore?” These are words that bring theme down to its most basic level, and they were some of the many words that made me glad I bought and read Ms. Probst’s book.

I also learned about story theme when I was reading the section about theme. Here is the definition. “The story theme runs on a deeper level, identifying what type of story you like to write. It’s a theme that’s present in your collective works.” (pg. 198, Write Naked, Jennifer Probst) That concept was fascinating to me as well. I’m too new of a writer to know for sure what my story theme is, but I have some ideas. I’ll need to come back to this post at some point and update if I’m right. (After I’ve published a few books, I hope. 🙂 )

In the first paragraph of this post, I wrote of my own season of change. The thing I’ve been most surprised about is that things are actually changing. For some reason, I thought there would be a core of things that would remain the same, but that core has been smaller than I would have thought. I understand the concept of “mid-life crisis” a bit better now and why people go out and do crazy things like buy a sports car. The changes at this time of life have been tumultuous, and it has been hard to breathe. Letting go of the familiar has seemed to be the watchword of people I know who are in this stage of life. The question I need to answer, I think, is whether I need to do the same. Hopefully, writing this book will give me the answers I’m looking for. I hope it does the same for you.

Have a great day, everyone!

Why are We Afraid to Ask for Help?–Questions to Consider–Part 4

I’m four weeks into this series and finally getting the groove of how I want to ask my questions and consider the possible answers to them. I’ve written about questions that required Scripture reading for possible answers, and I’ve written about questions that showed how Christianity related to the larger world around us. Today, I’m going to ask a question about how we relate to the Christian community around us, that is, our faith family. Now, some of us might not have a faith family, but I think the question still applies. Here it is. Why are we afraid to ask for help?

First, I believe there are many nuances to this question. Are we asking for money or something else? Do we have a faith family? Do we have people we trust in our faith family? Do we have people we trust at all? Are we stubborn or prideful enough that we even struggle to answer the question? Do we subscribe to an individualist philosophy? Do we judge others for needing help which makes us afraid of being judged? Do we believe no one will help us? I could go on and on with the questions, but I think I’ve made my point.

The other day I was watching a TV show I’ve recently become of a fan of–The Man in the High Castle. If you’re not familiar with it, here is the premise. The United States did not win World War 2–the Germans and the Japanese did. They’ve taken over the eastern and western parts of the US, respectfully, with a neutral zone in-between. Anyway, the show takes place in the 1960’s, and there are people who have embraced the conquerors and people who are resisting. I’ve learned about literary elements, the shades of grey between black and white, and how history has been affected by all of it.  It was the first example I thought of when I thought of this topic.

The son of a family who had embraced Nazi culture developed a neuromuscular disease for which there was no cure. People like this were called bottom feeders on the show. They couldn’t contribute and weren’t worth keeping alive so they were encouraged to kill themselves. When the parents found out about this, they couldn’t ask for help because they were afraid. Their son would die, and of course, they didn’t want to lose their son. The story line continued over a few episodes, and eventually the son found out. He ended up turning himself in, and he was killed. The saddest part was that there was a “memorial” service where he was celebrated because he was killed. In that society, there was no way they could ask for help because of their fear, a fear that was well-founded.

But, isn’t that true today in real life? We’re afraid of what giving help will cost us in time and money so we don’t want to ask for it ourselves because we will be on the other end of that dichotomy. It’s shown when we’re afraid of immigrants who want the security we have. It’s shown when we’re afraid of the homeless person. It’s shown when we’re afraid of the widow or the orphan. it’s shown when we’re afraid of the unemployed person. I want to ask this though. Did God call us to be afraid? Nope. I John 4:18 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Another reason someone might not ask for help is because of their stubbornness or pride in thinking they can do it by themselves. In Western society especially, we have this idea we’re not supposed to ask for help, and we’re supposed to do everything on our own. I’ve seen it shown in advertisements from missions organizations which say recipients of help have some “skin in the game”, so to speak. I’ve seen it shown when someone who received help for a foster child (from friends who wanted to help) felt the need to apologize and to say they really could handle it by themselves. There are more examples which remind me of Proverbs 16:18. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

So, we’re not supposed to have fear, and we’re not supposed to have pride. (I would classify this as unhealthy pride.) What then do we need to do to become more willing to ask for help? This, I believe, is where having a faith family comes in. And not just any faith family. I could tell you many stories about people who have been betrayed by their faith families because they could not handle the bad times. We all need faith families we can trust who will be there for the good times and the bad times to be the community God has called us all to be.

I wish I could say I had been perfect at this. In fact, the reason I’m writing about this topic is because last week was a rough one. It was the culmination of my loss of courage over the past few weeks. I had to be courageous enough to tell my true feelings and say what was on my heart. I had to reach out and ask for help. It was hard. So hard. I didn’t think I was worthy of it. But God gave me the courage, and I did. The rewards were more than I could have asked for. The best result was how God’s peace and certainty poured into my heart. And I’ve learned a lesson too. We are all worthy of help no matter what anyone at a church may tell us. We’re God’s children, and we’re not alone. He is always there for us, and if He is always there, shouldn’t we always be there for each other?

God bless you all!

Characters for My NaNo Novel

Last week, I spoke a little of the main protagonist of my novel. I want to speak more this week of how this character and the other characters around her came to be a part of the story I’m writing this month. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a story about someone who has overcome difficulties from their past, who is now successful, but who still has lessons to learn from the difficulties. I wanted her to have a career and surround her with a loving family and most of all, to have her overcome obstacles.

This character has been growing in my mind for the last couple of years, but I knew I needed a story to go with her. That story has finally come together this year, and it is the story I’m writing now. I’ve heard it said that some authors write characters who are similar to them in personality and who are able to do the things they’re not. I want to say this particular character is that way for me, but I won’t know for sure until I get further into my writing and into the story.

As I thought about this character and this story, I knew there would need to be additional characters. The first ones I thought of were the members of her family–her husband and her children. I made her husband part of her back story so he would be intimately familiar with her trauma.  I also had her husband love her unconditionally though she would have times of doubting that love because of the trauma she had endured–her obstacles to overcome.

Finally, as I was doing my preliminary thinking about my main character, I wanted her to be a woman of faith and have her faith be important to her. But, I also wanted her to defy stereotypes and be a regular person too. She has a career though she is a pastor’s wife. She expresses emotion and doesn’t do everything that is “expected” of her. She says cuss words and goes into places a regular person of faith wouldn’t go. (because of her reporting career) She is her own person and has the full support of her husband to be so.

So, everything about my main character, her family, and the story itself was firmed up in my head before I began writing. But, as I started writing, I knew I would need more characters. Other writers, I’m sure, would have had all their characters fully fleshed out in the planning stages. I have learned over the years though that I am not other writers. I am my own writer which means I have introduced these other characters in my own way. I have enjoyed this process of finding out what I need through writing it. The police detective and the FBI agents who will be important later on. My main character’s editor. Her sources. Her other friends who are also defying stereotypes. They will all make my story the story it needs to be so I’m looking forward to writing their stories too. I might stop my writing at points to write back story and more details in my evolving outline. But, for the most part, I plan to see where my characters take me as I write this first draft during NaNoWrimo.

I hope you have enjoyed my process of thinking about and forming the characters for my novel. Feel free to share your own process in the comments.

Have a great day, everyone!

What is Sin Nature? – Questions to Consider – Part 3

As I’ve mentioned before, topics come to me in a multitude of ways. I can read them in a book, hear them in a conversation, see them in the outdoors or in a store, or the words just appear in my head. Today’s topic for my “questions to consider” series came down two of those paths. The first one was from my writing inspiration book. The prompt was “So many people are selfish, greedy, and unfriendly…” I’ve already lived enough life to know this is a true statement. And it can be discouraging when I do my best to be kind, and it’s not reciprocated. The other path was two words appearing in my head–sin nature. I’d already been thinking of the depravity in today’s world with the shootings in Pennsylvania and with all of the divisive and rhetoric that is so prevalent especially with tomorrow’s elections in the United States. It makes me wonder how God puts up with us. It also brought me to today’s question–what is sin nature and why does it still exist in this world? I guess that’s two questions. 🙂 But, I think we’ve all wondered why bad things happen in this world and where God was in the midst of them. I’m going to attempt to answer this today, but I’ll go ahead and warn you I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does except God.

First, I think a simple definition is in order. From gotquestions.org, “The sin nature is that aspect in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.” To translate this into language we can all understand, we are all born bad. It can’t be seen in the youngest of us, but it can definitely be seen in toddlers who we take a lot of time teaching to share and to tell the truth. It can be seen much more as we get older.

We can’t overcome this by ourselves which is why it says this in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” God knew we would need to hear His teaching continually for it to take hold in our lives.

Writers in the New Testament also talked about sin and sin nature. From Romans 5:12, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” I John 1:8 is a clear example to us. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There are many more examples, too many for this post, but I think the point is clear. Sin is present in each of us.

Only one person hasn’t had a sin nature. Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was brought back to life. What He did is the reason we can be born again. We inherit a new nature as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” To consider this has happened as a result of my faith gives me great joy.

But, we also need to know that our sin nature doesn’t disappear when we receive Christ as our Savior. Bad things still happen in our world, and Christians can still do bad things because of sin. Knowing this in our hearts can help with the questions of illness, abuse, greed, broken marriages, fighting, and any other sin that is out there.

We have help though. Help from God. He sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of our sin nature. I’m reminded of what it says in I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.” He will help us with sin if we only ask Him.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking–Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ve seen all these people claiming to be Christians doing bad things. You’ve seen people who aren’t Christians acting better than some Christians. What’s the difference? Why should you even consider this faith? While I wouldn’t presume to know someone’s standing with God (That’s between them and God.), I would look at their deeds–what they do. These deeds are not a requirement to become a Christian–only accepting Jesus and His love can do that, but you’re supposed to see them afterwards. There are many examples in Scripture, but I think the one in the book of Matthew is the best. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Genuine relationship with God should make us want to glorify Him and not ourselves.

No one will be perfect in this though. The Bible says that we will struggle with our old nature as long as we are in this world. But, those who are in genuine relationship with God will come to Him in repentance for what they have done wrong each and every time. For those innocents who have been touched by the evil of this world, God heals. I know He does. It will be in His time though, not ours. That is our challenge–to trust our Lord and Savior through pain, suffering, and what we cannot see while showing His love for those who most need it.

God bless you all!


Plotting my NaNo Novel

With today being the first day of NaNoWriMo (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you who aren’t writers.), I thought I would do a quick post on how I plotted the book I am about to begin writing. During the month of November, writers from all over the world furiously write in notebooks or type on computers hoping to complete 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month. I’ve participated before with success, and I’ve also failed to reach the goal a few times. But, I’ve learned something each time I’ve participated, and my writing has gotten better each time. I decided this was going to be the year I wrote the book that’s been in my head for the last couple of years. I would have more time to do it now that I was no longer homeschooling, and doing my first draft in November would put me in the company of many writers who were doing the same thing.

So, plotting. What is it, and why is it important to those of us who write novels? Here is the definition. A plot is the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. Essentially, a plot is what happens in the book. Over the last few years, I have read more writing craft books trying to learn about the different literary elements. Some of them have been more challenging than others (What’s the theme of my story going to be?) while the rest have had a sequence to learn which I’m not quite sure I’ve gotten the hang of yet. But, I’ve learned the right and wrong things to do as I’ve planned my story.

The main thing I’ve learned is that the literary elements are interwoven. Ray Bradbury had this to say about plot in Zen in the Art of Writing. “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” This imagery intrigued me. Plot is not just what happens in the story. No, the plot in a novel ties the journey of the main characters to what they learn in the process of making the journey. And what they learn is the theme of the story. This brought me to my story’s theme. Acceptance of self and love of family. My theme is not going to be one of those nebulous things that’s hard to figure out. By the end of writing this book, I want it to be clear to anyone who reads it. My story is going to be about my main character learning she is worthy to be loved and knowing she is loved by her family.

As far as plotting goes, I know I have a lot of details to put together. I have a general idea of the story I want to tell, but getting the details right will make it a story worth telling. And if it’s a story worth telling; then, it will be a story worth reading. And if it’s a story worth reading; then, it will be a story worth buying. At least, I hope it will be. 🙂

I’ve also learned the way my story will be unique. When I first started writing, I was discouraged at one point when someone told me that every plot in the world had already been used, and no one could possibly come up with anything new. It made me think I couldn’t write anything truly original that anyone would be interested in reading. I’ve learned better since then mainly because of this quote by author Caroline Lawrence. “Plot is what happens in your story. Every story needs structure, just as every body needs a skeleton. It is how you ‘flesh out and clothe’ your structure that makes each story unique.” So, what I’ve learned in my writing craft books has helped me build the structure of the story I’m going to write, but what I say in the story is going to make it my own which makes me excited to get started.

As I finish this post, I want to wish everyone who is participating in NaNoWriMo well. I hope the words, plot, characters, and theme come easily as you work your way towards 50,000 words.

Have a great day, everyone!