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!

Questions to Consider – Part 2

It’s time for a second installment of “questions to consider.” Hopefully, you were able to read my first post, and it made you think. That is the point of this series–to make you think about what you believe and put those thoughts into action. It’s not about having the right or wrong answer. I freely admit I don’t know everything. I want this to be an opportunity to grow for everyone who reads these posts whether they consider themselves Christians or not.

With that being said, here is what brought me to the next question. I’ve said before that I first accepted Christ as Savior at the age of thirteen. I was pretty much a regular church-goer from then until I left the church in 2005 for reasons that were painful, but necessary. My husband and I considered ourselves Christians, but we thought we could make it on our own away from people who could possibly hurt us. God taught us, me especially, a lot during those years. Anyway, the following year we were faced with the question of whether to homeschool our kids. Our older son was academically advanced and having to wait for the rest of his class to catch up during the school day while the younger one was being bullied for his size in his first grade classroom. Both situations were not what we wanted for our kids so we pulled them out of public school. That year, and the first years we homeschooled, I faced questions about my faith and the political process in the United States. This leads to today’s question. Do we have to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian?

A thorny question, to be sure.  🙂 I know some people who would say yes, and I know others who would say no. Back in the early years of my homeschooling career, I would have said yes. Though I did not begin homeschooling for religious reasons, I still considered myself a Christian, and there were many people on Internet homeschooling message boards who were homeschooling for religious reasons. I got to know some of them, and they were great ladies. I started considering them friends.

But, 2006-2008 was also a period of tumult in my country. A historic political campaign was waged to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. There were many things he stood for I did not agree with, and when I said I did not agree, people called me racist. I did not want to be called racist so I decided to keep my mouth shut. But, that didn’t stop me from having the thoughts of disagreement. I was also hearing people  say that homeschooling would be curtailed if he was elected so I became afraid. My thoughts of fear turned into judgment. Judgment of anyone who did not think like me or act like me. I was really good at it. I was afraid of being judged so I turned into someone who judged others. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be.

From 2009-2010, God started us on the journey back to where He wanted me to be. First, my mother-in-law became ill, and we moved back to where she was to help take care of her. A right and noble thing to do, I was told. We thought so too. She ended up dying two months later. We were devastated. Many people told us how sorry they were, but there weren’t many people in my life who would let me be real with my grief. In fact, I had to hide mine a lot so I could take care of my husband and kids.

Two months later, we moved back to the city we had lived in at the beginning of our marriage for my husband to take a job. He started working, and I was at home with our boys who I was still homeschooling.. I got to know people, but those judgmental thoughts were still under the surface. I thought I had everything right because I was a Christian, and I should oppose anything that wasn’t a “Christian” belief. I didn’t even consider people on the “other side,” and I definitely didn’t think Jesus loved them either. I was able to keep my walls up and not show the bad things that happened to me so everyone should do that. Right? It was a person’s fault if they were poor or got sick. Right?

God didn’t think so, and He started showing  me in the fall of 2010 and hasn’t stopped. My husband got sick and had to have surgery. He had been sick before with his chronic condition and had even had surgery before, but this was the first time since both of his parents had passed away. I felt alone. My writing notebook was my only companion. He had the surgery and slowly recovered, but in the middle of that, he lost his job. We had no income. We burned through our savings quickly and then had to ask for help. It was humiliating. It was also surprising how quickly people turned on us. My husband  didn’t have a job so he must have done something wrong. Right? We were so sure we had been called to this path, and now, this happened. Don’t get me wrong. There were some people who did help us and who prayed for us. I will always be grateful. Finally though, we had to head west in the summer of 2011. Family said we could stay with them while my husband looked for work. The judgmental thoughts towards other people disappeared while we were going through this. Why wouldn’t they? We were being judged every day, and it wasn’t pleasant at all. It wasn’t my husband’s fault he had lost his job, but people were acting like it was.

Fortunately, we were only there for four weeks. Then, we drove back across the country for my husband to accept another job. It was good to have the chance to start over again. It wasn’t the end of bad times, of course. Within a few weeks, I lost my third child which sent me into a major depression. I felt dead and cold during that first winter. People were arguing about who was fit to run the country in the upcoming presidential election. Republicans and Democrats were slinging insults at each other. ‘Old, rich, and white’ was one insult. ‘Lazy and unwilling to work’ was another. I knew they all couldn’t be true. My husband had not been lazy and had wanted to work. There weren’t any jobs available. I wanted to know what had happened to my country and I especially wanted to know where God was.

The following summer my life changed, and I found God again in a church that didn’t judge. I was suspicious at first. It took me several months to let down my guard and let people see the real me. There were several things about this church that were different. It was multi-racial and had people with different opinions. I heard  more about grace than I had ever heard in my faith life. I started to get a sense of what living in community was supposed to mean. Flawed and messy, but still filled with love. It was a good thing for me to see.

In the five years since, I wish I could say I had gotten the hang of how this was supposed to work and was doing it perfectly. No, that hasn’t happened. 🙂 I’ve been afraid of being judged when my husband has been sick or out-of-work. I’ve felt inadequate because there are people who have more money than I do. I’ve felt disappointed because something I’ve felt called to was thwarted. I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in and still don’t feel like I fit in at times. And my country, it has gotten worse. People fight about everything and have drawn lines in the sand. We, as Christians, have forgotten that God wants us to be united in our differences to show Jesus’ love and not to draw lines in the sand. I have felt discouraged about the normalization of bullying behavior and name calling. Both sides have done it. No one can claim innocence.

But, here is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last five years. My God is bigger than my country. He is the one I hold onto during the bad times and the One I rejoice with during the good times. He is much more than any political party, and the reason I have to say that we don’t need to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. But, for me to be a Christian and have a heart like God wants me to have, I cannot take the label of a political party. It interferes with the work God wants me to do.

May God bless you all today!

 

Practicing While Waiting

I’m going to try something a little different on this last Thursday in October since I’m getting indications this needs to be my topic. From the song Take a Chance on Me by Abba playing during my workout to my devotion on waiting for God’s timing, I need to explore how I’m feeling during this time of waiting. I need to know how to step past the impatience I feel when I want something to happen faster than it needs to happen.

I first felt this stirring when I was doing my workout earlier. My workouts have become more consistent since I started to listen to my Spotify playlist. (What did we ever do without Spotify?) Anyway, I was doing my usual workout on the stepper when the song came on. As I listened to the lyrics of this older song, I thought of how the chorus could be reflective of our career choice if publication is our goal. Don’t we want agents and editors to take a chance on us and our writing? To take a chance that our writing and our books will be appealing to the masses? Of course, we do. It’s one way we can feel validated as a writer, and any money we’re paid is an extra bonus. (I like to eat. Don’t you?)

So, I listened to the lyrics and felt the stirrings of impatience. By the way, if you’re wondering about the lyrics or not familiar with the song at all, here they are. It will give you an idea of how I felt when I kept hearing the words “take a chance on me.”

Take a Chance on Me by Abba

If you change your mind, I’m the first in line
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down
If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(That’s all I ask of you honey)
Take a chance on me
We can go dancing, we can go walking, as long as we’re together
Listen to some music, maybe just talking, get to know you better
‘Cause you know I’ve got
So much that I wanna do, when I dream I’m alone with you
It’s magic
You want me to leave it there, afraid of a love affair
But I think you know
That I can’t let go
If you change your mind, I’m the first in line
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down
If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me
(Come on, give me a break will you?)
Take a chance on me
Oh you can take your time baby, I’m in no hurry, know I’m gonna get you
You don’t wanna hurt me, baby don’t worry, I ain’t gonna let you
Let me tell you now
My love is strong enough to last when things are rough
It’s magic
You say that I waste my time but I can’t get you off my mind
No I can’t let go
‘Cause I love you so
If you change your mind, I’m the first in line
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
If you need me, let me know, gonna be around
If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down
If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best, baby can’t you see
Gotta put me to the test, take a chance on me
(Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me)
Ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba baa
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best, baby can’t you see
Gotta put me to the test, take a chance on me
(Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me)
Ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba baa ba-ba
Honey I’m still free
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best, baby can’t you see
Gotta put me to the test, take a chance on me
There was one part of the chorus that especially stirred my feelings. It’s the part which
says “Come on, give me a break will you?” I wondered why I hadn’t received my break yet. I wondered why it seemed I couldn’t get any respect from the people I know on what I was trying to do with my life. It seemed I was falling into a path of having nothing now that my children were grown. I couldn’t get past the feelings of being a failure and having no one believe in  me.
I got done with my workout and came home. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. But, then I came to the part where the patience comes in. My devotion on waiting. I read it, and my first thought was, ‘Really, God. You want me to wait some more?’ I was trying to listen though. I do want my writing to be the best it can be when I finally get the chance, and I want to follow God’s will for my life. That’s a given. I read further into the devotion and saw the verse featured. From I Samuel 13:14, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be a commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (emphasis mime) God was telling Saul he had been wrong to offer the sacrifice to Him and not wait for Samuel. Now, Saul would suffer the consequences. Wow, a direct answer to my feelings, or like the younger people would say, “Oh, snap.” He wants me to wait, learn more about writing, and continue to write for His glory.
So, I’m waiting on God’s timing and waiting through all the people who say I should have all the time in the world now to do what they want since I’m a middle-aged woman whose children are grown. No, I don’t. I’m a writer with a call from God to write and create for His glory. And while I’m waiting, I’m practicing. Practicing in public on this blog and my other blog (http://thrivingingrace.com/blog/). Practicing in private in my journals. Submitting and getting rejected (From what I read, I should eventually have enough rejections to paper my walls.). And living, so I can get the experience to write my stories.
May we all practice, submit, and live as we wait for the right time for our writing to be noticed!
Have a great day everyone!

Questions to Consider

Today is the first day of a new series which I hope will carry us through the holidays. I will write about questions I’m sure we’ve all asked about our faith–from the mundane to the serious. I’m not going to pretend to have the definitive answers. Those would come from people who have studied and thought about the Christian faith much longer than I have. No, these questions come from the heart of an ordinary Christian woman trying her best to rest in God’s grace as His daughter and to have the heart of Jesus as she lives in this world between the now and not yet of Jesus’ coming back for us. Ordinary, just like you.

So, with that being said, let me describe what brought me to the first question. A few months ago, I was looking for another devotional since I had finished reading and writing through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. I received an email one morning saying that the free giveaway at Lifeway Christian Store for the week was a copy of the devotional The Devotional for Women which was edited by Rhonda Harrington Kelley and Dorothy Kelley Patterson. Wow, it was something I needed, and it was free. You can’t beat that. I went to the story and picked it up. I’ve been using it since then, and it has been God honoring though more female focused as you would expect of a devotional with the title The Devotional for Women. I don’t have anything personal against this particular devotional or any other female Christian author I have read, for that matter. They’ve all blessed me tremendously.  I have gained insight about my faith and my life from all of them. But, I got to thinking this morning. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women? Why aren’t there devotionals that both sexes could use. So, that’s my first question for this series. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women?

Now, first, I want to say I do understand about marketing to different groups. If someone is trying to sell a book to children, it doesn’t make sense to aim the advertising dollars at men who like sports. The same thing could be said about baby equipment which, I would think, would be marketed towards people who can have babies and not to retired people. The same thing could be said of any product one is trying to market. Anyway, back to the devotionals. I took a look at the books on a shelf in the Christian section of the bookstore, and there were books and Bibles available for almost every group of people. Girls, boys, teen girls, teen boys, young adults, women, single women, married women, men, single men, married men, married couples, retired people…I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Christian book industry has this marketing thing down. They market the same way that the secular book industry does.

I thought though that we were supposed to come together when we studied God’s Word. Brothers and sisters learning about our Lord and Savior. I thought God wanted the church to be a body of one with all of our differences and diversities. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as I’ve considered the divisions in my country and in the world. Especially in the church. We fight about anything and everything most of which doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I think Jesus looks down on us and cries with all the division in this world. I know it isn’t what God wants.

Why do we segment people into groups then for study material? We have covers of men’s books with sports, hiking, mountains, hunting and military representation on them. We have covers of women’s books with flowers, butterflies, cups of coffee, and coloring opportunities on them. I also found that even if the words women or men weren’t on the cover, I could still tell who the book was marketed to through the pictures, colors, and genders of the authors.

So what, you ask? Aren’t men and women different? Aren’t they interested in different things? Yes, they are different. I don’t deny that. What I do think though is that we don’t need to be gender divided in the church. I tried an interesting experiment a little while ago. I looked at the first several topics in two men’s devotional books and two women’s devotional books. The topics looked very similar to me. I’ll post the lists so you can get an idea.

Kingdom Man Devotional by Tony Evans

  1. A Kingdom Man Seeks Priceless Treasure
  2. A Kingdom Man Aims for the Goal
  3. A Kingdom Man Follows His Rule Book
  4. A Kingdom Man is Prepared
  5. A Kingdom Man Makes the Right Choice
  6. A Kingdom Man Brings Freedom
  7. A Kingdom Man Builds a Legacy
  8. A Kingdom Man Rules Under God’s Authority
  9. A Kingdom Man Takes Responsibility
  10. A Kingdom Man Trust that God’s Got It
  11. A Kingdom Man Longs to be Great
  12. A Kingdom Man Finds Strength in Meekness
  13. A Kingdom Man is Free to Pursue Greatness

Daily Wisdom for Men – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Start with God
  2. Teaching Obedience
  3. Loving Other Believers
  4. Morning Meetings with God
  5. Spiritual Prosperity
  6. God’s Revelation to Man
  7. A Valuable Employee
  8. Preserved for the Kingdom
  9. Who Will Trust You?
  10. Open Your Home
  11. Don’t Wait
  12. Speak No Evil
  13. Hide the Word
  14. Family Managers
  15. God Shows No Partiality

Daily Wisdom for Women – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Delight in His Word
  2. A Daily Walk with God
  3. The Delight of My Life
  4. Peace
  5. Just Following God
  6. Unity with the Father
  7. Consistent with Prayer
  8. Lovingly Connected
  9. Faithful Friend
  10. A Sure Foundation
  11. Christlike Compassion
  12. This Very Moment
  13. His Promises are True
  14. His Hands and Feet
  15. Living the Truth

Be Still and Know: 365 Devotions for Abundant Living by Julie Rayburn

  1. Facing Life’s Challenges
  2. Priority of Prayer
  3. Total Commitment
  4. Sin
  5. Getting Your Life Back on Course
  6. Success
  7. The Idol of Success
  8. Attitude
  9. The Lord’s Prayer
  10. Wicked vs. Righteous
  11. Stages of Our Christian Life
  12. Sufficient Grace
  13. Barometer for Spiritual Growth
  14. Church Fellowship
  15. Heaven

Pretty similar, right? In fact, they are almost identical in some cases. All topics that we all need to study. So, why are there different devotional books for men and women? Why can’t we all have a Bible study from the same book? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think they are good ones to ask. I’ll challenge us a little further. Why can’t we all have a Bible study or devotional book written by a female author? I think it would be a great way to promote unity in the church and a great way to bring different perspectives into our study of the Scriptures.

God bless you all today!

Primal Landscape

I had never heard of this term before hearing it in my writing class last week. I’m not even sure it applies to me as I spent my childhood in several different places. First, though, let’s get the definition out-of-the-way. The term “primal landscape” was first coined by Don Gayton from British Columbia, Canada a few years ago. It means “the landscape a person most identifies with.” The translation of that is essentially where a person was born and raised. The article I read also talked about how this land becomes known, familiar, and comforting. I would also say it could be upsetting and painful if a person’s upbringing was not the best. As might be imagined, this term was first coined as a geographical term, but there are other uses for it as I learned in writing class.

The writing class I’m taking is a class on setting and description which should be  important to anyone interested in the craft of writing. To set a novel someplace is to tell the reader where the action is taking place. A very important thing, I would think, so a primal landscape can be an important place to tell a story. My teacher assigned us the beginning of a story written in our primal landscape or the place where we had spent the most time up to the age of twenty-one. I immediately realized I didn’t have one of those landscapes in my background. My husband does though. He spent all of his growing-up years in one place. He could easily write a story in his primal landscape if he wanted.

But, the assignment was mine. I thought about all of the places I had lived. Virginia, Washington D. C., Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, and California. Then, I went back to South Carolina for college and eventually met my husband. We married and had our children there. The story could have been set in any of those places, or it could have been set where my grandparents lived as that was a place I frequently visited as a child. I picked a place and wrote the story. It was a deeply personal story so I won’t be posting it here. Let’s just say I learned the true meaning of what a primal landscape could do for my writing.

The term wouldn’t let me go though, and it made me wonder where my primal landscape actually was. I remembered what had happened two months ago, and it came to me. South Carolina. I had lived there for six years as a child, and I had returned for college. I settled there when I married, and both of my children were born there. In fact, two months ago, which was where this memory had come from, I traveled back there for the funeral of someone who has been important to me since college. So, I had the chance to travel backward in time.

I drove from the state I lived in to South Carolina on a Friday. I thought about my friend whose husband had died. They had been my adopted parents in college, and the whole family meant and still means a lot to me. When I arrived at the city, I could see there were some things that hadn’t changed. The intersection of interstates which locals call “Malfunction Junction” was the same as it had been when I was a child. The landscape itself seemed to have aged very little since the last time I had been there seven years earlier. There was one new thing I noticed though as I made my way to my girlfriend’s house. I saw a roundabout. Hadn’t seen one of those things since I lived in Michigan. (I’ve moved around a lot in my adult life too.)

Anyway, I made my way to my girlfriend’s house, and we spent time catching up that evening. The next morning she asked me what I wanted to do before the funeral. I asked if we could drive around so I could take pictures. We got in the car and off we went. Our first stop was the church where I had gotten married. It wasn’t even the same church anymore. The building was shared by another church and a school. But, it was still the same place. I had visions of coming out as a new bride and heading out on my honeymoon. There were so many people there celebrating our marriage with us. Family, friends, and co-workers. I took pictures, and we got back in the car. She asked where I wanted to go next. I told her to go to a certain elementary school where I had gone for fourth and fifth grade. We arrived, and the building still looked the same. I had a vision of my younger self taking her bike from the bike rack and crossing the street with a crossing guard. It was the same route I told my girlfriend to take. I wanted to see the house where I had lived from fourth through ninth grades. A few minutes later, I was staring at it. I took pictures and remembered. Remembered running up and down the street. Remembered where I had first learned to love writing. Remembered some of the most formative years of my life. It was a good memory, and looking back, I now know where my primal landscape is. It’s on a little street in South Carolina.

We finished our tour and headed back to my girlfriend’s house so we could get ready for the funeral. I had come back for a sad occasion, but somehow, I had found another piece of who I was. As I face this next phase of my life with an empty nest, it was good for me to find my roots and know the place which had poured the most into me.

Have a great day, everyone!

Things are Changing

Change has been a constant theme on this blog for the last couple of months. I’ve talked about having an empty nest and what comes next in my life. I’ve talked about courage and bravery. I’ve even talked about fear. But, what I haven’t talked about yet and what I’ve been feeling recently in the recesses of my heart is loneliness.

Let me explain. I’ve been having conversations with my husband about life and about how we are different from other people our age. We’re both very comfortable around technology to the point that we’ve coined a name for it. We’re techno-geeks. Comfortable with superheroes, science, gaming, anime,  and genre fiction. Not so comfortable with frilly dresses, flashy sports cars, home decorating shows, or fancy jewelry. We’re direct with people, and we want to talk about important things–not about the latest antics of a Hollywood movie star or the latest political mess going on in Washington. We want to talk about faith and how God is leading us. We want to focus our lives on what we can change–our thoughts, behavior, and actions.

Other people though aren’t so comfortable with being direct. They would rather talk about the trivial and talk about things that don’t matter. So, I’ve withdrawn to a certain extent which probably hasn’t been the best thing for me, but it is what it is.

The loneliness is deep though, and it’s something I’m having to work through. My husband says I should embrace my small subset of a small minority, and I think I have somewhat. But, I still do stupid things a lot, and I have people stare at me wondering what in the world I’m talking about. I think those things contribute to my feelings of loneliness and not feeling like I fit in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have friends though many of them skew 10-15 years younger than me. Remember, I’m a techno-geek. It’s just that life gets in the way sometimes, and I wish I could be more comfortable letting my walls down with people and saying how I really am through all the changes I’ve experienced in the last few months.

I almost hesitate to bring this next part up because it’s probably going to make someone mad. But, the way I understand things in life is to write them down like this quote from C. S. Lewis says. “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” So, here is my disclaimer as I start to write about what brought this on today. . These are all my thoughts and feelings, and I am in no way trying to ascribe wrongdoing or hurt onto anyone else.  With that being said, here goes. I’m part of a community that has a small groups emphasis twice a year. Another one has started, and we’ve heard nothing from the people whose group we’ve been a part of in the past. We’ve assumed that they’ve decided not to do it and that we’re on our own. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Why don’t they just ask? Well, that’s where my problem comes in. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being rejected. Rejected for the stupid things I do. Rejected and not wanted. (Guess I’m not over that fear thing as much as I thought. 🙂 ) Then, my mind spins like one of those twirly-whirls from my childhood, and I’m exhausted with the thought of trying to fit in again. Trying to find another small group. It makes me think serving at the media board with my husband would be better, and I should just stay back there so I don’t have to try to get close to anyone again.

But, that’s not what God wants with me, from me, or from any of us, for that matter. When my thoughts are all topsy-turvy, I can remember these Scripture verses from the Word, and they will ground my feelings and steep me in the truth God wants me to keep in my heart. First, from Psalm 46:10, “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” God is God despite all of the changes in my life. He is the only One I can depend on not to change.

Then, there’s Exodus 14:14. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” God can help me fight these feelings and channel them into helping others not to feel so alone. We think we have it all figured out, and we can handle our faith and our lives by ourselves. But, we can’t. We need a community who is willing to listen without judging.

And finally, there’s Galatians 1: 10. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I think God meant for me to see this verse as I also saw a tweet from a Christian author while I was pulling these verses together which said the same thing. From author Annie F. Downs, “I can’t be full of the Holy Spirit and full of myself at the same time.”

So, there you have it. I am laying my loneliness at the foot of the cross and seeing what God is going to do with it. He is always with us even during the changes. He is on our side when we feel lonely, and He is on our side when we’re surrounded by people. He wants us, or me, I should say, because I’m the one who really needs it, to wade into the crowd full of His Holy Spirit so we can minister in His Name to those who are alone. I pray He gives all of us guidance as we seek to have a heart like His while living in this messed-up world.

God bless you all today!

Imagination

Yesterday, I was listening to my writing teacher as she talked about the three kinds of research writers need to do–functional, to find facts; inspirational, to uncover and discover which opens the desire to write; and imaginative, to think about and plan the story they want to write. She guided us through several exercises of imagining ourselves in different settings. While I’ve always thought of myself as having a good imagination, I appreciated the fullness of the exercise. Being able to flesh out my writing with more details and complexity will make my story a better story, and that’s a good thing.

She did warn us though that it would be hard to stay in one setting for a full three minutes without our minds wandering. She was right. I constantly had to battle thoughts of what I needed to be doing, what was happening later on that day, and what was happening where I was. I found that I couldn’t keep my mind in the particular setting for very long. In fact, I had to try the exercise several times before I manage the particulars of it. I found it illuminating. Imagining myself in a particular setting could add more detail to my writing. I just needed to master the technique.

I listened to the rest of the lectures before arriving at the assignment for this module. My teacher wanted us to set a story in one of three particular areas and write the first pages of it. I looked at the three choices, and though I had personally been in each setting, nothing came to me. I couldn’t think of anything that would be a good beginning for a story so I decided to let it sit overnight. It turned out to be a good thing because when I woke up, it came to me. I could write a fictional memoir of one of the most traumatic times I had ever been in a hospital setting. I could bring awareness to a disease that’s rarely talked about, and it might end up being something I would want to finish. So, hospital setting it is. One more thing before I start my story. I do believe a story can be written without an author having personal experience with a setting. This is where functional research comes in so detail and context can be added to make the setting more layered. Now, without further adieu, here is the story I wrote for writing class.

An Invisible Illness

Kristen took the cup of coffee from her mother-in-law. “Thanks, Linda.” She blew on the top to cool it off and took a sip. ‘Ugh, typical hospital coffee,’ she thought to herself placing it on the table next to her. Linda had tried. She could see where creamer and sugar had been mixed in, but it still tasted awful. She settled back in her seat wishing that the bright, blinking lights could be turned down or off. “So, how long has he been in there?”

Of course, her father-in-law answered. “Fifteen minutes.” He tapped his watch. “It’s been fifteen minutes since you came out here. I’m keeping track.”

The calm that had enveloped her after the surgeon had prayed with her and Daniel threatened to evaporate. She took a deep breath. “Thanks, Bill.” The surgery Daniel was having wasn’t supposed to be complicated. ‘Just temporary,’ he had said, ‘and hopefully, it can be reversed in a few months.’ She took another breath trying to corral her thoughts. A colostomy shouldn’t be that bad, right? And if the medicine worked, they could put everything back together in three months. Then, Daniel would be healthy, and they could get back to living.

Another fifteen minutes passed. Then, thirty. They had been joined by the pastor, deacon, and women’s ministry leader of hers and Daniel’s church and her best friend, Bonnie, who leaned over and whispered to her, “Why do they all look like sourpusses? Aren’t church people supposed to be nice?”

Kristin covered her mouth so no one would hear her giggle. Bonnie could always make her laugh. She was right though. They all looked like sourpusses. She closed her eyes trying to fend off the raging headache that was threatening to come out. Bill’s voice roused her. “The surgery is taking longer than he told us. Shouldn’t the nurse come out here and give us an update?” He glanced around and then back at his watch, his movements competing with the bright, blinking lights.

As if almost on cue, the intercom sounded. “Mrs. Miller, we have an update for you. Mrs. Miller, there’s an update.”

Kristin rose and walked to the desk noticing that Linda had pulled Bill back down to his seat. She knew Linda had told him she was entitled to the information first, and she was grateful. Mother-in-laws didn’t come any better than Linda. She took the phone from the smiling nurse and said, “This is Mrs. Miller.” It seemed like the voice on the other end talked forever. Her eyes and mouth widened in shock. “Thank you for your update, ma’am.”

She handed the phone back to the nurse and walked slowly back to her group. Bill noticed her shocked look first. “What’s wrong, Kristin? Is Daniel ok?”

“They think he will be, Bill.” Kristin took a breath so she could get the info out. “But, he’s going to be in surgery for another seven-eight hours. His colon and rectum both need to come out, and they will be creating a permanent ileostomy. It’s all damaged beyond repair.” She sat in the chair like a balloon had deflated.

It seemed like everyone started talking at once and wanting further information. Finally, the pastor was able to get a word in edgewise. “I’m sorry, Kristin. I hope everything goes well, but,” he motioned to the other two from the church, “we will need to leave. We have other visits to make.”

Kristin schooled her features like she didn’t care. “Of course, Dr. Wilson.” She got up and shook his hand and the others. “Thank you all for coming.” The group left, and all she could think was that she didn’t have to maintain a church face anymore. She sat back down. “Anyone else want to take off?”

Linda shook her head. “Of course not, honey. We’re gonna stay…”

Bill interrupted her holding up his phone. “I just looked up what you said on this new-fangled phone. Daniel might be dying…” He stretched out the last syllable before rapidly speaking every possible thing that could happen.

Linda and Bill started arguing about his hypochondria and about appropriate things to say in the hospital. It was maddening to Kristin though she was familiar with Bill’s quirks. Finally, she had enough. “He almost died, you fucking moron.” Her volume increased with her anger and frustration. “He coded on the table, and they had to restart his heart. Hopefully, it won’t happen again, but right now, I need you to go away!”

Her in-laws and Bonnie stood with their mouths agape having never seen her that angry. Linda grabbed Bill’s arm and drug him away despite his protests. “You didn’t need to say that to her. And she’s right. You are a fucking moron.” She called over her shoulder to Kristin and Bonnie. “We’ll bring lunch back for you girls.”

Once they entered the elevator, Kristin sat back down feeling the tension ebb out of her. Were people always this stupid in hospitals? Bonnie joined her. “Better?”

Kristin shook her head. “I might have killed him if he had stayed.”

“What happened? Did Daniel really code?”

“Yes.” Kristin nodded grimly. “His Crohn’s has progressed further than the doctors thought. His colon and rectum are beyond repair. If they hadn’t opened him up today…” She left the thought unspoken.

“But, they did,” said Bonnie, “and they’re gonna fix it. Daniel’s gonna be there for you and your girls.”

“I hope so.”

“I know so.” Bonnie took her hands in hers. “You’ve taught me so much about Crohn’s Disease. I didn’t even know it existed until I met you and Daniel.”

“Yeah, it’s an invisible illness, all right. No one knows a lot about it unless they know someone with it or have it themselves.” She felt someone tap her shoulder and turned to see an older woman. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

The woman had short brown hair and welcoming brown eyes. “Hi, my name’s Stacy. My husband’s having a brain tumor taken out. She shook their hands. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Your husband has Crohn’s Disease?” At Kristin’s nod, she continued, “I try to learn something new every time we come to the hospital. Keeps my mind off of… Anyway, tell me about it. What’s Crohn’s Disease?

Kristin’s eyes teared up as she motioned for Stacy to join them. No one had ever been interested before. As she launched into her explanation, she smiled at Bonnie and her new friend. Maybe things would be okay after all.