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Usually I only post once a month. However, I’m learning that “The Powers That Be” expect me to post once or twice a week and share more bits and pieces of myself. One of the ways my writing group decided to do that was to blog hop. So one tidbit about myself: this is a new concept for me. I am a total technoklutz. There is a reason I gave myself the handle “prebeginnertwit” on twitter.com.

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So here we go for the next dance step in the blog hop. Once I’ve answered the “interview” questions, you can hop on over to another blog by a writer friend and read her answers to the same questions within a week or so.

What am I working on?

My answer will prove I’m a pantser (rhyme not intended.) And what’s weird is that in my alter career, teaching, I’m almost 100% plotter in my methods and lesson plans.

I’ve been continuously working on two books, two blogs a month and one news article per month since last fall. Following teaching and writing, my third major interest in life is music. As a member of a symphonic choir and as a writer, I make sure to submit an article to the local paper promoting each of our concerts. Writing blogs has been a great way to practice nonfiction writing. My2ndnature is usually a post on a spiritual metaphor of some sort gleaned from my journal entries. In the past year, nine of us formed a group blog, The Scriblerians (www.thescriblerians.wordpress.com) devoted to YA and middle grade literature, posting for both readers and writers.

Then there are my “babies.” Right now I’m concentrating on a fictionalized memoir of me and my little sister – the early years. She was born with several birth defects, and her overcomer’s attitude is inspiring. Have you ever read the Karen books? I want to have that kind of feel to the story.

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The later years!  I’m on the right. Mom in the middle. My sister’s on the left.

 

My other WIP, titled Backstitch for now, is a women’s lit saga, highly ambitious, scary to write, but I adore the characters.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

All my writing so far has been realistic fiction, mostly character driven. I think I write in a manner reminiscent of the Peabody Kids Series by Jeri Massi, except I’m not as funny. I inject humor here and there, but my stories have a more serious atmosphere than many middle grade novels.

On the flip side, my novel for teens has serious themes but doesn’t delve into the angst of prom dresses and “does he like me?” histrionics. I may use those things as periphery, but I deal with the issues like racism or the age-old question of what matters in eternity.

Why do I write what I do?

Two reasons. One is under my control, sort of, and one not.

Whatever I write, I want it to glorify Jesus in some way, from Christlike behaviors in a character to out-and-out praise in an appropriate scene.

But the actual story? I have all kinds of stories in my head and not enough time to write them all down! So I pray and ask God which story He wants me to work on next. Hopefully, I have listened well.

How does your writing process work?

For fiction, actual writing starts with National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). I’ve prayed, I’ve jotted down a page or two of outline, and on November first I start writing. It’s exciting, it’s surprising to see where the story goes, and it’s a challenge to get 50,000 words written in a month! I spend the rest of the year fixing holes in the plot, revising and polishing.

Since I teach two days a week, I try to write several hours a day for three days, which allows one day for chores and errands and the seventh day to rest from all “have-to’s.” If I write on the seventh day it’s because I want to create something new, not scrambling for a deadline.

So that’s me on the blog hop. Visit Leah Ness on her blog, Isaiah 43:1 (www.leahnessransomed.wordpress.com) , where she’ll add to the blog hop in a few days. We discovered each other’s blogs recently, and we each like how the other thinks.

Many, many years ago in the season of young motherhood, I visited a friend from college. She had sought Christ before I had, but in recent times she had drifted off the path. As we spent the afternoon catching up with events in our lives, the Holy Spirit bubbled out of me. My every sentence was filled with praise. I couldn’t help it! This was not some kind of forced evangelism project. This was pure, unadulterated joy. Before I departed, my friend’s eyes filled with tears. “I want whatever you have,” she told me, and we prayed together. Powerful, connected prayer.
I long to be filled with that kind of praise twenty-four/seven but have never yet experienced such a “fountain of joy” again. No human can manufacture it. At first, I scolded myself. “What’s wrong with your walk with Christ that you can’t be so joyful every day?” But as I’ve matured in my walk, I realize the joy of the Spirit comes in as many forms as the bodies of water that fill the earth. God Himself speaks of wells and pools, streams and rivers.
In John 7:38, Jesus spoke about living water. I like the Living Bible’s translation the best: “For the scriptures declare that rivers of living water shall flow from the inmost being of anyone who believes in me.” Revised Standard Version is almost as good using the phrase, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” NIV speaks of “streams of living water.” When considering a title for this post, I tried out the KJV words, “Out of his belly shall flow…,” but “Belly Rivers” sounded like digestive upset.
Rivers of living water can be lovely and serene or turbulent and terrifying. I can ride on the river or swim in it, but the Holy Spirit carries me, not vice versa. If I spend time at His river every day, the joy will flow in some fashion. I hope the world sees a woman filled with praise for Jesus. Do they see me floating in a tranquil pool of faith? Riding the rapids and trusting the Leader of the expedition with her life? Cheerfully serving my Captain as we carry the gospel to every port along the river of life?

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Do they see a spring-fed well that provides pure water to the thirsty?
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I hope so.

Gambling nauseates me. Literally. If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you I can’t watch a movie with casinos or high stakes saloons without squirming or leaving the room. It’s not because I’m some temperance union biddy in high button shoes pointing her accusatory umbrella at drunken sots who waste their wages on liquor and games of the devil. (Whew, that was a mouthful of a sentence!) No, I realize that most people head for Vegas or Atlantic City with an amount in mind to spend on leisure, and they won’t deplete their bank accounts to keep trying for the jackpot.

It must be my cautious nature. The idea of probably losing money on a game where the odds are stacked against you just gets me so uptight inside I have a physical reaction. Maybe it dates back to my childhood when all the cousins played poker after Thanksgiving dinner. I always lost.

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I was a bright kid but a terrible poker player.  I knew the rules of what makes a good hand. I knew what I needed to make my hand better, but even when I picked up some good cards, almost always someone beat me. If I had a full house, they had four of a kind. If I had a flush, someone had a straight flush. If there’s some secret to improving your chances, my brothers and cousins never let me in on it. And I was always too timid to bluff unlike one cousin who will remain unnamed and who would force us all to fold then gloat over his pair of deuces.

All this preamble to tell you: God’s grace always holds the winning hand.

Consider the poker game of life.  The sinner antes up two chips of sin. God covers it and raises the stakes with grace.  The sinner can fold or throw in a few more good works chips to try to match His grace or add some sin chips upping the ante.

Now me, I folded after a few hands. I was more than content with His grace covering me. I’m happy to give over the sins and be done with them.

The stubborn sinner will keep raising the stakes. No matter how many good deeds he adds,  no matter how many sins he throws into the pot, God meets him and raises with grace again. The game can go on for years and years because of Romans 5:20 – “where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.” However, as soon as a sinner folds, grace wins, and the sins are gone.

Unfortunately for the sinner, if he won’t admit God has the better hand, if she refuses to fold by Judgment Day, I  guess you could say, “God calls.” He meets what the sinner flippantly tosses into the pot, and both hands are exposed to view. God wins. And the loser? The opportunity to fold to God’s grace has passed. Like the baseball hit over the neighbor’s fence in the film, The Sandlot, the obstinate sinner is lost FOR-EV-ER.

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SCENE 1

Imagine a lake — woods growing close to the shore, not a cloud on the horizon. The scene is filled with shades of blues and greens in water, earth, and sky. Beneath the placid surface of the lake gentle currents flow slightly above the sandy bottom, their source a natural spring feeding life into the lake. Bubbles float upward through shafts of light on this warm sunny day.

God has made my soul like this lake. He is the source, the natural spring of my life. Bubbles of joy move through my days rising from deep peace in my spirit to the surface of life on earth. I’m happy. When life is good, everywhere I look is calm, in control. Life is beautiful.

You may scoff. What about when life isn’t good? When your day is filled with a cranky boss, three sick kids, and a non-housebroken puppy? When cancer strikes? When the person you love most in the whole world dies in a car accident?

Okay. First, let me be specific in definitions.

Peace: a sense of stillness with an attitude of contentment.

Joy: contentment in action.

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                                                                                   Stormy Water (Paolo Neo)

SCENE 2

 Imagine a lake — woods growing close to the shore, rolling hills in the background. The scene is filled with shades of grays and blacks and browns in water, earth, and sky. Beneath the choppy waves on the lake, gentle currents flow slightly above the sandy bottom, their source a natural spring feeding life into the lake. Bubbles float upward toward the roiling surface from a winter storm.

What changed? Only the surface. Only circumstances on this earth. When life is awful or merely annoying like a drab, twenty-hour nonstop downpour, everywhere I look is frightening and gloomy. I’m not happy. Yet, God is still the source of life, the natural spring, and bubbles of joy continue to move through my days rising from deep peace in my spirit. Life is beautiful.

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The Christmas presents had all been opened. The debris of empty boxes, crumpled wrapping paper, and ribbons had been cleared away. The granddaughters had walked their baby dolls in the stroller, put together some puzzles, played catch with the giant ball, cooked dinner in their miniature kitchen, and scanned groceries into their cash register. Nona (me) was exhausted. The girls showed no signs of slowing down.

“Nona, will you read this to us?”

The three-year-old slapped a book into my lap. Her two-year-old sister stood next to her with another selection of reading material.

I stared at a hundred puzzle pieces strewn across the carpet, the other toys scattered in various corners of the room.

“Okay. And after I read the stories, we’re going to clean up the puzzle pieces.”

By the end of both books, they seemed to have forgotten the agreement. “Play ‘Ashes Fall Down?’” the younger girl asked.

“When you clean up the puzzle pieces, we can play ‘Ashes Fall Down,’” I promised.

The girls stared at the daunting task before them. They knew their Nona kept her promises, but this one was conditional upon a given task, and they didn’t know where to begin. I gave them a nudge. Picking up the empty bag that was supposed to hold the pieces, I directed them to pick up a few at a time and drop them in. They could do that. After several trips around the room, every puzzle piece arrived at its home in the bag.

And then we played “Ring Around the Rosy,” that age-old song that I thought was long forgotten by everyone except me. Apparently 21st century preschoolers love it as much as every generation before them.

Notice the order: 1) the girls made a request. 2) I answered with a promise conditional upon specific behaviors. 3) The girls completed their end of the bargain with a little assistance from me, BUT I did not do their work. 4) I kept my promise.

Doesn’t God do the same with us? We make a request. He answers with a promise, sometimes conditional, sometimes not. We have to follow through. He follows through.

Too often, though, we think He’s not being fair. We misquote 1 John 5:14-15 acting as if He is required to answer “yes” to anything we ask. But read carefully. “And this is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him.” (RSV).

My granddaughters didn’t think I was being unfair to require clean-up before we started a new activity. Why should we be angry with God if He requires something reasonable from us before fulfilling a request?

The girls felt overwhelmed at first looking at the mess. If I had left them with no guidance, maybe the chore wouldn’t have gotten done. But I gave them some direction, and they managed the job a little at a time. God does the same for us. If He has required something difficult, we’re not totally on our own. He’ll help out, but He won’t fulfill the requirements for us.

The girls also trusted me knowing my word was good.  They didn’t descend into whining. The answer to their request had already been obtained if they could figure out how to do their part so I would keep my promise.

Both skeptics and Christians can learn from them. Make a reasonable request. Don’t get mad or whine if the answer isn’t an immediate yes. Ask for a little help if you don’t know how to get started. Be assured that if God promises you something and you do your part, you’ve already got what you asked for. It’s on its way.

God has come through on many of His promises for me. I’m still waiting on others. Either I haven’t completed my part yet, or someone else involved hasn’t completed their part yet. It’s okay. I trust my Father in heaven to keep every promise to me as we work out my salvation together.

You’re welcome to share any promises He has kept to you. I love to hear stories of His goodness.

December 1 marks the beginning of Advent this year on the Christian Church calendar.

Advent. The season of anticipation, of expectation.

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Christians take time to remember how Mary and Joseph awaited the birth of Jesus. This chosen couple knew their son was special, but they could not comprehend everything God had planned.

When I think about it, every day in the life of a Christian is advent. Every day, I anticipate the Second Coming, at least, I should. Every day I wake up with the expectant question, “What does God have for me today? What adventure? What mission? What joyous moment?

Charles Spurgeon talked about the treasure God has pledged to us. Heaven. Everlasting life with Him. My finite little self can’t comprehend everything He has in store for me, much like Mary and Joseph couldn’t know future events involving their family. I try to look forward to heaven in the same way I would anticipate a long-awaited expensive birthday present, but heaven’s rewards are so far beyond a mere gift.  In reality, I don’t look forward to heaven because my understanding is so limited. I simply wait, trusting that heaven is good because God says so.

Then I feel guilty about possessing a blasé attitude. How can I not get excited about heaven?

It helps to look at a toddler’s first Christmas. She doesn’t understand the fuss whirling around her. The tree with its pretty lights and shiny baubles is fascinating. The brightly wrapped boxes under the tree beg to be touched, but everyone tells her no. She must wait to touch the presents. Christmas morning arrives, and someone hands her a box. Finally!

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She tears the paper off the box, notes the teddy bear inside then turns her attention to shredding the paper and pulling apart the shiny ribbon. She is now delighted with the idea of Christmas presents but misses the point. Although she’s aware of the gift in the box, it doesn’t much interest her until all the gaudy nonessentials are used up.

I know that heaven is in my future, but forever with God has less real meaning for me than picturing streets of gold or heavenly mansions. Those are nice pictures to identify with, but they aren’t the heart of heaven. Like the toddler who adores her teddy bear long after the wrapping paper has been cleared away, some day I’m going to cherish everything God has prepared for me.  For now, I’m excited about pulling the ribbon off the package and entering heaven’s gates.

After that, I’ll enjoy the real treasure.

I got to thinking about the biblical story of the rich young man who refused to give away his wealth for eternal life (Matthew 19). He seemed to be a nice guy, tried to follow the Law and be a good person. He might have been a little conceited since he started the conversation with misplaced confidence in himself, but nobody’s perfect, right?
Anyway, I started a “what-if” conversation in my mind. What if the rich young man had followed Abraham’s example? God asked Abraham to give up his most precious possession. “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love… and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.” (Genesis 22:2)
Before I go further with these ramblings, let me address any skeptics who doubt the truth of the story. First, I am fully aware that anyone who hears voices telling him to kill somebody would be certifiably insane in today’s society. However, Abraham had been listening to God’s voice for almost a century. God had never steered him wrong. The man wasn’t crazy, nor was he demon-possessed. Second, over thousands of years, God has not made it a habit to instruct fathers to kill their sons. In fact, He speaks of the practice as abominable. So when He gave that order to Abraham, there had to be some good purpose in it.
By the end of the episode, we see the good accomplished. Abraham packs up what he needs except for the usual sacrificial animal. He travels to the designated spot, builds the altar, and lays Isaac on it. What was he thinking? I don’t know, but we can be sure of one thing. He trusted God for the outcome. Either God would raise Isaac back to life, or God would give him another son to fulfill the promise of a zillion descendants. He knew that if God asked something of him, it was worth doing.
God waited till Abraham raised the knife ready to slice Isaac’s throat, and He called a halt to the sacrifice. He repeated promises already made and added a few details. Abraham could rest in the knowledge that God would keep His word (Hebrews 11).
Back to the rich young man, one of those promised descendants. What if he had listed his assets, advertised sales on every item he possessed, and had begun to unload his wealth? Might God have called a halt? Or maybe He would’ve helped the man build another fortune once he had learned how to give. Could he have enjoyed the challenge of making money followed by the delight of giving it away?
Hebrews 11 lists others who gave up everything to follow God. If you haven’t read biographies of modern missionaries, start with Lydia Prince’s Appointment in Jerusalem. Easy to read and inspiring, Lydia had her own “sacrificing Isaac” moment.
I believe God asks each of His followers to hand over something or someone precious, if for no other reason than to see where our trust really lies. Recently, He came to me with such a challenge, and I admit it’s excruciating to make the decision to trust God alone and give up what I love. The promised blessing is not instantaneous (Abraham never saw the promise fulfilled while living on this earth), but I’m trusting Him.
If God has asked the impossible of you, I can only point to these examples. Abraham trusted and obeyed, and his name is revered in the history of three major religions. Lydia Prince, like Abraham, emerged from the test with more faith in her God than ever. But the rich young man went away sad, no longer confident in his own “goodness.” I hope he changed his mind at some point, trusted Jesus’s words, and gave it all away.

Faith Unlocked

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...the One who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine."

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