Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If you’re wanting to set the table


So many lovely ways to do it…
 
 
 
 
 
 

I’m always amazed at these church luncheons where women use their own china and linens to create table settings. As I snapped pictures, I mused on the uniqueness of each table--how much each reflected the taste of the precious ones who fashioned them.

In fact, I thought I might be able to match the tables to their creators without even being told, because the colors, themes, and styles seemed to speak the names of women who were more unique and full of beauty than each of these settings were.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

In a greater way, we are God’s creation, and God desires that we reflect him. He longs for the work, themes and hues of our lives to point to His love.

I think of a verse from an old hymn:
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
 Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

You see, every day, we’re setting the table for those around us. We’re called to prepare a place of beauty so others may pull up a chair and feast on the redeeming love of God.

There’ve been days, even years in my life when no one would want to sit at the table I’ve set. It’d be comparable to casting out paper plates and grabbing a few paper towels for napkins. Not too appealing. Instead of “shabby chic,” the theme might be “just plain shabby.”

If redeeming love is our theme, then the winsomeness of that love should be evident in all we do.

If you want to set the table for others, but find yourself struggling, perhaps you need to sit at His table yourself.

“He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4).

In order to pour out, we must first sit at His table, receive from Him, and live with the love banner over our own lives.

Yes, if you want to set the table...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Before you pick the linens, or china, or the silver, above everything else you might choose for your place settings--
Set it with God's love.

 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Weasel words and Brother Lawrence


I have a friend who’s spent many years as a missionary in Africa. She bakes her own bread, and occasionally experiences infestations of grain moths. When these critters find their way into her flour supply, she can’t just dash to the corner grocery, so in order to provide food for her family; she painstakingly removes the moths one by one. Although, she loves God, enjoys where she lives, and is committed to her call to missions, this is a part of the deal that's not very appealing.

For some time now, I’ve been sifting through a three hundred page manuscript plucking out bugs which some call “weasel words.” Among them, just, so, really, only, and that. Words, which often add nothing to the meaning of a sentence, but simply weigh it down. Words, I am sorry to tell you, I apparently love to use in abundance.

 If only I could just tell you how much I really love using words that mean so much to me.

If only.

Important task--this buggy word removal. However, after days of this, my eyes become glassy, and my brain feels like mush.

I want to run.

I want to quit.

 I want to get a job repairing transmissions.

I suppose no matter what the Lord may call us to, there’s always a down side. 

So, how do we face the tedious tasks without bolting?

A few suggestions:
Small Chunks. What works best for me is combining the tedious with the creative. Breaking up the times I spend on unappealing tasks with other more creative endeavors.
Staying balanced. I know in part why I’m out of sorts right now. I haven’t been taking time to exercise as I should. It never pays to skip taking care of yourself. I deceive myself by thinking I’m gaining time. My productivity actually decreases when I don’t do the things I know benefit my overall wellness like eating right, exercise, and social interaction.
Worship. Earlier today in my writing group, we talked about how all of life is worship if we allow it to be. Keeping an attitude of worship makes the ordinary and mundane moments glorious.  

When I think of worship during the ordinary, I think of Brother Lawrence. The account of how this seventeenth century monk lived in adoration of God all the while working in a kitchen touches me deeply. Entitled, The Practice of the Presence of God, it includes Brother Lawrence’s prayer, “Lord of all pots and pans and things…Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!”

If you haven’t read this Christian classic of conversations with Brother Lawrence, you may read it free on line or down load to kindle here. It’s only around fifty pages, so you could read it less than an hour. But I think the ideal would be to read one conversation and allow some time to meditate on it every day. 

Whether sifting grain moths, or weasel words, God calls us to himself. And I for one aim to borrow a prayer from Brother Lawrence during the rest of my editing:
 “O my God, since thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to they commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech thee to grant me the grace to continue in thy presence; and to this end do thou prosper me with thy assistance, receive all my works, and posses all my affections.”

Amen.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:23). 

Monday, August 20, 2012

If you’ve just done a great big belly flop




Think big splash, stinging across your middle, and bright red face.

The burn doesn’t often go away fast.

It seemed the thing I should try for—a new adventure.

And it went well for a bit. It did, but ultimately, I crashed.

It’s the kind of thing that even when I’m alone and think about it, I become embarrassed.

In a lighter and less serious way, it’s similar to the way I felt after  a recent attendance at an author event. Held in an exclusive midtown Atlanta location, I didn’t know anyone but the person for whom the event was held, but I enjoyed meeting several new people. After returning home that evening, I happened to catch a glimpse of my back in the mirror. Trailing from under my linen top was two feet of white paper.
How many people did I meet while wearing a tissue tail?
And why did no one tell me about it? The only blessing was my white pants matched the tissue. My emotions vacillated between wild laughter and tears.

But that situation was no big deal compared to others where far more was at stake.

Sometimes, just when I think I’m getting over my embarrassing moments, shame can creep back up on me.

So I’m driving and I hear this song, and I think that’s the answer to shame-- to all the moments, which cause us to draw back-- to hide our faces.
 

Yes, I am redeemed. And that’s what I say when those memories reoccur. I am redeemed from all the shame of my past--the failed ventures, the embarrassing mistakes, the inadequacy of circumstances, the belly flops of life, and even the tissue paper tails.

For several days now, I listen to this song before lying down at night. They are the last words I hear before fading to sleep.

So, if like me, and you’re recovering from a great big belly flop, take comfort in His truth and repeat this with me—I am redeemed.

“Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Psalm 34:5).

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (I Peter 1:18-19). 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Finding answers at the Gideon


I’ve recently been perplexed as to how to move forward on a writing related matter.

When we become confused, sometimes, we just have to head for the hills.


And that’s what I did this week as I spent some time at the Gideon Film Festival--reconnected with old friends and made some wonderful new ones while there.

I arrived just in time to view the screening of the recently released October Baby Tuesday night, which was followed by a Q and A with Director/Writer Jon Erwin and Producer Cecil Stokes.


If you haven’t seen this powerful film, be sure and have tissues when you do, because it’s the story of a college woman who discovers her birth resulted from a failed abortion. Her search for answers moved me deeply.

Also enjoyed hearing from Jason Burkey during the Q and A who stars in October Baby and has just wrapped up his role in A Matter of Time, a film of my friend Christina Denton’s script now in post production.

Christina, I’m going to be in the front row when your movie comes out.

The next day I enjoyed a class with author, Jenny L. Cote and later sat in for a film shoot of one of her creating writing workshops. Loved it all, and learned a lot.
From left to right, Carla Williams, Spiritual Mom author and writer, Jenny Cote, me and Maria Lennon


As I took time out for a meal, longtime film studies professor Dr. Diane Howard sat down beside me. I’d never met her, and enjoyed our talk immensely, but later realized that God had used her words to bring clarity to the matter over which I’d been confused.

As always, I enjoyed catching up with Erica Lane, who’s in the midst of recording a patriotic album. Listen to her touching song, "Believe in America" here. Her husband, producer Kyle Saylors has filmed a series of sports biographies under the name, The Gamebreaker, which debut on Fox Sports this fall.

One of my roommates at the Gideon, Maria Lennon, has become a master of script adaptations, and was once more an award winner at the Gideon this year. My other roomie, LeAnn Morris shot an exquisite short film entitled, Treasures, nominated for best cinematography.
Chatted with prolific author Doug Peterson and actor Vanessa Hunter. Enjoyed her inspiring film, My Name is Paul.

I was thrilled to learn my friend, Michelle Cox, and her collaborator Rene Guttridge have just received a contract from Tyndale House for a novelization of a script Michelle wrote with Torry Martin and Marsall Younger. Their script, Eighteen Summers, and mine, Brave Girl were semi-finalists for the Kairos Prize in screenwriting this year, as well Allah's Fire, a script by Gideon presenter, Rusty Whitener.

Before I left, I had the opportunity to see again the much beloved actor at our house, Muse Watson (well known for his role as Mike Franks in NCIS).



On the way home, I realized that God had used the time I spent at the Gideon to dissolve my confusion, and I knew exactly what my next step needed to be.

Many thanks to Gideon directors, Rodney and Lori Marett. Rodney’s job took him to Iraq this year during the Gideon, and though we missed him much, Lori carried on in an amazing way. All of us at the Gideon owe them both a debt of gratitude for their sacrifices and hard work on our behalf.

Yes, sometimes we just need to head for the hills. Especially if those hills boast one of the finest Christian Media Arts Conferences and Film Festivals in the country. So grateful I went.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. 
 Psalm 121:1


Monday, August 13, 2012

If you’re still looking for an Olympic moment


When we use the phrase “Olympic moment,” we usually picture shining eyes, raised flags, and medals.

But today as the athletes return home, what about the ones who finished a few hundredths of a second short of a medal, or the ones who had to drop out at the last minute because of injury, or other setbacks, which might have prevented them accomplishing all they hoped.

What about their “Olympic moments?”

At our house, on Saturday night, we watched Tom Brokaw’s powerful documentary about Great Britain’s valiant fight during World War II. With the rest of Europe already fallen, Hitler unleashed his furor on Britain in the fall of 1940 and into 1941. One of the places Brokaw visited to depict the extent of bombing during the blitz was the city of Coventry.

Years ago, my husband and I embarked on a study tour of England. We visited many of the old and beautiful cathedrals, but I was taken most by the comparatively new cathedral completed in the city of Coventry in 1962. During World War II, German bombers flew over the city for eleven hours and almost destroyed the city including its twelfth century cathedral.


At daylight, as a small group met in the ruins to survey the damage, they committed to rebuilding the cathedral to the glory of God.

That morning, the cathedrals’ stonemason took two of the partially burned oak beams, tied them together, formed a cross, and erected it in the midst of the rubble.

The ruins of the cathedral were deliberately left standing as workers erected a new one beside it. Depicted prominently in the documentary last night, a huge sculpture of the Archangel Michael standing on the head of Satan covers one exterior wall of the new cathedral. The sculpture can be seen on the exterior of the new structure from the ruins of the old.

At the time of our visit to England over two decades ago, I struggled with depression.

During one of low points in my battle, I stood before a cross formed from the charred beams of a bombed out cathedral.


That time became for me an “Olympic moment.” There were no medals, no feelings to carry me, just the sense of the Lord speaking. I knew that in order for my life to be any different, I would have to believe Him--believe that he could form out of the ruins of my life a cathedral for his glory. I had to trust that with God’s help, I could crush the enemy under my feet.

Sometimes, “Olympic moments” look and feel anything but that. In fact, often, we may not even realize we’re having one. It’s only in retrospect, as we look back across the months and years, that we see a turning point. Like those who missed their shining time on the podium at the Olympics, we often have to decide what we’re going to carrying away from disappointment and heartache. Will we be able to focus on the gracious gifts God continually bestows on us, or only our failed expectations and seeming defeats?

So many times, if we allow them to, those low points, give birth to our greatest achievements.

Brokaw’s documentary was called “Their Finest Hour” taken from Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons in June of 1940.

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.”

If you’re still looking for an Olympic moment, listen closely to what God may be saying to you. Your finest hour may not shine as you thought it would, but nonetheless, God longs to use it to accomplish great things through you.

Believing with you.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).
"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save" (Zephaniah 3:17).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Thousand Words


I'm currently on a tight writing schedule in order to make a contest deadline. Trying to balance writing with family commitments has been a challenge lately. I get up early and try not to leave the computer until I've accomplished what I'd planned to do that day. It made me think of this post from a couple of years ago. Thought I'd add a few updates and share it again.

Several years ago, I heard author, actor, and artist McNair Wilson say “Put something into the world everyday that wasn’t there before.”

That simple piece of advice has made a difference in my life by helping me renew my efforts to daily put aside time for creativity. Some days can be one long string of doing endless repetitive things like loading the dishwasher or folding towels, and even the time I spend at the computer, which should be creative time, can turn into checking email and balancing the checkbook.

I set a goal to try and write at least a thousand words a day—a thousand words that weren’t in the world yesterday—a thousand words that can add up over time to be a screenplay or a novel. So, in the last seven years, by God's grace, I’ve completed five screenplays, posted over three hundred blog posts, am in the process of finishing my fourth novel in addition to writing I don’t know how many articles and devotions--all inspired in some degree by McNair’s advice. He even helped me get out my watercolors again.



Before I go to sleep at night, I think about what I’ve put into the world that day. It may not have been much. I might think my work less than the best, and no one but God and me may have known what I even attempted. But I give him thanks that he's enabled me to aim for faithfulness in using the gifts and talents God has given me. When I fall short, I just try again the next day.

 I remember the words of Paul from Colossian 3, “Whatsoever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” Before I let my thousand words go, I make sure I put them in God’s hands.

What might God be calling you to put into the world today? What is your version of a "thousand words?" What creative endeavors have you been putting off until a rainy day, cheating yourself and those around you out of the joy those projects might bring?

Go ahead. Go for it. Who knows the thousand ways he might possibly use your endeavors to bless others?

Monday, August 6, 2012

3 more things to do if you feel like quitting



As soon as I clicked the publish button on my last post, 5 things to do if you feel like quitting, several more points came to mind that I could've included. And after the correspondence I’ve received since the post, I thought it might be timely to submit an addendum of 3 more things to do if you feel like quitting.

Invest in the work of others. If we’re going through a rough patch, most likely some around us might also be facing tough times. Encouraging others when we least feel like doing so through our time, our finances, our prayers, or simply a word could be life changing for them and us. In God’s economy, you can’t give without the blessing returning to you.

Not that we ever give to get. But, it’s what God did for Job, “The Lord turned thecaptivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends...” (Job 42:10). If we’re feeling captive in our own discouragement, turning our faces heavenward in prayer for others helps us refocus, helps us see God at work in other lives, and encourages us to persevere.

Finish something. Often the reason we feel like quitting is we can’t seem to finish anything. Survey the projects you have going, choose one, and stick with it until you finish. Block checked. Just seeing one thing finished gives a sense of getting out of that rut we may feel we’re in. From there, we can press on to the next task.

Almost every year since my sister became a teacher, I’ve make little ornaments for her students at Christmas. Each year, I’d make the same ornament with slight variations-- different ribbon, and glitter. I’d cut bell shapes out of red velveteen, sew them together, turn them inside out, stuff them, glue a big ribbon with a jingle bell attached, and write the children’s names in glitter. As you can see, there were many steps. However, right out of the box, I had to finish one bell. I needed to see the finished project, how the ribbon looked that year, if the glitter color worked. I could have chosen to assemble them all a step at a time. Again, I had to finish one at least most of the way to keep my momentum.

I’m telling you, it helps.

Do something creative purely for the joy of it. If we were four, we’d finger paint. The second year we homeschooled, I read somewhere about practicing spelling words by writing them out in shaving cream. My daughter was already at work on her words when I asked my son what he wanted to do next. He responded, “I want to get messy.” And he did.


Sometimes we need to get messy with creativity. When we feel like quitting--plunging fingers into a lump of clay, plucking flowers from the garden to make a wild arrangement, or cooking up some outrageous cookies can jump-start our batteries.

We so often evaluate everything we do for its practicality. Do something creatively impractical--for God’s glory and your joy.

As soon as I hit send on this post, I’m probably going to think of three more things to add to the list. But maybe you’ve thought of something that’s worked for you. If so, feel free to add to these in the comment section below. You never know who might benefit.


Friday, August 3, 2012

5 things to do when you feel like quitting


Recently I attended a conference where many people there received one blessing after another.

In almost every way, anyone would have considered the gathering a success. But only a few in attendance knew how many years, how many prayers, and the names of those who’d labored so hard to provide this opportunity.

In front of me sat a woman who I knew had worked for decades to make this conference what it is today. I leaned over and whispered in her ear, "You know, most of the folks receiving such blessings today have no idea the years that you’ve invested for their benefit. Thank you.”

She turned to me with tears. “So many times, I’ve felt like quitting.”

You see, when God calls us or gives us a vision, the road can get really steep and rocky, and we feel like quitting.

What will help when we find ourselves in a hard place and we see very little return for all our labor?

Pray and Read God’s Word. I can’t overstate how important it is to find quiet time before the Lord to pray when discouragement sets in. If we don’t find it, our feelings will rule us, and we’ll start entertaining those discouraging thoughts. We can’t just stop having those thoughts, but we can replace them with God’s truth, which we find in his word. A wonderful resource I’ve used which teaches how to do this is a book Beth Moore wrote, Praying God’s Word. Read and pray God’s word everyday to stay grounded in truth.

Listen to Mentors. It helps to read works from those who’ve been your mentors. On my desk, I keep Walking on Water by Madeleine L’engle and an anthology of her writing reflections, Herself. Turn to those God has used to speak to you in the past. If you’re blessed to have someone who’s accessible, make an appointment and have a talk. You’ll leave renewed for the work ahead.


Set Goals. At the beginning of every year, I set goals for my creative endeavors. Also, every year, I have to adjust these goals. Sometimes my time doesn’t work out the way I think it will, or a project takes longer than expected, but goals give me something to shoot for when I don’t feel like anything much is happening. It’s important to have long term and short term goals, so that if the waiting grows long in reaching long term aspirations, accomplishing the short term, more achievable goals can give encouragement. I’ve found when I’m waiting on an editor’s response, or contest results, that working towards my next goal helps me through those times.

Review the Call. I have a folder of all the messages I believe God has given me concerning writing. When I grow discouraged, I pull it out, and review. It helps me see this journey was not something I came up with on my own, but something to which God led me. If you don’t have a folder like that, it’s not too late to start one.

Surrender. Sometimes we work so hard and so long, we forget that it’s not about what we do; it’s about what God does. When what started as a joy becomes a heavy burden, that’s a clear sign that you’re carrying the load all by yourself. Once more, bend the knee, and surrender it to Him.

I started writing this post last night, and this morning in Streams of the Desert, the reading just happened to contain these words:

“Do not pray for easy lives! Pray to be stronger men (and women). Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.” –Phillip Brooks.

If we allow God to give us power equal to our tasks, we become a miracle.

Though my friend at the conference may never receive much public recognition for her work, her perseverance has helped her see the fruit of decades of labor—so many blessed in the Lord. She is a true inspiration to me. Like her, we have to be willing to work without thought of recognition, but simply for the glory of God. And when we stand the testing in this, we do become a miracle.

So if you feel like quitting, read again these words in Hebrews 12 from The Message, “God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment’; it’s training, the normal experience of children…Discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out.

 And run for it!”

Running with you, friends.

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