Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hard to be green


Went into the den this week and saw a scene similar to this, but at the time Misty was on the floor in the same position as Wilbur--both of their eyes fixed on something.
 
 

From experience with this behavior, I know there’s life in the house besides our usual critters. Once, we observed this patient stalking outside the laundry room. I later went in to scoop a little birdseed from a sack, and a mouse leaped out at me. Of course, I let go the requisite scream and Misty and Isabelle sprang into action. I can’t remember what happened next--a block in my memory.

So, when I saw the cats sitting patiently, occasionally snapping their tails, I started looking myself. At first, I thought it might be a moth or a cricket, from which the cats like to tear off wings and legs I am sad to report.

However, here’s who I found perched on top of the storm door closer.
 

 

In consultation with my wild life biologist-to-be son, I found it to be a Polychrotidaeor or anole. Commonly referred to as an American Chameleon.

You have to marvel at a green lizard that can change colors depending on its surroundings.

Sometimes, we admire people who can change colors. For example, missionaries who manage to become a part of a very different culture than their own in order to communicate the gospel.

Other times, changing colors is not so good. When we merge into our own culture in such a way, that there appears to be no difference between those who don’t have the life of Christ in them and us, we’ve strayed far from God’s call.

The Message puts Romans 12:2 this way: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

I had the opportunity at the recent American Christian Fiction Writers Conference to be in a discussion led by the former publisher of Thomas Nelson, Allen Arnold. Repeatedly, I’ve been in groups where someone brings up the restrictions  publishers in the Christian market have concerning certain language and actions. Arnold responded by agreeing we have a responsibility as writers to be honest in our portrayals, but he went on to say, there should be a difference in what we write from what’s found in the general market. If we start allowing the same kinds of things in our writing, he said, we’ll be like the frog swimming in water, which gets warmer and warmer eventually boiling the frog.

I have to agree.

The way we guard against this as Paul said in Romans is to fix our attention on God instead of our culture.  We meditate on His word, and allow it to change us.

Wherever God has us in the world, he wants to strengthen us to withstand the ways the culture tempts us to be a chameleon.

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green.” But if God calls us to be green in a world going brown, let’s allow Him to help us do all we can to stay that way.

 

 

 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Embracing God's call even through disappointments


Eighteen hours on the road yesterday through five states. As I sit here, my body feels as if it’s still in motion.

One positive about long road trips, however, is the mental processing time one has. And after several intense days, it was nice to have the quiet space to reflect.

Emotions often can run raw for many at conferences like ACFW. Writers work hard and then have only a couple of fifteen-minute appointments to share what they’ve poured their heart and soul into for months or years.

The waiting area outside the appointment rooms can be filled with tension. However, I think the longer one puts one’s self in this arena, the more we realize that God is in control of the outcome. And if we don’t say our seven-word hook exactly right, the foundations of the world will not shake. Still, it’s challenging because sometimes it feels that way.

As I took a seat to wait for my appointment on Saturday morning, I noticed a young woman behind me crying. I moved to her side, and discovered she could hardly speak. She handed me her bio, and I read how she’d struggled with a speech impediment and overcome it. Under stress, many times these things will again rear their heads. And with her impending appointment, her ability to speak became compromised. I asked if I could pray for her, and afterwards tried to lighten the mood a bit by telling her crazy mistakes I’d made at conferences.

I don’t know if I told her this one or not, but one premier example is after I wrote my first novel, I made five or six copies of the manuscript and took them with me to a conference, sure every editor I spoke with would want a copy. I blush to think about it.

First, no editor is going to lug a manuscript back home in a suitcase. Two, it was my first novel. Enough said.

After awhile of hearing about my looney stuff, my new friend recovered and went off laughing to face the lions.

Many folks who’ve worked hard will face disappointments in the next few months. They’ll send off their requested materials and receive a prompt rejection. Some will never hear-- their submissions fading away into cyber space.

A friend who’s a contributing editor at a national magazine says, “If you can do anything but write, you’d better do it.” The reason for her statement is it’s hard to stay the course if you don’t sense God’s calling.

Honestly, I would do something else if I could. But, I can’t stop writing. Today, after an intense conference in which I battled through an infection, and driving eighteen hours yesterday, I should be resting. But I’m not. Here I sit tapping away.

 The disappointments don’t stop me. The rejections don’t stop me. What other people say doesn’t stop me. Believe me, I’ve threatened to quit. As Joyce Meyer points out in her message on faithfulness, I don’t really mean it. Besides, what would I go back to? I’m an art major, but no painting I’ve ever done pulls at me like the words percolating in my head. I’m a musician, but when I write a song, I write the lyrics first.

At a workshop I attended, my new pearl friend that I wrote about a few days ago, presented with such eloquence and passion. At one point, I saw her jaw quivering, and I knew exactly how she felt as she spoke of how hard it was to be established as a writer. She said, “When an editor asked me if I’d revise a manuscript, I‘d reply of course. If they asked if I could do if fast, I’d say, yes, I can.” At every juncture, she poured herself into the process and after thirty-six books made the New York Times Bestseller List. Thirty-six books.

I’d call that faithfulness.

Madeleine L’engle said writers should serve their gift. God has entrusted us with it, and we don’t complain about the size of it, large or small, we simply serve it. Trying to be faithful.  “…it takes considerable time and energy and considerable pain to give birth to even the most minor of stories. The life of the artist is as much a life of discipline as that of the physician or the missionary. It makes incredibly austere and difficult demands. Are you willing to make the sacrifice? …if you feel that you are called, then I can promise you great joy as well as conflict and pain…The unending paradox is that we learn through pain.”

And that my friends, is the key—that we allow God to teach us through the pain of disappointment and heartache—that I allow God to teach me.

A recent song by Laura Story has encouraged me more than I can say. Called, “Blessings,” she paints a picture of what God wants to do through all our disappointments. May we all hear it and respond with renewed commitment to stay the course to whatever road God has called us.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way" (James 1:2-3 The Message).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

ACFW and a Pearl


Have enjoyed the opening sessions here at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas. Brandilyn Collins emcees, and we also enjoyed hearing from Colleen Coble last night.
 
One of the big draws at this year’s conference, of course, are Michael Hyatt’s keynote addresses. Former CEO of Thomas Nelson, Hyatt writes the top leadership blog in the world.






When I come to a conference like this, I can never imagine what God might do—what kind of divine appointments he might orchestrate.

Sometimes I pray for God to move in a situation, but I don’t even know what to ask. So, I just thank the Lord that when he moves, I’ll know it.

Last night, I sat down for dinner at a table where I only knew one person. Often, I sit at a table where I don’t know anyone, because I try to give God the opportunity to do something new. As it usually goes, each one of the writers at the table tells where he or she is from and what they write. Then our conversation goes from there.

An attractive woman sat across from me, and we struck up a conversation. I didn’t recognize her name probably because I don’t read her genre, but realized at some point that she seemed to be a veteran to the conference. When I told her what I write, she seemed genuinely interested and told me about a publisher who might be looking for what I write. And then she shared a bit of her writing journey which encouraged me immensely.

Today, I ran into her again, and we chatted a few minutes. Tonight, I changed the workshop I originally planned to take, when I saw my dinner friend’s name on the panel list for another workshop. As she told even more of her story, I realized she was a New York Times Best Selling author.

I approached her after the workshop and said, “Every conference it seems God does something special, and you are that something special this time.”

She jotted on a notepad, tore the sheet off, and handed it to me. “Here,” she said, “this is my personal email. Please write me. I’ll write you back. I feel a special connection to you.”

I took the paper from her hands and hugged her. Fighting the tears, I returned to my room this evening. I didn’t know where to put the little slip of paper with her email address, because I have so many papers floating around. And then I spotted a fabric jewelry roll I use to keep necklaces and bracelets straight. I unzipped a pocket and saw a strand of freshwater pearls inside.

Perfect, I thought, as I placed the note in the pocket, and zipped it shut.

I thank God he did move, because I know my new friend is God’s pearl to me.
"A friend loves at all times,  and a brother is born for a time of adversity" (Proverbs 17:17).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finally here....


Made it to Dallas via a circuitous route across the mighty Mississippi through the low country of Louisiana to see the Aunts.








Aunt Euna didn’t speak English until she was six years old because of her French ancestry, so, it’s always a joy to hear her strong Cajun accent and remember how many different kinds of people have made this great big country. In the wake of Hurricane Isaac, Aunt Dot moved in with Aunt Euna because the storm took off her aging roof. It’s hard to be nearly ninety with no place to call home.

Our hearts broke over her situation, and we pray for a quick resolve to her unsettledness.

Difficult to leave not knowing when and where we might see them again.

We arrived in Dallas for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference just in time for Jerry to catch a flight back home. After so many hours of traveling, and the conference not starting until tomorrow, I spent the day resting especially with some health issues threatening.

My roommate, Donna, arrived a few hours later and we’ve had a great time getting to know each other.

I’m going to spend the next few days mostly outside my comfort zone pitching a new book. Most writers struggle with this because, I think, most are introverts. We prefer to put our thoughts on paper.

However, this is something we have to do.

On the way to Dallas, Jerry and I listened to a series of CD’s my sister leant me by Joyce Meyer on the fruit of the spirit. Just before we arrived, we heard the one on faithfulness.

Meyer said when you do the same thing repeatedly and don’t see results, but just keep doing what God has asked you to do---that’s faithfulness.

I’ll be doing the same thing over and over these next few days. It’s likely I’m not going to see any immediate results from my efforts. So, if I come to mind, would you simply pray that God helps me be faithful.

Late yesterday, I learned I have another devotion appearing in the Upper Room Magazine, which is scheduled for September of 2013. I love being included in the Upper Room because it’s translated into almost 50 languages around the world.

Honestly, I think the timing was God’s way of bringing a little encouragement before the challenging days ahead. I praise him for his faithfulness and love.

Hope to bring you a few pictures throughout the conference, so stay tuned to One Ringing Bell. (Hope they'll be a bit better than the cell phone ones above as my camara batteries died and had to be replaced.)
 
"Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands" (Deuteronomy 7:9).

 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sometimes, you have to cry WHEEEEEE!






 
Because there aren’t enough words to express the sheer joy when God hands you a gift of such significance.

At her birth, doctors said she wouldn’t live an hour. The prayers of the saints went up.

And in response, her heart beat out sixty minutes.

And as the intercessions multiplied, two hours passed.

Hours turned into days, and months.

When a first birthday arrived, everyone said, “See what God has done.”

Two, three, four more birthdays.

Her feet have never touched the ground as many others, but her smile has touched hundreds, even thousands and helped us all realize--

Every.

Life.

Sacred.

Five, six, seven, eight, nine birthdays.

When she enters the room—rustling and wings, because Jesus said, “…their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

She helps us see the Father, too, through her wordless message, her unspoken sermon.

Sailing into her tenth birthday on wheels of grace, she’s a princess in pink tennis shoes.

She doesn’t eat cake, but tastes His goodness bobbing bright hair ribbons in celebration.



 

Sometimes it seems she knows more than we do.

Perhaps Jesus leans over and whispers these things in her ear. Spirit to spirit.

“You are a miracle.”

“You are beautiful.”

“You are loved.”

We pray we wouldn’t have to strain so much to hear His words for own souls, and we search for what He might say to us through her dancing eyes.

We rejoice in her life.

We spin, we twirl, we cry, “Wheeeeee,” and we say, “Thank you, God, for Presley.”

 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

If you're plain tired


I’ve been plain tired.

I looked up a few synonyms for plain: clearly, palpably, noticeably, visibly, conspicuously, apparently, overtly, transparently, and markedly.

I’ve been all that tired.

In the past thirty days, I’ve finished a 75,000 word manuscript I’ve been researching and writing for the last year, prepared a proposal for it, blogged, edited another author’s manuscript, edited a screenplay, attended a conference, made a half dozen trips out of town, done the housework and laundry and taken a speaker’s class for which I had to prepare.

I recently read about a woman who proposed that in order to simplify our lives, we select seven items to wear from our wardrobe and get rid of the rest.

I may already be headed in that direction, because it’s easier to grab the last thing through the wash and put it on again rather than try to put something else together.

Next week, while others hold down the fort here, I’ll be attending the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas.

I’ve been so bone weary, I had a fear I might show up bleary eyed to an editor’s appointment wearing a t-shirt, yoga pants and my raggedy old house slippers.


 
I’ve tried to mark off my to do list everything that doesn’t have to be done in the next week—pushing it forward if possible or just eliminating it, because I need to find nourishment for my soul.

“God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.”

 
If you’re plain tired, too, you might want to join me in seeking his “fresh strength.” Often God brings that refreshment in amazing ways. Today, I had the opportunity to minister alongside my husband in a senior living facility. He preached; I sang and accompanied my nephew on a trumpet solo. And after pouring out, I left feeling energized.
“…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

God’s economy is different from ours. We think we can only give of our abundance. God often calls us to give when we ourselves feel needy.

It’s much like water turning into wine or one basket feeding five thousand.

Jesus longs to provide nourishment for our souls but often surprises us the way he does it.

“I’m feasting on the manna from a bountiful supply…” a line from an old hymn says. “...for I am dwelling in Beulah land.”

From Isaiah 62:4, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.”

Living in Beulah land means living in the married place with Christ. There, my friends, we find that bountiful supply of manna.

Beulah is where I’m hanging out.
 
May still be wearing those house slippers, though.

 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Balls in the air and a quarterback that wouldn't quit


Everyone here is gearing up to watch a big away game on television tonight. Team colors abound, and expectations soar.
 
 

I’ve had a good many balls in the air myself these past few weeks finishing a manuscript and preparing for a conference. My blog posts have been more challenging to write than usual because of extra demands.

So, I scanned a file of articles I’d never used, and this devotion having to do with sports popped out at me.

It encouraged me to read it again. I hope this story I wrote some time ago about a young quarterback who wouldn’t quit gives you a boost, too:

After a dozen games, and months of practice, one score separated the high school home football team from advancing to the state playoffs. With minutes left, the home team quarterback threw a ball into the opposing team’s hands, giving the opponents a distinct advantage.

As the defense took the field, the quarterback trudged head down to his place on the sidelines. He appeared to battle discouragement. This play could have been the last one in the last game of his senior year. I imagined the thoughts going through his head and knew he might be feeling a huge weight if his team lost the playoff contest. I prayed for him and that this missed pass would not be the thing for which he’d be remembered.   

A few seconds ticked off, and with very little time left, the ball changed hands again. The quarterback retook the field.

Under intense time pressure, this young man carried out his duties handing off the ball for what would be the home team’s winning score.

And in a few moments, discouragement turned to joy.

Sometimes in life, we feel sidelined after some perceived or actual personal failure.

In those times, we have to decide if we’ll continue, and carry on with the same resolve as always like the determined young quarterback. Often, the temptation to quit is huge.

But, God promises to be with us as we step out in his power.

Though I prayed that interception pass would not be the thing for which the quarterback would be remembered, I think it will be.  

You see, every one watching that evening gained a valuable lesson in perseverance from him.

Dear Lord, help us to draw from your strength in those times we feel discouraged. Thank you for your promise to be with us always. Amen.

"Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you" (1 Chronicles 28:20).

 

 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Finishing and when it feels like the road is stretching on and on


 “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17).


In Paul’s instructions to the people at Colossae, he sends a message to the minister Archippus to complete the work of the Lord.

 
Some authorities believe Archippus, whom Paul also greets in Philemon 2, belonged to Philemon’s family. According to tradition, he was also one of the seventy-two disciples Jesus appointed in Luke 10.

 
Later, some sources indicate he met martyrdom near Laodicea.

 
So, it seems, he did complete the work God gave him to do.

 
 

           

On a recent road trip, it felt like it took forever to get back home. Sometimes the road of life God calls us to journey can seem a long and difficult one, too.


However, it’s important to recall Paul’s instructions to Archippus to complete the work we’ve received in the Lord.


When thoughts of giving up come, it helps to look to those who’ve gone before, those whose faithfulness continually inspires us to keep going.
 


“But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,

And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky—

If you have gone a little way ahead, oh, friend, call back—

‘Twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.”

 

Paul himself said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” 2 Timothy 4:7-8.

Most of all, it helps me to remember Jesus, our supreme example whose last words on the cross were, “It is finished.”
 

We thank God when the road stretches on and on, he can enable us to be faithful even in the midst of adversity.
 

And we thank Him for his words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 Take a few moments and listen to Steven Curtis Chapman, who knows a lot about the "Long Way Home."

 

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