A Sunday Psalm

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.
     --Psalm 125:1-2


Elusive Characters

I’ve always been a “seat of the pants” writer. When I was writing, writing, writing novels to learn the craft of fiction and in hopes of publication, I simply listened for a character to start talking. I didn’t wait for the whole story to take form; I just started putting it to paper (or screen). But now that I don’t have to write an entire novel before I can sell it, everything has changed. Now I need a storyline to pitch—one strong enough to capture my editor, then the acquisitions committee, then the pub board.

So I thought: how hard can this be? I mean, really. I do some research, come up with a storyline and wah-lah!


For two days I read over my research then stared at the blank screen. Yes, I already had a vague paragraph that intrigued my editor to ask for something longer, but I couldn’t seem to make it stretch. The characters became elusive, like they rounded a corner just ahead of me and I just missed laying a hand on their shoulders from behind. So I took a different approach. I quit trying. I cleaned out part of my office, listening to music, with a notepad at my side.

As my hands worked and my brain pulled thoughts of organizing my office to the forefront, in slipped a thought here, a word there. I jotted. Worked some more. Added another impression.

I feel a bit less stressful now. They are starting to talk. Not “sit down across the table and spill their story” talk, but a word whispered near my ear before they sprint away and hide again. I think they are telling me not to hurry, to be still. Not easy, but necessary.

Good thing I have lots of closets left to be organized!


Declaration of Dependence

One of my major goals as a parent has been to raise children who at some point become independent of me. Not just financially, but in every other respect as well. We expect this of them as they mature. God, on the other hand, doesn’t raise His children to become independent in any way, shape or form—not even those He considers most spiritually “grown up.”

I remember hearing this truth in a Bible study (Maybe a Beth Moore study?) years ago and it shook me to the core. You see, I’d always prized my independence, worn it like a badge of honor. I was always the child who could “do it myself.” I didn’t want help. I didn’t need help. Or so I thought. But that day I suddenly realized that independence was the last thing God desired of me. Instead, He wanted me to live in total dependence on Him. Forever.

Dependence. Not as a weakness, but as the ultimate strength. Dependence. Not by remaining a babe still feeding on the milk of the Word but through continued growth feasting on the meat found in Scripture. A deeper relationship to foster a greater dependence, not a lesser one. As an immature believer that truth sometimes chafed. Now dependence resonates as the sweetest freedom of all. 


She Speaks Conference and P31 Ministries

Hey y’all!

This post is slow in coming because I’ve been at the SheSpeaks conference this weekend. This was my second year to attend, though I use “attend” loosely. I went in my capacity as a freelance editor with The WritingSpa, so I got to sit in on the general sessions but didn’t get to soak up all the other good stuff She Speaks had to offer. However, just knowing the women of Proverbs 31 Ministries who put on this conference each year, I can say with confidence that the sessions are more than worthwhile.

So while I recover from three days of meeting new writers and deepening friendships, I just wanted to encourage those of you who aren’t familiar with P31 Ministries to check them out. I love their “Encouragement for Today” devotional emails that come to my inbox each morning. And I usually read their physical magazine from cover to cover each month. And if you are (or have a desire to be) a writer, a speaker or lead a women’s ministry, I encourage you to pray about registering for next year’s conference. But be warned: they fill up fast and usually have a large waiting list of people that don’t get to attend!


A Sunday Psalm

Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of His praise be heard;
He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
For You, O God, tested us; You refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but You brought us to a place of abundance.
      ---Psalm 66:8-12


She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen

I finished She Makes it Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen a while ago, but I wanted time to process the story before I wrote about. I loved the book. I really did. But not in the “what a fun story” kind of way. More like in the “ouch, that hurt, but it made me think” kind of way.

The story isn’t anything out of the ordinary, really. At least not out of the ordinary in the lives of most women. At its heart, it’s a story of a comparison and contentment—or rather, the search for contentment. Honestly, I could identify with Ariel and Justine. I’ve been both of them, at times ordering my life to mask the discontent that writhed within me, at times desperately searching for acceptance and affirmation, for the serenity that seemed in abundance in every other woman’s life I knew. So as I read, I hurt for their pain, because it had been my own. Yet I also rejoiced, recognizing that God faithfully brought me through to a different place, one that more fully reflects who I am because I am His.

It was a bittersweet read for me, too, because I lived eight years with my friend in my backyard, like they did. Kids running in and out of each other’s houses. But unlike Ariel and Justine, our friendship was genuine, one of those rare relationships where we didn’t allow each other to hide behind facades. Instead, we encouraged each other to seek Jesus, helped each other weather storms of life that came in our circumstances and in our hearts.

She Makes it Look Easy is a book I will not forget for a very long time.


What Wasn't Said

I love this little verse I found the other day. Joshua has just taken over leadership of Israel and the nation has crossed over the Jordan River on dry ground. They have set up a memorial of stones to remind them what God has done for them. Then Joshua says this to the people:

“He [God] did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:24)

Of course I immediately recognized the two reasons God dried up the river for them to pass through: so all in the earth would know God’s hand is powerful and so that Israel would always fear God. But what struck me was what Joshua didn’t say.

He didn’t say God rolled back the waters so the children of Israel wouldn’t have to deal with wet feet. Or damp belongings. It wasn’t so they didn’t get knocked down or swept away by the current. Or so that wouldn’t be tired from wading as opposed to walking. In other words, God didn’t perform this miracle because He wanted them to have it easy. Or to be comfortable. He did it to show His power to those who didn’t know Him. He did it to remind His people that His power is to be respected.

How many times have I looked back on something God has done in my life and thanked Him for making my way easy instead of praising Him for showing His power and reminding me of it? How many times have I rejoiced that my feet weren’t wet instead of glorifying the power of the One who commands the water? Far too many, I fear. But it’s never too late to adjust my focus.


The Secret Garden

I have a tendency, when life feels stressful or out of control, to return to books I know and love. Right now that book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I remember the first time I heard about this book. I was in the sixth grade. A friend told me about it. Her mother had recommended it to her. I think it was the first “classic” piece of literature I’d ever read, though I didn’t know it at the time. I only knew that Mary and Dickon and Colin and Martha captured my imagination—and probably fueled my love for all things British!

Years have passed since I’ve read through the book, though I can’t count the number of times I lived in its pages growing up. It was the first book I bought for my daughter—the hardcover version with the Tasha Tudor illustrations, as a present on her first Christmas. She was nine months old. She’s twenty now and I don’t think she’s read it yet! Sigh. But it’s still there. Waiting. For her—or for my future granddaughters. Doesn’t matter which. I’ll just enjoy sharing the story and hoping one comes to love it as much as I do.


A Sunday Psalm

Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before Him
and prepares the way for His steps.
    --Psalm 85:10-13


The Muir House by Mary DeMuth

Instead of the normal “this is why I liked this book,” I thought you might enjoy a glimpse into the creative process with my friend, Mary DeMuth. I sat down and talked with her about the unique setting she close for her latest novel, The Muir House.

Thanks for spending some time with us, Mary! All your previous novels have been set in fictional towns. Why use a real location this time—and why use the town you live in?

I adore Rockwall. It’s my home. In a few months, it will be the longest place I’ve ever lived. Writing this book was my tribute to it.

What particular challenges did you face in using a real town vs. a fictional one?

Well, I worried that I might make folks mad. I think I wrote something about the police ticketing folks (We have a lot of police here.), so I worry a police officer will read the book and then be angry!

What was your favorite hometown detail that made it into the book?

The restaurants. I adore them! So it blessed me to be able to highlight them.

How did you decide what places to mention and which ones to leave out?

Totally personal preference. I didn’t want the book to read like a Rockwall brochure, so I didn’t include everything. So if you’re from Rockwall and your business has been left out, please don’t be angry with me! :)

Did anything in Rockwall help or hinder your initial ideas for Willa's story?

It’s a pretty contained town with a lake providing a huge boundary. I think folks here in Rockwall feel that boundary in particular, so leaving past the lake seems like a huge excursion. I tried to capture that boundary in the book.

Now that you’ve set Willa in Rockwall, do you ever think you’ll run into her in Target?

Yes, in fact I’m going there right now.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small glimpse into The Muir House and its creator. Below you can find the book trailer for the story. After that, read it for yourself and see how Willa Muir and Rockwall flow into a seamless story.


Agent Envy

I don’t have an agent. For those of you who aren’t writers, that might not seem strange. But in today’s world, most published authors do. And now that I’ve turned in my second manuscript, the last in my current contract, I’ve found myself battling agent envy. Not that my editor isn’t going to look at new ideas. Or my husband, who reads my contracts, won’t look out for my interests. But it isn’t the same as when I hear of my friends using their agent as a sounding board for ideas or getting advice on mapping out a career plan.

So I whined to the Lord the other day. As I did, the words sounded vaguely familiar in my ears.

“An agent could help me get things I might not get on my own.”
“An agent could protect me if things go wrong.”

The longsuffering Lord whispered patiently to my heart. I’m your agent. I got you the first contract. Can’t you trust me with the rest?

I argued back, knowing His words to be truth, but my flesh wanting something more. “But everyone else has one!”

Suddenly I knew where I’d heard the words before. I Samuel 8:5. The Israelites came to Samuel and said, “now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

Israel dealt with king envy the same way I’ve been dealing with agent envy. All the other nations could see their king. They wanted one, too. God gave them what they wanted, but His response always makes me sad when I read it: “And the Lord told him [Samuel]: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King.’” How could they do such a thing after all God had done for them?

Ouch. I was rejecting God as my agent when He’d clearly orchestrated things to put Himself in that place. Now don’t get me wrong. Having an agent isn’t bad. But what if you start thinking another person’s agent is better than the one the Lord gave to you? What then? The point is that for me, He chose fill this role in my life by Himself, without the intermediary of an agent. And I rushed headlong into the same trap as Israel—looking around and envying what others have rather than trusting God in the path He set for me.

Unlike Israel, I saw my sin and repented. That doesn’t mean I don’t still battle an occasional bout of agent envy, but now I recognize that thought before it takes root and I run to the One who holds it all in His hands. If someday He chooses to give me an agent, great. If not, I will trust Him to guide my writing path even if I can’t shoot Him an email or pick up the phone and call.

Is there someone in your life right now that you are trying to put into the role that God means to have for Himself?


Shifting Roles

Lest there be any doubt that we have entered a new era with our children, the point was demonstrated in our weekend visit to our daughter who is at summer school in another state. She picked us up from the airport, was there at the right time, in the right place. She knew the way back to her town without her Daddy’s input. When we arrived at her apartment, she’d put fresh sheets on the bed, washed all her towels. In spite of her busy schedule, she’d picked up milk and cereal for breakfast.

The next morning, she got up, ironed her uniform and left for class. (A culinary class where they run a “restaurant.” We’d been earlier in the summer on the day she helped pick the menu and run the kitchen. We were back this time for her day as Maitre D’.)  After our lunch at the bistro, we went back to her apartment (after we’d made a Walmart run and restocked some things we noticed she needed) and amused ourselves until she finished her work. That evening, we all went to dinner (my parents had come as well, though they were staying in a hotel), then our daughter made sure we had all we needed before she left for her midnight to 8am weekend job.

It was strange to be the “guest” of our child, but it was very satisfying to watch her handle her life so efficiently and responsibly. And while I know there will still be many, many times when she comes “home” and we revert back to our old roles of parent and child, this weekend proved a definite shift into the era of dealing with each other as adults.


A Sunday Psalm

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
let the distant shores rejoice.
Clouds and thick darkness surround Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him and consumes His foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
    ---Psalm 97:1-4


Rediscovering Moses

Sometimes I tend to gloss over Moses. Do you? I mean compared to other “heroes” of the Old Testament, his story seems pretty tame—at least once he parts the Red Sea. Not just tame, boring actually. Besides lots of commandments and ordinances for the God’s people, he is in constant conflict with the people. But I ran across a verse the other day that made me rethink Moses.

Numbers 12:3 is a parenthetical. It reads: (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)

Humility. Definitely something God prizes, since he also commends Jesus for this very thing. So I started to pay attention as I kept reading through Numbers and Deuteronomy, and here are some things I discovered:

  1. When the Israelites grumbled against Moses, he didn’t defend himself. He let God come to his defense.
  2. He cared more about the fame of God’s name than his own.
  3. He knew who he was in relation to God’s holiness.
  4. He didn’t tout his face-to-face relationship with God as something that made him “better than” the others.
  5. He didn’t see his position as leader something to be “grasped.” When God poured out His spirit of prophecy on the elders, Joshua got upset. “But Moses said to him [Joshua], ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’”
  6. When God told him that he wouldn’t see the Promised Land, not only didn’t he argue the point, he didn’t “quit.” He did what God asked, namely preparing Joshua to do the very thing Moses longed to do. And he continued with that task and with faithful leading God’s people until the Lord called him home.

At the end of my week of pondering, God saw fit to have Lance Shumake preach at church on the importance of the Old Testament. I nodded along, because I love studying the Old Testament. I find such life-changing truth on every page. But one of Lance’s statements made me pause. He said we tend to see ourselves—or what we should be—in the Old Testament heroes. But we need to remember that God is the main character of the story, not us. And every Old Testament “hero” whispers the name of Jesus.

And then it became crystal clear. Moses’s humility as a foreshadowing of Jesus, who didn’t “grasp” at His position in heaven or His special relationship with the Father. (Phil. 2:5-8) Moses’s intercession for the people of God who grumbled as a picture of Jesus who intercedes for us with the Father. Jesus, who like Moses, explains to us the way God desires for us to live.

Suddenly Moses in the wilderness doesn’t seem as lackluster as before.


ACFW Conference 2011

I rewrote this post five times. Why? Because I had such a hard time deciding what part of the ACFW Conference or my experiences to highlight!

So here’s a run down of some of the reasons I’m excited to head to St. Louis in September:

  •   In the past 5 years that I’ve been a member of ACFW, and after having attended the conference 4 of those years, I’ve made so many friends! We have celebrated with each other. Cried with each other. Supported each others’ blogs. Prayed for each other. Going to an ACFW Conference is more than congregating with other writers. It’s a family reunion!

  • Volunteer opportunities abound, creating places where an introvert like me can get to know people in a more one-on-one situation and also where I can “give back” to ACFW by helping the various aspects of the conference run smoothly.

  •  Times in the prayer room grow me in my relationship with the Lord, whether through time in prayer by myself or with another.

  • The Awards banquet is a great time to be the body of Christ by rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.

  • Workshops and Continuing Sessions help me hone my writing skills. There is always something new to learn.

  • I glean wisdom from successful writers, and I can encourage newer writers.

  • Laughter and chocolate abound!

  • Editor and Agent appointments not only provide opportunities to pitch our work, but to meet those professionals as real people.

  • I get to put on my “writer” hat full time for 4 or 5 whole days. The biggest perk of that: I don’t have to cook dinner or clean it up!

  • When the weekend is over, I have so many new friends! I especially love getting to meet people I’ve come to know through email, blogs, twitter and facebook.

Of course this year’s conference will be especially sweet for me since it coincides with the release of my first novel, Wings of a Dream, which happened as a direct result of my involvement in ACFW. I couldn’t ask for a better way to celebrate than with so many I’ve come to know and love!


A Sunday Psalm

The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of His heart through all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people He chose for His inheritance.
     --Psalm 33:10-12


Wodehouse's World

My husband is an avid reader of World Magazine. I peruse, on occasion. The exception is the annual “Books” issue. That I read from cover to cover.

Besides all the discussion of the past year’s books, I loved the small spotlight on P.G. Wodehouse. He’s one of my absolute favorite authors. Who doesn’t laugh out loud at Bertie Wooster’s antics and Jeeves’s ingenious rescues? Maybe it is part of the reason I fell very easily into the Pre-WWI era in my writing.

Kenan Minkoff, who penned the short article, ends with this: “Many of the people who had the manners that Wodehouse wrote about died in the war, and in the people who did survive, the manners didn’t. But it is a pleasure to slip into a simple age that has gone by or probably never existed. You can have your Middle Earth and speak Elvish. I want to live at Brinkley Court and speak British.”

I wholeheartedly agree!