Friday, August 26, 2011

A Prayer for America



I recently received the following in a forwarded email. This is Billy Graham’s prayer for our nation:

'Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!'

Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his radio program, 'The Rest of the Story', and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired. With the Lord's help, may this prayer sweep over our nation and wholeheartedly become our desire so that we again can be called 'One nation under God!'

These words are pretty strong. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Annoyances, Bothers, Hassles and Troubles - NO!

“It’s just an inconvenience.” That is a phrase I taught myself to say long ago, back when little things like being late, forgetting to mail something, staining a blouse, losing a button, or having to start over on something used to get to me. There are lots of little things like these that raise our blood pressure, stress us out and make us angry. Repeating that phrase is helpful and calming.

It can be useful in bigger situations, too. I started reminding myself of the “just an inconvenience” mantra when I ran out of gas, had a flat tire, missed a deadline, lost something valuable and so on. We live in a society that is so go-go that every single thing clutches at our stomachs, unnerves us and contributes to poor health.

How would you like to have a good day every day? One of the greatest compliments I ever got was from an administrator who announced to a roomful of colleagues that I was someone who was always happy and never had a bad day. Actually I did have a bad day once when a doctor told me I had a lump on my breast. Then I realized: this is just an inconvenience. It was inconvenient to schedule more appointments, miss work, drive to a new doctor’s office and so on. In the end the lump disappeared. I’m so glad I didn’t stress out over it along the way.

I divide situations into two categories: 1) life or death; 2) an inconvenience. See? Most bad things (more than 99.9%) are just inconveniences. Try it out for yourself. Which category would you put the following things in? A root canal, a broken nail, a spill on the carpet, a fender bender, a lost wallet, the flu, waiting for the repairman, sitting in heavy traffic, or any other of the myriad nuisances we live with. If nobody dies, it’s just an inconvenience.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

EDGE OF ESCAPE - the rewrites



Working with an editor and publishing house through emails and across oceans and continents has been exciting as EDGE OF ESCAPE is now being translated into German. I have republished my English Kindle version to match. Here's a scene that was tweaked. Eddie rescued Rebecca from the one trap that he didn't set and Rebecca thinks she's safe with him, not yet realizing who he is.

Becca could not yet settle down. Desperation, tension and anxiety shook her small frame. She let herself be served by Ed. He was polite and reserved and, she had already figured out, quite shy. He set the bread and butter on the table and filled their glasses with wine. He brought the lasagna over and scooped her out a large portion before filling his own plate and setting the pan back on the stove. He sat down and put his napkin on his lap and seemed to wait for something. She wasn’t sure if she should start eating. Maybe he was going to say a prayer first. She smiled at him and said, “This looks wonderful. I’m starving.”

Ed beamed and nodded at her. “You first,” he said.
Becca took a steaming forkful and blew on it before tasting it. Ed did the same. They ate in silence for a few minutes then Becca said, “Thank you again for rescuing me. You must be curious as to how I got down there.”
Ed just shook his head.

“Well, someone was chasing me and was going to hurt me,” she recounted, despite his lack of curiosity.

She saw his face screw into a frown and he looked incredulous. “No one would hurt you,” he said shaking his head again. She thought he looked like an innocent child. He reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t think who. She took a bite of bread and then gulped down most of her wine.

“No, really,” she continued, “I was kidnapped, handcuffed, chased, imprisoned, trapped, and lost.” It almost sounded funny to her now. In fact she started to laugh about it. And laugh.

Edward had never seen anyone go into hysterics, but Rebecca went from laughing to crying in an instant. He got up and knelt by her chair and put his arms around her. “Don’t cry,” he soothed. “Don’t cry. It’s all right. Don’t cry.” He stroked her neck, petting her like he had petted his kittens.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Conundrum - Let God Figure it Out

It’s a conundrum. A new author cannot get a publisher’s attention without an agent. Agents don’t want to represent you unless you’ve been published. What can you do? The ease of self-publishing has swamped the virtual bookstores with aspiring authors who get to hold their book in their hands, sell a few copies and continue to knock on closed doors.

I had heard all the stories of 5, 10, 15 years of rejections by major authors. Just keep trying and eventually you, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, will knock on the right door.

When I started writing 9 years ago the process required mailing actual manuscripts, paying for paper, ink and postage, and including self-addressed, stamped mailers if you wanted your costly work returned. I accumulated an assortment of rejection letters. I stopped sending manuscripts and went back to writing. I promised myself that I would eventually pay the $2500 or so to do a vanity press printing of ONE of my novels. Thankfully my procrastination paid off and for very little money (less than dinner out) I started publishing.

Of course I still want to be published traditionally. However, the same conundrum about agents and publishers still exists. I asked God, “Do you want me to be published? Are you giving me stories to be read by a few or by many? I’m happy with your plan, Lord, and I’ll be patient. If you want me to be published I know it will happen.”

I dreamed of my YA thriller being picked up by a big publisher like Random House, film to follow, and then translations into multiple languages. Here’s the funny thing. Awesome and curious, really. Things are happening for real and in reverse order (hopefully). Out of the blue I was contacted by a major publisher in Germany. I’ve signed a contract, worked with their editor and now EDGE OF ESCAPE is getting a new title, cover and language.

Life is such an adventure. I love God’s plan.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Psalm 133, A Song of Ascent - Going Up the Steps

There are 15 psalms in a row, Psalm 120 through Psalm 134, that are labeled “Songs of Ascent” or some translations may have “Songs of Degrees”. Since I love to solve a puzzle I did a little research and found that these psalms were sung by the procession as they went up the steps to the temple. Some sources say there were 15 steps from the court of the women up to the next court in the temple and the priests would chant the next psalm as they ascended. Possibly the key changed, musically going a step higher as well.
I looked into this because we read Psalm 133 as a responsive reading in church yesterday. It’s very short and seemingly obtuse on first reading it. Here it is, verse by verse:

1) Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
Well, yes, that’s a nice thought. Actually King David wrote this when he regained his throne after his son Absalom’s rebellion. The story is in 2nd Samuel and 1st Chronicles and tells how the people were of one mind to make him king and support him again – together in unity – and the Hebrew word for together and for unity is the same word and is repeated here so the verse ends with the same word twice.

2) It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
Sounds kind of messy and oily, but as I looked up the recipe for this oil (Exodus 30: 25) I found that it contained myrrh and cinnamon and lemon grass and other great smelling herbs and I bet it was a very pleasing aroma, very different from the smells I suspect were common place.

3) As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
This place called Hermon has really, really heavy dew, so here the psalmist is just coming up with a way to show how the Israelites’ unity was covering them all. I love the commanded blessing: life for evermore.

Next Sunday we’re going to be reading another “song of ascent”, Psalm 124 (yes, I looked ahead). It paints a picture of the Israelites’ miraculous delivery from complete destruction, owing it all to the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, and trusting Him for help in the future.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Excerpt 5 from TUNNELS


The tunnel spewed us out into a tumble next to something that looked like a cross between an ATM and a Goodwill drop box. Jackson grunted at me to get my feet off her face. I scrabbled away, stood up and offered her a hand. The small white room we were in was bright yet windowless. The hole above my head was narrowing and I could not see any way out. No doors. No tunnels.

“Here, Paige, take this,” she said, pushing her bag at my hand, not wanting my help. She rose up and brushed herself off; bits of gravel and yellow dust flew everywhere. “What are you waiting for?” she growled, clearly impatient with me. “Dump yours in the green chute and mine in the red one.”

I looked at the drop box and pulled open the green chute. I started to shove my whole bag in, but Jackson stopped me. I was doing it all wrong, of course. She took a huge breath and visibly blew out her impatience. She calmly explained to me, as if I were a five year old, that I only needed to empty the contents then hold the bag open under the spigot on the other side and catch the new supplies. She did the same with her large satchel. I tried to peek at what she was getting, but she had pulled the edges of the material up and over her spout.

“Now what?” I asked.

I caught the last half of her eye roll. “You better snap out of it fast,” she said, “and get your memory back, ’cause you’re on your own for this next one.” She clutched her bag tightly to her chest, closed her eyes and whispered ‘good luck’ as the floor opened beneath her and she dropped out of sight.

I gasped in panic for the millisecond it took for me to think about my kids, my husband. I tightened my grip on my satchel and felt the floor give way. This time the heat in the tunnel was bearable, perhaps because it was only one body causing the friction. The speed was slower as well, more deliberate. I splashed out onto a dirty wooden floor yet I was dry and safely hidden under a corner table. Thankfully I hadn’t zipped the bag so opening it was a nearly silent function.

I found the recorder first and switched it on capturing the strangest conversation: “Dooty is dooty, messmates . . . But dash my buttons! that was a good ’un about my score.” A great bit of laughter followed and then the speakers moved out of the tavern and headed toward the quays. Ah! My memory was returning. I knew the way to the quays.

(TUNNELS is still a work in progress, feedback on these excerpts is appreciated.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Whew! Tour Over. Thanks to All

I just finished a month long “virtual book tour” and I’m exhausted. A shout out and special thanks to BK Walker at Virtual Book Tour Cafe and BK Walker Books and all the hosting bloggers. (Also, there's a book giveaway at Sugarpeach and she is still accepting entries until the 12th.)

The good things about a virtual tour are 1) no planes, cars, or traffic, 2) no getting lost or being late, 3) no worries about hair, make-up or clothing, 4) no embarrassingly small turn-outs of visitors and 5) no sleeping in motels.

The bad things are 1) no huge adrenaline rushes – I kind of like those, 2) no meeting people face to face and knowing who’s buying my books. Well, the good outweighs the bad and the bad is not horrible.

So, what has happened to me in the “real” world while my virtual self has traveled? The real me has a ghastly hideous purple, black, blue and yellow bruise the size of Lake Michigan on my leg. Trying to waterski without properly stretching out the hamstrings can be hazardous.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Walking on Water - the rest of the story



The story of Jesus walking on water is told in Matthew 14, Mark 6 and John 6, but only in Matthew’s account do we learn of Peter’s feat, too. The disciples had just seen Jesus heal thousands of people and then feed them all (5000 men plus women and children) with just five loaves of bread and two fish. Afterwards Jesus sent the disciples off in their boat to sail to Capernaum while he went to pray. The crowds of people were so impressed with him and his miracles that they wanted to make him king right then and there but Jesus sent them off, too.

Now picture the scene: it’s evening, the disciples only get about three and a half miles out to sea because of the horrible wind and waves, and Jesus (whom they’ve already seen calm the sea on another occasion) is up the mountainside praying (and probably grieving over John the Baptist’s beheading). At about dawn Jesus walks out to them on the water. He walks on choppy, stormy waves and the disciples’ boat is still only a few miles out, having fought against the waves all night long – that’s hours and hours of rough going.

Suddenly they see Jesus coming. They are terrified! Panic sets in. They are sure they see a ghost and they cry out in fear. But Jesus immediately says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (The Greek for “It is I” is the equivalent of “I am”, one of God’s names.)

Some people say that Peter shows no faith by saying, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” I say that he is showing confident faith. The “if” does not show that he doubts it’s the Lord, but rather that he simply cannot see well enough. Jesus says “come” and immediately Peter obeys and walks on the water. See his faith?

Poor Peter. He takes his eyes off Jesus and sees the wind, becomes afraid and begins to sink. Notice that he doesn’t sink completely. He calls on Jesus for help and Jesus pulls him up. Jesus rebukes him for having little faith. See? Jesus doesn’t say he had zero faith, just little faith and some doubts.

It’s hard to imagine how these disciples had spent, at this point, about two years with Jesus and still didn’t totally “get it”. They’d seen tremendous healings and miracles, but this walking on water miracle really changed things for them. Peter and Jesus got into the boat and not only did the wind die down but the boat was immediately at the other shore (John 6:21). That’s when they “got it” – they worshiped Jesus saying “Truly you are the Son of God.” Up until this point only God had said Jesus was His son (at his baptism Matthew 3:17) and demons had called him the Son of God (Matthew 8:29), but now, finally, the disciples worship him as the Son of God.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Family Finances – securing a future on any salary



I wonder where the “experts” and “financial advisors” get their information and why so many of them don’t practice what they preach. Quick disclaimer here: I’m no expert, but in the money department my husband and I have been successful in that we have very little debt, have put four kids through college, paid for weddings, owned vacation homes in the U.S. and Canada and put away more than enough for retirement, all on public school teachers’ salaries. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Give to God first. The government gets their big chunk right away and since you never get a chance to even hold it in your hand that money is like it never existed. Treat another 10% the same way. You won’t miss what you give to your church, believe me.

Avoid credit cards while you’re in your twenties and starting out. Write checks when you’re shopping. Carry a calculator and add up your groceries as you go. If you don’t have the money in your checking account to cover your purchases, then you can’t buy them. It’s just that simple. When you do start using a credit card, which is a great way to pay many monthly bills, never let it get over what you can cover with your checking account. Never, never, never pay an interest fee or a late fee. Having credit card debt is the worst thing you can do to your financial situation.

Put aside money monthly into two types of savings – one that you can access in an emergency (like needing a new furnace) and one that is locked into a future retirement account (IRA, annuity, matching funds program, etc.).

My last piece of advice is to buy a house that you can afford. If you’re single, purchase something that is well below your budget (about 25% less than the bank and realtors say you can afford) and put at least 10% down. If you’re married, purchase something that you can afford on only one salary. The money you free up should go into those two types of savings mentioned above.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Of Lotteries, Cell Towers and Publishing Contracts

I will not waste my money on lottery tickets. I’ve always said: If God wanted me to win the lottery He’d give me a ticket. So when I received a ticket as a party gift I just knew that I was about to win. I waited anxiously for days until the winning number was announced.

Nope, I didn’t win, but I wasn’t out a dollar either.

It would be nice if money could just fall in our laps, wouldn’t it? We had just moved into Big Pine Lodge in January of ’07 when a man drove up our half mile long driveway and asked us if we’d be willing to have a cell tower on a small part of our land, far, far from our house. Five hundred bucks a month. Wow, free money. In our laps.

Of course we said yes. Papers were signed, surveys were done and then the economy dived. We’re still waiting for that cell tower. So far all that’s fallen into our laps from that deal are two $50 checks.

What’s the lesson here? (As a former teacher I need there to be a lesson.) Here it is: Free money isn’t free. Work for what you want. I wanted to be published, but the publishers said I needed an agent first and the agents said I needed to already be published. Solution: self-publish, work for it. If God wants me to be published by a traditional publishing company it’ll happen.

Of course, if a big publisher wants one of my books, let’s say it's EDGE OF ESCAPE, then I’ll have to take the self-published version off Amazon. I think that might make the original copies worth something because for sure it’ll get all changed up . . . probably won’t even have the same title.

Now I’m not saying that this is a done deal . . . yet . . . but if you want to read it this year, hint, hint, better get a copy this month before I have to pull it. Because I trust God to make things happen. Eventually.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Defending a Miracle

Have you heard the story of how Jesus feed 5000 men (plus women and children)? After learning that John the Baptist had been beheaded Jesus withdrew from the city to be alone. He left by boat, but when the people heard He had gone they rushed around the shore and many of them arrived before Him. Wow, no time to pack a lunch, let alone a supper. Jesus had intended to spend the day in solitude, but He had compassion on the crowd and healed the sick among them – lots of “little” miracles – and He taught them about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Early on that day He asked one of His disciples, Philip, where they were going to buy bread for all these people. (Jesus was just testing him, He already knew what He was going to do.) Philip exclaimed that 8 months’ wages wouldn’t be enough to feed so many.

As evening approached the disciples said to Him, “Send them away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Then at that point Jesus told His disciples to give them something to eat. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, had found a boy who had 5 barley loaves and 2 small fishes. Not enough, right? Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.”

Jesus is the Author of Creation. John 1: 3 says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” How easy it must have been for Him, who created everything, to look to Heaven, give thanks and break the bread and fishes, multiplying them into enough to satisfy thousands of people.

When the people were done eating there were 12 baskets of leftovers – just enough for the 12 disciples. Now there are skeptics today who will say that oh, the people just all shared what they had. No, no, no, no, no, these skeptics weren’t there, they don’t know what they’re talking about. The crowd was there, they realized that this was a miracle. In fact, they were so amazed that they wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him king. Jesus had to depart to a mountain to get away because it wasn’t the right time.

Now, what do you think? This event was recorded in all four gospels: Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 32-44; Luke 9: 10-17; and John 6: 1-14. I think it was a miracle.