Fridays from the Archives…Salvation

Fridays from the Archives…Salvation

Original Post Published 7/29/2010

I remember thinking, sometime between ages 12 and 14, that I could never write a story that took place before Christ. Or which dealt with people after Christ who never heard his message. “I just couldn’t do it,” I recall thinking. “I’d be wondering about their salvation the whole time.”

Well, I stuck by that for a long time. And when I began writing Jewel of Persia, that aspect didn’t really occur to me–until my husband, reading along as I wrote, said, “There’s just one thing that concerns me–you’re targeting Christian readers with a book that isn’t going to mention Jesus once.”

Too true. Kinda hard to mention someone still 450 years away from being born. But as I studied the books of the Old Testament I was appealing to, it struck me: salvation isn’t a theme unique to the New Testament. The people in the OT prayed constantly for salvation–duh, right? Read the Psalms. Yes, most of the time it was for immediate salvation–the saving of life, or even of the nation, so that it be preserved for future generations.
Last night at Bible study (I had recommended this topic months ago, and love that we got to it the week after I finished Jewel of Persia, LOL), the most awesome example we found, though, was how Moses crafts the bronze serpent and holds it up, so that anyone bitten by a poisonous snake can look at it and be saved. Then in John 3, Jesus references that to say (in the Roseanna-paraphrase version) “Just like Moses lifted that snake up, so is the Son of Man being lifted up. The people were already bitten, already dying. They had to have faith to look up and be saved, and it’s the faith that saved them. Well, people, you’re already bitten. But God loves you so much that he sent his son–and just like that bronze snake, if you believe enough to look toward Me, you’ll be saved. I’m not condemning y’all–you’re already condemned. Already bitten. But I’m here for your salvation.”

Oo, I love that. Love that Jesus himself took this Old Testament idea of salvation and moved it into New Testament, eternal realms. Awesome, isn’t it?

In my book, I’m constantly tossing my poor heroine into situations she needs saving from. Each and every time, she cries out to the Lord her God, and Jehovah comes through. Then at the end, the whole people of Israel are calling out for salvation from the scheming of Haman. It’s a theme for me–more of one, strangely, than it’s been in A.D. books, perhaps because I was so aware of it. And you know, even though they’re still looking forward to Jesus, they don’t know his name, they don’t know when he’ll come, it’s still a matter of faith. Kasia must have faith that the Lord will preserve her, and that she’s where she needs to be. Faith that her God can use her love to move the mountain of a stubborn man. And Esther, of course. Esther must have faith that this is her purpose and that even if she dies, God will still use her to save her people.
My last sentence has the word “salvation” in it. I end on that note hoping it’ll leave people thinking about it and moving naturally in their thoughts to the ultimate salvation, the One who came and updated our definition of the word, who offered it to our souls. “Jesus” is never in my book. But the Spirit is–and just as He speaks to us now, he spoke to my characters. (Maybe not exactly like, but He did.) It’s the same spirit, the same God. Which means the same Jesus was there, waiting. Waiting, ready to offer himself for these people.
Some things transcend time.

Fridays from the Archives – Shopping

Fridays from the Archives – Shopping

Original post published December 15, 2011

I’ll just come out and admit it–I like getting presents. I do. That surprise of ripping open the paper and finding something underneath that you didn’t choose for yourself. That feeling of appreciation that comes from knowing someone took the time to select something for you. And, well, just getting new things. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Amazon

I like giving presents. I like putting thought and care into what each person in my life wants and needs. I love finding those gems–like the year we gave my mother-in-law the leg lamp from her all-time favorite move, A Christmas Story. (Or as she calls it, Shoot Your Eye Out, LOL.) I love picking things that I know will make my kids squeal with delight.

But this year . . . I don’t know. We’re trying to clear some accumulated junk from our house, so I’m rather loath to bring in new junk. You know? In years past when buying for my kids, I would often just grab things to fill out the allotted funds from, say, my grandmother. To fill up the stocking.
After throwing out all the cheap toys that had broken and giving away many of the ones they just don’t play with, I’m not doing that this year. This year, my thought is, “I’m not spending the money unless I know they’ll love it.”
I think it’s a good philosophy–accept that it means I’m still not done shopping, and there are only ten days until Christmas. Aaaaggghhhh!
For someone who grew up in a family that celebrated Christmas with Joy and generosity (even those lean years, my Mom managed to stretch each dollar so the under-the-tree looked bursting!), I feel downright guilty sometimes for choosing an approach that doesn’t result in such bulk. I’m afraid my kids will be disappointed–though we’ve never bought them a whole lot for Christmas, given how much they get everywhere else.
They never are–my kids don’t expect a gazillion gifts from us, and we try really hard to keep their focus on the giving, the giving in honor of Christ.
Still, this year . . . my daughter’s dresser is literally bursting with clothes. Literally. I cleaned out probably half their toys, and there are still so many . . . And the rest of my family?? What do they really want, really need?
Well, we solved the dilemma for the kids with these little bundles of Joy. The two grays will be ours. ๐Ÿ˜Š
I was still stressing about some of the other members of our family, but last night my hubby and I went out on our annual Christmas Shopping Date, and we came up with good things for all, I think. Things that aren’t just going to clutter, but are rather going to add meaning.

See, shopping with my husband keeps me in that mindset. He’s from a family that gives only what, and when, they think will be special. I don’t always like this approach, but shopping with him keeps me from buying junk. It makes me think about how I’m spending each dollar. I needed that–that shift in focus. Our shopping date is in its third year now, and it’s a tradition I’m going to cling to just to keep myself in line. ๐Ÿ˜‰

What are your shopping traditions for this often-hectic time of year?

Friday From the Archives – Santa Claus and Giving

Friday From the Archives – Santa Claus and Giving



Original post published 12/4/2014

I admit it. Readily. I have occasionally had an issue with the Santa question. I have friends who never introduced the concept, and part of me always wished I had put my foot down on it too. Because I never really introduced it. I just let it creep in. Whenever my kids would ask, I would say, “Well, what do you think?”
And I was about to pull the plug. Then . . . then I looked it up. I looked up the true history of St. Nicholas, and how he became Santa Claus. And you know what I discovered? That of all the many Christmas gift-giving traditions, this is actually the only one I feel has its roots in the right place.
Nicholas was from a city in the Byzantine empire, born in the late 200s and living through the mid 300s. From his youth, he was always given to matters of God. His parents died when he was young, leaving him a very wealthy boy. But rather than live in style, he was raised by his uncle, a priest, and soon followed in his footsteps. (Sorry–no Mrs. Claus.)
Even as a boy, he was known as the wonder-worker. He healed people of things like withered hands and illnesses with simple prayers. He calmed storms. He worked miracles. And he’s still hugely remembered for those things in Europe, where you’ll be hard pressed to find a town without a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. But do you know what else he’s remembered for?
His anonymous generosity. 
See, he had all this money . . . but a heart for the Lord. So what did he do? Well, whenever he saw the needs of someone in his community, he quietly met them. He threw gold through windows. Down chimneys . . . and on occasion, it’s reported that some of this gold landed in a stocking left to dry over the banked fire.
Sound familiar? For hundreds of years, Christmas stockings always had gold–or a golden fruit, like an orange–in the bottom, to recall this story.
But the beauty of the thing is that Nicholas never claimed to be the gift-giver. More, when someone caught him at it, he would beg them not to disclose the secret, not so long as he lived. Because Christ charged us to give in secret.
After his death on December 6th, however, the stories came out. Story upon story about the generosity and gift-giving of Nicholas, who was soon named a saint and whose feast day was established as December 6th. So a new tradition was born. Whenever an anonymous gift was given, and especially on his feast day, it was said to be given in the name of St. Nick. 
Anonymously–because that’s what Christ charged us to do.
Isn’t that actually what gift-giving should be about?? Not the glory of saying, “Look, I bought you something you’ll love!” but the knowledge that we’re bringing Joy to someone–better still, meeting the need of someone–without expecting anything in return. Even the Joy of seeing their faces when they open it.
That is true giving. And that’s what St. Nicholas represents.
So how did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus? Well, because of the proximity of St. Nicholas’s feast day to Christmas, the two holidays eventually merged. But not right away. For hundreds of years, the gifts were given on December 6, and December 25 was reserved as a day of worshiping the Christ Child.
Then Martin Luther revolutionized the church and tried to do away with the saints’ days altogether. He was the one who said we oughtn’t to expect gifts from St. Nicholas. Instead, we ought to be grateful for the gift of the Christ Child. But in rather typical fashion, people weren’t willing to give up all their old traditions…so they just changed the name and began saying the gifts were from the Christ-kindl (German/Dutch for Christ Child). Which Americans later heard and thought was Kris Kringle. Which is how it became, ironically, another name for Santa. (Also note that Santa Claus is directly from the Dutch words for saint and Nicholas, Claus being a nickname for the latter and “sinta” the word for the former.)

So you see what happened? In effort to change a tradition, all we succeeded in doing was losing its meaning. Santa became a symbol of greed to many, when that’s the last thing he ever was in reality. He became a symbol of Christmas-when-you-take-Christ-out-of-it, when his life was dedicated to putting Christ in everything.

When I read all this history, I was inspired (hello, future novel!), and I was also saddened. Because one of the most honorable traditions surrounding gift-giving is the one so often hated by the Church. Oh, we’re happy to give gifts…but we don’t want to lie to our kids. (And let’s face it–we don’t want to share the glory when we find that perfect something for them.)
Well, I’m not going to lie to my kids. Instead, I’m going to teach them who St. Nicholas was. More, why he did the things he did. And I’m going to hammer home that the beauty of the thing is the anonymity. Who leaves those presents? Well, that’s for you and your faith and your logic to decide. But the most important thing as a receiver of said gifts is knowing they’re given from love–not just the love of a friend or the love of a parent or the love of any other family.
These gifts represent the love of God. The love of Christ. Embodied by the anonymous generosity of man…a man like St. Nick.
I’m not going to lie to my kids. I’m going to explain that St. Nick is a real person, who did indeed appear miraculously to many people. That’s it’s not about magic…it’s about miracles. That believing God can do the impossible is part of faith. And that another part is being His hands and feet. Being His vehicle.
Being St. Nick. Not just on Christmas–in fact, we’re going to try to get away from making the day set aside for Christ being Present Day. But we’re going to give gifts. We’re just going to change up how we do it.
My challenge to you this year is to start taking yourself out of gift-giving. Start signing gifts “Anonymous”–or, as the case may be, “St. Nicholas.” Start leaving them for people to find and never know they’re from you.
Let’s start giving for the right reasons. And let’s give some credit to the memory of a man who always, always did. Santa isn’t a symptom of the evils of a commercialized nation–we are. Our attitudes are. Santa, if you dig back to the history, is the memory of a man who knew how to do things right. And I bet if Nicholas of Myra could see how his image has been changed over the years, and even hated by some Christians, he would weep. Because all he ever wanted to do was show Christ’s love to his flock. He would want us, just like I firmly believe God does, to get back to the roots of that.
Will this be hard? Absolutely. Why? Because of expectation. Because we’ll feel cheap if we show up without something in hand and don’t reveal we’ve already given something. But that’s a symptom of the problem, isn’t it? Giving shouldn’t be about our pride.
Let me say that again:
Giving should be about Him.
Not me.
Him.
Not you.
Him.
If we’re giving in our own name…well, then who’s the gift about? Makes you think, doesn’t it? Or at least, it made me think. Because giving gifts has always been, to me, about (a) the recipient and (b) my Joy in giving it. Not really about God at all. And you know, maybe that’s fine on a birthday.
But on Jesus’s? I don’t think it is. I really don’t. And so I’m going to accept the challenge to myself. I’m going to figure out how to glorify the Lord and honor Christ on His day–on every day. And I’m never going to sell St. Nicholas short again. Because he understood all his life what it’s taken me a lot of years to figure out.
Friday from the Archives – Everyday Crazy

Friday from the Archives – Everyday Crazy

It’s that time again. When October hits and I look back and think, “Wait! What happened to September?” While we all get readjusted to school schedules and the changing of seasons, here are my ponderings from a few years ago when life was again, Everyday Crazy. 
Original post published 10/9/14


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or written the words, “Sorry, this month has been crazy.” I think I probably utter/type it at least once a month. Because let’s face it, life is crazy. It’s always crazy. And though I always think, It’ll get better once I’m done this… the fact remains that once I’m done one thing, it just means another is on the horizon.

Traditionally, October is my crazy month, where I have something going on every weekend. Fall Festival, family reunion, daughter’s birthday, Halloween. This year, September way outdid October’s plans. This year, we were gone for vacation, then for homecoming at our college, then there was ACFW. I’m so, so glad to be home for a while, even if I still have all those normal October things to do.
My point? Well, that every day is crazy. Every week. Every month. And I can either use that as an excuse to put things off and let life overwhelm me…or I can not.
That’s a hard one for me. I admit it. All too often things get pushed to the backburner in my life (like cleaning…or sorting through that stack of mail that I hope doesn’t have any bills I’ve missed…or…) while I focus on the pressing things.
So how do I do better? Honestly, I’m not an expert on this. I don’t have the answers. But this past year, as we moved and settled, as I had to pitch a new series to new publishers, as I worked on my biblical at a snail’s pace, as I edited and designed a book every month for WhiteFire, as I homeschooled both kids for the first time…well, some things shifted for me. Some things that made me realize that I can still have time to cook a decent meal, if I just make myself be creative. I can keep my house from becoming hopeless, if I just force myself to spend one evening a week on it (it’s not great, mind you, but not hopeless). I can write, I can read, I can edit, if I’m willing to budget my time.
There are still days and weeks where I just can’t do anymore. I can’t squeeze in one more activity, I can’t go one more place–not if I still want to finish my “have to”s. But at a certain point, I have to stop looking at it as crazy…and just start accepting it as everyday life. And cherish the fact that, though crazy-busy, my family is at least crazy-busy together. We’re not pulled a million different directions every day. And I love that. I love that we spend so much time together.
It kinda makes me think that all the crazy is worth it. Because we can live in Crazytown together. And really, it’s a pretty fun place to be.
Fridays from the Archives . . . Savoring the Moment

Fridays from the Archives . . . Savoring the Moment

Original post published 8/11/2011


Though I don’t have organizational skills that would wow anyone, I’m a planner. A goal-setter. And someone who doesn’t often budge on those goals. When I say I’ll have a book to the 75% mark by August 14, for instance, I do whatever it takes to hit that point in the manuscript. (I’ve only got 4K more to write by Sunday to be there, which is totally doable, LOL.) When I say I’ll be somewhere at a certain time, I refuse to be late. When I say I’ll help someone with something, that then goes ahead of my other tasks on the to-do list.

In general, I think this is a fine character trait. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But this week I’ve also been very aware of its drawbacks. See, sometimes I’m so set on meeting my goals and getting to that oh-so-important future point that I forget to enjoy where I am.
With only a few days left until I leave for the OCW Conference in Oregon, for which I’ll be gone through Thursday, I’m keenly aware of how long I’ll be away from my kids and hubby. And I’m already geared up to miss them. So I’ve been gathering extra hugs and kisses, extra cuddles and quality time.
It’s been a balancing act, even more than usual. Usually, I have my set work times, and I expect my kids to respect them. They don’t, LOL, but I let myself insist on that half hour in the morning and those two hours during naptime. Other times of day I certainly try to squeeze in five minutes at my computer here and there, but it’s totally common for a kiddo (or two) to be on my lap or asking for help, or requesting I come outside “because you gotta SEE this!” But this week, much as I want (okay, I think it actually classifies as a “need” for my personality type) to get to that 75% mark in my manuscript, I really want (and definitely need) to stock up on the kiddo-time.

It’s made me think a lot about how I approach each moment. Yes, I want to walk for exercise. But you know, it’s so fun to stop every three feet to jump rope with my daughter. Yes, I wanted to answer that email. But there’s nothing quite like cuddling my son for those first 20 minutes after he gets up from his nap when all he wants to do is sit on my lap and suck his thumb.

Sometimes I’m so focused on what must be done next (bath time, book time, bed time) that I forget to fully enjoy what is. Sometimes I’m so distracted by what I didn’t get finished that I can be grumpy during my family time. But this week, I’ve been very aware of how much fun my kids are, and how much I’ll miss their silliness next week. This week, I’ve been working hard during work time and savoring each moment of play.
I’m going to do my best to extend that aspect of this week into the future.
Today I have my mother-in-law taking the kids to the park for a few hours so I can pack some solid work into the morning. Part of me feels guilty about losing those couple hours with them–but then, I think it’s better to send them out to have fun than to have to plop them in front of the TV while I prepare my suitcase. And as always, it’s part of the balancing game. I know well that I’ll savor the other moments more once I’ve gotten some of my other looming tasks out of the way.
There are never any easy answers for balancing a home-based career with your kids (or ANY career with your kids). But I’m trying to be aware, not just of the amount of time I’m with them, but with the quality of the time. And I’m laughing a lot, smiling a lot, and cuddling a lot.
Goals are great. Keeping them is important. But sometimes you’ve just gotta live in the moment.

Fridays from the Archives ~ The Right Thing

Fridays from the Archives ~ The Right Thing



When we get discouraged, it can be hard to remember if we are, in fact, doing the right thing. Were we supposed to take this path? Were we supposed to turn right instead of left back there? I am here to tell you that you are not alone on this journey! 
Original post published 5/2010

This may be rambling, so we’ll have to see where I go with it–at the moment, I’m not quite sure.

There are times in life when we know absolutely what we have to do. Times when the Lord speaks so clearly, guides so strongly that we have no doubts. We recognize His hand, His touch, and when we obey, we feel His blessing.

Until we don’t. What do we do then?

I’ve come across a lot of devotions and really beautiful essays by some kick-butt believers on this subject–and none of it really helps when you’re actually in the doldrums. Without wind in your sails, you’re just paddling along, and having someone spout some lovely lyrics doesn’t always help and certainly doesn’t keep your muscles from screaming. Right? So what do we do?

Right at this particular moment, I’m not there. But one of my dearest friends just talked to me last night about how her doctor diagnosed her with moderate depression. This didn’t totally surprise me; just made a few things click, like, “Oh, guess that’s why you said you weren’t eating . . . or ever leaving your house . . . or . . .” Still, I’m one of those that think often times “depression” is over-diagnosed. Not that people don’t have issues, just that drugs aren’t the cure-all for them. And this friend feels the same way. She told her doctor, “Thanks. Now that I know this isn’t something to brush off, I won’t brush it off anymore. I’ll pull myself together.”

She also realizes she can’t do it alone. She was telling me this at Bible study, which marks one of the first times she’s gotten out to a church function in months, even though every time I talk to her, she says how she needs it. She’s been going out every day and making sure she’s eating a balanced diet. She’s praying and talking to her friends.

Will it “fix” her? I don’t know. But I know she’s doing the right thing.

But what about the problems I and my writing friends face so often? When we have one success followed by score after score of disappointments? When we know God called us to this career, when we followed His open doors, and somehow ended up here–with abysmal sales numbers and no direction for the future?

In those moments, it’s hard to believe that we were ever right to begin with. Maybe we shouldn’t have followed this path, maybe we made a wrong choice somewhere along the line. We’ve got these plans that seemed inspired, but is anything really going to help?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I think maybe sometimes God leads us to these barren places because we’re not ready for the bounty. I think sometimes it’s to teach us to rely on Him. I think sometimes it just happens because that’s the way of the world–and in those times, it’s not our part to question his leading to begin with, but to put our hand in His, close our eyes, and say, “If it’s your will, let this cup pass from me. I really don’t know how to deal with it. But still–not my will, but yours be done.”

I’m not sure about the Right way to handle these times. But I know that every time I’m in them and cry out, “God, please! Send me something!” He does. Has it been huge contracts and best-selling numbers? Um, no. But it’s been something just as good, if not better. It’s been people who let me know I matter, that my words matter.

Time and again we’re told that publishing is, when it comes down to it, a business. True. But writing is not. Writing is between the author and God, between the reader and God.

Remembering it–that’s the Right Thing.