Thursday, December 27, 2012

A word for 2013

Do you select a theme or a word for the coming year? I’ve played with the idea, but I’ve never done it.

Most people who select a theme pray about what that word will be. Their theme can be an encouragement to carry them through the New Year or it can be a word that comforts when you know this year may be full of challenges. 

It should be a word that speaks to your heart. It can be a dream or challenge or a hope—something that will be personally significant.

It's exciting to anticipate a new year and a word that will hold meaning as you travel into the unknown, isn't it?

What about you? Do you have a word for the new year?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Divine Humanity

For as long as I can remember, my mother put this reproduction antique post card on the table next to our nativity set each Christmas season. The nativity set was passed on to me several years ago. In the box was the post card with a sentiment written by Phillips Brooks, a man known as the greatest American preacher of the 19th century and author of the Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Each year when I read the post card, a thrill of joy bubbles up from my heart. At this beautiful time of year, I wish you a similar thrill of joy. . .

     “Lift up your eyes to the great meaning of the day, and dare to think of your humanity as something so divinely precious that it is worthy of being made an offering to God.
     Count it as a privilege to make that offering as complete as possible, keeping nothing back; and then go out to the pleasures and duties of your life, having been truly born anew into His divinity, as he was born into our humanity on Christmas Day.”

Since I was a very young woman, I have given myself, heart and soul, to my Lord. I offer each of my days to Him. And in a most humble way, I think of my writing as something so divinely precious that it is worthy of being made an offering to God as well.

Have a blessed Christmas!

*This is my annual Christmas re-post. I love it so much I trot it out every holiday season.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A singular decision that changed EVERYTHING

Thirty-four years ago this week I made a simple decision that changed everything for me -- I became a Christ follower.

I was raised in a church-going family and even spent 12 years attending schools run by my denomination. Still church, and God, was something done once a week for a little less than an hour, and it never spilled over to regular life. By the time I was 14, attending church seemed like a waste of time. I stopped going, and no one questioned me about it -- not even the pastor of my church who was also one of my high school teachers.

When I was 23 my boyfriend and I would discuss the big issues of life, one of them being God. We came to the conclusion that God existed. My boyfriend worked a night shift, and when he got off work at 5:30 am the only thing on TV was a Christian program. He'd talk to me about what was aired, and we both became intrigued with the concept of a personal God, one who wanted to have a love relationship with us.

The TV preacher suggested that everyone should have a Bible and read it, so we went out and bought a Living Bible. My boyfriend and I lived together. One day when I came home from work he told me he'd called an 800 number to talk to someone about God. He encouraged me to call the same number. The operator invited me to give my heart to Jesus, and I did.

Until then I didn't understand that faith was a choice. I thought we all got to heaven on the group plan -- if you went to church at any time in your life, you were in. If you were a "good" person, you were in.

When we realized there was a God who wanted a relationship with us, we couldn't imagine living a life not knowing and serving Him. We also didn't want to dishonor His name, so about three weeks later we got married.

And the rest, as they say, is history. That singular decision was the best one I've ever made. It's affected every decision I've made since. Every challenge I've ever had and every heartache I've ever endured has been viewed through the prism of His love and the promise of His hope. I'm secure and grounded in my faith, and I wish the same for you.

This Christmas season, I pray you'll open your mind and your heart to know the Jesus who came as an innocent babe and then died, paying the price for your sins, so that you can live, serve Him and spend eternity in His presence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Haunting Christmas Memories

"Oh, so you let your kids help decorate the tree."

An acquaintance came by my house to retrieve her daughter from a birthday party I'd given for my son.

I looked toward my fragrant Christmas tree filled with shiny bulbs and homemade Sunday School ornaments. "Yes, of course. We spent Sunday afternoon putting up the tree."

Her gaze swept my tree again. "I never let my family put ornaments on the tree. If I let my kids help, the tree would look awful."

I glanced at my tree. Most of the ornaments were clumped in clusters on the bottom third of the branches. I smiled. "I like the way my tree looks."

She shrugged and left hand-in-hand with her daughter.

That exchanged happened over twenty-five years ago, yet I still think of her comment every Christmas season. Since then my children have grown, and the ornaments on my tree are placed in an orderly fashion. Perfect.

She didn't understand what Christmas means. It's not about the bright lights and HGTV decor. It's not about presenting a facade of perfection.

I was too timid to continue that discussion, and that's a memory that haunts me still. If I could replay the experience, I'd tell her about the greatest gift of Christmas -- a God and Savior who came to redeem mankind and loves her more than anything. I'd tell her that He he longs for her to have a life-changing love relationship with Him. I'd tell her that greatest gift -- an eternity of knowing and serving a holy God -- is free for all who ask. I'd tell her the appearance of the surroundings are irrelevant. It's about the condition of the heart and the soul. It's about the realization of a hope that glows beyond any of the brightest Christmas decorations.

I often wonder about that woman, about what became of her. And I pray that at some point in her life her path crossed with someone who wasn't as timid as I was.          

What about you? Do you have a Christmas memory haunts your recollections?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Mistakes and novel ideas

You've heard the saying that the only thing certain in life is death and taxes. I'd like to add to that list--mistakes and the novel ideas that spring from them.

Mistakes. They frustrate us, anger us. Sometimes they make us laugh, and sometimes they make us cry.

Residents in a small town in Bordeaux, France have been stunned by the mistake of a local contractor. He was supposed to bulldoze an outbuilding near a beautiful 18th-Century chateau, but instead -- by mistake -- he totally demolished the historic gem. That's a photo of the manor. Upon seeing the pile of rubble, the owner was in shock, but plans to build a replica.

This was a blurb in the national news and will probably fade from our radar, but I wonder what the implications of this mistake will be. Will the disappointed owner and townspeople forgive the contractor? Will he serve a civic penalty?

I can't even imagine how bad he must feel. Why wouldn't he double check the orders to destroy a vintage piece of local history? Will he forever be defined by this mistake?

In my writer's brain I come up with many "what ifs." What would a novel about a similar mistake look like? What would it be like to investigate someone who made a mistake that defines the rest of their life?

And on and on I go with more novel ideas floating around my crowded little brain.

What about you? How would you envision a novel about a mistake?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Stay productive (AND SANE) through the holidays!

A few years ago I had a book deadline that followed on the heels of the holidays. Since I pride myself on always beating deadlines by at least a few weeks, I panicked when I realized this deadline would fall squarely in the middle of the holidays.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I overheard my family discussing our Thanksgiving plans I barreled out of my office, put my hands on my hips and yelled, “I don’t have time for Thanksgiving this year! First you spend a day shopping, then you spend a day cleaning, on Wednesday you start cooking, and then you waste a whole day eating!”

I regret not having a camera to record the startled and horrified expressions that greeted my moment of insanity. And I’d like to say that outburst has been long forgotten, but my darling family reminds me of those words when we need a good laugh.

The problem is that I had lost perspective on what was most important in my life. A book contract is wonderful, but spending a special day with loved ones is more valuable. Since then I’ve been careful to guard my attitude as well as my goals for the holidays.

Set reasonable expectations and writing goals for the holidays. Time seems to evaporate more quickly during the holidays, and there are more things on our to-do list. If you must write through the holidays—take a deep breath—you can do it! The old tried-and-true method of getting up earlier for some writing time may be all you’ll need to do.

We have an expression in our family, shine your eyes. Take a clear, sober look at what lies before you. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you may have to scale back a bit on your output. It’s not the end of the world. You can up your word count for the weeks leading up to and following the holidays so that you can give yourself a bit more time to savor the season.

Every little bit helps. Incorporate time in your schedule to write, even if it’s only fifteen minutes. I like to keep a forward momentum, so I try to write daily—even if it’s only a few hundred words. One of my favorite tricks is to set a timer for fifteen minutes with the goal to write 250 words. If I have thirty minutes to write, I can easily pump out 500 to 600 words and feel a sense of accomplishment for the day.

Be the master of your schedule rather than the slave of your tasks.
Prioritize what needs to be accomplished. Make a list of what you’d like to accomplish for the day or the week, and then highlight the items that are more critical. Be realistic. Sure, we’d all like to make an assortment of freshly baked goodies wrapped in homemade gift boxes—but let’s not delude ourselves. It’s truly the thought that counts during the holidays, and our friends and family will love us if we don’t turn into a holiday diva working in a frenzy to create the perfect gift.

Schedule time to write, but also schedule time for fun. Remember Thanksgiving and Christmas comes but once a year. Set aside time to make memories with those important to you. Make sure to leave some time fluid in your day or week. You never know what’s going to come up, and you’ll need a little margin in your schedule.

Delegate when you can. You don’t have to be the Little Red Hen, doing all the work by yourself. Ask family to pitch in. You don’t have to make all the meals, do all the housework, and wrap all the gifts. And it’s perfectly okay to take out dinner to give yourself extra time for writing or shopping. You can’t do it all, so don’t try.

Most importantly—enjoy the season!