Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Special Needs of a Pastoral Spouse

I've never been a pastor or been married to a man in the ministry. But I have served as a secretary for two senior pastors in two different churches. Over the years I spent working with them, I came to be good friends with their spouses. This gave me a unique perspective on the life of a pastor's wife and her special challenges. In fact, it's what inspired me to write The Pastor's Wife (which, in case you haven't heard, releases February 2010 from Abingdon Press... we now return you to your previously scheduled post, already in progress...)

Being the wife of a pastor means...
  • You will be expected to oversee the Women's Ministry, even if you have no interest in doing so.
  • Most folks will know how to raise your children better than you, and they will tell you about it.... in detail.
  • If you go to the market without makeup on, you will run into the head tender of the church grapevine who will then tell everyone how tired you looked.
  • You will sometimes dread the arrival of Christmas and Easter, the two most hectic and exhausting times of the year for those who work in the church.
You think I'm kidding, but I learned all that stuff from spending time with my friends. The good news is, not everybody in a church body is like that. For the most part, people really do want to take good care of pastors and their families. Many just don't know how to do it.

So what can you do to support your pastor's wife?

Pray for her - She doesn't even need to know you're doing it, but feel free to ask her if she has any prayer needs. Don't offer them up for her. "Sally, I'm praying that God will lift your depression" might come as quite a surprise to Sally, who had no idea she was depressed.

Support her - What can you do to make her life easier? If she has children, you might offer to watch them some evening so she can have time to herself, or be alone with her husband. Don't be offended, however, if she doesn't take you up on your offer. She has her reasons, but you can be certain that the offer will warm her heart.

Squash the gossip - We should do this with anybody, but it's especially important with our church leadership. If someone tries to draw you into a catty discussion about what Sally is doing wrong, stop it right there. Encourage the person to pray for Sally instead of gossiping about her. Then you need to pray for both of them.

By the way, I realize that pastors come in both male and female genders, but for the sake of pronoun simplicity (and because the pastors I've worked for have been men) this post refers to supporting pastors' wives. If your pastor is a woman, please extend the same love of God to her husband.

To enter today's giveaway...
To mix things up a little, I'm giving away a $10 Target gift card. You can use it for yourself or, if you're so inclined, you can bless your pastor's spouse with it. To be entered, just leave a comment on this blog. Please leave an email address so we can contact you if you're the winner (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address). I'll pick a winner at random on October 3rd. Remember, all comments left today will also be entered in our grand prize drawing on November 1st.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Befriend Your Minister--Test and Trust

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”—Titus 3:1, 2 NIV

We live in a culture of vigorous independence. We love the idea of ‘do-it-yourself’. Men boast about installing stereo systems without looking at the directions. Women gather in the kitchen and say, “Oh, I just added a bit of this and a bit of that—I rarely follow recipes.”

That’s all well and good with stereos and casseroles. But what about Christian leadership? Are we willing to listen to instruction from leaders, or do we consider ourselves self-sufficient? Are we willing to adhere to behavioral expectations within the Body of Christ, or do we prefer to add or subtract a “bit of this” and a “bit of that” to the instructions according to our whims?

If we cling to stalwart independence and refuse to listen to the guidance of our Christian leaders, I believe we’re missing the blessing and the joy of coming under godly authority. If we underestimate our leaders’ worth, we don’t benefit from their wisdom. If we consider ourselves more knowledgeable and capable, we run the risk of becoming insufferably prideful.

Christians are in a unique relationship with our ministers. We are believers, just as they are. We are all equally valuable in God’s eyes. Jesus’ sacrifice is as available to our ministers as it is to the smallest children in the pews. The most learned Christian theologian is no more saved than the pudgy-fisted preschooler who lisps through “Jesus Loves Me”.

Yet the Bible asserts that the Spirit gifts believers in many ways, and appoints some to lead the flock. To ministers belongs the responsibility of Biblical teaching and godly example. They must not only talk the talk, they must know the translations of the talk. They must not only walk the walk, but must know every foothold on the trail—and if they’re unsure, they must seek the resources necessary to light the path.

Our ministers are given great responsibility, and the Bible uses strong language to warn leaders against false teaching. When I encounter a new minister or pastor, I listen carefully. I’m no Biblical scholar, but I have studied the Bible. I know when Truth resonates in my fallible mind. I know when Truth sings in my soul, and I listen for it in the words of leaders.

Once I hear Truth in the words of the minister, I know I can trust that person. Testing the minister for Biblical truths is crucial, but brief. Trusting a leader is ongoing and sometimes much more difficult.

Trust becomes an arduous process when we expect our ministers to be everything to all people. We want a theologian in our Bible studies, a great motivator in the pulpit, and an expert in childhood development for our young congregants. We want someone who’s adept at marriage, end-of-life, and addiction counseling. We want a valued friend, a wise advisor, a savvy business leader, and a knowledgeable guide. Oh, and we want him to be available with a single phone call—twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year—and twice for Christmas Eve services, thank you.

I believe trusting our leaders means giving them wide berth to be the people God made them to be. God calls all Christians to tasks that reflect His glory, share His love, build His Kingdom, and bring us joy. He calls ministers especially, not only to Christian leadership, but to the very flock they are leading. We should honor whatever strengths our ministers bring to their churches and celebrate their unique contributions.

Perhaps your minister’s humor rubs you the wrong way, but his approachability will bring others to Christ. Perhaps you wish your minister related to youth better, but God has appointed a wonderful youth leader from the congregation so your minister can concentrate on adult Bible study—an area of need in your church. Perhaps your minister feels inadequate to offer marriage counseling, but refers couples to an expert nearby. No one person can have talent in every aspect of ministering.

Celebrate your minister’s talents, and trust them even in their shortcomings. Trusting our ministers breeds all the attributes of the verse above. If we trust that God chose them specifically for our congregation, we become obedient. We show consideration. We act peaceably, and can even extend true friendship. In remembering that we need instruction and guidance, we stay humble. And in humility, we’re able to put some of that famed American independence aside. Do-it-yourself has its place in mundane tasks, but Christian living is no mundane task. It’s to be approached with the holy and loving influence of the Father, gratitude toward His Son, guidance through the Spirit, and a healthy dose of respect and trust toward those in authority: our Christian pastors.

May God bless them richly today as they work tirelessly for His Kingdom and their flocks.

Because I'm a music teacher as well as a writer, I'd love to share the gift of music. Please leave a comment with your email address included (with spaces or brackets around the "@" so net spiders, etc, can't phish your address) to be entered in a draw for a $10.00 ITunes gift card. I will pick one email address from all those submitted until this Thurs night. Thank you!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The few. The proud. The friends of the minister?

It takes a special person to befriend a minister.

Not because ministers are unusually spiritual (with a third, all-knowing eye hidden in their foreheads). It's not because they have an extra shot of holiness like a charged up Starbucks latte. When it comes to friendship, those things don't apply. It takes a special person because being friends with your minister is a little more complicated, and there's more at stake, than in a “regular” friendship.

In our hierarchical way of thinking, when someone holds a position of authority we pigeonhole them into that role. It makes our relationships easier to organize. It's not just our teachers, and our ministers. It's also our doctors, our dentists, and our UPS man. Can you picture your UPS man wearing something that isn't brown? Small towns are terrible about this. How awkward it is to run into your OB-Gyn in the dairy aisle. Will they recognize you with your clothes on, standing upright? Do you say, “Hi! Great pap last week. Thanks!”

 Teenagers run into this challenge with their parents, too. Remember the first time you realized your parents were still physically intimate with each other? Oh, the trauma! The gagging sounds we made. The revulsion as we tried to delete the mental images forming in our heads. That knowledge was too far removed from our understanding of their role as parents to accept with ease.

And then we have our ministers. Called of God. Appointed for His service. Anointed to preach and teach and rightly divide the word of truth. They spoon-feed us the nourishment we need for spiritual growth. They know (and use in conversation) big, scary words like ecumenical, liturgical, and propitiation. They are on-call 24/7 and have to take their kids to the office with them every week. And their performance is judged based on how well (or how poorly) their kids behave.

And you want to be your minister's friend? Are you sure? As we begin this week's topic, your first assignment is to examine your motives. Look down on the inside of your soul and ask yourself WHY you want to befriend your minister. I know, I know ... that sounds cold and harsh, but do it for the sake of the one you want to bless, if not for yourself.

Every minister I know has been victimized by someone who has “befriended” him or her for all the wrong reasons. Get a bunch of pastor's wives together sometime and nearly every one will have a tale of woe about the friend who stabbed them in the back and trashed their reputation in the church, or used them to get to their pastor/husband.

We really have to dig into our hearts to see if we have ulterior motives for wanting to befriend our ministers. Are we hoping to gain status or a position in the organization? Do we want the reverend's ear so we can change some things we think are out of line? Would we feel better about ourselves if we had personal counsel and attention from the minister or his family members? Those are NOT healthy motives for developing a friendship!

Your second assignment is to be ready to guard your heart, so that you can guard your minister's place in your life. Here are three key areas you need to watch closely.
  1. Be aware of excessive familiarity. You know the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”? You cannot afford to become so casual and comfortable with your minister that you lose respect for his or her God-appointed role in your life. This tends to happen when we forget that “pastors are people, too.” They sin, they have fights with their spouses, they yell at their kids, they wake up with bad breath, and they might do things you don't approve of. Peter had a little trouble with this, I think. He was comfortable with Jesus. So comfortable Peter thought nothing of correcting Him when Jesus foretold his coming death. The Lord turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Can you imagine the look in Jesus' eye? The shame on Peter's face? Ouch. That's a rebuke most of us would never recover from! If you can't separate their humanity from their higher calling, you're better off to stay in the pew and befriend someone else in the church. Think of it this way, can you still receive the word of God from someone you've seen in a swimming suit? Can you accept a sermon about Biblical money management when you know your minister is struggling with credit card debt? If not, turn back now!
  2. Don't expect, or offer, an exclusive relationship. Close friendships between a minister and a member of the congregation have the potential to become a hatchery for sharp-toothed, flesh-eating jealousy fish. In fact, ministers are often counseled to be friends with other pastors, not the people in their own church. Let's say Sister A gets ticked off because Minister M spends too much time with Sister B. If Sister A leaves the church, they are wounded, the minister is hurt, the church is divided, and God is not pleased. At church functions, conferences, retreats, and so forth, don't monopolize your minister-friend's time or attention, and don't be hurt if you get the brush-off while they tend to the rest of the flock.
  3. Could you be friends with a secret agent without getting him or her killed? You must be prepared to keep certain doors of information closed at all times. Ministry can be a horribly lonely place, and because ministers are human, sometimes they need/want to vent. Unfortunately, if they vent to you, you're likely to hear some things about your fellow sheep that you'd be better off not knowing. One of the best things you can do is develop your friendship outside of the church and church activities. Establish a relationship around common interests or hobbies. My best friend has a remarkable knack for getting my mind off church business and onto completely innocuous activities. She's like a breath of fresh air for me. When you're together, don't talk church “shop.” And if you do hear information you otherwise wouldn't have been privy to, by all means, give it to God and forget it. There are going to be some areas of your minister's life that he or she will need to keep undercover.

The Bible – Old Testament and New Testament – mentions many people who ministered the gift of friendship to their leaders. Paul's friendships were a source of tremendous encouragement in his life. In contrast, King Rehoboam's friends gave him lousy advice and caused division and war in the nation of Israel. If it was worth mentioning in the scriptures, it surely has value in the kingdom of God.

By all means, if the Lord is leading you to befriend your minister, do so. But do it with wisdom and care, for them and for yourself. Do it with grace, and let the Lord see to the results.

What do you think? Leave a comment (click "comments" below) and enter your email address (use parentheses around the @ sign) to be included in our big prize drawing at the end of October! The comment deadline is three days from the date of this post.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

When the Wound Doesn't Heal

from Susanne Dietze

Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you? Lamentations 2:13

These words strike a chord in me. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been injured, and no matter how long ago the wound blossomed in your heart, mind or body, no matter how hard you’ve tried to get over it, it seems that healing is impossible. Sometimes I’ve thought that my wound is tattooed into the flesh of my heart, a permanent part of my fabric.

The Bible tells us of a woman who also harbored a deep wound. She sought help from every source the world offered, to no avail. We never learn her name, but the day that she decided to reach out to Jesus for healing is recorded in Mark’s Gospel.

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. Mark 5:25-29

In his Devotional, Woman, Thou Art Loosed!, TD Jakes phrases it like this: “This woman’s problem was that her issue of blood had lasted too long. She is a woman who had a problem that lingered. It didn’t go away. It stayed around, and then stayed on and stayed on. Have you ever had a problem that lasted too long?” (183)

I like the translation “issue of blood,” because one thing I’ve learned in my years in Christian fellowship is that almost everybody has an issue. I don’t mean an inconvenience, a trifle or frustration, but a wound that resists healing. No matter how “together” somebody appears on the outside, there’s probably an issue draining life from them. It could be physical, but not necessarily. Abuse, addiction, depression, infertility, unemployment, unforgiveness, grief, heartache, a wayward child, broken relationships . . . the list of issues is endless. Some are obvious, and others are easier to hide. If you don’t suffer from one of them, chances are excellent that the people in the pews around you each Sunday suffer as surely as the woman did in Mark’s Gospel.

And she truly did suffer. Physically, she perhaps experienced anemia, fatigue, and the inability to have children. Her issue also brought along emotional and spiritual baggage. Under Jewish law, she would have been considered unclean, and as contact with her would have rendered anyone who touched her ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 15:25-30), she was socially shunned. She couldn’t touch a man, especially a rabbi.

Yet that’s exactly what she did. She took a risk and reached out to Jesus.

At once Jesus realized that the power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:31-35

I can only guess why the woman tried to disappear into the crowd. Perhaps she feared Jesus would be angry at her because she had been sneaky and broken rules to get to Him. Perhaps she didn’t feel that she deserved healing. Sometimes, I admit, I harbor thoughts like this, that God doesn’t want to heal me because some of my issues are of my own making. Or that He will be angry at me for not being able to handle a problem myself. In fact, the truth is just the opposite! God wants us to come to Him with all of our problems, big and small, whether they befall us or they’re the result of our own sinfulness.

Jesus sought her, not because He was angry, but to assure her that she was permanently healed, physically and spiritually. He wanted to commend her for her faith in reaching out to Him!

TD Jakes continues, “The woman with the issue of blood faced two major challenges. One was the challenge of confronting her own self-doubt, Can a woman like me touch a God like Him? The answer is always ‘yes.’ The second challenge she faced was getting through the crowd . . . .Our part is to press.” (199-200)

No matter the issue; whether it’s your fault, someone else’s or no one’s; regardless of whether the world knows your battle or your wound is a tightly-kept secret, God wants you to come to Him. The same love and healing that He gave to another woman two thousand years ago is offered to you and me.
Delicate FingersImage by Chiceaux via Flickr

I cannot guarantee that He will heal you exactly the same way He healed the woman. Sometimes God heals us differently than we want or expect because He has a deeper healing or different purpose in His will. My mom has lost three of her closest friends to cancer, and I know all too well that sometimes, God’s healing is made perfect in eternity, not in the now. Sometimes we don't seek healing because it requires change on our parts and we don't want to take the necessary steps to achieve wholeness. When Jesus encounted an invalid at the pool (John 5:6-9), He asks, "Do you want to get well?" The invalid hadn't asked for healing, after all, and while he wanted to get into the pool, there's a sense that he'd lost the will to get better. He'd adjusted to 38 years of his condition. Healing would have meant change, an end to his begging career and the beginning of a new life.

God understands our fears, our longings and our questions. He understood the woman with the issue of blood; He understood the invalid. He understands us. He is trustworthy and loving.

“He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps 147:3). It is He who “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion” (Ps 103:3).

The One who heals wounds which are as deep as the sea is here and waiting for us to give Him our issues. He’s passing by. Reach out and grasp hold of his cloak. Take your issue to Jesus.

Gaila Graphics ( has donated a 4-pack of notecards for today's giveaway. Each card features a different floral photo. The notecards are similar to the pack pictured here, but feature orchid sprays (ribbon not included!). If you would like to be entered into the drawing for the notecards (and also for the grand prize giveaway November 1), please leave your email address in the comment section (name at address dot com, to protect yourself from spammers). A name will be chosen Sept. 30, 9 pm Pacific Time.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blue Enchantress Review and Giveaway

And now, for the romance lovers in the audience. There are Christian romances, and then there are Christian ROMANCES! The book I'm reviewing today is definitely the second variety.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Blue Enchantress by M.L. Tyndall. I couldn’t put the book down. Blue Enchantress featured humor, romance, and adventure on the high seas all tied together with a beautiful story of redemption.

By far my favorite aspect of the book was the exquisitely flawed heroine, Hope Westcott. She pulled me in from the very first page. Rarely have I met such a sin-ridden and self-destructive main character in a Christian novel. Unlike the tragic heroine in Francine River’s Redeeming Love, Hope is just a typical girl who makes a lot of mistakes, but she has a joy and brightness about her as well. Tyndall does an amazing job of weaving her complex and broken personality, providing the insight and motivation to make you fall in love with her and cheer her along.

Hope Westcott is one of the most memorable and inspirational characters I’ve ever encountered. She is real and vulnerable and longs for love and attention from the wrong sources just like so many young women I have met. Partnered with godly and handsome but wounded hero, Nathaniel Mason, there's never a dull moment between these two.

All this takes place on the beautiful seas of the Caribbean. The story opens with Hope being sold at a slave auction to the highest bidder. Nathaniel is forced to part with half of his hard-earned fortune to rescue the wayward heroine who has only ever shunned him. Next comes a hurricane, a shipwreck, a deserted island, pirates, and plenty of other action packed surprises. Add in a good dash of humor, and an ample serving of romance, and this book is sure to please.

The title, Blue Enchantress, takes on rich meaning as it represents not only a literal pirate ship, but also the allure of the sea, and the temptation Hope Westcott offers to Nathaniel Mason. Tyndall’s love of the sea is evident in her mesmerizing descriptions throughout the book. Her secondary characters pop to life and bring added interest to the story.

Blue Enchantress is book two in Tyndall’s three part Charles Towne Belles Series. After reading this novel, I had to go back and check out book one, The Red Siren. While I must admit I preferred the plotline and heroine in Blue Enchantress, The Red Siren was an incredible story as well, featuring Hope’s bold and brave pirate sister, Faith Westcott. I look forward with great anticipation to the release of book three, The Raven Saint, sometime this winter.

Tyndall is able to create a light and enjoyable read while taking a deep look into the human condition. Incredible! The spiritual content of this book is powerful and compelling, dealing with subjects such as spiritual warfare, supernatural healing, and forgiveness. This book powerfully illustrates the truth found in Ephesians 6:12. "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." It also shows that sometimes believers must exert their spiritual authority and take the offensive rather than sit back and let the enemy destroy those we love.

Blue Enchantress is a great book to recommend to friends who are secular romance lovers and normally don't read Christian romance novels. I lent my copy to a friend who claims she doesn't like Christian books. Not only did she enjoy the book, she immediately asked for more.

If you have any questions or comments for Mary Lu Tyndall, please leave them. She should be stopping by today.

Question of the day: Who is your favorite fictional heroine and why?

Leave a comment for a chance to win your own copy of Blue Enchantress. We really need your email address in order to enter you, otherwise we will not be able to contact you!!Include your email address with spaces around the at for your protection. Winner will be drawn on September 29th.
Dina Sleiman

Catching Up with the Inkies

Woo-wee, it's been a whirlwind around here!
Being at the ACFW conference last weekend was awesome.
So awesome that the announcement board was quiet last Saturday.
So today, we're making up for lost time.

The last two weeks' individual prize winners are

Mae N
for commenting on Jill's post (9/7/09)
Prize: Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman

Theresa R
for commenting on Connie's post (9/13/09)
Prize: The Bible Promise Book
Cherie J.
for commenting on Dina's post (9/15/09)
Prize: Praying God's Word Day by Day by Beth Moore
for commenting on Susanne's post (9/16/09)
Prize: a box of raspberry Scripture Tea

Deb H.
for commenting on Suzie's post (9/17/09)
Prize: Sister Chicks devotional
Laurie Alice
for commenting on Niki's post (9/18/09)
Prize: 2010 Believe and Succeed pocket calendar
for commenting on Wenda's post (9/20/09)
Prize: Dakota's Child by Linda Ford
for commenting on Lisa's post (9/21/09)
Prize: black and red scripture mug
Rose M
for commenting on Deb's post (9/22/09)
Prize: 199 Promises of God from Barbour Publishing
Sandy G
for commenting on Patti's post (9/12/09)
Prize: The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson

Join us next week for more fun, prizes, and posts

Putting an Ink on Scripture

Monday - Friday
Befriend Your Minister Week
Monday - Niki
Tuesday - Gwen
Wednesday - Jennifer
Thursday - Guest blogger Pastor Rob!
Friday - Wenda

An Inkalicious Book Review

Hope to see you all around the Inkwell!

Friday, September 25, 2009

You Were By My Side

by Anita Mae Draper Sept 21st, 2009, Oregon Trail Ruts, Guernsey, Wyoming

On a cold, windy September day
I climbed up a small hill
An aura of expectation filled me
yet time stood still
I usually don’t stray off the path
but this wasn’t an ordinary day
I couldn’t see from where I stood
so I walked the rest of the way
And peering over the weathered ledge
down where the wagons rolled
The trail was there for all to see
the pioneers of old
The limestone had been worn down
five feet deep in spots
From wagons loaded up with treasures,
food and cooking pots
Just standing there wasn’t enough
I needed to feel it too
So I stepped down between the ruts
and you stepped down there, too

My eyes filled with tears that day
and like a babe I cried
But I was not alone up there
for you were by my side
Did you hear the grunt of straining men
who pulled upon the ropes?
Or pushed the wagons up the hill,
the incentive was their hopes?
Mothers and sisters trod along
making their own path
Wearing smooth the limestone rocks
and wishing for a bath

The laughter of children running about
as children often do
Not realizing history was being made
upon the hilltop, too
The wagon master cracks his whip
urges the team to go
No stopping ‘til the crest is reached
and then he hollers ‘Whoa!’
I hear it all like it was then,
I smell the sweat drift by
The harness brass is clinking,
a baby starts to cry
And as the sounds fade away
my tears begin to dry
The moment’s passed and I’m still here
atop the hill so high

So many years have passed since
the Oregon Trail was used
No hint of vandalism here,
no proof it’s been abused
I thank the men in government
who let us wander here
Without the chains to cordon off,
not even threat of deer
I wandered much upon that hill,
I even sat and sighed
But I wasn’t lonely there that day
for you were by my side.


Please leave a comment with your email address included (with spaces or brackets around the "@" so net spiders, etc, can't phish your address) to be entered in a draw for Anna Schmidt's Love Inspired Historical Gift from the Sea. I will pick one email address from all those submitted until, Sun night, Sept 27th.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inkwell Inspirations hits the 2009 ACFW Conference

Nine of the scribes from Inkwell Inspirations travelled from near and far to attend the ACFW Conference last weekend in Denver, Colorado. We hugged, we ate, we laughed, we cried, and we soaked up more information than SpongeBob soaks up sea water. Here's just a little bit of what we experienced, from the keyboards of the Inkies themselves...

D’Ann Mateer
One of the most incredible things for me this year was the Awards Banquet on Saturday night. I was sitting the back of the room of over 500 people, yet when my name was announced as a Genesis finalist, I heard a shout go up from within the crowd. Much of that was due to my new friends who participate in this blog. I wasn’t alone. I had more than a few friends rooting for me. It brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t hear my name called again, but it didn’t matter. I could smile. For awards without relationships are empty things. And relationships don’t hinge on winning awards. (Thank goodness!)

Debra E. Marvin
This was my first ACFW conference and the first time to meet my blog mates in person. I looked at it as a time to learn about the industry, take some workshops and make new friends. Of course, it was so much more. I learned that my blogmates are incredible people. Really. I met lots of online friends, and some authors who've inspired me and now who are personally encouraging me. An editor and now three agents would like to see "Nightshade" when it's ready. (Scuse me, gotta run!) But there's more. God used this conference to minister to my heart. You thought it was the arid air that made us feel dehydrated? No it was all the tears.

Wenda Dottridge
Other than meeting face-to-face many new and longtime online friends for the first time, other than all the laughs with those friends, other than the high caliber of the workshops, other than the opportunity to speak directly with industry professionals, and other than the moving, motivational speeches by the incredibly gracious Debbie Macomber the highlight of my conference was the atmosphere. I think, because the organization is the American Christian Fiction Writers, I believed the conference would be churchy or religious. It wasn't. And yet, it seemed that God's grace permeated the atmosphere. More than one person told me the weekend was very emotional for them. That they felt open and vulnerable in a way they hadn't expected. Yes, I wanted to shout. Me too! That's not what I went there for, and yet that is what I came away with.

Lisa Richardson
This was my third ACFW conference and I have to say, I enjoyed it the most. I was finally comfortable enough to focus on relationships instead of timelines. I had the privilege of meeting in person eight other inkies and it was just so incredible to see how we are all so different and yet got along so well. But the absolute best thing was what the Lord did for me during the awards banquet. I was a finalist for the Genesis contest and I was so nervous I couldn't even eat the fabulous meal that everyone else enjoyed so much. About half way through the Book of the Year awards I felt the Lord speaking to my heart. He said simply: "Be still." I knew somehow in that moment that I hadn't won, but that I was right where I needed to be cupped in the palm of God's hand. I ate some mashed potatoes and then the Genesis awards began. I was 2nd place. SURREAL. Such an honor. I know many others had worked just as hard, and wanted it just as much. But the sweetest thing was knowing that Jesus was with me.

Anita Mae Draper
This year was my 2nd ACFW conference so I knew what to expect – like the renewal of friendships and no sleep. I also knew not to push myself to attend every workshop and bought the CDs instead. In this way I can hear all the workshops and not just the ones I signed up for. It also freed me up to listen to where God wanted me to be. And if you’ve been following my blog, you’d have read that I had several ‘God’ moments while in Denver and all because I was receptive to His voice. The conference also allowed me to meet my crit partner, my new Inkie sisters, and other friends I’ve only ‘talked’ to online. I needed the personal fellowships only a face-to-face encounter can bring. I needed the rejuvenation of spirit. I needed to be encouraged after hearing the trials of successful writers like Debbie Macomber. And I needed to touch base with the professionals of my craft. I received emails from new friends I met at the conference before I even got home. Now that I’m back, I’m eager to get writing. Tired and happy, I can’t wait for next year.

Jennifer AlLee
This was my third ACFW conference. I've always been impressed with what a giving, loving group this is, but this year I really got to see it in action. I witnessed a room full of hundreds of writers pray together for those who were facing challenges. I basked in the glow of community worship, one of the most powerful things there is. And, perhaps the most miraculous of all, I saw writers give up their scheduled appointment times so another writer could have the opportunity. I watched it happen with two women who just met each other at lunch. And it happened to me when my roomie, best bud, and Inky sister Lisa told me that I needed to take her appointment the next day. John 15:13 says, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Well, at a conference full of writing professionals, the equivilent is, "Greater love has no writer than this, that he give up his editor appointment for his friend." It was, without a doubt, the most awesome four days ever!

Connie Marquise
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
Jesus is alive and well – and was with us at the ACFW conference in Denver last week. Wow! What an amazing journey the Lord took me on. I am still in awe of the fellowship and camaraderie I experienced. We were of every denomination as well as culture, and God’s love flowed between us like a refreshing river, linking us all in His name. It extended beyond our group to all we encountered--other guests and hotel staff included. The subtle changes I witnessed in their demeanor and attitude as each day passed is testimony to the peace and harmony available to everyone when we live a loving and giving life. A Christ-filled life.

That’s the lesson that will remain in my heart even as all the names and lectures begin to fade. I’ve always known He is in charge, though I’ve not always handed over the reins. In Denver, I was reminded that while He may close one door in your life, He will always open another. It’s a matter of waiting and listening, because His time is the right time. It’s my prayer that each of you experiences on a regular basis the same fellowship that enveloped us there. As the song says, “I hope you’ll give faith a fighting chance. I hope you dance.”

Happy Inkies - from left
D'Ann, Connie, Jen, Gwen, Debra, Lisa, Anita Mae
(not pictured - Jill, who is in the previous
picture with Connie)

If you went to the ACFW conference, we'd sure love to hear your thoughts. And if you didn't go, feel free to tell us about another group event that meant a lot to you... a high school reunion, family get-together, etc.

To enter today's giveaway...
One of the ACFW success stories is author Myra Johnson. So today's prize is a copy of her debut novel, One ImPerfect Christmas from Abingdon Press. If you’d like to be entered, just leave a comment on this blog. Please leave an email address so we can contact you if you're the winner (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address). We'll pick a winner at random on September 27th. Remember, all comments left today will also be entered in our grand prize drawing on November 1st.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Too Stupid to (Really) Live

"I love it when a plan comes together." ~Hannibal, The A Team

Cue the theme song. Why? The movie's main roles have finally been filled, putting fans one step closer to an '80s revival of the old show. My geeky cult-tv-fan heart is all a-twitter.

Here in Inktropolis, we blog each week (or month, sometimes) on a different theme. Generally, I like to have the person who suggested the theme be the one who starts the discussion. This time, the theme suggester (me) is ending it, although I was supposed to have posted yesterday. What happened? Lemme start at the sorta beginning.

See, I had a plan. In my post, I'd planned on first talking about Kit Wilkinson's new Steeple Hill: LIS release, PROTECTOR'S HONOR, in stores now. (Great book! You should buy here or here, here or here.) Even had a couple great quotes from her on our theme of the week: Too Stupid to Live (TSTL). I'd then have shared how if we look, we can see TSTL people everywhere on tv and in movies. Ever seen the movie JUMPER with Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson? If you haven't, don't. Please don't. It's awful. And I'm not just talking the acting.

A guy who you haven't seen in years suddenly shows up out of the blue and invites you to go to Italy with him. What do you do? Call police? Taser him? Well, if you're in this movie, you ignore your (wise) qualms and hop on a plane to Rome because he's cute and you figure he's paying all the bills so why not. Hello!?!?! What part of stupid are you not seeing? Don't blame the actress. The screenwriters are all at fault.

Now after I'd rambled about that, I'd intended on talking about the movie TAKEN--a "Must Watch" movie for any female traveling outside the US.

Then I'd have add bit here about Kanye West, aka last week's classic example of stupidity. Share a stupid question like, "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?" More rambling until I finally got to a point about making wise choices. Would have been fabulous and, hopefully, funny.

Unfortunately my plan fell apart because of life, antibiotics, and Golden Pen contest historial coordinator duties. Fortunately, I'm flexible. More fortunately, I read.

In 1900, L. Frank Baum wrote a little book, called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which a young girl from Kansas travels to Oz by way of a tornado. Reminds me of the time when someone at church asked, "If the news reports your county is under a tornado watch, what do you do?" I raised my hand and said, "Ooo, if you're from Oklahoma, you go outside and admire the rotation." (That's what my family does. Please don't tell hubby's grandmother.) Wasn't quite the response the teacher was looking for. My inability to only answer "God" or "Jesus" is why hubby says I should avoid attending adult Sunday School classes.

On the journey to find the way home, Dorothy meets three others who are also desperate to find that "one thing" they thought they needed so very badly. Like Dorothy, the scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion knew what they wanted, only they weren't doing anything to achieve it. Why? Because each of them were in some type of bondage--stuck on a pole, rusted, posturizing to cover his own fear--caused either by someone else's doing, circumstances (rain), or his own choice. Sound like anyone you know?

Today a friend wrote to me: "I think I'm just feeling out of sorts, out of control. Things are not peaceful in my heart or my soul right now. I think God wants to work something in me, and I need to allow Him to, but it has been difficult. When the Bible calls it refiner's FIRE, it isn't whistling dixie."

"Did you speak?" asked the girl, in wonder.

"Certainly," answered the Scarecrow. "How do you do?"

"I'm pretty well, thank you," replied Dorothy politely. "How do you do?"

"I'm not feeling well," said the Scarecrow, with a smile, "for it is very tedious being perched up here night and day to scare away crows."

"Can't you get down?" asked Dorothy.

"No, for this pole is stuck up my back. If you will please take away the pole I shall be greatly obliged to you."

Dorothy reached up both arms and lifted the figure off the pole, for, being stuffed with straw, it was quite light.

After Dorothy attended to the scarecrow's external bondage, she invited him on her journey to the person who had the answer to his deeper need. She did the same with the tin man and cowardly lion. That, though, is not the lesson for the day. See, each had the choice to accept Dorothy's offer of...well, a better life, or to reject it. Don't know about you, but far too many times in my life I've been stuck in bondage because of my own choosing.

I've been too stupid to really live.

The refiner's fire is hot and unpleasant. Forget going home to Kansas if it means enduring poppy fields, wicked witches, winged monkeys, fighting trees, hammer-heads, or giant spiders. Put me back on that pole. Yes, it scratched, but I was used to it. I knew what to expect. Hide my oil can. Doesn't help my complexion anyway. Let me posture in denial of my fears. Being a scardy cat keeps me out of the ER. Because even though I survived this calamity, I know--I KNOW--something bad will happen again.

Get me off this yellow brick road, Lord.

I. Am. Tired. Of. Running. This. Race.

In Strong Women, Soft Hearts, Paula Rinehart puts it this way: "People often complain of such things during the season of life--like someone drilled a hole through their souls. While everything looks the same on the outside, they feel hollow and restless, bored in ways that make no sense."

"But that isn't right. The King of Beasts shouldn't be a coward," said the Scarecrow.

I know it," returned the Lion, wiping a tear from his eye with the tip of his tail. "It is my great sorrow, and makes my life very unhappy. But whenever there is danger, my heart begins to beat fast."

"Perhaps you have heart disease," said the Tin Woodman.

"It may be," said the Lion.

"If you have," continued the Tin Woodman, "you ought to be glad, for it proves you have a heart. For my part, I have no heart; so I cannot have heart disease."

"Perhaps," said the Lion thoughtfully, "if I had no heart I should not be a coward."

"Have you brains?" asked the Scarecrow.

"I suppose so. I've never looked to see," replied the Lion.

"I am going to the Great Oz to ask him to give me some," remarked the Scarecrow, "for my head is stuffed with straw."

"And I am going to ask him to give me a heart," said the Woodman.

"And I am going to ask him to send Toto and me back to Kansas," added Dorothy.

"Do you think Oz could give me courage?" asked the Cowardly Lion.

"Just as easily as he could give me brains," said the Scarecrow.

"Or give me a heart," said the Tin Woodman.

"Or send me back to Kansas," said Dorothy.

"Then, if you don't mind, I'll go with you," said the Lion, "for my life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage."

"You will be very welcome," answered Dorothy, "for you will help to keep away the other wild beasts. It seems to me they must be more cowardly than you are if they allow you to scare them so easily."

"They really are," said the Lion, "but that doesn't make me any braver, and as long as I know myself to be a coward I shall be unhappy."

Last week I realized I have candida. Not pleasant to know. Not a pleasant disease to heal from. Gaining the knowledge of the root cause of all my physical ailments, however, was like Dorothy plucking the strawman off the pole. Lemme tell ya, I've been plucked, girlfriend. My eyebrows haven't looked this good in ten years.

I'm burning that pole.

While some of us need to reclaim our bodies, others need to reclaim their minds, and many more need to reclaim their hearts so that they may really live.

In their book Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge share: "In the end, it doesn't matter how well we have performed or what we have accomplished--a life without heart is not worth living. For out of this wellspring of our soul flow all true caring and all meaningful work, all real worship and all sacrifice."

God does not desire any of us to live in any form of bondage.

Jesus said, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give [you] a rich and satisfying life."

"Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good....Listen, that you may live." Isaiah 55:2, 3 (NAS)

I love how Rinehart writes, "What God asks of us is both simpler and more profound than adherence to a system of beliefs or following a set of rules. He asks us to walk in an honest pilgrimage where we let Him show us what real strength, and real love, are all about."

That's one yellow brick road I want to travel. Why?

Dorothy stood up and found she was in her stocking-feet. For the Silver Shoes had fallen off in her flight through the air, and were lost forever in the desert.

Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running toward her.

"My darling child!" she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. "Where in the world did you come from?"

Well, Aunt Em, I was on this journey that was freakin' hard, but along the way I met some friends who, like me, decided we were tired of being too stupid to live and knew we wanted to really live, so we followed a golden path to Someone who showed us how to reclaim our minds, hearts, bodies, and find our way home. And I learned I need to eat more spinach.

I don't know what holds you in bondage, but I want you to know that you are not alone. If you'd like someone to lift you up in prayer, please e-mail us: inkwellinspirations(at)gmail(dot)com.

A trained professional can be reached here or here or here.

Serious Question of the Day: Is there any one area of your life where you feel God is stirring in your heart to move you out of the stands and onto the playing field?

Non-Serious Question of the Day: In honor of the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, which character in the movie do you most relate to on Wednesdays, the sagging middle of the week? Notice I said "Wednesdays." Who you feel like on Mondays is irrelevant. :-)

Leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address included (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address) and we'll enter you in two different drawings. One on 9/25 and also for one of the grand prizes which will be chosen the first of November!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Something Stupid

Granny here. Can I give you an earworm?* I mean, this song has been stuck in my head since the Inkies started talking about this TSTL concept. Of which I was clueless. Who, IMHO, can remember all those acronyms?

So anyways, when Granny was just a girl in plaid hot pants, Ol Blue Eyes and his daughter Nancy had a hit with “Something Stupid”. (A love song duet which is a bit strange in itself but that’s for another day.) If you know the tune, here’s some of the words:
I practice every day to find some clever lines to say
To make the meaning come through
But then I think I’ll wait until the evening gets late
And I’m alone with you

The time is right, your perfume fills my head, the stars get red
And oh the nights so blue
And then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid
Like I love you

*(Earworm: a song that gets stuck in your head even if and especially if it’s annoying)

Well sometimes stupid is not so bad. When the heroine--generally your flaky chick who goes into the basement alone while the soundtrack music in your head is just tellin’ her to stay locked in her bedroom type of character--makes you throw the book, then stupid is bad.

I’ve bucked up here and used the word stupid even though my mom told me not to use it. (She doesn’t read blogs.) I am told it is just one category below the real potty mouth words. But I’m using it, because someone needs to tell you. Stupid is alive and well and living very close to home.

When I think of my hero, Granny Clampett, I think of all that poor dear woman had to endure with that knucklehead nephew of hers, Jethro. Jethro Bodine. Despite the fact Granny was the ultimate woman (she could bring home the possum AND fry it up in the pan!) Jethro tested her daily with . . . well to be politically correct, he made some poor choices. How often did Granny reach for that big, black, cast iron skillet and threaten to knock some sense into his thick head. I bet she wished she was back at the homestead, living alone. One good way to get away from, well, stupid.

Or not.

My great, great uncle Carl was a hermit. I’ve often thought of giving it a try myself. But there’s no way to get away from stupid. It travels with me.

“For crying out loud! What’s wrong with you?” I admit I’ve used that phrase toward family. Teenagers do that to people. And I’ve used it too often on myself. What? You haven’t? Whatever.

I’m so glad God lets stupid live. If I had a garbanzo bean for every stupid thing I’ve done or said I’d have enough hummus to start my own trendy deli chain.

Of course, Stupid makes for good TV. (I suppose great uncle Carl would have rocked the competition on Survivor. Of course you do need social skills to get by.) And stupid keeps us humble. We (that might be the royal ‘we’) can wear the T shirt “I’m With Stupid” when all alone. Thank God He loves us despite ourselves. Those moments when we truly mess up or when we say something stupid. Something that hurts or tears down rather than builds up.

Granny Clampett was Jethro’s toughest critic but also his fiercest defender. Isn’t that the way of love? Doesn’t God in all His wisdom remind us gently of our weaknesses so that we covet his strength? Doesn’t He shock us at our stupidest moments with the power of His love and forgiveness?

Two questions for you. Are you old enough to have watched the Beverly Hillbillies before syndication? Can you look back on any of your 'stupid' moments as a place where you learned a valuable lesson? I know you can but is there anything you can share with the entire world on cyber space? Never mind. Just acknowledge it and thank God for his mercy.

Proverbs 12:15
The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

Leave a comment with your e-mail address included (use parentheses around your AT sign) and we'll enter you in a drawing for today’s prize and our big ol' grand prize to be awarded at the end of October.
Deadline for entry via the comment section of this post is three days hence. Ya'll come back now, ya hear?

Monday, September 21, 2009

TSTL Defined

* Lacey’s fingers trembled as they gripped the banister. The heavy clunk came again and a shiver slithered up her spine. The serial killer she had been hunting still hadn’t been found. Could he be here, in her house? No, it was impossible. As a woman living alone, she always locked her windows and doors. She swallowed against the lump of dread lodged in her throat. She could go back downstairs and get a weapon or call the police. But that might waste vital moments. She rounded the landing, and started up the last flight. From somewhere deep in the heart of the rickety old mansion a guttural chuckle punctuated the patter of rain on the roof.

As an avid mystery reader moments like these make me want to cringe. Why? Why? Why won’t this woman call for help, or get a weapon, or simply leave the creepy old house harboring a serial killer? A sort of shorthand developed among fans of mystery and suspense novels to describe these bizarre characters—TSTL—Too Stupid To Live. As in “There is no way she is making it out of that house alive.”

Since I first heard the acronym a great deal of furor has apparently risen among people who may misunderstand what it was coined to mean. Apparently some people think those who use the phrase are advocating the wide scale slaughter of na├»ve characters. On the contrary, we’re generally advocating for the character. We want these people we’ve come to know to be savvy. Or at least to use a modicum of common sense.

The fact that these moments crop up so often in fiction prompts a few obvious questions. One: Why do otherwise intelligent and gifted writers fall into the trap of forcing otherwise intelligent and gifted characters into downright stupid actions? And, two: How can we avoid the same pitfalls?

They (and by “they” I mean the all-knowing industry wags) say that an author can make anything plausible with the proper set-up. I suppose the trick is figuring out the proper set -up.

Part of it has to do with motivation. If we use my paragraph at the top as an example, it is easy to see that the only thing compelling Lacey up those stairs is her own morbid curiosity. A pretty thin reason, if she suspects a murderer is lying in wait for her. But what if we up the stakes? Perhaps a fire is spreading through the bottom floor, and the only way out is through the window and down the tree she used to sneak out of the house when she was a teenager. Or maybe she believes the killer has a hostage. That may explain the haste, if not the lack of forethought in grabbing a weapon.

I think the rule of thumb has to be our own life experience. Faced with the same situation would I respond in the same manner? What basic precautions would I take? Then we can take the next step of figuring out how to plausibly strip the character of those options and force the action.

So how about you? Do you find the notion of TSTL offensive? Have you ever been accused of having a TSTL character? How did you remedy the situation? As a reader, have you ever been frustrated by a TSTL moment in a book?

Leave a comment on this post between now and 9/24/09 with your e-mail address included (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address) and we'll enter you in two different drawings. One on 9/25 and also for one of the grand prizes which will be chosen the first of November!

* Virginia Madsen in The Haunting in Connecticut

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kingdom Garden

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Matthew 13:8 (NIV)
Each summer, for the past three summers, I plant a garden.
It seems like a frivolous thing to do when I live within a five minute drive of Costco and three major grocery stores that carry a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables year around. Not only do I live close to supermarkets, I live in Calgary, Alberta. That's in Canada. And while it's true that Canada has regions renowned for their produce, Southern Alberta isn't one of them. With a 110 frost free days a year, my gardening season is shorter than the NHL's off-season.
Still, every spring I wait for the snow to melt and head to the garden centre where I pick up seed packets (anything with the word "Alaska" on the label will do) and sometime in the first week of June, after the weeds have been pulled and bagged, I plant my zucchini, pea, bean, carrot, beet, onion, and potato seeds in my 30' x 20' plot. The tomatoes and lettuce go in containers on my deck.
Then I hook up the timer on my sprinkler and wait for a miracle. Every year, if I water consistently and keep the weeds under control that miracle happens.

I harvest a crop that is abundantly more than I planted.

As the only vegetable garden in a square mile of suburban homes, my kids and the neighborhood children experience the wonder of eating peas right off the vine, learn to eat carrots with a bit of dirt still on them, and stagger under the weight of monster zucchini.

And I encounter, through my small garden, the truth contained in so many of Jesus' parables. When Jesus taught, he spoke to people who understood sowing and reaping. He used the basic metaphor of planting and harvesting to teach about the kingdom of heaven.

…[The] one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the person who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Matthew 13:21 (NIV)

Join me in my prayer this week:
Lord God, let me gladly receive your word so that you may produce an abundance of your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and, faithfulness in me. Help me know that it is you multiplying my small efforts. Amen

I look forward to reading your comments, but as I'm on my way home from Denver today, I won't comment until tomorrow. For sharing your gardening experiences and leaving your email address (like this: you [at] yourmail [dot] com) you could win a copy of Dakota's Child by Linda Ford. I’ll pick a winner at random on September 23rd.

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We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.