Thursday, June 30, 2011

Listen Already!

by Dina Sleiman

You don't believe because you're not my sheep. My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. I and the Father are one heart and mind.  ~ John 10:25-30

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a church where prayer was mostly about talking at God…with words. And this process, for reasons I’ve shared during my last few faith posts, didn’t work out well for me. So I’ve been blogging about different tools to add to our prayer and devotional times to help us better tune into the spiritual world and truly communicate with God.

This week I want to talk about the simple process of listening to God with our inner ears. Considering the fact that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, you’d think we’d want to stop and hear what he has to say. I mean, I could spend hours talking to him about my problems. Maybe that would make me feel better. Probably it would just get me more worked up. Besides, he’s already intimately acquainted with me. So wouldn’t it be better to listen and hear what he wants me to know.

Yet don’t most people spend 90% of their prayer time spouting lists at God, or worse yet, trying to order him around and inform him how he should fix the world. I’m sorry, but this strikes me as a terrible plan.

So why don’t people spend more time being quiet and still and listening to God? Maybe because it can be a little scary. Maybe because we’re afraid we’ll fail. Maybe because it requires a loss of control. But listening to God is the most life-changing kind of prayer there is.

Some of the techniques I’ve shared recently like meditating on words and phrases from scripture or imagining God can be helpful in listening. Deep breathing, quoting short scriptures, soaking in quiet worship music, or time spent in nature can also be helpful.

Perhaps the most helpful tool is journaling. By writing down the thoughts, feelings, and impressions that bubble up from that well deep inside of us, we allow them to flow free. Choose not to analyze, but just to capture it all on paper. Then later you can compare what God has spoken to you with the word of God or share it with a spiritual advisor.

What will God’s voice sound like? Fair enough question.

God rarely speaks in an audible voice. You have to quiet your own thoughts to hear his still quiet voice deep in your heart. And it does tend to feel as if it come from somewhere in your chest. God’s words will often take you by surprise and sound like nothing you could have come up with on your own. There is a sense of “flow.” They will bring peace and comfort. They will sound of authority. Even if they convict, they will do so with love and compassion. They will strengthen you and give you hope. They should always align with scripture and will sometimes even take the form of scripture.

Our own thoughts usually come from somewhere in the vicinity of our head. They tend to be logical and predictable. Most of us are pretty familiar with our own thoughts. They often run in circles and get us nowhere.

Satan’s voice can be the trickiest, but you’ll quickly learn to tell the difference. This voice brings negative emotions: fear, anger, hopelessness, condemnation, bitterness etc… It might sound good on the surface, but you can tell it by the fruit it produces. It accuses and twists the truth. Satan loves to use words like “always” and “never” and work you into a frenzy, the opposite of the peace of God. His words twist in your gut and can feel like they come from that area. Rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus when these thoughts attempt to invade.

Don’t focus on Satan, though. Focus on God. He is the good shepherd and his children know his voice. Spend time with him. Learn to listen to him. Use the tools that best help you to relate to him and hear him speak.

So the next time you pray, remember, stop talking so much and listen already.

What helps you listen to God? How do you identify his voice? Have you ever tried keeping a prayer journal?


 Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with Whitefire Publishing in 2011. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Inside Look at the Simple Lifestyle of the Amish

Welcome debut Author Ruth Reid, author or The Promise of an Angel, to the Inkwell!

When I decided to write about the Amish, I wanted intricate details embedded into the framework of the story.  It required research—accurate, firsthand conversations with Amish women.  When I stepped into the Amish house I never realized I would leave with a longing to simplify my own life.

Since my visit was in November, the fields lay dormant, the plow horses grazed on what pasture hadn’t been killed off by the early frost, and the horse-powered equipment was tucked into the barn until the next planting season. This particular Amish family raised white broad-breasted turkeys, which gobbled loudly announcing my arrival. Each year the family fills Thanksgiving Turkey orders from the area English. In another week, both the young and old would participate in the annual work-bee where the hundred or so birds would be boiled, plucked, and dressed for the holiday. As I listened to some of the arrangements, I found myself wishing I could extend my time and participate in the upcoming family event. But then, I didn’t want to overstay my welcome and I wasn’t completely sure I wouldn’t be squeamish during the gizzard gutting. 
As I entered the over-sized kitchen, the sweet scent of baked bread greeted me at the door. The cast-iron cook stove heated the otherwise drafty Michigan farmhouse, and canning jars lined the shelves. Guided into the sitting room, I sat in a handcrafted wooden rocker, marveled at the fine satin finish, while inwardly I chuckled. Although the room invited fellowship, the non-cushioned furniture would make becoming a couch potato nearly impossible.
Not only are the furnishings sparse, the walls are bare. Unlike most of us who love to adorn our walls with family photos, the Amish view photos as engraved images and a violation of the second commandment (Exodus 20:4). They also choose to live without modern conveniences such as automobiles and electricity based on the belief that these worldly influences would lead to temptation. Their unwavering faith follows the Biblical principle of not conforming to the world (Romans 12:2). 

While many Amish districts allow phone shanties (a wooden structure similar to a telephone booth) or the use of cell phones for business or emergency purposes, the Old-order Michigan community that I visited, strictly abides by the original doctrine and does not allow any phones in the settlement. 

The Amish strive for simplicity. The women wear dark-colored plain dresses and in place of buttons, they fasten their garments using straight pins. Sounds uncomfortable to me, but I’m told you forget the pins are there. In following the scripture to “pray always” the women part their uncut hair in the center, wrap it in a bun, then keep it covered at all times with a thin pleated cloth known as a prayer kapp. Each day, the head coverings are re-pleated by hand using precise measurements between the folds. Because they want to be prepared to “pray always” the prayer kapp is worn to bed.  

The day I visited my Amish friend had agreed to watch her nieces while their parents worked on the farm. As we gathered in the sitting room, the children, one-by-one, pulled their little wooden rockers in a row and joined our circle. Even though the children were not yet school age and could not speak English, they partook in the visitation. One of the youngest girls cradled her homemade doll in her arms. Her mother made the faceless cloth doll for the child’s third birthday. Amish children attend school through the eighth grade. They study the basics: speaking English, reading, writing and arithmetic. Until the children are school age, they only speak Pennsylvania Deitsch. 

After spending the day with my Amish friend and learning about her faith and family traditions, I realized I took more away with me than a few pages of answered questions. Part of me wanted somehow to obtain a simpler lifestyle—even if I can only accomplish one goal and un-clutter my office—it’s a start at simplicity.

The Promise of an Angel: Interrupting the ordered routine of the Mecosta County Amish settlement, an angelic visitor awakens Judith to a new faith.

After a barn raising accident, Judith Fischer's convinced she's met an angel. However, her attempts to convince others end up frustrating her Old-Order Amish community. Only Andrew Lapp believes her, but the rest, including Levi Plank, the man's she's waited to marry, demand she forget the nonsense. Meanwhile, her younger sister, Martha, has taken a fancy to Levi. Martha sees her sister's controversy as a perfect distraction for turning Levi's head.

To win a copy of The Promise of an Angel, please leave a comment by 11 PM Thursday, June 30, and include your email address in your comment so we can contact you. One commenter will be drawn at random. Good luck!

Ruth Reid is a full-time pharmacist who lives in Dade City, Florida with her husband and three children. Her fascination for the Amish began twenty-years ago when she skipped college classes to watch a barn-raising. Today, she’s still captivated by the simple ways of the Amish lifestyle, and in her debut novel, The Promise of an Angel, she writes about what started her curiosity with the Amish—a barn raising. When Ruth is not working, she loves photography. 

For a tear-jerker of a real-live miracle, visit Susanne's blog here to read about a time God acted in the life of Ruth's son. You can also visit Ruth on her website here. If you don't win the giveaway, The Promise of an Angel is available from your favorite Christian retailer or here, in paperback or Kindle formats.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nathan Cook Meeker, Antihero, and the Last Indian Uprising

by Niki Turner

This weekend, the community where I live will reenact a massacre. Sounds strange, doesn't it?

One warm July weekend 13 years ago I walked out of my house in the evening to get something out of the car and heard the sound of Indian war whoops echoing through the valley. 

"What on earth?" I asked. 
"Just rehearsals for the pageant," I was told. The "massacre."
Or an "incident," depending on who you talk to. I know, it's SO politically incorrect, no matter how you look at it, but it has been going on for the last 73 years, and no one seems compelled to quit. Hey, to each their own. 
An etching that appeared in the December 6, 1879 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicts the aftermath of the "Meeker Massacre." Meeker grave at lower left; W.H. Post grave at lower right
The Meeker Massacre is widely regarded as the last Indian uprising in the United States. The Thornburg battle, a direct result of the massacre, took place just a few miles from my house (more on that in another post.) 
In 1879, Indian agent Nathan Meeker and the rest of the white male settlers (numbers vary from seven to 10) at the White River Agency in northwest Colorado were killed by Ute Indians. The women and children were captured and held hostage for weeks until Ute Chief  Ouray and his wife Chipeta were able to orchestrate their release. It's said that Meeker's daughter Josephine's arguments kept the hostages alive until their release.

One might think he was a hero (after all, there's more than one town named after him). But heroes have to have heroic characteristics. In my opinion, Nathan Meeker lacked those essential qualities.

Nathan Meeker, Indian agent
Don't misunderstand me, every great hero has flaws (except Jesus, of course). But as writers, as builders of heroes, we have to be careful to differentiate between a flawed hero and an antihero. A flawed hero can be loved, because his basic character, his motive for action, is essentially good. An antihero, on the other hand, may rise to a position of power and authority, but his motives are skewed.

As with most of the controversial treatment of Native Americans by the American government, there are conflicting variations of the history that led up to the attack on Meeker and the other white settlers. Meeker was appointed as Indian agent by his friend, Horace Greeley, to whom Meeker was indebted financially. His dream? To establish a perfect, Utopian community. He and Greeley had established Union Colony (present day Greeley, Colo.) in hopes of achieving that dream, but although the colony was a success, Meeker wasn't satisfied. He accepted the assignment of Indian agent in northwest Colorado, supposedly with the idea he could take the Indians there and create a perfect socio-political-economic community. 

The Indians weren't what he was expecting. 

First, they were hunter/gatherers, not farmers. The very idea of farming seemed foolish to them. The menfolk went on extended hunting excursions, harvesting the plentiful elk and deer in the area, and the womenfolk foraged and took care of the homestead. Staying at home and plowing the ground was a ludicrous idea, as far as the Utes were concerned. Meeker refused to back down. First, he moved the white settlement smack into the middle of the land the Utes used to pasture their beloved ponies. Second, and what some consider the last straw, he plowed up the ground where they gathered to race their ponies. 

The Ute warriors dragged Nathan Meeker through the streets of the Agency he was in charge of, poured sugar into his mouth (he spoke sweet words to them) and then drove a barrel stave down his throat (he speaks with two mouths.) No one who reads the story can deny the symbolism employed by the Utes in the death of Nathan Meeker. 

Some say Meeker was an outright liar who frequently made promises to the Indians and then failed to keep them. Others say he was a visionary and idealist, innocently caught in the crossfire between his dream of creating a Utopian society and a bunch of heathens who refused to change their ways. Some say he had a violent temper, and by words and actions provoked the Utes to reciprocate with uncharacteristic violence.
Others say he was merely misunderstood, a man of great dreams and ideals, if weak communication and diplomatic ability. 

Personally, I see a case of a man's vision taking him places where his character was not strong enough to keep him. A man so committed to his idealistic vision he forgot about the souls, the lives of the people to whom he was responsible. He valued his personal vision and goals above the human beings around him.

When we look back at history, whether we're examining pirates, Indian agents, Confederate generals or English royals, sometimes it's difficult to determine who was right and who was wrong. As writers, it's important to realize there were heroes and antiheroes on both sides of every conflict. Our job is to create heroes, not antiheroes.

What makes an antihero? I suppose it depends upon your definition of a hero. 
In my mind, a true hero is one who, above all else, values honesty and humanity. If it means he has to adapt, even compromise, for the sake of saving souls and remaining true to his word, he'll do so. He'll show mercy when an antihero will only mete out justice. As described in Psalm 15, 

He swears to his own hurt, 
and does not change; 
Ps 15:4 NAS

Sometimes holding fast to your own promises is painful. Sometimes it costs you something to keep your word. But the one who does, that one is a hero, and those men (and women) are few and far between, in fiction and in reality. 

Can you think of an "antihero" in fiction or in history? Who comes to mind? 

Is there, in your opinion, one essential characteristic of a true hero/heroine? 


Monday, June 27, 2011

Here's Looking at You... If that Really IS You

by Jennifer AlLee

Plastic surgery. It's been around for awhile. But what used to be reserved for facial reconstruction of the seriously injured (a great thing) and erasing the lines of time on older women (not such a great thing, in my opinion), is now being used in an entirely different and most alarming way: to change the facial structure of beautiful young ladies. What's worse, they're doing it voluntarily.

A few examples...

Jennifer Grey

In 1987, the movie Dirty Dancing made Jennifer Grey a star. She couldn't go anywhere without being recognized. But she took care of that in the early '90s when she had a nose job. The famous actress was suddenly unrecognizable. Problem is, that wasn't her intention. She thought that "fixing" her nose would lead to more roles. Instead, it nearly wiped her off the entertainment business map.

Heidi Montag

Heidi Montag is a reality TV "star" (I use that word very loosely). Back in 2009, the 23-year-old woman had not one, not two, but 10 cosmetic surgery procedures. When asked about it, she was quoted as saying "I was made fun of when I was younger, and so I had insecurities, especially after I moved to L.A. People said I had a 'Jay Leno chin'; they'd circle it on blogs and say nasty things. It bothered me. And when I watched myself on The Hills, my ears would be sticking out like Dumbo! I just wanted to feel more confident and look in the mirror and be like, "Whoa! That's me!" I was an ugly duckling before." Seriously? Please, take a look at the gal on the left. Would anybody look at her and think ugly ducking? How sad that her self-image could be so skewed, and shame on the people who made fun of her looks.

Bristol Palin

20-year-old Bristol Palin is no stranger to being in the spotlight. But now, when the light shines on her, you might have to look twice to make sure you recognize her. The picture on the left is of Palin in September 2010 at the Dancing with the Stars premiere. She's adorable. The picture to the right is also of Palin, in May 2011. She's gorgeous, but she doesn't look like herself. (The first time I saw that pic, I thought she was Angelina Jolie.) She reports that she only had jaw surgery to align her bite, and also lost five pounds. I certainly hope that's the case, but I can't comprehend how corrective jaw surgery could change the shape and length of her chin.

So, what's my point? Am I out to bash all these beautiful women just because I'm jealous? Nope. Okay, I wouldn't mind looking like any of them, before or after... except for Heidi's after, because those breasts would lead to a serious backache. But that's not the point.

What's the one thing all three of these ladies have in common? They don't look like themselves anymore. Two of them - Jennifer and Heidi - have told the press that they regret having the surgeries. What does it say about our culture that beautiful young women would submit themselves to the pain of cosmetic surgery for no good reason? And it's not just the young ones... I could have put up picture after picture of older ladies who've been nipped, tucked, and lip-plumped until they look like plastic pseudo-people. But it's just too sad.

The whole point of this post is to speak to anyone out there who thinks they're not good enough because of the way they look. Be you woman or man (there are some truly heartbreaking examples of men who've done the same thing), please, please, please think long and hard before you change your appearance. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Consider this:

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
(Psalm 139:13-16 - NLT)
God formed you. He designed you. He gave you those ears that stick out slightly, that bump on your nose, those thin lips, those round cheeks. You may not conform to the popular idea of what's beautiful (few of us do) but you are beautiful just the same.

What do you think? Have you considered plastic surgery? (I have.) Are you leaving it on the table as a "maybe someday" option? Would love to hear your thoughts

 JENNIFER ALLEE believes the most important thing a woman can do is find her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her novels. A professional writer for over twenty years, she's done extensive freelance work for Concordia Publishing House, including skits, Bible activity pages, and over 100 contributions to their popular My Devotions series. Her first novel, The Love of His Brother, was released by Five Star Publishers in November 2007. Her latest novel, The Pastor’s Wife, was released by Abingdon Press in February 2010. Her upcoming novel, The Mother Road, will be released by Abingdon Press in April 2012. She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. - Jennifer's website - A safe haven for women living on the front lines of ministry.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Lightkeeper’s Ball

The Lightkeeper's Ball

A Mercy Falls Novel by Colleen Coble
reviewed by Suzie Johnson

History, mystery, suspense and romance....

These are my favorite elements in a novel, and when they’re all combined in to one, it equals a book that’s hard for me to put down – especially when written by Colleen Coble who excels at creating and building suspense. Being a huge fan of her Aloha Reef and Rock Harbor suspense series, I was more than willing to give her historical novels a try.

A mysterious letter from her sister, written before her tragic death, sends Olivia Stewart to Mercy Falls, California at the turn of the last century. Using her little-known title Lady Devonworth, Olivia intends to discover the true circumstances behind her sister’s tragic death. Her number one suspect is her sister’s fiancĂ©, Harrison Bennett.

Before she even arrives in Mercy Falls someone attempts to take Olivia's life, increasing her determination to prove her sister’s death was a murder and not a suicide.

It seems someone is willing to kill to keep secrets hidden forever; secrets surrounding a partnership between her father and Harrison’s father, her sister and Harrison’s relationship, and the dwindling funds in her father’s estate.

Still certain that the “someone” is Harrison, Olivia plots to spend time with him. What she doesn’t count on is the man she discovers Harrison to be. His goals, his dreams, they all make up the kind of man she could fall in love with. Her heart keeps telling her he’s innocent of her sister’s murderer, but there’s too much evidence pointing at him. The mystery thickens when Olivia begins to hear her late father’s voice in the middle of the night, and she discovers just how much danger she’s really in.

For some reason, I’ve reached a point where I need books (and movies) that are more than just a hero and heroine who are thrown together for whatever reason, who don’t really like each other for whatever reason, but end up falling in love. These are all good and wonderful elements for a storyline, however I need something a little more out-of-the-ordinary to keep me engaged. 

Author Colleen Coble provides that extra spark in Harrison and Olivia. Harrison’s character – a man from a wealthy family, more interested in pursuing his dream than in spending his father’s money – is far from your typical hero. I love his dreams. And I love that Olivia shows more than a little interest in them. Her kindness and generosity toward others also show she definitely isn’t your ordinary debutant simply out to regain the family fortune.

This book was a surprising delight, and though it is the third book in the Mercy Falls series, I didn’t need to read the first two in order to enjoy this one. It’s a great stand-alone, but it was so well written, I’m planning to go back and read the first two books in the series.

This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for my review, and I’m willing to give away my copy. Please leave a comment with your email address before midnight tonight PST if you’re interested, and if you don’t mind that the bottom corner of the cover was accidentally bent by my husband.

Suzie Johnson has won several awards for her inspirational novels (writing as Susan Diane Johnson), including the Maggie, Lone Star, Heart of the West, and Beacon awards, as well as finaling in the Touched by Love, Finally A Bride, Linda Howard Award for Excellence, and Virginia's Fool For Love contests. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is a cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man who makes her proud every day, she lives with her husband and little kitten on an island in the Pacific Northwest. And although the beaches are rocky instead of sandy, lined with Madronas and Evergreens instead of Palm trees, and the surf is much to cold for wading, it is still the perfect spot for writing romantic fiction. You can visit her blog, Suzie's Writing Place at

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stress Reduction

by Guest Blogger Jeannie Campbell, LMFT

I am grateful to the Inkwell ladies for having me back on their blog for self-help Friday!
Any of you in the full-on summer-busy mode yet? It seems that we look forward to summer so much…kids are hooraying to be out of school, vacations are being planned, and family get-togethers are much more common. But with summer also comes the missed schedules and routines. Everything is different; fun, yet completely out of whack.
How can we stay grounded during the stressful time that comprises summer?
I brought with me some of my more common anxiety management techniques that can be done at any time or place. (Don’t be thrown off by “anxiety management.” Anxiety in the psychology world really is just another synonym for stress. We’ve all got it—whether it’s diagnosable or not.)
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to try these out. I do them with clients in therapy all the time, and it truly is amazing what a difference they can make in the moment. So whether the barbeque is burning, the van gets a flat, or the hotel unexpectedly lost your reservation, give these techniques a shot to reclaim some control over your chaotic summer!
Square Breathing

You can do this technique standing or sitting, although I prefer clients to sit. If you were in my office, I'd say close your eyes, but if waitresses are taking orders and lifeguards are milling around, just leave them open. The instructions are simple:

1) Slowly count to 3 as you take a deep breath in through your nose
2) Hold your breath for 3 counts
3) Let the breath out through your mouth for 3 counts
4) Hold for 3 counts
5) Repeat a few times/as needed

You can increase the count to 4 if this suits your lung capacity better. But just taking the time to focus on breathing can relax you almost instantly. I don’t think humans realize how much directed oxygen to the brain can really help. We breathe as an automatic reflex, but when you do it purposefully, suddenly you have that moment “to just breathe” that on many busy days, we often claim we never had a chance to do.

This second technique builds off the first. Mindfulness is bringing yourself into the present moment, relaxing, and becoming aware of your breath, thoughts, feelings, surroundings and sensations. You give your self-critical, controlling mind a rest and accept the moment with peace and non-resistance. (Yes, sounds a little new-agey, but it works and you won't need to go to church afterward to repent.)

Since anxiety lives in the body as chronic tension, just breathing can help undo that tension, which restores balance to the body and mind. It's hard to remember your breath (because it’s so automatic), so setting aside time to do so amidst the hustle and bustle of summer will help you relax.

1) Sit as relaxed and still as possible
2) Don't try to control your thoughts - just observe your breath and other sensations/sounds. Don't engage your thoughts, just let them come and go
3) Focus on breathing or heartbeat or the rise/fall of your belly/chest

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is when you tense and relax various muscle groups in your body in a progression. You hold the tension for about 10 seconds and then relax, noticing the difference between relaxed and tense. You usually work bottom to top, right to left. I usually play a nice CD when I do this with clients, but I’ve also done it to myself in the dead quiet of night right before sleep.

a) Right foot, calf, thigh, entire leg
b) Left foot, calf, thigh, entire leg
c) Right hand, forearm, bicep, entire arm
d) Left hand, forearm, bicep, entire arm
e) Buttocks
f) Abdomen
g) Chest (fill and hold lungs)
h) Shoulders
i) Neck
j) Face (stretch out forehead and cheeks by exaggeratedly mouthing the vowel sounds—if you’re kids are nearby, you might want to leave this part out. They will laugh at you.)

One or all of these techniques will bring you back to a more relaxed state of mind this summer. Remember, God is master of your stress!
Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Two of Jeannie’s “therapeutic romance” manuscripts have garnered the high praise of being finalists in the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which she is an active member. She writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in many other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs.

You can visit Jeannie on her brand-new website! Click here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spies and Undercover Christians

By Lisa Karon Richardson

As far back as I can remember I’ve had a thing for spies. From the Scarlet Pimpernel to 007 they have been portrayed as dashing men of mystery. Even as I write this post an old episode of Mission Impossible is playing in the background. I know that such portrayals are highly romanticized and as far removed from reality as the fruitcake who thinks he’s Napoleon Bonaparte, but I can’t seem to help myself.

Spies even have a role in the Bible. Rotten intelligence from ten spies kept Israel out of the promised land for a generation. When they finally made it, they got as far as Jericho and sent spies in to scope out the joint. The poor fellows nearly bought it when they were identified and had to take refuge in the house of a harlot. Of course, that story is a bit like a novel in that one of the spies fell in love with the woman who saved his life. And after the battle they married and lived (apparently) happily ever after.

Enamored though I am, I think I’m tired of trying to be a spy. In the past I’ve spent a large part of my time observing the behavior of the people around me and reporting back to God.

It’s not that I denied my Christianity. People know. I just don’t talk about it much. I let it kind of stay under the table. But being an undercover Christian isn’t doing me, or the world, an iota of good.

I’m not advocating an aggressive, in-your-face brand of Christianity, but when acquaintances at work are going through a tough time, I want them to think about me, maybe even feel comfortable asking me to pray for them.

I need to take more pride in my salvation, not keep quiet when I see someone hurting. Not hesitate to offer hope, when I see someone floundering. Not freeze in the face of ridicule.

Have you been operating undercover lately?

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her first novella, Impressed by Love, part of the Colonial Courtships collection, is coming in May, 2012.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writing Is Not For the Faith of Heart

Guest post by Patti Hill

People without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won't survive the ordeal.
~ Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners.

This is my favorite quote about novel writing. There's a touch of hyperbole in O'Connor's words (I still have my teeth!) but not much. A story owns the writer, not just for the hours set aside for tapping on computer keys, but while we sort lights from darks and wander down grocery aisles. We forget to eat, and yes, personal hygiene suffers. What's more, to write authentic fiction, we are forced to wrestle with God, dig deeper into what we believe about him and how he interacts with us and the world, and hopefully see him with fresh eyes.

Novel writing is not for the faint of heart!

But a deeper truth in O'Connor's words shakes me: Novelists plunge into reality. In our stories, we can rearrange topography, give an alien extra arms, or allow mythical characters into the landscape, but we cannot, must not, rescue our characters from their fallen natures or transfer them to a fall-less society, or save them from meaningful struggle. They will fail, not in a contrived, acceptable-to-Christian-culture way, but in a way that makes our own skin itch. That's when grace shows up.

Does this mean every novel should portray the underbelly of society?

No, but we disrespect our readers if we mishandle the human condition, both its nobility and frailty. After all, the Bible is wrought with counterexamples. Think of David; he committed adultery and sent the husband to certain death, and yet, he is the apple of God's eye. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed him. Thomas forgot. Even Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane. The faith life is messy!

Now, it's your turn. Have you read a novel lately where the author plunges into reality and does it well? Tell us about it.

Author Patti Hill
 Patti Hill is the author of five published novels—Like a Watered Garden, Always Green, In Every Flower, The Queen of Sleepy Eye, and Seeing Things (see below). She just completed her first historical novel, Goodness & Mercy, set during World War II. Patti writes stories to reveal how faith looks in working clothes, what faith feels like in a crisis, and how faith acts toward others who are hurting. She’s been married to Mr. Wonderful, Dennis, for 34 years. Her grown sons are handsome and brilliant, of course. When not writing, she works part-time as a librarian—pure indulgence—and acts as sous chef for her husband, a dedicated foodie. She has been a finalist in both the Christy Awards in the New Author category and for Best Book of the Year in “ForeWord” magazine.

 Birdie’s hallucinations add color and detail to vision smudged by macular degeneration, but the line between reality and whimsy turns brittle when Huck Finn appears to her. The literary character gains voice and substance over the course of his visits. And trouble follows. Birdie relies on faith, friends, and a pudgy Romeo to chart a course back to normal—or something like it. Seeing Things is a story about family, reconciliation, and hearing from God in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pirates -- Arrrrgh!

by C.J. Chase
Once the scourge of travelers across the globe, pirates seem to proliferate in popular culture -- movies, books, even musicals and cartoons. The Victorian era began a romanticization of the "Golden Age" of piracy that has continued to this day.

Sir Walter Scott, Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all wrote pirate-themed novels. Edgar Allen Poe put his pirate in a short story while Lord Byron told his pirate tale through verse. Gilbert and Sullivan's pirates sang and danced across the London stage. Errol Flynn, Walter Matthau, Anthony Quinn and Douglas Fairbanks all starred as pirates on film. Tyrone Powers played a reformed pirate while Gene Kelly played a man pretending to be a pirate. Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise has grossed more than $3.5 billion for the company -- with nearly $1 billion of that coming from the movie released just last month. Even Larry the Cucumber and the Veggie Tales gang have had roles as lovable (if inept) pirates.

Floridians have to wait until fall to cheer on their Buccaneers, but if you live in western Pennsylvania, you can root, root, root for the home team Pirates to win tonight. And then there are the host of colleges and high schools with pirate-themed mascots. There is even an international Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19 for those who want to begin practicing early).

Last weekend, I traveled with my family to the Outer Banks -- the string of barrier islands on North Carolina's Atlantic coast -- for a trip that combined research (for me) with a couple days of relaxation (for them). I was looking for information about shipwrecks, but I found Pirate Central, USA. Few places in the US can rival coastal North Carolina for pirate lore.

The most infamous pirate of them all, Blackbeard, spent his final months there. Historians aren't certain what Blackbeard's real name was. It may have been Edward Drummond, although he also used the names Edward Thatch and Edward Teach. He was probably born around 1680 in England and served as a privateer during Queen Anne's War (1701-1714). When the cessation of the conflict brought an end to privateering profits, Blackbeard, like many of other privateers, turned to piracy.

Blackbeard captured the French ship La Concorde in late 1717 and renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge. After wintering in the Caribbean -- and adding more ships to his growing fleet -- Blackbeard set his sights north toward what is now the US mainland. After a brief blockade of Charleston in May (ended when the city paid a ransom of one chest of medicines), Blackbeard continued north and ran his ship aground at Beaufort Inlet, near Beaufort, NC. He settled in Bath and reformed (briefly), received a pardon, and remarried (for the 14th time).

Ocracoke Island, NC, overlooking Teach's Hole, the channel where Blackbeard and his fellow pirates moored their ships.
But the newly respectable Blackbeard soon returned to his roots with another act of piracy. In October, he hosted history's largest gathering of pirates on Ocracoke Island. The people of America had had enough of Blackbeard and called on Governor Spotswood of Virginia to deal with the problem. Spotswood sent both land and sea forces to capture the notorious pirate. On November 22, 1718, Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy caught up with Blackbeard and his crew, and the pirate leader died in the ensuing battle.

Maynard cut off Blackbeard's head and tossed his body into the sea. Legend says his body swam around the ship seven times looking for his head. But Maynard took the head to Hampton, Virginia where the governor displayed it on a pike as a warning to all would-be criminals.

Pirate weapons on display at the
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Hatteras, NC
I'll admit to enjoying a pirate adventure movie as well as the next person, but there's a certain irony in our modern tendancy to idealize these men. In reality, they were nothing more than common thieves. Over and over in the Bible, God warns us about the consequences of sinful living. "The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short" (Proverbs 10:27). And while we can name all manner of exceptions to this generalization, we know that violence puts a person in high risk categories for an earlier death.

The new Pirates of the Caribbean movie features Blackbeard as one of the characters. However, at 69 years old, actor Ian McShane is nearly twice the age of Blackbeard at his death. A trait common of pirates was that they did not enjoy their ill-gotten gains for long. It seems most people don't like having their property forcibly taken from them. They fight back, and they band together to form governments that fight on their behalf. Consequently, pirates tended to lead short, violent lives. God gave us guidelines for our behavior, and we violate his commands at our own peril.

As the only female in a household of guys, I'll probably end up seeing this new pirate movie. After all, I've seen all the others. At the risk of being tarred and feathered, I admit that Jack Sparrow doesn't, er, float my boat (I think it's the eye makeup). I'd have to name Cary Elwes as my favorite cinematic pirate -- the dread pirate Roberts can rescue me from midget Sicilians, giants, and six-fingered men any day.

But the feature I'm most looking forward to is the day when God creates the perfect society, one without greed and violence and heartache. "He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isaiah 2:4)

Do you like pirate movies and stories, or are you ambivalent about the genre? What are some of your favorite pirate-themed stories?

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Redeeming the Rogue is an August, 2011 release. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at

Monday, June 20, 2011

This Little (Aromatherapeutic) Light of Mine

by Susanne Dietze

Pineapple and Cilantro.  I don’t know how those two would taste in a dish, but I do know one thing: together they create my favorite candle scent in the entire world.

photo courtesy of
My pineapple pillar smells sweet, but not like an upside-down cake. There’s a bite to the fragrance, an earthiness that makes me feel buoyant, like summer is here and I’m slicing the prickly skin off the pineapple and eating the fruit with my hands.

You probably have a favorite candle scent, too. Or more than one. I’m quite a junkie, candle-wise. I love them so much that, until recently, I sold them as a home-based business. I obviously loved the product, and it was a good gig. Americans supposedly spend two billion dollars a year on candles; they’re a popular gift item, they’re moderately priced, and they can add a homey touch to any room—visually as well as scent-wise.

Candles seem a bit indulgent, which is part of their appeal. Unlike the tallow and beeswax tapers our ancestors used, we don’t need candles to brighten our homes. Illumination is no longer the point. A different sort of enlightenment comes from candles these days.

There’s something deliberate about candles, something that forces us to be slow and purposeful in order to enjoy what they offer. Something that makes us stop and be present in the moment.

For one thing, time is required—to prepare a safe place for the candle, and to enjoy the burn—when we light candles. The flame, flickering over the wax, mesmerizes in a way no electric bulb ever can. The glow signals the intentional setting aside of time for romance, or a relaxing bath, or a special meal. We can’t burn candles when we’re frenzied. We burn them when we want to experience a bit of peace.

2011 Paschal Candle
image by synestheticstrings via flickr
I find this true in worship, as well. I attend a liturgical church, so candles are part of our worship. There are no Biblical roots for candles, since candle making as we know it didn’t exist until the eleventh century or so. Nevertheless, each candle at church, to me, is like a miniature Paschal candle (the large, white candle we light each Easter, a tradition which goes back to the sixth century) because the flames represent the triumph of the Resurrection over death, of light over darkness, of the Light of the World over sin.

Like the visual power of candles in the sanctuary, my sense of smell can also tie me to worship. I often burn a candle when I pray, and the moment I light it and its scent reaches me, I feel caught up, taken back to what I was last doing when I experienced it. Prayer. Praise. God’s love. Later, when the candle burns when I’m not at prayer, the scent still reminds me of God’s closeness.

Of all our senses, scent is said to have the strongest effect in evoking memory (it's called odor perception, and it's quite a complex response in our central nervous systems). Scent ties us to place, time, and emotion faster and more viscerally than images, sounds, or taste. We writers are supposed to incorporate all five senses into our stories, but smell is often overlooked. It shouldn't be, and not just because smell enriches the reading experience. It’s because scent is such a powerful trigger for mood and memory, and that’s true for us as well as our characters.

We each create our own meanings for the scents we experience. While some associate orange blossoms with allergy season, the scent energizes me because I relate it to a fresh start I had several years ago. An old grass-scented candle of mine smelled like fresh-cut stems, and when burning it, I’d experience a bit of pleasure, as if someone had sent me flowers. Sweet peas’ fragrance instills a carefree feeling in me; it reminds me of being young, experiencing their heady scent for the first time when (with permission) I cut stems off a neighbor’s wire fence.

It’s no wonder aromatherapy is such big business, when scent can elevate mood or remind us of emotions and experiences from the past.

To me, candles are a tool of cultivation. They help set the stage for acts of deliberation, from worship to romance to celebration. They also assist me in nurturing the remembrance of positive memories and feelings, like optimism and tranquility. Candles may not be your thing, but God has given us a gift in our senses of smell to refresh and bless us. And He’s given us a world of scent to enjoy.

Baking bread. A fresh-bathed baby. My children’s’ hair. Coppertone suntan lotion. Dill weed from my garden. Precious, all, and worthy of offering thanks to God.

Question for the Day: What’s your favorite candle scent? How does it make you feel, or does it remind you of something?

Susanne Dietze has written love stories set in the nineteenth century since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. Her work has finaled in the 2010 Genesis Contest, the 2009 Gotcha! Contest, and the Touched By Love Contest, 2008 and 2009. You can visit her on her personal blog, Tea and a Good Book,

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers: Working Backstage

by Niki Turner

If you've ever participated in a live stage performance -- play, musical, or dance -- you gain an appreciation for the folks who work behind the scenes. They don't get the public accolades, don't come out for the standing ovation; their names often end up in tiny print on the back of the program, even though what takes place backstage is crucial to what is seen by the public.

If our mothers are the supremely visible agents and directors in our lives, our fathers tend to be the prop guys and the sound men. If they do their jobs well, no one pays much attention to them. If they do their jobs poorly, everyone notices.

It's much the same for our heavenly Father ... except He always does His job to perfection.

...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Phil 1:6 (from New International Version)

He's perpetually at work behind the scenes in our lives, preparing and arranging and responding to events and circumstances, making sure we are fully equipped for the "performance" of our lives. We're not required to move the props, change the scenery, or raise and lower the curtain. He takes care of all those things, often in spite of our meddling.(Can you imagine what a pesky bunch we are to work with?)

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Heb 13:20-21 NKJV
Today, on Father's Day, renew your trust in your heavenly Father to set the stage for you, to take care of all those things that are beyond your reach. Take your cues and show the world all the good works He has prepared beforehand for you to walk in!

Niki Turner writes romantic fiction, Christian non-fiction, blog posts, articles in the local newspaper, lengthy grocery lists, and Facebook status updates. Her first completed manuscript won second place in the 2009 Touched By Love contest for contemporary category romance. Colorado natives, Niki and her husband of 20+ years have four children  (three at home) and are new grandparents to a baby boy. In 1998 they planted a church in rural northwestern Colorado. Currently, they share their home with three teenage boys, two black Lab mutts, and Niki’s absurdly spoiled Westie, Archie. Niki can be found at In Truer Ink, her personal blog and website, here at Inkwell Inspirations, and at The Pastor’s Wife Speaks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ensure a Happy Father's Day

Here's a little advice for the hubby's out there to help ensure you have a Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Open the Eyes of My Heart

by Dina Sleiman

In my recent faith posts, With Unveiled Faces and Lectio Divina, I’ve been sharing ways I’ve discovered to better tap into our spiritual senses and interact with the kingdom of God that dwells within every believer. First I proposed that we have spiritual senses, but they are generally crowded out by our more powerful physical senses. Then I offered a way to read the Bible in which we savor each word and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us about it throughout the day.

This week I would like to talk about a style of relating to God that has revolutionized my personal life more than any other. It is the simple practice of engaging the imagination, otherwise known as the eyes of our hearts, in encountering God.

For much of my life I had a hard time praying, meditating on God, and hearing from God. What would happen was basically this, I would try to talk to God in words. Meanwhile, my mind would be flooded with images, daydreams, feelings, and distractions. It was like I was trying to talk at God through a radio script while the television was blasting right in front of my face. And I didn’t know how to turn the dumb thing off. As far as listening to God in such a state, well…just forget it.

Then I finally learned the secret. While you can’t turn off that inner television set, you can change the channel. You can use that inner imaging system to focus on God. You can picture meeting with him. Looking into his face. You can tune your thoughts to a favorite image of God from the Bible. The shepherd. The king on his throne. The loving father. Jesus the carpenter. The dove. Or something in nature that speaks to you of God’s divinity. The ocean. The mountains. A sunset. A campfire. You name it. Perhaps you can even meet with God on that mountaintop or beach and have a conversation, or hug, right there.

Somehow I had never thought of that. It seemed too simple. Almost like make-believe. But it is the way to engage all of ourselves in the process of prayer. To focus our whole minds on God’s presence. And here I thought a vision would have to be all super-natural and block out my normal eyesight. Not that it couldn’t happen, I suppose. But don’t you find that God often moves in much gentler, simpler, harder to pin down ways that require a bit of faith.

The ancient Hebrews knew about this. They understood dreams and visions. They understood that we had spiritual eyes that needed to look into the face of God. Imagine is one definition for the Hebrew word for meditate. The medieval Christians understood this as well. They called it Visio Divina. Who knows, maybe every Christian in the world besides me somehow understood this. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow vaguely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Seems like this idea has been around for a long time. Maybe I just missed it. But since I did, I want to make sure no one else misses it like me.

In fact, while reading the Bible you can use this same inner imaging system. You can picture yourself living Bible stories. Imagine what it would have been like to walk with Paul, to listen to Jesus on the Mount of Olives, to go to battle beside King David. More importantly, you can engage your faith by picturing what it would look like if scripture were truer than your circumstances. How that would change your life.

I first stumbled upon this concept when my kids were small. I would worry when I left them with the babysitter. Picturing all sorts of horrible things happening to them. Prayer didn’t seem to help. Quoting scriptures just felt like some fear-ridden attempt at Christian magic spells. Finally it hit me. I could pray, maybe quote those scriptures, then I would picture the kids safe at home playing happily with their babysitter and surrounded by the angels. What a difference that made. My fear would melt away, and I could enjoy my outing.

As I’ve mentioned before. Maybe this isn’t the thing for you. Or maybe you aren’t as dense as I am, and you figured this out long ago. But for others of you, this simple technique might hold the key to deepening your awareness of the spiritual kingdom, relating to God, and hearing his voice. I hope for someone today, this is just the thing you’ve been searching for.

How do you picture God? Where is your favorite place to meet with him? If you could take a three day vacation, just you and God, where would you like to spend it?

 Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with Whitefire Publishing in 2011. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at

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