Book Proposals, Writing Festivals, and the Miracle of Process

by Shari Dragovich

I don’t have to speak to publishers at this festival. No one is making me. This single obsession looped my thoughts as I flew over scratchy mountains, then farm fields and postage stamp-sized towns from Roanoke, VA to Grand Rapids, MI. No one is making me and no one can make me.

In the weeks leading up to Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing Conference, I worked furiously on a book proposal to submit and present to prospective publishers while in attendance. The proposal was for a book I’d been laboring over for nearly a year, in the gasps of time left open while also settling our family into post-military life and all its niggling demands (new state, new grocery stores, new cleaning routines, new anonymity…I think you get the idea).

I made FFW my deadline. Last summer that deadline was an obscure date on the calendar, yet concrete enough to keep me writing. But as the date rolled closer, the prospect of pitching an entire book when all I’ve ever written are magazine articles, grew into a Goliath I was certain I could not slay.

And here’s the problem. In that span of time leading up to the Festival, I made the fatal error of telling people—intimate people—of my writing goal. I even rashly asked my new pastor of my new church in the infancy of my new life, if he would act as an advisor and expert on whom I could call for help in constructing a Biblical scene correctly, or question the motives and movements of my ancient characters as they moved from my mind to my page. Rather than giving me his simple yes or no (as Jesus said), he invested completely into me—this new unknown congregant—and my writing (as Jesus said and lived).

People—my people, God’s people—invested. They were praying for me, reminding me they were praying for me, texting me their prayers for me—holy pressure forcing me from the corner where I desperately wished to remain. They, by their support, were fighting the demons in my head, since I, myself, could not manage to even sling a stone.

So, there I was, flying over Michigan farms and fields, brooding as I stared at a landscape on the brink of its own process—the process of being plowed and planted, producing, by way of annual miracle, bread for the world. Then there were the trees still naked and scratchy like the underside of my father’s old wire brushes, creating boundary lines for those endless patches of readying fields. I thought of the trees behind my home in Virginia, just beginning to show promise of bloom, taking their sweet time despite my desperate pleas to hurry up, make leaves! At least I’ll go home to green, I thought. These poor Midwesterners…

All these miraculous processes. Bare soil to rich harvest. Naked trees to shade trees. Sentences written from soul onto page. But to see the miracle requires process, and community, and the earnest commitment of all parties involved—whether it’s farmers and soil, seed pods and animals, or writers and their people.

And the best miracles require sacrifice.

I knew I would talk to publishers. I knew because, even though I am ignorant in many things, I know that the best things come through community and sacrifice. My community had already sacrificed their time, their prayers, their patient listening to my whining. God, in His mercy, had surrounded me with a cloud of witnesses, knowing it would be just the right pressure for me to sacrifice, too—my pride, my obsessing, my negativity, and my general habit of making writing all about me.

Anne Lamott said in her interview time at FFW that if we want to write, we need to be like Nike and just do it. “If you can’t sit your butt in the chair and just write,” she said, (or in my case, just go speak with some publishers), “then no one can help you. I can’t help you, Jesus can’t help you. No one can help you.”

She is right. Even Jesus can’t—or won’t—help us if we are not willing to walk into what he’s already prepared in advance for us to do.

By the end of the weekend, I had spoken with four publishers, all who expressed interest in reading my proposal. I flew home from Grand Rapids, MI anxious to begin this post-FFW writing life…and see my backyard trees in full leafy bloom. But as I stepped out of the airport scanning my horizon for green foliage, I saw only twigs in awkward puberty. I frowned, knowing there would be no green to greet me at home. But the sulking lasted only a moment. For deep down, I know the only miracles worth witnessing, happen in the process.

 

sdragovich_featureShari Dragovich is a freelance author living in Roanoke, VA with her husband, five kids, two cats, and a needy but sweet German Shepherd. She has been published regularly since 2011 in regional NC magazines, national publications, and online. She blogs regularly at www.sharidragovich.wordpress.com where she explores the holy moments in life’s everyday mundane.

 

 

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Worthless Daughter

by Judy Douglass

“Thank you, Mother, for raising a worthless daughter.”

These words, part of a lament of a bride going to meet her husband for the first time, summed up the experience of women in China in the 1800’s, according to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.   

In this book Lisa See brings to light the reality of life for a female in that society:  No value, no rights, raised for a husband’s family, enduring the years of footbinding torture and subsequent crippling, totally dependent on the desires of her parents/brothers/husband/mother-in-law.  She had no purpose—except to bear a son– and no hope.

These words, sadly, have been echoed across countless generations and cultures.  In many places a woman has a place in life only if she becomes the mother of a son.  In some African nations female genital cutting is still practiced, creating unimagined agony for preteen girls and sentencing them to a lifetime of pain.  In Southeast Asia and many other places children are sold—often by their poverty-stricken parents—as sex slaves.

Frightening Statistics

In Half the Sky, Pulitzer Prize winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn horrify us with statistics like this:

“Thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don’t give them the same medical care and attention that boys receive.”

“In India, a ‘bride burning’—to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry—takes place approximately once every two hours.”

They go on to talk of kerosene dousing and acid burning, of 2 million girls disappearing every year because of gender discrimination.   One journal stated, “Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases.  They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”

Centuries of ‘Worthless Daughters’

This is not new.  It didn’t begin 200 years ago in China.  It has gone on for centuries:  Mothers raise “worthless daughters.”  When I hear, see, think about such things, I can barely contain my emotions.  Horror, anger, frustration, indignation.  How can this be?  How can it continue?  We must do something!

Someone has done something. One person has made a difference.  His name is Jesus.  Wherever the message of Jesus has been received, the status of woman has been raised.  In the film Magdalena, a telling of the story of Jesus by Mary Magdalene, I was overwhelmed by the tenderness with which Jesus addressed women—in a culture where a man would not even acknowledge a woman.

Yet even in those lands where Jesus has gone, where things are not as bad as they once were, many women still believe they are worthless, or at least worth less.  Even today, women struggle to grasp their value.  To understand that God has a given them a high calling.

Jesus calls women many things, but never worthless. He calls each one:  Desired. Treasured. Beloved. His joy.  A reflection of Him.  An ezer—strong warrior helper.  For a purpose.  To be His partner in building His kingdom.  He assures us the Father had grand intentions in creating women.

So why do so many women still suffer physically and emotionally, marginalized and meaningless, not experiencing those good purposes for which God created them?

Who Will Do Something?

I find my heart crying, Who will do something?  The Lord has clearly responded:  You are doing something—the most important something.  You and many sisters are introducing women to that one who values and treasures them, who made them with tender love and powerful intentions and high calling.  When they know Jesus, they can begin to discover that they are not worthless.

And some among us are/will be the ones who will take up the cry:  We must do something.  We must raise our voices, get involved, right wrongs, alleviate suffering.  We must work to set our sisters free, from slavery, from poverty, from torture, from abuse, from worthlessness.

Together, we and they will discover that we are of indescribable worth.

(A starting place could be to read Half the Sky, which is filled with many disturbing stories of atrocities and wrongs, but also tells of hopeful solutions and actions that can turn things around.  And then read Half the Church, Carolyn Custis James’ call to the church to stand in the gap, to proclaim by word and action that women matter and women can make a difference.)

 

photoJudy Douglass is a writer, former magazine editor and global speaker.

She has been on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ (cru) for 50 years, serving as director of publications, editor of Collegiate Challenge and Worldwide Challenge.  She previously authored three books:  Single and Complete, He Loves Me and What Can a Mother Do?

Currently Judy partners with her husband, Steve, in leading Campus Crusade globally and serves as director of Women’s Resources for the ministry.  She speaks around the world for Campus Crusade, writes her Kindling blog (judydouglass.com) several times a week and recently published Letters to My Children: Secrets of Success. 

Judy is a founding partner of Synergy Women’s Network and serves on the Synergy Board of Directors and the Redbud Board of Directors.

Her five grandchildren provide lots of joy and illustrations.

 

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Why Writing Terrifies Me—and How That’s Changing My Life

By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

I sometimes notice a dreamy glint in the eyes of others when I tell them that I’ve decided to pursue writing as my profession. “That’s awesome,” they’ll say with barely disguised envy. “I wish I could do that. You’re so lucky.”

The truth is that I am lucky. Writing is what I love; it inspires me; it invigorates me. It is a privilege to be able to pursue a vocation that brings me so much joy—even if it means forgoing a regular paycheck and living with less social interaction than I would like.

But for me, being a writer is also terrifying. And it is for that very reason that I believe God has called me into it. Like so many things in life, he is using this to both bless and transform me. In particular, he is challenging me to lay down three powerful idols that I have clung to for most of my life: people-pleasing, achievement, and perfectionism.

1) People-pleasing. For as long as I can remember, my self-worth has been fueled by the affirmation of others. I depended to such an extent on the praise of others that I felt lost without it.

And this how I know God has a sense of humor: with writing, as with every art form, it is impossible to attain commercial success without the approval of others. But I have found that when I write in order to please others, my writing stinks. Truly it does. I have to write the story God has given me, and I have to write it in my own voice, for it to be authentic and meaningful and not painful to read. I do not know whether what I write will be wildly popular or not—and that, God is telling me, is okay.

2) Achievement. Most days, I start the morning off with a laptop and a Word document. At the end of the day, I have a laptop and a Word document. Sometimes that Word document has a few thousand more words typed into it; other days it’s a few hundred or less. But that is all I have to show for my labors. I don’t have a program set up or a marketing campaign launched or a new employee hired. I haven’t, as far as I can see, made any visible impact on the world.

What I want to believe is that my day has been wasted, that what I have produced does not have any value. What God challenges me to believe is that my worth is not defined by what I do or how much I have achieved compared to the next person. He can use anything—even words on a screen—for his kingdom and his glory.

3) Perfectionism. In my previous career, I obsessed about doing everything perfectly. Every document I created, every presentation I gave, every project I oversaw—if something went wrong or wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, I thought about it for days. I was not content with anything I did, choosing instead to embrace anxiety, fear, and sleepless nights.

Unfortunately for me, writing is not a task that is ever perfected. There is always a sentence to be reworded, a punctuation mark to be added, a sentiment more artfully expressed. I want to keep obsessing, to find every misplaced comma and to fix every poorly worded statement. But for my sanity and my ability to complete anything, I have to let it go. I have to embrace God’s message of grace for me: I am not perfect, my writing is not perfect, but I am still loved, and my writing, mistakes and all, can still be beautiful and impactful.

It can be a harrowing path, this writing life, for a reformed people-pleasing, achievement-oriented perfectionist like me. Even as I sit calmly at my desk, I sometimes feel like I am following God through the valley of the shadow of death. He is asking me to release what I have relied on in the past to make me a productive, likeable person—to put to death the idols that I thought kept me safe—and to find new life in him. It’s a life that is terrifying in how much I need to trust God rather than myself. But it’s also, I’m finding, a life of immense freedom. I am no longer burdened by the expectations of myself or others because I know that trying to meet those expectations all the time is an impossible task.

But God’s expectation of me to simply follow him and trust that he has something good for me on this writing journey? That I can do.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun HeadshotDorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, and editor whose personal essays and short stories have been published in Hong Kong, the UK, and the US. She is particularly passionate about telling true stories of the messiness and beauty of human connections, of sustainable social change, and of the surprising, sometimes humorous ways in which God works in our lives. She writes about the adventures of being a new mom through her blog, Motherhood in Moving Pictures, and is a regular contributor to Asian American Women on Leadership. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Dorcas spent over ten years managing corporate communications and development projects with nonprofits, government agencies, and social enterprises in the US and abroad. Follow her at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.

 

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If we’ve found our ‘calling,’ why isn’t life easier?

by Beth Bruno

“I’m mad at God.”

It felt right and true as the words came out, even though I had had no such thought just moments prior.

I was huddled on my comfy couch with 3 women, one of whom I had met a mere hour earlier, to watch the live stream of IF: Gathering. Months before, when the leaders opened up registration and threw out the fee, 1200 women signed up in 42 minutes. The 4 of us were joining 25,000 others from around the world watching in living rooms, church halls, and cafes thanks to a decision to stream it live.

The sheer number of women gathered around a vague “conference” indicates the desire which exists in our generation for something different, authentic and raw. And from the get go, when each and every woman involved in the planning, speaking, and creating of the weekend came to the mic and prayed, authenticity abounded.

This was the atmosphere shaping the discussion time in which I took a question card that read, “What is in between you and peace with God?” I thought I was going to say boredom. It felt safer. But I didn’t. And even as I was speaking words almost too raw for my own soul to bear, I felt exposed and real and hopeful all at once.

I had been harboring a low simmering anger with Jesus. 

IF: Gathering asked one simple question, IF God is real, then what? And I had already given my life to the expression of that answer. IF he is real, then I’ll move to Turkey to share him with Muslims. IF he is real, then I’ll open my home to a youth in need. IF he is real, then I’ll start a ministry and write a book and go to strip clubs and fight sex trafficking and speak and write and live and breathe it all. Because IF he is real, then this burning passion is from him. I’ve found that which I was created to do.

But IF he is real and IF I’m charting the right course, shouldn’t it be easier? One disciple in Turkey would have made it feel worth it or a young person who didn’t flee our home at the first bout of shame. A ministry that doesn’t leave us broke and exhausted, a book that sells, exotic dancers who are open to relationship, recovered victims who want to leave the sex industry, a speaking engagement that pays more than a Starbucks card…

Why is it so hard? IF you’re real and IF you’ve called me to this, why is it all so hard?

How many of us equate ministry, calling or passion with comfort, ease, or delight? We  know in our head that these are not equal, but our heart rebels. We live as if God owes us something, which leads to ingratitude and entitlement. Eventually, it leads to anger.

Jen Hatmaker, closing IF, shared the meaning of the eucharist, “do this in remembrance of me.” She explained it to mean “constantly make this real.” As in, constantly break our  body as he did his. As in, the ministry of mercy is costly. As in, stop expecting it all to be easy and just “do this in remembrance of me.”

And you know when you feel simultaneously spanked and jolted to a new reality? Yes.

Breaking our body, be it through writing, speaking, serving, loving, or crying on behalf of the Body in communion with Jesus is costly. It’s tiring. It’s not lucrative. It’s not comfortable. It’s not always fun and not always fulfilling.

In fact, it sounds an awful lot like Paul who served God “in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (NIV, 2 Cor. 6: 5, 10).

IF he is real, then we are called to “constantly make this real.” IF he has really invited us to follow him and IF we truly believe “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (NIV, Eph 2:10), then the privilege is ours.

Would I take up the pen, the camera, the microphone, the hurting hearts! May I stop pouting and start rejoicing that Jesus invited me to “open wide my heart” like Paul, like himself.

 

bruno-large-photoBeth Bruno is a writer, activist, and creative intentionally pursuing the intersection of all three through anti-sex trafficking work. She is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking, a manual on how men can combat sex trafficking in their own backyard and the founder of A Face to Reframe, a nonprofit which uses photography in youth prevention programs. As a “recovering missionary” she is also still debriefing her years in the Middle East, mostly on her website, www.bethbruno.org. She and her family live in Colorado.

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Give me a quiet place

By Karen Beattie

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write …”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

A few weeks ago my four-year-old daughter and I ventured out to the Chicago suburbs to watch a young family friend in junior high play. Walking back to the car in the dark after the play my daughter said, “Mommy, it’s so quiet!”

She was right. It was quiet and we could see the stars in the dark night sky. We walked slowly to the car, taking it all in.

It made me realize how much noise pollution there is around us. My family and I live in the middle of a large city and we are never free from the din of it—the cars rumbling down our street, sirens rushing toward the nearby hospital, the noise of our upstairs neighbor as she gets ready for work in the morning, our other neighbor’s dog barking. And then there’s the buzzing of cell phones, the noise from the TV or streaming videos on the iPad. How often do we ever experience perfect silence?

But I long for quiet. I am an introvert, and a writer. I need space and silence and time to think, read, regroup and recharge—and write. But I’m not getting much of it these days.

Writing involves sitting down and putting words onto a page. But there’s much more to it than that. I often write “in my head.” During my commute, or in the shower, or when I’m simply sitting and looking out the window, what I’m really doing is brainstorming ideas, constructing entire articles or blog posts, or experiencing epiphanies on how to start or end a book.

But I work a 9-5 job, and 18 months ago we became parents of a foster daughter who we are in the process of adopting. She was 2 ½ when she came into our home, and she is now 4 years old. These days, I can find snippets of time to myself, but having long stretches of quiet time to brainstorm, daydream or have epiphanies are few and far between.

It’s frustrating and maddening, and I’m not sure what to do about it for the long term. This is my life now, and I need to find solutions.

Recently, I told my husband that I needed a reprieve. Some time alone. He agreed and I found cheap tickets to visit a friend in Arizona. There, not only I could spend quality one-on-one time with my friend, but also have some time at a nearby Franciscan retreat center where I could read, write, and think.

The moment I stepped foot into the retreat center, my soul heaved a sign of relief. Finally. Peace! Quiet! Calm!

I walked the stone-lined labyrinth, sat outside and felt the sun on my face, wandered through the retreat grounds where I found many icons and observed rabbits, birds, and dessert hens.

All of the thoughts that had been collecting in my mind for the past 18 months started coming to the surface. I started sorting through them….getting ideas for new books, contemplating my career, better understanding my role in my marriage and friendships. I now have a whole list of topics for blog posts.

As I walked I stumbled upon a small meditation chapel. As I entered, I saw this sign above the door: “Give me a quiet place.”

Ah, yes! A quiet place. I walked into the cool, dim stucco structure and as I entered, it was perfectly silent. THIS is what I had been longing for. QUIET. No car noises, no sirens, not even the sound of wind in the trees. Just perfect silence.

I felt peaceful, calm…like my soul, mind and body could finally rest.

I recently read an article, “Recline! Why ‘leaning in’ is killing us” that was a response to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. The author of the article, Rosa Brooks, argues that we don’t need to “lean in,” we need to “recline.” We need time and space and quiet.

She writes, “If we want to do more than just go through the motions, both love and work require a protected space in which creativity can flourish. Today, most women can make money on their own and acquire rooms of their own—but they still get too little psychic space and too little time for the kind of unstructured, creative thinking so critical to any kind of success.”

When I got back from my trip, I felt refreshed, rested, and full of ideas. I have started writing again, and I feel that once again I am being the creative person was meant to be.

“Give me a quiet place” is my new mantra. My sanity, my soul and my calling as a writer depend on it.

kbeattie_featureKaren Beattie is a journalist, editor, author, and currently makes a living as a copywriter for advertising agencies and Fortune 500 companies. She holds an MA in journalism from Drake University and her articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Midwest Living, Bear Deluxe, Moody magazine, Today’s Christian Woman, Aspire, and other publications. She blogs about life, theology, culture, and other various topics at www.karenbeattie.net.

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Top Occupational Hazards of Freelancing from Home

By Sarah Arthur

About twelve years ago I began freelancing as a writer and occasional speaker. At the time my husband and I were child-free, which meant that, by most writerly standards, I was living the dream. Long, uninterrupted hours of writing, musing, sipping tea, more musing, more writing, and the occasional long walk in the river valley near our house…It was awesome.

And then I discovered something. The writing life, while enviable for lots of reasons, has its downsides. In fact, it comes with its own occupational hazards—which may not make anyone actually feel sorry for you but which can derail your progress. So if you are a would-be writer, here’s my list of top potential problems you may encounter should you decide to quit your day job.

1. Dirt. This is the broader category under which various household chores clump themselves, including dishes, laundry, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, and OCD cleaning behaviors in general. Even if you don’t particularly like housework, it will suddenly become urgent when you have a deadline.

The author’s office, roughly 0.67 seconds after inviting her 2-year-old to play quietly in there while she attempted to work. Photo credit: Sarah Arthur

The author’s office, roughly 0.67 seconds after inviting her 2-year-old to play quietly in there while she attempted to work.
Photo credit: Sarah Arthur

2. Boredom. Bursts of inspiration—when you are so caught up in the thrill of creating something that you are oblivious to the process—come about roughly twice a decade. The rest of the time writing is like any other work: it’s work. And it can be monotonous. You stare at a screen and string words together, thousands of them, for hours at a time. Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself wanting to gouge out your eyeballs with a spork.

3. Unwarranted excitement when the UPS truck pulls up outside. If you have created the ultimate writer’s retreat of absolute solitude, then this may be the only social interaction—nay, THE ONLY THING, period—that happens all day. Don’t be hurt if the UPS guy isn’t quite as excited to see you as you are to see him.

4. Unwarranted interest in whatever the neighbors are doing. Never mind that you’ve shown zero interest in these people before. All of sudden you’ve memorized the habits, schedules, obsessions, quirks, and vices of everyone within a quarter-mile radius—because no deadline is as important as the red minivan that you don’t remember seeing before in your neighbor’s driveway. (Are they pregnant again? Is her mother-in-law with the yippy dog in town? Are you observing a robbery in progress, in which case should you be taking notes in case you have to testify?)

5. No-bake cookies. You start off with good intentions, which is to make some kind of treat for the new neighbors who just gave you hours of urgent distraction by parking a big moving truck within view of the kitchen window. But by the time you’ve eaten seven spoonfuls of dough and nine-ish cookies, you look just a bit disheveled; so you opt to deliver the cookies tomorrow—at which point you will have annihilated the first batch, necessitating the creation of a second. You see where this is going.

6. Not showering. For, like, five days. Because who cares? No one will see you, not even the people to whom you pretend you will give the no-bake cookies. Even if you have a spouse who could potentially complain, ask him what he would do if he knew he didn’t have to interact with society for the bulk of a given week. Enough said.

7. Facebook (Twitter/Pinterest/social media of your choice). If you look up the definition of “time-suck” in the dictionary, it will be this. There perhaps has never been a more socially acceptable way to shirk obligations and deadlines than to talk via social media about how you are shirking obligations and deadlines.

8. Kitten/cat videos on YouTube. Really, any YouTube obsession will do.

But if ever you thought of yourself as self-disciplined, I dare you to watch this only once:

http://youtu.be/CLDSE7RHvno

9. Conference calls. Most of the publishers, editors, copy editors, graphic designers, and project managers that you work with are people you will never meet in person. Which means a lot gets done via conference call, one of the most maddening forms of group decision-making known to humankind. If you don’t believe me, watch this:

http://youtu.be/DYu_bGbZiiQ.

10. Talking to yourself (or selves). Not all that worrisome until your selves begin to interact, generating actual dialogue that would lead any eavesdropper to conclude that you are, in fact, bonkers.

11. Creative brainstorms that sound like good ideas but really aren’t. Even though everyone around you (that is, yourself and various selves) thinks your ideas are awesome, it isn’t until you try to describe them to someone who isn’t you that you realize you’re not a genius.

12. Madness.

13. Torpor.

14. Downton Abbey.

15. Small children. For those who are married and of child-bearing age, nothing brings the writing life to a screeching halt like the advent of small children. To quote a friend (whose son was then five), “I’ve had writer’s block for five years, and his name is Ian.” Not only are kids hazardous to your productivity, they can be an unexpected side effect of a female being home and available whenever the male is feeling frisky. Fair warning.

SarahArthurColorcloseupSarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of nine books, including the popular devotionals The One Year Coffee With God, Walking with Bilbo: A Devotional Adventure through The Hobbit, and Mommy Time: 90 Devotions for New Moms (Tyndale). She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her pastor-husband, Tom, and two small sons, Micah and Sam. http://www.saraharthur.com

 

 

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Not called to be timid

by Jenny Rae Armstrong

We were raised to be timid, most of us. In the tiny white churches speckling the countryside, we were taught to be cautious, to be courteous, to be kind and good and avoid even the appearance of evil. Being a good Christian looked like wearing clean, pressed clothes to Sunday School, like going to grandma’s for baked chicken after services, like doing well in school so the community would respect your family, and like never, ever mouthing off to an adult.

To be a Christian was to be respectable. But Jesus wasn’t exactly respectable. At least, he didn’t fit his cultures definition of the word. He wouldn’t fit ours, either.

No, Jesus was courageous. And he got into a lot of trouble for it. He’d get into a lot of trouble nowadays, too.

I’ve been pondering courage lately, and what that looks like in the Christian life. My friend James preached a great sermon on Jesus’ courage last week (he’s been preaching a lot on courage lately). Now, I am not a naturally courageous person. I’m not a shrinking violet, but neither do I thrive on challenge and controversy, the way some people do. The sermon made me realize how much of my reticence, how much of my holding back, stems from a deep-seated subconscious belief that I am not *supposed* to be brave. That I am supposed to be good, and cautious, and respectable. That my life should be a beige, mother-of-the-groom dress, never a warrior’s shining mail.

All my life I have been waiting for permission. Permission to shuck the respectable, if beautiful, skirt entangling my legs. Permission to bring my full strength to the battle. Permission to scream out the war cry bottled up inside me, to charge into the fray shoulder to shoulder with my brothers, permission to get bloodied in the fight.

I’m tired of sitting primly on the sidelines. And I don’t think that’s just a “girl thing” either–I think my brothers are tired of sitting on the sidelines too, armor rusting, ceremonial swords dangling useless at their sides.

It’s time to get off the bench. It’s time to get dirty, to play for keeps, to pour our sweat and blood and tears into this earth we’ve been given, this Kingdom that’s coming. It’s time to stop worrying about how we’re going to get the stains out of our Sunday best if we dive into the battle and come out worse for the wear. God’s got a big ol’ spraybottle of Shout up in the heavenly laundry room.

What if, instead of encouraging one another to be good, responsible citizens Christians, we encouraged one another to be bold, daring followers of Jesus? And not just any Jesus–certainly not the American, white-picket-fence Jesus–but the brave, gritty, gentle, sinewy, loving, sarcastic, courageous and counter-cultural Jesus described on the pages of the Gospels?

What if we gave each other permission?

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 2:6-7

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Jenny Rae Armstrong is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes about faith, social justice, missional living and women’s issues for Christian publications. She is a member of Redbud’s Board of Directors. Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband and four children. See more at www.jennyraearmstrong.com.

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Feminine and Fearless for God

By Angie Mabry-Nauta

“The sheep have heard their Master’s voice, and it is not soprano.”

So concluded a gentleman’s letter to the editor in response to an article that advocated for women being ordained into ministry in a denominational magazine. Never mind that said denomination had been ordaining women ministers, elders, and deacons for over 30 years at that point, based on a faithful and intentional study of Scripture.

My husband laughed so hard that he snorted. He laughed because it was witty, and, as he said, was “so utterly ridiculous.”

I, on the other hand, was not laughing, and I never did. One of a handful female seminary students in a class of 40, I was already weary of having “women in ministry” discussions.

Should women be allowed to preach? Does God call women? How do you reconcile Paul commanding women to be silent and not to lead over men (2 Timothy 2: 12, 1 Corthinians 14: 33b-35); and the prophet Joel’s prediction God’s Spirit would be poured on all people, daughters and sons, slave and free, and female and male would prophesy God’s Word (Joel 2: 28-29, Acts 2: 17)?

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

These questions wore me down even as I tried to describe the holy weight of God’s call upon my life, a weight I feared that might pull me into a chaotic abyss and drown me.

Two years later — seminary educated, ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament, and installed as solo pastor of a Chicagoland congregation — I was no longer weary, but I was wary. Plenty of churches within a golf shot of my church’s building didn’t believe women should take leadership roles in church and home. On the up side, however, there were also plenty that did. But, I walked around with my guard up, always fearing that confrontation was just around the corner. How would I respond? Would I do well? Would I prove my worth to the person who questioned me?

How are you to live out the days of my call upon your life? I sensed God asking me during one of my prayer times. Confident in my Word and trusting in me, or fearing the thoughts of other humans?

Following the Spirit’s prompting, I re-read God’s calls upon Jeremiah.

The LORD gave [Jeremiah] this vision. “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” “O Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” The LORD replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken” (Jeremiah 1: 4-8, NLT)!

Ministry is not about me, or even the fact that I am a woman, the Spirit reminded me. The same is true for every daughter of God in the world. Ministry in whatever shape it takes is about God — God’s knowledge, God’s choice, God’s commands, God’s direction, God’s protection, and, most importantly, God’s words that need to be spoken to God’s people.

From Deborah to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Phoebe and Priscilla; from Sojourner Truth to Mother Theresa; and from Anne Lamott to bloggers everywhere, God calls women not only to speak to God’s message to God’s people, and go where God sends them to go, but to do so without fear and with trust in God’s protection.

Fearless and trusting. What does it look like to live and write fearlessly, trust the Lord, and boldly follow the path that God has blazed upon your heart? Envision standing at the nose of the Titanic ala Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio — hands released from gripping the safety rail, arms extended as far as they’ll go, palms open and ready to receive whatever comes their way, head lost in abandon to the power of the wind that holds it up, and eyes closed, saying in their own way, “I trust absolutely, even if I should fall.”

God, of course, is Sovereign of the world, not us. But our Sovereign empowers us to live and to write this way — fearlessly and trusting for the sake of love, justice, redemption, salvation, and resurrection.

You can do this. Every woman can do this. The first step, as Elsa sings in Disney’s latest animated film release “Frozen,” is to let it go. Let go of trying to control how people respond to the message God has given you to share, let go of the fear that people might not like you (or stop liking you) because of something you write or say.

Stories — ours, other people’s, our community’s, the world’s — are meant to collide with one another, says author and blogger Lisa-Jo Baker. And change is a natural outflow of collision. Sometimes stories ruffle feathers, sometimes they bring peace. No story worth its salt is free from antagonism, conflict, and climax. Resolution and growth burgeon forth from tension.

Ms. Baker reminds us on her blog that we are “called not to comfort, or safety, or happy endings, but to [God’s] purposes.” Writing and living bravely don’t mean feeling bulletproof in the face of risk, nor do they mean training yourself to feel nothing so that can you do things out of your comfort zone. It means “stepping out onto terrifyingly deep waters … one foot at a time,” no matter how you feel, and even (especially?) when you’re scared.

What word, O daughter of God, has God sharpened your tongue to speak and readied your pen to write? Will you answer as did Isaiah, “Here I am, send me!”?

Publicity1Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer, speaker, and ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She worked in church ministry for six years as a Solo Pastor and Interim Pastor of Worship, and now serves two “congregations” — her audience and her family. She is Co-Chair of Redbud’s Community Life Committee. Follow Angie at www.angiemn.com, on Twitter @RevAngieMN, and on Facebook.

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The Christmas Gospel (Go After It!)

By Kelli B. Trujillo

Last year I had the great privilege of interviewing author and professor Patty Kirk about her great Advent/Christmas book. Here we revisit our conversation — I’m sure it will encourage you as much as it blessed me!

* * * *

(From December 2012)

One extra-special part of Advent for me is the reading: The time I return to well-worn favorite books that come out just this time of year, such as Madeleine L’Engle’s books, poems, and Christmas stories or Walter Wangerin Jr.’s  Preparing For Jesus. I’m especially excited this year because I have a NEW Advent book to dwell in: The Gospel of Christmas by Patty Kirk (InterVarsity Press). Patty, a professor and author, was gracious enough to share her thoughts about Advent with me and with you, my readers.

Patty, welcome! Please tell my readers a bit about yourself.

PattyKirk

I grew up believing in God but lost track of him in my teens -— along with most other comforting certainties — and spent the next decades roaming the world seeking I didn’t know what. I made an unhappy atheist, envious of those I encountered who somehow managed not only to believe in but to depend on the promises of an invisible, inaudible, intangible being. Eventually, I regained a sense of God’s existence and attention, but the one thing that connects my believing years — as a child and later in adulthood — with those intervening years of atheism was the excitement and, paradoxically, the longing that filled me during the Christmas season. Ever since my return to faith, I have written out of this longing every Advent, and this book is what I wrote.

Our culture is so Christmas-consumerism-crazy right now, that it can be difficult to create space in our lives — and in our hearts — for Advent. Are there spiritual practices, traditions, or habits that help you foster the Advent spirit in your life during this often hectic season?

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So, for me, Advent means that period of longing and excitement that overcomes us at Christmas. The longing for something more, yes -— for meaning or certainty or quiet or, as you say, “space” in our lives and hearts for God.

But Advent is also that very hectic jolliness: the gathering of families, children’s eagerness for presents, the shopping and card-writing and tree-decking and worrying we won’t get it all done, what I like to call the jingle-belling of the Christmas season. During Advent, I consciously re-visit my old sad longing for the Bible’s promises to be true and simultaneously latch onto the hectic celebration of those promises’ fulfillment.

I don’t have the typical “reason for the season” sort of sentiments that dismiss or condemn as heathen or in some other way discount the celebratory excitement of anything that does not explicitly reference Jesus. I love that the coming of God to our world has become, over the centuries, across the nations, a big party. That it’s such a big thing that even nonbelievers celebrate it!

So, I embrace the typical stuff of the Christmas season. My family starts listening to Christmas music sometime in November — everything from “O Come All Ye Faithful” to “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” We decorate a tree and put lots of presents under it for one another. Every year, my husband reads aloud to the family from a collection of Christmas stories, our two favorites of which have to do with a kid longing for a horse. Before my daughters went off to college, we made a gingerbread house every year and, on the first Sunday after Christmas, brought it to church for the kids to destroy and gobble up during the fellowship hour.

All the usual stuff, in other words. It’s just, I like to go about these activities very intentionally as the practice of joy in celebration of the best news we could ever have, the first -— and, to me, most important -— gospel proclaimed in the gospels, the angel’s good news of great joy for all the people: that “today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” That God loved us so much he wasn’t willing to let us go away from him, as we are prone to do, but sent his son, a version of himself, to become one of us and win us back to him.

What difference can Advent reflection — pausing to really consider the waiting for and the coming of Jesus — make in a person’s spiritual life? What might we lose when we skip over Advent waiting and rush right to Christmas?

I am, as I say, all for the rushing. The headlong dash into the excitement of the season. The pell-mell and jollity of it. There’s waiting and expectation built right into that, as any child can tell you. The important thing is to celebrate consciously, to think about what you’re actually celebrating -— and, if you can do it without being a party-pooper during the Advent season, to talk about it when you get up and at bedtime and when you’re walking around the stores, just as we’re commanded to do in Deuteronomy 6:6. We Christians need to up the excitement, I think, not put the brakes on.

That said, I can’t always get to that jollity. Sometimes, the messed-up-ness of our world as it is catches up with me and I experience a different kind of longing—not for presents and parties and stuff but for solutions to problems, for healing, for peace. These, too, are Advent opportunities to experience the great gospel of Christmas: the good news that God has put a plan in action. That his ultimate goal is peace on Earth, goodwill among us. That he’s going to make good on all these promises.

If we don’t think about these two aspects of the coming, we miss the good news altogether. So, I’d recommend not pausing a bit in your celebrating but being very intentional about it in your head. And, if you can’t quite get to the celebrating, use this season as a time to reflect on God’s response to the sin and separation from him that cause so much pain in our world. Grab onto God’s promises of peace and goodwill among us. Of eternal health and happiness. Of Jesus, who, though God himself, was willing, for our sake, to become one of us and suffer the pain of this world exactly as we do and then some: his very pregnant mother so poor and unappreciated as to have no hygienic place to bear him, to move through a human birth canal and come out covered in muck, to cry out with the helplessness of every human baby, to be down to sleep in a manure-covered feed trough. These are also aspects of the good news of Christmas that it helps me to think about.

Your book, The Gospel of Christmas, leads readers into a meaningful type of reflection — a tasting, savoring, and reflecting on various aspects of the Incarnation story and the people who populated the events of that first coming of Jesus. What led you write this book?

Christmas has always been, as I have said, an important time for me spiritually, even during my decades as an atheist. And my return to faith as an adult happened to coincide, more or less, with the beginning of my writing career as well as with the early childhood of my two daughters, for whom Christmas is a highpoint of the year. Also, many years ago, back when I was still in college, I was the victim of a violent crime at Christmastime — I talk about the details in my book, if you’re interested —and as a result I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which means that the crime and its attendant anxieties revisit me on the anniversary of the crime. For these reasons and probably more, I got in the habit of writing during Advent. Writing is kind of a way of praying for me — although what I write doesn’t look a whole lot like your typical prayer. Rather, I tell and retell stories, my own and the Bible’s, and I try to understand the spiritual underpinnings of these stories and look for connections between them. This book collects some of what I have written over the years.

Specifically, I write about birth, feed troughs (my husband and I used to raise cattle, so I know a bit about them), stargazing and those Persian astronomers who came looking for Jesus. I write about Christmas songs and movies and about my daughter’s wish for it for snow at Christmastime and about the central prayer of Advent, Come!, which was my groan-prayer as an atheist and is, I suspect, the prayer of many other doubters and deniers. I write about one Christmas celebration during my non-believing years that I spent among non-believing Australian expatriates living in China and what that experience has taught me, in retrospect, about the gospel of Christmas. In a nutshell, I undertake to consider Christmas as a gospel (for me, the central gospel of our faith). As good news, in other words, the best news there could be: that God is coming to us, personally, in the flesh -— that God has come.

What’s one aspect of the Nativity story (or the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah) that’s lingering in your heart and mind this Advent season? Why?

That Christians talk about having Jesus in them -— a concept that I’ve always had trouble understanding —- and that Mary, quite literally, had Jesus inside of her. I can’t say why that fascinates me, exactly. Probably, it’s that business of not being able to understand exactly what it means, or is supposed to mean among believers, to have Jesus in you. In any case, I think I’ll probably be writing about that this Advent.

What do you most hope readers will gain from their journey throughThe Gospel of Christmas?

Permission, as believers, to celebrate whole-heartedly along with the rest of our Christmas-besotted culture during Advent and also permission to grieve and suffer meaningfully and to long meaningfully for Christmas’s promise and amazingly good news: a solution, a cure, an end to our suffering, the coming of a savior.

Have a merry Christmas! Get after it!

Kelli B. Trujillo writes to encourage Christian women in discovering the sacred opportunities hidden in the seemingly mundane aspects of their everyday lives. With a focus on spiritual formation, Kelli’s books lead women to encounter God in ways that fit the reality of their often busy lives—as wives, as mothers, as employees, as leaders, and more. Kelli’s works invite women to re-imagine what their relationship with God could be, emphasizing that faith isn’t about perfection, idealism, or fitting into some cookie-cutter version of what it is to be a Christian woman.

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A graduate of Valparaiso University with honors in both English Literature andHumanities, Kelli is the author of several books and has worked for a variety of Christian publishers as both a development editor and writer. In addition to her work on dozens of books, she is a columnist for Groupmagazine, a regular contributor to Today’s Christian Woman, and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Kelli is the mother of three young children and lives with her husband in Indianapolis.

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Redbud Favorite Reads on Spiritual Formation

by Suzanne Burden

If you had to pick just one resource on spiritual formation, what would it be? 

If you are stumped, you are not alone. I asked my fellow members of Redbud Writer’s Guild the same question and my sisters struggled to narrow it down. Here’s to the amazing ladies who managed the great feat of picking just one:

One last note: one of our own, Kelli Trujillo, wrote a book on disciplines, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival.

Your turn: If you had to pick one resource on spiritual formation what would it be and why?

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Among other things, I am a storyteller, a writer and a theologian who is still finding-my-way. But most especially, I am God’s beloved. I am the one that Jesus loves, and he delights in me. It took years for me to speak these words out loud, to own their significance and weight, to utter them with assurance. Now that I have, I find myself on a mission to empower others to say the same.

http://suzanneburden.com

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