Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wealth: The Blessing and The Curse

Whenever my husband and I hear someone say, "It's not about the money," we always look at each other and say, "It's always about the money."

Writing. Maybe, just maybe, I thought I would actually make money from writing. Okay, truth time. I kind of imagined I might actually make lots of money from writing. Isn't that a common dream? To get rich from your efforts?

Now, I simply wish my writing income would be greater than my expense. Okay, more truth. I don't do marketing. I mean, I really stink at it. So, what does that mean? In today's writing world, to make money you must market. *sigh* Does that mean I have no one to blame but myself?

Then I ask myself how would I handle wealth. Could I handle wealth? Fame? Would it change me? What kind of "rich" person would I be? Nice? Generous? Stingy? Prideful? Aloof? Do any of us truly know our hearts and how we would behave in certain circumstances?  Maybe, but maybe not.

We have dear friends of almost 30 years who own several fast food chains. By several, it might be close to 20. Good people who love Jesus and others. Great example of Christianity. They are generous, but not foolish, with their money. Encouragers. Prayer warriors. Money has helped them live a comfortable life, but having money has cost dearly.

Their sons have been/are business partners. The oldest, a family man, went through a divorce and married again. Per his request, he was bought out of the family business. Then he sued his parents for more. And won. Big, big money. Months later the current wife shot him in the head while he sat on a sofa, waited 23 minutes and called police. All caught on surveillance cameras. He died and the money the wife inherited paid for lawyers. She's in prison. This is taken from a news report, I x'd the wife's name out:
XXXXX entered the living room of her central Phoenix home armed with a handgun. Her husband was sitting on the couch, talking on the phone. She raised the gun, drew a bead and fired. She sat down on the couch as he lay dying and lit a cigarette. Finally, 23 minutes later, XXXXX called 911 and reported the shooting.

And now another business partner son is going through a divorce and his wife is suing his parents, our friends, for money. The heartache and trauma has cost these dear friends immensely. Other family members have taken advantage of them because they have money. Yet -- and this is important -- they are still loving, a great source of encouragement to others, and generous. Never blaming God. Their steadfast kindness has been a blessing to me, my husband, and family. Many times. And I don't mean with money. In fact, they have been gracious to us the past couple of weeks.

I weep for these good people. Would I, if I had wealth, behave as admirably in the face of adversity as our friends have? They have a beautiful home and lovely possessions. They can take a trip whenever they want. These are blessings and benefits of money.

Money can be a blessing. Sometimes it is a cursed thing to have. If I wrote of the above in a novel as a work of fiction, I'm sure some might scratch their heads and say so much tragedy could not happen to one couple who are such a good people.

It happened. The stress and grief have shown the true character of these dear friends. When I, or you, suffer from tragedy, what comes out of us?


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

We Are Not The Devil

In keeping with my theme to write blog posts this year about life experiences that influence my writing, I want to share an adventure from my church heritage.

I come from a long line of Pentecostal believers. Although many will point out the errors and foolery involved in this type of religious experience (as it is with most religions), the good definitely outweighs the bad. At least for me. I would not change my Pentecostal heritage for anything. There are certainly things about it I miss. I thank God for my Pentecostal experiences, but I'll save that for another post.

I gave my heart to Jesus at Bethel Pentecostal Church of God when I was 14. The years I spent in the youth group there are some of my fondest memories. Over 50 years later, and I'm still friends with several from those days -- friends as in we see each other on occasion.

Most of the youth attended every event/service the church had. Besides regular service on Sunday and Wednesday, we had Friday night prayer meeting. One particular Friday, the youth decided to abandon the adults praying around the altar and go into the youth room off the sanctuary.

I was best friends with the pastor's daughter, Carolyn, at the time (typical teens, we all changed best friends frequently). When Carolyn and I got up to join the teens in the youth room, her mother motioned to us to stay where we were. "Everyone should be praying in here," she admonished us.

What teenager wants to be with adults instead of their peers? Especially since it sounded like the teens were praying heaven down. Or possibly fighting the devil. Loud and aggresive prayers could mean either. Carolyn and I felt left out and slightly miffed. "We're going to the bathroom," she whispered to her mother.

The church building had been added on through the years. The women's restroom was off the back sanctuary and had an old open room adjacent to it. The youth room, where the teens were praying, had once faced outside. It had a window facing the door to the restroom. The window had been painted black at one time for privacy, but that paint had flaked in spots.

Carolyn and I peered through the flaked window paint to see what the youth were up to. It sounded like all heaven was coming down. Or hell. Unbeknown to us, the youth felt like the devil's presence  was in the room and they were in the middle of marching around the room and rebuking the devil and his demons.

When they saw eyes peering at them through clear patches in the window, they all screamed and went tearing out of the room into the sanctuary, dropping to their knees by the adults. Hallelujah! Carolyn and I returned to the altar wondering what happened. So we whispered, asking the teens, "What happened in there?"

"We were taking authority over the devil and his demons, and there they were staring at us through the window. Scary eyes and shadowy light behind their heads."

Hm. To this day, I don't remember if we told the youth it wasn't the devil, it was us. I do remember even the adults caught the fire of prayer passion from the teens that night. It was a lively meeting, for sure, regardless of the fact the devil was not watching the youth through the window.

I can't prove it, but I think God chuckled.

God, I thank you for my Pentecostal background. I thank you for pastors Chester and Velma Hamby who helped mold my early walk with Christ. I thank you for the wonderful friends I made in that youth group -- David, Ben, Carolyn, Rachel, Sande, Sally, Barbara L, Barbara D, Willie, Brinda, Tommy, Carol, Josie, Nancy, Gerald, and any I forgot to mention. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Drugs and Alcohol: The Insidious Murderers

* Disclaimer: names are changed for anonymity.*
I worked for almost 20 years at a faith-based residential drug and alcohol rehab. Some entered the program with other addictions, but the majority came in for drugs and alcohol.

I witnessed many being set free from their addictions. Redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the power of God's love. It's a beautiful thing to behold. But, there were tragedies -- those who went back to their old lifestyle. Some died as a result.

I usually incorporate the destruction of substance abuse in my books. Why? Because I've seen the results first hand and it'a not a pretty picture. While some can do the occasional drugs or alcohol, many only need one time to open the pathway to addiction.

Drugs and alcohol kill. I have a son who is an alcoholic. He can't have just one drink and then stop. He is a mean, belligerent, obnoxious drunk. I hate who he becomes while on alcohol. If that was the only reason for me to hate alcohol usage, it would be enough.

During my years working at the rehab, I encountered many whose lives ended because of their addiction. This is not to minimize the miraculous events that took place in those who successfully completed rehab.

There was *Mike. He completed the program and stayed as a worker. He wasn't bad looking, although his hygiene could've used a bit sprucing up. He lacked graceful social skills which played into his interaction with those of the opposite sex. All he wanted was to fall in love, be loved in return, and get married. But his come-on to women usually repelled any prospects. This went on for years until I heard he died from a drug overdose.

Another was *Warren. He completed an affiliate rehab back east and came to Phoenix to work in ours. He always had sad eyes. I pegged him as a lonely soul. After months of working at our facility, Warren was AWOL. Most workers live on the property and Warren had left and not returned. Several staff searched and found him across town in a cheap motel, having spent his time with drugs and prostitutes. They brought him back as a resident in the program, not as a staff member. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness were extended to Warren, but he never lost the look of shame and hopelessness. Within days, he left again and was found dead in a nearby motel with a heroin needle still stuck in his arm.

Drugs kill. Alcohol kills. The euphoric high or sense of well-being you initially get from drugs and alcohol will soon morph into a cruel taskmaster, sucking energy and life from you.

In my almost 20 years of working at the rehab, two individuals who came into the program committed suicide by hanging. One came in on a Friday and hung himself with a belt from the top bunk bed on Saturday. Another had completed the program a couple years prior but had fallen and used drugs a few times. He was a nice guy, a husband, and father involved in church. Despair over his inability to stay clean drove him to end his life.

I could relate more stories, but I think you understand why I base parts of my books -- meaning the characters in my books -- on tough issues. I have witnessed the destruction caused by substance abuse. I wept over each death. My heart broke.

I have also witnessed the power of God's love to set people free. But you can't force anyone to choose life. If you have a loved one or know someone with an addiction problem, encourage them to get help. One of the best resources available is Teen Challenge (not just for teens), a faith-based program.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lesson Learned From Vanity Press

I made the huge mistake of publishing my first book through a vanity press -- meaning I paid (not cheaply) to have my book published. Royalties are terrible for my book Like A Cedar In Lebanon, another way vanity presses take advantage of the unsuspecting writer. 2012. My baby. My blood, sweats, and tears went into this book. It is a moving, touching story. But, in terms of the craft of writing, I was nowhere near ready for publication. I was ripe for the picking for a vanity press.

I love the story Like A Cedar In Lebanon. Someday I intend to clean it up and re-release it myself. The publisher overpriced the book. Way over-priced. Who would buy an overpriced book from an unknown author except family and friends?  I got great reviews from family and friends, but I got a few great reviews from strangers. Those reviews spoke life to my writer's heart.

Books quit selling a while ago, so imagine my surprise to get a check for almost $5 a few days ago. Wow! That represents the sales of several books because my royalty percentage is so low. Very low.

Curiosity piqued, I check out Amazon to see if there are any new reviews. Nope, nada. Then I checked eBay. Don't ask me why. Okay, you can ask me. I checked eBay because my book has been listed on there. Last night someone on eBay was selling this book for $708.41. That seller is not on there today. Did he sell it for that? I doubt it. But six others are selling it for $20-$50.  *sigh*

I indie published my subsequent books In An Eveningtide, Of Splendor and Ashes (sequel to In An Eveningtide), and The Girl Under The Porch. In An Eveningtide has several listings on eBay.

The president of one of the local writer groups I belong to asked me recently if I have submitted any of my books, meaning to an agent or publisher. I replied no, and she asked why. I could've answered because I like indie publishing, but the truth is I lack the confidence. Plus, I want to write about real life issues that Christians face and frequently fail at. I don't want someone tell me I need to soften it or eliminate it altogether. I simply can't write sweet stories. Actually, I can, and might sometime in the future, but right now I don't want to.

If you're asking yourself what's the point of this blog, it's to warn you to avoid vanity presses at all cost. Run from anyone who asks you to put up hundreds of dollars to publish your book/s. Then there were all the phone calls from said vanity press asking me for more money to promote my book, to have my book featured in a newsletter or magazine...and on and on. I no longer accept their phone calls.

On another note, the Kindle version of Like A Cedar In Lebanon is only $1.99. It's the only pricing I had any say in. I make a few pennies on the Kindle version. So, please check out my book -- with all its mistakes. It is a good story.

https://www.amazon.com/Like-Cedar-Lebanon-Leola-Ogle-ebook/dp/B00A5LL7HY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521510703&sr=8-1&keywords=like+a+cedar+in+lebanon

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Surprises of Ancestry/Lineage Tracing Through DNA

Scanning my emails two nights ago, I see from Ancestry: New message from-----. The sender (she) said DNA shows that we’re 2nd cousins, so we must have the same great-grandparents. She says her mother was adopted and would love to meet her birth father. She gives the name of a cousin of mine, one I’m not close with. She says they only have a name, and she believes he is her grandfather.

Gulp! I send her a reply simply saying, “Hi, cousin. Nice to meet you.”

Obviously, we’re related because DNA doesn’t lie, right? But, is my cousin her grandfather? Was this my vault to open? This cousin is a friend on Facebook – in fact, my maternal side of the family has a closed group Facebook page for family members only. We post old pictures, ancestral heritage data, current family events, and such. We had been posting yesterday about an uncle who had a brief first marriage most of us knew nothing about.

I had an “aha” idea. I sent this cousin, who had started the Facebook thread about the uncle, a private message, copying the message from “she” on Ancestry. Yesterday messages flew back and forth between me and my cousin, and me and “she.” By the evening, I was also getting messages from “she’s” mother, who, if the claim is true, would be my cousin’s daughter.

By bedtime me, she, and she’s mother had become Facebook friends. (You get the point – I’m not giving out names). I felt a kinship with the two of them. I was ready to claim them as relatives even if they didn’t come from the loins of my cousin. I didn’t doubt they came from the loins of some family member, but who?

By this morning I find out my cousin has laid claim to being the father and grandfather. My cousin is in his 70’s, so kudos to him for doing the right thing. He’s a nice guy anyway, so it made me happy.

This blog post poses a question. How often will this happen? Especially in an era when it’s easy to find out our ancestry. Spit into a tube, and voila! Another family member – he’s in his 80’s – did his DNA through Ancestry and had a similar experience. Someone contacted him because the database showed a connection. After research, he discovered a sister, who left home for a while as a teenager, had a baby and gave it up for adoption. It was hush-hush, because that’s what they did back then. The secret was no longer a secret, thanks to Ancestry.

I am sure this has happened more than a few times. If you haven’t invested in finding your ethnic background through one of several offering such services, be prepared. It may happen to you. 
And, of course, this is loaded with material for a book.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Choose To Forgive

My plan had been to write a blog post every week for 2018. Eight weeks into 2018 and I’m just now starting. What can I say? Life has a way of waylaying our plans.

Because I write Christian fiction based on actual life experiences and events – mine or others I know – my blog posts for the next 44 weeks will be about those things that have influenced my writing.

Forgiveness. Easy to say but not so easy to do. But, oh, the freedom in forgiveness. In December 2016, my dear friend and former pastor’s wife, Betty, went home to Jesus after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. The last week of her life, I went to the care facility every day to spend time with her and her family and friends who visited.

A young man our family had a history with showed up one evening. He hung back, talking with Betty’s son. “He’s afraid you will be upset he’s here,” someone said to me.

I was taken aback. It never occurred to me to be upset. Apparently, for years he had carried the weight of the wrong he had done against me, one of my daughters, and my family. The truth was that I had forgiven him years ago. So, I hugged him, conversed with him about his health – he had had a recent heart transplant – and I left later with a feeling of joy mixed with sadness. He had carried an unnecessary burden for so many years.

Needing a new heart, then having heart transplant surgery, is sure to cause a person to ponder his or her life. I’m sure this young man – I say young, he’s nearing 50 – thought about his mistakes and people he may have hurt.

We first knew him when he was a freshman in college. He encouraged a romance with my 12-year-old daughter that eventually led to her running away with him when she was 17. This story has many facets, details I won’t go into, things that shredded my heart during a time I was dealing with my divorce after 22 years of marriage.
  
I forgave. The young man – a talented musician – has been happily married for many years with a beautiful wife and three children. My daughter has been happily married for years – a pastor’s wife with three children.

He was there at Betty’s memorial service, on stage playing his trumpet with Betty’s son and others, honoring Betty with some of her favorite worship songs and hymns.

Considering eternity, what does it matter? With God’s help, I chose to forgive. If there’s someone you need to forgive, determine to do so. This wasn’t the first and only time I had to forgive a deep hurt. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s so worth it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Remembering Betty Owens



     Church. Some love it, some hate it, and some are indifferent.

     In 1974 I was a 26 year old mother of five, moving to a new neighborhood. I was broken, flawed, and so shy, I hardly spoke. I hadn’t always been so broken.
     I had been attending Bethel Pentecostal Church of God since I was 14, but that year I decided to attend Victory Assembly of God, a small church closer to home in my new neighborhood. Attending Bethel and Victory were decisions that would be pivotal in my life. At Bethel, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ for the first time. At Victory, the course of my life was set.
     Betty Owens was the pastor’s wife at Victory. She would become my friend, mentor, and family. Looking back, Betty was flawed and broken too, but she hid it well, having overcome much because of her faith. She took me under her wing, encouraging me to get involved and develop in ministry within the church.
     The church grew and so did I. Betty believed in me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Whenever I told her I couldn’t do something, she’d say, “Of course you can. I’ll show you and help you.”
     Over my thirty plus years in that church, many things happened. In 1974 my oldest child was 9 and my youngest was 1. My children grew up. I remember Betty during times when we didn’t have enough food, or I couldn’t provide Christmas, or pay for my kids to go to camp. Betty would rally the church to help. I was embarrassed sometimes, and Betty would tell me that’s what church people do.
     Betty was there for me during some of the most difficult times of my life – times when circumstances almost destroyed me. My struggles in a bad marriage. My divorce after 22 years. My 15-year-old daughter having a baby, making me a grandmother at 32. Another daughter giving a baby up for adoption. Another daughter rebelling and leaving home. Betty was my shoulder to cry on, my encourager, and she never failed to pray for me and my children. Or give us a lecture and a piece of her mind.
     Betty loved to laugh and have fun. She was often the instigator whenever our ladies group pulled pranks or got into shenanigans, and I have pictures to prove it. She coordinated all my daughters’ weddings, and Pastor Leroy performed the ceremony. They oversaw many of my grandchildren’s dedications.
     Because of Betty’s and Leroy’s example and support, I have children in ministry today.
     We got older – Betty and I. It happens. Even as her health deteriorated the last several years, she always managed to look beautiful. She was a classy lady. It grieved me to watch Parkinson’s destroy her body. In December of 2016, Betty went home to the Trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) she had dedicated her life to serve.
     That last week of her life while her children, Becky, Philip, Sheila and I were talking about Betty going to heaven and what would she be do there. I said she would help Jesus set up for the marriage Supper of the Lamb.
    Has your influence made someone a better person? Changed the course of their lives? Brought hope? 
    There will never be another Betty in my life. I can never repay her for all she was to me and my children. But, I, and every one of us, can be a Betty in someone’s life.