Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What is God's favor?

2019 - Here I am, three months into the year and what have I accomplished? What did I accomplish in 2018? As a writer, the questions reflect my writing accomplishments.

The answer - not much, followed by a heavy sigh. Certainly, not much with this blog. Every year, some pick a "Word" for the year. Sometimes I do, sometimes not. Last year, I did. Favor. Favor with my writing. In retrospect, it seems a selfish desire. So many problems in our world...

Proclaiming my "word" did little to motivate me. If one word can sum up my writing mindset last year, it was lethargy. My mind was abuzz all the time with my characters and storylines and plots, but getting it in writing was a struggle. This year hasn't been much better. Health issues, family and financial struggles...I can blame any number of things. But I know the truth. That truth is, we find a way to do what we truly and passionately want to do.

Ironically, or not so ironically, Pastor Todd has preached a series on God's favor recently. Not surprisingly, God's view of favor is different than mine. Joseph in the Old Testament had favor that elevated him to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. But was it favor when his brothers' hatred and jealousy led them to throw him in a pit and then sell him into slavery? Was it favor to have Potiphar's wife falsely accuse him? Was it favor to be thrown in prison?

For Joseph to attain his position of power and influence, all those things had to happen. And instead of Joseph using his power to inflict revenge on the brothers who betrayed him, he blessed them. If you aren't familiar with the story, it's a beautiful testament of mercy, forgiveness, and God's favor in the midst of tragic circumstances.

So, what is my "word" this year? Favor. FAVOR! But now I view it with the understanding that God's favor might not look like what I think it should.

Romans 8:28 New International (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

When Men of God Fail

Good men and women fail. Even men and women of God, ministers of the gospel of Christ. We hear of it through the news, or from those who know or have heard about it. What happens when it’s someone you know? Has it ever happened to someone you personally know?

It hurts.

I recently attended a memorial service for someone I had worked under in ministry who had fallen. Because of my position at the time, I was involved in the process of confrontation and accountability. It was the second time I had been involved in such a process – a few years apart. It left me wounded and bleeding. These men had impacted my life. They had been a powerhouse for Christ. I considered it a privilege and blessing to work in ministry under their leadership.

They were good to me. As a boss.  As a friend.  As a mentor. I loved and admired them. I realize that ministers face the same struggles and temptations as anyone else. Perhaps more so because Satan has more to gain if men and women of God fall. Even non-believers take notice.

One man lost his family and ministry after he fell. The other lost his ministry.

Then it happened again. To a pastor we knew. Again, my husband and I were devastated. A trust had been broken this time. A wife was betrayed and abandoned, friends and family were wounded.

I could titillate you with details – and I have details – but I won’t. I respect the memory of the good these men did while in ministry.  Years later, when my thoughts go to any of these men, my heart floods with sadness.

Do I, or you, judge these men on their failure? Or on the totality of their ministry? Human nature is such that if you do ten wonderful, sacrificial things for someone and then do one horrid thing to them, it will likely be with that one horrid thing that dominates their memory of you. Sadly, in regards to these three men, their ministry legacy will reflect their failure more than their successes.

If you’re familiar with David in the Old Testament of the Bible, David had grievous sin and failure in his life. Adultery and murder to cover his crime were a few things in David’s life.  Yet, in 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22, David is referred to as a man after God’s own heart.  How can that be?

The biblical record does not attempt to sugar-coat David’s blunders. It honestly shows his triumphs and his tragedies. Throughout, David had a soul that could be touched with truth. He was unafraid to admit his transgressions. He broke his own heart by his lapses of spirituality. 

David’s life, nor the lives of the three I mentioned, should be judged exclusively by their valleys of failure, but by the whole landscape of their ministry. They had/have families, friends, and followers who loved them. People were hurt, and some destroyed, by their failure. The greatest destruction, however, is what the repercussions of their actions did to them.

None of us know for sure what we are capable of doing if presented with certain circumstances. Remember that before you point a finger at others. 

And so, I write of these things in my books....men and women of God who fall or fail. But, always with redemption and restoration in the end. That is the God we serve -- a God full of mercy, grace, compassion, and kindness.  Alas, I have not seen restoration in the men I personally have known. It is no fault of God's, but of their own.

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.


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.