Thoughts on Charleston

Esch27

How does one even begin to blog about a complex issue like hate that escalates to racism and murder? There are many facets, and I have a general rule of no more than 850 words per blog (fair warning: this one is over 1200). Writing a string of blogs is an option. But today, I choose to hit on just a few issues. It’s hard to know where to start. But start we must.

So here goes.

First, know that I am deeply grieved by the Charleston shooting. I struggle to comprehend, and not just when racism is involved. The Aurora theater shooting particularly freaked me out and still causes me to be on guard when fellow movie goers find the need to come and go throughout a movie. Sandy Hook is so bizarre and surreal that I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to fathom what happened there. I realize not all of these and other incidences of mass murder have racism as a base issue, but the one thing they do have in common is hate. Yes, racism is hateful. Racism that leads to murder is hateful. I get that. But a white person opening fire on a classroom full of mostly little white people is also hateful. Murder in the heart starts with hate in the heart. Period.

As you can see by my sidebar picture, I’m as white as they come. And as such, the response to this blog and my grief may be quickly discarded simply because I could never understand what it is to be black and hated by a white person for the color of my skin.

This is partly true. I have been hated by white people, though admittedly, not for the color of my skin. But there’s another way in which I don’t understand.

Let me explain.

I grew up in a town where not many black people resided, and yet, somehow, a black girl by the name of Shelly came to the tiny Christian school I was raised in and became my best friend in kindergarten, first, and second grade. I have loved black people since. The feelings her friendship evoked in me had a ripple effect. They just kept going and going, and I have found it easy to be open to other friendships with people who are different from me. When I had open heart surgery in Houston (in 1989), many of my nurses were black. They were immensely kind, helpful, and loving to me at a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted to live. Their love toward me made me want to stay – in a hospital I hated because it kept me as its prisoner. I even vowed to come back some day and work beside them because by the end of my three week stay, I considered them lifelong friends.

I’ve never found black people to be offish. I’ve found them to be gentle, generous, and non-judgmental, for the most part. So while I don’t understand what it’s like to be hated for my skin color, I also don’t understand the hate that some white people feel toward black people. Nor do I participate in it. What happened in our country hundreds of years ago, in my book, does not have to dictate the relationships I have presently. For as long as I can remember, this has been my way of looking at and dealing with relationships with those of a difference race.

(I don’t even like to use that phrase, because aren’t we all of one race? The human race?)

In addition to being disappointed and angry about the Charleston shooting, I’m also disappointed in and angry at some reactions to the shooting. Don’t get me wrong. The prompt forgiveness on the part of the victims’ families has been incredible. Divine, in fact. And nothing but praise and thanksgiving can be offered for their humble, Christ-like response to horrific injustice. What bothers me is the gist of what some across the country are saying about the topic of racism:

There’s no solution.

Hate is hate and it can’t be fixed.

Racism has always been a part of our history and it always will be a part of our future.

Those who are demanding that something HAS to change are the same ones saying nothing CAN change. Or will change. By doing so, it’s as if they prefer to roll around in the part of their society that is mucky and miry rather than grabbing a shovel and asking, “Where can I, with God’s help, start shoveling?”

Two of my favorite words in the Bible are “but God.” If we could look at racism and murder and all the underlying, sly sins that accompany the Charleston shooting as if we were in a desperate place (because we are), but also like God specializes in transformation (because He does), then we will have made the first step to recovery, healing, and peace. The problem is, we are too busy looking horizontal instead of vertical. At the relationship between ourselves and our neighbor instead of ourselves and God.

If I look at my neighbor, my hope is thwarted. If I look at my Savior, my hope is renewed. Not that we never look at our neighbor, but the idea is to gaze at God and glance at others.

We, the United States of America, need to be what our name indicates: united. And the only way that can happen is if we, the not-so-United-States, look to God who is the only One who can strengthen, convict, correct, inform, and help us live up to our name.

BrideGroom

In marriage, a man and woman are united because they humbly submit to Him and His will for their lives. Simply living in the same vicinity does not unite them. Do you think a healthy marriage happens apart from the grace of God? Having been married for a quarter of a century, I’m going to say no. Therefore, if God can do the mighty work of uniting two people who are so alike and yet so different, while attempting to live intimately, then I’m willing to say that God can also do a mighty work of uniting a country where people who are so alike and yet so different are attempting to live next door to each other, but are instead killing each other.

All things are possible – with God. And while God is perfectly willing to do His part, some of us don’t seem to be willing to do ours. Not from what I read. Some are more concerned with reliving the past and perpetuating hate. They forgive, or at least say they do, and yet they don’t forget – they dangle the past over every white person they encounter. Still, some say they hold no racist views, and yet they don’t speak up or defend in any way when racism rears its hideous head.

Somebody in this situation is going to have to be Jesus, and it’s you and me. Both of us. All of us, actually. Until we as a country and as individuals start to believe, live, and love like our Savior, the negative comments will prove right: nothing will change. We could talk about that every day all day, but my main point is that this is not a hopeless situation. So let’s stop inferring that it is. The fact is:

He is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. ~Jude 1:24

We need a starting point in all of this, but we can’t even take the first itty bitty step if we insist on admitting defeat before we tie our shoes. It’s complicated and feels beyond comprehension. It can seem hopeless. More and more so with each massacre. But let’s allow that feeling of hopelessness to prompt us to call on the God of angel armies. And rather than spreading words of descent, let’s sing a song of ascent:

Mountain2

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore. (Ps. 121)

 

The Truth About Bruce Jenner

Bible

Sometimes, I get stuck in the Psalms. I used to avoid them because they were cryptic and poetic and I just didn’t get it. Somehow, God has grown me out of that frustration and into the mindset that a Psalm a day tends to keep the blues away.

Part of what fascinates me is that the Psalmist speaks words of comfort and hope into the life of those he’s never met. God is the one who is ultimately speaking, of course, and his goal, in part, is to convey that our heart-wrenching questions and struggles in life are not rare. I’m thankful the Psalms (and much of Scripture) shatter my “I’m all alone” mentality.

God made us with a need for community, and nobody goes through life relishing complete solitude. This is partially why suicide is on the rise. People feel alone in their struggles, perhaps because they are ridiculed for even having struggles. Hope is lost because if nobody understands, nobody can help. Often, the conclusion of the sufferer is to check out, end the pain, and stop the internal madness.

Am I the only one who fears for Bruce Jenner in this way?

Believing we are alone can thrust us into living two extremes: like a hermit, or like an exhibitionist. The former allows us to succumb to what we feel. The latter allows us to fight what we feel. Clearly, Jenner has chosen the latter. His struggles are being touted as unique, classy, and heroic on the left, and weird, freakish, and disgusting on the right. In both cases, the attention he has garnered has given the impression that he’s somehow different than the majority. This is simply not true.

I Corinthians 10:13a says there is no temptation such as is common to man. So we know Jenner is not different for struggling as he does. He is, however, willing to take his temptations to a level of partaking and flaunting that most are not. This does not make him heroic. It makes him an abomination.

A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deut. 22:5)

Jenner is not only putting on a woman’s cloak, he is attempting to put on her hair, breasts, skin, and overall genetic makeup. What he is doing and attempting to become is the result of not “keeping his heart with all diligence.” (Prov. 4:23) In other words, little sins have become gigantic sins because they’ve not been nipped in the bud. Rather, they’ve been nourished, cherished, and have grown out of control. According to James 1:14-15, the result of coddling rather than combating our sin is death:

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Jenner’s baby-sized temptation that has “blossomed” into a full-grown sin, and the next step in the process is possible physical death, and most certainly spiritual death. Therefore, the promotion of Caitlyn is the promotion of Bruce’s destruction. John Hopkins hospital no longer performs sex change operations, because they’ve found through years of study that the operations do more harm than good. Patients are not overwhelmingly satisfied with the results, the sex change harms them psychologically, and many of them go on to, not flourish in their new identity as promised, but rather commit suicide.

So given all of that, who do you suppose should be credited with truly loving Bruce Jenner? Those taking a stand, waving the flag of caution because up ahead lies death? Or those who are going so far as to award, flaunt, and encourage the “heroism” of his actions with blatant disregard for the fact that he is doomed for destruction?

I am not near as eloquent as the Psalmist, but if I could write to Jenner, I would tell him he’s not alone, because I know what it is to desire someone else’s body and to stoop to self-destructive measures to get it. I have desperately wanted to be thinner, prettier, taller, and shorter (what can I say, I’m fickle). I’ve coveted bigger boobs, a smaller butt, curves where I don’t have curves and no curves where I do have curves. I’ve wanted to be rid of thunder thighs, and I’m in a lifelong struggle to be content with a less than feminine nose. Also? I’d love a pair of smaller feet. Oh, and smaller eyes, because bug eyes bug me – especially when they’ve been topped with a uni-brow the size of a fuzzy caterpillar on growth hormones. I’ve participated in a reasonable level of change by plucking the brows and tweaking the make-up, and I’ve participated in what I can only refer to as foolish by resorting to bulimia in an attempt to have a figure I lusted after. One had consequences that were completely reversible and minimal. The other had consequences that are irreversible, drastic, and life-altering.

I even know what it’s like to resent my gender. Growing up with two older brothers and all boy cousins at times caused me to resent being a girl.  I lost races. Got tackled in tackle football. My pig tails that were supposed to make me look cute were used as horse reins and motorcycle handlebars. I’ll never forget the one time (the one time!) I won PIG against my oldest brother. It was a total fluke. Luck, probably. But for one second, I was a better basketball player than a bigger-than-me boy.

Additionally, being a victim of sexual assault has at times made me feel utter disgust that God made me feminine and pretty (read: fresh meat) to someone who didn’t have my best interest at heart, coupled with an inability to defend myself. Many times, I’ve resented the God-given title of “woman” and subtitle of “weaker vessel.” Sometimes, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to be male as I didn’t want to be female. I’m sure nowadays they have a title and restroom sign for people who don’t prefer to be either sex. But back then, we just called my problems what they were: discontentment, lust, and a desire to control my DNA.

Here’s what I’m getting at: If I started hacking away at my body and swallowing pills that are harmful in an attempt grow a penis, I would hope my friends would be man or woman enough to try and stop me from self-destruction, rather than cheering me on to the world’s idea of “bravery.” I would want them to tell me that I’m not alone because nobody is beyond any temptation, and God is faithful to not allow me to be tempted beyond the ability to escape.

I would want them to tell me the truth: that a sex change is a direct affront to God, his all knowing, all wise character, and his sovereign plan for my life. That God made me a woman, and a woman I shall remain, because a scalpel cannot alter the handiwork of God. That God did not make a masculine piece of pottery and accidently pour feminine DNA into it. That God is a bigger Savior than I am a sinner and I am complete in him. That I am not a mess-up. That I need to fess up. That I need to surrender to God’s perfect plan for my life.

Most of all, I’d want them to lovingly, respectfully pray for the grace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.*

Jenner does not need endorsement for, or validation of, his actions. He needs the truth, said in love, by people who are honest about their own struggle with sin and are willing to pray with and for him. He needs tough love. Not “love” that accepts his actions in spite of the fact that those actions will lead him straight to destruction. It’s flat out nuts, and dare I say hateful, to lead a hurting, vulnerable, spiritually and psychologically ill person to their grave.

The transgender debate is multifaceted. I can’t cover all of the angles in one blog. But if you take away anything from this post, let it be this: Jenner is not alone in his depravity, he is simply one of the few who relishes in displaying his depravity, and he is being heavily rewarded for doing so (monetarily, if in no other way). I don’t know the solution to that, but I know condemnation from me isn’t it. Clearly, I am not a better person than he is. If either one of us is ultimately, eternally condemned, God will do the condemning, and it is not my place to say whether he is regenerate or unregenerate. Do I think he is far from the Lord? Yes. Can Christians be far from the Lord? Yes they can.

And …

While I don’t want to promote or perpetuate his highly publicized display of depravity by writing this blog, I recognize that his display demands critical thinking and discussing – especially when it comes to the younger generation. What God has labeled an abomination is what we are now forced to discuss with our kids and grandkids because when we stop for a jug of milk at the grocery store … there lies Vanity Fair.

Kids are going to ask, or at the very least, wonder. So start thinking and praying. Then start talking.

In writing this, I’m attempting to work out my own mental and theological kinks. It is not laced with condemnation from me, but it is laced with truth, and I am aware that truth is often offensive. If I’ve helped you work out some of your own kinks, awesome. Go forth and perpetuate the unkinking. If your kinks are now more kinky than ever and you’re having wicked thoughts of wringing my scrawny, feminine neck, perhaps you can message me and we can cordially hash it out, together. Because again … solitude is no bueno.

 

 

*taken from the Serenity Prayer

Why One Woman Hasn’t Quit Facebook

Ocean3

Imagine this:

A pastor preaches a sermon on compassion.

Said pastor’s wife listens to said sermon and begins to wonder how God could use her more in the area of compassion. She’s chronically ill, and to add something more into her schedule seems too taxing. To say it in Scriptural eloquence … her spirit is willing, but her flesh is weak.

So she prays about it:

Lord, what would you have me to do? Lord, show me someone who needs compassion.

The next day, she’s flat on her back. She wakes up with a kinked neck that grows worse by the hour, and by mid-afternoon, her only choice is to stay completely still or suffer painful muscle zingers that make her cry like Westley on the torture table in Princess Bride.

Compassion! she huffs. Who has energy for that?

To pass the time and get her mind off her pain, she reads a book. She texts her kids away from home and talks in person to the one still living at home. She reads a handful of suggested links on Facebook. Makes a few comments in the hopes that her words might make a difference, but is skeptical as to whether her opinion will be valued.

Why this, Lord? Why am I required to be still when I want to do, do, do? Upright. That’s what I want to be, spiritually and physically. And yet you knock me down.

She sleeps a while. Talks to her hubby when he comes home. Gives him a few cooking instructions for the chili she had planned to cook. She checks Facebook again and runs across a video that exhibits the exact opposite of compassion. There was hilarity in the video, and she thought it was funny enough to share with others who had heard the sermon on compassion, as an example of what not to say and do.

She uploads the video and hits “share.” By late evening, the video prompts a private conversation that surveys the ins and outs of compassion and provides an opportunity to show empathy to a hurting woman who has suffered for decades with unbearable grief because of excruciating circumstances that nobody could control.

Now, if her neck was healthy, the video wouldn’t have been posted. The conversation wouldn’t have taken place. Perhaps the heart of the one who messaged her would have gone to bed hurting more than it needed to. Feeling more alone than it truly was. And maybe her heart would’ve gone to bed still hoping for a chance to show compassion. She had prayed for opportunities. But she wasn’t prepared for the answer she would receive. She had pictured working in a soup kitchen, giving money and time to a panhandler, or (not kidding) adopting a baby. But God had other plans – at least for that day.

This is why she hasn’t quit Facebook. Oh, she wants to. More than a hundred times, she has said “Social media is a waste. No good comes from it. It whittles away at my time. My thoughts. My sanity.” And yet, she can’t ignore the conversations that inevitably evolve from what, on the surface, seems a futile attempt at redeeming the time – and often come because she her illness provides the time.

The private messages she receives that lead to deep spiritual conversations are not easy to ignore. They mean something. Behind the screens are real people, real faces, real written words of concern, grief, anger, and other emotions that make her realize Facebook, while highly annoying, can also be immensely profitable in an eternal, spiritual sense. For all involved.

Words are powerful. She is ever learning just how powerful. In her experience, it doesn’t matter that the words are typed rather than spoken … they make a difference.

Sometimes compassion is what her FB friends are after. Sometimes they want a heady conversation that would never take place face to face because the screen gives them boldness they wouldn’t otherwise possess. Sometimes their days just need to be brightened with humor. Whatever the case, she’s decided that next time she injures herself, she won’t waste half the day asking why. She’ll get busy doing what she can instead of grieving for all the things she can’t.

Have you ever wanted to quit social media? Have you found ways to use it for God’s glory? Or have you decided it’s inherently evil and needs to be destroyed before we all go bonkers? In what ways has your brokenness provided ways to be effective in showing compassion to others? Do tell!

 

An Open Letter to the Duggar Victims

Nature1

Dear Josh Duggar Victims,

I am so sorry for your pain, the shame you feel, and your embarrassment. I’m sorry there are people in the world who are so bent on “exposing the truth” that they forgot (or are too stupid to know) that the truth re-victimizes you. I know the truth only serves to conjure up memories you’d rather forget, but can’t seem to, no matter how many months you put for the effort. You go to bed weeping, while others go to bed thinking they’ve somehow made the world a better place by exposing the sins of a Christian, but “hypocritical family.” For some of you, that family is your own, which only serves to hurt you further.

The media doesn’t love you. They love the juicy story that makes them “prosperous.”

Some have come out to defend Josh. Hardly  no one has come out to defend you. To love you. To assure you NONE OF THIS is your fault. But I am here to, as best as one can via social media, love you. To assure you that you did NOTHING to deserve any of this. Not the abuse. Not the unwanted resurfacing of the abuse. Not the hate that’s being spewed against Josh. Not the weak apology from Josh that barely mentioned you. NOTHING. You are a true victim who holds no culpability, and I weep, mourn, and pray with you. I pray that Jesus will turn your mourning into dancing, and the he will empower you to put off your sackcloth and be clothed with gladness (Ps. 30:11). And yet, at the same time, I want you to take the time to wear your sackcloth and heap ashes upon ashes on your head. There is a time for everything and grief over being sexually assaulted deserves time to work itself out. So take all the time you need. Weep. Mourn. Lament. Tell God you’re angry. And know that I am right there beside you in spirit, rooting for your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

I know full well that desired gladness seems intangible. You just can’t … quite … reach it. But my admonition to you is to keep reaching, just like the woman who set out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. She, too, had to fight the crowd, the mob of people who looked at her as unclean, desolate, insignificant. But she had courage, didn’t she? And she stuck with her desperate desire to be healed by Jesus, no matter how difficult it was to wiggle her way through a mass of mad people who completely overlooked her shame, desolation, grief, sickness, pain … and her very person.

I hope and pray you have that resolve. That strength. That fight. That determination, like Jacob, to wrestle with the Lord until he blesses you. Stick with him and he will. You may come out limping on the outside, but on the inside, you will be established and settled, like a tree beside the waters: unmovable, steady, and strong.

If there’s one thing I want you and others who have suffered in a similar manner to know, it’s that there’s hope now, and hope for the future. Because regardless of the timing, God is going to set everything straight. All things are going to be new. Until then, his mercies are new every morning … and every mourning

Those ashes we heap on our heads when we grieve over our loss of innocence? God’s in the process of transforming them into something beautiful. What you suffered, what I have suffered, what our loved ones suffer with us, is not for naught. Only God can tell you what the purpose is, but until he sees fit to do that … I stand with you. I pray for you, your peace, and the peace of your loved ones who walk through this valley holding your hand, holding you up, and handing you more ashes until YOU decide you are able to move from mourning to dancing. May you, in spite of how you’ve been treated, prosper and flourish. May you be given the time to lament and heal. And may your hurt someday morph into singing.

Today, your voices are not being heard. But if I know God (and I do!), I know that someday, he’s going to heal you. And once you are whole, you will find your voice. Perhaps you will speak to set the record straight. We all welcome that, in whatever way you deem fitting, but in no way do we require it of you. Perhaps you will use your voice to stand by other victims. Whatever the case, my main prayer is that God will heal your hurts so thoroughly that there will be nothing that could possibly keep you from singing his praises – in spite of whatever scar or limp you are left with.

That’s what victory looks like. It’s not power that we somehow work up within ourselves. It’s weakness, made perfect in the power of Christ. It’s a long, treacherous road, but well worth the effort to be where our hearts long to be.

Perhaps you’re already experiencing some victory. If so, I stand there with you, also. The point of this letter is not to keep you in the pit of despair, but to let you know that wherever you are in the journey, I’m with you. From one who has been in the ashes and now sings praise to God but sometimes trips and falls and has to find her footing and voice once more … I’m forever yours and on your side. If you are in the trenches, I’m there. If you’ve found your way out of the trenches and into the valley, I’m also there. And when you make it to the top of the mountain, I’m. So. There. I’m even there when you trip, take a tumble off the mountain top, and land face down in the trenches. The point is: you’re not alone. So please, wherever you are in the quest for wholeness, know that there is at least one, and I’m betting a multitude of others, who understand, love, and are rooting for you

See you on the journey, sisters. I’ll be the one singing, and yet faltering here and there and sometimes everywhere because I’m carrying a bundle that is far too heavy to bear.

~Brenda

Colorado Christian Writers Conference Report 2015

EstesElk

First, a huge thanks to all who financially gave in order for me to go to the conference. Your money has been well spent, and I’m certain your crown will be enriched with much bling for having been so generous. What touched me more than your giving was that you gave cheerfully, and I am grateful. Thank you! Second, this blog has the potential to become lengthy, so please grab some peanut butter M&M’s and a cup of tea before you read further.

Let’s break it down into days:

Tuesday: I was scheduled for an early bird workshop Wednesday morning, and I thought it would be good up the night before to get settled, get my food prepped, etc. So we checked in, goofed around, prepped food, and perused the place in general. Elevation was a concern, but from the time we got there (around 5:00) to the time I went to bed, I was fine. Went to sleep a little nervous, anticipating the next day, but slept like a milk drunk baby.

Wednesday: Woke up sick like a booze drunk adult. Dizzy, extremely fatigued, sore throat, tight chest, fever, chills (clearly, I’ve never been drunk, but I assume it’s something like what I just described). I thought I was doomed and all the money everyone gave was going to be wasted. It was a horrible feeling physically, but more so emotionally. I loathed the thought of wasting the generosity of others. I rested and then forced myself to get out for some fresh air, thinking it would help clear my dizziness. It did, and I was able to attend the workshop. The rest of the day dragged on, and I still felt run over by a steam roller, but powered through. Shaun and I decided we would go see Avengers that evening, but by then, I had classic signs of altitude sickness in addition to everything else. Shortness of breath, heart pounding, unable to think, fatigue, and classic for me: numb hands. We decided it would be best to get down off the mountain and “come up for air”, so to speak.

Thursday: Woke up feeling fine!! Okay, not fine. But a thousand times better. I could think, my fever and chills were gone, and I had some energy. And good thing. When I checked in at the desk, I learned that the two most important appointments would take place that day. One with an agent from the Steve Laube Agency, and one with the senior editor of Harvest House Publishing. This news got my adrenaline pumping, which in turn helped rev up my energy (do they sell adrenaline in a bottle? ha!).

What happened in the appointments was not what I had anticipated. I was told I would need to “pitch” my book, meaning explain the felt need, primary and secondary audience, purpose, theme, etc. Neither the agent or the editor wanted that. They simply wanted to hear my story. So I winged it. I wasn’t prepared, but God provided the words and a quick explanation was given. The editor gave some good advice as to how/where to publish my genre. He was more than cordial, and when it became apparent that my book wouldn’t fit with what his company is publishing at this time, he went on to give me my full fifteen minutes – packed with advice and encouragement. I felt blessed to have met with him.

The agent, upon hearing my story, said she would like me to send her my book proposal. It was something she decided at the very end of our talk, and I admit I walked away wondering what her level of interest was. Sure, she asked me to send her the proposal, but do agents tell everyone they meet with to send their proposals? I know – what a newbie! When we went to dinner that night, I felt like crying. It was, after all, “cry day”, which is what they say day two is, when all the authors meet with agents and editors and cry because their manuscripts are rejected. But I didn’t feel like crying because of rejection. It was just an emotional, exhausting day.

While Shaun went through the food line, I went to find us a two-seater table, which was located toward the back of the cafeteria. On my way there, I passed the agent, who was talking with a well-known acquisitions editor. They were apparently discussing the editor’s recent book about Billy Graham. I smiled, walked past, and continued my search for a few seats. No way was I going to interrupt that conversation to say “howdy.” But a number of steps later, I hear, “Hey Brenda!” To my surprise, it was the agent. She stopped me to apologize if she cut our meeting short (which she didn’t!), to assure me my story touched her, and to make sure I send her the proposal. It was then that the second day definitely became “cry day.” All the stress of the day, and the fight to stay physically well suddenly seemed worth it.

Will anything come of sending her the proposal? Will she take my work to a publisher and say, “You’ve gotta see this”? I have no idea! All I know is that my next step is to send the proposal!

Friday: A few more appointment that didn’t add up to much. More workshops. More running from one end of the campus to the others. More of the clinic on non-fiction book proposals. General weariness. And some time spent with Ashlee, Jack, and Auggie Fynn, who all came up with me for the day since Shaun had to get some things done at the farmhouse. My family refuses to let me go into high elevation without a babysitter, in case I do what we call the “cod fish.”

*insert flopping fish gasping for air here

And yes, I know fish don’t breathe air.

Saturday: The main event of this day was finishing up the non-fiction book proposal clinic. The instructor was a lady by the name of Cindy Lambert. If you ever meet Cindy, you will know why the clinic was such an amazing experience. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone as kind, gracious, and yet corrective and instructive as Cindy. I left the class wanting her to be my editor, writing coach, and maybe even my sister. If I ever have another opportunity to take a class from her, I will. I don’t care if it’s on underwater basket weaving. I’m taking it. Her ability to teach without making you feel like a numskull is a gift, and I can’t express how blessed and benefitted I am to have taken her clinic.

So, one story about the clinic before I go: Thursday and Friday’s portion of the clinic were days I mostly took in information. Cindy spoke. We critiqued a few of the class’s proposals. On Friday, I also had an appointment with an agent who will remain unnamed. I don’t know what her agenda was, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t the same as mine. And that’s fine. But I walked away a bit wounded. I didn’t cry. :) But some things she said stirred me, and I wondered for the first time if I should change my genre. I’ve been writing a memoir, and it was suggested that I write to a younger audience, and to change my genre. The thing is, between all the meetings, classes, and workshops you take, you can walk away with a million different pieces of advice, some of which conflict. You have to decide what pieces you will take, which pieces you will chuck. I have no problem chucking the advice to write for a different audience than what I’ve been writing to in this book. I don’t believe that’s what God wants. But what she said about changing my memoir to Christian living wouldn’t leave my mind. I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried, it stayed with me like glue on a shoe.

So … I took to mulling this over and tightly hugging the stuffing out of my precious dream of writing a memoir (how I love STORY!), but peace evaded me. The last clinic class was Saturday at 2:15, and I remember walking out the door saying to myself, Maybe I should just concede and switch my genre. Then I slammed the door and pouted all the way down the hall on the way to class!

I’m kidding a little bit.

Class started and we were critiquing my classmate’s proposal. She’s writing a memoir, and she writes beautifully. I’m certain she will be published. Her story is real and horrifying and yet she is able to tell it eloquently, in a way that ebbs and flows like seawater. In this critique, Cindy begins to clarify what memoir is and does. Memoir is story, and so is Christian living (to an extent), but memoir never breaks story. Memoir also leaves interpretation to the reader. I knew all of this, but I couldn’t have put it into words like Cindy did. And when I heard it out loud, I knew I had my answer. I AM a story teller. But in this particular book, I am not able to leave interpretation up to the reader. I have to break story. So I knew at that moment that I would switch genres. And you guessed it – another cry. I asked a few clarifying questions and made a few statements, then I looked at Cindy and said, “I think I need to change my genre.” And in her gentle, sweet way, she smiled and said, “I think you do, too. Because you have an agenda, and you’re not going to be able to state that agenda unless you break story.”

The funny thing about all of this? Cindy and I were due to meet at 9:00 that morning, one on one, but the meeting place was misunderstood, so we had to postpone until after class. In that morning meeting, she was planning to tell me I should switch genres. But I was still raw from that rough appointment with the agent who will still remain unnamed, and I know I wouldn’t have taken Cindy’s added advice to change genres well. My heart and mind just weren’t ready for it yet. I needed to hear the explanation between memoir and Christian living first. I needed what Cindy called an aha! moment before I was willing to change.

My mission hasn’t changed. But the method to my mission has. Ironically, I feel more comfortable with writing the book now. Because of my love for story, I made the mistake of thinking that what I love is how I should exclusively write (at least in book form). But as Cindy got to know me, she felt confirmed in her suspicion that I am a teacher. Yes, I’m a story teller. And story telling is certainly a large portion of writing Christian living. But I need that window to break story and cut loose with some good teaching. Someday, I will write a memoir. But not with this story. And not until I’m able to allow the reader his or her own interpretation. To me, that will mean the memoir will have to be a fun story. One that isn’t trying to get through some tough, theological questions due to some dark, difficult days in my life.

Well. That’s the high points of the conference. I have no idea where God will lead, but my plan is to just be faithful in what He’s given me to do next. There’s much revamping I need to do to the proposal, and I need to have three sample chapters completely finished to send with the proposal. Yes, I have the chapters written, but since I’m changing my genre (oh, and my title!), there’s a lot of revamping to do. I hear 90 days is the most time you’d want to let pass before sending a proposal on to an agent who’s requested to see it at a conference. So – let the writing and editing commence.

Thank you again to all who contributed, whether by prayer or by finances. I don’t need anymore of your moola, but I will always need your prayers.

 

How to Honor Your Mom

MeandMom

 

This is me and my Mom. If you’re wondering whether I’m adopted, don’t worry. I’ve wondered the same thing. I was born in the halls of Montrose Memorial Hospital, on the way to the delivery room. There was no time for drugs. Mom was coherent and she is certain I am hers and she is mine. Plus, my teeth strongly resemble my maternal grandmother’s teeth, so – just trust me – this is my Mom!

Mom is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known, bedsides her own mother. She’s also funny and fun, in spite of the myriad of trials she has endured and continues to endure. When I was growing up, all my friends wanted to come to my house because “Mrs. Haynes was the best.” I think teenagers particularly liked her because the way she approached them (and people in general) was to ask what it was about their life that was hard and to follow up by either volunteering her time and effort, or her sympathy and prayers. And … probably a wad of cash.

Mom is the poorest, but most giving person I’ve ever met. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years back, and she’s living on a minscule disability check every month, but somehow, each time I visit her, I come home with a check or some cash in my hand. Last time, I came home with three new pairs of new jeans. I’ve long since stopped trying to refuse her money. She always wins that tug of war, and it’s best to not ruffle her feathers by reminding her she needs groceries.

She has never gone hungry, and both of us know that whatever she doles out to her people, neighbors, friends, and strangers comes back to her, increased. God loves cheerful givers – and provides for them in mysterious ways.

Mom doesn’t love Mother’s Day. Never has, never will. Her relationship with her own Mom was bumpy at times and she’s never been keen on her own kids giving her anything, for fear she would become a burden. In her mind, her job is to care for the kids, not vice versa. I suspect that as she grows older and her Parkinson’s develops, she will have to get over that. But for now, I don’t push her to depend on me for anything she doesn’t want to depend on me for. I don’t make a big deal out of Mother’s Day, but I’ve learned what makes her eyes sparkle at other times of the year, and I do those things. I’ve learned what cheers her up, and whenever I can, I cheer her. And while she doesn’t like to be served in ways that she can take care of herself, she does like to be served in the more manly jobs – like servicing her swamp cooler, installing a wood stove so she’s warm in the winter, or getting the pump to the irrigation water running. So I make sure Shaun or one of my brothers know about those things, and we get ‘er done.

Honor your father and your mother. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, and perhaps that’s why we set aside one day a year to recognize our Moms. But commandments aren’t meant to be obeyed one out of every 365 days. We don’t honor Mom one day a year and diss her the other 364. We honor her as a way of life. As a practice. As a duty. As a pleasure. 

So while I encourage you to honor your Mom this Sunday (yes! this Sunday!) if she likes that kind of thing, I would encourage you more strongly to honor her throughout the year. Make it a habit. Make it who you are, rather than what you must do in order to avoid looking like … a twerp.

A foolish man despises his mother. ~Proverbs 15:20b

What’s in it for you? Well, I think only a twerp would ask such a thing! But since you asked:

Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” ~Ephesians 6:2-3

The Heart of the Baltimore Matter

Many a murderer is more alarmed at the gallows than at the murder which brought him to it. The thief loves the plunder, though he fears the prison. Not so with David: he is sick of sin as sin; his loudest outcries are against the evil of his transgression, and not against the painful consequences of it. When we deal seriously with our sin, God will deal gently with us. When we hate what the Lord hates, he will soon make an end of it, to our joy and peace. ~Charles Spurgeon, in Treasury of David, Psalm 51

If you’ve read any headlines this week, you’ll know that people are desperately searching for the solution to rioting, hate, bigotry, and the lack of peace in our culture, our homes, and around the world. The words of Charles Spurgeon contain the solution: being sick of sin as sin, hating what God hates, and might I add, loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength FIRST, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, SECOND.

Without love, we are loud, obnoxious, clanging cymbals. We don’t experience riots. We ARE the riots. Without love through Christ, we are not conquerors. We are conquered by our own evil desires.

The problem today is that we are giving in to our own sin. We aren’t hating our sin, we are loving it and merely fearing the gallows and the prison rather than the God of the universe. It’s not just in the streets of Baltimore. It’s in the tiny towns, suburbs, and big cities. It’s in our homes and hearts. And until we start hating what God hates, and fearing Him more than we fear consequences, peace and joy will remain elusive.

Maybe you’re not a rioter. Maybe you’re a glutton, an adulterer at heart, a gossip, or a lazy bum. Maybe you provoke your children to wrath or disrespect your husband. I can’t see your heart. I don’t know your sins. But I know mine. And I see the solution to all my sin is to beg for mercy, to be sick of sin as sin, to hate what God hates, to cry out ~ loudly protest! ~ against the sin in my heart, and to l-o-v-e, LOVE.

We don’t need riots. We need repentance. We need to turn off the TV, Twitter, and Facebook, and tune in to the issues of our hearts. For it is then, and only then, that God will deal gently with us and give us what we are longing for: peace and joy.

The media is right when they say there’s lots of work to be done. But the work is inward, not outward. It’s not to go out and attempt to change the hearts of others by inflicting more injuries or yapping our heads off about the issues. It’s to keep at home and keep our hearts with all diligence, so that what springs forth is life and love and peace … not death and hate and destruction.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. ~Proverbs 4:23

The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

Always.

A Prayer for the Hurting

Burch28

Gracious Lord and Savior,

Thank you for being our Great Physician – for healing us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Thank you for sleep that restores. In our slumber, we recognize that you never slumber, and while we sleep, you are wide awake and often restoring us to health and energy. Each morning, your mercies are new … and for that, we are grateful.

For some, slumber doesn’t seem to be helping at the moment. I think of our Jack Jack, and his stomach flu. And Pastor Mike and Noel’s Parker who suffers from the same. Lord, these are fragile little ones who get depleted easily and as grandparents, we can stay up and worry until we too are ill, but we know that worry is faithless. So we put our faith in you and rest in the hope that you will heal and comfort these and any other little fragile bodies in our midst who suffer without our knowledge.

I also think of those who are so afflicted that slumber evades them, heaping fatigue and exhaustion upon illness and pain.

And others, Lord, whose physical states are deeply hurtful and yet disguised …

Bless all who hurt physically. Heal them now, if that be your will. If healing on earth is not your will, then give them strength to endure, faith to remain in you, and peace to know that someday, you’re going to wipe all the pain and sickness away and replace it with perfect health.

And for those who hurt mentally and emotionally ….

That pain will also be wiped away. No more ups. No more downs. Just steady peace and perfect knowledge. Help all to trust in that promise.

For those who are hurting spiritually …

Restore to them the joy of your salvation. If they’ve never experienced salvation, please draw them to yourself. Make your Son known to them in ways they can understand and cause them to accept you and your ways.

Most of all, remind us that you were a Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief – and that means that our deepest hurts, though often misunderstood by our neighbors, are always felt and understood by you, the God of the universe. We are not obscure. We are known from top to bottom. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. You knit us together in our mother’s womb and you count the hairs on our heads.

Convince us you are cognizant. Convince you are compassionate. Convince us of your constant care. And comfort us. For we are weak in body, soul, and spirit, and as hard as we try, we can’t heal ourselves.

We plead for your intervention in the lives of our maimed and hurting. Not in a faithless way, but an expectant way, knowing that even if your answer is “wait”, we are still deeply known, understood, cherished, and loved.

Thank you for all the good gifts you bestow upon us. We recognize that in our pain, often what you are giving us are the heavenly, spiritual gifts that you’ve promised us throughout your Word. So help us to know the truth and comfort of the earthly saying: No pain, no gain. How I wish there was another way to obtain what is valuable, what is eternal. But we know we are often called to “share in your sufferings.” Not because you are cruel, but because as C.S. Lewis said … pain insists upon being attended to. You whisper to us in our pleasures, speak to us in our consciences, but shout to us in our pains. 

May we hear you loud and clear. Help us to be grateful for our pain, to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials”, for this is the way you reveal yourself to us in a most tangible way. And whether we recognize it or not, Lord … it is you that we want most. It is you that we are searching for so frantically. It is only you who can wipe away tears and fears and everything that wears.

May we look to you, the Greatest Physician, for healing. We thank you for all you’ve done, are doing, and will continue to do. And it’s in Christ’s name that we pray.

~Amen

Credentials and Kerfuffles

IMG_0046

For the past few weeks, I have been preparing for a Christian writer’s conference due to take place mid-May in Estes Park. In the book proposal I am working on, one question I have to answer is: What credentials does the writer have that qualifies him or her to write this book? 

English/Lit major?

Nope.

High profile writer for popular online magazine?

Nope.

Low profile writer for newspaper in a dumpy little town out in the middle of nowhere?

Nope.

Formal education?

Uhh, sure. I think I’ve got four credits. 

Level of education?

Welp! I done gragitated a year early just so I could done get hitched, seeings how Ma wouldn’ta thunk of allowin’ me to run off with no Scotsman without no high school dee-ploma! Hee Hee Haw! 

*insert buck-toothed, hick from the sticks grin here*

Point is: I got nothin’. Or at least close to nothin’. No formal education, no high profile writing jobs. So I was forced to admit my piddly credentials: publication in a few book anthologies and online magazines, writing weekly for a church blog, and maintaining my own blog. Oh, and let’s not forget keeping up with my 479 Facebook friends and 347 Twitter followers, which are both very important to publishers and agents.

Sheesh. I walked away from filling out the proposal thinking perhaps I should be a social media specialist instead of a writer.

But then I realized something. I’m writing a book that is a story within a bigger story. It’s the story of specific, difficult (at best) experiences in my life that has ultimately led to finding purpose and meaning in Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. In other words, what most qualifies me to write the book is that I’m a child of God.

The editor who will read my proposal won’t be looking for a book written by someone from the school of hard knocks whose only boast is in her Heavenly Father. At least not first and foremost. He will want tangible, impressive credentials, but most of what I have to offer is a simple testimony of how my life was shrouded in darkness, until that day when there was a kerfuffle between that darkness and Light, and eventually, Light won, continues to win, and will ultimately win.

The Apostle Paul also had a kerfuffle with Light on the road to Damascus. He came out of it stunned and blind – but with a completely changed heart. And what did he do in response to his changed heart? Well he made tents. But first and foremost, He preached. He wrote. He dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the Gospel.
It’s easy to look at Paul and say, “Well yeah, but he’s Paul!” As if Paul’s power came from someone mightier than we have access to … which is nothing short of a blatant lie from the pit of hell.

Paul and I serve the same God. The Light that he kerfuffled with is the same Light with which I’ve kerfuffled. And if God made a way for him to spread the Good News, then perhaps He will do the same for me. Does that mean a book deal and New York Times best seller is in my future? It could. But me of little faith tends to think it will probably mean a lot of upcoming rejection slips, or if published, maybe persecution from readers who don’t appreciate the truth. Maybe my sphere of influence is only here, with you. Maybe God wants the sphere to be enlarged, I don’t know. All I do know is that when the time comes to stand before God, I want to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Not “Depart from me, I never knew you,” after I’ve rattled of a list of credentials supposedly done in His name.

Earthly credentials are not bad in and of themselves. They’re only bad if they’re what we solely depend on to land a job, a book deal, or worse, eternal security. We should be working hard, yes. But more than that, we should be seeking Him and His kingdom first.

So what are you doing in grateful response to your kerfuffle? Is your heart so changed like Paul’s that you are moved to first and foremost spread the Gospel? Are you content with your story being within a bigger story, or are you trying to make your story the biggest, most relevant?

Lord, even after we experience an enlightening, life changing kerfuffle with you, our hearts can become hardened. We can become self-seekers, pushing our story to the front and leaving yours behind. Stun us again with your majesty, so that we might love to tell your story. Thank you for making us a part of your story, but motivate and cause us to always portray you, not ourselves, as the main character. We may never get a book deal or land a high-falutin’ job that way, but when we come before your presence, we will hear what our hearts are ultimately searching for: Well done, thou good and faithful servant. I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord. (Matt. 25:23) 

How to Handle Misunderstanding

Flower1

Misunderstanding. The mere sound of that word can be painful. We all know what it is to be misunderstood, don’t we? And Jesus knew it better than we ever have or could. Can you imagine all the inaccurate thoughts clanking around in the heads of the onlookers who attended His crucifixion?

Some thought He was a criminal. Some thought He was smitten and afflicted because of His sin, but the truth was that He was smitten and afflicted because of their sin. Still, others mocked Him as “King of the Jews” and thought there was no possible way He could be God. “Surely God would be powerful enough to deliver Himself from a torturous death!” they cried.

Do you have family and friends who misunderstand you? Your mission in life? Your struggles and pain? What is your response to their misunderstanding? I know I often experience a full gamut of negative emotions when I’m taken for someone I’m not: anger, sadness, frustration, a sense of injustice. But I also have learned to feel relief. Because when everyone around me is presumably thinking or even expressing falsehood, and nobody seems to understand what it’s like to be Brenda Coats, I know Jesus gets it. He fully understands. He knows my circumstances better than anyone, and He knows the twists, turns, and crevices of my heart, good and bad. And others? Well, they only see my outer woman – silly stuff like Facebook posts, what I drive, what I wear to church versus what I wear on Tuesday – you get the point. It is common to observe a smidgen here, a tidbit there, and voila! Make a judgment. I’ve done it to others and others have done it to me. But Jesus is always spot on, perfect in His understandings of our circumstances and character.

When the crowd esteemed Him stricken and smitten, He was in fact looking on them as the stricken and smitten. And yet … what was His response to this great misunderstanding? To remain steadfast in His mission by staying on the cross. Then as the mocking, scorning, piercing, and stoning continued, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, separated His soul from His flesh, and died for the very ones who not only misunderstood Him, but tortured Him.

That’s a tough act to follow. I can’t say the first desire of my heart when being touted as someone I’m not is to forgive and lay down my life. It’s to self-defend, set the record straight, and throw a proverbial punch. Sometimes, there’s a time and a place for setting the record straight. There were plenty of times throughout Jesus’ ministry where He tried to un-kink the twisted minds of people. But more often than not, Jesus’ response to painful misunderstanding was to forgive, and carry on with His overall mission.

Our mission, then, is to follow suit – to correct others when appropriate, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in the spirit of meekness, humility, and peace-making, and leave the results to God. All with the realization that usually, there’s no sense attempting to change the hearts or minds of those who are eager to believe the worst. Only God can change a heart like that. The only thing we can control is our reaction to other people’s actions. 
So next time you’re misunderstood? Pray and evaluate whether you should respond. If the answer is no, then …

Onward, Christian soldier, marching as to war.
With the cross of Jesus, going on before.

Or, in this case, going on AS before. As if you’ve never been misunderstood by finite humans, but are fully understood by an omniscient God who has given you a mission … and you are not to be deterred.

Subscribe to RSS Feed Follow me on Twitter!