The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up: Arrows and Stuff

Some great picks to mull over from this week's "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday." Stop by and share some encouragement with your fellow writers in the coming days if you can. And thank you to everyone who linked up this week -- what a gift to read through your stories as I walk through the peaks and valleys of the week!

"Faithful over a Few Things" at One Thing Spoken, Two Things Heard -- Natalie writes about the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25, and I was so inspired by her revelation about balancing the special gifts she has received from God with her responsibilities as a mother and a wife. Thank you for the much-needed insights, Natalie!

"There Has to be More" at amanda d -- Amanda writes with such grace and clarity about her family's ephiphany: through years of marriage and housekeeping and childrearing, they have acquired an overabundance of stuff: "We had begun to feel sick of the littered life of consumption." Read about the revelation and, more importantly, the subsequent posts Wednesday and today about what they decided to do about it.

"Fetching Arrows to the Glory of God" at Out of My Alleged Mind -- I've been reading Nancy for a while now, and I just love her heart, her zany humor and her down-to-earth honesty. And I love how she zeroes in on the sub-story, just like she does in this post about the little boy who fetches arrows for Jonathan. Seems like an ordinary, meaningless role, doesn't it, this fetching of arrows? Nancy's post just may change your mind.

"Storm Facts" at A Moment with God -- I've read the story in Mark 4 before about Jesus calming the storm, but I love how Lisa takes us through this familiar story and succinctly outlines five points that were new to her in this reading. I particularly like point #1: "Walking with Jesus doesn't guarantee calm seas."

"Hidden Potential" at Ramblings and Photos by Ashley Sisk -- Not only is Ashley a rockin'-awesome photographer, she's also a great writer and a deep thinker. In this post, I appreciated her advice on how to unlock our fullest potential as Christians: "Start thinking and acting relationally, not religiously. A religious view makes people try really really hard to be accepted, but never feeling adequate enough. However, God gave his son's life to bridge the gap...not so we could have religion, but a relationship!"

"When Your Son is a Soldier" at Everyday Ordinary Dawnings -- A young man's courage, a father's wisdom, a mother's love. All I can say is wow at this powerful post by Dawn. [I added this one to the mix after I already wrote and scheduled this's that good].

That's all for now...happy weekend...see you bright and early Monday morning for the next "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" link-up.  

Oh!! I almost forgot...the winners of the The Grace for the Good Girl giveaway books:

Elm at The Family Treehouse
Rachael Donelson

Elm and Rachael, please email me your mailing address, and then I will send those to Emily Freeman, and she will mail you your signed books! [my email:]

Congratulations, Elm and Rachael! And thank you to everyone who left a comment to enter the giveaway!
* * I'm back with another know my friend, Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem? Well, she had a major blog malfunction yesterday, and has had to relaunch Jumping Tandem under a new domain name. So basically, after three years of blogging, she is building her network from scratch again, which is a big fat bummer. So if you know Deidra (and even if you don't, because believe me, you want to know her -- she is a rock star friend!), head over there, leave some comment love ('cause she had a really bad day yesterday) and bookmark her site so you know where to find her.


How to Find Quiet

I often daydream about indulging in a week-long silent retreat at a monastery. The thought of sitting alone in a tiny cell with a book and a window, or walking through lush, quiet grounds in early morning appeals to me.

I also frequently entertain a “someday” vision that includes an adobe bungalow in New Mexico, surrounded by fragrant lavender and unusual cacti, with a wrought-iron patio table balanced on flagstone, atop of which sits a sweating pitcher of iced tea and a paperback novel.

My husband once asked, “So am I anywhere in this someday vision?”

“Yeah, you’re there. Quietly there,” I answered.

Both visions include a lot of quiet and a lot of doing nothing. And the reason I’m pining for quiet nothingness? Because I don’t have any of that right now.

...I'm writing over at Jen's place today as part of her wonderful Nourishment series. Will you join me there?

[This is a post in my ongoing but sporadic God in the Yard series. You can read more about that here].

:: And if you are looking for the Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up, come back tomorrow for the featured posts (and I promise I will get my act together one of these days...I know the Round-Up is supposed to be on Thursdays -- jeepers!).

And don't forget to leave a comment on yesterday's post to be eligible to win one of two signed copies of Emily Freeman's brand-new book, Grace for the Good Girl! Today is the last day to enter!


Grace for the Good Girl: A Giveaway!

I drive to work in morning light golden, and I'm a tangled mess of regret and anger and shame. At every turn I've erred, and it's not yet 9 a.m. Where are all my good intentions, I wonder? Where are all my promises and best-laid plans? The vows to read verses in dawn's half-light. The promises to pray for hurting people? The gentle, patient words? The supportive, encouraging, positive spirit?

I am a big, fat failure, that's all there is to it. I grip the steering wheel white-knuckled, coffee roiling in my gut. Who forgets to pray when promises are made? Who slams harsh words against kitchen walls when soft-cheeked children are on the receiving end? Who seethes with jealousy over someone else's much-deserved good fortune? What kind of messed up, good-for-nothing, sad-excuse-for-a-Christian does that?

Sound familiar? Ever feel like that?

I recently read Emily Freeman's book Grace for the Good Girl. Have you read it yet? You need to. Especially if you ever feel flat-out defeated. Especially if you’ve had moments and hours and whole days in which you lash hard and ruthless at yourself for flaws and failings. Especially if it feels like you never even come close to whatever it is you feel you need to achieve.

I get the concept of grace, I do.

In theory.

But sometimes I forget to apply it to myself. I forget that he doesn't require perfection. I forget that he loves me still. Despite. In spite of. Regardless.

Emily's book reminds me that I get grace, always, every day, no matter what.

And so do you.

I won't go into all the details of Grace for the Good Girl here, because it's simply jam-packed with good teaching -- theology that makes sense (because I don't know about you, but sometimes Bonhoeffer and Buechner and the rest of the boys are just too much for me) and personal, honest stories that inspire me to nod my head and murmur, “Yes!”

I will say this, though: Grace for the Good Girl is a book I will come back to again and again. It's a book I dog-eared and underlined. A book in which the margins are already filled with scrawls and scratches. A book in which whole paragraphs are bracketed and asterisked.

I particularly loved Emily’s story about striving to live out the fruits of the spirit. As a planner, list-maker, list-checker, do-gooder, I could sure relate to this:

“I used the fruit of the Sprit as the ultimate good-girl checklist. My senior year in high school, I began each week by writing a different fruit of the Spirit in my planner with the intention of working on that particular characteristic that week. JOY. This week, I will work hard to be joyful. But lunch on Monday. I was done. Failed. The Christian life was officially impossible.”  [Grace for the Good Girl, page 138]

I get that. Trying hard, and failing, and then beating myself up for failing, is something I am really good at. You, too?

If so, then ask yourself these two simple questions, posed by Emily at the end of Chapter Eleven:

“Are you trying to be who Jesus wants you to be? Or do you trust him to bring out who he has already created you to be? It is vital to recognize the difference between these two questions, because one leads to death, and the other leads to life.” [Grace for the Good Girl, page 138]

Now that's something to ponder for sure.


Emily has graciously offered two SIGNED copies of Grace for the Good Girl for me to give away here. Isn’t she the best?!

All you have to do is leave a comment on this post between now and Thursday at midnight. On Friday morning I will announce the two winners here!


The Hole in Our Gospel: Why Do You Worry about Clothes?

I’ve always been a shopper – it’s simply something I love to do. And it doesn’t even have to be extravagant shopping – a $5 pair of jeans at the thrift store is enough to produce that “shopping high.”

After a year of not shopping, though, I have a new perspective on stuff. The first few months of my Shop-Not Project were tough as I constantly battled the urge to buy. During that time I realized that I use shopping to fulfill my psychological needs: as a mood improver, a solution for boredom and a confidence booster. I also realized that I view my stuff as a status symbol – wearing a new dress to work or sporting a new pair of earrings makes me feel more confident, and, oddly, smarter and more capable.

In reality, though, outward appearance doesn’t matter one bit to God. He’s less concerned with the brand of my jeans or the color of my hair or how many flat-screen TVs I own, and much more concerned with the state of my heart and how I’m using my God-given gifts to impact others.

“Why do you worry about clothes?” He asks me. And when I read those statistics about poverty – how half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day – and see those pictures of families with their entire life’s possessions laid on the street, I have to ask myself, “Why do I worry about clothes?”

It’s all about context, and I realize as I study The Hole in Our Gospel that I need to broaden my perspective. When I frame that question – Why do I worry about clothes? – within the context of global poverty, my worries about material possessions seem downright silly.

God, please help me keep a global perspective when it comes to stuff. When my heart turns toward material possessions, please remind me of how much I have and how little I truly need. Please help me focus my heart, my time and my energy not on acquiring more, but on giving more.


I am honored and excited to be one of six writers blogging along with The Hole in Our Gospel as part of my church's small group study. Every Tuesday for the next six weeks I'll post my piece here. And if you want to read the perspectives of other bloggers, head over to Southwood's blog.

Want to read and study along with me? Buy The Hole in Our Gospel here. And check out this companion website for quick, insightful actions items you can do every day for six weeks to deepen your understanding of global poverty.

{Oh, and by the way, that's not my closet!}

** Swing by here tomorrow...I am doing a giveaway! Yippee!


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Just One

I recently listened to a podcast of my favorite NPR show, On Being, for entertainment on a long drive. Krista Tippett interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has written about atrocities in China, Dafur, Congo and around the globe, and the two talked about whether journalism can serve as a humanitarian art (read more or listen to the interview here).

One of the most fascinating and disturbing parts of the interview was their discussion of a study done by sociologist Paul Slovic, who concluded that “compassion fatigue” – that is, the point in which we are so overwhelmed by global suffering and poverty that we are too paralyzed to take any action – sets in a lot sooner than one might guess:

“In a study from the Decision Science Research Institute, Slovic and his team presented some people with the opportunity to donate to a starving girl named Rokia, and others to a starving boy named Moussa. People responded compassionately to their cause. He then presented a third group of people with the opportunity to donate to both Rokia and Moussa, helping both of them equally. Surprisingly, people were less likely to donate anything at all when they were presented with two starving children.” (source here).

You read right. Slovic found that hopelessness and disenchantment set in at the number two. Not billions. Not thousands or even hundreds of starving children. Just two.

Apparently it doesn’t take much for us to feel overwhelmed, hopeless and helpless in the face of global suffering. And when I think about my own giving history, I know this is true.

When I first read The Hole in Our Gospel, by World Vision president Richard Stearns, I was awed by the statistics. I told everyone I knew about the book and urged everyone I knew to read it, but I didn’t actually DO anything about the global poverty Stearns wrote about. I read the book. I thought about it. And then I put the book on my shelf.

About six months later I read The Hole in Our Gospel again in preparation for a blog series I planned to write. Except this time, coincidentally, I read it at the same time I read Ann Voskamp’s account of her Compassion trip to Guatemala. Seeing those pictures of little Xiomara’s home -- her tiny cinder block kitchen, the bedroom she shared with her entire family, the thin cloths that covered holes in their tin shack --  brought the overwhelming statistics in Stearns’ book to life. I remember sitting with my son Noah at the computer one night as we scrolled through photo after photo of Xiomara’s house and the Guatemalan slums where she lived.

That was the moment I decided to launch my Shop-Not Project, which one year later led to our family’s sponsorship of Pedro in Bolivia. One child, one story, made the difference.

Today we celebrated Global Missions Sunday at my church, and I was privileged to hear Marilee Pierce Dunker, daughter of World Vision founded Bob Pierce, speak about global poverty. Marilee suggested two important truths that fly in the face of compassion fatigue.

First, she reminded me that God commands that I help the needy. As Marilee mentioned, he doesn’t suggest it, he doesn’t advise it, he doesn’t even ask that I help. He commands it:

“There will always be poor in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded…toward the poor and needy.” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

And second, Marilee reminded me of this:

“God is always talking to us, always calling us. The question is whether you want to listen.”

It’s easy to choose the opposite, of course – to fall back on the age-old excuse: what difference can I make against such an insurmountable problem? I’m only one person, after all, and there are billions suffering. What’s the point?

But the point, I think, isn’t to help all the billions of people at once. It’s to help one single person at a time. The Pedro. The Xiomara.

And the choice to offer that help is all mine. And so I ask myself today: do I want to listen to that One voice?

Have you ever felt paralyzed by the overwhelming poverty that exists in the world? Do you have any tips for overcoming compassion fatigue?

: :

Interested in learning more about sponsoring a needy child? Visit World Vision or Compassion International.

As a side church is studying The Hole in Our Gospel for our small group study this fall, and a number of writers are blogging about the book on Southwood's website. I will post my contributions here every Tuesday for the next six weeks. But if you want to read more, please head over to Southwood's blog for some very insightful posts (every day for the next six weeks)!

Sharing with Ann Voskamp and her Walk with Him Wednesday series on how we practice hope: 

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in!]

Be sure to come back on Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up, where I highlight a handful of posts each week and encourage you to visit, soak up the lessons and leave a postive comment.

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up

So many wonderful, contemplative, uplifting, hopeful, real thoughts this week in the Hear It, Use It link-up. Keep listening, keep writing, keep sharing -- you, yes you!, are shining God's light!

Before I list this week's picks...a housekeeping note: Beginning this coming Monday, I am going to start posting the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" link-up very early Monday morning (rather than Sunday afternoon or evening, as I have been doing so far). This will help me stick to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule on the blog (with Thursdays for the Round-Up), and help me eek out a bit more time to write my own Hear It, Use It post.

Thank you for being flexible as I iron out the kinks!

And here are this week's Round-Up picks:

"The Way He Weaves" at Living Free -- I love Sherry's analogy of the front and back side of a tapestry: "Sometimes our lives can look like the back side of a tapestry--knotted, tangled, threads going all over the place. There's no rhyme or reason to this side of the tapestry. You can't make out what the picture will be. God, however, sees the topside.  He sees the clear, orderly way the stitches have been worked.  He sees a beautiful picture that is being woven day after day."

"In the Picture" at Devotion Mama -- Ever notice how moms rarely make it into photographs? Although we often can't be seen in the actual photo, we are very much there, behind the camera but part of the action nonetheless. Christy observes that it’s the same with God: "We may not see him in the picture, but He is there."

"He Danced" at Jennifer V. Davis -- Jennifer's post is short and sweet, but oh! her description of a little boy's worship-with-abandon just made me smile!

"The Trouble with Beauty Sleep" at Getting Down with Jesus -- "The world trumpets God's beauty, and I am asleep," writes Jennifer. So what does she do about it? Sets her alarm for the crack of dawn, grabs her camera and celebrates a new morning blooming in Iowa. Don't miss the quiet beauty here...

"Overcoming Adversity" at Mothers on Mission -- Kelli writes candidly about pain and discouragement...and the power of reaching out, asking for prayer, and connecting with a prayer partner over the phone.

Thanks everyone -- talk to you Monday!


Second Place

When I was a freshman in high school I joined the track team and signed up to run the two-mile. I chose that event for one reason: I figured the distance would scare away most of the competition.

And I was right. While the lanes teemed with racers jostling for position in the 220, 440 and even the one-mile, the two-mile event usually attracted only five or six runners per meet at most. No one in their right mind wanted to race eight grueling laps.

When the crack of the start gun echoed across the empty stands that first race, I immediately fell into position two steps behind the lead runner. Our Nikes tossed up specks of gravel and white lane dust as I matched her stride step-for-step for the first lap. The second lap. The third and fourth laps. We lengthened the gap between us and the other three gasping runners. I could hear my competitor’s breath grow more and more labored as we rounded the final bend of the fifth lap. She hunched forward, her gait choppy and stumbling as she tired.

...I'm so excited to be writing as a guest over at Bible Dude today! Will you join me over there to find out how the race ends?

** Oh! I almost forgot...if you are looking for the Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up, it will be here tomorrow -- so please come back for it (and I apologize for the craziness...trying to do too many things at once!).**


The Tough Critique

My best friend of more than 30 years was one of the first people to read a draft of my manuscript. I packaged all 299 pages in an envelope, mailed them 1,500 miles to her home and then chewed my nails ragged while I waited for her response.

I stalled for what I considered the proper amount of time. And then finally I couldn’t bear it any longer. I picked up the phone and dialed her number.

“Soooo…what did you think?” I blurted when she answered. I tried not to sound desperate and sweaty. “Do you like the book? Have you finished it? What do you think so far? Seriously, you can tell me the truth. I mean it!”

I waited.

...I'm writing about a tough critique over at the WordServe Water Cooler today. Will you join me over there to find out how it all turned out? [and if you haven't been over there yet, the Water Cooler is a great place to learn more about the business of writing and publishing]


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Brink

As some of you know, I’ve been on the road to publishing for quite some time now. It’s odd to think that I wrote most of my book when Rowan was a toddler. He’s in first grade now. It’s been a glacially slow process – in part because of where I am in life (read: washing stinky boy feet, soccer practice, day job, rocks in the washer), and in part because, well, unless you’re Oprah, publishing is a slow business.

From time to time (okay pretty much every day) I doubt that the book will ever come to fruition. Most recently this thought occurred to me as I read about David in 1 Chronicles, particularly the part where he says this to his son, Solomon:

“My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on earth in my sight." (1 Chronicles 22: 7-8)

This passage makes two things clear. One: David’s most pressing desire, his most heart-inspired goal, was to build a temple for God. And two: God was not going to allow that to happen.

So here’s the clincher: Despite his deep disappointment, despite the fact that he was not allowed to pursue the goal he was most passionate about, David accepted God’s decision gracefully. He didn’t argue. He didn’t forge ahead with his own plans. He conceded.

I’m not sure I would have done the same.

Part of me would have been pleased that my son would get the honor, but I suspect I also might have been a bit resentful. I might have whined and complained a little on the sly. I’m sure I would have pointed out this obvious fact: that the reason I’d fought so many wars and shed so much blood wasn’t for my own kicks but for God himself. I may not have had the courage to mention that detail to God, but I surely would have griped about it to my friends.

So this whole story about David’s passion and God’s decision got me thinking about my own heartfelt desire: to publish my book -- a book about my journey to faith, a book that I hope will help others who might be floundering on their own faith journeys.

But what if God says no? What if book publishing isn’t part of God’s plan for me? What if he takes me right up to the brink like he did David, and then says no?

Will I accept that as God’s will like David did?

In the end, of course, it all comes down to trust. It’s less important that I know exactly what the plan is now and more important that I trust God in the process, as his plan unfolds.

But that’s the problem.

I want to know the plan in its entirety right now, right this very minute thank you very much. I want concrete assurance and proof that it’s all going to work out. Hey, tell me the book is going to take another eight years before it’s published. That’s fine. I just want to know what I’m dealing with here.

It’s easy to trust God in hindsight, when we can see the results all neatly tied up with a shiny ribbon. It’s much harder to trust God in the middle, while the road is curving and plunging and you can’t see around the next bend.

Of course that’s when faith enters the picture, right -- in the curvy, plunging part of the journey? Faith is trust that God is good and right as you navigate the next bend. Faith is trust that God’s plan is fully formed and operational as you inch cautiously around a hair-pin turn.

Yet I admit, I push against that kind of trust. It goes against my ducks-in-a-row, checklist nature. It feels silly and weak to admit that I don’t even particularly like “having faith” sometimes because it feels hard and painful and, ironically, like too much work.

Isn’t faith supposed to be easy? Aren’t I supposed to simply have it?

That may be true for some believers, but it’s not the case for me. The fact is, I often have to work hard at embracing faith. It’s not always simply there. Instead I have to get right up in faith’s face and push at it, tug at it, wrestle with it, fall down in the dust and wrangle with it.

Faith and I, sometimes we have a bit of a bully relationship.

I guess, in the end, this rough-and-tumble faith is my own, unique way of being in relationship with God and asking God for help. Because I do know this: even in the throes of a hard, wrestly-wrangly faith, God doesn’t want me to go it alone.

So where are you in all this? Has it ever seemed like God brought you to the brink and then closed the door? Where was your trust in that process?

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in!]

When you link up, please link your actual blog post, not your general blog. That way visitors can be sure to read the right post if they come by here later in the week.

Typically we write about the lesson we read or the sermon we heard in church on Sunday. That said, I am pretty loosey-goosey – you can write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime until Wednesday at midnight to link up.

Be sure to come back on Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up, where I highlight a handful of posts each week and encourage you to visit, soak up the lessons and leave a postive comment.

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!


So What's An SFD? Do You Really Want to Know?

I know this is typically a faith blog and not a writer’s blog, but sometimes I simply feel compelled to write about writing. Today’s one of those days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the methods writers use when they write. My husband Brad is a Maniacal Planner (MP for short) kind of writer. He makes elaborate outlines complete with artsy symbols in the margins and researches and organizes like crazy [he’s an English professor – maybe that has something to do with it?]. By the time he taps the keyboard, he knows exactly where he’s going with the piece. He also revises while he writes, so that while each sentence may take him longer to write initially, when he’s done, he has a polished, near-final draft in hand.

It’s a beautiful thing, it really is.

And I’ve tried. Oh yeah, I’ve tried it.

It used to be that I would labor over a piece of writing before I even put fingers to keyboard. I’d work myself into a white-eyed frenzy, aiming to construct the perfect first sentence and a bunch of perfectly structured paragraphs, all lyrical and lovely and poignant. And instead of a beautifully crafted story, I’d end up with a splotchy face and wisps of hair ringing my head like Medusa, my fingernails chewed to the nub, coffee dribbled down the front of my shirt and Dove chocolate wrappers buoying my desk chair like a life raft.

And nothing on the screen to show for it.

Then I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and learned about what she calls “shitty first drafts.” [I’ll call it SFD for short]. And I finally realized that writing an SFD just to get something on the screen works for me. In my case, it’s all about getting past that gnarly first sentence, even if it’s a sentence I’m not ultimately going to keep.

The SFD method looks like this:

I write crap – willy-nilly, helter-skelter, with no plan in mind, no beginning, middle or end and just a wisp of an idea. I regurgitate it onto the screen all crazy and mad-dash like a six-year-old telling a story. And then I rewrite and revise.

Rewrite and revise.

Rewrite and revise.

Sometimes this rewriting and revising takes hours, sometimes days (or, in the case of the book, years – egads!), until, by the grace of God, a few slurps of coffee and a Dove chocolate or two, it’s no longer crap, but something else entirely – something better, something with a beginning, a middle and an end, something that actually makes sense and has rhythm and flow. Because you know what? Buried in all that drivel is inevitably the golden nugget – a nugget around which I can weave an entire story.

So…some tips to consider if you try your hand at writing and revising an SFD:

  • Don’t be afraid to cut, cut, cut during the revision stage. Lots of what you think is important to the story really isn’t essential.
  • Pay attention to verbs – switch the passive voice to active when you can, and try to substitute more interesting word choices (I Google synonyms for commonplace words a lot to find a replacement that’s a little more descriptive and unique).
  • Be wary of adverb overuse. I just learned recently that adverbs are bad! Who knew?! Now that doesn’t mean that we should never use an adverb, but just that we need to use them wisely [see? I'm using an adverb right there], so we don’t inundate our prose with them. It’s true – in a lot of instances, adverbs are redundant (i.e. ran quickly).
  • And lastly, the tip you always hear when it comes to writing: show, don’t tell. So what the heck does that mean, anyway? [it took me forever to figure it out – working with my editor at The High Calling, Ann Kroeker, helped a lot]. I guess the best way to describe “show, don’t tell” for me is that it’s sensory-based. I try to set the scene by weaving in sensory details like sights, sounds and even smells. I also occasionally use bits of dialogue – it helps sometimes to put words into an actual human voice, instead of simply describing what the person said.
Here are a few book books that have helped me grow as a writer over the last four years:

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction, by William Zinsser
Old Friend from Far Away: The Practices of Writing Memoir, by Natalie Goldberg.

So let me ask you this: Are you MP writer like Brad or a SFD writer like me…or a combination of both (complex, aren’t you, you combo writers!)?

And do you have any books about writing that you’d like to recommend? Share them, please!


Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up: Rocking the Word

People! You rocked God's Word with your writing and contemplations this week! If you keep this up, I'm going to have an awfully difficult time picking only a handful of posts to highlight in the Round-Up, you know.

Seriously, there was lots of great stuff to choose from -- keep up the great work, and as always, thanking you for sharing your thoughts here in this community.

Here are the picks for this week:

"Dare to be the Same" at Adventures in the Ordinary --  Jacquelyn tackles what she calls her "exploded ego" in this post with such candor and honesty as she wrestles with pride, envy and insecurity (all of which I can relate to on a very personal level!).

"The Trust Fall" at Life as Two -- Thelma readily admits that she doesn't do trust falls -- you know, when you fall back toward the person who is standing behind you and supposed to be responsible for catching you? (for the record, I don't do trust falls either). So find out if Thelma is willing to trust fall into God...

"Within Reach" at A Different Story -- Lyla digs deep into Deuteronomy 30, and I just love her observations about the fact that we make it all so hard (trusting and loving God, that is). He does the work for us, observes Lyla. I read this blog post twice through to make sure I absorbed every last bit of Lyla's ponderings. Put A Different Story at the top of your daily blog reading list!

"The Mark of My Wife on Her 40th Birthday" at Life is a Bowl of Wedgies -- Melody steps aside to let her pastor hub Randy take the blog-writing reins, and this is just about the sweetest post I've read in a long time. Plus the man can write like the dickens! Be sure to wish Melody a happy big 4-0 while you're over there, too!

"Self-Propelled" at A Moment with God -- Shoot. Lisa called me on the fact that I'm one of those control-freak people that avoids the moving sidewalks at airports and chooses to stumble along the concourse with my carry-on and lap-top and purse bumping up against my legs. "Many people try to follow Jesus out of their own strength too." Yup, she got me there.

"Scarred" at Wide Open Spaces -- First of all, Charity is dealing with an eight-inch incision in her abdomen...on top of an older 12-inch incision...which is right next to an even older 10-inch incision. That alone is enough, if you ask me. But then, she writes about those incisions and scars as a blessing, her Ebenezer, a reminder of how much God has helped her. I am so grateful to Charity for what she is teaching me as she walks her journey in faith.

Happy reading, friends. And come back tomorrow for a post about SFDs -- yup, it's an acronym (I made it up, of course)...find out what it means (hint, hint: it's a method of writing that I use a lot).  


Stand Still to See

I stand stock-still at the window, and it's hard, because I am a woman in motion, always wiping, scrubbing, neatening, organizing, folding, pacing. But I turn the faucet off, lean low against the sink with the sponge in my hand and wait, eyes fixed on the suspended globe outside.

I wait and I watch. And even though there are backpacks to stuff and lunch boxes to fill and crumbs to sweep into cupped palm, and even though the morning clock ticks toward departure and I haven't even put on mascara yet, I stand at the window and watch.

I hear her first even before I see her, because I've glanced down just a second at the sink full of juice glasses and coffee cups and half-eaten crusts of cinnamon raisin English muffins. It's the sound of wings I hear first through the open window. A gentle whir of wings beating furious, 90 times in a single second, they say.

And then the quiet pip-pipping, a delicate chirp as she drinks, needle-beak sipping orange sweet as wings whirl. Her back glimmers green, the color of polished malachite.

She's so close, I can almost touch that tiny, humming body, were it not for the window screen that separates us.

She doesn't linger. I blink and she's gone, hovering over the magenta zinnia and then zipping blurred toward cover of elm leaves. If I squint and lean close toward the window, I can just make her out, sitting regal on a branch, a Lilliputian queen.

It requires a bit of restraint, this motionless waiting. But oh, isn’t it worth all the wait in the world to catch sight of such grandeur? God does great things before my eyes indeed. I simply need to stand still to see.

“Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes.”
1 Samuel 12:16
Over at Ann's place we're exploring how we practice faith in the day-to-day. Standing still to see is one such way for me...what about you? How do you practice faith in the day-to-day?

And linking with Emily, too, for Imperfect Prose:


Beautiful, Broken Us: Story Bleed Feature

Just a quick note to say that today Story Bleed magazine is featuring a post I wrote a few months ago. If you missed it here, hop over for a read...and be sure to stay for a while -- Story Bleed is a great spot with some wonderful, unique writers and voices.

Thanks, friends!


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: When Morning Dawns

As I wrote recently in my newspaper column, the day of September 11, 2001 and the days following were a particularly lonely, isolated time for me. Having moved from Massachusetts to Nebraska just two months prior, I still didn’t know a soul in Lincoln. I had a colicky newborn, a husband who went off to work at his new job every day, and no friend or loved one within 1,500 miles.

What I didn’t mention in the newspaper article was that I also didn’t have a church…or God.

Today as Pastor Greg remembered that tragic day ten years ago, he talked about how the members of Southwood came together for an evening prayer service. He mentioned the hymns they sang that night, the tears and hugs exchanged, the prayers, and above all, the hope and faith – the prevailing understanding that God was present and that he was good.

As we filed out of church this morning I whispered to Brad, “I can’t believe we didn’t even belong to Southwood then.” He nodded, his hand on my shoulder as we wove through the crowd. “I don’t know how I survived that day without God,” I added.

I remember so much about that day: watching the Today show and CNN for hours. Calling my parents just to hear their voices. Holding my newborn as he wailed. Leaving frantic messages on my husband’s voicemail at work. Walking through the park in a daze that evening, wondering if life would ever be the same again.

I know for sure that didn’t pray that day. Not once. It never occurred to me to pray – I hadn’t prayed for nearly 20 years. I felt numb, empty, afraid. I felt only hopelessness and fear in the face of such overwhelming tragedy. An aching, gnawing hole gaped wide open, and nothing came close to filling it.

I’d like to say that September 11, 2001 was the day my life was transformed – that I accepted God, prayed fervently and hope and faith were restored. That would make a great story, wouldn’t it? But that’s not my story. Instead, I kept God distant and fought despair on my own. It would be another five years before I tentatively dipped a toe into faith.

Today as I stood in the sanctuary and prayed for the world and the victims and families affected by September 11, I felt gratitude and hope. Sad, yes; aching in remembering, yes – but filled with peace in the knowledge that God is a refuge, a strength, a hope.

Today I knew in my heart that God is ever-present when morning dawns.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” (Psalm 46:1-5)

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the link in your post, so that we can share the community with other readers and bloggers!]

Remember to include the link to your post down below...not your general blog address – that way visitors can be sure to read the right post if they come by here later in the week.

Typically we write about the lesson we read or the sermon we heard in church on Sunday. That said, I am pretty loosey-goosey – you can write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime until Wednesday at midnight to link up.

Be sure to come back on Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up – a new feature of the community. I'll highlight a handful of posts each week and encourage you to visit, soak up the lessons and leave a postive comment.

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!


Hope Unfurls

The morning begins just like every other.

Pulling on my robe, I pick the baby up from his crib and trudge downstairs to pour my first cup of coffee. And then I sit on the couch and gaze blearily at the TV, struggling to emerge from a sleep-deprived haze.

I don’t notice it at first, but as the caffeine begins to course through my veins, it becomes clear to me that Matt Lauer is covering a big breaking story. The typically suave Today show host seems unusually ruffled, one hand pressed to his earpiece, his posture hunched, his voice ragged.

Next to me on the couch my one-month-old infant sleeps. I pat his tiny foot and watch dumbfounded as the twin towers billow black smoke from jagged holes.

...Will you join me over at the Lincoln Journal Star, where I am remembering September 11, and giving thanks for community?


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up: Sometimes It's Slow

So much good stuff this week, it was hard to choose just a handful of posts to highlight! These women got me thinking about new mercies, slow transformations and God-powered resumes.

Stop by and offer these writers some comment encouragement if you can. And as always, thanks for coming by here...

"Second Chances" at Rich Faith Rising -- After a couple of days in which I felt like a big, fat failure in all things faith-related, Jen reminds me of this: "A chance to open clasped hands slowly. Give. Receive. Live openly. Carefree. Worship. Knowing....His mercies are new every morning." Just exactly what I needed to hear.

"Broken" at The Middle -- Deidra grapples with God's timeline, and why it seems sometimes that the repair of brokenness takes so darn long. Yup, I can relate to that. Thank you, Deidra, for reminding me to have patience in the process.

"Has God Forgotten about Your Resume?" at Lawyer Mommy -- I love how Susan tells it like it is! Here she wonders about jobs and callings, and why sometimes it seems like God has us in a place that doesn't fit. Did you know Susan has written a book, too (and we happen to share the same agent!)? If you're a working mom with a whole lot on your plate, you need to read Chasing Superwoman: A Working Mom's Adventures in Life and Faith.

"The Power of a Changed Want-To" at Up the Sunbeam -- First of all, let's wish Shaunie a happy birthday! And secondly, impatient girl that I am, I just love this post about transformation. "The manzanita tree takes a full year of growth before it sheds its old bark, so I guess I'm in pretty good company," writes Shaunie."I'm just thankful that my impatience has not stopped the growth God was producing all along, even when I couldn't really see anything happening." Amen to that!

Catch you tomorrow...


The Hard Hallelujah -- A Guest Post by Duane Scott

I am delighted to feature friend and fellow writer Duane Scott here today. Duane feels and lives life deeply, and it's more than obvious from his heartfelt and eloquent prose. You can find Duane at his own blog, and on Facebook and Twitter, as well as at BibleDude, where he is a contributing editor.

Here's Duane, writing about the most difficult of topics: grief.

I move silently through the tear-streaked faces to stand as close to heaven as I can, and for a moment, I catch a glimpse of life beyond this earth.

Before me lies a loved one, eyes closed to this world as though I’ve only whispered goodnight moments before; and I wonder if it could possibly, if only, just be a dream in which I can wake from.

But the pain throbbing deep within reminds me I am awake, so I swallow the lump in my throat and do the little I can to make sense of this world below.

"They're in a better place," I whisper to those close by, the words feeling weak within my mouth but I say them anyway.

In hushed tones, I whisper a final good-bye and make my way back to the pew, the choir's soft voices floating like a healing balm about me, and I wonder if I will ever feel healed this side of heaven again.

The choir struggles to sing as the scene unfolds.

As they, and I along with them, witness heaven and earth collide.

Because this is the hard hallelujah to sing.

Yet through the sadness, I know one more of God's children is home. I think of life renewed. I think of being home. And amidst the tears, I convince myself that l will, indeed, be okay.

But at night, when all is silent and the darkness creeps in about me, I can’t help but question Him. “Lord, I know you have a plan,” I whisper over and over again, but do I truly believe it? And if I did, would this ache within not slowly cease to exist? Would my life not be filled with a clear purpose?

So here on earth, long after my loved one has been lain to rest, I struggle to find my feet, and when I finally do, I still struggle to stand on my own.

"Does the pain ever go away?" she asks me nearly four months after her toddler was called home and I pray desperately for the right words to say.

"No. It probably never will. But each time the sun rises in the morning, God will fill each day with purpose just for you, and slowly, the hurt will be a little less," I say to her, and although my mouth is moving, I know these words are not mine, but God's.

Because I need to hear them too.

I’m learning to sing the hard hallelujah.

Photo by Duane Scott.


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: As Long as Thanks Is Possible...

This morning, as I listened to the story of Nehemiah’s return to the destroyed city of Jerusalem, I remembered how my family faced a similar situation of hopelessness at this time last year. It’s been nearly one year since my mother-in-law, Janice, passed away. Last year on this very day, the boys and I sat on the edge of her bed in the family room, clasped her thin body tight, and said goodbye to her for the last time. We left Minnesota and drove back to Nebraska on Labor Day while my husband stayed behind to help care for his mother in her final days.

"'Face it: we’re in a bad way here,'” Nehemiah said as he stood on the edge of Jerusalem and witnessed his beloved city in shambles. ‘Jerusalem is a wreck; its gates are burned up. Come – let’s build the wall of Jerusalem and not live with this disgrace any longer.’” (Nehemiah 2:17, MSG).

Come – let’s build.

I recalled the circumstances last year as my family stood on the brink of devastation and loss. We were, as Nehemiah said, “in a bad way – a wreck” as we watched Janice endure the final stages of cancer and as we grieved the loss of someone we loved so much.

Yet as I listened to Pastor Greg preach on the theme of destruction and rebuilding this morning, I was also reminded of my father-in-law, Jon, and how he is a testament to our ability to recover and rebuild in the wake of tragedy and disaster.

In a letter written just this past week, the week that he and Janice would have celebrated 50 years of marriage, Jon said this:

“For almost a year my emotional foundation has consisted of varying levels of sadness, relative happiness, disbelief, optimism and developing acceptance, while avoiding anger and despair. However, my overwhelming emotion is always that of profound gratitude and appreciation for your incredible mother and the family we’re blessed with. The gifts she gave will remain with us until we are once again reunited.”

Profound gratitude and appreciation.

Despite his enormous loss, Jon has chosen optimism and acceptance over anger and despair. The opposite choice – bitterness, denial and regret – would have been easier, because the truth is, it’s difficult to choose happiness and optimism over anger and despair. But Jon has consciously made that harder choice, and he continues to make that same choice every day.

I wonder, sometimes, exactly how Jon decided to reject anger and bitterness in favor of acceptance and joy. But when I look closely at that letter he wrote recently, I see that the answer is right there in his own words. As he says, his overwhelming feeling is that of “profound gratitude and appreciation.” In spite of everything, Jon is grateful

Loss often has a way of changing our perspective and clarifying our values. Sometimes, inexplicably, grief gives birth to gratitude. Sometimes loss opens our eyes to see and appreciate the myriad blessings bestowed on us. And giving thanks gives birth to joy, despite all odds.

As Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts:

“As long as thanks is possible, then joy is possible. Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning – now; wherever, meaning – here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible! The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.”

Despite his vacillating emotions over the last year, my father-in-law has remained deeply grateful for a multitude of blessings – chief among them, his loving wife, Janice, and the strength and love of family and dear friends. Profound gratitude and appreciation, he says, are what saved him in the end.

If you've ever been in that wreck of a place, what's helped you put one foot in front of the other and rebuild your life?

And linking with Jen at Finding Heaven for Soli Deo Gloria:

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the link in your post, so that we can share the community with other readers and bloggers!]

Remember to include the link to your post down below...not your general blog address – that way visitors can be sure to read the right post if they come by here later in the week.

Typically we write about the lesson we read or the sermon we heard in church on Sunday. That said, I am pretty loosey-goosey – you can write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime until Wednesday at midnight to link up.

Be sure to come back on Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up – a new feature of the community. I'll highlight a handful of posts each week and encourage you to visit, soak up the lessons and leave a postive comment.

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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