I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jesus Promised...

Well, He promised a lot of things. Like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Photo from Free Digital Photos

And that’s just about as amazing as it gets. As long as Jesus walks by our side, we don’t have anything to fear, and I know we can make it another day.

But He made other promises too. We read one of the best in John 14:3.  “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.”

How’s that to wow your neon-pink socks off?

But can we be honest here? Is there something you’d like to happen before Jesus comes?  Maybe you’d like to get that book contract first.  Maybe you desire the squealing joy when you tear open a package to find you own book finally there.

Perhaps your heart cries out for reconciliation with someone before you meet your Savior face to face. Or you urgently need to say, “I’m sorry” to a friend or family member.

 Could it be you want to hold your very first grandchild in your arms? (Hint, hint, somebody.)

Now that we’re being honest, how would you finish this sentence?

I’d want Jesus to come, except first, I’d like….

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Make Your Hero Likeable

By Jennie Atkins
I’ve been studying movie characters trying to decide what it is I like (and dislike) about the hero. What is it about them that makes me love them, in spite of their character weakness?
You can make them bad . . . but give them something good too.
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Jack Sparrow is a cocky pirate and a rogue. He’ll steal, he’ll flirt with the women, and he’ll do almost anything to find the Aztec gold. But he has a soft spot for his reluctant sidekick William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Norrington (Keira Knightley).  And despite his cavalier attitude, in the end he does the right thing, winning the hearts of viewers everywhere.

Give them a cause.
Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in You’ve Got Mail.  Joe is the mega-million franchise book store, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) owns the small book store on the corner. Despite Joe’s determination to invade the New York market with discounted book prices, he feels bad that Kathleen must close down the store her mother started as a result. He shows sympathy and even gives her business pointers.  He does everything he can to convince Kathleen that he’s not as bad as he seems. And, he succeeds!

Give them values that resonate.
Navy Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) in Operation Petticoat.  This is one of my top five all time movies. Sherman is determined to have his submarine, the USS Sea Tiger, in the war which means overlooking Lieutenant Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), ability to “scrounge up” whatever supplies they need—and then some. When Holden brings five female nurses on board, Sherman takes it all in stride—even when he’s tempted to do otherwise.
As characters go, I guess I could add that you need to make them all likeable. No person is all bad or all good, so let their character traits stand out.
Your turn:  What are some of your favorite movie heroes? 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Divine Romance—full disclosure

I would read few Christian romance or romantic suspense novels if some of my best friends didn't write them. As a single woman who appreciates marriage, reading fairy tale romances can grate like fingernails across blackboards. But a divine appointment March 30th in Indonesia changed my outlook as 6,000 formal guests and I attended the most amazing wedding ever.

Reaching the civic auditorium on one of many chartered buses, we met easily 100 trucks delivering large floral billboards celebrating the couple. Inside the building, every lavish detail contributed to a perfect day. Magazine-worthy flower arrangements towered over our heads. A full backdrop of a church with stained glass windows transformed the auditorium stage. Fragrant ceiling to floor banks of white flowers flanked both sides with orchids, lilies, tulips, roses, baby’s breath, gladiolas, and more for this fabulous wedding joining the son and daughter of two wealthy fourth-generation committed Christian families prominent from Indonesia and Singapore.

The couple could have chosen any wedding venue. Instead, they made their service a God-honoring portrayal of Christ loving and coming for His bride, the church, before multi-faith guests including three former Indonesian presidents, one vice-president, and endless other dignitaries. Most honored the prayers and tried to sing the printed Christian hymns presented by a talented live orchestra and chorale. I’d only seen such splendor at William and Kate’s televised wedding. I was privileged to attend this in person.

The handsome groom stood in front awaiting his bride, his rapturous expression showing anticipation. Impeccably dressed with every detail perfect, his bride walked confidently forward escorted by her beaming father. Her large genuine diamonds and lustrous pearls were tasteful, not overdone, and enhanced her beauty. Her 12-15 foot lace train was deftly managed by an attendant. I was impressed that every lavish touch to make her the loveliest of brides had been provided with no expense spared. And I suddenly realized that our heavenly Father has also provided everything we need, no expense spared, for our divine marriage.

This ceremony did not lack heart-grabbing romance. The groom declared his vows to love, honor, and cherish following his, “I do,” by adding, “with all my heart. His beautiful bride echoed his words, also answering, “I do, with all my heart” Their palpable love made both bride and groom shed tears, as did most present.

The groom  lifted the bride’s veil to reveal her beauty and they kissed. Instead of "Here comes the bride," for the recessional we sang all four printed verses of In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song by Stuart Townsend & Keith Getty Copyright 2001. For copyright reasons I'm told I can't share more, but it's worth tracking down the full song.

We imagined the bride and groom whisking away for a luxurious honeymoon. That may eventually have happened, but the next morning I sat in a campus church of 500 with my niece and family as children waved palm fronds for a Palm Sunday service. We filled the 2nd row, not noticing that the row behind us was empty and reserved. At 8:45 a.m. we heard a slight stir as the bride, groom, their families, attendants, and honored guests, arrived and filled that row. When church ended, I stood to shake hands and thank them for making their wedding so impacting and God-honoring.

People describe both families as billionaire philanthropists. When wealth serves outstanding purposes, I wish them continued success. I will never read another romance or attend any wedding without remembering the true Divine Marriage they represent.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Don't Feel Good!

I don’t know about you, but I can generate a thousand excuses for not writing. Unfortunately, as I wrote in my last blog post, putting off writing when I know I’m supposed to equals sin. Regardless of excuses. But what about when I have a genuine excuse? What if I’m too sick to write?

When I was a little girl, if I told my mom I didn’t “feel good” and couldn’t go to school, she always told me to get up and shower, and if I still didn’t feel good, I could stay home. Brilliant, right? She did this to differentiate between sick and lazy. Because if I wasn’t really sick, by the time I was out of the shower, I was wide awake, and might as well go to school.

Does God do the same thing? It’s possible, except that He can see our hearts and doesn’t need the shower trick to know if we are truly sick. But I also think He doesn’t call us without giving us what we need to obey. In other words, I don’t believe He calls us to do something and then leaves us without the tools we need to finish the job. Look at all the scriptural accounts in which God equipped the people He called. He gave specific instructions to Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Ruth, Mary and Joseph, Paul, and even Jesus, and then provided tools to aid in their obedience. Whether detailed specifications or His unshakable power, God provided everything these men and women needed to succeed.

Yesterday I woke up with a migraine headache. If you’ve ever suffered with migraine, then you know that my day was shot. Usually, when a migraine comes on during the day, I get a “warning” of sorts—a blurry patch in my vision, like pixilation on a TV screen—and I can get in front of it with my “Migraine Cocktail” (a combination of Excedrin, Benedryl, magnesium, feverfew, and turmeric washed down with a caffeinated beverage) and icepacks. However, if I wake up with one, nothing helps. My husband or sons put blankets over the windows to block out as much light as possible while I attempt to sleep it off and resist the urge to dig my left eye out of its socket with a spoon. Usually, I wake up the next morning with the exhaustion of a headache hangover being the only trace of the migraine. (And yes, both eyeballs intact.)

So, yesterday. The migraine went pretty much as expected with one notable exception. This morning I woke up and it was still there. This doesn’t happen to me very often…like maybe once every five years…but it happened today.  And of course, today was my day to blog. As I lay in bed, trying to figure out what to do, I remembered that thing my mom used to make me do. So I followed her lead and came out to my computer. I prayed that God would equip me to sit at my computer, look at the excruciatingly bright screen, and think clearly enough to write sentences that make sense. (Hopefully they do!)

As usual, God proved He is unfailing in all things. He literally used my pain to provide a topic, a message, and the clarity I needed to communicate it. Also, He showed me His faithfulness: after all, if He is willing to provide what I need to write a 700-word blog post, how much more will He provide when I need something significantly bigger? Psalm 55:22 tells us if we cast our cares on Him, He will sustain us. What a fabulous promise!  

So, back to the question of being “too sick to write.” Honestly, rarely do I feel worse than when I have a migraine. If ever a time existed in which I was too sick to write, it would be today, right now; the throbbing pain behind my left eye and down the left side of my neck, the nausea, and the sensitivity to light should make it impossible for me to sit here and write this blog. Yet, because God is faithful to provide, here I am, writing word number 701 on today’s blog post: YAY!!

Have you ever been too sick to write (or whatever else God is calling you to do)? If so, what did you do?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Times When Science Finally Agreed with the Bible

We all remember studying when folks thought that the earth was flat. Sailors were afraid to sail too far away from land for fear of falling off the edge of the earth. But the Book of Isaiah, written way back in 740 BC, spoke of the One who "sits on the sphere" of the earth. (Check the Hebrew meaning of that word "sphere", since some translations render it differently.) In any case, scientific discoveries have since proved that the world is indeed a sphere, just like the Bible said.

The book of Job, written in approximately 1440 BC, describes a Behemoth that many first thought referred to an elephant. There was one problem with that though. Job says it's tail is "like a cedar", hardly the tail of an elephant. Finally Paleontologists have studied the discoveries of the dinosaurs fossils that did indeed have huge tails. Hmm, the Bible was accurate after all.

In Psalm 8:8, David wrote about "the paths of the seas". Then in 1855, Matthew Maury published a book about ocean currents. Once again, scientific discoveries caught up with the Word of God.

For a long time men even thought that the earth sat on the back of a giant turtle or elephant. But Job wrote long ago that God "hangs the earth on nothing." (Job 26:7)

Shipbuilders now say the ideal dimensions for ship stability is a length 6 times the width. When God told Noah the size for the Ark, it just happens that He told him to make it 300 cubits by 50 cubits--the perfect dimension for stability!

Hebrews 11:3 states that the worlds were made out of things not visible. Sounds like electrons, neutrons, and protons, doesn't it?

And a world-wide flood sounded like fiction until scientists discovered evidence of rapidly deposited sediment layers and fossils of sea creatures high above sea level.

Folks always agreed that on a clear night, lots of stars are visible, but for the Bible to say they could not be counted? Really! Oh, until more powerful telescopes were invented. Now we know there are too many to count because we just keep finding more and more.

It has taken men centuries, but science keeps ticking away, making more discoveries, and at the end--finally agreeing with the Bible.

Can you think of more instances?


Tuesday, April 21, 2015


So, have you ever had one of those experiences where you were so sure you could see where God was taking you? Like you just knew what He was doing because it was just so obvious…and then He did something completely different?

Yep, me too. Often.

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to read God’s mind. As it turns out, I’m not very good at it.

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent 2014 working on a story about a car accident that changed my life. Back in December, I entered my book in the Tyndale Re:Write Ragged Edge Writing Contest. The prize was a publishing deal with Tyndale and the option of representation by the Fedd Literary Agency. When I made it into the top ten finalists, I was thrilled. We had a month to raise the funds to make the trip to Austin, Texas for the Re:Write Conference in February. God, as always, was faithful to provide through some amazing friends and family, and on February 25, my husband and I boarded a plane bound for Austin.

Considering the way things had unfolded to this point, it seemed like God was lining things up to take this book to publication. Everything fell right into place, and I allowed myself to think I might actually win the contest. And even if I didn’t win, I was going to a writing conference…I would have a chance to pitch the book—a contest finalist—to editors and agents. Either way, I could see the perfect path God seemed to by laying out before me.

As soon as I stepped into the conference, I knew it was going to be different. Instead of moving through various tracks of classes, all the attendees were in the same room, taking part in the same classes. And when I found out there were no agent/editor appointments, I had a small moment of panic. This was not at all what I expected.

At the end of the first night, I attended the conference banquet where they announced the winner of the contest. It wasn’t me.

I was so sure I knew what God was going to do at this conference. It made perfect sense to me. But He didn’t do any of it the way I thought He should. I was disappointed and confused. I wasn’t going to have an opportunity to pitch my book, and I hadn’t won the contest. Craig took a week of vacation and we spent so much money getting to this conference…and for nothing?

Here’s the thing: too often we look to the future and we see certain doors open, and we assume that God is going to do the obvious. So we walk through those doors with preconceived ideas about what’s behind them…and we are disappointed when we find something completely different. Sometimes we even feel a little betrayed by what we find.

But let’s be honest. God’s Way is ALWAYS the best way. His timing is ALWAYS perfect. His plan is ALWAYS so much better than anything we could come up with. We just have to be willing to let go of our own plans, trust He knows what He’s doing, and then wait for Him to be awesome.

Did this conference turn out the way I wanted? Nope. 

Was this conference EXACTLY what I needed? Absolutely.

Although the Re:Write Conference was very different than any I've been to before, it was perfect. Writers of fiction and nonfiction, writers of every level, all sat together while speakers like Ted Dekker, Mark Batterson, Mary DeMuth, Susan May Warren, George Barna, and Sandi Krakowski stood in front of us and shared their messages. And their messages were beautiful. It was almost like a church service...for writers.

In addition, no pitching made for a much more relaxed atmosphere. I could actually focus on what the speakers were saying rather than worrying about my pitch. In addition, God sent precious encouragement through friendships. I enjoyed a mini Ponderer reunion with Alena and Susie May, and their hugs were much-needed. I got to see my friend Kim for the first time since we met at my very first conference in 2009. And I met another finalist who lives only about 20 minutes from my house, so I even found a non-fiction writing partner.

Most importantly, I discovered that my book was not ready for publication, because it wasn’t written the way GOD wanted it written. Without planning it, nearly every speaker  expressed a similar message: if we hope to move our readers, we have to be willing to dig deep to that raw, vulnerable, dark place no one wants to go and then bleed our words onto the page. By the end of the conference, I realized that despite convincing myself I’d written from that place, I'd written my chapters from a safer, more superficial place. I knew that although my story was powerful, my writing was not. And I knew I was going to have to go home and Re:Write.

In addition, all the speakers shared something extremely challenging: if God is calling us to write a specific story or a specific genre or in a specific timeframe and we do not, we are disobedient. And as we all know, disobedience to God is SIN. Ouch!! Sin? Just because I didn’t sit down and write when I knew I was supposed to? Just because I thought I could write what I wanted rather than what God wanted? Just because I didn’t want to dig up all of my pain and write from a place of total brokenness? Just because I thought God would settle for my good rather than my best?

Yes. Just because ALL of the above.

I didn’t win the contest and I didn’t sign an agent; in fact, very little of what happened that weekend was what I expected. But I came home a winner, with a new purpose and a desire to worship God with what I write.

(Because I know you’re all curious, the guy who did win has a DYNAMO of a book called 41 Will Come. It was an honor to lose to him! I can’t wait to read his book and see what God does with it...it is going to bless and encourage a LOT of people!)

Is there something God has called you to do, but you’ve hesitated to move forward? Do you agree that not using your talents—even for creative purposes—constitutes sin?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Murdered My Story

By Jennie Atkins
One day I sat at my desk, staring at my computer, and cried. I couldn’t put one coherent sentence together. It went far beyond what authors refer to as writers block. It was a total brain stop.
I had taken time from writing to learn more about the craft. I listened to and read books, blogs, and websites from great authors such as James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, and of course our own Susan May Warren. I had underlined, circled, highlighted and copied text all in an effort to improve my writing, but as a result I got so caught up in the mechanics that I couldn’t put two words in print without questioning if it was right.
With each word of the story I asked myself:  Had I followed the rules? Did I omit the dreaded was? Did I outline enough? Do I have enough conflict to keep my readers drawn to the next page? Did I build in enough story world.
Before I had a paragraph done I had been its judge, jury and executioner. With one resounding slam of the gavel (or should I say the lid of my computer) I sentenced my story to death.
I’d type, delete, revise and type some more. Some would call it my internal editor.  Believe me, this went f-a-r beyond normal editing. I second guessed my word usage, my grammar, my mechanics, and I questioned if my writing met the standards of the plethora of guidance books I had read.
Can anyone say obsessive perfectionist???
As a result, I had lost my joy of writing. My characters lay sprawled across the floor of my office in a bloody heap like something out of a horror film.
My will to learn as much as possible about the craft had left me incapacitated when it came to writing a novel.
Then one day a fellow Ponderer encouraged me to write just to be writing.  Write a blog, a gardening post, a letter—anything to keep the flow moving forward.  Don’t look down at what was written, don’t ask myself if this would fit in with anything I learned, don’t second guess what I was doing…just write.
I did and I’m trying.
What I had to learn was, God gave me the ability to write using MY ideas, MY experiences, and MY style.  There is no right or wrong in writing. It’s all about getting words down on paper.  I don’t have to be James Scott Bell or Susan May Warren.  I have to be ME and use what God has given ME.  
Also, it sure doesn’t have to be “perfect”, because I know full well there are plenty of books on the library shelves that are far from perfect. Therefore, I shouldn’t beat myself up over it.
Will the ideas from the craft books help?  Absolutely.  But, first I have to stop murdering my story and my characters and get the words down on paper. MY words. MY story.
Have you ever had this problem?  How did you solve it?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Source of Inspiration

Delores E. Topliff

Caedmon Audio is an imprint of Harper Collins audiobooks. Its name changed from Caedmon Records when it stopped making classical recordings to produce CDs only. Caedmon’s Call is a contemporary Christian band fusing traditional folk with world music and alternative rock.  

Both are named for one of my heroes, a 7th-century stable-hand at Whitby Monastery, England. Anglo-Saxons loved singing. Men gathered evenings to share stories through song with everyone expected to contribute. Caedmon returned to the stable to tend the animals because he couldn’t read or write and had no tale to sing.

After he fell asleep, a man spoke to him in a vision, "Caedmon, sing me something." Caedmon replied that he could not sing—that 's why he was in the stable, not the hall.
"Yet you could sing," the man said, suggesting Caedmon sing “the beginning of all things." Still in his dream, Caedmon began singing his Hymn of Creation:

Now let us praise the Guardian of the heavenly kingdom,
The power of the Creator
And the counsel of His mind
The works of the Father of glory,
How he, the eternal Lord, originated every marvel.

When Caedmon awoke, he remembered the verses and sang them perfectly. The monks recognized his divine gift and persuaded him to become a monk.

He still didn’t learn to read or write, but heard other monks tell Bible stories and sang them as beautifully metered Anglo-Saxon poetry that the common folk loved and understood. Others followed Caedmon’s example, and through that means Bible teaching reached the hearts of England’s people in their own language for the first time.

All recognized Caedmon’s inspiration was from God, but ours is no different. Whether we’re hard at work writing, or pursuing crystal-clear spoken communication, the ideas, imagery, and the words to express them are inspired by God. Our part is to listen, and like Caedmon, partner with God to bring more of His beauty into this world.

Share the last time God gave you ideas and words to express them and you know He helped you do it? Thanks for sharing.