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

Friday, December 30, 2011

No Longer a MBTWriMo Rookie: 8 Things I Learned Through MBTWriMo

Our 2011 MBTWriMo event? Now history -- but I'm so glad I did it. Though I've been an English teacher for years, when I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I was too smart to crank out the ridiculous number of words required daily to qualify. After all, how could that produce quality? I feared producing something closer to the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest of the worst novel openings based on that author's 1830 effort:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies . . . )"

That contest's website inviting "Wretched Writing Welcome" is one I don't want to win.
But the MBTWrimo Celebration is a more manageable horse. In fact, I didn't get bucked off and mostly enjoyed the ride. If 2011 MBT WriMo participants planned and followed a synopsis at all, we reached some destination goals. And participating taught me several important things:

  1. What I previously believed was my maximum daily word count wasn't. In fact, I frequently went far beyond it. The actual needed daily average of 1677 words is quite passable -- discovering that alone is worth my MBTWriMo effort.
  2. Constructive thinking and mulling ideas over before writing does produce more written words when we sit before our computers.
  3. Speaking of computers, if you are close to replacing one when November rolls around, do it before MBTWriMo.Changing horses midstream means getting wet -- as I did. Side note:Check your  monitor's brightness because too high a setting can cause eye strain and/or headaches. 
  4. If your eyeglasses/contacts prescription needs changing, don't do that midstream, either. Arrange before or after -- not during. 
  5. Hit Save often. Email manuscripts to yourself (and/or friends.), place in Dropbox, plus back up on an external drive back up. You'll be glad you did. Don't ask me how sad you'll be if you don't . . .
  6. Strengthen your writing muscles slowly, like guitar players build up finger calluses for playing. And once you reach 50k words and type "The End," do it with a grand flourish and a smile.
  7. Thank the Lord for his inspiring help.
  8. Rest.
If you participated in NaNoWriMo or MBTWriMo, I'd love to hear the secrets to your success -- what you learned during November 2011. If you didn't, what did you learn along the writing road during the past year? 

Delores Topliff

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year, New Adventures!

What a wonderful year we had together over the last year with each other and our readers! Thank you all faithful readers of the Ponderer’s blog. I pray that you will experience the closeness and friendship that we share in our unlikely group of friends. Truly, our relationship is like no other. And, as a writer, you need a group of crazy, funny, supportive friends from all over the country who you can go stay with as you travel… oops, I meant to say folks who can pray for you. .

I just wanted you to know I’ll be stepping away from the Ponderer blog microphone for a short recess. As the Member Care Coach for My Book Therapy, I’m buzzing with new and exciting projects to help writers live their dream. We’re all so excited about all the new adventures.

I’ll be back before you know it. Until then, if you really miss me, you can catch my blog posts every weekend on the MBT Flash blog. If you like what you’ve read on the Ponderers blog, please tell your friends. I’m sure they would want to enjoy it as well.
Thanks for all your support to the Ponderers, to me, and to your fellow writers. There is no greater gift to give a writer than to read their words.

Until I return, may you have a story in your heart and words to silence that evil cursor on the blank computer screen.


Reba J. Hoffman

Monday, December 26, 2011

What do you want God to say when you arrive in heaven?
What do you want your children, spouse, family and friends to say about you?
Although this is not a traditional “goal” question, the answer tells what’s most important to you.
Focus on those things to accomplish this year.
For me, I want God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful to run your race with endurance. You raised your children showing them to love me. You loved your spouse, my son, with all your heart. You nurtured the gifting’s and talents I put in you. You were a witness in the quietness of your walk and service to me.
I want my children to say, Mom loved God, us and loved to laugh. We had fun together. Trust me that alone will be a miracle, since right now my mantra is, “Finish what you start!” and, “Who left the kitchen a mess?
So, what’s important to me?
Time with my children. One of my goals: to finish my degree. While it’s important, I have to temper it with my desire to raise my kids for God. So, instead of taking a full course load, I will only take six hours.
Time to minister to others. Instead of administering and teaching in Nursery I & II, I work at the Latte Bar and serve as a Prayer Partner. It still allows me to still serve, and pray for others but the additional time commitment is minimal.
Time with my husband. While he appears to be this guy that can do anything, he does need me. Especially as we have a family business to run. Always easy? NO. Worth it? Yes.
Time to share gifting’s and talents. God has given me the desire to help people and make them smile. It’s in the little things. He’s also placed in me a desire to share the gospel through stories. To do this, I need time. So I say “No” often. Not always easy, but definitely necessary.
Did you notice anything in common? TIME. We all have the same amount of it, and we must all choose wisely on how we spend it.
2011 is almost in your rear view mirror and 2012 is in front of you. What’s important to you? How will you accomplish it? What can you do different this year to help make it easier to accomplish? What tools will you need? What can YOU change to make your goals a reality?
My friend Beth Vogt’ wrote about focusing on a “theme” for the year, check it out at:http://mbtponderers.blogspot.com/2011/12/dont-make-new-years-resolutions-choose.html.
Alena Tauriainen

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some Gifts Cannot Be Purchased at the Mall

Photo Credit

At the moment, my life mirrors the old Christmas lyrics, “making a list, checking it twice”. Did I get something for each one? Was it enough? It made this Ponderer do a little pondering about all the hustle and bustle over gift giving.

How did it start? Is it worth it?

Gift-giving started with God himself, and He gave the ultimate gift on the very first Christmas. “For God so loved the world that He gave….”

Sometimes I like to stop right there for a moment. He loved, and He gave. I think that it’s pretty well impossible to not give if you truly love. Oh, it doesn’t have to be expensive gifts or even material gifts at all. 

My mother has modeled this to me with her specialty of giving the right gift to the right person at the right time. Some of these gifts have cost thousands of dollars, but some have cost only a phone call or a brief note sent through the mail.

Let’s consider, for a moment, some of the gifts that could mean more than the latest gadget or newest style. How about the gift of time? It’s one thing to rush into a store and grab a gift for a grandmother, but maybe she would appreciate a visit even more—just some time to reminisce about old times or hear all the up-to-date news about the family.  

I’m not saying to forget about the material gifts, but maybe this Christmas, as we consider the One who God Himself gave, we can add to our list some invaluable gifts such as encouragement, support, and kindness.

Please share with us any non-materialistic gift you plan to give or have received this year! 

Everyone who comments will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Lisa Jordan’s new book Lakeside Reunion!

Merry Christmas!
Teri Dawn Smith

Monday, December 19, 2011

A lowly Shepherd

I have a lot of respect for church members who volunteer to take fifty kids, aged kindergarten through fifth grade, and turn them into a memorable Christmas pageant each year. In our church, the kindergarteners were always cast as the sheep, and the second through fifth graders got to be the angel choir, meaning, first grade was the big year.

The first graders got to be the wise men, shepherds, Joseph, and…Mary. And I was ready for my big debut. I could cradle a doll and lay him in the manger. The white robe and blue headdress would certainly fit me. But then the cast was announced.

A shepherd? There must be some mistake. A drab brown robe and staff? Standing far from baby Jesus, in the midst of the kindergarteners, aka, sheep?

I was heartbroken. I’d never get to be Mary. Never debut as the starring role in our Christmas story. When my mom picked me up that day, she could see the disappointment on my face. I didn’t want to tell her. At least there were only three wise men. Shepherds were the leftover kids. A shepherd was a nobody.

Tears spilled over as I finally confessed.

I’ll never forget what my mom said to me that day. She reminded me God chose to announce his Son’s coming to shepherds – just like God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus. Each cast member was specifically chosen, specifically cast in the Christmas story, by God Himself.

She reminded me nobody was unimportant to God. Certainly not the shepherds, some of the very people Jesus came to save, some of the very first people who had the privilege of worshipping Him face-to-face.

As Christmas approaches and you reflect on the Christmas story this year, remember God has chosen and cast you for a specific role in His Story. He has chosen you to write the story on your heart. Even if your novel is never the “Mary” of published Christian fiction, there is no shame in being a faithful shepherd, either. Nobody, and no story, is unimportant to God.

Merry Christmas,


Friday, December 16, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas

Many years ago, when my husband and I were new believers, we tried to figure out what holiday celebrations should look like through a Christian worldview. We'd grown up in households where holiday traditions focused on popular secular themes, ranging from scary jack-o-lanterns to cute bunnies and their colored eggs. The Christmas season was in a class of its own, heaping with materialism, Santa, reindeer and snowmen. Now, we desired to honor the true meaning of Christmas in our home. But what did that look like?

Throughout the month of December, we emphasized Jesus' birthday and omitted Santa Claus. We read the Christmas story often. But we still had a Christmas tree and stockings. We still watched treasured holiday specials. We sang carols together and drove around looking at Christmas lights. Were we focusing enough on the Christ Child?

As I shopped in the local grocery store with my five-year-old son, Daniel, one day, I noticed an elderly man, wearing a red flannel shirt over his large, pot belly. With his full, white beard and long white hair brushing his collar, he looked like an off-duty Santa Claus. I turned down an opposite aisle, hoping to avoid what seemed like the secular epitome of Christmas.

Only Daniel spied him.

Daniel pointed. "Mommy, look." His voice laced with awe.

I searched for words to explain why this man wasn't St. Nick.

"That man," Daniel said, tugging on the leg of my jeans, "looks just like Moses."

Seems like I didn't have to worry about Santa overshadowing Jesus in our home.

Do you struggle to keep Christ in Christmas in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, our materialistic culture? What is your favorite family Christmas tradition?

May you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

~Roxanne Sherwood

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rum-Pum-Pumming Along

Recently, I took a poll to find out when most people start listening to Christmas music. Did you know this is a hotly debated topic?

On one hand there are those who finally put their CDs away in February, but have their iPods all loaded up with Christmas music again on July 1. Then there are those who will not pull out the twinkle lights or listen to carols or even think about Christmas until the dishes are cleaned up from Thanksgiving dinner. I have a theory that these are the people you need to stay away from on Black Friday—it can’t be healthy to keep all that Christmas spirit pent up for so long!

There’s something special about Christmas music. The old songs bring warm fuzzy feelings and reminders of dashing through the snow as a child, then gathering around the tree with your grandparents and cousins. The new songs sometimes put a different light on the familiar message.

One Christmas song I never liked is Little Drummer Boy. I mean, all those rum-pum-pums might have been fun when you were in first grade, but after a while it’s just annoying. Am I alone here?

But then I heard this version by MercyMe. It didn’t seem that unusual at first. The rum-pum-pums were still there. They pepped it up a bit, of course. But then, the build-up: I played my best for Christ. I played my best for Christ…After that, it quiets down. No more rum-pum-pums. Just this:

Then He smiled at me.

And that’s the end. Because really, what more do you need after that?

What more do I need? Not the twenty or so books on my Christmas wish list. (Although it doesn’t hurt to hope, right?) Not new clothes or a new car or a new book contract. I need to strive to do my absolute best for Christ—for my audience of One—and let His smile be more than enough reward for any and all of my labors. Like Casting Crowns says in Lifesong, I want to sign His name--or give His smile of approval--at the end of each day, each year that I live. 

I’ve shared about this song before, although not on this blog. But with the rapid approach of 2012, I need the reminder.

So what about you? Is there a Christmas song that speaks to you every time you hear it? And, just because it’s fun to debate this…when do YOU start listening to Christmas music?

~ Jenness Walker

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Memory

Once upon a time there was a little girl who awoke early one Christmas Eve and found that Santa had yet to arrive.

My daughter.

“Mommy, Daddy. Santa didn’t come.” My little girl pushed out her lower lip as I glanced at the clock.

Four a.m.

My husband and I pulled ourselves from our slumber and realized we had fallen asleep while waiting for the right time to slip the many packages under the tree, eat the cookies so ceremoniously set out the night before, and stuff the stockings that hung from the mantle on the fireplace.

Always quick with a reply, my husband said. “Santa must have been very busy last night. He’s probably just late.”

I let out a long sigh and wondered how the gifts stashed in our closet would make it under the tree since she was now very much awake.

With a twinkle in his eye my husband said. “I'll tuck you back into bed for a little bit. I’m sure he’ll be here before long.”

Gee. Thanks hon.

He carried her into her room and tucked her into bed then went through the usual routine of surrounding her with a dilapidated Cabbage Patch doll, her favorite bunny, and an assortment of other well-loved stuffed animals. As I, Santa's newly nominated helper, went straight to work.

Just before I deposited the last few gifts under the tree, I gave the leather strap adorned with jingle bells a tug.

“I hear him!” My daughter’s voice drifted in from her room.

“Go look.” My husband, the tempter, said.

“Can I?”

I smiled. What kid wouldn’t want to see ole’ Saint Nick hard at work--especially one still young enough to want to believe.

“Sure, go ahead.” My hubby tempted her again.

Silence hung in the air for an instant. I could almost hear the debate going on in her head.

“What if he sees me?” She asked.

I could hear the wanting in her voice. The desire to see the jolly elf and the fear that if she did…then what? I choked back a chuckle and played into the ongoing conversation by rattling the doors on our fireplace.

“He IS here!”

“Go peek through the door.” My husband chuckled. That wicked man, tormenting our daughter like that!

“No! If he sees me he might not leave any toys.”

Afraid my daughter would rise to her father’s temptation, I hurried through my task and rattled the fireplace doors once more. Followed by another tug on the jingle bells, I then slipped back into bed.

“Do you think he’s gone?” She asked.

“Why don’t you go look.” My husband said.

After a long pause I heard the click of her door followed by a squeal. “Mommy, Mommy. Santa came. I heard him!”


That, my friends, is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Our daughter, the innocence of a child and her willingness to believe, made for a beautiful memory.

What is yours?

May God bless you with abundant childlike faith during this holy season.

Jennie Atkins

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chucking Chains Christmas-style

Fact: This dude creeps me out... 

He’s Jacob Marley’s ghost from the 1984 George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol. Love the movie, but I’m guaranteed at least one nightmare each December after my annual viewing. The scariest part is where he ties the scarf around his head, then floats out the window. Freak-y. (If you haven't seen it, here's the clip on YouTube. Skip ahead to 8:48 and you can see Marley tie his scarf and float away...eeek!)

My sister and I used to act out the whole scarf thing. Word to the wise: the look does nothing for a person visually. Can you say triple-chin?

In addition to his jaw-tightening scarf and raggedy clothing, Jacob Marley lugs around a bulky chain. Anybody who’s seen any version of A Christmas Carol, or gone all literary and read the actual novel, knows Marley’s chain represents all the bad things about his life on earth – greed, selfishness, his uncaring attitude toward the poor, etc.

Here’s what Marley says to Ebenezer Scrooge in the movie about his chain:
I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard. Is it’s pattern strange to you or would you know the length of the strong coils you bear yourself? It was as full, as heavy, as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain! 
According to Marley, he carried around in his afterlife the misdeeds of his earthly life. Being a Christian and all, I tend to think Marley’s got his eschatology a bit wrong. Still, Marley’s words are tugging on me this week.

See, I’ve been lugging some things here in late 2011. Some of it’s related to my writing life—insecurity regarding my current WIP, frustration at my lack of time, impatience, stress. I have a few other luggings too—more personal, nothing terribly life-threatening, but they're there. And at the moment, they feel heavy.

Writing or otherwise, temporary or deep-rooted, the worst thing about these “chains” is this: They keep me focused on me. They keep me from loving, serving and enjoying others. Frankly, they turn me into Scrooge pre-ghost hangout.

But I want to be like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the movie when he jumps on the bed yelling, “I'm as giddy as a drunken man! I'm as gay as a schoolboy!" Except I'd probably use updated lingo. And I wouldn't be wearing a nightcap. 

I want to throw off the things like worry, anxiety, stress, insecurity which blur my outlook. 

I want fresh, God- and others-focused vision. 

And I don't care how motivational poster-y it sounds, I want to soar. (In fact, that's my word for 2012. More on my word choice another time.)

And you know what…I don’t need a series of ghosts to show me how. 

I simply need Christ. 

The best Gift ever came to earth 2,000 years ago, but He's as here now as He was then. And He's all about setting us free from the chains of doubt, insecurity, stress, worry, you name it. No need to lug that stuff around in the afterlife...

And with the real Holy Ghost's help, no need to lug it now.
How about you? Are you lugging anything around? What better time to throw off the weight than during the Christmas season?

Melissa Tagg

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Awareness of His Touch

Imagine having so much faith that knowing a single touch of Jesus' garment would be enough to heal your infirmities. Or knowing without a shadow of doubt that God had complete control of your life.

But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me." Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." Luke 8: 46-48 NIV

How many times do we go through our days, placing God lower and lower on our list of priorities, but at the first sign of trouble, we're quick to shove Him to the top? Yes, I'm guilty of that. Sometimes I have shaky faith. I worry. I fret. I spend too much time "what iffing." I get frustrated because I know my will may not be in alignment with God's will.

As a parent, I have to make decisions that meet the needs of my children. Those choices may not mirror theirs. That's how it is with God. His will may not match my will. Now, instead of praying for my will to be done, I've been praying for Him to change my heart so it's in alignment with His will for my life.

I need to be stronger in my faith. I need to remember He has a plan and a purpose for my life. His will rules over my will. If I walk by faith, and not by sight, I will have peace about being in His will. I want the faith of those who knew a single touch would be enough to heal them. I want the Awareness of His Touch in every facet of my life.

So for 2012, I have prayerfully chosen faith as my one word.

Your Turn: Are you aware of His Touch in every area of your life?

Lisa Jordan

Monday, December 5, 2011

Things I Learned In

Just this morning a friend made the comment that I only had two weeks before starting my annual Christmas trips.


That can’t be.

December 1, and for that matter January, was just yesterday. What happened? I just realized I barely have time to finish my Christmas shopping before I leave—forget about all those things I listed in January that I wanted to get done this year. Things like:

  • Finish my WIP
  • Make headway on my new book
  • Get my website up and running with at least 20 posts in the can
  • Make an author page on Facebook
  • Learn how to use Twitter
I didn't actually do any of those things. I came close to the first and last ones: I'm maybe 75 pages from having my WIP polished and ready to go and I have 26 days left. As for Twitter, I'm tweeting and retweeting but haven't yet grasped the reason why I'm doing those things. Maybe in 2012.

But 2011 wasn't a wash--I did learn a few things. Among other things, like how important it is that each chapter has, not just a hook, but a SHARP hook.

S=Stakes (Why will it matter if the hero/heroine doesn’t reach the goal of the chapter)

H=Hook=Hero/Heroine Identification (Continue to connect the H/H to the reader give her/him a reason to care)

A=Anchor (Let the reader know where your H/H is in each chapter--you know, the 4 W's)

R=on the Run (Start in the middle of the problem, maybe interview your character to see what they are feeling as the chapter opens)

P=Problem (how does this chapter handle the Story question)

For more information, check out Susan May Warren’s book From the Inside Out (on sale here at a discounted price), or her articles at My Book Therapy.

But the most important thing I learned: everything is in God’s hands. Whether or not I’m published, even whether or not I write. He gives me the words and I write them back to Him.

Otherwise, I’m just babbling. Wishing each and everyone of you a Merry Christmas!

Oh, and my word for the year is: Listen

Pat Trainum

I asked God to teach me patience and He gave me a book to write

Friday, December 2, 2011

Don't Make New Year's Resolutions: Choose a Word for 2012

Yes, I know it's December 2.
I should be blogging about Christmas.
But my thoughts -- some of them -- are turned toward January 2012.
Fast forward with me for just a moment. I'll let you get back to your Christmas carols and tinsel and lights, I promise.
2012 will be the seventh year since I gave up the whole New Year's resolutions rigmarole. Last January, I blogged about how much I didn't miss compiling a list of my dos and don'ts for the year, knowing I'd most likely lose it before mid-February. It's so much easier to focus on one word for the entire year than try to keep track of an entire list.
What were my words in years past?

  • 2006: gratitude (I kept a gratitude journal and found my "glass-half-empty" attitude revolutionized.)
  • 2007: simplify (A severe illness turned this word into survival. I embraced simpler things in ways I never imagined.)
  • 2008: content -- as in "be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5) (I bought a lot less that year!)
  • 2009 & 2010: forgiveness (I had a lot to learn and unlearn about forgiveness.)
  • 2011: hope (A word I clung to when life hurt or when my heart ached for others who were hurting. There were times I could have asked "Why?" Instead, I asked myself, "Are you going to abandon hope?" My answer: No.)
As in years past, I started searching for the word for 2012 back in September. I started listening. For what? I listened for repetition as I prayed. For repetition as I read the Word. When God repeats himself to me, I sit up and take notice. 

The word for 2012? Trust.

To be honest, that's a scary word for me: trust.

And then, just the other day I thought of this equation: Hope + Trust = Faith.

I haven't settled on the accompanying Scripture for 2012's word. (There's always an accompanying verse.) And there's always a visual of some sort too -- a photo, an ornament ... something that is a visual reminder of that year's word. Haven't found that yet. But I am confident I will. 

So ... before you turn your focus back to checking your Christmas list, before you focus on now ... consider this invitation: Don't make any New Year's resolutions this year.

Instead, pick a word. Just one word. And then focus on embracing that word, living that word, for the next 365 days starting January 1, 2012.

I'll be back in January to check and see how many of you decided to choose a word for 2012! I promise you, it's life changing.

Merry Christmas!

Beth K.Vogt

*The photo for this post is a picture of a recent "Praying in Color" session of mine. I've really enjoyed praying in color since I learned about it this summer. For more information, check out the book Praying in Color by Sybil MacBeth. You can also check out her blog