b-blog

Got Barriers?

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” Matt. 19:14.

We agree with those words. We go out of our way to make church an inviting and welcoming place, with smiling greeters and warm décor. But are there barriers we may not even be aware of?

Culture

Each church has its own culture—how you dress, whether or not you applaud after music, whether you text during service, what you do with crying babies. These unwritten rules may not be known by visitors—but can earn withering looks when broken.

Language

We love our church language. We “fellowship” in the “sanctuary,” “worship” to the music, do our “quiet times” and “devotions,” and “activate the prayer chain.” We also talk about glory, righteousness, salvation, grace, and sin—concepts that might be foreign to the newcomer.

Cliques

One of the joys of the church family is the close relationships. After a long week, it’s refreshing to chat with people who love you. We sit with our friends, chat with our friends, and go out with our friends. But do we welcome visitors—or leave that to the ushers?

Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple for disrespecting God’s house and for impeding worship. We don’t want to be guilty of the same sin.

Church culture will remain—but let’s show grace to the rule-breakers. Church language should be embraced for the wealth of meaning—but let’s be careful to define our terms. Church family should be nurtured—but let’s open our eyes, watch for those outside our circle, and make an effort to include them.

What can you do to break down the barriers?

Launch Party for Blue Skies Tomorrow!

You’re invited to a launch party for my third novel, Blue Skies Tomorrow, on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at El Campanil Theatre in Antioch, California.

This gorgeous theater is pictured on the cover of Blue Skies Tomorrow and figures into several story scenes. The party is in conjunction with a showing of the 1946 classic movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, a touching portrayal of the post-war adjustment of three World War II veterans, including a B-17 bombardier.

The doors open at 1 pm, and the movie starts at 2 pm. Meet me in the lobby before or after the movie. I will be signing books, giving away some fun things (books, Big Band CDs, and vintage aprons!) – plus there will be free popcorn!

To find out how to get a free ticket for the event, please send an email to Sarah’s Email, letting me know how many guests to expect.

For more info, please visit El Campanil’s Website. While you’re there, check out the photos from the amazing restoration process.

Throwing Stones

Log on to the Internet and you see it. Turn on the TV and you hear it. Hang around human beings and you can’t miss it. Sin. Every day we’re assaulted by tawdry images, vile behavior, and egotistical attitudes. People flaunt their sin without shame.

How should the Christian react?

Appalled, we often speak out, condemning the sin—and the sinner. You’ve seen this on the news shows, read it on Facebook, and heard it from your friends. Maybe from your own mouth.

In the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus showed us a better approach—no condemnation, but no excuses.

No Condemnation

Jesus response to the woman’s accusers is one of the Bible’s most quoted—and most misquoted—verses. “‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7). These words sliced through the accusers’ self-righteousness and stopped them cold. We are all sinners. As recipients of God’s unwarranted compassion and forgiveness, we should offer compassion and forgiveness to our fellow sinners. Please note Jesus’ refusal to condemn came before His call to repentance. Likewise, our mercy must not hinge on the other person’s repentance.

No Excuses

This story is often used out of context to silence Christians from speaking out against sin. But Jesus did not excuse the woman’s adultery. He told her, “‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (John 8:11). If we are truly compassionate, we will show the way out of sin’s pain and point people to salvation and forgiveness in Christ.

Jesus, as always, calls us to imitate the fullness of His character—holiness and grace, boldness and mercy, speaking the truth in love.

Which side do you tend to flop on? Condemning sin or excusing it?

The Right…and the Left Way to Prepare for Writers’ Conferences

Are you a left-brained, list-making, analyzing, outline-oriented writer? Are you a right-brained, creative, spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants writer? Some combination? If you’re attending a writers’ conference, engage both halves of your brain and plan the right way—and the left way.

The American Christian Fiction Writers Conference is scheduled for September 22-25, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri, and registration is open. ACFW Conference Link. ACFW runs an excellent conference for Christian fiction writers with top-notch faculty and dozens of editors and agents in attendance. If you’re serious about growing in your craft, getting published, or building your career, a writers’ conference is a must.

Having attended nine major conferences (including ACFW), I’ve found it’s best to let the left brain reign before the conference and the right brain fly free during the conference.

The Left Way

Before the conference, analyze, plan, and make lists. Proper preparation allows you to get the most out of the conference and be relaxed.

Which Continuing Education tracks and workshops to take? ACFW offers five CE tracks and thirty workshops. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, as well as where you are in your manuscript and your career. Pick workshops to target your weaknesses or solidify your strengths, and try to balance between craft and publicity.

Which editors, agents, and published authors do you want to meet? At ACFW you can schedule one or two appointments with editors, agents, or mentors, which must be chosen at the time of registration. Also make a list of professionals you’d like to meet—at workshops, meals, etc. This list can keep you focused during the flurry of a conference.

Prepare your pitch. The most common question you will be asked at conference is, “What do you write?” Be prepared to answer with a sparkling one to two sentence description. Also be prepared to answer follow-up questions with more detail. But not too much detail. Really.

Prepare your One-Sheet. A one-sheet is “you and your project” on a single piece of paper. A catchy tagline, a short paragraph describing your novel or series, a short bio, and your contact info. Include your photo, and use graphics, fonts, and colors that coordinate with the feel of your story while still looking professional. Don’t overload the page or use micro-fonts. White space is your friend.

The Right Way

At the conference, work your plan but let your right brain frolic. Serendipity tends to produce the best conference moments.

Let your creativity play. You will learn so much and be surrounded by hundreds of creative people. Soak it in. Brainstorm characters, plotlines, and more. Turn off your internal editor and resist the urge to burn your manuscript.

Veer off your list. Your list of professionals to meet is a guide, not Scripture. Try to meet others, even those who aren’t looking for your genre. The publishing industry is fluid, and the editor from House A may be with House B next year—or have become an agent. That casual conversation you had over dinner might lead somewhere unexpected. And don’t forget, these people know the industry. Ask questions, absorb, and simply enjoy them as people.

Meet new friends. While targeting professionals, don’t overlook the person next to you in a workshop or at a meal. I’ve met some of my dearest friends this way. We struggled along the pre-published road with each other and now we’re exploring the world of publication together.

Watch for God appointments. My best conference moments have come when I set aside my plan. Pray with those who’ve been rejected too many times, who need a boost before an appointment, or who struggle with personal or family issues. Skip a workshop to connect with a friend. Introduce people with similar interests. Listen for God’s voice about your writing and life. When you look for God at work, you’ll find Him.

I hope to see you in St. Louis in September! Please veer off your list to say hi!

In what ways have you been blessed by planning or by serendipity? How can you best prepare while staying open to spontaneity?

What’s So Joyful about Humility?

When most people think of humility, they think of someone who’s diminished, broken, and depressed. Where’s the joy in that?

After seventy years of captivity in Babylon, the Israelites returned to Jerusalem. A broken city. A broken people. All around lay the rubble, the evidence of the consequences of sin.

Under Ezra, the first group of returnees rebuilt the temple. Several years later, under Nehemiah, the walls were rebuilt. But the people remained broken.

Then Ezra read the Law of the Lord to the people. The final breaking. In the blinding light of God’s perfection, they saw the filth of their sin—not only their personal sins but the sins of their nation and of their ancestors. “All of the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law” (Nehemiah 8:9).

From that final breaking came healing. For a quarter of a day, they confessed their sins before the Lord. A quarter of a day!

From that healing came joy. Nehemiah told the people, “‘Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Yes, the act of confession can rip open your heart and soul when you come face to face with God’s holiness and your own sinfulness. But it results in forgiveness and joy. God is merciful! God loves us! God has restored us!

Humility doesn’t diminish you—it makes you whole. Humility doesn’t break you—it heals your pre-existing brokenness. Humility isn’t depressing—it’s joyful!

How do you cultivate humility in a culture that values pride?

Make It Do – Metal Shortages During World War II

Imagine going to the store and not finding batteries, thumbtacks, alarm clocks, or paper clips on the shelves.

During World War II, both metals and factories were needed for military purposes. Ships and planes and jeeps and guns and ration tins and helmets took precedence over civilian products. After the United States entered the war, factories quickly shifted from manufacturing civilian goods to military material. The last car rolled off the assembly line on February 10, 1942. And on April 2, 1942, the War Production Board ordered a reduction in the use of metals in packaging. This resulted in the rationing of canned foods (Make It Do – Rationing of Canned Goods in World War II).

Shortages

Many everyday items became hard to find – can openers, kitchen utensils, steel wool, batteries, bobby pins, hair curlers, razor blades, wristwatches, thumbtacks, paper clips, pins, needles, zippers, garden tools, and bed springs. People learned to take care of what they had – or make do without.

Appliances

Both large and small appliances were not manufactured during the war, so appliance stores shifted their business focus from sales to repairs. Often families or neighbors would share appliances. In July 1944, to encourage home canning but prevent botulism, 400,000 pressure cookers were released for sale, preferably for community use. In Antioch, California, the PTA purchased a pressure cooker to share within the community.

Toys

Many popular children’s toys couldn’t be manufactured during the war due to restrictions or shortages of rubber, tin, and steel. Manufacturers converted to wood or even cardboard.

Typewriters

Not only did typewriters contain metal, but they were vital to a paperwork-dependent military. In July 1942, a call went out to the public to turn in any late-model, nonessential typewriters to the military. Typewriters were rationed from March 1942 to April 22, 1944, requiring a certificate from the local ration board for a purchase.

Failures

Some shortages ended up as humorous failures. In July 1942, the government proclaimed a stop to the manufacture of beauty products – but a great uproar led to the repeal four months later. Sliced bread also briefly became unavailable. On January 18, 1943, the sale of sliced bread was banned in order to conserve the metal blades. This ban lasted only until March 8. Alarm clock production stopped July 1, 1942. However, employers all over the nation lobbied to resume production to reduce chronic absenteeism. In March 1943, alarm clocks were produced again.

Which of these shortages would have been most difficult for you?

Keep Juggling – Using a Chart to Track Writing Goals

One of the biggest surprises of being published was the juggling act. Before publication, I’d get a story idea, research it, plot it, write it, and edit it. Then I’d start my next project. After my first contract, that all changed. I’m usually doing publicity for one book, working on my publisher’s edits for another, writing a third, and plotting a fourth. There are multiple projects and multiple deadlines. Real deadlines.

Afraid I’d drop one of the balls and miss a crucial deadline, I started a simple goal chart to keep me on target. Also, after I saw the pattern of arrival dates for my publisher’s projects, I added them to my chart for future books so I wouldn’t be shocked when the project arrived.

My chart extends through the end of my next contract, but here’s a sample for the next three months. To orient you, Revell is my publisher. Blue Skies Tomorrow, the third book in the Wings of Glory series, releases August 1, so the publicity column is pretty full – I deleted stuff too. Book 1 in the next series, tentatively titled Wings of the Nightingale, is due September 1, and I’m plotting out Book 2. Revell’s title & cover questionnaire tends to arrive 6 months before the catalog date – in this case, September.

Even for a technophobe, this is really easy. In Microsoft Word, go to “insert” then to “table.” Choose how many columns you want (I have seven), and how many rows. Then under “Table Tools” and “Layout,” click on “Autofit” and choose “Autofit to contents.” This lets your cells expand to accommodate the text. You can play with colors or highlighting. I use red for deadlines, green for events, and light blue for “life” events that will impact my writing – a vacation or conference or child’s graduation. Using an Excel spreadsheet also works well, especially for a writer with multiple publishers or numerous speaking engagements. I don’t show it here, but I leave empty space in each month to write in new tasks as they come up.

At the end of the month, I highlight all the completed goals for that month, update my chart – shoving incomplete goals down (hate that!) and adding new commitments. Then I “cut” the completed month and place it under “completed goals” at the end of the document. This helps me track the ideal versus the real in my goal setting.

I print my goals each month and tack them on the bulletin board above my computer to keep me focused (see in the picture?). Each week I look at the chart and write out daily goals. Those go on my bulletin board too. I use colored highlighters to mark off completed tasks. Because it’s fun.

I love to learn from others – how do you keep track of your goals? How do you keep those juggling balls in the air?

Book Beat – The Preacher’s Bride

Don’t let the bonnet on the cover fool you. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund is not an Amish book. Rather it reflects a growing and refreshing trend in Christian historical fiction to explore different eras. The Preacher’s Bride is set in 1659 England, when Cromwell’s Puritans were in power, and it is loosely based on the life of preacher and author John Bunyan.

Plain and outspoken Elizabeth Whitbread only wants to serve the Lord. When John Costin’s wife dies in childbirth, Elizabeth feels led to care for his four children, especially the starving newborn. A tinker by trade, John also travels as a Puritan preacher. He draws the ire of Royalists, who dislike Puritan rule and especially dislike tradesmen presuming to preach—a role reserved for educated gentlemen. Elizabeth and the children soon learn to love each other, but John resists Elizabeth’s presence while drawn to her quick tongue. As John’s enemies turn their venom on those close to him, he begins to see Elizabeth’s worth, but will he be forced to choose between those he loves and God’s calling?

The Preacher’s Bride is historical fiction done right. The setting and period details are rich and fascinating and well researched, but never overwhelm the story. And the story is beautiful. Both John and Elizabeth are characters of depth and integrity, who still having human failings that make them ring true. Their romance is sweet and gripping, and an underlying sense of danger provides just the right amount of tension.

I highly recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially for Anglophiles.

Book Beat – While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin

This has been a good year for those who love fiction set during World War II. Lynn Austin, one of the premier writers of Christian historical fiction turns to the American Home Front in While We’re Far Apart.

Twelve-year old Esther Shaffer is furious with her father for enlisting in the Army soon after the death of her mother, especially since her little brother, Peter, has suddenly gone mute, and she has to put up with boring Penny Goodrich as her caretaker. Penny has secretly loved Esther’s father all her life, and she hopes taking care of his children will cause him to return her love – and it allows her to get away from her overprotective and manipulative parents. The Shaffers’ landlord, Jacob Mendel, is angry at God for the death of his wife and the disappearance of his only son in Nazi-occupied Hungary – and shaken by how Esther and Peter insert themselves into his life.

As these people become unlikely friends, secrets are revealed, hearts are opened, and lives are changed. This is a lovely story with compelling characters, filled with detail about life on the Home Front. Jacob Mendel’s storyline shows how anti-Semitism was alive and ugly in America as well as in Europe. I highly recommend this novel, even if World War II is not your favorite time period.

When Life Gives You a Car Breakdown, Make…Orange Juice?

A car breakdown, a colorful tow truck driver, a polygamist, and a ten-pound bag of oranges – not what the Sundin family expected this past weekend.

Our oldest son finished his first year at UCLA, so my husband and I, our fifteen-year-old daughter, and our twelve-year-old son loaded our Highlander hybrid with his dorm stuff and headed north.

Interstate 5 runs in almost a straight line through California’s Central Valley. Trucks and vacationers speed past large farms and ranches. About every thirty miles, an off-ramp leads to fast food restaurants and gas stations. Quick but bland.

Or so we thought.

At six o’clock in the evening, north of Buttonwillow and south of Lost Hills, our car died. Toyotas don’t do that. My husband steered the car onto the right shoulder, and I called AAA.

My husband had a business trip scheduled, with a 6 am flight the next morning. Not happening. He got to work on his cell phone. Our not-so-little kids, cramped in the back seat of a rapidly warming car, by God’s grace alone, did not whine or bicker. This is out of character. Not for God – for the kids.

AAA called back with a problem. The tow trucks only carried four passengers. We had five.
“What am I supposed to do?” My voice cracked. “Stand on the side of the road with my kids?”
“Are you there by yourself, ma’am?” Concern flooded her voice. “How old are your kids?”
“Oh…well…” It’s hard to gain sympathy when oldest child has a driver’s license and a beard.

Before I could call for a cab, Joseph the tow truck driver arrived. His truck carried five. He’d found a repair shop open that late on a Sunday, the best in the Central Valley, Joseph said. We liked him already.

Joseph has a sand-colored billy goat beard and a great sense of humor. He apologized for the truck he’d borrowed while his was in the shop. His truck was clean. His truck was stocked with diapers, baby wipes, and bottled water. His truck had a smoother ride because the suspension was properly positioned in relation to the winch. On the drive to Buttonwillow, we learned about tow truck driver culture. Did you know there was a tow truck driver culture? I did not. Rivalries, practical jokes, the importance of a clean truck, the lack of sleep, the knowledge of every little side road…I gained a great deal of respect for Joseph and his profession.

After making restaurant and hotel recommendations, Joseph dropped us off at the repair shop. Julio would take good care of us, he said. We had to wait while Julio helped the previous customers, a couple traveling with a vanload of children, one in diapers. At least they had another woman along to help.

After they left, Julio approached us with a grin. “That guy’s a polygamist. He introduced me to both his wives.”
“That explains it,” my daughter said. She’d seen the little white stick figure people on the back windshield – a man in the middle, a woman on each side, and a cloud of children below.
Hoo boy. There’s something you don’t see every day.

One of Julio’s friends was hanging around with his produce truck. It didn’t take long to realize his mind wasn’t all there – but his heart was. He was genuinely concerned for us. Then he mentioned he needed a few more dollars to get home that night. Red flag! How many times have I heard that line from panhandlers? But then he said he just needed to sell some more fruit. My heart softened. I could buy fruit. So he showed me what he had. Cherries? My refrigerator is full of the bounty from our cherry tree. Oranges? He had ten-pound bags. Not sure how it would fit in our jam-packed car, I bought one.

Julio did his best. He gave our car a jumpstart. Nothing. He replaced the battery. Nothing. While we love our 25 mpg, the hybrid engine has its peculiarities and needed the help of a Toyota dealership. In Bakersfield. Thirty miles away. Closed for the night.

After dinner at the Joseph-approved Mexican restaurant – great food with manana service – we spent the night at the clean and friendly Joseph-approved Motel 6. The next day, while Toyota performed its diagnosis, the courtesy shuttle hauled us to a shopping center.

The mall has a “Forever 21” in an old department store. My teen daughter put on her biggest eyes and sweetest smile. I’m immune – and wise – to that face, but I took her there anyway. The store went on and on, packed with clothes for teen girls, so big it was divided by color scheme – blue clothes here, red there, pastel here, black there. Oh my goodness. My daughter wandered around, fingered a few items, and headed out. She didn’t buy a thing. Didn’t even try anything on. She looked dazed. “It’s…too…much.” Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

Toyota had to order the part – under warranty! – so they paid for a rental car. By dinnertime, we were home. All five of us, our luggage, and ten pounds of oranges.

Orange juice, anyone?