Quote of the Weekend

Candles in the window,
shadows painting the ceiling,
gazing at the fire glow,
feeling that gingerbread feeling.
Precious moments,
special people,
happy faces,
I can see.

Somewhere in my mem’ry,
Christmas joys all around me,
living in my mem’ry,
all of the music,
all of the magic,
all of the fam’ly home here with me.

– From Home Alone

(One of my favorite Christmas songs! It brings back lots of happy memories!)

Merry Christmas!

soldiers christmas
Merry Christmas!!!
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play;
In music sweet their tones repeat,
“There’s peace on earth, good will to men.”
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’ unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep,
For Christ is here; His Spirit near
Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”
When men repent and turn from sin
The Prince of Peace then enters in,
And grace imparts within their hearts
His peace on earth, good will to men.
O souls amid earth’s busy strife,
The Word of God is light and life;
Oh, hear His voice, make Him your choice,
Hail peace on earth, good will to men.
Then happy, singing on your way,
Your world will change from night to day;
Your heart will feel the message real,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
– Henry W. Longfellow

My Favorite Christmas Story, or Why the Vincents Celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve

merry-christmas-granny

Once upon a time, there was a large family living in the beautiful hills of the Ozarks.  They had five boisterous children who loved Christmas very much.  They loved the music, the decorations, the hunt for the perfect – if itchy – cedar tree, the lights, the festivities, and of course, being proper Vincents, the food.  Papa and Mama, at this time of their lives and with five children, found their wallets a bit on the tight.  There was hardly even a quarter to be spared.  Papa and Mama focused what little money they had on stuffing the seven large family stockings.  Calendars, fabric, rope, candy, snacks, and even socks made their way into the stockings.  The three older siblings pooled their resources from odd jobs to purchase small gifts for their families, while the younger two made gifts of pictures, rocks, and other crafts.

But – what a lovely word, ‘but’! – every year magnificent presents piled up under the tree.  The pile was so large, this particular Christmas, it spilled out into the living room taking up valuable real estate and pathways.  Tensions ran high.  Five children mentally categorized each gift according to name, sound when gently shook, corners peeling up, and general size.  Five children counted down not only days, but hours and minutes.  Five smiles spread across five faces when their eyes fell on the full tree.

Where had these lavish gifts come from?  How had the poor family managed to have such a wealthy Christmas?  The generosity of an Auntie and Uncle with no children yet of their own made it possible.  All through the month of December, large boxes arrived at the Vincent mobile home.  Big boxes.  Giant boxes full of wrapped presents labeled for everyone.  This particular year Auntie and Uncle had outdone themselves.

On Christmas Eve, with beautiful sunlight streaming in the windows, the Vincent family sat down to enjoy a lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup – a family favorite.  Five pairs of eyes darted now and again to the pile of presents.  Five faces grinned at one another in anticipation of the next day’s fun, both loving and hating the anticipation of what lay under those bright wrappers.

Clearing his throat, Papa announced that he had an announcement to make but an announcement with a Condition.  At the declaration of this announcement, not a noise could be made by any of the five children.  Not a peep, not a cheer, not a word.  Nothing.  Papa required the announcement to be heard, processed, and obeyed without a sound.  He made very intense eye contact with each of his five children.  Receiving an agreeing nod from each of them, he proceeded with his announcement.

“Your Mama and I will go take a nap while you children clean up and do the dishes.  When we wake up, we will open presents.”

The collective intake of breath of five children prepared to scream for joy nearly sucked all the air out of the room.

“Not a sound,” Papa reminded them.

Five mouths closed.

Eyes darted, lips quivered but stayed shut, happiness beamed from five faces.  Not a sound.

Papa and Mama silently retired.

As soon as their bedroom door closed screams, cheers, and many peeps filled the kitchen.  Never before was the table cleared or the dishes done with such speed, planning, self-sacrifice, and general joy.  Never before had so little bickering and so much aid been giving to fellow siblings.  This was a cause worth working together!!!  Very soon the dishes were done and five little boys and girls strategically placed themselves in the living room to await the arrival of their parents declaring this the best Christmas ever.

And that, my dear friends, is why the Vincents, Joneses, Days, and Groves celebrate Christmas Eve together to this very day.

Merry Christmas and “God bless us, everyone”.

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Quote of the Weekend

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Refrain

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Refrain

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Refrain

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Refrain

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.

Refrain

– Charles Wesley

(My favorite Christmas Hymn!)

Sniper One and Lone Survivor

“It was all just people trying to pay their last respects.  The same everywhere.  And I am left feeling that no matter how much the drip-drip-drip of hostility towards us is perpetuated by the liberal press, the American people simply do not believe it.  They are rightly proud of the armed forces of the United States of America.  They innately understand what we do.  And no amount of poison about our alleged brutality, disregard of the Geneva Convention, and abuse of the human rights of terrorists is going to change what most people think.”  – Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

Most of my Modern Military History reading has centered on WWII and Vietnam.  The ghosts of all that went wrong in Vietnam still haunt the edges of my generation brought on by whispered stories from fathers and grandfathers.  Like a toothache, we continue to poke at it and explore it trying to figure out what went wrong.  WWII shines like a lighthouse in the dark history of war.  It was the good war.  The war we were right to fight.  Light and dark.  WWII and Vietnam.  But I have yet to explore much about the Korean War or my own generations war in the Middle East.  Another blogger, who has since passed away, reviewed Sniper One on his blog around the time Chris Kyle was murdered spurring me to add more modern warfare books to my reading list.  Reading only two modern warfare books so far, I have come to two completely unsubstantiated and personal observations.

If you get tired of all the political correctness that saps the courage from our moral fiber, read some modern warfare books.  These soldiers don’t mince their words in their personal observations about how our wars are and aren’t fought.  The politically correct ruling class imposes sometimes-impossible, often frustrating, rules on our soldiers when they’ve never been in combat.  It’s a fact.  They haven’t reexamined the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that US and British soldiers operate under in the context of fighting terrorist.  Terrorist known our ROE and use them against us all the time.  They use them to kill our soldiers while the ROE and the media – waiting to cry ‘Barbarian!’ at the drop of a hat – tie our soldiers’ hands by behind their backs.  This is the rub in both the books I read on our war in the Middle East.  What was meant for good has ended up costing us many lives.  (Unsubstantiated, Personal Observation #1)

mcnab_mills2

Sniper One by Sgt. Dan Mills is the story of a British sniper unit besieged in Iraq in 2004.  They go in on a peacekeeping tour and end up fighting for their very lives.  This book is great not only for its exciting and amazing story, but also for the historical perspective it provides.  At one point, the unit, while out on patrol, visits an ancient cemetery where they find the tombs of English soldiers from forgotten wars.  It was eerie to realize we have been fighting over the same dusty plot of land for hundreds of years.

Sgt. Dan Mills never apologies for being a soldier in Sniper One.  These men trained to fight.  No apologies.  These English soldiers love what they do and believe they are doing the right thing.  They’re not out to hurt everyone they can.  In fact, they spend a fair amount of time worrying about a family stuck in the line of fire and a dog they adopt.  But, they don’t think the way to handle terrorist is with kid gloves.  It’s refreshing to read about men being men and doing what men do without apologizing for a job well done.  They took the fight to the terrorist and won with superior training, weapons, mentality, and a little help from the USA.  These men were dedicated, well-trained warriors.  I’m thankful for men like them.

My only caveat for this book is that due to it being written by an Englishman it lacks the moral lines we favor here in the USA.  You expect a bit of language when you read anything military oriented, but this book didn’t pull any punches.  (Part of it could be that I’m not used to British cussing, so it really stood out.)  It also didn’t pull any punches about what men do in the down times between battles.

Have I just had my head in the sand for too long?  Most of the books I’ve read about WWII have a certain carefulness to not indulge.  They will mention a few cuss words, or a few illicit meetings, but it is always mentioned in passing, or not at all.  It’s not the point because it’s not appropriate.  (The joys of reading older books!)  Books about Vietnam are not that much different.  Every war has its ugly parts.  You can’t escape that.  And I don’t mean just killing innocents, or bloodlust, or sociopaths.  I’m talking specifically about the language and sexual dalliances that go along with warfare.  Many books on warfare don’t focus there.  They might mention them in passing, but they’re only in passing.  Sniper One didn’t pass.  It dedicated a whole chapter or two to it and it was a bit disconcerting.  Are all modern military books so immoral, I asked myself?  Am I going to have to bypass anything written about the War in the Middle East because modern writers don’t know the line between history and gossip?

The answer, so far, is no.  (Unsubstantiated, Personal Observation #2)

After reading Sniper One, I read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.  This book has a little bit of language and none of the other problems.  Americans, on some subconscious level, still cling to the idea that a good story, true or fiction, doesn’t have to be quiet that earthy to be ‘good’.  We all understand that life is not clean, it’s full of sin, it’s gross, indulgent, and full of lust, but that doesn’t mean we need to bathe in it every second.  I think it’s important for someone to know the sinful struggles faced by our military….that someone isn’t me.  For this reason alone, I enjoyed the modern American military story better than the British one.  I respect the British military, no doubt, but I don’t want to read that kind of stuff.  Does it make them seem more human and less heroic?  Yes, which can be good.  It keeps us from naïvely idolizing them.  It also borders on gossip – indulgent, tantalizing – we just don’t need to know.  There are other, better ways to show the humanity of our soldiers.  I think Marcus Luttrell does this well. He talks about his fear, his pain, his confusion, and what he views as his moment of cowardice: when he puts his gun down in combat and covers his ear because he can’t stand the sound of his dying fried screaming his name.  That’s humanity.

Navy_SEALs_in_Afghanistan_prior_to_Red_Wing

Lone Survivor.  Now there’s a book.  I first picked it up while my husband and I were on vacation last August.  I had a passing knowledge of Operation Red Wings from a Facebook fan page dedicated to the American hero Michael Murphy who died during the Operation.  I knew it was going to be a rough, emotional story.  Marcus – the only SEAL to survive – starts the story with his visits to the families of the other three men who died up in the Afghan mountains.  Talk about instant tear-jerker.  I put the book down for a few weeks, just not ready to emotionally deal with it.

When I picked it up again, it became my workout partner.  I read it on my Kindle and boy-howdy!  If you want some motivation to work up a sweat, read about Navy SEAL training.  It makes you proud of them and it makes you feel like quite the wimp.

Lone Survivor detailed out the battle fought on Murphy’s Ridge between four Navy SEALS and about 100+ terrorist.  It’s a heart-wrenching story.  Marcus, the only survivor, fell down mountains, was shot, and blown up, before he’s taken in by some friendly Afghans.  They protected him, at the cost of their own village, for several days before a group of Army Rangers found him.  Marcus explained how his buddies fought and died beside him, how he agonized over them, went back out to retrieve their bodies, and came home to his family still haunted by their screams.

The more light-hearted side of this book, the part that brings a smile to my face, is Marcus is a tried and true Texan.  He’s politically incorrect and conservative.  It’s refreshing to read a book like Lone Survivor where your beliefs are appreciated instead of disparaged.  It’s refreshing to hear President Bush spoken of in a positive light.  It’s refreshing to know men like this fight for us on foreign soil.

“Before the dust had settled on lower Manhattan, the United States demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden for masterminding the attack on U.S. soil.  Again the Taliban refused, perhaps not realizing that the new(ish) U.S. president, George W. Bush, was a very different character from Bill Clinton.” – Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

If you want a great story with great heroes, read Lone Survivor.  If you feel the need to uproot your “first-world” problems just a bit, read Lone Survivor.  If you want to understand what it’s like to be a Texan, read Lone Survivor.  If you just want a little reminder that there are a few moral people, under God’s common grace, still out there, read Lone Survivor.

I would love to have my nephews hear the story of the Battle for Murphy’s Ridge.  Someday, when their older I’ll share it with them.  Sniper One is a good story, but I would want my nephews to be much older, maybe in their late teens or early twenties before I would recommend it based totally on the level of inappropriate content.  (If you’re a parent with a son joining the military and you want the harsh reality of the temptations he will face, you might consider reading Sniper One to help you have some frank conversations with him.  This is the only good I can think of from reading those parts and not skipping them.)  On the other hand, Lone Survivor would be a great companion to modern military history studies for boys in high school.  (As always, this is purely my thoughts.  You, as a parent, need to know what you want your kids to know and what they can handle.)

My two unsubstantiated and personal observations remain just that.  As far as #1 and the ROE, I can do little about that but try to understand the history going on around me.  #2 and the lack of morality in modern warfare writing remains to be seen, but I’m more hopeful for good stories about our brave soldiers that don’t reduce themselves into blood baths or gossip.

Here’s to the Navy SEALS who died in service to our country.

(This article is dedicated to Steve at Imagineer-ing who suggested Sniper One but passed away before I could share my thoughts on the book.  Thanks for all your support, Steve.)

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Sunday Thoughts: Facebook Syndrome

Facebook-logo-1817834_pngFirst off, this is not a rant against Facebook.  I love Facebook.  It’s the only way I’m able to keep up with my very large and amazing family.  It’s great for storing and sharing pictures.  More importantly, it’s helped me take steps to get to know my church family on a more personal level.  Seeing their status updates throughout the week allows me to pray for them, encourage them, laugh with them, and serve them better.

I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t rant on Facebook or even post negative things.  I try to be positive and light, focused on what activities I’m involved in, and share happy events.  These types of things seem more appropriate for a social venue with 200+ friends and family members reading my status updates.  When your audience ranges from pastors, parents, grandparents, kids, old friends and new it seems wise to practice discretion and limit the deep personal content.

Here’s the rub: sometimes we use Facebook, and its appropriate surface relationships, as a crutch and forget to get to know one another on a deeper level.  This is the Facebook Syndrome, or the, “Hi, how are you?”, “Fine.  How are you?” Syndrome.

My life is far more complicated and difficult than any of my Facebook statuses would ever indicate.  (This is a personal choice.  I don’t have a problem with someone posting prayer requests or negative circumstances.)  Because I choose to do this, I often wonder if others do as well.  Because I know some of my Facebook friends on a more personal, open level, I know they do.

This means we don’t know what a week has held for a fellow believer based on their Facebook status updates.  They may have experienced horror, joy, sadness, depression, struggles, or persecution.  Some things may weigh so heavy on a believer’s heart that posting anything about it on Facebook can seem flippant and disrespectful.  Sometimes things can happen that are so painful talking about them in the lunch line or between services is humanly impossible.  Behind the smile or the busy status update could be concern for a brother or sister overseas, a sister or friend’s miscarriage, a grandparent’s death, a long term illness, a chronically sick spouse, a difficult marriage, great loneliness, job stress, or aging parents.

Our lives are more than our Facebook status updates.  We want to share life’s blessings and wall up our tears.  It’s nice to be happy and busy.  We certainly don’t want to come across as whiny, needy, or depressing to others.  But, dear church members, if we don’t move beyond quick hellos and Facebook status updates we aren’t serving or loving one another.  Who will bear us up if we don’t share our tears with one another?

Go out of your way to get to know your church family.  You don’t have to be the only shoulder to cry on – we all have emotional limits – just don’t content yourself with a Facebook only relationship with your church family.  Don’t be satisfied with a surface relationship.  That’s a great place to start, but don’t stop there.  Practice hospitality.  Text, write a note, go out for coffee, visit, and share.  Be open with your own walk and needs, without gossiping, and listen to the person on the other side of the table.  Actively seek the unpopular, fringe members of your church.  You will find that when you seek to be a friend, you suddenly have many friends.  When you pour yourself out for others, you are blessed.  Don’t think about yourself, think about others and you will find that the Lord has fully supplied your needs.

A Rare Selfie of Grand duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna, early 1910

A Rare Selfie of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna, early 1910

We live in a culture focused on ourselves.  We can create our own online personas, take selfies at more forgiving and filtered angles, and we indulge in a fair amount of ‘me’ time.  With all this online exposure and all this time focused on yourself, do you ever feel alone?  Do you ever wish someone knew you, understood what was going on in your heart and head, and still liked you?  Dear friend!  If you want to have friends, be a friend.  We have forgotten about self-sacrifice.  Pouring yourself out for people is largely uncool these days, but it’s the mark of a believer in their church.

You know the popular passage “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”? Have you ever noticed its context?  It is in the context of our submission and humility in our local church!  Think about that!  Is it hard for you to reach out to people?  Is it hard for you to open up to others on anything deeper than your weekend and your favorite movies?  Do you talk to wise, older women and then take their advice?  Do you listen to your family?  It’s hard.  It’s very hard to be in an active, open, loving church family.  Why?  It requires work, planning, and purpose.  More importantly, it requires you to work with sinners.  It requires you to forgive and love.  It requires you to be a soldier of the Lord, to put yourself in harm’s way for the sake of the soldier next to you, and he might be the one hurting you.

hbctxThe good news, the silver lining?  Christ is the head of this family, our elder brother, our King.  He walks amongst His lamp stands, and He commands us to cast our cares on him.  So dearest family member, let’s strive together to shake of the ease of a relationship only as deep as Facebook, and go at the hard work of learning, listening, and loving each other.  You and I might be surprised to find we have plenty in common, even if it’s just grace – what a place to start!  My experience has been that my preconceived notions about my fellow church members are often wrong or far too shallow.  I have found that when I take the time to get to know my church family, they are the salt of the earth.

Quote of the Weekend

Where are you Christmas
Why can’t I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can’t I hear music play

My world is changing
I’m rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too

Where are you Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I’m not the same one
See what the time’s done
Is that why you have let me go

Christmas is here
Everywhere, oh
Christmas is here
If you care, oh

If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time

I feel you Christmas
I know I’ve found you
You never fade away
The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us
Fills each and every heart with love

Where are you Christmas
Fill your heart with love

– Faith Hill

(I love the sadness in this song, which blossoms into joy when Christmas is found!)

A Life of Faith instead of Sight: Mary

You told her she would have a king,

You sent an angel to inform her,

He declared the impossible birth, creating wonder.

An inspired Elizabeth gave witness to the miracle,

That You told her she would have a king.

You told her she would have a king:

And Joseph she almost lost,

Death at the worst, shame and pain at the best,

These became her future,

You told her she would have a king.

She holds you , her son, in her arms,

She studies your face,

But her faith is not sight,

She still lives by grace.

No castle, no gold, no glittering fabric,

No maids, no servants, no friends,

Just a barn on a dark night ,

You told her she would have a king…

But no king is seen…Where is her promised one?

She holds you, her son, in her arms,

She studies your face,

But her faith is not sight,

She still lives by grace.

You told her she would have a king,

And your mercy shown in the night,

Your mighty messengers came,

With a declaration of peace from the heavenly fight.

The shepherds came and told her she had a king!

And Mary treasured up these things,

Her faith made strong by grace,

She believed what she could not see,

That she had a king.

As her son, held so close in her arms,

Dies before her very eyes,

Mary holds to what she cannot see:

She has a risen King!

Mary:  a beautiful example of living life by faith and not by sight.

Inspired by Pastor Steve Garrick and Jarrett Downs during Ladies Bible Study.

“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.”

Writing Journal – Communication with Your Reader

After you get that first rough draft done, and your alpha readers have lovingly bled all over it, and it has had time to simmer and mature on the back burner of your mind, you pull it back out and re-read it.  Your eye and heart are refreshed from other activities and you read your story with a slight bit of objectivity.  What kind of things do you need to tackle?

That’s a question which has been tackled by many a writer.  There are whole books written about editing and taking your story to the next level.  What I want to talk about today is Communication with your Reader.  What are you telling them?  Are you telling them one thing and leading them in a different direction?  And not on purpose.

clear-communication

For instance, if you tell me that something dangerous is lurking around the house of the protagonist and that she must have an honor guard to school every day, don’t have the honor guard sleep in without something bad happening.  If you tell me this and then don’t follow through, I’m not gonna believe your hints.  I will have no heightened sense of worry or fear.  Obviously, if the protagonist is being lied to about the danger level and this is how they realize it, then it’s okay to do this.  Just make sure they confront the lie a.s.a.p.  If they don’t, the reader will be confused about what direction the story is going.  Your protagonist will also feel flat.  Where’s the injustice!!!!?  In a similar case, don’t tell me the princess is super super important for the survival of the hidden magical people and then have the hidden magical people abandon her without major questions being asked by the princess.  If she just goes on her merry way, I’m gonna wonder why I’m even reading your book.

In a first rough draft, when you’re pouring your heart and soul out onto paper, this is okay.  As you edit, you need to look for these unrealistic human interactions and fix them.  Always ask yourself if your protagonist and antagonist are acting how people act.  If you’re not sure, go get a movie or a book featuring a similar tragedy and let that spur your thoughts. Pay attention when you read other books and watch movies for character development and emotion.  This will help you.

If you’re going to hint at the beginning of your book that something strange is going on, but have a time of ‘normal life’ before it really gets going, this communication idea is even more important.

First off, don’t bring the abnormal up just once.  Your story is not the only thing going on in a reader’s life.  They will need a reminder that something strange is happening.  Have a ring in the protagonist pocket which constantly weighs on his mind.

Second, make sure the ‘normal life’ part is interesting enough to carry me on until something bigger and deadlier comes along.  Take Harry Potter, for instance.  At the beginning of the book, a problem would often present itself.  Harry would peck at it through the rest of the novel.  Clues are given, other problems weave in and out, but the main part of the book is Harry going to school.  Why isn’t that boring?  Cause he’s going to wizarding school!!!  Even his normal life is really interesting.  In addition, we’re only given enough everyday stuff to move us along in the timeline, not every second of Harry’s existence.  Whole months of Harry’s life are skipped so the story doesn’t bog down.  If you’re ‘normal life’ is very normal and starts to read like a boring journal – woke up, ate oatmeal, went to school, came home, studied, went to bed, repeat – you’re going to need to add in something.  That something is conflict!

conflict

Third, ask yourself what your main conflict is and what the themes of your story are.  These can act as guideposts for each and every paragraph.  If a scene isn’t helping the reader understand the character better or moving the plot along, cut it!

Fourth, write interesting descriptions and overviews.  You have to give your protagonist a world to live in, don’t skip this.  It is the heart and soul of a well-written story.  Have beautiful and rich descriptions.  If you need to pass over big chunks of time, write an overview, a transitional sentence, or scene to help the reader see that the story is moving on to something else.  These are great opportunities to practice wordsmithing!

Fifth, watch how you set reader expectation.  I wrote a whole article on reader expectation for Josh Magill’s Blog.  Check it out here.  Ask your alpha readers and yourself if you set reader expectation correctly and then fulfilled it.  There is nothing worse than reading a book you think is one thing only to find it’s not.  I’m not talking about twists and turns in the plot.  I’m talking about books like Tana French’s novel In the Woods.  It is a beautiful book, well written, amazing and not a crime – mystery novel.  It’s not about solving mysteries.  It’s about how a haunted past affects a cop and about psychopaths walking amongst us.  It’s very well written, but it’s marketed as a mystery.  If you read it that way, you will be very disappointed.  If you don’t, you’ll really enjoy it.  It’s vitally important to set a readers’ expectation clearly and correctly.  If you’re a paranormal or urban fantasy write, have something fantastical happen.  If it’s going to take a while to get to the fantasy, make sure your protagonist life is interesting enough to keep me going, which is conflict!  (Again, this doesn’t mean don’t have twists and turns, or normal scenes, just infuse them with conflict!)

If you find moments like this in your story, don’t worry!  We all write scenes we think are amazing which ultimately have to be cut.  Just save it in a file labeled My Favorite Scenes that No One else Appreciated.  Find the moments your characters are flat and flesh them out.  If they’re acting without emotion, add some in.  Make them believable.  And remember, don’t bore your readers, excite their imagination.

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Guest Post: Deanna Brown

I would like to make Guest Post a monthly feature on my blog written specifically by other Christian Women in my life – from the young and learning the the wise and older.  I might come knocking at your door, so be warned.

My first guest blogger is Deanna Brown.  Deanna is the author of Strokeman’s Woman.  There she shares with you the heartbreaking but ultimately encouraging story of her husband’s stroke.  She also posts reviews of books and shares stories of her life both in Africa and here in Texas.

I have known Deanna since I was about 15.  God has used her regularly in my life to guide, direct, and encourage me.  She has been a wonderful wise, older woman to me.  Over the last few years, our friendship has evened out a little.  It has gone from child and adult, to adult and adult.  Thankfully, she will always remain a few steps ahead of me, and I will always stay a few steps behind gaining from walk with the Lord.   Please enjoy Deanna’s thoughts on rest – both it’s physical and spiritual sides – and visit her blog if you’d like to get to know her better.

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I am not a person who has trouble sleeping. If left to myself, it is a rare night that I don’t fall asleep
minutes after my head hits the pillow. Even if I wake up to stumble to the bathroom, if left to myself, I
will fall right back to sleep, no problem. If left to myself: There’s the rub. Since I became a wife and a
mother, there have been many, many nights when I have not been left to myself. There were the
nights up with crying infants, the occasional stomach flu that had me cleaning vomit out of the tub (“I
was afraid I would miss the toilet”), or off the wall in the hallway (I just couldn’t make it!). There were
the endless nights tending to my chronically ill child, trying to find some way to bring her comfort
while also trying not to kill her for keeping me from sleeping. And then there was the stroke that took
my husband’s independence, and my luxurious, uninterrupted sleep. This week, said husband had
a kidney stone. While I was happy to see him ask for showers (not something he does much these
days), I wasn’t so happy that he was asking for them at 3:00 AM. And while I was thrilled to see him
getting up and walking around so frequently, I wasn’t so happy to be getting up myself to help him
back in the bed every thirty minutes through the very long night. I am not so good without sleep. I get
angry and irritable, and I can be pretty snippy, even to a man in excruciating pain. Because of these
things in my life that often keep me from being able to indulge in my ability to sleep, I have come to
love a very dark room with no noise, cool enough to snuggle under a blanket pulled all the way up
to my neck. When I find myself there, I revel in it by saying over and over to myself, “it’s dark and
quiet”. I usually get to repeat it about three times before I am off to Dreamland.

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Perhaps the fact that I often get interrupted from my sleep is what makes me love that God sees rest
as a very important part of His universe. In the very beginning, when the triune God created the
world, He rested on the 7th day. Now for God, it wasn’t a matter of needing a good nap. We are told
in the Psalms that our Father neither slumbers nor sleeps. It was, I think for two main reasons. One,
He was setting up an example for His people; six days you shall labor, but the seventh is the day of
rest: work hard, but then rest, rejuvenate, renew your spirit. The second part of that has to do with
taking time to acknowledge the goodness of our God. He rested, because the work He had set out
to do was done, and it was very good. Our day of rest, our Sabbath, is to be a time of coming
together to proclaim corporately the goodness of God, and all that He has done both in us and
through us. Rest is good!

There is another part of the creation story that has recently appealed to me. It’s the phrase, “So the
evening and the morning were the first (second, third, etc) day.” Now, we tend to think of our days as
starting in the morning and ending in the evening, but that is not how the creation story is told. I
recently read or heard someone relate this to the idea of darkness coming before light – you know,
the concept of weeping enduring for the night, but joy coming in the morning. Meh! Maybe…But I
like to think of it this way – we actually start our day by resting. We rest, then we get up and work.
Kind of neat, isn’t it? I realize this is a cyclical thing: rest, work, rest, work, so which comes first really
isn’t the issue. It is an undeniable fact, though, that rest is very important to the workings of this
creation.choir2
One of my favorite parts of Handel’s Messiah is the part in which the alto soloist sings the beautiful
air based on Isaiah 40:11, followed by the soprano air based on Matthew 11:28, 29, completed with
the choir singing a chorus based on Matthew 11: 30.

In the alto air we are reminded that not only does our Great Shepherd tell us rest is important, He
provides it for us. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: and he shall gather the lambs with his
arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” It reminds me of
Psalm 23 where we learn that He leads us to green pastures and still waters and then He restores
our souls. The music that Handel composed for this solo speaks to me of rescue, of a protector and
nurturer in times of difficulty and weariness. It is gentle, and a bit haunting. It brings to mind a poor
little sheep that has been stumbling along the path for a long time, weary and worn and hungry, and
the shepherd appears beside him in his time of need. “Come”, the Shepherd says, “are you weary?
Let me gather you in my arms. Rest on my shoulder.” It is a picture of one who loves mercifully the
weak, dumb creatures He has called His own. He gently leads us when we have young. He
provides for our needs – both physically and, more importantly, spiritually. Sometimes I have related
to the lamb who needs to be carried, and sometimes to the one with young who needs to be led.
Either way, here we are presented with a picture of to whom it is we are to look for rest. His
character is laid out for us as a gentle shepherd who provides all his Sheep could ask for in the way
of sustenance and rest.

Having presented such a beautiful picture of our Savior, Handel takes us to Matthew 11. The
soprano, in the same hauntingly beautiful style sings of the invitation given there, “Come unto him,
all ye that labour and are heavy laden , and he shall give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and
learn of him; for he is meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Come. Come!
Bring your burdens to Christ, and He will give you rest. This rest spoken of here; it isn’t a good
night’s sleep that will only last for a day, and then will need to be replenished. This is the rest that is
given to one who labors under the burden of sin. This is the one who belongs to the cruel taskmaster,
Satan. His heart is ever full of evil, and there is no hope, until now the King comes with
power to invite this slave of sin to be under His authority. He tells us that His yoke is easy, and His
burden light. He offers us true rest – rest for our souls. His authority is one in which we are spurred
on not by the whip, but by His kindness. We obey, not from fear of punishment (because Christ has
taken that on Himself), but from a heart full of gratitude for His tender mercies towards us. We learn
from Him the joy of salvation, and the peace beyond understanding. We learn while we may lose
sleep, and comfort in this life, even perhaps our very lives, there is none that can pluck our souls
from His hand.

What a beautiful picture Handel paints with these two airs from Old and New Testament passages
each exhibiting for us the kind and gentle Savior we have who draws us to Himself to give us a rest
that is not bound by the laws of this universe in which we dwell. It is an eternal rest that was
accomplished by Jesus on the cross where He bore the wrath of God for our sins that we might bear
His righteousness. The composition is one that reflects the beauty of that rest as we enter into it.
One can almost imagine being led by those still waters in the green pastures. And our hearts can
feel the soul-rest in the ethereal voice of the soloist. Deep breath.

Suddenly the tempo changes and the choir begins to sing with a lively beat, “His yoke is easy and
his burden is light!” Each vocal part of the choir echoes the others almost in a round, as if they are
dancing around telling each other the great news. Christ invites us to come to Him with the promise
of an easy yoke and light burden. But when we come, we cannot fully comprehend the gloriousness
of that great gift until we taste the liberty that is ours, and we behold what manner of love it is that we
are called children of the Father. Then we can’t help but sing out, “His yoke is EASY! His burden is
LIGHT!” And there is great rejoicing.

And so I take comfort. I may never have a time in this life when a good night’s rest will be a given.
There may always be someone or something that will not allow me to be left to myself. But praise be
to God, I have found rest for my soul. And I can rejoice in knowing that His yoke is easy and His
burden is light.

I am Jesus’ little lamb,
Ever glad of heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need, and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same,
Even calls me by my name.
Day by day, at home, away,
Jesus is my staff and stay.
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me,
Into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst, he bids me go
Where the quiet waters flow.
Who so happy as I am,
Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended,
By his angel host attended,
He shall fold me to his breast,
There within his arms to rest.