Keeping in Step with Jesus (Vlog)

In the middle of all that goes into releasing a book and talking about a book and promoting a book**, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. This entry from Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” (October 12th) was encouraging to me; I hope it encourages you. (forgive my cough; of course, as soon as I began to speak, my voice got all scratchy).

 

**Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas

 

 

On Being Famous (and Writing a Book)

True confession: Last week my husband and I high-tailed it home from our Wednesday Night Home Group to watch the finale of America’s Got Talent. Did you see it?! Our favorite young contestant, Darci Lynne, won! No big deal you say, but hang in there with me.

Darci Lynne is an amazing 12-year-old ventriloquist who not only can talk without moving her lips. She sings. Very well. We had been following Darci Lynne’s journey and were overjoyed when she won. Television hardly captured the emotion of the moment. Oh, the sparkle and applause and tears and complete, stunning joy; it was a delight to see her innocence and authentic astonishment.

In interviews prior to the last evenings’ performances, another little girl, aged 9, with a voice like a pint-sized Celine Dion, beamed for the camera. When asked why she wanted to win, she replied, “My name would be in lights. I want to be a super star.”

Darci Lynne told the world that if she won the million-dollar prize, she’d buy her mom a new dishwasher and give “a bunch of money to missions at our church.”

No mention of being famous, or wanting to see her name on a marquee.

Darci Lynne’s humility reflected her groundedness—grateful and confident in the gifts she had, but knowing they weren’t for her glory. She wanted other people to be inspired, she said, and many were. A portion of the show featured video clips sent in folks from around the country-young and old-who said they wanted to be just like her.

Would to God we would all carry our gifts with such open hands.

/ / / / /

As I pondered what we witnessed that night on TV, I reflected on a conversation an hour earlier at Home Group. We are loved and cared for there like family, having walked a whole lot o’ miles with these dear friends. Prior to our gathering, my friend G. asked how the book I wrote** is coming. (You have friends like this, yes?) I told him the book is complete and I am waiting for a proof copy from the printing company as we speak.

“You must be walking one foot off the ground, huh? Like super-excited?”

“Uh, no,” I replied. “Not yet.”

“After people buy the book and I get to hear how the message helped them find new joy or be set free, then I’ll be excited. I’m passionate about what God has given me to share; if readers find my words beneficial, that news would have me walking a foot off the ground.”

/ / / / /

I don’t think any of us who process our world with words wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, I’m gonna write a book!” (Well, actually that’s what I did. Because I.had.no.idea.) But still, when you know how much discouragement and discipline and stress and no sleep and fill-in-the-blank it takes to dream of a book, draft a book, revise a book and get the thing published, there’s no way anyone would want to do that.

Except. Unless. Unless you have a message of encouragement and freedom that’s burning in your spirit that you want to bring to others. Unless you’ve been gifted with a clarity that you want others to see. Unless you have a desire to inspire or edify or….. a hundred other things.

That is why we write.

Not because we want to be rich and famous. (Uh, no on the rich. Maybe on the ‘famous.’) No—we write because God has trusted us with the gift of bringing our words into the world so ultimately He gets the glory.

And if it changes one life or a hundred or a thousand, then it is all worth it. All of it. That is why we write. Not for fame, certainly not fortune, but to “cast our bread upon the water and you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

Keep on casting your bread, my friends, whatever you have in your hand to share.

It isn’t yours anyway.

– – – – –

This post is an expanded version of comments in the Hope*Writers Facebook group, as well as Glory Writers, a group for Christian Creatives that I facilitate. The label says ‘closed’ but just knock on the door. 

**Surprise! “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas” is available sooner than I expected…Amazon doesn’t have the print book yet but you can order the ebook.

Next week I’ll write an actual, factual book announcement. There won’t be any golden confetti, but come back anyway.

#On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

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I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

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Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass.

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My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

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The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

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We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

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I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

*****

Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

Why Your Story Matters

Some friends and I were having lunch the other day, discussing various challenges to find the time to write—caring for children, caring for our homes, talking with spouses, all manner of delights and duties. Then there was the other ‘D’—distractions.

In between bites of fish and chips, I lamented the ease with which I am sucked into all sorts of social media vortexes. That particular morning it was Instagram—and decried the slippery decline away from what I actually set out to do—write an original thought or two, unhindered by all those other voices.

My friend Holly told us about what she called a ‘download’ earlier that week straight from God’s heart to hers—a message that everyone’s story matters, especially the stories of those who feel they have no voice. (She’s drafting a six-week workshop on just that very thing—such a needed message.) Each one of us chimed in with our individual roadblocks to writing and the ways we fall into listening to all the other noisy gongs out there. Then we circled back to the truth–we each have a story to tell that is uniquely our own. Adoptive mom, recovered trauma victim, heart transplant survivor, grandparent and over 60 book author….a vastly diverse group.

When I sat with our iced tea and lunchtime conversation running through my head the next morning, I heard the Holy Spirit remind me what we writers do: tell the world what we know from where we are in our own way. But the white noise of other voices—actual flesh & blood ones, or virtual via Facebook, Instagram or other writers—can drown out the voice of our Shepherd Jesus.

Then I thought of the words about Jesus in John 10:3, “…and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls out his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And verse 4 “…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

I find myself often battling not only the subtle shouts of other people’s words but the shoulds. “I should write about this,” “I should sound like this,” and so on.  But that’s a way of being pushed, not led.

Jesus leads us out, the enemy of our soul prods and pokes and pushes. I want my words to take me where God leads. I don’t want to make up content or manufacture an idea—I have all I need with the life I live to write from what I already have. My life experience is different from your life experience and the way I flesh out my walk with God may be an encouragement to you. I want to write about that.

Another thing about sheep (face it, baaaaa…) sheep are confined; they know their boundaries—and they only go somewhere else when the Shepherd moves them. I often want to be in a different pasture than my own, different circumstances, a better place. But the problem with looking over fences at other peoples’ ‘property’, real or imagined, is I’m left dissatisfied and there it is again, distracted, from the words God has given me to share.

There is only one voice, one vision and one view from where I stand. That’s all I can tell you about. As I stay where I am, nibbling on this ‘grass’ from God, I want to hear Him the way Holly did that day, to get a regular ‘download’ of ideas and words to share. And I remember I can.

When we belong to God we can all hear from Him if we are open to listening. I want to keep tuning into His voice.

What about you?

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My lunchmates and I are part of an online and in real life group called Glory Writers. Find out more about joining us in our Facebook group here. 

Why Writing a Book is Like Building a House

Hi friends~ you know I’m writing a book, yes? Oh, you didn’t? Well~

The practical and helpful volume-to-come is titled “Living the Season Well-Engaging Your Family in All of Christmas.” The heart of Living the Season Well is helping parents and grandparents find ways to slow down and simplify Christmas, embracing not just one single day of presents, but making room for God’s presence. In LTSW I share from my own Evangelical perspective what I’ve learned about church year traditions and observances, providing ways for families to adopt or adapt the ideas. My own experience of becoming acquainted with liturgy of the church year has helped re-focus my approach to the season of Christmas–that is the message I have to share.

I began my book-writing process a few days after Christmas last year and am looking to launch in October of this year.

Besides having a book that is ‘under construction’, we have a window project that began last year right after Thanksgiving, which is also in process. In fact, we have ladders placed as a permanent fixture in front of our house, waiting for the day when my husband can get back up and finish the installation of new siding. In the meantime I’m grateful for the cover of our birch trees that are filling in with their leaves, hiding a view of our construction zone from the street.20170515_124619

We have had another project under construction for five years–the roof on our back deck. But life keeps getting in the way, in challenging in cheerful ways. All of this got me to thinking about the process of writing a book and how it might compare to building a house. I’m not a contractor, but I think the comparison fits.

A few months back I wrote about Seven Things I’ve Learned About Writing a Book. Here are seven more discoveries–how writing a book is (sort of)like building a house:

Step 1–PLANS–the blueprint

First there is an idea, a revelation, if you will.

You draw (or write it) down–penscratching on a napkin back or use pencil scribbles in a web of words

The message is refined. You’re ready to begin.

Step 2–FOUNDATION–the bedrock 

Are you sure there’s a need for this book?

Research, gather facts, be willing to learn

Lay the groundwork in your mind of what you’re going to ‘build’

Step 3–FRAMING (2×4’s providing structure)

This is the skeleton, a place to hang your words

Write an outline, use bullet points,

Number headings and a. b.c…..; use the whole alphabet if needed

Step 4–BUILDING (the walls, sheetrock, plumbing, electrical)

Write, write, write.

Write some more. Pound that keyboard, use that eraser.

Flesh out the picture you have in your head

Step 5–APPLIANCES/FIXTURES (the finishing touches)

Revise, revise, revise.

That’s all. Things are looking much prettier.

See all that shiny-ness? (think stainless steel)

Step 6-FINISH (painting, decorating)

Choose a book cover

Write the Acknowledgments

Send your words to a designer

Hold your breath and pray

Step 7-HERE’S THE KEYS! (your house is ready)

Introduce your book to the world and invite people to come and see what you saw.

Take lots of pictures of your book warming party

Thank the crew who helped you with the project

(and buy new pencils; you never know when another idea may strike!)

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Will you join me on my writing journey? I’m gathering a book launch tribe of 75 folks and would love to have your help, especially if  you’re on social media often. The book campaign begins August 15th. Email me at jodyo70(at)gmail dot com if you’d like to take part and I’ll send you the schedule and more info. I’d be ever so grateful. (Or leave a note here in the Comments).

Thank you!

 

 

 

Shaping the River Into Words

“My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.  

I pour it out in a poem to the king, shaping the river into words:”

Psalm 45:1, The Message

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Some people are artists who process their world through paint and pen, fabric, clay, paper. Thoughts become images or design, an expression of what’s inside or what inspires. Others are musicians, turning their experience or expression into lyrics and orchestration, poetry put to harmony and melody.

My experiences and ideas pour out in words providing a way to rein in my random, swirling thoughts.  Perhaps the swirling is because I am currently seated on the couch surrounded by other voices–poets and writers whose work inspires and informs my life. I am seeking for a way to borrow some of their expressions to describe my own because sometimes I’m not sure what I think or feel until I read it in the lines of another writer’s words.

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God gave me the Psalm 45 verse above many, many years ago when He confirmed my calling as a writer. I didn’t want to own it for many years, but I can trace the path of God’s hand on my life as a witness that this is so; I am beginning to live into that calling more each day.

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Psalm 34

I cannot tell a story more profound/than stars, a single blade of grass/a lilac breasted roller/painted by Your hand/all designed in perfection/for your pleasure

I ponder bones, flesh, blood/coursing through vessel highways/mechanics beyond human ability/eyes of sea green/topaz/aquamarine, variety for beauty’s sake/and glory shines.

-Karin Fendick, “Ashes to Glory”

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Life has been very ‘big’ lately; a new baby joined our family on Sunday night, a grandson turned 11 the same day (and he forgave me for wishing him a “happy 10th birthday” on his birthday card.) A dear friend is experiencing the gray days of loss as she mourns her father’s death and deals with her mother’s grief. My daughter is carrying her own kind of grief and seeking healing for the loss of yet another baby who has gone to Heaven, her fourth.

cropped-56a1f-dsci0354.jpgJune threatens to burst its banks with color and birdsong, skies the color of a robin’s egg and late evening views that put the most sparkling orange jewels to shame.  Sometimes it’s all too much to rein in, as if my senses can’t quite grasp the sights, colors and sounds. I need a better vocabulary to speak of what I see.

Perhaps you can relate.

Scripture tells us the skies have speech without a sound. Silent stars, magnificent, rolling clouds, cobalt blue sunrises. flaming orange sunsets shout with their own words, “there is a Creator.” After God made the world by His word He sent Jesus to become the living Word. John 1 says that Jesus ‘dwelt among us.’ How is that possible? How can the Word dwell among us, live with us or in us? I believe one way He does that is through what we say, speak, and write. Our words have power to bring peace to someone, to provide joy or comfort and create a way for someone to say, “that’s exactly the way I feel.”

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”    -Anais Nin

I’m living in a more cautious place these days as I reckon with the power of that gift to open a window for others to see God in a different way or provide a vessel to carry their own expressions when life gets too big.

My heart bursts its banks as I pour out my words to the King who has entrusted me with this one voice I have. My prayer is I will carry it well.

 

May, March and April in Books #ReadUpstream

In keeping with the inauguration of the #ReadUpstream movement, I’m going to speak a little about what I’ve been reading and maybe entice you to do your own reading ‘upstream’; i.e. choosing classics and good books that speak to your heart, even if no one else is reading them. More about the origin of #ReadUpstream is here.

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When it comes to those things that bring me joy, I’m not sure whether I fancy birds or books more. Perhaps equally. I have books with ‘birds’ in the title melding those two—a love of reading and a fascination with my avian friends. There is much I learn from both—life lessons from the birds, echoing God’s message of carefree, trust-filled living and lessons in the lines of the many books that populate my home.

I often am reading many books at one time, which is why the title of this post is “March, April and May in Books.” There are many books that continue to engage me, but I will attempt to whittle down the list to include some of my current favorites.

  1. Fierce Convictions—The Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, Karen Swallow Prior

I first learned the name of Hannah More in the film ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006) about William Wilberforce and his campaign against the slave trade. There was a small part played by a feisty young woman named Hannah, whose name I catalogued for later. The later arrived with the release in 2014 of this book by Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University.

Hannah More’s life was set in the backdrop of Bristol, England in the early 1700’s, a historical period that was the height of the slave trade in Europe. I’ve only just begun reading how Hannah and her sisters started a school for women, an outright novelty for the day and age, as well as learning of the unheard of practice for her to spend time–imagine this–writing in a place of her own-mostly poetry. This particular privilege was made possible by the allowance of kind benefactor who was a previous suitor.

Hannah and I have much in common—a love of writing and reading and a background in education. Of course, the part we don’t share is an experience in opposing the slave trade. That tale is ahead of me in this book and I look forward to reading it.

Continue reading “May, March and April in Books #ReadUpstream”