Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Prayer, Jabez, & My Dad

This post is more meaningful for me than any other that I wrote since I started blogging five years ago; but, this is one post that must be shared...even if in my fragmented telling.

In 2006 I lost my father, watched him died, and since then I placed the facade of healing and strength around me. I had to be there for my mother. I had to be there for my sister, for my brother, even for my sons who had just lost their father barely two months prior. But there was no one for me, and I didn't turn to God for that shoulder to lean upon, or to be held in His arms against his bosom, holding me and protecting me. I didn't do that. I pretended and eventually believed my own lie.

How could I believe my own lie? I didn't look back. I ignored the pain. But pain has a way of festering, unknown deep down in the heart and soul. Eventually it will rise no matter how deep I buried it.

Last night I had a dream about my dad. Right now, once again financial situations have hit us and burdened my heart. Hunger, stress, illness, and all things that come with hardships are lurking near. And in my dream, I remember asking my dad if I could grab some from the treasure chest to help us. He smiled, his dimples deep in his cheeks, "Sure. Go ahead and grab what you want. That's what it's there for." I grinned and my husband and I raced up the hill to open the treasure chest. Although we had to make our way through some difficult obstacles and help a few little creatures (that part of the dream is a bit fuzzy), we eventually made it to the chest that was in the back of the room.

Then today I came across a post that mentioned Jabez. Years ago when the Prayer of Jabez was the rage, I ignored it. I don't do fads, in fact they irritate me. But I looked up the prayer that Jabez spoke: 
"Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested.

I read that and all I can think is that I'm not worthy of asking for anything. Why should I ask for money? Or a house? Or enough to keep us healthy and safe? 

And as soon as those words entered my head, I remembered my dad. I remembered his hand upon my head when I learned my husband died. I remembered his smile and the smell of automobile grease, sawdust, and drywall--smells that I associated with him, a carpenter. I remembered his laugh and his beautiful golden flecked green eyes. I remembered how much I loved him and still do. I remembered how much I miss him and wish for him to be here with me. I want and need my father.

That is when I realize (even as I type this) that I long for my father's love. He is not here anymore, but if I feel like this about my earthly father, then how do I feel about my heavenly Father?

I want His love! I want His hand upon my head and to tell me it will be okay. I want his arms to hold me and squeeze so tight that I have no doubt that I am loved, wanted, and protected. I want Him to show me that I am His precious daughter and what I wish, I will receive.

And what do I wish for? I wish for a home. I wish for a comfortable savings in the case of trouble. I wish for another child. I wish for a resurgence of faith and love within my heart.

If I add my requests in the same format of Jabez's, it would probably look like this:
"Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my home, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain." It wouldn't be much different from Jabez's. 

It took remembering my father and dreaming of him for me to realize that I need to remember my Father and look to Him. He has a treasure chest for me and it's for me to open, all I need to do is ask.

Please, Lord, may I open your treasure chest?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Prodigal and The Black Sheep

Many readers stated that they wanted to know more about me and what inspired me to write. Even a little history on how my stories came to be. As I become accustomed with this idea, I'm sure I will become better at relating more about me, my life, and my books, but to start....

There's a part of me that is the rebel, who does not conform to the world and blazes a different trail than most; and because of this, I have this affection for the stories of wayward sons or daughters, of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, for the rebel.

Like most people say, girls like the bad boys, but it isn't the bad as in evil, it's the good hiding behind the facade of bad. It's seeing deeper into the person and into their hearts, knowing and believing that there is a good person there.

The story of the prodigal son is well known. The younger son leaves and lives in the world, reveling in its pleasures until he is left with nothing but shame and guilt. He heads home, willing to be the lowly servant, not deserving of being his father's son. But his father welcomes him back with open arms, happy to have his son return home: "for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found". (Luke 15:11-32)

This is a story of unconditional love and forgiveness, a story that mimics God's love for us.

The prodigal son was the rebel, the black sheep. Even though he found redemption, he still had that nature in him to blaze his own way.

When I was little my mother introduced me to movies she watched when she was little and I saw on television the prodigal sons, the black sheep, the rebels portrayed by Steve McQueen, James Dean, David Cassidy, eventually watching Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, and a host of others. These characters represented lost souls or wandering souls. By watching them, I started wondering if I could write stories where the black sheep of the family found redemption.

And that became the start of Mississippi Nights. Who couldn't fall in love with David or Jeremy? David is the prodigal son, returning home, hiding his shame. Jeremy is the older brother, resentful of his younger brother's acceptance back into the family after being gone for so long and abandoning his faith. 

When this story first started out, I was only 14. I didn't know anything about life to be able to write, but I had an idea. Of course, the story was more secular in nature. But as I matured, as I lived and experienced life, the joys and heartaches, the story came back to me when I was 35. I revamped the characters and decided that David would be the central theme of the story; this black sheep of the family would be the key to reconciliation. 

It wasn't a logical progression in writing. Even I didn't know what they would do sometimes. I fell into my own story, threw in my own grief, spread across the pages my own joys and faith. Eventually I produced a story that brought two wayward brothers back together and showed that even though we, as Christians, will never be perfect, God will never leave us.

Even now, I still write about the lost soul or the wayward son. In my next novel, Scott no longer wants to believe. He's that wonderful and kind lost soul who grabs at your heart. Then there's Ethan, a younger brother in one of my series, brilliant, wild, and so much a rebel. He will drive you half mad, but his heart is so soft and warm. 

These will be my stories of redemption, reconciliation, and rebirth. These books will be the stories of the prodigals, the black sheep, and the rebels.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Omega Bell

There's a sound so haunting that it stays with you no matter how many years have passed and no matter if you've moved on.

It's the three rings of the Omega Bell as it peals across the air, a heart rending, yet beautiful sound.
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Service 2006
Photo by Daphne M. Webb (Daphne Self)

When firefighters rush to a scene, leaving bay doors open and a station empty, it is commonplace to worry and pray. Will they come home?

Pleas and prayers will shoot up to the heavens. The men, and nowadays women, fight to protect people and property. They lay their lives on the line so that others may live. They are beyond brave. Their courage pours from their hearts and souls. Historically, the toll of a bell summoned members to the station, signaled the beginning of a shift, notified departments of a call for help, and the bell is rung three times, indicating a call was completed and the unit had returned to the station.

Today it is used for a different reason. And I've experienced those haunting tones.

When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, after the eulogies, after the service, the bell is brought forth. A solemn quiet, pregnant with emotions barely kept in check, descends.  Hushed cries, trembling hands and chins, people clinging to each other for support await in anticipation.

One. My heart is torn.
Two. My sobs are barely quieted.
Three. My soul cries out.

Three rings of the Omega Bell, announcing that the fallen firefighter has arrived home.

Not many people will experience the loss of a firefighter. I lost a part of my soul that day. Even though I have now moved on and remarried, the memory of that bell reminds me that life is so precious and I'm to live it to the fullest every day, for God's glory.

Someday, the haunting sounds of the Omega Bell on earth will be the joyous sounds of an Omega Bell in heaven.

To find out more about the fallen heroes, go to www.firehero.org, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. There you can learn more about Bells Across America for Fallen Firefighters.

Strategies to Writing: Part 3

These last strategy points will be brief and practically self-explanatory.

--11. Cultivate an "obsession" with your novel.
         Never see it as a chore, but as an escape or as a "lover". For you fellow fantasy geeks, be Gollum with your "precious".
        Once writing becomes a chore, you loose interest and the novel will not resonate with the love you poured into it. It will read as a dry, cookie cutter novel.
        Your readers will pick up on this.

--12. Let God do in you what each book is supposed to do.
         If you write about the destruction of pride, then do not let pride take over you.
         Redemption? Love? Grace?
         If you write to better a person's life or uplift a soul, then make sure you allow God to lead you.

--13. Do not follow false deadlines.
         Unrealistic deadlines do an author no good. Expectations become accelerated.
         Set realistic goals and do not strive to be like others. Books differ per person. Be true to yourself, even if it seems as though you don't measure up. It's not other authors you need to worry about.

--14. Don't waste time on envy of other writers.
        This is, oh so, destructive!
        Your journey is not the same as another. Your road will always be different.
        Never compare yourself with another.
        Never strive to be like another.
        Be you!
        Write your book, at your pace, in your way.

--15. Listen to MUSIC!
        Music is the soul of words. The chords and arrangements weave a tapestry that inspires your mind.
        What kind of music?
        That depends on you.

This is the last of writing posts, at least for a while. Next week starts a brand new outlook for Pen, Paper, & a Keyboard. 

Leave your thoughts and/or comments. I enjoy reader feedback.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Strategies to Writing: Part 2

Continuing from last week's blog, I plan to address the next five strategies that have helped me in my writing. These are things I learned from conferences, editors, and other successful authors.

Remember these are not set in concrete rules nor are they the holy grail of writing. Basically these are suggestions and proven techniques that many authors find helpful.

--6. Write yourself a note at the end of your writing for the day. This will indicate what you would have done (written) next if you had continued.
       --Tell what would come next
       --Use outlines, post-it notes, margin remarks, or notes jotted in a notebook
       Ex: snippets of dialogue
              brief descriptions

--7. Read as much as you can. It will improve your writing. Try to branch your reading into genres you don't write. The more you read, the more ideas will flow.

--8. Write down ideas as soon as they come to you. This, I understand, is particularly hard to do when you are in the shower.
       One good way, and a technique I use, is to keep an idea journal. The social media site, Pintrest (clink on link to see how I use it), can be beneficial in finding and organizing ideas, character representations, and settings for a book.

--9. Ignore the market.
       While you write, ignore that market and the business side of writing. Push it aside. Your writing time is for writing--not worrying or researching platforms, brands, marketing tips and trends, and comparable titles.

--10. Pay attention to the market.
         What?, you say.
          Yes. Write your novel, but ignore the market as you write. After you are through writing, take on the role of paying attention to the market.
          Know the realities, but do not dwell upon it. Read recommended books about marketing. Learn and compare your options.

Next week I will conclude with the last five strategy techniques.

What techniques have you found beneficial?