Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Society of Judgement

I've noticed something lately, and it's a bit disturbing.

We are a society of judges.

Photo by Salvatore Vuono, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Maybe it's the prevalence of blogs, the psuedo-security of the perceived anonymity of social media like Facebook, or the focus on building everyone's self-esteem so they think they're more important than others, but I've noticed an awful lot of people spewing judgments lately.

Most of the time they don't have a lot of information, either.

For example, a few weeks ago, Melissa Rycroft hurt her neck during rehearsal of Dancing With the Stars. Possibly in an attempt to make sure people tuned in to the show, not much was released about the incident in which she injured herself.

Prior to watching the show, I came across an article talking about how Melissa should leave the flipping and crazy stunts to Shawn Johnson because as the mother of a young child she shouldn't risk such a serious injury. While there might be some validity to that assessment - Melissa does try some risky things - I had several problems with the article.

1. Melissa was injured doing a fairly basic move. 

At the time of the article, the true nature of the accident was unknown, but the author just assumed it was a fall during a daring lift. She made her assessment according to that assumption.

It wasn't correct.

Melissa doing some awesome dancing on DWTS. 
In truth, Melissa's injury was one of those freak accident kind of things - like when you turn around too fast when someone talks to you and manage to twist your ankle. Her tennis shoe gripped on the floor and her body twisted funny, causing the injury.

2. The author made assumptions about Melissa's background.

At one point the author says "Melissa was just on The Bachelor" so she shouldn't be doing these crazy stunts and flips.

Melissa was actually a professional cheerleader prior to her Bachelor days. She made be a little further from her flipping and twirling days than Shawn is, but that's a background that would inspire some fancy moves and risk. Admittedly, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are more of a dance team than a flipping team, but the physical stamina and abilities are still higher than your average woman. That background would inspire me to be a bit riskier.

Then there's the whole Lance Armstrong debacle.

Now, I'm not an avid sports fan, so I haven't pored over every available article or know all the minute details about the case, but from the several things I have seen, the average person doesn't know much.

Here's about all I've been able to find out:
        - The USADA is charging Lance Armstrong with using banned substances and doping.
        - They have several former teammates who will testify to this - some of which are athletes who failed drug tests after previous major races.
        - Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test after winning a race (or ever that I can find documented).
        - Lance is tired of fighting the accusations, which he claims are false, so he is dropping his opposition to the charges.

Photo by de:Benutzer:Hase, via Wikimedia Commons
I'll be honest - that's not a lot of information. It's enough for a lot of people though. There's even several people demanding that charitable donations to Lance Armstrong's charity be returned. Nowhere in any of the articles I've seen does anyone dispute the fact that Armstrong beat testicular cancer or accuse his charity of misusing funds. Also, despite the USADA and several media outlets attempts to make it so, Armstrong's cessation of defense does not equate to an admission of guilt.

I'm reminded of a girl in my high school. She had the reputation as the, ahem, easiest girl in the class. Jokes were made about her, people shunned her, and pretty much her reputation was in shreds. In what is probably the natural progression of that type of reputation, the rumor started that she was pregnant.

I actually talked to her once after this rumor started spreading. She told me she was a virgin and that all of that stuff had been made up. Maybe I'm naive, but I believed her. Given the fact that her belly never got big and she didn't suddenly "move away" for six months, I'm inclined the think the rumors were false.

Maybe Lance is in that kind of position. There's a lot of people saying something different than what he's saying. And because we like to judge, we want the naysayers to be right. It seems we want people to do wrong things and make bad decisions so we can judge them out of turn and have something to talk about on our many blogs and talk shows and entertainment columns.

I don't know if we're snapping to these judgments so we can feel important or smart, or maybe to feel victimized by life, but I don't want a part of it.

That isn't to say that there aren't things or people that are wrong or that we can never stand on the fact/opinion that some things are right or wrong. All I'm calling for is that we gather as much information as we can and we be willing to say when we don't have enough.

Have you noticed a spirit of judgment in yourself or those around you? What can we do to help each other stop, take a breath, and do a little research before pronouncing judgement on each other?

Friday, October 26, 2012

And now a bit of church history...

Normally I share an object lesson or little life insight on Fridays, but this week, Regency Reflections featured an amazing article on the the shifts in faith and religion during the 18th and 19th centuries in England.

I think sometimes in America we forget all the turmoil and change that the churches went through  in Europe prior to the religious history in this country. The article, posted in three parts this week, looks at John Wesley and the start of the Methodist denomination, the impact of science and the industrial revolution on faith, and prominent and powerful English figures that held strong faith and values.

Today, I'm asking you to take the time you would normally spend reading my blog (okay, maybe a little more time than normal) and read God in the Regency by Regan Walker.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Fear of Success

"The more I learn, the less I know." 

I'm not sure who said that. I'd love to attribute it correctly, but the illustrious internet gave me three possible options and about twenty variations, so, sadly, I don't know who actually said it first.

Regardless of it's origins, it's message remains true. At least in writing. I've mentioned before the stunning distance my writing has come in the past year. The thing is, the more I learn what to change in my writing, the more intimidated I get.

Because if I've learned nothing else, it's this: It's hard to write well.

Image courtesy of Phaistoon, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And the thing is, you don't really "get there". There's always classes, trends, workshops, inspirations, and insights that tweak the writing of even the most prolific of authors. While many successful writers have eschewed the classes and critique partners, you still see progress in their writing from the first book to their most recent.

All of this means it's really intimidating to knock of the door of the publishing world and say, "Hello, I'm ready."

When I first decided to pursue writing for real, my first stop was a GRW conference. My story idea garnered some attention and I gleefully sent off my submissions, excited that I could be the one in a million that gets to succeed right away.

Oh, the bliss of ignorance. I know cringe and crawl under a table when I think of the sample pages I sent to some editors last year.

But now, I've grown. My writing has grown. Several people who actually know something have said it's ready to go. And I find myself again in the happy position of having attracted some interest through query letters and conference meets.

I've had my packets ready to go for about two weeks now.

But still, I sat on them.

I began playing hours of video games and reality television. I was staying up to ridiculous hours, filling myself with mindless junk, until suddenly it hit me: I'm scared.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici,
I'm not scared they'll reject me. That will make me sad, but it isn't really that scary.

No, I'm scared they won't reject me. Because if they like it and they take it then that means I'm suddenly supposed to know something. I've gone beyond the student to having arrived somewhere. I would have credentials and they'd expect me to turn around and do it again.

Potential success is terrifying!

But giving up isn't an option, so yesterday I held my breath and hit send. I thought I would throw up. There's still a long road to travel to publication. Don't expect to buy my book on a shelf as a Christmas present this year. But, as Lao-tzu said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

I'm stepping out. I may fall and slide right back to the beginning, but that's okay. I will have seen a little higher up the mountain.

What are you afraid to try? What's stopping you - fear of failure or fear of success?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Background Stress ~ Life Lessons from a Mobile Phone Battery

Mobile phones have become essential to many people's daily lives. Many people have even stopped home phone service because their mobiles have become the only phone they use. Now, smartphones and expansive data packages have increased the amount of attention we pay to our phones.

See how far phones have come in this
display of Ericson cellphone.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons
The first cell phone my family got was actually a car phone. It was semi-permanently mounted in the car. Taking it out required a large battery compartment that you carried around in a bag. Now my phone is semi-permanently attached to my body.

It's caused me to notice something recently.

The battery life has suddenly decreased dramatically.

Phones are so much more than phones now. I play games, check email, text, control my computer remotely, listen to music, use it as an alarm clock, read books, and, oh yeah, make phone calls. All of that means my phone is, or at least feels, essential to me. When it dies, I feel very lost, so this shortened battery life is very concerning.

I set out to discover why my battery was suddenly dying in the middle of the afternoon instead of making it well into the evening. It turned out two applications I had recently loaded were doing some extensive work in the background. Even when I wasn't using them, they were sucking up my phone's resources.

Life is like a phone. When we're young, life seems so much simpler. Most of the time there was only one thing to focus on. Our most difficult decision in a day might be whether Barbie wanted to ride her horse or drive in her car. The older we get, the more hats we put into our repertoire.

I look around now and realize I'm a wife, a mother, a writer, a minister, a daughter... the list goes on and on. I'm not sure I could even make a comprehensive list of all the roles I play sometimes.

Wikimedia Commons
What I've noticed is that sometimes these roles will drain my strength and energy even when I'm not focusing on them. I could be playing a game with my children and part of my mind is thinking about an upcoming church event. Or I'm working on my book and have to stop to write an email to a family member that just keeps niggling at my mind.

A game I play once every other day or so was taking up so much of my phone that at times I couldn't make a phone call or take a picture because the battery had gotten so low. Stress, worry, and a host of other issues related with stretching yourself through life can pull at you until there's nothing left to give whatever is in front of you at that moment.

In 1 Peter 5:7 God commands us to cast all our cares upon Him. God's battery is unlimited. He is uniquely able to carry all of your issues without losing strength, hope, or focus.

What is it for you? Are you thinking about work instead of focusing on a conversation with your spouse? Is waiting for test results (whether your own or a family member's) affecting your ability to worship?

I've changed the settings on that game so that it only runs when I'm actually playing it. What settings do you need to change in your life?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The God Box ~ Jacob's Journal

New column! Starting this month, I'll be welcoming a regular visitor to my blog every month - my darling husband, Jacob. I love discussing theology with my husband and frequently marvel at his ability to explain things. I hope you enjoy his bits of wisdom as much as I do. 

As a side note, sometimes he likes to use the "big words". If I looked up a word or concept while reading his article, I added a link in case you need to look it up as well. 

Luke 10:27 HCSBLove the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.

Too many Christians today tend to live their lives compartmentalized. Our lives are divided up into little sections or rooms, like a house. There’s the living room, the kitchen, the school room, the playroom, the music room, the TV room, the bathroom, and the somewhere in the house they have a God room.

For some people the God Room is a tiny closet where they have to duck under the coats just to close the door. For others it is a grand an elaborately decorated space, kept pristine and perfect and separated from everything else. 

We go to the God Room on Wednesdays or Sundays or whatever day it is convenient for us to get a god fix. Some even visit the room every morning and then firmly shut the door before going to the next room. We go through life thinking we can carry God around in a little God box.

Our lives have become compartmentalized to the point that church, work, school, God, family, and every other aspect has its own little space and we do not let them mingle.

God did not intend for us to live with our lives divided in such a way, particularly when it comes to a relationship with Him. He wants us to live holistically with Him.

At times divisions are good and even important. There is some merit to having different personas for different circumstances as different situations have varying expectations. For instance, my father-in-law (we'll call him FIL) has two very distinct personas. Business FIL and Family FIL.

I have had the opportunity to work in business with him before and there is a distinct difference in the way he deals with people in both modes. It is quite funny to be hanging out with Family FIL, laughing and joking and playing jokes on each other, only to have the phone ring. When he receives a business call, Business FIL magically appears.

I learned early on that my wife inherited this gene. She has Business Kristi, Family Kristi, and a special adaptation I have named Phone Call Kristi. Author/Blogging Kristi is a strange combination of all of them. It's pretty fun to watch.   

But back to FIL. Business FIL is a great guy. His employees and bosses alike love him. Family FIL is a great father/father-in-law/granddad. But no matter what mode FIL is in, there’s one thing everyone knows about him: He’s a Christian. It is a part of who he is holistically, no matter what personality he puts on the outside.

The thing is, God shouldn't just have a room in your house, even if it is the best room in your house. He should be the foundation of the entire thing.

The Christian faith isn’t a compartment or room in a house to be kept secret or hid away. It is the foundation on which the house should sit. It is the foundation by which you build your entire life, and every compartment must sit on your faith.
 That means you let your faith bleed through every single area of your life. You should be a Christian at work, with friends and enemies, with your spouse, on your Myspace or Twitter, behind closed doors, and every living and breathing second of your life.
You should live for God, breathe for God, sing for God, read about God, pray to God, fear God, strive to be Godly.” (Are You A Compartmentalized Christian? Judge Yourself!, Revelation.co, September 18, 2009)

Compartmentalization of our faith is one of the biggest issues with Christianity in America today. It makes us look like hypocrites... well, I guess it makes us hypocrites. We want our spiritual void filled, but we don’t want to have to live with it all the time.

God calls us to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. When you give it all, there’s nothing left to divide.

Do you have difficulty letting God into every room in your life? What do you try to keep separate? 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moonlight and Magnolia Awesomeness

If you have time, please do me a favor and go to the actual blog to read the article by clicking here. I know several of you read this via email or RSS feed, but I need an idea of how many people are actually reading this blog. Thanks!

This past weekend I went to the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, put on by the Georgia Romance Writers. It was fabulous. Amazing. Wonderful. In other words, I had a great time.

I wanted to share a few highlights with you while it was still fresh in my mind.

1. I met Julia Quinn

Me with Julia Quinn at the M&M Book Signing

 I cannot tell you awesome this was to me.

Even though I write inspirational fiction and Julia doesn't, her writing style is probably what got me into writing in the first place. The inner kid in me jumped up and down all weekend screaming, "It's Julia Quinn!" Fortunately my outer adult had a little more control.

If I ever "make it" I hope I'm like her. A couple dozen books, New York Times Bestseller, RWA Hall of Fame, and she still is comfortable in a Wizard of Oz T-Shirt. Awesome.

2. I won third place in the Maggies

Receiving my certificate from the amazing Debby Giusti. 

I'll be honest, had I won first this would have ranked over meeting Julia Quinn, but I got third. Which is still pretty fabulous. As my dad pointed out, they even celebrate third place in the Olympics so it's a pretty good place to be. 

To have only been seriously pursuing my writing career for a year, it's an amazing place to be. I'm still a little awed. I mean, my name was on the big screen in front of 300 people, most of whom I didn't know. That's pretty cool. 

The hubby even came up and partied with me. It was a rather interesting look into the world of romance writers for him. He's heard me talk a lot about my inspirational writing buddies, but this was an all genre conference. The theme was "Corsets, Crime, and Craft". I'll let you figure out where it went from there.

Me and the hubs. Isn't he handsome? :) 

3. I learned A LOT. 

I don't have pictures and I can't even begin to remember the names of all the workshop people, but I learned so much this weekend. When it comes right down to it, that's what these conferences are for. I learned about period dress and fabrics (important to know when you write historicals!) and setting tones and layering meaning into my story.

Two workshops had big "A-Ha!" moments for me.

One was Lindi Peterson's workshop on sweet passion. I don't care what genre you write, if you have the opportunity to take her class, you should. It's a working workshop (I started to say "hands on", but given the title of the class, someone might get the wrong idea...) and I walked out of it with an amazing scene for my book. I wasn't the only one saying that either.
Here I am with Lindi at the book signing. I'm short, but not THAT short.
There's a table between us that I had to lean over. 
The other was the craft intensive with Jeffrey Stepakoff. I don't know how often he does workshops outside of the college where he works, but if he's ever in your area, check him out.

4. I actually won something!

I never win anything, so I was very excited when I won a critique from Missy Tippens. She's a friend so I probably could have gotten her to look at my stuff anyway, but now I don't have to feel guilty about it. ;)

A huge shout out to the conference committee that worked so hard to make this year's M&M amazing. Next year's will be a bit smaller, because RWA Nationals is in Atlanta next year, but if you are looking for a small conference to put on your annual radar, you can't do better than the M&M.

Were you at M&M? What did you think? What small conference have you been to that you would recommend?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Flight of Fancy ~ Peek At My Bookshelf

Break out the scones and get ready to chat because Laurie Alice Eakes stopped by today!

I'm taking a break from sharing my all time favorites to tell you about a new volume of fantastic story telling that just found its home on my bookshelf.

Flight of Fancy by the fabulous Laurie Alice Eakes is a very unique romance. We're all used to that against-the-grain, buck-the-system, out-of-the-norm heroine and we love her deeply. But Cassandra Bainbridge has a different way to avoid the norms of society - she wants to go over them.

If you follow Laurie Alice on twitter or facebook, you've been seeing her fabulous articles on ballooning. While today it's not all that uncommon to see a hot air balloon float by (if you're in the right place at the right time, you could see a whole flock of them) but in the early 19th century, it was quite a novelty.

Flight of Fancy is a beautiful tale of imperfect people and a perfect God. And a hot air balloon that manages to almost be a character in its own right.

The official blurb for Flight of Fancy:

Her head is in the clouds. His feet are planted firmly on the ground. Can love cover the distance?

Cassandra Bainbridge may be a bit of a bluestocking, but when Geoffrey Giles is near, love seems a fine alternative to passion for Greek and the physics of flight. With his dashing good looks and undying devotion to her, the earl of Whittaker sets Cassandra's heart racing with his very presence. It seems his only flaw is his distaste for ballooning, the obsession that consumes so much of her thoughts.

When a terrible accident compels her to end her betrothal, Cassandra heads for the country to recover from both her injuries and her broken heart. With time on her hands and good friends to help her, she pursues her love for ballooning and envisions a future for herself as a daring aeronaut. But when Lord Whittaker slips back into her life, will she have to choose between him and her dream?

And now give a warm welcome to Laurie Alice Eakes!

What is your favorite procrastination activity for those days you know you should be writing, but don't feel like it? 

Reading either research materials or obscure news articles. I’m a news junky.

What authors have inspired your writing style? 

I’d say Patricia Veryan and, to a lesser extent, Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge and, don’t laugh at me, Charles Dickens.

You've written a lot of books. Do you still remember the first time you held a copy of your first book? What advice would you give to writers still trying to reach that milestone? 

Oh, yes, I remember. I was living in a high rise outside Washington, D.C., and the concierge called me over to tell me I had a package. He set the box on the counter, I took out my keys and opened it there, then stood hugging the top book in the box—it was a hardcover.

Advice? Just keep writing. Nothing gets you closer faster than perseverance. And be willing to learn and listen to criticism. It isn’t always nice. It isn’t always right, and it is mostly worth sifting for a crumb of truth for improvement.

What had been your favorite "author" moment? 

Seems like each new one is better than the last. The most recent favorite is sitting down in Dallas with two editors and a marketing person from my dream publisher to talk about my upcoming Regency series for them. I was so excited and nervous I completely missed dinner and didn’t even notice—until midnight when I was starving. I felt like, “Wow, this is really happening.”

You can learn more about Laurie Alice and Flight of Fancy on Regency Reflections all this week. You can also answer some trivia questions for a chance to win a wonderful gift basket that includes an Amazon gift card.

Flight of Fancy is available from most major retailers. Special thanks to Laurie Alice and Revell for my copy of the book.

Friday, October 5, 2012

God Provides ~ Life Lessons from a Barbie Doll

We're filling shoeboxes at my house this week. If you haven't heard of Operation Christmas Child, it is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse. They collect shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, school supplies, and other goodies and distribute them to children in poor countries. Children that have likely never seen a Christmas present before.

Operation Christmas Child As a lover of everything Christmas, I adore this ministry. I love that I can be a part of bringing a piece of Christmas to a child that otherwise would not see any of it. And with each shoebox, they distribute the Gospel message, bringing hope that lasts far longer than the boxes contents.

This year, we are having each of our kids fill a shoebox for a child their own age. My oldest, Bean, is so excited about it that she's about to bust at the seams.

Earlier this week we went shopping. We hit the discount store and the dollar store, snagging some great stuff to put in our boxes. Bean wanted to put a Barbie in her box. I told her we would get one at the dollar store, since the recipient wasn't likely to know or care about the brand of the doll.

I didn't know that the dollar store doesn't carry Barbie-like dolls anymore.

When we left the dollar store it was too late to go back to the discount store. We told Bean we'd pick the doll up later in the week.

She started to cry.

Now it's always hard to listen to your child cry, but it's especially hard when she's crying because she wants to do something for someone else and doesn't think she's going to get to. (As a side note, she has also cried when we forget to bring our food bank donation to the church. I love this girl's heart.) Between sobs, she choked out phrases like, "But I want to get it for her." and "I know that little girl would love the doll!"

As we drove home, I remembered something. Several months ago I received a coupon in the mail for Kohl's. I used it to buy a Barbie doll to stick in the gift closet for Bean's next birthday party invite. There was a doll - a nicer one than Bean wanted to buy - waiting at home.

My husband was talking to my daughter, telling her that God would make sure the little girl got everything she was supposed to get. Finally, my daughter calmed down and remembered the faithfulness of the God she loved. She said that God could do anything. He could even make her a Barbie.

At home I went to hunt down the Barbie doll and Bean hit her knees by her bed, praying that God would make sure that the little girl got the doll she was supposed to have and could He please bring it soon because Bean was really worried about it.

I'll never forget the look on her face when I laid the doll in front of her on the bed.

It's a ballerina with brown hair. Just like my daughter. It's like she's sending herself in the box to that little girl on the other side of the world.

As I sit here, recalling the evening, I am struck again at how God works. He had a plan for that doll. What I thought was just an act of frugality and forethought, He was going to use to teach my daughter, and me, about His faithfulness and love.

Our church is collecting the shoeboxes this weekend. When I see it packed away, I know a piece of my heart will go with it. And I'm okay with that. There's a little girl somewhere in the world that could use that extra dose of love so that she can learn about the God that never fails to provide what His children need most.

Even when it's a Barbie doll.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Clearing Out and Cleaning Up

My house is more upside down than normal right now, but it's gong to be worth it.

In one week I'll cart a van full of stuff of to a consignment sale. It's a win-win! I clear some stuff out of my house AND get paid for it!

One thing I've noticed, for me at least, is that when I'm clearing things out or organizing, things get a lot messier before they get cleaner. Right now my living room looks like it could be a consignment store in its own right.

Clothes are thrown over all the furniture, unused toys are stacked by the fireplace, and supplies and other accouterments cover most every other available surface.

When it's all said and done though, it will be nice to have all of this stuff out of my house. Clutter makes it hard to clean, hard to find things, and hard to store other things that we actually use and want to keep. So while I'm tired of the mess, I'm excited about the outcome.

Have you ever cleaned out for a yard sale or just a big donation run? What was the best part?