Thursday, February 28, 2008

Q and A: Human Good, Part 2

QUESTION: (PART 2) I fully believe that when non-Christians do good things there is no redemption in their actions. That's only through Christ... But isn't the fact that they are even able to do something good --"good" being something one can only define by God's principles -- a sign of God's image/creation?

ANSWER: Satan's sin was not the desire to be opposite of God, but to be like Him (Is 14:13). He has ministers of righteousness who teach people how to be righteous (2 Co 11:14, 15). How to do good. It is a total corruption of what God is. Satan has systems -- religion is the best of them -- for corrupting God's plan and subtly impugning his character. If you look at sin as being beyond immorality, but really thinking and acting in independence from God, which is what it is, then the good is only good in man's eyes, and is despicable in God's.

As I said yesterday, all those righteous deeds performed in the power of the flesh revolt Him. That which is highly esteemed in the eyes of men is detestable to God (Luk 16:15). I guess I'd have to say technically you're right in that the counterfeit and corruption do point to the original... but what is the point of looking at the alleged "good" being performed by people as being a sign of God's image? It's like looking at a counterfeit bill and saying, "Well, this counterfeit bill tells me there's a real bill somewhere that this was copied and corrupted from."

Hmm. Actually, you wouldn't even know it was a counterfeit unless you were already totally familiar with the real. It's almost like what's being said in this line of thinking is that even though the good done in human power is totally disgusting to God, it's actually a little bit good because it's a sign of God's image.

I don't think so. I think because it's a corruption of God's character, and a substitute for God's ways, that it's a great deception and evil, a deception designed to turn people away from God. And if God thinks it's gross and disgusting, then I think we should, too.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Q and A: Residual Imprint or Human Good?

QUESTION: I've enjoyed your thoughts/truths again in your blogs, "Planting Thoughts" and "Spiritual Schizophrenia" and had a question to pose: While those who are "dead in...sins" (Eph 2:1) and our sin nature are completely opposed to God, we are still made in God's image, albeit fallen. And so, in my mind, there is still that residual imprint of His--we see it everywhere, in His creation, in human beings--it is why we long for restoration in Him. Would you agree with this, or do you believe that's just the "human good" that's showing up?

ANSWER: I'd like to start by pointing out something that people always seem to miss when they bring up the "God created us in His image" concept. Actually, God created Adam and the woman in His image, as documented by Gen 1:27. However, after Adam fell, he "lived one hundred and thirty years [and] became the father of a son IN HIS OWN LIKENESS, ACCORDING TO HIS [i.e., Adam's] IMAGE, and named him Seth (Gen 5:3) Since the Bible is careful to make a distinction here, I think it's important we understand why.

In Gen 1:27, the word for image connotes a shadow image and is talking primarily about the soul. Our souls are framed in God's image as it were, with self-consciousness, mentality, volition, vocabulary, norms and standards, memory, etc. All qualities God's word shows that He has as God. Adam and the woman were also perfect in body and soul and spirit, but once they fell they were not perfect. Their bodies were corrupted with a sin nature and they were spiritually dead, incapable of having a relationship with God on their own and, being cut off from God at that point, incapable of doing anything good in His eyes. All our righteousnesses are as filthy, menstrual rags. From the top of our head to the bottom of our feet, there is no soundness in us.

We can't actually see God in His creation, but even in its fallen state, "His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made so that [unbelievers] are without excuse." Creation brings us to the point of being conscious that there is a God, and from there we decide whether we want a relationship with Him or not. I don't consider that as falling under the "human good" category.

Nor do I think the longing after Him is human good. The reason some of us yearn for Him is because "He has set a desire for eternal things in the heart of every man..." (Eccl 3:11) When a person reaches the point of realizing there is a God and has a desire to know about him, then God will bring the appropriate information to him. Which is what I think you are talking about in our yearning for Him.

This longing is a fragile spark and if it is not nurtured or acted upon it will grow dim. Thus not everyone longs for God. Many people want nothing to do with Him. They may feel the lack, the hole but instead of filling it with God, they seek to fill it with the things of the world. Which is futile, as the book of Ecclesiastes shows us. Others convince themselves they are quite satisfied with their lives as they are living them, happy to believe the lie that they are the "Captain of their own ship and the masters of their fate".

It's volition that determines the difference. The desire to know God versus the desire to go independent from Him, which is really what Satan's original sin was about. Being independent from God.

I also believe there is an element of yearning in us for what we lost in Adam -- the original glory that Adam had, the spiritual element that he lost -- I think we're all in some way conscious of the lack, conscious of the fact that without Him we are not whole. But it may not be a cognizant consciousness. Just a general sense of incompleteness that tends to drive people again, toward all those experiments Solomon pursued in Ecclesiastes.

And of course there is the sin nature part, that makes it even more obvious how flawed we all are.

Tomorrow, part two of this reader's question.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jigsaw Puzzles and Empty Stages

From my nonstop as a part of today's writing efforts:

"I’m swimming around. I’m tumbling along in a washing machine. I don’t know what I’m doing. But from reading my previous writing journals this is common. This is usual, actually. I just did a provisional sketch of a scene I feel needs to be here, but… I don’t know how to integrate it. So right now it’s just there.

"The way I write just seems so wrong. Where’s the outline? Where’s the orderly forward momentum? Why is it so amorphous and confused? Why? Why? Why?

"I don’t know.

"One of the things that seems to be happening is that I write something in a sequence and then start breaking it up, inserting new parts, moving sections of the original further and further back.

"I’m kind of going through the scene and sequel cards I had made up and they seem to be fitting, sort of. I also have a list of plot events I want, but when I look at those I am dismayed because I’ve only managed to get two of them into the story so far. But maybe most of them occur at the story's end. And right now this story's end is far more in place that its soggy, wandery middle.

"I have lots of partial scenes and scraps. Do they go together or not? Aack! Why can't I decide?

"There is no need to freak out and get all agitated. God has everything under control. This is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces are here. Yes, there are parts of other puzzles mixed in, but eventually all of it will be sorted out and this picture come together. I know that is the case because God is behind it. God knows. I don’t. So I’ll just keep plugging. One word at a time. That’s really what it is, too. One word at a time."
But I am progressing, working on Chapter 17 now (and you might recall that at my last report I was on ch 14), with some of it already pulled out and held for chapter 18. I have too much plot, but that's standard for me. I read my journal entry for two years ago when I was working on RotGK and I was saying the same things. Too much plot. No direction. Elements floating around with no clear place to go.

Today I thought that perhaps having Quigley as a distraction isn't really going to make all that much difference since even if I was focusing all my attention on the book for eight hours a day, I still wouldn't have gotten any further.

Another analogy is that it's like I'm watching a darkened stage, waiting for the players and scenery to emerge from the draperies. So far nothing has emerged, though I hear snatches of conversations, rumblings and rustlings. Still, after awhile staring at the empty stage gets boring and I lose interest and so go off to something more entertaining. Which today, was play with Quigley (who was very good).

So today was a thinking and simmering day. And tomorrow? Who knows!


Monday, February 25, 2008

Perfectionism Strikes Again

Well, Stu returned from his trip on Saturday night and we all had a very good day on Sunday. I went to church and Stu worked on the fence. Quigley was out in the yard with him for much of the day, and quite mellow by evening. Though we did have visit from Mr. Hyde for a few hours this afternoon, most of today was good in a lot of ways, too.

Quig's finally starting to get "sit". Food definitely motivates him. I can wipe him down with a cloth, put him in the crate for varying periods of time with almost no fuss (especially in the morning) and there was almost no humping. Biting has reduced to him putting his teeth alongside my arm/hand rather than on it. Mostly... At least I've sustained no new wounds for the last two days.

Even so I woke up this morning -- as I've awakened for far too many mornings lately -- feeling tense, anxious, and out of sorts. Not wanting to get up and face it all. Since I'd already figured out that I really was going to give it to God, and not be trying to solve things and that my husband was going to play a big part in it all, I couldn't see why I was anxious and tense. But after sorting through some things and talking to the Lord, He finally showed me what was at the bottom of it: some ridiculous, unvoiced, unrealized standards that I had laid upon myself and Quigley both. The old perfectionism again. Not only did I have to do everything right when it came to training/living with him, but he had to, too. This is completely irrational, I know.

But we are all irrational people. Ecclesiastes says the hearts of men (in their flesh) are full of evil and insanity all of their lives. What's weird is that this standard can be there lurking behind and in my motivation, and it took me so long to realize it. My sin nature had taken control yet again in demanding that I do everything right. Or Else.

Who wouldn't be tense with that kind of demand? It's impossible to fulfill and I knew it, even if I wasn't thinking about any of it consciously.

I've been through this so many times (albeit with different scenarios) that recognizing it was a relief. I just acknowledged how ridiculous it was to think I was going to do everything perfectly, and even more to think that of a 13 week old puppy. Once I did, the tension dissolved. It's so freeing to know that it doesn't really matter if we fail or not, especially in something like this. We're still perfect in God's eyes and that's what matters. Not only that, but I know that He is here, part of this process, knowing everything before it ever happens, and having His plan already in place... I may not know what I'm doing, but He does.

So, while I don't expect that Quigley is going to be the model puppy from now on, nor that I am going to make all the right decisions, being able to fail has brought the peace back. I can fail, Quig can fail and God can still make it right. In fact, I know He is working through all of it, just not in accordance with any pattern or "plans" that I can see. Which is pretty much how it is most of the time, these days.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nonstop Blog

I have no idea what I'm going to do for a blog post tonight, but it's Sunday and I want to put something up. I have a couple of prepared posts, but I think the Lord's telling me, "Not tonight." So what am I going to post?

How about I try a little nonstopping on the blog post and see what comes up? I'm tired. It's been a difficult four days. On Thursday my DH left for an annual camping trip that took him hundreds of miles away and out of even phone contact, leaving me home with ... Mr. Hyde. My lycanthropic dog (lycanthrope being the word Pastor used this morning in his message to describe many people; he didn't tell us what it meant though so we would look it up.) It's probably a bad metaphor to compare a dog to a man who's being compared to a wolf... or is Jekyll and Hyde more about the notion of the dramatic change in personality than lycanthropy? Hmm. Was Mr. Hyde really a werewolf, or just sort of like one? I can't recall.

Anyway, Quigley was very wearing. Or maybe it was just me wearing on my self with all my self-condemnation for my failures, my speculations about the distant future and worries about the near future in addition to never really knowning what was going to happen. Would he be sweet and semi cuddly? Or would he bite at my glasses or my ears? Would he prance jauntily at my side as we walked about the yard, or try to grab my leg in his latest behavior aberration, humping. (If I use that word does it make this blog an x-rated blog?) Actually from what I've read, humping at this age is somewhat normal, though perhaps not with the intensity that Quigley does it. On the other hand, he's an intense little animal. (I really believe he's an ADHD doggy)

It can just be playing, it can precipitate from getting too excited, it can be set off by allergies, even. I've seen connections to the playing and excitement. The cure is to take away everything that stimulates him to do it -- his bed, all his soft toys and now... me. Which is kind of cool. When he starts, I rip his bed out of his crate and throw it over the boards that block off the dining room. When he starts on me, I leave immediately. And don't return for some time -- which gives me time to go do some work on the book.

That seems to be working. Slowly, erratically, but... I think... maybe... it is working.

But that's today. On Thursday, it was terrible. And I was at home alone to deal with it. Well, not alone, since I had the Lord and knew that He had chosen all of it for my benefit and His glory. I just couldn't see much what the benefit was, other than forcing me to seek Him every five minutes.

Okay, let's not go there. I did a bunch of failing. It got very hard. Thursday was a disaster. Friday was good until evening when he went bonkers for a bit and we had issues going in and out, issues with the bed, barking issues... Saturday wasn't bad, until evening when my son came for a visit and out came Mr. Hyde. I think now that the solution is just to not go in with him when he's like that (Quigley, not my son) and ignore him until he calms down before giving him any attention at all. That is my current plan.

Because even when you give it all over to the Lord, you still have to do something. You have to feed the dog. You have to take him out to potty. You have to stop him if he's chewing a hole in the fence or digging up the old shingles and eating them... People come over to see him and you have to have some plan in place or you just repeat the terrible scenario you had the last time.

I have learned some things. About Quigley. About myself About what works and what doesn't. About life.

One thing I learned about myself is that when I have a good day, I assume the worst is over and all subsequent days will be good: a steady, upward path of improvement now awaits. Which makes the bad days all the more shocking and demoralizing. Then, on the bad days, I assume that the worst is yet to come and all subsequent days will be bad, a steady downward path into increasingly unpleasant relations with the dog.

Neither viewpoint is right. The fact is, we really don't know what kind of day we are going to have. And young dogs, like old dogs, like people, like life, are unpredictable. Growth is not a steady upward curve. It zigs and zags. You go forward, then regress. You hit plateaus and think things will never change. There are reversals, stutterings, wrong paths...

Hmmm. Sounds an awful lot like writing a novel... Or spiritual growth. The key in all of them is to just hold the line. And keep on plugging.

So we will.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Letting Go

It's amazing to me how we can give a problem over to God one day and take it back the very next. Just as soon as we think of a new way to solve it, and now must rush off to try it out.

Usually only to find it ending in disaster. That's been my experience with Quigley and the behavior issues. Yesterday I stupidly read more on the Internet (I don't know why I get so exasperated with Quig as a slow learner -- look at me!) about how to raise a puppy, how to handle a hyperactive dog, how to develop habits, how to deal with biting, humping, barking, digging, what kind of exercise, and on and on. Waaaay too much. In the end I dispaired. There was no way I could remember all the stuff I'd read, let alone follow it. Besides I don't even know if I agree with it all, or if it would work. It's a bit weird to get to the end of an article and find the caveat -- if these tips don't work, you must go find an animal behaviorist right away.

Hmm. There are several in the phone books. How do I know which one to try? Oh, they say, ask the people you know who have the best behaved dogs. Well, uh, in the past... that's always been us... But anyway, that would mean lots of research. In addition to the gazillion things I read about that I had to do, including the fact that raising puppies is complicated, and not even experts know what they're doing and you can't tell the damage you've done until it's far too late and... really, you're better off not even to start with a puppy it's so hard.

O-kaaay... Not helpful. A mass of confusion and GOD is not the author of confusion, so this must have come from somewhere else.

In a way, coming to the point where there's no way you're ever going to be able to follow all the instructions is good. Because then you know that you have to put it back in the Lord's hands. It also helps that when you do go off with one of your cockamamie tips to try, the thing just falls into disaster. So it was with me yesterday and this morning. And as the nice little thing I thought would happen devolved into chaos and biting and frenzy, the thought ran through my head: "This is a lot like what happened when you kept trying to do the marketing thing you weren't supposed to be doing. Do you suppose God is trying to tell you the same thing here?" Uh, yes.

It's made me realize, though, that there's more sometimes than just putting a problem into the Lord's hands. Sometimes you have to confront what it is you want and how greatly you want it (which you might not have realized) and you have to accept that you just might not get it. That whatever happiness or blessing you are looking for in the situation, might not ever materialize and you have to be okay with that. Because the Lord is to be our only focus of blessing -- His person, His will, His plan -- and we're not to go scurrying after whatever it is that we want (in my case, a soft, sweet, snuggly puppy who will let me pet him and love on him without always biting me -- I mean, Quigley is just so cute that you want to hug him and he does not really want you to do that. Of course... I like hedgehogs, too and they aren't particularly huggable either...)

Anyway, coming to that realization was what really enabled me to let it go. This is what I want, what I've been striving so hard for, and I might not ever get it. I certainly am not going to get it the way I am going after it. And all the striving destroys the peace. So. I really have no choice -- put it in my Father's hands, forget about doing any research or any classes or really even any training and leave it to Him to do whatever He will. He can make the dog a sweet companion. Or not. The thing is, you can't be going to the dog for things the Lord wants to give you. For things the Lord is really the only one who can give them to you.

And I take comfort from the verse in Ps 127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in (her) sleep.

And also Ro 9:16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

And wouldn't you know, tonight's lesson brought up the Grace pipeline -- the fact that it's God's own perfect righteousness that He imputed to us at salvation that is the reason He blesses us. Not anything we do. Nice dogs are made by good owners, says the world. No. Nice dogs are a grace gift from the Lord. You can do everything "right" and have a bad dog. You can do everything "wrong" and have a good one. We really don't have as much control as we'd like to think.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Q and A: Violence in Christian Fiction

QUESTION: Having read your books, Perreti's and Dekker's novels - I see that there is a lot of violance in them. I suppose the genre in which you write would not allow for anything different. I also do take into account that these represent everyday fight of good versus evel. However, I can't get over the fact that Christianity is a truly non-violent faith, and I am not sure that even self-defence would be justified in His eyes. I am sure you have thought this through and are ahead of me - so I would appreciate your explanation.

ANSWER: Regarding the notion that Christianity is a non-violent faith, I'd have to disagree with you on that. The premise comes from part of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount where He talks about turning the other cheek, but that is for the Millennial reign when He will be in total charge, there will be no armies, and any affront or crime will be instantly dealt with by Him. His admonition to Peter in Mt 26 to put down the sword because those who live by it will die by it is referring to murder. The Old Testament Commandment not to kill (Ex 20), is more properly rendered "You shall not commit murder." And murder is mentioned in God's list of 7 worst sins (Pro 6:16-19), whereas killing in battle or defending one's life, family or property is not.

Also, when Jesus met the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8, he healed the man's son, and marveled that he had "not found such great faith with anyone in Israel." This was a man whose job was to be a soldier. To fight for Rome. To kill people and to be very, very good at it. If Christianity is non-violent, why didn't Jesus reprove him for his wicked choice of jobs instead of praising him to the skies? He didn't praise anyone else in all the four gospels as much as he did this guy.

Finally it was God who taught Israel to war (The Book of Numbers), God who taught David's fingers to fight (Ps 144:1). And it is Jesus who will return on a white horse with a sword to personally slay the armies of His enemies (human armies) until the blood runs as high as the horse's bridles... (Rev 14:20)

I say all that so you will know that I do not in any way believe I am compromising my faith to read books with violence in them (nor to write them, for that matter) so long as it lines up with the divinely instituted principles God has provided for life. In particular the violence of military function is needed for the perpetuation of nationalism which is important in preserving the freedom to spread the gospel and to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ. (yet another huge subject!)


Monday, February 18, 2008

Hand & Box Report

Last week I visited the hand specialist. He confirmed that I have trigger thumb and two triggering fingers on my right hand (my ring and index fingers), with the thumb being the worst. He said there's really no clear cause, and that while restricting activity and anti-inflammatories can help, they don't necessarily cure it.

I could have gotten a cortisone shot around the thumb tendon that day, but I had Quigley in the crate and didn't want to have my hand incapacitated for the rest of the day. Plus I wanted to see if the chondroitin and glucosamine would work. The bottle recommends you take three capsules for 1-2 months, so I'm waiting to see if there's improvement at the end of two months. It seems like there is some, but it's not dramatic by any means. And the fingers seem to change. One day the ring finger is triggering, the next day it's the index finger.

If it doesn't work out, I can call whenever I want to set up an appointment for an injection, and I don't have to worry about it spreading or getting so bad there's no hope but surgery. At least at this point.

It's not necessarily a repetitve injury related thing, though it can be. Or it can be from an injury to the base of the finger where the tendons have thickened. It can be related to another condition like arthritis or diabetes (I don't have either of those). More often it has no clear cause. It is more common in woman than men, and often begins between ages 40 and 60.

Dr. Margolis doesn't really recommend the chondroitin/glucosamine route, but he was fine with me waiting to see what would happen. He said that sometimes it just goes away by itself, too. Why do I suspect it might go away as soon as I have this draft finished?

Assuming I ever finish it, which at the rate things have been going seems doubtful. LOL. Not really. Today I woke up realizing that I had taken back Quigley's biting problem from the Lord and was trying to solve it myself again -- feeling like I had to constantly be interacting, watching him, dealing with the situation. But when you trust the Lord with all your heart (thinking) and do not lean on your own understanding, you aren't supposed to be thinking about the problem and what to do about it. You leave the problem to Him.

When I saw that I could just put the whole biting thing into His hands and leave it, and not feel like I have to take a puppy class, or some other class, or find the best solution, training tip, or be the best trainer, but could just leave it alone and let Him handle it -- in His time -- the peace returned. So that's how I'm dealing with it today. If he bites, I do the same things I've always done, but I'm not going to get into that place where I'm thinking I have to get it stopped NOW.

And today was great. He hardly made any skin-teeth contact at all. I actually had him outside quite a bit, too, so I got a lot of thinking work done on Box. I decided not to include a number of scenes I'd planned, rearranged chapters and a scene or two. I'm now working on chapter 14 again, but I've taking the second half of the old ch 14 out and put it in 15 and have a new scene I'm adding to the end of the new 14. Once finished, I can move on to 16, which is already sketched in, or maybe even 17, depending on how I'm led.

Tomorrow is another day.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

To See the Need...

Today was difficult. My DH (that's Dear Husband in flylady talk) went to Phoenix for a pole vault competition, so I had Quigley for the day and intended to leave him crated for longer than he'd ever been crated during the day (2 1/2 hours). Just as I was getting him prepared for this, the phone rang and it was the neighbor, whom I have known for 11 years, though only superficially. We rarely talk. She's never expressed any interest in Christianity only disdain, and speaks of various new age beliefs that she favors. Anyway, she called with a favor to ask...

Leaving out most of the details, what she wanted was my time. On a somewhat daily basis, in the morning, doing a task I really am not suited for and don't like doing. I would never know which day I would be doing it, and would only find out in the early morning of the same day. There was no near end mentioned for this arrangement, which means I could be doing it for months.

I was...completely blown away. I'd been praying for her salvation. Was this an opportunity? I wanted to help, but of all things on earth, this was not something I wanted to do. I told her that it was way out of my area of competence. She said she'd have asked another neighbor, but that one was sidelined with illness. I suggested a third, who seemed the perfect candidate. My neighbor said she'd call her and get back to me one way or the other this afternoon.

I hung up in shock. My thinking which had been mostly washed away by astonishment, began to kick in again. This was not a good thing I had somewhat agreed to. There was, in addition to the rest, the potential of the hour long task expanding to fill the whole day. Plus, I really dislike situations where you never know what you're going to do the next day. Not that I ever really know, mind you, but to have a semi-regular obligation that might suddenly materialize is not something I care for. It gets me all out of whack mentally.

But it seems the Christian thing to do. Shouldn't I just trust God for all that and go for it? Here's a person in need. Aren't we supposed to meet their needs if we have means?

In the past I've always thought that when something seemed the Christian thing to do but was something I didn't want to do, I should just suck it up and step out of my comfort zone and do it. The only thing is, in every case when I've done that, it's never been the thing God wanted me to do.

I hoped for a clear answer in today's class, and one of the things said was that we're to take Jesus's yoke and not our own. His yoke is easy. If we are weary and heavy laden, we don't have His yoke. I also began to think maybe I should trust the feelings I have. That if it was God's will for me, I would want to do it. I have had experiences like that, where I've wanted to do and have done, things that are very unlike me, things that normally would be way out of my comfort zone.

But I have a book to write, the time for which has already been severely compromised. This arrangement with my neighbor -- with no mentioned endpoint -- would compromise it even more. Not just in the time actually taken, but in the distraction the whole situation would be to my mental and emotional state. I've wrestled with the fact that writing is my calling, and that unlike other folks, I don't get to go out and do a lot of the personal interaction and helping that makes you feel like you're actually doing something. I don't get to do it because I'm at home, working on the book. The time has to be guarded. But there is a price.

When you actually get to help someone personally, you get a little charge out of it. It makes you feel good. Jesus wasn't kidding when He said it is more blessed to give than to receive. That goes for everyone, believer and unbeliever alike. It really is pleasurable. When you have a calling like mine, you mostly don't get to see what your work is doing. You especially don't get to see it during the time you are doing the work. It's not until months or maybe even years later that you might hear back from readers who were pleased or positively influenced by it, but even then most people who read it won't give any feedback. That's fine. I know it comes with the territory. But it does make me eager to fulfill in a personal way the needs of others when they come up -- and thus makes me vulnerable to distraction.

"To see the need is not to hear the call."

I think I heard that in Bible class. Or maybe I read it. Or maybe both. Anyway, it was one of the things God brought to mind today. One of the good things about knowing what your spiritual gift is, is that you will be better able to choose what good things you will do and what good things you won't. You will be better able to discern distractions from what is important for you to be doing.

I had a lot more arguments with myself on this matter throughout the day, (and thus got no writing done) and kept asking the Lord to make it clear what I should do. More and more it seemed that what was clear was to guard my writing time, to focus on the calling He's given me. I told Him that, but also asked Him to straighten me out if I was going in the wrong direction. Gradually the question arose as to whether I really did have the means to fulfill the neighbor's request. In this case, the means is the time. And I don't believe I do.

It was a hard decision to reach, because a lot of people will look at it and think that I've been unloving. Ungiving. Unsacrificial. I suppose it depends on who the object is of the love, giving and sacrifice. If it's my neighbor, then perhaps yes. If it's my readers, then perhaps no. In any case, it's not the favor of man I'm to seek, but of God, and I already know how He sees me, regardless of what I do: perfect and blameless and holy.

Which changes the whole perspective.


P.S. Quigley did great in the crate. So far as I could tell he never cried at all, and even played with his kong toy enough to get a couple of pieces of the dog biscuit out. His biting tendancies remain problematic, however. So far, despite many and varied suggestions, nothing has worked unequivocably. He still has times when you can't put your hand anywhere near his head without the teeth coming around and trying to bite. But he doesn't do it so hard, and sometimes he doesn't even really do it, just shadow-does it. His teeth might graze the side of your hand. He rarely draws blood any more. Today he mostly bit my sleeve and pants leg rather than me. Is that an improvement? I think it is. But still, it seems like we have a long way to go.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Six Non-Important Habits or Quirks

Well, even without the comments operational, I've been tagged again for one of those blogger memes. (For more on this see my blog post the last time I was tagged: I've been Tagged -- Twice ) This time Tim Waters, a regular reader of this blog, emailed to let me know he'd tagged me on his blog, The Abiding Life, to list six non-important habits or quirks about myself. Why anyone would want to know that, I'm not sure.

Of course there are meme rules which you're supposed to copy out and include, and then you're supposed to tag six others, but being the hermit-writer that I am, with no time, who rarely reads other blogs (though I did enjoy Tim's) I'm not going to do either. You'll just get the six, non-important habits or quirks.

1) I have tea and cookies every afternoon around 4:30 or 5. I also have tea along with breakfast a few times a week. I only like Twinings English (or Irish) Breakfast tea. I strongly dislike Lipton, yuck!, which my favored (nearest) grocery store suddenly decided to carry shelves of while it discontinued all the Twinings teas as it remodeled and "expanded" its selections. Now you can get all sorts of Mexican cheeses and refrescas, prickly pear pads, other weird vegetables, but you can only get Lipton black tea and some Celestial Seasonings blends (which I also don't like). They even discontinued my Stash chai brand.

The cookies are almost always brownies or chocolate chip.

2) I chew my fingers -- not my fingernails, but the little bits of skin that come up from around the cuticle and fingernails. It's combination of a skin quirk I have with a writer's tendancy to be orally fixated. Or so I'm told. When I was first reading about "How to tell if you're a Writer," one of the characteristics is that writers tend to want to stick things in their mouths -- they chew their pens, fingernails, the ends of pencils, straws, gum, etc, or they are smokers, which is also related to oral fixation. If you believe in that sort of psychobabble. I'm not sure I do, but it's a convenient excuse for my habit.

I do it mostly when I'm thinking or reading, so I'm not usually aware of the fact that I'm doing it. It gets worse when I'm under stress. Attempts to break it have been futile. Putting bad tasting stuff on them doesn't stop the urge to chew and always ends up in my eyes, where it burns. The best thing is to keep my hands out of water and constantly slather lotion on them (I mean like every hour or so) but that's not something I can remember to do either. When I do, I always find myself ready to type next and don't want to get lotion all over the keyboard. Or worse, after I've rubbed the lotion in, circumstances conspire to where I'm immediately putting my hands in water again.

3) I think I might have an almost habit or maybe a quirk (a peculiar habit, mannerism or aspect of somebody's character) of eating avocado melt open faced sandwiches with Chai tea at least three times a week. I've been doing this for ... a number of years. Could be something like seven years. I started doing it when my favorite place for lunch, The Native Cafe (which served the avocado melts on sour dough bread) closed down.

It's one slice of 12-grain bread toasted, cream cheese, sprinkle of garlic, avocado, sprinkle of onion, sliced tomato, longhorn cheese, melted in the oven. I throw in some tortilla chips to heat along with it and have to eat it with the chai tea. Nothing else will do.

4) Speaking of "nothing else will do," I have to drink my coffee with my waffle or breakfast crepes when I'm in a restaurant. If I run out, I won't continue eating. I just sit there and let the food get cold until the waitress comes to refill the coffee cup. That definitely qualifies as peculiar, I think.

5) When writing in my journal, I alternate ink colors -- black one day, blue the next, then black again. This is "important" enough that I have spent ten or fifteen minutes searching for the appropriate pen so I can write.

Well, last time I listed one more than the meme stipulated, so it's only "right" that this time I list one less. Besides, I can't think of any other non-important habits/quirks. Housework routines (as per Flylady), Bible class and exercise habits are important. My life is too filled with surprises for me to establish very many non essential habits. Even using the routines is sometimes a challenge, especially now with Quigley and trying to write a book at the same time.

Speaking of Quigley, I brought him into the office today and he lay beside me, chewed his chew and finally fell asleep while I worked. It was very cool.

Have a great weekend

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Hound Wins Westminster

Well, Uno the beagle, a hound, won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, which is the US's biggest dog show event. And he did it baying and jumping on his handler and chewing on reporter's microphones. It's the first time a hound of any kind has won since 1983 and the first time ever for a beagle. They're saying his will be the "Ah-roo" heard round the ring.

Here are some excerpts from the stories on Fox News. I selected them because they are so typically hound!

Will a beagle take next step in '08?
NEW YORK (AP) - Uno barked at his handler, bayed at the crowd, tried to grab his leash and took a flying leap at a piece of pork loin. Oh, and he gnawed away at a newly printed sign.

Now that's one great beagle.

His white-tipped tail in perpetual motion, Uno turned the green carpet of Madison Square Garden into his own personal backyard Monday. He also took his first winning steps at the Westminster Kennel Club show, easily earning best of breed at America's No. 1 dog event.

"Snoopy would be proud," handler Aaron Wilkerson said. "He was being his merry little hound self."

While best in show will be presented Tuesday night, the precocious package of personality certainly deserved one early title: noisiest in show.

"Ah-rooo!" his howls echoed all over the arena. It didn't take much to get Uno going, either. A click of a spectator's pen, a wave of the judge's hand, any effort by Wilkerson to hush him. "Ah-rooo!"

Uno the beagle makes history with Westminster win

NEW YORK (AP) - Good ol' Snoopy, a champion at last.

Barking and baying up a storm, Uno lived up to his name Tuesday night by becoming the first beagle to win best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club.

The nation's new top dog was clearly the fan favorite, and drew a roaring, standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden when he was picked.

Uno got right into the act, jumping up on handler Aaron Wilkerson and confirming his other title: noisiest in show. Years from now, he'll be known for the "ah-roo" heard 'round the ring.

Uno celebrated by chewing on the microphones of reporters who tried to interview his winning crew. Those had to suffice for the yellow, soft duck that's his favorite toy.


When it came time to show, Uno was as precocious and precious as ever.With fans calling out his name and clapping, he soaked in the cheers as he paraded around the ring, the cheers becoming more thunderous with every step. And when he made his final stop in front of Jones, Uno went to town, baying over and over

[Check out the pictures of the other dogs who competed with Uno for Best in Show in the sidebar gallery on this last link. Especially the poodle!]


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Quigley was really good today. Well, most of today. With me, not our guest... but hey, he was so good about the biting that it's cause for rejoicing.

A friend emailed me the other day about another technique to use in providing negative consequence for his biting, and that's where you place your fingers in his mouth from the side, and squeeze the roof of his mouth and top of his nose at the same time. I saw one of the technicians do this at the vet's office last Saturday, but had never had it explained until my friend's email. It works well. Another tool in the box to use against the biting.

Besides that there is making the sharp, short "AAA!" sound when he touches me with his teeth, immediately stopping play and turning away, or leaving his presence altogether, holding his mouth closed, reminding him "no biting", sticking my finger in through the side of his mouth so I pull the cheek with it over his teeth -- he bites me, he bites himself. We also stick his ear into his mouth sometimes or his leg (he seems happy to chew on them as well) or give him a chew or toy.

It's rapid fire, constant, intense... but! We ARE making progress. Tooth/skin contact has been greatly reduced and when it is made, it's far gentler. So much so I almost don't notice it sometimes. He gets praise for when he jumps beside me rather than on me, praise for when he licks instead of bites, praise when he bites the toy instead of me... There is light at the end of the tunnel. I have no new blood wounds today.

I'm also seeing the biting as a form of interaction and communication. The barking, too, which seems to be gradually taking over from the biting -- a good thing! Increased tendancy to bite comes when he's tired, and today he barked at me to tell me he wanted to go out, or eat or get in his bed, instead of biting me.

In addition to some success on the Quigley front, there was also progress on the writing front. I'm writing again on Chapter 14 after several days of thinking about the outline. No, the rest of the book is not clearly outlined, but it is outlined. More or less. And this time I have a lot more confidence about what I'm doing and where I'm going with it all. So that's nice. Hopefully I continue to progress tomorrow.

I also brought Quigley into the office with me today, not the first time he's been in here, but the first time in a few weeks. He was too interested in exploring everything for me to really work. But hopefully in a few days he will be able to come in and be here with his chew while I type.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Q and A: On Studying and Writing

QUESTION: I wondered whether you study [God's word] according to what you're gonna write, or do you write according to what you've studied? As you study does an idea spring out at you and you write about it or is it the other way around? And how do you know it's God's idea and not your own? How do you perservere with the story? How did God inspire you to write things like 'The Guardian King' series?

ANSWER: As I've said in this blog before, I believe the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives certain men the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher for the training and equipping of the saints for the Christian life (Eph 4:11,12) and that each of us are assigned to a specific man (I Th 5:12), as the man himself is assigned a specific congregation (1 Pe 5:2,3).

Having found one's right pastor-teacher, the Christian's "sacrifice" (Ro 12:1) is then to bring his body to the place where he can hear his pastor's teaching on a daily basis, either face to face (which is preferable) or by means of techology (which is what I've had to do). The pastor then is the one who decides what I'm going to study, not me.

Yes, I could pick and chose from among his many lessons, but I've learned that is not the best way to go about it. We need the whole realm of doctrine, not just the subjects that interest us or that we think we need. Plus God the Holy Spirit often speaks specifically through the pastor to me regarding events going on in my life at the time regardless of the subject matter of the lesson.

With that as my base, I might do an additional study on the side based on what I've chosen to write about. For example, I'm incorporating nephilim in my current book, so I've done a separate study on that (though of course, the whole idea for including them came from my pastor's teachings on them a couple years ago).

As to how exactly I choose what I'm going to write about... I go by what interests me, what I care about, what occurs to me. Frankly it's a mysterious process and usually I don't even know what I am writing about until I have at least a first draft.

How do I know if it's God's idea? It has to line up with scripture for one. And of course, I pray constantly for His guidance in the matter. After that, I don't much worry about it.

In the case of Black Box, I came up with the idea and submitted it, thinking there was no way Bethany House would want it. When they did, I knew it was definitely God's will for me to write it. With the Legends of the Guardian King series, which didn't get published for 25+ years after I started working on it, it was just that I loved it and couldn't give up on it. I know it was God's will and God's idea and that He intended me to do it. The idea and the desire just never let up, despite numerous disappointments and frustrations. It was something like Jeremiah's "burning in my bones" that would not be shut up.

Not to say I didn't struggle with doubt. I prayed about it, asking God if I should keep at it. Since the desire never left and I continued to have the time to pursue it, I concluded that I was to keep on. Moreover, I knew I was to write for God -- not for publication, nor other people, but because He'd given me a gift. I wanted to exercise it in that way, and I would trust Him to do whatever He wished with it. I knew that I was in His plan because I was obeying the commands to "worship by means of (the filling of the) Spirit and of (learning/applying) truth (God's word, of course)" and that was all that was necessary.

I wanted to do it, I believed God had given me the desire and the ability to do it (and others I respected agreed). I would take a risk on Him and go forward with it. Bottom line is, "sure" does not equal faith. If you are sure then there's no faith. And without faith it's impossible to please Him.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Learning through Suffering

I saved this picture from the cover of Coonhound Bloodlines magazine, the December 1996 edition. It's watercolor for one, and it depicts my favorite dogs for another. Redbone Coonhound puppies are soooooo cute! This is pretty much what Quigley looks like now. When we take him to the vet, technicians have to come out to see him and pet him and coo over him.

Today was a good day. I got to go to church, Quigley was good, and my car is finally fixed. Hurray! Thursday was not good. I went on the internet and read about dog training. Pretty much everything I could find advocated "gentle, positive methods of training" where you never reprimand your dog, only find ways to redirect him so you can praise him, where you never make your puppy feel uncomfortable obeying you, or, it would seem in any of his interactions with you. As for biting, said one article, if your puppy bites hard enough to break the skin you have an aggressive dog and had better see a veterinarian behavior specialist to evaluate as soon as possible.

I was freaked. Looking back, I just want to slap myself upside the head and ask, "What were you thinking???" Everytime I go on the internet I learn stuff that freaks me out and turns out not to even be valid or relevant to my situation.

I tried some of their advice and it only made things worse. Quigley needs more than "Just leave the room for a minute when he puts teeth to your skin." Let's see, I'd be like a jumping bean, going in and out of the room every other minute. Quigley's kind of like an eel. At a certain point when you're petting him his mouth flies open and never closes as it swings back and forth after your hands... and he's sooo fast. Teeth are touching skin before you can even register it happened.

Well, so many things happened this weekend, that I'd be here all night, but the upshot of it was I realized I've been obsessing over the dog. Again. Instead of sitting back and trusting the Lord to handle things, I was thinking about the problem, trying to figure out what to do about it, and going to the world to look for a solution. Today I decided, Phooey. Back to business as usual, so much as I can. The Lord will have to protect Quigley from his strange appetites (the roots of bermuda grass, rocks, charcoal, wood, pine cones, roofing materials, weeds, leaves, sticks and anything else that comes into the yard) and He will be the one to fix him, not me. I will do what I do, what I'm led to do, what I've done with the past five dogs we've raised... Jake, Grumpy, Sam, Boomer, Bear...

It occured to me in Bible class the evening of the day I read all that stuff on the internet... Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered. We learn obedience through suffering. In fact, we often learn things through suffering we could never learn by any other way. The Lord sometimes deliberately puts us through it (this has all been in current Bible classes) so we can be alone with Him and learn things about ourselves and about Him.

Suffering is not a bad thing, through our society has made it seem so. People are constantly trying to make sure nothing bad ever happens to anyone. No one should ever suffer pain, mishap, injury, accident, disease, illness, being offended.

Last year in our hundred year old Rodeo Parade, a five year old girl riding in the parade was killed when horses pulling a wagon behind her bolted and ran over her and her horse. It was a tragedy, but the little girl did know how to ride, so it wasn't totatlly unreasonable for her to be in the parade (though she was under age according to the rules). She'd been around horses all her life and everyone knows when you deal with horses, these things occasionally happen. Horses are big and stupid (though not as stupid as sheep, I will point out!) and they have a lot of strength and speed. People get hurt. Horses get hurt. Yet what was the unending refrain on every newscast relating to this story? "What can we do to make sure this never happens again?" "We must work hard to make sure this never happens again." "H0w could this possibly have happened?!"

I use this just as an example of how accidents are treated. Horror! Shock! The sense that no one should ever suffer anything under any circumstances. Yet that is not the Bible's view.

Well, anyway, I decided that if Jesus could learn through the things He suffered, if I could learn through the things I suffer (and, in fact, must with certain kinds of lessons), if my son learned obedience from the things he suffered, it doesn't seem like such a bad thing if the puppy has to learn things from suffering like all the rest of us. Of course by suffering I mean, reprimanding him, pushing him off the table when he jumps up to put his paws on it and see what he can steal, lifting my knee to bump his chest when he jumps up (more like hurls himself at me), telling him NO from time to time. It even means he can scream in his crate until he learns that he is not the only one who gets to decide when he's going to go into it.

And I will recall that I have a book to write, which I am called to do by the Lord Himself, and it takes precedence over the puppy.

Speaking of, I am currently engaged in trying to come up with a master outline. I have combined about four lists of events, plotlines and sequences into one master document (everything but the kitchen sink, it seems) and now have to make it coherent, logical and more streamlined. Not an easy task, but when it's done, I think I'll be able to write fairly smoothly, especially when I'm not requiring the writing to be anything but lousy!


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Reflections on Psalm 37

In Bible class the other day, Pastor Bob talked about how God has a fantastic plan. "He promises to give you the desires of your heart. But many of God's people say, 'Well I've been doing A, B and C for God, and He's not given me those desires.' Whynot? Bcause you wanted to give to God, serve Him, and honor Him to see what you could get out of it."

I asked myself, do I do that? At first I thought not. I serve and honor God because I love Him. Because what else is there? Who else is even remotely worthy? Who else has the power? But... most of that's kinda like sucking up to the king, now, isn't?

You recognize who has the power to bless and promote so you serve him, treat him well, do what he asks. And then, when he doesn't bless or promote like you'd like, you're angry and sulky. You feel sorry for yourself. You compare what he's given you with what he's given others and you feel resentful and jealous. As if you've been treated unfairly.

You've forgotten who you are and what He did for you. And you are most definitely serving for what you can get out of it. If you have any kind of reaction whatsover when you don't get what you wanted -- the sales, the approval, the recognition, people doing what you want them to do -- when you think you've been serving and doing what God wanted and yet you're not happy with how things have turned out... then you probably need to take another look at your motivation.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. ~ Proverbs 3:5,6 ; Psalm 37:4

In all your ways acknowledge Him does not mean giving a nod to God as you go about your plans. Delight yourself in the Lord doesn't mean you like God and think well of Him. That word for delight really has the connotation of making love to Him. That means intense focus. That means you put aside all your own concerns and desires for the sake of the beloved. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, all your way of thinking, all your self. All of it His thinking, none of it your own understanding...

I memorized this series of verses long ago. I'll bet a lot of people have memorized them and claim them, but they are not unconditional promises. There are some things you have to do before the Lord is going to give you "the desires of your heart." And those things are huge.

This is not some surface thing, not yet another way of getting what you want out of life. All these words speak of major inner transformation and focus and devotion.

Pastor Bob said, "Not until you let go of your life, your personal goals and visions and recognize that God had a Plan -- He's put you here (not to be a successful, respected writer) but to live like Jesus Christ."

He's not even put me here so I can be a successful, respected Christian (from the world's point of view.) I'm here to be a witness in the legal trial that is the angelic conflict. To concentrate on thinking the right thoughts. On enduring. On taking all the doctrines I've learned and applying them to my life. On loving myself because of who and what He's made me to be -- a new creature, perfect in his sight. It's being a witness in the invisible war in which we fight. It's remembering always that the only thing I deserve is eternal condemnation. The only thing any of us deserve.

It is focusing on and appreciating all the great -- but often invisible -- things we've been given as believers in Christ, and not worrying about our plans, our work and whether it brings about the results we desire. It's God who's doing the real work, and it is bringing about the results He desires.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Q and A: Favorite Books, Part 2

QUESTION: How do you decide which book to take into your hands, and which book to stop reading if it goes too far, and how do you detach yourself from the content of it?

ANSWER: One of the important things I've learned about is the existance of "Divine Institutions", a social order of authority that God has set up for mankind. There are four of them and they are, 1) the sanctity of each person's individual volition in choosing things in life, 2) marriage (with the man in authority over the woman), 3) family (parents in authority over the children) and 4) nationalism (which includes military activity, which the Bible sanctions. Another huge subject). These institutions are not just for Christians but for everyone, and many unbelievers abide by them. Particularly in times past.

Many so-called "secular" books uphold these principles as they tell their stories. The Hornblower series comes to mind in this regard. Honor, courage, self-sacrifice and true principles of leadership and chain of command abound. As well as many other elements, including some analogies to Christ that I doubt the writer intended, but that I've found very illuminating.

Generally secular books portray people as they are without a relationship with Christ. Personally I'm not interested in reading about too much of this without the establishment principles -- I don't care for books that follow a person as he sins and sins and sins and that's the end. I want books that end well, where the characters learn something valuable and true, because the truth is, we who have a relationship with God through Christ do have a good ending ahead of us. Another truth is that people who live by the divine institutions as unbelievers will be blessed. I like books where justice and good prevail, because in the end they do. I can usually tell from the synopsis of the book or a review where it's going, and make my decision about reading a book accordingly.

As for how do I detach myself from the content, usually I don't do it very well. Which is one reason why I try to stop reading before I get far enough into it that I'm going to have a problem. And also another support for daily study of God's word. It helps to break the influence some books' worldly and evil contents might have gained over my thinking.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Q and A: About Your Favorite Books List

QUESTION: "As a relatively new believer, I now read ... exclusively books written by Christian authors. I have seen the list of books you recommend, and many of those books are not written by people who believe. How do you select these books for you? How do you keep from being affected by views of people who may not know the truth? I know it is essential for you, being an author, to develop your skills through reading other authors, but how do you decide which book to take into your hands, and which book to stop reading if it goes too far, and how do you detach yourself from the content of it?"

ANSWER: The single most important way I protect myself is through the daily intake of the Word of God by means of the man I believe is my right pastor teacher. My pastor studies the Bible daily and deeply, then teaches (almost daily) based on his understanding of the original languages, the historical and cultural setting at the time of writing and how other pertinent scriptures in the Bible compare to the one being looked at.

After becoming saved, the new believer is challenged "to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ." "God is spirit and we must worship Him in Spirit (the Filling of the Holy Spirit) and in truth (knowledge, belief and application of the word of God)." We are to "present our bodies a living sacrifice" (bring them to where they can hear the word being taught) so that our minds might be renewed or, more accurately, renovated. God's ways and thoughts are not our ways. There is a complete worldly/human way of thinking that is totally different from God's viewpoint. We must set ourselves to learn His viewpoint and make it ours.

In any subject we care to master (tennis, bridge, computer games, a foreign language, math) the more we study and practice it, the faster and better we learn it. Daily practice is the best. So why not apply that obvious principle to the most important thing of all: our spiritual lives and relationship with God? Through the daily study of God's word I come to learn what is truth and what is false.

It's not just knowledge of the word of God, however, that helps me choose my reading material. I also rely on the filling of the Holy Spirit to guide me. If I start a book and don't like the things I'm reading... I quit.

I suggest you do likewise. If you don't feel led to read a book at all, don't. If you read something by an author that you see is very much against the Word but is being presented as fine and even good or normal, stop and don't read any more by that author. I have a couple of authors whose past work I've loved but who are moving in directions I don't care for. Life is short. You don't have to finish every book you start and you certainly don't have to read all the books you think you might like to or that people tell you you should. (Also, if I'm not completely caught by a book in the first chapter or so, I often skim through to find out where it's going, how it ends. If I don't like it, I set it aside, which is just what I did -- standing in the store -- with Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy .)

You're right to be concerned about all this. We are to take care what we hear and see and read...

Tomorrow, Part 2: A few things that help me to select and enjoy secular books.