Wednesday, November 29, 2006

White Ninja

My son is a fan of the White Ninja online comic strip (new comics released every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), which is a very bizarre comic, very off the wall, sometimes funny, sometimes inscrutable, sometimes a little gross... (so if you look around from where the links below send you, just be aware.) He actually met the creator of the comic at Comic Con in San Diego this year and had him do an amusing illustration/autograph in his sketch book.

Anyway, the site put on its second annual White Ninja Halloween contest for newsletter subscribers last month -- where fans were to dress up as their favorite White Ninja character, take a picture of themselves and send it in. My son and his friend not only dressed up as White Ninja and his nemesis, Black Ninja, they made a little story in a comic panel and sent it in. They won first prize, which was $100 worth of merchandise from the White Ninja store. I think it's pretty funny and if you'd like to have a look, you can find it at White Ninja Halloween Contest. (Note, to have some context for the fire power reference, check out the comic White Ninja Has Fire Power.)


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Let His Plan Unfold

Last week we had some lessons on Thought Testing: the thought conflicts that will inevitably arise in our souls brought on by the fact that we have an old sin nature and we live in the devil's world where we are constantly being bombarded with lies about what life is all about.

Today, I had the lab part of that class. Remember I said I wanted to have ch31/32 done over the weekend? Didn't happen. Then I thought it would be nice if I could have them done yesterday. Nope. They are developing, just very slowly. Today, then, I thought. But though I continued to progress today, they still aren't done.

Sometime around midmorning, when the approaching new deadline and my lack of progress got to me yet again, I went and dug out something I'd written about this very thing some time before...

Don’t try to plan too much, take control…let God’s plan and guidance unfold moment by moment with the book as you do with your day. There's always time to do the will of God.

I keep wanting to see it all now, but almost nothing does He do that way. He releases information slowly, whether it is about Himself, or about me, or, I see, about this book. It is a gradual, day by day thing that I cannot control, despite my repeated attempts to do so. When I think about the future, I only get frantic. I know this. I know I have to do it one day at a time and NOT think about the future. I have to come to work and see what He gives me and be satisfied with that. I have to keep living in the spiritual life really, truly trust that He WILL see it through. It will happen. But not by me doing... well, anything different than I'm doing. I don't think the fault lies with me. Except in my muleheadedness in continuing to demand my timing on all this. When I let go of that, everything's fine.

The thing is, the story is already there. God knows exactly what it’s going to be. He could dump it all into my mind in an instant, but He has not. Nor will He. Because it’s a privilege for me to struggle with it—to continue to have opportunity to be patient, to apply truth, especially as the time grows ever shorter. To remember that this is not “my” work. It does not have to be done according to “my” standards and in “my” timing. When I get upset and frustrated and desperate and guilty—that’s wrong motivation. That’s the old nature trying to take control and achieve. When this life is not at all about achievement.

Life is not at all about achievement. No. It's about mental attitude. It doesn't matter at all what you achieve as far as the world is concerned, if your mental attitude is wrong, if your thinking and motivation are wrong and you are operating in the wrong power (human, rather than the Spirit) then you've achieved wood, hay and straw. If your mental attitude is right, then even if what you're trying to do falls to nothing, you've got gold, silver, precious stones.

Photo by fortunecookie

Friday, November 24, 2006


Yesterday, Thanksgiving, while waiting for the turkey to cook, we took a walk in the park near our home and were delighted to find the rose garden in full bloom. I brought the camera! This is a panorama shot, but I also got some pics of gorgeous individual blooms. It was a beautiful mild, clear, Arizona fall day. One of many things God provided yesterday to be thankful for.

On or around Thanksgiving I like to reflect upon all the many ways God has blessed me: the air I breathe, the food I eat, the ability to walk and talk and see and hear, friends, family, His word, His Spirit, my place in Christ, my pastor... It's a list I have been reviewing often of late, though, so yesterday I thought I'd reflect instead upon specific things God has done in my life this last year that I'm thankful for.

In going through last year's journal to review, I was astonished by the theme that emerged. A year and a half ago He told me through Bible class that I was going to go down. That it's the only way to grow. That we have to be willing to accept the times of humbling and losing, to lose things, to not get the promotion we wanted, to lose the promotion we'd already gotten, and still know that He is in charge.

And so it's been. As I reviewed my entries I saw the losses I was having to deal with -- the year-long death of my dog, friends, the success of my books in the marketplace, to name the most difficult. There was also very hard, continuous lessons in how to deal with people, how not to surrender control of my life over to them, something I see now I have struggled with for years.

What's amazed me is that in rereading the journal I can see His hand working, and see it clearly. When I turned in the final draft of Shadow Over Kiriath and began to think about working on Return of the Guardian-King, is when I got that first message -- "It's going to be hard, you're going to go down, you have to have suffering and loss in order to learn. There is no other way to learn the things I have for you to learn. Even Jesus learned obedience through suffering."
Two months later, when I really began to work on RotGK in earnest, I took Bear to the vet for a puncture wound in his toe and learned about the kidney disease -- he was dying. There was no cure. It would only get worse. That was very hard to take.

Last May, when I received my last royalty statement, and Arena had only sold 24 copies for the period, I was very upset, for I saw that that it was ending. The next day, after much angst and bitter complaint to my friends, the lesson that night was on suffering for blessing and I got the message again. You have to go down. You have to learn to handle undeserved suffering. Without complaint. Without self-pity or bitterness or resentment. You have to learn to handle it with thanksgiving.

We look so many times at the characteristics the Bible says we should have, the way we should be. But love, joy and peace are part of the fruit of the Spirit, not part of the fruit of us. We can't really make ourselves have peace or joy or even real love. He does it. We can't change ourselves, He does it. Through the transforming of our thoughts and minds -- which happens through learning the word combined in many cases with suffering.

"My peace, I give to you," he says to us, "not as the world gives...." How does the world give peace? By providing peaceful circumstances. Having everything go right. We meet our goals. Our work is prospered. We have supportive friends and families. 0ur needs are met. We have a solid home, a good bank account, worldly security. Then there's peace. How does the Lord give peace? Not that way. He gives it through His word and through adverse circumstances, which not only is the only way to get it, it's the only way you know you have it when you finally do.

And even then, it's all too often a choice. We can't make ourselves have peace, but we can confess our anxiety or arrogance and concentrate on the truth. If we don't know the truth, we can learn it. We concentrate on what we know: that God is sovereign and his hand rules over all, that he has wonderful plans for us, plans to bless and not to hurt, that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, that we are already completely perfect in his sight and we aren't going to improve that perfection one iota no matter what we do, or don't do.
We can concentrate on the truth that, despite that perfection in position, we are still dust, which God knows and understands and has mercy upon; that we have an old nature which will always fight against the Spirit and the word and the new nature He put within us when we believed in Christ. Why get shocked and upset when we act like the corrupt, disgusting cockroach we are in our old nature? When it happens, God is still there. We name the sin, the Spirit regains control of our soul and brings to our remembrance the things we've learned, to change in that moment the way we have been thinking. The perspective shifts and we leave behind all those old lusts and goals and human viewpoint ideas that tormented us. And the peace is there.
It's awesome when that happens. But you can't know you have it without the trials. And it can't be developed within you apart from the trials.

For a long time I just wanted to learn the truth and make the application to avoid having difficult times. There's some validity to that approach, but this last year I've learned as never before the benefit of suffering. The need for it. And the fantastic way God has sown it into my life, along with all the truth that I need to handle it, and the encouragement He knows I also need when I fail. And fail, I do. Over and over.

In a recent lesson the pastor said that those who try hardest to make the proper applications of truth and live the Christian way of life are going to fail the most. The more you try, the more you'll fail. But that's okay. That's how it is. When you see that about yourself, there is no room for boasting. It's all God's doing. He's the strong one. I'm just dust. Graced out, made new, blessed abundantly, because of Him. Because of what He did and what His son did.

So that's what I'm especially thankful for this year: the things He has been teaching me about Himself, and about myself; the suffering He has sent to do it. The promise that it will only last for a season, but that if I endure, there is reward.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is Santa Real?

When my son was born my husband and I weren't terribly excited about the whole Santa Claus story, though I had very much enjoyed it as a child, growing up in an unbelieving home. Other relatives, however, were quite invested in Santa Claus, so I sat back and let them do their thing. I read Adam The Night Before Christmas, but beyond that I don't recall ever actually telling him there was a Santa.

When he was about five, we were driving in the car around the Christmas season, and he asked me if Santa was real. I asked him what he thought. He said he didn't think so. How could Santa deliver all those presents to everyone in all the world in a single night? (As a child, I recall being troubled by how he was going to slither under the door, since we had no fireplace and chimney.) I said that was very observant of him, and no, Santa wasn't real. That was the end of any active belief in Santa for my son, though "Santa" still continued to visit on Christmas eve for some years...

On that subject, and a related one -- ie, that children are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, a claim which parents who object to fantasy stories evoke as justification for condemning them -- my friend Ed Willett has an interesting post on his blog today, What's Real and What's Pretend . It's about a study done at the University of Texas that challenges child expert Jean Piaget's 1930 statement that "children consistently confuse fantasy and reality, the mental and physical, dreams and reality, and appearance and reality. " In fact, according to this study, they're pretty darn good at figuring out what's real and what's not.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Peace Again

Well, yesterday (Sunday) I had food poisoning, the first time for that in 30 years! We went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant the night before and Sunday morning I was not feeling well at all. Had to stay home from church and didn't get a thing done writingwise all day. Didn't get much done on Saturday either, though not cause I was sick. Today though, I turned in revisions on chapters 24 and 25 and several other smaller parts, and started on the first scene in ch 30, since what I sent in with the "final" draft was no more than a place holder.

I hate doing this, and it's been bugging me. I know it's a pain for my editor and I feel like I've failed. I was supposed to have turned it in all at once, not piecemeal. But that was my plan not God's. He's teaching me to accept His timing in things, and to really trust Him beyond what I've had to do in the past. In the past I trusted Him to see the books were done by the deadline, and learned even then, (though to a lesser degree than now) that the deadline was really a human construction and He could work on both sides of the problem -- me and my editor. On one of my first books, it turned out she wasn't even going to get to work on it for a month after the assigned due date. And on this one, she keeps assuring me it's fine. It's no problem.

I guess it really isn't, beyond being a violation of my standards which say you're supposed to turn your book in complete at the agreed upon time. That's professional and reliable. Turning in a book piecemeal like this is flaky and unreliable, and I can really go into a guilt trip on it. But making myself feel guilty is a sin, so I won't. And yes, I failed. But... big deal. Everyone fails. God uses failure. His plan is not dependent on my making perfect execution all the time.

This November, when I was supposed to have turned in the book already, I agreed to try to read for endorsement a new fantasy (due Nov 30), have to decide how many copies of Arena to buy by Nov 30, agreed to attempt an online interview (due Nov 26), agreed to contribute three entries to two team blogs by the end of the month, had to arrange and prepare a birthday celebration, will have to arrange and prepare Thanksgiving, write my November newsletter (not happening) and change my blog over to Blogger beta. This in addition to finishing an online interview begun in October, catch up on email and bookmark mailing, start preparing for Christmas, plus all the other regular stuff in addition to finishing the book. Most of that isn't happening.

That long of a list starts to get me rattled and my brain flits from task to task building anxiety and guilt. Not at all where God wants me to be. It took me awhile but today I finally remembered:

There is always time to do the will of God.

And not all of those things are necessarily His will. So I put them all in His hands and will trust Him to see done the ones HE wants done, not the ones I think need to be done.

"Don't think of all you have to do, just do the next thing. And rest in Him."

So I did. Am. And I have my peace again.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Before the Moment Needed

The Lord always provides the solution even before the moment it is needed. And often afterwards, as well, just for confirmation.

After getting the letter yesterday about Arena's demise, last night's message was on suffering for blessing and as a part of spiritual growth. Perfect. Especially since after a disappointment like that the tendancy is to start trying to affix blame, either on others or on self. But the fact is, God is on his throne, he numbers the hairs on my head and His sovereignty rules over all. Nothing happens in my life that He does not approve, and if I believe that promotion comes from Him and him alone, with no merit on my part, then I must also believe that demotion, such as it is, comes at His hand as well. And be content with it.

I think I am. One of the things I've been praying for is that He would deliver me from being in bondage to what people think, and to the world's system that says success and personal worth is a matter of your accomplishments and sales and how many people like you or like what you do.

Do I seek the favor of men or of God? When you have things like this taken from you, it tests that belief. Are you going to freak out and fall apart because not enough people liked what you did (it would appear) or will you recognize that it's not an accident, it's a part of the plan and the plan is perfect. More than perfect, it is specifically designed with your best interests in mind. If I'm writing for God, sales can't really matter. He's in charge of them. He gives enough or he doesn't, but it's not my concern. My concern is to write the books and leave the rest to Him.

He provided for me in more than just last night's message, too, because in the conference last weekend, the last part of Gideon's story was all about numbers. All about how God doesn't need numbers. And one of the things Pastor McLaughlin said was, "God will place us in situations where the odds are overwhelmingly against us, so we will know that we are not the ones doing the delivering, He is. It's not us, it's not anything about us and it's not with the help of other people, either. It's all Him."

So. We'll just see what He's going to do, because I really believe He's going to do something cool. I just don't know what it is yet. Kind of like Christmas, I guess... all those packages and you know you're going to like what's in them, you just have NO idea what it is. But I know the one I serve, and that is everything.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Death of a First Novel


May 2002 - November 2006

Today I received the news that due to a current sales rate too weak to sustain active publication, Bethany House has declared Arena out of print after a four year run.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November CSFF Tour: Landon Snow

CSSF Blog Tour

Well, I went away to California and came back to discover a Blog tour had snuck up on me. Given the events of the past month, that's hardly surprising. This month they are highlighting children's fantasy writer R.K. Mortenson's third Landon Snow book, Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum.

I confess I have read none of these books and generally tend to stay away from discussing or recommending Young Adult fantasy to avoid increasing the potential of my own books being regarded as being for children as well. There is an automatic assumption among many that all fantasy is for children or young adults (Landon Snow is pegged as being for 9 to 12 years old and up). I have nothing against fantasies for children or young adults, I just dislike receiving letters and reviews from disgruntled parents/grandparents/relatives who bought my books for their kids without having read them, under the assumption that all fantasy is for children and how dare I introduce adult situations into the story! They had to rip pages out of the book before they could give them to their intended recipients, and I am a bad girl!

I could almost do a rant about that subject...but I will restrain myself. It's a fact of life, particularly, I think, in the Christian world.

My fantasy can be and is read by more experienced younger readers, but it was never intended for children and in some people's eyes is definitely not for them. R.K. Mortenson's books on the other hand, are designed for younger readers, and do not introduce unwanted adult situations of the sort that have so incensed some of my correspondents and reviewers. So if you are looking for good, clean fantasy stories for middle grade readers, Mortenson might be your author.


Monday, November 13, 2006

2006 California Conference

Above is a view from our hotel, the Riverside Marriott.

I've just spent the last four days in Riverside, CA for what was, I believe, the fifth annual Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries California Conference. We had a great time, as always. Two classes a day, Friday and Saturday, a question and answer period Saturday night after class and another class and communion on Sunday.

I got some great answers in class and in the Q&A afterward and was so looking forward to going over my notes (I'm a copious note-taker) only to discover that somehow I'd left my notebook in the hotel room! Arg. (One of a number of consequences of going on a trip immediately after a big push to finish a book draft. For the second time now, I have dared to venture out into public without a brain. This time, fortunately, I gave no speeches, but I was amazingly turnip-headed! Leaving my notes behind is just one example!)

Anyway, today I tried to recall some of the things that stuck out for me and here are some snippets and reflections ...

In honor of Veteran's Day Pastor McLaughlin broke from his study of the seven churches in Revelation to do a special on soldiers. He started with the doctrine of Warfare, then went on to a study of Gideon.

Gideon's story starts at the end of the 40 years of peace that followed the victories of Deborah and Barak. Israel is once again doing evil in the sight of the Lord, ie, getting involved in idolatry. I've often wondered about all the emphasis on idolatry in the Old Testament, in light of Romans 15:4 (For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have confidence.) If it's for our example, instruction and encouragement why all the references to idolatry being such a problem? I mean, you don't see too many statues of Baal around these days. Then he defined idolatry: anything we turn to for help, happiness, support, success, comfort, encouragement or security instead of the word of God. By that definition, idolatry takes on new meaning.

Even as Christians, how many of us turn to something besides the word to make us feel better or more confident or secure? How many of us focus on getting that thing we just know is going to solve all our problems and make us wonderfully and finally happy? In fact, without it, we are often desperately unhappy and yearning. It can be a job, writing, being published, getting a mate, having the mate you have act right, having your family or kids turn out right... the options are innumerable. I see the temptations everywhere, but for me now they especially hang out in the field of writing when it comes to getting or being/staying published.

As Pastor McLaughlin moved through the passage the next major subject was miracles and how miracles are the easiest thing in the world for God to do. The much harder thing for God to do is to get a Believer to line up his thinking with God's -- to learn His word and then to apply it to his life. A miracle can be accomplished by a snap of God's fingers, but bringing a Believer to maturity requires that believer's volition. And a lot of time and consistency.

Miracles are used for many things, but rarely does God use them to deliver his people from their problems. Instead, the deliverance lies in his word -- in changing our thinking and our viewpoint and really believing what God has already told us. And that's pretty much what happened with Gideon. The arabs in the land were the problem, and the miracles didn't solve the problem.

Gideon was visited by the Lord and told right off that he -- Gideon -- was going to deliver Israel. After that he saw two miracles: the fire coming out of the rock to consume the meat and the bread he'd offered, and the Lord vanishing before his eyes. But at that point, instead of remembering what he'd just been told (that he was going to deliver Israel) he thought he was going to drop dead from having seen God. His panic tells us how short his memory had become, and how shaky his understanding of God's very recent word to him was.

Of course he didn't drop dead, but finally got his act together, listened to what God told him to do and went and tore down his father's idol -- in the night. And that was another cool thing. Gideon was too afraid of his father to do it in the day, and his fear (despite having been told directly by God that he was going to deliver Israel and seeing two miracles) caused him to do it at night. Which, ironically was exactly what God wanted him to do since the final operation for which Gideon was being prepared would be accomplished at night. I find the fact that God has incorporated even our failures into His wonderful plan to be extremely comforting. And also the demonstration here of His very great patience with us when we are total doofuses.

Which Gideon surely was. For after he tore down the idol and saw his father suddenly switch sides and defend him against the angry religious Israelites who wanted him dead, and after 32,000 Israelites came at his call to be under his command, he lost his nerve again. This is so much what I see in my own life. Great things happen, you realize God is leading you in a direction, first you're afraid to step out on faith but finally you do it, then the stakes multiply and -- oh, no! What if I make a mistake? I have 32,000 men waiting for me to command them. What do I know about command? What if I fail? Oh, noooo.....

So then we have the fleece episode which is really... well, blasphemy. God already told Gideon what was going to happen, and Gideon just didn't believe him. The God who cannot lie. The God who does not change, and in whom there is no turning or shadow. Gideon doubts Him, so he asks God to prove himself. Give me a sign. How many of us do that? I'm really not sure you mean what you say here in your word, God. Could you make the stoplight turn red right now? Or the lights in my living room flicker? Or have someone call me? And God was gracious. He did the miracle. Only to have Gideon doubt the miracle and turn around and ask for another. And even while being insulted, again, God answered his request.

I liked how pastor emphasized at this point how in Judges 6, Gideon had been doing all the talking and not listening much. As a result he didn't learn much and kept falling into fear. But in Judges 7 God started doing the talking, Gideon started listening and obeying and finally started moving forward in the plan...


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's Done!

Whoopee! Return of the Guardian King is done!

My fifth book, in the can. Wonder of wonders!

Sort of in the can, anyway... I still have two three-chapter sections to go through and develop/smooth out, and about 5 or 6 chapters at the end to work through (editing, tweaking, bringing details into line with things I've changed) but I can send those in as I finish them.

Yesterday I had even more left to do, but had decided just to send the thing in as it was... only to learn that the guy who processes the e-copies into hard copies for the editor was off to work the election. So I kept it another day, worked through one of those three-chapter sections and made significant headway before sending it off today. Even though I still have work to do on it, it still feels like a huge load off.

The deadline factor is oppressive, to say the least, and the last few days left me despairing. Some of the problems were large and complicated, the kind that require several days to mull over and sort through and I didn't have several days. And by the time you get to the end of a book as long as mine are, you're just sick of your own words. Especially when you're having to write fast. You begin to notice all the times you're saying the same things, the fixation you have with particular words, and you start chiding yourself: "Can't you think of anything else for them to do besides "look" at one another?!" I think that's why I like editing the best: I can cut most of that stuff out or replace it with better. I get positively on fire when I start editing. Just love it.

Anyway, there are more days now, so it's all working out just fine. As the Lord knew, but I was too often doubting. In spite of all the times He's come through. What can I say? I'm dust.

I can say, though, that I have the most wonderful editor alive! She is amazingly patient and so encouraging.

Anyway, I thought I'd take the afternoon off. Maybe clean the house a bit, do some ironing, write in my journal, take a walk, post a blog entry -- all the things I've not been doing lately. It feels like I've been in a long, dark tunnel for some time now and have finally emerged -- only to realize that I lost my dog in that tunnel. Kind of a strange feeling.

The other weird thing is that ... I can't believe I'm saying this... part of me also wants to go back and start looking at those chapters I still need to fix. Talk about obsessive! You know how they say dogs are like their owners? Or owners are like their dogs? Well, that's why the hound is the perfect dog for me. Get them on scent -- or focused on anything else they care about -- and they will NOT leave it alone!

Tomorrow, though, I'm off to another Bible conference, this one in CA. Looks like we'll be having a car caravan heading over there, which will be a blast.

I'll be back Monday and finally regular on posting again. Thanks for all the prayers!


Oh yeah, and the word count? It came in at 176,000. How about that?

Fireworks Photo by brianteutsch