Sunday, December 28, 2008

Revisiting a New Year Sermon

What emotions are you experiencing as you face the prospects of a new year? Anticipation? Uncertainty? Eagerness? Fear?

The year that is coming to an end has generated many emotions, challenges, and difficulties—everything from a devastating hurricane to an divisive election. What will the year ahead hold? For those of us trying to break into the field of publishing, we can’t help asking those inevitable questions about whether 2009 might be the magic year about which we dream. But we know it could more easily be a year of further disappointment, perhaps outright rejection.

A number of years ago I heard a sermon on the last Sunday before the new year, and I’ve never forgotten it. Its topic was the seven times Jesus is recorded as saying “fear not” in the book of Luke. Some of the occurrences are in familiar passages, and each carries a distinct message.

1:13: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”
1:30: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”
2:10: “Do not be afraid, [shepherds]; I bring you good news of great joy…”
5:11: “Do not be afraid, [Simon Peter]; from now on you will catch men.”
8:50: “Do not be afraid, [Jarius], just believe, and she will be healed.”
12:7: “Do not be afraid, [friends]; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
12:32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.”

As I review those verses and the comforting words of my Savior, it is inevitable that my mind wants to apply them to my adventures in trying to get Tangled Strands accepted by a publisher. Has my prayer been heard? Have I found favor with God? Will an e-mail or phone call bring me that coveted good news? Will God open up for me a whole new area of ministry from Christian fiction? And surely it can’t be as simple as “just believing” to see it happen?

No matter what the answers turn out to be to those questions in relation to my writing, I find solid assurance in the last two. Whether I ever get published or not, I have the Savior’s assurance that I am “worth more than many sparrows.” And whatever theologians have to say about the Father “giving us the Kingdom,” I know that my eternal destiny is sure, and I know that I have tried to do my best for that Kingdom all through my life.

So . . . with God’s help, I want to face the year ahead without fear—whether fear of what is going to happen in our country and the world or in my efforts to put my story out there for examination and possible publication.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saying Good-by to Christmas

After all the anticipation and preparations, Christmas is over. With few exceptions, the gifts we worked so hard to choose have been opened, the food we spent so much time preparing has been eaten, and the wishes we sent have been received. Children are enjoying new toys—and some adults are, too. Our ears are about ready to stop hearing the Christmas music we looked forward to a few weeks ago, and our eyes are almost ready for us to dismantle the decorations we have been enjoying.

Many of us feel blessed beyond measure. We have cherished times with family and friends and have celebrated a cornerstone of our faith, the birth of our Savior.

Others among us have had a different experience with the season. In the midst of all the festivities, they have struggled with illness, grief, loneliness, and melancholy. For them the end of the season comes with relief.

And it can been even worse. Tragedy is no respecter of seasons. Last night a mother was murdered, today the father arrested, and last I heard the ten-year-old son could not be found. Is he hiding somewhere in terror? And tomorrow’s headlines will tell of the angry, vengeful man who went to the large family Christmas party, shot several people, set the place on fire, and later killed himself.

What do we do with Christmas in the midst of a world like that?

During our country’s tragic Civil, War Henry Longfellow wrote the words to the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” He begins with words about bells, “wild and sweet,” repeating words of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Then he looked around him and wrote the third verse that has long haunted me.
And in despair I bowed by head:
“There is no peace of earth,” I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

I’m grateful that Longfellow didn’t stop with that verse but went on to write two more, including this third one:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead nor doeth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

I’m grateful for that reminder. Yes, Christmas is over, and I don’t expect right to win out over wrong any time soon. But I cling to the fact that God is not dead nor doth He sleep.” I’ll take that assurance to bed with me tonight, and I’ll take it with me into the new year that starts in seven days. Without it, saying good-by to Christmas would be an empty exercise. With that assurance, I can file this Christmas away with all the others in my memory bank and look forward to whatever God has for me before another one rolls around.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Delays and Dilemmas

I’ve been thinking about two things that often dog our paths and cause frustration. One is delays, and the other is dilemmas. I’m dealing with both right now. Both can be unavoidable, despite our best efforts, and both can be unpleasant.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been dealing with three delays. Though I’m a missionary who always determines to get the Christmas mail out by the first of December, we didn’t finish ours until yesterday. Though I look forward all year to the ambiance of a home decorated and lighted for Christmas, our only decorations so far are matching wreaths on the dining room wall. And as a writer trying to break into the Christian fiction market, I know the importance of being timely with submissions, yet the submissions are hung up on the second part of my title—dilemmas.

Some dilemmas are not as big as others, but they can still trip us up or slow us down. My husband has a yen this year to get a new tree, but what kind? He’s intrigued by those new ones with permanent lights—but they are expensive, I can’t imagine how you store them, and they mostly come with all white lights (I’m partial to soft colors). Another current dilemma is that we can’t decide what to do about our two daughters and their husbands for Christmas. We’ve tried matching gifts, gift certificates, and taking them shopping, but each of those has met with one catch or another.

Meanwhile, I’ve dealt with dilemmas related to my Tangled Strands novel—how to arrange the text to make the “three sample chapters” I submit, and shall I send to both interested publishers at once? Bigger than any of those dilemmas is an unexpected turn in the whole thing. On September 3, 2008, I wrote a blog titled “What? Make it the beginning?” It told about members of my writing group suggesting that the scene they had just critiqued would make a good opening for the story. That would require huge changes, but I knew almost from the first moment that it was a good idea.

Since then I’ve written a new beginning, starting the story six months later. The scene they liked so well as a beginning is just that, in the form of a prologue. Now I’ve received strong but opposing advice from two respected critique partners – 1) ditch the prologue; you’ve got a good beginning with chapter 1; and 2) oh, you must keep that scene as the opening! What to do??? I need feedback from some fresh readers, but who? “Friends” aren’t too hard to come up with, but I should also query a few who have experience with both writing and editors.

That leads to yet another dilemma—who to ask and how do I ask them? Though the author community of which I’ve been a part for two years now is incredibly generous and helpful, I am reluctant to intrude on any of them (it’s the holidays…they have their own deadlines…yada yada).

Both delays and dilemmas can have a good side, if we are willing to look for it. They can drive us closer to God if we let them, and they certainly teach patience, persistence, and perseverance. They can also produce subtle or unexpected blessings. The volume of Christmas mail brought fresh gratitude for all the friends God has given us. The house-decorating delay is going to result in some special time with our grandchildren as they help us play catch-up.

And the submission issues? “Special results” for that are still unknown—to me, but not to God.