Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Faith and The Life of the Writer

As you read this I am in Indianapolis attending CBA Advance. I say this in faith, because as I write, I don’t know how I will get there, or perhaps to be correct, (since I’m writing this on Saturday and you’re reading it on Wednesday) how I got here.

I was planning to leave Monday morning at 4:00 a.m., but on Friday when I got in my car the brake light came on, and when I tried to stop, the pedal went to the floor. I (very carefully) drove the car to the closest repair shop, but they said they wouldn’t be able to do anything until Monday. The rear brake lines, which are mounted under the gas tank, had disintegrated. To fix the problem they would have to remove the gas tank which would take several hours and cost $1,500.

Suffice to say, this was not good news. Besides not having the money for such a repair, leaving for the show late Monday afternoon would put me way behind schedule. I had a booth to set up for a show that started on Tuesday. On top of that, we discovered there was no oil in the car. Ouch! They warned me that driving the car was unsafe and that I should leave it with them, but I since I had driven it in, I felt I could drive it out. I opted to get a second opinion.

The whole thing was a brutal come-down from a super high. I had just finished a week of victory. We produced 200 promotional DVDs to hand out at the winter convention of the Christian Bookseller’s Association and the whole process was a miracle. As is true with most authors, I’m on a tight budget, and promotion is costly. When I first investigated doing this project I found the cost of burning the DVDs, printing artwork on the front, and buying jewel cases, would be $1,200. That price did not include studio time or editing of the original piece. Plus it was going to take an inordinate amount of my time to write a script, create a storyboard, screen existing video clips for pertinent material, have meetings with the director and editor, and spend time in the studio recording, and I just didn’t have that kind of time.

The miracle: I now have 200 professionally produced DVDs with a picture of me along with my books printed in full color on the front, packaged in jewel cases, with two promotional versions, (a one minute, and a six minute promo) and the total cost for everything was $180. And I didn’t even have to write the script or attend the meetings. I was ecstatic. I was praising the Lord for pulling it all together and giving me this great gift. And it was only one of several mini-miracles God did to help me prepare for this show. And then, two days before I was to leave, my brakes go out and I’m looking at an unaffordable repair bill and a huge delay. “Lord why are you doing this to me?" I complained. "Don’t you know I have a show to do?”

Here’s the funny part. My wife and I read through the Bible every year and that very morning we'd read the passages found in Exodus 16 & 17 where the children of Israel were complaining that they had no bread, so God gave them manna, and then that they had no water so God poured it from a rock. My goodness. God had just sent ten miraculous plagues that harmed only the Egyptians, not them, and had divided the waters of the Red Sea so they, but not the Egyptians, could cross, and they were complaining that He wasn’t taking care of them! I turned to my wife and said. “Isn’t that just like man? I know I’d probably do the same thing.” Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

After I calmed down, I took my car to a garage where the owner is a man I trust. He quoted me $400 (thank you, Lord) but said he couldn’t do it until Monday. So, as I say, I don’t know how I got here, (remember, I’m attending CBA in Indianapolis as you read this) but I can’t wait to tell you the miracle, because God.... To Be Continued. (Don’t you just hate it when they say that?)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Part of the Healing

Marginalized. Disconnected. On the outside. Most of us feel that at one time or another. As a writer I often feel that way; perhaps writers feel it a little more than most. We are often the watchers, the recorders, the scribes, as we would have been called in the times of Jesus. Sometimes it's a lonely place to be; sometimes it's even a little frightening.

I wrote a devotional some time ago about standing in an isolated cemetery watching a tiny casket being put in the ground as friends buried their baby. It was a lonely place, a frightening place. As a cold March wind whipped at us I felt the icy numbness of our friends’ shock, the desolation of their loss. And I felt impotent in the face of it. There were no answers to the hard questions in our minds.

Writing about it helped me, but I wondered how others would feel when they read what I had written. The devotional was published in a local paper. The next Sunday the father of that little baby tapped me on the shoulder just before the morning service. He told me he had been in a restaurant on his lunch break and had picked up the paper to read while he ate. He saw the devotional. He said he ate his burger with tears streaming down his face. Then he said, "It was good, what you wrote. It was part of the healing." There were tears streaming then, too.

Then I realized I wasn't an outsider. I wasn't just one who was there to record the event. I was one who was to be part of it, part of the process of pain and solace, fear and courage. I was struck with the awesome grace of God that He would give me such a gift, the awesome plan of God that He uses each of us, in so many different ways, to bring healing and reconciliation and love to one another.

Feeling marginalized, disconnected and isolated is a common human condition. We are all broken in many ways, and often living with pain. Perhaps when we feel it we should look around and ponder, in that place, how God is going to make us part of the healing.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Love Letter

Recently, my 82-year-old mom said, "If what I know today, I knew when I was young..." That got me thinking.

Today, I am an author of two published novels, with another due out in November, and the current work-in-progress almost ready to shop around. If, what I know today of the publishing arena, I knew back in 2000 when the idea to write "popped into my head," gathered speed, and broke out with a huge adrenalin rush, would I have continued to move in the direction I have?

I suspect the answer would be 'no.'

I would have been too overwhelmed: carve out time to write, query publishers and literary agents, decipher rejection letters, enter contests, query some more, do revisions, review gallies for approval, procure reviews for the books, send out press kits to booksellers and press releases to the media, organize promotions, accept I'm not going to make my millions overnight and not quit my day job.

I would have hightailed it in the opposite direction and crawled under a boulder to hide.

But our all-knowing God knew this. That's why He revealed things to me in a need-to-know basis, led me to writers' organizations, like The Word Guild, where I learned the ropes one step at a time, and met some of the best people I know, other writing professionals, who understood the angst of being an author and commiserated with me over the rejections and rejoiced with me over the successes.

The idea to write didn't just "pop into my head." I was called to write and to write to the glory of God.

Has this authorly journey been easy? No.

Have there been times when I wondered at the sanity of it all? Yes.

Sometimes, it's felt like I had to put on my battle armor and maneuver my way through the minefield, sometimes sustaining injuries.

Knowing what I know today of the publishing arena, would I unplug my computer and call it quits?

No. Quitting is not an option.

You see, I've been infected with the love to write, to entertain, to encourage. Recently, I came across a quote from Mother Teresa which seems to sum me up. "I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending out a love letter to the world."

God Bless!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ora et Labora and leave the house

As a writer I've held to two credos. Writing begets writing which means keep yourself glued to your computer and apply yourself - and Ora et Labora, work and pray - and as a Calvinist, a little heavy on the work, thank you very much. Writing is hard. It is solitary. It requires sacrifices both socially and physically. Then, six months ago, I sat at my computer to brainstorm some new book ideas . . . and froze.

This is a novel concept for me because until I switched to my Mac computer, the situation was usually reversed. But I couldn't re-boot out of this freeze. I scribbled, I read, I watched movies but nothing. No inspiration. No new ideas. For the past ten years I had spilled out stories and now the well was empty. My career was over. Time to fill out that IGA application form.This is a lousy situation for a writer to find herself.

I knew I should be praying about this - I am, after all, a writer who professes faith in God and salvation through Christ. I trust that if not a hair can fall from my head without his will, surely an idea can fall into that same head? Yet in spite of my fears of the end of a career, I struggled with the concept that God should be intrested in my lack of ideas when Somalia, Iraq and persecution in China are, I am sure, taking up a lot of His attention. At the same time I felt that writing was still my place in the Kingdom, so I caved and in my daily devotions, asked God for some ideas. And I applied myself even harder to my craft. I stayed home and concentrated on the writing. I pushed away all distractions. I kept myself isolated so I could focus. I finished up my current contract trying not to panic because I had no new ideas hence, no new work. And I prayed.

In an inferior novel my prayers would have borne fruit and I would have been inspired and come up with some whopper novel treatments. But the brain freeze continued. So I surrendered. I put aside the hunt for new ideas. I turned my focus outward.I stepped out of my construction zone and out of my house. I got involved in a few other people's lives. Really listened (and not with the intention of 'borrowing' what I heard).

And my world opened up. My mind expanded. My prayers became ones of obedience and moving away from my concern for myself. And, to my pleased surprise, a germ of an idea formed as I sat in a meeting. The another one while listening to a sermon. (Sorry Pastor Randy) and as the ideas gently grew, I realized that in order to write about life, life must be lived. Writing may beget writing, but truly living life begets better writing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Christians as the new fascists?

Most of us write with dreams of doing some good for the Kingdom of God. We also dream of selling some books or articles, maybe making a decent living at what we see as our calling. But what if our writing brings us grief? What if we destroy our reputation in the process? Are we willing to write if it costs us dearly?
I came across this column while going through my constant barrage of email and SPAM today. It reminds me of some dangerous trends I see developing here in benevolent Canada as well.

Don Feder writes:
"Breezing through the bookstore at Reagan National Airport the other day, I
came across a new volume with the unsubtle title, "American Fascists - The
Christian Right and The War on America" by former New York Times'
correspondent Chris Hedges.
But, as the saying goes, tell us what you really think. No hyperbole
here. In the introduction, Hedges makes it clear that he actually is comparing evangelical opponents of abortion and gay marriage to the monsters who burned books, ran death camps and plunged humanity into a world war that left 63 million dead.

Except it's Hedges who wants to burn books and gag his opponents - but we'll get to that shortly."


Read the whole thing. Canadian Christians like to distance themselves from the Christian Right in the U.S. We like to say we're different, less harsh, less doctrinaire, well, 'er, maybe nicer because we are Canadian? We do have a different ethos up here, for sure, and politics is less likely to be wrapped in religious terminology and God is not Republican here.

However, I wonder how much we buy into villification of the Christian Right that we get constantly through our media. And how many of us would be surprised to find that we ourselves, despite our attempts to be relevant, to reach out, to engage the culture without giving offence, are cast in the same negative light. Lumped in with these "bad guys."

From my journalistic perch in Ottawa, I see worrisome signs as Christians in Canada are being cast as anti-Canadian or anti-Charter values by our own homegrown media and many politicians. In fact its common for politicians to raise the spectre of the scary Christian. In fact, I'm sorry to say, I've even seen Christian politicians do it to each other. "He's scary, but I'm not."

The thing is, as Christians, we have to be prepared to be misunderstood.

As writers, are we prepared for having our words miscontrued, our reputations put through the shredder, our faith attacked and our character questioned? Will we abandon more and more fields when it becomes clear there is a greater and greater price to pay for speaking up?

Sobering things to think about. Funny though, Jesus and the Apostle Paul warn us about persecution, about lies being said about us, about some of us even being put to death. Let's hope we don't cave in. But let's hope we continue to make sure that we stand up for Truth with love, so we don't end up being persecuted for being jerks! And let's be careful not to engage in inadvertent Christian bashing ourselves. We may not like the way the Christian Right in the U.S. comes across, but maybe what we're reading and seeing is not true.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Write 'Til it's Right

How do you know when you’ve got a great story? And once you’ve started working on it, how do you know when it’s finished?

Our film company, FireGate Films, just finished shooting a feature film called Among Thieves. It’s a story of three friends who reunite ten years after high school and uncover a global oil conspiracy. The team entrusted me to write the script, which, as any screenwriter will tell you, is a privilege beyond privilege. I originally pitched the prodco on five ideas that I thought had potential. We discussed them and agreed on the story that was right for us.

I began writing and provided updates to the team on the progress. The thing was, the story kept changing. While the basic idea remained somewhat the same, the story kept evolving until it became a very distant cousin to the first layout. Why?

Because it’s the story and not the writer who dictates the line of action. Depending on the circumstance, writing (story-telling) is often an investigation of truth instead of a proclamation of it. Writing the script became an adventure to see what these characters would do and how they would react. After 10 different story concepts we settled in on the final draft. In fact, there were only two lines from the original concept that survived to the shooting stage. In the end, we as a team (i.e. the prodco, actors, crew etc.) really gravitated to the story. In this way we have a better chance at providing a unified vision to the audience.

Sometimes that feeling of knowing a story is right comes in the first draft. Sometimes it takes 10 tries (or more) to get it right – and often this requires the help and advice of people who are at ‘arm’s length’ from the project so as to provide an objective look. So how do you know when your story has ‘arrived’?

That’s not an easy question to answer, because it usually requires a subjective response. Somebody once commented about how you can be sure you are falling in love when they said: “When it happens, you know it.”

And I think that’s often the way it is with writing. To a large extent, whether we are story tellers using novels and screenplays as our medium, or if we are non-fiction writers working on articles, what we do as writers is a mystery. We keep working at, tossing out scenes or paragraphs here, adding scenes there, working on the characters to ensure they are honest and not simply fulfilling a predestined function, and then all of a sudden the story takes on a life of its own.

And the coolest moment is when your story actually starts speaking to you. That’s when you realize that there’s something going on that’s larger than yourself.

So be encouraged. It’s done when it’s done. And not before.

Blessings and happy writing to each of you.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I Used to Have Answers -- Now I Have Tears

It is strange how often I have shared some form of that statement in the past three years. It somehow becomes truer each time I come face to face with tragedy. The shock of four teens killed (now a fifth has died as well) in the Meaford, Ontario area was not so close as to leave me numb, but directly and intensely impacted family members, leaving me aching deeply. At a family get-together on Sunday, I asked the blessing for the meal. In my prayer I added a brief thanks that none in our family were missing, and prayed for those hurting deeply. Three people left the room in tears. My wife’s brother and his wife are the parents of one of the boys on that hockey team. David chums with the boys who were killed. He would have been in the van if there had been room.

I have learned that all my skill as a writer, and all the promises that I believe and embrace from the Bible don’t soften the hurt. They give hope (to believers) in the midst of the hurt, but the hurt is just as intense.

I’ve been overly busy, and thankful for that. There has been little time for reflection, for mulling over the fragility of life. I don’t know whether any of those kids come from Christian homes. I don’t know where they stood with God, or where they will spend eternity. I do know that God loved them, as He loves the aching ones left behind.

What does a writer do when words are not sufficient? My mind goes back to the dilemma I faced – as a poet – after the death of our grandson in March 2003. I searched for beautiful, lyrical language to express the love people poured into our lives. Almost three years later I still haven’t found the lyrical language but can express that love in three simple words. “I feel hugged.” I guess if somehow I can share that concept – if somehow the people who are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after this tragedy can “feel hugged” by anything I manage to communicate, whether in print or in some other way I will have done something valuable. If I can cry with them, or – even without shedding tears – somehow share the ache, it will be a greater gift than profound words. That’s a good thing, because I am aching even as I write this, and seem desperately short of profound words.

In a politically incorrect move – but one I find myself rejoicing in, our local school-board trustee contacted many area churches and asked for prayer for the families and friends of the boys killed. I don’t know if he will be criticized for the move, but I am quite determined he will receive at least one thank-you.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Introduction: Ann-Margret Hovsepian

Just a quick hello as I join this wonderful group of authors!
A writer's life is full of surprises (some bringing joy and others causing panic). For many of us, I think, the idea that we have become writers is a surprise in itself. About 16 years ago, when I was out of college and trying to figure out what to do with my life, my father encouraged me to consider doing something my writing skills. "What?" I asked, "You want me to become a writer?" That seemed like such a ridiculous idea. What parent encourages their child AWAY from a financially rewarding career in sciences and TOWARD an upredictable career as a writer? Apparently, wise ones like my dad.

So here I am, waiting for my first book to be published! Tyndale House Publishers plans to release my preteen girls' devotional, The One-Year Designer Genes Devo, in September 2007. I'll spare you the details of the journey that brought me to this point, but I can tell you that persevering through the tough days of freelancing (I just started my 11th year) has been worth it. Not because of an enviable income (ha! I hear all the other writers here snickering), not because of the fame ("HOW do you pronounce your last name?"), but because it feels really good knowing that I'm using my unique gifts to do something that glorifies God.
I can't tell you how excited I am by the possibility that my book may help X number of girls get to know their Designer in a new, personal and exciting way, just as I know some of my 150 or so articles have touched people's hearts. It gives me hope that, even as a frail human being who falls short of God's glory, I can be used to make a small but positive impact in this world.
Thanks for supporting the authors here and elsewhere. Your encouragement helps us to continue doing what we do, which in turn will hopefully touch other lives. God bless you!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Life After a Business Plan

It seems to me that the topic “Life After” ranks high on the list of lucrative subjects. There are books written on just about any phase of “life after” from conception to death. Life After Death is addressed by theologians and lay folk alike and there’s no lack of voices waiting to explain the concept of reincarnation and beyond. Insurance and investment experts are at the ready to help us prepare for Life After Retirement or Life After The Kids Leave Home. Then there’s the matter of life after the latest diet plan, herbal formula, workout options or study declaring that chocolate may really be good for us (yeah!). The list goes on, sometimes ad nauseum. But, what about Life After the Business Plan?

Perhaps one of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned sounds so frustratingly simple: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. After thirty years in vocational ministry, entering the business world scared the living daylights out of me, to put it in Life After Sheparding terms. Convincing myself that it was neither selfish nor disloyal to charge appropriate fees for my work was nearly mind-boggling. Then there was the first time I had to let a less than competent subcontractor go. That nearly drove me to sackcloth and ashes.

But trusting, not leaning on my own wisdom, is more than that. It’s a rock-solid realization that God is my source. Not those great government contracts. Not the local economic development office. Not the U.S. firm I work for. God is my source. Period.

Trust isn’t always easy when doors stubbornly refuse to open, especially when you know you’re qualified and the product or service you offer is of value. The greatest optimist can be shaken when accounts receivable continually pale beside accounts payable.

A business plan is just that - a plan. I regularly commit my work, my company and my clients to the Lord and I still write proposals, knock on doors and network like crazy. But the difference is that now I rest confidently in the knowledge that “He will bring it to pass.” I’m quiet inside - and what better “Life After” could a person want?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I was born wanting to read and write. In a farm family that had survived the depression, such idling was tantamount to the unpardonable sin.

As each of my five older siblings reached grade eight, they left school to work on the farm or get a job. I saw no future without an education, and was a weakling when it came to physical work. Since I could not keep pace with my older siblings, I was dubbed lazy. My self esteem plummeted. I tried harder. Perhaps because of my determination--or my perceived lethargy--I was allowed to finish school.

I was not yet a child of the King. I couldn't know that it was He who knit me together in my mother's womb, and declared me to be fearfully and wonderfully made. (Ps. 139)

I wish I could say I joyfully got on with a writing career, but guilt was my companion. I became a legal secretary, wife, mother, missionary, counselor, Bible college instructor, and guilty writer. Oh, I fought it...but I always felt better after doing something useful.

After 12 years in the Arctic, it was found that my heart stopped many times a day and a pacemaker helped to ease the distress. Difficulties continued. More years before Celiac Disease was diagnosed. The genetic allergy to gluten had destroyed the digestive process in my intestine.

Now skin and bones and unable to get out of my chair, I lived in Psalm 139. "You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand on me...." You got that right, Lord...behind and before. I can't even get out of my chair.

I glanced across at my laptop and decided, "Fine, then, I'll just write a book. A Time to Dance flowed like a tank under pressure. Before it was done, the plot for Elusive Dream began to take shape. Guilt-free writing! Would it ever have become a reality if God had not backed me into a corner?

Weekly blood transfusions helped with the continuing weakness. The Celiac Disease had spawned third-stage cancer. My body was too depleted to put up a struggle.

The doctor was kind but honest. An operation was the only chance. The children came. We prayed together, said our goodbyes, cried some. I left them holding on to their tearful father.

Psalm 139:16 comforted me as I lay on the stretcher. "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Had my days now been used up? So this is it, Lord. Whatever I've done for You is done...all done. I reviewed my life's accomplishments--not a lot to bring before the King of Kings. My spirit grew troubled.

Wonderfully the peace of His Presence flooded my soul--He didn't ask how many I had brought to Him, what I had accomplished...or left undone, nor did He ask about the two unpublished manuscripts; but gently whispered, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God--not of works...." Eph.2:8,9

My emotions took the rollercoaster; I thrilled as I pondered the glories of heaven, the joy of meeting Jesus...others waiting for me. My thoughts drifted to my family. I wept.

Hours later, I woke from the operation. My family surrounded me--now weeping tears of joy.

Though recovery has been long and painful, the joy of the Lord has been my strength. A Time to Dance, Elusive Dream and its sequel, Echo of a Dream have been published. In the Shadow of the Rockies is ready for a publisher (hopefully Canadian), and I am working on City of Darkness/City of Gold. I know that He Who has begun a good work in me will complete it...whatever He deems completion to be.

I look back with a grateful heart. My future is secure in Christ--I knew it before, but now I know it. He has shown me that when I have nothing left but Him...He is enough.

Ella Sailor,
Author, Counselor, Inspirational Speaker
Child of the King!

Taking the Homework Seriously

This past week I’ve been taking an online course through American Christian Fiction Writers. It’s a marketing course for people with at least one book in, or about to be in print. The assignments have been hard to keep up with, but very good. A lot of what we’re doing is looking at what others have done – the famous and not so famous who have gone before us. Clicking into all these websites has been interesting – just looking at the sites for tone/colour/take-away value has been an eye-opener.

Cyndy Saltzmann, who teaches the course keeps a steady refrain in front of us – “It’s not about you!” She keeps telling us to always keep our reader in mind – what colour should your website be? What colour will your reader like? What media are best suited? What media does your reader follow?

It makes sense and it makes me laugh (and groan!) to realize how often we all continually go back to what we like/want/need. I guess writers are a lot like most people – self-centred – and it’s not easy to break the pattern.

It reminds me of Jesus’ command to “love one another,” and “prefer one another in love.” He scolded his friends for coming to the communion table and gorging themselves while others went hungry. He pointed out the weak and helpless time and again, lifting them up, giving them places of honour and respect. He was always other-focused and directed his disciples to strive to be that way.

I realized today that all of what I’ve been learning about marketing is really the same thing. It’s not just about selling books. It’s about preferring others in love – finding ways to offer them what they need, what God will use in their lives to help, to heal, perhaps even to save them.
So I’m taking the “homework” seriously. I owe it to my readers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Prayer Journal

A number of years ago I was searching for something that would improve my morning prayer time. First thing in the morning I found it hard to stay focussed; my mind would wander away from whatever I was praying about, and I’d realize that for an indeterminate period of time I hadn’t even been praying.

The solution I latched onto was a prayer journal. If you’re writing your prayers, you’re not going to lose focus to the same extent. Being a writer, this seemed the ideal format for praying, and I have found it to be quite valuable. Many writers use journals for creative purposes. My journal is primarily a spiritual exercise, although ideas that later make their way into poems do occasionally first get expressed in my prayer journal.

The structure of my journal has changed through the years, as I have sought to make the process as valuable as possible. I begin by reading my journal entries from a year ago, and three years ago. By doing this I am reminded of what was going on in my life then, what I was praying about, how I felt about it, and am able to reflect on what’s happened in the mean time.

Sometimes this shoves answered prayers, that I’d forgotten about, right in my face. Sometimes it exposes how fickle I can be in my shifts between naive optimism and dark cynicism, or show me how self-centred my prayers have been. Sometimes it reminds me to pray for people who haven’t been mentioned in my prayers for a while. Sometimes it refreshes my mind to an aspect of prayer I have been neglecting.

Before I write anything, I read a little scripture. I don’t read large passages, but simply pick up from what I’d read the day before, and read until I find something to reflect upon. It might be the very next phrase, or might be an entire chapter away. I write the phrase in my journal, and then begin. Often I find parallels between the truths of the scripture I’m reading, and the ones I wrote about exactly one, or three, years before.

Frequently I do write about the scripture, but not always. My journal includes what my family and I have been doing, what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been writing about — and prayers. Some parts of it are little more than a diary, although I address it all to God. The whole process takes twenty-five to thirty minutes each day, resulting in a half page of writing. As I read the previous prayers, I seek to do so prayerfully, so even if these things are not re-written, I will be remembering the people and situations before God.

I know that my approach to journaling is not the only right one — but it has proven valuable for me (this morning I wrote journal #3992). I try to write one every morning, but, since it’s not the only praying I do, I don’t worry if the demands of family life cause me to miss once in a while. Perhaps something similar may be right for you.


Monday, January 15, 2007

What's Wrong With God?

We’ve all encountered it. We’re engrossed in a well written secular novel and suddenly the protagonist is thrown into a situation so catastrophic any normal person would cry out to God—but it doesn’t happen. Why is that? Is there something wrong with mentioning God? Foxhole conversions may not stand the test of time, but they’re common nonetheless. If there’s one thing secular authors are good at it’s painting realistic characters, yet even when the bullets are whizzing by it seems their characters refuse to ask God to save them, which tends to make such characters patently unrealistic.

I used to read more secular fiction than Christian because worldly authors had less trouble illustrating the depraved nature of man. Christian authors tend to step lightly around evil. This sugarcoating of sin may make characters less offensive, but it also makes them less believable. Thank God—and I do―this is changing. I know several authors on this blog alone who are cutting against the grain, and from different angles. N.J. Lindquist writes her mystery fiction primarily for a secular market, but doesn’t shy away from putting God into the mind of her characters when it’s called for. Deborah Gyapong boldly writes characters with an expressed dark side, but publishes for the Christian market. Linda Hall presents a crossover, writing for both markets while skillfully showing the foibles of man and the need for redemption.

Now if we can only get Christian authors to stop shying away from delivering a message. Last year at Write Canada, a Canadian Christian writer’s conference sponsored by the Word Guild, I had the privilege of joining Deborah Gyapong on a panel that discussed the topic of message driven fiction. It was one of the better panels I’ve been on. The opinions expressed were as strong as they were divergent. Some said putting a message into fiction got in the way of the story and diminished the quality of the work. Others argued that a story without a message was mere entertainment, and had limited value.

Whatever a person’s point of view, one thing can be said: message driven fiction is here to stay. It has been around since the beginning of literature and will be around until the end. Consider how “Aesop's Fables,” from early Greek literature, were always tied to a moral message. In “A Christmas Carol” Dickens told us money can’t buy happiness; Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” reinforced the idea that our sin will find us out; in “Billy Bud,” Melville shared with us how envy in the heart of man leads to the shedding of innocent blood; Conrad showed us in “Heart of Darkness” that unrestrained living can only lead to evil, and Harriet Beecher Stow used “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” to expose the offence of slavery.” These books are considered literary classics. Literature with a message was so common when I was growing up, I often heard the phrase: “What’s the moral of the story?”

Yet today we’re told Christians shouldn’t be so transparent in their writing, that it’s poor taste to write with an agenda. No one wants to be preached at. If we’re to sell books, the message needs to be watered down to where there’s really no message at all. Meanwhile contemporary secular authors like Jonathan Franzen in “A Strong Motion,” and John Irving in “The Cider House Rules,” sell abortion as a virtue, and Scott Turow in “Personal Injuries,” tells us Euthanasia is the equivalent of compassion.

Make no mistake, message driven fiction will always exist. It’s sad the secular world has, for he most part, determined to focus on the evil while abandoning its obligation to provide a moral solution. Perhaps, as Christians, it’s time to use our craft to overcome evil—with good.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Reflection for Writers

In my morning devotions this week I looked up a Bible verse I had underlined three years ago when I was looking for an answer to my question about whether I should keep writing. But instead of rereading this verse (Habakkuk 2:2) as I had planned, I was drawn to another passage in Habakkuk 3:18: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! (NLT)

To me the words say: no matter what comes my way this year, what hardships, what joy, whether I meet my goals as a writer, whether I have a book or article published or not, I have been given a reason to be happy. I will rejoice, not in the sad things that may happen, not in the things that come my way to cause me concern but I will rejoice in the Lord!

There may be many twists in the road ahead but I will follow God’s leading. I will join with the writer of this verse and rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful because I know the God of my salvation!

This verse is followed by a wonderful promise of God’s provision for all of us who are on a journey of faith. It reads: The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains! (Habakkuk 3:19 NLT) Not just any Lord but the Sovereign Lord is going to be our strength every day of this year! While we wait on the Lord’s answer telling us what we are to do next, we are invited to rest in the promise. He will bring us safely over the mountains.

Elaine Ingalls Hogg

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Blogs: A High Hurdle for a Slow-Running Poet

I'm a poet. I've had other work published, and even paid for – but poetry is my deepest love as a writer. Maybe that's why the term "blog" offends me so deeply. It seems to me an ugly word, lacking any lyrical beauty. I have resisted strenuously – almost bitterly – the constant invitations to visit "blogs." But today I broke down. I am a writer. "Blogs" are a medium reaching potentially millions of people. So I just swallowed my pride and jumped in.
Years of writing and interacting with other writers has taught me much. Perhaps most significantly, it has shown me how much I still have to learn. Years of working in a Bible Book Store, surrounded by a selection of some of the best writing available, and admittedly much of lesser quality also – has given self-expectations that may well be beyond reach. I have no interest in adding to the mediocre, yet am far from producing the quality I most admire in a relatively small selection of books. How then, do I find satisfaction in the work I feel called to do, when I never meet my own expectations?

A number of things are key. (1) Doing my very best today. Bringing all my skill and passion to the task, while using the simplest language I can, with the least jargon. (2) Seeking to improve just a little bit on where I was yesterday. (3) Using the technology and the mediums that readers are using, even if I personally prefer other technology and mediums. (4) Accepting and even seeking critiques of my work, the kind of critiques that hurt, because they expose the weaknesses in my "masterpiece." (5) Expecting to be a bit embarrassed next year by the work published this year. (If I haven't advanced enough in my writing skills to see things I would like to do different in work already published, I have probably been neglecting some aspect of God's calling and his gifting.) (6) Recognizing that resistance to change is "normal" but never letting that be an excuse to become stagnant. Sometimes deliberately venturing into the areas I feel resistant to.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Make it About the Writing

It can get depressing, this over the top emphasis on marketing and promotion that we writers are supposed to engage in. We need websites. That’s a given. We’re supposed to set up blogs. And write in them daily, and do that while we’re trying to meet deadlines. We need to take out loans and buy expensive ads in magazines. We need newsletters. We need a fan base. And let’s not forget attending conferences and networking, networking, networking. (It’s not called making friends anymore: it’s called networking.)

And now we writers are told that that’s not enough. There is already a buzz on writer’s internet writer’s groups about podcasting and producing trailers for our books. (Trailers for books?)

I think things have gotten a little out of hand. And the reason I know this is that more and more writers are feeling depressed over this very thing. They’ve done all they can and still the numbers (as in sales) aren’t good enough. This whole thing is leaving many writers too stressed to do what they are actually called to do - write.

I believe we’re all aiming our telescopes at the wrong planet. We need to change our focus from comparing ourselves to other writers, by getting our eyes off our Amazon rating and onto God.

So, yes, we should do what we can to promote our books, and then write the best books we can, and I know it sounds simplistic, but leave the results with God.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Introduction: Elaine Ingalls Hogg

I’m Elaine Ingalls Hogg, author and inspirational speaker. My journey into writing came late in life – I found I turned to writing as a way of dealing with what I was experiencing when I was a palliative care volunteer. I needed to respect the confidentiality of each individual I worked with so writing was a way for me to express the intense emotions I felt.

Shortly after I began to write I was speaking on the role of a volunteer at a palliative care workshop and lady I’d never met before came up to me after my talk and said, “You should write a story to help young children when someone they love is dying.” I thanked her, but told her I didn’t think I was the right person. She said, “Oh! I think you are and I’m going to pray for you every night until you do it.”

Her words watered the seed that I’d buried 35 years before after a bad experience on a writing composition exam. I’d suffered a severe case of writer’s block and gave up my dream of becoming a writer and went on to study music instead. However, after the thought was planted, the idea of becoming a writer stayed in my mind morning, noon and night that summer. Shortly after this I remember telling God, “Okay, God, I’ll never know (if I can become a writer) unless I try.” So try I did and my book, Remembering Honey was created. Now I can only look back and be amazed at how God has led, made a path, held my hand and been there for me.

(My last two titles, When Canada Joined Cape Breton and Christmas in the Maritimes have made it to the publisher’s best seller list and they, Nimbus Publishing, are publishing my fourth book, Historic Grand Manan in the spring of 2007.)

My website:

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Yes, There is a Sovereign God

It seems every time you pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news, all you get is bad news. There's the war in Iraq. The one in Afganistan. In Ethiopia and Somalia. Iran and North Korea are racing to build "something" with nuclear power. China is amassing what could be the world's largest army. People are dying of aids and famine and virulent diseases. Earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes pound the earth indiscriminately. Homosexuality, murders, and civil disobedience are growing by leaps and bounds. So are world leaders who try to muscle their way to power.

It's depressing, isn't it? Gruesome, even. Definitely, I would call it "troubled times."

For many, the bad news isn't just out there, as recorded by the journalists and camaramen. It's right in their own homes. Within their own family circles. Their family unit is breaking down and breaking up. Their children are enslaved by drugs, sex, and alcohol. They themselves are frequenting the casinos, bars, and night clubs with friends and acquaintances or working into the wee hours of night, every night, in the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder and being rewarded with perks, instead of being at home, with their families, modeling godly and loving examples of steadfast parenthood.

The world is spiraling out of control. Certainly, I see it in my own family as members go the way of the divorce court, their children, seared and scarred and seemingly bobbing up and down in the rough waters of their chaotic lives.

Where is God?

He's where He's always been. On His throne. In control.

Oh, it may not appear that way to us, but then the mysteries of God's sovereign plan are, to us lowly, human beings with finite minds, quite simply, beyond our comprehension. We don't understand why our marriages are destroyed, why our children are gunned down by a fly-by shooting, why our bodies are eaten alive by cancer.

But we have to trust God that He knows what He is doing, even when we don't "get it."

When we recite the Lord's Prayer, we say, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." What exactly is His will?

Well, God has two types of will: one, there's His directive will, whereby He produces certain events by His own power, and two, His permissive will, whereby He allows certain events to happen. Both are, without question, His will. And He is, without question, sovereign over both types of events.

It's tough, though, for us to accept this or understand it, especially when we're in the midst of heartache and suffering. But we have to remember we live in a fallen world. And heartache and suffering are, unfortunately, part of this fallen world. For the believer and unbeliever alike.

But, in spite of what our human eyes see, let's never forget God still rules. And one day, in accordance with His perfect plan, will, and timing, He will bring order out of chaos, unity out of disparity, health out of sickness, holiness out of sinfulness, and understanding out of confusion.

And in the meantime, let's also remember God helps His people, us, to survive the unpleasant circumstances of our lives, uses those circumstances, in fact, to refine our characters, to strengthen our spiritual muscles, to mould us so we reflect the Lord Jesus Christ. We just need to keep our focus on the Lord, not on our circumstances.

Although we suffer on this side of heaven, our faith confirms to our hearts God has not abandoned us, He is working in our lives, oftentimes quietly behind the scenes. He holds all things in His hands. Ourselves, our unpleasant situations, included.

Isn't it comforting to know we do not stand alone, we do not have to face our troubles alone?

"Father, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Forever. Amen."

Let the Lord of the universe take your hand and lead you not over your problem, or around it, or beneathe it, but through it, to the other side, to victory. Let Him conquer your doubts, your fears, your hurts. Trust Him. He is, after all, sovereign and in control.

God Bless!


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Time and Money

Coming to this new place on the web, I feel I should introduce myself. My name is Carolyne Aarsen. I write fiction for Warner Faith, Guideposts and Love Inspired Steeple Hill. I'm starting a new year and a new book with new intentions as befits the calendar rolling over to another year. It feels like a fresh start in many ways. I'm also continuing an experiment I ventured on last year in January - no-buy month. A month of no discretionary spending. At all. After the orgy that can be Christmas spending, I find I need to retreat and regroup and analyze what I spend my money on and how. This year I'm doing it with a couple of other writing friends and it has been an interesting journey so far. I'm hoping the self-discipline exercised during no-buy month will spill over into my writing life. I don't always spend my money wisely, I know I don't always 'spend' my time wisely either. Putting words on the page in the isolation of my office with no one standing over me to check my progress is a constant struggle. Now that I have satellite internet, the struggle and temptations have increased. So this month is giving me a chance to look at both. And to find a way to use both the money and the time God has blessed me with in a stewardly fashion. I'm blogging about it on my other blog. Stop by if you want to follow the progress.

A Few Words in the Wind
Visit my website

Why Canada needs The Word Guild

Once upon a time, in Canada and elsewhere in the West, the shared worldview was overwhelmingly Christian. Authors and artists engaged in an ongoing conversation with the greater Christian Story. Whether they personally agreed with that Story or not, they knew their Bibles, they knew their religious tradition, even if they argued against it.

Then a movement began in literature to shake off the Scriptural canon and to appropriate words like epiphany and strip them of their original theological meaning. On Jan. 6, the Western Church celebrates the Epiphany, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as the three kings brought gifts to the infant Jesus. Now the word epiphany is used to describe a sudden insight or realization. The word has lost its meaning as a manifestation of God.

When academics and critics decided the Scriptural canon was old hat, they threw it out in favor of a literary canon of great authors one must read and know to be considered educated. Now in academe, postmodernism has taken hold and thrown out the idea that any one canon can provide truth. Subjectivity and relativism reign, yet strangely, the doctrine of relativism has its own high priests and fundamentalists.

In journalism, there are still vestigial claims to objectivity, as if some notion of truth exists "out there" to be discovered. But more and more, the mainstream media seems to be shilling for certain points of view, acting as a kind of intellectual vanguard for social engineering. And often Christians are portrayed in a negative light as fundamentalists, goofs, and hypocrites.

It's been clear for a long time that the Christian worldview seldom gets a fair shake in most of the mainstream media. The conversation with the Story still continues among some authors, but the books and movies that steal the limelight--such as The Da Vinci Code--are likely to be anti-Christian. We live in a society that still has Christian vestiges, but many resent those vestiges, especially any moral strictures surrounding sexuality that might impinge on individual freedom.

Yet for those of us who have found Christ and come to understand that true freedom exists only in His service, we see how confused, hopeless and self-destructive the messages the culture is sending to the next generation.

Hence the need for an organization like The Word Guild. It's time to take back our culture, book by book, movie by movie, article by article, blog by blog.

We have formed a national network of writers and editors who encourage, mentor, and recognize excellence among those who profess the Christian faith. Also developing in Canada are parallel Christian media, such as the Christian Week newspaper network, the Crossroads Television System, the Canadian Catholic News cooperative, the Miracle Channel, several Christian radio stations in major cities across Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship's excellent magazine Faith Today are some examples. The need for this kind of media is growing as the MSM (short for mainstream media) grows more and more shrill advancing the secularist agenda. And as these outlets grow more shrill, even respect for facts seems to be up for grabs.

Little online news service recently exposed an erroneous story in the New York Times that prompted the paper's own ombudsman to write recently that the "paper of record" got the facts wrong. In that story, the Times wrote that women were serving huge prison terms for aborting their fetuses, and cited a woman who was serving a 30 year term for aborting her baby at 18 weeks. got ahold of the court records to show that the woman in question had been convicted of strangling a full term infant.

The New York Times has finally issued a correction to at least part of its original story, but it took some time.

This is one example.

Developing our own Christian sources of news, of literature, of movies and entertainment is not only meant to inform, edify and build up the Body of Christ in Canada, though God knows the Church needs lots of encouragement these days. No, we want to do more than that. We want to pursue excellence in our craft so that we can take back the ground we have lost to what the late Pope John Paul II called the "culture of death."

Not everyone is going to be probing and exposing like In the Body there are many different gifts and callings. Some of us write devotionals. Some of us write mysteries. Some of us write for our church newsletter. Some of us are working on a screenplay. But all of us are tired of complaining about the wider culture and pulling up our sleeves to hone the skills to compete in every arena with hope-filled, truth-laden, transcendent words inspired by the Word Himself in every arena.

Want to join us?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Me? Write a Business Plan?

On January 1, 2004 I created my company’s first business plan. Words of Worth, my writing and editing business, had just been re-launched after our move from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, work prospects were scarce and capital funds even scarcer. The idea of a full-blown business plan, complete with budget and marketing strategy, seemed more laughable than plausible.

Like many writers who have a Christian worldview, my first articles were published in church bulletins, local newspapers and Christian publications. I loved those opportunities and found new doors opening on a regular basis. But when our circumstances changed and I had to become a major contributor to our household budget, I was forced to target other markets. In 2000, I started working with a US company, researching and writing background material for analysts and portfolio managers. Since I’d been living in Saskatchewan and covering agricultural and rural events, my new responsibilities included keeping abreast of the latest developments in agriculture and technology. I enjoyed the work. Life was getting comfortable again.

But my husband and I both had health concerns, and our children had been lobbying us to move closer to them. So, in late 2003, we relocated to an isolated area on the West Coast of British Columbia. The move itself was fine but at the same time, the company I’d been working for went through a major restructuring and I was one of the casualties.

I really needed to find new clients, but how was I supposed to convince total strangers in a small, insular community that they needed my writing and editing services? There were many reports being done by various levels of government but it seemed that technical and qualitative reports could only be done by experts living at least one ferry ride away.

Shortly after we moved, I jumped at the chance to attend a free series put on by our local Regional Economic Development Society. The course was great, but when our instructor, a retired CEO of a global investment company, challenged each of the budding entrepreneurs in his class to create a business plan, I admit I questioned his judgment, at least for me.

From the day I first launched my company, I’d always treated my work as a highly professional venture. I don’t write in my pjs, I keep regular office hours, and I am willing to spend money for top-quality advertising material. But writing a business plan seemed a little “over the top” for my struggling venture.

But, comply I did, and since then I’ve grown in confidence, achieved successes, and received blessings I could not have imagined. While reviewing my 2006 goals this week I realized, much to my astonishment, that I’d met and exceeded all the seemingly unreachable objectives I jotted down on January 1 last year. Among other things, they included:
  • Mentoring another writer who is now employed full time with the local newspaper. I also introduced her to the editor of two other publications and she contributes regularly to their monthly magazines.
  • Hiring four subcontractors to help with my increasing work load
  • Being nominated for 3 Chamber of Commerce business awards
  • Doubling my giving to the work of the Lord (my long-term goal is to be able to give $1,000 per month to missions)

This week I’ll work on next year’s goals, and I’ll probably be a bit more ambitious since I’ve learned a whole lot, though mostly the hard way. I’ve gained confidence as a business woman but more important, I’m learning to experience the power of total dependence on the Lord. He has opened doors, sent key people across my paths, taught me that honoring Him always pays (though not always in money), and strengthened me when I ran out of steam and inspiration.

How about you? Got your business plan up to date?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sands of Time - Lindquist

Has greeting the New Year ever made you feel panicky and depressed? Try having your birthday 4 days after the year starts.

No, I'm not looking for gifts or cards. That's why I waited until today to post this. My point is that, with my birthday coming so close to New Year's Day, as each year begins I feel a double portion of significance. And dread.

Last year at this time, I was having a panic attack. When I looked at the number of candles on my cake, I suddenly realized I had many more items on my "to-do" list than I would realistically have time to do in this lifetime. I also realized that the sands of time in my little egg-timer were no longer trickling past; they had begun to gush out.

And there was still so much I felt I needed to do: books to write, people to spend time with, projects to finish, or begin...So much...

And yet - because I'm the kind of person who sees needs and tries to meet them, I was already so busy I barely had time to breathe. And most of the things I was doing weren't even on the list of things I felt I needed to do! I felt overwhelmed. It was all too much. I panicked.

As I mentioned in the post on my blog, That's Life!, on January 1st, in 2006, I asked God to give me a verse for the year. The verse he chose for me was Isaiah 30:15. "If you will be calm and trust me, you will be strong."

For all of last year, I clung to that verse. Every time I began to panic, I remembered it and calmed down.

But there was an ongoing struggle. In May, as I prepared to give the keynote addresses for Write! Canada, on the topic of "Finding the Courage to Answer God's Call," I went through several weeks of heavy spiritual oppression.

Who did I think I was to speak on this topic?

Did I really think I was a writer? What had I written lately?

Did I think I was any good? What did I know?

Did I really think God needed someone like me to do his work? Why would he need me?

I felt like Eustace in Prince Caspian, when his dragon skin is first peeled and then ripped away. Every part of my self-worth was being stripped from me. And it hurt. In the end, all I had left was the core of who I am deep inside where only God sees.

But what I found at that core was faith. The irrevocable, unchanging knowledge that no matter what anyone else might think or say about me, nothing I could do would make God love me any more than he already did. Nothing! And all he wanted from me in return was for me to simply "be" the person he created me to be.

That's a scary thing to do. To rely on who we are, to accept and nourish the desires we have at the core of our being, and to build from them.

But that's what I did. I trusted that God had made me the way he wanted me. And by pinning all my hope on God's ability to use me exactly as I am, I became stronger than ever before.

Later, in the fall of 2006, by going back to the desires of my heart and writing what was there, I completed my second mystery for adults. It's coming out in May, and I'm trusting God to use it for his purposes.

And now, as I look at 2007, even though there's one more candle on my cake, and the sand is gushing by, there's no panic in my heart. Only the knowledge that, even though the list of things I want to accomplish is still way too long, everything will be okay. None of us knows how much time we'll have. My blog here on January 2nd effectively illustrated that. But God knows. And if I stay close to him, and listen to his voice and work with the desires he has placed in my heart, I need never feel panicky again.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Squinting into The Future

I have a friend whose son has a form of autism. It’s a rather mystifying condition that presents with many different kinds of symptoms. One of the problems this boy has is called the “blank face syndrome.” For some reason his brain does not recognize the details in faces. Even faces that should be familiar, like those of family and close friends, appear blank to him.

You can imagine the difficulties that arise as a result. I noticed the problem when I would greet this young man at our church. I'd say hello, or good morning; he would frown and squint and say nothing. After a while I realized if I said more than a word or two, he would recognize my voice and respond.

I thought about that as I contemplated the ending of 2006 and the beginning of 2007. The year ahead is a lot like a blank face to me. Because we are launching into a year of so much change - two daughters leaving home and a third being married, a move to a different community and different ministry, a book coming out and opportunities for speaking and teaching opening up - I find myself trying to see what that will all look like. How will we cope with the empty nest? What strategies will be effective in planting the new church? What kind of ‘day jobs’ will we have and how will that affect the other aspects of our lives? Will my book be successful and will I have time to do the other writing I want/need to do? What are the best strategies for promoting the book? Will the sequel be accepted by the same publisher?

There are a lot of questions about the future.None of the details of the face of 2007 are clear and I’m finding it a little disconcerting. So when I opened my e-mail inbox the other day and read these two scriptures, my heart was lightened and my spirit soared -
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19 KJV).
“And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8 KJV).

What comfort to know that God is making a way - and not just an ordinary ho-hum kind of way, but a way that leads to things that will spring forth like rivers in a desert! What comfort to know He will be with us then, as He is walking with us now and will remain right here beside us, no matter what.I guess I can stop squinting, stop trying to see the details of what might be in the days, weeks and months ahead. All I need to do is slip my hand into the hand being held out to me and trust that its owner knows the way – the best way – and will lead us through to blessings.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Finding Hope in the Midst of the Pain - Lindquist

This morning, the headline on the Toronto Star's front page tells of the first local homicide of 2007. A woman named Jean Springer who was shot as she answered her front door on New Year's day. Jean, who according to the Star was known to her friends as "Auntie Jeannie," was in her 60's. She was preparing dinner for her family when she answered the door.

A man has been arrested. But a woman's life is gone, and a family is devastated.

According to the Star, "Toronto Mayor David Miller said the shooting 'is a very sobering reminder we simply have to get the guns off our streets.'"

But the most chilling part of the story is that Jean Springer was not a gang member or a nasty person, but a wife, mother, neighbour, and church leader. The Star quotes a neighbour as saying, "Jean realized the way to change people was through a relationship with God, which is why she chose the church as her arena to effect change in her community."

I hate to see 2007 start this way, but unfortunately, it's a continuation of the past year. Throughout 2006, as I read the many sad and frightening headlines announcing wars and rumours of wars, poverty, shootings, disease, and all the other terrible things people do to other people, I often felt overwhelmed by the inexplicable cruelty of people toward other people - even their own family members. I frequently was shocked by how little value some people place on life.

And yet I know that God sees everything. And I believe, as Jean did, that the best way to change our world is by helping people come to a genuine, growing relationship with God. That, and only that, will get the guns off the street.

And I know there is hope even in the midst of the pain.

This Christmas, a non-writer I'm mentoring gave me a set of sticky notes that have on them the following saying by Martin Luther: "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen."

That phrase reminded me of the words Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote back in 1864, in his carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

And in despair I bowed my head.
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

What a privilege to be able to write words that could impact a complete stranger nearly 150 years after they were written! And the words are just as true today as they were in 1864. God still sees everything, and he will prevail. All is not as it seems.

And what a privilege we writers have today, to send out words God can use. We may never know who will read them and be influenced by them, but we can trust God to see that they accomplish the work he has for them.

And there is so much work still to be done, by everyone else who knows the living God. But if we each do our part, even in the midst of anger and hatred and destruction, we will see change for the better. And one day, the guns will be put down.

God's blessings on you for this new year. May you find the hope that God brings.

N. J.

Article in the Toronto Star.
Complete words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" here.

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