by Gail Tansill Lambert
The sky was dark as charcoal and the air was still. Disregarding the signs of a downpour, I strode down the hill daring the elements to rain on me, foolishly enjoying a slight breeze that suddenly kicked up. Nobody was outside. I left my cell phone at home and had not thought to leave a note for my napping husband. If it thunders and rains and I slip on the wet, it will be my fault when he doesn’t know where to look for me. My peace of mind vanished. I concentrated on not falling over a stick or slipping on a patch of mud on the sidewalk. I hunched over looking for dangers in my path.
I saw a man down the street with a leashed dog coming toward me, then he left the sidewalk to let me pass. Oh, it was Mack, a boy who had grown up in the neighborhood and knew my two younger sons. As we got closer, he recognized me and stopped.
“Hello, Mack,” I said.
He frowned. “I’m Kevin Martin.” He wore all black and on his cap stood out a pirate’s skull and crossbones. No accounting for taste these days.
“I knew that. I don’t know why I called you Mack. I’m sorry, Kevin.” His pit bull looked up at me.
As if to identify himself further, he asked about my boys by name, and I started to relax. The anniversary being on my mind, I told him about my youngest boy’s wife, who died a year ago. It had been a hard year, a terrible year.
Kevin stared at me—speechless for the moment. “What happened? What …” He was still young enough to think that death was for his parents’ generation; not yet his. My Robert, a year younger, would tell him otherwise. As Kevin edged closer with questions, his dog began to chew the grass. “Hey, don’t do that.” He smiled indulgently, telling me that every time he stopped on a walk, the dog would chew on grass like a grazing cow.
I laughed, but still believed that dogs ate grass when they were sick, and I told him so. I could tell he disagreed, but he changed the subject. “You wear the same shoes I do. I wear mine all the time.” He wiggled his foot to display his Croc. They were sort of like mine, but sported a dark camouflage print as opposed to my bright flowers.
”They’re easy to clean – just turn on the faucet or get out the garden hose,” I offered.
“Watch that they don’t get wet inside, though. They get slippery and all you can do is take them off.” He looked up. “It’s raining. I’d better get this dog home.”
“Oh dear – it’s really coming down.” I started to walk fast, then thought the better of it. For heaven’s sake, my shoes already feel wet and slippery inside. Don’t twist an ankle and fall. I tried to go faster without hurrying, mimicking my Latin bumper sticker that cautions drivers behind me with the dictum Festina Lente. ( Make haste in a rather slow way)
Finally up the hill and back on my street, the rain slowed down and so did a car, which came to a stop in the street beside me. A woman rolled down her window and called out to me.
“Ma’am, could I give you a ride to the end of the block?”
“No, but thank you anyway.” I could hardly see through rain-streaked eyeglasses. She drove away slowly. I wanted to shout to her, “The rain’s about to quit and I didn’t want to drip all over your seat cushions!”
A shirtless teen pedaled by me on his bike. Ah, rain on bare skin. He must feel as free as an eagle in the wind, like Nikki Giovanni, poet and University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, who spoke at a celebration I attended for the resurrection of the literary journal Artemis. She appeared to be in love with life, free and unencumbered by possessions and the expectations of others. She had chanted “God is good” and other lines I didn’t remember. Yes, He is. The year of my daughter-in-law’s death had passed and the family was still being blessed with the love of seemingly everyone in their small town.
I finally made it to the house, spreading muddy water and wet leaves from my shoes in the front hall. I took off my drenched blouse and hung it in the basement. Upstairs I toweled off my hair. Ah, sweet rainwater in my hair straight from heaven.
That evening my dried hair was as soft and silky as a baby’s. Hair like new – a gift from heaven. “God is good ALL the Time.” That’s the part I had forgotten. Yes, Nikki, God is good All the time, not just when the sun is shining.
by Gail Tansill Lambert
While driving down Franklin Road across the bridge, I saw pampas grass glowing in the sunshine and swaying in the breeze over the Roanoke River. I couldn’t stop, but promised myself I would return with a camera and keep the scene forever. Several more times I passed same spot and yet again and again I was without my camera. Frustration grew. Surely I would miss the fleeting glory of those plants.
Finally, on a Sunday outing, I had my camera and we stopped quickly, my husband leaving the road and cautiously driving onto sandy ground. I took my pictures and they are perfect – close-ups, distance, groups, and single shots of the feathery plumes.
I like certain plants, but usually because they are associated with people or places I love; for example, the snowball bushes in my grandmother’s turn-of-the-20th-century house in Massachusetts, the fragrance of her tidy petunia patch, and the climbable mimosa trees at home. Only pampas grass seemed to appeal to my sense of beauty alone.
Really? Because on one of our last vacations before the children became far-flung, was at the Outer Banks where the pampas grass, as numerous as the seagulls overhead, waved in the ocean breeze on that Labor Day weekend. Was that the connection? No, because my fascination with pampas grass had already been established.
After much thought, my mind took me back to the summer I was twelve, and my family had moved into a house in a new neighborhood with great, tall pine trees in front, and a wilderness in the back to be tamed with a clothesline, trails, and a scythe. I noticed everything that summer and fall – the sky-blue heavens of a Deep South September and the muddy, mighty Chattahoochee River.
I explored my new land, riding my bike up the lengthy hills and scaring myself pedaling downhill so fast I left behind the humid heat by the speed of the wind. Seldom did a car pass by. The roads were mine for miles and miles, but I was alone, and in my other neighborhood there were always friends to share such adventures. I could have pedaled to the old street and I did, but not that summer.
Other than bike riding, I met a girl my age who lived in the large white house on the corner. The green grass sloped from the house beneath the lordly loblolly pines, but best of all, was the “plume plant” on the lower lawn looking like a circular water fountain in a public park. Mary Anne and I had something in common other than our age and living nearby. We both loved kickball. I worried about the ball falling into the “fountain plant” and getting cut by the “spray.” That happened, but a bleeding leg or arm was a small price to pay for such grandeur. That summer fun ended when a laundry delivery van ran over our white kickball right before school started.
That was the summer everything changed, as if scales from my eyes had been removed. Without anyone to share my discoveries, I began to set up a “studio” in the woods and attempted to copy tall, thin pines, the play of light, and shades of color with a paintbrush and palette. I wrote poems about the Chattahoochee and put them a wooden box with a lock. I came up with new names for paints: pine bark brown and its lighter cousin, pine straw brown. Remembering the effort was more rewarding than the painting or the poem.
Is this change why Jesus spoke in the temple at age twelve? Why confirmation traditionally takes place at age twelve? I wonder, because something happens to us around that age; when we begin to see the world and all that’s therein and not just ourselves. When we see something wonderful, like pampas grass, and never forget that sight, as if it’s a divine connection to something beyond that is unseen.
Pay attention to the twelve-year olds in your life. Pay attention to the twelve year old still in yourself.
by Donna Willard
Have you ever been given something you don’t deserve, something free and unmerited? A perfect example of this is God’s amazing grace. His grace is a free gift to anyone willing to unwrap the package. Many times, in the Bible, people were extended grace. Grace is compassion and mercy. Jonah, Peter, and Paul come to my mind when I think of grace.
Jonah ran from God and nearly lost his life in the belly of a whale. His life was spared. Peter, who became the rock of the church, denied Christ three times. Paul, a persecutor and murderer of Christians, became the author of many letters to the church.
These are just a few examples of God’s gift of grace. However, the best gift of grace was given to all of us. God gave His only son to die on a cross for all our sins—past, present, and future. I would have been lost without His grace.
Many years ago, I struggled with severe depression. I, like Elijah, wished for death and almost died after overdosing on pills. I thought I was a Christian. It was in name only. I knew the stories, the laws, and the right way to live. However, I did not know Jesus.
One night, I lie in bed with tears flowing down my cheeks. I asked God to reveal Himself to me in His word. I opened the Bible and came to Philippians 3:12-14. I saw in Scripture that my past could be forgiven, and I had hope for tomorrow. This was God’s message not only to Paul. It is for you and me, too. Friends, Jesus died for you and me. I just celebrated another Easter of Christ’s resurrection and new life for me.
Today, ask yourself about the many times God’s grace has been given to you. I thank God every day for His grace. My prayer is that His grace would be the example I follow and extend to others in my life and my ministry.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see” (John Newton, 1779).
© Donna Willard 2018
If you like to encourage others, then writing and marketing devotionals might be something for you to consider. Devotionals touch lives with a message that encourage each reader to draw closer to God. As short, vivid articles that focus on a specific topic, they offer help and hope, as the reader connects to God in short, spiritual lessons. They are not fiction, but provide real life application.
Tips for Writing Devotionals:
The typical format for a devotional is: title, Scripture, anecdote or reflection, conclusion, prayer or thought for the day (depending on the publication). The count is generally 200-800 words (check publication). However, the devotional format can vary according to its specific matter/use.
Finding Publications for Devotionals
The best place to find publications that take devotionals is in the Christian Writers Market Guide. Some publications that take freelance devotionals include: The Secret Place—100 percent freelance, The Upper Room, and Open Windows. There are also on-line devotional magazines. Sometimes your own church may have a publication for which they would like devotionals.
Writing devotionals is a wonderful way to be of spiritual help to others and spread God’s Word. But to do that they have to be submitted. Why not try writing one yourself?
Bobby pushed his sister down. He wanted the blue ball she was bouncing. Maggie told her mother she didn’t eat the missing cookie. She knew this was a lie. These are two examples of ways we sin.
A sin is something wrong you do, say, or sometimes just think. Bobby and Maggie didn’t plan to behave badly. It just happened. The problem is we’re all born with a sinful nature. That means we have a built-in urge to think of ourselves first.
Because God wants us to love one another, sinning makes you feel sad and breaks your good connection with Him. You see, God is perfect and holy in every way and can’t allow any sin into heaven. Now this is really serious because we keep slipping up and doing those things we shouldn’t. With our sinful nature, it’s just not possible to be good all the time.
But there’s Good News! God Himself has given us a Savior. His name is JESUS. And Jesus loves us so much that He went along with His Father God’s plan to save us from our sins. That’s right. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins - yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s too.
The word forgive means to forget and remember no more. So it’s like the blood of Jesus erases our sins and buys us all tickets to heaven. Now THIS is something to celebrate!
THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” New International Version
Dear Jesus, my Savior, thank You for dying on the cross for me. Because of You my sins are forgiven, and I can have my very own ticket to heaven. I Love You! Amen.
Draw a picture of a dark cloud or write the word “sin” on a blackboard. Now erase your work. This is what forgiveness of your sins looks like. They are gone! It’s like they never happened.
When you pray, you can ask God to forgive your sins and know for sure that He does. They are erased and forgotten. What a wonderful feeling! Some people even pray, “For Jesus’s sake, forgive my sins.” They are remembering what Jesus did on the cross and reminding themselves that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
Written by Barbara Baranowski
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
John 15:1-2 (NIV)
The beautiful ivy had crawled up through the ground after winter’s cold and was overtaking our sturdy wooden fence. I needed to remove it. So, on a beautiful spring day, with gloves and clippers, I headed out to trim. The vine was solidly and deeply rooted in the dirt, but I was able to pull the runners away from the fence. I hated trimming those beautifully variegated leaves. To me, ivy gives a sense of antiquity and strength. As the day ended, I looked at the carpet of cuttings on the ground and breathe a sigh of relief that the job was nearly complete. When I finished the next morning, I noticed how dead the trimmings were after only one night.
Jesus cautioned believers to live in Him for the same reason. His words resound with the same thought—apart from Him, we can do nothing for His kingdom and do not become what He has created us to be. If we are like sturdy branches growing in Him, the Vine of Life, we will understand that the pruning, while sometimes painful, is necessary for us to grow in love, trust, and service for God, leaving us to be an ever-bearing, vibrant part of His kingdom. However, as the leaves of the ivy vine die apart from its strong source of strength, we too will quickly die spiritually if we remove ourselves from prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with believers and in our case, too, other writers.
As springtime brings new growth and the earth becomes rejuvenated with beauty, let’s take stock of our spiritual and writing life. Are we a dying vine or a vibrant part of the Lord’s
To a non-writer, it might seem that writing a memoir is easy. You know what happened—just tell the truth.
Here’s a passage from a good writer that is on point.
The passage is on page thirty of the novel Lila by Marilynne Robinson. The protagonist of the novel is a young woman who scarcely ever talks, whom the reader does not yet know well. She is sitting, virtually silent, with an elderly minister in his kitchen, drinking coffee. He has just told her an event about angels.
She said, “I liked that story.”
He looked away from her and laughed. “It is a story, isn’t it? I’ve never really thought of it that way. And I suppose the next time I tell it, it will be a better story. Maybe a little less true. I might not tell it again. I hope I won’t. You’re right not to talk. It’s a sort of higher honesty, I think. Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.
Read that last sentence again—Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.
Most people don’t suffer under the burden of being writers. Truth in writing is more complicated than most people understand. Once we writers start talking—writing—there’s no telling what we’ll say.
What we writers say is for the good of the story we are telling. The good of the story we are telling becomes our motivation, which is paramount. Truth notwithstanding.
If the need of the story is for its protagonist to step off the porch and to trip over the cat, then that is what the protagonist does—even though the truth of the incident was that it was the bottom step of the inside staircase, and it was the dog.
Lila is a novel. Fiction is one thing; memoir is another. I write memoir. It’s harder.
For one thing, the people you write about in memoir are still alive, or they may be, and they have a right to privacy—which is true even if they’re dead. For another, you yourself have a right to privacy, even when you seem deliberately to have opened yourself up to scrutiny. But the main difficulty about your memoir is that your memoir is not about you. Your memoir uses you to support its real subject. Its real subject is your theme for writing.
What are you writing about? Not you. Frankly, no one is much interested in you except a few friends and relations. It’s your theme that is of general interest—you hope.
Let’s say your memoir’s theme is how pet ownership has opened up your life to greater awareness of God. In that case, it really doesn’t matter if the accident was prompted by the porch and the cat or by the stairs and the dog. Either is relevant to the theme.
However, you know that it was the stairs and the dog, but you’re going to use the porch and the cat.
That’s the truth trouble, right there.
Why do you use the porch and the cat? You write that it was the porch and the cat because, later in your memoir, at the climax of your theme—when the awareness of God comes vividly upon you—that event actually did happen on the porch.
You decide you’ll use the porch and the cat for the accident so that your memoir, as a whole—rising as it does toward the God revelation—can occur on the porch, where it really did occur. That’s the best way for the revelation scene to be literarily cohesive with the accident event.
It’s not easy.
How do you balance?
Or do you serve each of these needs at the same time by using techniques of fiction, without stepping across the line into fiction?
Readers of your book want to be excited by your memoir, not because it is about you, but—because of the gift you have made to them of your theme—it is about them.
Yes, you are providing detail about your life and your events, but their attraction to your memoir is that you have allowed them to think about themselves in new ways. Their lives and their events have been affirmed, or tested, or questioned, or balanced by what you have said about yours.
They are drawn into your memoir by this. But they stay inside your book because of what you have revealed to them about them.
Each draft of your story perfects your story, while each draft is a little less true. That’s because once you start to write your story, there’s no telling what you’ll say.
Written by Dikkon Eberhart
Don’t skim your eye down the words. Go back and say the words. Say them with measured solemnity, four syllables to each word. Sixteen syllables all together.
You are praising the Lord. This is the Gloria in excelsis Deo that you are pronouncing.
It was late morning on the eve of Christmas Eve. I called my wife at the church. Since she and I came to Christ six years before, she had been our pastor’s secretary. I was checking in, concerned about errands I needed to finish while I was out on the road. We spoke briefly about the errands.
Then I asked her when she planned to come home from the church. Uncharacteristically, she did not know. Usually, she knows. Usually, she knows because she knows what tasks she must finish. Usually, she responds with a time—an hour, two hours.
But this time, she was vague. It was odd of her—my wife is not a vague person, about time or about anything else. “I don’t know,” is what she said, and she said it with a puzzled intonation, as though she wondered why she did not know and yet she said it anyway. I was puzzled, too, when I hung up.
I thought perhaps I should call her back, to ask if she were all right. I thought perhaps I should question her tone of puzzlement, which suggested she did not feel in charge of her time that afternoon. But I did not call her back. I had errands to do.
Here’s what I learned later. After I hung up, an hour or two passed at the church. My wife was alone. She finished tasks. There is always a task to finish on a secretary’s desk. But, puzzlingly, she did not formulate a plan for the finishing of her tasks and for her getting home. Then the church’s door opened and a man entered whom my wife had never seen. The man introduced himself and asked if the pastor were in. The pastor was not in.
The man seemed puzzled by the circumstance that the pastor was not in at the church. “But God told me I must come to see him now.”
“Well, would you like me to make an appointment for you, for later?”
“But God told me I must come to see him now.”
After all—this is how my wife reported the conversation to me—after all, the man was puzzled himself. He had done what God had told him to do. Now, it was the pastor’s turn.
The pastor had left the church not long before, with several plans in his mind. He had not been certain which of the plans he would undertake. He would let my wife know which plan he would undertake, he said, when he knew himself.
My wife dialed the phone. The pastor answered.
“There’s a man here,” she said, and she gave his name. “He says he needs to see you.”
“I wasn’t certain about your plan.”
“Well, I haven’t selected the plan yet. I don’t know why. Right now, I’m eating lunch.”
The pastor thought for a moment. “Can he wait ten minutes?”
My wife looked at the man. “Can you wait ten minutes?”
She turned back to the phone. “He can wait.”
“See you in ten.”
In ten minutes, the pastor arrived at the church. He and the man went into his office. Two hours later, the man accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord, and his name was written in Glory.
Late that same night, on the eve of Christmas Eve, my wife and I relaxed on our couch. The house was aromatic with baking gift breads. The Christmas tree was lit with white bulbs, wax candles burned among our mantel display of spruce boughs and red balls, and twinkling candles were alight in our windows so that, as my mother told me when I was a child, if the Christ Child should need a place to lie down, He would know by our candles that He would be welcome here.
My wife had explained to me the odd events of that afternoon—the man puzzled why the pastor should not be at his office when God had indicated that he would be, my wife puzzled about her inability to manage a time to return to our house so that she was available just at the right moment to make that telephone call to our pastor, our pastor puzzled that he had not selected among his plans for the afternoon so that he was, at the necessary time for the man, just eating lunch.
My wife lay back on the couch and put her feet in my lap. In silence, I stroked her feet. The wine was red in my glass, and white in my wife’s. We listened to Susan Boyle sing Hallelujah. The words of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen filled the room.
We are busy people, she and I, with several jobs between us—retirees who still work hard, and I had a new book coming out, a memoir recounting my life as the son of a poet father—a father whose poetry molded my relationship with our Father.
Relaxing on our couch, weary after days and days of heavy work for both of us, nearing the completion of our Advent anticipation of a miracle—humbly trying to experience our anticipation with patience—the beauty of the season and of the Christ lights overthrew me. I wept.
My wife looked her question, but gently: this was her emotional husband.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
I wept for Cohen’s spare, elegiac poetry. I wept for Boyle’s easy voice. I wept for the still, calm beauty of our decorated home. I wept for giving gift bread to our friends, bread which my wife had created. But mostly I wept that, on the eve of Christmas Eve, the Lord Himself had used my wife and our pastor for His own purpose, which was to bring another soul to salvation—that godly using, which had puzzled each of them, as their planning of their day was set aside.
Written by Barbara Baranowski
Are you thinking about attending a writers’ conference in 2017? Here are some tips from my own experience.
I left the American Christian Writers’ Conference ready to conquer some “giants” of Writerdom, including lack of time and fear of rejection. The instructors, as always, delighted me with their wealth of information and inspirational words. And, as always, I felt armed to do battle. But, I also knew another giant was awaiting me on the drive home and would follow me into the house. That was the hardest one for me to escape. I call him “Big Blue.”
Recognizing the Giant
After a writers’ conference, “Big Blue” walks into the house with me, and as I place the wonderful materials near my computer, whispers to me that I won’t see those inspiring attendees for another year. I can hear him laughing at the thought that I would open my newest notes or leisurely peruse new materials. He reminds me of the time and energy it takes to develop writing skills. I brush him off, but he sits near me and notes how solitary I seem. Some may call him post-conference blues or depression. I’m not sure if this is a classified condition, but it happens when I leave a conference feeling so inspired, yet so empty of those relationships and people I’ve been with—people a little “strange” about the lure of writing, like me. Lately, however, I recognize his voice immediately and have developed some ways to banish him. If this happen to you, I recommend these giant-slaying tips.
Share Your Experience
Share what you did at the conference with someone, even if you have to speak to yourself. Don’t keep the excitement and positive experiences bottled up. Call or email a fellow writer. You may inspire others, but more importantly, you reconnect to your own excitement. Often a speaker addresses more than writing techniques. Did one encourage you to a deeper prayer life? Share the inspiration you received. Did an article or book writer relate an unforgettable experience that motivated or inspired you? Pass along those words to comfort and hearten others. At many conferences an attendee list is given. Network your experience, but also network your feelings.
Seek Immediate Writing Opportunities
Look for writing opportunities immediately following the conference. Check with your church newsletter, bulletins, community papers, or send off that article which you have been clutching with insecurity. Open your market guide and go on a writer’s “shopping spree” in search of the publication with needs that match your work. Take on the challenge of defeating the giant by hurling the stone of enthusiasm.
Review Your Notes
Review the conference notes that you worked so hard to get and listen to any tapes you bought. Remember how the speakers’ words satiated your writer’s hunger and energized your spirit? In the same way, let the lessons energize your writing. By doing so, you will relive the excitement and be encouraged to continue. Highlight the notes that have special meaning to you and apply them immediately to your writing.
Make Use of Freebies
Probably your muscles strained as you carried home heavy bags leaded with wonderful catalogues, periodicals, and writers’ guidelines. Look carefully through them and anticipate gaining insights about the publications. File them by type for future reference, and review them often.
The Next Mountaintop
As soon as possible, make plans for your next conference. Regenerate the excitement. Look forward to new lessons and friends. After all, the next mountain top experience is just around the corner.
Post-conference blues can become a time of growth, or post conference greens, as I now like to think. These days I have learned to walk out of the conferences with only my writing friends. I leave “Big Blue” behind. Who needs him?
For some conference opportunities see our Writer Opportunities page.