There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)
Have you ever thought about the importance of knowing when to write? I dream of writing without ceasing. Sometimes, though, God has a different plan for me.
We had rented a beach house for a family vacation. Eagerly, I packed my writing equipment, fantasizing about watching the infinite billows while dashing off inspirational pieces. My week would be a wonderful writer’s retreat.
After the first day, however, reality crashed through my sandcastle dreams. Although I savored the time spent with each family member, the quiet morning was too short for my big dreams, and after the days activities I was too tired to write. I prayed, “Lord, haven’t You called me to write? Didn’t You provide this lovely spot?”
I could almost hear God laughing as He spoke to my heart, “Child, sometimes I provide writing time for you, and sometimes I place you in the middle of things to write about. With spiritual eyes, watch the blessings unfold—teaching your grandchildren about Me in the beauty of a shell, and watching your adult children depend on My Grace to supply. See your 90-year-old father gain strength from viewing the power of My ocean, and your husband gain nourishment through My spirit.
I was reminded that this was not the time to write about adventures with God; it was the time to live them. I would write about them later. God had reminded me about the importance of discerning the times.
Try this Exercise
Think about times you have experienced with your family or others. Are there writing opportunities hidden within those adventures? As you reflect, envision not only the delightful events, but also the difficult situations. Pray for God to open your storehouse of memories and show you ones that need to be shared so others may learn about Him. Take out photos to help you reminisce. As you relive special times, choose one photo and in sixty seconds write down everything you see in it. Then, as you are drawn into the scene, ask God to direct your writing in such a way that others will see Him more clearly.
I left the American Christian Writers’ Conference ready to conquer some of the “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. My excitement was at a peak, and I was ready to write.
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. As I place the wonderful materials I brought home near my computer, he 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, and the blank screen that awaits me.
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 inspired, yet empty of those relationships and people I’ve been with—people a little “strange” about the lure of writing, like I am.
Lately, however, I recognize his voice immediately and have developed some ways to banish him. I waste no time allowing him to linger. If you are acquainted with Big Blue, 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 e-mail a fellow writer. You may inspire others; but, more importantly, you will reconnect to your own excitement. Are you part of a writers’ critique group? Attend the next meeting and take the opportunity to engage others in your enthusiasm for learning. Discuss a technique that you learned, and help your fellow writers to apply it.
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 a testimony or answer to prayer? Pass along those words to comfort and hearten others. Network your experience, but also network your feelings.
Seek Immediate Writing Opportunities
Look for writing opportunities immediately following the conference. Check your church newsletter and bulletin. Are articles needed? Send off that article you have been clutching with insecurity. Pray for new opportunities to come. If you are a nonfiction writer, try fiction (or vice-versa). You may find possibilities that you hadn’t thought about.
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.
I wasn’t actually riding cross the desert on a horse with no name. It was more of a Pinto and the driver was an odiferous little Yemeni named Musa. Nevertheless, I was riding across the desert, on my way to the airport.
I had just completed the first six months of my one year assignment in Saudi Arabia and was headed home to spend Christmas leave with my family in Virginia. The year was 1977 and I had accepted an unaccompanied assignment in the Kingdom because I needed the money and this would clear up some big debts and get my college bound son off to school. I also had a new wife who I left behind in the States; one who was not particularly happy at being saddled with couple of teenage boys she hardly knew.
This type of work was nothing new to me. I had been a cold warrior since the 1950s. Cold warriors were civilian engineers who were employed by companies and the military to build, and sometimes use, their latest weapons of war.
For seven years I was a civilian employee of the US Air Force working technical jobs around the country and later, I was employed by several major contractors engaged in turning out vast quantities of armament for the military. These jobs would usually last a couple of years and then I moved on.
I always brought my family along wherever I took up a new assignment so my kids became used to frequent changes of schools. The pay was excellent and I thought it would never end. Wrong. Vietnam had finally ground to a whimpering halt and I was out of work. Now, after a long layoff, a new chapter in my life was before me.
Saudi Arabia was like no other place in the world in those days. It was transitioning from the 15th century to the 21st with no stops in between. They were finally getting their share of the petro dollars that the foreign oil companies, ARAMCO and BP, had been taking for 50 years or more, and now they were spending it to bring their desert nomads into the modern world.
The Kingdom was ruled by an absolute monarch and his family. His word was law. Foreigners were viewed as probable enemies, useful, but only to be tolerated and watched. I was a small cog in a vast machine helping the SA Army bring their communications capability up to a more modern standard and I had been very busy trying to complete my assignment in the allotted 12 months.
I got along well with my military masters; but it was a difficult adjustment. Unlike the US Army, the Saudi soldier ambled in around 8:00 AM; notice I said “amble in” and not “Fall in”. They went to prayer and lunch around 12:00, came back after a while and left at 4:00 PM. I was frequently frustrated at the slow pace of things.
Evenings were bad for me. Imagine one channel of television showing only Muslim prayers, soccer and Egyptian soap operas. There were no theaters, no bars and no night life. The Americans and Brits would get together on week-ends (Thursday and Friday) consume some homemade liquor and speak what passes as English in those mixed groups. Punishment for being caught after drinking was always jail time and/or whippings. I needed some R&R.
Entering the Kingdom was difficult, getting out was worse. Christmas was the time when everyone wanted to go home. Our employers seemed to take delight in working us overtime on every Christian holiday so the best solution was to get out of town. Hence, all flights were booked solid months ahead of time.
The national airline, Saudia, was just getting started and had no international flights. To fly to Europe or the United States one had to go domestic air to the coastal city of Damam and then take a short flight across 15 miles of the Persian Gulf to the princely realm of Bahrain. This more cosmopolitan island was making a very good thing of being a banking, transportation and entertainment hub for their surrounding Arab neighbors.
I made my reservations two months in advance and was at the airport early. This was necessary because of the paperwork and searches involved. To complicate things, there was no such thing as getting in line or queuing up, as it was called there. The fiercely independent Arabs felt that every man has just as much right to be at the front as anyone else, regardless of who was there first. This meant that there was a crowd shoving for place along the counter with everyone waving their papers at the poor beleaguered clerks and very little getting done. My size allowed me to push and shove with best of them and I eventually cleared all obstacles and found my way to the waiting area.
The common waiting room was crowded with people standing, sitting on benches and sleeping on the floor. There were no signs showing departures and all flights were announced in Arabic, not my best language at the time. If I missed that one, the next flight that I could get out would be in nine days.
Unfortunately that is exactly what I did. The flight was on time, which was a totally unexpected thing in those days, and the doors were closed and the plane was taxiing out before I realized what was happening. What to do, what to do?
I had a house in the departure city and I could have gone there to nurse my disappointment and try to figure out a rational way to explain to my bride my failure to show but something impelled me to catch the next flight to Damam several hours later. By this time I was praying non-stop, “Help me, Lord. Get me to Bahrain in time to catch my 6:00 AM flight. Lord, just this one time I need one of your miracles.”
An hour later I was in the Damam airport departure center. It was about midnight and things had thinned down considerably. There were no more flights to Bahrain until six the next morning, the exact same time that my Pan Am flight was departing for New York. I didn’t see how prayer was going to help this situation, but then, it couldn’t hurt either. So I prayed on and on. Maybe the Pan Am flight would be unexpectedly delayed until I arrived, but I didn’t think so.
I went into constant prayer mode. I was hunched over that hard wooden bench like a Tibetan monk with my jacket over my head mumbling, “Lord, help me. Lord, help me!” I’m not sure what else I mentioned but every little while I would surface and look around for an airline official I could appeal to. All I saw were sweepers and a couple sleepy porters. This continued for five hours. Did I despair? I don’t know. Was I continuing my appeal to God without expectation of His response? I don’t know that either but continue I did.
Around 5:00 AM I saw a man who looked like he might be an American in a Saudia senior pilot’s uniform walking behind the unattended clerk’s desk. I couldn’t let this one get away. I yelled at his, “Hey, wait up. Can you help me?” I must have spilled out my story in one long sentence. He looked at me and said, “Come on.”
“Come on. Get your suitcase and papers and come on.”
I was right on his heels as he led me through a back way over to the passport counter where he spoke to the guard in Arabic and the guard stamped my passport. Out to the flight line and up to a small twin engine Saudia executive plane where a couple of American women were in the process of telling their men goodbye and shepherding several children aboard. My suitcase was shoved into the baggage compartment and the pilot said, “Find a seat.”
We were off for Bahrain. During the short fifteen minute flight I found out that these were families of American employees of Saudia Airlines. Their husbands were saving them the hassle of taking a regular flight across the Gulf and expediting them on their way to the good old USA by using one of the executive aircraft of their employer.
They also had some pull at the other end. In a short while I trailed the women through customs, passport control and the airline ticket check counter. My Pan Am seat was still available and I was out of there. I was going home.
I didn’t talk about this story for years. I thought I’d keep it between God and me until I really needed to tell it. My frantic prayers were heard and answered in a spectacular way. It’s difficult for someone who wasn’t there in those days to understand just how spectacular it was. The odds of meeting the only American officer who could help me in the way this one did was in the mega-millions. It just defies any explanation other than God’s hearing and answering a prayer.
God had His influence even in that most Islamic of nations and He must have pulled a bunch of strings for me. I was golden that day. If I had been able to buy a lottery ticket I would be a rich man right now.
Never give up on God; He never gave up on me. I will never sell Him short. He always hears my prayers and He always has my back. Thank you, Lord.
Mike Spillman © 2019
Written by Michelle Gill
So you have been told that you need a website. In the writer's world today it is a necessity. Publishers require it and generally leave it up to the author themselves. I am a website designer who has self-published authors and traditional published authors as clients and both type of publishers require the author to have a website with a blog to attract followers. I personally know of occasions in which a traditional publisher has watched an unpublished author increase their following on-line and then offered them a book deal.
Your website is your hub for all information about you. It is your home base on the internet. All your social media should point the follower back to your website. It is a place where someone can get to know you, buy your book, read your blog, and sign up to get updates on your latest projects. It is also a place to gain information about your followers.
The first step is to choose your niche. Be focused. What are you about? What is your writing focus? What is your mission or purpose? Who is your audience? Once you have your focus then choose the title. If you plan to branch out and write in various genres or on multiple subjects, your title may just be your name. If you are trying to create name recognition as an author, your name is the way to the public. If there is a specific audience and one main subject matter, then you need a catchy title or hook. This will also become your domain or website address.
The second step is to choose and purchase your domain. Research to make sure that there is not another person with your name and decide how you will stand out if there is. Research who else is going after that niche. While you are researching check out someone who does what you want to do well and take notes. Once you choose your domain, purchase it. I use GoDaddy for all my domains. The reason I buy my domain from GoDaddy, a company separate from my platform, is that I want to be able to easily move my domain should I choose to change platforms.
The third Step is to choose your website platform. It is best to choose from a company that provides both hosting and the "drag and drop" platform design. Most popular companies now provide both.
"How do I choose?"
Wordpress is very popular but you must update plugins and security manually on a regular basis. It takes quite a bit of time to learn how to use it. I personally do not recommend it because of the updating issues.
Wix is my favorite because it is more for the artist in website creation. I can do much more with Wix. But since part of my business is to teach my client how to blog inside the platform and make updates on their own, I tend to go with an easier platform. Weebly is a very easy to use "drag and drop" system. Both produce a current and attractive website. With Weebly you do not have to make adjustments to the mobile version like you do with Wix.
A couple other platforms that are quite nice are Duda and Squarespace. There are more and more coming out every week.
Once you choose your platform and create an account you need to upgrade and pay for whatever their starter program is. Generally the lowest level is sufficient for an author site. This averages around $100 per year. You will then connect your domain to your platform.
All website platforms provide tutorials and videos that will answer any questions tyou have. I encourage you to watch some videos and read a few of the articles that they provide before you get started. Study the experts. Take time to learn. Be focused, creative, generous, and have fun!
In future articles for the Roanoke Valley Christian Writers I will be providing information on subscribers/followers, social media, and blogging. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.
Michelle Gill is a website designer, barista, trail walker sometimes runner, disc golfer's wife, Jesus lover, book collector, mama, writer, and old house explorer. For more informtion go to her website at www.maceyhollow.com.
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.