Category Archives: Christian Fiction Author

Weaknesses and Strengths…

In my latest book writing class I’m teaching at my local college, I have stressed the importance of “character arc,” or how a character (usually the main one or protagonist) grows or changes through the story line or plot of the novel. It’s what typically elevates a book to be really great. Most characters are not (or at least should not) be perfect in the beginning of the book…nor should they be all bad either (or we won’t like them and thus, won’t care about them enough to keep reading about them.) They usually have a mix of strengths and weaknesses, although their character flaws may be most evident in the beginning of the book and we, the readers, usually care enough about them that we end up rooting for them to discover their strengths, usually in the midst of challenges, hardships or crises.

I think the same is true of each of us…over the days and years of our lives we gradually come to discover our own character flaws, our strengths and our weaknesses, and if we’re on the right spiritual path (of progress) we try to overcome our weaknesses and hone our strengths. Just like a business does a “SWOT” analysis (asking what its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are in order to grow), we should check in with ourselves occasionally or do an inventory and see where we stand. Otherwise, we stay still and stagnant. I believe we need to first become aware of our weaknesses and “threats” (temptations and people or things that push our buttons) and also our strengths and “opportunities” (usually ways to use them to help others). Once we’re aware of them, we can take action to minimize our weaknesses and maximize or take advantage of our strengths.

Why bother? Why not just “go with the flow” and not do so much work on ourselves? Just like a business, we as individuals profit from taking inventory, awareness and action, and the growth that results. I usually become acutely aware of my weaknesses when I’m feeling particularly anxious, irritable or discontent. My symptoms usually include regret (the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” syndrome where I wish I could change something in the recent past), indecisiveness – even when it comes to little things, and/or feeling the “blues,” like I usually do around this time of year when the air gets colder and I know summer is over and winter is around the bend. I then start to see or experience my weaknesses…of procrastination, its evil antithesis impatience, and avoidance or its counterpart – being scattered or unfocused. If left to fester, these weaknesses can cause a downward spiral that leads to depression and even despair – not what God wants for me by far. Instead, if I take action and focus on my strengths – not an easy task for most of us – I can lift my mood and usually become grateful and joyful once more, which makes me more productive.

What are your weaknesses and strengths? In addition to my talents (what I’m good at, or my writing and speaking abilities), my strengths are my positiveness (seeing the silver lining), my spirit of adventure, and my inquisitive nature or curiosity. I can use these to help others to in turn be more positive, find their strengths and discover their own joy – as well as have fun! For example, yesterday was a cold and rainy day but we had already picked it for my grandkids to visit. I was wishing we had picked the day before (already taken by another set of grandparents) which was warm and sunny. But, putting my weaknesses aside and capitalizing on my strengths, I held an indoor scavenger hunt for Halloween treats, we carved a big pumpkin, and had brunch together…and had a lot of fun!

God, help me to turn to you in my weaknesses for Your strength, and to use the gifts, talents and strengths you put in me to help others to see and use theirs.

 

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RSVP – Now!

I recently missed a deadline of an invitation to speak at a writers’ conference  next year for which I really wanted to do a workshop presentation; I had gotten an email about applying to speak at the conference and then it slipped my mind and when I remembered to respond, it was too late. I even tried to cajole my way in and while the conference chair was really nice about it (saying ‘if it was up to me, I’d still let you in, I really wish I could, but I can’t’) I had to accept that it was too late and letting me in would simply be unfair to the other speaking applicants. (I am starting to learn humility a little bit more in practicing acceptance – the old me would have kept badgering her expecting a different answer!)

Is there something important that you missed because you failed to respond, reply, RSVP? Do you procrastinate on responding to an invitation because you’re thinking something better on that date might come along…or overlook an invitation or event because you’re too busy…and then when you realize you don’t want to miss it, you’ve missed the RSVP deadline and it’s too late? Imagine receiving the ultimate invitation – to a party you wouldn’t miss for the world, thrown by your closest friend – and somehow, you procrastinated or were too busy to RSVP – and you missed it? You would probably feel sick to your stomach with regret so deep it may never go away the rest of your life. I think that’s the kind of “party” God is inviting us to by asking us to join Him in the kingdom of heaven one day – and many of us have ignored the invitation – we have either not yet RSVP’d, or are putting our response off, or are just too busy to bother with a reply right now. And none of us knows when our “deadline” will be – how much time we have left here on earth.

In telling one of His parables on the kingdom of heaven in which He likened it to a wedding feast a father throws for his son, Jesus said that many were originally invited but “some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” Some of those invited actually beat and killed the servants (prophets) who were extending the invitation. Then the father (God) told his servants to go out in the streets and invite “whomever you find” (which would be all of us.) “The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.” But apparently one of the guests wasn’t “dressed in a wedding garment” (meaning he wasn’t prepared to be there) and the king cast him out. “Many are invited, but few are chosen,” Jesus concludes.

I believe we need to RSVP each and every day to the invitation to be with God, prepare ourselves for entry to His kingdom, and not ignore His messengers (whoever or however they present themselves). We don’t know when the party will be, but we better be ready “dressed” for the occasion!

 

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Be positive when posting…

What would happen if, for just one day, everyone in the world would use nothing but kind words of encouragement, promoting hope, harmony and peace and perhaps even change, only in a positive way? On this same date two years ago I was blasted by several individuals on social media in response to a blog I posted referring to Christopher Columbus discovering America and having courage to cross the ocean – and how I could relate to feeling bold and adventurous, yet also a little nervous in embarking on my author career, just like I feel every time I dive into the ocean and swim in October (which I did again this past weekend – and as always it’s a little bit colder than summer but still a joyful and exhilarating experience!) These individuals called me all kinds of nasty names asking how dare I talk about Columbus in a positive way when (they said) he was a rapist and murderer. (Of course I didn’t know any of that nor have I done any research to deny or confirm it since it was just a post about being courageous.) I was appalled at their language, felt hurt by their comments and quickly deleted them – and left my blog as is. But it gave me pause today as I remembered it as if it happened today.

I think there is a time and place for taking a stand and social media usually isn’t the best venue…and certainly not doing so with harsh, ugly or mean words against others. I believe most of the time it’s best, as our mothers used to say, that “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.” Or perhaps if you feel the absolute need to stand up for something, do so with positive, kind verbiage versus negative language that can put down another person or people, leaving harm in its wake. Or as St. Paul wisely said in his letter to the Philippians (read at yesterday’s Mass): “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…Then the God of peace will be with you.”

I think St. Paul would have told us today let the President and the government govern, don’t go looking for or stirring up trouble or causing drama or chaos, be kind and pray to God (not spout off on social media). And then you will have peace.  And so might others!

 

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The next right thing…

Some mornings (especially Monday mornings after a very hectic weekend) I still wake up with some anxiety about the week ahead, how to accomplish everything I have put on my list, asking ‘what are my priorities?’ and ‘what is God’s Will’ in the scheme of things? Add to the feeling of being overwhelmed a sense of uncertainty, doubt, confusion – and if you’re feeling under the weather (or the weather isn’t that great) – and you may have a recipe for becoming almost paralyzed. If you’re an entrepreneur or own your own business or work on your own from home you can probably especially identify with this feeling.  Sometimes you may just want to pull the covers over your head! But that’s when I tell myself to just ‘do the next right thing.’ For me, it was writing this blog when I had no idea what to write!

When faced with any or all of these feelings, I tell myself to just “do the next right thing.” That means doing the thing right in front of you…and then doing the next and the next…and pretty soon you’ve gone through the day and actually achieved something no matter how small and maybe even made a difference in your life or someone else’s. I learned this strategy or tactic in a 12-Step recovery program. The following “list” or poem titled “Just for Today” (often handed out on bookmarks in this same program) tends to help as well:

1. Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.

2. Just for Today, I will be Happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from Within; it is not a matter of Externals.

3. Just for Today, I will Adjust myself to what Is, and not try to Adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come, and fit myself to them.

4. Just for Today, I will take care of my Body. I will exercise it, care for it, and nourish it, and not abuse it nor neglect it; so that it will be a perfect machine for my will.

5. Just for Today, I will try to strengthen my mind, I will study. I will learn something useful, I will not be a mental loafer all day. I will read something that requires effort, though and concentration.

6. Just for Today, I will exercise my Soul. In three ways, to wit:

(a) I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anybody knows of it, it will not count.

(b) I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests just for exercise.

(c) I will not show any one that my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but Today I will not show it.

7. Just for To-day, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible,  talk low,  act courteously, be liberal with flattery, criticize not one bit  nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anybody.

8. Just for Today, I will have a Program. I will write down just what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. It will save me from the two pests Hurry and Indecision.

9. Just for Today, I will have a quiet half hour, all by myself, and relax. During this half hour, some time, I will think of God, so as to get a little more perspective to my life.

10. Just for Today, I will be Unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to be Happy, to enjoy what is Beautiful, to love and to believe that those I love love me.

This Bible verse also comes to mind: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2: 14-17)

None of us really knows what God’s Plan is for the rest of our lives (and perhaps it’s best that way!) But just for today we can perhaps discern that the Will of God is to just do the next right thing, whatever comes to mind – whether it’s taking a walk, doing the dishes, contacting a friend, doing a task we’ve been putting off or just doing the best we can at the job before us – and then when you add today to your yesterdays and do the same thing tomorrow, pretty soon your days will hopefully add up to fulfilling God’s Plan for you!

 

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When Life Seems Unfair…

Although it’s been around awhile, I just heard an acronym that describes one of my character defects that occasionally rears its ugly head (although a lot less than it used to) and that’s FoMO (Fear of Missing Out). I looked it up and it’s actually a word that was added to the English dictionary a few years ago defined as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.” Wikipedia’s definition adds: “FoMO is also defined as a fear of regret, which may lead to a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying events. In other words, FoMO perpetuates the fear of having made the wrong decision on how to spend time, as ‘you can imagine how things could be different’.”

We are human beings seeking love, attention and fulfillment, so it is only natural I suppose that sometimes we feel the lack of getting those emotional desires or needs met…or in a broader sense of FoMO, we feel left out, slighted or rejected. Perhaps we didn’t get the job or promotion we were after, we didn’t win the game or contest, we didn’t get to go somewhere, family or friends disappoint us, we get an unexpected rough break financially or with our health…the list can go on. And when we compare or see others getting the very things we think we deserve, our pain only grows. In short, we start to feel that life’s not fair. I was feeling this way in particular this weekend when I heard others planning to go to the beach and I had commitments that were preventing me from going…and it was supposed to be a sunny, hot weekend looking at the weather forecast.  Knowing summer was over and I might not get another chance, I started to feel a FoMO coming on. And then I felt guilty knowing I am so lucky compared to many others in this world…which helped a bit but not entirely.

So how do we deal with those feelings of self-pity that arise when we compare ourselves or our circumstances with others? Let’s look to yesterday’s Gospel reading for an answer. Jesus told a parable of the kingdom being like a landowner who goes out looking for workers; he hires a group at various intervals of the day – early a.m., then at 9, noon and 5 – but ends up paying each the same wage he promised. Of course the workers who showed up early and worked all day complained that they should be paid more. But the landowner replied, “Take what is yours and go…Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20: 14-16)

I think Jesus is trying to tell us to be happy and grateful for what we get and have (especially entry to the Kingdom!), and to be happy for our brothers and sisters who get what they do – and to not compare, or begrudge but to let our FoMO go! I believe it helps to share your fear or obsession with someone else who can help you put it in its true perspective, and also to be grateful for all God has given me right here and now.  I know that only when I let my fear and obsession go can I be totally available and possibly happy with the present – which is its own gift!

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Rising to the Challenge

Today I am doing something I’ve never done before…teaching 10 to 15-year-old students how to become authors. I’ve taught adults how to write, publish and market a book for several semesters now at my local college. When the college program director asked me earlier this year if I wanted to teach a course to home school kids I said “sure, why not?” But just like the first time I taught adults (something else I never dreamed I’d do before), now that the day has arrived, I feel a little nervous. I guess that’s normal when you begin anything new, especially when it involves public speaking (which is another thing I never thought I’d do!) But I think God wants us to widen our horizons, push ourselves and rise to new challenges, especially when it comes to helping others, so that we continue to grow.

Looking back, I only ever wanted to write books. I never realized that being an author would mean being asked to speak, but once I did, I joined Toastmasters to help overcome my fear of public speaking and help me become a good speaker. And speaking led to giving workshops at writers’ conferences which led to teaching college classes on book writing which brought me to where I am today…and the Lord only knows what else is in store in the future! All I know is that I need to overcome my fears, which are just manifestations of my ego, and humbly say “yes” by being of service, and God will help me if I let Him guide me.

Still, sometimes it seems that it would be easier to just “stay inside my box” and just keep doing that with which I am comfortable…and the Monday morning feeling that all I want to do is hide under the covers and fall back asleep is strong. But then I remember Jesus’ words from the Bible: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Hard to believe, given all of the miracles and healing He performed, that Jesus would expect his disciples to do ‘even greater things’! And of course, we are his modern-day disciples.

So I encourage us all to pray that today we can rise to the challenges before us and be open to still greater things in the future.

 

 

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Letting Go…

My daughter is in Florida now which is being battered by Hurricane Irma. She is safe in a shelter with a few friends and families and after a few more days will return to campus for her senior year at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, which hopefully wasn’t devastated too badly and will be able to return to “normal.” By the time I went to get her a flight home, they were all sold out. I felt guilty about that but realized I had to let go of that guilt or I would be blocked from being present right here and now (many miles away in Maryland), and let go of the worry for her I was feeling – because it was all out of my control , there was nothing I could do but pray for her and the countless others in Florida affected by the hurricane. I had to “let go and let God” – or release her to God’s care. But it’s not always easy to let go of guilt and worry – fears of past and future – and stay in the present so we can be of use to others and do God’s will.

Today also commemorates the anniversary of “9-11,” the terrorist attacks in the US that occurred 16 years ago…and I’m sure for many it is still hard to let go of the grief that caused. And terrorist acts continue to occur in the Middle East, affecting many persecuted Christians who defend our faith and military who defend our freedom. I pray for all of them and their friends and families to have peace in these still-troubled times.

On another personal note, I recently had to let go of a resentment against someone who had caused harm against one of my family members and forgive that person. It took a year to completely “let go,” and while our relationship may never be what it was, at least I can be around this person without feeling angry or resentful. But I know deep down forgiveness works both ways – it not only frees the other person I forgive, but it frees me too.

I also have a hard time “letting go” of summer…my favorite time of year. Cooler weather is already setting in here in Maryland and for me, fall is bittersweet; even though it’s a lovely time of year, it means summer is gone and winter is on the way. I used to look back and have regrets about all of the things I didn’t do over the summer…but fortunately I have grown spiritually enough to be grateful for the things I did do, and let the rest go…and to appreciate autumn and not worry about winter.

Is there something – or someone – that you need to let go but can’t, that is holding you “bound” and blocking the sunlight of your spirit? I know it’s hard to let go (trust me, it has taken many years of practice and I’m a little better at it, but far from perfect!)…so I offer words from Psalm 46 to meditate on for all those having difficulty letting go of hurts, resentments, anger, worry, anxiety and fear – and pray for the victims of both Hurricanes Harvey & Irma: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’….The Lord Almighty is with us.” 

 

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