Monday, November 24, 2008

Devozine Article Rough Draft ~ Grief

First, to give an idea of what it is that I need to write, here are the guidelines put forward by Devozine.


Our purpose is to help youth develop a lifelong practice of prayer and spiritual reflection. devozine is designed to help readers grow in their faith and explore the relevancy of the Christian faith for the issues they face. Undergirded by scripture, devozine will aid youth in their prayer life, introduce them to spiritual disciplines, help them shape their concept of God, and encourage them in the life of discipleship.

WHAT IS devozine?
- A bimonthly, 80-page magazine for youth
- Written by youth and by adults who care about them
- Each issue focuses on eight or nine themes.
- Each theme includes weekday readings and weekend features, enough for two months.
- Meditations may be read in chronological or random order.
- Meditations may be expressed through scripture, prose, poetry, prayers, stories, songs, art, or photographs.
- Readers and writers include persons of many different denominations and cultures.

- Youth ages 12-18 who seek personal devotional readings
- Youth groups who seek devotional reflections
- Adults who seek to understand youth spirituality

- Daily meditations should be 150-250 words long.
- Poetry and prayers should be short to moderate in length -- 10 to 20 lines.
- Think about the purpose of the meditation -- what do you want it to evoke in the reader?
- Style notes: Simply written (preferably in youth language), realistic and relevant to life experiences of youth, does not need to be overtly religious but should help to open youth to the life of faith that we all seek, inclusive of multicultural experiences
- Language guidelines: Try to use language that is non-sexist and inclusive of everyone (examples are words such as humankind, persons, or everyone instead of mankind or men in the familiar generic sense). We encourage the use of a wide range of biblical images for God.
- May include scripture verse or suggested text (state version of Bible used)
- May include a reflective element: brief prayers, quotes, reflection or journaling questions, action ideas, or other items. Prayers should use honest, straightforward, conversational language.

- Devotional writing should invite people to come closer to God.
- Devotional writing should tell about real experiences of real people who are struggling to apply their faith to daily life.
- Devotional writing should express only one main idea. It should leave one memorable image with the reader.
- Devotional writing should lead persons into further conversation with God after they finish reading the meditation.
- Your journal can be a great source of devotional writing because your journal records your real thoughts about your experiences.

See that last tip, that I underlined? Well, Lord knows I've written about grief enough here, let's see what I can find as inspiration from some of my past blog posts. (Obviously, I'll need to cut them down quite a lot of I use them. They're all quite a bit longer than 250 words.)

Also, here are the tips specific to writing about the "Good Grief" theme.

good grief

- When in my life have I experienced grief or loss? What feelings or stages did I go through? Did any of these feel good? How has time eased my pain?
- When have I been grateful for the ability to cry? When have tears been a blessing? a release?
- When have I been tempted to ignore my grief or to pretend I was not grieving? What happens when I bury these feelings or refuse to deal with them? Who or what helped me to realize that it’s OK to grieve?
- When has a painful time of letting go or of leaving something behind led to a new opportunity, such as moving from the house in which I grew up or going off to college?
- When through the death of someone close to me have I begun to understand the natural cycle of life, as when leaves die in autumn and fall from the trees, but after a long winter, new buds sprout to re-create beautiful foliage?
- When have I found a blessing in the experience of loss? How have I sensed God’s presence with me through the pain and the tears?

From Suffering And Thanksgiving, November 22, 2007:

"No, suffering isn't enjoyable, but my spiritual joy can still remain constant, because if I respond to my Heavenly Father's love while in my suffering, He will then draw me closer, revealing to me more about Himself and what He did for me. Once I completely trust Him and place my suffering in His hands, I will then be able to accept the gift of peace He has waiting for me, because He is then my focus, and not the pain in my heart."

"I have so much to be thankful for. Not because my life is perfect, but because my Father is faithful. My Abba will never leave me or forsake me. He desires me to rest in the fullness of His embrace, and find peace and supernatural joy in my suffering, as I begin to understand His Son in His suffering as we stand face to face."

From Grief: A Study ~ Part 1, December 10, 2007:

"Grief. What has it meant to me in my life? Is the issue that it caused me pain? No, that is not the issue. Nor are the specifics that caused my pain the issue. The issue is how it changed me.

I need to show how it changed me for the worst in the beginning, and that change kept me captive in a pit. It turned me....not against, but away from my Heavenly Father. I lost my trust in Him. Not my trust in His Son for eternal life, but my trust that He is able to do "exceedingly abundantly" above anything I would ever dream to be possible. I also didn't understand that this ability of His, this power, has more to do with inner transformation on my part than a changing of outward circumstances."

"No matter where you are in life, no matter what you're going through, no matter what decisions you have made or what things you have done, you are LOVED. By a powerful, but gentle, Father, who desires NOTHING more than drawing you closer to Him.

This is my comfort, and the reason I can thank God for everything that happened to me, because I know now that it happened for a reason. It was all a part of God's wonderful plan to bring me to Himself. He didn't orchestrate the pain, much of it was my Enemy doing His best to keep me from seeing my Father's face, to keep me from reading the love He has for me in His eyes, from His Word. But though it was meant for evil, God turned it to good, and I am His vessel, willing to be used in whatever way He sees fit, to His glory, to proclaim His love, to show His majesty in the miracles He worked in me."

From Grief: A Study ~ Part 2, December 18, 2007:

"If anyone knew about grief, it was King David, and he experienced it throughout his life in almost every way imaginable. Pay attention to the way he describes the state of his soul, of his spirit in these verses. "My soul cleaves to the dust.....My soul weeps because of grief."

Have you ever gone through something in your life where you felt like you couldn't get back up? Like you'd been pushed down too many times? Was there ever a pain so strong you could hardly bear it? That is the picture David is painting here; he knew what it was like to have that kind of pain.

Like David, every single person on the planet goes through grief and hard times. Some experience it more than others it's true, but I have learned that there is more than one way that grief can appear in a persons life. A lot of the time, it happens through situations we can't control, like the loss of someone we care about, or through the workings of our Enemy as he tries to get our eyes of our Father. Just think about Job. He was a Godly man, and loved the LORD, but God still permitted a lot of horrible things to happen to Him. Did this mean that God did not love Job? Of course not. I think He loved Job enough to let them happen, because they ultimately brought Job even closer to his Father, and brought him more understanding. Look to Psalm 119 again; what does David say, right after expressing the pain in his soul? "My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Your Word....My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word." David knew that what he needed was not for the pain to go away, but for God's will to be done, which always, no matter the circumstance, is that we draw closer to the Father, that we trust His commandments, trust His Word, and only look to Him and His truth for sustinance."

"Simply put, when we choose our own way over God's way, no matter how much pleasure it might bring us at first, it will always end in grief. God can allow us to run the way of emotional destruction, and we hit obstacles and trials as consequences of our sin. For me, God knew that I needed to hit rock bottom, and then continue to dig my pit deeper, before I would realize what I needed in Him. A lot of the grief I experienced in my life was simply me reaping the fruit of the seeds of neglecting the Spirit within me. I kept on turning away from Him, so He chose to let me hit hard and fast, thankfully, before I did any more damage to myself or anyone else."

From A New Year and Grief: A Study ~ Part 3, January 2, 2008:

Following writing out the story of what I went through when I lost a friend to suicide, I wrote:

"The knowledge that everything is always under God's control was something I had been taught my whole life, but this was the first time I had ever claimed that truth for my own in order to comfort me through the strength and love of the Holy Spirit, to give me strength to bear the pain.

The night afer I found out, I was sitting at the computer, just playing solitaire, trying to get my mind off of things, and I had some music from the Gaither Vocal Band playing as well. As I sat there, I couldn't help but think about what had happened, about what I had learned, and I started crying again; but silently, not the sobs they had been earlier.

As I cried, I started listening to the music that was playing, or more specifically listening to the words, and as they began to sink in, I realized something amazing.

The song "Let Freedom Ring" was playing, and for the first time, I realized that despite the song sounding like it was talking about freedom from sin, it was also talking about freedom of any kind, because that's how capable and powerful our God is. I started crying in earnest at that point, because I realized that despite the fact that I knew that my grief wasn't a bad thing, that God expected it, and even wanted it so that He could bring me closer to Him, it didn't have to keep me in bondage. Immediately, I felt wellsprings of joy bubbling up inside my soul, completely seperate from the pain and grief in my heart.

That joy did not come from me, it was the Holy Spirit within me giving me His joy, keeping me from despair despite the horrible pain in my heart.

This truth is something that I have clung to ever since, because now I know that truly, I can be content, and even filled with God's supernatural joy, no matter whatever cirumstance I am in, no matter how grieved I am, no matter how much pain I am experiencing. He is always faithful, and His power can cut through any chain.

Dear believers, do not let past hurts and wrongs and griefs keep you from experiencing the love and joy of the Father. For that, along with anything that keeps us from drawing closer to Him, is bondage. That love and joy is always there, just waiting for us to accept it, so we can experience the freedom and blessings our Heavenly is just waiting to give us, and give us abundantly."

Well, at least I have a lot of material to work with now.

Zane Hodges

Even though I haven't written very much about it since I started my blog over a year ago, I have been very aware over the past year of the issues involving and within the free-grace movement. I was shocked and surprised to learn that Zane Hodges, the author of the book Absolutely Free!, the book that has caused such a stir in the Duluth camp, passed away and went to be with the Lord over the weekend.

I don't know very much about the man personally, and I haven't read any of his books - though I've been meaning too - but I have a great respect for his ministry and I know he will be greatly missed.

Please see this article at the GES blog.

My first thoughts are thankfulness that Zane Hodges is with the Savior he loves, and that he is no longer in danger of being grieved and discouraged by the divisions amongst us. May we all remember to Whom we belong, and HIS work to which He has called us. May we all love each other and treat each other with kindness and gentleness, making the unity of entire Body of Christ our priority, not proving ourselves right and other brothers and sisters wrong.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The past several weeks have been alternately busy and stressful for me, as I'm trying to secure a second job on top of the one I have at the convention center here in Duluth. I'll be moving to Iowa by February Lord willing, and I need a second job so I can become MUCH more financially stable and able to support myself while settling down in a new apartment in a new town. I've been putting in applications, which I'll be checking on now in this new week, as well as putting in new ones in other positions I've found to be open. However today I'm exploring again something that I've desired to do for quite a long time - freelance writing.

Devozine, by The Upper Room is a devotional magazine for teens that is 90% freelanced by both teenagers and adults who want to minister to them. I've known about this opportunity to pursue for a while, but I as of yet have not seriously pursued it for one reason or another. (Mostly laziness if I'm going to be honest.)

A second opportunity I discovered today, and I'm going to try it out, though I'm not sure how well it will actual produce monetary returns.

On my facebook page the ads most frequently displayed are those geared toward blogging and freelance writing for pay. Most of these ads are pretty much scams, requiring the writer to pay a membership fee before giving assignments to write. But I saw one today that is absolutely free and pretty much like a blog. It's called Hubpages, and it uses GoogleAdSense and other third party ads to bring revenue to the Hubber. You can have multiple Hubpages for writing on different specific topics, but I only have one for the moment to see how much I like it and how well it works. There's a box further down on this page that will link to my Hubpage, so if anyone wants to look at it and tell me what they think I'd of course appreciate it.

For now though, I'm going to focus on writing something to submit to the Devozine, and I'm going to post here the possible topics that I could write on and turn in by the December 1st deadline. Later today hopefully, I'll write a rough draft on at least one of the topics.

September/October 2009

[Deadline: 12/1/08]

in your shoes
can you say no?
good grief
like Christ
learning differently
i believe...
my fab fam

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting Personal

Anyone who knows me very well can tell you what my favorite thing to do is: read. I DEVOUR books, and during times that I can't make it to the library, I re-reading anything I can find on my bookshelf. In the past two weeks I have finished reading Watership Down, Shadow of the Hegemon, A Voice in the Wind, and An Echo in the Darkness. And each of those books was at least 350 pages.

As I said, I love reading, but there is something about myself when I read certain books that really annoys me. Sometimes, the books get very personal, and I don't like it. It's not very pleasant when I get angry at a character in the book I'm reading, and a few hours later when trying to figure out why I'm restless and crabby realizing it's because I'm taking the characters actions personally. THEY'RE JUST BOOKS FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

*sigh* It's only certain books though, and none of the books that I finished recently elicited that reaction from me. (Although that might be because I'd already read them all before. I haven't been to the library in a while.)

It's the book I'm reading right now that is getting under my skin. I was prowling all the nooks and crannies in our house for a new book to read - we have a TON of books in our house, as I'm not the only one with a reading problem - and I stumbled upon a Christian Fiction book in the middle of a pile that I didn't know we had, so I decided to try it. Like most Christian Fiction books, unfortunately, this one is a little wanting in the literary department, but the story is pulling me in despite the deficiencies in writing quality. It's titled Pearl, the second in a series by Lauraine Snelling about a small town in the Dakotah Territory in the 1880's. We don't have the first, so I've had to make some guesses about some of the main characters regarding what happened before this book, but the main character, Pearl, is completely new as far as I can tell. And SHE is the reason for my emotional quandary.

She lives in Chicago with her family, consisting of her Father, brother, step-mother and half-siblings. She's 22 years old, and she has a scar on her neck from a childhood accident. (And like all the other main characters in the book, she's of Norwegian decent. I know there are a lot of Norwegian decedents in the U.S., myself included, but it's a little coincidental that ALL the main characters in a book, divided between 4 cities, would be Norwegian. But anyway, that's not what's keeping me up at night.)

Pearl's father is very controlling. It didn't really bother me at first, because he wasn't any more controlling with Pearl that he was in any other area of his life, and it seemed to be just part of his character. Another reason why it didn't bother me, his character isn't very realistic. Not in the way that he does things and makes decisions and says things that don't make any sense, but the author hasn't given enough information to explain WHY he is the way he is, and therefore justify the character she's given him. If something doesn't seem realistic to me in a book, it won't become personal. Until the character does something so stupid and selfish and egotistical that I begin to fume.

I'll explain: Throughout the whole book so far, Pearl's father has been hoping for her to marry one of his employees, Mr. Longstreet, a widower moved to Chicago from Duluth, MN (who woulda thought) with five kids. Pearl isn't interested, because he's not her type, and she knows she couldn't love him, even though as a teacher she of course has a soft spot for his kids. This didn't bother me, because I already know - from the back cover - that she's eventually going to move to the little town in the Dakotah to teach in a schoolhouse there. I still know that's going to happen, but the situation has gotten a lot more complicated. As Pearl lives in her fathers house, and as she's a Christian, she takes obeying her father very seriously, even though it's hard for her because she has a hard time believing that he actually does still love her. So when her father tells her that she needs to agree to Mr. Longstreet's request to court her, she has no choice but to obey. This was a little annoying, but I was under the impression that if Mr. Longstreet proposed she would have the freedom to say no.

I was mistaken. Mr. Longstreet never even proposed to her! Her father gave a party at their home, of course Mr. Longstreet was there, and during the party Pearl's father gave an announcement that his daughter was engaged!!! I mean, come on!!!

Gah, I HATE it when women are trapped by what they believe to be right. Pearl's father has put his foot down and is FORCING his daughter into a marriage, without her even being given the right to hear a proposal from the man she's supposed to marry.

Writing this, I feel really silly for getting so worked up, but this is the kind of thing that does it. Pearl knows she needs to obey her father, but I can't help but feel that this ISN'T what God meant.

But then I get to thinking, just because arranged marriages aren't the social norm anymore, does that make her father wrong? In biblical times, most marriages were arranged marriages. If I had been born in the time of Abraham or Isaac or Jacob or David, I would have had no choice but to marry whomever my father chose for me. But then again, I would have grown up with the knowledge that that would be the case. In this book, Pearl is taken completely by surprise. I'm sure she was under the supposition that if she were to ever marry, it would be to a man of her own choosing, someone she would have time to get to know and fall in love with. I know this story is set 120 years ago, and that society was much stricter for women especially, but I still can't see how her father is right in demanding this of her. When Pearl goes to try to plead with her father, and asks if she may say something, he responds with "only if it is to say 'yes Father.' " I just don't understand....

*deep breath*


Monday, November 17, 2008

A Conversation

~Child, daughter, beloved. You know I died for you, for your sins, to bring you to my Father. Why do you hold onto the failures that embarrass you the most? That make you feel the most unworthy of the love I've already given you freely of myself?

~Because I'm frightened.

~Of what?

~Of facing the truth. Of continuing to let myself down and let those down who love me. Of not becoming what I want to be.

~Has holding onto your sin helped?

~No. It just keeps getting worse. My circumstances never seem to change. Things on the surface fluctuate, but I still have the same weaknesses I fell to over and over again four years ago. It seems that everything I've learned in the past year has done nothing. I'm still clinging, looking for stories and ways to make my pen flow in ways pleasing to others.

~So... what does that mean?

~You know.

~Yes, but you need to know.

~I thought this was all about my knowing not helping anything.

~No, that's what you think it's about, that's just a symptom.

~A symptom of what?

~What did you write to your friend about with so much joy and conviction?

~Which part?


~Everything is about you. And your love.

~You sound so enthusiastic.

~I wish I felt enthusiastic! I've felt so dead lately, or I fluctuate between deadness and guilt and pain. I'm either overwhelmed by my sins, or when I can get my mind off them because I know you don't want me to dwell on them, I still feel like there is something blocking my connecting to you. During the messages and the conversations and the letter writing I know all the answers and everything seems to fit together. But when I'm on my own, trying to reach you, I can't seem to get things to click together, to connect with what I know to be true.

I'm so tired, and it's so easy to just give everything up and try to forget about it when fatigue takes over and I sleep.

~Does that ever bring you peace? And do you really think that would be worth it?

~No....and no. It's just been my fall back plan so many times in my life that it's just too easy to fall back into....wait a minute. That's it. It's my pit.

~And child, what do you know about pits? Or better yet, what do you know about me and how I relate to pits and those who are in them?

~I know you're the only one who can get me out. I know I never want it to get as bad as it was before.

~And why did it get so bad before?

~Because I completely lost sight of you. Until it got so bad I only had you to look to.

~Beloved - and I love that that's what your parents named you, remember that. Your name - Amanda - really does mean the way I think and feel about you. My beloved Amanda, I am so thankful that you turned to me at that point, and I never felt anything except sorrow during the time I was waiting for you. Never anger, never disappointment. Just sorrow and yearning for you to let me draw near and introduce you to my Father and our truth and love. But child, I don't want you to have to wait that long to turn to me! I want you to choose me before it gets to the point where I'm the only option. I don't want you to lose the blessings you have let me give you because you get my priorities for you rearranged and out of place. I love you, let me give you everything.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Yep, I know it's kinda bad that the last time I wrote here was when I discovered the NaNoWriMo competition....thing. I'm in the midst of it right now of course, and struggling, so I don't really have time to even THINK about my blog. I barely take the time to read my email. But I wanted to share this encouraging letter the NaNoWriMo authors were sent as one of the first-week celebrity pep-talks by author Jonathan Stroud. (I'd never heard of him before, but once this horrible month is over I'll have to check him out.) ...and no, it's not really that bad. It's hard, but so far I like my novel and the direction my novel is taking. If anyone reading this is by any chance interested, I'm writing my novel on my Livejournal account, then copy/pasting it to an Word document so I can get the word count. I'm not very far at the week 3 is going to be hell...but I'm determined to get through this. All you other NaNoWriMo's out there, I wish you luck! See you on the other side.

Jonothan Stroud Pep-Talk ~

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

You could write a novel about the act of writing a novel. It's a heroic act. (Or so I tell myself as I sit here in my garret study, chewing my nails, scratching my nose and staring blankly at my screen. That's what this is, I say grimly: a heroic act.) Why is it so heroic? Because it fits the mythic pattern of all great legendary heroes' lives. It's the story of a mighty quest accepted, of a long journey undertaken, of insuperable obstacles overcome and finally—in your case after 30 painful days—of lasting triumph won. It would make a fine movie, apart from the scratching the nose bi t—probably starring Charlton Heston. Full of dramatic highs, dreadful lows and endless tedious bits when the audience goes out to make a cup of tea. It's an epic, all right, and we're all in it together.

Here's how it works for me. At the beginning there's a kind of honeymoon period, where I'm pretty excited by the idea in my head, and the possibilities it evokes. Sure there are a zillion details to be worked out later, and plenty of things that don't yet mesh, but that's ok—we've lots of time. I write the odd fragment and chuckle over the occasional piquant joke. I do a bit of research, visit museums wearing black roll-neck sweaters, scribble ideas down on napkins in coffee houses. It's a pleasant calm before the storm.

Then things darken a little. Time is pressing. I want to get to grips with the novel, but I haven't a clue how. This is the 'phony war' period. I now apply myself seriously to work, but the trouble is that it doesn’t hold together. Scenes start promisingly but peter into nothing. Main characters turn out to have all the zest of a cardboard box abandoned in the rain. Dialogue is lousy. Description descends into wall-to-wall cliché. No fragment lasts more than two or three pages before being printed off and tossed aside. And still the real writing hasn't begun.

In fact, without a few imperatives to nail things down, it's quite possible for these first two periods to last forever. Honeymoon and phony war: one of them's breezy, the other's frustrating, but both are equally deadly to the hopes of any novel. The author might easily stay scribbling, doodling, crossing out and reworking forever. The heroic quest deteriorates into a dog chasing its tail.

That's why a deadline—like the one you're working to—is such a good idea.

With my Bartimaeus Trilogy I had a big fat fantasy novel to write each year, three years in a row. One novel a year? That's not so hard. Or so I thought. Then I figured out that what with the time taken up with editing and revising my manuscript, and then with printing and distributing it, I actually had about five or six months to get the first draft done. And it wasn't long before I was mired in the phony war period, with lots of fragments, half-ideas and wasted weeks behind me, and saw my deadline looming.

So I did exactly the same thing you're doing this November, and set myself a strict schedule of pages per week to get the first draft done. In my case this worked out at about 100 pages per month for 3-4 months. Each day I kept strict records of what I achieved; each day I tottered a little nearer my goal. Five pages per working day was my aim, and sometimes I made this easily. Other times I fell woefully short. Some days I was happy with what I got down; some days I could scarcely believe the drivel that clogged up the page. But quality was not the issue right then. Quality could wait. This was n't the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages.

So I did it, one page at a time, even when it was like pulling teeth or squeezing blood from a stone. I did it. And you can do it too.

This is just a first draft, after all. It doesn't have to be a perfect thing. I once met an author who claimed only to write when actively inspired. She was a fine and venerated writer, so I didn't let my jaw loll open too widely in her presence, but I didn't really buy her claim, and I still don't buy it now. If 'inspiration' is when the words just flow out, each one falling correctly on the page, I've been inspired precisely once in ten years. All the rest of the time, as I've been piecing together my seven novels, it's been a more or less painful effort. You write, you complete a draft in the time you've got, you take a rest. Then—later, when you've recovered a little—you reread and revise. And so it goes. And little by little the thing that started off as a heap of fragments, a twist of ideas trapped inside your head, begins to take on its own shape and identity, and becomes a living entity, separate from yourself.

Getting that first draft out is a horribly hard grind, but that (perversely) is where the joy of it lies. There is nothing better for me, nothing more uniquely satisfying in the whole process of making a book, than the sensation at the end of each day—good or bad, productive or unproductive—when I look over and see a little fragile stack of written pages that weren't there that morning. A few hours earlier they didn't exist. And now they do. In a strange way this is more actively thrilling than even holding my finished, printed, book in my hands. It's where the magic lies. Alchemists tried for centuries to turn base metals into gold. Every time we sit down and put words on paper, we succeed where they failed. We're conjuring something out of nothing.

So what does my advice boil down to? Sweat blood, churn out the pages, ignore the doldrums, savour the moments when the words catch fire. Good luck with your novels. Those old legendary heroes may not have sat around like us drinking cold coffee and tapping steadily at their keypads, but for them—and for us—it's the journey that's the thing. That's where the fun is.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

I've been bitten..... a writing bug. (I hope this one never stops itching.)

For my own benefit, and also for possible feedback from others, I am going to post a list of different Writing Forums that I am looking into. The impulsive side of me would just jump right in and register to all of them....but I'm already having a hard time keeping up with my email. (Not to mention this blog, which is my current writing priority.)

I'm not limiting myself to only one, there are different writing forums with different purposes, but I want to make sure I don't join one that will just be me overextending myself without any added benefit or growth potential in my writing.

One I've already decided on, but it's a little bit different from just a writing forum. My friend Tim Nichols introduced me yesterday to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I have to say I'm rather anxious to try it. Hence.... I'm starting to gear up for that and hopefully find an even better way to motivate myself to start writing even more than I am right now. (Which I know, isn't saying a whole lot, but you have to admit, I'm doing better keeping this blog up than I did all summer!)

Actually, last night when I couldn't sleep, (isn't such a strange thing for me unfortunately,) I took the insomniac opportunity to do a little writing and was pleasantly surprised with the beginnings of a story I ended up coming up with. I'm not going to share it here, this isn't really a "story" blog, but I do want to find a place where I can continue to delve into that genre and hopefully get some feedback as well. (Keeping up more than one blog is proving a little too difficult for me.)

But anyway, I might as well stop explaining myself and get to it.

~ NaNoWriMo

~ Writing Forums

~ Writer's Beat Forums

~ Writing.Com

~ LiteraryMary

~ Access for Writers by UniqueCritique

~ Faith Writers

~ Christian Writers

~ Edit Red

~ The Next Big Writer

~ Toasted Cheese

~ Forward Motion

~ Great Writing

~ InkSpot

Well...I think that's a good enough list for now. As I do more research into each site, (not too extensive, just poking around to see what the offerings are,) I'll probably edit this post to jot down my thoughts; what the pros and cons of each site are. And again, if anyone has any feedback about any of these sites through either using them yourself, word of mouth, or looking them over, please feel free to share.

Alright, off to do research!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fantasy, Fable, Foibles, Freedom

Which stories are the best? Those where you find yourself wishing the world it brings you to is real, or those that are so real you're thankful it's just a story?

I want to live vicariously through my writing. I realized that tonight. I don't want to do anything drastic in my writing of course.

I want to pretend I live in a mansion, and my closest friends are the little people that live under the floor boards and mine out the agates from under the house.

I want to travel the world as a waitress on a cruise line, meeting new people and unattached and focused on whoever and whatever God sets before me.

I want.....

I want to create worlds different from the one I live in, without the troubles I face, but new troubles invented that I can - from this objective seat - see the exact course that must be taken.

But who would want to read something like that? How would I not get tired of writing that?

I don't know the answers to these questions. I just need to write.

Encouragement through music

Hopefully, if I'm not too tired, I'll be able to write a real post later tonight when I get back from a Bible study.

Before I leave though, I want to share a video of something encouraging and/or funny. I haven't done that in a while.

One Good Song

Tim Hawkins on Church

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bitterness and Healing

The last few days have been very busy, as between Friday and Saturday, I worked a total of nineteen and a quarter hours. 13 of those hours were on Friday. Yes. I'm not exaggerating. When I got home from work around 10:20 last night, my feet were so sore I felt like there were tacks stuck into my heels.

Oh well, I'll get a good paycheck next Friday.

Anyway, I feel like my thoughts are still rather scattered, but not quite as bad as when I last wrote. Went to church this morning, and the service was very encouraging. The pastor there has been doing a series called "Encountering God in the Psalms." The text today: Psalm 73. The question: Where is God When Life is Unfair?

I felt the message today was pretty appropriate for what I've been dealing with lately, as I've been struggling with finding contentment with where I'm at right now as a whole. Yes, I know that I'm very fortunate and that life is good and that God is providing for everything I need, but that's just the theology of the situation; what I know in my head to be true. Sometimes my experience isn't very supportive of my theology. Actually, the contridiction of theology and experience was the first thing touched on in the message today. (Kinda cool how I worked that in there, huh?) ;)

Here's the text of Psalm 73 first of all.

Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph NLT

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don't have troubles like other people;
they're not plagued with problems like
everyone else.
They wear pride like a jeweled necklace
and clothe themselves with cruelty.
These fat cats have everything
their hearts could ever wish for!
They scoff and speak only evil;
in their pride they seem to cursh others.
They boast against the very heavens,
and their words strut throughout the
And so the people are dismayed and
drinking in all their words.
"What does God know?" they ask.
"Does the Most High even know what's
Look at these wicked people -
enjoying a life of ease while their riches

Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain.
If I had really spoken this way to others,
I would have been a traitor to your people.
So I tried to understand why the wicked
But what a difficult task it is!
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the
Truly, you put them on a slippery path
and send them sliding over the cliff to
In an instant they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors.
When you arise, O Lord,
you will laugh at their silly ideas
as a person laughs at dreams in the

Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant -
I must have seemed like a senseless animal
to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow
but God remains the strength of my heart,
he is mine forever.

Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the
wonderful things you do.

In the past, when I read Psalms such as this one, I never really understood them. To be honest, I avoided them or skipped over the depressing parts to get to the encouraging stuff. In the last few years however I've been beginning to appreciate them. Yes, the writers of the Psalms were writing through the ispiration of the Holy Spirit. But they were still human! This Psalm in particular is a depictment of the the writer's despair, and it's emotionally hard to read. But the Bible, as always, is brutally honest. It deals with the hard questions. God wants us to ask the questions we have. Why? Because he's big enough to encompass our doubt and give us peace! Because he wants the chance to prove to us his love, strength and desire to care for us. (Starting with and especially through what he's already done.)

Looking at all the "depressing" verses, one is usually inclined to read them from the same viewpoint as the writer. However, when it comes to many of the characteristics of the wicked, most of them can unfortunately be applied to believers as well as unbelievers. It might not be the most enjoyable thing in the world to realize one can at times act like a "fat cat," however I believe it can be ultimately very beneficial when reading verses like these to ask ourselves - What about me? Do I have an overgrown sense of entitlement? Do I think I'm not getting what I deserve from God? Do I see others getting unfair "privileges"? Better yet, instead of asking myself, I need to be asking my Father these questions. I'm pretty sure he can reveal the truth to me a little bit better than I can. (My overgrown sense of entitlement might prevent me from discerning the truth if I just ask myself.)

Back to the writer though. Through his viewpoint, he found bitterness growing in his heart as he focused on what was wrong in the world. Discovering the bitterness he is dismayed before the Lord, likening himself to a "senseless animal." From experience, I know that when one has bitterness growing in their heart, almost any behavior becomes possible. When one is cynical about the future and their hope is being siffoned away from them, losing sight of what really matters, the importance of sharing joy with others - of even enjoying the Father's joy oneself - will be forgotten. The more bitter a person is, the more confused their thinking will become. Bitterness leads to cynicism; cynicism leads to seperation and relational hardships; relational seperation produces brokeness.

Realizing that bitterness can lead to brokeness is important, because I know that I often don't remember that bitterness is a wound that God wants to heal. And when considering that, it is a blessing to realize that even bitterness can be used by God in a person's life for good. The writer in the Psalm realizes the bitter root in his heart, and through his response to the Lord - surrendering to his council and recognizing his love and provision - he was brought into greater joy and peace as he grew closer to God through the healing.

When we recognize that we have allowed the affliction of bitterness and cry out to the Father for discerment and healing, the Lord gives us understanding that brings so many other issues to light. Yes, there are those who are wicked and ignore the power of God. But gaining a right understanding of the root of their behavior through God's eyes is what prevents the bitterness from taking hold. (Our culture is not a lense through which to read the Bible. The Bible is the lens through which to view and understand our culture.)

Understanding rebellion changes everything. Understanding the Cross changes everything. Understanding eternity changes everything. Everything is broken without God.

Where does this understanding come from? The writer goes into the sanctuary, and then he gains discernment. We know that the sanctuary was the Temple in the time the Psalms were written, but what is the sanctuary today? The building where you meet on Sundays? No. The sanctuary is where God dwells. The sanctuary is the church - the people. Every child of God is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Our indwelling is the sanctuary.

I love the way the Psalm ends. "But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do." The writer realized earlier in the Psalm how wrong and damaging it would be to share his discouraging and bitter thoughts with others, God's people especially. Of course, he does ultimately share his bitter thoughts, but only when accompanied by the understanding God gave him through the healing of his bitterness. And now his only desire is to be near God! And the only words coming off his tongue are those of praise and wonder at the wonder of the Father.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cleaning Out the Cobwebs

Yes, usually people clean out cobwebs during spring cleaning, but I don't think I should put off updating my blog 'til next spring.

Well, where to start?

I've missed writing, and I think my frustrations are largely to do with being unable to do anything about a lot of them. Or at least, not seeing a solution to my problems. I don't want that to keep me from writing though.

Life, God, family, everything is good right now for the most part. I'm so thankful for everything God has been bringing me through and everything he has taught me in the last few months. This summer has been quite eventful, and the departure of the season is leaving me eager to see what autumn, winter, and the next year will bring.

Christopher is wonderful, and our relationship has continued to grow despite the distance we're still struggling to cope with. Actually, I think the distance has helped us to grow closer together than we would have grown in 4 months while living in the same city. We appreciate each other and treasure the time we get to spend together so much more since we get it in so limited amounts. I know that long-distance relationships aren't for everyone, because they are so hard, but I can see God's hand in our circumstances in being apart and I know that this distance is fulfilling a purpose God has for us. I'm not at all sure what it is at this point, but I do know that we grow closer everyday. We love each other more everyday. I can't wait to move to Iowa and be close to Christopher, but I am content with where God has us right now, and I am so thankful for the relationship God is creating between us.

I've also been blessed this summer by meeting many new believers that God has placed into my life and life of our family. I've been attending the Vineyard church here in Duluth, and I've really enjoyed the small group Bible study I've been going to. The fellowship has been so encouraging; to be able to spend time again with other believers so intent on understanding the Word and what God's will is for them. I've met some really good friends through all this, and I'm very thankful for the prayers and encouragment they offer me and I'm able to offer them. There is nothing quite like the Body of Christ living and working together in the love of our Father.

There have been a lot of changes in my life this summer. I'm having to make so many decisions about the future, and I've really been tested in whether or not I trust that God can take care of me and that He has a perfect plan already set out for the treading of my trusting feet. One event kinda brought all that to a head in early August, when my best friend got married. Emily is the first of the girls I grew up with to get hitched, and I am so happy and thankful that she asked me to be a part of that special day with her. The wedding was beautiful and so encouraging, but it also kinda scared me. I'm growing up, I've crossed over the threshold of adulthood. I know I still have a lot of growing up to do, but life sometimes has a way of catching up with and knocking the wind out of us before we know what's really going on. With Christopher in my life, the way now has a definite focus, but it's opened up so many more possiblities and paths that it's still just as confusing. I can't wait to see what God does though, I know he has something wonderful planned for me and Christopher.

I'm having a hard time focusing on one thing right now, I just needed to get writing again. In the last three weeks both Wayne Jacobsen and Tim Nichols came to visit my family and the little community of believers we're in, and - in their own ways - both encouraged me to continue to write. I'll be writing more about their visits later, but I'd just like to thank both of them for the fellowship and encouragment and joy they shared with us while visiting.

A while ago a friend gave me a huge writer's handbook/guidebook kind of thing, and in the back there was a huge long list of different magazines of all kinds that accepted freelance submissiongs. One that I found and am very interested in seeing if I can submit articles to is called Devozine, a branch of The Upper Room - a devotional magazine. Devozine is just like the Upper Room, except it's for teenagers and written by teenagers and adults who care about teenagers. I have several devotional ideas based on the upcoming themes they have announced, and once I finish them and mail them in I'll post them here. The only hard part is that they have to be between 150-250 words. In case you haven't noticed, when I do write, I write a lot. Cutting the articles down and still maintaining the flow is what I'm having a hard time with.

Later I want to write some responses to the books I've read and finished so far this summer.

Ok, I think I've given myself enough prods and reminders to continue writing. See you tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Nature of Sandcastles

I just read this on Jeremy Meyers' blog, and I really like it. Thanks for sharing this Jeremy, hope you don't mind my sharing it here as well.

My family and I spent the day at the lake recently (It’s been about 100 degrees for over a month now!), and as part of the day’s events, we built a sand castle. Allow me to brag about my construction skills. The sand castle was amazing, complete with walls, turrets, gates, flags, a moat, and even a cannon with little cannon balls.

When we were nearly done, Selah asked “Can we come back and play with this castle next week?”

“No,” I replied. “Someone will probably come along and knock it down.”

“Why?” she asked.

My wife chimed in, “Because that’s the nature of sand castles. We build them to enjoy building them, and then leave them for others to look at before they knock them down.”

Selah, not at all upset by this information, said, “Well, we better build a good one then, so that they enjoy looking at it before they knock it down.”

That, I think, is my new philosophy to life and mission. Everything I do in life will probably be knocked down once I am gone. In fact, it seems that some people are trying to knock me down before I even get the first wall built. So the best I can do is build in such a way to (1) enjoy the process of building, and (2) build so that someone enjoys looking at what I build before it is destroyed.

I figure that if God wants my life work to outlast me, that’s up to Him. Attempting to build something for myself when God is not behind it is like trying to protect sand castles against the tide.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I know a post is due - I'm working through a few different things in my mind right now; hopefully a post by Wednesday. Until then: this is my current favorite song and I just want to share it. It's not spiritual or a Christian Praise song or anything, but anyone reading my blog lately will understand why I enjoy it. :)

If you got a good one, put your hands up
Come on girl, and stand up
Go ahead lift your man up

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Living in the Community of Love"

The title of my post is taken from the message that I heard today at the church that I have been visiting.

The pastor there has been teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and today the text from the Sermon was Matthew 7:1-12. To be completely honest, I don't remember if I've ever before heard a message - much less a whole series of messages - completely focused on the Sermon on the Mount. My thoughts on why that is....well, that's a whole 'nother blog post. I'll get back to my main point.

Just as I was incredibly encouraged the last time I was able to visit this church two weeks ago, the message today really spoke to my heart and encouraged me and pointed me toward the Lord. I've noticed at this church that there is a very real and tangible focus on showing people - no matter who they are or what they believe - the love of God.

This focus was very much translated in the message today, which revolved around Matthew 7:12 "Do to others as you would have them do to you." One point really hit me while the pastor was giving the introduction to this passage. Jesus here, unlike so many philosophers before and after Him, isn't saying NOT to do things we don't want people to do to us. He takes it a step further than that - He is calling us to actively go out and LOVE people. I'd never understood vs. 12 of Matthew 7 that way before.

For a long time God has been teaching me about this very thing, about the importance of simply loving people, so it is always amazing and wonderful for me when I realize over and over again "oh wait, there's ANOTHER verse that is teaching that!" I feel like I'm reading the Word with new eyes, with blinders removed, as God has finally "gotten through" to me, and I KNOW that He loves me and desires a relationship with me. I have so much further to go in my walk with Him, He is unfathomable! It's incredible to think that there can never cease being more to learn about Him. It's a little daunting at times, but I know there is absolutely nothing I can do that will ever make me "unreachable" by Him.

That reminds me of another point that the pastor made in his message today. When we judge other people, we are making a personal conclusion regarding where they are at before God. If we ever "give up" on someone, we are essentially saying "God, this person is never going to change. You could never get through to them, you're not strong enough."

First of all, how could we know whether or not a person is "unchangeable"? Secondly, God is obviously strong enough - and LOVING enough - to get through to anyone, no matter who they are, what they believe, or how hard their heart is.

The contrast between the sawdust and the plank was also touched on in the message, and the difference between going after someone's eye with a chainsaw, or with "correction in the spirit of eye surgery."

What would it be like if people didn't feel like they had to protect themselves from Christians? What would the world be like if Christians just loved people?"

Ultimately, the entirety of the message was wrapped in the end by pointing back to God, how living this way - living the spirit of His Kingdom - can never be done in our strength. I can't at this moment figure out a better way to put the following, so here's what I wrote in my notes this morning at the end of the message:

We don't have the strength to do any of this on our own. The desire to love the Kingdom of God keeps us on our knees. The best way we can demonstrate "eye surgery" is through prayer.

So - both generally speaking and in this "Community of Love" - how do I want to be treated?

I don't want to be put in a box; I desire grace and mercy; I know that in my own weakness I need prayer. I am a child of God, that is my identity in Christ, He loves me unconditionally and I want to be treated that way. With this as the case, through my Father's power, I need to treat others the same way. Praying for others, giving my requests to Him, petitioning for His strength and mercy and love. Trusting Him to give me the strength and power to love people as the humanity that He loves and the individuals that He desperately desires relationship with.

How do you desire to be treated? How does this influence your understanding of what God desires in how you relate to and treat others?

Another thing I realized today - Jesus completely understands how selfish we all are. We already think about ourselves already, that's why He put it in the terms that He did. The focus always ultimately revolves around Him though, despite our selfishness. The only way we can live the way outlined in the entire Sermon on the Mount, not just in this passage, is through losing ourselves in Him, which will begin to happen practically without us realizing it when we are looking to and focused on Him; on what He did for us; on the Father's amazing and unconditional love for us. As I said before, He is unfathomable! How can our self, our flesh, NOT be swallowed up in who He is, in what He desires for us?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Introducing: Jane Swensen

I started another blog today. The Chronicles of Jane.

I started the story of Jane several months ago, in an attempt to kinda tell my own story of life, but changing all the details a little bit. Jane is more exaggerated than I am in many ways, in some ways she's a better person, and in other ways she's...well...let's just say I've been through more than Jane could ever imagine. Life is a journey though, and I'm sure Jane will have plenty of adventures and "growing experiences" as I continue to write her story.

Do I know how her story is going to end? Heck no. I'm not even sure where to go with it next. I have a general idea of where I want to start her off, but beyond that....let's just say it's going to be a growing experience for me too.

Well, anyway, here she is. Within the Discord readers, please allow me to introduce you to Jane Swensen.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

(Oh, and don't worry, I'll still continue to write here at Within the Discord. And maybe I'll actually try to put some poetry at my poetry blog.)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What?!?! Another post!??!!

I was checking out the blog of a dear brother tonight, Captain's Blog by Chad "Captain" Estes. One particular paragraph in his most recent blog post really cracked me up and I had to share it.

He is describing a camping trip he recently took with his youngest son, and relating a conversation they had over a confusing sign on a campsite garbage can.

The other conveyance [at the campsite] was the trash cans. There was no need to pack it all out, as someone from the BLM was being paid to do so. The interesting thing was the note the BLM left on the canisters, “No fish in garbage can.” Renton and I discussed this confusing message. Was it a statement that no fish were currently in the cans but there might be at some later date? Was it a request not to relocate the fish from the lake into the can? Or could it perhaps be a warning to un-schooled tourists that fishing in cans, at least in this campground, would not produce the desired affect?

LOL. So funny.

Chad's blog is also very spiritually encouraging to me as well, as he doesn't shy from asking the hard questions or making difficult observations. In another blog post, this quotation also struck me, but in a different way from the last one.

There is much to learn in this story of a sleepless night- communication contingencies, premonition protocols and aftershock awareness, but personally it is the chaos I create when not being in control that challenges me to the core.

He's right, it is so often our own fears that make situations worse than they actually are. Like Peter, when he took his eyes off of Christ and began to sink into the waves, it is so easy for me to get caught up in the details of the trial instead of keeping my eyes on the Savior who is in complete control and knows exactly what it is that will happen. Not only that, I can trust that whatever it is that does happen will be for my own benefit, even if it does happen to be painful. It is not happiness that is (necessarily) beneficial for me, but anything that brings me closer to my Heavenly Father. The closer I grow in Him, the better I know Him, the more I trust Him, the greater the joy He can fill me with, and then the better He can sustain me through any trial or tribulation. The more I am filled with Him, the more I am sustained by Him, the more He can use me. I pray that is my focus. His glory, His praise, His honor, His strength. Less, less, less of me Lord, more of You. Increase in me and use me, help me to show Your love to others as You would have me to do.

Thank you Chad for sharing what the Lord put on your heart. I hope you don't mind my "mooching" off it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Trials, God's Provision, and Love?

The last few weeks in my life have been rather hectic, and at times more than a little discouraging. I'm getting a great preparation for the rest of my life though I think, I'm truly learning what it's like to go rapidly from valley to peak to valley to peak to valley and then back to peak....and oh wait it's another valley again. Are the valleys painful? Very. But I'm learning how much of a hidden blessing they are. Only the darkness of the valleys can truly illuminate the brilliance of the light and joy of the peaks. And I have another "hidden" blessing. I have the Holy Spirit inside of me, my Heavenly Father's love to sustain me, and the knowledge of what my Savior did for me to keep me focused on Him. All this supplies within me a fathomless well of joy that will bubble up slowly, gently, subtly in the times of the valley - reminding me of how I am a precious child of God, and He knows exactly where I am and exactly what I need and exactly what it will be that will rush me to the heights of the peaks of His blessings.

And now.....there's another blessing that I've been really excited to write about, but I've been having a hard time doing so because it's so important....if that makes sense. I've begun posts trying to write about it before, but I just couldn't get the words right. I know I was probably just being picky and overly self-critical, but this blessing has made me so happy that I knew I needed to find the perfect words and the perfect way to describe it. Strangely - or maybe not so strangely - gaining an understanding of the peaks and valleys I've been experiencing was what also gave me the words to describe this next blessing. (Which I guess is also "hidden" in a way...but I'll explain all that in a minute.)

On May 20th, 2008, I entered into a committed relationship with a wonderful man - Christopher. Christopher and I met in October, through eHarmony. (Anyone who has read my About Me section is probably chuckling right now.) I joined eHarmony in mid September of last year, shortly after my last relationship before Christopher ended.

My last boyfriend - Alan - I also met online, though I met him through a different dating site called Christian Mingle. I had met Alan during the summer, and we began a long distance relationship that...well....was short lived. Alan came to visit the first week of September and a few days after he arrived we had a VERY mutual breakup. The night before we ended our relationship, God just gave me peace about the whole situation, despite the fact that I still really cared about him and was willing to try to make it work if Alan was. Problem? Alan wasn't. I don't fault him for that, we just weren't what the other person was needing. The strange thing for me was that I was able to give Alan up so easily. I don't doubt that my feelings for him were sincere, he just didn't turn out to be who I thought he was, as I'm sure I didn't turn out to be who he thought I was. Even stranger for me though was that after he left and went back home to Texas, (yah, I know, it was very long distance,) was that even though my feelings for him specifically were no longer focused on him, I was still feeling very much ready for a relationship. I believed that God had been preparing me for something through Alan for a reason, even though Alan didn't end up being the one God was preparing me for. I know it may sound a little hasty and rash, but within a week of Alan leaving I had taken the eHarmony survey, filled out a profile, and began receiving matches. Looking back through my eHarmony emails, (I'm a pack rat and save everything I possible can - who knows when I might need a little bit of information here and there?) I received my first 7 matches on September 13th. On September 14th, I received 7 more matches, Christopher being one of them.

Now, in case you're confused, yes I did say earlier that Christopher and I met in October. Despite the fact that we were first matched on September 14th, that is actually true. See, taking the test, filling out a profile and receiving matches is all free on eHarmony. The communication however is what costs the green stuff, and it wasn't until a few weeks into October that I was able to afford an eHarmony subscription.

(I just realized that I'm giving an AWFUL lot of seemingly useless information regarding how Christopher and I met. And yah, it might be useless, but I'm a girl and girls care about these kind of things. You never know, it could be important in the future.)

Anyway, from October through April, Christopher and I spent a significant amount of time getting to know each other through Instant Messaging, Email, Facebook and the like. During that time God had impressed upon me the need to stop "looking" for a relationship, as He wanted me to stay focused on Him. Christopher understood when I explained to him that I was unable to offer anything more than friendship to anyone, and I think that had a lot to do with why our friendship continued to grow. Christopher showed me that he valued our friendship simply because he wanted to get to know me, and because he especially valued the fellowship we so easily were able to share around our Savior. He never ever once made me feel like he was "fishing" for something more than what I had told him I could offer, or that he was "waiting in the wings" as it were until I was ready for something more. (Yes yes yes, that did end up happening, but not because Christopher was just sitting there waiting for it to. It was all God's doing, when He kind of just dumped us in each others laps as it were, and we were both like...."oh...wait a minute.") But that's another part of the story, I'm getting ahead of myself.

During this time of growing in friendship and grace and fellowship, Christopher asked me a few times if I wanted to talk on the phone, but since I've never really been a phone person it took me a while to be completely comfortable with that. He understood of course, especially in light of how fast my last relationship had gone; he knew I was taking things one step at a time with my Father and needing things to be slow and simple until God let me know that I was ready for more. By the time April rolled around, when I felt myself opening up a little bit more and told Christopher I was ready to talk on the phone, we had formed a really comfortable friendship and I think we both were just really looking forward to exploring our friendship; nothing else was really on our minds. Our mindset stayed the same after the first phone conversation, which went really really well and was very comfortable and fun. We got to know each other a lot better of course, and I found myself looking forward to when I could talk to him again. The second phone conversation kinda changed we ended up talking straight for 8 hours. The next day? We talked straight for 8 1/2 hours. After this point I was a little confused and not really ready to explore the feelings that I could feel building up, but we both knew by then that we had least found friends for life.

It took a while after that - during which time Christopher and I continued to talk a lot and get to know each other better - before we admitted to ourselves and each other that there were feelings involved. Once we finally did get past our shyness and did admit them to each other, we were excited but at the same time knew we couldn't commit to anything before meeting each other. Planning and trip ideas ensued, and I was able to make it down to Iowa finally for a visit from May 19th until May 25th. (He and his family live in Des Moines.) I was so nervous, but extremely excited as I sat on the bus watching the miles roll by that took me closer and closer to Iowa. The one thing that scared me was that it would turn out to be another situation like the one I found with Alan. Christopher and I had grown so close in the months preceding my visit, but I knew it was a possibility that who we knew each other to be over the phone wouldn't be the reality once we met in person.

Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case. Of course, there are things you can never really know about a person until you meet them. The way they look when they talk, the way their eyes light up when they smile. Their body language and facial expressions as their moods change. The way you relate to each other when you're spending almost every hour of every day together as opposed to just talking to each other on the phone. In Christopher, all these things just endeared him to me even more, and it didn't take long for us to realize that we definitely wanted the other person in our lives for as long as possible. The trip was amazing, and I had a wonderful time getting to know Christopher's family as well. They were so gracious, welcoming and loving to me, and Christopher sacrificed and let me sleep in his bed during the week while he slept downstairs on the couch. When Christopher drove me home to Duluth on Sunday the 25th, and then left to go back home the morning of the 26th, it was very very hard. I couldn't stop crying, and I felt like my heart was breaking as we finally tore ourselves away and his car disappeared around the curve of the road. I miss him so much right now, and the fact that we're not sure when we'll be able to see each other next makes it even harder. Finances have a lot to do with it, neither of us have the most stable of job conditions, but we're confident that God has a plan for us seeing as He brought us together in the first place.

Bringing this post full circle, Christopher has been amazing and wonderful through the peaks and valleys that have been the fluctuating theme of my life the last few weeks. The joy of the peaks is magnified because I can share it with him; the sorrows and fears of the valleys are tempered by his caring and unconditional acceptance. Things are still hard sometimes...ok, a lot of the times, no one said trials were easy. But God has given me such a wonderful blessing in Christopher, as he is a man who truly desires God's will for his life and my life and our lives together. Having Christopher in my life has strengthened my faith and drawn me closer to my Heavenly Father, and he is such an encouragement to me as I know he accepts me unconditionally. I'm definitely falling for Christopher, and it's scary (but wonderful) to think that it might actually be love.....but we're not going there yet. One step at a time.

Christopher, my darling, I know it took me a while to write this, but you know how much I care about you and about us. I'm so happy to be yours, and I thank God everyday that you're mine. I know that God brought you into my life for a reason, and I just wanted to be able to express as best as I could through my limited words the wonderful way you encourage me and point me to Christ as not only my brother, but as the man that I know is by my side in spirit even if we can't be together physically right now. This time apart is so hard - my heart hurts everyday - but I know God has a purpose, and He's preparing us for something very special I know. Soon, I'll be going to school in Iowa (finally) and we'll be able to explore that stage of our relationship once I get there. For now, I hope we can look to the Lord and accept His strength as He helps us to cherish this time and stage we are in right now, to use us through it for each other, and for the furtherance of His will. Thank you sweetheart for being "the perfect thing to say......In this crazy life, and through these crazy times it's you, it's you, you make me sing. You're every line, you're every word, you're everything."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ignorant Formal Christianity ~ J. C. Ryle

I received this article today through an email list I subscribe to. I found it very thought provoking, as well as very convicting, and that was before I saw the year it was written in! If Ryle was convinced of this over 100 years ago, how is the state of the issue today?

Ignorant Formal Christianity
J.C. Ryle, "What is Needed?" 1895

I am convinced that one of our grave defects today, is a most serious diminishing of the good old custom of private reading of the Bible. Between the growth of Christian periodicals and books, I have a strong impression that Bibles are not read as much and as carefully as they were two hundred years ago.

I am well aware that there are more Bibles in Great Britain at this moment, than there ever were since the world began! There is more Bible-buying and Bible-selling, more Bible-printing and Bible-distributing, than there ever was! But all this time, I fear we are in danger of forgetting--that to have the Bible is one thing--and to read it privately ourselves quite another!

I am afraid that the Bible of many a man and woman in Great Britain is never read at all. In one house, it lies in a corner--as stiff, cold, glossy and fresh as it was, when it came from the bookseller's shop! In another house, it lies on a table, with its owner's name written in it--a silent witness against him day after day! In another house, it lies on some high shelf, neglected and dusty--to be brought down only on grand occasions, such as a birth in the family--like a heathen idol at its yearly festival. In another house, it lies deep down at the bottom of some box or drawer, among the things not wanted, and is never dragged forth into the light of day--until the arrival of sickness, or death! These things are sad and solemn. But they are true.

I am afraid that many in Great Britain who do read the Bible--yet do not read it aright. One man looks over a chapter on Sunday evening--but that is all. Another reads a chapter every day at family prayers--but that is all. A third goes a step further, and hastily reads a verse or two in private every morning, before he goes out of his house. A fourth goes further still, and reads as much as a chapter or two every day, though he does it in a great hurry, and omits reading it on the smallest inconvenience. But each and every one of these men does what he does--in a heartless, scrambling, formal kind of way. He does it coldly, as a duty. He does not do it with appetite and pleasure. He is glad when the task is over. And when the book is shut--he forgets it all! This is a sad picture. But in multitudes of cases--oh, how true!

But why do I think all this? What makes me speak so confidently? Listen to me a few moments, and I will lay before you some evidence. Neglect of the Bible, is like disease of the body--it shows itself in the face of a man's conduct. It tells its own tale. It cannot be hidden.

I fear that many neglect the Bible--because of the enormous ignorance of true religion which everywhere prevails. There are thousands of professing Christians in this country, who know literally nothing about the Gospel. They could not give you the slightest account of its distinctive doctrines. They have no more idea of the true meaning of conversion, grace, faith, justification, and sanctification--than of so many words and names written in Arabic! And can I suppose that such people search the Scriptures? I cannot suppose it. I do not believe they do!

I fear that many neglect the Bible--because of the utter indifference with which they regard false doctrine--as if it did not signify much, and was all the same thing in the long run--whether one was a Roman Catholic, or a Socinian, or a Mormonite, or a Deist, or an Agnostic. And can I suppose that such people search the Scriptures? I cannot suppose it. I do not believe they do!

I fear that many neglect the Bible--because of the readiness with which they receive false teaching. They are led astray by the first false prophet they meet with, who "comes in sheep's clothing," and has a pleasant voice, a nice manner, and a gift of eloquent speech! They swallow all that he says without inquiry, and believe him as implicitly as papists believe the Pope! And can I suppose that such people search the Scriptures? I cannot suppose it. I do not believe they do!

I declare my firm conviction, that an idle neglect of the Bible is one cause of the ignorant formal Christianity which is so widely prevalent in these latter days!

Brethren! We are drifting, drifting, drifting--and what the end will be--no man can tell.

More thoughts on this later. I think I need it to digest a little bit more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Error and Truth

Something I've been thinking about:

There are a few different ways - and reasons - for finding fault and error. One can search for proof of fault and error in order to prove someone else, or some other way of thinking, wrong.

Or, one can keep an eye out for fault and error in order to find out - further expose and reveal - the TRUTH.

There is a big difference between the two.

What is my focus? Exposing error in others? Or searching for HIS Truth?

What are your thoughts on this? Does this issue change or fluctuate depending upon whom one is dealing with (believers versus unbelievers) ?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Questions, Encouragement and Friendship

I have so many questions rolling around in my head at the moment. And why is it that it is so hard for me to write when I have questions? I think this might be producing in me a (bad) habit of only writing when I feel I have everything figured out. (And of course I will never have everything figured out.) I need to learn to set aside my fears of disagreement and simply state what is on my mind, regardless of whether or not I think this person or that person will agree with me. Disagreement isn't always a bad thing. Me finding out I'm wrong isn't a bad thing. God can use any and all communication to accomplish His purposes, and I need to trust Him and trust that He can maintain my inner joy and peace despite outer circumstances.

A lot of my questions right now have to do with the word - as well as the institution - of church. I really wish that word didn't scare me so much, but I know it's a process I need to go through. And despite my fear and confusion and desire to have everything figured out right now, I know that God is faithful, and He'll lead me where I need to go. Not only that, He'll get me there when I need to get there, and He'll bring people into my life who can walk along side me as we both grow in wisdom and knowledge and love.

You, my dear friend, (you know who you are,) you are one of these people, and I think this is likely one of the reasons God has brought you into my life. Thank you for your friendship and understanding, and for challenging me while still always accepting me for who I am. In response to your most recent blog post, all is forgiven, though the thing that encourages me the most is what you are learning about being able to accept and forgive yourself despite being mad at yourself. That's a tendency I struggle with greatly as well; it's so easy to beat ourselves down when we sin, forgetting for a few moments who we are in Christ: completely accepted in Him. Does He want us to overcome our weaknesses? Of course, and that takes acknowledgment of them on our part, but the overcoming is only possible through His strength. I know that as long as I refuse to forgive myself, or I continue to dwell on my own weaknesses, what I'm doing is focusing on my own lack of strength, instead of on His capability to accomplish His perfect will through His own complete strength.

You remind me of His promises everyday, every time we talk. You show me God's love through your acceptance and caring heart. Thank you.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Encouraging Blog Posts

I'm not going to write much right now, but I want to link to some blog posts I've read the last few days that have really touched me.

The first is actually from my stepmom's blog, where she writes about life, family, love and spirituality. (And she has given precious gem names as psuedonyms for all us kids. "Emerald" is my little sister.)

The Perceptiveness of Emerald

God is cultivating such a tender heart in "Emerald," I'm so excited to watch her grow up, though it is bittersweet. Sometimes I wish she would stay my "little sister" forever. She's almost as tall as I am though, so I know that won't happen.

This next one just kinda hit close to home....I won't make anymore comments on it; it just made me think.

Some Pig!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Information Gatekeepers

"People are able to sidestep the gatekeepers in the quest to be informed."

I've been feeling uncommonly in a writing mood the last few days, something I haven't felt in a long time. I can't really put a finger on why this change has happened, and that being the case I can't guarantee this mood is here to stay either. But I have found that something besides my own urge to write can influence and encourage my desire to blog. Reading the blogs of others, especially through the help of my newly discovered-now-favorite internet tool - Bloglines, somehow creates a "blogger" mood in me. I have a problem with self-image and confidence, and being completely honest is something that is hard for me. Also the dream and desire to be a good, maybe even great writer, induces of a lot of self-pressure to write something good every time I post. I know that this is conceit on my part, but it doesn't diminish the dream I have to be a writer - as in a published writer - and I do truly believe that God can use me through my writing.

Being able to read the honest confessions and thoughts of others is helping me to realize that I can be honest to myself when I write, and to realize that it's ok if I write something that someone else might not agree with. When I'm talking one-on-one with someone, disagreement is relatively easy for me to handle, and it's not often that differences in opinion with a friend lead into arguments. However it's different in the blogosphere; tone and intent are a lot harder to discern, and I am much more of a "people-pleaser" than I'd like to admit. The fact that my blog deals primarily with spiritual issues magnifies this, as I so much want to encourage others by what I write. Something came to my attention a few days ago however that surprised me. I wrote this post during a night of extreme discouragement and self-loathing, and found myself unable to be anything except extremely honest.

Honestly, if I could have put a finger on any post on my blog likely to encourage someone else, I wouldn't have even considered this one. But Father works in amazing ways, and He used this post to show me just how true it is that He can use absolutely anything from any of His children. A few days ago a friend pointed out to me that Mitch Berg over at Shot in the Dark had written a post about my blog. I was very surprised, as I only read his blog occaisionally, not really being into politics all that much myself, and I had no idea that he read mine. What he wrote though was very encouraging, and very humbling, (though in a good way.) Thank you Mitch for the kind words, Father used you and your post to show me yet another way of how much He loves me and how He is sufficient to provide for my needs - which I'm learning include my need to write.(And I've been reading your blog a lot more often now, I'm developing a taste for politics I think.....ok, at least a taste for READING about it.)

Now, I realize that I went on a tangent as far as the relavance of the quote at the top of this post is concerned. It does have a point though, I promise. Another thing reading the blogs of others has impressed upon me is the ease at which information is available to those willing to do a little digging. I have learned so many random facts - such as the one from the link in the quote - and found so many encouraging blogs just in the past 24 hours, that it has shown me just how easy it is for people I don't know to find my blog. This is a good motivator, because I want there to be fresh, honest, and encouraging information here for them to find when they do stumble across it. This isn't for my own fame or glory, simply an acknowledgment of how I believe God wants me to take advantage of the opportunities this technology age gives the writer, and has encouraged me to continue writing and sharing the song He gives me day by day. I can't promise to be as consistent as I am hoping to be, but I'm going to try. Writing is now very much near the top of my priority list, and I have a feeling God is preparing me for something through it. God is providing ways and opportunities for so many writers to sidestep the "information gatekeepers," as any that will simply search for the truth will find themselves on an incredibly journey toward, and hopefully with, the Father, Son and Spirit.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ecclesiastical Orphism

While reading the most recent update at the Lifestream Blog, I followed a link Wayne posted and found a very interesting article. I'm going to link to it as well, and I hope it at least makes people think.

Ecclesiastical Orphism

Think of the incredible amount of trust those musicians must have in one another. If a single person falters, the whole performance suffers. If a single person even fails to communicate - fails to cue the others when beginning a new phrase, fails to hear or see what another part of the ensemble is doing, fails in any way to either understand the other musicians, or to make him or herself understood in turn - what was a glorious piece of music a moment before is suddenly a cacophany of mere noise.

In the same way, believers should be able to trust one another. If we all have the same goal in common - the joy of a life lived with Christ - I should trust that my fellow travellers on this journey are living that life as best they know how, and I should expect them to trust me the same way. None of us should be due any individual credit for any “kingdom” successes - the reward belongs to the body of Christ. The tapestry that is created when the body of Christ lives and works as an organic entity - all parts in relationship with one another and working in their unique and separate ways toward the common goal of seeking to know God - is truly a work of art . . . one even more stunning than that created when 40 musicians trust each other enough to get out on stage and create something beautiful together.

Just like the Orpheus process, participation in the body of Christ should be, and is, an empowering process. It does require an incredible amount of investment. In a traditional church setting, I could sit back and let some pastor tell me what to think. Outside of the traditional church framework, I cannot do that. I am responsible, any and every day, to truly “give a reason for the hope that is within me.”

I can’t just regurgitate some talking points or a list of scripture verses. In the same way each member of Orpheus has to know what they think of the piece being played, I have to know what I believe about the God I walk with.

The article is from The Unedited Life, written by Mike Daniels. I have a feeling I'll be visiting this blog more often.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Letter to Wayne Jacobsen

I think it's about time I posted something again. :-)

About a week ago I was listening to The God Journey Podcast, intending to catch up on several episodes as I hadn't been listening regularly since around Christmas. However one podcast title jumped out at me and I decided to listen to that one first, despite the fact that it was one of the newest ones. It was titled "The Doctrine Police." After listening to that one, and another entitled "To Stay or Not to Stay," I had a ton of thoughts bouncing around in my head. They were both incredibly encouraging to me, and gave me a ton to think about. So often when something gives me a lot to think about, I just think about it, digest it for a few days, and then eventually it manifests itself somewhere when I least expect it and in the most unlikely place.

Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings are the hosts of the God Journey, "just two real brothers talking about life" as they call it. Wayne Jacobsen is the author of "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore," and he and Brad are the founders of the publishing company that published "The Shack" when they couldn't find anyone else to do it. (Secular companies said it had "too much Jesus," Christian companies deemed it "too edgy.")

Anyway, I was in a coffee shop with my computer last Friday, eating a hummus wrap and drinking a TON of coffee, and I felt the urge to send Wayne an email. I've written to him before, and he's always responded as a brother. He is very down to earth and focused on the Body Life between any brothers and sisters God brings him into contact with. I was just really thankful for the real way he and Brad present themselves, no apologies, but completely acknowledging the fact that they are brothers on a journey. (When you're on a journey, it's just common sense that you'll be at a different place on the road in 5 years than you were five years before, and you'll understand and know and believe differently about certain things as well in all probability.)

But now I should get to my point. While what I wrote is a letter, and some of the things I wrote I have written here before, going back and reading what I wrote to Wayne has touched me as I see something developing in my understanding about God, something I hadn't seen before. More of a 'connecting of the dots' if you will. Wayne wrote back to me today, to say what I had written was encouraging, and I am so thankful for that. I know that God has given me my writing for a reason, but I'm very very critical of myself, and I have a hard time sharing what it is that I write a lot of the time. My dad and stepmom have also read the letter I sent however, and despite the fact that it's in the form of a letter, they have encouraged me to share it here.

So here it is, a small picture of a space in time where God was teaching me something, and I was fortunate enough to be in the writing mode in that moment. From other things I've written in the past, I know in the future I'll be able to look back and read this and relive what it is that God taught me that afternoon at Jitters, as I wrote a letter to a brother who does the same: chronicles his journey with Father as he can, then shares it with others - proclaiming the love and glory of God as he grows and learns and loves through God's power. If that's not Body Life, I don't know what is.

Hi Wayne,

Happy Spring! The season has been rather unpredictable and frustrating so far here in Minnesota, but today the weather has been BEAUTIFUL...I'm just trying to block out the knowledge that snow has been forecasted for tonight. *sigh* I bet the weather is much nicer in California.

Our family has really been enjoying your books along with The Shack. He Loves Me especially really shook my dad up, and it's his favorite of the three. I'm reading it right now in bits and pieces, and the last few weeks have been amazing for me, as daily I become more and more secure in the knowledge of how much Father loves me! It's so weird for me to say things like that, as I was brought up to believe that 'experiences' of the non-physical nature can never be real, and that emotions are wrong, but I don't know any other way to express it! Even though the feeling itself is amazing, and I'm learning that feelings aren't wrong, I do know that emotions can be fleeting, and that no matter what I'm feeling, I know that Father's love for me changes in neither degree, amount nor magnitude. And I guess that's what is so totally overwhelming! I'd just like to thank you for sharing your journey with so many people, and proclaiming the freedom that Father so desperately wants His children to have! Gaining that knowledge, and actually 'living in the reality' of it, has completely changed me and the way I view the Christian Life. I now know that the Christian Life is not a scale where the times while "in fellowship" are balanced against the times while "out of fellowship," that my actions do not create spirituality or bring relationship. It is actually quite the opposite! Having a relationship with Father, looking toward Jesus, and letting the Holy Spirit breathe truth through me is what creates peace and rest within me, and what brings about spiritual fruit! I've been writing on my blog a lot about this new "relationship revelation" I've been living in, and stressing how relationship is a BEING and not a DOING. I've been getting a lot of interesting responses to that, and most of them quizzical at best. I think God just wants me to answer in love though, and not give in to my desire to "prove" myself spiritual to others. He knows where I'm at spiritually, I know I am secure in Him; He will always accept me unconditionally no matter what! When I'm at rest in Him, I know that nothing else really matters.

I've been listening to the God Journey podcast quite a bit as well, and I'd like to thank both you and Brad for continuing it and giving me and so many others so much encouragement. Thank you for being honest - nothing more and nothing less. Oh the freedom we have to be honest with each other once we are secure in Him and we no longer feel the need to please others! Ever since leaving the institution I grew up in, for the simple reason that the discouragement I received every time I went was preventing me from enjoying a relationship with Father, a lot of my relationships with people I grew up with have drastically changed. It was hard at first, because I miss a lot of people, but Father has been so faithful and keeps on bringing just the right kind of encouragement into my life at moments when I need it most. Sometimes it's in the form of a new friend through a sudden mutual realization that we are on similar journeys with Father, sometimes it's an old acquaintance who pops back into my life and surprises me with the fellowship we are able to share, and sometimes it's simply sweet, gentle moments with Him that come and go almost before I realize that it's happened. Those are the best; how can I not know that God loves me? I've been finding though how refreshing it is to be honest about myself and to others, despite the fact that it is usually painful as well. Relationships are finally then able to truly reflect the level at which two people know each other. I think that only once that happens, once both people can stop trying to make something out of what just isn't there, only then can a true relationship have a chance to develop. Only then can real fellowship based solely on our identities in Christ have a chance to blossom.

I think that's how God wants to reach us as well. He wants to reveal to us our real selves, strip us bare of our misconceptions and many blind spots. Is this painful? Most definately, but it is then countered with what we see when beholding ourselves in God's mirror; He knows our sins and failings and blind spots better than anyone, but our reflection in His mirror is nothing less than the image of His Son! That concept was something that was finally hit home for me when I read The Shack. I had read the verses about the believer being "in Christ" and a "new creation" and how we are in the image of God's Son so many times over the years, many of them I had committed to memory. But all the time they were little more than memorized literature, practically speaking. I'm so thankful that Father was able to bring me along, none-to-gently, to the place where I finally felt like I had nothing. I was stuck in a dank, muddy mire a mile deep, and then finally I realized I had no way to look but up, and He was there! That moment happened about a year ago, and I never could have guessed the journey I was about to embark on. I have experienced the most intense pain I could imagine when I lost a friend to suicide; I have bounced between the two halves of my family as it re-balances itself in the wake of a divorce; I have watched my family shunned and attacked as they left the institution, then experienced the same myself when I finally couldn't stand it anymore and left myself. I have also come to know - because and through these life-circumstances - what it means to be filled with supernatural, unexplainable joy at the same time as overwhelming grief; I have begun restoring real relationships with my family members, as I am learning to not judge them for things in the past and things I can't control; I am learning to not put stock in the favors and approval of men as Father takes away some relationships and gives me others that don't drain me of His love and truth. I am truly on a journey, and it is the most wonderful thing! It reminds me of the story you shared on the podcast around Christmas about a day in the life of the cat in comparison to a day in the life of a dog. It may sound corny, but I don't care, this Life truly is "my favorite thing!" I so want to share this with others, and I just wish I could show everyone I know how simple it really is! Maybe that's what's so hard about it, the same way the message of salvation is so hard for some people to grasp. The unbeliever wants to add works to salvation, the religious believer can't help but add works to walking with the Lord. But how can we add anything when He's supporting us the whole way? Through HIS power and love, He has done it all. Jesus Christ's death accomplished so much more than just salvation, (though there is nothing little about that.) We cannot afford to forget or ignore the whole story however; He has brought us the Father, and we have no need to reach for something we already have!!!!!!!! Once we realize that we have Him, He will bring about the works necessary to accomplish His will, thereby fulfilling us as He interacts with us and develops our relationship!

How can words adequately express this? They can't, but let's keep on trying, writing it and saying it and singing it over and over and over, and the Lord will use it for His will and purpose and pleasure. I'm just glad I can add my own little chorus to creation's continuous song. Thank you for adding yours. :)

And thank you to those who read and comment here, and write about God's teaching in your own lives and share it with others, for adding your own verses and choruses. We might not always agree, but you are all my precious brothers and sisters. I value you and what you have to say immensely; thank you for sharing with me when you have concerns, and rejoicing with me around our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope God can use me to channel love toward you all, and that nothing I say causes anyone to stumble. May all the glory go to God, who has and is dealing so bountifully with me. I am completely and totally overwhelmed.