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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Belabored: Opening Quote, Endorsement and Prologue

Faithful readers, thank you so much for your patience as I worked (with the invaluable help of my tech mentor, Angela Schans) to set up a Facebook page dedicated solely to posting my novel, Belabored. The following quote, delivered poignantly by one of my favorite actors, Jimmy Stewart, sums up the purpose of the book:

"And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any other. Yes, you even die for them."*

*Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Directed by Frank Capra. By Lewis R. Foster. Screenplay by     
           Sidney Buchman. Columbia Pictures, 1939. VHS.
I chose this as my theme quote because many believe the goal of reversing the runaway train of abortion in this country is a lost cause. Perhaps it is, but I want to go on record as doing my part to shed light on the inhumanity of this particularly cruel form of murder, and on how the institutionalization of this horrific practice has affected the generations of children who have been raised in the post-Roe v. Wade culture.

So, without further ado, Belabored!

                                                                Endorsement: 

“Real people with complicated lives are the ones who wrestle with abortion decisions. The challenges and victories and their ripple-effects come alive through this compelling novel.”
      
          – Karen Hess, Executive Director, AlphaCare Pregnancy Center, Philadelphia, PA
             
Prologue: Tanya
          I sit frozen on a hard chair while I wait for my visitor. My eyes are practically swollen shut from the barrels of tears I’ve cried over the past few – what? Hours? Days? Months? I don’t even know what day it is, let alone how long this has been going on.
My chest and belly ache from racking sobs. Though my stomach’s empty, I fight against perpetual nausea. It even hurts when I go to the bathroom. I wonder if this is the start of a UTI.
            He comes in. His dark, wavy hair is tamed back in its usual pompadour-ish way. My grief fog lifts for a minute, and I think for the thousandth time how someone needs to take him aside and bring him up to date on current trends.
He’s gained weight since I last saw him. His head looks precarious topping off that pear-shaped build, like somehow it might just topple off those skinny shoulders and land on the floor next to those gargantuan, smelly feet of his.
His clothes, as always, reflect a tight budget and even narrower fashion sense. At times I’ve been embarrassed by his lack of style. Yet, today he carries with him a strong presence that somehow I never noticed before.
He sits down across from me and leans forward.
            I don’t look at him, but instead keep my eyes on the paint-chipped floor. Slowly, he raises my face and offers me his handkerchief.
Who carries a handkerchief these days? I find myself thinking ironically, followed by, What am I, crazy? Who worries about nonsense like that at a time like this?
“How ya doin’?” he asks.
            “What do you want?” I choke out.
I pick at a piece of loose skin around what used to be one of my fingernails. It’s gnawed and swollen and starts to bleed. I hear Mom’s voice in my head.
Oh, Tanya, honey, you’ve bitten it down to the quick again! Oh, sweetheart, you have such pretty hands, if only you wouldn’t bite your poor little nails!
            Without thinking, I wrap his clean, white hankie around my bleeding finger. I wonder if he’ll recoil or say something cute like “Just keep it.” But if he noticed, he doesn’t let on.
            “I came to talk to you,” he replies softly.
            I sneer.
            “There’s nothing to talk about. My life’s ruined.”
            His voice doesn’t waver as he responds, “Oh, no. Your life’s just beginning. And I still want to be a part of it.”
            “Yeah, right!” I smirk. “Well, that’s not funny. It’s – it’s – it’s cruel!”
            “Tanya, don't you get it? I know what you've done, and I still want you in my life."

             He pauses, then adds, "Whaddaya say?"

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Alcott in Me


As promised, the solution to the cliffhanger from my last blog post!

One of the things that’s clearly been immobilizing me in recent months is all-out revulsion at the thought of revising my novel, Belabored, yet again.

I get that ad nauseam alternation of manuscripts is standard procedure. I get that this is how the game is played, given our world of eBooks and eBay. I well remember hearing up close and personal from a literary agent’s lips that these 20-something gatekeepers of the publishing world don’t want to see or hear from aspiring authors unless and until they’ve completed four or five drafts.

Four or five drafts! Each one of my drafts took a year to create and/or overhaul, allowing, of course, for trivial things like my family and day job to come between me and my keyboard. Add to that the fact that the aforementioned speaker declared unapologetically that, even on the wildly absurd chance that an agent would be bowled over by an author’s pitch that very day and sign him or her on the spot, the book wouldn’t hit shelves till the spring of 2019!

Folks, I’m not willing to play those odds anymore – at least not with this
book. At the risk of sounding self-serving or ­­­­theatrical, I believe its message is too important and time-sensitive. The CDC’s most recent statistics show that 664,435 abortions were reported in 2013. This works out to over 1,820 babies being brutally destroyed in this country daily. If I wait three to five more years to get my message out there, who knows how many lives my words might have affected in the meantime? My novel may or may not change these tragic numbers, but I’m willing to gamble that someone’s heart will be changed by Belabored, however imperfect and unpublished.

Therefore, in the interest of accountability and forward movement, I want to report that I’ve prayerfully come to a decision. Although I had dreams of being the next Harper Lee (heck, I’d even settle for J.B. Fletcher), I’ve settled on a less noteworthy course of action. I plan to begin posting chapters from my novel here on my blog. Subsequently, I’ll share the posts on Facebook and possibly other forms of social media, and theoretically, like-minded readers will share them among their social networks.

I won’t become rich or a sought-after speaker, but I also won’t have to spend money that I don’t have on self-publishing. This will also allow me to revise the book in small bites, without the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to make the thing perfect. I’m trusting that the huge response I received when I posted one chapter recently is indicative of the public’s appetite for and acceptance of my humble scribblings. Interestingly, I received more “likes” and comments on that one Facebook post, not only from friends who typically respond, but also from folks who normally remain in the background, than just about anything I’ve ever shared on social media.

Readers, my goal, which I believe lines up with God’s goal, is to get it out there – the good, the bad, and the flaw-ful! I recall reading once that my childhood inspiration, Louisa May Alcott, regularly submitted to periodicals many articles and stories that later were collected into books. If it wasn’t beneath this literary giant to parse out her work in installments, who am I to spurn the idea? Ironically, LMA was once counseled by a publisher to “stick to [her] teaching.” The same source added cruelly, “You can’t write.”*

Thank goodness Alcott ignored the naysayers and carried on with her life’s work. I intend to do likewise.

I could use your help in one important way. I would respectfully ask that, if this subject touches your heart, or even if you just like the story, would you prayerfully consider sharing the chapters with your contact lists in whatever form(s) of social media you regularly use? In so doing, you’ll be partnering with me on what I feel strongly is God’s project.

And who knows what kind of blessings He may send your way?



*Readers, you’re going to have to take my word that this statement was made by a publisher or another influential person to whom Alcott turned for support of her writing aspirations. I’ve read this in numerous biographies of LMA, but can’t locate the source of the comment at the moment. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

I Am Solomon

The Problem

King David’s son, Solomon, was both the richest and poorest king who ever walked the earth. He possessed both the wisest and most foolish head to ever wear the crown. He experienced greater pleasure and deeper despondency than any sovereign before or since his time.

I am Solomon.

Like this fortunate king, I enjoy various trappings of success, and have been richly blessed with numerous mountaintop experiences. I've raised two sons who are functioning well and responsibly. I graduated college in high standing, have held an array of responsible jobs, and enjoy respect and praise from many colleagues. I'm also a published author.

And like Solomon, I'm struggling to keep myself centered emotionally and spiritually. At times I find it difficult to lovingly detach from hard issues that friends and family are experiencing. I allow myself to become overloaded by my own problems and those of this sin-sick world. Empathy is one thing; being bogged down and immobilized is quite another. The easiest (and default) way for me to cope with obstacles that seem Herculean is  – you guessed it –to resort to my idols of food, sleep and entertainment.

The Danger Zone

One need only read a few verses of Solomon’s Book of Ecclesiastes to realize he was in a bad way. Although he displayed great patience and perseverance – not to mention humility – in constructing his kingdom, his disobedience in later life caused consequences which remain to this day.

Thus, we find, despite myriad achievements and blessings, he fell prey to great depression in later years. The words “vanity” and “grasping for the wind” appear repeatedly in the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes; I stopped counting after finding 20 references in the first four chapters alone! Over and over, the king identified his greatest joys and accomplishments as vain, or futile.

I submit that the reason Solomon’s world view and reign veered off course can be traced back to two little words in 1 Kings 11: but (v.1) and therefore (v.11).

He pretty much had the world by the tail, but he allowed unbelieving wives and concubines to get inside his head and into his bed. Therefore, like many a smitten lover, wisdom notwithstanding, he subrogated his priorities to please the object(s) of his affections. The result? Idol worship, disillusionment, and disaster.

My idols may not be made of wood and stone or even flesh and blood. Mine prattle at me from TV screens and beckon from the kitchen.

How do your idols ambush you?

The Conviction ... and the Cliffhanger

The way I figure it, if the wisest, richest, most powerful king the world has ever known could get himself into so much trouble that within a generation of his death, his mighty kingdom would be reduced to one-twelfth of its size, perhaps I’m not immune to the but-therefore phenomenon, either. My epitaph might read something like this:

"Thea had a lot of writing talent and loved the Lord deeply, but she loved food and leisure a bit more than her God. Therefore, she wasted much time catching z’s and gorging, to the point where she became a diabetic heart patient, and had little time or energy left for living, let alone exercising the gifts God bestowed upon her."

Heaven forbid!

Therefore, as of this moment, I’m taking back my mental and physical health and kicking Satan to the curb (with the giant boots of almighty God, not my own flimsy footwear). Stay tuned for my next post, in which I’ll explain a major decision I’ve made which I believe will help me stay accountable with my time, and fulfill one of God’s major purposes for me.

Friday, September 1, 2017

In Defense of Fits and Starts

The Temple

"'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,'
Says the Lord of hosts.
'Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of Grace, grace to it... The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it... For who has despised the day of small things?'"

  ~  Zechariah 4:6,7, 9, 10 ~

The preceding verses quote God's challenge to the Jewish people who were returning to their homeland after 70 years of captivity. Their house of worship, the great temple in Jerusalem, had been destroyed by the Babylonians and, now under Persian rule, the Jews were being granted the opportunity to rebuild this most sacred of all buildings. The man charged with the responsibility was the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel.

Verse 10 is particularly striking because, in the midst of issuing a Herculean challenge, God refers to "small things."

The house of the Lord wouldn't be rebuilt in a day. It took seven years for King Solomon to build the first temple; realistically, then, the rebuilding process would likely take as long or longer. All things of magnificence and magnitude require much time, planning, expense and effort. 

And all massive tasks are accomplished one small step at a time.

Fits and Starts Explained

Another way of saying this is, big jobs often come together in fits and starts. One step forward, two steps back, as the saying goes. Construction crews have to pause projects when inclement weather interferes with man-made schedules. Illness sends the busiest of individuals to their beds, sometimes for prolonged periods, until God mends their ailing bodies. Disasters like September 11 and Hurricane Harvey sweep away dreams in a matter of hours, and exhausted relief workers and devastated homeowners have no choice but to deal with one catastrophic piece at a time.

Mueller’s Fits and Starts

George Mueller, the German-born pastor who preached and ministered in England during the height of the Industrial Revolution, is an excellent example of fits and starts. As a young Christian, he aspired to be a missionary. As every door in this arena closed to him, he sought instead to preach. Unsure of himself, he at first memorized others' sermons and merely recited them to his long-suffering congregation! 

His efforts to live a holy life too often yielded just the opposite, and he became discouraged. All this time, however, God was shaping this imperfect vessel, teaching him the value of a life devoted to prayer and Scripture. During a period of illness when Mueller was "laid up," so to speak, he took time to study the Bible with a fellow believer. This period of respite and contemplation proved most profitable, for it shaped his beliefs and laid the groundwork for the rest of his ministry.

This extraordinary man's life of service hinged on the word of God and prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Mueller went on to launch the Scriptural Knowledge Institution, which led him to establish the schools and orphanages for which he is best known. Because he took time to seek the Lord's will on his knees, he was ready when God placed in his heart the idea of creating safe, loving homes for countless orphans who otherwise would likely have been abused in workhouses

Conclusions

Two of history’s most remarkable mega-projects – the Temple in Jerusalem and George Mueller’s orphanages – emerged from humble beginnings. Displaced people returned to their homeland after decades in captivity, and proceeded to lay one stone on top of another until the Lord’s house was restored. An immigrant preacher threw open his door to thousands of disadvantaged children, teaching them to revere the God he served. Spurning setbacks, these trailblazers relied on heavenly wisdom to accomplish stunning feats.

Amazing how fits and starts can turn into faits accomplis.

Work Consulted

Pierson, A.T. George M├╝ller of Bristol: His Life of Prayer and Faith. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Quicksand


The Blessing and the Curse



Summer vacation can be an amazing time of refreshment and rejuvenation. It can also be a time of intense idleness and aimlessness. Summer 2017 has been for me an interesting – and somewhat frustrating – combination of both.


I hit the ground running in June and pounded my way through about two-thirds of my annual three-month vacation, reasoning that, since I’m privileged to have this much time off every year while most of my cohorts are muddling through from nine to five, it behooves me to make my down time count.


To that end, I plugged away at writing endeavors; started teaching a Bible study; redoubled my prayer life; chipped away at house and organizational projects; ramped up my health maintenance; and spent quality time with some dearly loved but oft-neglected quality people.

But now I feel like I’m floundering in quicksand. For the last month or so, I’ve been having great difficulty structuring my time, which almost always goes hand in hand with giving in to my “besetting sins” of overeating, oversleeping, and overindulging in entertainment. Even as I write this, something dangerous is wooing me from the refrigerator – something which will tease my taste buds into wanting MORE, and ultimately send me stuffed and sleepy away from the keyboard and into slumber land or the abyss of entertainment.


The Siren Call



I can usually see the train wreck coming. I wake up early enough (54-year-old kidneys see to that), but feel overwhelmed by the need for more sleep, regardless of the number of hours logged with my mattress. I think about my to-do list, and feel unwilling to tackle even the smallest task. Or, conversely, I have little on the agenda, which provides all the more reason to take it easy.


I give in to the siren call of the sandman, and two or five hours later (yup, I can be an Olympic sleeper when time permits), I wake up disgusted and demotivated. Inevitably, this late start coincides with minimal or no time spent planning the day with the Lord, which leaves me feeling unwashed and undressed, so to speak – i.e., generally ill-prepared for whatever the next 24 hours will hold. And make no mistake: on days like this, some unforeseen crisis or challenge will inevitably arise like a hailstorm, pummeling me with choices and calls for action requiring alertness that comes, not from excess sleep, but preparation.


The Worldly Causes



I’ve managed to identify some of the reasons I’ve gotten off track.



For one thing, as anyone who works in education knows, the beginning of each school year is like starting a brand, new job. New classes, new schedule, new faces, new everything. The anxiety starts to creep in towards the end of July, and is pretty much off and running by mid-August. The harder one tries to pretend September isn’t coming, the faster the belly butterflies multiply.


Also, as I mentioned in a recent post, I allowed myself to become discouraged about the prospects for having my novel published. Fear not; I don’t plan to rehash that worn subject! Suffice it to say, figuratively speaking, I slammed the book shut and locked it up tight, daring anyone (myself included) to try to wrestle the key out of my clenched fingers. The closest I came to revising or even just revisiting the text was when I posted one chapter online to illustrate a point.


The Other-Worldly Causes



Finally, I believe Satan himself is trying to incapacitate me. My very success in the early part of the summer is causing other-worldly warfare. Now, before you write me off as a highfalutin lunatic, consider the following words from the apostle Peter:


“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).


This verse in context clearly indicates that the enemy is on the lookout for believers, staking his claim wherever he finds Godly obedience. Peter knew what he was talking about. Shortly before Christ’s crucifixion, the Savior strongly cautioned His rookie disciple (whom He referred to in this instance by his given name, Simon) to be on guard against Satan’s schemes, lest he disown Jesus. Sadly, poor Simon, AKA Peter, was caught up short despite the Lord’s warning, and did deny Christ as predicted.


If you need more evidence, check out Job's story, most of which is dedicated to the proposition that Satan can and does target individuals who strive to please the Lord. It’s neither pompous nor egotistical to take a lesson from this book, which merits 42 chapters of God’s attention; on the contrary, it is prudent and wise. While Satan may not consider me important enough for him to attack personally, he has plenty of minions he can assign to do his dirty work. The point is, the more growth and willingness he sees on the part of God’s children, the more resources he’s likely to devote to derailing them.


The Root Causes



When I ask myself why I might have made Satan’s hit list, strong reasons come to mind. First of all, my prayer life has expanded exponentially since I a) combined forces with my dear friend, Tina, many years ago to pray on a regular basis, and b) committed to pray weekly with a dedicated group of believers in a church setting.



The simple act of prayer can be compared to the military strategy of suppressive fire (also known as covering fire). I’m not an expert, but as I understand it, one goal of this game plan can be to deflect enemy fire from one’s comrades by making oneself a target. This seems to me a major by-product of prayer, as when we bring others’ concerns before the throne of grace, we simultaneously bring the ire of Satan down on ourselves.


My aforementioned prayer partner, Tina, has set up prayer schedules with nearly a dozen women on a regular basis. She also spends time in worthwhile pursuits such as signing petitions and keeping herself and other believers up-to-date on world happenings that impact the church at large. A true intellectual, Tina finds her greatest enjoyment in praying and studying God’s word in the company of other saints. When I consider that both she and I are encountering mega-angst at the moment, I have to scratch my head and ask if it’s just coincidence, or if powers and principalities in heavenly places might, in fact, be gunning for us. Since we have been joining our voices in prayer consistently for many years, it seems logical that Satan would have every reason to come after us.


In addition, my Bible study is having a broad impact. The participants are drawing closer, forming a contact list so they can support one another. They’re investing in reliable translations of Scripture with solid study notes. They’re trying to memorize the names of the books of the Bible, in order, so they can more efficiently follow sermons and teaching materials that reference this most important of all documents. Why wouldn’t the ruler of darkness want to thwart a thriving ministry like this, and its leader in particular?


The Antidote



“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Simon Peter proclaimed boldly in John 6:68.


Interestingly, Peter’s declaration of loyalty came on the heels of Jesus performing a miracle in which He multiplied a small amount of food to feed multitudes of people. After performing this physical wonder, the Savior went on to explain the spiritual implications:


“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:26-27).

Jesus was calling out His audience for being satisfied with a food fix, when what they needed was a spiritual fix. I see this as directly relevant to my situation. Rather than narcotizing myself with physical pleasure which never lasts, I’d do well to seek out the One who can fill the real, underlying hole in me, and keep it full permanently.


Only then will I begin to emerge from the quicksand.


Stay tuned for part 2 of this topic, entitled I Am Solomon

Monday, August 21, 2017

Awake!

My sister, Jo Ann, thinks I'm doing her a favor by giving her wake-up calls this week.

The joke's on her. She's doing me the favor.

Since I returned from vacation, my sleeping and eating patterns have been, well, less than pattern-like - let's just put it that way. Thanks to my sweet sister needing a morning nudge, I'm awake and alert (for the moment, at least - no promises!), and on the verge of doing something productive.


Who knows where this could lead?

For more like this, check out: Reflections by Thea: To Whom Shall We Go? 

Reflections by Thea: Complete the Work!

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Trouble with Rhoda: The Other Side



My son, Ethan, and I have a very interesting relationship. I joke that he's taught me everything I know about debating because, in many ways, raising him was one long verbal sparring match! I have to catch myself, though, when I reject what he's saying out of hand or out of habit, and this is one of those times.

Upon reading my better-40-years-late-than-never analysis of Rhoda, he gave me a lot to think about. Specifically, he cautioned me that my tone sounded very much like that of a wounded woman. Believe me, readers, I tried not to take that approach! I have been wounded in love (most of us have, to one degree or another), but I didn't want my argument to sound like it sprang from sour grapes.


So, in the interest of fairness, let me try to capsulize some of the astute points made by my wiser than his years college student.

First of all, it occurs to me that I could easily have borrowed from Shakespeare and titled my previous post “Lust's Labor Lost” because in the scene I zeroed in on, Rhoda’s urge-driven husband took advantage of her vulnerability. But Ethan reminded me that this dynamic can come into play on both sides of the cheap motel bed. That is to say, either or both of the parties can end up feeling used.

Case in point. In high school, I dated a truly kind and loving young man. He was both a gentleman and a gentle man; I’m pretty sure he picked up the tab for every dinner and movie we went to, without expecting anything in return. When I broke up with him after the better part of two years, I offered some lame, Hollywood-esque excuse about having failed to find it within myself to love him. I’ll never forget the hurt in his eyes as he countered with, “I treated you nice!” before backing out of my driveway and out of my life.

When I shared this story with Ethan, his response was, “Good for him!” and “I hope he ended up with some model!” My son saw things from the point of view of the rejected guy, wondering out loud why I had strung him along all that time if I really wasn’t interested. Looking back, I realize there were many reasons for my lack of candor, chief among them the desire to be desired, to be able to say I had a boyfriend, even if he didn’t make my heart skip a beat. I think his parting words to me meant he felt like the effort and hopes he invested in our relationship had been a waste of time. Perhaps it would soothe his damaged heart to know I got my comeuppance later on; perhaps not. Either way, I feel sorry for treating this dear man so shabbily.

Ethan also pointed out that sex is not the only motive for being disingenuous in romance. It can be about material gain (think 20-something trophy wives being scooped up by filthy rich octogenarians). It can be about an ego boost (think average-looking person dating one of the “beautiful people” to buoy up self-esteem). It can be as simple as not wanting to be alone on a Saturday night.

On another note, sex can also be employed as a tool to get what one wants. Remember the scene in The Three Musketeers where the pious jailer succumbs to Milady’s charms and helps her escape? A clear case of manipulation by the fairer sex! Milady used what she had to get her needs met. So I would be remiss in not pointing out that the “taker” in a relationship isn’t always in it for physical gratification. Both sexes are fully capable of playing the “Let’s See How Much Can I Get Out of the Other Person Before He/She Figures Out I’m Just Using Him/Her” game. It’s unattractive and unfair, no matter who’s doing the conning.

Finally, to paraphrase Ethan, sooner or later, most of us end up on somebody else’s emotional hook. It’s kind of the nature of that two-faced beast we call love – but tackling the beast is the only way to find out what lies on the other side.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” ~ Philippians 2:3


For more like this, check out: Reflections by Thea: The Trouble with Rhoda