Tag: Christian books

Delicious Poetry

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If you enjoy digesting good poetry, and if you find yourself craving poems that are “delicious, nutritious, crisp, textured, with just the right touch of spice” … then you’ll agree with poet (and poetry editor) Mary Harwell Sayler who uses these culinary words to describe poetry that stands out from the usual crowded buffet of verse filled with “empty calories, rehashed left-overs, and saccharine sweetness.”

You can find a list of “delicious” poetry books Mary recommended today in her post “Take a poem to lunch.”

I was delighted to find my name and poetry collection, Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems appearing on her list!

I agree with Mary about the importance of a creative, healthy diet of poetry. Sometimes I feel the need for “comfort food” poems that warm my heart like savory stew warms my insides. Or poems that stimulate my senses the way a good, strong cup of coffee wakes me up in the morning. Or poems that bring the catharsis of tears and laughter, like lunch with friends.

Help yourself to a serving of skillfully and lovingly-prepared, delicious poetry today.

 


Photo: ©CanStockPhoto/thai6D

Opening to Adventures in Prayer

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My husband and I have a bee hive in our backyard, and I have planted many nectar-producing flowers for the bees. We also grow vegetable and berry gardens. Since we welcomed bees into our gardens; the flowers, berries, and herbs have flourished noticeably more. I’m sure the salvia flower stalks and peppermint blossoms bloom longer than they used to before so many bees were relishing closeness with them. The flowers seem to respond and love the bees as much as the bees delight in the flowers and the nectar they produce. Of course we, also, enjoy seeing the well-being of our gardens and eating the honey that results!

Similarly, I believe our relational God longs to commune with us, to create well-being within us, and to influence the course of the future together with us, as we pray.

Our view of God and his providence affects how we pray. If the future is open to God, our prayers and petitions to him can also be open and answered by him in more possible and creative ways than we can begin to imagine. In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Jay Oord asserts that God has given creatures genuine free will to make choices and to respond to him in ways that affect the future. For that reason, though the future is not pre-determined and known conclusively by God, “the future is full of possibilities, and, being omniscient, God knows them all.” We can live and pray in hope and expectancy. The believer’s life of prayer can be a life of adventure.

This prayer relationship with God reminds me of the relationship I observe in my garden between the flowers and the bees. Deep calls to deep as God calls us to intimate prayer and contemplation with him. As we respond and allow him access, he searches our inner being and comes to know us more and more thoroughly. I believe that to be known by God is to be transformed.

If God is Spirit and omnipresent in every moment of time—all the time everywhere—we can and should pray in the spirit everywhere and all the time.

Because “God lovingly invites creatures and creation to cooperate to enact a future in which well-being is established in surprising and positive ways,” we can and should cooperate with him in faith: praying, trusting, and working toward goodness and his will and kingdom to come. We can be looking for shalom to blossom and grow.

If God’s essence is uncontrolling love, we can and should pray uncontrolling, loving prayers. According to scripture, God actually shares his nature with us. If this nature is essentially kenotic, “self-giving, others-empowering love,” we can pray self-giving, others-empowering prayers.

God is far beyond the comfortable boundaries we have set for him in the past. It’s overwhelming and unsettling at first to consider this, but God is so much bigger than we have believed. How can he also be personal, hearing our prayers, far bigger and far closer than we have imagined? God’s essential being is love and he relates to each of us intimately.

Our open and relational God is calling us to:

  • Praise him.
  • Confess to him our lack of faith, trust, hope, and loving action.
  • Give thanks to him for enlarging our hearts and vision.
  • Bring supplications to him, interceding on behalf of the people and places we see that are far from the well-being of shalom.
  • Listen to and commune with him. Receive and respond.
  • Be prayerful in the spirit always.
  • Say “yes” to what he is calling forth in and through us.

As we watch and pray that God will call forth cooperation from—and give shalom to—his people and all of creation, the prayers of a righteous person avail much! We are co-creators of the future with him! He delights in this.

It is much like the bees that seem to draw out more blooms and fruit from my garden. Through prayer we can work with God to see his kingdom grow. Each one who truly cooperates in prayer and action with the Spirit of God increases his kingdom, his will, his working for good and overcoming evil in this world.

“We know the whole creation has been groaning,” kind of like a garden longing to open its petals to sunshine and bees. Perhaps the world is waiting for us to respond to our almighty and ever-present God in open, obedient, watching-for-possibilities prayer. Perhaps the more people respond positively to him, the more grace is available, like a well-pollinated garden. We have been too passive-aggressive, lazily saying “But God is in control,” on one hand, while on the other hand complaining and becoming angry at the way the world is going. God calls us to be active in faith and prayer and love toward him and toward his needy world. I don’t think it’s irreverent to say he hovers over us like a buzzing bee seeking access to our hearts, waiting for them to open their closed petals to him, to give of the nectar of our lives to increase goodness and to sweeten the future.

If it were true that God sees one set future, determined since before time began, we would have a big God. But the open view of God describes a far bigger God! He sees every possibility. He sees how our ongoing, potential actions and choices in every instance may cause repercussions that affect those around us.


Note: I wrote this piece because I believe in prayer and I wanted to engage with Thomas Jay Oord’s teaching after reading his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God  (NavPress, 2015). This entire post first appeared at http://uncontrollinglove.com (and later at http://thomasjayoord.com ). I agree with some, but not all, opinions and philosophies expressed by the writers there, but I’m thankful to have an opportunity to participate in the conversation.

Better than Destruction and Despising

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I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book, Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).

As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:


by John Buzzard:

I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.

I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.

“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.

Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”

My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.

Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.

 

This post is excerpted from the book, STORM TOSSED by Jake Porter (a pen name for author John Buzzard).

Books Showing Up in Every Corner of the World

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As a publisher, I love to hear stories of how our titles have found their way into every corner of the world and into the hands of readers. I occasionally hear from authors with stories like the following.

From Judy Pex, author of Walk the Land : A Journey on Foot through Israel :

“Last night in the Shelter an ultra-orthodox [Jewish] man — with a long beard and dressed in black — about our age checked in and wanted to talk to John and me about the Israel Trail. He was not in the usual age category of hikers who stay at our shelter, and it is unusual to find an ultra-orthodox walking the Trail. He’s from England, and turns out he already read Walk The Land in English and even quoted bits of it. Now he plans to walk the Trail for a few days and had some specific questions about water, sleeping, etc. After talking for about 45 minutes, John asked him what he thought about the spiritual parts of the book. He answered diplomatically that we had our differences. But it was an interesting conversation and contact.”

From Susan Jenkins, author of Scandalon:

“An old friend back in high school found me on Facebook and we got together for coffee. She told me that she was attending a women’s conference in Texas a couple of years ago and Scandalon was offered as one of the books to buy. She bought it and then realized that it was me who wrote it. As it turns out, she told me that her parents didn’t allow her to attend church back in high school, but she came to my dad’s church once with her next-door neighbor. As a result of that service she became a Christian. A few years later, she married a pastor and has been a pastor’s wife for decades.

“The second story is from one of my former students in southern China, Muti. Muti wrote me recently and told me he was walking along a street in Hong Kong, and on a shelf outside a bookstore was Scandalon. He talked with the bookstore owner and she told him she liked the book because of the stories about China. So, of course, he bought a copy.”

Whether they find their way to Texas, Hong Kong, England, or Israel – What a joy and privilege to publish these books.

Ten Best Books I Read in 2015

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Here’s an eclectic list of books, varied in subject, genre, and form. I like to find the best in popular books, old and new, and find hidden gems that are less-well known but sometimes even more worthy of being found on a “best-seller” list. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite among these:

(In no particular order)

  1. STONE BY STONE: Tear Down the Wall Between God’s Heart and Yours by Jasona Brown (WhiteFire, 2015) – I’m part of a group of prayer ministers in my church. We spent several months this past year reading and discussing this book and praying together over personal issues that came up. Stone by Stone brings to light obstacles in our hearts that hinder us from freely and fully receiving God’s love and living in wholeness, in the joy of the Lord. Topics covered include:guilt, unforgiveness, lies believed, trauma, and unhealed memories. I enjoyed the conversational style of the author, the way she so transparently shared her own story, and the way her compassion for hurting people comes through.
  2. A GUIDE FOR LISTENING AND INNER HEALING PRAYER: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach (NavPress, 2011)  –  As the title indicates, this is a comprehensive guide. It includes personal stories from the authors life and examples from other people’s lives as well. I recommend it to anyone desiring to remove barriers to intimacy with God and to be free of negative emotions that have plagued you for years, to experience release, freedom, and healing of emotional wounds. This book can lead individuals step-by-step in that healing process, and it can equip groups like the one I’m in, to facilitate a listening and inner-healing prayer ministry for the wounded people the Lord brings to us.
  3. THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (Free Press, 2007)  –  Science has not been my forte. But this is a fascinating book.  Like many Christians, I had some skepticism. Can you really believe both science and the Bible? Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project presents a clear and sincere personal testimony of coming to faith in Jesus. He also discusses scientific discoveries in an easy-to-follow way that I actually enjoyed. He says we don’t have to choose between science and God. Especially helpful is Collins’ explanation of how and why a Bible-believing Christian may accept the theory of evolution.
  4. SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY: A Woman’s Journey through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (Grand Central, 2014) –  I love poetry and have a collection of poetry books. Some are antiques that belonged to my great-grandmother. Some are tomes I studied in college. I turn to poetry in times of deep emotion and it helps me walk through those times. Well, for my birthday last year I received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I decided I wanted a current volume of poetry. I remembered seeing a small “Poetry” section in our local B&N. When I went there, that section had disappeared, but a few poetry books were squeezed on half a shelf somewhere at the bottom of the “fiction” section. Sad. The pickings were slim. But She Walks in Beauty stood out to me. After scanning the topics (“Falling In Love” “Marriage” “Work” “Growing Up and Growing Old” “Friendship” “Silence and Solitude”) I bought the book. It didn’t disappoint. Ms. Kennedy included poems by some of my “old” favorites, such as Frost, Yeats, Browning and also introduced me to contemporary poets. She even included Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila and poetic passages from the Bible. The poems cover nearly every aspect of a woman’s life. To me the best parts, though, were Ms.Kennedy’s insightful, personal, and beautifully-expressed introductions to each subject group of poems.
  5. SOLDIER’S HEART: A Novel by Michele McKnight Baker (Heritage Beacon, 2015) – I read this Civil-War era novel in manuscript form. Many fiction manuscripts have crossed my desk through the years. But few have made as strong an impression on me as this one did. An agent sent me the manuscript. During 15 years of acquiring manuscripts for Cladach, only twice have I failed to win a contract for a book I really wanted to publish. Soldier’s Heart is one of those. The characters, the setting, the time period, the twists of plot, authentic conflicts, and the theme of generational sins and reconciliations make Soldier’s Heart an unforgettable read. What we now call PTSD, often diagnosed in military personnel returning from war, used to be called “soldier’s heart.” If you enjoy Christian historical fiction—read this novel.
  6. ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL by James Herriot (Bantam, 1974) –  One winter day I felt like reading something cozy and familiar; so I perused the well-worn volumes of my personal library and pulled some James Herriot books off the shelf. I first read his warm and wonderful series of Yorkshire-vet tales in the 1980s. The Chicago Tribune (according to the back cover) said this book was “bursting with love, laughter and the joy of life” and a “soul-satisfying autobiographical book. Human beings just naturally respond to a writer as lovable, wholesome, eloquent, humorous and well-stocked with anecdotes as James Herriot.”  I agree. Worth keeping for decades and reading over again.
  7. ALL WE LIKE SHEEP: Lessons from the Sheepfold by Marilyn Bay Wentz and Mildred Nelson Bay (Cladach, 2015) –  I read this book more closely than any other on this list, since I edited it! When Marilyn first sent her completed manuscript, which I had agreed to publish, I had just read a couple of James Herriot’s books. He describes so vividly his experiences with sheep and other farm animals. I looked forward to more such stories from a sheep farmer I knew, right here in Colorado. During the revision process, I asked authors Marilyn and Millie, “Do you enjoy your sheep? Do you love what you do— the farm, the outdoors, the mornings and evenings, the barn, the pastures, etc? Your choices of words, images, vignettes will help me experience the sheep farm vicariously. I want to smell the sweet hay, to hear the lambs bleat, to feel a newborn lamb, the bite of a chilly midnight during lambing season. I want to laugh and cry with you as you deal with rogue dogs and coyotes, search for a lost lamb, watch your flock come running as they recognize your voice.” Marilyn and Millie caught the vision of “creative nonfiction” and accomplished the feat of writing their shepherding experiences as stories with dialogue, sensory details, and emotion. In an entertaining way, the authors “show us” as well as teach us why the Bible says we are all like sheep.
  8. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between  by Lee Gutkind (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012) Speaking of creative nonfiction (as I did in #6 and #7 above)—a style popular in journalism today, and the style I prefer for memoirs and other nonfiction—this is a definitive book on what it is and how to write it. I read this book in preparation for a workshop I presented at the Writers on the Rock conference. A secular, colorfully-written book, by the expert on the subject, that includes many examples and exercises. I read the Kindle version.
  9. THE UNCONTROLLING LOVE OF GOD: An Open and Relational Account of Providence  by Thomas Jay Oord (Intervarsity Press, 2015) –  I have some of my preacher father’s and some of my preacher grandfather’s theology books that were handed down to me. I’ve acquired and studied other, more recent theological books, mostly written from the Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, as well as broader Evangelical and even a few Reformed works. In recent years, have enjoyed books by N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann. I heard about Thomas Jay Oord before I knew of his many books. Since we had mutual acquaintances, I responded to Mr. Oord’s request for readers to review his then-forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. I read it in pdf form. This book provokes thought and lays out a convincing case concerning why evil happens even though “God is love.” You can read my Amazon review of the book here.
  10. LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo (Penguin Audio, 2009) I own three video/DVD versions of Les Miserables — an old movie, a more recent movie, and a stage musical production. The story—with its timeless themes of justice, mercy, and redemption—always inspires and the music lifts me. I wanted to read the book, but haven’t yet tackled that thick volume. Instead, I started an Audible membership and downloaded this Audible/audio version of the great classic. My husband and I listened to it on a long road trip and enjoyed this abridged, well-narrated version of the book. An accessible way for tired or busy eyes to devour and relish great literature.

 

Colorado Book Award Finalist Teams Up With Mother on Sheep Book

All We Like Sheep : Lessons from the Sheepfold  Produced with Team Effort

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GREELEY, COLO.—Colorado Book Award 2014 finalist Marilyn Bay Wentz, Strasburg, Colo., has teamed up with her mother, Mildred Nelson Bay, Eaton, Colo., to write a series of sheep stories and the lessons both women have learned from their collective seven decades of raising lambs commercially. All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold was released Sept. 15 by Cladach Publishing.

Wentz, a journalist whose first book, Prairie Grace (historical fiction set in 1864 Colorado Territory) was an award finalist, credits her mother as her mentor in both writing and sheep herding. Wentz says, “It was an amazing experience to write this book with my mother, considering her depth of knowledge, her love of both sheep and the Bible, and her gentle humor.”

All We Like Sheep, a mix of creative memoir and Bible-centered devotional, was conceived from the heart and experience of this mother-daughter duo. “People see flocks of sheep grazing in the mountains or on the plains but understand little about the joys and trials of herding sheep,” says Bay. “Stories in All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold help the reader understand sleepless nights of lambing, attacks on the ewes by rogue dogs and coyotes, the bond experienced when the lambs respond to the shepherd’s voice, or how sheep protect themselves and ewes always recognize their own lambs.”

According to Catherine Lawton, Cladach editor and publisher of the book, All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold closes the experiential gap between those who farm sheep, those who enjoy seeing pastoral scenes of sheep, and those who would like to better understand why the Bible so often mentions sheep (over 500 times).

Lawton adds, “These women are talented storytellers. Christian readers, especially, will appreciate the spiritual and biblical insights that Wentz and Bay have gleaned from their sheep-herding experiences. Each story/chapter closes with questions ‘to ponder’ and a short prayer. Photos from the sheep farm are sprinkled throughout the book.”

Chapter titles include: “Ice Baby,” “A Lamb Called ‘Her’,” “The Little Ewe Who Thought She Could,” “Keep Out the Thief,” “It’s All About the Smell,” “Eternity in Our Hearts.”

Marilyn Bay Wentz grew up on the property her parents still farm northeast of Eaton but has lived in rural Strasburg for nearly two decades. She has written hundreds of news releases and articles for agricultural organizations and other clients. Mildred Nelson Bay and husband, Marvin, have farmed since 1970. She has been active in her local church, AWANA and Gideons, International, and has written articles for regional publications.

All We Like Sheep, Lessons from the Sheepfold, is available in softcover and Kindle from Amazon as well as in softcover at specialty shops. More information about Marilyn Bay Wentz and her books can be found at http://www.MarilynBayWentz.com and http://www.cladach.com/all-we-like-sheep/.

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Me? Like a Sheep?

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I hear someone saying, “Lambs are cute and woolly, and all that. But aren’t sheep ‘dumb’ and helpless creatures? I’m not sure I want to be like a sheep.”

In answer, I’ll offer a few snippets of Bible verses:

“I am the Good Shepherd.”

“My sheep hear my voice.”

“Follow me.”

“Like sheep without a shepherd”

“Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

“The Lord is my shepherd.”

“He leads me beside still waters.”

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

“His rod and staff comfort me.”

“We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray.”

“I lay down my life for the sheep.”

“Oh. Well. When He puts it that way … I’ll follow Him like a sheep if that’s what it takes to hear His voice, know His goodness, enjoy those green pastures and still waters, live the life He made possible by laying down His own. … But, what does that mean in real life? for me? How does this sheep thing work?”

I’m glad you asked. God the Father gave us this picture of His sheep in His pastures. He even sent His Son to be the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. But He knew it would be hard for us to fathom such love and all the nuances of such a lamb-like life of trust. So He provided human under-shepherds. And He provided some earthy, mucking-in-the-barn and traipsing-in-the-pastures, shepherds of flocks. These people know sheep. They can tell us a lot about those creatures that God says we are like.

“I’ll bet those shepherds could tell some stories! From what the Bible says, sheep can get into a lot of trouble.”

In fact, I have two friends who are shepherds of sheep. Their names are Marilyn and Millie, two women who have raised thousands of lambs and tended flocks on their farms in Colorado. They have given names to many of their lambs and gotten to know their individual sheep quirks and personalities. They’ve nursed sick sheep, bottle-fed orphan lambs, called flocks in from the pasture, protected them from marauding dogs and hungry coyotes. They’ve laughed at sheep antics and cried over their losses and vulnerabilities.

“I’d like to meet those shepherdesses and visit the sheep farm, but I don’t suppose I ever will.”

But you can! Vicariously. Just read Marilyn and Millie’s book of sheep stories. They’ll even help you better understand how to follow the Good Shepherd “like a sheep of His pasture.”

“Great! Where can I get their book?”

Right here:

http://amzn.com/0989101436

And you can find out more here:

https://cladach.com/all-we-like-sheep/

Remember, keep listening for the Shepherd’s voice. You can trust Him implicitly!

Afflict the Comfortable?

Bullet holes in the front door of the Alexander’s home in Taipei. Two members of the family were used as human shields and shot in police crossfire. Yet the Alexanders forgave their terrorist captor and helped lead him to faith in Christ before he faced execution for his crimes.

The famous newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer is said to have had this motto:

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Do you think this is a good motto for a Christian writer? And maybe for a Christian reader?

Jesus gave comfort to the afflicted. He saw the real needs of individuals and responded in love and power. Today, the Lord works through his people to give comfort to those who are burdened, oppressed, and bereft; to build up others in love and faith to sustain them in the difficulties of life.

On the other hand, Jesus often unsettles us—afflicts us, if you will—with his words and actions. He criticized the religious and political establishments. He gave his time and attention to the weak, the sick, the unlovely, the powerless. He spoke directly to the heart.

Does the Lord want to use you as a writer to challenge and unsettle those who are insulated in ease? Perhaps the Lord wants to remind us of his call to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort those who mourn.

To be used this way, you may need to let him move you out of your “comfort zones” of shallow thinking, self-protection, and playing it safe. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read the Acts of the Apostles. Read about the lives and deaths of the early-church martyrs. Read about Christian persecution and martyrdom in the world today.

Other suggestions for reading that will “afflict” us out of our false comfort and into a life of more compassion and faith:

John and Judy Pex’s story of their work in Eilat, Israel. Reading about the Pex’s 30 years of personal evangelism in Israel can fortify you with the desire to live out the life of Jesus, perhaps even opening your home, your arms, or your prayers and giving to reach others with God’s love.

Stories of Christian refugees fleeing the genocide in south Sudan will disturb your ease but may also give you perspective on the troubles you face.

Reading about the Alexander family’s hostage experience at the hands of a Taiwanese terrorist may afflict you when you realize what evil there is in the world and what sufferings God allows his people to go through; or the Alexander’s story may comfort you to see how they were able to show love and salvation to the very man who caused them great bodily injury and emotional harm.

Now a word to readers: Open your hearts to what our Lord, who himself comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, may be saying to you. Don’t just read books that offer escape and make you feel good and even more comfortable. Read books that challenge you, maybe even afflict you with a desire to show compassion.

A Christian Writer’s “Wildly Unbalanced Life”

I hear writers bemoan the demands and distractions in their days (including technology) and how hard it is for them to achieve balance in their lives. Perhaps you’ve felt that, too. You’re working at the computer and think you’ll just check Facebook for a few minutes. An hour later, you wonder where the time went. Or you hear the musical tone that tells you new emails or text messages have arrived on your cell phone. You were just about to focus in on the theme of a blog post you’re preparing to write. You touch your phone screen, read the text and one thing leads to another. Let’s see, where did that inspiration, that thought, that focus go?

I ought to read more, pray more, call so-in-so, go shopping, attend those meetings, deep clean my house/office, sort through papers, watch those recommended movies, re-decorate my house, exercise more … while tweeting, blogging, posting, submitting copy to editors.

So, how do we achieve “balance”?

Or, is that even the right question?

I got help on this issue a few days ago when I attended the “Writers on the Rock” Christian writers conference in Lakewood, Colorado, as a workshop presenter. Happily, I had opportunity to go to a session taught by Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart Ministries. “Balance isn’t the key,” he told us. “God wants us to write—not for him or about him—but with him. This leads to a wildly unbalanced life. Let other things fall away.”

Demonstrating his teaching, Allen presented a creative, God-breathed message that brought clarity to my mind and both piercing and encouragement to my heart. In fact, the heart was his theme.

“Infuse Your Creativity with Heart” was his topic. “Nothing great was ever achieved without great heart,” stated the workshop blurb in the conference program. “Yet writers often become disheartened, discouraged or overwhelmed” (that’s where I started this post, remember?) “and when they do, their stories slowly begin to die.” Allen’s workshop promised to tell us “how to discover the truer you, consecrate your creativity, and feast on hidden Spiritual Manna.” He delivered on that promise.

A tall man with a joyful smile and eyes that seem ready to laugh with you or cry with you according to your need and the Lord’s leading, he said, “God cares far more about the story you’re living than the story you’re writing. Live well. Then write well.”

Does living well mean keeping up with everything the world, and even the church, often tells us we should keep on top of and keep “in balance?”

“You can’t write a better story than you’re living,” Allen Arnold states. “Nothing is more important than how a story was born—what your heart is like at the time of writing. … Your writing changes when it becomes about presence over productivity.”

If writing and connecting with readers to encourage them, lift their sights to Jesus, come alongside them, instruct them in the living Word, bring them hope through a well-told story, is what gives you life … then this may be what the Lord is calling you to do; and to live out this calling, you will have to let some other things fall away.

Tend to your heart. Then write and connect and live a “wildly unbalanced life” in—and flowing out from—the presence of Jesus.

 


Update: I recently got Allen Arnold’s book, The Story of WITH : A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create. I recommend it! ~ C.L.

Evaluating the Past and Planning for the Future

Today I’m wearing my Analyzing/Forecasting hat.

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Larry has finished compiling 2014 book sales data from the careful records he keeps throughout the year. He lays before me a stack of neatly-columned reports. Now I take a deep breath, find my Financial Analysis hat, dust it off (most of the time I leave this side of the business to Larry) and sit down to focus on the telling numbers.

Each author will receive a statement (usually accompanied by a check) listing how many of their books sold last year, how many were returned, how many were given away as samples and review copies, the gross and net income we received for those sales, and the amount of the author’s royalties for 2014. I read through each line of these reports before they are sent to our authors.

In addition, Larry has print-outs for me of income, expenses, inventory, etc. I look these over, too, and bring my questions back to him. He patiently provides answers and makes adjustments where needed.

I’ll be glad to get back to the creative side of publishing. But I know that looking at these numbers and columns and net sums, is critical. Trends jump off the page at me and color my thinking about future decisions for Cladach.

First, I thank the Lord for the thousands of copies of Cladach books sold in 2014. They sold through online retailers, wholesalers, events, bookstores, our website, and through the efforts of the authors. From our warehouse we send out varying quantities of paperback books almost every day. We love sending them out to reach buyers and readers, because that means they will minister to people, encourage them, instruct them, inspire them, help them see God at work in our world, help them experience Him more.

Then, I bring to the Lord our successes and our failures, and lay them at His feet. We have prayed over the acquisition, development, production, and marketing of each book. We are human, though, and make mistakes. Some of our titles have kept up regular demand and sales for years. A few have struggled to earn back the money we put into producing them. Most of the latter are excellent works by talented and sincere authors. Somehow, though, a few of those haven’t “grabbed readers.” We will keep trying, because we believe in these titles and these authors.

Next, I acknowledge the trends: For instance, with fiction titles, generally more e-books sell than paperback books. With all our titles, the more the author is active in marketing their books and connecting with readers, the more their books sell. Authors who have a “platform,” ministry, are well-known as an expert in their field, have several books published, and are active daily in some aspect of marketing their books — their books sell the most copies. This has to influence my decisions in acquiring future titles/authors.

It’s interesting to see how different books sell better through different sales channels. Some sell consistently through wholesalers, others simply don’t, but they sell well on Amazon. Some titles we mostly sell directly to the authors, who have ways of selling direct to customers. We give authors a generous discount, so they can actually make a lot more money on these sales than they can make with royalty income from Cladach’s sales. It’s a win-win, and most importantly, hope-giving books reach readers.

Perhaps I’ll share more trends in future posts. For now, I’ll hand the data/reports back to Larry and give attention to things I enjoy more: words, ideas, design, promotions, and the people behind the numbers. … I have a hat for that!

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