I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on how the shutdowns in Kentucky were impacting our family and a few tips for parents who are trying to make the best of the situation alongside the Children’s Director at our church.
What’s working for you? What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve baked 216 cookies so far this month. The recipes and ingredients are lined up for another 276 by the end of this week. A few nights ago, my darling husband had the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Audacity, to ask, “Hey, you know these cookies? [flashes a photo of peanut butter blossoms on his phone] Could you make a batch for Christmas? I just really like them.”
I mean. Y’all. I’ve already prepared “Santa’s Whiskers,” and peppermint-cocoa cookies, peppermint meringues, and up next are M&M cookies, chocolate-covered cherry cookies, gingerbread, and another batch of meringues. AND HE ASKS FOR MORE? Just because he likes them?!
Dear reader, I told him I would bake them, if he picks up the bag of Hershey’s Kisses from the store.
The evening of the cookie conversation, I tweeted: “I need to start asking for things I want, just because I like them, with that level of boldness.” (I was really only thinking about asking Chris. For stuff and nonsense. But then…)
“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your SHAMELESS AUDACITY he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!””
Luke 11:5-13 (NIV) emphasis mine
It reminded me of how I’d felt when Chris asked for cookies. Even though I am already busy (like the man in the parable who’s already resting with his family), something about the sheer chutzpah of the request made me acquiesce. Look at that passage again.
Asking for More
Do you see what I see? Down there after Jesus says that even human fathers give good things to their kids? He says that God the Father “much more” gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
I hadn’t noticed that part before. I had recklessly applied the notion of “ask/seek/knock” to persistent prayer about nearly anything. But I think I was missing an important point. Jesus’ concluding sentence tells us that our shameless audacity should be used to ask for the Holy Spirit’s presence and working in our lives.
And that puts me in mind of Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth. Go read all of chapters 12-14. He leads off this section of his letter with, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (12:1) and goes on to tell them at least three times to “earnestly desire” the gifts. In one spot he says “desire the higher gifts” (12:31), in another “especially that you may prophesy” (14:1), and concludes this way: “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (14:39-40).
So, friends, take this thought with you: are you asking God, with the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Boldness, the Shameless Audacity of a man who loves peanut butter blossoms… to give you the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit, especially the higher gifts?
Be bold. God loves you even more than a wife with forty-eleven dozen cookies to bake, and He gives more graciously and abundantly, too.
Raise your hand if you hated AP Chemistry in high school.
How about Organic Chem in college? Raise your hand if that course nearly derailed your chosen major or served as a weed-out course at your school. (Confession: I actually didn’t have to take Organic Chem. I got college credit from my AP exam, and only had to take Science for Elementary School Teachers [not the actual course title] once I got to college. My husband majored in Bio and minored in Chem because he was pre-med, and the way he tells it Organic Chemistry was the class that made people decide how badly they reallllly wanted to pursue a career in medicine.)
So look: I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know a couple of things about this little guy right here:
Serotonin. This neurotransmitter* keeps our brains happy and healthy. It plays a role in our sleep cycles, moods, social impulses, memory, appetite, and even libido.
One of the things I do remember vividly from my (single, solitary, high school) chemistry class is the visual image of how neurotransmitters work. It’s like a lock in a key: our bodies release the key –the substance (in this case, serotonin) that is designed to fit precisely into receptor cells—the lock. When you’re deficient in serotonin, you have a bunch of empty locks, and a certain set of symptoms develops that is your body’s way of warning you: “We need more serotonin.”
You can boost your serotonin in natural ways, like changing your diet & exercise routines, light exposure or talk therapy, or by taking certain medications, if your body isn’t producing enough on its own.
Now unfortunately, what happens sometimes is that people turn to other substances to fill those empty locks. Some drugs work by mimicking our natural brain chemistry, and when we are talking about medications under a doctor’s supervision that can be a good thing. But if we abuse substances that mimic serotonin (for example, LSD or the THC in cannabis) then we are filling those locks with a synthetic “key” that may do way more harm than good.
Our bodies can get the message, “we don’t need to make anymore serotonin, we have enough.” So by putting the wrong thing in the lock, we create a fault in the system — then we have too much of the real neurotransmitter in our bloodstream with no lock to attach to, or we have not enough because we’ve turned off the production. (That’s a really rough explanation of how illegal drugs work. Get a much more robust explanation here.)
Key to My Heart
I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know just a little about the way God wired me, and I know there’s a lot in the natural world that can paint good pictures of spiritual truths.
I have a hunch that our souls were designed with similar lock-and-key mechanisms. The receptor, the hole, the empty place deep inside us is meant to drive us to God. The symptoms we feel when that place is empty are supposed to sound a warning: “we need a Savior.”
Furthermore, I think that when we fill up our locks with knockoff
keys – when we use counterfeit substances to soothe the ache and take away the
emptiness—we deaden our sensitivity to our real need.
To put a finer point on it: I think one empty space we feel is our need for community. We use counterfeit keys: obsessive love, toxic friendships, smothering familial bonds. When we operate in our own power, we ruin relationships with selfishness and pride. The problem isn’t the need, though. The need for community is real. That hole is there because we are each imago Dei, made in the image of God, who exists in perfect fellowship within the Trinity. We have a need for unity, for wholeness with another, because God perfectly embodies unity and wholeness as He has always been in relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Or maybe the aching cavern you feel is for justice. That, too, I believe is a created need within every human soul. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about justice! It’s that, this far from Eden, the way we go about seeking justice usually misses the mark. We veer too heavily into one ditch or the other, and we rarely feel satisfied that the person or cause we are fighting for will achieve pure justice. We have a lock that yearns for justice because God, our Creator, is perfectly just. His key fits the lock and assures us of the already-not yet tension that in Christ’s kingdom, justice is here but it is also still coming—to be consummated perfectly upon His return.
Whatever gap you feel in your soul, examine what fills it. Where we are using temporal, finite, quick & easy numbing agents—anything that feels good in the moment — are we willing to admit what we really require is the eternal, unchanging, fully-satisfying presence of God?
*some scientists say serotonin is really a hormone, not a neurotransmitter. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus within the medical community at this point.
First, I had the opportunity to write a guest blog on a topic I’m really excited about. That will go live in a few days, so be sure to subscribe to my mailing list if you want the link as soon as it’s available! (There’s no spam, just a ping in your inbox when I post.)
I didn’t advance to the finals, but I did get my scoresheets and comments back from the judges, and their insight and feedback is an invaluable help. If you’re thinking about entering the ACFW Genesis contest in the future, my advice is: go for it. Seriously! You’ve got nothing to lose and your writing will be stronger for it.
And finally, I wrapped this manuscript up and sent her out into the world for her first taste of the query trenches. I use QueryTracker and a homegrown spreadsheet to keep up with important details, but I also made a colorful flowchart on the whiteboard right behind my desk. It makes me HAPPY every time I see it.
But hold on. Let’s be honest. There’s never a ‘finally’ in this writing life. Because even though my completed manuscript is done-enough-to-query, I’m not done. No, I’m still getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make a cup of good coffee and flip on the desk lamp and write. There’s a new WIP [work in progress] brewing, this time with a single main character and no time slip.
Oh, and I’m also loosely researching for another story idea (by which I mean, there’s a topic that intrigues me as a jumping-off point for a plot, so I’m listening to podcasts and reading books and articles about that topic… I feel a story percolating in the far reaches of my brain, but I’m not sure yet whose story it is or where they are or how it’s going to unfurl.)
Which brings me to the July IWSG Question: What personal traits have you written in to your characters?
I think my first manuscript may have been the closest I’ve come to writing characters who had my personal traits. It seems to me that a lot of writers ‘accidentally’ write an autobiographical character now and again, but the best characters are the ones who aren’t US.
The novel that’s out in the trenches right now has two main characters: one’s in her sixties and the other’s in her twenties. Both of them materialized pretty fully in my mind’s eye, and they’re definitely not aspects of myself. They don’t share my penchant for reading, coffee, or a village full of friendships to keep them on an even keel. I suppose both of them are great in the kitchen, and I do love to cook & bake–but that’s it. My new WIP is still a glimmer in my eye with a half-formed protagonist, but I won’t intentionally give her any of my personal traits.
So talk to me, friends: do you ever guest blog? Do you love it? Have you ever participated in a writing contest–good, bad, or ugly? If you’re querying, what do you use to stay organized and happy through the process? I’ll make my way through as much of the IWSG blog hop as I can. I’m excited to read your answers to the July question!
This month’s question is: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?
First, let’s talk reading. Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.” (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 10th Anniversary Edition, p.145)
I’m not quite as voracious as Mr. King. (Then again, I suspect he’s not parenting three kids and doing all his own housework, so I’m giving myself some grace on this whole book-count situation.) A few years ago, I started keeping records of the books I read. I finished fifty-six in 2016, forty-five in 2017, and sixty-seven in 2018. Not too shabby for this season of life!
To break it down by genre, in the past six months I’ve read the following: 7 mainstream women’s fiction 6 Christian Living (non-fiction) 4 Christian speculative fiction 3 Christian women’s fiction 1 writing craft (non fiction) 1 mainstream thriller/suspense 1 mainstream comedy 1 Christian romance
My tastes in reading material are a little like my tastes in breakfast food: I’ll eat ANYTHING, but I tend to get stuck with a favorite and eating oatmeal every day for a month until I burn out and switch to bagels. I sometimes read lots of light-hearted fiction (chick lit or up lit or women’s fiction with romantic subplots) and then switch to heavy documentary style nonfiction for ages. I also enjoy the occasional memoirs, mainstream nonfiction, YA contemporaries, and YA fantasies. So, if I zoomed out to look at the stats for what I’ve read over the past year or nine months, you’d probably see some representation in those genres, too.
My favorite genre to write in is women’s fiction—but (confession) it’s the only genre I’ve written in long-form seriously. I’ve written a few articles for magazines and a few children’s stories for my own kids, and of course I’ve been blogging here for years. But when I decided to jump into novel writing, the stories I really wanted to tell were definitely women’s fiction. The first manuscript was mainstream and my second is Christian, but both center around women’s lives and the friendships and family relationships that carry them through their emotional journeys.
And you? If you’re a reader, what’s your jam? If you’re a writer, join us on the blog hop!