Sunday Devotional: Psalm 121 ~ the God who watches and keeps

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Psalm 121 (NKJV) ~ A Song of Ascents

The songs of ascent is a collection of short Psalms, meant to be sung while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or as some suggest, while ascending the steps of the Temple (one Psalm for each step). This one, in all its sweet brevity, seems perfect for a week when many are traveling and most are thinking of home and family ...

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

As we survey God’s creation in all its glory, may we never forget the true source of our help ... the One who shaped all that we see.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

No matter what goes on, either in our lives or the wider world, God does not sleep or even grow drowsy or inattentive. He sees—He watches—and He watches over us.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

I’ve often said that no matter what has happened to me, no matter how deep a funk I’ve fallen into to, someone, somewhere, has it worse. And I wonder, for all that God does allow to befall us, how many terrible things has He turned aside? How much does He spare us from on a daily basis?

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

... until the time for going out and coming in is done, and it's time to go to Him, at last.

Clinching the Cliché Conundrum

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We all know what a cliché is, right? It’s a phrase or expression that's been used so often that it's no longer original or interesting; or, a theme or device so commonly used in books, stories, etc., that it's no longer effective.

“No longer” is the key here. These overused tools were once fresh, new, and witty. But now, employing them merely proves that you can have too much of a good thing.

For that reason, unless we want to impress someone with our lack of originality, we should avoid clichés like the plague. For an example, it’s been an eternity since someone first used “an eternity” to describe a long but finite stretch of time. Now, the vibrant analogy is so overworked that it's weak as a kitten. We should leave no stone unturned in our search for more picturesque speech. Or at least, phrases that don’t look like something the cat dragged in.

You get the idea, so I’ll stop beating this dead horse.

In first drafts, it’s okay to allow clichés to sit around the table over their coffee, taking up space and chatting. It’s in the editing phase that we must send them on their way and make space for paying customers. But once you’re ready to clear the room, how do you find the better clientele? Where does the sort of language grow that’s fresh, crisp, and juicy as an October apple?

Here’s where it can pay to write speculative fiction. (Believe me when I say it doesn’t pay financially.) When you create a world and a culture, you can also create everyday expressions that people in our world haven’t heard yet. Which means, of course, that they’re not clichés. 

A character can be as “content as a luglit with his belly full of zikzak” without making the reader yawn. (She might scratch her head in puzzlement, but she won’t complain it’s a cliché.) Another character can say he feels as out of place as a Nobian sand snail in a crystal punchbowl. And a father can state, when a screaming child won't listen to reason, that “Tears can’t hear.” Though these are all common expressions on Gannah, most readers on Earth have never heard them, so “fresh and new” still applies -- even if they’re not particularly witty.

But what if you don’t write weird stuff like that? No matter; writers of earthbound fiction can beat the cliché rap in much the same way. Dig up turns of the phrase from the world you’re writing about. Pull them from your characters’ brains. Envision how someone's experiences might color her speech and let her speak for herself.

For instance: Is your protagonist a fireman? He might say, when refusing to weigh in on a sensitive topic, “I’m not touching that with a 100-foot ladder. It’s hot as napalm.” When faced with a situation that’s too far gone to remedy, a character who loves to bake might say, “That cake’s already burned.” A meteorologist might describe his teenager as being as gloomy as a low-pressure system stalled overhead.

Don’t like those examples? No, they’re not perfect. But I’ll bet you can think of better ones if you put your mind to it.

However, I don’t think you’ll find a better escape from the humdrum than a trip to Gannah. Yes, I’m biased, but others share that opinion. Many readers who don’t ordinarily head for the sci-fi section tell me they enjoy the series, and those who ordinarily do like speculative fiction say it blasts the typical clichéd story out of the sky.

Though each title in the series can be read alone, they also fit together to build an epic tale. It all begins with The Story in the Stars, an ACFW Carol Award finalist in 2012. The saga continues with Words in the Wind and Ransom in the Rock, and concludes with The Last Toqeph, released last month.

If you like to walk alongside believable characters as they deal with emotional situations, all told from a Christ-centered perspective, consider a flight through the Gateway to Gannah into some serious sci-fi adventure.

The Last Toqeph: Will Adam right an ancient wrong and lose his inheritance? Or ignore the truth and lose his integrity?

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. When not exploring space, she lives in Western Maryland with her husband of almost forty years and shares the occasional wise word on her personal site, YsWords. She’s been with The Borrowed Book for a year or two now and has coordinated Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad Contest for unpublished novelists since the beginning of time. (Or at least, since the contest’s inception.) She also does freelance editing.

What's the Word by Author Yvonne Anderson

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

At my first writer’s conference (ACFW, Dallas, 2007), I met with Andy Meisenheimer, then acquisitions editor for Zondervan, to discuss a manuscript. The occasion held a number of personal firsts: among other things, my first conference, my first meeting with an editor, and my first foray into writing science fiction.  (Four years later, the book was published as The Story in the Stars, the first in the Gateway to Gannah series.)

By God’s grace, I wasn’t particularly nervous. Considering the experience an educational field trip, I felt no pressure to achieve any specific goal but to learn and enjoy myself. Since I had no expectations, I was surprised that when I explained my story’s premise to Andy, he showed real interest and asked pertinent questions, nodding at my answers as if intrigued. (Possibly he was just being nice, because he seems to be that kind of guy.) 

One of the questions had to do with the languages in my story world. “A lot of writers try creating a language, such as Tolkien did with the elvish language, for instance. But it usually doesn’t hold together logically like a real language does. Do your characters speak another language? And if they do, how did you create it?” When I told him the Gannahan language was ancient Hebrew, his eyes widened and he grinned. “Cool!”

When I first began to sketch out this new world, I thought about God creating our world, and how it all started with a garden. That inspired me to give the planet a garden-related name – but Eden was already taken. What about the word for “garden” itself? I got out my Strong’s Concordance and found the Hebrew word is gannah. Sounded like a good name for a planet. And so it began. 

Though the people of Gannah speak a language that’s very much like Hebrew, I don’t; the best I can do is name things based on Hebrew words I find in the concordance. For instance: the colorful forest in the opening scene, in which the foliage is blue, yellow, and red as well as green, is the Ayin Forest, based on the Hebrew word for color. The ruling family’s name is Atarah, which means crown; the Gannahan weapon of choice is called a lahab, meaning blade. But because my knowledge of the language is so limited, I use only a word here and there; I don’t put them together in sentences or write songs or poems, as Tolkien did with the elvish language.

How about the Karkar? (The which? The Karkar. They’re the people from a different planet, and ancient enemies of Gannah.) The Karkar words, what few of them I use, come purely from my warped imagination. And they’re fun. Listen while a character contemplates his job as a researcher on a medical starship: “The assignments were challenging but satisfying, and when he pillowed his head at dimlights, he felt as content as a luglit with a bellyful of well-aged zikzak.

Which brings me to another kind of word I had to create: names for inventions and concepts that don’t currently exist in our world, or are so different as to be unrecognizable. These names, I tried to make self-explanatory. Dimlights in that last example, for instance, refers to the fact that on a starship, there is no night and day, so the lights are dimmed during the hours that would be night if they were on a planet. Instead of a refrigerator, they have a chill cabinet, and rather than a microwave, they warm food in a quickheater. What we might call a snowmobile, Gannahans call a motorsled. On the space station, you’ll find no bellboys to carry your luggage to your room, but a baggage bot. (“Bot” being short for robot.) My favorite gadget is the floor bot. As you might guess, that’s the one that scrubs your floors to a cheery shine while you’re out having fun on your motorsled.

If you’d like to learn more, come visit Gannah; even people who usually avoid space travel enjoy their time there. You might even find a souvenir to bring home.

The first two of the four books in the series are currently available in both print and e-book versions. Book #1, The Story in the Stars (2012 ACFW Carol Award Finalist in Speculative Fiction) on Amazon and Barnes & Noble; Book #2, Words in the Wind on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday Devotional: Psalm 118 ~ His everlasting mercy

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Psalm 118 (NKJV)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Let Israel now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord now say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

Three times is the reminder that the Lord’s mercy is everlasting ... once for the nation of Israel, once for those called into special ministry (as the house of Aaron was, within the tribe of Levi), and once for all who fear the Lord ... in other words, for His people, specifically and in general.

His mercy endures forever ... His mercy endures forever ... His mercy endures forever.

And I am so grateful that it does ...

I called on the Lord in distress;
The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
The Lord is on my side;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes.

At the end of a grueling day, feeling emotionally battered and exhausted, this is both comforting and sobering ... first, that God is truly with us, on our side ... and that if we put confidence in other humans—even important, powerful ones—we are bound to be disappointed. How many times am I guilty of putting my expectation on another person and not God?

10 All nations surrounded me,
But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
11 They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me;
But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
12 They surrounded me like bees;
They were quenched like a fire of thorns;
For in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.
13 You pushed me violently, that I might fall,
But the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.

Regardless of how trouble surrounds us, how pushed and pulled we are by the forces of darkness (and this includes the darkness inside our own selves), the Lord is our deliverer—our strength and salvation.

15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.

Maybe the trouble we’ve faced is a result of our own doing, and God has allowed it for chastening—for discipline. Even then, there is a limit, as long as we’re still living and breathing.

The right hand of the Lord does valiantly ... I’m reminded of that verse in Exodus, Be still! The Lord will fight for you. Indeed, if we have the patience to let God have the situation—any that we find ourselves in—then He can and will do His work in it. The difficulty is often in the surrendering ...

And yet His mercy endures forever.

And so the Psalmist finishes out this one in poetic praise:

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord,
Through which the righteous shall enter.

21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.

22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the Lord’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save now, I pray, O Lord;
O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.

29 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.

Making Time to Write When Others Resist Your Efforts, by Jennifer Slattery

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Each day, countless demands pull on each of us. A bit of laundry here, dishes done there, a phone call in between, and before we know it, our day’s gone.

With zero words to show for it.

Last month at a book signing, I met a woman who told me she’d always wanted to write. My response: Just do it. She then proceeded to stare at me, perhaps not understanding, so I repeated myself, pumping a fist in the air for emphasis: Just do it! Just sit your tush in a chair and get to typing. After which she looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Or was suggesting she lose hers, for how could she ever find the time?

Perhaps you’re thinking the same thing, but before you walk away frustrated, let me suggest: We all have the time to do that which is most important to us.

The problem is not so much finding the time to write but making the time. For some, this comes down to simple time management: less television, Facebook, or crafting. For others, making time to write first requires conquering an inner and outer battle.

Because to say yes to something always means saying no to something else.

For the parents and spouses out there, this may even mean saying no, on occasion, to those you love.

This is where it gets hard, leading to all sorts of guilt and frustration—for everyone. I believe these negative and self-defeating emotions can often be avoided when we follow a few simple steps.

1. Begin by honestly evaluating your time.
Before you begin to randomly slice away at your to-do list, ask yourself: What activities do I engage in that have little relational, financial, or spiritual value?

For example, the average American wastes 5 hours a day watching television. In the course of a week, that’s 35 hours of possible writing time! Can you imagine how many words one could write in that amount of time?

What activities are you doing inefficiently? When I was a teenager, I worked as a waitress, and one phrase my manager repeated often: Full hands in, full hands out. This meant, always be doing something. When you return to the kitchen, grab a dirty plate to take with you. On your way back to the dining room, say, to take an order, bring a water pitcher.

In other words, find ways to maximize your efforts, and be intentional!

2. Engage your family in the time-management challenge.
But first, make sure you set the stage, because timing and setting is crucial. Don’t start demanding me-time during an argument or stressful period. Rather, wait until you and your spouse or family are engaged in a relaxing activity. Then, share your heart openly and honestly, explaining why writing is so important to you and how much time you’d like to devote to the craft. Then, ask them to share their perspective and feelings, and truly listen! With an open heart and mind.

3. Try to find a win-win
My family is much more responsive to my time-management efforts when I’ve demonstrated, through my words and actions, that they are a priority. Because honestly, if we’re not able to write AND spent time with our loved ones, we don’t have time to write. Relationships must always come first. We might, however, have time that can be divided between the two. When this happens, quality gains utmost importance. If you’ve got a crazy deadline, make sure to plan a family outing for after. Then spend the day and be 100% present.

Do you have any suggestions to share? How do you balance relationships with writing demands? Share your thoughts with us then we’ll all learn from each other.

Jennifer Slattery writes missional fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate
about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes Christian Living articles for; writes and edits for Christ to the World Ministries; and writes devotions for her personal blog, JenniferSlatteryLivesOutloud, and Internet Café Devotions. When she’s not writing, she and her husband are probably sitting at a coffee shop somewhere, he reading a sports article on his phone while she loses herself in a great novel.

Make sure to stop by tomorrow, when you can enter to win a free copy of Jennifer's latest release, Beyond I Do.

Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more.

Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

You can find it here.

Read a free, 36-page excerpt here.

Weekly Drawing ~ Jennifer Slattery

It's Fun Friday at The Borrowed Book! This week's prize is available to residents inside the continental US only.

To enter:

Leave the time it took you to complete the puzzles in the comments section as well as your email address for notifying you if you've won. Winners will be drawn from ALL of the times, so the person with the fastest time may not be the actual winner, but by leaving your time, you double your chances.

Want another entry? Tweet your puzzle time and mention The Borrowed Book, get another entry. RETWEET our Tweet, get two entries!

Post your puzzle time on BB's Facebook wall guessed it...get another entry!

Post it on your OWN Facebook wall and you could get as many as FIVE entries.

It's all a way to spread the word about the great giveaways on BB. So c'mon! Help us spread the word, and have a little fun at the same time. Enter all weekend long! Winners will be announced Sunday night at midnight.

This week's puzzle feature is brought to you by Jennifer Slattery and her newest release, Beyond I Do.

Click to Mix and Solve

Sunday Devotional: Psalm 104 ~ the amazingness of God

Sunday, November 9, 2014

On this, the second Sunday of November, and a birthday weekend to boot—which always makes me a bit more contemplative than usual, if such a thing is possible—I can think of no better way to prepare for the American holiday of Thanksgiving than to focus on the amazingness of the Lord.

As Psalm 34 says, “My soul shall make its boast in the Lord.” He truly is worthy of our praise, our honor, our admiration—or to put it in plain terms, for us to brag on Him!

And there is plenty to brag about. This psalm covers a bit of everything, from heavenly glories we can only guess at, to the marvel of this world, where the very forces of nature must do His bidding. The various creatures He’s made (us included!) and the lavishness of His care for all—right down to the most basic gifts of comfort and enjoyment in food and drink.

What an incredible God He is, to think of every detail!

Savor this one, without my usual commentary ... as always, the Word of God needs no embellishment.

Psalm 104 (NKJV)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

O Lord my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment,
Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.

He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters,
Who makes the clouds His chariot,
Who walks on the wings of the wind,
Who makes His angels spirits,
His ministers a flame of fire.

You who laid the foundations of the earth,
So that it should not be moved forever,
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters stood above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled;
At the voice of Your thunder they hastened away.
They went up over the mountains;
They went down into the valleys,
To the place which You founded for them.
You have set a boundary that they may not pass over,
That they may not return to cover the earth.

10 He sends the springs into the valleys;
They flow among the hills.
11 They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches.
13 He waters the hills from His upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.

14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
15 And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap,
The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
17 Where the birds make their nests;
The stork has her home in the fir trees.
18 The high hills are for the wild goats;
The cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers.

19 He appointed the moon for seasons;
The sun knows its going down.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
In which all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar after their prey,
And seek their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they gather together
And lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
And to his labor until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions—
25 This great and wide sea,
In which are innumerable teeming things,
Living things both small and great.
26 There the ships sail about;
There is that Leviathan
Which You have made to play there.

27 These all wait for You,
That You may give them their food in due season.
28 What You give them they gather in;
You open Your hand, they are filled with good.
29 You hide Your face, they are troubled;
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
30 You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in His works.
32 He looks on the earth, and it trembles;
He touches the hills, and they smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34 May my meditation be sweet to Him;
I will be glad in the Lord.
35 May sinners be consumed from the earth,
And the wicked be no more.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!