Thursday, September 29, 2011

31 Days of . . .

Last week, I posted a review of Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman. Emily blogs at Chatting at the Sky and she issued an invitation to join her in blogging for 31 days straight on the topic of our choice.

Last year, she blogged on 31 Days of Grace (how appropriate) and this year, she's taking October to share with us 31 Days to Change the World (she aims high)!

When I finished reading her post, I had a mental conversation that went something like this...

Crazy Me: Wow! That sounds like fun!
Responsible Me: Fun? Are you crazy? It sounds like a lot of work.

Crazy Me: But it would be a great way to flex my writing muscles.
Responsible Me: It would be a great way to lose my mind.

Crazy Me: I wonder what I could write about?
Responsible Me: Good question. I have a hard time blogging twice a week. No way I can pull off 31 days straight.

Crazy Me: I think I want to try it.
Responsible Me: No.

So, I tabled the discussion and went on about my day, trying to ignore the bickering. I decided to be quite spiritual and - novel idea - pray about it. Because Responsible Me is right - it's no small thing to commit to blogging for 31 days straight. And what would I blog about anyway?

Then I ran across a blog post from Seth Godin. Guess what he recommends? Blogging every day.

Then I started getting ideas. Turns out I have quite a few topics to choose from.

Then I heard a powerful sermon, ran across a spot-on blog, read a phrase that resonated - and to my surprise - I had a topic.

Crazy Me did a happy dance as Responsible Me started to have a change of heart.

Responsible Me: I'd have to plan it out. Write a few days in advance in case of emergency.
Crazy Me: ((giggles with glee))

Resonsible Me: Maybe I could do it - for 31 days.
Crazy Me: Yes!

Responsible Me: This is crazy.
Crazy Me: I know!

Crazy Me is a bit full of herself this morning. Responsible Me has had concordances, Bibles, books, Greek dictionaries and two notebooks going all week. She's still not sure how this will go. But she's committed to seeing where God leads in the days ahead.

I'd love it if you would join me in October for 31 Days of Renewing.

Side Note: I always post my blogs on Facebook (Lynn Huggins Blackburn) and Twitter (@LynnHBlackburn), but if you want to be sure you receive a notice whenever there's a new post, it's easy to subscribe. If you check out the sidebar to the right, you'll find several options. You can follow by email (enter your email and you'll receive an email each time I update) or subscribe through an RSS feed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mindful Mondays ~ Sweet Surrender

Coffee with Cream and SugarImage by TheCulinaryGeek via Flickr
Most mornings I need a jolt (or two or three) of caffeine to keep me on my feet.

So the other day, I fixed myself a cup of coffee, poured in a generous portion of french vanilla creamer and ran out the door. As I pulled out of my driveway, I took a sip. And almost spit it out.

It was too sweet.

I'll say that again, in case some of you think that was a typo.

It was too sweet.

You cannot begin to imagine my shock.

Nothing is ever too sweet for me.

When people are complaining—crazy people like my husband—about how “rich” the cheesecake is. Or about how the peanut butter pie in the Oreo crust is “too sweet” to eat more than a small bite, I'm the one scarfing it down.

But, apparently, when it comes to my coffee, my tastes are changing.

And I know why.

I've had to back off on my creamers and sugars because my jeans don't fit. It turns out that what you can get by with when you drink an occasional cup of coffee doesn't work anymore when you're sucking back three cups a day.

So I've been weaning myself. Trying to drink my coffee a little closer to black. (Let's note that “closer” is a relative term. My “almost black” is still a nice caramel color).

When I got home, I poured it out and made a new cup with far less creamer. And as I sipped, I started thinking about other things I've been weaning myself from.

Some TV. Some books. Some web browsing. Some crafts.

Not that any of these things were bad in their own right.

But they don't fit anymore.

As I've chosen to respond in obedience to the call to write, I've had to make tough choices about how I spend my time. What used to be okay just doesn't work anymore.

I only have so many hours in the day. I spend my days hanging out with my favorite little people and my evenings hanging out with my favorite man. That doesn't leave a lot of time to write.

But, to my surprise, I don't miss the shows I've given up. And most of the time, my choice to surrender and spend my “free” time writing brings me joy.

I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about when he said “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It's not that God is some cosmic genie prepared to fulfill our three wishes.

It's because when we choose to obey, we find that doing His will fulfills us in a way nothing else can.

So what about you? Are you feeling led to do something, but don't think you have enough time? Or will saying “yes” to Him mean saying “no” to some things you don't think you can give up?

Can I offer this suggestion?
Try it.
Try it His way.

But be prepared.
One morning, you may wake up and discover your tastes have changed.
For the better.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thoughtful Thursdays ~ Book Review: Grace for the Good Girl~letting go of the try-hard life by Emily P. Freeman

I would have made an awesome Pharisee.

Except for the fact that I'm not Jewish. And I'm a girl.

But still . . .

I love rules. I love following the rules.

I'm such a "good girl." My list of "nevers" is long and impressive . . . if you care about that sort of thing.

And for a very long time, I thought God cared. A lot.

It came as a rather rude awakening that God really didn't care about my never haves. He didn't care if I had my quiet time before breakfast or at midnight . . . or, hold on tight now . . . AT ALL.


God cares about our relationship. God longs to meet with me, to talk to me, but He's not sitting around checking His celestial sundial and shaking his head back and forth in dismay as He watches me race around trying to get three kids in the van by 7:40 a.m. He doesn't click His glorious tongue and sigh as He makes eye contact with Michael. "She should have gotten up earlier."

Not a chance. He knows that I was up. At 3:00 a.m. And at 3:30 a.m. And at 4:00 a.m. And at 5:20 a.m. And at 6:15 a.m. (I wish that was a joke, but seriously, that's what happened last night).

He knows. And He longs to carry me through the day. So when I finally get home and have the choice to empty the dishwasher or spend time with Him, He smiles as I choose Him.

And I choose Him, not because I think He'll be disappointed if I don't. But because I want to spend time with Him. Because this "good girl" knows that she can't do it on her own. And that her only hope is found in the One who gives her strength.

But still . . .

I find myself questioning my own motives. Did I do it because I wanted to? Or was it really because deep down, I knew I was "supposed to" and didn't want to mess up.

'Cause if there's one thing this good girl doesn't want to do, it's mess up.

If you haven't figured this out yet . . . I'm a mess.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to review the book Grace for the Good Girl - letting go of the try-hard life by Emily P. Freeman.

While I have never met Emily, I think there's a chance that we were twins separated at birth. How else would she have access to my thoughts and fears? Take this paragraph as an example:

"He does not think as we do. He does not see our relationship measured by ticking clocks, marked with a time to start and stop. I long to have morning times of uninterrupted quiet. From alarm clock chime to the bottom of my first hot cup, I want quiet and stillness and Jesus. But when I don't get that, I am amazed at how quickly I shift from a woman of good and holy intentions to crazy monster mommy who just wants a few minutes alone to pray. Is that too much to ask? Is it?
     And then I cuss on the inside.
     And stomp off to make their lunches.
     And miss the point entirely." (Page 145)


But this isn't a book about quiet times at all. This is just one example of where "good girls" struggle to live in the freedom Christ has called us to.

The first section of the book talks about the different types of masks we wear. Masks of responsibility, strength, spiritual disciplines, acts of service and good performance. The second section of the book delves into what it looks like to find ourselves in Christ - when we take off our masks and rest in Him. The third section talks about the freedom of being found in Christ. Of being safe in His arms, even when life hurts.

And it was this third section that brought me to tears, more than once.

I discovered (after I'd read the entire book) that there's a small group study guide at the back. So I plan to re-read and work through the study questions. Giving the lessons and insights time to seep into my being.

Because, as she points out on Page 170, "Satan's biggest, most effective weapon against good girls may not be lust or slander or adultery or addiction. It is forgetfulness."

It's so easy to slip back behind the mask. To try harder instead of resting in Him.

So whether you've been a good girl forever, or you think you have to be a good girl to make up for your past, there is wisdom to be found in these pages.

I highly recommend Grace for the Good Girl.

The fine print: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Hardwood Heart

I hate carpet for one reason.

You can't clean it.

You can get most of the spots out. But they'll come back.

Because they weren't ever really gone.

And that's why I love the hardwood floors in my new house. Love them.

Herds of small children can run around carrying cups of purple grape juice and I don't care.
Babies can leak. I don't care.
Adults can drop pizza, toppings down. I don't care.

Because when handfuls of potato chips are crushed by tiny tootsies, it's no big deal. A broom, maybe the mop. And, voila! Clean floors.


Why is there always a but?

I have discovered one problem with my floors.

While the epic spills are easy to clean, the day-to-day droplets of life are a little trickier.

I can dust, sweep, and mop every square inch of my downstairs, and then the light streams through a window and I see it . . . a streak a foot long.

How did I miss it?

I've learned over the past few months that I have to clean my floors during the middle of a sunny day. I open all the blinds, and if you could see me you'd think I was setting up a putt at the Master's. I walk around my living room, squatting down, leaning from side to side, checking the angles.

I haven't lost my mind.

I'm looking for the spots.

I have to hunt them down. And once the light shines on them, I attack.

But no matter how thorough I try to be, I always find more spots—approximately three minutes after I put my Bona Hardwood Floor cleaner away.

As I was tackling one of these random spots with a damp paper towel, I thought about how easy it is for me to see the spots in other people's lives. Their judgmental nature. Their negativity. Their harsh spirit. Their sin.

But until the Light shines on their spots, they can't see them.

It dawned on me that in most cases, instead of nagging, I need to be praying. I need to leave the light shining up to The Light. When He's ready to shine His Light on a spot, He'll do it.

Very spiritual of me, huh?


I'm embarrassed to tell you that I had mulled this idea over for a couple of weeks before it ever occurred to me that maybe—just maybe—there might be spots in MY life that I can't see. That maybe instead of worrying about the obvious spots of others, I ought to be praying for the Light to shine on my own spots.

It's easy for me to see the big spots of my epic failures.

But the spots that build up over the course of the day—the bad attitudes, the pride, the selfishness, the unkind words—are harder to see and so much easier to ignore. I could spend a lifetime trying in my own strength to make myself shiny and spot-free.

But I've realized that my heart is just like my floor.

It can only be cleaned in the bright Light of the Son.

Psalm 51:10 ~ Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (ESV)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughtful Thursdays ~ Book Review: The Queen by Steven James

I had never heard of Steven James before attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in 2010. I actually ate breakfast with him on my first morning there and came away with two observations. First, that he was funny (which he proved repeatedly throughout the conference) and second, that he was a nice guy. One person who sat at our table didn't realize that he was a faculty member and asked the “so what do you write” question that is the standard ice breaker amongst writers. Steven James couldn't have been more gracious in his reply and I was impressed by how down to earth he was.

I tell you this because without this background information, you might not understand why I would choose to read his books.

His writing is beautiful. His imagery poetic. His stories gripping. But unless I had met him, I might never have read past the first page of the first book.

Because his characters—well, the bad ones—are evil. I'm talking disgusting, vile, nightmare inducing evil. (For more on why he writes about evil the way he does, I highly recommend you read this post).

And if you know me, you know that I'm a wimp. I don't watch scary movies and I don't read horror.

But I love Steven James.

The Patrick Bowers thrillers are some of the best books I've ever read. And if you watch CSI or Criminal Minds, then you can't say you aren't tough enough to handle them. (I don't watch either of those shows because they freak me out, but I can read these books).

So with that out of the way, let me tell you about The Queen.

The Queen is the fifth Patrick Bowers thriller and if you're new to Steven James then you should know that you need to start with the first book, The Pawn, and read the series in order. Each book has a complete story arc, but the cast of recurring characters are some of the most interesting people in fiction and you'll want to get to know them and watch them develop as the series unfolds.

Patrick Bowers is a geospatial profiler for the FBI and is usually called in to investigate when the local authorities suspect they have a serial killer on their hands. So you know something is up when he's pulled off a long-running case and sent to Wisconsin to investigate the murders of a mother and her four-year-old daughter. Murders the police assume were committed by the missing husband and father.

The Queen's plot is the most complex of all the Bowers Files—and that's saying something. You'll have to pay attention. But it's worth it. Patrick Bowers struggles in every relationship he has—with his step-daughter (my favorite character), his girlfriend, his brother, his sister-in-law, his boss, and his co-workers. These characters battle each other and their personal demons as they search for truth, mess up, make peace, and move forward.

And then there are the bad guys—in my opinion the most intriguing characters Bowers has faced yet. We've got a guy whose twisted morality forces him to kill some and save others. We've got a girl who will do anything, including start World War III, to be with the man she loves. And then we've got the mysterious Valkyrie. Who is he? Or she?

You'll have to read The Queen—all the way to the end—to find out.

The Queen is available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

The fine print: I received a free copy of this book. The only requirement was that I provide an honest review.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughtful Thursdays ~ Hit Send

When I left the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in May of 2010 I overflowed with writerly confidence.

My manuscript had received a positive critique. The words "you're almost ready" had been uttered. I left with marching orders . . . to submit fiction proposals to three agents and one editor.

And I intended to.

As soon as I incorporated all the changes that I now knew I needed to make to my novel. I expected it to take a few months. And it did.

Five months, in fact.

And then life happened. A lot of life.

One planned pregnancy suddenly included many unplanned complications. One wanted new home brought with it much unwanted drama.

And five months turned into six. Then seven. Then twelve. Then fourteen.

Somehow, I had become one of "those" people who never submitted the material that was requested at a conference. It was embarrassing.

And it was too late.

Or was it?

My dear friend and mentor, Edie Melson, said submit. She pointed out that the worst they could say is no. (And let's face it, the odds of that happening are high regardless).

So on Tuesday, I hit send.

I've received emails from two of the people I submitted proposals to. They didn't say "too late" or "this would have been awesome if you'd sent it in a year ago" or "sorry, Charlie."

They said, "Got it. Gonna look at it. We'll be back in touch."

And I thought it was too late.

So what's the lesson here? You can't win if you don't play.

Or in writing terms, you'll never be published if you don't submit.

I'm not expecting to hit a home run my first time at bat. I know rejection is coming and I'm not looking forward to it. I'll need chocolate, and lots of it, to get through this.

But at least now I'm in the game. I'm not sitting on the sidelines "hoping to be published" but not taking any steps to make that dream a reality.

So what are you waiting for?

Did you attend Blue Ridge, Southwest, ACFW, Writing for the Soul, Mt. Hermon or any other conference and did someone ask you to send them a few chapters or a proposal? Did a faculty member suggest you query a certain agent?

It's not too late.

Hit send.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mindful Mondays ~ Labor Days

Deuteronomy 33:25 ~ Your bars shall be iron and bronze, and as your days, so shall your strength be. (ESV)

Right now, I don't feel like my bars are iron or bronze.
I feel like a half-way decent puff of wind could knock me over.
There is nothing sturdy about me.
I'm sleep deprived.
I'm a six months post-partum hormonal mess.
I haven't had a significant break in a while. Any "breaks" have been used to try to accomplish some mammoth project.
I'm in serious need of a vacation.
And a massage.
Each day, my to-do list taunts me. Housework, laundry, cooking, shopping, feeding the baby six times a day, trying not to feed myself chocolate and failing, playing with my kids, snuggling with my baby, hanging out with my husband.
All good, important things.
But that's not all I do.
As I write these words, I'm trying to get ahead on my blog posts. Not so I can coast for the next few weeks, but so I can complete two writing goals. Both of which are self-imposed. No one's going to care if I don't finish them.
Except me.
I'm exhausted just thinking about it.
But these words from Deuteronomy, the blessing that Jacob gave to the tribe of Asher, remind me that there will be enough strength to accomplish what God wants accomplished.
Not necessarily what I want accomplished.
So I'm planning. I'm praying. And I'm trying to hold my goals out in open hands.
I'm starting each day asking God to rule and reign over my day and my calendar. Then, I'm talking to Him about my to-do list and asking Him for my next step. I'm choosing to believe that what truly needs to get done will get done and I'm trying to stay open to the Spirit's leading as I go through my day. (This method comes from Having A Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver).
Some days start this way, but by 7:13AM (more or less), I've grabbed the reins and I'm running the show. Those days always end in exhaustion and aggravation.
Some days I make it until noon.
It's a rare day that I make it past supper.
Maybe you're more spiritual than I am. But I find myself starting over several times a day. Handing the reins back to the One who gives me strength.
I'm not sure what your life is like right now. My guess is you could teach me a thing or two about hectic lives and crazy schedules.
So join me.
Don't wait until tomorrow.
Ask God to take the reins right now. Ask Him as many times today as you need to. And then watch as He gives you strength to do what truly needs to be done.
You'll have to repeat this process again tomorrow.
And the next day. And the next.
But when the winds blow and life threatens to take you down, you'll feel His strength.
And you will stand.
Day by Day, sung by the Antrim Mennonite Choir

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thoughtful Thursdays ~ Christian Writers Guild Courses

I will forever be thankful for the four months I spent taking Fiction that Sells through the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.

I'm talking about that today over at The Write Conversation. Please stop by and say hello!