Guest Post

It Really Is Like Riding A Bike

By Michelle Van Loon

Michelle Van Loon picToday, I’d like to introduce Michelle Van Loon as guest blogger for Holy Week. In 2016, NavPress will publish her new book focusing on the connections between Jewish traditions and our Christian faith.

Michelle’s deeply-rooted faith in Christ and secular Jewish heritage are apparent in her creative, carefully-crafted storytelling.

A focus on spiritual formation and education shines through her writing credits, which include two books about the parables, articles in four packaged devotional projects, regular contributions to Christianity Today’s popular Her.meneutics blog for women and blogging for the Patheos.com Evangelical channel. She has facilitated a number of retreats, and has over fifteen years of mentoring relationships with younger women.

Visit her web site at www.michellevanloon.com

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If I wrote a job description for myself as a writer, it would include the following requirements:

  1. Must appreciate wearing pajamas to work.
  2. Must relish the battery-acid flavor of twice-reheated room temperature coffee. Room temperature Diet Coke is an acceptable alternative.
  3. Must know how to source and study each week’s most popular cat videos as a deadline approaches.
  4. Must remember.

Many writers affirm some variation of numbers one through three on this list. And number four seems obvious, right? Every job requires those doing it to remember something. Firefighters need to remember how to turn on the hose. Oral surgeons need to know how much Novocain to use before they yank someone’s wisdom teeth. NASCAR drivers and middle-aged women like me need to remember where they put the car keys.

However, the work of a writer goes beyond retrieving information stored in their frontal lobe, though it most definitely includes it. It also requires the kind of remembering that kept me from falling off a bicycle in front of a group of teenagers a few years ago. I was counting on the principle of muscle memory in order to save myself from a bruised ego – and perhaps a bruised tailbone in the process.

I’d been asked to teach the church youth group about Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. It was my joy as a Jewish believer to share the story of the Passover Seder, a formal ceremonial meal retelling the miraculous account of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Exodus 1-14. As Jesus infused deeper meaning into a ritual in which he and his Jewish disciples had participated every year of their lives, he told his friends, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) The broken unleavened bread, or matzo, and after-dinner cup of wine became what we now call communion. Most of the teens admitted that when they heard those words “remember me”, they thought those words meant they needed to recall the Sunday School facts they knew about Jesus. I wanted to demonstrate that the kind of remembering to which he referred meant so much more.

As I wheeled the bike into the long room where the youth group met, I told them I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since my teens three decades earlier. I prayed a quick prayer (Lord, please don’t let me crash!), then mounted the bike and rode across the room. They cheered, and I let out a big sigh of relief. I explained that if they practice a specific motor skill throwing a ball or playing an instrument, the movement becomes embedded in your long-term memory and you’re able to do it without thinking about it. I told them told them that when God commanded his people to remember his deliverance via the Passover, the way in which they were to do so was via participation in this meal around a table. Everyone present tastes, touches, smells, imagines, re-enacts, sings and prays. Those at a Seder are meant to discover that they themselves are in the middle of the story as if it were happening in real time precisely because they’d been called upon to remember deeply and actively, at the muscle memory level. I told the teens that this is the kind of remembering Jesus had in mind when he applied the familiar Seder elements to himself.

The teaching illustration was a lot of fun, though I’ll confess I haven’t been on a bicycle since that day. I have every confidence that if I had to get on a bike today, I’d be able to ride it up the block, though I doubt I’d be able to do it hands-free like I did when I was at the peak of my bike-riding prowess when I was a kid.

Still, I’m confident my body remembers just how to balance and pedal. This kind of remembering has become an essential tool in my writing life. When I write, I recall facts and ideas from my frontal lobe in order to share them with my readers. But I also rely on the muscle memory embedded my body and experience in order to make those facts and ideas come alive in me. If I am in the middle of God’s story as if it is happening right this moment – because it is! – it is easy to invite my readers to join me there.

Pajamas, a fondness for room temperature coffee and cat videos are probably optional for writers. Remembering is essential.

Now, if only I could recall where I put my car keys.

 

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Give Thanks to God

http://www.gratisography.com/

There is a verse in scripture which sets out in bold relief the great besetting problem of the human race. It is Romans 1:21: ‘for even though we knew God…we did not give thanks.’ Astonishing! How can we actually know God and not give thanks? Scarcely a day passes in which we are not deluged by at least a hundred instances of God’s goodness to us. Thanksgiving ought to be the most natural of human reflexes, as spontaneous as drawing breath.

Doubtless there are a plethora of reasons why we do not feel thankful. Perhaps business is stressful, or marriage is disappointing, or parenting is unfulfilling, or health is deteriorating, or school is unrewarding. Or maybe we simply take for granted God’s goodness to us.

How important it is, then, to rehearse frequently all that God does for us. Only then will an unending torrent of thanksgiving be unleashed from our hearts. Nowhere is God’s goodness more compellingly set out in His word. Immerse yourself in what follows, luxuriate in the story of God’s grace to you. . . and be thankful!

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Who is like the Lord our God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth . . . and who stretches out the heavens like a curtain. How majestic is His name . . . When we consider His heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained, what are we that He should take thought of us?

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How To Stumble Onto Your Brand…

Erin Taylor Young has a remarkable gift for making her readers laugh out loud even as she’s delivering hard truths about living a life of faith. Her down-to-earth writing style invites readers into the books that God has given her and sends them away refreshed and assured that we’re not …

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Orphan Trains & Wild Stallions

by Allen Arnold I recently read about the unexpected publishing success of Orphan Train.  It’s a novel set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota. This fifth book from Christina Baker Kline has turned out to be a sleeper hit of the year, with more than one million copies sold. I’m …

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My Secret Writer’s Tool

Guest post by Jennifer Sienes Jennifer Sienes, one of Karen’s clients, is a talented fiction writer who according to editors has a gift for bringing out the emotional power of the scene. She was recently named as a finalist in the 2014 Genesis contest with her novel Redemption. You can find …

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How Entering a Writing Contest Just Might Change Your Life

Guest Post by Susan May Warren

Far East Russia in the middle of January has all the charm of a mausoleum. Our missionary family lived in a three-room flat on the ninth floor of a cookie-cutter apartment building that, to the untrained eye, resembled a recently shelled building in Chechnya. We had no running water during the day, no telephone line and the Siberian wind froze the windows shut, sheeting them with curlicues of frost.

Four children terrorized our 900 square foot flat, drag racing their tricycles down the hall, scattering their land-mine Legos and scribbling their names upon the walls like gulag prisoners. My husband too eagerly escaped to plant a church an hour from our city while I stayed to patrol the borders. Honestly, I felt like one of the captives.

At night, the wind howled against the panes and, locked in the now quiet house with the slumbering rabble-rousers…I wrote. I penned story after story of romance, adventure and suspense. My first was an epic tale of survival against a backdrop of war in 1940s Russia. The second, a story of a missionary fleeing a serial killer. Again, set in Russia.

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Knowing Discouragement’s End

A guest blog by Mesu Andrews

Mark Lowry is one of my favorite comedians. I heard one of his performances many years ago, and he quoted a single, profound phrase found 457 times in the King James Bible: “It came to pass…”

That’s it. That’s all.

It came…to pass.

And then he challenged the audience to remember those words the next time they faced an impossible situation, the depths of discouragement, or “a bout of constipation.” (Lowry’s words, not mine.)

I’ve needed that reminder during my writing journey: Discouragement will pass. And I decided if anyone could to teach me about discouragement, it was Brother Job. That poor guy lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and children—and was left with a surly wife. Eee-gad!

So, I dove—headfirst—into the mire of Job’s whining and ranting. After reading a few chapters , my life didn’t seem so awful! And I learned things everyone should know when they struggle with discouragement:

Know yourself Know your enemy Know your Champion

Know Yourself

The world says look inward to know ourselves, but Job 1 shows us how God knows us. Read the Lord’s description of His servant Job:

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job 1:8

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A Scrivener Flunky Weighs In

A Guest Post by Deborah Raney

I’m probably not the best spokesperson for Scrivener, the popular novel writing software program from Literature and Latte, because I certainly don’t use Scrivener to its maximum capabilities. I don’t even actually write my novel in Scrivener. I still use Pages––Mac’s version of Word––to write the manuscript, although I do copy the manuscript into the program once I have a final version, just to keep my project all in one place.

I also don’t know how to use Scrivener for formatting e-books, etc., so I’m truly not an expert on it. Yet. I do love the software enough that I have a tutorial I paid good money for on my desktop, and I hope to work through it as soon as I get my work in progress off to my editor.

Despite my lack of expertise with Scrivener, I am an enthusiastic fan of the software, and I can testify that it is a great program, even for those who haven’t yet figured out all the bells and whistles Scrivener has to offer.

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Overcome the Discouragement of Expectations

Guest post by Erin Taylor Young


This is Henry, our dog. Not my husband.

I love my husband. Really I do. But there are occasions I’m tempted to take a sharp, pointy pencil and stab him somewhere non-fatal. Especially when I’m torqued over my anemic word count, frustrated by a recent edit, or discouraged by yet another rejection.

I’m venting why, why, WHY, and my hubby turns into a fixer. Worse, he’s a fixer with a PhD, so when he tells me exactly what’s going on inside me and how to change it—apparently it’s some stupid cycle between my situation, my brain, and my emotions—he’s right. I hate that.

Can I not just have five minutes to wallow?

Sometimes that’s exactly what we need. You know, like a good mud bath. People pay money for that.

Then again, people also get sucked into mud bogs and are never seen again.

The difference is in knowing what you’re doing in the mud and how to get out when it’s time. Which means understanding that cycle between situation, brain, and emotion is actually helpful. I’ll give you the elevator pitch though, so your eyes don’t glaze over.

We have goals. We try to achieve them. We fail.

Then we feel rotten because the mismatch between our goals and our ability to achieve them creates frustration. This is perfectly normal, and in fact a GOOD THING because it compels us to adjust our methods or our goals, i.e. get a grip on reality.

Sometimes it’s easy. Like that six-figure book contract with an eighty-city tour? Give it up.

Sometimes adjusting our goals is hard, because what if we did everything right? We wrote a great book, we’d be giddy over a puny contract, and the manuscript went to pub board at three houses. Then got rejected.

Our perfectly normal frustration makes us wrack our brains to figure out what we could’ve done differently, or what we can change now. But there’s nothing. So our brains keep cycling until we exhaust ourselves straight into discouragement.

And that, my friends, is a bog we can drown in.

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What is Crowdfunding? Is it Right for You?

Guest post by Nicole O’Dell

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is all the rage these days. And it makes sense because a successful campaign guarantees a successful product (book) launch since the necessary sales happen upfront. Or at least enough so that what comes later is gravy. How awesome is that?

But it can be a horrifying prospect to take your idea and present it to the public for a vote. I recently launched my own, and it was so difficult to press the launch button on my campaign page. It’s been an exercise in humility to remind myself that the success or failure of this one campaign is not a referendum on my self-worth. As writers, we’ve all had that feeling a time or two, no?

Not only had I spent years building my ministry and working within my passion for the parent-teen relationship, but then I spent months, weeks, and hours and hours of time on various aspects of the campaign and the product. It’s personal. And it’s scary. Oh, so scary!

It can be very risky for several reasons.

1. It’s public. I’ve equated the launch of my crowdfunding campaign with the horror of walking into church naked. It’s vulnerable. It’s taking something that means a lot to you and laying it bare for the world to see it succeed or fail. Imagine if your book proposals and the responses of all who saw them where just splayed on a public site. Eeek!

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