Archive for July, 2014

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Put Down the Mask

July 31, 2014
One of my first Facebook profile pictures, before I decided it was okay to show my real face online.

One of my first Facebook profile pictures, before I decided I felt safe enough showing my real face online.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about how everyone is insecure.  There are few exceptions.  Everyone puts up a front to hide the fact that they don’t like who they are, or what they’ve done, or the mess their lives are.  Either we hide our deepest flaws, or we glorify them and hold them up like proud signs.  “Hey, this is who I am.  Deal with it.”

For some of us the deception or pride runs so deep that even we are convinced of our own got-it-togetherness.  Then when our insufficiency or our hidden sin rears its ugly head, we panic. What? That’s not me! No, I’m not normally like that!

In this era of social media, it’s even more painfully obvious that everyone’s putting up a facade.  People are all in competition to put the best face forward, out-yell everyone else, wave their proud signs highest.  (This is where the Mommy Wars come from, too.)  If we’re all in chains, at least I’m shuffling around faster than the person next to me, right?  Like the Pharisee we all like to think in our hearts, “I might not be the best in the world…but at least I’m better than that guy!  That’s got to count for something.”

Except it really doesn’t.

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But God gives grace to the humble.  He covers those who weep that they can no longer hide their faces.  He lifts up those who are too weary to go on shuffling, and breaks their chains.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
– Matthew 5:3-6

In Christ we can stop striving!

[Following a list of sinners] – “And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:11

If we are cleansed in Him, we have no reason to hide ourselves any longer.  We are free to pull off our masks and soak in the sunlight on our bare faces, and put down those heavy signs and rest our tired arms.  We can rest.

We can open up our souls to others without shame, and show our faces without fear, because this isn’t a beauty pageant anymore.  We’re not in a race, and nobody’s going to knock us down the ladder.  We are safe, purified, and loved.

We no longer need to identify ourselves with our parenting methods, our handiwork, our bad history, our depravity, our perfectionism, or our desperate attempts at righteousness.  We are free to be our true selves!  No more putting down others to make sure we aren’t on the bottom of the heap.  No more competitions.  No more disguises.  There is no need for a disguise! – our souls are becoming beautiful from the inside out as we follow a beautiful Savior.  No more cumbersome props.  No more chains dragging behind us.

Weep for your sins…because He is not judging you.  Put them down…because you don’t need them to define you.  Hold out your empty hands…because He will fill them.

In Christ we can show our true souls because unlike our mortal body, they are not deteriorating and crumbling away.  We are becoming newer every day.  Like Moses’ face when he descended Mount Sinai, our faces shine ever brighter with the brilliant, reflected glory of God.  We are being made like Him.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 3:17-18

A recent Facebook profile picture - zits, baby weight, and all.  :)

For contrast – a recent Facebook profile picture.  Who cares about baby weight and acne when you have joy?  🙂

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If you are encouraged by any of my posts, please consider sharing them!  🙂

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Flash Fiction: Scorpion Bride

July 24, 2014

I love writing prompts, because I never know what the muse is going to throw at me!

This week I took part in the Speculative Faith 2014 Summer Writing Prompt Challenge.  My entry turned out to work decently as a piece of flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words).  The whole time I worked on it, I snickered to myself…  It’s so unlike the science-fiction I normally write, and I found it hilariously cheesy.  But it amused and shocked me, so I hope it does the same for you.  🙂

I also love these contests because it’s fun to see how different all the entries are – everyone has a unique take on it.  It’s closed to submissions now, but if you like reading sci-fi and fantasy, please go to the contest page, and vote on your favorite entries!  (There is a $25 gift card for the winner.)

The first sentence is the prompt from the contest.  The rest is me…blame the crazy muse!

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Scorpion Bride

Flash fiction by Bethany A. Jennings

The way Tag judged his circumstances, he could die if he stayed or die if he left.

Well, he couldn’t leave now.  The door slammed, flicked by the monster’s stinger-heavy, unfurling tail.

Not wife.  Monster.  He couldn’t bring himself to think “wife” anymore.

She flashed one of her alluring smiles, but now fangs glinted between her lips.  The bridal gown’s skirt split around the girth of her swollen, snake-like belly.

They said shifter-scorpion venom killed in thirteen minutes.

Tag choked.  “Why?”

“I wondered that,” she crooned.  “Why you?  Why did the universe bestow this much power on such an unlikely candidate?”

Superhuman data-control abilities were a pathetic defense against shape-shifting wives.  “The powers don’t do me much good now, do they?”  Tag clenched his fists.  “You lied to me!”

“Of course they do you good!”  The shifter-scorpion lounged onto the bed, tail flicking.  “The powers will keep you alive! – because they will get me what I want.”

Tag’s mouth soured.  She wasn’t hungry – she was power-hungry.  He wondered how painful death would be.  “In that case, you’ll have to use your plan B…killing me, right?”

“Wrong!”  She reached into the elaborate sculpture of her hair, and pulled a micro-dermic needle from between the jeweled hairpins.  “Ever heard of Morsian mind-control serum?”

Fear punched Tag in the chest.  Four star systems relied on him for digital security.  Eighty-billion people.  He felt his entire soul draining, leaving behind nothing but the emptiness of fear and cold certainty.  It was time to die.

He’d chance it with the stinger.

Tag took a flying leap at the door.  The shifter’s tail lashed out, whipped around him, dragged him to the bed.  Tag’s head slammed against the footboard.

In a fog of ringing pain, Tag dug his fists into the sheets as the needle stabbed his throat.

The shifter-scorpion leaned over him with smiling triumph.  “Happy wedding day, Tag.”

The End

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Poor dude.  With more space to write, I would get him out of there, but alas, with a limit of 300 words I only had time to display the horror of his fate.  *maniacal writer laugh*

I hope to share more flash fiction here on my blog, in the future!  I’m just beginning to learn this style of extremely short stories, and they are lots of fun to write.

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Do Unto Others – Kids Included

July 17, 2014

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I find I go through phases where I use a particular “mom” phrase regularly, multiple times a day.  Phrases like, “Because I said so,” or, “Where do we draw?  PAPER ONLY,” or “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”

I find myself saying that last one a lot, because my older two kids are getting to an age when their play is less independent, and…let’s say they haven’t yet mastered cooperative play.  There’s a lot of toy snatching, toy hoarding, yelling, and crying these days.

This week one of my children grabbed all the play silverware and wasn’t allowing the other to have any. I explained again that we need to treat others the way we’d like them to treat us.  When this had no effect, I wrested all the silverware pieces away and held them out of reach.  “Look,” I said.

The culprit protested furiously.

“Do you like this?  Are you happy that I took away all the silverware?”

“YES!”

“You like it when I take away the silverware and don’t let you have any?”

“YES!”  Angry sobs.

Clearly this object lesson wasn’t working at the moment.  I put the silverware down, wearily repeating my first point about the golden rule and why it’s important to love others as God has loved us.

As the kids returned to playing (thankfully, more harmoniously than before), I pondered that rule.  How often I fall short of following Jesus’ command when it comes to my little ones!

I don’t want to be shouted at when I do something wrong.

I don’t want anyone to snap at me.

I don’t want anyone to abruptly take things out of my hands and say, “Hey, you’re not supposed to have that.”

I don’t want people to grit their teeth at me and growl, “How many times have I told you…?”

I don’t want to watch people eat something tasty and be told, “Sorry, you already had your snack.”

I don’t wish to be excluded, or ignored.

I want people to give me the benefit of the doubt before they jump to conclusions about my behavior.

There are so many things we do to our children that we would hate if someone did them to us.

Certainly, as parents, we have a responsibility to discipline and teach them, and they don’t always like that.  No one enjoys being punished or told they were wrong, but we’d all appreciate it in the long run if a friend pulled us aside and pointed out the cliff we were about to run over.  We are all in danger of losing ourselves in the Jungle of Selfishness, or sinking into the Quicksand of Greed, or some equally loveless place.  As my kids’ most direct authority figure, I need to discipline them, and train them to fight their own battles against sin.  They don’t enjoy that, but they do need it.

And I don’t like having my sin and hypocrisy shoved in my face daily by parenting, but boy, do I need that!  😉

Discipline is a necessary unpleasantry, for sure, but is only one part of the big picture.

This week I’m taking a closer look at the way I react to my children.  As I did to the greedy silverware-snatcher, I’m holding my own behavior over my head and asking, “What if I was on the receiving end of this?”

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This has ramifications to so much more than whether I yell or speak more quietly, and it will continue to have ramifications all the way into their adulthood, whether I’m parenting teens, toddlers, tweens, or any age in between.

How do I instruct them?  Will I order them about with blunt commands, or will I ask kindly (even up to seventy times seven)?  Will I tell them what to think, or will I share all the information I have and encourage them to think about it for themselves?  Will I scold, or will I exhort?  Will I threaten my despair over them, or will I voice my hope in them?

I know which of those things I would want, if I was in their place!

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.  Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” – our Lord Jesus, Luke 6:27-31

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” – verses 37-38

How far we fall short.  We apply the famous “love” passage often to how we interact with our spouse, but do we think about it in regard to our children as well?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

As parents we fail all these “tests” regularly, sometimes moment by moment.

I’m so thankful for a powerful God that saves, who washes me clean, and who has my children in His almighty hands and is doing a wise and perfect work in their lives: through me, despite me, and sometimes in spite of me!  😉  And I am thankful that through Christ, I am pushing forward toward perfection.  There is always hope for me, because God has claimed me for His child, and His love never, ever fails.

“Not that I have already obtained this [resurrection] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me His own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” – Philippians 3:12-16

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What especially hurts you, or tears you down?  Do you consider if you do that same thing to others, maybe even your children?

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Simmer Starters – July 11, 2014

July 12, 2014

Many things have simmered in my mind this week – but boiling at high heat on the front burner is my novel, which consumes massive amounts of my mental energy every day!  This is fantastic for me; any time when I’m inspired to write is a good time for me.  I’m scrapping the current draft and starting over, because I realized that some elements I brought into the new draft were complicating the story and weighing it down.  My idea was for this draft to be a leaner, meaner version of the previous one, so what I have isn’t working for me.  Time for a do-over!

Because I’m pouring so much thought into the book, I haven’t had much time to think about a blog post this week.  Instead of serving up some half-baked, thrown-together post, I decided to simply share a few of the things I’ve been thinking about, and the links that prompted them.  Obviously these articles were not written by me and don’t represent my opinions on the topics, but they are things that got my mind to simmering.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any or all of them if you check them out!  Some of my thoughts may become full posts here, once fully-fleshed out.

Writing – Do You Know the Answer to Your Story’s Most Important Question? – How can I make the main question of my book clear from the get-go and rivet readers from the beginning to the end?

Parenting – I am Ryland – the story of a male-identifying girl who didn’t transition – In what ways can I encourage my children to appreciate and rejoice in the gender God made them, and at the same time eschew silly gender stereotypes (like “trucks are for boys” or “purple is a girl color”) and give them freedom to enjoy the things they like?

Theology The Case for Annihilationism – Is Hell eternal, or does God utterly destroy the wicked, until they are gone entirely?  I’ve always been taught Hell’s suffering is as eternal as Heaven’s joy, but this interesting article really challenged that for me and I’m eager to study more about this topic from both viewpoints.  I don’t wish to be contentious or start theological arguments, and I considered leaving this topic out of my list here, but it’s something I have thought about a lot this week and I felt it would be most honest to include it here.

Womanhood Before and after shots of a young woman who beat anorexia (pardon her language in spots) – When will we stop idolizing ultra-thin figures as the ultimate standard and bottom line for beauty?  Why do so many women hate (and hurt!) their perfectly normal, healthy, and beautiful bodies, only because they are not as thin as someone else?  Body image issues are something I think about a lot, because I have dear friends who have struggled with hating their bodies, and I thought this photo comparison was bold and holds an important message.

FREE Fiction! – Okay, this isn’t a musing…it’s a shameless plug for some free e-books that were written by my friend and crit partner!  K.M. Carroll’s urban fantasy novel, Storm Chaseand her werewolf novella, Turnedare currently free on Smashwords (click the links) when you use the coupon code “SW100”.  Turned is a sweet romance story that reminds me of both Harry Potter and Jane Austen at the same time; it’s a quick read and I enjoyed it very much.  Storm Chase is up there with my favorite books – awesome character relationships, gripping story, laugh out loud funny moments, epic magical battles, and such a fascinating, multi-layered, creative story-world.  Check it out!  😀

I’m sorry I don’t have more “crafted” thoughts to share this week.  I know there are many of you who check this blog and I’m so thankful to you for following regularly and joining me in my musings!  Hopefully next week I’ll be back with something more substantial.

Now, please pardon me as my story whisks me away again…wheeeeee!

Do you have opinions or advice on any of these topics?  Which one would you find most interesting for me to explore in a future post?

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Self-Publishing is for Failures, Said Ignorant Teenage Me

July 3, 2014

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“Have you thought about self-publishing?”

Years ago, I took that question as an insult.

Self-publishing, I thought, was for wannabes who were arrogant enough to reject the professional judgment of the Great Guardians of Literary Quality and put their drivel out there anyway.  If my book was not worthy of traditional publishing, I thought, I would rather let it rot than shove it in the world’s face in all its worthlessness. Better to accept my work’s inferiority than delude myself, was my reasoning.

To suggest self-publishing to me back then was tantamount to saying, “Your book won’t make it. It belongs in the realm of failures.”

Yeah.  Lovely, right?

In my defense, back then I knew self-publishing as “vanity publishing.”  In other words, it was assumed that people did it for their vanity, and self-publishing companies were flattering gullible writers into thinking their books were good.  I don’t think it was just me; there was a general stigma against that publishing model in the industry as a whole.

I have learned many things since then.

“Traditional Publishing” Does Not Equal Quality

The ability to “make it” in big-name publishing says little about the true quality of a book.  In fact, it might not say anything about book’s enduring value!  Big companies put out a lot of poor literature every year for every truly excellent book that comes from them.  Thumbs-up from a large publishing house doesn’t guarantee a book’s goodness.

“Untraditional Publishing” Does Not Equal Poor Quality

Large presses are big businesses.  They have to turn a good-size profit to survive.  That means they aren’t judging your book only on its merit as a story, but also its ability to stand out in the constantly-shifting trends of the marketplace, how successfully they can market this concept, and whether it will engage its target audience.  A lot of factors have to be in place before a big company will take a risk on your story.  Failure to make it into a traditional publishing house does not automatically mean “this book is bad.”

There is a big difference between, “Silly publishers don’t understand my genius – I’ll do this by myself!” and the more thoughtful, calculated approach to self-publishing that I have actually seen among my writer friends.  Most self-published authors, I’ve learned, don’t do it because they got bruised by rejection and don’t bother to improve their craft, but because they know their stories have value, they have worked hard on them, and they want to share them with the world regardless of whether a publisher thinks they are hugely profitable.

Which brings me to my next point…

Self-Confidence Is Necessary

Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

– Orson Scott Card

Writers need to be teachable.  Most importantly we need to be humble, and recognize that when somebody says, “This needs work,” it probably needs work.  Some concepts and stories simply aren’t any good and should be shelved, not widely shared.  Some struggle with prose, some struggle with plot or character development.  Most writers need several years (I’ve heard four years, minimally) of learning the craft before producing anything that is generally considered publishable.  All this learning can make us assume over time that we shouldn’t be able to have confidence in our own projects, or ever look at them and say, “Yes, this works!  This is good!”

Even recently, I’ve said, “I can’t self-publish, personally, because I want that stamp of approval.  I need someone professional to tell me, ‘Yes, this story is worth sharing.’ ”

But think about it!

The first step in writing is taking the best ideas out of my brain and putting them on paper.  I have to determine whether to do that myself.  I then have to decide if those ideas are worth improving, editing, pouring out days, months, maybe years of my life to make them the best they can be.  I have to invest that time.  No one else is going to give me the thumbs-up for that, or tell me if it will be worth it.  I have to love my story that much.  For the author, just like a publishing house, each new story is a “risk.”

After confirming to themselves so many times, “Yes, this book is worth it,” can’t an author make that call when it comes time to publish the story, too?

I’ve already taken that risk.  For my trilogy, I have put in 8 years’ worth of love and counting.  Am I going to believe that if persistence fails and the traditional publishing door slams in my face, that’s God telling me my work has no value and it should rot in my computer forever?

God Gave Us These Books

All creativity comes from Him.  He put these wild adventures, people, and plot lines in my head.  I don’t mean I am divinely inspired, but He gave me the capacity for a head full of stories.  We all have our individual gifts, and I firmly believe that a mind full of teeming worlds is a gift.  If you have that, it needs to be used to His glory!

If I don’t tell the world these stories, no one will!  No one else ever can.  They come from my mind alone, and I think God means for me to share them, when they’re ready.

I still don’t plan to self-publish, for a variety of reasons.  It does cost a lot of upfront, especially if you are paying professionals to format your book, design a cover, and so forth.  I’m also not much of an entrepreneur.  And what can I say?  I’d love the thrill of being “picked” by an agent or publisher!  Nothing wrong with that.  Getting into a traditional large press is my goal, though I’d also consider reputable small presses.  If none of those bite, I’d probably try to get my foot in the door with another book, saving the trilogy for later in my career – or, knowing what I do now, I might self-publish that one!  It’s a little unusual and may not be right for any large presses.

But before my stories go anywhere, I have to cement myself in the knowledge that my gifts are from God and I need to hone them to His glory, and devote my efforts fully to Him.  If I have done that, and I love my books and know in my heart that they have value, why should the opinion of the traditional publishing world determine whether my story is a failure?

So the next time someone says to me, “Have you thought about self-publishing?”, instead of being offended, I’m going to take it as a compliment:

“Your book is important and the world needs to read it, no matter what it takes for that to happen.”

That’s a much nicer translation, wouldn’t you say?

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Writers out there – why did you publish the way you did, or why do you plan to publish that way, Lord willing?  Readers – does the publishing model of a book make a difference to you as a reader?