Friday, January 25, 2013

Be thankful in all things!

Consider it all joy . . .  whenever we face trials of many kinds, because testing of our faith produces many beneficial consequences, like patience, endurance, character, and hope. But the awkward reality of trials is they often involve suffering, and in spite of the benefits, there is no long line to sign up for suffering. James, the brother of Jesus, suggests our trials will produce joy in us; even so, we are much more likely to run from trials than embrace them. Run as we might, trials and suffering are as inevitable as rain.

My most interesting friends are interesting because their testimonies involve suffering. Talk to anyone who lived through unimaginable trials, and their stories of "overcoming" are tinted with joy of experiencing a  revelation of Something infinitely bigger than ourselves. 

I have a friend from my school days, back from fifth grade. After high school graduation, my contact with Ann was confined to high school reunions every five years. (Even though I live five hours away, I never miss a reunion.) One reunion, about twelve years ago, Ann was minus her left arm, all the way up to the shoulder. But an eight year battle with an aggressive cancer hadn't stolen her spirit. She was her usually bubbly self, hugging everyone with one arm, as if nothing had changed. A lot had changed for Ann.

When I finally had a moment with Ann alone, I expressed my compassion for her loss. Her words surprised me. "Debbie, it was the best thing that could have happened to me."

Now obviously, losing her arm didn't cause Ann's joy, otherwise we would all be lopping off our limbs! What I recognized in Ann was something much deeper than the tragic loss of her arm.  Something had changed Ann, for the better. She didn't have self-pity, but a hope that is other-worldly.

Now with social media, I "speak" with Ann regularly.  I had the pleasure to talk to Ann on the phone this week. Her life has been marked by trials, more than her share. And yet, there is pure joy. She speaks freely of God and her faith. And her transformed life through seemingly unbearable hardships. 

Does Ann have it all together? No. Neither do I! (If you do, we need to talk!)

For many, the deal breaker for belief in a caring, personal God, is suffering. How could a loving God allow suffering? Yet, if we didn't face trials, how could we be compassionate to others who have? How could we "feel" their pain?  Would we feel compelled to encourage others if we never needed a kind word of encouragement ourselves? Our trials and suffering bond us to one another, as well as to God.

Did God cause Ann to lose her arm, or 911, or fill-in-the-blank with your own tragedy? I don't believe God causes these incidents to punish us, but He allows them, and shows up in the pain. When we have hit rock bottom, God is always there, when often, no one else is. 

Paradoxically, the moments in our lives that bring us indescribable joy, are not the day we finally bought that dream house, or landed that lucrative job, or anything else that we might have expected to finally be the ultimate producer of joy. These moments don't last as long as we would expect, nor give us the joy we had hoped for. 

Today, consider writing your own testimony  Ponder your own personal suffering and how it changed you. 

God tells us to be thankful in all things. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If you write it, they will read, conclusion

Before I continue, I need to clarify that Bruce and I are not rich. Bruce, a state employee, has an average paying job for our area. I wish I had an average paying job—my pay as a part-time substitute teacher with occasional art jobs is far below poverty level! But we have been frugal and have never spent money we didn't have. My runaway expenditures for the book suddenly made me feel out-of-control with my spending. But hadn't God led me here? 

Miracles are easy to dismiss, unless you have experienced one. Then you recognize them everywhere! The recognition is a blessing!

Bruce's grandfather died in 1978, before we were married. He and Bruce weren't particularly close, because Edward had divorced Bruce's beloved Gigi in the 1940's to marry another woman, Ruth. We didn't have much contact with Ruth, who survived her husband 34 years. Ruth died last summer at the age of 101. Gigi died two years earlier at the age of 104! The man could pick women with longevity! 

Shortly after I had committed to the publication of the book, Bruce got a letter from the executor of Ruth's estate stating that he was to share Edward's bank stock with his sister. His share? Just over $5,000! The amount raised the hair on my arms. It was the same amount I first committed to the publishing of  my book. God had been faithful! I was euphoric, and encouraged. 

Two weeks later he got a letter from the attorney, revealing that the original letter contained an error. I had thought it odd that one parcel of stock contained 174 shares and the second parcel contained  1.078 shares. The truth was that the decimal should have been a comma. I grabbed my calculator and was stunned by the displayed numbers. Bruce's share was just over $40,000 instead of $5,000. It would pay for all of the expenditures for the book, as well as Roma's tuition at FUMA. Now God was showing off!What's Bruce's is ours, and what's mine, well there isn't enough to go around. Of course, Bruce was more than willing to use "our" money to pay these expenses. 

It was at this point that I realized that the book belonged to God to use as He saw fit. It had been bought and paid for. I would be the "caretaker"of the book. The consequences of the book would be God's job. And all profits will go to orphan care. The honor of being the caretaker of God's story relieves me of the pressure and responsibility to make sure the story is read by mass numbers. God will make sure that those He wants to read it will.

Einstein said "coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." I don't think God wants to remain anonymous! I think He wants to be recognized and glorified. (There was obviously a LOT that Einstein didn't understand about God.) G. K. Chesterton said "coincidences are spiritual puns." I like that better. In order to "get it" they require some thoughtful insight.  
Or experience with miracles. 

So I write, to the Glory of God! 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If you write it, they will read, part two

Who has the disposable income to shell out $5–$10,000 to self-publish a book? (Maybe a poor choice, calling it "disposable," as if it is being thrown away!) Roma's tuition at Fork Union Military Academy for his second and final year, was $30,000. That cost PLUS a book venture in one year?  I started praying for clarity about money!

"Haven't I already given you this money," seemed to be God's reply. It was true. When we sold our house in 2007, we did so without an agent in a market where nothing was selling, and the prices were plummeting. Almost miraculously our house sold to a family with an adopted Russian child, in case we should miss God's hand in the transaction! (And a couple of other very interesting "coincidences" (as though there are such things! But that is another story.)  Without a realtor, we saved over $30,000 in realtor commissions. Then three years later, we decided to sell land in the Durham-Chapel Hill (N.C.) area that we had bought in 1980, to buy property in West Virginia. Again, we prayed, and God showed up. Instead of having to involve a realtor, a buyer contacted us! After seeing the logo on the truck, a man actually stopped the appraiser to ask what property was for sale, looked us up on the county tax assessor, sent Bruce an email, hoping it was the Bruce Michael who owned property in the area. (You can't make this stuff up.) We saved over $30,000, again, in realtor fees. Plus, the appraisal was much higher than we had hoped. And because another perspective buyer appeared, the competition allowed us to get full appraisal price. The "over $60,000" combined amount was not lost on me—it was two years of tuition at FUMA, even though, at the time we didn't know Roma was going to have such an expensive high school experience!

Yeah, God had provided money for us over the years. But since we didn't know about the Fork Union plans at the time, we hadn't set it aside in an account reserved for that. It had just reduced our loans at the time.

Then there was that amazing incident of opening the mail a few years ago, and finding a check for $20,000 from one of Bruce's generous cousins and his wife, saying that God had put it on their hearts to give us the money. We were infinitely thankful and shocked to put it mildly. We did bank that money, and Roma's first year at Fork Union was not a financial hardship because of it. But how would we pay for another year? Especially now with this crazy idea about publishing a book. There was no way. But in one of those heightened awareness kind of God moments, I said yes to my friends who were gathered in my family room one evening when the conversation  took a wild turn toward my book. The next day, after sending my unsuspecting husband an email asking if he would divorce me if I paid to self-published the book, and receiving what I loosely interpreted as a no, I called and committed a little over $5000 to a basic package at Inspiring Voices, a division of Guideposts Books.

Then there was an "offer" the additional optional fees for publicity. Another $5000 plus. Should I spend it? I hadn't expected that fee. There would be the cost of buying books on top of that. How many books would I have to sell to recoup my expenses? I remembered the agent's warning—if I self-published, I likely wouldn't sell many copies.

But I felt God's involvement, even though I was going to be spending $40,000 in 2012 on Roma's school and a book about him. I asked friends for prayers. One close friend who read the manuscript and who had lived through the adoption adventure with me, sent me an email and asked me to consider three questions: 1) Who is the main character of the book, 2) to whom does the book bring glory, and 3) whose money was I using for the book? Of course, the answer to all three questions was God. It was a leap of faith to call with the go-ahead for the publicity campaign.

I have gone way over my word count for today, so please tune in for what Paul Harvey would say is, "the rest of the story" . . .

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If you write it, they will read, part one

My next few posts will be dedicated to telling the stories behind the publication of But the Greatest of These is Love. They are awesome details about the God who continually pursues me. I am pretty oblivious and stubborn, so He has his hands full!

Back to the book . . . Any new author's dream is to find a successful literary agent who will represent her book, otherwise publication is all but impossible. I had written a great book, I had polished, and shared, taken suggestions, edited, and polished, and repeated the process. Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to represent my magnum opus?  After a couple of years getting form rejection letters in return email, I finally got some encouragement. I saved this one which represeted a moral victory. I have deleted a sentence here and there, for brevity, but the words are hers.

"Thank you so much for contacting ___ Literary Agency. You certainly do have a poignant story that is a beautiful tribute to God's amazing love, and the power of the human spirit. I'm sure that it could be inspiring to many.

Unfortunately, having a valuable story isn't enough to get a book published these days. Agents are faced with a big dilemma in taking on unknown authors with good books. Publishers want a "platform". Basically, they want an author who has the ability to help them move books. Begin to see yourself as an author/speaker with a message to share about the amazing ways God uses ordinary people to accomplish His mission. This way you will begin to build yourself a platform -- speaking in churches and other organizations.

Publishers want to see what the author is already doing to get their message out. If you could demonstrate, in you book proposal, that you have a strong and growing platform, I could likely make sure this got a good look at the publishing houses. If not, I would strongly recommend that you take the time and effort needed to build your platform (even if it takes a year or two). Without this, no matter how good or helpful the book is, publishers are simply not giving even good books the time of day (sorry to say). Your next option is to self publish and sell the books yourself, which many authors are doing  (but you likely won't sell many copies). 

I encourage you to work on building a platform, and continue seeking representation and/or publication. I truly hope God provides a way for you to have this project published."

I have  emboldened the words that jumped off the page at me: "a year or two." A finished, ready-to-read book had been my mother's prayer for years already. I was afraid she wouldn't live long enough for me to establish a "platform," even if I knew what a "platform" was!

Self-publishing had never been an option for me. Her letter echoed in my mind for the next year, particularly the "you won't sell many copies."

Well, what came to me one day when I was overwhelmed trying to start a blog, and learn to tweet, figure out an appealing platform, and do it in a way to gain followers, yesterday--I had a sudden and foreign thought: (I knew from experience where these "random" thoughts come from.) God is in control of this project. If He wants people to read the book, He will make a way for it to happen. He will do it, not a great agent, not my marvelous tweeting abilities (certainly not that!), not a captivating "platform." God will make it happen. Then, in Him only can I boast. He had clearly been behind, or in front of, the writing of the book. To what end? So people would read it. So, the steps toward self-publishing began.

Stay tuned. God is awesome! Continue here.