Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Step Outside" a Guest Post by Staci Stallings

        It’s truly amazing to me how God puts certain understandings in my path.  I think I see clearly what He’s doing, what He’s done, and then click a new piece falls in and “Wow!” 
        Sometimes, there just is no other word for it.
        In a sermon today, Dr. Lee A. Simpson related the story of Abram.   This was a man who God had given a promise to.  God’s promise was that Abram would be the father of many nations, but as Abram got older, he looked around, and this thing that God had promised just was not happening.  And Abram began to question God and question the promise.  It began to look to Abram like God just didn’t know or understand how things worked down here on Earth.
        So Abram went into his tent, and he started praying and explaining to God that youth had passed him by.  He was no longer a young man.  In fact, he was old, and so was his wife, and this whole father of nations business was just not happening the way Abram had thought it would when God promised him this.
        Have you been there?  I know I have.  “God, I thought You were going to use my writing to touch other people’s lives.  What’s up with that?  I feel like I sit here and I do all of this stuff, and what’s it even doing?  Is it helping anybody?  Because frankly I don’t see it.  I don’t see Your plan.  I don’t see You in this like I thought I would.”
        Then (I love this), God said two words to Abram.  “Step outside.”
        You see, Abram was in his tent--his own little world.  In that tent he was safe.  He probably had his bowl right by his favorite mat—you know like that glass you have right by your favorite chair.  He probably had all of his little knick-knacks just so and his schedule down pat.  And then God came and said, “Step outside.”
        Step outside YOUR comfort zone.  Step outside YOUR plans.  Step outside what YOU think is possible, and when you do, you will step into MY world.
        As Abram came out of the tent of his own limited experiences, his own limited vision, his own limited perspective, he saw the stars above him, and God said, “Count them.”
        Understand now, Abram had been used to praying in his tent.  He didn’t think about what was outside.  So the stars were amazing to behold.  “Lord, if I cannot count this multitude of stars.”
        The lesson then went on that God wanted Abram not to just count the stars that he could see but also the ones he couldn't see.  Because the truth is, there multitudes and multitudes of stars that we can't even see to count as well.  As Dr. Simpson says, “God is asking you to count the stars you can see, and the ones you can only imagine…”
         Ah, that’s beautiful.  Count the stars you can see and those you can only imagine.
         So my question to you is, are you inside that tent?  Are you comfortable where you are in the knowledge that you have, or are you ready to come when God calls you to step outside? 
         When you do, I challenge you to count the stars—your blessings, those things God has put into your life to bring His light and His love to a darkened world through you.  And then, breathe, and begin to also count the stars that you cannot see, those that only He can right now.
         As you may know, Abram went on to become Abraham, truly the father of many nations, but it took stepping out of his tent, out of his comfort zone for him to begin to see the world God wanted to give him.

         So, step outside… You will be amazed at what God has in store for you!
Copyright Staci Stallings, 2008

Staci Stallings is a Contemporary Christian author and the founder of Grace & Faith Author Connection.  The full line of Staci's books, which include Contemporary Romance, Bible Studies, and short story collections can be found at:  http://stacistallings.wordpress.com
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Grey Rainy Days

I love grey rainy days... mostly because they were, more often than not, the only things I would see growing up. I grew up in the Willammette Valley of Western Oregon, a place that includes Eugene, Salem, and Portland. A place where the grass is, literally, always green (except for a few month in the summer) and forests are so thick you could hike all day long and never see the sky. It rains so much that I now joke that I was born with webbed feet and gills.

We moved to Idaho in 2004 and the year in general, and winters especially, became exponentially drier. I came to love the "dry heat" as it was much easier on my joints than the humidity. This winter, especially, up until lat week, had only had negligible precipitation, it was the absolute driest winter I had ever experienced in my 31 years of living.

And I hated it. It was too foreign. I know that many around here in the Treasure Valley (yes, we traded one valley for another) do not appreciate the rain, but I do. Rain is soothing. The grass turns a special shade of green when watered by the rain. Rain gives us all an excuse to stay inside, drink cocoa, and curl up on the couch with a movie or good book.

I know that many of my friends and family still in Salem, Turner, and elsewhere are experiencing too much rain. The campground where I spent most of my summers growing up has water waist-high in places. My uncle's car was parked in a low-land parking lot and was flooded up to the windows. The house we lived in for 18 years, which nearly flooded in 1996, is still situated between two creeks.

To them, I say: Send it all over here. At 2500 feet above sea level instead of under 500, and snow pack and reservoirs low for the lack of snow and rain, we have much less standing water than you.

Monday, January 16, 2012

An End to Pain

Nine more days. The countdown has begun. After six months of testing and diagnostics and, off and on, 10 years of treatment, it is very likely the pain will go away, at least for a time, in nine more days.

Living in chronic pain is no easy task. I should know--a fall down a staircase when I was 10 inducted me into this special club. After 21 years of living with chronic low back pain (and developing quite the tolerance for the stuff), the prospect of living a back-pain-free life makes me almost delirious.

In deference to my pain, I have had to make lifestyle choices that some have called "unhealthy." I have lived a very sedentary lifestyle in order to avoid more pain than is absolutely necessary. But I don't enjoy my life as it is right now.

I want to be able to roughhouse with my 5-year-old and not pay for it for the rest of the day. I want to dance with him to his cartoons' goofy credits songs. I want to be able to do things with my family. I want to be able to go on road trips and camp and hike and garden in the back yard without pain. In this culture of childhood obesity, and my family history of diabetes, I desperately don't want my son to pick up my sedentary lifestyle. I want to have a body that will let me exercise every day so I can lose weight and feel even better. I want to be able to clean the entire house in one day, rather than in stages over weeks. I don't want to have to ask my husband, when he gets home from a long day of work, if he could do the dishes for me because I wasn't able to get to it. I want to be able to go all day long without having to rest my back for a few hours. I don't want to get upset when my son crawls into bed with us at night because it causes even more pain the next day. I don't want to live on pain killers and muscle relaxers that simply knock me out. My son deserves a better mom and my husband deserves a better wife than that.

The writers of the show House have my utmost respect. They have done their research and recognize that those of us who live in chronic pain simply think differently. Hugh Laurie--who I have loved since he was "The Prince Regent" in Black Adder--does a superb job of capturing the desperation those of us who live with chronic pain feel.... we will do nearly anything in our power to just make the pain go away.

Fortunately, my pain should end--I have been told for anywhere from eight months to five years--without a Vicodin addiction and pushing away everyone around me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest Post: Daniel Lower

Thanks to Daniel Lower of Keyboard Theologians for the guest post today!


I should probably start by saying: "I'm not Rikki. I'm her cousin Dan, who normally blogs on a thing called Keyboard Theologians."

So I was told by my cousin, who writes this thing, that I could guest post if I wanted.

To paraphrase that great literary mystic G.K. Chesterton, it may have been an incautious suggestion to make to a person ready to write blog posts upon the feeblest provocation.

Now I can't really talk much to young adult Christian fiction. Most of my experience of that was the Wally McDoogle series from Bill Myers, which was awesome. I think I also read some guy whose last name was Lewis, on occasion.

But I digress.

Christian fiction! More recently than my childhood, I've read two Chestertonian novels, three Graham Greene books and five of six novels by Walker Percy. One Flannery O'Connor, and Young's The Shack, and I reread one from that Lewis guy. I should warn that Chesterton's really the only one of those three first writers that is safely readable by those in their teens, though if the current canon of high school lit is any indicator, nobody's really got any right to object to high schoolers reading the lighter of Percy and Greene's works. Just don't expect them to get theology.

While I've written one or two things you could call Christian fiction I'm going to make three observations about the things I've found inspiring and good in Christian fiction. Essentially, I'm going to talk about, on an inspirational/theological level, what makes these authors awesome.

(1) Good Christian characters are sinful, not perfect or evil. But they are believing Christians.

The world already suspects enough that we Christians are people who clean the outside of our bowls and leave the insides dirty. An unbelieving world will not find truly saintly believers believable--at least, not if the whole world seems to be full of them.

That said, if all our Christian characters never strive for Sainthood, if they're not trying to "be perfect" as Our Heavenly Father is, this would be equally flawed, and is probably the biggest danger of a writer like Greene.

Note that there can be something edifying about a bad believing Christian in a novel, or even an evil one. But I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that for YA fiction, it's probably best to keep at least one good example front and center.

(2) God is found throughout the book.

That may be kind of an odd phrase.

What I mean is, there should be a pretty consistent and continual presence of grace. If the book comes from a Christian perspective, one will notice this in the book as a whole, but not only there, but fairly consistently throughout. I'm certain there are exceptions, but the only big one coming to mind is if something near the end of a novel makes you realize just how providential everything was behind the scenes. While he's not necessarily the world's most Christian author, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is the only work I have under my reading belt that really seemed to do this. But I do feel it is good, if a novel reflects the faith, if it does so consistently, not coming and going chapter-to-chapter.

(3) A reader experiences a moment of the grace and/or the beauty of God in the reading.

This one's probably the most dangerously subjective of the three, but I think we've all had it. There will be moments, of God's beauty, or grace, or both, that a book finds ways to communicate to us. And though, due to the nature of the thing, I can't quite communicate how it feels to me, it's almost as if the work becomes a bit sacramental, and pulls me out of the almost dream-like state of living for a second, or into a place of understanding. Some variations make you want to laugh at the moment of grace or beauty. Others will make you want to cry.

Examples of books that do these things:

G.K. Chesterton:

The Man Who Was Thursday

Graham Greene:

The End of the Affair
The Power and the Glory

Walker Percy:

The Last Gentleman
Love in the Ruins

C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Hopefully these are generalized enough for people to get stuff out of even if they haven't read the authors in question, but they are good authors and were orthodox, if not always good, Christians in their time, so they're definitely not bad reading.

It's definitely true that not every Christian book I've read has done all three of these; while I consider Walker Percy a fantastic author, one or two of his novels lost me on point number two, and one lost me on points two and three. Graham Greene rode the line in Brighton Rock of just how bad of Catholics his characters can be.

In fact, I'm not sure if I can name a book right now that I can confidently say did all three of these things beginning to end, flawlessly, though the writers I've been putting out there in this post definitely came close.

Anyway, there's my thoughts. Hopefully they were somewhat useful. I highly recommend that anyone aspiring to good Christian fiction or even good fiction in general go out and read that list of books; if nothing else they ought to make you think.