Have you ever lost someone dear to you?



The image above is a famous painting that is called "Repose on the Flight to Egypt". It is a hauntingly beautiful painting that perfectly typifies to me the hardship that Mary and Joseph endured in order to keep their newborn son, Jesus, safe from Herod.  The angel told them to flee into Egypt until Herod was dead. Can you imagine having to pick up and leave everything and everyone you know on such short notice? There were no Motel 6's or Holiday Inn's on the way there, nothing to ease their journey. Jesus was born into the harshest and most helpless of circumstances in order to set us free.

Christmas can be a season of joy but for many it only brings intense pain and regret. Many people I know have lost spouses, parents and friends this past year. For them, the pain of loss just becomes more intense during the holidays.



Have you ever lost someone dear/close to you? I have. When I was 22 I lost my first love, Barry, to a brain aneurysm in late November.

My dear friend, Vicki - lost her husband Henry who is featured in the first story of my book Make a Wish last January and this will be her first Christmas without him. She often posts how much she misses him and there is nothing I can say or do to comfort her.

A friend of mine whose daughter used to play with mine when they were little died last summer from lung cancer, leaving behind a husband and two grieving daughters.

A friend I know through social media lost her beloved husband in what can only be described as medical malpractice this past year.

Although all the people I have mentioned above are believers and have hope that they will all see their loved ones again in heaven, it doesn't take away the grief, pain and loneliness. I'm sure their family members and friends do all they can to involve them and keep them busy but there will come a time, perhaps late at night on Christmas Eve, when they will be grieving all alone.  Do you know anyone like this? Have you given any thought as to how you might help this time of year? Perhaps invite them over for dinner Christmas Eve or to a church service? Include them as extended family in your celebrations?

Tell me about the people in your lives who have gone through a heart-breaking loss of a loved one. I would love to hear all about it.


The Church in America


When I came to faith in Jesus Christ as 17 as a nonreligious Jew, it was because of a sense of obligation. Seeing how he suffered during the crucifixion scene in Jesus of Nazareth made me think “…if he can do that for me, the least I can do is to give Him my life!” and I did, without any real sense of personal sin or repentance.

I had barely begun to live my life at that age, and had, up to that time, basically been living a “clean” life.

The older I get, however, the more I realize that I am just as big a sinner to God as Hitler was. The sins I struggle with are different but no less egregious. In fact, Proverbs 6:16-19 lists the following sins which God seems to hate the most:

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 

A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among brethren.

I would hazard to say that the above are probably the most common forms of sin that are most prevalent in the average church congregation.

PRIDE – the sin that made Lucifer fall and become the enemy of God and our souls. (“a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” I know I’m guilty of this – thinking I’m better than those who commit the more obvious “sins”. It’s a constant battle to fight this prideful thought process.  As humans we are always seeking ways to justify ourselves. None of us would fare well if we stood to give an account before the Lord God almighty were it not for the blood of Jesus cleansing us of our sins!

LIAR“a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood”. Jesus said: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”

MURDER OF THE INNOCENT – what could be more innocent than a helpless unborn baby yet our society has stood by and allowed the wholesale slaughter of over 57 million babies since 1973 under the guise of “choice”? As long as we individually and as a society uphold “pro-choice” our hands are guilty of innocent blood.

WICKED/PLANS – "plans that are evil or morally bad in principle or practice; sinful; iniquitous"

Personally I think the last three go together to perfectly describe gossip mongers. I think it’s safe to say that gossip is one of the most prevalent, destructive and overlooked sins in the church. It destroys lives but it is hardly ever discussed from the pulpit. It would probably make too many people squirm.

I am as appalled by the Supreme Court’s decision about gay marriage now being the law of the land as anyone else. We should be fasting and praying for revival all right, just not for America but revival in THE CHURCH. The church in America has degraded to one of these mentioned in the Book of Revelation:

The Dead Church
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,

‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.[a] Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You[b] have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The Lukewarm Church

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,[g] I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’

I want Jesus to always be my first love. I do not want to compromise. I want to enter through the narrow gate.

There is a chilling warning in the book of Revelation. Take a look at the first word in this list and think on it. Do you think it may apply specifically to us in His church who abandon Christ when it “gets too hard”? We may be called in America to suffer incredible persecution for our faith. Will we be cowards and compromise or will we be faithful?


But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

With The end of the Shemitah Year (and Year of Jubilee) in sight as of this September, the four blood moons and events occurring all over the world, have you personally given any serious thought to just HOW CLOSE we may be to the rapture and the Great Tribulation? I don’t want to be here for that horrific time of God’s judgment.  I don’t want to harbor any attitudes or exhibit lazy, cowardly behavior that would result in my being left behind should the rapture occur before the last 7 years. I want my lamp to be filled with oil!

I am not a prophet. I don’t have dreams or visions but the handwriting is on the wall, folks. The church needs to get on her knees and repent! No more wealth and health being the focus of sermons. No more focusing on having the best life on this earth. We are living on borrowed time...

 

 

WHAT IF?

How do most authors come up with ideas for their books? For me the reasons are varied.

In the case of The Victor, I was inspired by an image that popped into my head while listening to Amy Grant's song called "Fairytale".  



Make a Wish was borne out of a desire to comfort a friend who was down in the dumps which then blossomed into 35 different wish fulfillment stories written as gifts for people I barely knew.



For In Plain Sight, I was challenged to write an "Amish" fiction. As a Southern California native, I wondered what I could possibly write that would be unique and original? After all I come from the land of "fruits and nuts". With that thought in mind, an image of crop circles popped into my brain. What would happen if crop circles showed up in Amish farmlands? How would they react?



A lot of ideas are born out of "what if" scenarios. I have just finished my fourth and latest manuscript; three years after I released In Plain Sight. It is a very personal "what if"? It's also a very frightening "what if" for me.

What if I lost my husband? The love of my life? The only man I've had a relationship with for over 30 years. What would I do? How would I go on? In reality I would probably curl up into a fetal position and grieve my heart out until I was committed to a mental institution but the idea became the inspiration for my most recent book which I have just submitted to an agent for traditional publication and it is also the most personal for me to date because it has my own family dynamic at play in the plot.


So now I wait and see if 1) the agent thinks it's good enough to submit to publishers, 2) a publisher will be willing to publish it, and 3) it reaches a big enough audience to bring attention to my previous works.

I never aspired to be an author, I just wanted to see The Victor in print after 30 years of writing and rewriting it. I enjoy writing...when I'm inspired to do so. Most of my writing talent has been spent on proof reading, formatting and editing scientific technical reports written by PhD types, commercial real estate offering memorandums and now property appraisals but when I'm inspired...I write stories.

I'm like Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke from the movie Out of Africa. Give me a few key words and I can make a story out of almost anything. It won't necessarily be a work of art but it will be a story.

So now I wait and see what happens. Below is the first few paragraphs of my fourth manuscript, what do you think?

PLAIN & SIMPLE
“The End of Normal”
 

            Rachel Winston watched the undulating, green Pennsylvania farmland roll past the glass of the train window, her heart leaden. The bucolic scenery was a stark contrast to the concrete jungle she had left behind in Southern California a few days earlier. The green fields were dotted with white farmhouses and picturesque barns, small herds of cows, goats, and sheep grazing peacefully.

            She grimaced to herself. The only thing missing was large letters floating in the sky that heralded WELCOME TO AMISH COUNTRY! Occasionally, she would catch a passing glimpse of an Amish buggy waiting at a train crossing and wondered if any of them held the man who was to pick them up at the station in Strasburg.
Rachel turned her gaze from the window and glanced at her teenage daughter, Karen, whose eyes were shut as she listened to her iPod. They had barely spoken for the entire three-day trip. Karen was still giving her the silent treatment, angry at being forced to leave her family, friends, and school behind. Rachel sighed in resignation. She had accepted the punishment as part of her motherly duty. She really didn't blame Karen for feeling the way she did. She was feeling pretty much the same way. If her mom had forced her to leave everything behind and move across the country against her will, she’d have been ticked off too. Financially, there had been no other choice, not after losing Kevin…her husband and the love of her life.
Rachel squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back the tears. A little over a year had passed since he had died in a car accident and still the pain was barely tolerable. She brushed away the tears that seeped down her cheeks, not wanting to give in to the grief when they were only ten minutes out from the station. Once she started she wouldn’t be able to stop and she didn’t want to frighten Mr. Miller with the spectacle of a totally unglued “English” woman having a breakdown in his buggy.
The train braked suddenly, slowing down and a voice came over the loudspeaker. “We will be pulling into Strasburg station in five minutes. Passengers, please make ready to disembark if this is your stop.”


How a lot of Aspiring Writers are like American Idol Contestants

I'm sure you've watched American Idol at least once, right? If you have, you can't help but notice how some contestants (and their supportive families) often boast about how great they are, how great they sing; how all their friends and family think they are the BOMB and should win American Idol hands down! Yet when it comes times to show their stuff in front of the judges they are...in a word...AWFUL. And when they are told so, they argue with the judges; successful professionals who have been in the music industry for years. When the camera follows them out after their disastrous audition, most of them are cursing at the camera and telling everyone how stupid the judges were not to pick them. These contestants are, in a word: DELUSIONAL.


By contrast, the contestants who truly do sing great are, as a general rule, humble, self-effacing and in no way braggadocios. They are grateful for the opportunity...they don't tell everyone how privileged they should be that they have deigned to share their talent.

Now, I am not a literary agent (but I have a couple of friends who are) or an acquisitions editor for Christian publishing but I often hear from them about numerous aspiring authors who frequently tell them that "God told them to write this story". They have commented that is the number one thing they hear from them. However, there is usually one big problem; a lot of these people can't write - they can't put a coherent sentence together and it's sheer agony for those who are tasked to edit it to get it into a format that is readable.

Some of these authors genuinely think that they have been handed down the manuscript directly from on high. Well if that is truly the case, then someone needs to tell the Lord to take an English Composition class. Why are people like this? Do they honestly think that it carries any weight with a literary agent if they tell them that? If anything, it has the exact opposite effect; they end up thinking the delusional author is nuts.


I was once asked to read a manuscript by a person who had been traditionally published a lot who had written a different kind of book under a different pen name. It was AWFUL. The characters behavior made no logical sense. By the time I got through 1/2 of it I was screaming with frustration. I then went and bought a book by this person under their traditional pen name and it was filled with the same unrealistic behavior by the main characters. (The heroine meets a stranger and immediately begins wondering what would happen were she and this person who comes from a different background to marry ten minutes after meeting him). Who thinks like that?! Only people who don't have a firm grip on reality. This author sold a lot of books - it just amazes me the editors never brought this kind of stuff up as something to be fixed because it was so out of character for the type of person they were writing about. If someone I had only met only briefly began to wonder about marrying me I would run in the opposite direction...fast.

Why are people so delusional about the things they create? Do you think it might be insecurity? I often wonder about my own writing journey, if I was under a delusion as well. I felt inspired to write my first book, The Victor, by an Amy Grant song called Fairy-tale 30 years ago. I even asked the Lord after I began writing it to give me a scripture to confirm that the idea was from Him. My heart's desire with the book was to share the Gospel with people who were like I used to be: didn't want to be witnessed to, wouldn't go to church, and wouldn't read the Bible. I came to the Lord as an atheistic Jew after seeing Jesus of Nazareth on television in 1977. I wanted my book to do for others what the television movie did for me. Immediately after I requested the scripture, into my head popped "Psalm 45". I looked it up and was flabbergasted because the first verse said this: "My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer." It just floored me. I ended up using the rest of the Psalm in the book because it was perfect. I even put scripture references throughout.




My definition of success with The Victor was that people would come to the Lord as a result of reading it but since it was released in 2009, I have never heard that this ever happened and with a name like mine, I'm easy to find. A lot of non Christians have bought this book, Jewish and Muslim included. Of course, I had my own delusions of grandeur too. I hoped that word of mouth would get out and it would sell lots of copies but it didn't. It is still selling after five years and I still get a lot of positive feedback by those who have read it but nothing like what I was hoping for....so I wonder. Was I delusional too in thinking that the Lord wanted to use my book to reach the lost? Guess I won't really know until I get to heaven. I just know that I have been as faithful as I could possibly be with the talents He has given me. I just want to glorify Him in all I do...and that isn't delusional.

Good Writing vs. Having a Platform

I am a Christian author. I have self-published three books. 

In the five years since my first book, The Victor, came out. In that time I have learned a lot about the publishing industry and it's not what you may think. As a self-published author I have had a tendency to think of myself as a second class author. I did have several big name publishers come very close to giving me traditional contracts for my books because they liked my writing and the stories I wrote but declined to do so. The reasons cited were: haven't sold enough (5,001) copies on my own - they would only jump in after reaching that magic number in order to "get a piece of the action." Other reasons were: too many people have already read the books. One publisher who was looking at In Plain Sight, my Amish/paranormal fiction who was looking for more cutting edge fiction.  They took a vote among the acquisition team and the outcome was 50/50. In the end they were too scared to publish something so different. Very discouraging.

Getting a book published nowadays seems to have evolved into more about who you are and how big your"platform" is than writing a well-crafted story. I have a friend who is an agent who tells me that some pretty big name Christian publishers will no longer accept submissions from unknowns - no matter how good the writing is. You have to be already famous. Have a platform. I understand that the book industry is suffering on many different levels. Book stores are disappearing (LifeWay Christian Bookstores is the latest) and that it all comes down to staying in business. Therefore, many publishers only stick with their already known authors and want them to keep churning out more of the same (Amish Fiction is a biggie). Once a book makes it big, all the copycats start getting published (think Vampire and Dystopian society genres). Even their book covers look similar.


 

New and unknown authors, no matter how good they may write, if they don't have a platform, are not welcome. Too big of a risk. I bet if Tolkien were to submit The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings today, it would be rejected by all the publishers for the reasons cited above. He broke all the rules of book writing; his only platform was as an Oxford professor and he didn't self-promote. Oh, and new authors have to keep their word count down to 85,000 words - bigger books are too expensive to take such a risk on...unless you're already famous. 

This is why Fifty Shades of Grey got a big publishing contract and movie deal. It started out as a blog where the author, E.L. James, took the characters from Twilight and changed the story into a S&M Soft Pornography jaunt. The idiom unfortunately is very true; sex sells...even among those who self-identify as Christians. It's a sad commentary on the church today that so many Christian women bought this book and paid to see the movie. Everyone I know who read the book said it was POORLY written (same with a lot of reviews on Amazon, etc.) The movie bombed after the first weekend because word got out that it was awful. So, the author couldn't write but that didn't matter - she had a BIG blog following/platform and that is all the publisher cared about. 



I wonder how many good books we will never have the privilege to read because of how the publishing industry works nowadays? Snookie from The Jersey Shore has a better chance of getting a traditional contract than I do. What are your thoughts on this?