Enough Already

I review hundreds of Christian books a year—skimming and scanning them to see what’s trending and what might be beneficial to share with our readers. These come from every publisher imaginable, and many of the works that cross my desk are solid. Writers are pushing into new territory, making biblically-sound arguments, and faithfully teaching the Word of God. The hot topic du jour changes, of course. One year, brokenness was on everyone’s mind. Being “messy” and “real” had a heyday too. The Enneagram is still going strong. Perennial topics like grace, peace, and love are never in short supply. And the leadership books…oh, the leadership books. Have mercy.

However, since I began this work seven or eight years ago, one thing has remained constant: Women’s books are pastel. And I mean that both in terms of visual design and substance.

These are two books I recently received in the mail. What do you notice? What do they have in common? Pleasing robin’s egg blue covers with pink accents. Feminine font. Encouraging titles. And flowers. Always flowers.

I read a few pages of each of these offerings and promptly put them on the giveaway pile at the office. The first reason is because we need books that apply to both genders and a wide variety of ages, and these are specifically aimed a female audience in a certain stage of life. The second is because the message of each is very self-focused, and we need writers who can speak on topics that pertain to the church as whole.

My gripe is not with these two publications in particular, but the overall market for books aimed at Christian women. I did a quick search on Amazon looking for top sellers, and here’s what I came up with.

Each cover (save three) is decorated with flowers, leaves, and vines. And the ones that don’t Make use of other common visuals—a feather and a butterfly (which symbolize freedom or lightness) and a pair of hipster casual tennis shoes (being messy or real). Ladies, I guess we never get tired of taking pictures of our feet, do we?

Perhaps this is my personal preference showing as I’m not a fan of overly-feminine things, but I feel like these covers say a great deal more about the books’ intended audience than they do about what’s inside the works themselves. The message I’m getting isn’t “Drink deeply from Scripture,” “Combat what’s sinful in yourself,” or even “Renew your mind.” It’s “Be soothed,” “Love yourself,” and “Stop trying so hard to be perfect.”

Now, I will say that several of these are Bible studies, which is a far cry better than a first-person book that uses Scripture as a reference. However, to be honest, I’ve picked up many a women’s study over the years hoping to find something challenging and convicting, something that compels me to look at God’s Word (and myself) differently. And so many times, I’ve come away feeling disappointed.

Having never read any of these books, I can’t speak about them in particular. However, most of the Bible studies I’ve tried just aren’t deep enough. They’re too focused on how I feel about a passage from the Bible or how it speaks to my experience. Call me crazy, but if the goal is to die to self, to crucify my flesh with its passions and desires, to decrease so that he might increase, my feelings and experience don’t enter into it at all.

John’s Gospel ends with as clear (and tantalizing) a closing sentence as any in the Bible: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31). Not “that you may feel like God loves you” or “that you may feel he’s your Savior.” It’s that you may believe and, by believing, you may live.

I don’t know if women continue to choose these books because it’s what they truly want (or think they should want) or if they’re afraid of taking on something more substantive. But I am painfully aware of just how many books are being marketed to Christian women and what they contain. We are being well and truly shortchanged.

One of the best-selling new non-fiction books of the decade—Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be—is the natural and obvious outcome of this trend. 1.6 million copies of her work found their way into women’s hands in 2018. Its message? According to Hollis herself, “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are. That’s the takeaway.”

“What sets this book apart is — this sounds so lame to say—is my voice,” Hollis told the AP. “I’m not an expert. I’m not a guru. Anything I’ve ever done, the work I’ve done, has always been like your girlfriend telling you what worked for her.” That’s what women are paying to hear, and the thinnest veneer of Jesus imaginable makes them think they’re reading something of eternal value. Both Alisa Childers and Laura Turner have written outstanding reviews pointing out the shortcomings of and the dangers inherent in Girl, Wash Your Face, so I won’t belabor the point by adding my two cents. However, one line from Childers’ review is relevant here.

“I’ll be honest,” she writes. “Reading this book exhausted me. It’s all about what I can be doing better and what I’m not doing good enough. How to be better at work, parenting, and writing. How to be less bad at cardio, sex, and you know, changing the world.”

So many flowery books about peace and balance. So many books about how we are enough and need to stop the crazy-making attempts at human perfection. And yet Hollis’ book—which encourages us to do more and try harder because, dadgummit, we’re the captains of our ships and the mistresses of our own destinies—is flying off the shelves. We’re consuming contrary messages, neither of which will ever soothe. Instead, we’re left anxious and troubled about many things, forgetting we can choose the good portion.

There are topics like cosmology, pneumatology, Christology, soteriology, and eschatology to study, and books about them aren’t in short supply. So why do we consistently settle for anything less? Why are we all so concerned with finding peace here on earth (and in ourselves) when Jesus clearly tells us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword….And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:34, 38-39)?

I firmly believe that women are capable of serious theological study. We are created in God’s image, gifted with minds to explore everything from hallelujah to the hypostatic union. It’s time to leave our Pinterest-perfect faith quests behind and start demanding more of Christian publishers…and ourselves.

Children of the Kingdom

Well, here it is—my first ever Q&A! It appears in the June issue of In Touch Magazine, which can be viewed by clicking here. The entire magazine discusses the idea of success for people of faith. After all, what the world calls “successful” and what we believe it to be are often antithetical.

Dr. Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids, Inc. was kind enough to allow me to interview her by phone to discuss how to raise children with a kingdom view of success, to be “in” the world but not “of” it. As a teacher, I know how difficult it can be to raise a child to view things rightly, but I only worked with them a few hours each day. For a parent, it’s a constant battle to instill good values and reinforce them so that, when the time comes for them to leave the nest, they’re able to withstand the pressures and temptations of the world.

My goal for the piece was to allow Kathy to share her knowledge with parents, to both edify and enable them to do what God has called them to do. I’d love to hear your feedback if you’re a parent or someone who’s involved with raising children, so please leave it here or on the magazine page, which can be accessed using the link in the first paragraph of this blog. Also, if you enjoyed this piece, you can subscribe to In Touch Magazine for free by visiting our registration page.

Writing is So Much Fun That I Do It for Free

Because I’m a writing fool (who also happens to have MS), I have volunteered my services for the Georgia MS Society, which is located here in Atlanta. In fact, today I went to a training session in order to become an official peer counselor for newly diagnosed people, which will likely be a post of its own once I’ve had enough time to process everything I absorbed today.

Here is my first piece for their newsletter, a service provider spotlight for a local neurologist who is taking steps to eliminate Multiple sclerosis. If you would like to read it in a larger format, click on each page and the the + sign when it is full screen.

Indelible Fingerprints of God

I don’t know about you all, but I am fascinated by things like stained glass. Watching the sun come up through it until it dapples the floor with color inspires a sense of wonder in me that is childlike. When I was young, I used to love going to church on Sunday mornings and sitting on the east side of the chapel so I could study the windows nearest my family’s pew.

It’s utterly amazing to me (one without an iota of artistic talent) that someone can take pieces of glass that have been colored with minerals, some soldered metal, and create works of art that tell a story and make the world a more beautiful place. However, I no longer think of man’s prowess when I look at things like this. I instead say, “This window makes light beautiful, but God made light.” God’s power and magnificence win…every single time.

To me, the fact that we desire to create something so breathtaking and fragile is evidence of the power of God in our lives. We are, in essence, seeking what is divine by crude imitation, and we can accurately judge the “rightness” of things we’ve made by examining the things He has created. After all, everything in His world is perfect in form as well as function, and we can only strive to create poor copies.

That was the inspiration for this, my first article with a by-line in In Touch Magazine! It started arriving in folks’ mailboxes this week, which means I’ve been cleared to post it here as well. If you would like to begin receiving our free magazine, all you need to do is visit our website and give us your name and address. You’ll start getting one the next calendar month.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how amazed I am that God has blessed me with a job where I can use the talents He’s given me to glorify Him and bless others. This publication of this article humbles me beyond all measure. After all, God doesn’t need me to do anything, but He allows me to be His hands and feet here on Earth. He is indeed good, and to Him alone belongs the glory.

If you would like to leave me a comment, you can do so here or on the In Touch Homepage.

Pinching Myself Until I’m Purple…

Ernest Hemingway closes his masterwork, The Sun Also Rises, with a scene between Jake and Brett, the doomed lovers. She states that it’s a shame the two of them can’t be together, and Jake closes the book with the the classic line, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Such an odd line from a character who loves drinking, bullfighting, and all other manner of manly occupations. I’ve often used this line when discussing things I wish I had done or thought might be beneficial to me. For example:

Imaginary Friend—“Wouldn’t it be amazing to study abroad in England for a year?”

Me—“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

It has been my “pretty to think so” dream for the last twelve years or so to be a published author. Granted, what I have wanted to write has changed from academic articles and texts to fiction and poetry to non-fiction essays and discourses, but the why has always been the same. I have a lot to say, and I express it better with a pen between my fingers or a keyboard beneath them. Also, I’m crap at math and could never manage a career in something practical like accounting or engineering.

For a decade, I was a teacher, the closest thing I could get to writing for a living. I was teaching others about the great literature of the world and helping them to think for and express themselves more succinctly. It was a rewarding decade to be sure, and I still miss it though I have to say that I haven’t graded a paper in almost six months, which is supercallafragalisticexpialidociously awesome. Really, it’s better than, “Hey, I just found a $100 bill in my coat pocket!”

As a content and copy editor, I still “grade” papers, but people actually thank me for marking them up. I’m asked on a regular basis to hunt out and kill mistakes with heartless and laser accurate precision. I’m also asked to take a text and make it better, to assist another author with a particularly troubling paragraph or concept. Also, as a content editor, one of my jobs is to do research, to make sure references and citations are accurate and attributed to the correct person and publisher. These are all things that a Type-A writer/nerd/scholar/perfectionist like myself enjoys doing in her spare time. And they actually pay me for it. Suckers. 🙂

In a place where materials are printed, I’ve gained a great deal of new wrinkles in my brain. For example, I’ve learned that widows and orphans need caring for both in real life and on the typewritten page. I’m mastering the art of kerning and leading and how a document should be flowed to transform it from plain black and white text to a beautifully designed page. I’ve been allowed to work on press releases, syndication articles, web page landing copy and e-newsletters, ads, letters, and even the In Touch Magazine itself. Most importantly, everything I read over teaches me something wonderful about the amazing God I serve, and it does my heart as much good as my mind as it builds me up—both in my new skill set and my spirit.

What I didn’t expect when I started this gig was that writing would be part of the bargain. There is a staff of amazing writers here who do great work for the magazine and the ministry as a whole, and they crank out so much copy each and every month that I’m often staggered by it. What’s amazed me the most, however, is the fact that they’ve asked me to come alongside them in this effort! Seriously, I’ve been afforded the privilege to contribute to the magazine as a writer.

When they first offered me a writing assignment, I had to pinch myself. Hard and often. After doing so to the point my husband thought I might need an intervention, it was still true, so I decided to trust in God and go for it. My first writing assignment was for the December 2011 magazine. The editorial staff wanted to do a six-part feature on the Person of Christ. They are described in the opening paragraph as “brief meditations on six aspects of Jesus’ personhood: Christ as Witness, Prophet, Intercessor, Warrior, Priest, and King.” If you are interested in reading the entire piece (which is both thought-provoking and gorgeously designed), In Touch Magazine is  available in print (subscriptions are free), on the ministry’s homepage, and on our free app for either Android or iPhone. My contribution to the piece, an exploration of Christ as Prophet, is below.

I don’t want to regale you with the story of my life, but just let me say that the last seven or so years have been…rough. Losing my first teaching job due to budget cuts, learning I had a lifelong illness to face (MS), financial struggles, having to move…the list goes on and on. However, when this job came my way, I realized that all the things I’d been through had served a purpose. They were what taught me to rely upon God for everything, to turn to Him instead of looking inside myself for answers or working in my own strength. In short, I would never have been prepared for this job had I not undergone the things I did. That is why I praise Him in both good times and bad because even the things that cause me pain and discomfort are for my ultimate good.

Think about it! The Father has made it possible for me to use my skills in a place where I am permitted to grow and thrive. I have wonderful friends who also happen to be my co-workers, and I am edified and strengthened by God each and every day. I feel so overwhelmingly blessed that I can hardly find the words to express it. I can only praise God for His goodness and mercy, His willingness to involve Himself in the lives of His children, and His omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent power. I do indeed serve an amazing God, the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Accepting Rejection

Now that I’ve re-committed myself to writing, I decided that I needed a goal, something tangible to work towards as I write. Therefore, I chose to keep submitting work until I get something published. In March, I sent out approximatley ten pieces for consideration, some of which will take months to finally get back to me. Some were for paying contests and others for magazines/journals that publish electronically, in print, or both. So far, in about thirty days, three of those submissions, all fiction, have come back rejected.

Naturally, my first thought was to feel sorry for myself. However, after reading an interesting article from Simon Haynes, author of the Hal Spacejock series, I felt a little better. (The article in question can be read here.)  According to him, there are levels of rejection ranging from “Holy crap, go learn grammar and spelling” to “This doesn’t fit what we’re looking for right now.” In essence, not all rejections are created equal. I decided to take my rejection letters and look at them individually to see where I fell on his pyramid of doom.

Rejection Letter #1–ASIM Magazine

(Story Submitted–“Thirteenth Colony”)

Thank you for submitting to Andromeda Spaceways. Sadly, we find that we can’t use your submission at this stage. Thank you again, and we hope to hear from you in the future. Notes from the readers—“I liked the theme, but it needs some development. Perhaps more about the twin sisters with the powers?”—Hope that’s of some help, and better luck next time!

Okay, judging by the feedback I got, which was actually somewhat personalized, I’m willing to bet I’m in the better half of the rejection pyramid. They liked the work and actually stated that the theme was good. They got the central commentary of the story I was trying to get across. They didn’t say it was “dull and derivative” or “poorly written.” They simply wanted to see more about the twin sisters with the powers. Perhaps I was over focused on the theme and the development of my main character, a man who is searching for redemption and finds it with the love of a Seminole woman. The power twins were actually created during my research of Seminole culture. They feared twins because they believed that if the two stayed together, they could control things like weather, people, or animals. Perhaps I could go back and redevelop this piece, putting more emphasis on the fantasy/sci-fi aspect of the work and submit it to another genre magazine like this one. Another piece I’ve written, one with more details that a fantasy/sci-fi reader is interested in, might even have been accepted. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Rejection Letter #2–Slice Magazine

(Story Submitted–“House of Dreams”)

Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to consider your work for Slice. Due to the high volume of submissions we receive, we regret that we aren’t able to respond to each submission personally. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work that we’ve received. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to include your piece in our next issue of Slice. We’d love to consider more of your work in the future, though, so please do continue submitting to us. —Best wishes, The Editors

I quote Dori from Finding Nemo when she’s attempting to translate whale—“This one’s a liiiittttlleee bit tougher.” Slice is a larger magazine, one published for a more broad based, artisitic market. I truthfully never expected to get in there at all, but the submission was closing soon and was free to do, so I took a crack at it. They admit to a higher volume of submissions, hence no personal feedback from their editors/readers. That’s typical from what I’ve experienced. However, this one has a light at the end of the tunnel according to Mr. Haynes–and maybe, just maybe, it isn’t a speeding train. They say they’ve “been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work” they’ve read, which seems to say that there’s a lot of good work coming into them and that mine simply wasn’t fitting for their taste. Also, I have to consider the fact that this piece is one of my older ones and could probably benefit from further development and editing. Perhaps with a more solid story, I might have made it through to the next round.

They close with the nugget of text I like that says “We’d love to consider more of your work in the future, though.” My hope is that they have different form letters they send out to cover writers in all levels of the pyramid and that this, too, shows that I am in the top tier of it, mere inches away from that glorious golden pinnacle at the top. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it; perhaps they send this same letter to people like me who take the craft seriously and people writing Twilight fan fiction in which Jacob gets Bella and Edward glitters his way to a miserable death in the second book. I don’t know. Again, I’m hoping for the former.

Rejection Letter #3–Camera Obscura Journal

 (Story Submitted–“Put Out the Light”)

Thanks so much for letting us read your work. We do so appreciate your interest in the Camera Obscura Journal and that you chose to entrust your story with us. Unfortunately, this story was not chosen for publication. Given the number of submissions, we must decline many worthy stories. We wish you much success with your writing. Thanks again, The Editors

This one says much the same as the rejection letter for Slice Magazine, that I wasn’t selected in a rather generic kind of way. Again, the high number of submissions is mentioned as a cause for a lack of personal feedback, but I don’t get the same positive vibe off of this one as I did the previous one. Maybe it’s the “we decline many worthy stories” doesn’t sit as well with me, or perhaps the “We wish you much success with your writing” rings a little more hollow than the “We’d like to read more of your stuff in the future” did. I could be wrong on this, but I think this story scored the lowest of the three, which is ironic because it is the newest of the three rejected so far, the one most indicative of what I’m capable of as a writer. I actually like this one a great deal though it is rather sad in nature. Again, perhaps, I’m just guilty of sending the wrong kind of piece to the right place or vice versa. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the publishing game, and I have a feeling that with a bit more targeting, I can get something going this year.

I’d appreciate any thoughts or advice from other writers out there who either are in the same situation as I or who have made it to the top and have published something recently. Am I on track, or am I overthinking it? Please leave comments and let me know!