Friday, July 29, 2011

Exactly 50 Words

Tonight is the first time in weeks that I have sat down to work on the manuscript for my novel. I've been so, so busy, and my heart has been on other concerns. But the story is always at the back of my mind, asking to be told.

In September I'll be attending a Christian writers' conference that I so enjoyed last year, and this time I will be attending a three-day mentoring workshop with a published author and 11 other aspiring authors. Tonight I completed the prerequisite: a 50-word summary of my book (plus the first five pages, which I had already written and rewritten a few times).

Do you have any idea how hard it is to sum up a novel in only 50 words? I can't even put it in words. I've already used well over 50 in this blog entry.

Since I did the work, and since I've told you very, very little about my novel up until now, I thought I'd share my summary, which is EXACTLY 50 words:

Finding Rachel (working title; hope I can do better than that)
When Emma’s sister dies after a decade of estrangement, she seeks peace through reading her journals, but reliving old heartaches brings pain that might destroy her fragile marriage. As her life falls apart, she discovers the hope Rachel found through her growing faith, and her own faith begins to blossom. 

So there you have it. Before the workshop, I plan to finish typing my manuscript and hopefully do the first cuts so I'll be ready for some serious revisions.

Okay, now I've got lots of typing to do. Hope you're having a good weekend.

Love,

Sarah Louise
Writer

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Even Luckier Than I Thought

To my relatives, some of whom have already heard this story in person three or four times, I'm sorry. I just have to repeat it for my other six blog readers. I don't know why, but this story is just so funny even though it wasn't at all funny at the time...

On the evening of Thursday, July 14, I remarked to Bill, "Did you turn off the upstairs A/C?"

"No, why?"

"Did you know it's 88 degrees up there?" [That's 31 Celsius to my Canadian and British friends.]

"Uh oh."

Bill immediately called a repairman, but he couldn't come until Friday evening. I normally work upstairs, but I had to move downstairs when the inside temperature rose into the high 90s. (It was about 103 outside--39 Celcius.) I was frantically working on a project that was due that day, and I needed to record some audio. But Bill was working at the downstairs table, so I needed to isolate myself in the downstairs half bath, which is very echoey.

After a brainstorm--or an attack of insanity, in Bill's view--I dragged Allyson's tiny dome tent down the stairs and into the bathroom. It took up the entire floor and had to flex around the toilet, but I was determined to make it work. I zipped myself in with my laptop, headset, and a foam reflux wedge pillow (to muffle echoes) and recorded away.

About 30 minutes later, our coworker Craig arrived with an old window unit to use until his brother could fix our air conditioning. I offered to help Bill carry it up the stairs and install it in the window.

"No, I've got it," he assured me. I would have argued with him, but I was really behind on my project, so I zipped myself back into the tent.

About five minutes later, I heard an ominous sound just outside the bathroom door leading to the porch: Clunk-clunk...ka-BLAM! 

"I just about killed the dog!" Bill hollered from upstairs.

By the time I unzipped the tent and flung open the door, Bill was standing on the porch with clenched fists, cussing like a sailor. "What did I do to deserve this?" he demanded.

Lola stood next to him, glancing nervously up at the open second-story window and then at the mangled hunk of metal and plastic on the slate tiles. Bill pointed out the two dents in our barbecue grill (explaining the clunk-clunk I'd heard); he surmised that Lola had probably been sleeping in her customary spot under its shade. "She was just looking up at me in the window, as if to say, 'Why are you trying to kill me? What did I do to you?'" he said.

The A/C Landed Just In Front of the Grill, Which Lola Sleeps Under

I supressed my laughter since Bill was all but stomping his feet he was so mad. "Well, I guess that's beyond repair," I sighed. I wanted to commiserate with him, but I had more audio to record, so I climbed back into the tent.

About 20 minutes later, I heard Bill rustling around upstairs again. Surely he couldn't have... no, no way. Must be doing something else, I thought. But then I heard a click and a low humming noise overhead. I unzipped the tent and thundered up the stairs.

There was Bill, basking in front of the icy breeze of that window unit, which he'd pieced together with Duck tape.

"You're amazing!" I gushed. "You're just... amazing."

Bill laughed sheepishly. He explained how he'd taken the machine apart, pounded out the bent metal, and taped it back together.

Can You See All the Tape?

The plastic accordion pieces that fill in the window space were shattered, so he'd cut cardboard panels and taped them on either side of the unit, using blue painter's tape.


I planted a kiss on his sweaty mouth and went back down to my tent.

Some Good News At Last
When the repairman arrived, he quickly determined that our capacitor had blown up, and he was able to replace it for only $110. We had figured we'd have to replace the upstairs unit since this was the third breakdown, but he advised us to keep it as a new unit would be anywhere from $4000 and $6000!

"Man, we were lucky," I told Bill later that evening when I finally shut down the laptop for the night (without finishing the project, after all that sweating in the tent).

I ribbed him a bit more about having it in for the dog, and then I asked him exactly how it happened.

He explained that he'd initially gotten the unit into the window without a problem, but then he noticed that it was dripping on the carpet because Craig had hosed the coils down before he brought it over.

"I lifted up the window just a smidge to slide a towel under it," he said, "and it was so back heavy that it started to go. In that instant, I thought, 'This A/C is going out the window... I've got to catch it.' But immediately I had another thought: 'If I try to grab this, I'm going out the window with it.'" He lifted his hands out to his side, palms up. "So I watched it fall."

My entire body convulsed in a shudder as I pictured my husband's broken body next to the crumpled metal A/C. "I think God told you that," I said in a trembly voice. "It would have been instinct to grab it, and you didn't even have time to think."

I closed my eyes then and thanked God. Our dog was spared, we saved about $3900, and my husband was still with me. Not a bad day.

Oh, and one more thing. When Bill sent Craig a message breaking the news about destroying his window unit, he said, "Don't worry about it. I picked it up off my neighbor's curb!" Whew!

So what happened to that portable unit? It's still sitting in the window almost two weeks later. I think Bill's gotten attached to it; there's just something about standing in front of that frigid wind that you just don't get with central air.

See the Yellow Towel That Caused the Debacle?

"People like us are the reason the homeowners' associations forbid window units," I said. "It looks so tacky!" (Fortunately, we don't belong to an association.)

"I think we should get one in every room," Bill said. With this heat, maybe we will.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beyond Beyond

If you've been following this blog for long, you probably know that I frequently struggle with doubts about my faith. I can be ecstatic one day over an answered prayer or a sign I believe God's shown me, and then the next day I'm wondering if it was just a coincidence, and if my faith is even real. I find this frustrating, exhausting.

I've asked God to help me with my unbelief many times, but I guess I didn't have the faith to believe He could! I mean, I knew that He could, but I really didn't think I could let go of my doubts. Now, everything has changed.

For the last several weeks, I've been doing a Bible study by Kay Arthur, Priscilla Shirer, and Beth Moore called Faithful, Abundant, True; it's a sequel to the study I wrote about last summer called Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed. 

In the first two weeks, Kay helped us see the faithfulness of God, and she challenged us to be steadfast in our faith. She reminded us that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). She told it like it is: "Unbelief is a lack of faith! And that is sin." The root of disobedience, she said, is unbelief.

I felt a strong conviction about indulging my doubts. I had always thought of my doubts as a weakness, but not as disobedience. When I read Kay's admonitions, I prayed and asked God to help me overcome these doubts.

During one of Kay's videos, I was so excited when I saw the key:
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:2)
Do you see it? It's not enough to just read the Word. I have to unite it with faith in order for it to profit me. And where does faith come from? By hearing--by hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17)

All these years of studying the Scriptures have resulted in a head knowledge that doesn't always translate into a changed life because I've been lacking a steadfast faith. In the next two videos, Priscilla Shirer admitted that she'd had the same problem. She inspired us to contemplate the abundance of God's power, to try to comprehend that God is ABLE. No matter what we need, she said, He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

I felt a thrill of recognition at that verse, part of my current memory passage. As many times as I have studied and quoted that passage, Priscilla still managed to give me a new perspective on it. She pointed out the way Paul stacked up the adverbs: not just exceedingly or abundantly, but exceedingly abundantly. Here's one of the examples she gave to help us understand how God can go not only beyond what we think is possible, but even beyond that....

Imagine you went away for the day, and you asked your teenager to clean his room. When you returned, you were shocked to find that not only was his room clean, but that the whole house was spotless. Now that's beyond what you would even imagine, right? But now suppose that not only had your son cleaned the whole house, but he had also drawn you a bubble bath and had your dinner ready on a tray to eat in the tub. That's BEYOND beyond. 

It's doubtful that any of us will ever experience such a thing with our teenage children, Priscilla said, but this is exactly how God works. He delights in surprising us, in giving gifts that are way beyond what we asked for.

The other thing she encouraged us to believe was that God wants to do exceedingly abundantly, above and beyond, for US. She said we need to get past looking at other people's answered prayers and thinking, I hope God has enough power left for me. God doesn't just have power; GOD IS POWER! He spoke the entire universe into being by the power of His word, and that power lives in us. We just have to unite it with our faith, as Kay said.

Priscilla also reminded us that God is interested in the little details of our daily life, and we should bring all our concerns and needs to him, not just what we think of as "big stuff." (To Him, none of our concerns are really big, anyway.) 

As I listened to Prisicilla's message, my heartbeat quickened. Yes! I thought. Yes, it's time to believe that God is able to work in my life, time for my faith to arise.

Afterward, she asked Beth Moore to pray over everyone in the audience, and we all prayed along. I don't really remember what Beth said, but it moved me to tears, and I felt something click inside. I believe I was set free from my doubts at that moment.

Beyond My Beyond
Over the next few days, I found myself praying differently. I prayed about something that seemed sort of trivial, and I prayed a big, bold prayer. I was planning a garage sale for this past Saturday to raise money for my 3-Day Walk, and I was hoping to make a big dent in what I needed to meet the minimum fund raising requirement.

On one of my training walks, I said, "God, I know you care about everything that's important to me. I'm trusting you to bless this garage sale, to go way beyond what I dare to expect, and even beyond that. I'm praising you for going beyond beyond!"

I didn't only ask for money. I asked for an enjoyable experience, and an opportunity to love others and explain why I'm doing the walk, because of Laura's story. I asked that His anointing would be all over that sale.

Well guess what happened? Yep, BEYOND beyond. I was sort of hoping to raise $200. Five families had donated items for the sale, but we didn't have many "big ticket" items. Most of the items were priced at 25 to 50 cents.


Toward the End of the Sale (There Were Mobs Around that Table)


Would you believe that all those little sales added up to $493?? I have to say it again: FOUR HUNDRED NINETY-THREE DOLLARS! My jaw dropped when Bill announced the grand total. With my company match, that puts me over the minimum! My walk is paid for!

And everything else I prayed for came to pass. It was an enjoyable experience (other than the sweltering heat). My sister Amy came over to help us with the setup, the sale, and the cleanup, and I so enjoyed working with her. I enjoyed watching the shoppers' excitement over each 25-cent shirt or pair of shorts, and the kids' joy over 25-cent toys. I enjoyed showing a picture of Laura and telling how she inspired me. And I even met a lady named Marge who's new to the area and who plans to join me on my training walks!


Ice Cold Lemonade
I especially enjoyed watching Allyson selling lemonade, something she'd been looking forward to for weeks and weeks. Would you believe that she sold about $30 worth of lemonade? And she donated over half of that to my walk.


Special Customers--Gentle's Son Liam and Daughter Grace


I never dreamed a garage sale could be so fun, or so profitable. It was a definite case of beyond the beyond.


What's Next? 
I've made a resolution, drawn a line in the sand. I know I will face doubts again (already have), but I realize now that I can choose how I respond. And I choose to believe. I choose to remember all God has done for me, and to unite my faith with what He promises in His word. That doesn't mean He'll always give me exactly what I want, but I have to believe He is able. And I have to believe that He knows what is best for me, and that sometimes going beyond what I ask or think won't look like what I think I need.

Would you hold me accountable? Please remind me of these truths when you catch me doubting.

Friday, July 1, 2011

God, Jesus, and Chicken Nuggets

We've had some interesting dinner conversation this week.

A couple nights ago, Allyson got ahold of the salt shaker and mounded salt over her potatoes. "Gross!" Ethan said. "You're not going to eat that."

After Bill knocked off most of the salt, Allyson greedily gobbled a few bites. "I love salt!" she said.

"If I ate all that salt, I'd throw up," Ethan said.

"I'll give you five dollars to eat her potatoes," Bill said slyly.

"I wouldn't do it for five dollars, but..." I could see the wheels turning. "How much would it take for you to eat something that would make you throw up?" he asked.

"I don't think you could pay me to throw up," I answered. "Well... I might do it for $500."

"Hmm," Ethan mused. "I'd do it for $15." (This was shocking considering Ethan's extreme phobia about vomiting.)

Before Bill could get out his wallet, I said, "Okay. Enough talk of vomit at the table!"

A few days before that, I couldn't get Allyson out of the pool for dinner, so I brought out my secret weapon: leftover meatloaf, which I thought was her favorite food.

She still didn't want to get out until I offered to let her eat on the back porch. She hopped right out then and sat down at the picnic table, with water streaming down all her limbs. Around a bite of meatloaf, she mumbled, "Know who makes the best chicken nuggets in the world?"

I thought back to our play date the day before. "Umm, Chick Fil-A?"

She beamed. "Yes! They do have the best chicken nuggets.... next to God, of course." Her mouth twitched as she pondered this idea (just like her daddy's mouth moves when he's deep in thought). "And I guess Jesus, too," she went on. "Yes, it's God, Jesus, and then Chick Fil-A"

I fought to contain my laughter. "I never thought about that," I said. "But I guess God probably does make the best chicken nuggets. Or the best chickens."

She looked so cute there at the table in her suit, with a diver's mask atop her dripping hair and tomato sauce on her chin, that I had to snap a picture.




When she saw me taking a picture, she said, "Here, take a picture of me feeding meatloaf to Lola." So much for meatloaf being her favorite food. Darn those chicken nuggets!

The Love Children
In other news, remember those pesky birds who found a love connection on our pool deck? Well, I think their babies are hanging around now on our front porch. The other morning, Bill called Allyson and me out to see them. "Come quick!" he urged, holding his finger up to his lips. "But be quiet."

And there were two young birds, sitting sedately on our porch bench. They weren't bothered by us at all, and indeed seemed to be striking a regal pose for our camera.

I found it amusing that Bill wasn't nearly as annoyed by these cute little birds as he had been by the love birds a few weeks ago. It was Allyson who found the black clouds in the silver lining, after the birds had been lounging on top of and under the bench all day. "Ewww! Look at all this poop!" she exclaimed.

Darn those birds!
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