Sunday, June 26, 2011

A 2 Z: FaithWriter Friends

In April of 2005 I was coming out of the darkest time of my life. A year and a half of severe germphobia and depression had hit me out of nowhere (though my grandmother's unexpected death may have played a part). My personality is somewhat happy-go-lucky and I'm not one to spend too much energy worrying, so my family and I were dazed by my spiral into OCD so severe I was spending every minute in complete panic and most of my time frantically cleaning or showering.

By God's grace we finally found a medication that fulfilled what my body was lacking and as my brain chemicals slowly righted, I began to look elsewhere to fill my time and thoughts. I found a message board online for one of my family's favorite TV shows, Doc, and began participating in fan fiction. I've considered myself a writer all my life, but this was the first time strangers had seen my work. They loved it.

I decided I wanted to find a place online where I could post other short stories I was working on. A search for Christian writing groups pulled up FaithWriters, but a look at their thousands of members had me convinced I would be lost in the shuffle.

God brought me back there a few days later and I joined and posted a story or two, and found their message boards. Most of all, I also found the weekly writing challenge. Let's just say I wasn't exactly "lost in the shuffle." In fact, in an interview with me a year later Lynda Schab said I "burst into FaithWriters... like a firecracker."

More about that in a minute. First, let me explain that the writing challenge gives a word or phrase prompt and then participants have one week to write something on that topic that is between 150 to 750 words (that's a max of a page and a half). In all of my 23 years of life I'd only finished a handful of stories. Dozens more floated around stuck in my head. A few had managed to leak a few paragraphs out on paper before I was distracted with another idea. The short stories I'd written for school had ended up being pages and pages long.

The first challenge topic I tried was "Thanksgiving." My rough daft was several thousand words. Somehow I managed to cut most of it and find a remnant of the story that still made sense in 750 words. (I later became known as the master surgeon.) I submitted and nervously waited for it to become live anonymously, and then a whole week passed before I'd know the judging results. Comments, those coveted golden boxes, poured in on that and even a few on the other regular stories I'd posted.

That became my first story accepted for publication. I was shocked when I got first place in the beginners level and second place overall. My family had told me I was good at writing, but this was confirmation from strangers! The next week I again placed second. In a time when life was difficult, it was a blessing to have God grant me a talent that made something, at least, come somewhat easy. Over the next two years I entered every single week and my writing grew in leaps and bounds, thanks to the practice and the many FaithWriters who took me under their wings and mentored and critiqued me.

But besides giving me writing help, the people of FaithWriters did even more. They were friends, prayer partners, counsellors, and life-lines. As I continued to crawl out of the dark pit and into a more healthy and functional life, they walked alongside me through emails, instant messaging, the message boards, and even phone calls. They did not judge me, but loved me and guided me and supported me. (Many of you are reading this, so I want to say, "Thank you!" Thank you for allowing God to use you in my life then, and now.)

Now six years later, I still count many individual FaithWriters among my very closest friends. I only enter the challenge occasionally now, as I'm trying to focus on my novel, but the FW community remains a vital part of my life. I have been the assistant conference coordinator for a few years now and last year had the honor of being invited to also teach a workshop. I teach again this year and am even more excited about my topic (how to bring your writing to life).

I've been to a few other Christian writing conferences, but the FaithWriter ones are unique because the people there are already a tight-knit community, to which any newcomers are quickly welcomed. The workshops are mostly taught with in-house speakers--FW members who have experience and skill in specific areas. Between and after the informative sessions, the time is filled with hugs, prayers, laughter and games (in fact, we tend to stay up half the night playing together). Sally Stuart, the famous director of the yearly Christian Writers' Market Guide, spoke at one of our conferences and mentioned how special of a feel this one had in comparison to the many, many others she'd spoken at.

Speaking of the conference, how would YOU like to come? It's in Detroit on August 12th and 13th, and guess what? The Early Bird special has been extended until the end of June. You still have time to sign up! And as well as the conference being extra-special, it's also extra-cheap, and if you find good airfare then the cost of the conference and airplane tickets are comparable to just the workshop costs of other conferences. So, if you're a writer or have always wanted to be a writer, hurry over to See you there!

For more "F" posts from bloggers participating in the "From A 2 Z 4 U and Me" meme, check

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A 2 Z: Eternity

Eternity. It's a concept that is hard for us to understand while we are stuck in the time-space continuum of life on earth. Yet it's something we long for and dream for.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecc 3:11b
I see evidence around me that there is a Creator, and feel Him in my soul. I see that there is good and evil in the world, and believe that there is an eternal resting place for both God and Satan. Just as the angels had a choice, so do we humans have a choice of which destination we prefer, heaven or hell.

Each of our actions is a choice, and there is no fence to balance on—it's one side or the other. But we can be assured that if we do choose to accept the forgiveness and purity Jesus's blood offers, then we know with 100% conviction that we can spent eternity with God in heaven.

I love to dream of what it will be like in heaven. I do not picture it as cartoons and movies do, with people sitting on clouds playing a harp. No, I see it as something much more full of life than just that.

Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth... But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy... They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit... Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. (From Isaiah 65.)
I see earth as a dim reflection of heaven. We will worship the glory of God continuously, yet I believe that tending His creation is a form of worship. I plan to have a cocoa orchard and a sugar cane field. Come visit me and enjoy His chocolate!

We are also told we will have new bodies, yet it seems we will have the same soul, the same essence. I see myself as still a storyteller, writing or telling stories that show God's glory and praise His name. I will write of the acts He does among His people and angels. Maybe we'll be able to know of things that happened back on earth, and tell of the ways He cared for His people and touched their lifes in ways they never saw. I'll also write of the things we have yet to learn about Him. For so great and awesome is our God that even an eternity is not enough to know Him truely and completely.

The Bible often mentions that there is a Book of Life and we only will reach heaven if our names are written therein. Names are important to me—I've been known to spend hours pouring over a baby name book just for fun. We see many times that names are also important to God, when He's chosen names or changed names to fit people's personalities or triumphs. I see even in my sisters and I that are personalities kind of go with our name meanings.

I like to think each of us have a unique name that belongs only to our one soul. God, the great God, will stand at the gate of heaven and call out MY name! I will know it instantly because it is me. It is the epitome of everything good He put within me that makes me uniquely Me.

Check out links to my friends' blogs for "E" for the "From A 2 Z 4 U and Me" meme If you're a blogger, jump right in next week with "F"!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A 2 Z: Dragons!

My ideas for the "D" week kept coming back to dragons, even though I really don't have that much to say about them. I loved the movie How to Train a Dragon (although Toothless is a stupid name for a dragon, just saying) and as a child I used to run around the house swinging an imaginary sword, yelling, "One, two! One, two! The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! and with his head he went galumping back." (from "Jabberwocky," of course).

Then it occurred to me that each of us have our own dragons we hunt and maybe even slay, everyday. We gain strength, wisdom, and even respect from each of our battles. The Bible tells us to put on the full armor of God everyday, so we're ready to fight our dragons. Besides the ones that come from Satan and his minions, we have the everyday battles each of us face. Some days just getting out of bed is a battle, or going to work, or cleaning the bathroom. Some of the dragons in our lives are sinful ones we must actively seek out with our vorpal blades.
Others of our dragons are ongoing wars, like my health issues. I've been feeling the heat of one sneaky dragon that's not yet diagnosed, but I think I'm very close to finding the lair. I had an MRI last week that was clean, so between that and my symptoms we think we can rule out MS. So that's one cave that is empty.

The next cave to look in is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It's a genetic connective tissue diseasepeople who have it don't make enough collagen, so it can affect everything: skin, muscles, joints, and organs. It can range from mild to disabling, but doesn't normally affect the length of life, unless there is a rare complication. My family is pretty convinced we have it, and I see a geneticists on Monday, June 20th to check for it. It would explain so muchmore than I even realized needed explaining!my GI and eye problems since birth, and my current heart issues and joint and muscle pain and weakness (which seem more severe than Fibro alone would cause), etc. Getting this diagnoses would mean I'd go from having tons of random separate issues to just two diseases: EDS and Fibromyalgia. That makes much more sense. It would give me peace of mind of knowing exactly what dragon I'm fighting, and would give the doctors more wisdom to know how to go about keeping it at bay as much as possible.

Next week I'm also meeting with two lawyers to decide which to use to get some help fighting the dragon of the government disability aid labyrinth. The next step will be to go before a judge, though I guess that can take a year before it actually happens. If I get enough support from my doctors, which has been a challenge to even get good care much less anything else from them so far, there is a chance the lawyer could get a special review of my case that would expedite things and could get a ruling of disability without even going to the judge. I'm finally starting to find doctors that are willing to at least try to take care of me, so that's a good sign.

I'm so thankful I'm done with interpreting work at the college for the summer, so I can focus on all these other appointments for a few weeks. Then I'm determined to spend much of the summer doing writing projects. I have one short story that just needs a few more tweaks before I send it off to a magazine, and another in the works. My novel, Reaching Sky, isn't coming along as fast as I'd hoped, but I am half-way done with this revision, so am hoping to get it off to some beta readers for feedback before too long.

I'm so thankful for all my family and friends who stand by with prayer and encouragement to help fight my dragons, and for the ever-present strength and peace from the greatest warrior, God. One group I've found is, a recently-developed online community for young adults with neuro-immune diseases. If you or someone you know deals with that type of dragon, and is under 40, check out this great new website.

What are your dragons? How has God helped you fight them?

As always, check out my friends' A 2 Z 4 U & Me posts for "D" at Patty Wysong's blog.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A 2 Z: Cats and Cavaliers

My family has almost always had two cats (sometimes more). The first two I remember were presumbed siblings, Twinkle and Shasta. They were abandoned as kittens out in the middle of the country and followed my grandparents' cows back to their barn. The farm was full of wild barn cats, but at some weak moment we grandkids had eliceted a promise that if a tame cat ever showed up, we got to take it home.

I was about five at the time, and distinctly remember sitting on the farmhouse kitchen floor with my two sisters. Our legs were spread out in a three-pointed star to keep the two kittens within reach as we attmepted to make the impossible decision whether to take home the black female with a tiny white star under her chin, or the grey, brown, and black tabby male. (Unfortunately, at the moment I can't find most of our pictures of them.) Mom and Dad had pity on us and finally allowed us to bring both home.

Twinkle was a more typical feline, complete with moodiness and spite. She took pleasure in aiming for my face with her claws whenever my childishness went too far. However, she also liked to cuddle and was known to bow her head in respect during prayer times. Shasta was anything but normal. He would never dream of using his claws on one of his girls, and was even known to jump between us and a big dog or even a scary man.When my oldest sister was being courted, he insisted on chaperoning by sitting between them on the porch swing. He was so tender-hearted that if he came across a mouse nest while he was hunting, he would carefully pick up each baby mouse and carry it to us, alive. Sadly, our attempts at bottle-feeding the infants with cow's milk in an eye dropper usually were not effective for long.

Shasta was the only living thing in the house that Mom would permit to whine for any length of time. She was even know to croon a response to his wails, to the high amusement of us girls. He outlived his sister by many years and lived to the old age of about 18.

We got our only dog when I was about 12. Rebel was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the most gorgeous, brilliant, friendly dog in the whole world. A completely unbiased opinion, to be sure. He learned a lot of tricks, including speak, shout, whisper, and moan. He was almost as good a mouser as the cats and loved to play in our hay fields. He especially loved kids and kittens. Shasta and Twinkle only barely tolerated him, but the cats we got afterwards were best buddies. I remember opening the garage door to find him laying with a half a dozen kittens using him as a matress. He would jump to his feet, sending kittens flying every direction, and look up with manly innocence, "Me, cuddling with kittens? No way!"

Sultana was the first cat we got that was all mine. Tana was slightly unusual...she loved to "fly" by sitting in a box lid and having me zoom her through the air, and she even let me pull her around on a sled in the winter. She was feircly loving of me, and would yowl at the front door every morning until I came out. Then she'd leap into my arms, wrap her paws around my neck, and tuck her head under my chin. She also loved being a mother, and between her and I those were the cuddliest kittens around. Some of them particularly liked water, and one even had her own wading pool at her new home.

After Tana disapeared (much to my heartbreak), I got my current cat, a beautiful silver tabby. She was named Licorice when I got her, even though she doesn't have much black. Sometimes she's Lica (with a long I) but most often she gets called "Amy's cat" or "Baby," due to her tiny size.

Baby is so timid that my sister and I dubbed her Secret Agent Cat, since she was always alert and secretive, slipping from shadow to shadow. She adores feet and would rather be rubbed with a foot than a hand, best of all if she can play with your empty shoe while being stroked with a stocking-foot.

A few years ago a black cat began hanging around. Though actually fairly small in size, his lean, muscled body earned him the name Bagheera. At first he was scared to death of people, but finally overcame his fear enough to come to the front door and cry until we came to make friends. He's obviously been abused at some point, but now a couple of years later is mostly over his jumpiness. Unfortunately he's still not over his firm conviction that cats should most definitely be allowed inside, or that rain is to be despized. Given that Mom doesn't allow cats inside this house and we live in the rainforest of the Great Pacific NorthWet, he spends many misrable hours wailing in the garage. But overall, I still believe he's happier than he'd been at his former house. He's not fond of sitting in laps, but loves leaning against my back and drooling all over my arm.

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