Five Minute Friday: Near

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s that time of year when I slather my hands in the heaviest lotions and ointments I can find and walk around wearing gloves with the fingertips cut off. The time of year when I rub coconut oil all over my face. You’d think I was a participant in some Antarctic expedition given the way my skin cracks, itches and flakes. (You’re welcome for that visual).

Ah, well. The gloves just add to the starving artist mystique, right?

Kate says: near.

Go.

Near…far…wherever you are…

You read that in Celine Dion’s breathy voice, didn’t you?

The movie Titanic came out in 1997, the year I was 13. My mom took me to see it, but unlike others in the audience who were enraptured by the (completely implausible) love story, I was focused on whether or not James Cameron would get the historical details right. Were the clothes correct? Did the on-screen ship actually sink in “real time?” Was the door able to hold two people?

Accuracy matters. If something is going to be promoted as truthful, then it should be just that.

We all make mistakes. We all suffer from “foot in mouth” disease at one time or another. Really, nobody is perfect. Sometimes we have to go back and clarify what we’ve said or written. Sometimes we have to apologize. Sometimes we learn and change our minds. There is room for human frailty. Anyone who expects perfection from others will be disappointed, over and over again.

What there is no room for – what should not be tolerated – is blatant hypocrisy, manipulation, abuse.

How easily we forget this truth:

You are near, O Lord,
And all Your commandments are truth.

– Psalm 119:151 (NKJV)

God sees. God knows. Nothing is hidden.

The light always pierces and reveals.

We would do well to remember.

Stop.

Complete change of subject: In 2018, I will be opening up this space for the Wednesday Writers. Each Wednesday, I will have the privilege of showcasing another’s work. I’ve already announced this opportunity in the writers groups that I belong to, but I don’t want you to be left out!

The guidelines are simple:

  1. Read my statement of beliefs. If you can get on board with where I’m at (reasonable disagreement of course allowed, because we’re all different), then do pass “go.”
  2. You can write about anything you want and use as many words as you want. I will edit for grammar and spelling.
  3. If you are interested in participating, drop me a line via the contact page.

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Photo Credit: Ethan Hoover
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Review: Love and Kindness

Love and Kindness

Gentle Reader,

Christine Topijan has launched a series of picture books that explore Christian virtues. The first in this series, Love and Kindness, written in a simple format (the book is only 12 pages long), is one that children will learn from and adults will appreciate. Topijan reminds us to look out for ways that we can help and support others, because that’s what God does for us. He is faithful, true and unceasing in His outpouring of love and, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, He wants us to become faithful, true and loving.

My favorite line in this book comes from page 10:

He reminds us of how much He loves us when we feel down and alone.

There is not a child or adult on this planet who doesn’t need to be consistently reminded of this truth.

Nobody has to be taught how to be self-centered. That’s our natural inclination. We all have to be taught how to be observant, compassionate and willing to help others. This little book provides great examples for parents to share with their children as they teach them to be kind to those they meet. I especially appreciated her inclusion of special needs children; the reader is encouraged to reach out to those who are different instead of fearing or shunning them.

Topijan keeps it simple. She doesn’t waste a lot of ink and she doesn’t use the big words. Yet this book will easily stir up big conversations between parents and their children, conversations that should not be avoided. In this, Topijan aids readers everywhere in obeying the command of Deuteronomy 11:19 –

You shall teach them [God’s ways] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

–  NKJV

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I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.

Five Minute (Monday): Familiar

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Writing on Thanksgiving just wasn’t going to happen, thanks to a visit from the ugly Migraine Fairy. She decided to knock me about the head for a few days. She’s still hanging around, the tip of her icy wand just touching the back of my neck. I try to punch her, but she’s too quick. Or I’m too slow after two rounds of major pain pills. Either way, she sucks and I hate her.

Four days ago, Kate said: familiar.

Go.

Familiar things hurt sometimes. Instead of the warm fuzzies that flutter about your stomach when you smell your mom’s spaghetti or the smile that spreads across your face when a certain song plays, you feel a little sick. That word, that place, that person, that sound reminds you of something unpleasant. Something that came before that was perhaps never fully resolved. The blood rushes to your face. You get hot and prickly and you want to shout.

How do you do handle that feeling?

What do you do when you can see something not-great coming, but you don’t know how to stop it?

See, the thing about asking God for discernment and wisdom is that He gives it to you. Every time. In liberal quantities. Overflowing measures. Then you have to grapple with the burden of having that discernment and wisdom. Yes, the Lord is ever-near and bears the weight, but you still have your role to play. Your job to do. And it’s hard.

Harder still when you don’t know if anyone else sees it. Or when you know for sure that they don’t.

Getting close to God and becoming familiar with His ways means that patterns within yourself and others begin to emerge. Your eyes can’t unsee what they’ve seen before and what they’re seeing again. Your mind can’t ignore it and your heart can’t stop its anxious thudding. Blessedly, that same familiarity creates a deep and abiding knowing that God remains the same even as humanity remains fickle and reckless.

So, when the familiar thing comes and the pain begins again, you handle it by clinging to Him.

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Marina Khrapova

Enough with the Hustle (or, a Nerf Herding Life)

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

 

Star Wars: the Last Jedi comes out in a few weeks. The excitement in the Gregg house is reaching maximum levels.

Years ago, I had a retail job that lasted exactly two weeks. Pressure someone to buy a tube of lip gloss? No, thank you. If I hadn’t quit, I don’t doubt that I would have been fired. “Chatty, good salesman” will never be words that describe me.

So color me uncomfortable to know that everyone, it seems, is selling something.

I like to work hard. I don’t mind having to put in some effort. I don’t balk at a little sweat.

What irritates the crud-muffin out of me is having to put myself “out there.”

I get that there’s a business side to writing. I get that it takes time and energy to build up an audience. I get that social media has come to play a huge (and, in my opinion, disproportionate) role in the lives of authors everywhere. I get that link-ups are important, a way to meet other writers and grow your reach. I get that well-crafted titles are vital and attractive images necessary. I get that you have to keep the content flowing. I get that good design matters.

None of that is wrong or sinful.

But.

Did you know that people publish articles telling others how to write viral blog posts? There’s actually a formula. If you follow certain steps, you’re more likely to see your stats explode.

Did you know that you’re supposed to “cycle” your blog images on Pinterest so that your followers see them multiple times? Same goes for sharing links on Facebook and Twitter. Better overload that feed.

Did you know that you have to spend some good money attending writer’s conferences in order to get a literary agent to give your book proposal more than a passing glance? Most of these conferences are, as we say where I’m from, “back East,” making the cost simply out of the question for many.

Did you know that most Christian books are exactly alike because publishers are terribly risk-averse? Imagine how many voices you’ve never heard because they don’t harmonize with the established choir.

Did you know that if every blogger did everything that we are “supposed” to do in order to be successful (as the world defines it), we’d never see the sun because we’d be trapped behind our screens all day long? That’s no life at all.

Again, I like to work. I have to write. I believe that each one of us who taps the keys is required to take the calling seriously and do our best. I wouldn’t be coming up on my tenth blogging anniversary if I didn’t. There’s nothing wrong with sharing things on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan and dedicating time to this thing that is so important. As usual, the tools are benign.

And as usual, there is something wrong with the way we use them.

A Christian writer (or a writer who is a Christian, same difference), shouldn’t be selling herself. He shouldn’t be stressed out at 2:00 a.m. because he “only” has 500 followers. Nobody should feel bad when the stats aren’t that great. (After all, every last one of us writes a clunker from time to time). She shouldn’t be striving to squeeze herself into an “acceptable” box. He shouldn’t try to be like anyone else. Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Did you hear that?

Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Believe me, I struggle mightily with this. I am never going to be Miss Popular. I have considered throwing in the towel more than once. My voice does not sing the song that mainstream Christian culture wants to hear. I have more often than not wondered if I’m having any impact at all. Who really cares what I have to say? Who even knows that I”m here?

But what’s the goal: That anyone knows my name, or that they know His?

Our job isn’t to be “successful.” It’s not to go viral, gather a magical number of followers, brand ourselves to death, sign a multi-book deal or alter the message to make it more palatable. Our job is to preach the Gospel. It is to make much of Jesus. It is to decrease, while He increases (John 3:30).

Our words will fade.

His will not.

We are but a breath.

He is eternity.

So, enough with the hustle. It’s okay if you don’t have something to share every single day. It’s okay if you don’t follow the formula. It’s okay if you faithfully labor in the hidden places. It’s okay if you have no idea just who it is you are reaching. Your value and legacy have nothing to do with what you achieve. These things are wrapped up in Christ, whose child you are, in whose arms you are hidden.

The only thing that matters is if you used your ability to scatter words across the screen to give Him honor. The only thing that matters is if you point people to Him. At the culmination of time, when the clouds roll back and this world as we know it is no more, nobody is going to care how entertaining your Facebook page was. We’re going to be far too busy exulting in His presence.

Why not exult now? Why not believe, fully and deep in your bones, that He smiles upon you, no matter how great or little your reach may be?

So yes, fellow writer, work. Steward the gift well.

But, every once in awhile, step away from the computer and the page. Look around and look up. Throw caution and the “supposed to” into the wind and go for a walk. Pet a dog. Call a friend (or, really, text a friend, let’s be real). Do whatever it is that will shake you back into reality. Because there’s things more important, more vital, than stats and shares.

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