Getting Back to Normal?

How many times have you heard, thought, or said the words, “When things get back to normal–“? Are you hoping things will change before you start a new project? Are you just sitting back and waiting for things to get back to normal before you make any new commitments? Though we may be living with limitations we’re not accustomed to, we could be waiting for some far-off (and possibly non-existent) future, and besides, what is normal anyway?

In 1939, when Britain was on the edge of war (a war that would soon change their lives dramatically), C. S. Lewis preached a sermon, “Learning in War-Time.” A professor at Oxford, Lewis wanted to assure his students that learning was always important, no matter the world situation, and we can never have any guarantees of “normalcy.”

“The war (or virus or riots or civil unrest) creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal llife’. Life has never been normal.”

If life has never been normal, then why does it seem so extraordinary now? And how are we live our lives?

Lewis told his students it is important to remember to do whatever God has given them to do, no matter what the circumstances. “The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord’ . . . A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.”

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation at the church at Thessalonica. When times are normal or not so normal, we should always: “Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (MSG)

We all need to be constant students of the Word. No need to wait for life to be “normal” to do what God has called us to do. I had decided this year to enter several writing contests with the various short stories and poems I have been working on. Sometimes this seems like a waste of time, but the words of Lewis and Paul remind me that I need to continue to do the works God has given me whether that means writing a blog post, sending out a story, studying His Word, praying for my children, or encouraging one of my sisters or brothers to carry on. Don’t wait for life to return to normal to do what God has called you to do. This is the time He has put you in to live for Him. Now, excuse me as I see a contest deadline looming ahead.

If God Had Chosen Quarantine by P.M. Gilmer

If God Had Chosen Quarantine

What if God had chosen to quarantine

Himself (as the agnostics would have us

believe)? To be isolated from

the virus of man, to keep a social

and moral and holy distance from

Heaven to earth, (six feet, six miles–it

may as well be a million of either),

then what would have happened to all mankind?     

 

For in the beginning we were

separated by a great gulf of sin–

by a rebellion caused by pride.

We listened to Another and

chose to believe we could be

wiser than our Creator and King.

 

What if God had chosen then to

quarantine Himself from us? To keep

His distance and His face covered and

His voice silenced and His heart closed?

 

How could our feet be cleansed that we

might stand on holy ground? And who

would wash our hands that we might

lift them to praise and worship

our Creator and our Savior

 

For we walk in this world where

communicable diseases of sin

brush up against us and cling to us.

They touch our eyes, our ears, our hands,

our feet, and our minds. How can we not

be touched daily by the virus of sin?                         

 

What if the Veil had not been torn?

If a mask still covered the face of God?

A mask that keeps the breath of God

from reaching us? A mask that keeps                                     

us from his mercy, his grace, his goodness?

 

But the God of the universe risked

contamination and broke the quarantine.

He came down to us and the Veil

was torn, the mask ripped away

to reveal the face of a merciful God.

 

He that would not be quarantined.

He did not keep himself apart from us,

but came down and bridged that sinful

distance, and cleanses us with his blood

and daily washes our feet and hands.

P.M. Gilmer

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Your Story Matters–Leslie Leyland Fields

 

I have often considered writing “my story,” my testimony, something to leave to my children. Several weeks ago, my pastor encouraged us as a congregation to do that very thing. Write down your story. Why? Because it is your testimony of God’s power in your life. No one can argue with your story, discount it, discredit it. It is yours and it is God’s gift to you. Why do we hestitate to share it?

In Your Story Matters, Fields leads you chapter by chapter in how to seek out, put together, and tell your story. Why? “And since the One Who is Running All Things, including galaxies, takes care to notice lost sheep, dying sparrows, and falling hair, we should notice as well. Writing helps us notice what God notices. So write your story because God attends to every moment of your life and you should too.”

Writing your story doesn’t mean writing about your life from birth until the present. It’s not about telling every childhood memory (whether good or bad); it’s not about spilling the beans on your personal or family secrets; and it’s definitely not about a chance for revenge. It should be about a significant moment of your life, a turning point, and–if you’re a Christian–a refining moment between you and God.

“The inner story is not the record of everything that has happened to you; rather, it focuses on a key theme and transformative event in your life.”

You may not believe yourself to be a writer and may have no interest in writing anything else, but this book is for everyone because everyone has a story. At the end of each chapter are writing prompts and assignments with practical steps for discovering and writing your story. I read through the book first, but I now plan to go back and do the assignments and write my own story. I can’t wait to see where God will take me in this adventure.

If you’ve been wanting to share your story, but not sure where to start, I highly recommend reading this book and following the writing exercises.

This book is now available for preorder wherever you buy your books.

*A pdf copy of this book was provided to me for an honest review.

On a previous post, I reviewed Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas. https://pmgilmer.com/2017/07/01/crossing-the-waters-by-leslie-leyland-fields/ 

One Starry Night–A Christmas Poem (part 3)

One Starry Night (part 3)

A manger, they knew, would be found where the

animals were fed, so they made their way

behind the first inn and followed the sounds

(and smells) of animals whose nightly slumber

had been disturbed. Quietly, they approached

a cave carved into a small hill where the

soft, smoky glow of an oil lamp cast a

shadow. They stopped as one when they reached the

entrance, suddenly unsure of their next

move. Just as Reuben decided to go

forward, the cry of a baby broke the

stillness of the night. The shepherds gasped and

several of them surprised themselves with tears.

Going in together, they peered in awe

at the sight. A young woman (a girl to

their eyes) along with a man dressed in

garments plain, crouched over a manger where

a newborn infant lay wrapped in cloths just

as the Messenger had told them. They crept

as close as they dared, wondering at the

babe whose birth had been declared to them by

a heavenly being and even sung

about by a heavenly choir. “We

were told to come here,” the old shepherd broke

the silence. “By a . . .” He stopped, unable

to continue and unsure of how to

explain the phenomenon they had witnessed.

The young woman smiled at them. “An angel?”

she suggested. “Yes!” they all said at once.

Then, mindful of the sleeping babe, they told

their story in excited, though hushed whispers.

“Yes, yes! An angel, that’s what he was. A

messenger sent from God. He told us he

had good news.” “Good news for everyone. The

whole world.” “He said it was great joy.” “For

everyone.” “He said we would find a baby.”

“A baby wrapped in cloths.” “In a manger.”

They stopped for breath and gazed anew at the

sleeping babe. How could such a small, helpless

newborn baby be the cause of such a

revelation? Of a heavenly

announcement? The promise of good news for

all people? “He said,” the old shepherd, Asa,

cleared his throat. “He said, the Messenger, I

mean, that this baby is the Christ. Our

Messiah.” Tears filled his eyes. “I never

thought he’d come for me.” The plain-dressed

man, who seemed to be the baby’s guardian,

placed an arm around the old shepherd’s shoulders.

“We were as amazed as you when the

Messenger came to us and gave us the

same good news. This baby is God’s gift to

us and will do more for us than we can

ever imagine.” “We must go and tell

everyone what we have seen and heard,” Asa

declared. His companions, though mildly

amused at the old shepherd’s change of heart,

joyfully agreed. With a final look

at the Christ child and a farewell to the

young couple–whom they all knew would face times

of trouble and sorrow as they raised this

baby in this sin-struck world–they set out

to walk the streets of Bethlehem as morning

broke and people began to stir. They stopped

and told everyone they met of the

celestial announcement they had received

about the baby and the significance

of his arrival. Though some had no interest

in hearing news of any kind from lowly

shepherds, many others marveled at their

story and spread the word throughout their town

and still others carried the story to

their homes in places near and far throughout

Israel. “A baby has been born to you.”                  P.M. Gilmer     Soli Deo gloria

One Starry Night–A Christmas Poem (part 2)

One Starry Night (part 2)

The shepherds all gathered together to

discuss this news that had been given to

them. “Could this be true?” one old grizzled

veteran shepherd asked. “A baby who

is the Christ?” “Did you ever hear such

singing?” asked another, his eyes still on

the sky and his ears still ringing with the

fading heavenly melody. “What should

we do?” worried a third. “Go and see!”

exclaimed one eager shepherd. This shepherd

put on his sandals, grabbed his cloak and staff,

and made ready to leave for Bethlehem,

not caring if anyone joined him

or not. He wanted to see this baby

whose birth had launched a choir of heavenly

messengers. “Now, wait,” the old veteran

cautioned. “We can’t just run off and leave our

sheep, especially when we’re not sure who

those creatures were or even where they came

from.” The rest of the shepherds looked at him

aghast. “Why, they surely came from heaven.

Where else could they be from?” “They were angels,

I be certain,” declared another. “And

I am with Reuben. To Bethlehem, I

am bound.” And he, too, put on his sandals

and took up his sack and staff. Soon, they were

all picking up their things, murmuring with

excitement. “A message from heaven, did

you ever hear of such a thing?” “No!” said

the old shepherd. “I never have and neither

have any of you. Why would someone from

heaven want to speak to the likes of us?”

Reuben placed a hand on the old man’s shoulder.

Good news for all people. Come with us, Asa,

and see if this baby is where the

Messenger said he would be. Our sheep will

be fine until we return.” The old shepherd

considered his companions, shrugged, and fell

in line. A trip to Bethlehem in the

middle of the night seemed like madness to

the old shepherd, but this whole night had been

unlike any he had ever encountered

in his eighty some years. A messenger

from heaven? Or a demon to mislead

and taunt them? His friends seemed certain the word

came from Heaven, but he had experienced

more of the latter than the former. Still,

a surge of hope went through him as he

tottered after his fellow shepherds,

listening to their excited chatter

as they made their way along the moon-lit

road to Bethlehem, the city of David.

They entered through the gates of Bethlehem,

(How did those shepherds know which way to go?)

and walked unerringly through the darkened

streets. Shops were closed and houses still, but from

overflowing inns, light and noise spilled out

and in front of one of these the shepherds

stopped and considered again the words of

the Messenger. “You will find a baby

wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”               P.M. Gilmer

One Starry Night–A Christmas Poem (part 1)

One Starry Night  (part 1)

A long day finally over, the sheep

now settled to sleep. The weary shepherds

found places to rest–some to lay their heads;

others to keep watch over their flocks (many

of them destined to be a sacrifice

for man’s sins), alert for any dangers

that might be lurking or for any sheep

that might decide to take a midnight stroll.

Under a clear sky with stars so bright,

the night air took on a chill, causing the

sheep to huddle together and the shepherds

to wrap their cloaks around themselves and most

stayed near one of the fires kept burning throughout

the night. The men on the first watch neither

saw nor heard anything to make them believe

this night would be any different than hundreds

of others. When their time was ended, they

went to wake their companions for the second

watch. Before they could rouse the slumbering

shepherds, a light so bright filled the sky and

caused the poor shepherds to gasp and cover

their faces. Some fell to their knees and one

even stumbled into the companion

he had come to waken causing a stir

amongst the others whose dreams had just been

shattered. But when they tried to open their

eyes and grumble at their rude awakening,

they too were blinded by the light and covered

their faces in fear. Barely able to

think or breathe, they heard a Voice speak from–

where? The Light? The sky? It seemed to fill the

very air. “Do not be afraid!” the Voice

cried out. Though still they trembled, they slowly

lowered their arms and their hands from their

faces; and their eyes began to make out

a form. A form so majestic they knew

it was no ordinary being and

had to have come from Heaven. “Behold!”

the Being proclaimed and as he continued

to speak, the shepherds ceased their trembling and

stared and listened in awe. Even the sheep

had shaken off their drowsiness and seemed

to be listening as well. “I bring you

good news that will bring great joy to all

people. Today in Bethlehem, the city

of David, a Savior has been born to

you. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the

Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you

will find a baby wrapped in cloths and

lying in a manger.” Before the shepherds

could marvel at these words, the Messenger

Being was, in an instant, joined by a

whole host of more of these Heavenly Beings.

They began to sing in voices so sweet,

the shepherds stood entranced and the sheep

bleated softly as if in accord with

their song. “Glory to God in the highest

of heavens, and peace on earth among all

those who delight Him.” And as suddenly

as they had appeared, the messenger choir

was gone, leaving the shepherds to stare up

into the star-filled sky as if waiting

for more miracles to appear. The sheep,

however, knew the heavenly show

was over and so settled themselves to

to return to their peaceful slumber.            P.M. Gilmer

 

NC Christian Writers Conference 18

Last week I attended a writers’ conference in Liberty, N.C. put on by Serious Writer (www.seriouswriter.com) Going to a conference can be a big commitment as well as an extra expense–especially for struggling writers. What are some reasons for attending a writers’ conference?

  1. To meet other writers. Why is this important? We writers spend our working hours alone and a lot of time just in our own heads. To meet others who also have this strange way of living is refreshing and encouraging. As C.S. Lewis put it: “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another ‘What, you, too? I thought that no one but myself . . .'”
  2. To meet people in the “business.” You know, editors, agents, publishers, and, did I mention other writers?
  3. To attend workshops that will help you better your craft.
  4. To have your questions answered. To learn what your questions should be in the first place.
  5. To hear other people’s stories. You know, other writers.
  6. Encouragement. I had to force myself to make some appointments to pitch my book, but I’m glad I did. I don’t know yet what may come of the appointments, but I did get some positive feedback.
  7. Worship. As Christians, we should worship God in whatever we do. Attending a conference with other Christians makes this easier and is a good reminder of Who we’re working for.

I’m already looking forward to next year. What about you? Have you been to a writers’ conference this year? Making plans to go soon?

Charles Dickens and Serial Fiction

Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a new story in eight parts. I will not wait a week between each posting as I did with my last story, and each installment (except the last) will be considerably shorter than the installments of “My Name is Absalom.” I believe these shorter installments will be more attractive to those who like to read on their phone–whether waiting in line or finding yourself with a few minutes to kill waiting on a doctor or a loved one, etc. (not waiting in traffic, please).

Serial fiction is nothing new, and in the 19th century, many books were first published this way. I knew Charles Dickens published some of his books in serial fashion, so I decided to do a little research to learn more about how and why he published in this way.

First I learned that Dickens published all of his books this way. I heard someone just a few days comment (complain?) about the wordiness of Dickens’ books, but serial publishing explains this to some degree. No one in the 19th century sat down with an over 800 page copy of David Copperfield or Bleak House. Most of his novels were published in twenty parts. In Dickens’ first book, The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), thirty-two pages of text along with two engraved illustrations, and sixteen pages of advertising sold for a shilling. The last installment cost two shillings as the text and illustrations were doubled and other parts were included such as a preface, table of contents, list of illustrations, etc.

Other authors who published in serial form include: George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace. In the early 20th century, books by Hemingway, Edith Wharton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were also serialized. Their books were serialized in newspapers often after they had already come out in books.

In this century, several books have come about after being posted as blog posts. Andy Weir first posted the chapters of his book, The Martian, as blog posts after failing to publish other books. When his fans wanted it put in book form, he created a Kindle version for .99. After selling 35,000 copies in three months, he finally had the attention of some publishers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading short stories in serialized form? Or even books? What type of stories do you think are best suited for being published in several installments?

 

In Search of a Critique Group

Critique groups for writers are a necessary evil. Aren’t they? Most of us who write prefer our own company to any other. Also, as long as we are the only one reading our writing, we can believe it’s pretty good. Or not too bad. Or actually, it’s terrible and not worth the hard drive on which it has been stored. (See what I mean?)

But there comes a time when, if we’re serious about putting our work out there to the public in some way (preferably publication as in people are lining up to buy our books or we’re winning prizes for our stories and New York is calling), we must find some other writers who can give us constructive feedback. Letting your friends and loved ones read your work and tell you it’s the best book they’ve ever read (even if they haven’t read anything since high school) is all well and good, but will not impress any agent, editor, or publisher.

How to find that perfect critique group has eluded me so far, so, unfortunately, I am not here to give you any helpful tips if you are in that same position of looking for a good group. I have a couple of possibilities right now, and I hope to be able to share with you in the next few months about how I have finally found that group and how amazingly helpful they have been.

So, while I’m continuing my quest for a critique group, I will share the basic guidelines for what I expect from a group, and maybe you can suggest a few more. The first may seem obvious, but you would be surprised. Everyone in the group needs to be writing and to be serious about writing. (Who would join a group about writing who isn’t actually writing? All those who dream about writing and know how easy it really is, and think ‘what’s the big deal anyway?’)

Secondly, everyone needs to be willing to share something of what they’ve written and be willing to listen to everyone’s comments on their selection without being defensive or apologetic. And, third, everyone needs to be willing to read the writings of all members and give helpful feedback. No “this was great” or “this was terrible.” Be specific at what you like, don’t like, or feel needs to be made more clear.

Coming Soon: Besides rewriting Solomon I (totally changing the POV; more on that another time) and working on Solomon II, I’m working on a story to post in this very blog. Soon.

Fun Fact: I noticed when I started writing this blog, I have published one hundred posts, so here’s to 101.

P. S. For any of you writers out there, the Charlotte Writers Club has their nonfiction contest open now. Any piece of unpublished nonfiction from 750-2000 words may be entered. For more information, check out their website: charlottewritersclub.org

How about you? Have you been part of a critique group? What worked and what didn’t?

 

 

New Name, New Domain

For those who have been following my blog from the beginning, you know I started this blog for a class assignment while working on my masters degree. My original intent was to share homeschooling news, library events, and book reviews.

For the past two years or so, I have returned to writing on a more serious and full-time basis. I have heard and read that I need to have my own domain–under my own name–in order to build a better platform and so that people can find me. I have been dragging my feet about it, but have finally taken the plunge and will be blogging under http://www.pmgilmer.com. I will start with an introduction, then will post “My Name is Absalom”. It will still be in seven parts, but I will probably not wait a week between each post as it is a rerun to most of my readers. Of course, I hope to attract new readers, and I believe this is a good example of my writing.

It will take me a few days to set up my new blog, (and if you go to it now, you will only be redirected to “declare”) and I will continue to post book reviews and other random things that take my fancy on “declare”. I know many people keep up with more than one blog, but I doubt I will do that for long. Then again, who knows?

I hope you will continue to follow me here, but will also join me in my writing journey at http://www.pmgilmer.com