Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day After

Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:28-32 NIV
If your living room looked like mine yesterday, torn Christmas paper, bows, and bags were strewn around in the aftermath of opening presents. Cinnamon rolls and coffee had been consumed and the preparation for Christmas dinner begun. My daughter joined us from North Carolina, which added to the laughter and festivities of the day. 
After Jesus’ birth, not much is recorded in the Gospels about his life until his adult ministry. One of the few stories is about his family’s trip to Jerusalem for purification rites, which included a sacrifice at the temple, after Jesus’ birth and circumcism. Here they encounter the elderly man Simeon. His beautiful prayer is recorded in Luke.
Now that we have celebrated the Messiah’s birth, what is the condition of our hearts? Do we see our salvation anew? In the New Year, will our light shine for all the world to see?
Or do we merely have a house filled with opened gifts, leftover food, and the aftermath of festivities? 
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Luke 2:33
Oh Lord, may our hearts marvel today and every day at your greatest present ever to mankind—your Son Jesus. Help us to keep our focus on shining His light into the world as we strive to die to self and the materialism surrounding us. May your name always be on our lips and in our hearts as we go into the New Year. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

© Laura Hodges Poole
Photo courtesy of free clip art

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bless All The Dear Children

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
In this verse, Jesus teaches his disciples about a child’s worth. Even in the Middle East today, we see that women and children are of lesser value in the eyes of men. Yet, Jesus admonished his disciples to bring the children to him. He elevated children publically to their rightful place of value. Children illustrate the innocence and rebirth we experienced when we became followers of Christ. 
Do you think Jesus grieves when we grieve? He did during his life on this earth. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” Jesus knew he would raise his dear friend Lazarus from death, yet he felt grief and separation in that moment.
Christmas is certainly not the same this year in our world of violence and despair. I encourage you not to let it overtake you. Cling to the Savior and His promise to return one day to establish His perfect Kingdom—one without violence, hunger, broken homes, death, or despair. Look up into the dark, starry sky and think about the light that entered your heart when you accepted Him as savior. Celebrate the innocence of the baby Jesus as we remember those He gathered into his arms last Friday. Let us continue to pray for the families of these precious children and the six teachers who lost their lives last Friday in Newtown, CT. I encourage you also to pray for the killer’s family as they grieve. 
Sandy Hook Elementary School victims
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me I pray!
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.
If you’re grieving this Christmas, I’d love to pray for you. Please contact me via e-mail or leave a prayer request in the comments below so others can pray, as well. 
One activity spreading through social media right now is Ann Curry’s 26 Acts of Kindness in remembrance of those killed. Not only is it a great way to help combat personal depression and hopelessness so many feel right now, it’s a tangible way to get involved and spread Christ’s love while honoring those who died. Perhaps you’d consider sending a Christmas card to Sgt. Jesse McCart who we have been praying for since he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan during the summer and lost part of both legs. His contact information is listed on a separate page above.
May God bless you and your family in a special way.  
Merry Christmas,
© Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

God, Guns, and Mental Illness

As often occurs after a mass murder, statements about God, guns, and mental illness have abounded in the media and in society since last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Where was God on Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut? 
Right where He’s always been—comforting, loving, and grieving with us and for us. That never will change. 
So how could a loving God allow twenty kindergarteners to be killed?
The theological answer is that we live in a fallen world with all its human frailties, sin, and the consequences of sin. Good people die tragically and sometimes this includes children. Evil will be present until Jesus returns. 
But to explore the issue of God’s presence in this tragedy further, we have to also look at ourselves. In this increasingly secular progressive society we live in, certain forces have tried to push God out of every arena. And these same forces are alive within the church to water down sin and its consequences. I watched a particular thread about hell unfold on Facebook one day, and a “professing” Christian made the comment, “My God’s not cruel. Sorry yours is.” 
Wow! It’s called justice. Read your Bible. 
Or as C.S. Lewis put it:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "THY will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. 
And in a society where a large percentage of people claim belief in God, many fail to have any Biblical basis for what this means. How else can you explain the same people failing to understand that they were made in God’s image, not vice versa? God shouldn’t be different things to different people. He’s the One True God, consistent in His actions since day one. Read the Bible, and you’ll find this is so.
God has been pushed out of the school system. While they strive to teach right and wrong (and I don’t know how you do this apart from calling sin what it is), they aren’t allowed to teach eternal consequences, only the mentality of “if you get caught, X will happen.” It’s not a far stretch to see that a gunman’s plan of taking down as many people as he can in the most horrific manner he can before ending his life reflects no thought of possible judgment before God. The killer has accomplished his goal of ensuring his name goes down in history. He gets all the glory, right?
I think of all the commentaries I’ve heard over the past few days, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee put it best:
“We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that. Maybe we ought to let (God) in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
There’s more to the story. Our kids are inundated with movies that depict gratuitous violence and video games where people are killed with no feeling or consequences. This is a generation who has grown up on movies like John Q, where threatening others to serve your own agenda produces happy endings. And we dare ask why mass shootings happen?
American society continues to push God out. You only have to look at Christmas to see this is so. The secular progressives want to strip Christmas of any spirituality. They have a lot of nerve celebrating Jesus’ birthday to begin with, but then they want to tell everybody else to toss Jesus out the window, too. 
Redefine Him, marginalize Him, and castigate Him. Then ask where He is. 
Yeah, that’ll work. 
We are failing as a nation. Those who point the finger at God and ask why He allowed this to happen are hopelessly misguided. He set up the perfect world and gave us free choice. We’re the ones who’ve screwed it up. This world has grieved God’s heart from the moment He had to put us out of the Garden of Eden. God’s heart breaks every time human carnage happens on this earth. The Bible states He is a patient God (2 Peter 3:9), not wanting anyone to be lost, but this patience has an ending. It’s called Judgment Day. 
If you want to point a finger, it must turn inward on society and not above to our Lord. And you can’t simultaneously hold the belief there is no God and then blame Him when tragedy happens. 
Another issue exists—mental illness. 
While some shootings occur as a result of a disgruntled individual, like the shooting at Birmingham, AL, St. Vincent’s Hospital on Friday, mass murderers are more complex. Aside from what I’ve discussed above, these individuals are often deeply disturbed and suffering from some form of mental illness. In an article written by Liza Long, she shares her fear about the mental illness her teenage son has. (I’ve purposely not given the title of the article since it includes the Newtown killer’s name.) 
What struck me about Ms. Long’s nightmare is her unwillingness to excuse her son’s behavior. Even when her own life is endangered, she maintains an unwavering belief that he be held accountable for his actions. 
Furthermore, within the complex discussion about mental illness is the reality that a diagnosis is not a definitive precursor to mass killings. When my mentally ill sister would become delusional, psychotic, or severely depressed, she hurt herself. Some mass murders don’t show outward signs of mental illness beforehand. Sure, after the fact, family and friends have 20/20 hindsight that provides some clues to an illness. But a precursor to killing? Not always. 
I remember during the early 1990s living in Gainesville, FL, when a serial killer struck and butchered six students. The first arrest made in the case was a mentally ill young man who had stopped taking his psychotropic medication. When he was led into court in shackles, the cameras captured his dazed, deranged look. He fit the profile of the killer in everybody’s mind. Fortunately, DNA exonerated this innocent man.
Our mental health system is broken, and this has to be part of the discussion. But we must tread cautiously in doing so. 
Then there’s the elephant in the room. Gun control.  
On Friday, while this carnage happened in our country, China experienced a similar attack. However, the perpetrator used a knife. Twenty-two school children were critically wounded by the time he was stopped. Obviously, while tightening gun laws may reduce the overall number of fatalities, it isn’t going to stop mass murders from happening. 
So what’s the answer to the gun debate?
The Sandy Hook school principal lunged at the attacker, but what weapon did she have to stop the killer or protect herself? Her bare hands. That’s sad. 
I heard the president of the American Federation of Teachers speak on the television Sunday. The gist of her remarks (expressed in her best kumbaya voice) was school is a safe sanctuary of learning. Allowing more guns in (by administrators arming themselves) would jeopardize this.
We have armed resource officers in many schools in the South. Perhaps other regions of the country have them, as well. A couple of years ago, an armed student from another school managed to get inside the high school my son attends. The school went on lockdown while the resource officer went after the intruder. When the student saw the officer, he fled. The officer chased and captured him. The officer didn’t have to shoot him, but the kid knew he would. The student was there to settle a score over a girl, not to commit a mass murder, but imagine if he’d encountered the unarmed female principal instead of the armed resource officer. You have to wonder if the outcome would have been different. 
In addition to having a resource officer armed with a gun and taser, my son’s high school has two security officers on constant patrol, security cameras whose feed goes directly into the county sheriff’s office, and many other security measures in place. Will this ensure complete safety for my child? No, but consider this. The gunman at Sandy Hook only stopped killing when the first responders were running down the hall toward the classroom he was in. At that point he took his life
The problem of mass murders and public shootings is complex, one that has developed over time. The solution is no doubt multi-faceted, but we can’t afford to take the same amount of time to find it. Nor can it be the single-minded “my way or no way” mentality permeating our society. If we don’t put aside the divisiveness in this country and work together to find solutions, these murders will continue to escalate.
© Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Coping With Loss And The Holidays Part III

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
Today, I'm thrilled to have guest blogger Kristin Johnson share the story of her father and son and how, with God's strength, we can endure all things. Welcome Kristin!  
With God all things are possible. He will never put anything in front of us we cannot endure. It was August 2008, and my dad was having an outpatient procedure done to remove a tumor in his jaw. My husband Chris, myself, and our three children were heading to North Carolina for one last summer vacation before school started. We decided to stop by the Charlotte Medical Center to check on my dad on the way. Mom had expressed some concerns because dad had to be taken back into the operating room due to some complications and he wasn't waking up. 
To make a very long story short, my dad did not make it through this and died on August 2nd, 2008. We were all in shock, but my dad had come to visit me the weekend before he died. He told me he was a little scared but knew God would take care of Him. I felt peace and knew I needed to be strong for my family.
We were just getting through with the shock of my dad's death, when our 3-year-old son Samuel had a tricycle accident at my mom's house. We had been staying with her since my dad died so she wouldn’t be alone. Samuel had trouble walking for about two weeks, which seemed odd since the accident wasn't that bad. He began bruising for no reason and spiking high fevers. We took him to the doctor, and they ran some tests which determined Samuel had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Samuel was diagnosed of September 4th, 2008, only one month after my dad died.
Okay, God, you promised to never put anything in front of us we cannot handle, right?
This felt like more than we could handle. We prayed God would guide the doctors involved with Samuel's care and that he would sustain us through this trial. I prayed to God, begging it could be me and not Samuel. He was so young and had so much life! God did sustain us, and yes, at times it seemed life could never be the same. The challenge was overwhelming, but God helped us see His mercy and kindness through Samuel's walk with cancer. 
We were so blessed with excellent doctors, family, and friends who helped us through Samuel's journey. Katelyn and Paul, Samuel's older sister and brother were a huge support for Samuel and continue to be there for their little brother. Also my mom helped me take care of Samuel, which helped her get through the loss of my dad. She was helping us and that made her feel good. God is good all the time. J  
Samuel completed his leukemia treatment and is all better. He got his chemo port out Christmas break 2011! 
Not all stories like this end as well as ours has, but I know God never left our side through my dad's death or Samuel's cancer, and for that I am eternally grateful. I pray for those who suffer during the holidays and hope they will feel God's power and strength. May God bless each of you. 
~Kristin B. Johnson 

“I can do all things because Christ gives me the strength.” Philippians 4:13

Our prayer list and Sgt. Jesse McCart’s updates are above. Christmas is a difficult time for folks suffering with grief and chronic illness. Would you take a moment to lift them up in prayer and consider sending a card to Jesse and his wife? Their contact info is on his page, as well. 
Are you grieving this Christmas? I’d love to pray for you. Please leave a comment or email me confidential requests.
© Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why I Wouldn't Attend Writers' Conferences

As a novice writer, it’s what you don’t know that’ll hurt you. It’s kind of like when my husband or son aren’t listening to me while I’m talking, and suddenly they perk up and say, “What?” My eyes narrow and I ask, “What part didn’t you hear?” 
The same with writing. There’s so much to learn about the publishing world. All writers experience hard knocks as they maneuver this learning curve. As I mentor or have discussions with fellow writers, similarities emerge about their journeys. Beginners are often resistant to certain stepping stones that will further their careers.
Fear of the unknown. 
One avoidance in particular stands out—writers’ conferences. 
Within this resistance, specific reasons are given for not attending. Again, nothing new under the sun. I say this because they were also my reasons. 
I can’t afford to attend. This is a valid reason. I remember when scraping together $100 for a local day conference was difficult for me. I couldn’t justify spending money that could be used elsewhere in the family budget. Even so, it also served as a mental crutch to avoid attending.
Practical solutions:
·       Get an envelope and every week put a few dollars in it. Add to it when you receive an unexpected windfall like birthday money or a work bonus. Tuck the envelope away in your desk and don’t touch it, no matter what. Well, unless the power company is threatening to turn off your power.

·       Christmas is three weeks away. My family complains they don’t know what to get me. They say I never want anything and whatever I need, I can buy. If you’re asked what you want, don’t be shy. Speak up and say, “You know, I’d like to attend a writers’ conference in 2013, but I need a few sponsors to pay the fee. A donation of any size would be appreciated.” Then, make sure the gift is tucked away in the “conference” envelope and not used to buy socks for your kids. J 

·       Garage sales are a great way to raise money. This is found money, not paycheck money designated for bills. Ask your spouse if a percentage of the profit could be set aside for your “writing fund.”  

·       Look for free or inexpensive writing workshops. The first writing function I attended was a free workshop hosted by a local writing group at the library. Christian author Lynette Eason was the featured speaker. We became friends through that workshop and subsequent e-mails. She was one of my first mentors. I learned a great deal from her about writing and the industry.
I’m an introvert. Another valid reason that’s also a mental crutch. Your thoughts may sound something like this: “I’d die if an agent/editor/published writer speaks to me. I won’t know what to say. I’ll probably babble something incoherent and blow any chance of getting a contract.” 
I’m not sure if anyone has ever fainted in front of an agent or editor. If they have, I’m sure everyone involved survived. And, look at it like this. You’ll make a lasting impression. J Yes, you’ll probably babble. I’ve done it and survived. 
Seriously, very few writers are more introverted than I am. I prefer communicating through my keyboard, and it’s not just a case of being shy. God wires introverts to thrive in solitude, whereas extroverts get their energy from crowds of people. Conferences can be exhausting for both types. 
Practical solutions:
·        If it is your first conference, your goal could be to simply learn and network among other writers. Unless you have a polished, complete manuscript, don’t plan to pitch to an agent or editor. However, if you do have a book manuscript in progress, have a basic premise memorized (a pitch) in case you find yourself at a dining table or standing next to an agent or editor and they ask about your work. If you have a short pitch memorized, you have some hope of coherent words coming out of your mouth. I promise as you mingle with writing industry folks, you’ll get more comfortable.  

·        If you’re attending a local one or two-day conference, use your break time to get away. Resist the urge to always network during this time. It’s called a break for a reason. For overnight conferences, I’ve used my lunch break to capnap to rejuvenate for the afternoon/evening sessions. Solitude is a must for an introvert or you’ll burn out. The last conference I attended, I skipped a session on teen writing because it’s not my area of interest. Instead, I hung out in my hotel room and worked on my current manuscript until the next class. Pacing myself enabled me to handle the rigors of the 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. day.
My work isn’t good enough yet. Okay, I’ve used this excuse myself. What if someone asks if I’m published? No big deal. There will always be writers ahead of and behind you on the writing path. If you truly feel your writing hasn’t reached the publishable stage, the education you get in conference classes is invaluable to honing your skills. 
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
There are other ways to get published. Sure, many paths to publication exist. But remember how I started this post? It’s what you don’t know that increases that time frame. Most published writers will tell you that attending conferences to network, gain writing education, and build friendships with other writers will cut your time tremendously to becoming published. 
However, don’t network solely for the sake of networking. These are people you’ll build friendships with and receive support from on your writing journey. Christian writing is a ministry. A support system is imperative. You have “someone” with a vested interest in your failure.
I’m going to attend the Writers Advance! Boot Camp at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC, February 1-3, 2013. My dream is to attend American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) national conference held in Indianapolis next September. I’m working toward making that a reality.
So what are you waiting for? I want to hear about your plans to attend a writers’ conference in 2013. If you’ve attended a conference, what did you learn from the experience that you didn’t expect? 
© Laura Hodges Poole
Photo courtesy of free clip art

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Coping With Loss And The Holidays Part II

Today, I'm happy to introduce a guest blogger, my dear friend Betty McCarty, who will share about her son Brian’s death and how God carried her through the grief. This is the second part of a three-part series which ran in 2011. 
“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3
I’m a mother of three—my firstborn, Brian, and two daughters, Shanna & Sarah. 
June 10, 2007, was a beautiful Lord’s Day. We had been home about two hours from church services, when one or both of the girls said something about state troopers pulling up on the road next to our house. I looked and saw three Florida Highway Patrol cars and one unmarked police car. I went outside to see why they were there. I knew something wasn’t right. 
One of the officers called out as he walked toward our home, “Are you Brian Gillen’s mother?”
I said, “Yes. Is he ok?” 
The officer shook his head no. I then learned that my 24-year-old son had been killed in a motorcycle/car accident. He was on the motorcycle. A car had pulled out in front of him. They tried to make it sound as if it were his fault because he was going too fast. Some of our family and friends were angry at the girl who’d pulled out in front of him. I have learned you don’t have to “blame” anyone. Sometimes things just happen. 
Soon afterwards, I made a call to a member of the church I attended. I also called friends from the two previous churches where I’d been a member before. I asked them all to pray for us. In the midst of the grief and turmoil, I knew we would need God’s help to get through this. I will never understand people turning their back on God when they need him the most. 
God answered the prayers. I can’t tell you that getting through the grief process has been easy, but I can tell you that God has helped make it more bearable.
Brian was a brother my two daughters looked up to, even more after their father died 4½ years earlier of a massive heart attack. Brian was a father, as well, to my beautiful little granddaughter Elizabeth. She is a gift from God. She is Brian with us. We all miss Brian.
One day I thought – what’s wrong with me? I haven’t cried that much. I’m doing too well. Please understand it is not because I haven’t grieved my son’s death. I have cried and missed him so much. It’s because my God carried us through! 
Sometimes, we tend to miss those we’ve lost more around the holidays. Their loss makes us sad.  My suggestion is this – pray. Prayer is what got me through the endless hours of grief. Also, find someone you can comfort. Helping someone else in need tends to get our minds off our own problems. Seeing Elizabeth at Christmas eases my holiday grief, as well, and my girls help me stay strong.
Remember, tell those you love that you love them every single chance you get. I’m thankful that just two days prior to Brian’s death, I told him I loved him. That memory brings me much comfort.
Have you ever wondered how Mary must have felt when she saw Jesus upon the cross? As a mother who has loved a son and lost him, I can assure you the pain was enormous but so was God’s grace and mercy in comforting her.
 ~Betty McCarty

Are you grieving a loss this Christmas? I’d love to pray for you. Please leave a comment or email me confidential requests. Our prayer list and Sgt. Jesse McCart’s updates are above. The holiday season is a difficult time for folks suffering with grief and chronic illness. Would you take a moment to lift them up in prayer and consider sending a card to Jesse and his wife? Their contact info is on his page, as well.

Emily, the 12-year-old young lady with bone cancer we've been praying for, goes in for a CT scan on her lungs tomorrow at 11:00 and then a left leg bone X-ray at 1:00, to check for bone growth and to ensure she is still tumor free. If the tests are clear, she'll go another three months before rechecking. She is walking with a cane now, so the family is thankful for this! Please lift up this young lady and her family as they go through these tests tomorrow. Thank you. 
© Laura Hodges Poole