Wednesday, December 25, 2013

He's Here!

The Savior was born!
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:16-20 NIV

Merry Christmas! Except for Easter, today is the most joyous day in a Christian's life. We get to celebrate the birth of our Savior. He came as a babe and grew into a man then died and rose again to take the punishment for our sins so we might spend eternity with him. Praise God! I pray you have the assurance of this salvation. If not, I pray this is the year you seek to learn who Jesus is.

One of my favorite Christmas songs and videos is this one from Francesca Battistelli, "You're Here." I know most of you are spending the day with family and not much time online, which is why I'm keeping this short and sweet. But take a few minutes to consider the wonder of our Savior's birth as you watch this.

If there's anything you need prayer for today, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. My prayer for you is that you'll find spiritual peace through the celebration of Jesus' birth. God bless you all.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours. 

©Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Disappointing Christmas Gift

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…Isaiah 9:6-7 

The first rays of sunlight peeked through the curtains. Christmas morning had finally arrived! I tumbled out of bed and ran down the hall with my brothers and sisters in tow. My little bare feet carried me as fast as I could go on the cold linoleum. I had waited months for my beautiful red tricycle with a bell on its handlebars, red-and-white streamers, and a wooden wagon attached behind the trike, fireman’s style, to complete the ensemble. My anticipation heightened the closer I got to the living room and the Christmas tree.

I stopped short. To my surprise, a plain green tricycle sat under the tree. Where was the shiny red trike and wagon I had asked for? Apparently, the North Pole ran out of those particular trikes and delivered the plain green one on Christmas Eve instead. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

The Israelites had a similar reaction to the gift of their Messiah. For hundreds of years, they had anticipated Isaiah’s proclamation of a Savior to rule like no king ever had in their history. Instead, they got a meek baby lying in a plain, no frills manger. Adding to their disappointment was the fact he was a mere carpenter’s son and, after a three-year ministry, was prepared to die on a cross. To save them from their sins? Did he not see the throat-hold the Roman Empire had on them?

The Jewish people couldn’t embrace this kind of Messiah. He didn’t fulfill their expectations. Even one in Jesus’ inner circle was disappointed enough to betray him.

I can’t say I got over my disappointment any easier than the Israelites. I never forgot the shiny red tricycle with its wooden wagon, bell, and streamers, although I had hours of fun on the plain green trike until I outgrew it.

When our expectations of God’s blessings don’t quite match what we receive, it’s easy to grumble and think our solution would have been better. Why didn’t He just answer our prayer according to our plans?

Trust God to bless you in the way He deems best. Our Savior Jesus Christ turned out to be the most perfect gift of all!

If you have a prayer need this Christmas, please share it in the comments section. If your request is confidential, please e-mail me. While you’re here, would you also take a moment to lift up others in prayer? Thanks.

Are you struggling with loss and grief during the holidays? The last two years I’ve shared these guest blog posts about coping with loss through the holidays. If you’re grieving, I hope you will find some solace in these blog posts as these ladies shared how their faith got them through their toughest days. J

My sister Teresa wrote about her first Christmas after losing her husband to pancreatic cancer just four months before. Click here to read.  
My friend Betty wrote about losing her son in a motorcycle accident six months before Christmas. Click here to read. 
My friend Kristin wrote about losing her father through a hospital error and then her three-year-old son being diagnosed with leukemia a month later. This happened three months before Christmas. Click here to read.
I'm excited to share that this blog was accepted into the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid. "Bible Gateway Blogger Grid (BG²) is an international network of independent bloggers who meaningfully blog—and who are serious—about matters relating to the Bible." ( Gateway is a tremendous resource, not only for writers but for any Christian serious about Biblical research. It also has scores of devotions you can receive through e-mail on varying topics like Max Lucado's “Five Days of Hope,” as well as many other resources. If you've never visited this website, take a few moments to do so. You'll be blessed.

Merry Christmas,
Laura J

© Laura Hodges Poole

Friday, December 13, 2013

Four Reasons I Wouldn’t Attend Writers Conferences

Writers' Conference
As a novice writer, it’s what you don’t know that’ll hurt you. Kind of like when my husband or son aren’t listening to me when I’m talking, and suddenly they perk up and say, “What?” My eyes narrow, and I ask, “What part didn’t you hear?”

There’s so much to learn about the publishing world. All writers experience hard knocks as they maneuver along 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 to further their careers.


Fear of the unknown.

One avoidance in particular stands out—writers’ conferences.

Within this resistance are specific reasons 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 and a half 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:
· Label an envelope “writers’ conference,” 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. J
· Christmas is less than two 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, “I’d love to attend a writers’ conference in 2014, 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 your conference envelope and not used to buy socks for your kids. J
· Garage sales are a great way to raise money. Or sell items you’re not using anymore on Craigslist. This is found money, not paycheck money designated for bills. Ask your spouse to agree for a percentage of the profit to be set aside for your “writing fund.”
· Look for free or inexpensive local writing workshops. The first writing workshop I attended was free and hosted by a local writing group at the library. Christian suspense 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 fiction writing and the publishing industry. I also attended a half-day workshop with guest speaker Cecil Murphey for only $15.

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, no doubt everyone involved survived. And, look at it like this. You’ll make a lasting impression.J Yes, you’ll probably babble a little. 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’s 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 catnap 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. This is actually a perfect reason to attend. “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 or might lead you into prematurely e-publishing a manuscript that’s not ready. 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 and help create an invaluable marketing platform that’s necessary for whatever route you choose to publication.

One caveat. 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. You have “someone” with a vested interest in your failure. A support system to work against the negative is imperative.

I’m going to attend Writers Advance! Bootcamp at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in North Carolina in February 2014. I’m also working toward attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, also in North Carolina, in May 2014. My dream is to attend American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) national conference one year. Maybe the year it comes to Nashville (only five hours from my home). 

It's your turn. I want to hear about your plans to attend a writers’ conference in 2014. If you haven’t made plans, what’s your “dream” conference? If you’ve attended a conference, what did you learn from the experience you didn’t expect?

Happy Writing,
Laura J

© Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Memories—The Best Gift of All

Amusing ourselves with
what little we had
Growing up in a family of nine gives me a different perspective than many folks. Large families were the norm in my parents’ generation but not in mine and not so much since. Unless you count the Duggars. Although I wouldn’t really consider them the norm.

My mother made our clothes. We got store-bought clothes on special occasions—like Christmas. I looked forward to new clothes, especially since being the fifth child I wore hand-me-downs most of the time. My dad owned a cleaning and landscape company, and I worked some from the time I was about eight years old.
Matching coats Mom made
As a teen, I earned enough to buy clothes at the end of the summer for school. Now I appreciate my mom's hard work sewing our clothes, but at the time, I was happy not to wear any more polyester and cotton pantsuits.

Among our Christmas traditions were dining at Pizza Hut and then attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service at church. Given the nature of our fast-food society, this might not seem like a big deal.  But we didn’t eat out the rest of the year unless you count an occasional stop at the Krystal where burgers cost a quarter as did the fries. We usually got either or, not both. Occasionally we got a milkshake instead. There were no debit or credit cards to make purchases, so we had what we had and nothing more. Funny thing is we never considered ourselves poor. So many people were worse off than we were. 

Another tradition was the church Christmas party after the children’s Christmas program. Santa waited in the fellowship hall to hand out red mesh stockings filled with assorted candy. Just holding that stocking, rich with its sugary contents, thrilled us. Again, treats weren’t readily available as they are today, so we anticipated this event and made the candy stretch through the following week.

I look at kids now with their smartphones and designer clothes, many with debit cards given to them by their parents, and I pity them. I wouldn’t trade my humble upbringing for theirs—not in a million years. The more you have, the more you want, and the more you cling to what you have.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

I have no idea what my parents put in the offering plate each Sunday because it was enclosed in an envelope, but I know they were faithful in giving. No matter what, that offering envelope went in the plate. I’m sure at times this was very sacrificial for them regardless of the amount it contained. My parents’ generosity extended outside our family to friends that we considered family. And my dad often gave his loose change or a dollar bill, if he had one in his pocket, to homeless people who approached him.

My parents instilled many solid, traditional values in my siblings and me, and I look back on the good memories and treasure the simple traditions like Christmas Eve. I wonder if, in the hurried commercialism of our society, the most important values have been lost amongst the department store sales, credit cards, unlimited electronic gadgets, piles of gifts under the tree, and mountains of food that Americans feel they need to celebrate Christmas. Maybe we’d all be better off taking the widow’s perspective and, instead of participating in the mad rush to the 25th, we concentrated on giving our all to Christ and those around us instead. This has to do more with our hearts than our checking accounts.

As I count down to Christmas this year and celebrate traditions with my children, I hope my actions honor the Jesus that my parents took the time to teach me about—the One who loves me, no matter what. He gave his all so one day, I could enter into the gates of heaven and reside with Him through eternity.

Is there any gift under the tree that could compare?

Praise report from Courtney: She had her two-month follow-up MRI on Tuesday. It was clear like the last several have been. This is especially significant as the doctors have begun to wean her off chemo. Please continue to lift her and her family up in prayer as she continues this battle. If you're new to the blog and don't know about Courtney's journey with an aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma, please click on her name to read her story. 

If you have a prayer request, please share it in the comments or e-mail me confidential requests. While you’re here, take a moment to pray for others’ requests. Thanks! J

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Friday, December 6, 2013

5 Resources to Reignite Your Writing Career

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.” ~Steven Wright, author

Ever have days like that? You stare at the blank computer screen and nothing flows through your fingers onto the keyboard? Many issues, mostly psychological, impede our creative process, sometimes for days on end. The danger is in these roadblocks short-circuiting our careers.

What are some of the roadblocks in your writing career? Chances are good that at least some of the things on this list have tripped you up at some point. The following articles and video by some of our industry’s top professionals will reignite your passion for writing and give you the encouragement to get around those pesky roadblocks tossed in your path.

#1- Can you think of anything worse in your journey to publication than rejection letters? We all get them, and they stink! Writing is kind of like baseball in the sense that getting a hit only a small percentage of the time is considered success. But sometimes rejections can be debilitating, especially when you don’t know why you’re getting them. In this blog post, literary agent Rachelle Gardner gives an agent’s insight into why a rejection might not have anything to do with the quality of your writing:

#2 – Lack of productivity. How do you get started? How do you stay on track without constant distractions like social media, especially when you feel mired down already? In this guest blog post by Vincent Nguyen, from Jeff Goins’ website, he outlines unconventional ways to reignite your writing and avoid the pitfalls of wasting time and getting distracted.

#3 – Am I ever going to be a successful writer? Everyone wants to know how famous and successful writers reached the top. What makes them tick? Are they doing something I’m not? Max Lucado gives you an insider’s view of his writing process.

#4 – Pacing. Ugh. Is this one of the great mysteries of writing or what? You know it when you read a nicely paced book, but you can’t always judge pacing in your own work. Becca Puglisi, who wrote The Emotion Thesaurus (invaluable book for fiction writers, by the way), shares some of the tricks of the trade in this post.

#5 – Lack of encouragement. Ever heard of Jack Canfield? Hmmm. Chicken Soup for the Soul. Yeah, that guy. Here’s a 7-minute video he made that shares some insight into how he became a published writer. There are additional videos you can sign up for at the end of this video. (While I’m not offering a guarantee or endorsement of his program, so far the free videos I’ve received via email have contained very good information.) If nothing else, just listening to him speak for a few minutes in this video will inspire you to stay the course and rededicate yourself to honing your writing skills and getting published.

Okay, so what are you waiting for? Now that your passion and determination have been reignited, get back to the keyboard and start writing! I want to hear about your latest work in progress (WIP). Leave a comment about what you’re currently working on.

Happy Writing,
Laura J

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

True Light of Christmas

I'm excited to welcome guest blogger and award winning writer Jenny L. Cote today, who shares her thoughts on the true light of Christmas. Welcome, Jenny!

What is it about lights and Christmas? Usually we decorate our tree first on Thanksgiving weekend, then finish the rest of the house. This year, we did it backwards. The decorations were up a week before the tree. We got the tree in the house, but it sat undecorated for two days. Until the tree was adorned with lights blazing forth in glory from the fir branches, neither it nor the other decorations had any "power" on their own. Without lights, the house just didn't feel like Christmas. With lights, the house is the epitome of Christmas.

Our love for light is integral to who we are as humans, and it’s where everything began. Light comprised the first day of creation: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3).

Light enables us to function and to get things accomplished. It gives life to plants which in turn fuels life on earth with life-giving oxygen and food. It provides the world a 24-hour clock by which to turn from day to day and season to season.

Light reveals things hidden in the dark. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8b)

Light removes fear, and guides us along the right path. The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1a) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Fear thrives on the unknown, and it can no longer thrive when it is exposed by light. Darkness cannot exist when light is around. Light conquers darkness.

I think the true question is, what is it about THE Light and Christmas? Isaiah penned a beautiful prophecy about Jesus' coming: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2a)

When I wrote the scene of Jesus’ birth in my novel, The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star, I took the liberty of having God’s voice mightily exclaim, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” For that’s exactly what happened. Jesus even said it himself: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

But John tells us that, In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:4-5)

This picture is the best
depiction of Christmas
I've ever seen because
the reason for the light
on the tree is revealed.
So many people have powerless Christmases because they don’t have the real Light in the home of their hearts. They don’t understand it. Oh, they may have the tree up and lights in the windows, but that gnawing emptiness of going through the motions leaves them, well, in the dark. If that’s you, let me give you the greatest gift I could ever share with you this Christmas: LET THERE BE LIGHT in you. Let Jesus in and you’ll be lit up like a Christmas tree all year long. When you let baby Jesus grow up and do what he came to do for you at Easter, there will be no more fear of the unknown, because light conquers darkness.

I hope your Christmas is merry and BRIGHT.

~Jenny L. Cote,

If you have a prayer need, please share in the comments section or e-mail me confidential requests. I'd love to pray for you. The Christmas season can be a particularly rough time for some folks, especially those who've lost loved ones. If you're in this situation, I'm lifting you up in prayer today.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thankful in all circumstances
“Rejoice in the Lord always…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4a, 6-7

What a powerful promise! The peace of God guards my heart and mind. This is among the many reasons I have to be thankful this year.

Years ago, when my husband and I started out as newlyweds, we pinched pennies and barely scraped by from paycheck to paycheck. We had a little black-and-white TV that picked up random channels through its rabbit ear antenna. Meals were often scant and gas for the car a luxury.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Despite the fact that thirty years of hard work and God’s blessings lifted us from that economic situation, I never forget the tough times. Like Paul, I learned the secret of being content despite my circumstances. It is a contentment born from dwelling in thanksgiving with my heavenly Father.

This year, as I review my reasons to be thankful, they may be similar to yours—family, shelter, food, employment, good health, and ministry. My list hasn’t always included all these things, nor am I guaranteed it will be the same next year.

But do you know what I’m most thankful for?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31b-32, 35-39

I’m most thankful that nothing can separate me from the love of my Lord and Savior.

Dear God, we come before your throne with grateful hearts, overflowing with the love you’ve shown us through your Son. Despite the hardships we’ve encountered this year, thank you for the many blessings you’ve given us and the grace you’ll extend to us in the coming year. Thank you for always being accessible and consistent in your love. Thank you most of all for the salvation you’ve provided through Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.

If you have a prayer request, please share in the comments so others can pray or email me confidential requests. I pray travel mercies and safety for those of you on the road today. May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Reminder: Changes in the blog posting schedule begin next week. Click here to read about the new schedule, if you haven’t done so already. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jumping Out of Greed and Into Thanksgiving

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

We’ve reached the time of year when we pause to give thanks for the multitude of blessings God has bestowed on us throughout the year. No matter what our trials, we can always find the blessings.

Then we rush headlong into a greed gorge-fest of commercialism. Americans devote one day a year for thanks, and it’s quickly diminishing while greed is escalating.

Hurriedness and greed. Is that what God envisioned when He sent His Son to earth? That civilization would reach the point where the glitter and gift wrap would overshadow His gift to us? Certainly He knew, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t grieved Him.

The Bible says Jesus wept. Since we are made in God’s image, I often wonder if He weeps. Something to ponder. Certainly, Black Friday would be a day that could bring tears to His eyes.

In this hurriedness, I think of how we, as Christians, can model something different to the world instead of racing to be the first one to put up our Christmas tree. Or the first one in the store on Black Friday or Thursday night before Thanksgiving is even over, whatever the case may be. Or filling in our December calendar with parties and other activities. 

To truly emulate God, the most important thing we can do next Thursday, besides bow our heads and give thanks, is strive to “walk in the way of love” with our fellow man. The neat thing is—it doesn’t require you to go to a department store, run up your credit card debt, or sweat over your holiday to-do list.

Ironically, we're entering into the season of celebrating our Savior’s birth, yet nowhere in the New Testament do you find Jesus hurrying anyplace. He craved his quiet time.

Close your eyes and meditate for a moment on the phrase “fragrant offering.” A fragrance that isn’t found in the most beautifully scented potpourri or Christmas candle. The image evokes a peace not present in the hurriedness of shopping and baking, nor in the massive stack of gifts accumulating under the tree.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Paul’s admonition is well taken. December has become an entity all unto itself where absolutely nothing gets done to move life forward. Instead, it’s a race to the 25th to get everything “Christmas” accomplished and then, suddenly, life resumes January 1. A whole month every single year wasted in commercial greed.

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 19b-20

This year as we sit down to turkey dinners across the nation, I challenge you to celebrate an authentic Thanksgiving, “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,”  and then spend the rest of the day in family time enjoying those God has blessed you with along with peaceful anticipation of our Lord’s birthday.

If you have a prayer request, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or email me confidential requests. If you haven’t read Monday’s post about the upcoming changes in my blogging schedule, click here to read. Next week, I’ll share another Thanksgiving post, but if you’re traveling on Wednesday, know that you’re included in my prayers for travel mercies and safety.

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Monday, November 18, 2013

Changes in Blog Posts Starting December 1

I’ve prayed about the direction and content of A Word of Encouragement headed into 2014. As discussed from this blog’s launch, its posts are designed to encourage you through earthly trials and your spiritual walk with Christ.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-8
God has led me on a path of encouraging others, and the mission of this blog will continue to be centered on encouragement.

Those of you who are regular followers and e-mail subscribers know I’m passionate about many things. Among these are people hurting (physically, mentally, and spiritually), missions, my fellow Christian writers, the persecuted and oppressed worldwide, and the role of Christians in a secular progressive society. This makes for a broad genre of writing topics.

Because of how hectic my life has been in the past year, I discontinued Writers’ Corner to devote my attention solely to devotion/prayer posts each week. Occasionally, I’ve mixed in hot topics, current events, or mental health issues. I’ve reserved the most hard-hitting issues for my other blog, Count The Costs.

My life isn’t any less busy now. In fact, it’s probably more so, but this is where change, through more clearly defining my blogging schedule and topics, will be good for me, as well.

Beginning the week of December 1, this will be my new blogging schedule:

Wednesdays will remain the devotion/prayer blog post. If you need prayer or want encouragement, this post is for you. Please e-mail me at any time during the week for your prayer request to be included in the upcoming post.

Fridays will be posts to encourage my fellow Christian writers. This may include author interviews, writing tips, resources, book reviews, and insight into my own writing journey. If you’re an author who has a book releasing or already published, feel free to email me for an interview. I’d love to highlight your work for other authors to be encouraged by and readers to discover your intriguing books.

One thing impressed upon me when I first began writing is that writers are on a journey. You never “arrive” unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Jan Karon, or someone of that caliber. Therefore, writers are on the path behind you and ahead of you. Everyone helps everyone else. I’ve been fortunate to have had some wonderful Christian authors help me, and in turn, I mentor other writers and belong to critique groups. I ghostwrite and edit, as well. So I’d like to use Fridays as a forum to share with other writers so we can all encourage each other.

I will still share an occasional fun post, as I did about Mayberry after Andy Griffith died, or some other current event. Or I might blog live from a writing conference when I attend one. These will be extras.

As for more hard-hitting posts about current events or hot topic issues related to Christianity, these will be exclusively on my other blog, Count The Costs. These will typically be more in-depth and heavily researched topics.

An example of something I might blog about on CTC would be a news report I read this week of eighty-five people publically executed in North Korea for possessing Bibles, pornography, or South Korean videos. Keep in mind in North Korea, anything religious is considered pornography, so it’s safe to assume a large percentage of the folks executed were Christians. They were all lined up and then mowed down with machine gun fire for everyone to witness. Though it’s difficult to verify any news coming out of North Korea, these questions can still be asked: How does this effect American Christians? We’re often soft and comfortable within our shores where religious persecution typically doesn’t cost someone their lives, but would we dare own a Bible if it meant we could be killed for it? What is our role to help our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide?

Luke 14:27-33 states we are to count the costs of following Christ. Some of you might not want to read or discuss these type issues, nor others I’ve discussed like abortion or Hobby Lobby’s religious battle with the government, genocide, or human trafficking. That’s fine. But if you do want to be a part of these discussions or just become more informed, head over to Count The Costs and become a follower or e-mail subscriber. As always, both of my blogs are interlinked, and the link for each can be found at the top right of each blog.

Though I’ve used a few select guest posts in the past, new in 2014 is my plan to open up Count The Costs as a writing opportunity for guest bloggers. Please read the guest post submission guidelines at the top of the blog before submitting, though. Thanks!

Hopefully, this clear delineation of where we’re headed on A Word of Encouragement and Count The Costs for the upcoming year will make it easier for everyone to find the posts they most want to read and then become involved in discussions or prayer for others.

I’ve enjoyed the past two and a half years of blogging and getting to know some of my readers better. You’ve been a blessing to me through your faithful following and prayer support. I look forward to a wonderful new year of blogging with you.   

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hope—A Supernatural Abstraction?

Life's eternal hope
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words.”~ Emily Dickinson

Emily’s quote paints a beautiful image of a seemingly supernatural abstraction we all long for and find impossible to live without. Yet, hope often feels elusive, just out of reach of our grasp. When we suffer hardships or walk through trials, despair can easily nudge it aside.

Hope is mentioned throughout the Bible, often coupled with other positive words.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

Hope isn’t born in a vacuum, unaffected by outside influences. Hope is birthed as we journey through life’s trials.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5:2a-5.
Despair does not defeat God’s supernatural hope which strengthens and edifies our souls. Hope whispers to us that tomorrow will be better, our problems have solutions, and healing can take place.

What is troubling you today? I want to assure you of the miraculous hope God can instill in your soul, despite your circumstances. All you have to do is believe then reach out and take hold of his hand. His strength will see you through.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.
If you have a prayer need, I encourage you to leave a request in the comments below, even anonymously, so others can pray for you. Feel free to email me confidential requests. The permanent prayer list is at the top of the blog. Please take a moment to lift those folks up in prayer, as well. If you have a praise report, I’d love to hear it! J

Prayer request from Betty: After having emergency surgery, her Uncle Jerry was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He’s in a great deal of pain. He is in his 70s. Also pray for the three young teenagers of her late cousin he takes care of. Those poor kids have been shuffled around so much. This is the first time they’ve had any stability in their young lives and a church home. Also pray that he truly knows the Lord. The kids' names are Buddy, Elisa, and Evoyna.

As we take our petitions and intercessions to the Lord, enjoy a moment of worship with Brandon Heath’s “Your Love.”

Betty Maye was the winner of last week’s book giveaway, “The Liberty of Obedience,” by Elisabeth Elliot. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I have, Betty. Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future. God bless you all!


©Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do You Measure Up?

“It’s a sin to be shy.” The normally kind church lady took my hands in hers, and in her sweetest voice shared her revelation with me. Even in my early teens, I had enough spiritual discernment to know bunk when I heard it. I withdrew my hands while she continued to “help” me not hide my light under a bushel but share it with the world. Her way.

I didn’t doubt God’s love for me. He was the One I could count on when I couldn’t count on anyone else. I knew her viewpoint was wrong. But, oh, how it hurt my already fragile teen psyche. Not until I was an adult, and learned about introvert and extrovert personalities, did I quit feeling “less than” around others simply because I wasn’t the bubbly one carrying the conversation. God hardwired me to shine my light in other ways that would probably drive an extrovert crazy. J

But inevitably, it’s always the not so well-meaning folks who feel they have to ensure someone else’s Christian life measures up by their own spiritual checklist.

The Bible is crystal clear on some sin—adultery, homosexuality, stealing, and murder, to name a few. Why? Because not only is their presence an abomination against God’s holiness, they are a reflection of the person’s spiritual condition.

Disputes arise over the interpretation of daily activity, beliefs, and lifestyles that aren’t specifically spelled out in the Bible as sin. The Apostle Paul refers to this as “disputable matters.”

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:1-4)
In her book, "The Liberty of Obedience," Elisabeth Elliot writes that she thought she had a clear understanding of what sin was until she went to live with the Auca Indians who’d murdered her husband and four other missionaries. With no way to communicate verbally with them, she spent a year observing their lifestyle. The “savages” took care of their families, showed grace to one another, and lived by a moral code. Although adultery is rampant in western civilization, the Aucas wouldn't think of helping themselves to another man's wife. But…when Elisabeth’s husband had put his arm around one Indian to show affection, it meant that the missionaries were cannibals and had to be killed for the safety of the tribe. Elisabeth’s willingness to spank her toddler when she misbehaved was perceived as barbaric by the Indians. During her “quiet” year, Elisabeth wrestled with the concept of savage versus civilized. Her conclusion was that each culture has their own definition of disputable sin which often conflicts with other cultures. (Great little book that can be read in one sitting.)

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister…For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (Romans 14:13, 17-18)
Recently, the media descended on George W. Bush about his parents’ public acceptance of gay marriage. I loved his response. Rather than disrespect his parents or restate his past stance, which has always been fairly clear, he said he was too busy trying to get the log out of his own eye to get the speck out of someone else’s. 

Do I know his heart? No. And I wouldn’t have condemned him if he’d restated his belief that marriage is a covenant union between one woman and one man, as ordained by God since the beginning of time.

Do I know for a fact his beliefs haven’t changed? No. But he took the high road when confronted with a situation that would have disrespected his family. God’s definition of marriage is clear in the Old and New Testaments, so Bush didn’t have to argue his position. A “gotcha” forum isn’t the place for that. Instead, he left it for God to judge each person’s heart involved.

The most important way we show our Christian character is through our fruit (Matthew 7:14-21). Instead of wielding a spiritual yardstick, we can come alongside fellow Christians and encourage their spiritual growth through Bible study and praying for discernment. If you ask, God will provide discernment through His Holy Spirit on matters. As Elisabeth Elliot said, to expect God to give us a rule book with every rule spelled out is to assume we’ll be spiritual dwarfs during our earthly residence. He wants us to seek His wisdom to grow spiritually.

What may be perfectly clear to one Christian may not be so clear to another. In her book “The Hiding Place,” Corrie ten Boom and her sister Nollie argue over whether lying to the Gestapo about hiding Jews was right or wrong. It was interesting to watch how each sister’s stance played out in their lives—both honoring God with the ultimate cause of protecting His people.

At times, we must take stands on issues of gray areas. God calls us to count the cost of our discipleship and be willing to buffet the storms, even inside of our Christian fellowship. In doing so, let’s be sure we have the Biblical knowledge and spiritual discernment to defend our stance in a loving way. One way to do this is to ask questions such as: Does this edify my (or others) Christian walk? Does my stance conflict with God's nature as portrayed all through Scripture? 

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19

Sometimes Satan’s most effective attack against God’s people is to set them against one another and divert from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). When we behave as Pharisees measuring our fellow Christians against a checklist, we’re not “going and making disciples.” Our time is better spent praying for true discernment of God’s will, sharing Jesus’ love, and working on the log in our own eye.

My friend, Christian writer Ginny Brant, recently spent time with Elisabeth Elliot, her husband Lars, and her daughter Valerie. (I’m trying not to be jealous.) The article and photos are amazing. I pray you’ll be as blessed as I am by Elisabeth’s inspiring story. Click here to read.

In honor of Elisabeth Elliot, who has made such an impact on my Christian journey, and her years as a faithful servant of Christ, I’m giving away a copy of her book, “Liberty of Obedience.” To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment about the post or share a thought about how the Great Commission has impacted your life—either in showing the love of Christ to others or how someone shared Christ with you. Or you may simply leave a prayer request, if you have one. Please feel free to e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for your needs. J

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Comments posted by 8:00 a.m. EST Monday, 11/11/13, will be eligible for drawing. Winner announced on following blog post. Thanks!