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.