Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writers' Corner Pre-Launch

I’m excited to welcome you to the pre-launch of Writers’ Corner, a weekly blog post to help fellow writers. Join me as I share my journey to publication, rejection, and writing tips. Some weeks, I’ll hold a Q&A session where writers of all levels are welcomed to comment and ask questions. Occasionally, I’ll host a guest blogger who’s a colleague in the writing industry.

And there will be free giveaways!

Whether you’re a published writer, a newbie, or someone plugging along in the middle, everyone needs encouragement to stay the course. I hope you'll find that in Writers' Corner. 

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Encouragement flows both directions on this blog. I look forward to our journey together in becoming better writers and getting to know everyone. Join me Thursday for the first post of this series.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sakineh Ashtiani--Every Woman

For the past couple of years, I’ve followed the case of Sakineh Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning. Sakineh touched my heart and soul from the first moment I saw her picture and learned her fate. She and I are about the same age. Sometimes at night, I lay awake and think of her. I ask God to comfort her.

My heart breaks, not only for her, but for women suffering abuses worldwide. To God, Sakineh’s life matters just as much as mine. She is every woman.

Many conflicting reports on Sakineh’s case have surfaced from Iran, as well as from groups like Amnesty International. Because of this and the limited nature of a blog, my post will not be exhaustive on her case. Rather, I’ll broadly paint her picture with the most consistence data available.

There’s no disputing that Sakineh is awaiting execution for crimes she was either initially acquitted of or already punished for.  There’s also no disputing the torture Iran employs to gain confessions.

In May 2006, Sakineh pled guilty to an illicit relationship outside of marriage. Under Iranian law, she was given 100 lashes while her children watched. Amnesty International and her attorneys state she was acquitted of murder.

In September 2006, she was tried again for adultery with the added charge of murder. Her husband had been killed by her “lover,” who received a ten-year sentence, but incredibly, was freed by the Iranian government without serving the entire sentence. This time, Sakineh was convicted and sentenced to stoning. Under Iranian law, her children could forgive her sentence, thus commuting her sentence to ten years, which they did.

Through this entire charade of justice, Iran appears bent on executing this woman, regardless of their own legal system. One report gives the reason for the second trial and guilty sentence after acquittal because the judges “felt” she was guilty.

Under Islamic law and culture, women are valued as half a man. It takes half as many witnesses to convict her of a crime and twice as many to declare her innocence. More about this in a moment as it pertains to carrying out the stoning sentence.

When first brought to international attention in 2010, Sakineh's execution was imminent. The only thing that saved her was the outcry from social media after her son bravely wrote a letter to the international community outlining his mother’s plight. People who did not know Sakineh (myself included) began writing letters, emails, and making phone calls to their government to intervene on her behalf. Protests were held worldwide in major cities such as London, Rome, and Washington, D.C. The government of Brazil offered Sakineh asylum. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Iran to respect the fundamental rights of their citizens. The First Lady of France was probably the most outspoken in her comments to win Sakineh’s freedom, to which she was quickly lambasted by the Iranian government as being a prostitute who deserved death herself.

When a London newspaper printed a photo of Sakineh without her traditional veil, she was again given 100 lashes for crimes against Islam.

Despite the fact that several countries still practice execution, the United States included, Iran is only second to China in carrying out executions. They often do so while ignoring their own justice system and execute at will anyone they deem guilty. No consistent legal policies are applied in either country’s system.

Now more about the actual stoning. The criminal is partially buried in sand with the top part of their body protruding from the ground. Women are buried to their chests with only arms, shoulders, and head visible. Men are buried to their waists. Stones of particular size are selected by their executioners. Stones large enough to kill with one blow are discarded. Small stones that inflict little damage are discarded. Thus, it takes several stones pelted against the victim before they lose consciousness and die.

Islamic law pats itself on the back by allowing for the error of innocence. If the person is truly innocent, they will be able to dig themselves out and escape. If they do, their sentence is fulfilled and they are free to go. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see who is able to escape and who isn’t.

So what can we do about such barbaric sentences? After all, we sit in the comfort of our Western homes, free, and worrying about whether we’ll be able to work a mani-pedi into our busy schedule this week. Or maybe we have worries of unemployment or foreclosure that sap all of our energies. What can we do about a woman sitting in a dark prison cell in Iran?

In fact, the president of Iran wondered that himself on his last visit to the U.S. When asked by an interviewer about the fate of Ms. Ashtiani, Iranian President Ahmadinejad  questioned why Americans trouble themselves about an insignificant peasant woman in Iran.

Why indeed?

With the enormity of her plight, you might ask, why does it even matter if I care?

Our combined voices are too loud to ignore. Each time Sakineh's execution has been imminent, pressure by the international community on Iran has stopped it.

Let me encourage you to do several things. One, pray specifically that international pressure continues to keep Sakineh from execution—perhaps even secure her freedom. Pray for a regime change in Iran to a less Islamic extremist form of government. Pray that God comforts Sakineh in her darkest moments and, in doing so, she learns about the One True God. Several accounts from former prisoners of concentration camps and the Soviet gulags have testified to the sustaining presence of God during the darkest days of their imprisonment.

Contact Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at http://www.state.gov/secretary/ and the White House at http://www.whitehouse.gov/ to add your voice to those around the world speaking out in Sakineh’s defense.

On December 26, 2011, Iran announced its intention to hang Sakineh instead of stoning. Many in the international community believe Iran is growing closer to executing her.

We must not falter in our attempts to free this woman and many others worldwide facing similar unjust atrocities. As women, we cannot truly be free, if all women aren’t free.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

(In)consequential Words

As far back as I can remember, Jesus has been a part of my life. When I was mature enough, He became my Savior. I’ve read the whole Bible and studied it extensively during my adult life. Along the way, I discovered an amazing thing. No matter how much I study, there’s still so much to learn.

One of the nuances I’ve found in reading the Bible is probably common to most Christians. If I’m not careful, my eyes skim over words or phrases my brain deems inconsequential. In neurological terms, that’s referred to as chunking, the way we read silently versus reading aloud. It’s helpful in retaining the meaning/context of what is read.

However, I’ve found some gems in those seemingly insignificant words when I slow down and let the Holy Spirit lead me through passages. Writing verses in my prayer journal produces the same result. At times, I discover new meaning in passages I’ve read several times before.

One such place is Job 38:1 (NIV), “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.”

It’s easy to skim over this opening verse to read the exciting wisdom God shares in the following four chapters. Those chapters are some of my favorite in the Bible, so I’ve read them several times.

Then, one day, the meaning behind verse one grabbed my attention. God answers us out of our storms! This is so true. When I go to Him on bended knee, in the midst of the worst trials in my life, He has answered me. He’s never left me hanging. He’s always comforted me.

Another passage is in Lamentations 3, when the writer describes his afflictions, bitterness, and gall. His soul is downcast, he says. You can almost hear him weeping. Then, in 3:21-22 (NIV), he writes, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”

The word “yet” seems insignificant. However, look at the before and after picture. “Yet” is the turning point. “Yet” is where all Christians should reside—not in the afflictions and bitterness of life.

My last example is I Kings 8:59-60, taken from one of King Solomon’s prayers. “And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.”

King Solomon prays for most of the eighth chapter. It’s easy to start chunking phrases the further you read. However, one phrase leapt out at me in verse 59:

“…according to each day’s need…”

What a great promise in which to rest our worries!

Doesn’t God always provide according to our daily needs? Jesus admonishes us in Matthew 6 not to worry about tomorrow. Apparently, King Solomon held the same belief. He had experienced God’s grace for the people of Israel to supply their needs.

Are you looking for a promise from God in your life? Take a few minutes each day to earnestly study the Bible and then pray. You’d be amazed at the gems you’ll find when you do.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Did God Help Tebow Win?

Well, since everyone else is Tebowing, I thought I’d jump into the fray. The question has been bandied about all week: Did God help quarterback Tim Tebow and the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers?

My answer: I have no idea.

I personally don’t think God gives a rip who wins a football game. However, He does care about His followers. He blesses those who glorify Him with their lives. Tebow certainly has done this. God also listens to prayer and answers according to what He deems best.

No doubt, there were Christians on both teams last Sunday, but none have been as vocal about his Savior as Tebow. He has been vilified by non-believers to the point where many other Christians might have buckled. Because of this persecution and his unwavering beliefs, millions of Christians around the country pray for his success.

Including me.

I didn’t pray for Tebow to win last Sunday. Instead, I prayed he would play his best, which means playing up to his ability and training. If he did this, win or lose, he could walk out of Mile High with his head held high, knowing he’d left everything on the field. Perhaps Tebow prayed a similar prayer.

Regardless, the Broncos win was inspirational—something sorely lacking in professional sports. Whether or not the Broncos beat the Patriots tomorrow night, I’ll again pray for Tebow and his teammates to play their best.

We’ll have to wait and see if their best is good enough to win.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Leopard-Skin Coats

Back through the years
I go wanderin’ once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
…one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat…my momma made for me
(Dolly Parton)

I’ve blogged previously about my childhood, my family’s meager financial existence, and my parents’ ability to stretch a dollar around to seven children. My dad now jokes that I can pinch a penny until it squeals. I say, “Takes one to know one.”

My mother made our clothes until we were old enough to earn money to buy clothes. A store-bought outfit was a special treat reserved for Christmas.

Remember the Dolly Parton song, Coat of Many Colors? My mother’s version was the leopard-skin print she transformed into coats for the three oldest girls and herself. To get several winters’ wear, she made them a little big, which wasn’t difficult. We were so small, everything hung big on us.

Two distinct memories linger about the coat. 1) I was warm, which was a nice feeling, and 2) our coats made me feel special. After all, no one else had matching coats like we did.

I’m not sure what people thought when three little leopards and their Mama leopard strolled into church or the grocery store. I don’t remember any negative comments. And some of the church ladies oohed and aahed over our matching ensemble.

I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything in the world. In fact, I’m glad it was financially sparse. I learned a lesson so many Americans have a difficult time grasping. You can be content and have nothing. Tell that to the Occupy crowd who simultaneously embrace corporate America while slamming it.

But I digress.

Lessons learned during childhood carried me through my meager existence of early adulthood. When I had nothing else, I still had those, sustaining and reassuring me of better days ahead, if I worked hard enough. My experience also gave me great empathy for people truly in need.

Mom and Dad gave us much during those difficult times of our childhood with their hard work, determination, and perseverance, because they gave all they had.

Though her neck must have ached from bending over her work, her fingers prickling from stitching and the occasional poke of a pin, and weary from stretching money, Mom was so proud of her little girls decked out in their new leopard-print coats.

And I’m just as proud of her.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Fireman's Life

Anderson County lost a volunteer firefighter as he responded to a call yesterday. He had served five decades as a volunteer, starting when he was a teenager. He also served 21 years as chief and two terms as county sheriff. This is a tribute to him and the men and women like him across our nation who give selflessly of their time and talent to protect and serve. Please read all the way to the end to get the full scope of firefighters' sacrifices.

A Fireman's Life
A fireman's life is one big surprise,
Usually he laughs, sometimes he cries.
There's always stress, toil and strife,
Hoping he's good enough to save just one life.

His wife (or mom) understands, when he misses dinner,
If he runs out of church, don't think he's a sinner.
Answering a call, is tops on his list,
Regretting each one he's ever missed.

He tries and tries, but can't make us see,
The happiest men, still work for free.
Jumping from bed, fighting the cold,
Knowing what to do, without being told.

He rushes to the station, jumps on a truck.
Depending on skill, never on luck.
Putting his life on the line, for an unknown friend,
Hoping and praying, it won't be the end.

"The Bravest Men in the World", the title is fitting,
They all do their best, never come close to quitting.
Next time you see them, all their lights blinking,
Take just a minute, to think what they're thinking.

It's a hard job, so show them you care,
And help them out, with a little prayer.
-- by Daniel S. Driscoll –

There were 1,148,850 firefighters in the United States in 2008. Of these, 321,700 (28%) were career and 827,150 (72%) were volunteer. Chances are good if you are in a fire or a car accident, the men and women of the fire department who respond have volunteered their time to do so. These emergency responders have made a conscious and weighted decision to serve, despite the fact they are not paid to do so.

Facts & figures
·         Most of the career firefighters (74%) are in communities that protect 25,000 or more people.
·         Most of the volunteer firefighters (94%) are in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people, and more than half are located in small, rural departments protecting fewer than 2,500 people.
·         In 2008, a total of 104 firefighters were fatally injured while on duty. Of these, 42 were career, 54 were volunteer, and 8 were no-municipal (those not employed by local, public fire departments).
·         In 2008, 79,700 firefighters were injured in the line of duty. 36,595 of these injuries occurred on the fireground.
·         There were an estimated 14,950 collisions involving fire department emergency vehicles while responding to or returning from incidents. These collisions resulted in 670 firefighter injuries.
(Statistical Data compiled from: http://www.nfpa.org)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Was Your Week?

My new year started out with a bang! After a quick trip to Florida to see the fam, I returned invigorated. I've been very productive this week with 4,000 words written on two manuscripts, not including two blog posts.

How has your week gone? Are you sticking to your resolutions? I'd love to hear about it.

"The LORD bless you and keep you;the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." Numbers 6:24-26

Have a blessed weekend!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Think Before You Speak

I have a Facebook friend who's going through a rough time with treatment for a brain tumor. Somebody well intentioned offered encouragement but then proceeded to tell her of others they knew whose outcome had been unsuccessful. You'd think simple common sense would prevail to keep these thoughts unspoken, but we've all said stupid things at one time or another.

My pastor once preached a wonderful sermon about controlling your tongue as it relates to gossip, offhand remarks that can hurt others, and our words reflecting what's in our hearts. Just as negative and hurtful things can tear a person down, words of encouragement build people up. He gave us an acronym to remember before we speak:

T = Is what we are going to say true?
H = Is it helpful?
I = Is it inspiring?
N = Is it necessary?
K = Is it kind?

In the Bible, James compares the tongue to a small rudder that steers a great ship. What we choose to say effects us and those around us. Our words steer our lives. What comes out of our mouth can either harm people or build people up. It also shows the world who we are.

"Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." James 3:12

The THINK acronym is easy to remember and even easier to apply. As I like to say, "When in doubt, shut your mouth."

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

The weather is crisp and cool outside here in the upstate of South Carolina. The sun streaming in through my sunroom windows beckons me to be a part of this beautiful day. It’s the first Monday of a new year. A clean slate waiting to be written upon. I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, mainly because they get lost in the shuffle of daily life. Sure, I have goals, hopes, and dreams like everyone else. But resolutions?

Last year I settled on one resolution—to be more organized. If I accomplished that, I’d have a pretty good chance of fulfilling my goals.

As I look around at my messy office and its organized chaos, I’ve decided revamping last year’s resolution is in order for 2012. Drum roll, please. This year’s resolution is—better time management. A long list of deadlines and goals flit around in my head, yet to be put on paper. Even so, the only way any of it will get done is if I manage my time wisely.

The other key to success is vetting my goals with those of God’s. What does He want me to accomplish this year?  Like the verse alludes to, as a Christian, my success hinges on living in God’s will. My goals can’t be mine alone. I have to be open to the idea that He may have other plans. Therefore, I pray “not my will but Yours.” Perhaps His goals, dreams, and hopes for me are bigger than I could imagine. No doubt, they’re better for my life, if they differ from mine.

Maybe a better resolution would be to turn loose of what we grasp so hard, and in releasing, we open our hands and hearts to receiving what God deems best for our lives.

What resolution have you made for 2012? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and have a blessed 2012.