Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Enduring Hope

Autumn colors
“Autumn is the eternal corrective. It is ripeness and color and a time of maturity; but it is also breadth, and depth, and distance. What man can stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see the span of his world and the meaning of the rolling hills that reach to the far horizon?”~Hal Borland, author

The air is cool and crisp, reliably so for this time of year. Fall is my favorite season. I look forward to simmering pots of vegetable beef soup and chili, bonfires, and leaves crunching under my feet when I go for an evening walk. I enjoy the respite of nature amidst hectic times. 
Life never seems to slow down or reach an even keel, does it? 
This week has been no exception as I continue to adjust to my son Josh being an official firefighter. We’ve accepted the fact our life is dictated by a pager that goes off at will. As a trainee for the last two years, he could not enter a burning building or work interstate wrecks. That has changed now.
Sunday night the call was for interstate traffic fatalities. Josh has worked many traffic accidents, including fatalities, but interstate accidents are a whole different ballgame. Not exactly what I want my teenage son to see, but this is the vocation he’s chosen. So I laid awake, stared at the ceiling, prayed for the injured, the families of those who’d passed, and for the emergency responders who somehow have to separate their own feelings from the chaos they’re thrust into. 
Eventually…maybe…I’ll settle into the reality of Josh's 24/7 calling. 
Meanwhile, a major annoyance is our Presidential election. Can’t it be over already? 
This week I was challenged to defend how I plan to vote in the upcoming election by someone who plans to vote for the opposing candidate. Frankly, I was dumbfounded by the audacity of such a blatant approach. Last time I checked, this is still America. I’ve said before on this blog, each person in our country gets one vote. None of us have to justify or defend how we’ll cast it, even when “friends” call us hypocrites or attack us. Ultimately, it is fear that drives such behavior.
But this made me think of our role as Christians and how we defend our faith. The Apostle Peter admonished us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.” 
He went on to say, “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17)
We have to remember as Christians, we don’t have to justify our godly choices, our voting record, or life principles derived from the Scriptures. Sometimes I think we get too hung up on trying to do so. Non-Christians are never going to understand our choices or belief system. It’s a mystery that can only be unlocked by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Our energy could be better spent sharing the reason for the hope we have in Christ Jesus. Hope that sustains despite whatever challenge we face. Hope that endures regardless of election results. Hope that restores and brings the promise of eternal life. 
Will you share that hope with someone today?
Our worship song this week is “My Hope Is In You,” by Aaron Shust. I wrestled with whether or not to share this particular video, but as I searched through YouTube and Christian artists, this is the one the Lord led me to. Though heart-wrenching, it fits incredibly well with what I’ve written.

Do you have a prayer need? I’d love to pray for you. Please share it in the comments section so others can pray, as well. If you have a confidential request, please email me. Our permanent prayer list is above, as well as updates on soldier Jesse McCart. 
If you didn’t see the praise report on Courtney last Thursday, you may click here to read. Her two-month follow-up MRI showed no sign of the cancerous brain tumor she has been battling for the past year. Her oncologist plans to continue chemo and the follow-up MRIs for the next year. What a tremendous answer to prayer!
Also, we prayed for Patti last week as she prepared to receive news about possible lung or breast cancer. The doctor does not think the area is cancerous, so this will be watched and rescanned in the future. Another answer to prayer!
If you have a praise report, I’d love to hear it.
God bless,
 © Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Words That Heal

Writing Encouragement
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:5b,9

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Before I share a few words for Writers’ Corner, I want to start with an update from yesterday’s prayer blog. We’ve been praying for Courtney, a young mother battling a cancerous brain tumor. She’s had brain surgery, gamma knife radiation surgery after the cancer showed new growth, and chemotherapy all in the last year. She has MRIs every two months to check treatment progress. July’s MRI was very encouraging as it showed the tumor was responding to treatment.

After yesterday’s MRI and appointment with her oncologist, this is an update from Courtney’s Caring Bridge site written by her sister Lauren:

“So Dr. Peters came in the room carrying 2 images. One was from previous MRI and other from today's. She had a huge smile on her face and excitement in her voice! She said Courtney's scan looked BEAUTIFUL! There was no enhancement shown on today's MRI which means there is no active tumor that can be seen! Chemo and radiation have killed the tumor that was left behind after surgery! Awesome news! She will continue her chemo regimen for a year in an attempt to keep any new growths from appearing. We will repeat the MRI in November. Basically, today the scan could not have looked any better. Our prayers have been answered! Thank you for praying with us! :)” 
Again, I say, Praise God! Thank you to everyone who has been faithful in lifting up Courtney (and others) in prayer through our weekly prayer blog. As a reminder, the prayer list is accessible all the time on the page above.

Now to Writers’ Corner.

I’ve nursed a migraine for the past twenty-four hours, so I’m behind on a few things—this blog post being one. So I'll share a simple word of encouragement.

We all experience periods of discouragement, whether from sickness, writer’s block, or doors that just don’t seem to be opening in our careers. This is when it’s most important to remind ourselves of why we write. We’re Christian writers because God gave us a talent and then a calling to share His message with others.

My good friend and colleague, Cindy Sproles, co-founder of Christian Devotions and Writers Advance! Bootcamp, shared this final thought at this year’s bootcamp held at The Cove (Billy Graham Training Center) in North Carolina.

“When you are discouraged—write; because in discouragement there is strength to be found. When you are joyous—write; because in joy there is encouragement. When you are broken—write; because in brokenness there is growth…Your words will break through barriers, heal wounds, and guide the lost. Your words are fueled by the whispers of God.” 
I’ll share more about 2013 Writer’s Advance! Bootcamp in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, check out the website for more information.

Now, it’s your turn. I want to hear about your writing successes or hurdles you’ve overcome this week.

God bless,

© Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Live In The However

How Will I Finish?

“Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste death but once.”~Julius Caesar

You know how I love a good quote. There’s something genius in the way a simple concept can be expressed through imagery created by words.

Think about how many times you’ve confronted death or defeat, yet how many times did you actually die? Hmmmm. I’m still here and—since you’re reading this—you are, too. J

The more important question may be: What does my life represent?

Am I a spiritual coward or has my Christian witness been strengthened because of my reaction to trials?

As with quotes, I love it when I “stumble” upon what I refer to as an (in)consequential word in the Bible.

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

When the Apostle Paul contemplated his return to Jerusalem, he met with friends and fellow believers. They warned him of the dangers he faced, but the Holy Spirit had already enlightened Paul. He recalled his past hardships, counted the costs, and yet decided to forge ahead.

Paul chose to live in the however. We all have a however—things that threaten our quality of life or our very existenceillness, family strife, financial shortfalls, deaths of loved ones. Even so, we can still finish the race and complete the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. How much more does our testimony become enriched by trials than those who seem to glide through life unscathed?

I want to encourage you this week to take a few minutes and weigh your hardships against the full value of the gospel of God’s grace and then ask yourself:

How will I finish the race?

If you have a prayer request, I’d love to hear from you. Either email me confidentially or share in the comments section so others can pray for you, as well. Please take a moment to check the prayer list and Jesse’s page above for updates.

We’ve been praying for a young mother, Courtney, who is battling a cancerous brain tumor. Please pray for Courtney as she travels to Duke in North Carolina for an MRI to check treatment progress. In addition to the surgeries she had last year, she is on chemotherapy. She takes two daily chemo meds and every two weeks she receives another chemo treatment of Avastin. Needless to say, the every two-month MRI is hard on Courtney’s nerves. Her sister posted this on her Caring Bridge site:

This Wednesday, we would once again like to ask you for special prayers for Courtney as she goes for her next MRI.  Her tests begin at 1:00 and conclude with an appointment with her oncologist at 3:30 for the results.  We are praying for a stable report or better yet, that God is improving and healing the tumor site in a miraculous way. Thank you in advance for those of you that are so faithful to pray for Courtney. That knowledge helps us get through these difficult days of testing and waiting for the results. 
Also, a new request for Patti, who is suspected to have lung or breast cancer based on initial diagnostic tests from hospitalization. She will return to the doctor on Friday for more definitive news. Please pray for her son and husband, as well, as they go through this difficult time of uncertainty.

Lift up your voice and lay your burden down 

God bless,

© Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Security In Hope

Reject Despair
“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor

(I apologize that this post is two days late. I had problems with blogger and couldn’t get it posted. Next week, hopefully, we’ll be back on schedule.)

This photo is of a remembrance rock from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The rock’s purpose is to give museum visitors something tangible to remember the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews in World War II.

As I’m writing this, the sun is setting on the eleventh anniversary of the terror attacks against our nation. I still get chills watching the film footage of the planes slamming into the World Trade Center, the buildings falling, and people screaming and running. The scenes feel even more surreal and eerie than eleven years ago. I’m immediately transported back to that day and how life unfolded in the aftermath. If you’d like to read my reflections from the tenth anniversary, click here.

Today is also my son Josh’s eighteenth birthday. To say his birthday has been overshadowed by the terrorist attacks for the past eleven years is an understatement. His generation has grown up with the War on Terror, just like my generation had the Cold War, though we never experienced a physical attack.

Josh’s life has been a challenge on many fronts, but he has overcome most of these challenges. I shared an illustration through a devotion, Perseverance Produces Hope, not long ago.   

Josh is a senior in high school. He’s also a volunteer firefighter. After two years of training through our local volunteer fire department and vigorous firefighting classes, he will receive his “black helmet” at tonight’s meeting, signifying his full firefighter status. It’s safe to say this will be the most important birthday he has celebrated. It’s all he’s talked about for weeks.

I shared a slide show on my Facebook page of photos from Josh’s birth up to the present. Among the comments I received was, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”

I can’t think of a better phrase to encourage.

Let’s face it. We don’t know when or if another attack will take place on our shores or against an American entity overseas.* But while it’s important we remember the fallen and pray that history doesn’t repeat itself, we must never give up hope.

“You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.” Job 11:18

Even in his worst trial, Job had hope. We have a duty as Christians to reject despair, rejoice in the hope found in Christ Jesus, and go about the daily business of life.

9/11 symbolizes America’s heartache and perseverance, but it’s also a symbol of one of the greatest days of my life—the day my son was born.

Life truly is how you choose to frame it. While we mourn with those who mourn, rejecting despair is imperative to the Christian life and witness. It is through God’s hope that we have life.

Please share any prayer requests or praise reports in the comments section or email me confidential requests. The permanent prayer list is listed on a separate page above, as is updates for Sgt. Jesse McCart, a soldier severely injured in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED. Please continue to lift these folks up in prayer.

I praise God that Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was released from an Iranian prison on September 8, after a judge dropped the apostasy charge and sentenced him for witnessing to Muslims. Many people worldwide, including myself, had prayed for his release. His sentence equaled time already served. When given the chance to renounce his Christianity so his life would be spared three years ago, Youcef's answer was, “I cannot.” What an incredible example for all Christians! I often wonder if I could have stood as firm in the face of a death sentence. Please continue to pray for his attorney who was sentenced to nine years for threatening national security and spreading propaganda by defending Youcef and others over the years.

God bless,

*This devotion was written prior to the attacks in Libya against our ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff. I decided not to change the wording because it illustrates the very point I was trying to make. Please keep the families of the fallen in your prayers.

 © Laura Hodges Poole

Sunday, September 9, 2012

When Rhetoric Crosses The Line

This is outside the realm of my normal posts, but hopefully you’ll indulge me…or bear with me…or hit the delete key, whatever suits your fancy. J

Interesting sign, huh? Crude and primitive, the message comes across loud and clear. Posted in a small community in north central Florida, the sign bears three names its creator wishes death upon for supporting the “wrong” candidates in the upcoming local election. How do I know this? 
The second name on the sign is my brother John.
John’s a police chief in a small neighboring Florida town. Remember the movie “Walking Tall?” The storyline is probably the best analogy I could draw to John’s life and career. He’s ruffled many feathers over the years by driving the drug dealers from his town and giving speeding tickets to elected officials and other “important” people who travel on a major thoroughfare outlying his community. 
Over the years, John’s house has been burned down. He’s been held hostage, survived a hit on his life, and stared down many a criminal. He’s also considered a friend to many, including a few he’s sent to jail, served their time, and then returned to live in the community. He’s been known to utter the admonition “act like you’re somebody” to those on the wrong path instead of wasting their lives in self-destructive or criminal nonsense. 
I could write a whole post about John, his compassion and ministry, but that’s not the point of this particular post. 
I’ve witnessed many elections during the past few decades, and each time I think it can’t get any uglier—it does. 
Another example is actress Ellen Barkin’s retweet prior to the RNC. (It was first tweeted by another Twitter account.)

I found her tweet horribly inappropriate and shared my distaste for such outrageous behavior on FB.  
Among the comments posted on my FB status was advice to just blow off the Barkin tweet. As long as you’re comfortable with your position, who cares if someone calls you names? Kind of like the little ditty we learned as kids, “Sticks and stones…” 
However, this behavior goes beyond mere name calling. It’s too easy when venom is spewed to attribute it to point of view or imply if the offended person is self-actualized enough, they’d prove it by shutting up and sitting down. 
Name-calling and distasteful rhetoric are nothing new in elections. And while it’s a waste of time to get embroiled in every dispute, when we reach the point where we give a free pass to death threats against those supporting a different candidate/party, sensible people should speak out against the insanity. 
So what drives such nonsense? Disrespect for others and fear. The ability to respect others is a character trait. You’ve either had it instilled in you or developed it. If a deficiency exists, you choose to improve—or not. 
Fear, on the other hand, is a different creature. It can be irrational, based on real or perceived threats, thus causing people to behave irrationally. 
I blogged about fear last week. The greater the fear, the more ridiculous the behavior. Apparently, some are so fearful they wish (or plot) death upon those who hold different beliefs or plan to cast a different vote than their own. 
I love my country. A healthy concern for its direction is a good thing. Healthy fear rallies people to action and allows them to stand up for their beliefs. Irrational, unhealthy fear (along with disrespect) causes people to lob insults and threats. 
In the United States, we’re each afforded one vote under the Constitution. Exercise it and respect others’ rights to do so. Instead of looking for someone to agree with your point of view and downing them when they don’t, take a page from JFK’s book: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. 
Or from Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
In other words—start with the man in the mirror.
And here’s a reassuring thought: As Christians, we have nothing to fear. We’ve read to the end of The Book. We know how the human story ends—in eternity with our Father. Meanwhile, while we’re stewards of this earth, the community and country God placed us in, and the great commission Christ charged us with, let’s continue to reflect that through our choices and behavior. 
Regardless of the election results and the direction the country goes, Christians will continue to help the poor, sick, and disenfranchised through our churches, community service, and charitable contributions. Always have, always will. 
Meanwhile, God remains on His throne!
And my brother? Well, the fact that John’s life is in jeopardy is something our family learned to live with long ago. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not easy. He and I often have conversations about his mortality. Though each conversation is different depending on the current threat, I half-joke that he’s used up six or seven of his nine lives and to be careful. He promises he will and tells me he loves me. I tell him the same. 
As much as losing my brother because of someone’s narrow mind or criminal activity would crush me, I have no fear where John’s soul is concerned. That is not in jeopardy. 
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to look at the big picture and cling to Christ’s promise when fear threatens to engulf you. 
And when absurdity warrants it, don’t be afraid to speak out.  
© Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Query—Dead on Arrival?

Query letter
“Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow; he who would search for pearls must dive below.”  John Dryden, British poet
Many factors help or hurt the marketability of a writer’s work. Often, the first impression an editor or agent gets of a writer is from their query letter. Therefore, an error-free letter is imperative. 
While the occasional error might be excused in a 300-page manuscript because the editor is so engrossed in your wonderful story J, I can assure you that’s not the case for a query letter.
An acquisitions editor or agent will not dive below to search for pearls. So you have one shot to show them the quality of your work.
For proper formatting and content, read the submission guidelines on the publisher or agent website. They usually explain what they expect in a query. If not, last week’s blog, Top 10 Fantastic Writer Resources, lists websites with articles on writing queries.
The following suggestions may seem elementary, but believe me, they’re often overlooked.
Use the correct editor/agent name and spell it correctly. This can be found in the submission guidelines. On rare occasions for magazine submissions, I’ve addressed a query or cover letter to the editor without a name. I can’t think of a single situation where this would be appropriate for a book submission. If you’re getting guidelines from Writer’s Market or another guide, check the publisher/agent website for the most current information. 
Send to ONE recipient at a time. Do NOT mass email your query letter to multiple agents or editors in the same email! If you do, your chances of getting a response are close to zero.
Stick to the guidelines. Anyone can make a mistake in interpretation, and writing your first query letter can be daunting. But blatant disregard for guidelines a publisher has taken the time to share will be a waste of your time. Don’t use fancy fonts or try to impress them with your life story or how your book will be their next best seller. 
Grammatical errors/typos are a huge no-no. Avoidable mistakes tell the prospective editor/agent your work is subpar. Why would they want to represent you or publish your book? 
A practical tip: Except for simple emails, everything I write, whether it’s a blog post, a query letter, an important/lengthy email, or manuscript, is written in MS Word and printed out. I sit down with my little red pen to proofread after I’ve done my final edit. 
Then I do my final final edit.
Then I save my document and come back a few hours later or even the next day and do one more read-through before sending or posting. Does this sound like a laborious, convoluted system? 
But it keeps me from going nuts when I catch a typo in blog post or sent query. Do errors still happen? Sometimes, but my method decreases the percentage. 
As a new writer, you might want to go a step farther and have a trusted friend or loved one read your query for errors, even if they’re not a writer. Reading your work aloud is another great way to catch omitted and misspelled words.
If you have a question about query letters I haven’t addressed or can’t find through one of the links from last week’s blog, please let me know. If you’re an editor or agent and would like to share a tip or add something to what I’ve said, please do so. Thanks!
© Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Life's Dark Hallways

Life's Hallways
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Mark Twain 
Have you ever been really afraid? I mean heart-pounding, palm-sweating, knee-shaking, throat-choking terror that engulfs you?
My parents live in a block ranch-style house in Florida. Like most homes built in the 1950s, it has a long hallway with bedrooms on one end and the living room and kitchen on the opposite end with the bathroom situated at the halfway point. 
At night, and especially during stormy weather if the power went out, that hallway loomed dark and sinister when I was a child. When I came out of the bathroom, I’d peek around the corner to make sure nothing was there to “get me.” Rarely did I feel confident there wasn’t, so I’d summon the courage to outrun “it.” As I streaked down the long hallway, my little feet barely made contact with the linoleum. My siblings made similar sprints. It didn’t help that my dad would casually remark, as a storm approached, he’d heard a news report about escaped convicts in the area. 
Funny, as an adult, that hallway doesn’t seem quite so long or foreboding to me. 
If we’re completely honest, we all have dark hallways and monsters we try to outrun. If we can reach a certain level of security, whether financial, physical, or emotional, we’ll cease to be afraid. Meanwhile, we sprint down the hallway before “it” gets us, and we survive until our next encounter with a dark hallway.
The United States is in the midst of a Presidential election. Some folks are scared of what will happen to our country if the incumbent is reelected. Others are equally scared of what will happen if his opponent is elected. 
Fear is everywhere. It’s consuming and debilitating. And yet, nothing is gained from it.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3 KJV
The fallacy of applying our own strength to situations beyond our control is that we don’t leave room for God’s security. Before King David became king, perhaps he slept with one eye open and always looked over his shoulder. After all, a madman, King Saul, had a vested interest in David not becoming king. Ultimately, God’s strength and wisdom provided physical and spiritual protection for Israel’s future king.
What fear is paralyzing you today? Impending results from a medical test? Stepping into the unknown to walk a path God designed for you? Maybe something less life threatening like setting boundaries in an unhealthy relationship or standing up for yourself? Perhaps your fear stems from bitterness and chaos in which your soul resides. 
Whatever your dark hallway, I encourage you to reach for God’s comforting hand to guide you. Residing inside His will and leaning on His strength is the best security you’ll ever experience. 
If you have a prayer request, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me or share in the comments section so others can pray. Do you have a praise report? Share those, as well. The prayer list which normally appears here each week can be accessed now through its own individual page, as well as information on the soldier we’re praying for, at the top of this blog. Please take a moment to scroll through and lift each name up in prayer. 
Our worship song this week is “In Christ Alone” performed by Natalie Grant.

In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song
God bless,
 © Laura Hodges Poole