Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Crooked Woman

Many folks on our prayer list are fighting cancer, so I asked cancer survivor Venita McCart to share a devotion today about her life. At the end of her devotion is an update from Emily's family, the 12-year-old girl battling bone cancer we’ve been praying for. Thanks!

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 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.” Romans 5:1-4

Cherish the blessing
I am a crooked woman. I have missing ribs, two partially missing lungs and an altered shoulder. All have an effect on my entire body. Radical cancer surgery has thrown me askew. I learned this was obvious when asked, “Why are you limping?”
I don’t necessarily want to struggle with one-sided weakness for my lifetime, but I’m reminded of Jacob, the struggler-turned-patriarch. At birth, he grabbed his twin’s heel, later took his birthright and blessing, fled from home, then was deceived and chased by his uncle. Eventually at the threshold of the Promised Land, he grabbed onto the Lord’s wrestling man and wouldn’t let go, struggling until he could fight no more. His hip was wrenched. When he walked away he was limping. (Genesis 32:24-31) 
The Lord let go of Jacob’s leg but kept a hold on his heart. Eventually Jacob didn’t make a move without the approval of God. Their relationship became essential to his life. His name was changed to Israel, and he became the father of the twelve tribes. At the end of his life, he leaned on his staff and bowed in worship. 
Life as a limper isn’t considered a good thing but is often a threshold to blessing. When my pain kept stabbing and my limp kept hindering, I just kept reaching for a stronger hold on God. He didn’t remove the pain or limp, but took a tighter hold on me. My life didn’t change based on whether or not I limped. My life changed because God took a tighter hold on my heart. I stopped struggling. 
So it’s okay with me to be a crooked woman. The struggle is over. Now when asked why I’m limping, I smile and say, “Thank you for noticing. It belongs to God.” 
At the end of my life I will lean on the staff of God’s protection and worship Him. For now, I’m glad to practice exactly that, here on earth. 
Are you wrestling with God and cancer? Is your faith shaky, injured, or thrown off balance? Grab on, hold on tight, pray. Read God’s word. Worship. Learn to limp well, my friend. Cherish the blessing. 

Venita McCart, founder of Faith Force Cancer Support Ministries has, with her group, ministered to hundreds of patients since 2005 through group meetings, personal contacts, writing, and speaking. A cancer survivor herself, Venita is currently working on materials to comfort and encourage cancer patients, their loved ones and to help others create support ministries for same. She and her husband live in central Illinois. Venita may be reached at

“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 5:5
Update on Emily from her dad: 

“On Thursday, February 28th, Emily will be visiting the people we love but hate to see. She has an appointment with Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology. It will be her six month post treatment appointment. She will be poked, scanned, and analyzed. This is part of our quarterly ritual to make sure the cancer has not returned, that her legs are healing appropriately, and that she is not developing side effects from the cancer treatment. Please pray for Emily to be clear of cancer, side effects, and that her legs are healing well! Also, a prayer to reduce her anxiety and stress would be appreciated.

February 28, 2012, will always be a significant date in our family history. Emily endured a long complicated procedure that removed her cancerous tibia. The portion of the tibia Dr. Weber removed was replaced with cadaver bone. Skin grafts and bone were harvested from her hip area. Emily's right fibula (living bone) was transplanted and inserted into the blood supply in her left leg. The fibula transplant was then coupled with the dead sterile cadaver bone to provide an active blood supply through the living bone. The purpose was to accelerate the healing process and improve her odds that the cadaver bone would union with her remaining tibia. This procedure helped preserve her natural knee. We are grateful and as of has been complication free. It is hard to believe a year has passed already. Your prayers definitely helped last year as an unexpected peace washed over our family during the surgery.”

If you have a prayer request, please share in the comments section below or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for you. Would you take a moment to lift up Emily, Venita, and others on our prayer list, including Venita’s nephew, Sgt. Jesse McCart, who was injured in Afghanistan last summer? Thanks!

God bless,
Laura J

©Laura Hodges Poole

Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Days Life Really Stinks

Michelle in 1982

February 25, 2005, was one of those days for me. My sister Michelle died that day—by choice.

In the weeks and months that followed, I felt my heart would break from sadness. Sometimes I was angry she felt so overwhelmed by her circumstances that suicide seemed her only option.  Mostly my anger was directed at those circumstances.

Michelle and me 1967
For days, I lived in a fog, which was really a heightened awareness of my surroundings—tastes, sights, and sounds which pulled me into a place my mind had never been before—a place of disorientation. Though I’d lost many loved ones and friends, I’d never lost someone who’d been such an integral part of my life from the time I’d been born. As long as I had existed—Michelle had existed.

Even today, my emotions can be as fresh and raw as eight years ago when I return to that time and place in my mind. Part of the hurt comes from knowing I couldn’t fix what was wrong.

I hadn’t planned to mark this day by writing about Michelle. I’ve done so in the past, and you can read a newspaper article I wrote about her by clicking here. Or the blog post I wrote on her birthday in 2011. Both of these articles share my more intimate memories of my sister.

In the wake of country singer Mindy McCready’s suicide last week, and the nasty comments so flippantly shared on social media, I nudged myself into sharing my thoughts on suicide today.

Perhaps having a ringside seat to four generations of mental illness qualifies me to have a point of view on the subject. And for that reason, I’m not only compelled to write but obligated to do so when ignorance rears its ugly head.

Michelle in 1997
During better times
My sister did not lie around waiting to die. She fought to make life work—somehow, on some level. When she was mentally able, she held down a job, paid rent, and cared for her children. As a Christian, she talked freely of Jesus and what he’d done for her. Michelle expressed her love for Christ more than some Christians I’ve encountered. However, this doesn’t preclude what rages in the severely mentally ill’s mind. 

We had many conversations about mental health care, psychotropic meds, and inpatient care, none of which are ideal. Though she cycled in and out of the hospital for twenty years, after a one stay in a state hospital a few years before her death, she vowed never to return. Michelle was passionate about others battling mental illness. Her heart broke for those in situations similar to hers. In one of our last conversations, she said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Suicide is an emotional blight civilization has wrestled with almost since the beginning of time. The Bible and other historical documents record many suicides through the centuries. But no matter how much time has passed, suicide remains one of the most misunderstood acts humans try to wrap their brains around.


Because for everyone, except the person who takes their life, the logic behind suicide is difficult to grasp. Our understanding is often superficial and fleeting at best.

There’s nothing wrong with asking the “Why?” question. Human nature dictates we do.

The simple answer is the suicidal person often believes everyone will be better off when they’re gone—including their children. Based on the content of my sister’s suicide note, she believed nothing would change. She’d battled severe mental illness for twenty years, and as a perfect storm ensued in the weeks before her death, she reached the point of not being able to cope with life any more. You know the cliché: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Looking back at her past and then forward to her future, she believed nothing would really change about her situation. She simply wanted the pain to stop.

After Mindy McCready’s death last week, many folks seemed to have an opinion about her decision. The word selfish popped up more times than I could count, especially on social media and on friends’ Facebook walls.

Suicide is selfish. It innately has to be or it wouldn’t exist. However, it’s not selfish in the context people so freely assign. Suicide reflects a life so marginalized within itself that any consequences become inconsequential. As I said above, some of the mentality is “everyone will be better off without me.”

Accompanying the “selfish” label are condemnation and lack of empathy.

People who make statements like, “Her kids are probably better off without her,” or “I have no sympathy for someone so selfish,” well, hold onto your hats because you probably aren’t going to like what I’m about to say!

To me, those statements are the ultimate in selfishness. Given the statistics that 1 in 4 people in this country battle mental illness, would you like to wager a guess how many folks this actually effects? You don’t throw a pebble into a pond without there being a ripple. A person doesn’t kill themselves without a whole lot of other folks affected. 

When you’re quick to judge the life and death of a mentally ill person from afar, you have no clue as to the effects of your statements. If you’ve never looked at your loved one lying in a coffin or held their autopsy report in your hands, your perspective is different from those who have. You’ll never read a colder document than an autopsy report, I assure you.

Perhaps instead of parsing the why’s of suicide or passing judgment on the victims, getting involved in mental health awareness would be more productive. Here’s a few facts from
  • Every 13.7 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide.
  • Nearly 1,000,000 people make a suicide attempt every year.
  • 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • Men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Women attempt suicide 3 times as often as men.
The problem of suicide seems insurmountable, and total eradication is. If a person is determined to die—they will.

So what can you and I do? We can practice compassion—for those cycling in and out of the mental health system and their families—by our thoughts, speech, and prayer. We can get involved—with local mental health programs or within our church auspices to promote mental health awareness and support.

Although we might be able to satisfy some of the superficial “why” questions of suicide, the universal question of why is linked to our fallen world, just like all other trials we walk through. Our hope lies in eternity.

If you’re currently walking through a trial like this with a loved one or yourself, please know I’m walking beside you in spirit, lifting you up in prayer, and will always be here to offer a word of encouragement. I’d love to hear from you, if you’d like to send me an e-mail or leave a comment.

My two cents, for what it’s worth.

God bless,
Laura J

Parents' anniversary party six
months before Michelle's death
All my siblings together
(a rare occasion) 1998

© Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Embracing Serenity

God's peace

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian

Most of us have heard this prayer and perhaps prayed it at different times in our lives—even if just in frustration.  The simple words speak volumes, pulling us back to center when things go awry in our corner of the world.

Growing up like I did in a large family, which became larger with spouses and their children, differences were (and are) bound to arise. My sister suffered with mental illness, which added to the mix.

As often happens in families, differences can breed brokenness and estrangement. One such thing occurred two years ago amongst a few family members, myself included. I believed the healthiest choice was to walk away and leave the situation—and this particular loved one—in God’s hands. I prayed for this person, that God would work in her heart and, in doing so, the family would heal.

I received a letter from her this week with an apology, explaining her feelings that led up to the disagreement, and that she’s sought counseling for the issues bothering her. We’ve exchanged a couple of e-mails since. I’m so proud of her. I don’t share this to disparage her or to pat myself on the back. This is all God!

This scenario probably isn’t so different from issues that arise in your family.

It’s so tempting to believe we’re the only one with problems—or perhaps others’ problems couldn’t possibly compete with ours. When you look at someone else’s life and believe they have it all together—that everything is hunky-dory and they don’t have problems, think again.

We all have problems.

The nice family sitting next to you in the church pew.

Your co-worker who talks endlessly about her great life.

Your neighbor living in the fancy house down the street…you know…the one that you drive past and see the nice cars parked out front? The ones who appear to be better off than you?

They all have sleepless nights. They worry sometimes about paying their bills or what their kids are getting into. They have estranged relationships.

What can you do about it?

Sometimes nothing…

except pray…

I encourage you to pray for the next person you cross paths with…whether you know them or not.

Call it a drive-by prayer. J

And when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by your own life issues, consider the rest of the serenity prayer—the part often overlooked when reciting the opening verse…

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Regardless of our life situation, it’s always our choice to embrace the chaos around us or accept the serenity Christ offers. When we accept the latter, we not only surrender to His will, but we’re able to share that peace with others.

Do you have a prayer need today? Perhaps you’re estranged from someone or feeling resentment in your life. Please share what you’re comfortable sharing in the comments section below, or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for you! Would you take a moment to lift up those on our permanent prayer list above? Thanks.

I hope you’re as inspired as I am by this song and video by Casting Crowns, “Does Anybody Hear Her?”

 “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

Laura J

©Laura Hodges Poole

Photo courtesy of free clip art

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How To Write A Compelling Query Letter

Join me in welcoming Edie Melson, a gifted writer and social media guru, as she explains how to write the dreaded query letter. Edie’s latest book, Connections: Social Media Techniques for Writers, was released in 2013.

Edie Melson
A query is basically a written pitch. As you advance as a freelance writer, you'll have to write less and less of these, because you'll have editors coming to you with assignments. But believe me, the skill you develop writing these will stand you in good stead.

This simple concept has caused more anguish for writers than anything else around. But in the freelance world, it’s a necessary evil. Your queries may find their way to the editor's desk in hard copy format or email, but the principles are the same.

It may seem unfair that your writing ability is judged on a single letter or email, but that is the hard truth in this industry. And, having sat behind the editor’s desk, I now understand why. Invariably a poorly written query previews major problems in the writer’s submitted work. I have rarely found this to be the exception. But rather the rule.

The query letter serves two equally important purposes:
  • Get the assignment.
  • Showcase your writing ability.

The Parts of the Query 
  • Salutation. Make certain you get a name – not Dear Editor. If you can’t find the name listed anywhere, call the office, just don’t let them connect you to the editor. Also, check the spelling and the GENDER. You don’t want to use the wrong pronoun. Here's a post I wrote about the Importance of a Name for more details.
  • First Paragraph. You should start with your hook. Don’t use anything corny like, “Don’t miss out on this opportunity.” Instead, it should be a legitimate hook. You also need to reference what part of the magazine/website you’re pitching. Don’t say something like, “This idea would work well anywhere in your magazine.” It's a neon sign that screams amateur. Also give the approximate word count.
  • Second Paragraph. This is where you pitch your idea. It’s good to include specifics—even bullet points—here.
  • Third Paragraph. This is your bio, your credentials for writing this article. Be honest, but don’t over inflate your merits. As editors, we've seen it all and can spot a fake from a mile away. Also don’t criticize or run down yourself by saying something like, “I don’t have any writing credits, but I’m willing to learn.” 

NOTE: If you don't have any writing credits, include experience you have that would make you a good fit for writing this article. Are you pitching an article about how to get kids ready for to go back to school? It would be important for the editor to know you have six kids in school or that you're a teacher.

Here are the basics you need to achieve these goals:
  • Keep it short. Your query letter/email should NOT exceed one page…ever! If you're not sure what one page would look like in an email, write it in a word document first. Then copy and paste it into the email.
  • Use a standard font. Times New Roman 12 point font.
  • Use standard formatting. For an e-query use block formatting (no paragraph indentions, single spaced, double space between paragraphs). For hard copy use traditional letter formatting (indented paragraphs, single spacing, no extra lines between paragraphs).
Here are some red flags to avoid:
  • Too long.
  • Strange fonts.
  • Improper or mixed formatting.
Also, it’s vitally important not to waste time when sending a query. I don’t mean hurry to send it off, but rather, get to the point. Don’t waste the editor’s time with things that are understood, or have no bearing on the article you’re pitching.

Here are a couple of examples:
  • Just say the word and I’ll send you the article. (I really doubt you'd be pitching something and then not agree to send it.)
  • I've spent hours researching this subject. (I would hope so.) 
There are a lot of good resources on writing queries out there. The best I’ve ever seen is a screen cast, Anatomy of a Pitch by Alton Gansky. He goes through an actual e-query and explains what works in it and why.

There is also a free e-book, How to Write a Great Query, by Noah Lukeman (You may remember another book he wrote, The First Five Pages). In this book he deals with queries for agents regarding book length manuscripts, but a lot of the tips are also relevant for freelancers—particularly the section on non-fiction books.

Now it's your turn. What experience have you had with queries? What questions do you have?
Don't forget to join the conversation!


Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the social media columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and social media coach for My Book Therapy. Connect with her through Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Just An Ordinary Chip? Look Again

Star of Bethlehem?
How do you like my Star of Bethlehem potato chip? Pretty cool, huh? Maybe I’ll post the pic on Twitter, and it’ll go viral. People will flock from all over the country—or maybe the world—to get a glimpse of the Star.

Not likely?

Last spring, thousands of people strolled through New Orleans’ Ursuline Academy chapel to view a shadow many claimed resembled Jesus.

A grilled cheese sandwich bearing the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay for $28,000 in 2004.

Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet I’ve seen this idol behavior, not only in the world but, steadily creeping into our churches and daily Christian lives.

It’s much easier to seek an object to boost us spiritually than to seek after the Spirit of God. After all, a potato chip, a shadow, and a grilled cheese are tangible. Seeking God takes an investment of time and soul—and an act of faith.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

The ironic thing is—God's not hard to see or feel. He’s all around us in the natural world. If we’d just turn off our TVs, iPods, smartphones, and all the other man-made distractions, we might hear Him speak to us. If we quit looking for the “golden calf” (Exodus 32:1-4) and focus on God's spirit instead, we would experience His supernatural presence.

It’s easy to make the assumption that only shallow believers would make pilgrimages to see religious “things.” But how many people go to church each Sunday or send their kids to youth group in an expectation of being entertained by “things?” After all, we can’t attract teens unless we do what the world does, right?

I listen to contemporary Christian music, and I enjoy most of it. But when contemporary Christian songs and concerts are indistinguishable from what’s on a secular radio station or stage, we have a problem. When rock bands are brought into the church to entertain, and we can’t distinguish their message from the world, we have a problem.

Lord, help us when the day comes that the world’s message spills into our Christian literature. And it’s trying. One of our conference leaders at The Cove last weekend shared a story of critiquing manuscripts at another Christian conference recently. She said the opening paragraph of the manuscript contained the F-bomb. Once she recovered from her shock, she asked the author to define his target audience. Children. Then she inquired about his occupation. He’s a middle school teacher. His reasoning was that children talk like this. This is the 21st century. Christian literature has to get with the times, right?


Lord help us all, if we don’t get back to doing His business the right way—His way.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

When there’s nothing distinguishable between the church and the world, Christianity is in real trouble. We have to offer more than and different from the world of silly idols masquerading as a potato chip with the Star of Bethlehem, or a grilled cheese with the image of the Virgin Mary, or church programs mired in secular junk. People are hurting. Children are hurting.

The world is what they need rescue from.

Idols offer temporary pleasure and satisfaction. The church is about the eternal. Christians are the church. Our lives should reflect hope, peace, spiritual wholeness, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

When the world looks at you, does it see a reflection in the mirror, or does it see Jesus looking back?

For a more in-depth discussion about the consequences of idols in the church, click here to visit my other blog, Count The Costs.

If you have a prayer need, I’d love to hear from you. Either leave a comment below or e-mail me confidential requests. Would you take a moment to check the prayer list at the top of the blog, as well as information on Sgt. Jesse McCart, an American soldier injured in Afghanistan last year, and then lift these folks up in prayer? Thanks.  

New request this week:
A childhood friend of mine, Beth, who was also part of my church family has just been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I'd appreciate prayers for her as she begins treatment.

Laura J

© Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Value of Bad

Life's mishaps
“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.”~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Are you a good learner? I wonder sometimes if I am. I often repeat mistakes before I learn from them. I trust and extend goodwill, despite being burned in the past from those I’ve trusted. I won’t say it hasn’t made me more guarded, though, because it has.

Embracing bad times as valuable means a willingness to walk through a trial instead of asking God to remove it. Tough one, huh?

So maybe the better question is: Am I a willing learner?

A heart well prepared for adversity in bad times hopes, and in good times fears for a change in fortune.~Horace, Roman poet

How do we prepare for adversity? For a Christian, that means staying rooted in God’s Word and at His feet in prayer. If we do that, we need not fear a “change in fortune.”

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future. Ecclesiastes 7:14

Would it help us to prepare for the bad, if we knew our future? Probably not. As Horace observed, it would fuel our fears and rob us of happiness during good times. God’s plan is always better than ours. The ebb and flow of good and bad is something He has deemed worthy for us to experience to grow deeper in our relationship with Him.

Are you ready to embrace adversity as an opportunity for growth?

Do you have a prayer need? I’d love to pray for you. Please share in the comments section below or e-mail me confidential requests.

Betty asks for prayer for her mother-in-law who recently lost her husband to Alzheimer’s. She’s experiencing her own health issues now including memory problems and fibromyalgia. Please pray for a return to good health and wisdom for the family as they seek answers. 
The permanent prayer list is at the top of this blog, as well as Sgt. Jesse McCart’s updates. Would you take a moment to lift up these folks in prayer? Thanks.J 


©Laura Hodges Poole

Photo courtesy of free clip art

Monday, February 4, 2013

(Almost) Live From The Cove

Whew! What a weekend. For those who aren’t regular followers, I attended “Writers Advance! Bootcamp” at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC. As promised, I took many photos, though my jammed-packed schedule didn’t allow for blog postings. 

Guard house at entrance
Shepherd's Inn

I arrived at The Cove around 3:00 p.m. on Friday, an hour later than I’d planned.

After check-in, I rushed off to the first early bird class at 3:30, “Writing Big in a Little Space,” taught by the brilliantly gifted writer, editor, and social media guru Edie Melson.

Dinner, the opening session, and the keynote address followed, “Your Writing Career and its Longevity,” by the acclaimed Christian fiction author Yvonne Lehman. Yvonne published her 50th book, Hearts That Survive: A Novel of the Titanic last spring. It's always a pleasure to hear her speak.

Evening networking began at 9:30, followed by Christian Devotions staff meeting, after which I fell into bed around 11:20 p.m.

At 6:20 a.m. I was ready for day two. Or maybe not. You be the judge of how tired I already looked at breakfast on Saturday morning. LOL.

I attended another wonderful day of classes, ate incredible meals, and enjoyed a brilliant keynote address given by Vonda Skelton, followed by fireside chats with fellow authors during snack time at 9:00 p.m. Exhaustion had definitely set in, but the Holy Spirit had given me much to think about when I went to bed around 11:00 p.m.

Sunday morning we awoke to a beautiful snowfall...

...and a time of worship and receiving our bootcamp marching orders, which were based on Isaiah 6:8:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Despite the condition of the world around us or, more importantly, because of society’s spiritual state, Christian writers don’t retreat—we advance with God’s power supporting us.

I’m eager to see where the Lord continues to lead me on this writing journey He gifted me with. I’m happy to be sharing my journey with you.

needlepoint gift portrait
Below are more Cove photos, if you’d like to look at them.
prayer room in the training center

writers (and friends) from Anderson, SC
Samaritan's Purse missions
Medical missions

One of many memorabilia displays
Ruth Graham's funeral
"End of construction. Thank
you for your patience."

At the chapel
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©Laura Hodges Poole