Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Along Came A Spider

Spinning a deadly web
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:13b-15
The spider looked innocent enough, just like all the others I’d allowed inside my home, until it jumped on my husband’s arm and bit him.
I laughingly refer to my approach toward spiders as my amnesty program. As long as the spiders behave, they can come inside unharmed. My goodwill doesn’t extend to deadly spiders like black widows or brown recluses. However, at that point, my husband didn’t see the humor in being bitten by a harmless spider or my amnesty program.
The previous autumn, I’d allowed a rather large spider to come under the door every night and run around. By morning he’d be gone. Each night, this repeated itself until the spider climbed over the couch and landed on my husband’s lap while he watched television. He wasn’t amused by this episode either. 
I began to see the parallels between allowing the spiders free run of my home and sin. The spiders spin their webs. I sweep them down and within a week, they’re back. I justify it by not allowing in deadly spiders. What harm can come of that?
The Bible instructs us to flee from sin, yet we allow it to creep into our lives and then routinely sweep out the debris without fully eradicating the sin. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we don’t commit deadly sins like murder or stealing, but the end result is the same. When we least expect it, the regular garden-variety sin has bitten us and left a mark on our lives.
What sin are you struggling to rid your life of today? Perhaps it’s a small sin you routinely wrestle with, and it’s dragging you down because you won’t get rid of it once and for all. Ask God to help you identify the areas of your life that need cleaning up.
Our worship song today is "My Redeemer Lives," which has rapidly become one of my all-time favorite contemporary Christian songs. I hope you're as blessed by it as I am. 

Do you have a prayer need? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. While you’re here, would you take a moment to pray for those on the prayer list and those who leave comments today? Thanks!

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole
This devotion was originally published by Christian Devotions in 2012.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where Was God?

Running life's race
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

In the aftermath of tragedy, people often ask: Where was God?

Though usually posed by non-believers, people of faith also struggle with this question and others like it in the wake of horror.

Why does God allow children to be maimed and killed? Why does God allow evil to destroy or ruin innocent lives?

I’ve blogged about this many times during the past year after mass killings in this country. And each time, I explain the simple answer—we live in a fallen world tainted by sin. When Jesus returns, evil will be destroyed forever.

But we struggle with the complexity of how good and evil plays out in our daily lives. God never intended for us to struggle, but since we’re not puppets, every individual has choices to make. As long as we’re on this earth, we have to live with the consequences of each other’s choices, sometimes on the periphery of our lives, sometimes taking the full brunt of another’s decision.

God doesn’t typically stop a tornado or car accident or terrorists from blowing up people. Yes, we’ve all heard of miraculous escapes from disasters. And God performs miracles through healing and divine intervention. That’s part of the importance of prayer. But it’s not ours to try to decipher why or when He chooses to intervene (Romans 11:34).

God shapes His people through adversity so we may minister to others with our God-given talents, instincts, and life experiences. After all, believers can’t minister effectively if we’re allowed to live in utopia amidst others’ heartbreak. So, as the Bible says, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  

I’m the type person who likes to read between the lines, connect the dots, and look at the big picture. Cliché, I know. J But as a writer, my mind works this way. And this is usually how I find God’s presence in the midst of tragedy. This week has been no different.

As stories from the Boston bombings surfaced from and about witnesses, first responders, and victims, a bigger picture emerged. Though three people died almost instantly at the scene and later a police officer killed, it was the response of ordinary people that kept the death toll low. Despite massive and horrific injuries, 180 people survived. I’m pretty sure the extraordinary response by ordinary people was not something the terrorists factored into their plot when considering how much carnage they could perpetrate on Boston and ultimately the psyche of America.

One of the first stories to emerge was about the “man in the cowboy hat,” Carlos Arredondo, and his rescue of Jeff Bauman whose legs had been blown off. Carlos ran toward the blast and fashioned tourniquets from T-shirts to stop the bleeding. He helped emergency responders get Jeff into a wheelchair then into an ambulance. Surgeons later said this quick response saved Jeff’s life. He would have bled to death otherwise.

Carlos’ own story is one of tragedy. One son killed in Iraq. His subsequent suicide attempt in the Marines van that delivered the news. The suicide of his other son two years later. Somehow Carlos overcame and devotes his time to the memory of his sons. He was at the marathon handing out American flags in honor of his sons and in support of a charity. He remarked later he wasn’t a hero. He’d only helped one person. Others had helped more.

No doubt Jeff Bauman felt Carlos’ efforts were heroic.

The story didn’t stop there. Jeff’s survival was instrumental in identifying the terrorists. He watched one of them set down the backpack carrying the bomb moments before it exploded. When Jeff awoke from surgery, still ventilated and unable to talk, he insisted on a paper and pencil. He wrote a description of the suspect which helped the FBI identify the two terrorists among the many hours of video taken Monday.

Many heroes emerged that day. But back to my original question: Where was God?

Though God didn’t stop the terrorist attack, in the middle of the horror...

Carlos heeded his God-given instinct and rushed into the chaos to save Jeff. The terrorists were identified quickly because Jeff survived, which was instrumental in stopping additional bombings.

Boston residents opened their homes to strangers. Restaurants gave away free food.  Trauma surgeon and war veteran, Dr. David King, ran the marathon then went to Massachusetts General Hospital and spent the next forty hours operating on victims. Countless responders, some untrained civilians, rushed toward evil to lessen the effects. They didn’t consciously think it at the time, but they represented good defeating evil.

And that’s basically what life comes down to on this earth.

Christ said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23a). That sums up this world’s condition perfectly. Evil prowls around like a lion, but God’s spirit is greater. This will be proven time and again when tragedy strikes, but ultimately when Jesus returns and His kingdom is established, evil will be destroyed forever (Revelation 1:18).

One of my favorite quotes this week was from Mr. Fred Rogers from advice his mother gave him when disaster struck during his childhood: “Look for the helpers.”

God was in Boston last Monday offering comfort in the chaos and leading ordinary people to do extraordinary things. No matter what evil lurks in this world, God always provides helpers. He also provides spiritual comfort to those who seek Him. 

God’s in the big picture, and He’s in the tiniest details. Never doubt this.

Our worship song this week is performed by Christian singer-songwriter Laura Story whose husband has battled brain cancer for years.
What does it look like when I spend years praying for healing for my husband that never comes? I feel like we’ve gotten to a place of having to make a choice—are we going to judge God based on our circumstances that we don’t understand? Or are we going to choose to judge our circumstances based on what we hold to be true of God? I’m learning that every morning when I wake up, to choose to trust God. And that’s what “blessings” is about. It’s just consideringMAYBE THE BLESSING IS ACTUALLY FOUND IN THE ABSENCE OF THE THING THAT I’M PRAYING FOR. ~Laura Story

Prayer request this week for Tony, diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Please keep him in your prayers as he seeks to minimize his health risk factors with this diagnosis.

Pray for the town of West, Texas, as they continue to recover after a fertilizer factory explosion. Nine firefighters and emergency responders were among the fifteen dead, which represented one-third of the town’s volunteer force.

If you have a prayer need, please share it in the comments or e-mail me confidential requests. Our prayer list is located at the top of the blog along with info on Sgt. Jesse McCart, an American soldier injured by an IED in Afghanistan. Would you take a few moments to pray for these folks? Thanks!


©Laura Hodges Poole

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Show, Don't Tell

Writing and Revising
When I first started writing, I made many mistakes other novice writers do, one of which was telling my readers what my characters did, felt, and thought instead of allowing the characters to show this through their actions and dialogue.

You might ask—isn’t all writing telling? Not exactly.

Mastering this concept can be a challenge. “Telling” can creep into even the most experienced writer’s work. After all, the writer sees the scene clearly in their mind. It’s easy to forget the reader doesn’t have the same vantage point. Sometimes writers are engrossed in the story and, in the rush to get their thoughts on paper, they often skim over details resulting in telling instead of showing.

So, the editing phase is the perfect time to uncover telling scenes. Yes, we all dislike the editing process, but we owe it to our readers to dig a little deeper and put them on the stage with our characters.

So what exactly does “show, don’t tell” mean?

As Mark Twain put it, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

Let’s take a look at some examples to better illustrate the difference between show and tell.

Brenda was sad her mother died. She cried as she recalled her negligence in caring for her mother.
Brenda swallowed hard against the ache in her throat. She traced a finger over her mother’s name engraved on her headstone. Hot tears pressed at the corners of Brenda’s eyes in the chilly wind. She pulled her coat closer and drew a deep breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t take better care of you when I had the chance.”
A longer example:


Dawn was distraught that her terrier Fluffy lay on the side of the road dead. She felt guilty because it was her fault for letting him run free instead of putting him on a leash.


Dawn stumbled down the sidewalk. Her mind refused to believe what her eyes told her. Fluffy, her little brown terrier, lay in a crumpled heap on the roadside where a speeding car had tossed him like yesterday’s garbage.

Dawn dropped to her knees in front of Fluffy. She ran a trembling hand across his soft fur. He shivered one final breath before his body grew still.

“Fluffy!” Dawn scooped the dog into her arms and clutched him to her chest.

“Why?” She wailed. “Why did I let you out of the house without your leash?”

She rocked back and forth, sobbing, with tears streaming down her cheeks. Her neighbors stepped onto their porch and craned their necks to see what had happened.

The differences between the examples are obvious. In the second example, the reader sees Dawn is distraught and guilt-ridden without either word appearing in the text. Not only that, I’ve engaged the reader’s senses to the point where they may wonder how the rest of the scene will unfold. This keeps the reader from putting down the book.

This concept applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Whether you’re writing an article or a book, the best way to share your story is with anecdotes or scenes filled with action and dialogue.

Now, take a look at your work in progress (WIP), and see if there are scenes you can rewrite to show your story better.

What ways can you think of to show one or more of these emotions in your characters without actually using these words: joy, sadness, fear, excitement, rage, frustration, boredom, or anxiety?
If you’d like additional help, a great writing resource on this topic is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This can be purchased at Amazon.com.

This post is available as a free PDF download by clicking on the icon in the left column.

©Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When Life Vanishes

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

Life is short. That’s not an astounding revelation to anyone, but when events occur such as those at the Boston Marathon on Monday, life’s fragility is driven home. Eight-year-old Martin Richard died in the bombings, his mother is in the hospital with a head injury, and his sister lost her leg. For the father, his joy of cheering friends in the marathon quickly turned into his worst nightmare of death and destruction most of us will only ever witness on television. They were just part of the story of the 170+ people injured or killed.

My prayers have been going up for these folks, as I’m sure yours have, as well.

Author Rose Wilder Lane once remarked that even the longest lives are short. The eternal call will come for all of us one day, whether we’re ready for it or not. But there’s the rub. Why wouldn’t anybody be ready? Have you ever known anybody to live forever? Yet many people, especially Americans, live in denial about death.

How many times have you heard someone say they wouldn’t write a will or buy life insurance because it’s bad luck?

Or they’ll get around to dealing with the issue of the afterlife when they get older. Right now, they just wanna have fun.

I remember hearing Terri Irwin, widow of wildlife activist Steve Irwin, comment that she’d wake up sometimes in the middle of the night when he was alive and find him poring over paperwork and future plans because he believed he would die young. He lived with urgency. Ironically, he always imagined a car accident taking him out. That was his worst nightmare—not death by an animal, which seemed more likely to those who watched him on television. But my point is he planned for his family’s future, and hopefully for himself, in the event of his death.

Planning for your loved ones is important. Showing your love and never taking their existence for granted is equally important. Even Jesus made provision for his mother’s future. In John 19:27, Jesus spoke to his disciple John from the cross and said, “Here is your mother.” The Bible tells us John took her into his home from that moment on.

But there’s something even more important when considering your mortality. Eternity is the last thing you want to leave to chance.

My weekly blog posts are written with the belief and from the perspective that most of my readers, e-mail subscribers, and followers are Christians. I offer Biblical encouragement to help you through this earthly journey and the trials you encounter. However, this week, I’m going to take a few minutes to encourage those who haven’t embraced the notion of an afterlife—good or bad—heaven or hell.

The Bible through Jesus’ earthly ministry makes it clear he is the only way to God and heaven.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

God does not want anyone to perish. He provided a simple, though costly, way for us to come to Him without the penalty of sin because it has been paid through Jesus’ sacrifice.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17

Mankind has proven time and again through our fallen nature the only way we can come into God’s holy presence and be acceptable in His sight is through His grace. Grace born on the cross two thousand years ago.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:24-28 
What a glorious expression of God’s love for us!

If you’ve not done so, will you spend a few moments today in prayer to seriously consider your eternal future?

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10

I’d love to hear from you if you make this decision. J

If you have a prayer request or praise report, please share in the comments below or e-mail me confidential requests. New requests for this week include:

            A classmate from high school, Bonnie, is battling breast cancer.
            My great-nephew, Jack, was recently diagnosed with Perthes disease.

Please pray for their comfort, healing, and strength, as well as for their families. Continue to lift up the Boston victims and their families as they struggle through the process of healing, rehab, and for some, grief. 

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Journey Home

No place like home
“Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.” ~Tad Williams, American author

Though I’ve lived in many places throughout the Carolinas, when I think of going “back home,” it’s to Florida, where much of my family and childhood friends live. I’m equally happy to say I’m “back home” when I return from an emotionally draining trip to Florida as I did this week.

No matter where life takes you, home always beckons your return. Home represents memories of happy times and shared heartaches etched in your soul but always with hope that tomorrow will bring joy in the warm, familiar setting with loved ones.

But, as much as we love to bask in the comfort of home, Jesus admonishes us not to get too comfortable in our earthly setting. He certainly didn’t.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Luke 9:58

Whenever I’m faced with challenges that seem humanly insurmountable, I remind myself this is my temporary home. While I have a place to lay my head here, my eternal home will have far greater benefits and no problems!

As a Christian, there’s no better promise to cling to than a home in heaven with our Savior!

What challenges have you faced this week? Would you like me to pray for you? If so, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to hear from you. Meanwhile, would you take a moment to lift up those on our prayer list above? Several folks are battling cancer, depression, and broken family situations. Also, please continue to pray for Sgt. Jesse McCart and his family as he continues rehab.

God bless,

©Laura Hodges Poole

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Am I Ignitable?

“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 

I hope you had a blessed Resurrection Sunday! What a beautiful day to celebrate the most amazing sacrifice anyone ever made for us. My Redeemer lives!

Since I’m traveling this week, I decided to share some thoughts from previous post-Easter posts. Please read all the way to the end, as I’m also sharing a medical update from a young mother we’ve been praying for.  

Last week, Christians blogged, Facebooked, and tweeted Scripture, songs, poems, and thoughts on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. On Easter morning, we reverently and enthusiastically worshipped, then hurried to family dinners, afternoon egg hunts, and of course—after-dinner naps.  

Celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday is easy. As the sun set on Easter, I wondered where our hearts would be Monday morning in the wake of leftover ham, half-eaten candy baskets, and wrinkled church clothes tossed in the laundry.  

Over two thousand years ago, on Easter Monday, Christ returned to work—His father’s work. He forgave Peter and then instructed him to “feed my sheep.” Among Jesus’ other activities was the Great Commission given to the eleven disciples.  

We are His disciples now—with the Bible and Holy Spirit to instruct us.  

"He makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of 'other things.' Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is transient, often short lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul-short life? Make me thy fuel, Flame of God." Jim Elliot (martyred missionary) 

Celebrating Christ’s resurrection revitalized me, as I’m sure it did many Christians. Beyond that, it’s a reminder of my rebirth each time I enter into God’s presence. Yet, as I grow deeper in my spiritual journey, I’m cognizant of the necessary steps to stay aflame. 

If my flame gets diminished during dark moments, when I feel less enthusiasm or challenged beyond my human abilities, saturation with the Spirit’s oil through Bible study and prayer is the only hope for my flame burning brightly beyond Christian celebrations. 

As we go to the Lord in prayer this week for each other’s needs, consider the condition of your flame and how it impacts those around you. 

Please join me in prayer for Christians suffering persecution around the world. Their work (and our work) carries Christ’s resurrection and hope to the lost.

Though I don’t pray scripted prayers often, this simple one written by Jim Elliot has resonated with me through the years. Perhaps it will with you, too. 

"Lord, make me a crisis man. Let me not be a mile-post on a single road, but make me a fork that men must turn one way or another in facing Christ in me." 

If you have a prayer need, I’ve love to hear from you. Please leave your requests in the comments section below. You may also comment anonymously, if you’d like, or e-mail me confidential requests. Several folks on our prayer list are battling cancer or dealing with family crises. Would you take a moment to lift them up in prayer? Thanks. 

We’ve been praying for Courtney, a young mother battling brain cancer. Last week she had her routine follow-up tests. Here’s the report from her family: 

Update from Duke: The preliminary results of the PET scan and MRI showed no active tumor... We will get final confirmation later today or tomorrow morning from radiologist. Once final report received, Courtney will get to go off one chemo and will be able to move Avastin to every 3 weeks instead of every 2 that it is now. The goal is to eliminate all chemo in 6 months provided all MRI's are still good! We are so thankful and excited for Courtney! She continues to amaze us all! Thanks for all the prayers and positive thoughts!!!
God bless,
Laura J
©Laura Hodges Poole