Wildfires and Politics

Community, Spirituality

My world is on fire. Literally. Every ridge surrounding our city has a wildfire burning on top of it, and the smoke is settling on the streets of Chattanooga. It’s suffocating and headache-inducing. As I write (and as I dread going back to editing that Greek exegesis waiting on my desk) the pain in and behind my eyes is intense.

Our figurative world is burning these days too. If you found this post because of a social media link, then you’ve also read posts and articles all about how America is going down in flames if Candidate X is elected. Maybe you’ve even shared a few stories, commented on a few others.

My Granny would have been right there with you. Back when there was an alarmingly high number of cable channels–50, as I remember–she watched just CNN. It was on 24 hours a day. She listened to talk radio and wrote letters to our congressmen. She spent hours in AOL politics-themed chat rooms every night. She was the most informed woman I’ve ever known, and some of her passion “caught fire” in me.

So people who have known me longest may be surprised that I’ve stayed out of all the political squabbling. In fact, I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else for the last six months. (Though to be honest, I started to pull away well over a year ago. Social media blurs the lines between opinion and truth, and the older I get the less willing I am to put up with that.)

The election has only fired up the animosity that pervades our society, so once we’ve all cast our votes tomorrow, the arguing won’t end. Why? Because we’re all so selfish.  We vote for who we think will improve our own lives, regardless of how others may be impacted.

If we are all going to live with each other after tomorrow, then we need to stop trying to change others’ opinions and start changing our own actions toward others.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Luke lately (thanks to that exegesis weighing down my desk right now). In chapter 10, a scholar tries to trick Jesus into contradicting the Hebrew scriptures when he asks how one can attain eternal life. He answers his own question:

You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”—and “love your neighbor as yourself (v. 27, The Voice).

And who is that “neighbor”? Jesus answers with a story:

This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.

The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” (Luke 10:30-35, The Voice)

The neighbor is “the one who showed mercy” (v. 37). Not the priest and Levite who were literal neighbors–presumably sharing the victim’s Jewish faith and living in his community–but the Samaritan. He would have believed and worshiped and lived differently than the victim. Regardless of all his social differences, his actions made him the true neighbor. The one we are commanded to love as ourselves.

On Wednesday morning, I hope the election won’t have left you feeling as if you’ve been “mugged” and left “in critical condition”; but it looks like about half the country will feel that way.

It is time for us to start loving each other, regardless of our social differences. It is time for us to stop thinking so highly of ourselves and our own opinions that we can justify our disregard of others, or worse, we can justify attacking and hating others. Not just during election season–when America is on fire–but every day of our lives.

No matter what happens in the next 48 hours, let’s go out into our smoke-filled streets and AOL chat rooms and show some mercy.

I’m Ready to Have a Good Day

Books, Spirituality

It’s been almost 4 months since you’ve heard from me, and there’s a reason for that. The day of my last post, I learned that Barren‘s publisher had decided not to publish more books in the InScribed Collection. This decision has touched me professionally and emotionally. I am wondering how God will use me now. (On bad days, I’m wondering if He even wants to use me.)

The seven books in the collection are different from anything else on the market because of their origins. We 7 authors are truly friends. We were all brought together by Ashley Linne and the publisher’s editorial staff in 2013; and from the moment we met, we “clicked.” Yes, we promote each other’s work, but we tend to be more concerned with each other’s lives. In just 2 years we’ve birthed 3 babies and made 4 cross-country moves. Our Facebook Group page looks more like a family’s daily ramblings than a work site.

The team’s dedication to God and each other over our concerns for our own works made all of our books better. We learned from each other. I would do a theological review for one author while another was teaching me how to blog (or do anything tech-related!). I know this is a unique community experience among authors. I don’t know how to move forward without them going with me. So at the moment, I’m not moving forward. I’m mourning. I’m waiting.

I learned during David’s and my 7 years of fertility treatments that God teaches me the most when I’m not doing anything but listening. But I’m a where-there’s-a-will-there’s-a-way kind of girl. Just ask my parents: Back in 2002 they said, “Sure you can go dig in Israel–if you get a full scholarship to do it.” One week later, I gave them the “good” news. Or ask my husband: This summer he rightly said, “We don’t have the money to get that fig tree removed.” So I sold it instead!

It wasn’t until 5-or-so years ago that I learned, “God helps those who help themselves,” is not a Bible verse. It is an American adage with inherent value, but I tend to live as if it is Scripture. God made me tenacious, but He wants me to doggedly pursue His will and not my own plans.

The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him,
     to those who seek Him wholeheartedly.
It is good to wait quietly
     for the Eternal to make things right again.
It is good to have to deal
     with restraint and burdens when young
(Lamentations 3:25-27, VOICE).

In 586 BC Jerusalem was razed by the Babylonians, and her prominent citizens were exiled to Babylon or other cities within the Empire. The Book of Lamentations was written shortly after the war to the Israelites who remained in Jerusalem; and in this passage, the writer is encouraging his suffering readers to wait patiently but expectantly for God to act.

Verse 27 points out that the burden of suffering is best experienced when one is young. Two things result from suffering in youth: one learns that affliction is temporary while God’s mercy is permanent, and someone who survives suffering at an early age is less likely to be consumed by it when she is older.

So I’m learning. I know that when disaster and loss come, God is faithful and has a will and a plan that supersede my circumstances.

I’m waiting. I’m reading the Bible and praying. I’m asking advice from friends and colleagues, but I’m keeping myself from pursuing a new goal until God makes clear where He intends for me to go next.

And I’m sad that I can’t return to the nurturing community of authors and editors I enjoyed as Barren was published, but I am encouraged that God is somehow preparing me to better work for His Kingdom.

That confidence in Him makes today a good day.

A Simply “Divine” Interview

Books, Infertility

While I’m consumed with unpacking and organizing for the next few days, read this interview I did with Kathy Harris for her blog, Divine Detour. I’ll be back soon with more posts for you. This old house and the new puppy are giving me tons of ideas!

What started you on your writing journey?

David and I were in and out of fertility clinics for seven years. During most of that time we kept our pain a secret, but as we started to tell others about our struggles, I became a lightning rod for women facing infertility themselves. In July 2012, two friends confessed to me the same tragedy within eight hours of each other; both had miscarriages the previous day and both were eight weeks pregnant at the time.

I called David from the quiet of my home office where I was editing part of The Voice Bible translation. I was disturbed. Shaking. Crying. Confused. Overreacting! But my David was patient with me and asked me the strangest question, “If you were to write a book about all this, what would you say?” I spent the next thirty to forty-five minutes writing. I left my office exhausted and crashed on the couch for a four-hour nap.

I was awakened from a very deep sleep by a publisher at Thomas Nelson calling to ask me about a ghostwriting project. During our “small talk,” I told him what had happened to our mutual friends and how upset I was that morning. He asked, “Would you be interested in writing a book about infertility?” Only then did I tell him about my crazy forty-five minutes and the outline sitting on my desk at that moment. His exact words are burned in my memory, “Polish it up, and send it to me by Friday.” I think I sent it to him by the next hour! That conversation led to me becoming part of the InScribed authors’ community.

Just as all good novels include a plot twist, our Author and Creator often writes a twist or two into our lives—some that ultimately bless us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?

Way back in 2002, my best friend dreamed I was an archaeologist in Israel and a mother of four children. She told me about David arriving at my dig site fresh off a plane—gathering our daughter in his arms, kissing me, and corralling our three unruly red-haired boys. It was the life I wanted and almost expected to have.

The many years David and I spent failing to deliver babies changed us not because we didn’t get what we wanted, but because we learned (the hard way!) to trust God’s plan for our lives. This was even when it is contrary to our own plans.

Since we accepted that children are not in our future, David and I have moved across the country twice. David is always flying somewhere for work, and I tag along since all I need to do my work is a laptop. We are constantly meeting new people, and we are thankful that we can send our meager resources outside of our family as He leads us to do. None of that would be possible if we had little ones at home.

Let’s talk about Barren among the Fruitful: Navigating Infertility with Hope, Wisdom, and Patience (Thomas Nelson, October 2014). Please tell us about it.

During my seven-year journey with infertility and miscarriage, I needed three things; information, companionship, and faith. None of these were fully addressed by the publishing world, whose few books on infertility focused on either secular “miracle cures” or religious “faith journeys.” Both types left me feeling physically broken and spiritually disconnected because the so-called miracles didn’t cure anything and the devotionals only highlighted my latent fear that I was an unfaithful daughter of God whom He found lacking.

I wrote Barren among the Fruitful primarily for women in their childbearing years, understanding that most of those readers are as I was, emotionally vulnerable and in need of strength and love. The book strives to surround the reader with a sense of community while providing honest facts. It does not promise that medicine will give her a child or that God will give her a child. It does lead her from confusion about infertility to understanding. From embarrassment over her perceived failure to openness. And most importantly, from the now-broken faith she has in herself to a perfect faith in God’s plan for her future.

But Barren is also for those who interact with infertility patients and that’s everyone. Infertility is on the rise and many doctors are anecdotally suggesting it will reach epidemic levels (over 40%) among young women in the next ten years. I like to think I’ve created a survey of the topic that quickly educates readers about the physical, financial, psychological, and spiritual struggles that accompany fertility treatment. Each chapter is titled with an off-the-cuff, sometimes hurtful, and often ridiculous comment I heard during my fertility journey, so readers can learn what to say (and what not to say!) to their hurting friends. It also includes the unique stories of multiple women, providing readers with a renewed hope for God’s plan for their future—with or without children.

A few fun questions…

When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?

I try to be really conscious of the foods I put in my mouth and body. I avoid all things artificial and super-processed, including the syrups cafes put in their flavored lattes. I typically take my coffee black. But Starbucks had a new item on their menus this past holiday season that has given me a crisis of conscience. The Chestnut Praline Latte (with an extra shot of espresso and half the syrup, thank you very much) is perfection. At the end of January, I’m still approaching the drive-thru speaker once a week and timidly asking, “Do you have the chestnut-praline syrup?” Bad, Amanda. Bad!

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what dream would you pursue?

While I was in grad school, my cell phone ringtone was the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes, it’s a cliché, but every archaeologist wants to be Indiana Jones. I’m no different. My graduate degree is concentrated in biblical archaeology, and few times in my life have I been as happy as I was when sitting in a huge hole in Israel dusting dust off of dust. I would love to make archaeology my career, spending three months of the summer in the field and the rest of the year in a museum analyzing my finds. Real archaeologists never have Indiana Jones moments. We get over-the-moon excited when we find bichrome pottery in what we thought was a monochrome stratus, but we all dream of one day snatching our rimmed hats away from the traps of dangerous Nazi ark hunters!

What Bible passage or story best describes your journey of faith?

The most inspiring woman in the Bible, to me, is granted three verses of Scripture (Luke 2:36-38). Anna was the wife of a temple priest and she did not have children. She went to the temple courtyard every day and she prayed. Because of her faithfulness, God promised she’d see the Christ child before she died. At eighty-six, Anna was doing her habitual morning prayer when Mary and Joseph walked in with eight-day-old Jesus.

Anna’s story is in the gospel because she identified Jesus as the Messiah. The fact that she was childless is ancillary. I wish I knew more about her. I wish I knew how she survived month after month of disappointment. I wonder if she was ever pregnant. Did she have a miscarriage? Did she have a baby and then lose him or her to illness? Anna teaches us something very important. Her three verses of scripture prove that a child is not a reward for a woman’s faithfulness to God. Meeting God face-to-face is the reward.

I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.

When I was six years old, Daddy let me pick out a puppy from a litter of thirteen basset hounds. We named her Sofi, and she was all basset: stubborn, silly, and not-all-that brilliant. She died when I was in college, and I cried an entire day. Since then, I’ve always wanted another dog but my husband of twelve years resisted . . . until about two months ago. We will be picking up our first puppy on January 31st. He’s a basset hound, too, and we’ll call him Copper. Based on the short videos the breeder has been sending each week, we’re bringing home a lazy guy who loves to chew chew chew! . . . on those rare occasions when he’s awake.

Thanks, Amanda! It’s great having you as a guest at DivineDetour.

New Year, New Commitment…to Healthy Relationships

Community, Spirituality

Little known fact: I am a sorority alumna. I wasn’t your stereotypical sorority girl, however. I got super-involved in the Panhellenic (governing) side of Greek life, and I am so thankful for the leadership skills I developed. I got to have regular meetings with university administration (which was great), and I was the one who got the 3 a.m. phone call from the hospital when an Animal House-er had alcohol poisoning (which was not-so-great).

It’s those Animal House moments that Greeks are famous for, and that’s a shame. Most of the women and men I knew in the Greek system were doggedly committed to philanthropy. My sorority was constantly hosting fundraisers for the American Juvenile Arthritis Foundation, donating platelets at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and giving time to countless Memphis charities.

Philanthropy was part of my life. And then I graduated.

How many of us adults leave the heavy lifting of helping others to college students, children’s organizations (e.g. Girls Scouts and schools), or the government? How many of us think our tax dollars and tithe money exempt us from “doing what is good and right before our Lord”?

Make no mistake: God can’t be mocked. What you give is what you get. What you sow, you harvest. Those who sow seeds into their flesh will only harvest destruction from their sinful nature. But those who sow seeds into the Spirit shall harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. May we never tire of doing what is good and right before our Lord because in His season we shall bring in a great harvest if we can just persist. So seize any opportunity the Lord gives you to do good things and be a blessing to everyone, especially those within our faithful family (Galatians 6:7-10, The Voice).

Excepting his closing remarks, Paul ends his letter to the Galatian Christians by reminding them that “we reap where we sow.” If a Christian spends all of her time and resources achieving her selfish desires, then her life will yield sin. But if she invests time and resources “doing what is good and right before our Lord,” then she will be a part of God’s plan that “harvest(s) everlasting life from the Spirit” in those around her.

Monday night I was invited to and attended a meeting of Chattanooga’s Junior League. I’m sure some people call it an overgrown sorority and assume it’s a bunch of wealthy women comparing the lengths of their pearl strands. Those people could not be more wrong.

All the Junior League does is raise money for various charities in their community. These women dedicate tons of time (and not necessarily money) to fund special projects in public classrooms, eliminate food deserts in low-income areas, and educate children about nutrition.

Do they have fun running the marathons, organizing the Christmas home tours, and publishing the cookbooks that raise that money? Yep! Do they enjoy watching their labors produce smarter and healthier communities? You know it! And do the many Christians in their ranks thank God for the opportunity to “do good and be a blessing to everyone,” in the neighborhoods where they work and where His grace is so badly needed?

Absolutely.

This new year, let’s not forget the joy of giving that characterizes the Christmas season. Let’s do ourselves a favor and put action behind our dollars. Serve in the nursery of the church where you tithe. Help collect and deliver resources for those affected by the next natural disaster. Become a Big Sister to a child living in government housing.

Let’s put faces to the names of the hungry and hurting. Hopefully we’ll see those faces again when we enter into the everlasting life granted by His grace.

New Year, New Commitment…to Healthy Food

Health, Spirituality

This morning I was flipping through the hotel TV channels. We live in Eastern time now, so the shows I was used to listening to in Denver after David left for work weren’t on yet. But 7 (yes, 7!) “Christian” shows were. You know the ones–someone is sitting behind a desk talking to no one, and there isn’t an HD camera in sight.

On two different channels I heard something along the lines of, “Paul said that our bodies are temples for God, so we must eat ‘right’ to honor Him. Commit to be healthier this year so you are ‘right’ with God!” Both times I rolled my eyes and kept clicking. Why? Because those so-called Bible teachers read one verse:

Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who comes from God and dwells inside of you? You do not own yourself. (1 Corinthians 6:19, The Voice)

and completely ignored its context:

Don’t you realize that your bodies are members of the Anointed One? So should I take the members of the Anointed One and unite them to a prostitute? This illicit union should never take place! Don’t you understand that when your body is joined with a prostitute, the two of you have become one body? For as it says, “The two come together as one flesh.” But when you are joined with the Lord, you become one spirit with Him. Run from immoral behavior. All other sins are disconnected from the body, but sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who comes from God and dwells inside of you? You do not own yourself. You have been purchased at a great price, so use your body to bring glory to God! (1 Corinthians 6:15-20, The Voice).

In this section of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is explaining to his readers that God’s grace does not exempt them from living holy lives. Christians cannot do with their bodies what their pagan neighbors do and still expect to have a spiritual union with the Holy Spirit. Paul gives two examples of detrimental behavior: eating food that has been sacrificed before pagan gods, and having sex with temple prostitutes. God will not share His temple (us) with other gods.

So you see, to boil Paul’s words down to a law requiring us all to be Size 2 misses the much bigger point and borders on heretical teaching.

Thankfully I don’t need a TV Bible teacher to tell me how important it is that I eat right and exercise. I want to be as healthy as I can be, so that I am ready to be a tool of God when He wants to use me.

This year, in this new city, I am committing to cooking healthier meals than we ate in Denver. I also commit to exercising each morning.

There’s nothing on TV that early anyway.

Wednesday I Am Thankful…

Spirituality

…to be part of God’s redemptive plan.

David and I have a friend named Adrian. He’s been looking for a job for several months, and just this week, he received two very different offers for two very different jobs. He says, “If I take the first job, I’ll just be a cog in a wheel. If I take the second job, I’ll be on the ground floor of something that could be great.”

Who wants to be the cog in a wheel, giving the credit and glory for his hard work to a boss who doesn’t notice him? Performing his job perfectly every day for the benefit of a machine that he can’t see or understand? No one.

And I wonder if that very-human feeling is why so many of us have trouble giving complete control of our lives over to God. But that is exactly what we are called to do. Paul praises the Christian Thessalonians for playing their very specific but often small parts in God’s plan, and he prays they will continue to do so:

All this [that the Christians will persevere for the sake of the Christ] is why we are constantly praying for you, so God will make you worthy of the great calling you have received from Him and will give you the power to accomplish every good intention and work of faith. Then the great name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified through your lives, and you will be glorified in Him according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, our Liberating King.–2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, The Voice

Sometimes–when we are allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us–the pieces of our lives that we don’t understand are working to bring the rest of the world to a place of reconciliation with God.

I am thankful that we “cogs” do have some knowledge of the “machine” we are part of. Paul gives us a glimpse of the Second Coming of the Christ, one of the final parts of God’s great plan for humanity: at the final judgment, the presentation of sinful men and women who have been redeemed through Jesus’ graceful sacrifice on the cross will be glorified with Him. He will be glorified in them (v. 12).

The evidence of the Christ’s glory will be personified by the lives of those of us who are saved.

So on Thanksgiving (and every day), I will make the choice to be thankful for any small part I get to play in God’s redemptive plan. I will try to remember that my actions reflect upon the Christ–today and forever. Instead of acting selfishly and sinfully in the short term, I’ll thank God for His words that should guide my actions. I’ll trust that He is leading me down a path that will reconcile more people to Him.

(And I’ll thank Him for Adrian’s new job!)

Tuesday I Am Thankful…

Spirituality

…for my suffering.

I suppose that suffering–be it personally experienced or simply observed–is one of the primary reasons people abandon God. So often it leaves the afflicted asking, Why does God let this happen?

Certainly the 1st-century new-Christian Thessalonians were asking that question as they endured civil persecution at the hands of unconverted Jews and pagans. So who better to answer their question than the apostle Paul, a Christian who had been wrongly imprisoned and physically assaulted by powerful men on multiple occasions. The apostle Paul, a once-powerful man who had done the wrongful imprisoning and physical assaulting of Christians on countless occasions.

His life–both before and after he recognized Jesus as the Christ–was consistently shaped by suffering, be he the oppressed or oppressor.

Paul wrote that strong and constant faith yields suffering. Then suffering yields strong and constant faith:

In the grip of much persecution and affliction, you’ve stood firm in your faith and have persevered. Your sufferings prove that God’s judgment is right! The result: your sufferings have made you worthy—worthy of the kingdom of God, which is the very reason why you are suffering in the first place! (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, The Voice)

Paul is writing about suffering from an eternal perspective. He assumed the Christ would return within his lifetime, so he saw no distinction between the mundane and the divine.

After 2 millennia of waiting for His Second Coming, most of us no longer think this way. We don’t equate the suffering that results from miscarriage with an eternal battle. But we should.

Most of the physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual sufferings we endure as Christians can be beneficial. I consider the many years David and I spent failing to deliver babies. Those sufferings changed us not because we didn’t get what we wanted, but because we learned (the hard way!) to trust God’s plan for our lives. Even when it was contrary to our own plans.

So on Thanksgiving (and every day), I will make the choice to be thankful for my suffering. I will try to remember that suffering refines my faith. Instead of blaming Him for making me feel low, I’ll thank God for showing Himself to me when I need Him most. I’ll trust that He is growing my faith so I can be more useful in His great redemptive plan for humanity.

Monday I Am Thankful…

Community, Spirituality

…for my community of friends & family.

As Paul, Silas, and Timothy were writing their second letter to the believers in Thessalonica, the young church there was enduring civil persecution by local unconverted Jews and pagans. (For a glimpse of the situation there, read Acts 17:1-9.)

The Thessalonian Christians were responding to false accusations, unlawful imprisonment, financial extortion, and public battery not by feeling sorry for themselves or running from their oppressors. They were banding together in love and faith:

Brothers and sisters, we cannot help but thank God for you, which is only appropriate because your faith is growing and expanding and because the love demonstrated by each and every one of you is overflowing for one another. (2 Thessalonians 1:3, The Voice)

The Christians’ reaction to hardship was the correct one–Paul praised them for it!–and it is a great example to anyone facing life-altering difficulties.

God intended humans to live their lives in communities.  We are stronger when we are together because we can protect, encourage, and edify each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We aren’t meant to carry our literal and figurative burdens alone.

So on Thanksgiving (and every day), I will make the choice the be thankful for everyone around me. I will try my best not be jealous of family and friends who have the children I desire. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and my miscarriages, I’ll thank God for giving me people who love me. Instead of running from children’s stores and Santa Claus lines, I’ll thank God for giving me godkids whom I can love, teach, spoil, and then return to their parents!

BARREN Is Birthed

Books, Infertility

Over the last year or so, a LOT of people have said to me, “This book is like your baby.” I see their point. It certainly was “conceived.” It is part-David and part-me, although I got most of the attention during its “development” (and did most of the work!). I have looked forward to the day–this day–that it would arrive.

The analogy pretty much falls apart after that.

I thought I’d be over-the-moon excited today, but I’ve been gripped by fear. On a selfish surface level, I’m afraid it won’t sell. Not far below that, I’m deeply terrified that I’ve messed something up. And it’s way too late to make any edits.

Every chapter of the book ends with a Scripture passage. In the original outline of the book, I was only going to include Scripture in chapter 4; but as I wrote, God’s Word made its way into my head and onto the pages. So want it or not–fear it or not–I’m officially teaching interpretation of Scripture in Barren among the Fruitful.

The Apostle Paul had a particular disdain for false teachers. Writing to the Galatians, he explained that a fungus-sized untruth from one person can grow and push an entire city of believers away from God:

Who has impeded your progress and kept you from obeying the truth? You were off to such a good start. I know for certain the pressure isn’t coming from God. He keeps calling you to the truth. You know what they say, “Just a little yeast causes all the dough to rise,” so even the slightest detour from the truth will take you to a destination you do not desire. Despite this, I’m confident because the Lord reassures me that you will truly hear and take my message to heart. Besides, I also know that these troublemakers, whoever they are, will answer to God and be judged accordingly. (Galatians 5:7-10, The Voice)

I don’t want to be a “troublemaker.”

A few years before I even thought of writing this book, I found myself praying regularly, “God, please use me, but don’t let me get in Your way.” It’s almost become a mantra. I say those words (or some version of them) every time I talk with Him because I know selfish, sinful me would rather be working to accomplish my own goals instead of His will. I understood that as I was writing, so I prayed every moment I worked. I think it was more like raising a child than growing an embryo.

So today my book isn’t a baby; it’s fully grown and out of the house. I wonder if the fear I feel is akin to what parents experience when their children leave the nest. All I can do now is pray that as Barren encounters the world, God somehow uses it to introduce people to Him.

And hope I didn’t mess it up too much.

Ghosting

Community

“I’d like you to meet Amanda. She’s a ghost.” That is not how every hardworking woman wants to be introduced by her boss, but it happened to me several times. Ghost isn’t a derogatory term in literary circles, although I am happy to be a flesh-and-blood author now as opposed to an apparition.

Ghosting is a funny job. In my experiences, the publisher asks you to write a book on behalf of a too-busy “name author.” Sometimes you get to design the material; sometimes you’re given an outline. Sometimes you work directly with the name author; sometimes that person doesn’t even know your name. Always you must capture the “voice” of the credited author: no reader should ever suspect the book wasn’t written by the name author.

This week I learned a different definition of ghosting, but that profession is far more insidious. Monday morning I was frantically trying to pack David for an impromptu work trip when I got an email from RedBox thanking me for my purchase. I’d supposedly rented “Blood, Guts, and Guns” (or something like that) to play on an XBox I do not own at a kiosk a good 20 miles away from my desk. I called RedBox immediately, and they were confounded: in order to rent a RedBox DVD, you must physically swipe your card. “Have you lost your card?” they asked me. Nope. And David had just booked that last-minute $900 flight on his–those cards were in our possession.

My next call was to the bank. By then I had another email from RedBox: “Thanks for purchasing ‘Zombies Attack Vampires’!” again for the XBox I will never own and this time 25 miles away from my desk. Long story short, someone–I assume a man–had physically swiped my card when I made a purchase and later “ghosted” my card (copied the digital information to a physical card). The RedBox trips were the ghost’s trial runs to see if the card worked before he went to buy expensive stuff.

I like to think my ghost will thank me someday for being so obsessive about monitoring David’s and my digital identities. I like to think that I saved this idiot from a federal charge of “grand theft” and a lifetime of crime. You see, this person had to be a newbie:

  1. My credit card was linked to my email, so RedBox sent me a confirmation of each transaction immediately.
  2. RedBox tells me the exact time when the purchase was made.
  3. RedBox tells me the exact location where the purchase was made.
  4. RedBox has a camera in each of their kiosks.

There was no way he was getting away with this.

Our bank has always done an amazing job of watching out for our identities. While I was on the phone with a bank operator, I received a notification from the bank asking me to verify the RedBox purchases. The transactions flagged because the games didn’t seem to be things I’d purchase; the ghost wasn’t imitating my “voice,” if you will.

Maybe he’ll have better luck next time. As a ghostwriter, I always did a better job when I’d met my author face-to-face. My identity thief will get a chance to do just that in a couple of months. He committed the fraud in Denver, and I’ve been invited to his arraignment.

I don’t think I’ll be hiring him as my ghost anytime soon, but I bet I’ll be “haunting” his dreams.