Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Publishing World

Venturing into the publishing world can be a daunting task. I am no expert and if that is what you are looking for it is probably best you stop here. What I can and will do is share what I have learned along the way and what I am still learning.

Several weeks ago I decided to try my hand at substitute teaching and bring a few extra dollars of needed income into our home. I will not dazzle you with my experiences but if I was not as aware of the challenges teachers face before I now have a somewhat clearer perspective.

Some of the classes I have subbed for were English classes and some of those students were in the process of writing stories. I love to ask a simple question to these classes.

How many copies does the average book sell?

The hands shoot up and you can count on that first answer being at least one million. Finally, some astute kid after I shake my head to all the previous answers decides it is far less. But even then it is not as low as two hundred copies, which is what I was told by a publishing team I have become friends with. That is counting traditional, self, and hybrid publishing.

It is easy to view writers such as John Grisham, J.K. Rowling etc. but there are a vast number of authors with virtually no name recognition such as myself.  

As an author of my first book, The River Hideaway, it goes to show that I would not be subbing if the answers of one million copies sold was anywhere near true. It would be nice if it were so.

Anyone that has a desire to write basically has one dream in common. They want to see their book in print. The first day my books arrived-to see that cover with the title and my name on it..It was a humbling, fulfilling experience. Even better was to hide a copy in the wine cabinet already signed for my wife. I suggested she retrieve a bottle of wine for us. She should have known something was up as I am not much of a wine drinker. The sheer excitement when she so excitedly grabbed the book. That is a moment for which there is no price tag.

I wrote the bulk of The River Hideaway in 1997. The second publisher I sent it too was John F. Blair. I still have the letter from Anne Waters, who read and loved my book. She could not persuade the board to choose my book for their one fictional title for the year. Still, she gave me a list of five publishing contacts that she knew personally and she vowed to buy a copy when it was on the shelf. Slam dunk from here right?

Three of the five immediately responded-no new fiction and no new authors. They would not even agree to read it. One of the publishers had decided to publish only children stories and the other moved to open another publishing company. I finally found him and when I began to explain what it was about-he cut me off. Anne had already spoke on my behalf and he was excited to read The River Hideaway. Here is where it really got frustrating. He never read it. He was busy with running a new company and he passed it off to his acquisitions editor. They kept it for two years. I even came home to a phone call one day of how much they liked it. Ultimately, they passed. 

I knew getting traditionally published was difficult. Here is what I did not know. I had no clue how difficult it would be to even persuade them to read your novel in it's entirety. Many will ask for a one page query letter and that is all. Some will ask for three chapters or the first fifty pages after that. It is an accomplishment to persuade a publisher to read your entire story.

Currently, I have another manuscript in front of a publisher. Here is an example of what you may deal with in getting published. The publisher has decided they will commit to one more title for next year. They have narrowed it down to two books. The other is non fiction and the author has a built in speaking circuit. I write fiction and have no such platform. I take it as a positive that they have not already said no.I have been on the fence with them for months.

People suggested often over the years that I self publish. That is certainly an option for writers. Often it is the best way to go, especially if you have a profession or an expertise that has you traveling and speaking to groups.

Maybe I just craved the approval that someone would read my book and say we want to publish your book. I think the traditional publishing rejection rate is 98-99 percent. That is frustrating and can be so demoralizing that some choose not to even try. Self publishing is 100 percent successful because you are footing all the bills. Of course if your book takes off you are also going to gain the large percentage of the profits.

I received no advance for The River Hideaway & I make less than $2 per book. But the important part of my contract for me is that I would not be asked for any money. I could buy my books at a discount, which I have for private signings but there was no stipulation requiring me to buy a certain amount.

Would I sign the same contract today? No. But do I regret signing the one I did? No, as well. I have seen my dream in print. It is off my bucket list to be traditionally published.

Since I have not self published I certainly am no expert but I will share what I do know. Remember we all have that dream of seeing our books in print. Publishers know this as well and there are many self publishing companies you would do well to steer clear of. Don't let  your dream for being published get in the way of your business sense. Read the contract carefully. Hire an attorney to read it. That may not be cost wise for many of us. At least find a good business person you know and have them read it. I did.

Beware of package deals of self publishing. I don't know how many people have said they said my package was going to cost $3,000 and it wound up being much more.

We have a huge advantage with the Internet. I was contacted one day by someone who had heard I got published. They said their friend had been offered a publishing contract by a major publishing company and they wanted my advice about the contract. Later, I talked with the friend and they mentioned how they did not want to have to take a loan out for the contract. I researched the publisher and read countless reviews of how they scammed people. I am not making fun of anyone. But when you have such a huge dream you can rule out your good common sense that God hopefully gave us all. It is not a major contract for you if you are carrying all the costs. I did this as delicately as I could. I suggested that anytime before entering into a contract with any type publisher or agent that you simply type the name added by the word "review" or "scam". You may find one, maybe two scathing rebukes by a disgruntled writer. I don't think that is much too be concerned about. But if there is a pattern of hundreds, I would be wary.

The sad thing is that the publisher mentioned in the above paragraph scammed countless people while parading their company as a Christian establishment that published Christian writers. So if you view yourself as a Christian writer, don't give your trust and your money to a company thinking because they say they are Christian that they will be honest and fair. I think that these type companies, in all walks of business, have gotten so bad that when someone puts a fish symbol on their work vehicle I begin to be more suspicious than trusting. Now, before anyone shoots me an ugly message, I know this is not the case with all businesses and there are many with their fish symbol on the work vehicle who are loyal, honest, and live their faith even  when it comes to money.

All self publishing is not bad. I know a local author who has always self published her fiction. She has a certain niche that buys her every book & she is comfortable with that. She also found a very good self publisher. The publisher has been very honest with her and even chose not to charge her for certain items when she reordered. I know another inspirational writer who wrote a wonderful book that I read. He has a speaking circuit and he really did his homework about publishing his book. He also had a mentor to guide him who has written and had several books published traditionally.The key is he researched his options. His book has been successful and most of the profits are his.

My encouragement is that you do your homework.  The same is to be said for hybrid publishing. Read the contract many times and have someone you trust read it as well. My guess is that as more publishers have financial concerns, the growth of hybrid publishing will grow exponentially.

I know many people prefer self or hybrid publishing so their stories do not get altered dramatically. I went with a small press and fortunately they only edited & at the end asked me to shave a few thousand words to keep the cost of the book down. My story stayed in tact.

They were also open to my book cover ideas and ultimately they chose the one I pushed for the most. I can't tell you how many compliments I have received for the book cover of The River Hideaway. My friend, Robbie Johnson, gave me his photograph and the only payment he received is my great appreciation that he shared his art.

Please, regardless of who you seek to publish your book check out their current book covers. Do they look professional? Do they draw your attention? Also, do not be shy about speaking with their authors to see if they are happy with the publisher.

I know it is easier said than done but don't throw away your business sense or your money because your desire is so great to see your book in print. I understand. I pursued getting published on and off for fifteen years before a publisher said yes. It was my dream and I received plenty of discouragement along the way. I had not sent anything out in years when my new wife demanded I try again. I sent it to one publisher and they offered a contract several months later.

Let's say you get published traditionally. Please harbor no illusions that your publisher is going to spend a lot of time & money promoting your book. The promotion is on you. I was able to get my book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Was it easy? No. I talked to them and the manager at the time said, "We will order six books and if they are not sold in two weeks they get returned. They sold quickly and they placed another order that sold quickly and then they invited me for a book signing.

I tried to tell them how hard we were networking but they said I would be lucky to sell a dozen books. That is not a bad figure. I have had other signings in other places where I sold less than that. They had thirty books on hand and they were gone inside of forty five minutes. Fortunately, I had two boxes in the truck. There were over two hours left in the signing and I knew more people were coming. I was not going to have people take their time from their busy schedules and make a trip for nothing. We sold another thirty books before the day was done & a few months later they had me back two weeks before Christmas & we sold over fifty books & nearly sold out again. It also led to Barnes & Noble offering me signings in Jacksonville and Raleigh, NC. The one in Raleigh came within a few books of selling out as well.

I have often joked that if I would have made $100,000 on The River Hideaway that it would amount to about minimum wage. One day, I broke the calculator out & began estimating my time spent writing, rewriting, promotion, etc.. Guess what? I don't think that the minimum wage statement is far off.

As much as I pray that one day I might be successfully financially being an author-of even more importance I have had many poignant moments derived from this little story. A man I greatly respected was being read this story the last week of his life. I have had several people say to me that they hated for the story to end. (My favorite compliment) I have had good Christians say that it made them think about their relationship with the Lord. Some said that it made them think-did they see truly beyond race & as my favorite character, Clarence said- Hearts have no color. People were drawn to characters derived from my heart & mind.

I got to see two dreams come true. That someone would be reading my book on the beach and enjoying it. I also know it was given many times as a Christmas gift. What value can be placed on being part of someones Christmas?

So for all the disappointments along the way. The many times I gave up. Would I do it all over again?

You bet I would.

The journey continues. Remember writers write. Don't waste your time talking about writing. Write. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Do our changes sometimes shock us?

Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Maybe it is because I fell so far from my Born Again experience that I embrace this scripture wholeheartedly. In fact, it has become my second favorite scripture. 

Isn't it encouraging to experience those moments that reveal the change in us? I call those the it's okay to pat myself on the back moments. Joyce Meyer often says in her messages, "I may not be who I need to be but thank God I am not who I use to be."

Do you ever have a moment where you truly realize how much you have changed, or even more to the point how much you have allowed the Spirit of God residing in you to reshape you? 

For so many years I dreamed, pursued a traditional publishing contract for something I had written. I would have given anything to have this dream come true. I use to say often, "God, if you are not going to help than at least get out of my way & allow me to have this." I came close so often that I felt that He was keeping his foot on my dream coming true. I have no idea if he was interfering in what I desired so intently in my heart or not. I do know that The River Hideaway changed, at least in my opinion to a better story when I let go of the wheel of this life & I wrote it again-increasing the spiritual aspect of the story that began with the character Louie.

One day, with little thought as I debated about the ways to get the word about The River Hideaway out, I said out loud. "God, I would rather sell a thousand copies with You than a million without You."

It really did not dawn on me immediately the magnitude of what I had just said. I said  it casually with no room for debate. That is how much I had changed in what was most important. 

Matthew 6:33 
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

It is one of those times when this scripture is alive. Now, don't get me wrong. If you think I live this scripture to the fullest every day than you are granting me far too much credit. It is human nature to do it our way & I fall prey to that but when I do I return to the basic value of my life.

God, regardless of how much I desire something, or the rewards involved-if you are not in it I want no part of it. 

I love this tweet by Christine Caine. It says it far better than I ever could. 

I want to be part of what He orchestrates.

Have a great day everyone & I pray a wonderful Thanksgiving for each of you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Marriage Should Be Work?

I never cared for the relationship advice about how you had to work at it. Don't get me wrong. I understand the premise, but it always made it sound more like a job to me. Relationships while none are perfect should be fun & enjoyable..If not, I am not sure what the point is.

As Julie was backing out the drive this morning & both of us giggling about my silly antics. I thought about all the laughter we share with each other. How we are grateful for new opportunities that will allow us to spend more time together.

It is no secret that I have been around the block a few times but once I let go of what I thought I needed, God provided me with more than I could ever dream of with Julie. And Julie was & is His child. A child He loves dearly.

I think it is safe to say we have all charged down paths we knew not to be good for us with the thinking that we will invite God in on the back end of our deal. This above tweet from Christine Caine I found to be very succinct & powerful. 
God is not obligated to sustain what He did not orchestrate.

I lived like this most of my life. Charging ahead from one adventure to another & always leaving God on the outside of what I desired. I fully intended to bring Him in on the back end after I got everything I wanted.
Big shocker here. It was an epic fail. 

But I reached a point when everything I had tried failed. It is like all the years I spent coaching kids in the great sport of basketball. One of our favorite things that my assistant coach, Richard Mears & I said to kids so frequently that I am sure they rolled their eyes at us. "Good habits breed good habits & bad habits breed bad habits." For example, you have a kid who has repeated a bad habit so often that it feels natural to him. You try to convince him to change because he lacks proper form. His complaint would be it does not feel right. My response was, "But your way is not working. What do you have to lose?"

That was me. I reached a point where I had to come to grips that my way was not working. I trusted my thinking of what was right for me more than I trusted God. 

"God, I do not wish to be alone forever but if You are not in it I would rather remain alone for the rest of my life because it will fail like all the rest." That was the place I finally reached.

I don't know that anyone that knew Julie & I before we begin to date that would have said, "Now they would make a great match." But yet looking back I have no doubts that God was preparing both of us for our eventual meeting. 

I have been very blessed on occasion to have witnessed the Supernatural works of the Holy Spirit. Times when I knew without question it was as the wonderful Christian Author, Mark Batterson wrote, "Sometimes God shows up. Sometimes God shows off."

Two months before I met Julie I was in the shower. Don't you love how God does not stand on pretense? He wants to come in it & does not matter what you might be doing. 

As clear as someone in the room speaking to me I heard. "Get your house in order." What? What does that mean? I thought about it for several days and then I kind of forgot about it.

Fast forward a few months & Julie & I are on our third date & it is the first time she was in my house. She was seated at the kitchen table and I went in the back for something & I felt that tug & reminder of what I heard in the shower that day. 

I sat down next to her & shared the story. Her eyes glazed over & she made me repeat it again. "Say that again. Just like you said it the first time."

I did. She shook her head. "I heard that same thing recently. In fact, I heard it multiple times. I asked God what it meant and He said, The man I have for you is coming and he is coming quickly." She had been alone for ten years waiting on her Boaz. 

I don't remember anymore of our conversation that day. What we both took away was that God made it clear that if our two paths merged to one-He would be on board. He would bless us. We still had to sort through things because we both had our share of scars. We are not robots. We did not rush right out & get married because God showed us something.  

There was an age difference that I was not comfortable with but you know it was more than that. I knew Julie to be the far better Christian than me. That is still true today. I was not sure I deserved her. I was not certain I was a good enough man for her. There is not a week that goes by that I don't say, "God, I do not deserve my wife but I am not returning the gift that You gave me." 

That is what Julie is to me. A gift from our Father.

Last night as I sat on the porch waiting for Julie to come home I felt a sadness & I drifted to questioning myself, which I am apt to do. I have always been my own worse critic. I found encouragement as I sorted through my thoughts when I came to a simple fact. 

God trusted me with his precious child that He loves dearly. He thought I was the right man for Julie. Me. He thought I was good enough for her. He did not think it. He is God and He knows it.
It encouraged me because if He thought I was good enough for Julie-why should I question that? Question Him?

I still wrestle at times like many of us that say in our mind we know God loves us but it does not always make the journey to our heart. Why is it I can see Julie as someone that God loves dearly & not so much myself? Just because I may view Julie as more deserving of God's love does not mean that is how it is. 

I was given a gift by my Father. Wow! I am closing in on a pretty big number. I will be sixty years old in another year. We have been married now for over two years & we have been together almost three years. Our first date. The seven hour coffee as it is referred to now is just around the corner. Next Monday, October 26.Hopefully, when people see us together they say, "Wow. If that is not God I don't know what it could be."
Gifts are suppose to be fun, right? So are relationships.
My gift, Julie. I love you Baby.
Happy 3 years (almost) 

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Simple Things

Many years ago, I shared with someone that if God came down from the Heavens & preached a fifteen minute sermon that I felt reasonably sure He would encourage us to simplify our lives. The person I shared this with took it personally, though I did not mean it that way, & I surely included myself among those needing to remove the clutter from our lives. She wanted to know how she could do that with all that was on her plate. She had a good point. Still, I am pretty certain most of us could purge some of the weight from our lives. We could choose to live a more simple lifestyle. We could enjoy hobbies without being consumed by them. We could venture outside, walk a trail, and appreciate all the things God has granted us for free. I  have to confess that is a big deal for Julie and I right now as my leg is in a cast and walking from one end of our modest home to the other, aided by crutches is about the extent of my journey. A walk in the woods right now would probably reduce me to tears of gratefulness.

We all reminisce about special times and moments in our life. I would wager that these treasured memories are for the most part about simple times in our lives.

Recently, I sat on the porch during a driving rainstorm, reading a fictional novel. One of my simple areas of enjoyment. We have a new family that has moved in across the street and I got the biggest kick out of their kids. They were riding their bicycles in the cul-de-sac. It was raining so hard that it was probably four to six inches deep at one time. They were having a blast. Their parents stood on the top deck watching and allowing their kids this freedom.  The rain passed & the kids began shouting, "It's a double rainbow."

The kids took me back to some of the good places of my childhood. Playing stick-ball in the street with Rick Phipps for hours at a time. Retrieving soft drink bottles for that whopping two cent deposit. Taking them to the store and on a good day maybe receiving over two dollars from the store owner. Spending some of that money on baseball card packs and hoping that Willie Mays was in one of my treasured packs. The basketball court at the Phipps home, courtesy of his wonderful dad, Richard. Many grown ups today will tell you that they never played the wonderful game of basketball in another place that they enjoyed as much as those games we participated in as kids. Mr. Phipps has kept that court up, long after his sons, Rick & Al were adults living in other cities. Why would he choose to keep that court in working order when there are no games to be played? Because it has proven a long time treasured memory for him as well.

We had two channels on television during this time. No video games. No cell phones. Fast food was a rare treat. I still recall Mom allowing me to have three hamburgers at Hardee's occasionally. They were fifteen cents each. How tragic a life we kids lived, right? It was anything but that. We did not feel deprived. We had a baseball field near the Phipps and Strickland's homes that was built for semi pro baseball games on Sunday. Yet, another treat in a simpler time. You know who enjoyed that field the most? The adults only used it on Sunday afternoon for a few hours. The rest of the week it was ours. We played whatever sport was in season all day long and we had no kids that I can recall in our neighborhood struggling with weight issues. Regardless of our high calorie and sugar intake we burned it all off. The only thing that got in our way was the occasional yard work mandated by our parents. Okay, that is not a treasured memory.

I don't mean to sound like an old guy living in the past. Like most of you I have way too much technology in my life these day. Worries that can consume me when I allow them too.

And just as when we were kids aren't our treasured adult times built around simple things? Two and a half years ago, Julie and I chose for a honeymoon site a small one bedroom cabin with a beautiful mountain view, on the outskirts of Stone Mountain State Park. It was inexpensive and very simple. There were no fancy restaurants nearby and I doubt we would have chosen to go if there were. There was a charcoal grill and a hot tub right outside the front door. We spent the days exploring the Park. The only requirement was to keep putting one foot in front of the other as we walked to the top. Walking back down we took the leisurely longer trail that included waterfalls. My favorite aspect of the mountains.

On our last night I planned a fancy dinner. My surprise to her. I prepared our food to take with us, along with a bottle of wine. There was a waterfall in the Park that was just off the road, requiring little but a simple walk to reach. We sat by the waterfall and enjoyed dinner, and each other. I don't mean this disparagingly to anyone. We all have different things we enjoy, but for this simple boy you can keep your five star restaurants and their presentations. Who in the world can eat presentations? That evening by the waterfall was our kind of dinner and we won't forget it. It will always be a treasure.

So if we, and please note I say, we, including myself in this life that we allow to become so confusing with our wants & expectations. If our treasured memories are around simple things why do we chase things in life that are anything but? Why are we not building more memories of cherished less complex times? It is not too late.

Watching those kids yesterday also reminded me of when my son, Micah was little. Micah always loved movies & often our simple enjoyment was movie night. Pizza, popcorn, and a movie or two in the comforts of whatever home we were living in at the time. Even going to the small video store to pick up the movies is a treasured memory. There was a wonderful man, Ben, who worked there & he had a voice so low, so powerful, that it brings James Earl Jones to mind. If I ran into him outside of the store in a crowded area it seemed he only had to whisper across people, "Hey, big guy. How are you doing?" I would smile and say, "Ben."

One day as I was picking out our movie, Micah was playing the pin ball machine at the front of the store. I had given him money on the way in as he asked if he could play it. Sometimes, it took awhile to find a movie as we were frequent customers & we watched movies as fast or faster as the new ones that were suitable for viewing arrived. I finally found a movie, paid Ben, & we left the store. On the drive home I said, "Micah, you played a long time on the money I gave you for the pin ball machine."

His response was, "I ran out of money & Ben walked around from behind the counter & put more money in the machine." Ben never said a word as he performed this task. A simple gesture for a small child that spoke to his gentle nature. It was my small child & Ben probably thought nothing of it but I have never forgotten that. It is a cherished simple memory that is stored away in my heart.

I will wager that as Micah ages he will hold dear to movie nights & other simple times that we shared together just as Rick & I still talk about stick-ball games that lasted for hours decades ago. I sure hope he does.

Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Let's go build some simple treasures. Maybe I can find a way to do it even while hobbled by these dang crutches & a surgically repaired ankle. Have a great day.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Damascus Road

It was an early September night, and the young man was walking down the long dark road near his home. He was actually not high on this night, which was no small miracle. For reasons, he would never understand, but never forget, he walked with an eye toward the stars. He had no particular destination in mind. Perhaps, he might find the right place to get high.

He never fit in anywhere. Always feeling like the outcast, until he discovered the drug culture & free love of subsequent lost souls. He had entered the party life early. Drinking before he was fifteen. Soon afterwards, he discovered his God, in the form of marijuana. In time, every drug of that time he would abuse but strangely never have any addiction problems.

He came to the end of the road that he lived on and turned left. To this day he can show you exactly where he was when it all changed dramatically. The moment when life would never be the same, even in the years that followed, when he tried in vain to forget the reality of that night.

He would never forget the intricate details of that night. First came a whoosh. It was an incredible sensation that ran from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Then the words. Words that were never thought about or formed in his mind. Strangely, one lone tear ran down his left cheek. He always thought that odd.

"Come & admit you're wrong. Come & sing My glorious song."

He never ceased walking the entire time. It is a few steps later, when he strains to look to the Heavens & ask a question that he already knows the answer to.

"God, is that You?" 

The realization sets in.

"Oh, my God. You are real. All my life I heard You were but You are actually real. Oh, my God."  

He was very naive. He began to tell people of the event, thinking they would know it was true, but eyes began to roll & few wanted to hear it. Surely, the good people at church will love to hear this. Sadly, that was for the most part another dead end. They did not believe in that night, or that his transformation was real. Maybe they thought he was beyond redemption.

He had assumed that what occurred that night was something that happened often.  So, he did not run up an aisle at Church. Does that make it less real?

The dramatic transformation was too much and the frustrations & subsequent horrible decisions he made eventually drove him to curse that night. "Why, did You not just leave me alone?" The biggest lie he began to believe was that that night was little to do with him. It was merely answered prayers for his mom. He knew God loved her enough to answer her prayers about her wayward son, but he did not believe in God's love for him.

It took many years for him to return to God. He still searches for answers concerning that night. Some answers he realizes now. A dear friend, who upon hearing the story for the first time nearly forty years later said about the treatment he received from the people of the church. "I think their behavior says more about them than it ever did about you."

Very recently it dawned on him about these words he heard that night. Sing My glorious song. He grew up in church, where it was more about what you should or should not do. It was not so much about worship. He realized that was what God was saying that night. Worship Me. God wanted him free to worship. Not bogged down in religion.

He thought of something recently about that time of transformation that had not had cross his mind in decades. He was on probation at the time of the Damascus Road. It was several months later when his probation officer called and demanded he be in the office the next day.

He thought it strange but he was not worried & he knew for the first time in years if it was about a drug test he would pass.

The young man entered the office the next day as ordered. The man got right to the point. He had the most spiritual dream. A vision. He wanted to discuss it with the criminal that sat in front of him. Someone that might not think that he was crazy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

That One Thing

We like the illusion of control in our lives, don't we? That is all control is... an illusion. I believe that control factor keeps many of us from turning the wheel of this life completely over to God. It is like we have a list. Okay God, this, this, & that can go, but I need this.

I have shared previously about my cliche of driving down the road & saying, "Lord, You take the wheel. Whatever the path is that you lay out for me I will walk it even if I have to surrender my dreams."  Despite having lived this I still want to take over the wheel at times. Why, I do not know. My Father has proven to be a far more capable driver of my life than I am.

A very wise spiritual woman shared something with me one day I have never forgotten. Carol spoke of someone who was giving nearly every part of their life to God but there was one thing that even though they knew it to be wrong they refused to surrender. That last thing is the one thing many of us will grasp so tightly & we refuse to give it up. We either think it so defines us or maybe we believe we know better than God what we need in our lives. I was the poster child for this behavior. It is pretty arrogant when you think of it, right? I mean to think that any of us know better than the almighty God.

I believe in the light of God without question & I am also very aware of the darkness of this world. Sometimes, it appears as if that is all that surrounds us. It is easy to lose hope. The scriptures are mocked & sadly many churches have succumbed to downgrading the Bible if it dare offend someone. It is Church Lite at its finest. Leaders pat people on the back & tell the congregation what they want to hear. They forget the importance that Jesus placed on scriptures-downplaying it by saying that was for that time. It brings to mind a scripture I read again not too long ago & actually just heard on television when I walked in the kitchen for a protein shake.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

One of my favorite scriptures even when I was far from God is Hebrews 13:8. There was comfort that I could count on Him to remain the same.  

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

I wrote a blog over two years ago about how God is the potter & I am the clay. But isn't it human nature to try to spin that the other way? I sure did. I suspect most if not all of us have at one point or another. 

Malachi 3:6 For I the LORD do not change...

Please don't think I am an advocate for fundamental religion that spends more time & energy making sure everyone knows what their church is against. Not so much what it is for.  Big booming voices that like to put on a show.

Sometimes, & I have no excuse for this. I catch myself saying they won't change. This circumstance is too rooted in darkness. Then I hear that whisper. "Have you forgotten how trapped in darkness that you were? Do you remember the lost young man that I appeared to on a lonely dark street one night?"

So if there was hope for me there is indeed hope for all.

That one last thing we cling to so fiercely. I think I know why. Because the evil one knows that once we let go of that he has lost the battle. It is over. So he will bring every thing he can against us.

I hung on to my desire to have the right woman first & to have my dream of being a published author. "Let me have those, God. Then I will surrender." The truth is I would still have hung on to what I wanted even if I found those dreams. I trusted myself more with my happiness than I trusted God.There will always be one more thing to cling to. I now trust God more than I trust myself. I trust my relationship with Him more than I trust rules & regulations. I am a simple man & I continue to believe the more of Jesus I invite to reside in my heart the less I will speculate about rights & wrongs. That tiny voice will guide me. Oh, sure I will get off track during times when it seems I am on earth & God is on Pluto. I felt that way recently. Julie & I were both struggling so much with disappointment. It reached a pinnacle one day when we both woke not wanting to face the day. I have struggled with depression most of my life. Two major bouts almost took my life when I made decisions that left me emotionally exhausted. You know the worse part of those battles? It was that first waking moment when you knew you had to somehow try to manage another day. One night, during the last severe battle of depression in 2001, I parked the car in the garage. I was drunk & listening to Jackson Browne on the CD player. I thought maybe if I just drift off to sleep it won't really be suicide. I don't know if I nodded off or not. I do recall that even though I was so angry at God that I wanted nothing to do with Him that in hind sight he sent to me the one image that would persuade me to shut the engine off & walk inside. It appeared from nowhere. The image of my beautiful son, Micah's face. I did not want to live but I also knew that he might never recover if I did not cut the car off right then. I turned the key & lived for another day, a day when the intense pain & disappointment of this life would fade away. It was not easy & I could not take any medication because I suffered such severe side effects. One day the dense fog rolled out. I lived in fear for a long time that it would return but it never did. Not in that manner or intensity.

So on that morning we woke to despair & disappointment I finally had the good sense to lead my family. I took Julie's hand & we pressed in to God, shutting down the influence of the Enemy. As Julie says, "Are we going to go by what we feel or what we know to be true?" And we know our God to be good & for us & not against us. Since that morning I have slept better than I have in ages. No supplements to aid my sleep. Even afternoon naps have become one of deep sleep.

We, (& please note I say we, not you) love to grab a hold of scripture that makes us feel good. I think a prime example is Jeremiah 29:11. Another thing my wise wife says often is, "We don't get to cherry pick the scriptures."

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

That sounds awesome, right? What about the two scriptures that follow?

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Do you ever notice how often the word all is required? All of our heart. All of our dreams. I am not aware of a scripture that says give up this, this, & that & you can keep this.

My Mom, who next Sunday will have moved on to her party in Heaven for two years, use to tell me all the time that God wanted all of me. She was right as she was in many things. She was also the finest example of being Born Again that I knew. We have lost that term for the most part. I find that very sad. Jesus thought it important.

John 3:3 "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."

He didn't say if you follow the advice of  your priest or minister that you would see the kingdom of God. He did not say if  you do this, this, and that but not that you would see it. He said you must be born again. Sadly, we have many church leaders that have not experienced the supernatural moment of being born again. They were living life like Mom.  She was in church & she followed the rules & regulations of religion but she lacked relationship. She had a supernatural encounter with God when He showed up during a dark time & she was never the same for the remaining decades of her life. He took up residence in her heart. She admitted things about herself when I will bet you anyone would have said she was a wonderful Christian lady & she was. But she became so much more. As my son, Micah, wrote once. Even in her dementia there was a grace about her that drew people in. She was my hero. She still is.

I have heard people say they have that one more thing & then they will turn it over, or that they were trying to turn it over. It is not something you have to try to do. There is also nothing or no one in this world worth keeping the fullness of relationship with God from you.

I learned that one day when I turned the wheel over as I drove down the road. I tell people often that my vision of that day is that God, turned to the host around Him, & said, "I have his attention. Let's go to work."
And boy did He ever go to work.He knew that I meant what I said. I did not rush up an aisle. I did not go through a series of steps. I simply released. That is all it takes. Surrender all your heart.

That was in January of 2012. By September of 2013 I was enjoying my forth month of marriage with my wife, Julie, who surpassed all my hopes I ever had about a woman. I am not deserving but I also was wise enough to not refuse the gift God granted me with her. That same month I received an email from a traditional publisher offering me a contract for The River Hideaway. A story about two young men, one black, one white, & the friendship that they strike up during the racially charged times of 1967. I wrote most of the story in 1998 & had given up getting published after many rejections. Come on. Even the biggest of skeptics can't see this as anything but God, can you? Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

And God is greater than all & I am living proof that there is nothing worth clinging too. Not one thing. Don't be so slow like me & waste so many years. I am nearing 60 years of age & sometimes I feel like my life has just begun. Maybe because it many ways it really has.




Thursday, April 30, 2015

Papa Jack

"Good & bad in all. Good & bad in Black...Good & bad in White."

The above quote is attributed to the man in the photo. He was my Grandad, Jack Rogers. Many people referred to him as Papa Jack and that was not limited to family members. The dog in his lap, Tootsie, was my dog but make no mistake she loved Papa Jack more than anyone. I was not even a close second.

Papa Jack wore a white shirt & tie daily as he is in the photo. This was even after he retired in the early sixties from running the Fish Market on Oleander Drive in the community of Sea Gate. He & my Grandmother, Ruth Rogers owned the store together. Those of you that have read The River Hideaway might recall I based the character of Vicky on my Grandmother.    

Papa Jack had little in the way of education and he was a simple man in many ways. Look at the photo again and look at his right hand. That is a Tampa Nugget Cigar. It was also part of his daily routine to enjoy a few of them each day.

There was much racial conflict in this area when I was a boy. Wilmington was in the national news for being placed on curfew after a riot broke out. If memory serves me correctly I believe the National Guard was brought in just as it has been this week in Baltimore.

I lived right across the field from my Grandparents and I often sprinted to spend time with my Grandmother. She was my hero. She still is. 

On this particular night my grandparents were watching the news and I recall seeing fires and racial conflict play out on the little black and white screen. I can't say for certain what event this was. But I do recall with clarity that my Grandad, as he was watching, very simply stated,  "Good & bad in all. Good & bad in Black...Good & bad in White."

I have never forgotten that statement. Very simply stated, true, & full of wisdom. That was how he viewed things. I wish everyone might have seen things that simply.

As a little boy, I don't think I was aware & even if I was I don't know if I would have grasped the magnitude of something my Grandad routinely did as part of his business. He delivered fish to black neighborhoods. He often sat and shared coffee, or a meal.

My sister Kay, the family historian, added another part to this story. Grandad treated all of his customers fairly and that included extending credit regardless of race. 

Mom often remarked that she believed that Grandad truly did not see color. I think considering the times, it is easy to say that is remarkable but I also just believe that it is right.

I was a young man when Grandad passed away. My Grandmother, preceded him in death. One particular memory that brings a smile to me was during my early years as the Park Supervisor for the Town of Wrightsville Beach. I was enjoying a conversation with an older black man, who worked for the Public Works Dept. He was from the area as most of us were back then. We swapped stories of where we grew up and I asked him about the fish market. I don't recall much of the conversation but I do recall what he said when he discovered that I was the grandson of Jack Rogers. "Mr. Jack was your Granddaddy! He was a fine man."

I wish I could write that in my youth I saw no color-that I never joined in nor spoke some of those horrible words that flowed so freely and sadly still do. Deep down I did not hate because of a difference in color but I also was prone to believe some of the stereotypes expressed by those around me.

I have shared liberally that I had a powerful Damascus Road moment as a young man. In the blink of an eye I encountered God, or more likely He encountered me. As I began my often failed walk with Him-from that moment the light went on in my heart I knew without anyone telling me that God did not see color. His love shared equally and gracefully. Nothing else could possibly make sense.

One of the greatest blessings for me is hearing comments from people-even Christians that I know & respect, who have read The River HideawayThey have said things like it made them question whether they truly believed that hearts have no color.  Were they without prejudice in the eyes of God?

I spoke to a group recently about my novel and I was approached by a man afterwards. He was nice-not contentious in the least. He said he grew up here just as I did but he still believed in separate but equal. He was not angry. He was just sharing and he did so quite cordially.

Later that night my wife, Julie and I discussed this encounter. She had witnessed the entire conversation. I wondered why he felt the need to share his views. Julie looked at it far differently. Jule's viewpoint was yes the man & I grew up here during similar times & obviously we viewed things differently. But maybe, just maybe, the man went  home and thought about the conversation.

Papa Jack did that for me once. He said something that made a little boy think and I have never forgotten it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bless the Broken Road

As I pray about the next steps in this writing journey and trusting God, I am at peace with however the road turns out. I have older works and if they get published eventually that is good and if not that is good as well. My main proof reader has read one of those & believes it is better than The River Hideaway. If other works get published I won't be able to say that. The River Hideaway, will always be my baby that I wrote long ago, reworked it several times and then finally was published by a small press.

Being a published writer was a long time dream that only occurred when I stopped placing my dream in front of God. It is hard to release what we want so badly or what we think defines us. We can want something so much that we convince ourselves that God is fueling the dream when it may well be our own desires. Those desires may not be anything bad but if I place them before God it will not be what I hope it to be even if it comes to fruition.

Right now for the first time in nine years I am writing something new. Their are parts that I think are funny if Julie's laughter is any indication. Some of it carries some sadness and though fictional there are elements of true feelings mixed in. There are times like right now when I have to break from it because it derives from too deep a place.

I don't know that I will ever have another fresh idea to write a novel, or I may have twenty more. I did not plan to write, The River Hideaway. It was just an idea that emerged while watching a movie. The other manuscripts I have came to me in similar fashion. I observed something and an idea floated out and once there never left.

I was writing something earlier in this story about the man's wife. This time it was personal and I was seeing Julie. She would love this part. She is on horseback. The man thinks back to their wedding day and the song that they slow-danced too. For us it was Storm, by Lifehouse. That is our song but my song to Julie will always be, Bless the Broken Road, by Rascal Flatts. 

There have been many broken roads in my life and most were because I made poor choices. I had to have what I thought I needed. I asked God for help in situations that deep down I knew He would say no. It was hard to believe through much of the heartache that he had something far better in mind for me than I could ever dream of. He had Julie.

God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.