Counting All Joy: Thanksgiving, Lament, & 7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

I first wrote this list of questions in October of 2016. At that time, the list was titled “7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask Ourselves in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew (or Any Tragedy).” It was a Sunday morning then, and Hurricane Matthew had just torn through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, headed straight for my town. At the last minute, he’d wobbled slightly into the Atlantic, sparing us a direct hit.

Our church family had made their way through streets strewn with debris and downed power lines, praising the Lord that we were able to meet and worship together in our intact church building. At the same time, we were grieving losses of our sisters and brothers in Christ along the storm’s route who had suffered great loss and praying for those in the still-moving storm’s path. Thanksgiving and lament, praise and supplication, all bundled together.

I’ve been revisiting these questions in recent weeks, especially as we’ve moved toward the Thanksgiving holiday. First, for those currently enduring trials, this season can spark complicated emotions. Second, given the link between suffering and spiritual refinement, sometimes I’m not sure what I should actually be thankful for.

While I’m truly glad to be enjoying a measure of health and happiness with my friends and family this week, I’m aware that even when all is not as I would wish it to be, God is worthy of worship regardless.


7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

  1. Given the relationship between suffering and Christlikeness, is being spared suffering necessarily a good thing? (1 Peter 2:21-25)
  2. Why would the Father ever spare me suffering–especially since he did not spare his own Son? (Romans 8:31-32)
  3. Do I secretly believe that the people who weren’t spared deserve to suffer in a way that I do not? (Psalm 103:10)
  4. Have I devoted prayer and/or resources for the relief of my sisters and brothers who are currently suffering? (Galatians 6:10)
  5. If I really believe that death will usher me immediately into the presence of Yahweh, why am I so relieved to find myself still here? (Philippians 1:20-26)
  6. Am I praising God’s name because I have escaped suffering or because he is worthy of praise regardless? (Psalm 96)
  7. Would I still be praising his name if I had lost everything? (Job 1:21Job 2:9-10)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)


In Other News

I can’t believe it’s already November–and nearly the end of the month, at that!
Besides keeping the plates spinning at my day job and enjoying a bit of travel, I’ve mostly been absorbed this month with NaNoWriMo. I’m over 22,000 words into the first draft of my next novel, a stand-alone dramedy I’ve had in the works since before Bookmageddon. The drafting pace is a bit frantic, but I’m having a great time developing totally new characters. I’m hoping to have it in front of your beady eyes somewhere in 2020!(Pending publisher acceptance, of course. It’s fine. Totally fine. I’m not even worried about it! *cue screaming*)

Speaking of books, this week two of my 2017 releases will be enjoying Black Friday sales on Amazon. Well, Black Friday-ish Sales. Prices are scheduled to drop over the long weekend; but as ever, the ways of Amazon are unpredictable. Keep your eyes peeled for discounts on the Kindle versions of The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles and Murder on Birchardville Hill, both of which are slated to drop to $.99.

Black and Gold Dotted Border 21st Birthday Social Media Graphic (1)


For all of those celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you a truly wonderful time of rest, reflection, and refreshment. May your turkey be succulent, your family dinners drama-free, and your coffee always within reach.

For Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out (2018 Update)

I’ve never been one to enjoy being scared on purpose. I don’t watch horror movies, relish psychological thrillers, or visit haunted houses.

Occasionally, however, on a long fall evening, I will curl up with a book that matches the season; or while out on a late-evening walk, I will listen to something that will creep me out–but only a little.

If you like to cover similar emotional territory, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve been keeping a list for people like us.

Here’s the update.

Books

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

The author had me right where he wanted me, held captive with nothing but my fear of the unknown propelling me forward. I think I read it in a day, finishing during dinner just before it got dark.

Wildfell, by London Clarke

Creepy Gothic suspense with a modern twist. Romance, travel feels, and things that go bump in the night. Yes, please.

11/22/63, by Stephen King

This isn’t the only Stephen King book I’ve read (his book On Writing is excellent) but it was the first, largely because I was told it “wasn’t too scary.” And it really wasn’t. Just super intense and psychologically twisty. Because…Stephen King.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This is not only a vampire book for people who aren’t into vampire books, but it’s also a creepy book for people who can’t handle creepy books. If that sounds like you, go for it.

Podcasts

Lore, hosted by Aaron Mahnke

I actually gave this one up recently because it started scaring me too badly when I was out running in the early morning or late evening. If I only listened to podcasts from the safety of my home, though, I’d probably still be hooked.

Dr. Death, reported by Laura Beil

Fair warning: this is real life. You may find yourself avoiding medical care after listening to this one.

Happy Face, produced by HowStuffWorks with Melissa Moore

In 1995, Melissa Moore learned that her father was the Happy Face Killer. In this podcast, she reviews her childhood and adolescence, analyzing her life through the lens of this knowledge, understanding her past in a new way. It’s early days still (I’ve only listened up through Episode 3) but can already attest that it’s gripping.

Individual Podcast Episodes

From Stuff You Missed in History: “The Hagley Woods Murder” 

Truth is always creepier than fiction. I mean…who did put Bella in the witch elm?

From This American Life: “House on Loon Lake” 

Enjoy shivering your way through this account of one man’s lifelong obsession with an abandoned house. I first listened while road-tripping home in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Perfectly creepy conditions.

From Criminal: “A Bump in the Night” 

What would you do if you realized someone was living in the crawl space above your bedroom…and that he might be in the house right now…? As a single woman who lives mostly alone, I found this true story almost too much to handle.

From Fictional: “Give Him a Hand” 

A creeptastic modern retelling of the classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw.” I first listened one blustery night as I walked through my neighborhood at dusk. Palm branches flailed against low clouds and raindrops dribbled down the back of my neck as I shivered my way through this. I was never happier to get back to the house.


Are you the type who can only handle being moderately creeped out? If so, and you give any of these recommendations a try, do let me know how everything works out. I want all the shivery details.

Also, let me know what my lists are missing! I look forward to hearing your suggestions in the comments below. Remember, only medium creepy suggestions.


Happy October! While the majority of North Americans are enjoying sweaters, scarves, and pumpkin spice coffees, we here in Florida are still just sweating it out, dealing with soaring temperatures and tropical storms.

Whatever the weather, the days are getting shorter, both in terms of daylight and the number of squares left on the calendar in 2018.

So.

Two important notes:

  1. This week my debut novel Collapsible is enjoying a publisher’s discount on all major e-book distribution channels, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo. From now until October 17, 2018, the e-book is just $.99–spread the word and snap it up!
  2. Very soon, I’ll be sending out my fall update. It will include news about my writing life, publication updates, planned appearances, and some personal stuff. Be sure you’re signed up so that you don’t miss out.

Happy Monday, everyone! May all your sweaters be cozy, your apple-picking delightful, and your favorite seasonal blend brewed to perfection.

Great Read-Aloud Recommendations for Kids [UPDATED 9/18]

My current day job involves reading aloud to kids. Every few months, I like to update this post to reflect where we’ve been spending our reading time. What we read is not purely my choice but is often responsive to what they’re learning/where they’ve been traveling/what we’ve been discussing. Please make note of the caveats below. Happy reading!


How I Choose Books 

When the time comes to start a new book with the Podlings, my decision process goes something like this:

1) Have I read it and enjoyed it? I can’t over-stress the importance of this step. I don’t care how lauded or “important” or “valuable” the book is. If you don’t care for it, the kids you’re reading to won’t care either.
2) Will they understand it and like it? I balance toward the older ones in the group. The littles get what they get — which is generally more than I expect.
3) What does the author do well? Humor, drama, storytelling, dialogue, characterization, suspense, research, twists? I require at least one standout category per book but don’t expect perfection in all areas for every read.
4) Does the book match the season? I’m all about reading the right book at the right time, which is why–as you’ll see below–we sometimes take a break in the middle of a series to read something that matches the season.

How You Should Choose Books

1) Take the advice of the readers in your life (under advisement). Definitely accept recommendations from your friends who read, but don’t take them blindly. Not every book is for every person.
2) Read the book first yourself. Don’t skip this step. No matter how highly the book has come recommended or how much your friends or their kids may have liked it, that doesn’t mean a) you will like it (which is so important, since your enthusiasm can make or break the enterprise), or b) you will find it appropriate for your bunch. So be responsible about this and only start books with them that you know you’ll have the wherewithal to complete. Stopping halfway through a book and not finishing it breaks a child’s trust.
3) Decide how you’re going to handle questionable elements. I’m not the type to throw the baby out with the bath water, but if I’m going to read children a book with a little language in it (or another brief or mildly questionable element), I definitely take some steps. First, I tell them about it ahead of time (“Jimmy’s grandpa swears a few times.”), and I also tell them how we’re going to handle it (“When that happens, I’m just going to say ‘Grandpa swore.'”) That way they don’t have a false view of the book (or of life, for that matter), but we’re also not normalizing the words themselves. Again, you may decide to take a different approach to this. Bear your approach in mind as you make decisions.
4) Don’t worry too much about whether the book is considered “important” or “educational” or “valuable.” Those categories are so subjective. Just pick a good read and get cracking. Reading aloud to kids has great value in itself.

Books I’ve Read Aloud to the Podlings

  1. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck
  2. Derwood, Inc., Jeri Massi
  3. A Dangerous Game, Jeri Massi
  4. The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare
  5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  6. Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis
  7. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
  8. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
  9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (unabridged)
  10. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
  11. The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
  12. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  13. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein
  14. Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  15. Summer of Light, Dennis M. Van Wey
  16. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
  17. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Richard Peck (again by request)
  18. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  19. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  20. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (again)
  21. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged this time; I learned my lesson)
  22. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
  24. The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
  25. The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
  26. C.S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia, Sam Wellman
  27. Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, William F. Russell
  28. Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park
  29. Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  30. The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  31. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
  32. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
  33. A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
  34. A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck
  35. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  37. Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo
  38. Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
  39. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  40. Peace Child, Don Richardson (Note: Get the updated anniversary edition. Trust me.)
  41. Legends in Sports: Babe Ruth, Matt Christopher
  42. The Velveteen Rabbit and Other Tales, Margery Williams
  43. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller
  44. The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King, Book 1), T.H. White
  45. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (yes, again)
  47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (abridged)
  48. The Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber, Paul Hutchens
  49. True Stories of the Second World War, Paul Dowswell
  50. The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel, Michael Kogge
  51. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness, Janet & Geoff Benge
  52. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  53. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  54. The Kite Fighters, Linda Sue Park
  55. Bound for Oregon, Jean Van Leeuwen
  56. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician, Laura Baskes Litwin
  57. The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, Suzanne Jurmain
  58. Heroes in Black History: True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes, Dave & Neta Jackson
  59. Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski
  60. The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  61. Life with Father, Clarence Day
  62. Sackett, Louis L’Amour
  63. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, Christopher Paul Curtis

Possibilities Still on Our Horizon:

  • Red Scarf Girl, Jiang Ji-li
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry
  • The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Have some great read-aloud suggestions of your own? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments below!


In other news, I’m happy to announce that in honor of Pain Awareness Month, I’m offering a free 5-day e-mail course designed to encourage both those who suffer chronic pain and those who support them. It is written from a Christian perspective and will run September 17-21, 2018.

Chronic Pain
Lessons are short, practical, edifying, and designed for discussion and application. Be sure to sign up and refer a friend to take the course with you.

 

Happy Monday, everyone! May your spirits be high, your pain levels low, and your coffee just the right temperature for sipping.

My Simple 46-Step Writing Process

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Note: An early version of this post was published in October of 2014 on my former blogging site. As my process has developed over the years, so has this list. It has been refreshed and relocated for your convenience. Enjoy!


This is how the magic happens.

Step 1: Convince myself I’ll never have another good idea.

Step 2: Idea sparks while I’m driving, working out, showering, or doing some other activity that makes it impossible to write idea down.

Step 3: Panic.

Step 4: Hurriedly complete task and rush to write down new idea before it evaporates.

Step 5: Look at idea later and decide it’s soul-crushingly stupid.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 until I have an idea that doesn’t make me want to sprint face-first into a brick wall.

Step 7: Drink 8,000 cups of coffee.

Step 8: Begin writing.

Step 9: Rip all hair out of head.

Step 10: Write some more.

Step 11: Drink more coffee.

Step 12: Resign myself that death is more likely to occur than the completion of the first draft.

Step 13: Finish first draft.

Step 14: Gallop around the apartment, yodeling.

Step 15: Call family and friends, announce the completion of the first draft of a new project.

Step 16: Try to explain plot/premise of first draft to family and friends.

Step 17: Realize that large swathes of it don’t make sense to them… or to me.

Step 18: Dread re-reading first draft for fear that it makes even less sense than I anticipate.

Step 19: Re-read first draft through one squinty eye.

Step 20: Die inside.

Step 21: Call family and friends, announce that I’ll soon be embarking on a solo hot-air-balloon tour of the world and they should come say their goodbyes as soon as possible.

Step 22: Try to buy hot air balloon online; wind up perusing help-wanted ads, paying special attention to local job openings that require neither reading nor writing.

Step 23: Eat scoops of coffee straight from the bag.

Step 24: Crawl into hyperbaric chamber stored in the closet for such a time as this.

Step 25: Listen to Mozart’s Requiem.

Step 26: Print out first draft while assembling army of sharpened pencils.

Step 27: Re-read manuscript, one hand thrust through what’s left of my hair, the other hand clutching a pencil; scribble angrily in the margins; occasionally shriek, “NO, NO, NO!”

Step 28: Listen to the Second Movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Step 29: Murder my darlings.

Step 30: General flailing.

Step 31: Consume large amounts of cheese.

Step 32: Write second draft.

Step 33: Close hyperbaric chamber; seal off closet; resume sleeping in bed.

Step 34: Send latest draft to beta readers for feedback. Take cheerful jog around the block.

Step 35: Instantly feel worse.

Step 36: Alternate between hyperventilating and quietly dry heaving into a trash can.

Step 37: Receive exciting (yet horrifying) e-mails full of contradictory lists of everything that is both very right and very wrong with my manuscript.

Step 38: [gentle keening]

Step 39: Wade through contradictory lists of confusing feedback and decide what to change.

Step 40: Play Bach’s Come, Sweet Death on repeat.

Step 41: Write new draft.

Step 42: Find new readers; repeat Steps 34-41.

Step 43: Decide that the manuscript is “done.”

Step 44: Submit to agents/editors; repeat Steps 36 and 38.

Step 45: Find a publishing home; celebrate; prepare for book launch.

Step 46: Decide I’ll never have any good ideas ever again.


In addition to posting here, this week I’m also over on author Elaine Stock’s blog Everyone’s Story discussing the theological implications of running hills. Check out the post “Lift My Eyes.” While you’re there, comment to be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of my book Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee and your ideas flow freely.

Ruth’s Extremely Helpful Do-It-Yourself Online Dating Profile Sample Questionnaire


Note: This post was originally published in 2015 on my former blogging site. It’s been refreshed and relocated for your convenience. Enjoy!

Recently someone asked a friend of mine if she’d ever considered internet dating and seemed shocked when she said she wasn’t interested.

I wasn’t shocked. I get it. Internet dating’s a lot of work.

Consider the process. When singles first join an online dating service, they’re immediately tasked with filling out long, tedious, one-size-fits-all surveys. Frankly, it feels a lot like homework.

Homework isn’t pointless, of course; and while the online-dating system does work occasionally, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Perhaps one way to refine the system would be to spice it up by offering our own questions.

I’ve provided a sample set below.

Ruth’s

Extremely Helpful

Do-It-Yourself

Online Dating Profile

Sample Questionnaire

Your Name:

Childhood Nickname(s):

Your Age (select one): 

[ ] Old Enough
[ ] Older
[ ] Oldest
[ ] Benjamin Button

Your Body Type (select one): 

[ ] Hourglass
[ ] Anchovy
[ ] Chopstick
[ ] Texas
[ ] Yam

Your Personality Type (select one): 

[ ] Chocolate
[ ] Vanilla
[ ] Salsa
[ ] Triple Venti Vanilla Bean Soy Latte with No Foam
[ ] Turnip

You in a Crisis (select one):

[ ] Okoye
[ ] 007
[ ] River Tam
[ ] Mr. Bean

Languages (select all that apply):

[ ] Pop Culture
[ ] Logic
[ ] Irony
[ ] Math
[ ] Puns
[ ] Philosophy
[ ] Theology
[ ] Computers
[ ] Scifi
[ ] History
[ ] Fashion
[ ] Alternate History
[ ] Music
[ ] ¡Emotions!
[ ] Sportsball
[ ] Real Talk
[ ] Books
[ ] Drivel

Complete the Sentence: “I love long walks on  ____________.”

[ ] the beach
[ ] the moon
[ ] tightropes
[ ] the Dark Side

Your Sense of Humor:

[ ] Michael Scott
[ ] Lucy Ricardo
[ ] April Ludgate
[ ] Severus Snape

How would you describe your emotional resting state?

[ ] Solid
[ ] Liquid
[ ] Gas
[ ] Plasma
[ ] Dark Matter

You without coffee:

[ ] Lethargy
[ ] Stupor
[ ] Delirium
[ ] Angst
[ ] Selective Mutism
[ ] Vegetative State
[ ] N/A (don’t drink coffee)*
*Please abandon survey.

Select One:

[ ] Salty
[ ] Sweet

Select One:

[ ] Breakfast foods
[ ] Other foods

Select One:

[ ] Malcolm X
[ ] Malcolm Gladwell
[ ] Malcolm, Prince of Cumberland
[ ] Malcolm in the Middle

Select One:

[ ] Early Bird
[ ] Night Owl
[ ] Screech Owl
[ ] Ostrich

Select One:

[ ] Reading
[ ] Writing
[ ] Arithmetic
[ ] Swashbuckling

Name Your Ideal Man: 
Name Your Ideal Woman: 

Reasons you are late for things (select all that apply):

[ ] No real sense of time and space
[ ] You never write anything down
[ ] Wardrobe issues
[ ] Getting distracted
[ ] Getting lost
[ ] Netflix
[ ] Naps
[ ] Caught up at work
[ ] Trapped in a time loop
[ ] Stopping to help turtles cross the street
[ ] Different cultural understanding of time
[ ] Exempt (you are never late)

Complete the sentence: “There is no _________”

[ ] fear in love
[ ] business like show business
[ ] Frigate like a Book / To take Us Lands away
[ ] crying in baseball
[ ] try
[ ] spoon

Select a theatre:

[ ] Movie
[ ] Military
[ ] Surgical
[ ] Puppet

Music:

[ ] Playlist
[ ] Shuffle
[ ] Same song on repeat

Ideal room temperature (F):

[ ] 60-65
[ ] 65-70
[ ] 70-75
[ ] 75-80

The number of pillows necessary for sleep:

[ ] 1
[ ] 2-3
[ ] 5-7
[ ] 8-12
[ ] ALL THE PILLOWS

Documentaries:

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Talking during plays/movies:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Eating in the car:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Sharing fries:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Stopping to ask for directions:

[ ] Yes
[ ] No

Disobeying the GPS in lieu of common sense:

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Surprises: 

[ ] Always
[ ] Sometimes
[ ] Never

Best Holiday:

[ ] Thanksgiving
[ ] Easter
[ ] Christmas
[ ] New Year’s
[ ] Pi Day
[ ] National Battery Day
[ ] What If Our Pets Had Opposable Thumbs Day
[ ] The Festival of Sleep

Reading:

[ ] Yes

Travel:

[ ] Yes

Religion:

[ ] Jesus


So there you have it! My very own do-it-yourself online dating profile sample questionnaire.

What do you think about the concept? What questions would you include if you wrote your own? Let us know in the comments below! (You don’t have to be single to chime in: some of us could use some pointers on what to add to our own surveys.)

In other news, as of this posting, the e-book for Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder is temporarily on sale for $1.99. Snap it up! Also, if you’ve already read and enjoyed any (or all) installments in the trilogy, could I prevail on you to leave a sentence or two of an honest review? Reviews boost visibility for new authors and help us build trust with wider audiences.

Plus, I’ll love you forever. So there’s that.

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope your day is fabulous. May your coffee be hot, your A/C cool, and your online dating profile anything but boring.