Thursday, January 17, 2013

Church and children and if I ruled the world

I'm in a phase of life right now where I am questioning everything. Not in a panicked, despairing sort of way, but in an analytical, if-it-doesn't-pull-its-weight-it's-out sort of way. You see, since I have started working full-time, I have become extremely protective of my time with my family, and this is beginning to make me reflect on that with regard to how we do church.

I have never been a big fan of "children's ministry" as many churches do it in the current American Evangelical culture. Don't we spend enough time with our children being taught by others by sending them to institutional schools 7 hours a day? The whole process of bringing my kids to church, dropping them off in a kid corral, and then going upstairs for "grown up church" has been wearing very thin for me.

Yes, I can completely get behind nursery care for babies and for the most part, toddler/preschooler care during a church service, but now that all my children are past that phase of life, I believe it is time we began training them to sit in a service that doesn't involve entertainment gimmicks. In my opinion, elementary aged children need to be able to respectfully and quietly participate in a multi-generational church service. They might not "get" everything the pastor is saying, sure. But truth creeps in. And if the pastor is teaching God's word like he should be, I don't shortchange the Holy Spirit's ability to do miraculous things with those words in a child's heart and mind.

In my perfect world as I see it at the moment, church would look like this: kids ages 5 and up would attend "big church" with their families, and the message would be whatever God impresses upon the pastor to teach to his whole congregation, based solely upon and undergirded at every point with scripture. There would then also be Sunday school in a time that does not overlap this service, where kids can be with their peers and adults with theirs. After these two elements are complete, then everyone packs up and heads home for time spent as a family.

While children's ministry says it's born of an desire to reach children on their level, I really do believe a lot of it is born of the "inconvenience mentality" Americans have about children. I realize different members of the population fall on varying parts of the spectrum, somewhere between living one's life entirely for one's children to the neglect of oneself and the idea that children have to exist in the narrow margins left around an adult's pursuit of whatever pleases them. But I believe the practice of dropping elementary-aged and older kids off at their own little section of church panders far more to the latter mentality than perhaps we like to admit. We say we want the United Sates to be about family again, but I say if we want that, we need to examine how much we are about family in our daily, individual practices. And please understand that I am pointing the finger at myself as much, if not more, as I am at anyone else.

What about you? How do you feel about children in church, your own, or other people's?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life Revision, Days 1 and 2

My life of late has been a little like that show on Discovery Health Channel, "Mystery Diagnosis." For the past few years, I've been feeling increasingly cruddy with issues like non-refreshing sleep, ulcerative colitis flare ups, exhaustion, confusion, depression, and most recently, ringing in my ears and constant inability to feel warm.

A lot of this you figure could be traced back to poor sleep, but a full diagnostic at a sleep center indicated my night-time sleep was somewhat unremarkable, but my daytime sleepiness was abnormal. Which could be traced to a million different things for which a million medical tests would be necessary. Since we had just sunk about a thousand bucks into the sleep study and we have high-deductible insurance, I wasn't about to run off for another battery of tests, which would need to be charged on credit cards.

So I started a process of internet research to figure out what was going on with me. Some indicators pointed to my thyroid, some to clinical depression and anxiety, but neither of those quite wrapped up all my issues.

Then I ran across information about adrenal fatigue.

I was getting desperate. In the afternoons at work, I was getting so tired that it was making me nauseous. I was literally struggling to keep my eyes open while I was working. So after an internet search for "afternoon nausea" (and after I ignored all the pregnancy sites that brings up) I found information on adrenal fatigue. I literally have 90% of the symptoms literature lists. In one online test I took, a score of 25-35 indicated significant adrenal fatigue. I scored a 78.

So, like a good writer, when I see the problem in a story, I head into deep revisions. My life is under revision now, because I feel way too much like a pile of plop for someone who's only just shy of 38 years old. I've started on an herbal regimen in an effort to combat my adrenal fatigue symptoms. For most people, this is like "big deal, you're taking a couple of pills a day." For me, this is pretty earth shattering. For no good reason, I have always been resistant to any sort of regimen, to a fault. So it is a huge hurdle for me to commit to even just a couple pills a day.

I resolved that I simply must live on more sleep than the average person. I can't go to bed at 11 and get up at 6. 9:30 or 10 pm will have to be my limit. What that means for my writing life, I'm not sure. I'm not quantifying that yet.

I'm cutting out Coke. Again, some may say, "So what?" I love Coke with an unreasonable passion. You would think there was still cocaine in it the way I crave the stuff. But there's nothing in soda that will help me. The corn syrup is probably made from genetically modified corn, of which I am mistrustful, and the little bit of caffeine in soda isn't even effective for wakefulness anyway. I may drink an occasional soda if we're out to dinner or something, but as for my everyday routine, Coke is out. (sniff.) The trick will be to find an alternative that doesn't have high fructose corn syrup. The stupid fruit-vegetable blend I'm drinking today has it. A lot less than soda, but still a bad sweetener under the fruity-carroty veneer. Baby steps.

There are other dietary changes I need to work on as well--namely refined sugars and grains. I don't know if I will be able to let Italian bread go. One thing at a time here.

But even after just two days of the herbs, I do think I feel a little better. Last night, I still woke up a few times, but it was a gentle, pleasant waking, not the "slam awake, feel disoriented, struggle to still the anxiety that surges because of that, and fight my way back to sleep, repeat 6 or 7 times" version of nighttime I'm used to. I was still tired this morning when I woke up, but right now, my eyes are significantly more open than they were before I started the herbs. That's a big deal, in my mind.

So we shall see if I'm just having a rogue good day or if I continue to see improvement. Because I can hardly imagine what I could accomplish in this life if I didn't feel like a suicidal, exhausted, freezing malcontent with stomach pain all the time.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Awards season: It's Up To You

It's officially that time of year: the time when the awards contests for Christian fiction begin accepting submissions and nominations. And so I write this post as a shameless ploy for help from you, my readers.

There are currently two reader-nominated awards I specifically need help with. The first is the INSPY--The Windrider Saga is already nominated in this contest, but Curse Bearer, as of this writing, is not yet. If you feel the novel deserves a look from the INSPY judges, please consider stopping by this site: The INSPY nomination form My works will always fit under the category of Speculative Fiction. The site has all the information you need to understand how the award works. Because this award is not votes-driven, it doesn't hurt me to have two horses in the same race, as it were.

The second award is the Grace award, and this is where things get a little tricky. The Grace Awards determine their finalists by the number of reader votes for the categories. Since I have two books out this year in Speculative Fiction, I risk having neither make the cut as a finalist by not directing my readers to get behind only one of them. But for me, it's like choosing between my children. Each of my boys is radically different in terms of personality, but do I love one more than another because of that? (Maybe one is easier to get along with sometimes, but that's different.) The Windrider Saga and Curse Bearer are very different in terms of tone and pace. Is one better than the other? I choose to leave that decision in the hands of you, my readers, and ultimately, God.

In studies authors have conducted, it is widely agreed that the primary thing an author can do to sell books is to win awards. As much as we'd like to think all our blogging, tweeting, facebooking, signing, giveaways, and stunts make a significant impact on sales, the statistics from one author's platform to another vary widely. However, award-winning books universally see a surge in sales, and then other books from that author enjoy collateral benefit from another book's success.

So in terms of the Grace Award, I submit this plea to you to go and fill out the voter form and submit whichever of my books you like better. And drag your friends along to do the same. Obscurity is not a long-term option for me--I would be immensely grateful if you would prove a part of moving me beyond the small circle most of us new authors occupy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Valor's Worth--finally hit "The End"

As of about 11 pm on January 1st, 2013, I finally typed the last sentence of Valor's Worth, the third installment of The Windrider Saga. This project has languished in the word of creeping progress for far too long, so let me tell you, it has never felt better to write that last sentence.

You see, when projects linger too long, they lose their spark. You hear about writers drawing out a book over a course of years, nipping at it here and there, but I could never be that writer. Sure, those long-gestation-period books could become enduring classics, like the result of Tolkien's twenty-some-odd year labor on The Lord of the Rings. But I don't presume myself to be another Tolkien. As for me, I need to bull through, doggedly plugging at a project start to finish. Even putting something aside for a just a few days completely destroys the momentum on that project, and it's like I'm starting over when I open it again.

The main trouble I ran into with Valor's Worth is I did this pesky little thing called a book release for another series in the middle of writing it. Curse Bearer's release completely devoured from about June of 2012 to November. Sure, I tried to pick at the story in the odd moment I could squeeze out of my day, but my lack of immersion created a pronounced lack of ability to progress as well. And while I am thrilled two have both my "paper children" out there for readers, trying to perpetuate both of them simultaneously is very hard, I won't lie.

Although I'm not much for New Year's resolutions, I may actually make one for the first time ever this year: to move from a "many pots on the stove" style of working to forcing myself to focus on one project at a time only. (This means one writing project, to be clear. I will also have to be working on Spec-Con while I write.) Because the fact is, may people write, but very few people finish. I want to confidently count myself within the minority.

So now it's on to revising Valor's Worth. As much as I want to dive into the second book of The Risen Age Archive right away, with as limited as my writing time is, that book will have to wait. I don't like leaving my readers with eighteen months or more between books, but since the royalty checks aren't exactly robust enough to keep my family under a roof, that's the harsh reality of how I have to do business, for now.

So here's to focused projects on many things in succession for 2013. May your year be full of prosperous adventures. Lord willing, look for Valor's Worth sometime around mid-year.