Sunday, March 31, 2013

Gently Humorous: He is Risen (Really)

What's up with this picture?
This post appears in the Christian Home Magazine. Check it out!

     I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to tie Easter in to my gentle humor column for this week's Christian Home Magazine. There's certainly nothing funny about Jesus dying on the cross. And although the resurrection is the most glorious and breath-taking event in all of history, it's hardly humorous.

     Come to think of it, what is there about the Easter story that's even slightly funny? Judas hanging himself, then falling so his guts spill open on the ground? Peter chopping off someone's ear? Nah. There's the disciple who ran away naked when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, but there's not too much I can do with that in a gentle humor post.

     I've got it! What about the Romans and the Sanhedrin? What about all the goofy claims people make even today to try to prove the resurrection didn't actually happen?

     Now that's funny.

     Maybe you've heard some of the anti-resurrection arguments before. But have you ever stopped to actually laugh at their absurdity?

False Claim #1: The guards fell asleep. This one dates all the way back to Bible times. No Jesus in the tomb? No stone in the entrance? No problem! The Pharisees came up with the great idea for the Roman soldiers standing guard to just tell their superiors they fell asleep. This was Rome. These soldiers were professional killing machines. And we're supposed to believe that all of them fell asleep at the same time and didn't wake up as someone stole Jesus' body? Great! My Easter is already starting with a laugh!

False Claim #2: Jesus fainted. Ok, let's delve into this doozy. First Jesus is whipped, flogged, beaten, and tortured. Then he is nailed to a cross for ... oh, say six hours. When Pilate hears Jesus is dead, he tells the centurion, "Go make sure." What's the centurion do? He doesn't check for a pulse or call the medical examiner. He pierces Jesus' heart with a spear. Blood gushes out, and so does water from the pericardial sack. They wrap Jesus up like a mummy (as was custom), placed him in a tomb, and sealed with a several-ton boulder. But guess what? After all that - these comedians claim - Jesus woke up from his "faint," took off his clothes, and after all that torture and blood loss he rolled the stone away form the tomb all by himself without any divine intervention or miraculous healing. Riiiight...

False Claim #3: The disciples stole Jesus' body. There's something that's important to remember about the disciples. Chiefly, they are sniveling cowards. They all run away when Jesus is arrested and don't even claim to know him when he stands on trial. Ok, so now that we've established the utter chicken-bellied nature of the Twelve, we're going to just assume that these scaredy cats walk up to a Roman guard and take Jesus' body? But for the sake of sporstmanship, let's just suspend disbelief for a moment (pretend it's a Hollywood blockbuster). Let's assume the disciples really do take Jesus' body because they want the whole world to think he's  alive. In other words, the disciples all know that Jesus is dead. But these men - cowards, as we've previously established - face brutal suffering and torture from both the Romans and the Jews in order to maintain a lie, a lie that would be immediately dispelled if someone uncovered the body? Unlikely, IMHO.

     If there's any slap-stick humor surrounding Holy Week at all, it's right here. It's these claims that our Savior didn't really rise up from the dead after conquering the grave. Jesus is alive today (really). And if that doesn't have us rolling on the floor in laughter, it should at least have us falling to our knees in awe.

An invitation to comment: I understand that not everyone (or even the vast majority) of people in the world agree with me. Although I took a humorous look at arguments against the resurrection, I welcome comments from people with differing beliefs. I'm a writer - not a debater - so you don't need to worry about things getting ugly on this forum.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday WIPpet: "Wait, Dad."

     This will probably be my last WIPpet featuring "What, No Sushi?" simply because it's THIS close to no longer being a Work In Progress. We're so close, in fact, that my editor has OKed pre-orders on my blog!

     One of the most exciting things that happened this week (in addition to booking my first ever author signing) was seeing the final cover of "What, No Sushi." What do you think? I've never breathed a single word (or sent a single email, text, or tweet) to Jeremy, my illustrator, but I think he did a fantastic job.

     The other big thrill of the week was having a sudden last-minute inspiration (that my editor fully supported even though the manuscript is already in the final line-editing stages) about giving one my characters more back story. Benson, the middle boy in My Solar-Powered Time Machine series, now has a feeding tube, just like my middle son Silas.

     So, for this Wednesday's WIPpet, I hope you enjoy reading 81 words that were just added to the manuscript. (Why 81? you ask. Because today is 3/27 and 3 x 27 is 81. Obviously!) These two paragraphs are now part of the second chapter, when the boy's zany inventor father is preparing them for their very first trip in the solar-powered time machine.


“Wait, Dad. What about my backpack?” As a baby, Benson couldn’t eat or drink, so the doctors put a tube into his stomach. Now Benson can eat regularly, but drinking is still hard for him. Benson wears a special backpack that gives him water through his feeding tube so he doesn’t get thirsty.

“Keep your backpack with you,” Dad answered. “Lake can help you with it. You’ll be fine.” Dad closed the lid before we could ask him any more questions.


     If you're interested in following the Otis boys on their trip to a Japanese-American interment camp (or know some kids who might be), you can preorder your own copy of "What, No Sushi?" If you want to join the WIPpet Wednesday game, link up here or at My Random Muse. Just make sure what you enter has something to do with today's date, like I sort of tried to do. And then be social. Check out the other blogs and let the authors know what you liked! Speaking of being social, I was wondering if any of my WIPpet pals wanted to sign up as followers. My networked blog picture frame is looking kind of scanty.

     Happy WIPpetting!!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Decoding Christian Cliches

What's up with this photo?
This post appears in the Christian Home Magazine. Check it out!

     I've been working on editing my manuscript for "The Beloved Daughter," my debut inspirational novel set in contemporary North Korea. One of the hardest parts about the editing process was taking out all the American figures of speech that worked their way into my manuscript. The narrator of "The Beloved Daughter" is North Korean. She doesn't say things like, "it nearly made me jump out of my skin," or "she really hit the nail on the head," or any of the other phrases that no one in Korea uses but all my American readers would understand.

     Taking that red pen and crossing out all my instances of Americanizations got me thinking about cliches in general. Have you ever stopped to think about all the favorite expressions we use in the English-speaking church today? What would happen if one of the Korean nationals from my novel stopped in a women's Bible study at your place of worship? Even with impeccable English skills, she's probably need a translator just to help her sift through all the figures of speech we Christians throw around like they're going out of style.

     For example...

  1. "I'll be praying for you." Please note: One-tenth of the time, this phrase means, "I'll be praying for you." The other nine-tenths of the time, this phrase means, "I have no idea what else to say about your problem, so I'm going to end this awkward conversation with a promise to pray about your situation." Of the nine-tenths of the people who use this particular phrase in this particular way, about three-tenths will actually follow through and pray for you. If you're lucky.
  2. "I have Jesus in my heart." Fact: Jesus is in heaven. (Remember that whole promise He gave us about preparing a place for us? Yup, that's going on right now.) Fact: The Holy Spirit ... not Jesus ... indwells believers at the moment of conversion. (One more interesting fact to throw out: There are nine verses in the NIV that have both the word Jesus and the word heart in them. None of these nine verses talk about Jesus actually living in someone's heart.)
  3. "I'm going to throw out a fleece." Unlike number 2 above, this cliche actually has a biblical basis. When Gideon wanted to be sure God was really going to help him defeat the Midianites, he literally threw out a fleece and left it outside overnight. In the morning, the fleece was covered with dew but the ground around it was dry. Thus Gideon "threw out a fleece" to help him determine God's will. Today, however, if a Christian says, "I'm going to throw out a fleece," what she usually mean is: I really want God to do [prayer request XYZ]. And so I'm going to pray something like, "If the next person to call me on my phone is Jill from Illinois, then I'll know that God is promising to do [prayer request XYZ] like I asked Him." Now, if Jill really does call, our fleece-thrower can look forward to [prayer request XYZ] with great joy and gusto. But if the next person to call is actually Ralph from Montana, then the lucky fleece-thrower can say something like, "O well, we're not supposed to put God to the test so that probably wasn't an accurate fleece anyway." (She'd probably have similar results with a  fortune-telling 8-ball, but those tend to be frowned upon in Christian circles for some reason or other.)
  4. "Meet-Market Issue." Here's one more cliche based on a particular passage of Scripture. In Bible times, the church in Corinth had a major dilemma. There were some serious carnivores in their congregations, but a large portion of the meat sold in the marketplaces was at one point sacrificed to idols. Paul encourages the Corinthians to basically follow their own consciences: "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Today, Christians use the term "meat-market issue" to describe any of those controversial activities that some Christians say are big no-nos, and other Christians say are kosher. If you declare something to be a "meat-market issue," you are saying that you're going to follow your own conscience, and you'll take difference with any and every believer who tries to tell you you're wrong. Sometimes I wonder, however, if the issues that we're selling at our contemporary meat markets are really just sinful behaviors we justify via the Meat-Market Clause so we don't have to give them up.
  5. "...if it's Your will." I hear this one a lot at prayer meetings. Dear God, please heal Aunt Betsy. Help her eyebrows to grow back, and her nose to straighten out, and her chipped tooth to mend, and her bunion to soften up. IF it's Your will. Now, I'm all for praying in submission to God's will. (Think Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.) Unfortunately, most people use the "if it's Your will" line because they have no expectation for God to answer their prayers in the first place. What they're really telling God is: Lord, we both know You're probably not loving and/or powerful enough to take care of all these problems right now, so I'm just going to throw "if it's Your will" to the end of this prayer. That way we'll know not to expect all that much from You.
     I'm sure I'm just as guilty as the next Christian for using (and sometimes abusing) these and other Christian cliches. That probably doesn't make us bad people.

     But we better plan to take along a translator if we ever head out to North Korea.

What about you? What are some Christian cliches you hear all the time that I forgot to mention? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Beloved Daughter: Alternate Beginning

The following snippet was part of my introduction before I shelved the first few chapters and went with something a lot more dramatic. Even though this excerpt never made it into "The Beloved Daughter," I hope it gives you a glimpse of the struggles Chung-Cha faces as a young girl in famine-ridden North Korea.


[Context: Twelve year-old Chung-Cha's school teacher gives her a present to honor the birthday of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il.]

I studied my bag of potato chips and fingered the crinkly package. I didn't know if I should eat my prize now or share it with my parents when they came home. On the one hand, weren’t the potato chips be God’s gift to me? But wouldn't the Almighty want me to share them with Father and Mother, who were just as malnourished as I? Back and forth, I argued with my young and inexperienced conscience.

Eventually I decided to eat half of the chips now, and save the rest for my parents to enjoy later. So, conscience and appetite both appeased, I put one hand on either side of the bag and pulled it open. The smell of salt and potato starch made my mouth salivate. I was dizzy with hunger and anticipation.

As I lifted one chip out of the bag, the greasy wafer felt so delicate between my fingers I was afraid it might break. Trembling now, whether from excitement or sheer starvation, I  lifted the paper-thin crisp to my mouth.

Just before I took my first bite, I remembered to say thanks. Our Dear Leader’s need for worship went so far that all North Koreans were required to recite “Thank you, Father Kim Jong-Il” before every meal we ate, starving to death though we were. Indoctrination began at the nursery level, where two and even one year-olds were taught to declare their gratitude to our nation's leader. One afternoon I saw a nursery school instructor whipping the face of a small boy because was lisping when he spoke the Dear Leader’s name. Within a few minutes, every single toddler in his classroom was shouting “Thank you, Father Kim Jong-Il” with such passion and ferocity that tears flowed down their dirty, sunken cheeks.

Father taught me a slightly different version of our nation's mandatory mealtime blessing. “Thank You, Father God,” I murmured, glancing at the picture of our great nation’s fat, greasy-faced leader. “And help the Dear Leader come to salvation,” I added. Then, with a deep breath of anticipation, I ate my first potato chip. 

I am embarrassed to tell you that I have no memory of what that bite tasted like. I only know that the mere thought of potato chips makes me feel nauseous to this very day. After I ate one chip, I had no will-power left to save even a few crumbs for my parents. The entire bag was empty a few seconds after my first bite. Maybe it was the excess salt and grease, or the guilt I felt for eating the whole bag by myself, but I threw up all over the table almost as soon as I finished.

A little while later, Mother came home from her education session. She ran to my bedside, where I lay sobbing, my hair and blouse covered in vomit, my mind repeating accusingly, “Thank You, Father Kim Jong-Il.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The Beloved Daughter" Excerpt: Even the Sparrows

     Father promised that God would care for us just like he cared for the sparrows. But as each month of the famine grew worse, seeds of doubt found fertile soil in my empty belly.

     In our Hasambong village, even the sparrows were starving to death.

     With the People’s Safety Agency here to inspect us, wouldn’t God understand if Father was less vocal about his faith, given the circumstances and grave dangers to our family?
     My father sighed deeply, and I held my breath to hear what he would say in his defense. “I am not a fool,” Father began. “I know what risks come from following Jesus Christ,” he continued. His voice wasn't angry anymore, but gentle, like the snow that occasionally covers the Hasambong mountainside in a blanket of unblemished white. “Chung-Cha is a gift from God … as are you.” Father reached out his calloused, work-worn hand to wipe a tear off Mother’s gaunt cheek. She turned away with a disdainful snort. 

     Father continued, “Nevertheless, if I began to love these gifts more than the One who entrusted them to me, then I would not be able to look my Savior in the face when I stand before him and give an account of my life.

     “It is God who gives me breath,” Father went on. The confidence of his quiet confession seemed to fill our cabin with uncharacteristic warmth. “And as long as my old worn-out heart keeps beating, as long as these tired lungs continue to draw air, I will not remain silent. I will proclaim the Good News until my Savior returns to rule the earth, or until he calls me home.”

     I felt my heart swelling at Father’s words of triumph and faith. I watched Mother’s face to see if she felt the same wave of power, the same surge of hope that transcended the suffering and fear – even the constant hunger – of our provincial lives in rural North Korea.

     Mother brushed past Father and unpinned her hair. She walked to the bed, yanked down the torn blanket, and hissed, “Your stubborn faith will be the death of us all.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to Talk to Teens

THRILLER! What's up with this photo?
This post appears in the Christian Home Magazine. Check it out!

     When my husband and I were first engaged, his friend was ecstatic. "You guys make the perfect couple," she explained to Phillip. "She's cute, and you're there."

     Now, my husband may not be cute. But he's definitely got something even better going for him.

     Phillip is cool. Just ask the kids in our youth group. Phillip can hardly log onto Facebook without getting chat requests from three or four different teens vying for his attention.

     It is Phillip's cool factor more than anything else that landed us one of the most coveted jobs in our town. Once a month, Phillip and I chaperone the homeschool teen dances. Tonight just happens to be one of our dance nights, so in just three hours, Phillip and I are going to put on our craziest dancing gear, get under those black lights, and have ourselves a (hands-free) boogy fest. Of course, we're also going to see that there's no cuddling in corners or smoking in bathrooms, but in addition to making sure the students at the dance stay safe and respectable, Phillip and I expect to have a lot of fun.

     I may not be cool enough to rap to "Ice Ice Baby" like Phillip does while flapping around on the dance floor like an undulating fish. But I don't even break into a sweat during the Macarena (which I remember way back from junior high), and I can do "Thriller" like no one else.

     I have to laugh when I realize that I used to be scared of teenagers (even when I was one). The one thing I told God I'd never do was youth ministry. If God wasn't laughing when I signed up to spend a year ministering at a live-in counseling home for troubled teens, I know he was guffawing by the time I married my youth-pastor husband.

     As it turns out, I'm pretty sure there are lots of adults out there who don't really know how to interact with teens. Since I've been in this whole youth ministry thing for nearly a decade now, I'm going to be presumptuous enough to give you a few pointers. (Please note that I am another decade away from considering myself an actual expert. In ten years I will have three teenaged boys living under my roof. If that doesn't make me an expert, nothing will.)

     1. Remember that uncool is ok. At the girls home I worked at I was wearing a nice, comfy, oversized Calvin Klein sweatshirt. It had been given to me as a hand-me-down. I wasn't thinking about brand names at all, and I admit it was really ratty and faded by the time I got it. "Look at Alana's shirt!" one of the teens shouted, then asked her friend, "Do you remember when Calvin Klein used to be so cool?!" We all had a good laugh at both my ten year-old fashion statement, and at my young friend's unintentional insult.

     2. Smile. I use this one a lot at the homeschool dances. I smile when I tell that girl to scoot off her boyfriend's lap. I smile when I tell that boy to stop trying to suffocate his date during the slow dances. I smile when I ask that girl sitting in the corner by herself if she's having any fun at all. The teens don't always smile back. But they know (hopefully) that I care about them.

     3. Don't be a poser. Ok, I'm probably dating myself because I don't think the word "poser" has been in vogue since my high school days (please refer to suggestion number 1). But teens will have absolutely no respect for you if they find you bending over backwards to be on their level. Who really wants to go to church to watch a 35 year-old youth pastor preach with his pants sagging so far down he has to walk like a penguin? And I guarantee you that no one in the youth group wants to see me come to a meeting in skinny pants.

     On the other hand, feel free to jump off that high horse. Teens want to know that you are real, and genuine, and just as prone to mistakes as they are.

     4. When in doubt, talk about bodily functions. I call this my "can't beat 'em, join 'em" rule. It doesn't really help me get any spiritual points across during youth group. But it's kind of fun to see the teen's scandalized faces when the usually-demure youth pastor's wife says the word "fart."

     5. Lastly, if you still find yourself having a hard time relating to teens, you could always learn how to dance Thriller. Even if you don't score all that many cool points, you'll probably have a lot of fun.

     Just like I'll be having three hours from now.

What about you? Do you have a hard time interacting with teenagers? Do you have any advice to share? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Westbow Press Prompt: "The Honeymooners"

     This Friday's writing prompt from Westbow Press is about your own "special place" (think Pearl the starfish in Finding Nemo). What's my special place? Well, here's a short story that pretty much sums it up. I'll leave it up to you to determine if it's fiction or not.


     She dipped her foot in the water and laughed when he swooped her up from behind, threatening to throw her in the lake.

     "How long until we need to check out?" she asked. The last time she wore her watch was the day before the wedding.

     "I don't know," he replied. "Another hour, I'd guess. Maybe two."

     She hoped it was two. He sat down next to her on the dock.

     "Ready to go back to the real world?" he asked. She laughed at the question. The "real world," whatever that was, wouldn't ever be the same after this week. She watched the diamonds in her wedding band glisten in the sun. She leaned her head on his chest, and he reached around and tried to tickle her side. She pushed him away.

     "I wish we could stay here forever," she whispered. He was skipping stones in the lake. She thought about the laundry, the grocery shopping, all the details she'd have to take care of when they got home. "I wonder what the next few months will be like," she said. He didn't respond.

     She wished the sun would stand still, but noticed with regret that their shadows were already shortening. As much as she might hope, she knew time wasn't about to stop just for them. The real world was waiting for them - a world of church meetings and youth group retreats and conferences and all-nighters. They already talked about starting a family soon. Would they ever be able to take all their kids on a vacation like this on a youth-pastor salary?

     There was so much at the time that she didn't know. Only one week into married life, how could she prepare herself for that first miscarriage? How could she foresee the degenerative arthritis that would steal her new husband's ability? The next time they went near a lake, he'd be unable to lower himself to sit by her side. 

     She couldn't imagine the six months of unemployment, or the depression and anxiety that would sneak up and threaten their union. She didn't know that so many of the dreams she now shared with her husband would be shattered one after another.

     All she knew was that it was almost time to go. Whether they were ready or not, the car had to be packed. The keys to the condo had to be returned.

     He stood with ease and stretched before helping her up. "Ready?" he asked. pretending one last time like he was about to throw her in the lake.

     She smiled and put her hand in his.

      "I'm ready," she replied.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday WIPpet: "Let's Do That Again"

     Happy Wednesday to everyone (unless it's already Thursday where you live). Today's WIPpet post features 13 sentences from chapter 3 of What, No Sushi?, my chapter book for young kids about three boys who travel back in time to explore a Japanese-American internment camp. What, No Sushi? is due to be released this spring. If you're just dying to read one of my books RIGHT NOW, please check out the Boy Named Silas ebook or paperback, which chronicle my son's traumatic birth experience and complicated medical history. Otherwise I hope you enjoy today's WIPpet!


The next thing we knew, we were shooting up through some clouds.

“DAAAAAAAAAA-DEEEEEEEEEEEE!” screamed O’Malley, but his voice sounded excited, not scared.

“You boys are doing great,” Dad’s voice said from the speaker.

We soared up higher and higher. Then the rumbling noise grew quiet.  Before we could do anything, we started falling through the air. After a few seconds, we felt a big jerk and started going down more slowly.

“Dad must have put a parachute on the top,” I told my brothers.

“You better believe it, Lake,” Dad said. “I wouldn’t let anything hurt you boys, would I?” I smiled. Up until then, I wasn’t sure if Dad could hear us, or if we could just hear him. He must have put microphones into the SPM, I decided.

After gently floating for a few minutes, we landed with a soft thud.

“Is everyone all right?” I finally asked, looking around. I was especially worried that O’Malley might have gotten frightened from our fall.

O’Malley just laughed and grinned. “Let’s do that again,” he said.

Do you WIPpet? You should! Show us an excerpt from your Work In Progress that has something to do with today's date (like 13 sentences from chapter 3 on 3/13). Then come and link up here or at My Random Muse. Happy WIPpeting!