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Snowflakes, Stars, and Writing Tips from Randy Ingermanson

Note: This article is reprinted by permission of the author. Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.   (THE VISUALS I ADDED TO RANDY INGERMANSON’S ARTICLE FOR REPOSTING ON MY BLOG ARE FROM PIXABAY, a great resource for writers!) 

Here’s why I’m reposting Randy Ingermanson’s newsletter for all my followers and for those who happen to drop by: I want my writing to be worth your time to read and my time spent creating it. I want to get my writing to more readers (thank you to any of you who help me do that) so I glean where I can and I have learned so much from Ingermanson’s E-zine. Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.10.41 PMHe’s the “Snowflake” guy when it comes to honing one’s writing techniques and skills.
I hope you will think you did as well. I suspect you’ll dash off to sign up for more of his great advice, and I think you should .  .  . but I also hope you’ll remember to come back here occasionally, too. Have a great day!

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

Publisher: Randy Ingermanson (“the Snowflake guy”)
Motto: “A Vision for Excellence”
Date: October 12, 2017
Issue: Volume 13, Number 7
Personal Site: www.Ingermanson.com
Circulation: 17,176 writers, each of them creating a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

“Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing”

What’s in This Issue

1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
2) Organization: Do Hard Things

3) Craft: How to Measure Motivation

4) Marketing: Don’t Eat the Rat Poison
5) Randy Recommends Vellum

6) What’s New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com

7) Steal This E-zine!

8) Reprint Rights

1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!

Those of you who have joined in the past month (about 500 of you signed up since the last issue), welcome to my e-zine!

 

If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/

The most recent issue of this e-zine went out in July. Just as I was preparing the August issue to go out, Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas. I have many loyal readers in Texas and it just seemed a bad time to be sending out an e-zine. Then Irma hit Florida and Maria hit Puerto Rico. Life is not back to normal in any of these places, but I think it’s time to resume my normal schedule.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.19.36 PM2) Organization: Do Hard Things

Everybody has projects in their life that they don’t want to tackle. Hard things.

Maybe there’s a part of your yard that’s overgrown with weeds, and it just gets worse and worse and worse every week.

Maybe your garage is overloaded with junk you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t even dare look at because it’s too depressing.

Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that’s gone south and it seems unfixable.

I call things like these “the swamp.” Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.23.43 PMThe swamp is any part of your life that you don’t dare touch because it just seems overwhelming. Because it’s too hard.

There are two ways to handle the swamp.

  • You can ignore it forever.
  • You can go through it to the other side.

Those are the only two ways I’ve ever found for dealing with the swamp. Ignoring the swamp is easy. Going through it is hard. Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.38.50 PM

But doing hard things builds character. (It’s much easier to say this when you are not about to enter the swamp. But it’s also true, so it bears saying.)

Here are a few other things that are also true:

  • The swamp doesn’t go away by itself.
  • In fact, the longer you ignore the swamp, the worse it gets.
  • The only way to go through the swamp is to go through the swamp. You can’t go around.
  • The first time you go into the swamp is the scariest.
  • The swamp is never quite as terrible as it seems.
  • There is no feeling as wonderful as coming out on the other side of the swamp.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.44.44 PM

This is a short column because there’s really not much to say about the swamp. You can either hide from it or you can go through it to freedom. You get to choose.

Do hard things. The characters you write fiction about are in the business of doing hard things. The more hard things you do, the better you’ll be able to tell their story.

Homework

  • What is the swamp in your life, right now?
  • If you decided to go through the swamp, how long would it take?
  • How would you feel when you came out the other side?

3) Craft: How to Measure Motivation

Practically everything in fiction eventually comes down to your characters’ motivations. The lead character in your story wants something, One Thing.

It’s tempting to say that the strength of your story is directly proportional to how much your lead character wants that One Thing.

But that’s false. It’s so far from being true, it’s not even wrong.

Let me explain how you measure motivation. I’ll do that by telling you a little story…

Back in August, most of America took a day off to watch the total eclipse of the sun. By good luck, the path of totality came very close to where I live. We were scheduled to see 99% coverage at my house. Which is not bad, but I wanted more.

On the day of the eclipse, my daughter and I got up early, packed our gear, and left the house at 4 AM to beat the traffic. We drove for a couple of hours until we reached a friend’s house in Salem, Oregon, dead center in the path of totality.

Then we waited for a few hours to watch the show.

When it was over, we waited several hours for the traffic to die down, then headed north. The freeway was slogging along at parking lot speeds. After an hour of that, we took an exit and zigzagged across the countryside on back roads, using our phones to navigate. It took us four hours to get home.

The trip burned an entire day, and it was quite an adventure, just to see two minutes of eclipse.

Why’d we do all that, when we could have watched the eclipse from our own back yard?

Because 99% isn’t 100%. It’s not even close. I watched the coverage go from 0% to 99% and it was qualitatively the same thing. Sure it was less and less sunlight, but sunlight is sunlight. Then I watched the last little bit of the sun wink out, and a hole appeared in the sky where before there had been blinding light. A hole is not sunlight.

The difference between 99% and 100% is huge. They are different kinds of things, not different amounts of the same thing. The reason is because 99% totality is 1% sunlight, whereas 100% totality is a hole in the sky—no light at all.

Something is qualitatively different from nothing.

When you have the chance to see a total eclipse of the sun, you should take it. The opportunity doesn’t come along very often.

But I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when the next total eclipse comes along. I’ve seen one and it was pretty cool. But I’ve seen one and I don’t feel a strong need to see another. If it’s convenient next time, I’ll probably go watch. Otherwise, I might just give it a pass.

Now contrast my attitude with those people who get addicted to seeing total eclipses. They’ll spend thousands of dollars. They’ll take days to reach the zone of totality. They’ll camp out in insanely terrible places. They’ll charter boats or airplanes to get themselves to exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. They’ll risk the possibility of a rain-out or cloudy weather.

All for an experience that never lasts longer than seven minutes.

That is some serious motivation.

These eclipse addicts are all-in. Whereas I’m not all-in.

My level of motivation to see a second eclipse is 99%. Theirs is 100%.

Those are qualitatively different motivations. When you’re all-in, when you’re 100% motivated, you’ll do anything, no matter how crazy, to feed your need.

When you’re not all-in, when you’re only at 99% motivation, you’ll do whatever’s convenient.

Write stories about characters who are all-in on their story.

Characters like Luke Skywalker, who’ll do anything to defeat the Evil Empire.

Like Lizzie Bennet, who would never think of marrying a man unless she loved him 100%.

Like Katniss Everdeen, who’ll do whatever it takes to survive the Hunger Games.

If your lead character is all-in on your story, then your readers will be all-in too.

If your lead character isn’t all-in, then you won’t be either, and neither will your readers.

That’s how you measure motivation. All-in. Or not all-in. As Yoda once said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Homework

  • What is the One Thing your lead character wants?
  • How bad does she want it? Does she want it 100%? Or only 99%?
  • If she’s not all-in on that One Thing, then fix your story or kill it.

4) Marketing: Don’t Eat the Rat Poison

     If you’ve got a book in print, should you read your reviews?

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 2.12.57 PMYes, no, and maybe.

Yes, read your five-star reviews.

No, don’t read your one, two, and three-star reviews.

Maybe read your four-star reviews, if there’s a specific reason to.

Let’s talk about these cases in more detail.

Why Read Your Five-Star Reviews?

The reason to read your five-star reviews is because it puts you directly in the hearts and minds of your Target Audience.

Let’s review for a minute. Your Target Audience is the set of people you wrote your book for. They’re the ones you’re trying to delight. Your primary goal in writing your book was to delight your Target Audience.

If somebody wrote you a five-star review, it’s because your book delighted them. Odds are good that they’re in your Target Audience.

And you need to know what they’re thinking, for several reasons.

First, you want to know if you’re delighting them in the way you intended. Let’s say you thought you were writing heart-warming humorous romance novels. You read your reviews and they talk about how much your readers love the romance in your stories, and they talk about how heart-warming your novels are, but they don’t say anything about the humor. That’s a warning sign. Maybe your humor isn’t quite what you thought it was.

Second, you want to know if you’re delighting them in a way you never intended. Maybe you keep seeing the words “deep” and “thought-provoking” and “philosophical” in your reviews and you had no idea your books were deep or thought-provoking or philosophical. But then you go look at what you wrote, and by golly, it is. That suggests you have an unexpected talent. You might want to develop that a bit. Think how deep your novels could be if you tried. Think how that would delight your Target Audience even more.

Third, you want to look for any “big buts”. Say you repeatedly see your fans saying that they loved your book “but I didn’t like the ______”. Whatever’s in that blank is turning off some fans. Are you willing to keep doing that? If so, that’s your decision to make and your decision to own. Going forward, you will now be doing it consciously. That’s very different than doing it subconsciously.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 3.01.41 PM Continue reading “Snowflakes, Stars, and Writing Tips from Randy Ingermanson”

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Bad People Don’t Go to Heaven . . . Good Don’t Either

Chambers wrote truth so perfectly. In today’s October 6 Upper Room entry, the editors quoted Oswald Chambers on the “Nature of Regeneration.” Please go here to read his words: https://utmost.org/the-nature-of-regeneration/ before you read mine. Chambers knows how to explain truths so much better than I ever will. Before we talk about heaven, we need the basics.

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Welcome back. Now let me tell you why I entitled this blog today, “Bad People Don’t Go to Heaven . . . Good Don’t Either.” I run the risk, I suppose, in someone just reading the title and thinking I’m saying there is no heaven BUT that is not at all why I gave this entry that title. I definitely believe there is a heaven and that it is the destination God has prepared for His children. The problem is, too few realize how to get end up in heaven when their lives are over. Being “good” is great for your neighbors, but it’s not enough to “earn” the right to get into heaven. Re-read Chambers if you are wondering why I said that: 

It is heartbreaking too few understand how pointless it is to think heaven awaits those who “act like a Christian should act.” Good behavior is not the ticket to heaven. Good people don’t go to heaven, saved people do. Regenerated people do. Born again people go to heaven.

God set up the rescue through faith in Jesus Christ — that is God’s grace. That’s why Jesus left heaven to spend a brief lifetime on earth that include the cross before His resurrection. Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.47.09 PMYou and I were destined for hell – plain and simple. We could blame that on Adam and Eve and their eating of the forbidden fruit, which left us with the nature to want to skirt around what God asks of us, which is holiness. But, in our quiet moments, we realize we each want our own way. We’re looking out for what will be best for us. We’re selfish. That’s our first response. We ought never blame a child for being selfish — it’s how we all start out. Thankfully, a child is eager to please if nurtured with love and gentleness rather than anger and bullying. (Call the police to report bullying. If you’re in a household where someone bullies you, seek help. God never wanted abuse to happen to you. The only sure way for a bully to stop bullying is to have a heart transplant, a heart changed by God Himself, not by a bunch of “stop doing this” and “start doing that,” though such counsel can help cool things down. Reforming character is God’s specialty.) 

Now, back to the topic of regeneration which is closely tied in to the last sentences of advice in the previous paragraph. We can’t behave nicely enough to impress God. Changing who we were without the Holy Spirit in residence is a work of God . . . please read Chamber’s paragraphs until the truth sinks into your heart and mind and soul. God loves you. Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.52.52 PMHe willingly sent His Holy Son so you could join them in eternal fellowship in heaven after you’ve brought all the joy to earth God planned to demonstrate through you. You were created to be a loving and compassionate messenger of God’s love. You are to bless more people than you can imagine. Sure, donating to victims in distress even when you are not a child of God will help meet temporary needs, but if you are God’s child, God’s born-again, new-natured, regenerated person, you’ll see that there’s much more to do with the gift of life God has granted you.

Remember the verse Chambers was citing? Apostle Paul was writing to a church in Galatia. Paul had been a terrorist who sought to destroy those who were launching Christianity — and then God arrested him, regenerating him. He’d been Saul of Tarsus and he became Paul the evangelist who would not let a few inconveniences like stones and shipwrecks and plots to kill him keep him from muscling onward with the truths about Jesus Christ. Paul knew what it was like to be one kind of person one day and a totally new person the next. God had arrested Paul. (Read those verses in Acts 9).

So now Paul writes: Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my former way of life 26 in Judaism, how I was savagely persecuting the church of God and trying to destroy it. 1:14 I27 was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation,28 and was29 extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.30 1:15 But when the one31 who set me apart from birth32 and called me by his grace was pleased 1:16 to reveal his Son in33 me so that I could preach him34 among the Gentiles…”

The point today is to encourage all to rethink what you are counting on to get you into heaven. Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 2.56.37 PMIn the past month many lives have been altered. Some by fire, some by flood, some by winds, some by gunfire, and some by accidents, etc. Lots of people who were alive a month ago are not alive this day. Our tomorrows are not guaranteed by how much we exercise or how cautiously we cross a street or how carefully we scrutinize a food label. I don’t know that I’ll finish this blog (we’ll see).

The fact of life and of death and eternity is that unless we have staked our eternity upon the blood of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for our sins, we will be held accountable for every wrong word or thought or deed. Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 3.00.35 PMHave we seen our need to ask God to take over our lives because we’re a sorry mess on our own? Do we admit we fall so far short of who God hoped we’d be (we’re not holy on our own)? God sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence within us when we come humbly to Him for forgiveness and a new life that exists to glorify Him.

For more time in God’s Word about the role of the Holy Spirit in your life, please go to: John 3:16-17; John 14-16; Romans 8:9, 14; I Corinthians 3:16, I John … and there’s much more, but that’s enough for today.

Let’s Talk about God-Given Dreams

Have you read or listened to “Between Heaven and Hollywood” by David A. R. White? Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 10.44.18 PMI watched an interview with him on TBN a few weeks ago. I am impressed with his story, his motives, and the way he’s using his “earth time”.  His book recounts, I believe, not only why he does what he does as the partner in bringing PureFlix to the world, but how he became the person he is today. I can’t decide whether I’ll get it “read” quickest if I download it audibly or if it’ll be a soft or hardcover. I think it will be a great read . . . maybe that’s because some dream of my own needs to get infused with some fresh energy. . . hmm.

If you’re interested in a discussion about it, let’s see if we can do that here on this website. You can read the first chapter free by going to this site:

Here’s the link to White’s book.

But let me ask you, was there a time when you had the courage to: Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 10.08.35 PM

If you’re not “living that dream,” what happened?

 

A Couple Fish and Some Bread

Does this passage (about Jesus feeding the multitude from a little lunch) challenge you as it does me?

Last Saturday I held the workshop for some of the writers who plan to be included in the upcoming Christmas book. As with the other workshops, I wanted to start with a Bible study because words we speak or write can change lives and I pray our words are centered in Biblical truths. Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 12.59.44 PMI’d asked participants to bring their lunch, so my devotional was entitled, “What’s in Your Lunch?” I chose the passage from Matthew 14 about Jesus teaching past lunchtime.

Not matter how many times I’ve heard, or studied, this Biblical account of Jesus’s feeding of the multitude of more than 5,000, I know I’ve not dug up all its riches. Here is the passage from Faithlife Bible, an online resource that’s free to use. I’ve selected the “NET” version, beginning in chapter 14, verse 13. I’ve left in the “extra” footnote numbers that are hot linked. If you follow them, you’ll see Faithlife’s Bible’s sidebar has lots of information to enrich your time in God’s Holy Word:

The Feeding of the Five Thousand

14:13 Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, 
they followed him on foot from the towns.
14:14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 14:15 When evening arrived, his disciples came to him saying, “This is an isolated place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 14:16 But he replied, “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat.” 14:17 They said to him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 12.54.16 PM

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14:18 “Bring them here to me,” he replied. 14:19 Then he instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 14:20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, twelve baskets full. 14:21 Not counting women and children, there were about five thousand men who ate.

There’s so much to observe within this account. The feeding of the five thousand is mentioned in the other gospels, too. There’s another feeding of a multitude a few chapters later in Matthew, which is a reminder to us that Jesus did miracles. Perhaps you are like me; I dislike when “scholars” try to explain the conditions that had to be in place for the “unusual happenings” in the Biblical accounts. Why? I dislike when someone muddies the waters with justifications or explanations about miracles because a miracle is an instance when God does something that cannot be explained “logically”.

A miracle is when God works outside the laws of nature, of gravity, of seasons, of migration patterns, etc… A coincidence can be used of God, and I don’t discount that, but a miracle is something only God can do. We can’t duplicate a miracle; only God does miracles. The feeding of the multitudes with a little lunch is a miracle. I love it!

We discussed the passage by answering some questions, both as readers and as writers. The “backstory” alluded to in the first sentence, the “this”, is the death of John the Baptist. We talked about Jesus’s sadness when He learned of John’s death and of how Jesus didn’t just go on to the next thing without wanting to take time to get away and grieve. We might need to do that at times. We talked about how the ministry changed by the death of the “forerunner” – Jesus’s ministry moved forward without an advance man.

We discussed what we learn about God and about God’s Holy Son, Jesus, as we read this account. What do you see as you re-read the Biblical passage? Compassion is of course one obvious emotion. A new thought I had as I prepared for last Saturday centered upon the fact that we are often told Jesus was tempted like we humans are, but without sin. We see Jesus getting away to an isolated spot and being followed by people who come with their sick to be healed and their inquiring minds wanting to know more and see more from this unique teacher. I wondered, “Was Jesus tempted to ignore them, to be selfish and think, ‘I don’t need this now’?” Wouldn’t most of us want our “me time” — at least so we could grieve a bit more? Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. 

Naturally, we got around to discussing what aided in the feeding of the 5,000: the lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish. Why did the little lunch feed so many? Because it was turned over to Jesus. Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 1.06.58 PMIt would have been possible for the one with the lunch to think, “But this is for me and I’m hungry” or “I could share this is one or two, but hand it all over and maybe never see it again? I don’t think that makes sense.” So, readers, what are we holding back; what potential do we limit? The difference happened to the little lunch when what one person had was turned over completely to the disciples who gave it to Jesus. There were no guarantees about the outcomes.

What would keep us from turning all we have, and are, over for the unrestricted use God has in mind? Fear that what we have is insignificant? Fear of critics, perhaps? Fear that we can’t handle failure, or success? Why do we have a passion for doing something that could be used by our Holy God? Is it up to us or is the “usefulness” of our efforts up to God? How would you and I label our reluctance?

Does this passage of scripture challenge you as it does me? There may be many challenges as you and I read this passage. One I detect, as a person who believes the world needs to know about Jesus, is that I need to look at my “little lunch”. Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 2.28.57 PMMy challenge as a writer and speaker, as one of the multitude of followers of Christ, is to turn over to the Lord who I am and what I do so that Jesus may do with me and my efforts whatever He wants. I’d say it applies to all Christ-followers: Whoever we are, whatever we do, let’s offer all to Jesus so that He may make us and our offering more than we are on our own. We are to live to glorify God.

 

 

 

James Pence Uses Art, Music, and Writing as Ministry Tools

Today’s “Successful Christian Writers” Conference in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, kicked off this afternoon with a presentation by James Pence. It might sound kind of trite, but if we’d suddenly had to leave after Pence performed “Moses”, I still would have thought the conference was powerful. I didn’t record it, of course, but online I did find the composer/pianist performing “Moses” on a link connected with James Pence. Take a few moments to listen with your heart to the song part of the way down on the page where “Moses” is performed. 

I knew he was billed as a speaker giving a chalk talk and I knew he would be good. I used to do chalk talks when I traveled with our caravan team way back in the time before most of today’s readers were alive. Well, almost that far back. I was part of a low budget troupe; we earned five dollars a week plus room and board in exchange for the help we tried to provide about fifteen churches and a few Bible camps that year. I say that to explain why my chalk talks didn’t have cool lighting. Actually, about the only thing my chalk talks had in common with Pence’s was that we both used large pieces of chalk.

No, actually, we did have more in common than the chalk. We both desire/d to serve the Lord through that medium. When I dabbled in the chalk dust decades ago, other people sang and my “art” was mostly a couple rocky hillsides, the distant crosses, and the open tomb. Though simplistic, that is the barebones of the Christian message. I knew mine got the point across but I can hardly believe people sometimes asked to keep the picture afterward. I would not be at all surprised if people offered to pay for Pence’s dramatic and skill-filled finished product. If you want to get a taste of what you might experience is you sit in the audience while Mr. Pence prepares his artwork, here is a link to one he did another time.

If I knew how to load a picture from my new phone to this blog, and if I had permission to post his presentation, and if doing so came anywhere close to letting you see the treat we were given during his session, I’d post a picture of the one he did for us today. Sorry. I guess you kind of had to be there – or ask him to come to an event you’re planning. I kind of expected the special effects special lighting could provide, but not as totally special and unique finished work he had for us. I did a little bit of searching for the song he sang — I couldn’t find it tonight, but I’ll add it later if I can.

The take away from Pence’s songs and his artwork was the challenge to let the Lord use whatever we have in our hand. As writers, we come to our computers with differing talents and experiences. In fact, the call upon our lives varies because what we have in our hand to loose will not look exactly like what is in another writer’s hand. The key for each of us is obedience to use what who we are and what we have for God’s glory.

The committee packed a lot of wonderful option into our eventful first day, and I’ll hope to write more about it later. Tonight, I need to get to bed so I can take it all in tomorrow. Happy writing, everyone.

If Knowledge Is a Ten, I Start At Minus Seven When It Comes to Gardening

Not long after I married, my husband concluded plants rarely survived under my care. He’d tell people not to give me plants. He said plants sitting beside my kitchen sink would die for lack of water. I felt a little better telling him some of them were plastic… But I guess he’s mostly right. A thriving African violet would do fine for months until I moved it to a slightly different location.  Before long, I try to figure out what to do with the dirt in the pot where it had died. I tried growing a few vegetables in our first garden; my husband said my cucumbers were an embarrassment and instructed me to pick them as early as I could because they were “curly” instead of straight. In my defense, I am thankful I can report that a raspberry patch someone started before we moved in was still bearing fruit when we left four years later.

I should have gardening in my blood. I grew up on a crop and livestock farm. My dad’s parents had orchards, so Dad saw to it that we had a variety of fruit trees. One of the first pictures of my sister and me has us picking cherries in our front yard. For pity sakes, for some reason I just now associated that with Mom’s stern warning about not wandering off with any stranger because strangers might poke sharp sticks in our ears. Don’t go shaking your head. It worked. I had lots of earaches those first few years and fearing a sharp stick in my ear kept me holding Mom’s hand almost every time we went somewhere.

But, back to gardening and my lack of a green thumb. Mom could put a few wrinkled, dead peas and quarter potatoes so their eyes could be buried and eventually we six would be enjoying fresh produce from the garden. Mom really liked gardening and hers were well kept, partly because she liked the smell of turned soil. I remember earning a little money, emphasis upon little, by tapping potato bugs into a can that had a quarter inch of kerosene inside. Dad said we could get a penny a can-ful; obviously we had a lot of potato bugs that year, but even so, do you have any idea how many potato bugs it takes to earn a pack of gum? Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 12.50.34 PM.png

Dad and Mom seemed to experiment with plants occasionally. They consistently convinced our farm to produce the corn, wheat, milo, alfalfa, and soybeans while trying to keep us kids from raising cane. Their experimental crops of strawberries and grapes were sometimes wedged between a stream and a bank at the edge of our east wheat field across from where Dad grew up. Dad experimented with a peanut crop on or near a creek bank. Mom discovered the sheep ate her onion field before she could harvest it for extra cash. I imagine the sheep belched about each other’s baaaaaaad breath for a while, too. But I relate these instances to cut my excuses for not being a good gardener.

When Paul and I moved to a rural parsonage, I decided I needed to use up part of our large yard for a garden. Like most enthusiasts with a fresh idea, I went to town and bought a hoe. I came home ready to turn the soil upside down. I swung the hoe into the dirt and watched it leave me holding the stick. The bright red blade was on strike and took off. I went back inside to pursue my next bright idea, thankful there were people in our church who liked supplementing Paul’s salary with produce from their gardens.

Incidentally, an inferior tool is a good excuse to find another hobby. A right tool does make a HUGE difference.  At that point, my brother had not set up his business. The Prohoe garden tool is not going to fly into separate pieces and unsolicited testimonials let those who work with soil know they are about to purchase a tool they’ll not want to leave lying around. But I didn’t have that hoe when I got all enthused about gardening. Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 12.52.24 PM

By the way, Loren’s business now makes over sixty kinds of tools that move dirt, weeds, or whatever is in the pathway. He has garden and field hoes, fire tools, scrapers, and more and each is made from a recycled steel implement disc. You might want to check out his website – I’ve seen grown men ooooh and ahhhh over those tools and I’ve talked to successful women gardeners who declare that the family understand the Rogue hoe she has is hers and it will be protectively put away after each use. I’ve heard people say that Rogue tool is not one to leave out because it tends to walk away. Here’s a short video of a gardener demonstrating one of his favorite garden tools. And I’ve watched an unsolicited YouTube video of a fireman choosing Loren’s fire tool over a well-known fire tool. (Keep praying for those brave fire fighters battling fires in many states.)

But back to why I’m blogging today. Last June, on our anniversary, Paul and I worked in our yard. Paul was determined we had to get rid of some old wood in our shed and worse, still, some that had been taunting us, well, really just him, since he took down a swing set/sort-of jungle jim/pirate ship wannabe. The swing and the sort-of jungle jim were from when kids lived here. Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 12.48.20 PMThe jungle-jim-turned-pirate-ship, well, the pirate left for the mission field after he realized pirates were not really very nice role models, but as recent as last May an old neighbor talked about walking by and wondering about the pirate flag in what would become our yard. That former pirate is still one of our favorite people on earth and, I’m happy to report, is living a responsible and well-respected life.

So, getting on with this, because you and I both have other things to do today… Anyway, on our anniversary, I worked in the shade (my medicine says to) and built a fence out of old wood. I love using a hammer because the result lasts so much longer than, say, using a spatula or a hand mixer. When my good man said I wouldn’t get it done as quickly as I said I would, well, I did. I even used nail holes in the old wood to speed up the process! And the fence still stands! Okay, it’s really just a decorative gate blocking what used to be the ugly part of our yard from the view of passers-by. But it’s a fence that has convinced birds to sit on it and our dog has thought about calling it hers, but so far it has served its “re-purpose”.

During the anniversary in our yard – yes, I do mention “anniversary” a few times, don’t I? Hmmm – while other couples married as long as us were out dining on prime rib, my husband began building a raised garden bed. Me, building fences. He, raised garden bed. Actually, if you were to ask him, he’d say the garden bed was because his wife had been saying, “garden bed, garden bed” for a few years. And he’d add, rightly so, that his wife’s medicine says to stay out of the sun, so a garden bed is, in reality, another thing for him to take care of. And, when you peel the onion to its core, he’s right. BUT, that day we did get a raised garden bed formed. Then, since there’s no such thing as a free garden bed even if you use up old wood to start the project, he had to buy the whatever-you-put-in the garden bed. I am madly in love with my good man but you would smile if you knew how he said something like, “After all I am putting into this, whatever we plant had better grow!”

He scared the tomatoes out of the soil! It wasn’t quite that “magic”. First, we kept dripping coffee grounds and egg shells across the counter so we could add them to peelings from purchased vegetables because, if we get enthused about gardening, we’re going to do it right. We composted! At first we did it with a can. Then an old bucket, and finally with a brand new bucket with a lid because, well, if you’ve composted you know you have to have keep a lid on things. At first we had it conveniently in our garage. Then we moved it outside the garage. One whiff and you’d know why. Composing stinks!

So, moving on, when the garden bed was finished, I rushed out and bought three tomato plants. One was huge with blossoms galore! I wanted to guarantee success in that garden bed. That plant alone cost about $13. Do you know how many tomatoes you can buy for $13? (Yes, but they taste like cold cardboard, right?) And, not wanting to use up my social security, I also purchased two little tomato plants for a total of about $5. We put my plants in Paul’s composted and mixed bagged soil. So far, our “free” garden bed probably had about $50 worth of preparation for produce working. (Do you know how many cardboard tasting tomatoes you can…?)

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So the weeks have passed and it’s getting time to report on whether or not we should have hastily begun gardening. The big, expensiveplant died within a few weeks of being transplanted. We asked, when it saw it down to “hospice stage”, a Master gardener friend and her very knowledgeable husband whose composts could win any competition, why ours was dying. They said we (actually, because my medicine says… it would be my husband… 🙂 ) might have watered too much, or too little. They came over to see it. They concluded they really didn’t know why a plant dies, but our expensive tomato plant is now deceased. Oh, it did drop two teeny tomatoes before it died, but they looked kind of strange so we just brought them inside until it was past time to throw them away. I think we thought the other one of us might decide to eat the tough little bugger but neither of us did. 

The good news is, and I’m sure you were wondering if there would be in this post, that the two cheap plants are producing tomatoes like crazy! One is loaded with the small, cherry-type tomatoes. They’re all green so we’re hopScreen Shot 2017-09-14 at 12.39.10 PMing they have the good sense to turn the right red before Jack Frost drops by… but that tiny plant has grown into a busy and has probably thirty tomatoes on it. The other tiny plant sprung up sturdy, too, and it has the larger tomatoes coming on nicely. I see lots of those on it. We’ve put supports along side the garden bed, carefully easing the wire-y cages under the plants so we wouldn’t break them but to support their heavy crops. We’ve tasted a couple of the riper tomatoes and they’re not cardboard!

Now, of course we had more compost in the stinky bucket than we could use on the garden bed. I had scraped the oozing cantaloupe seeds into the bucket and watermelon rinds, etc. When Paul works with the compost, his hands stink and the place where he puts the compost stinks. But, hey, he’s a good gardener. I ordered off a very reliable ad on a social media … what is to become, they said, cherry bushes that will produce lots of tasty cherries. When they came, four of them because I do know a little about pollination… a very little… I expected the Fed Ex guy to struggle under the weight of them. They came in a box smaller than a shoebox. Four twigs. Brown twigs. But, the optimist I am, we planted those $35 twigs (I think that’s what I paid). And we composted them with our good compost. 

Here’s the latest on them. SO far they look at lot like they did when they arrived last spring. Twigs. Protected by a cardboard tube from a used up toilet paper roll. Yep. I’m a gardener. But, Paul’s compost has made a huge difference. We have vines all over the place around those expensive cherry bush twigs! Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 12.41.25 PMAnd, count them, we have now six cantaloupes maturing, hoping to finish before Jack Frost comes to our yard. And those new cantaloupe didn’t cost us a dime . . . we were going to just throw the seeds away and instead we have produce growing!

Now, if our anniversary had been in April instead of late June, our tomatoes and our cantaloupe might not be worrying about cool nights and cool days. But, maturing into fruitfulness does take time. We’ve all tasted, with regrets, the not-yet-ready tomato and the still tough cantaloupes that we went ahead and bought because we weren’t taking time to nurture fruit we could produce. So we will watch and wait for the harvest we think we’ll have in our backyard. We started out at about a  “Minus Seven” on knowledge about gardening, but we’re improving and next year, we’ll likely start earlier and wiser.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to apply our gardening experience to how we live out our faith. Jesus talked about gardening when He talked about the vinedressers and about the fields ripe unto harvest, and when He spoke about the different kinds of soil that receives the seed. If we are actual Christ-followers, not just Christ-admirers, if we have been converted and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we better not prevent Him from producing good fruit through us. I love the verse that declares that Jesus chose us more than we chose Him and that Jesus’s reason for choosing us is so that we would bear fruit. You can read it in a variety of translations, but you can’t come to a different conclusion than that we are to bear fruit if we are the Lord’s. 

So, what fruit are you seeing today?