Writing about Thanksgiving and Food


If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes … (Matthew 6:25 MSG).

Food, food, food! Why does everyone make such a big fuss about food during the holidays? I’m always focused on food! Either I’m overeating, dieting, or trying to feed someone else. I can’t remember one day of my life that I didn’t focus on food at some point.

So, how can my worries about food help my spiritual focus? Over the years, I’ve discovered that my hyperfocus on food is often a warning sign for a much deeper problem than just trying to meet my physical needs.

Needs. While we were seminary students, I first learned how my own worry about food could actually motivate me to seek deeper spiritual insights.

At seminary, we lived on a much lower income than most of our family and friends. Often we didn’t have enough money for the food we needed for our family.

Miracles. God used that problem to capture my attention, and I saw Him provide in miraculous ways for some of my friends. Groceries would be left on their doorsteps. Money for food would arrive in the mail. Or they would discover some random source of free food, like day-old bread or vegetables discarded from the grocery’s produce department.

Tips. Intrigued by my friends’ stories, I began to ask to God to help me find ways to deal with our food needs. And I discovered many tips for stretching my food budget with recipe ideas and coupons. My friends and I found that we could all stretch our food budgets by sharing our resources. When we gathered together for a meal, each family would bring their menu contributions.

Manna and quail. In Exodus 16:4, “God said to Moses, ‘I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day’s ration. I’m going to test them to see if they’ll live according to my Teaching or not’” (MSG).

I joked about identifying with the Israelites in the wilderness as God provided manna and quail for them to eat. But as I experienced God providing for my own family, like He did for His children in the Old Testament, I searched for more answers to my everyday problems in the Bible.

Traditions. Before my seminary days, I never thought about asking God to provide for my family’s needs, especially our food. Yes, we taught our children to express their thanks before our meals. But my prayer of thanks usually came after I had purchased groceries and prepared our meals.

So, I examined our mealtime prayers and Thanksgiving blessings. Could they simply be a family or religious tradition? Had I ever offered my mealtime prayers with a heartfelt gratitude for God’s blessings?

Diets. I still struggle with worry and my spiritual focus on food from time to time. Even now, as I try to eat a healthier diet, I realize that I must stop and ask God for direction every day–sometimes moment-by-moment–as I seek answers to my problems and needs.

As I prepare to enter into this season of Thanksgiving once again, I pray that I will remember this promise from God’s Word.

… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:5-7 NIV)

What stories about food come to mind as you prepare for this Thanksgiving season? Have you recorded them?

Spelunking and Writing in the Deep Dark

When my husband was in college, he and a group of friends went spelunking in an undeveloped cave called Devil’s Icebox near Columbia, Missouri .

Unbeknownst to them, while they spent hours exploring the 6.25 miles of underground passages, it had started raining. When they attempted to return to the entrance, through a narrow tunnel so low they had to meander like snakes on their bellies, they noticed the water was rising. Forced to grope for breaks in the rocks in the tunnel’s ceiling, they were able to gasp for breath in the air pockets.

All the flames in their carbide headlamps became drenched in their scramble to get out of the narrow section and save their lives.

Their lights extinguished.


Carbide headlamps or acetylene gas lights were popular with cavers at the time for the bright white light they produced. Unfortunately the flint system–like a lighter–needed to be kept dry.

My husband and his friends, having survived the narrow section, found themselves stranded in utter blackness.

And the water was rising.

Eventually one of the girls in the group found one dry corner on her shirt collar. They dried the flint, lit the lamps and exited to safety.

Despite that experience, my husband still enjoys exploring deep underground caves, corkscrewing his body through narrow passages and entering the unknown.

Me? Not so much.

But I have been in the Deep Dark. My Deep Dark has been cancer.

Perhaps you have your own difficult place.

In the Deep Dark we find ourselves in unknown passageways wondering how in the world we are going to turn on our lights and find our way home.

In the meantime we wrestle in darkness.

Darkness of the unknown. Darkness of our deepest fears. Dark nights of the soul.

Where we wonder where God is in it all.

I have waited on a doctor’s examining table and known the deep darkness. I have sat at a dining room table holding hands with my parents after hearing the diagnosis of my mom’s stage four and heard Dad pray to “our God who is in control.” And I wanted to shout, “God is in control?”

The Deep Dark is a place for shouting. A place for questioning. A place of fumbling for the light.

As writers, one of our challenges is to explore the Deep Dark and take our readers with us as we plunge the depths. One of our most difficult responsibilities is to put into words what people are afraid to whisper in the shadows.

But we don’t leave our readers there.

With our pens … with our pencils … with our keyboards … we craft light in the passages to lead our readers home, home to a God who sees in the dark.

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,’
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.”  Psalm 139:11-12 NASB

So grab your carbide headlamps. It’s time to go spelunking!

Bad Writer, Bad Writer

Working with Me, Myself, and I isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re great people, (for the most part), but when they’re bad, they’re really bad.

Every one of them has a propensity to be a bad writer. But maybe not in the way you might think.

Stop When You Are DoneThey, (me), are bad in the realm of behavior. For instance — right now I should be writing the memoir I’ve been hired to pen. It’s a fascinating story of a true miracle man, and I am honored he asked me to help him tell his true story of supernatural experiences.

I should be chomping to listen to the audio recordings of interviews we’ve done. I should be rushing to relay my time with some of the top cardiologists in the world at Mayo Clinic. But am I doing either of those things?


I’m fighting myself. The part that wants to do anything BUT make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I’ve been given. Here’s what today consisted of:

  • Earlier, I caught myself popping onto Facebook without realizing I was doing it.
  • I keep checking the rankings of my latest release, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over. (Granted, at this writing it’s in its twelfth consecutive week listing among Amazon’s best sellers, so it’s hard to ignore, especially when my author’s heart is thumping like a beaver tail on a warm spring day.)
  • I set up two promotional giveaways for Getting Through. One on Amazon, and one on Goodreads.
  • I accepted an invitation from a local TV station to record four, one minute devotionals. Of course, my brain started to buzz with possibility as soon as we confirmed the deal.
  • And all of this spurred a great idea for a WordServe blog post, so I had to jump over here before the inspiration leapt from my brain.

I hope you understand. I’m not saying any of the things I’m doing are wrong, in their appropriate time and setting, they are each very right. We need to stay relationally connected with our readers and our network of fellow writing professionals. It’s important to keep momentum going when a new project is launched into the world. And who doesn’t want to share great insights with our WordServe friends and family?

BreakdownBut how do I ensure I finish the project I was hired to write? First, I need to give myself a little grace. Enough to brush away unhealthy guilt, but not so much that I keep allowing poor behavior to make me a bad writer. When I give myself the level of patience I offer others, a breakthrough often follows.

I also take a few to celebrate the good things. Excellent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Strong sales rankings for Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over. New opportunities to spread a message of hope and healing for the hurting via television. All blessings, I couldn’t conjure or imagine — these are gifts from God. So allowing myself to express gratitude is in order. Knowing if I focus only on the gifts instead of the Gift-Giver, I’m out of line.

Finally, I set goals. A target keeps me accountable, even when Me, Myself, and I try to distract me from the work at hand. Word count — that’s the key for me. No matter how tired I am, I push toward the prize, reaching that daily word count before going to bed.

Goodreads Review Getting ThroughWith a shift in mindset, I’m now bathed in fresh discipline. A self-imposed word count waves in front of me, one I will meet before retiring. A grateful heart beats in my chest with new praise. And I’m almost done with this blog post.

As I process all of this, I realize — I’m not a bad writer, I’m a human one. At the end of the journey, it’s what connects a reader to my message. Real, authentic, raw. Word after word, step after step, Me, Myself, and I are helping change the world. All it takes is one positive review or reader response to remind me why I keep on keeping on. What I experience resonates with others — the writing comes from the living.

How a Non-Writer Like Me Got Published (conclusion)

(Continued from Part I, Part II and Part III) Image, pink binder

I will never forget the feeling that day when I collated thirty chapters, punched holes, and neatly stacked all 330 pages of my first draft into a pink, soft-cover binder. I wasn’t Rocky at the stop of the stairs with pumped fists, but rather felt a peaceful satisfaction unlike any I’d ever experienced. It was a book in my hands, and I’d written it.

At the prescribed time, I emailed a digital copy to Jim Lund, the editor who had agreed to help me. His feedback arrived about three weeks later.

Jim’s comments were mostly about structural issues. The timeline was chaotic and he had trouble following what happened when. We shuffled chapters and paragraphs, and “trimmed” unnecessary copy. For example, when describing the time Annie broke into our upstairs bedroom, I’d “squirreled” a three-page tangent about the bats that flew into our house throughout that entire summer. “Kind of interesting,” Jim said, “in a creepy sort of way. I’d trim this.” “Trim” being the kind word for “chuck it.”

Over a period of months, I integrated Jim’s recommendations into a cleaner draft. I read and re-read that manuscript dozens of times, sometimes aloud, and fine-tuned the cadence and the prose into a finished product that sounded like me. It was then ready for beta readers.

I paid Office Max $110 to print eleven copies of the manuscript. I then assembled the pages into inexpensive binders and began to share my work with friends and family. Copies went to my brother, Paul; to Annie, of course; my son, Jeff; a couple of dear friends; my pastor’s wife, Kari; plus my therapist and the four women in our long-standing support group. My husband, Pete, continued to show little interest in reading, remaining insistent that it took me 330 pages to say what he likely would have said in 11.

I can’t remember a time when I ever felt so vulnerable… and I was terrified.

It’s a huge commitment to read someone’s work, especially 330 pages of it, and comments began to trickle in over a period of weeks. “This is good, Barb. This is really, really good. I read tons of books and frankly could not put this down.”

Yeah… that’s what friends are supposed to say.

I continued to edit and trim, ultimately heeding the advice of others and slashed/reworked/condensed the first few chapters. I couldn’t read a paragraph without reworking it, and wondered if I’d ever know when the book was done.

In the meantime, I bought hundreds of dollars worth of books on self-publishing. Jim taught me that only famous people received publishing deals these days, or people who had developed strong national platforms. He thought my story was powerful, but I was unknown. Completely unfamous.

Nevertheless, after two years of hard writing, I thought it would be fun to query some agents and see how the process worked. Maybe I’d get some helpful feedback. I’d already drafted a query letter in a “How to get your book published” class up at our community college. Next I needed to write a proposal, and Jim provided some templates.

Writing the proposal was miserable. While my business background proved helpful, I found this part of the process a chore. The manuscript was written first-person past tense, yet Jim instructed me to write the proposal in third-person present tense. So each of the thirty plus chapters needed to be condensed and translated into a different form of speech. It was a grind, and I shelved the book for months. This just wasn’t going to happen.

Until… until, I felt the nudge again. “It’s time,” said the voice within my own.

Two days later I sent a query letter to two agents, and both responded within a week. Requests for the proposal followed, and the manuscript followed after that. My brain could scarcely take in the enormity of what was happening.

One of the agents was the wonderful Alice Crider and she signed me with WordServe Literary. Within a few weeks, Alice had secured two publishing offers.

grunge image of a field

The rest is history, as they say. I’m not a famous author by any means, but I am an author nonetheless. It was four years after I received that first nudge from God to “write a book about the gifts you were given,” that Zondervan released A Very Fine House: A Mother’s Story of Love, Faith and Crystal Meth. They even retained my working title.

Miracles can and do happen. First was my daughter’s return from the abyss of drug addiction. Then a book followed about the gifts, the lessons learned. Whew. Both experiences have strengthened a simple faith, and changed me forever.

Impossibility: Five Important Truths


Sometimes God leads us to do the impossible.

This morning as I waited for the sunrise to go on my walk, it started raining. I thought, Oh, no! If I don’t go for a walk now, it won’t happen today.

Simple problems. Sometimes the simplest challenge can seem impossible. I also know that my emotions lead me to exaggerate my problems at times.

Life and death issues. I don’t intend to compare my insignificant problems with the life and death issues that others are facing right now. I’m aware that many people face horrific, painful circumstances every day. And as I look at my circumstances in light of the needs of others, my problems often seem trivial.

Photo/KarenJordanCrises in Spain. My writing life often pushes me out of my comfort zone toward some “impossible” dreams. It led me into the academic world where I faced all kinds of uncomfortable situations. My most memorable learning experience occurred in Spain.

I wrote a previous post on the WordServe Water Cooler about my academic journey in Salamanca, Spain, “Sergio: A Memoir from My Writing Life.” During that summer in Spain, God revealed His faithful guidance and strength as I faced my limitations and weaknesses.

Photo/KarenJordanImmersed in another culture and language, I discovered I had taken on an academic endeavor far beyond my abilities, and I felt totally incompetent to complete it. My personal weaknesses became painfully obvious, as I experienced the reality of my limitations.

I’d been pacing myself as I pursued a course of study as a nontraditional student, commuting to school from home. But after a few weeks in Spain, without warning, I crashed—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Like an athlete, I hit the wall, suddenly losing all my strength after a long, difficult journey.

Spiritual Truths. I rediscovered five important spiritual truths about impossibilities during my painful summer of learning in Spain.

  • Some things are impossible to do in my own strength. “Humanly speaking, it is impossible …” (Matt. 19:26 NLT).
  • All things are possible with God. “… But with God everything is possible.” (ibid.).
  • I can do anything God calls me to do. “… I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
  • God will complete the work that He began in me. “ And I am certain that God, who began the good work within (me), will continue his work until it is finally finished …” (Phil. 1:6).
  • God gives me His strength, when I am weak. “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Reflection. These promises from God’s Word continue to encourage me as I face the impossibilities of my writing life. And I’m thankful that God offers His powerful promises to all who choose to believe His Word.

I’ll never forget some of the painful lessons I learned in Spain—and I still bear some of the scars from that experience. Now, I try not to take on more than I can handle, since I’m more aware of my limitations. In fact, I hit the wall faster and more frequent than ever as life takes its toll on me. So, I’m trying to stay focused on the course set for me.

Remember this promise as you face your impossible dreams and goals: ”Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matt. 19:26 NLT)

What seems impossible for you today? Does your situation seem hopeless, difficult, or ridiculous to even consider?

13 “Tells” of a Novice Writer

In the poker-playing world, professional card sharks have a term for a novice player who inadvertently gives away the cards he’s holding through some sort of gesture or tick of which he is unaware. The pros call it a “tell.”

pokerIn the publishing world, professional editors and agents look for the “tells” of a novice writer whenever they scan a manuscript. With practice, we can almost always pick out the amateur from the pro from reading just a page or two. Here’s a list of 13 Common “Tells” of an Amateur Writer that may give you an inside advantage at the publishing table.

  1. Too many clichés. If you find yourself using a common cliché–try changing it up for humor or effect. Instead of saying, “He marches to a different drum,” you might say, “She rhumbas to a different drum-ba.” You want to avoid cliches but they can also be springboards to creative alternatives.
  1. Too much telling, not enough showing. Use scene-setting, dialogue, metaphors and gestures to show your reader an emotion. Instead of, “She felt deep sorrow,” try instead, “She sat down, sighed heavily, staring out the window at nothing at all.  A slow trickle of tears turned to a river as her dam of resolve gave way to reality.”
  1. Too much preaching/didactic tone. Go through any non-fiction manuscript and take out words like “must” and “should” and any other words that feel like a finger-wagging nursery teacher who is scolding the reader.
  1. Sentences don’t vary in length and style.
  1. Manuscript is is too text dense.  Just looking at the page exhausts the eye because there are too many sentences crammed into one long paragraph, followed by another just as long.
  1. Page looks boring. There are not enough “reader treats” to keep today’s reader alert.   Especially in our current hyper-speed world, you want to make liberal use of shorter paragraphs and anything that breaks up and adds interest to the page.  Pull quotes, dialogue, lists, bullet points and stand-alone sentences here and there are some ways to keep the reader engaged.
  1. Dialogue is stiff and unnatural. The writer has not learned the art of professionally written dialogue. One sign of a pro is that they know to use a gesture to indicate the next speaker rather than over-using “he said” or “she said.” For example, rather than writing, “Joy said, ‘I love that crazy squirrel,’” a pro might write, “Joy laughed as she leaned toward the screen door. ‘I love that crazy squirrel.’”
  1. Main character is too unlikable or too perfect. Readers want to root for the protagonist so be careful not to make him appear either beyond redemption or too saintly. Make them flawed, human, and lovable.
  1. Too “Christianeze.” Christians are often blind to the phrases they’ve grown up using in church. Try sharing old religious phrases in fresh ways.  Instead of, “I’ve been redeemed,”  you might say, “I knew that God had taken the mess of my life and given me, in exchange, His love.”
  1. No transitions or weak transitions. This may be the #1 “tell” of a novice. You know what you are saying and where you are going, but your reader needs a very clear bridge from your former thought to the next or they will be confused and frustrated.
  1. Old-fashioned style. We see this in some classically trained, older writers who have not stayed current on how to grab the attention of today’s internet-savvy, fast-paced reader. Read popular blogs and note the style of writing that is reaching today’s generation of readers.
  1. Doesn’t use the art of “hooking the reader.” You don’t have long to grab the reader’s attention, so you want your first two sentences to be irresistibly compelling.
  1. Doesn’t end well. Pay attention to writers who end chapters or articles especially well. There is an art to tying up a chapter or a book. In fiction and non-fiction books alike, write a sentence at the end of the chapter that propels the reader forward, making it hard for them to put your book down. I often refer to the first paragraph when summarizing an article. (See example below where I will refer back to the “poker analogy” that started this post.)

By avoiding these common novice “tells” you will soon come across as a seasoned pro, and your chances in the game of publishing will improve considerably.

What other “tells” have you noticed that indicate an inexperienced writer?

How a Non-Writer Like Me Got Published (Part III)

(Continued from Part I and Part II)

What made me think I could write a book? I mean, really. Book writing is for experts… for people who know things. Important things. My friend’s critical feedback on the early chapters of my manuscript only served to confirm what I already believed to be true: Who would care what I had to say, or if I even had the right to say it?

The wind had been knocked from my sails and I saw no point in continuing my brief writing career.

Yet in the midst of the doldrums, I couldn’t shake the memory of that moment with God many months before. “Write a book about the gifts you were given,” I heard him say in my office. If that was really God, maybe He knew something about me that I didn’t. Maybe He had a reason… a plan.

It was just about this same time another friend of mine traveled to Israel on vacation. She invited me to write a prayer on a slip of paper for her to place between the ancient stones in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I’ve always wanted to do this myself, but sending my prayer with her… a praise, really… was the next best thing to being there. In my note, I thanked God for the time he met me in my garage, and ultimately delivered my daughter, Annie, from the bondage of meth addiction. He had restored our family, and I still could scarcely wrap my mind around it.

Image, Jordan RiverMy friend also asked if there was a souvenir I might like from the Holy Land.

“So, um… yeah,” I replied. “Could you please bring me some of the Jordan River? Just a cup or so will do.”

Within a month, precious holy water and a few tiny river rocks had a new home on my
desk, right next to the computer screen. I transferred the water into a small Manzanita olive jar and labeled it “Jordan River” in black felt tip marker.

It was as if God’s presence had returned to my office, and I again found myself back in the business of writing. I needed feedback though. Professional feedback this time. I knew no writing professionals per se, and no one in publishing, yet my new neighbor, John Vawter, had self-published a book… about addiction no less. His book, Hit By a Ton of Bricks, had been in my reading arsenal when Annie was on the streets! John had a friend-of-a-friend with an editing business here in Bend, a fellow by the name of James Lund. He’d once worked for Multnomah Publishing in Sisters, Oregon, and became a freelancer when Random House acquired the company and moved it to New York City.

“Am I delusional to think I can do this?” I asked James Lund when we first spoke early that March. “I mean, is what I’ve written any good, or am I completely wasting my time?”

Jim was working on a project with a tight deadline but said he could give me a couple of hours in about two months.

Two hours in two months? He already sounded too important for a novice like me.

But I did hear from Jim two months later, at which time I sent him my story’s table of contents, two chapters, and a check for his time. A week later, his feedback stunned me. “You’re not wasting your time… keep writing. And I don’t think you’re going to need much help from me.”

Initially, my inner Woody Allen lamented that this James Lund person must not be very good at what he does. However, I secretly delighted in the apparent vindication from my friend’s critical review. I confess to skipping through the house chanting, “neener, neener, neener.”

Jim and I agreed to reconnect in five months, at which time I was to have an entire first Image, self editing bookdraft ready for his review. Jim also had a few tips for me. He suggested I read Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

It will help equip you with some fundamentals that will improve your writing,” he said. “Try inserting ‘beats’ in your dialogue to make it more interesting. You also want break up some of the narrative by creating ‘scenes.’ Have you ever heard the term ‘show don’t tell’?”

“Jim… what’s a ‘scene’?”

(Please stay tuned for the conclusion in Part IV, when I go from clueless to published.)