That Time When I Plagiarized… Accidentally.

I was riding on the wings of a book launch, when energy and excitement are high, and the invitations for radio interviews, podcasts, and guest blog posts filled the pages of my calendar.  I was delighted to have one of the most coveted (can Christians say coveted?) invitations, a guest post on a blog that’s read worldwide. I pulled an excerpt from a chapter in my book, a piece about having confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when you feel overlooked.  I submitted to the editors, I got the stamp of approval, and I waited for the day it would go live. These were exciting times, my friends. Exciting times, indeed.

The morning after the post went into the world, I got an email from an author I’ve long loved, one whose writing I have studied and learned fromI was delighted to hear from her, as I’ve long read her words and tucked them into my heart.  I found her work years ago, shortly after my husband died, when I was searching everywhere for guidance and any ounce of hope.  This author had experienced her own dark valley of grief, and I read her words voraciously, letting her light my path through the valley. She had been a lighthouse for me. She had read my guest post and she wanted to reach out to me… but not for reasons I had hoped.

She said,

Tricia: I know what it’s like to find someone else’s words that sound so much like your own thoughts and to use them so much they begin to feel like your own. I know I’ve used other people’s words in this way, so I’m not throwing stones. But your beautiful blog post today had some very familiar-sounding words, and I wonder if you might want to either rewrite them to make them your own or attribute them as a quote?

And then she wrote the text from the blog post, and I gasped aloud and spilled my coffee across the dining room table. Those words were definitely hers. I was very accidentally, but very definitely, guilty of plagiarizing. And I was horrified.  As embarrassing as it is, let me tell you what happened so I can perhaps spare you from breaking the Number One Rule of writing.  Here’s what happened.

As I devoured her books so many years ago, I had quoted her in my journals, prayed her prayers in my own voice. In my silent hours of crying out to God, I had copied her passages and doodled her quotes, weaving them into my own.  After all, she had given me words when I was too sad to find my own. But in my stream of consciousness journaling, I didn’t quote my sources. (Because who footnotes in the privacy of their own journals?)  Years later, when it came time to write this new book, I revisited those journals that had chronicled the stages of my journey.  I rediscovered words and prayers and ideas and themes, all in my handwriting.  And I simply pulled from my journals, and I wrote them into a new manuscript.

Yes, she had found her words in a blog post that could be easily fixed, but the greater concern is that the blog post was an excerpt from a book. And that book was now out in the world. Such things are not as quickly fixed.

I called my agent, Greg, immediately.  It happened to be on his birthday. First, I told him happy birthday, then I told him I had accidentally broken the law in a book that was out in the world.  I prepared myself to be sued, to lose my credibility, and worst of all, to never write again.  It felt unprofessional, and unprofessional is never something I want to be known for. I didn’t want to draw anyone’s integrity into question, certainly not mine, and definitely not my publishers’.

Greg talked me off the ledge, explained that this was an honest mistake that happens sometimes, particularly among pastors who become authors.  They gather their resources from all over, they write a sermon, and then their sermons are transcribed to become book chapters, and the original sources get lost in translation. He walked me through a plan: we would write a correction on the blog post, we would make changes in future reprints of the book, and we would make changes in ebooks immediately.  This mistake was not, in fact, the very end of the world or even of my career.

We offered our solution to this acclaimed author, and she was gracious in her reply.  She said:

Please don’t sweat this.  I know I’ve done this.  In fact, I think we would both be horrified to see how much I’ve done it without realizing it because I too have been sloppy in noting where I got things.  So please don’t beat yourself up. You are forgiven and free, my dear.  And may the Lord give me grace to respond as graciously as you have when an error like this is pointed out to me, as I’m sure they one day will be.

She was the epitome of gentleness, forgiveness, and professional compassion.  She showed me how we, a community of Christian authors, can support one another’s work and hold each other accountable. I’ve learned some hard lessons about plagiarism, gentle confrontation, grace, and footnoting everything – even in the sacred privacy of my journals.

Take it from me, my fellow writers. Even on cocktail napkins, journal pages, and fleeting scraps of paper, note your sources so you can quote your sources.

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Surviving the Depths of Despair

Destin, Florida June 2008 451This week, our family is enjoying a long-awaited respite by the sea. I’m sad to admit we have been tested in many ways this year. But the good news is – after much suffering – we have come full circle.

As I sit on shore, toes tucked beneath warm sand, the roar of white caps rushing through me, I am reminded how small and simple our problems really are in the broader scope of universal infinity.

In fact, without the frames of time or space to help us process our daily lessons, our worries seem petty, ridiculous even. And that is an important thing to remember.

The Difference One Year Makes

One year ago, life as I knew it exploded. Everything I believed to be true was proven false.The one person I loved and trusted completely destroyed us all. And I never saw it coming.

It was if we had stepped on a land mine.

Our spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being were all under attack, and the enemy’s fire was relentless. My children and I endured round after round without pause, without relief.

But all the while, no matter how pointless it sometimes felt, I clung to my faith, insisting to my children that God had not abandoned us. That we were not alone. That love would see us through.

Now, here we are, back on the same shores where one year ago I threw my hands into the air and cried to the heavens.

Only once again, we are laughing. We race waves below blue skies; chase crabs from moonlight; scoop water as we kayak; cast nets below waves; and revive our spirits in a way that only a week at the beach can do.

Do You Believe in Evil?

Our family has survived an attack from what some would refer to as Evil. When I was a child, I was taught that the enemy seeks to divide and destroy, and that is indeed how I felt.

Forces beyond my understanding seemed determined to conquer our family. To divide us and destroy us. But somehow, with a lot of prayer and a tight grasp on our faith, we have withstood the storms.

Love One Another

When my children ask someday, what does it mean to love another, I hope they remember this lesson.

Love is not always easy. Sometimes it seems impossible. But when you love someone, you don’t give up on them. Even when, especially when, they reveal their weakest hour.

God’s Grace

My faith has taught me that we are all flawed. We all sin. We all fall prey to temptations and make bad choices along the way, even the best of us. At some point, we hurt others, and sometimes, we hurt the ones we love most in this world.

If we’re lucky, and if we are brave and honest enough to admit our mistakes, seek repentance, and work hard toward healing, our loved ones will stand by us and carry us through the darkest depths.

Today, our family is enjoying days in the sun again. But it wasn’t long ago we felt as if we were deep underwater, with strong currents pulling us down beyond hope.

There were moments I was certain we would all drown. But here we are, healthy of mind, body, and spirit once again.

So, now I ask, “Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?” (Job 38:16)

Are you suffering? Have addiction, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, poverty, or violence shaken your spirit? Threatened all that matters to you in this world?

If so, hold tight to your faith and remember you are never alone. Protect yourself and your children from harm, and never doubt your own strength. Your own worth.

I promise, you can…you will…get through to the other side. And there, you will feel the wonder of God’s grace, as you master the ability to both love and to be loved – the one true purpose of this life.

___________________________________________________________________

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Into the Free and When Mountains Move. Learn more: www.juliecantrell.com

 

Pet Peeves And Grace

????????????????????????????????????????If you’ve been in a writer’s support group for any length of time, you’ve certainly seen it before. It’s an evergreen discussion that makes a pass every year or so. When a professional association has covered all the topics they can think of—Saying No to a Mentor Request, Keeping Social Media from Eating Your Time, How to Have a Book Signing that Doesn’t Look as Though it Occurred Post-Rapture, there eventually comes a lull in which no one can think of a fresh and original topic to pose to the group. So we pull out that good ol’ standby—Grammar and Spelling Pet Peeves. These are words which–if misspelled or misused–will send a usually stout-hearted editor into a quivering literary swoon. Announcing such a topic is a siren call. It’s like the ice cream truck tune of the writing world; it brings everyone running. We gleefully fly to our keyboards, our mental pockets stuffed with dangling participles, contractions that shouldn’t be contracted, and the horror that is the “vulgar singular they” (best delivered with the affectation of English Royalty).

Our pockets soon begin to empty as we showcase our favorites of the misused, abused, and confused of writing errors. Lead instead of led. Its instead of it’s. Less versus fewer. And let us not forget the useless and hapless apostrophe seen with so many CDs, DVDs, Dos and Don’ts. Everyone has a favorite peeve and we share with gusto. (Feel the confetti flutter by your head)

Then we get to the fun of misspelled word crimes.

The police poured over the evidence looking for the culprit, which unfortunately would give them no new insight, but would make for a very messy crime scene.

I turned my paper into my professor. Imagine his surprise. But he’ll thank me later when he notes the ample margin I’ve provided, which as we all know is essential to a balanced and enjoyable life.

She excepted Christ as her savior when she was 9. Her poor parents were horrified to learn that while little Petunia was open to all other gods, she had strangely ruled out Christ at such a young and impressionable age.

I have yet another set of words that can annoy me. These are not words that are misused, but rather which, even when properly used, seem poorly designed. Some words just don’t sound at all like the things they’ve come to mean. I have tried my whole life to grow comfortable with the word “pithy” as meaning “brief, substantive, powerfully expressed.” But all efforts to the contrary, I continue to feel I’m listening to someone with a speech impediment who’s in a really foul mood.

“Bucolic” is another word that instantly goes in the wrong direction. Instead of thinking of lovely farm scenery, I think bucolic, alcoholic, diastolic, metabolic, even vitriolic. You can’t take a word like colic, made up of nasty sharp consonants, and believe you’ve rendered it lovely, peaceful, and rural just by throwing a byoo at the front. If that works, then saying you byoosgust me should be a sign of extreme endearment.

The truth is I love words. But I also love the people who are doing their best to express a new thought or idea by using them, even if they don’t always do so perfectly. So I feel the sting, right along with them, of the language sometimes used in pointing out their errors.

Things like. . .

“I’m so annoyed by. . .”

“I find it unforgivable that. . .”

“It makes my ears bleed to hear. . .”

It strikes me a tad on the haughty side. Certainly there was once a day, many years ago, when each of these purveyors of perfectly used English also had to learn to use led instead of lead. But rather than feeling some sympathy for the person still making these mistakes, they now find themselves in the enviable position of being able to cast literary impropriety stones. They’ll tell us that these folks should be ashamed for not learning their craft before venturing forth. The problem of course is that one often doesn’t know what one doesn’t know until one has ventured forth. I also know that every one of these critics has looked at their own work—work that passed before a minimum of fourteen pairs of eyes before finally making it to print, and always they find something that slipped by them.

I think it’s okay, even important, to point out errors and encourage improvement. But as we each grow in our craft, I hope we also can recall that one word that never annoys, that flows perfectly off the tongue, that has a beautiful lyrical sound when spoken, which perfectly matches the beauty in its meaning. Grace. Ah, may we see and hear (and dispense) more of it. And if that doesn’t suit, I think byoosgust is still up for grabs.

Loaves, Fish, and Writers

Late in the afternoon the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 

He replied,  “You give them something to eat.” 

They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”  (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”  The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  Luke 9:12 – 17

Give it up

Poking at God about what I could cook for you today, he flipped this sizzling little fish story onto my brain plate.

Eyes scrunched on “impossibility” rather than on the Master of limitless capability, it’s easy for us writers to be disciple-like and condescend to natural-mindedness.

The crowds aren’t growing less hungry, aren’t inching any closer to food. Cloistered in the middle of nowhere, fatigued and famished, the beloved twelve scratch their heads before Jesus speaks: “Give the people something to eat.”

As we shake our heads at our scanty drizzle of words, Christ tells us the same: “Give the people something to eat. Don’t worry about sparse resources or small beginnings. If I’m in it, as sure as the heavens, you can make a difference.”

“Give them something to eat.” 

Thrust in this love-test, the apostle John records a different angle in sharing Philip’s retort: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” Andrew speaks up. “Here’s a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

No matter how measly, how un-supersized our flounderings, if God calls us to serve fresh truth in a word-stir, if he speaks the royal “ok,” we step up.

Notice how Jesus dishes up faith-stretching instructions to the disciples. Directing five thousand people to sit in groups of fifty is no small potatoes. It takes time and sweat. Just like advancing in writing.

And so we lift our minuscule loaves and fish, and give thanks.

Give Thanks

Wouldn’t you give your lunch to see the puzzled looks on those hungry faces when Jesus raises his bitty snacks to give thanks?

Thanksgiving flows from a posture of humility. The soul bends low, acknowledging our Sovereign Source, his power, ability, and desire to provide.

Jesus gives thanks and his fingers rip the bread. I wonder if he considers how his flesh will soon be broken to feed many.

Writers know about brokenness, the heart-deep pain-sap that drives and feeds our meanderings. With battle scars, we give thanks to the living Word who uses our words and wounds to paint blood-colored pictures of grace.

No matter how few or many we touch, we give thanks for the opportunity. Chosen conduits of hope, we’re blessed to be a blessing. Our words, charged with Spirit-power, awaken God-hunger. They sustain and multiply life!

Whenever we naturally live out thankfulness, we display God’s bigness to a hungry, watching world. We become more than wishful thinkers about remote possibilities.  We reveal supernatural expectancy. This is how the world sees truth in us as we step up to our dream.

Expect Much

“It will take a miracle to get published!” We say it like miracles are viruses when they’re more likely God’s favorite pastimes.

Food in hand, Jesus says thanks because he expects the miracle. He prays and “looks to heaven.” He isn’t focused on his stomach, the food, or the crowd, but on his Father, the source.

The more we fix our eyes on God, the more we see miracles. The more we see miracles, the more we look for them in him.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” God’s prayer transcends the “me,” and rests on “us,” because we, in the body, are one, and because love necessitates caring for those outside ourselves.

If we want to use our love gift to nourish souls, we can expect God’s provision to match his call. I haven’t forgotten that we can also expect spiritual warfare (perhaps even intensified tests from a rattled enemy), but ultimately mercy triumphs over Satan’s thievery. God promises to give us everything we need to win!

This gift, this impervious spawning of words, isn’t an instant dinner miracle; rather, it’s a progressive one, a long-term partnership with Chef Jesus.

Part of the miracle involves staying with the process. If God says, “Get everything and everybody in place,” that’s what we do. We plunge in for the long run, expecting to produce sweet fruits like patience and perseverance. Likewise, we expect readers, writers, characters, and observers to be transformed by our faithfulness.

We’re Christ-followers, sojourners on the cusp of miracles. In the course of our collective, out-of-this-world writer-journeys, we can expect nothing less than God cooking up his best.

Bon appetit!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. 

A Gift for the Holidays – Part II

He’s offering the gift of grace. G – Guilty No More, R – Rest in Christ . . .

It’s much to absorb, and He hasn’t even spelled out the whole word. You hesitate. The Lord reaches in the box and pulls out the next letter, “A.” With trembling fingers you reach for it, running your thumb down its long, sleek sides.

“Accept my unconditional love,” He says. ” I stand before you with my arms open wide, longing to enfold you in them, but sometimes you duck your head and walk away. You let shame, guilt, or feelings of inadequacy keep you from Me. I have loved you with an everlasting love. ** Nothing you’ve ever done has made me regret that great love, and nothing can take it away.

“When I died on Calvary, I made it possible for us to be in close relationship. I washed your every misstep away in the river of my blood. There is nothing to separate us.” ***

You’re weeping freely now. He’s right. The Christian life is about Jesus and the righteousness He gives. You make it about your performance, causing both your pride and your guilt to keep you from His arms.

“I’m sorry.” You whisper.

Jesus puts an arm around you. “Take the next letter.”

You reach into the box and hand Him the “C.” He lays it across your heart. “C is for Christ in you, dearest. I am your hope of glory. You try so hard to be good. Trust Me and let Me make you good. The good work I’ve begun in you will be completed. Stop striving. You are My masterpiece. Will I not finish it?” ****

The Lord reaches into the box for the last letter. You still weep silently, leaning your head against His shoulder.

“E is for Empowered. I am the One who empowers you to be all I’ve created you to be. Spiritual maturity isn’t chasing after good works or achieving your dreams. It isn’t being perfect. It is knowing Me and letting your life flow from our relationship.

“Let me empower you, dear one. I am the one who gives you the grace to accomplish all I ask of you.” *****

You nod.  He hugs you and then kisses your cheek. As He walks away you finger each letter, His words echoing in your soul. You place the letters back into the box, one by one:

G – Guilty no more

R – Rest in Christ

A – Accept His unconditional love

C – Christ, the hope of glory

E – Empowered by His Spirit

You linger with the open box in your lap, breathing in the scent of grace. There is no greater gift.

How does his unconditional love change you? How is He your hope of glory? Where do you need His empowerment?

***Ephesians 2:13

****Philippians 1:6 & Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

*****Philippians 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:17

A Gift for the Holidays – Part I

Come.

Do you hear the Master calling?

There’s a twinkle in His eyes and a gift in His hands. Notice how the golden paper glistens with a metallic gleam. And don’t you just love the big, blood red bow?

A present. Just in time for the holidays.

Your Best Friend is excited about your gift. He’s done all the work—choosing what you need most, going to great sacrifice to procure it for you. All that’s left is for you to open it. Won’t you focus on Him and unwrap His gift?

You pull the red bow apart and lift the lid. You can’t see what’s inside, but you can smell it. It smells like lilacs and fresh cut grass and sunshine. You can feel the present, too. It’s solid as iron, soft as a baby’s cheek, and makes you warm all over. You can even hear your gift. One minute it swells with symphonic melody, the next it sings with the sweetness of a child. You can almost taste it on your tongue. It’s meat, potatoes, and vegetables—all that is solid and healthy—and it is also silky chocolate and all that is sweet.

“What is it?” You ask.

“It’s my grace.” He speaks with hushed voice, a tinge of emotion lacing His words.

You stare at the box. You’ve heard about grace before, but you’ve never really experienced it. Who knew grace had a smell, a feel, a taste?

He suggests you reach inside.

You pull out a “G” and frown.

Jesus chuckles. “G is for guilty no more. Too often you heap condemnation upon yourself. You are overwhelmed with your many tasks and feel guilty there’s dust on the mantle.

“But it goes deeper. You beat yourself up for faults and failures I’ve erased from your record. I’ve already forgotten them. There’s no need to be angry with yourself. I gave my life so you could live without condemnation. You are guilty no more. If you don’t believe me, read Romans 8:1. Read it a thousand times and tape it on your bathroom mirror. Live as you are, my dear: Free from condemnation.”

You have a big lump in your throat and since you can’t talk, you reach back into the box. The letter “R” is in your hand.

The Lord gently lifts your face to his. “R is for Rest in Me. Come to Me when you labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your soul.” *

“It’s hard to rest,” You say.

Jesus tilts his head. “Think about a nursing baby—how a mother cradles him in her arms, and he nuzzles to her breast. He is nourished, body and soul. As he’s fed he never takes his eyes off of his mother, gazing with complete satisfaction, trust, and peace. Rest in me as that baby rests. I will nourish you. I will lead and comfort you.”

Your eyes are glued to the Master, hungry to believe all He is saying, but there is hesitancy, a fear you don’t deserve to rest.

My Child, did the baby do anything to earn love?”

You shake your head. “He could do nothing to help his mother.”

“In the same way, I don’t expect you to earn My love or the right to rest. I simply come and say, ‘Are you tired? Let me help you. Are you burdened? Let me carry it.’”

Little tears gather in your eyes as you listen to Him. There’s still more to discover. You peer into the gift box.

What special ways do you embrace His grace?

*Matthew 11:28 (AMP)