The Testimony of a Well-Lived Life

Last Saturday, I had a book signing in Battle Creek. I wanted to get there early to meet up with my history and world religions instructor from college and have lunch. So, I packed myself and all my stuff into the car and got there in plenty of time. I had an excellent time at lunch, catching up with my instructor and discussing the Bible, which we always end up doing whenever we get together! At the appointed time, I made my way to Barnes and Noble and walked up the information desk.

“Hi, I’m Amanda Barber here for the book signing,” I began.

The girl on the other side looked back at me, confused. “Book signing?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Uh…”

Just then, the acting manager came up and the girl said something like, “There’s a book signing today?”

The manager looked back at me, dumbfounded.

That’s when I knew things weren’t going to go very well.

After some rummaging around on the counter, they finally discovered the event fliers for the book signing and apologized profusely.

“I wasn’t actually supposed to work today,” the manager explained. “And the person who was supposed to work, didn’t pass this information on to me. We’ll get you set up with a table right away.”

Soon, the table was laid and I got out my chocolate that I use to lure people over and my book marks. The only problem was, they hadn’t brought out the books yet, plus the store alarms were going off for some strange reason. Once the employees stopped running around, trying to figure out what was going on, I asked the girl I’d spoken to first, “Do you know where the books are?”

“Uh, books?”

My heart was beginning to sink.

“Um, let me go ask my manager.”

So, I sat at my table for quite some time, watching the manger scurry back and forth, while people helped themselves liberally to the candy on the table. I’d never seen so many people come right up to my table before. Such a pity there weren’t any books there for me to point them towards! After fifteen minutes or so, the manager walked up to me. Her eyes were all red and she looked about ready to burst into tears.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” she said, “but we can’t find your books. I tried to call Tom” (I’m assuming this was the guy that was supposed to be working that day) “but I can’t get a hold of him.”

Well, after a few more minutes, Tom called back and it was ascertained that someone had sent all the books back contrary to orders. So, there weren’t any there. There was nothing more to do than pack up and go back home. The poor manager was so distressed and apologized over and over again. Thankfully, I wasn’t in a bad mood to begin with, which I’m thankful for or it might have been a lot more difficult to respond correctly. As it was, I felt so bad for her, I just told her that it was really okay, it wasn’t her fault and would Tom please call me back some time to reschedule?

As I left, I began to ponder the incident. I wondered, “What if I hadn’t responded well? What if I had become angry at the lack of competence? From a purely business standpoint, I had every right to be angry and demand some compensation for gas money at least. Supposing I had done all that and she had picked up my book at some point and read it. Would she have been impressed by the love of God that I was attempting to portray?”

I doubt it. She might have thought, “That’s nice and everything. But I know how she really is.”

This was sort of brought home to me a few days later. An acquaintance of mine (whom I will designate as “A”) through a social media venue abruptly messaged me and asked if I was a Christian. I replied that yes I was. This person wanted to know how I knew that I was a Christian. A little bemused, I obliged by giving my brief testimony of faith. And that was that. I guess if I had said that I wasn’t a Christian, A would have taken the opportunity to evangelize me. And as it goes, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It would be commendable and courageous to a certain degree. The problem is, I’ve been observing A’s online testimony for some time. “A” often criticizes people in very harsh terms (especially A’s spouse) and is a chronic complainer. One memorable day, I observed A railing against another Christian for challenging A’s position about an area of Christian practice. Plus, A had shown very little interest in me as a person or a friend up to this point. My conjecture was that the preacher at church that morning had been preaching about the importance of soul winning or something, and  A thought I looked like one of the first opportunities. Regardless, I thought to myself, “If I were an unbeliever and A had asked me the same question, would I have given A much room to speak to me about my soul? Probably not. Because nothing about A’s visible life looks particularly attractive.”

I am thoroughly convinced that no area of my life should ever be secular. Every area should be infused with the fruits of the Spirit. I believe it was St. Francis of Assisi that said, and I’m probably paraphrasing, “Preach always. When necessary, use words.” That’s only half true, and as it stands, rather silly. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. But I understand the sentiment behind it. If what I’m saying on social media or at work or in a novel is loudly contradicted by my actions, then the words are rendered nearly useless. (I say “nearly” because God can even take the words that hypocritical people say and use them for his glory.) I hope and pray that I will continue to grow into  more and more consistency between my outward life and the inward reality of God’s grace in my heart,so that I do not unintentionally drag my Lord’s name through the mud.

Fall = Sweaters and Crafts

photo (1)The weather has most definitely taken a chilly turn. Some of my friends have even reported snow on the ground. Here in St. Joseph, we rarely get the brunt of snowy weather. It seems like the storms cook up over the lake, skip over us and dump everywhere else. Nevertheless, I did see a few snowflakes yesterday morning and last night. So, I get the best of the fall season–a nip in the air, turning leaves, coffee, and sweaters. Okay, coffee really has nothing to do with fall, but it tastes and feels so much better when it’s chilly outside. Ambiance and all that.

Maybe it’s the weather that has produced a fit of craftiness in me. When it gets cold, I feel especially inclined to break out my fabric scraps and make something. (Often times when I should be practicing my violin or working on a writing project. Shameful.) Pinterest doesn’t help much. When I go browsing on Pinterest, my cursor wanders to the DIY and Crafts category of its own free will and there I am, stuck for the next half-hour, delighting over all the neat things I could make with my old stuff or thrift store finds. I could write an entire blog post on thrift store shopping, but I’ll spare you for today. photo 1

Anyway, last week and this week, I succumbed to temptation, and made some stuff. I had a pile of fabric scraps that I’ve refused to throw away for several years because I knew I could put them to good use, plus a pile of dried leaves that I’d pressed in a book last fall. It was time to do something with both. I discovered a neat way to use fabric strips and polyester rope and made this cute little basket. Once again, I found this idea on Pinterest. You can find the how-to here . It was terribly fun and easy to make.

Now I’m going to try to make one without using the rope. I don’t like to have to buy special things to make crafts out of old stuff I have around the house. So this time, I’ll braid the fabric strips together for more stiffness and then sew it up. We shall see how it works.

Next things on the agenda were my dried leaves. Somewhere a long time ago, I saw a picture of a leaf and greenery garland where the leaves were tied to a long piece of string and hung up on the wall. So yesterday, I pulled out my leaves and some old tatting thread and went to work. This was the result:

photoPretty, huh? I still have a lot of leaves and stuff left, so I think I’ll make a bigger one and hang it somewhere else.

This week has been slightly more laid back. I got a free lance writing assignment that I did some brainstorming for today. I only have one book signing. This one will be in Battle Creek at Barnes and Noble from 1:00-4:00. If you’re in the area, be sure to drop in and say hello.

 

 

Severe Mercy

I cannot tell you how extremely pleasant it is to sit at home in front of my computer, typing away with a cup of coffee close at hand, my most favorite Christopher Parkening CD playing, and rain drops falling against my window. I am the consummate home body, and any day I can spend in part or entirely at home doing homey things like cooking or cleaning something, is a very good day. This particularly morning, I have been working on a new movie script idea, the story line of which I am not at liberty to divulge at the moment! Sorry. Suffice it to say that it will be the next film project for Duke Street Productions and will be a full length feature film. The story is dear to my heart, and to a certain degree captures a small portion of my life—that most painful portion called adolescence.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people go on and on about youth like it’s the most carefree part of life. Youth, especially adolescence is when you realize that life isn’t rosy, that the expectations for a good life in which you assumed that everything around the corner was a new delight waiting to happen, fall crashing to the ground. As my main character will say at a certain point in the story, “I hate expectations. They come unconsciously when you’re little, and they’re always rosy. But when you grow up, they just kind of fade away and all you’re left with is reality.” I believe a great deal depends on how an individual responds to the reality of failed expectations at that point in life. Adolescence is the training ground for adult character, whether good or bad.

Growing up, especially as a Christian, means realizing that those things you wish hadn’t happened were the good things. “God’s severe mercies” is what the Puritans called them, a term which has all but faded out of the modern evangelical vocabulary. “All the afflictions that attend the people of God turn out to their profit and advantage. They are God’s furnace to cleanse and preserve his people,” said Puritan Thomas Brook approximately three hundred years ago. And he was right. All the miserable things that have happened to me have been the best experiences of my life. If nothing else, they’ve shown me what a weak, miserable, selfish person I am and how much I need Christ to do anything good.

And so go the meditations of my head today. Thanks for stopping by

 

Satan seeks to draw the soul into sin by presenting the sufferings that daily attend those who walk in holiness. But all the afflictions that attend the people of God turn out to their profit and glorious advantage. Afflictions are a looking glass that show the ugly face of sin. They are God’s furnace to cleanse and preserve His people. Saints thrive most internally when they are most afflicted. Manasseh’s chain was more profitable to him than his crown. Luther could not understand some Scriptures until he was in affliction. God’s house of correction is his school of instruction. Afflictions lift up the soul to a fuller enjoyment of God, and more sweet and full enjoyment of his blessed self. They keep the heart humble and tender, and by experience saints find that they can embrace the cross as others do the world’s crown. Afflictions inflame love that is cold, quicken decaying faith, and put life into withering hope. The more the saints are beaten with the hammer of affliction, the more they trumpet God’s praises. 

Adversities abate the loveliness of the world that entices us and the lusts that incite us. They afflict, but never harm. They are momentary; sorrow may abide for a night, but joy comes in the morning. This short storm will end in an everlasting calm. We must measure afflictions by their outcome, not how they hurt. (from Voices from the Past, p. 288) 

Thomas Brooks

 

 

 

Book Signings and Other Hazards

At Barnes and Noble, Mishawaka
At Barnes and Noble, Mishawaka

This was my first big week of book signings. How do I describe it? Maybe by how I felt at the end—exhausted. I started out the week with the interview with Brenda Layne on WSJM, as you all know. That went quite well and I enjoyed it. I taught music students the rest of the afternoon and all day Wednesday. On Thursday, I taught music and gave a lecture at Dowagiac Public Library in the evening. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were all book signings—one at Parable Books, and two at Barnes and Noble locations. So, you can imagine why I was tired.

It’s really coming home to me that American culture or I should say, American attention spans are extremely diluted. In other words, people are spread so thin right now, that the likelihood of them remembering that I had a book signing or even being able to attend if they did remember, is incredibly thin. If you think about all the concerts, events, activities and things you were personally invited to last week, I think you’ll know what I mean. My publicist worked hard to get the word out about my events, and just a handful of people showed up to any of them. The fact is, we live in a noisy world. People are positively bombarded with messages, things to do and places to go. To me, it’s amazing even a few of them heard my small voice last week. So, this book promotion thing is proving to be as hard as I thought it would be! Yet, there were good signs, as well, and small steps taken in the right direction.

In spite of the small turnout to all the events I did last week, I still got rid of quite a few books. I made a number of contacts with store managers and customers. In fact, I just got off the phone with a freelance writer who called to interview me for a piece he’s doing for Publishers Weekly on new authors and self-publishing. He got my name through the manager of Parable Books in St. Joseph. So, through that little book signing, it looks like I’m going to have my name in a well-known periodical. Every little bit helps!

Humorous happenings at book signings: Often times, people would mistake me for an employee. At Parable, for instance, one lady asked me where Beverly Lewis’ latest book was. I snickered to myself and went to help her find it. That happened a couple of times. So, I’d just point people in the right direction or find their books for them and then steer them back to mine. So sneaky. At Barnes and Noble, I’d get these confused guys coming up to my table asking, “Man, don’t they have bathrooms in here?” “Right there, in the corner,” I’d reply. Or there’d be that random guy that would walk up and start flirting or offer to buy me coffee. Ugh. Oh, well. Modus operandi: deflect admiration from me to book.

So, I carry on. I’ll be back next week to report on my book signing this Saturday at Barnes and Noble in Holland, MI.

Something of interest: The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club was accepted at the Flint Film Festival. This festival is competitive, so we have the potential to win an award. It’ll be showing at 7:30, tomorrow night. We shall see what happens with that!

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A Radio Interview

At WSJM Tuesday morning for an interview with Brenda Layne!
At WSJM Tuesday morning for an interview with Brenda Layne!

On Tuesday morning, I did my first radio interview with Brenda Layne of WSJM’s In the Spotlight. You can listen to the whole interview here: Amanda’s Interview. Originally, I was to be one of two guests to appear that day. It just so happened that I ended up being the featured guest the entire hour segment because the second guest didn’t show up!

Something I learned: Apparently, radio studio mics are so good, you don’t have to close the door to the studio anymore. The door was wide open and a window was open too. But if you listen to the interview, you won’t hear any outside noise. Interesting.

Tonight, I’m going to be speaking at the Dowagiac Library. You’re all invited. Tomorrow, I’ll be at Parable Book Store in St. Joseph from 4-6 pm. Saturday, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in Mishawaka, and Sunday, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in Kalamazoo. For more info on any of these events, just click on the “Events” tab up top and it will take you to my complete Fall Tour Schedule.

Well, it’s time to go through the main points of my talk for this evening. Hope to see you there!

Life, Lost Liberty and Happiness Crammed Down My Throat

Ah, politics. I’ve been laughing a great deal this week. I love the dramatic headlines: “Government shutdown: Politicians squabble as World War II veterans break down memorial gates, ‘Panda Cam’ lovers cut off” or “Now What? Government shutdown to be felt across America.” What? I didn’t feel a thing. I was busy living life, amidst the irritation of having to decide what I’m going to do in regards to this most vile of laws, the Affordable Care Act. My reasons for objecting to this law are thus:

  1. I have never had health insurance. This is because I cannot afford it. I refuse to feel sorry for myself because of this, and it has never occurred to me to request that the government pay for my healthcare by extorting the money for said healthcare from others more fortunate than myself. This is because I was taught that if I desire something, I must pay for it myself, not demand it from someone else.
  2. Affordable healthcare, under the constitution, is not an inalienable right. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights. Essentially, this disastrous piece of legislation hands happiness (or my desire) to me, bypassing the pursuit of it (or struggle for it) which the Constitution guarantees me. Does no one remember that the struggle for the things we most desire often renders the most meaning and fulfillment in life? But to add insult to injury ACA does not even offer “happiness” to me, it demands that I accept it without argument.
  3. The Affordable Healthcare Act is dressed-up welfare. Only, much, much worse. Welfare is supposed to be temporary. (Technically.) If hard times befall me, I can temporarily sign up for Welfare until I get myself back on my feet. The Affordable Healthcare Act is permanent Welfare—permanent reliance on the government. And it’s not for a small segment of the population. Everyone must be involved in some degree or another. The whole fiscal responsibility of this law has been called into question time and time again. Do I really need to point out one more time that a government in debt to the tune of several trillion dollars can’t afford to pay for its population’s healthcare?
  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Affordable Healthcare Act is the first law that requires an individual to buy a good or service on the basis of existence. I exist. Therefore, I must buy health insurance. I can avoid buying car insurance if I want to. I simply don’t buy a car. Since when did it become Constitutional to force American citizens to buy goods and services predicated on existence?

So, my question is, when a government will no longer govern itself, what is a Christian to do? At what point does a government become so perverse that a Christian can no longer comply with some of its laws? How much longer will we assist an unprincipled government to dig its hole deeper and deeper? I still haven’t found the answer to that question.

We’re losing our liberties at a rapid pace. That much is evident. Once this law sinks us into twice as much debt as we’re already faced with, the term “prosperity” will be a relic of the past. I can hear the conservatives wailing with misery already and Christians complaining  about losing religious freedoms. But here’s another side to the story.

Throughout the majority of history, most civilizations have been controlled by tyrannical governments. Even now, how many countries in the world are under the thumbs of despots? Are there enough fingers on our hands to count them? Probably not. So, what happens when socialism continues its inexorable march forward in our country? What happens when American’s not only lose their liberties but hand them over in relief from the responsibilities they demand? What happens when Christians are barred from doing business in the public sphere? I hate to break it to you but life goes on. More importantly, God’s Kingdom marches on, while the Church blooms forth, from the weak and pitiful organization it’s been for the last century and a half, to a mighty army in all the splendor God intended for it. Here’s a truth to wrap your minds around: Suffering breeds strength and resolve. Ease and comfort engender flabby character and useless consumers. It’s no coincidence that Christians under fire have been better and more powerful witnesses for the Gospel of Christ than those living unchallenged.

Well, what shall I do about the Affordable Care Act? I’m not entirely sure at the moment. But I can tell you I won’t be running to the “Exchange” any time soon.

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One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.  Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it. — Ronald Reagan