This is Our God

This morning I opened the study book my church is using, “Fighting for Grace”, for the book of Galatians. Toward the end of this week’s study I read a quote by Martin Luther, “He who sees God as angry does not see Him rightly, but only looks upon a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.”                    

Luther studying the Bible

Luther explained how he didn’t understand “the righteousness of God” talked about in Romans. For many years he believed the phrase meant that God was righteous and dealt justly with the unrighteous. The problem was Luther knew he was unrighteous and couldn’t see how he would ever stand before God based on his own good works. Then he grasped that the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is the righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies US by faith!

Finally, Luther’s veil was removed!  He was made righteous by trusting God to cover him with the works of Christ, who died and rose again to save him.

Luther’s testimony touched me, but the day before I had jotted down a verse I wanted to cross reference. “Your name and even your memory is the desire of our souls.” Isaiah 26:8. The second reference was Isaiah 25. Verses 1 and 4 really stood out to me:

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.

You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.

But then I came to verses 6 through 9:

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil (or curtain!) that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

Immediately, Luther’s words came back to me… “but only looks upon a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.” Only God can remove that veil, only God can swallow up the death we are destined for.

And as I read further I thought of how God turned Luther’s sorrow to joy as he realized that Christ had already secured his righteousness. In the same chapter of Isaiah God makes His famous promise to wipe away the tears from all faces and remove the disgrace of his people.

The chapter ends saying, “This is our God. This is the One we have waited for.”

The verse reminded me of a song we often sing at church and I quickly looked it up on You Tube. It’s a Chris Tomlin song and guess what it’s based on? Isaiah 25!

I was so amazed by how the Lord met me in everything I read. It was almost as if I danced with Him, turning in and out of His arms to a melody He wanted to share. What God is as tender? What God compares? Truly…

This is my God.

Listen to Tomlin’s song here:

This is Our God

This is Our God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Moving Faith

Faith in Christ.It’s a difficult thing to understand.

Zoppe Family Circus

It’s been compared to sitting in a chair. You can believe the chair will hold you, but until you actually sit in it, putting all your weight on the seat, you can’t really test your belief. The only problem is life (faith’s playing field) is soooo not like sitting in a chair. It’s full of peril, and joy, of danger and tenderness. It’s up and down, changing speeds with every passing day.

And Scriptural faith is an action verb. Jesus isn’t your Select Comfort specialist giving you the remote to dial in your favorite comfort setting. No, faith is a little more complex.

It’s more like what I recently had the joy of watching when I went to the Zoppe Italian Family Circus. The Zoppe family has been in the circus business for six generations, and it’s obvious one of the biggest reasons they continue is a love for the circus which is passed from father to child. Eighty -two year old, Alberto Zoppe, passed away two years ago, and the night we attended the performance was dedicated to him before it began. At the end a toast was lifted in his honor. Everything done that night was in memory of all he had taught his children.

One of the acts was performed by the Poema family. (I learned later the Poemas have been in the circus for six generations, and the Poema and Zoppe families have been friends for almost as long.) The Poema family juggles…     their kids…      on the father’s feet.

Poema Family

 

 

I sat down with Mom, Nellie Poema and her daughter, Marianna for an interview. When I asked Marianna if her father had ever dropped her, she smiled softly and said no.

Through all the flipping and spinning, she has never hit the mat.

Her father is an expert – he knows exactly how to control the performance.

For Marianna, there is nothing hard about trusting her dad. Her job is to allow her father to flip her the way he wants while she rests in his feet. He is doing all the work. She just has to follow his instructions and stay flexible. From the looks on the faces of the Poema and Zoppe children, they enjoy every minute of performing. They seemed to glow both inside and out of the ring when I saw them after the performance, and later the following day.

And that is a much better picture of faith in Christ. God doesn’t declare us forgiven because we are doing the right things. We cannot earn grace through praying so many prayers, or going to church every time the doors open, or staying busy 24/7 helping everyone we can think of. It’s not about what we are doing, because Christ has done all the work.

To make this clearer think about what would happen if during the middle of a flip, Mr. Poema’s son suddenly decided he wanted to show his father some new moves. He doesn’t okay it with his dad, he just takes off.  No matter what the child tried to do the result would be disastrous!

By the same token, we cannot be good enough to reach Christ’s perfection. We have to stay centered in what Christ has already done through living a perfect life while He was here on earth. His perfection is imparted to us when, through faith, we believe our debt has been paid by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave.

When we stay centered on that, we move with Christ’s power. God is doing all the work.

Everyday, no matter how God needs to juggle, flip, or spin us, our task is simply to put our full weight in His care, trusting every moment in what Christ has done. God never asks us to impress Him with our moves. He knows that we have no power on our own. He only wants us to follow His instruction and stay flexible.

For Bible verses see “How to Know God” by Blueletter Bible.

 

 

Sent on Special Assignment by Staci Stallings

It’s appropriate that when I asked Staci Stallings to write a guest post for my blog she sent me an article about being on special assignment. Staci has definitely been on assignment with me! In the last three weeks she has guided me through the maze of social marketing, teaching me how to master Twitter, Excel spreadsheets, and blogs.

She is the owner of Spirit Light Publishing and the author of over 30! books, not including Bible studies. I can’t explain how she finds the time to do everything and still coach, and cheer on, someone like me. I’m sure she would laugh and say that God never sends out an agent without empowering them to do the job. He does it all anyway. :)

 

 

I love reading The Message Bible.  I don’t know if that means my brain doesn’t wrap around the words in “regular” Bibles or what, but I can read The Message and come away in two minutes with more inspiration and uplift than two hours with a normal Bible.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I love certain translations of certain verses, and some I even have memorized that way.  But the Message puts it in terms I just “get” without any mental gymnastics as to what it’s saying.

For example, the Apostle Paul begins many of his letters with a variation on this phrase, “I, Paul, sent on a special assignment to give the Message of Jesus to the world…”

I love that!  Don’t you?

“Sent on special assignment.”

What would it be like to truly believe that you were in that place of feeling like God had sent YOU on a special assignment?  How would your life be different?  Would you treat it with more diligence, more vigilance?  What if you proclaimed to someone that you had been sent to them on special assignment from God?

How would your spouse (for example) react to that proclamation?  Your kids?  Your co-workers?  Your friends?  Would you have the guts to tell them that?  Or do you even believe it?

I believe every Christian is exactly like Paul.  We are all sent here on special assignments from God to bring Christ into our world.  Through His Holy Spirit, God empowered each of us to use our gifts and talents to further the Kingdom.

But too many of us shun our gifts, hide our talents, and drown ourselves in busyness–believing there is no way that we’re special like Paul.  What do we have to say?  What do we have to give?  Nothing, we believe, and so we follow that up by giving and doing nothing.  We hear another in spiritual struggle and quietly step away because we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say.  And in that moment, God, Who could have spoken through you, loses a channel of His love, a means of speaking His Love and Mercy and Grace into this hurting person’s life.

So why do we run?  Why don’t we step into the special assignments Jesus sends us on?

1) Disbelief and fear.  Topping the list have to be these two.  We are afraid what others might think of us.  We are afraid we will say the wrong thing and make things worse.  We are afraid we will say something, and it won’t turn out well.  So we say and do nothing at all.

2)  No time.  We have all fallen hard into the trap of busyness.  We are so busy, we can’t take the phone call from someone who needs to talk something through.  We can’t sit with our kids and listen to their struggles.  We have no time for friends or family.

3)  No resources.  I think some of us fall into the trap of thinking that money or things will solve the problems of the heart, and since we don’t have the resources to help, we choose not to help at all.  But one of the things I have learned from one of my writing groups on line is how very important and sacred just listening and praying for someone are.  Countless times members have come on asking for prayers for everything from a spouse being unemployed to some simple something that’s been lost.  No prayer request is too big.  None is too small.  If it’s important to you, it’s important to the group.  No physical resources trade hands, but spiritually we are there for one another.

4)  What will they think?  Oh, how many times did this one stop me from following through on a special assignment.  I was in the moment.  I knew what God was telling me to say, but my courage left when the thought came, “I can’t say that!  What will they think of me?”  Satan loves to use that one because it tears both people down simultaneously.  I finally found a way over that hurdle.  I would simply say, “Okay, I’m weird, but…”  That way I got my fear that they would think I was nuts on the table.  I was honest about it, and that put Satan in his place real quick.

So what special assignment from God have you been sent on?  Believe me, it’s not random.  It is one of the assignments you were sent here for.  If you think you can’t, have the faith of a mustard seed and ask God to help you.  He will.  After all, He’s the One Who knew enough to send you!

 

The Modern Parable by Karen Baney

Author Karen Baney

When my friend, Matt Patterson, mentioned promotional group he had joined, I smiled and nodded. Author’s are always talking about some big promotion they’re doing which turns out to be… um, not so. But I signed up because Matt wouldn’t leave me alone.

Then the starting gun sounded!

I have learned more in the last three weeks than I can say. Meeting Karen Baney, and all the authors on her book launch, has changed my life, and I know this is only the beginning. Definitely a God thing.

You can purchase her new novel, Nickels, on December 13-15 for only 99cents, along with 9 other awesome books, which will also be offered at the same price. A NO BRAINER! ;)

 

 

And now here’s Karen’s post on The Modern Parable:    

 

    

 

Flip through any of the gospels and you’ll quickly find that Jesus used parables to help us understand aspects of God the Father, His love, His kingdom, and His will.  Stories like the parable of the tenants, the prodigal son, or the rich man, stick in your mind long after you’ve read them.

I believe God is still speaking through parables, only sometimes we label them differently.  Sometimes we call them novels, or Christian fiction, or even spiritual growth books.

Have you had a time when you’ve read one of these types of works and it churned in your mind for days or months?  I have.  When I read Messages by John Hileman, I wondered if God really does speak clearly in tangible ways.   Would He, could He really speak to me in a way that would leave no doubt that it was the Creator of Universe talking to little old me?

Then a few months after reading this work of fiction, I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Dillon in person.  He spoke about how God still speaks to us today.  The thought that had been sparked by a novel, grew to a small flame.  Perhaps God would speak to me tangibly, if I would stop and listen.  After Jonathan Dillon finished speaking, he gave me a copy of his book, A God Who Speaks.  I spent the next month working through this workbook, seeing with my own eyes that God does still speak.  Then I heard His voice.  Something changed in me.

See, as an author, I often have a sense that the stories I write are more than just stories.  I don’t always consciously build in a certain principle or aspect of God in those stories.  Yet, I pray over every book I write.  And, as each book is finished, I send it off with this prayer:  God, use these words to touch the hearts of those you want to hear.  Whatever it is you want them to learn, let them learn it.  Let them know you more through these words.

I will never know all of the hearts that He’s changed through the words He’s given me.  Every now and then He grants me a small glimpse through an email or a letter from a fan.  It doesn’t matter.  I will write what He gives me until He gives me no more words.  Then I’ll send them off to the world and let Him do what He wants with them.

Yes, God still speaks.  Sometimes he does it through a burning bush.  Sometimes it is through the words of Jesus.  Sometimes it is through the words of an author who seeks to do His will.

 

 

Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer.  Spending over twenty years as an avid fan of both genres, Karen loves writing stories set in Arizona.

Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing.  She is active in various Bible studies throughout the year.  Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs.  She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.

 

Meet Larry Armstrong

Being a part of Karen Baney’s book launch and  the Women’s Literary Cafe has enabled me to meet some wonderful people.

Among them is Larry Armstrong, whose book, Patience: Harvesting the Spirit’s Fruit, is being offered free when you buy 3 of the books on the event. Which I don’t know why you would only buy three since you can get eleven great books for ten dollars, including Karen’s new book, Nickels! But hey, people do strange things. Anyway, back to Larry… as a pastor for many years, he’s come to understand a thing or two about patience. I’m happy to introduce all my readers to him here.

Tell us who you are, where you’re from, and little bit about yourself.  

Larry Armstrong


 

I hale from Erie, Pennsylvania, but grew up bouncing back and forth from Ohio to Pennsylvania with a short stint in Boston. My step-father was a truck driver, and we followed the work. I spent my high school and college years in western Pennsylvania, attending Grove City College. I married my first wife, Doris, a couple of years after high school. After college, we moved back to the Boston area, and I attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I entered the ministry and served the Presbyterian denomination for thirty-five years. Doris and I had three children together. She died in 2001, when our children were all adults.

 

I later met and married Elizabeth, who brought me an adult step-son. She and I lived in Pittsburgh then we returned to her hometown, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where we live now. I retired from the pastorate in July 2011, but I keep busy speaking, writing, and selling books on the internet through FaithProbe.com.

 

When did you get interested in writing?

 

I’ve always loved books. Growing up, I read almost everything, but especially loved science fiction and history. I wrote a novel when I was a teenager, and a literary agent was interested in it. He wanted $300 to put it in “proper literary form,” as he called it, but I didn’t have that kind of money. So it was never published. The manuscript got lost when my family moved. But writing has always been an interest. I wanted to become a newspaper reporter who wrote novels, sort of a second Hemingway. God, however, called me into the ministry.

 

While working as a minister I did a lot of writing, mostly a weekly sermon. I have almost 1800 of them. But I also wrote newsletters and newspaper articles. I wrote a short story that was published in a Sunday school take-home paper and a few devotionals. In 1979, I had a book on the prophet Micah published, but the publisher went out of business a few years later. I became busy raising a family, pastoring churches, and working on Presbytery committees. So my writing drifted into the background.

 

As retirement drew near, I started to ask, “What will you do in retirement?” I decided to return to writing.

Can you recall a time when you applied the material in your book to a situation in your life?

Certainly! It’s been happening throughout this year. When our beloved dog Annie, a gentle and quiet Shelty, died two summers ago, we waited six months then got a new dog. Finnegan is a mixed breed, with at least two terrier types in his background. He lives up to his name. He’s full of energy, fiesty, and loves to play hard. He also loves to chew everything. He’s turned one year old recently, so he’s still a puppy.
For Christmas last year, my wife received a copy of her favorite poet’s work, Ogden Nash’s limericks. She left it on the bed, and Finnegan found it. He proceeded to chew the covers off! Also, my brand new part of bedroom slippers lost their linings. Our sofa had a corner chewed out of it. We found item after item chewed by little puppy teeth, and no toy has lasted more than a few days.
  Needless to say, we had to practice great patience, and trust in the Lord, that Finnegan would learn not to eat everything he sees. Gradually, he’s stopped most of the chewing. I’ve worn the slippers quite well without the lining, and my wife can read her coverless book!

The Happiness Consultant by Naty Matos

Not too long ago I was at an event; each of the servers had a t-shirt describing their function. One of the T-shirts really caught my attention; it read “Happiness Consultant.

I wondered what this guy did, but wasn’t brave enough to ask.

I think in the day to day we forget that instead of pursuing happiness we should be pursuing joy. That’s the big difference between a life in the world and a life in Christ. The world offers for us happiness, apparently even hires people to tell us how to achieve it.

You may wonder what the difference between happiness and joy is. Happiness is a temporary state of well-being, where we feel satisfied or motivated for a period of time, but it’s not sustainable. If the conditions providing the feeling of elation change, so does the state of happiness. Joy is the knowledge and conviction that everything is fine. You’re trusting in God to make everything work for your good, and you trust He’s doing that even when things don’t look positive. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances; it depends on God.

Before hiring a happiness consultant let me give you a money saving secret. The Word of God will provide you with Joy – yes, the permanent one – instead of just happiness. Once the Word of God is in you, all you have to do is be still and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your soul. Regardless of what your eyes see you will have that joy.

As I said before, I didn’t ask the happiness consultant many details about his job, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he charges by the hour. A bible, which contains the Word of God, is far less expensive. I’ve seen some for even a dollar. If you’re reading this, it means that you have access to the internet; therefore you don’t even have to invest a dime. There are websites like www.biblegateway.com and www.bible.com where you can read the bible online for free. If you have a phone with access to the internet, there’s an app called YouVersion that has the bible for free for you to carry with you.  The application includes almost every version available to mankind. Salvation and joy are free, Jesus already paid the price.

So why settle for that which is temporary when you can have what is eternal?

“The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10

Join Naty Matos and 9 of her author friends at Women’s Literary Cafe’s Christian Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their eBooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!

http://www.womensliterarycafe.com/content/december-2011-book-launches

About Naty Matos

Naty Matos was born in the city of New York, from Puerto Rican descendant parents. She grew up in the beautiful Island of Puerto Rico and now lives in the city of Atlanta.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with a Minor in Mass Media Communications and a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling.

Naty writes Christian fiction and non-fiction. She’s the author of the live changing devotional Growth Lessons. She maintains a blog on Christian Living Topics at www.therisingmuse.com

Growth Lessons on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Growth-Lessons-ebook/dp/B005WZ1BGK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321557564&sr=8-1

Naty Matos on Twitter @natycmatos

Naty Matos on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Naty-Matos/172298772847562

The Limit of His Endurance

We couldn’t endure it any longer. I couldn’t  endure it any longer.

What kinds of trials do you imagine after reading such statements? In our society I see these declarations made after describing a loveless marriagean unsatisfying job… or a frustrating political conversation. I say it to justify ranting at my messy family! :)

However, I pulled these sentences from another time. They are quotes from a man who had been beaten,

stoned,

                  starved,

                                     shipwrecked,

                                                                    left in the cold naked,

                                                                                                                       whipped repeatedly, and who was despised by his former friends and family.

 

But he’s not complaining about any of those things.

 

No, the thing he could no longer endure was wondering how his spiritual children in another city were doing. He couldn’t endure the silence. He couldn’t endure not seeing them, not hearing from them.

Listen to the way the Apostle Paul describes his misery while you keep in mind the physical torture he has already lived through:

“We were bereft of you.”

“Eager with great desire to see your face.

We wanted to come to you.”

You are…

our hope,

our joy,

our crown.

You are our glory.

Our joy (repeating).

We were left behind and sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage you. We didn’t want you to be disturbed by our afflictions. (Seriously?! ) He goes on… “I feared Satan might have tempted you.”

Uh, I would not be this concerned about someone  if I were facing death by torture.

But Paul receives good news! He’s going to be released! He’s going to be blessed! He’s going to retire to a sunny seaside village and play 18 holes everyday!

No. He’s not. He’s going to die for Christ after several more years of intense physical pain. Yet “in all our distress and affliction” he is comforted. Why? Because he has found out they are standing firm in their faith. In fact, Paul lapses into almost a giddy mood. He declares, “Now we REALLY live.”  Hear the sentiment of verses 9 and 10 of 1Thessalonians:

“What thanks can I give to God for you in return for all the joy with which I rejoice before God because of you? Night and day I keep praying that I may see your face and complete what is lacking in your faith.”  (I changed the pronouns of these verses and paraphrased them – but that is what they are saying.)

So how? How could Paul love like that while bearing in his body such a high cost for following Christ. Here is what you need to understand ~

It’s Christ’s love for YOU that reigns in Paul. The Lord Jesus joyfully endured the cross to see you safely home, and every word Paul writes came straight from His heart. Don’t let Satan fool you. God loves you more than you can fathom.

Mom’s Miraculous Taxi

Em, Hannah and Rachel at the Phoenix Art Museum

Recently a friend texted me, asking if I could start a carpool with her. I haven’t texted back, partly because for a week I couldn’t find my phone. Those of you who know me are shocked I’m sure. But the main reason is she’s asking me to give up something that is often routine and uneventful, but occasionally… miraculous. Driving my kids to school and back each day is one of my highest privileges.

Take this morning for example. I handed a worship CD, Jars of Clay, to Hannah. “Aw, I’m not gonna get to listen to my music?” she asked, teasing me. Sorta.

“Would I force you to listen to my stuff?” Yes. I would, but not this morning. She grinned, and punched on the radio. Good Life came on, a beeboppy tune we all like. But the words an extraordinary glimpse at life without Christ. “This song amazes me,” I said. “Here he is, jetting all over the world, partying like a rock star, having the time of his life, and at the end he’s singing ‘Hopelessly, I’m afraid there’s something I might have missed. The hope is this really is the good life.’” I looked at Hannah. “Have you realized he’s singing that?”

She arches an eyebrow.

“Isn’t it amazing that the world hopes for the good life while they have everything, and yet through Christ you can be at peace in the middle of heavy crap and KNOW you really do have the good life?”

Hannah smiled. “Yeah, that’s pretty neat.”

The next song came on. A woman sang out, “I feel sexy and free.” I matched her tune, “Ewww, well woman don’t tell me, cos you nasty.”  Hannah and Rachel howled with laughter and we changed the channel. Something came on that reminded me of what our pastor Tom said at church last night and I looked at the girls.

“You know when Tom said every year has gotten better with his kids?” The girls nodded. “Well, when he said that, I looked down the row at you guys because that’s exactly how I feel. I love you more everyday.”

I stopped the car. We were at Hannah’s drop off place. She smiled again. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.” She got out and Rachel took the front seat. She switched the radio to the CD player and started my Jars of Clay album. Rachel has taste what can I say? :) We started singing together and half way to her school she reached over and held my hand. When I dropped her off, she gave me a long hug, and kiss. Just another day, another drive, but this time… Jesus made it miraculous. How can I give that up?

What opportunity is God giving you to watch a miracle happen with your kids?

 

Zombie Hunter

I stared at the gold light dancing on the hem of my tunic for a full minute. Stupor lifting along with my gaze, I traced the reflection back across cobblestones, over the fire pit and up. Across from me a mystery. Orange-red flames licked the black of night, suspended in mid-air it seemed, playing where they didn’t belong. I blinked, then understood. A gold breastplate mirrored the flames. My eyes flicked up the torso and I started as the face of a warrior came into view.

“How long have you been there, stranger?” I asked. The fire crackled, and popped. His dark eyes, framed in a helmet, studied me through the ember rain.

“Awhile,” he said. His gaze shifted to my partner, sitting on the log next to me, then came back. “How do you know I am a stranger here?” he asked.

“Your clothes of course,” I said, scoffing. “A cloak and tunic the color of fresh blood, the gold breastplate.Your helmet. You’re a soldier – an officer of high rank, I’m guessing. Though I’ve never seen those colors on our military.”  I turned to look over my shoulder for more of his unit. Only the swaying forms of  party-goers moved throughout the city plaza. A night breeze loosened my hair, and I brushed away the stray tickling strands as I turned back.

I am not a soldier,” he replied without blinking. His right hand was wrapped around the hilt of a sword, holding it out like a staff beside him. On the back of his hand I glimpsed the mark of a tracker. How did we not notice him sooner?

“A tracker then. How did you get into our city?”

“I know the only way in and out of where you live like the palm of my hand.”

I scoffed.  “Who let you in the gate?”

“No man opens the gate for me. No gate keeps me out. There is no wall I cannot breach.”

I shifted in my seat, swallowing as I brushed something off my neck, too distracted by the stranger to care what crawled on me. “Your garments are of fine quality, but the color….” I said, changing the subject. I nudged my partner next to me. “Have you ever seen a tracker like him?”

Bragon leaned forward as he took a long drink of ale. He belched, squinted at the stranger, and then went back to leering at the girl with us. “What do you mean? He looks no different to me,” he slurred.

“No different!” I held out my palm toward the man. “Can you see the gold, the crimson? Of course you can’t. Your eyes are filled with Villicie,” I snapped, though I understood why. The woman was uncommonly bewitching. I smiled as her full red lips stretched into a coy grin, then turned on Bragon. “On top of that, you’re sopped again.” Reaching down, I picked up a discarded tankard. “How could you see anything?” Hair tickled my face once more, and I brushed it away, aggravated.

Bragon swayed and raised a fist, swooping the sky. “It’s a party! Who cares?” He reached over and grabbed Villicie around the waist, causing her to squeal in delight as she settled onto his lap. “Do you see anything special about him?” he asked, nodding toward our guest.

“No, I don’t,” she said, giggling. She touched her nose and then extended her long taloned finger toward me. “You’re being silly again.”

Rolling my eyes, I went back to the newcomer. “Ignore them.” I shook out my sleeve, adjusting it as I regarded the stranger. “Your clothes are different,” I said in a tone to disguise my fear. I glanced at the silhouettes of our city’s watchmen, tall and proud atop the wall. So this man was a little unnerving – more than a little -  yet he was only one man. What could one man do? Feeling braver, I sneered. “In case you haven’t noticed, citizens wear white silk. Obviously you have not earned your right to the precious fabric.”

He arched an eyebrow, his chin tilted up. “You think it be silk on you then? What is it that you keep brushing off?”

I rubbed my face. Now I was simply getting annoyed. Why did we always attract the odd ones? “Yes, friend. It is silk.” I stood, and held out my arm so he could touch my sleeve. “Feel the lightness of the material, its soft, buttery texture. You cannot buy finer fabric anywhere. In fact, you cannot buy it. You’ve got to prove your worthiness in order to wear it.”

He only gazed up at me. I breathed out and dropped my arm. “Fine then. Maybe you should tell me what you’re tracking in our city.”

I do more than track. Those eggs,” he tilted the sword in the direction of our merchandise, “you sell them for people to eat.”

“Ah, of course, that’s why you’re here. You wish to try the favored delicacy. Tell you what,” I held up a finger, smiling, “I don’t normally do this, but seeing how we have gotten off on the wrong foot…,” I turned back to grab a basket of them, and held it out. “Take your pick of the lot. It’s on me.”

Why I wanted to gain his friendship, I could not fathom. Apart from his uniform, he looked like a slave from one of the less advanced tribes. Definitely not a man any one of my mischievous daughters would go after. Except for the eyes….

Rather than take an egg, he detached a skin from his belt. Uncorking it, he offered it to me. “You are thirsty. Drink.”

“I am thirsty,” Bragon laughed. “If you have wine, give me some.”

“Tis water I offer. Water only your friend thirsts for.

“He’s right there. I want only Villicie’s lips, and more wine.” Bragon slobbered a kiss upon her.

Suddenly I was aware of the thickness of my tongue, the dry scratch at my throat. I frowned. “How do you know I thirst?”

“You’ve been moaning for water. I heard you, and came to give it.”

“I have not been moaning. I’m happier than any here tonight, and I have no need. But if you insist, I will share a drink with you.”  Keeping my eyes on him, I took the skin and lifted it to my parched lips. The water cascaded into my mouth, its taste fresh and sweet. I could feel it traveling through me, awaking my flesh. I squeezed the skin harder, and the water gushed over my face, down my tunic until the bag was drained. Wiping my mouth with the back of my sleeve, I handed it back to the tracker. “Forgive me, stranger, I… I drank it all.”

He shook his head. “No, you cannot drink it all,” he wagged the skin and I heard the water slosh inside. “You’ve only had a taste.”

Suddenly, a light, brighter than midday sun, flooded the plaza. I threw an arm over my eyes, and cried out as I fell to the ground.

“What are you screaming about?” I heard my companions yell.

“Don’t you see it? It’s blinding!”

“You’ve gone insane,” Bragon laughed.

“I’ve not! You’re blind if you can’t see this light.” Keeping my head bowed to shield my eyes, I pulled my arm away, and looked down at the ground. Spiders crawled all around me. I yelped, jumping back.

Then I saw my clothes. They weren’t white. They weren’t silk.

I screamed, tearing at the webs which hung from me. Spiders raced from the folds. Spiders of every kind, black widows, tarantulas, spindled red, long-legged, fat with venom. “Get them off! Get them off!”

Bragon kicked at me. Villicie cackled as she joined him. “Shut up! We’re tired of your ranting. Come to your senses.”

I rolled and looked up at Bragon. “You’re dead!” I screamed back. “She’s dead!” I pointed at Villicie. They stared at me with clouded, white eyes. Their grey flesh peeled in shreds from their bodies. They laughed through rotted teeth. Bragon grabbed the egg basket.

“Maybe you need to eat.”

I recoiled, and tried to get away, my feet slipping out from under me. The eggs were hatching. Vipers slithered from foul-smelling shells. The basket writhed with them. “No! No!” I shouted, holding up my hand. My dead hand. Turning it, I stared at the grey flesh covered in blood. Images flashed through my mind of people I had attacked, people I had killed or poisoned with my viper eggs. “We are undone!” I jumped to my feet, looking around, panicked by what I was seeing.

The party-goers weren’t dancing. They stumbled over the cobblestones. They groped at  walls, moaning as they went. The youngest among us was decayed, filled with defiling things. We were blind, eyes white – visionless – clothed in webs purchased through our deeds of service to the kingdom of the dead.

“One sees!”

I looked up. A watchmen pointed at me, his red eyes glowed with hate.  As one, they all turned. The demons hissed. From every part of the wall, they began to run as wolves, leaping from wall to building, then building to building, moving toward me. They poured down, descending, crawling upside down like lizards their eyes never leaving me. I searched for a break – a way to escape.

“Bragon, we must flee!” I yelled, taking him by the shoulders. He flung me off.

“Touch me again and I’ll kill you,” he spat.

“They are coming for us!” I pointed to the hoards, dropping from their perches.

“Why do you ask a dead man for help?” the tracker inquired calmly. “I’m the one who gave you sight.”

I whirled, seeing him in fresh light. He radiated, gloriously beautiful next to our dead, rotting bodies. His clothes were not made of webbing, his eyes – not clouded with death.

“Have you come to fight the demon hordes? Do so now before we die!” I pleaded.

“I am not a demon tracker,” the stranger said as he swirled the red cloak off his back. He hurled it in the air, and I watched it sail out over me.  It grew larger as it flew, becoming massive in size, a blanket of red big enough to cover me completely. As it descended, I heard the tracker’s voice ring out.

“It’s death in you I came to conquer.”

 

 

 

 

 

Time was when a book opened with vivid descriptions of the story’s setting. Alas, those days have passed like… the word alas.

Recently, I sent Rebecca LuElla Miller (Rewrite, Reword, Rework) the opening to my latest novel, Deception’s Tower, and like always, her feedback inspired me. Rebecca knows stuff. Below is the conversation I had with her via email regarding character and setting development in the opening scene.

Me: “Becky, for Deception’s Tower, I thought since the setting was so unfamiliar to my readers I would open with a sweeping chariot ride through the country side and into the city. But you stuck a spear in Namah’s chariot wheel, haha. Why, oh why?”

Becky: “I have a friend who feels as you do. She loves the old stories that started with a panoramic of the setting and narrowed down to the one town, house, person. The problem is, so many readers are impatient these days. BUT, if you can make it work, then others might start copying you and there could be a revival of that type of writing. I think it’s extremely hard to pull something like that off. You’re essentially trying to make them care for something inanimate, and that goes against our nature. We care about a city because we went there as little children with our parents, or our husband proposed there, or we won a trip there for a vacation, or something else notable happened. Readers care about the story place because they care about the story character. And by care, I mean they’re invested in the character and what to find out what happens next. They won’t get invested in that way if they hate the character. They need to identify in some way.”

Me: “Weeell, for this story there is an additional problem. I have been told my character has to be likeable – and darn it – Namah just doesn’t care whether you like her or not. But she does care about her city, and she worships her father. So I thought starting with that sweep of the city would give them insight into her heart. Where did I go wrong?”

Becky: “You did show a strong voice — I had the sense of a young woman who is proud of her father and the respect he has, of her home, and even of her people. You’ve used some beautiful description and some noteworthy lines, such as it races swift as evening’s shadows. It also seems as if you’ve done a considerable amount of research. I have the sense that this is quite authentic and true to life. But… you have to catch your readers early on, and connect them with your character. Show them what she wants so they can be in her corner and cheer her on to success or worry over her bad choices and failures.”

Me: “And if she’s basically a power-hungry, spoiled twit who can’t discern good character – what then? How the heck do I get my readers to stick with the stubborn girl?”

Becky:For me, getting the character right is the hardest thing. I just had a crit partner tell me yesterday that my main character comes across as self-centered and immature. And honestly, that’s the way he is. But showing the flaws must not keep readers from connecting with him. They don’t have to like him so much as identify with him, believe he’s acting rationally and reasonably, in a way they understand and might even find justifiable. So apply that to your story. Can you make Namah’s behavior seem understandable, even reasonable, to the point that readers can see themselves at least being tempted to act as she is acting? I think that’s the key.”

Me: “Ah, that totally makes sense, and encourages me. I don’t want this girl to come across in the beginning as someone who’s got it all down. She sees what she thinks is best and no one is going to convince her anything else will work. Namah charges like an avalanche toward destruction. But isn’t that how we all are to some extent? People were telling me I had to make her noble in some way. I don’t want her to be noble. I want her to be… painfully honest. That’s Namah. Thanks, Becky!”

How about you? What’s your favorite opening in a novel?

 

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