Creation or Competition

February 27, 2012

by: Staci Stallings

In going through some old articles I had written about six years ago, I found this one.  It has been cut into two pieces.  The second will run on the blog Thursday, March 1.

Creation or Competition?

            This is a concept I’ve known intuitively for a long, long time. I grew up in a very competitive family that lived in a very competitive town that resided in a very competitive state, which was a part of a very competitive country, which was a small part of a very competitive world.  In one way I was not a competitive child because I was not good at sports—any sports in any way.  However, I see now how competitive I was in other areas like academics and band.  Mostly I didn’t compete with others; mostly I competed with myself, and often I lost.

One such competition I remember in the depths of who I am. I was in the fifth grade, and up until that year I had literally made A’s in everything.  Every subject.  Every six weeks since I’d been in the first grade.  And then I got that report card with a—gasp—B!  I was crushed, devastated, destroyed.

We found out that the B represented the underlying score of 89.4.  AN 89.4.  Not just one point  from an A, but 1/10th of a point from an A! Yet that 10th represented a chasm between who I thought I had to be in order to be worth something and who I felt like I now was.

It sounds so silly. How many people get devastated over a B? In fact, I’m sure if you didn’t get straight A’s all through school, you are probably saying, “Ah, poor baby. You got a B. It’s tragic.”  But understand, to me, it was tragic.  It was as if who I thought I was had died. Tears couldn’t bring her back. Sorrow and guilt over what I could have or should have done to gain that coveted 10th of a point couldn’t bring the opportunity back. Nothing could.

As this period of my life progressed, my family over and over explained that it was all right. They still loved me.  Slowly (VERY slowly!) I came to accept that I wasn’t perfect and that my worth wasn’t my grades, but it was immensely difficult, and in truth it took until I was in college to really believe them.

So I know what havoc living with a competition-mind set can wreak in a life.

Competition has several underpinnings that are present when it is. The first is a belief in separateness.  I am separate from those I am competing with, and thus, one of us can be better, smarter, more worthy of praise than the other. Another underpinning belief of competition is that the good things in this life are inherently limited; therefore, if you want some of the good stuff, you must necessarily beat out someone else to get it.

These two lead to the dominant underpinning of competition which is fear.  For if I am separate, I am alone, and if I must necessarily fight for the limited resources, my ability must be greater than that of everyone else who is competing, or I will suffer.  These all equal one thing:  Fear.

If I am in competition with you, and you get something I wanted, it follows that I will separate myself further from you, fall into greater fear, and believe more deeply that I must get better to get more.  We see the attempt to subvert the naturalness of this progression played out at the end of a game (whatever the game).  It’s called “sportsmanship.”  Win or lose, you should shake the opposing squads hands as a sign of respect.  But the truth is win or lose, you don’t want to shake their hand.  Why?  Because if you’ve won, this show of respect necessarily brings the loser back up if not up to your level than closer.  If you’ve lost, shaking the winner’s hand affirms they are better than you and something you valued has been lost.

The world’s dominant teaching is competition.  We are taught from early on:

You must “learn to play the game.”

You must maximize your ability to win (or get run over if you don’t).

You have to do your best.

Study hard.

Work hard.

Play fair.

Make success your goal.

Accomplish. Triumph.  Win.

All of these are the aims of a competitive world.

*~*~*
Picture from:  http://lovemidori.tumblr.com/post/162266052/beautiful-cupcakemugshot-let-there-be-light
*~*~*

Read the story that is a direct result of the “Creation or Competition” theme…

Princess

by:  Staci Stallings

For Amazon Kindle

For B&N Nook

Read the first Chapter!


Walking by Faith, Not by Sight

February 23, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

Maybe you know me and know this already about me.  Maybe you have guessed it about me in reading my posts.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I like control.  I like to know where I am.  I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there.

It’s just how I was wired, I suppose.

Sometimes my plans get bigger than my ability to pull them off, but most of the time I’m working toward something with a definite plan in mind and a map of how to get there.

That’s definitely true with the marketing of my writing.  With the writing itself, I’ve learned to turn that little slave-driver in me off.  But when I’m marketing, sometimes it’s a whole different story.

I think that’s why God throws little and sometimes BIG hitches in my plans.  To remind me, once again, that I’m not the one in charge and that we will go in His direction and at His pace.  It’s humbling to say the least.

And so it was Feb. 1, 2012.  I had been planning for that day for several weeks.  It was the first day my book, “Coming Undone” would be on Free Kindle, and I had a lot of things set up–articles on other sites, Facebook pages to contact, tweets for Twitter all ready to go.  I was SET I tell you… Ready, Set, GO!

I even had a spreadsheet set up so I could track the downloads and learn nuggets to help me better do this next time.

Feb. 1 started, and I noticed something strange on the Amazon reporting site almost immediately–my rank on the page was going down, but I wasn’t adding any sales.  In fact, it hit 89 downloads and stopped completely!

I was patient for as long as possible and then I emailed my writer’s group to ask if anyone else was experiencing this.  Sure enough, it was an everyone problem.  One of the guys wrote in, “Great!  Staci Stallings just broke Amazon!”

HAHA!  I needed that laugh.

As the day progressed, my book’s rank kept climbing into the #200’s and then the #100’s.  The problem was, half the time, I could no longer even see my rank.  The other writers were updating me, but my rank (what I could see) was all over the place. It would be in the 500’s and then 100’s then the 200’s then the 100’s again.  I had watched these things for a long time, and I had never seen this.

As the day wore on, I was getting more and more irritable because I had no clue what was going on!  I couldn’t see my sales numbers and my ranks were not consistent or logical.  And then I got an email from a friend, “YAY! You’re number 54!”  Which meant I had broken into the Top 100 Free Kindles on Amazon!

I was jazzed, but it sure would have been nice to see it.

Frustrated, I opened a book of Bible sayings and came across the one for Feb. 1, which was tied to the verse:  We walk by faith, not by sight. Ah-ha!  Finally I understood.

Finally after all day, my spirit relaxed.  Here was the message God had wanted to give me all along.  “Staci, you’re gonna have to trust me even if you can’t see what’s going on.”

Someone sent me a link to the Top 100 page, and suddenly I got a glimpse of what was going on.  The rest of the evening and into the next morning we watched in the Top 100 as my book climbed ever higher until it had reached #11 in Free Kindle Store.  Two days later it was climbing the Paid side, finally ending its ascent at #98 in all of Amazon, and #1 in Religious Fiction and in Religion & Inspirational.

It was a wild ride.

And it was a whole week before I got a real understanding of just how many downloads that represents.

Let me tell you, walking by faith is not easy for a control freak.  I’m just glad God was kind enough to give me the lesson in a way that I can’t miss it.  That sure did help!

Check out Staci’s New Website that’s all about her books:  Ebook Romance Stories… You’re gonna love it!


Progress

February 20, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

Consider this a progress report on my writing/publishing life.

First off, God has blessed me with an amazing cover designer.  He’s a 24-year-old graphic artist from Malaysia (yes, you read that right… isn’t God AMAZING?!).  So far we’ve done 4 covers together, each is more beautiful than the last.  To see them all, click here (and you can vote on which is your favorite).  The one for Cowboy was done by another friend of mine.  Aki’s covers are:

Deep in the Heart

Dreams by Starlight

Reunion

If You Believed in Love

I wish I had time to just sit and look at them all day!  Thanks, Aki!

Secondly, as you can see by the above post, I have a new website for my romance novels.  Over there, you can read the first chapter of every book, as well as excerpts, reviews, and thoughts on the titles.  Enjoy and share!

Finally, February has been quite a month.  Coming Undone hit the #1 spot in Religious Fiction and Religion & Inspirational on Amazon.  Cowboy hit the #9 spot in Top-Rated Religious Fiction.

Thank you all for being on this journey with me!  I’m so grateful for all of you!

Staci


God’s CONSTANT Input

February 16, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

One of the most interesting aspects of the rise of Coming Undone through the Amazon book ranks at the beginning of February (it was #1 on Religious Fiction and Religious & Inspirational, as well as #11 on the overall Free Kindle Store) has been the reviews.

What interests me is the 2 1-star reviews I have received so far.  The first went like this:

“Coming Undone, My Dear Lord!?!

NONONO! Why?  God has to work very hard in this one. Why?

I guess without his CONSTANT input we can’t deal with life.”

This is not a spoiler for the book, but in it the heroine, Kathryn works in a hospice unit as a social worker.  Now think about it for just a moment.  She deals with death, families going through death, and the people who become her friends losing the people they love over and over and over again.  So it’s not like she’s asking God for help purchasing a latte.

But even without this heightened need for God and His help, I want to ask this person and the other who left a similar review decrying the characters’ reliance on God… what’s the alternative?

What is the alternative to relying on God every moment?

Doing it yourself?

Isn’t that the very definition of Original Sin?  “I don’t need God.  I can do this on my own”?

And even if you don’t want to go that far with it, let’s look at it from a relationship standpoint.  Let’s say you have a friend, and this friend is someone you greatly admire and even say you love.  Now let’s say that the only time you ever talk to this friend is when you are in desperate need of help.  I mean, otherwise, you don’t need this friend, so why talk to him, right?

How would you feel if someone did that to you?  How would you like it if the only time this person showed up at your doorstep was when they had messed everything up, everything was horrible, and they needed you to fix it?

Yeah.  That’s what I think too.

We wouldn’t want to be treated that way, so why do we think God does?

I think some of this “don’t rely on God all the time” mentality goes back to the unBiblical saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”  I’m curious who in the Bible really “helped themselves” the way this saying seems to tell us to do.  Abraham?  His helping God turned into a disaster we still haven’t recovered from.  Moses?  Would that “helping himself” have been the part about killing the Egyptian or the refusing to go talk to Pharaoh because he couldn’t talk well?

What about Mary?  When the angel showed up, did she start making a list of all the things she’d better do and accomplish to earn being the Mother of God?

Or how about Jesus, Himself?  Have you ever noticed how many times the Bible refers to Him going off by Himself to pray?  Why?  Because He thought He could do it Himself?  And He was GOD!

Yes, God sometimes has to work very hard in our lives.  Why?  Because we need Him!  We need Him to show up, to help us, to guide us, to protect us, and yes, to love us.  And He is more than willing to do that if we will just ask.  So yes, I need God’s CONSTANT input in order to deal with my life.  I hope you do too!

*~*~*~*

Read the other reviews for Coming Undone, an Amazon #1 BestSeller in Religious Fiction & Religion & Inspiration…

Click here!


Grace & Faith brings you Romance Week!

February 13, 2012

Staci’s books are featured all this week on Grace & Faith’s Romance Week!  Check it out!

 


The God Maze

February 9, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

I love teaching Sunday School because it forces me to think about how to explain the vastness of God’s love and mercy in concrete ways that fourth graders can grasp.  One of the lessons we do every year is the God maze.

In fourth grade, one of the central things we learn is the Ten Commandments.  Now when I learned the Ten Commandments, there was a component to it that they were somehow the yardstick with which God was either going to measure if you could get into Heaven, or beat you over the head with depending on the circumstances.  Since I don’t view them that way anymore, I wanted to find a way to explain to the kids WHY they are important, not just what they are and in what order they come.

The way I found to do that was to explain how they are like guardrails, showing us where to turn in life.  Without them, our feelings and our wants would take over and our lives would go crashing off the side of the cliff.  For example, if no one ever told you that lying was wrong, it certainly feels like the right thing (most practical thing) in some situations.  It will, at least in the short term, get you out of trouble, and if all you’re thinking is short-term, why not lie?

Now if you know the Ten Commandments that God gave us, the first answer of why not to lie is because God said not to.  And to some extent and for awhile that will work to keep you from lying.  However, if you don’t understand the underlying reasons WHY lying doesn’t work, you may decide God was just trying to make you miserable with that one and disregard it.  But if you lie and you keep lying, eventually that behavior is going to land you in a whole heap of trouble.  That’s what God was saying, “Don’t do this because you’re not going to like where it leads.”

As we are doing the Ten Commandments, we also do three weeks on each person of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The first week is on God the Father, and during that week we do the God Maze.

It’s funny because I’ve now been doing this lesson for five years and every year it works.  You would really think one year I would get some kid who is super good at mazes that would beat it, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The first maze the kids get is exactly like the second.   The mazes themselves are the same.  So it’s not like the first is hard and the second is easy.  They are both the same maze. But they are different.

The first maze–the World maze–is just the maze, and it is hard.  It randomizes the path so that you think you’re going on the right path and all of a sudden you’re at a dead end.  On this maze everyone in the class is given a pen.  The instruction is, “I will give you three minutes.  You must mark your maze–no doing it in the air or with the back of the pen.  You are to start on one side and go all the way through the maze with no mistakes!  If you can do that, in three minutes, you will win a prize.  Go!”

The papers swhoosh and everyone starts.  It’s not long before you start hearing, “This is hard!”  “Ah. I messed up!”  “Another dead end?”  “This isn’t possible!”  “Miss, this is hard!”

;)

I’m really not cruel.  Honest.

But those three minutes feel like an eternity as one after the other after the other, the kids give up on a maze that is too hard and frustrating.  They’ve made mistakes they can’t fix, and not being able to be perfect, they’ve already lost.

When the three minutes is up, we talk about why it was so hard.

“Well, you can’t tell where to go.”  “All the paths look the same until you hit a wall.”  “I started down this path I thought was right, but when I figured out it wasn’t, I couldn’t go back. I’d already messed up.”

Ah.  So many lessons.  So little time.

Then we pass out TWO new things.

#1 The same maze except this time at every intersection, there are two words.  You simply choose the one that follows the Commandments.  So one intersection might have the word  “cheat” going one way and “be honest” going the other.  You just choose the path that says “be honest.”

#2  Everyone gets a pencil with an eraser instead of a pen.

Then we start the time all over again.  “You have three minutes.  Go!”

This time one of the girls was having a really hard time.  She didn’t grasp the concept.  So I stood with her and on each intersection, I would read the two words.  In about 30 seconds, she was blowing and going on her own–no help from me required.

In less than two minutes every kid in the class had finished.

Now here’s the thing–why could they finish a maze in less than two minutes that they couldn’t finish in 3 to begin with?  It was the SAME maze… except it wasn’t.

How many of us try to go through life making decisions on our own will, on our own strength, in our own knowledge and wisdom–no help from God needed?  How many choose to keep making mistakes rather than ask for someone who understands how to work the maze?  And how many do not realize the power of the eraser in Jesus Christ that God graciously granted us on the cross.  So that even when we make a mistake, that mistake can be erased and we can start over.

The really funny thing happened after class.  Several of the kids said, “Can I take this maze home?”  (the second one)  I said, “Sure, but don’t you want this one too?” (the first one) To which they looked at it sadly and said, “No, you can throw that one away.”

Take a lesson from these kids!

Why not throw doing it on your own with a pen away too?  Throw your old mistakes and your old way of trying to live life away.  You’re going to play the God maze anyway–why not choose to do it with God’s help and with His eraser?

It’s a lot easier and at the end, it is something you will want to take with you!

*~*~*~*

Read the first chapter of COWBOY for FREE!

“The best kind of happily ever after!”

Click here!


A Microwave God

February 6, 2012

By:  Staci Stallings

Some of you may recall the posts I did about our great pumpkin pie escapade back in the fall.  If you recall, the first time we tried to make a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, it took 7 1/2 hours and all the dishes in my kitchen to accomplish that.  I said at the time, “No wonder our ancestors were thin!  It took all that work to make one little pie.”

Yes, we live in a very different world.

We have lights that will stay on and give us light all night if we want.  If we want to know something about some obscure something that 99% of the population doesn’t even care about, we can hop on our computers, go online, do a search, and in 1.2 seconds have 100,001 possible places to go read about that.

We don’t have to go to the library, search through microfilm or dusty periodical listings to find out who Time’s Man of the Year in 1938 was (Adolf Hitler).  In fact, we don’t have to even know how to use the Dewey decimal system at all to find all we would ever want to know about anything.

Everything these days seems to happen at the touch of a button.  Want to watch the news?  You don’t have to wait until 6 p.m. like we used to.  Turn it on and flip to five different channels–not only do you not have to wait, you get your choice of what news to watch!  Financial newsPolitical newsSports news.  24/7.  7 days a week.

And if that’s not fast enough for you to find out who won today’s hockey game, you can go online and in seconds, not only do you know who won but who scored the most goals, who got called for high-sticking, and what the outlook for the play-offs looks like.

In fact, over the summer since I don’t get the All-Baseball-All-the-Time channel like my dad, when he comes to my house, he comes in here, gets on the computer and “watches” the game.  Yes, it’s not streaming… yet.  But that day will be here in no time.

Let’s say sports is not your thing.  You’re into old movies instead.  You’re writing a paper and you want to know the exact wording of that line in Casablanca.  You have several options and none of them involve going down and renting the movie!  You can buy it instantly on iTunes or download it from NetFlix.  You can go online and Google the line, and YouTube will probably have a recording of it.

To say we live in amazing times is an understatement!

But with all this instantaneousness, we’ve kind of gotten programmed (spoiled) into thinking that whatever we think we need, want, or think about should happen… NOW!  Or better yet 10 minutes ago.

We don’t spend 7 1/2 hours on a pie.  We get one at the store we can microwave.  We don’t spend 2 hours at the library researching a paper.  We type in what we want, and the computer shows it to us in 1.3 seconds.

But here’s the problem with all that instant-access to solve every problem.

God doesn’t work like that.  Our God not a Microwave God.

God’s solutions take time… sometimes years and eternities to work out.  Often we can’t see anything happening.

It’s like my son pulling his plant out of the soil to see if it was growing.  We want to see it working, see it moving us forward, see where we’re going and how fast we’re going to get there.

God’s “wait” often feels like God’s “no.”

And so we get frustrated and move on to microwaving our own answer.

Funny thing is, we’re kind of hard-wired to do that.  Abraham didn’t have a microwave, but he did the same thing with the slave girl.  God wasn’t working fast enough, so Abraham figured he’d help the process along.  Of course that made a mess of everything.  Just like our “helping it along” makes a mess of everything.

That doesn’t mean we sit on our hands and do nothing, but there is power in the waiting.  There is strength from learning to be patient for the great and not jump on the mediocre simply because it showed up first.

How does this play out in your life?  I don’t know.  In mine, it is often in wanting to see RESULTS two seconds after I post something.  I post and then go and click to see the sales numbers.  :)  God doesn’t work like that.  God’s answers take time.  They take trust (like not pulling the plant out while it’s growing).  They take surrender.  They take doing what you can do and then putting it all in God’s hands.

It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s harder than jumping in there and doing something about it.  But it is always, in the end, better to do it God’s way instead of expecting Him to microwave answers into your life.  Our God is not a Microwave God, and in the end, I think we are all better off because of that simple truth.

*~*~*~*~*

Deep in the Heart

by:  Staci Stallings

Just out of college and completely alone in the world, Maggie Montgomery has one shot left to save her life from an abyss of poverty and hopelessness. Clinging to the last shred of fuel and hope, she arrives at the mansion of Texas billionaire Conrad Ayers. Although Maggie is clearly not what Mr. Ayers and his wife have in mind for a nanny, they agree to hire her temporarily until they can find someone more appropriate to fill the position. However, Maggie’s whole world is about to be up-ended by two way-over-scheduled children and one incredibly handsome hired hand. As she struggles to fit into a world she was never made to fit in, Maggie wonders if she can ever learn to become a perfect version of herself so she can keep the job, or is she doomed to always be searching for a life she can never quite grasp?

Read the first chapter!


The Bigger Picture

February 2, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

The other day something funny happened with a writer’s group I’m in.  Most of our conversations happen on Facebook, and on Facebook, each author’s links are accompanied by a rather small image.  By rather small, I mean they can get really tiny.

It’s interesting how things that are great as a big picture often don’t translate that way into smaller images.  Sometimes, in fact, it becomes hard to even tell what the image is depicting. And thus it was with this image.

The whole thing was kind of orange-ish and peach-ish.  In one corner, you could see the cross, but the rest of it looked like… well, intestines or worse.  It was indistinct and looked not exactly appetizing.

Not trying to be mean but wondering, one of our members asked what that photo was of because it looked disgusting.  I had already thought that myself though I didn’t check it out and didn’t comment on it.  So I went to check it out.

Turns out, the bigger photo was a very pleasant one of a seashore, sand, water, and the cross probably at sunrise or sunset due to the hue of it.  I went back and explained what the picture was of, and the member came back and said, “Oh, wow!  You’re right.  It’s pretty.  The bigger picture sure helps.”

We laughed because it’s so true.  The smaller the picture you see of your life, the more insignificant and bad it looks.  In fact, sometimes it can be easy to wonder what the point of it even is.  But that’s because you’re looking at the small picture–not the big one.

You know, this week as we’ve grieved the two out-of-the-blue deaths, I have come to wonder how God sees things like life and death in the bigger picture.

For example, if you are a parent and your children have any close cousins, relatives, or friends who come for awhile and then leave, you will understand this phenomenon.  The children are together, and they play for hours.  Then it comes time to go home.  The pleading starts, “Please can they stay!  Please can we go with them… You can come get us tomorrow.”

As a parent you know that in the bigger picture, you will see this same set of people next weekend.  But the kids don’t see it that way.  What they see is that their friend is leaving.

See, I think God doesn’t see death the way we do.  He is with us always.  Now and on the other side.  There is no separation.

Not that He doesn’t understand our grief or how much it hurts for someone here to die (look at Him with Lazarus and his sisters).  But there must be a fundamental difference in how He sees all of this and how we do.  I think it’s because He sees the bigger picture.  He sees not a disgusting mess that makes no sense, but a beautiful tapestry that He is forming.  Yes, that tapestry sometimes has black threads in it.  But it also has white ones and gold ones and pink ones and purple ones.

That’s why I think being a Christian is so important.  We may only be able to see the little picture, but we know the One Who can see the bigger picture.  And sometimes, every so often, He will give us a glimpse as well.  And that glimpse, that insight can change how we see many things about the smaller picture that is our lives. Plus, we have the faith that when we finally do see the bigger picture, it’s going to make sense.  And that is a faith worth holding onto–especially when the little picture doesn’t look how we would like it to.

*~*~*~*~*

Amazon Best Seller!   Free for one more day!

February 1 & 2 ONLY!

FREE ON KINDLE!

Staci’s novel:

Coming Undone

“If you’ve ever searched for love, been afraid to love, or lost someone you love, you will love Coming Undone.”

Available as a free download from Amazon!

To get your free download starting Feb. 1,
CLICK HERE!

(If you do not have a Kindle,
Click here to get an App to read the book on your own computer.)

 


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