Face to Face, Part II

May 29, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

One of the most fun things about writing books, for me, is to see the story from BOTH points of view.  It’s given me a perspective I’m not sure I could have gained any other way.  For example in a scene the heroine may be thinking that she needs to go shopping and what she needs to get when she’s there.  The hero may be talking, and she’s zoning out.  He thinks it’s because of what he’s saying.  It’s really not.  She’s trying to figure out if she can afford celery and bread.

It’s given me an understanding that my judgment about where someone else is, is just not always that accurate.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes, I’m WAY off.

That’s kind of what you’re getting here.  First you got Dennis’s side of the story.  Now you’re going to get some of mine.  (And for the record… as I would say to Dennis… I wasn’t planning on telling any of you this!  But I’ve become a lot more daring in the last year since I met this crazy, fun, frustrating guy from Iowa.)

The short version of how we met goes like this.  I had just lost a contest, and by lost, I mean my stories got ripped apart.  Trying to get a handle on what to do next, I emailed a large loop of writers to find out if anyone else could tell the difference between a grateful smile and a sad smile (to me, they aren’t even remotely similar, but apparently some of the judges don’t think there can be a difference in smiles).  But I’m getting off track, sorry.

As I recall about 5 people responded.  One of them was a gentleman from Iowa.  Honestly I don’t know how many emails back and forth it took me to realize this was something much more than just him replying to me and me replying back.  I think it was probably sometime about the time we agreed that if people think Shakespeare and Dickens couldn’t get published today, that says something seriously bad about the publishing world today. 

Then Dennis started asking about this weird way I publish, and I started telling him.  At first it was pretty much a get-to-know-you thing.  What I learned rather quickly, however, was just how differently one person can think compared with what you think.  Put it this way, we agree on almost nothing.  Democrat/Republican.  Presbyterian/Catholic.  Man/Woman.  Gourmet Cook/Cheese sandwiches and hot dogs. Gray/Black & White….

And yet somehow, it worked.  I told him the other day in an email that I think God put us together like two rocks that are the same density.  You throw them in a spinner, and they smooth the rough edges of each out.  I know that’s been good for me.  I will now allow a story couple to kiss before page 350 (Dennis thinks I never did.  I did, but I fought it.)  And he has tempered some of his more ardent exchanges in his books because Jane (his lovely, wonderful wife) and I ganged up on him!

To put it mildly, I never saw any of this coming.  When I think about it, I know it was the Holy Spirit 100%, and maybe, come to think about it, that’s the One thing we really agree on.  Doctrine points and lines of where this stands or that kneels may be different, but the truth is we are both passionately excited about living with and through and in the Holy Spirit.  Everything else, as Dennis says, is just stuff.

Am I nervous?  FREAKING OUT!  I can be witty and intelligent when I can go back and edit everything.  The truth is, I’m going to be a basketcase when I get off that plane.  In fact, Dennis has often joked that I’m high maintenance.  Yeah.  He may have to pull me off the ceiling by the time I get to Iowa.  Traveling is not my forte, and I’m afraid even ACTING calm and collected will be impossible.

So, much like he said about God knowing him and loving him anyway, I’m afraid there’s not going to be much hiding my freaking out when I step off that plane.  High maintenance, here we come.

‘Course it didn’t help when he said, “It’s no big deal.  You just drive here from the airport over the river.”  To which I replied, “Define river.”  “Oh, just the Mississippi….”  For the record, I don’t do traveling, I don’t do heights, and I DON’T DO WATER!  So if you think about it on Tuesday about 4:15, please say some prayers for Dennis.  I’m quite sure he’s going to be needing them to deal with me!

But right now, my main focus is just to put it all in the Holy Spirit’s hands.  I figure He got me into this mess, He can surely find a way to get me through it…  And now, I just negated my last post about “Getting Through.”  GREAT! So let me try again.  He got me into this mess, He can help me find a way to love it, enjoy it, have the time of my life, and be wondering what in the world took me so long to get on that plane….


But in case you have one extra prayer, please say it for me so that I can remember to let the Holy Spirit be in charge.  It’s because I know He is that I have the courage to meet this incredible friend I’ve found face to face…. even though I am freaking out.


Incredible stories abound at:  http://www.spiritlightbooks.com.  Come on over and find out!


Face to Face

May 28, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


Seven days from today the virtual relationship that Staci and I have developed will go to the next level, and if you wonder exactly what that means, join the club. So do I. We have had this cyber friendship for slightly more than a year now, published my first book, started a regular blog and probably logged enough gigabytes of emails to choke most of the older computers.


But we have never met face to face. In fact, we have only spoken in real time once when I said hello to her on a conference call after she gave a talk to a Christian women’s group. I wasn’t even home at the time. My wife and I were spending the night in a motel in Sikeston, Missouri, and I was on my cell phone.


But all of that is going to change next Tuesday. My Texas friend has a wedding to attend in the great state of Iowa, and she is going to visit my wife and I for a few days before driving the 45 miles from where we live to the city where the wedding takes place.


I don’t mind telling you that it is with some sense of fear and trepidation that we anticipate her visit. I have been around people who thought they were important most of my life, dealing with fairly high level generals and politicians. But Staci is important because she’s my friend, and I value that friendship tremendously.


But see, it’s one thing to have a friendship from afar, to hide behind a computer keyboard, to be able to revise and edit the things you say before you communicate them. It’s another thing to sit next to someone and let them see and hear you unedited and unfiltered. You don’t sound nearly as witty; you can’t be nearly as clever, and you don’t sound nearly as profound.


There’s no way to hide your blemishes or to sound skinny, when you actually make the scale go almost all the way around. (I have an older scale, just so you know; they don’t go as high as the new ones do, but they go far enough!) She’s going to see and hear the real me. She’s going to watch everything I do and know more about how I do it, and I just hope it doesn’t disillusion her too much, if she has any illusions left to dis.


That’s scary enough because I really, truly want her to think well of me, but think about it for a minute. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit aren’t coming next Tuesday. They are already here. They already know everything there is to know about you, about me, including those things we think we’re hiding in the deepest places of our hearts.


You can hide those things from most people, including yourself, but God already knows them; he already knows what your real weight is, not the one you give them to put on your driver’s license. (Okay, so I fudged a little.) God knows what makes you angry, what frightens you and what you really think. He knows it all and then some.


But He loves us anyway. He cares. And He may be disappointed with us sometimes, but He is never disillusioned about who we are because He made us, and He knows what we can become if we stay faithful to Him.


So I guess I don’t need to be afraid to meet my good friend Staci for real because God knows all about her too, and He loves her just like He loves me and all the rest of you, and that is just so awesome!


I’m looking forward to your visit Staci. It will be great to finally meet you face to face, and we have an awfully lot to talk about. I hope you aren’t too disappointed, and, oh yeah, I will share anything with you, pray with you and talk about all the great issues of the day. I may even try to convince you to vote Democratic, but I will not tell you how much I really weigh, no matter how good of friends we are.





Read more from Dennis at http://www.spiritlightbooks.com  The place to be for God stories that will inspire you, challenge you, and show you the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


Who Will Remember?

May 27, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


This past weekend the cemeteries were all mowed, the flags were all out and large crowds of people came to remember. Usually they remembered by placing flowers on the graves of loved ones or family members. Sometimes they remembered by bowing their heads briefly and giving thanks or by praying. I saw a few even kneel down.


We drove nearly 400 miles round trip to decorate the graves of my wife’s family and put a few flowers on graves. As we laid flowers on her father’s grave, I couldn’t help notice the American flag and the other marker that indicated her father had served in WWII. He was an infantryman who marched all the way from the tip of Italy to the other end seeing action in some of the fiercest fighting in that campaign.


Even though he served bravely and admirably, he refused to talk about the campaign in any detail. All he would say was that it was horrible and he didn’t want to ever go through anything like that again. Still he did it because he saw it as his duty.


Both my mother and my father served in WWII, my father in the infantry in the South Pacific and my mother in the Navy working in Washington DC. She wouldn’t talk about her experiences either because she worked a top secret project that she had never been told was declassified. Even though it has been by now, she was never given permission to talk about it, so she didn’t, even though her 11 grandchildren tried constantly to get her to say what she had done.


The one thing she did talk about was her fear that after our generation that they did would be forgotten. She always placed flowers on graves to remember, even those who hadn’t served in the war. She asked my wife once, “Who will remember once you’re gone? Who will put the flowers out?”


As I looked at the people putting flowers out last weekend, I noticed that my wife and I might have been some of the youngest people in the cemetery, and we are in our 60’s. There weren’t a lot of young people, and that made my mother’s question echo even louder. It worried me because the same lack of youth can be seen in a lot of churches these days.


When we are gone, who will remember why we have churches, why those we honored in the cemeteries gave their lives? Who?


Then as I pondered that question sitting in our usual pew Sunday, the collection plate was passed and just before it got back to us, I heard a commotion and saw the usher stop and hold the plate lower. A young man who couldn’t have been older than five hurried toward the usher. The young man had a look of total concern on his face, and then he reached out his tightly closed fist and dropped a quarter into the collection plate. When he did that he looked up at the usher and said simply, “Thank you.”


A five year old thanked the usher for waiting so he could give, not take. And he did so politely with a look of genuine gratitude on his face.


I couldn’t help think the at least this young man would remember.  I hope there are thousands more like him because we should never forget.


Want more inspiration?  Come on over to http://www.spiritlightbooks.com  It’s a great place to be! 

Getting Through

May 26, 2008

By: Staci Stallings


On Sunday, our deacon gave the homily.  He talked about going to church and the place that has or should have in our lives.  Then he made this statement, “We go to church on Sundays to help us get through the rest of the week.”


Maybe it’s me, but that struck me as incredibly sad.  We, the most blessed of any generation, who are not struggling to just survive because there isn’t enough food or sanitation… We, who live in freedom that people have fought and died for…  We, who know the God of the universe personally…  And we’re going to church so we can “get through” the week?


In all honesty, I’ve had my share of weeks that I had to get through, weeks that drained me physically, emotionally, and yes, even spiritually.  But thankfully, those are the exception.  They are not the rule in my life.  I hope they are not the rule in yours either.  But if they are, maybe we need to talk a little about how to bridge just getting through into really living, from survival to renewal and rejoicing.


See, I think too many of us focus on the weeds of life and never bother to realize there are flowers there too.  We see those “have tos” that we really don’t “want to,” and slowly but surely they take over our lives.  I’m reading another couple of books about the difference between living by focusing on your strengths versus focusing on your weaknesses.  I think this may be one part of the puzzle.  (I highly recommend the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton.) 


In the books, the authors explain why most of us feel depleted so much of the time.  It’s because we try to be a well-rounded person who is everything to everyone, and those areas where we are less a natural at things takes over, pushing out the time we have to do those things we truly excel at.


I read a story a long time ago that illustrates the stupidity of doing this (and illuminating how society has geared it to make us think we have to).  In the story, the animals decide to have a school.  At first all the animals just do what they are good at.  Then the parent animals get together to design a curriculum.  Each animal demands that their particular “strength” is included.


So the curriculum ends up being:  running, swimming, jumping, flying.  School starts, and each animal at the school is required to take all subjects—not just the one they excel at.  Within a week, the duck is being held after school because although he is very good at swimming and rather good at flying, he’s having trouble in jumping and more trouble in running.  Within a month, his webbed feet have been ripped apart by all the running so that he can no longer even swim very well.


And so it goes.  The rabbit who was really good at running and jumping broke his leg trying to make that first leap from the tree to fly.  And on and on, until all of the animals are only mediocre at everything instead of excellent at what God sent them here to be.


It sounds sad and maybe even a little silly, but we do it to our kids, and quietly demand it from ourselves.  It’s no wonder we’re just “getting through.”


I propose in this coming week that you spend a little time reflecting on the strengths that God gave YOU.  Think about how you can contribute using those strengths and think also about how you can begin to minimize those things you know are your weaknesses.  Just like the animals, there is probably someone out there who loves doing what you hate.  Team up.  Maybe there’s a great partnership just waiting for you.


Regardless of what you do with identifying your strengths, I issue a further challenge that might be even more difficult.  Bring God with you out the church doors on Sunday.  Bring Him with you to work, to play, to home.  Think of Him as your new best friend, and learn to be profoundly grateful that the God of the universe wants to hang out with you.


Maybe then we can all stop “getting through” life and really start living.  What a concept!


Come on over to http://www.spiritlightbooks.com.  It’s a great place to hang out!

Perfection—The Lie That Binds

May 22, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings


I don’t care who you are, you know that perfection stinks.  If you are a perfectionist, you know as well as I do that no matter how hard you try, nothing is ever right enough.  If you get within two feet of perfection in one area, there are three more right behind it to show you how imperfect you really are.  Maybe, however, you are on the other side of that sword.  Maybe you know someone who is perfect (not really, but they sure put on a good show).  Of course, when you are around them, you can’t help but feel less than no matter what you do.


Perfection is a piece of baggage I carried for a long time. It was heavy, and it was bulky.  No matter what I did, how successful I was, I still heard Satan whispering, “Yes, but it isn’t perfect.”  Of course, it wasn’t perfect.  God didn’t make us perfect.  If He had, there would’ve been no need for the cross and Calvary.  In fact, I think that even Adam and Eve weren’t perfect.  I think even they had flaws, but before the fall, they also had something else—a deep understanding that God loved them just as they were no matter what.


I think that is one of the heaviest bags a perfectionist carries—the belief that no one could really love them if they aren’t perfect.  They spend their lives with their spirits in chains because of this.  They hold onto the core belief that even God could not love someone so flawed. With this belief dogging their heels, they do their absolute level best to convince the world that they have no flaws.


Floors?  They are spotless. Kids? They don’t make mistakes. Dress? Ironed, pressed, creased.  Life? In hand down to the last minute.  They have no worries, no fears, no problems.


In truth, fear is what drives their lives.  Fear makes every decision, says every word, dictates every action. 


That’s what non-perfectionists looking in do not see.  They do not see the fear, and so they assume there isn’t any.  They assume that there must be something wrong with them because they do feel fear.  They assume that somehow they are less than because they can’t be perfect like X.


Lies.  It’s all lies.  Hideous, odious, spirit-crushing lies all around.


Dragging perfection through life is a cross that keeps getting heavier and heavier because the perfectionist can never be real. They can never let others see the truth because they know their perfection is a lie.  So on top of perfection, the lies start building. To those looking on, these lies only exacerbate the guilt they feel, and so the lies add weight after weight to them as well.


There is a way to break through these lies, but it’s not easy. It takes the perfectionist admitting first to him or herself and then to others that they are not perfect.  It is letting others see that their house isn’t always in perfect order, that sometimes they are unorganized, that they have fears and worries just like everyone else.  For those looking on, this requires being a soft place to fall, reiterating to the perfectionist that they are loved no matter what.


Either one can start the process but it takes both to make it come full circle.  The perfectionist must admit they are not perfect, and the others must admit that’s okay.  It’s worth the work if you can ever get past the fear of jumping into real and leaving the fiction of perfection behind.

Looking for great inspiration?  Visit http://www.spiritlightbooks.com  It’s a great place to be!

To or Not To

May 21, 2008

By:Dennis Bates


Like the return of the proverbial bad penny or the cyclical plagues of locusts that have lain waste the fields since Biblical times, the suggestion to abolish or minimize the use of the verb “to be” reappears from time to time in writing circles.  The suggestion comes from self-appointed, well meaning, but poorly trained grammarian wannabes, who want to be trendy, but that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.


The suggestion centers on the proposition that active voice is better than passive voice, to which I reply, “Why?” I might say, “Who says?” but that makes it personal, and full disclosure requires me to say there are a lot of who’s that say that.


Still, what would Hamlet be without the famous soliloquy? Not the same: Somehow

“To or not to, that the question” lacks something vital.


So does my favorite opening paragraph ever written in “A Tale of Two Cities”:

“It best of times, it worst of times, it the age of wisdom, it age of foolishness: (how appropriate!), “it the epoch of belief, it the epoch of incredulity” (ditto above!), and most appropriate for this page, “we all going direct to Heaven, we all going direct the other way.”


Again, it could just be me, but that just doesn’t seem to have the same impact, let alone make much sense at all.


Still, much of this discussion has some entertainment value, and if nothing else, it demonstrates how much one little word can affect the beauty, if not the meaning and understanding of a sentence.


So translate that into what happens if we do that to the Bible. Believe it or not there are some  Christian editors, agents and publishers who think the answer to lagging sales is to be more “subtle,” and not use the words God, Jesus, salvation or anything that talks about experiences of a religious nature too directly. Not all, but some. They think we need to sneak up on people, not confront them directly.


The logical inconsistency of that is almost laughable, when some of these people are the same ones who insist on keeping things sweet. You know the ones. They are the ones that allow a kiss between the hero and heroine no sooner, if at all, sometime three to four years after the wedding scene which is required if the he and she even cross gazes while having a hazelnut latte at the local Starbucks. Yeah, those guys and gals. How do they ever raise families? Just wondering.


So let’s try the most famous New Testament passage that way: “For so loved the world that gave only begotten that whoever believes in shall have.” Does that work for you? Of course the use of any part of that may be construed as preachy, so maybe the whole thing is moot. All words, like all of God’s people are important. Don’t leave any of either one out.


Love Dennis’s sense of humor?  Check out his book, “Under the Burr Oak Tree” at http://www.spiritlightbooks.com  Go to Previews, and you can read the first several chapters for free. 

Why So Pale?

May 20, 2008

By: Dennis Bates


Another true confession: I’m a sucker for old English poetry, especially the romance poets. Go figure, I like love stories and old English romantic poems. How predictable.  At least this is; I’ll save unpredictable for another time and that time will come. Trust me.


One of my favorite old poems or at least one that I can still remember is by Sir John Suckling who lived between 1609 and 1642. It starts off:


“Why so pale and wan, fond lover?

Prithee, why so pale?

Will, when looking well can’t move her,

Looking ill prevail?

Prithee, why so pale?


Okay, so spell check doesn’t recognize the word “prithee.” Deal with it. It seems that when either a man or a woman was having trouble attracting the subject of their affections there was a tendency in those days to literally wear their sadness on their faces. They wouldn’t eat, they bathed even less than they usually did, which in some cases wasn’t all that much to begin with, and they walked around looking forlorn. There were some suggestions that powdery make up was used to make themselves look even worse than they really did, hence the pale and wan reference. A century or two later women named Bronte and Austen made an art form out of the pathetic pathos of unrequited love, which frankly bores me beyond comprehension.


I know, I’m in the minority, but come on already. Life is short; it was even shorter back then and moping around the moors for a man called Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy means these women needed a life, even if they could write. Okay, I exaggerate slightly.


My point is Suckling was poking fun at this notion of looking bad on purpose to get someone’s attention.  His whole point is if you can’t get them to look at you when you’re looking good, why on earth do you think they would give you a second glance when you are looking your worst and smelling that way too? It just doesn’t make sense.


I know Suckling is talking about the physical attraction of men and women here, but I’m wondering if we don’t still have some of the same demented notions in Christianity these days when it comes to putting our best foot forward. Only maybe we have it in reverse.  If we can’t attract people to a relationship with our Lord by showing them his love and overwhelming understanding and compassion, why do we think that showing them anything less will work?


The only people that Jesus railed against were the religious elite of the day. The sanctimonious rule mongers who felt they were above everybody else. He didn’t condemn nor did he scold the sinners; he loved them and forgave them, offering them a better way to live. He didn’t force it on them or tell them they were vile wretched creatures. He saved that kind of condemnation for all those people who didn’t think they were like that.


Jesus showed his best side, not a long list of rules nobody could follow. Shouldn’t we be showing our best side, not our worst?


Inspiration abounds at http://www.spiritlightbooks.com  Come on over and see for yourself!