Welcome!

Have some coffee… or I’ve got iced tea, do you like sweet or unsweet?… and take a seat. Let’s visit.

If you’re here for my my novel, The Fellowship, and my short story collection, Go Right, you’re in the right place. You can buy both, either in print or ebook, from my Bookshop:

The Fellowship

Go Right

Alternatively, The Fellowship and Go Right are also available through Amazon and other online sellers. 

If you’ve come to the blog to see what I have to say, I discuss issues that I write about: Christian authoritarianism, patriarchy, womanhood, recovery from legalism, marriage, coming to terms with racism, common-sense relationships, and just being a good person.

You can find me on Facebook as Sara Roberts Jones Author.

Check under the Writing > Blogging menu above to find links to posts I’ve written elsewhere.

And thanks for dropping in. I hope you’ll stay with me!

Offensively Nerdy

You are the reason why people laugh at homeschoolers.

Someone recently informed me of this fact. And that wasn’t all! I was also informed that my family is an embarrassing stereotype, that we aren’t diverse enough, and that we are “cringe.” It was certainly an enlightening afternoon on the internet.

It started with a post about Teacher Appreciation Week. DJ and I were featured as part of a series on homeschooling parents. We answered a few questions (years we’ve homeschooled, favorite book, a piece of advice, favorite memory, etc.), and our answers were posted with a family photo.

It was the photo that did it.

In the picture, we’re all posing with books or plushies or other items that reflect our interests. It’s a bit goofy, but that’s part of the fun. At just a glance, you get an idea of the different personalities and interests that make up our family. You also get the idea that we’re a nerdy bunch of people. We are, and we embrace that fact. It’s a pretty good picture of us and we figured others would enjoy it too.

What we didn’t expect was that a few people on the internet would find it completely baffling. Despite the fact that the Q&A clearly identified us as the family pictured, a couple of women thought it was a stock photo of a “stereotypically nerdy 90s homeschooling family.” They were insulted that they, real homeschoolers, might be associated with this embarrassing fake family photo. They commented as much.

DJ and I quickly entered the thread to let them know they’d blundered. Not only was it a photo of a real family, but that family was reading the comments. We were gracious about it. After that, their only real recourse was to make awkward apologies and drop the subject.

Oh, hang on, my mistake. It seems there was one other option: double down on their opinions. All of them responded by expanding on the fact that our photo was embarrassing. They explained that we were the kind of stereotype that they had to push back against. People like us made life harder for people like them. We were the reason why people laughed them.

At the same time, they didn’t think that DJ and I had any reason to get upset about their opinions. After all, all of them said things like, “I’m sure these are lovely people, but…” and “I’m not judging the people, just the photo.”

One commenter even stood her ground on principle. She “refused to deny the reality” that we were an embarrassment to everyone else. I’m sure she thinks we’re lovely people, though.

It stung, I won’t lie. Yet like Elizabeth Bennet in my favorite novel (as identified in the Q&A that none of these commenters appeared to read), I saw the humor in it. Along with Lizzie, I could laugh at these people echoing Darcy’s dismissive, “She’s tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” These people were comically obtuse. They continually insulted us… oops, I mean our photo… without understanding that they were making themselves, not us, look bad.

But it could have gone very wrong.

Firstly, I’m at peace with who I am, but I wasn’t always that way. For years I disliked myself, hating being “the dorky one” and wishing I was prettier or more interesting or—yes indeed—cool. Had this happened to me in those previous seasons, it would have devastated me. No matter what dream I tried to pursue, I’d have those nasty voices in my head telling me I was a nerdy stereotype, and that others resent me because I make people laugh at them.

Secondly, what if any of our kids had seen these comments? Sure, I could explain that these commenters appeared to have deep insecurities, and the problem was theirs, not ours. But how much of that would a teenager really take in, when they could actually see the unkind words being hurled at them? There’s no humor in that situation. We would be furious, and rightly so.

As it was, the situation resolved much better than it could have. Our friends weighed in, commenting on how much they appreciated our family. Complete strangers jumped to our defense. And other complete strangers ignored the drama, instead reading our Q&A and responding with their own favorite books or memories. Meanwhile, the admin of the post stayed busy all afternoon, hiding the astonishingly rude comments.

Gradually, things calmed down. The trolls, having gnawed on our egos enough to assuage their gaping hunger, disappeared. So did their comments, thanks to the admin.

Yet one woman hung on. She’d been one of the first to comment, saying that “she was sure we were lovely people, but…” that it was a silly photo. DJ cheerfully agreed, adding that he kept it in his office and he enjoyed it. You’d think this would have taken care of the matter, but no. Every time someone would post their dismay at the rude comments directed at us, this lady showed up to clarify that all she said was that the photo is silly, that it was an odd choice, that she questioned why it was chosen.

Even when I responded to her directly, she clung to the thread like a bug on a windshield. (She shouldn’t be upset by that comparison because I said she was like a bug, not that she was a bug. I’m sure she’s a lovely person.) When the admin pinned a general comment reminding everyone to interact with grace and kindness, this woman replied again.

So I addressed her: You have now stated that opinion four times. The choice of a photo doesn’t affect your life, but your continued insistence that it’s “odd” and should be removed does in fact affect mine. We like this family photo, and if you don’t, feel free to move on. Your opinion has been seen. Please stop now.

Surely, I thought, she’ll let go and let the wind take her away. See if you can guess her response:

  1. I am very sorry. I didn’t stop to think how it made you feel.
  2. I don’t know why it bothers you so much, but fine. I have other things to do.
  3. I WAS DEFENDING MYSELF AGAINST THE SCOLDING ABOVE

Yes, it was 3, ensuring that everyone understood the truth: that she obviously did think she’d put her foot in it, but was unable to admit who tracked in the bad smell. At this point, I had to laugh again. The admin brushed her off the windshield, and I could relax. By the next day, it was over—a little Facebook tiff over the fact that our family photo triggered a few people’s “bully the nerds” response.

One of the reasons why we chose to homeschool was because we knew some of our children wouldn’t conform to traditional expectations. We didn’t want them to be targets simply because of who they are. Well, what do you know—here were fellow homeschoolers coming for us because they didn’t like how we looked.

There are bullies in every community. Fortunately, many more people in our community were quick to run to our side when we needed it.

I’ll probably never encounter these trolls again, either online or in real life. That’s fine by me. But if by some chance it does happen, I know what I’ll do. I’ll straighten my shoulders, blast Taylor Swift singing Mean, and I’ll see all those lovely people…

…right out the door. Good riddance.

Handle Men With Care

On Facebook, I came across a question from a wife (I’ll call her Melissa) whose husband (Blake) makes demeaning jokes. You know, hilarious “clean” humor like this:

On the original post, a woman did point out how demeaning it was to women. A man responded, “Take a hike.”

Melissa explained that she’s asked Blake not to make these remarks. His reply is, “It’s just a joke. It’s not a big deal.” It embarrasses and frustrates her, and she wanted to know what she could do about it.

Lots of women had lots to say. Many pointed out that if it “wasn’t a big deal,” then he could stop since it obviously bothers his wife. But he won’t stop, meaning that there’s more behind it than lame attempts at humor.

One woman said that she and her husband set aside regular times to discuss their biases and figure out problems in their communication. They work on a puzzle together while doing this, keeping their hands busy and making it easier to talk.

Another woman said she asks the jokester to explain why, for example, #13 on that list is funny. (“It’s funny because the woman is lazy because it’s her job to wipe the dust off the T.V.” Ha ha.)

But one woman weighed in with some advice straight from the “godly marriage” teachings I got as a teenager and young wife. The details can change, but one basic principle remains: the worst thing a woman can do is make a man feel bad about himself.

I mean, sure, he’s the head of the family, has the final say in major decisions, and is — no exaggeration — responsible before God for his wife’s spiritual health. But at the same time, he’s as fragile as a glass ornament. A wife can destroy her husband by contradicting him, disagreeing with him, or communicating anything less than devotion to him.

Therefore, in this conflict, Melissa must approach it carefully. As follows:

Let’s discuss.

  1. When your husband continues to do something that you’ve told him you don’t like, the first step is to figure out where you are wrong. Your attitude probably isn’t 100% pure, which means you’re partly to blame. It’s always very important to establish the wife’s blame in the situation.
  2. Approach your husband and ask him to discuss your reflections when he is ready. This is about you and your issues now.
  3. Don’t expect a massive change immediately. Obviously you’re aiming for a complete overhaul of his attitudes and behavior… even though your stated goal is merely for him to understand why jokes that cut down women aren’t funny and it embarrasses you when he tells them.
  4. Continue to ponder and understand your own beliefs, even though your husband isn’t required to think through why he won’t stop telling demeaning jokes.
  5. You must gently and respectfully state your disapproval if he makes these jokes around you. If you’re snappish or sarcastic, go back to #4, do not pass Go, and do not collect $200.
  6. You can respect your own convictions, even though he doesn’t have to. Also, note that it’s “doing what what you believe is right.” Avoid implying that your husband’s behavior has larger social consequences and this isn’t about your hurt feelings.
  7. You don’t have to speak up every time. Don’t overdo it.
  8. Keep praying! God will keep growing you! Because the problem here is… you?

It’s not that this whole thing is bad advice, taken in parts. It’s good to think through your own reaction before approaching your spouse. It’s also impossible to change someone who doesn’t want to change, so all you really can do is draw your own boundaries and know your own mind. But that’s not really what this is saying. Instead, it shoves all of the emotional work onto Melissa and requires nothing of Blake. There’s not even the expectation that he should change his behavior out of regard for her.

In patriarchal thinking, a man is the strongest protection a woman can have; but she has to handle him with the utmost care or she’ll damage him. A woman who stands too firmly on her own personhood is a woman who can destroy her marriage, her man — and by extension, herself.

Better for her to focus on her own fault, turn the conflict into her own “issues,” and keep praying that he listens to God better than he listens to her.

Sure, it short-circuits communication and lets unresolved conflicts fester. But if it gets too bad, just make a few jokes. That always lightens the mood.

New Short Story Collection: A Bowl of Pho

A Bowl of Pho: very short stories by [Sara Roberts Jones]

I’ve written some short stories for your reading pleasure. Well, to be honest, I wrote them for my writing pleasure. But I hope you like them too.

A Bowl of Pho is a collection of ten very short stories. When I say “very short,” that’s what I mean. The whole project began with a challenge to write a 300-word story. Since I recently had to shelve my 131,000-word novel, telling any kind of story in 300 words seemed both trivial and impossible. I was half-wrong — and fortunately it was about the impossible part.

It turned out that writing these vignettes was therapeutic. I let myself go beyond the 300-word limit, but I still kept them all short. It was fun, low-pressure, and got me excited about writing again.

As my catalogue of “mini-stories” grew, I wanted to prove to myself that I can still bring an idea to completion, despite the smoking wreckage of a novel behind me. So I did it. I didn’t overthink anything (as in, I’m pretty sure the art on the front is ramen, not pho). I just I wrote the stories, designed a cover, and put the collection up on Kindle Direct Publishing.

The stories are similar in style to Go Right: they’re warm, fun, and perfect to read over a cup of coffee. I didn’t tackle anything very weighty. I wrote what I liked and called it done.

It’s currently available on Amazon for $2.99. A “pocket-book” size paperback will be coming soon. I hope you check it out!

Found Things

I’m still emerging from the long dark tunnel of winter. It’s taking longer than usual because this year, instead of having a completed second novel as I expected, I’ve just got a shambles of a story that I have to rework from the ground up. That isn’t to say that I’m not writing at all. I have another little project in the works that I hope to say more about soon.

Meanwhile, here are a few writing-related things that have crossed my Shire lately.

By the way, I utterly despise inserting links. It’s tedious. So while I’ll link a few of these items, some of them I’ll just trust that you can cut-and-paste search terms.

Possessed by Passion. A friend, Tracy A. Ball, contributed to this collection. Full disclosure, this isn’t a genre I enjoy. Instead of finding the characters and the situations exciting, I just want to recommend counseling to everyone involved. But you might like it. Click through to the site and you’ll know instantly whether it’s the kind of thing that appeals to you. You should check it out.

Half a League Onward Press. I haven’t read This Do in Remembrance by Dave Dentel because, again, it’s not a genre I enjoy. However, Dave is a friend and I’m very excited that he’s putting his work out there. It might be something you like. You should check it out.

The Legend of Zare Caspian by Abigail Cossette is a web serial with adventure, intrigue, romance, and a “strong female character” who actually is strong and female — not just loud and obnoxious, and not just a man with boobs. While I haven’t read every episode, I have seen the behind-the-scenes work she puts into her stories. (As is possibly apparent by now, I happily support friends even when I’m not a dedicated fan of their genres.) Abigail, by the way, also does all her own artwork. You should check it out.

How Not to Write a Novel, Mittelmark and Newman. A friend sent me this book with the caution, “It’s pretty frank in places.” Well, yes. Definitely an adult audience. But said audience should enjoy the book’s ironic angle. It purports to be advice on how to remain an unpublished author, and goes through some of the best ways to derail your story. I’ve had this book for many years, so it didn’t exactly come to my attention “lately” — except that I recently cleaned up my bookshelf and rediscovered my TWO copies of it (one to lend, one to keep). It’s my favorite writing-advice book. You should check it out.

Go On Write. This is the best site I’ve found for pre-made book covers. He also does custom work—in my case, the cover to my short stories, Go Right. I drop in on the site periodically to see what new offerings he has. You should check it out.

Dominic Noble on YouTube. He’s a young Brit in California whose channel compares books-vs-movies. I found him a couple of years ago when he did a long series on Fifty Shades of Grey, which was highly entertaining, informative, and chock-full of profanity because of his passionate objection to the series. He doesn’t just take down books, though; he sometimes dedicates a video to books he loves. His appreciation of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted — one of my all-time favorite books — convinced me that we’d get along. You should check it out.

Bad Movie YouTubers. These channels aren’t specifically related to writing, but it’s informative to discuss why some stories don’t work. That’s my excuse, anyway. The truth is that I just love a good takedown of a bad movie. Jenny Nicholson, Kennie J.D., Fanboy Flicks (Weird Movies with Mark), and Good Bad Flicks — you should check them out.

My own books. Okay, this isn’t something I just “found lately.” But maybe it’s a discovery waiting for you! I’ve written a novel, The Fellowship, and short stories, Go Right. Both are linked to the right and also under the “Writing” heading at the top. I, too, am supported by friends who very possibly haven’t read the books — but you should because they’re really good. As mentioned above, as I mourn at the graveside of my ruined second novel, I’m also working on a new project which I’ll definitely update you on. You should… well, you know by now.

Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne

“Hey, guess what,” DJ said to me last week. “Jesus and John Wayne came in!”

What he meant to say was this: “Remember you asked me to look for the book Jesus and John Wayne for you? The library called to say it came in today.” But my first mental image was of Jesus and John Wayne popping in to DJ’s office, as if they were in the area and decided to come by and say hello.

But I was glad to hear it, even if the reality turned out to be less exciting. I was looking forward to reading it, in my ongoing to attempt to understand exactly how the white evangelical church got to where it is now.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez wasn’t really a revelatory book for me. I grew up Southern Baptist and spent my teenage years in Bill Gothard’s ATI program. Our house was full of material from Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Rush Limbaugh, and Eagle Forum. During my introduction to HSLDA in the late nineties, I brushed shoulders with pre-Vision Forum Doug Phillips. I wasn’t just familiar with the white evangelicalism that this book talks about, I was one of those white evangelicals.

What this book does, however, is lay out my own religious history in a way that I never understood before. It showed me patterns of ideas and behaviors that still hold true today. And it also showed me just how far I drifted from my roots in the early 2000s, which was why I was shattered by the white evangelical church’s overwhelming support of Donald Trump, instead of expecting it as an inevitable outcome.

In fact, if I’d read this book before the January 6 breach of the Capitol, I wouldn’t have found that event nearly as shocking.

The book isn’t a dense read, especially for someone already familiar with most of the major players. Yet every time I try to discuss it, I get tangled up in so many thoughts that it’s hard to have a conversation. So what I’ll do here is highlight the patterns that struck me as significant.

Pattern #1: Evangelicals have always courted political power. I was taught that a real Christian doesn’t “put confidence in princes,” that we trust that God will work His own will no matter what. In practice, however, the leaders in my life were all about currying favor at the White House. It’s why Ronald Reagan is practically a saint in evangelical circles — he was very cozy with the powerhouse of influence, James Dobson, and other church luminaries. Billy Graham was instrumental in getting Richard Nixon elected. Both Bushes knew to appeal to the evangelical vote. Had I known all this, I’d have known that when Dobson, Franklin Graham, and other leaders fell over themselves to line up at Trump’s feet, they weren’t selling out principle for power. Their principle is power.

Pattern #2: Evangelicals create and then believe myths. From the first, John Wayne has been an evangelical icon of “real manhood.” The strong, rugged cowboy lives by his own code of honor, is indomitable in battle, doesn’t take guff from wimpy men or any woman, and earns the respect of everyone he encounters. He’s a real man. Of course, it’s a completely fictional construct. Wayne himself wasn’t a cowboy, never served in the military… heck, even the name “John Wayne” was fiction, replacing the much less craggy “Marion Morrison.” Yet the fact that the ideal has no roots in reality does nothing to diminish it. This myth is so strong that the evangelical concept of Jesus himself has been shaped to fit into this mold.

Similarly, ideal womanhood is built on the same myth-making process. The two examples of great evangelical women in my younger years were Phyllis Schafley and Elisabeth Elliot. Both were outspoken women, household names, and inspiring to young evangelical women. Both pushed hard the idea that a woman’s highest calling is as a mother, wife, and homemaker. Yet neither of these women lived up to that ideal at all. Schafley poured her energies into politics, not “staying home and baking cookies,” as Hillary Clinton was famously reviled for saying. After her missionary husband was killed, Elliot spent her life writing books, hosting a radio show, and traveling around the country to speaking engagements. She married twice more, but never took those men’s names for her professional life. In both cases, these women were able to fulfill their obvious gifts for leadership by reinforcing the idea that they supported “traditional” women’s roles. And just like in the case of John Wayne, evangelicals agreed to believe the myth instead of the reality.

Although it’s still astonishing how quickly the John Wayne myth sprang up around Trump, now I can see why so many evangelicals eagerly believed and invested themselves in it. It’s part of a long pattern.

Pattern #3: Evangelicals feed on fear. There’s always got to be a bad guy for these John Waynes to fight. In fact, I remember the moment when I was 18 and listening to David Barton (a problematic “historian”) at a Bill Gothard conference in Knoxville. We’d spent all week being reminded that America was on a path toward destruction because we, the small remnant of faithful, couldn’t keep her true to her Christian roots. Barton was telling how the Library of Congress was transitioning to digital files, and “destroying hundreds of books.” He implied that it was an Orwellian book-burning designed to erase the Christian foundation of the US, allowing evil people to snatch the country away from us. And all of a sudden my exhausted mind shut down and I thought, “I am so tired of being scared all the time.”

But like any subculture, evangelical leaders need something to keep their followers focused. For many years, the Communist threat was enough to keep the troops galvanized. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, it left the army at a loss. So evangelical leaders focused on domestic threats, such as feminism, homosexuality, and religious liberty. Not saying that there are no reasons to be concerned on any of these issues (have you read 1960s feminism? It has venom-dipped fangs), but evangelicals aren’t famous for their nuanced take on issues they oppose.

Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Evangelicals quickly coalesced around this new external enemy. Anti-Islamic panic was high. Reading this section of the book, I realized that these were the years when I was drifting away from my roots. I was vaguely aware of what was being said and passed around as facts about Muslim beliefs and behavior (much of which was highly exaggerated or sensationalized), but I rejected it as unChristian prejudice and racism. I suppose I assumed that most other people did the same. I was wrong, which I found out painfully enough about fifteen years later.

Du Mez keeps a narrow focus in this book. In describing the evangelical response to various events, she doesn’t give much room to presenting a well-rounded view. For instance, she discusses the evangelical distaste for Hillary Clinton, both as a First Lady and as a presidential candidate. Briefly she touches on concerns about Clinton’s policies and possibly corruption — which are valid, non-sexist, non-partisan considerations for any candidate — but she mostly focuses on the overblown rhetoric and rumors that evangelicals passed around among themselves. If you want more than just the evangelical reaction to any given person or incident, you’ll have to go back and fill in the gaps yourself.

I found this a helpful book on a very personal level. Intellectually, I left evangelicalism years ago. I gave up on political activism because I don’t like rallies and canvassing for votes and writing emails to Congress. DJ and I revamped our entire understanding of the “essential” doctrine of creationism. Once we saw the damage that “traditional” gender roles (man = leads, woman = submits) inflicted on our marriage, we cultivated a relationship based on mutual submission. Early in our marriage, we considered joining the Catholic church, but ran into too many theological roadblocks; instead we made our way into the Anglican church, with its focus on liturgy and social awareness. I’ve become sharply aware of the national sin of racism, and the need to for the white church especially to repent. I haven’t voted Republican in a national election since I opted out of the 2008 election (and now I wish I’d participated in the historic event of electing a black president). I’ve revisited and refined many opinions which, in my evangelical days, came pre-packaged with inflexible answers.

Yet I still love the people I came from, and I didn’t realize how far away I’d traveled until the rift became impossible to ignore. That’s why I have so many knots and tangles when it comes to discussing my thoughts on this book.

Your experience reading this will vary. The book might enlightening, uncomfortable, or disturbing depending on your relationship with white evangelicalism. I think it’s valuable regardless. If you’re at all interested in understanding the white Christian Republican devotion to Trump, then you should read Jesus and John Wayne.

Just be aware that you have to say the title very carefully. Not only does this dynamic duo make the rounds at DJ’s office, but I found myself asking, “Did anybody see Jesus and John Wayne in the living room?”

People I Used to Know

Today on Facebook, I saw multiple instances reminding me why I had to put aside my novel until the end of the year at least.

When I write stories, I work hard to present all of my characters as real people. In the case of my current novel, that meant that my progressive characters run over boundaries in their zeal to do the right thing. And it means that the characters who are blind to racist realities are also hospitable, helpful, and intelligent.

In fact, I was deeply invested presenting good down-home Christians as flawed but good-hearted people. After all, I came from them and I love them. I see big problems in their history and current perspectives, but at the same time, I could write them sympathetically because I know them.

At least, I thought I did.

But these are the people who are cluttering up my newsfeed with things like this:

This isn’t about whether Trump or Biden wins. I haven’t liked any of the options for two elections running. This hits me on a much more personal level.

Four years ago, I saw my people turn out in droves to vote for someone I thought they’d never ally themselves with. They traded principle for political power. That was a year of grief and disillusionment for me, yet I thought I still understood them. Then came this year, when I became aware of the ugly voices of conspiracy. The whispered lies have led people to spread fear and threats of violence as if it’s undisputable truth. My heart broke again. I don’t know my own people.

So my novel remains on a (digital) shelf for now. I hope that sometime soon I might once again know the people I came from.

A 2020 Planner

At the end of last year, I bought a 2020 Planner. Isn’t it lovely?

I had a good reason to buy one. And no, it wasn’t so I could schedule my days, track my goals, and do all that other weird organizer stuff that people usually use planners for. (Note: I tend to be friends with weird organizer people. Also, I marry them.)

No, I liked the idea of filling in a planner for a fictional character. This one promised lots of space for that.

I mean, you could even rate each day, track your goals, write to-do lists, track your water intake… It was perfect for developing an entirely different person in an entirely different life!

But of course, this the year that things went so haywire that even the phrase “2020 Planner” is a joke.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out this planner and flipped through the few pages where I’d jotted down some initial thoughts. The planner fell open to December 2019, and I wrote at the top, “This month I saw one article on Facebook about a new virus in China.”

My fictional character faded from view as I paged through the blank calendars and began to write notes. Everything began shutting down this week. It was hard to get toilet paper. I made masks for the family and felt a little sheepish, but figured it was a good policy.

And then came June, when our old national sin of racism flamed to the surface again after George Floyd’s death. DJ and I attended our first protest, and I saw white friends finally see truths that the black community has been saying for generations.

But I also saw other friends repeating the same old defenses — the same ones I wrote about in my current novel. Many claim to be Christian, who insist that we must repent as soon as the Holy Spirit shows us sin, and our entire duty is to obey God and let him handle the consequences, Yet when it comes to the hard work of repenting of a history of racism, they can’t manage to let go of their political loyalties enough to do so.

I ended in August, when homeschooling is suddenly mainstream, masks still political statement, and the presidential elections looming.

I also noted that I’ve decided to set my novel aside until the end of the year. 2020 threw me off-balance. I feel like I need to reconsider everything from my setting to my characters to the scope that my story takes in. I hope to fill in the rest of the planner at the end of the year, and maybe I’ll be ready to engage with the novel again.

As I look at this accidental journal, I’m glad I took a couple of hours to fill it in. I didn’t set out to write an overview of this year; it just happened. And I think that’s a fitting theme for a 2020 Planner.

Gift Ideas For Your Writer Friend Who Just Got Edited

Do you have a writer friend who has recently received feedback from a professional editor about her manuscript? You’ll know because of her stunned expression and eyes filled with silent pain. Naturally you want to support your friend through this harrowing process, but what can you do? Well, lucky for you, I’ve got ideas!

(Note: I’ll be using the pronoun “her” because English doesn’t give us a neutral pronoun. It’s just for convenience. Not because “she” who runs this site might also be undergoing said harrowing process.)

Gifts for a Writer Undergoing Editing

  1. Send her a text or email to reassure her, “You are a good writer!”
  2. Remind her of the heart of her story and why she wrote it to start with.
  3. Write her a note reassuring her, “You’re going to make something great out of this novel!”
  4. Enclose a gift card to her favorite coffee shop.
  5. Oh, wait, unless it’s 2020 and her favorite coffee shop is open for curbside service only. 2020 sucks.
  6. Make a gift basket for her, filled with writer-friendly treats like new pens, a crisp blank notebook, and a bottle of glue for her shattered ego.
  7. Play a version of Monopoly where all you do is draw Chance cards that say things like, “My editor completely misunderstood how I drew this character,” and the editor has to go directly to jail every time.
  8. Give her suction darts and a target with one big bullseye that has Editors written on it.
  9. Reassure her, “You are a good writer” by engraving it on a brass plaque and mounting it on a stone pillar next to her front door.
  10. Remind her that this is a necessary part of the process; that she’s survived it before and she will again; and didn’t she pay her editor to find everything wrong with her manuscript? And then you should run.

These are just a few ideas. Be creative! After all, your friend is throwing a big ol’ pity party for herself. You’ll have time to think of something.

You Cannot Serve Both

Debt is a sin.

It’s not just a bad financial decision. It is a manifestation of greed and wastefulness, and crushing debt is God’s way of punishing you.

This is the kind of financial advice handed out by Bill Gothard’s organization since the 70s (my own personal “Fellowship”), but it wasn’t unique to him. [Of course it wasn’t. I’m not sure he taught anything actually unique; he just scavenged ideas from other people and repackaged it to look like his own. But I digress.]

This emphasis on debt-is-sin makes sense if you equate “wealth” with “God’s blessing.” If you’re really living up to God’s standards, he’ll make sure you have an abundance of money and you won’t ever have to go into debt for anything.

We heard stories of people who had unexpected windfalls that let them replace their vehicles in cash. About people who refused to go into debt for necessities, and God provided the funds. Even people who saved up enough money to pay for a house without taking out a mortgage. At the same time, we learned that to go into debt meant we put ourselves into slavery, that we weren’t living in enough faith, or that we were simply too greedy and too impatient to wait for God to provide for us.

These teachings have long-reaching consequences. I had a friend whose husband, through the fault of his genetics, piled up a massive medical debt. An already stressful situation was compounded with interest (heh heh) because they both felt that they were being punished since they didn’t have the means to pay off these debts immediately. Never mind that they showed incredible resilience, faith, and loyalty to one another and to God underneath so much pressure. They felt only the judgement of that debt.

And even in my own life, years and years away from this kind of thinking, I realized it still crops up. Recently, DJ and I got a nice chunk of money that we didn’t actually need. His job during the pandemic is relatively secure, and we’re accustomed to living on one income. We agreed that we’d use some of it to pay for termite treatment around the house, but the rest we’d give back to the community.

It was surprisingly hard to write that check. Aside from the pull of greed, I felt wasteful, as if I were “a bad steward” of what God had given us. What if an appliance broke, or even worse, one of our old vehicles died? We’d have to buy a new appliance or pay for the repairs on a credit card. Maybe God let us receive that money in anticipation for this need! But we gave it all away, opening ourselves to the danger of debt.

At this point in my life, I could dismiss this reasoning with a little thought. I mean, these days we carry a good amount of debt as a matter of course. But it was jarring to realize it was there. This kind of thinking turns us into fearful misers who can’t afford to be generous. Instead of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love and help the poor, we find ourselves bound in service to the god of money.

And all those stories I heard as a teenager, of people who lived debt-free? They usually left out some details. It’s easier to live debt-free if you’ve got followers who send you money. Or if, while saving up for years to pay for a house with cash, you and your family lived in near-poverty conditions.

And then there’s the fact that some people just flat-out lied about their circumstances. They didn’t live debt-free, but saying they did sold more books and videos.

American Christianity is fixated on wealth and power, to the point that we assume that someone in dire financial straits must be under God’s judgement. And since we don’t want to be in that situation, we have to hoard our money. We ignore others’ real, present needs in order to guard against our hypothetical future needs.

Debt is a sin is a philosophy that kills the soul for the sake of money. It seems as if Jesus would have warned against this kind of thing.

P.S. Gothard’s organization sold tens of thousands of dollars of curriculum, books, videos, and seminars… and accepted credit cards to pay for them.

A Visit from the Story Fairy

The Story Fairy bounced onto my bed. “Okay,” she gushed. “While you’re waiting for your novel to be edited, I have the best idea!”

“How much of an idea?” I asked warily. “That novel was supposed to be a novella. 70K words, not 130K.”

“No, this one is definitely shorter. It won’t take you two years. So what I’m thinking is…” She launched into a story pitch.

“Wow,” I said. “I think that will work!” I catapulted to my laptop. “I need to get this down! I might have a draft written in a month!”

“Right? I told you it wasn’t going to be as involved as the last one.”

About halfway through, however, my fevered typing slowed down. I wrote a paragraph and then deleted it. I sat back and stared at the screen. Finally, I said, “I’m stuck. Where do we go from here?”

The Story Fairy didn’t meet my gaze. “Hm? Oh. I didn’t really work out that part.”

“What do you mean that part? This is the entire second half!”

“Hey, sorry, I have to go. Other authors to inspire, you know!”

“You can’t just leave me hanging halfway through!” I shouted, but the Story Fairy was already gone.

A moment later, she stuck her head back into my room. “Um, have you considered an explosion?”

I threw my coffee cup at her.