The Victory in Surrender

I wanted to make the title an oxymoron to grab your attention. If you’re reading this, it worked. Now instead of my usual storytelling style, I’m going to begin with the end:

When we surrender our lives to Christ, we are surrendering to the One who has already overcome the world.

Surrender is an interesting word. Its meaning is almost never ambiguous, and in most cases it has the same outcome. But it has either good or bad connotations, depending on what context it’s being used in.

Surrender means giving up. Losing the battle. Letting the other side take you. How many times have we heard the words “SURRENDER OR DIE!” shouted at the opposing side during a battle? Surrendering is what happens when one side isn’t strong enough to keep fighting. Surrender is quietly laying down your weapons at the opposing side’s feet and saying “I’m yours.”

This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. For the past year or so, actually. Even though I’ve been dwelling on this idea, and God has shown me lots of things, it just hit me a couple weeks ago: I am not in control of my life. Period.

If you asked me, I wouldn’t say I’m a very controlling person. I never thought this lesson would be “for me.” But if I’m honest with myself, I have plans. Good plans, even. Plans for my life, plans for my future. And I want to control them.

I had a plan for college. I had it all figured out–nope, God shoved me in a completely different direction. I had plans for this amazing book I was going to write–never mind, God definitely had his own plans for that one. I worry about a lot of things. I have anxiety. This one was the hardest, because sometimes it’s easier for me to trust God with the big things in my life–like college–but not the little things, like what if I make a mistake while playing the piano at church.

Usually when I have no control over something, it freaks me out. But lately, I have found peace in it. I can rest in the fact that I have no control, because I am resting in the One who holds all the control. Surrender may seem counterintuitive, but really, it’s what frees us to trust.

And with this surrender comes victory. Because Christ has already overcome the world; he has already atoned for your sin; he has already paid for your life; he has already defeated death.

What if, instead of fighting the battle for control, we surrendered?
What if, instead of worrying, we surrendered our worries to God? What if, instead of trying to control the outcomes of our plans, we surrendered to the One who already knows exactly what we need?

What if we surrendered our entire lives to Him, in faith, knowing that He’s in complete control?

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
(Luke 9:23-24)

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…and a Happy New Year!

Here it is: the obligatory New Year’s post about memories, lessons learned, and resolutions.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope, not doing any of that, thank you very much. Today, I am here to tell you about a little word that I have come to love. Today, I am going to tell you about the magic contained in this three-letter word and what the magic means.

And the word is: Eve.

No, not like the woman Eve. I mean New Year’s Eve (hint: it’s today). Why is the eve of things so much better than the actual things themselves? Like, New Year’s Eve is full of celebrations, fireworks, parties, and Times Square. New Year’s Day is… um… well? Everybody sleeps in?

It’s the same with Christmas Eve, which happens to be my favorite holiday. Christmas Eve is a magical day, and somehow, even in the rush of hyper-excited children and tired parents, the song “Silent Night” still feels perfect for that night. It’s in that moment when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, and suddenly, everything gets still, and you wonder if the entire world is pausing to catch its breath in anticipation.

That’s the real word I want to focus on: anticipation. As a writer, I am hopelessly in love with words and their definitions. Anticipation means “to look forward to something excitedly,” which is probably obvious because you’ve probably used that word before. But there is another definition that I like even better, because it captures the exact thing I’ve been trying to describe to you this whole time:

the introduction in a composition of part of a chord which is about to follow in full

(Oxford English Dictionary)


This definition is only applicable to music theory, but go back and read it again. Anticipation, in this sense, is literally a taste of what is to come. A glimpse. A fleeting shadow of the true form.

That’s why I like New Year’s Eve. It’s the anticipation of the year to come. It’s the anticipation of all the new adventures I’ll have. And if there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that my own plans are hardly ever the same as God’s plans. This year was one sweeping adventure for me as far as writing goes (and I’ll tell you about that later).

I don’t know why some people say “good riddance” to the old year. I’m sorry if 2018 was a bad year for you, but for me, it was an adventure. A very good adventure which I did not plan at all.

So that’s my take on New Year’s Eve. The anticipation of adventure. Don’t get caught up in all your intricate plans. And if you know me at all, you’d probably never expect me to sat that. Because I’m a planning planner who plans things. It’s great to have a goal (all adventures have an end goal, a place you’re trying to get), but the road along the way? That’s where all the story happens. And sometimes, God has a completely different ending in mind, and ultimately, that one’s even better.

So. There you have it. Happy New Year! And right now, I am definitely anticipating all the new adventures of 2019. 😉

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve? Do you have any resolutions?

Interview with Pam Ogden!

Today, I am soooooo excited to have the opportunity to interview my friend and fellow author Pam Ogden! Her first book, He Made Me Brave, released on June 14th, and there is SUCH a cool story behind it, that I wanted to share it with all of you.

20180626_184515Six years ago, Pam and her family adopted a little boy from South Korea. Now, they are working through the adoption process again – and if you know anything about it, you know that it is very long and very expensive. He Made Me Brave is the story of their last adoption, taken from Pam’s travel journal when they went to Korea. It’s a story filled with overwhelming emotion and God’s redeeming power. It’s a love story, it’s an adventure story, it’s a testimony of God’s work. Thus, it is my great honor to be able to introduce you to its author.

~~~

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Talia: What inspired He Made Me Brave? What’s the story behind the creation of this book?

 

pam ogden author headshotPam: My inspiration was fear! I didn’t mean to be writing a book, honestly. A few days before we left for South Korea, I noticed that recording my thoughts, and especially very concrete details about what was happening around me helped to ease my anxieties.  Somehow, writing down the “reality” was a very effective way to combat my tendency to catastrophize and was the only thing that seemed to keep me grounded and present in the moment. I had so many fears about the trip, flying, meeting Hudson for the first time, and my competence as a mom, and all of those fears were coming to one giant climax simultaneously. I was just lucky enough to find a tool that helped me cope with those fears, at exactly the right time.

I kept my iPad nearby through the entire trip, and concentrated on my tactile observations anytime my anxiety threatened to overwhelm me. At first I had no plan for what would become of the journal after the trip. It was purely a tool for my personal use. But as I read over it the night before we met Hudson, I realized what a colorful record of this landmark event was emerging. I thought that someday I might share it with him.

When we decided to start the adoption process again, we pulled out our souvenirs from the trip to South Korea, and then I was reminded of the travel journal. I read over it for the first time in five years, and the descriptions reawakened all the memories and emotions from the trip. I decided to share some of the entries on my new blog, to give my friends and family some history for our second adoption. I was shocked by the volume of feedback I received, and how many people suggested that I turn the entries into a book.

During Thanksgiving break, on a whim, I submitted a partial application to the publishing company Lucid Books, but I had no expectations there. I intended to self-publish on Amazon, and hopefully raise some money for our second adoption. To my complete surprise, I received an email and then a phone call from Lucid, praising the work that I had submitted, and offering to publish the book!

Talia: Wow, that’s an amazing (and very exciting) story! Especially because you never even considered publishing it! You said your inspiration was fear, and in your book, you talk very frankly about your anxiety. Was there any part of the book that was particularly scary for you to write or to share with other people?

Pam: Because I wrote the book for myself and didn’t intend for anyone else to see it, it wasn’t scary to write at all. Actually it was very soothing.

But once I started the publishing process, knowing that people would be reading all those private thoughts was nerve wracking! I was unsure about how both my skill as a first-time writer and also my very personal reflections would be received. It’s terrifying to be that vulnerable; to allow my raw and unpolished thoughts to be exposed. I am hopeful that people will find it encouraging and validating, and especially that the people who played parts in the story will find themselves represented well.

Talia: I know exactly what you mean! Writing, especially sharing your writing with others, is being vulnerable, and sometimes, that is very hard to do. I am glad you decided to share your book, though–and I have no doubt it will encourage other people! Did you ever dream of writing a book before you wrote this one?

Pam: I have always dreamed of writing a book. I never felt like I had anything important enough to say, though, honestly.

Talia: Do you plan to continue writing?

Pam: I hope to! I published this book to help with the second adoption, and I would love to write a second book about our trip to Japan to pick up this baby. The stories of both adoptions are so interconnected, it would be more like a sequel.

I guess a second book is really in God’s hands, though. The adoption process is such a volatile and unpredictable animal, I am still hoping and praying that there will be a second adoption to write about.

Talia: That would be so cool if you wrote a sequel! You’re right, this whole thing is in God’s hands. I love how in He Made Me Brave, you can see God’s hand throughout it all. You can see how He was working through every part of your story! What are your hopes for this book as part of your current adoption process?

Pam: My hopes for the book are twofold. Of course I would love for the book to be so successful, that it helps to fund our second adoption, but I know that is an unrealistic goal for a first time author.

So I hope that the book will be a platform for me to build on, both as a future author, and also as an advocate for international adoption. Not many people know about the current decline in adoptions from other countries. One statistic I saw showed an 81% drop in adoptions from foreign countries in the last ten years. The problems are not solely trends in personal or individual family preferences. The changes that our government is making in the adoption process are causing fees to soar astronomically, and delays to stretch on indefinitely. Also, the statistics for children who are institutionalized for their entire childhoods, and then are expected to care for themselves when they age out are horrifying. I would love to use any exposure the book brings me to raise awareness of this problem. And if our story compels a reader to donate financially to our adoption, then we would be incredibly grateful for that, too!

Talia: It’s sad that not many people know about those problems. I know it’s caused unbelievable stress for some families (probably you, too!). I think the goals you have for your book are very good ones. Who knows, God may use you to call others to help, maybe even to consider adoption themselves!

Now, because I just have to know, who are some authors who impacted you as a writer? Inspired you as a reader?

Pam: My favorite authors are Victor Hugo and Joan Aiken. Both of them describe the world and humanity in a way that inspires a sense of romance and wonder without sacrificing reality. I love writing that can both tell a story and also appeal to my love of poetry and metaphor, and my favorite stories include themes of redemption, mercy and compassion.

Talia: love both of those authors! Victor Hugo is absolutely amazing, and Joan Aiken too. The way you described their writing is spot-on, and I think those themes you listed are part of what makes a timeless story.

This brings us to the close of our interview, but I just wanted to say thank you so much for being willing to do it! It was a lot of fun coming up with questions and seeing how you answered, and I liked getting to hear a little bit more about your book. I’m sure God will use it all for His glory.

~~~

If you like, you can visit Pam’s blog.

Or, do her a favor and buy her book on Amazon. 😀

pam ogden author headshotHomeschool mom and pastor’s wife Pam Ogden had dreamed of being a mom since she was a little girl.  She and her husband wanted six children, but their plans were waylaid when high-risk pregnancies and premature births threatened their first four babies.  In 2012, they adopted their son, and in 2017, they started the process to adopt one more child.  Pam graduated with honors from George Fox University, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Writing and Literature, and a Master’s degree in Counseling.  Pam loves her small-town life in Sweet Home, Oregon, with her husband, Jason, and their five children: Kelly, Luka, Ivan, Ember, and Hudson.  Pam and Jason hope to add one more child soon.

 

10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Writing

Hello, everyone! Today, I will share ten super-secret, insiders-edition-only, banned-by-federal-government tips about starting out as a writer. Because, let’s face it: You can go to any author’s website and get awesome advice, because published authors clearly know what they’re doing. Or, you can approach any writer who’s had more experience than you, and they can give you advice. Right?

Right. But not all the time. See, there’s this misconception going around that aspiring authors start out clueless, but as they gain more experience, they become more confident and learn how to make the right writing choices.

*cricket noises*

10things1Maybe I’m just different than everyone else, but I was the opposite. When I decided I wanted to be an author, I knew EXACTLY what I was doing. And now, three and a half books later, I have absolutely no idea what the heck I’m doing. Sure, I’ve definitely LEARNED  lot… but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying that there are things that aspiring authors need to hear. And sometimes, people are so eager to dole out their prestigious advice, they forget to say some of the most important things.

Looking back, there are several things I wish I’d known when I started writing. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The experts know what they’re talking about. Most of the time. They’ve traveled this road ahead of you; they themselves learned the same things. When they give you advice, their goal is to save you the pain of learning the hard way. I remember getting annoyed at experts, because I already knew how to write, so how dare they try to tell me any differently? It turns out that they were right all along. Go figure.

2. You will cry. You will have bad days when nothing works, and you will cry because of how miserable you are. You will have good days when everything is glorious, and you will cry because of how beautiful it all is. You will cry for your poor characters whom you torment so relentlessly. You will become emotionally attached to your story. And this is a good and necessary thing, because you want your readers to become emotionally involved too, don’t you?

3. Every writer is different. Best method for writing a book? There isn’t one. And this is one example of when you should take professional advice with a grain of salt. Lots of people will tell you that you need to outline your book before you even start writing it. If that sounds lovely, go for it. But if, in middle school, being forced to write an outline for an essay was worse than being dragged off to Mordor and tortured, then for heaven’s sake, DON’T OUTLINE!!! Many people will tell you that you need to do some planning before you start writing, that you need to figure out your characters, the plot structure, and the theme. Try it if you like, but if it makes your creativity dry up (as it does for me), then don’t do it.

4. Just be yourself. You know that author you look up to? The one whose books you devour? That author you want to be just like? I wrote a post about this a while back, which you can read here. My advice to you is this: be yourself. The best authors weren’t concerned with trying to be someone else.

the end5. “The End” is not the finish line. Oh my, this is a big one. I used to think that if I could just finish writing the book, I will have accomplished something big. This is true, but in reality, hitting “The End” is just like climbing the first 100 feet of Mount Everest. After that, you’ve got editing and publishing and marketing (oh my!). I actually don’t know if there’s a finish line at all.

6. It’s not all fun and games. Sure, it might start out that way, but I can guarantee it will get harder. Your characters won’t listen to you. The muses won’t show up. Your carefully-planned-out plot will spontaneously decide to wear a hole in itself.

7. It shouldn’t become your identity. It shouldn’t overtake your mind to the point that you think about nothing else. You shouldn’t lose sight of the real world because your are living in the one you made up. It’s not healthy, and it doesn’t glorify God.

8. Persistence is key. You will be tempted to give up time and time again. But if you keep going, you will grow. If you don’t give up, amazing things will happen. Writers are known for doing the impossible.

9. Writing is a highly unique learning process. You don’t learn from a textbook; you learn by doing. Every author embarks on a journey – a journey to learn, to create things no one has ever created before. How can anyone teach you how to do that?

10. God will use you for things you never imagined. I wanted to shake the world. I wanted my stories to ignite a spark in the hearts of many. But that’s not what God wants for me right now. Instead, he showed me a much smaller idea: to show the love of God to one person. One. God will use you – and your writing, if that’s what he has called you to do – to accomplish things your wild imagination could never dream up.

That’s all I have for now, but I hope these tips helped you! Feel free to share any of your own tips in the comments!

What’s something you wish you knew before you started writing?

Joy to the World

In honor of Christmas, I thought I would write about joy. Joy through trials, that is. I don’t usually write on this topic, but it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I feel like I should post it. It has very little to do with writing, actually. And honestly, how am I qualified to even write about such a topic as trials and suffering? I’m sixteen years old; how much have I actually seen in life? Not much. How much have I actually had to endure? Compared to some others, not much.

But I want to write this post to encourage anyone who is going through some sort of trial right now. I want to remind you that God will use whatever you’re going through in truly spectacular ways. I know it’s nearly impossible to see in the midst of trials, but He will bring something out of it.

Let me tell you a story.

advent-wreath-3008858_640Last winter and spring, I went through a period of depression. It lasted for several months. Everything was meaningless, even things that used to mean everything to me. It was hard to get up every morning and keep going. Even my spiritual life was meaningless. I knew I should find joy in Jesus; I knew He could help me find some meaning in this thing called life again. And even though I knew that, the depression and the tears lingered.

And God did eventually help me find meaning. He did help me find joy. But that’s not really the point of going through trials. The end goal isn’t to get out of them. God wouldn’t do that; He wouldn’t put us through hard things and then bring us back out of them without letting us learn something.

I was reading through some of my old journals the other day. About six or seven months ago, in the midst of my depression, I was writing things like this: “That fiery passion I felt for the Gospel? It’s gone…. I’m afraid I’ll never find it again. How can I lose sight of my calling now, after I’ve come so far?”

The Gospel is something that sets me on fire. At least, it used to, before everything turned gray and became devoid of any meaning. The Gospel has been the calling on my life since I was a child. I’ve always felt that nudge from God. But not then. It scared me. I was afraid I’d never be able to experience the Gospel and all of its beauty again.

And guess what happened? It wasn’t an instant change. Some parts of it were, definitely, and sometimes God does bring us out of our trials instantly like that. But not this one. This one was more gradual. I couldn’t really see God’s amazing work until I zoomed out. But His work was truly amazing.

This past summer, I had another opportunity to serve at Camp Attitude. I’ve gone with a group from church for the past few years, and it’s always an amazing experience. You get to volunteer there to serve disabled kids and their families, which sounds like a boring way to spend a week of your life. But while I was there this summer, God showed me what truly living looks like. He showed me what joy really is. After long, rough months of slogging through life, God showed me what it truly means to be alive.

That week at Camp Attitude was kind of like God chuckling to himself and dramatically reversing my vision of my life. But He works in smaller, less obvious ways, too. Just the other day, I realized that the first new book I wrote after being depressed for so long was Inferno’s Melody. The whole point of that book is the fire God places on our hearts. Of course I didn’t plan it that way. God did.

Seeing the way God works is what brings me joy. And when people say “joy through trials,” it’s easy to picture third-year Ron Weasley, trying to predict Harry’s future: “So you’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.” But James 1:2-4 says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Like I said, I don’t have a lot of life experience. I haven’t been through the kinds of trials some people have. Paul, in Philippians, said he had learned to be content no matter what circumstances he got thrown into. I confess I can’t say that about myself while being honest about it. But this I can say: I have learned that you can have joy through trials, if not during them, then definitely after you see what God has done through them.

And what better time to meditate on it than during Christmas, when Jesus came down to Earth as a human? When he came to face trials for our sake? When he came to suffer so that we’d never have to suffer the eternal wrath of God? It doesn’t mean we won’t ever suffer – in the Gospels, Jesus promised us that we would suffer. But when we do, we can have joy because He has already overcome the world.

I hope this encourages you. If you want to talk, please leave a comment, or send me a private email on my contact page. Merry Christmas!!

Do you have a favorite story about how God has worked through trials (it doesn’t have to be about your own life)?

Are you looking forward to Christmas? How do you plan to spend the holidays?