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.

 

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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?

Introducing: Inferno’s Melody

Happy December, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I always get really excited about Christmas. I love picking out a Christmas tree, and decorating it with my family, and baking Christmas cookies and making a huge mess in the kitchen. It’s the best.

I like to use December to get a break from whatever story I happened to be writing for NaNoWriMo. You really do need that break, even if you don’t feel like it. I desperately want to keep working on it this month, but I’m taking a break anyway. I’ve got a couple of other deadlines I have to keep track of for other stories.

I wanted to write more posts last month, but, you know, NaNo keeps you pretty tied up. But today I thought I would tell you how it went. I thought I’d officially introduce you to my newest novel: Inferno’s Melody. I have never told anyone about a book two days after I finish writing it. Never. I almost didn’t post this today. I feel very vulnerable, baring my heart like this. But I think this is something I need to say.

Inferno (1)NaNoWriMo pretty much never goes the way I expect. This year, I’d expected it to be an epic mad dash of writing day after day and a brand-new story emerging from the smoking ashes. Well, I guess that technically happened, but not in the way I’d expected. You see, this is the third novel I’ve written, and I’ve come to expect the newest one to always be my favorite. I was in love with my first novel until I wrote the second one. And yes, I am in love with the story I wrote last month, but my heart isn’t quite there yet. Ironically, that’s exactly what the story is about.

I’d like to ask you all a question: WHY do you do what you do? Whether it’s writing, playing music, art, or another passion you have, why do you do it? What drives you? Do you do what you do for yourself, or do you do it for someone else? Why do you sit down and work at it day after day, even though it can be extremely frustrating at times? I think all of us have at least something that fits these standards. But what makes us do what we do?

For me, that thing… is not writing. *gasps from audience* I figured that out a few months ago, and, well, I decided to write a story about it. Leave it to me to make my entire life ironic. Now, don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE writing. It IS a passion that I have, and I AM driven to do it every day, no matter how hard it gets. But it is not my greatest passion, and here is how I figured it out:

This passion that you have, would you follow it to the end? Would you live your entire life in dedication to this passion? Would it be worth dying for? Or is it not quite that strong?

Writing, for me, does not meet these standards. Not by a long shot. It’s like trying to compare a candle to a bonfire. It can’t be done. The difference is so great, it just wouldn’t make sense. I found that there is another passion that I have. But I was trying to use writing to satisfy it. It seems to work most of the time, but I think later on, it won’t be enough anymore.

God’s love is perhaps one of the most compelling things I have ever known. And really, I think I’ve always known that. It took three novels for me to be able to say it outright like this, but it’s a theme that’s come up again and again in every single one of my stories:

A man dying for his enemies.

A boy being driven by fear until he finds that love is much stronger.

A girl devoting her entire life to a cause until she realizes that her heart is empty.

They are all the same story, and all of them are about me. No, I have never died for my enemies. But I would, if my passion led me there.

Yes, I have been driven by fear. It’s a terrifying ordeal. The thing that finally set me free was the Truth – and I promise, love is much stronger than fear.

Have I ever devoted my entire life to a cause, then realized my heart was empty?  I’m praying that I won’t.

You see, all of these characters had to discover something. They had to discover their passions. They had to discover love. When I say “love” I hope you aren’t envisioning the sappy, romantic love portrayed in the media – I hope you’re envisioning a desperate madness that extends far beyond the boundaries set up by this world. Yes, I have experienced this kind of love before. I have a Savior who loves me like that, more than I could ever imagine. And He has allowed me a very small taste of what it’s like to love someone or something else like that.

I want to say right now that whatever happens, I will always proclaim God’s name. I will always extend the message of his love to everyone else. Because this is what compels me, and this is what drives me. God’s love is burning inside of me like a blazing inferno, too hot and too bright to keep shut up inside.

Its melody is intoxicating, and I will always sing it for the world to hear.

Inferno’s Melody is not just a story. It is real.

I really want to hear what your passion is. Why is it so compelling to you?

Fear (and an exciting book announcement)

I must admit, I was a little scared to post this. Fear is almost always a part of the writing process. What-ifs are a very common form of writing-related fear: “What if I fail?” “What if no one likes it?” “What if I don’t meet my deadline?”

I’ve asked myself all of these questions before. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid I won’t ever finish this beautiful story I love. I’m afraid that when I finally do finish it, no one will like it. I’m afraid of letting myself down, but I am also afraid of letting everyone else down. I’m afraid they will compare me to so many better authors, like I compare myself to my favorite authors. I’m afraid I won’t meet my goal before my self-imposed deadline (especially during NaNoWriMo).

There are three main reasons why I am writing this post: 1) to (hopefully) give myself motivation to actually finish editing my book,  2) to attempt to push past some of my fears of rejection, and 3) because I am so very excited to finally and (in)formally announce this book. I wish I could say it is getting published, but I’m not quite there yet. I hope to publish it one day. That’s my goal, anyway. So now I’m going to tell you about it.

I’m secretly afraid no one will like it.

But here we go.

*deep breath*

The Title: Twelve

The Plot (I apologize, for I have not had much practice writing synopses): 

For years, Roland has been searching for the rest of the Artifacts. He already has one of them, ever since a strange old man gave it to him and told him to seek out the rest. But someone – Pravus is what he calls himself – is out to settle a personal grudge with Roland, and claim all the Artifacts for himself.

One night, while being pursued, Roland stumbles across a woman who has been attacked, only to discover that she shares his goals. They escape their pursuers together and then set out to locate the rest of the Artifacts.

As it turns out, there are in fact twelve Artifacts, each belonging to a separate person. Once they are together, the twelve set out on a quest that is as ancient as Time itself. All they have to guide them is one riddle, and the knowledge that Pravus will stop at nothing to find them. But every step they take seems to take them closer to Pravus. No one can be trusted, because Pravus is obviously getting his information from somewhere… and it very well could be one of them.

The Characters (I will not introduce all twelve; only my favorites):

I would share some pictures from my Pinterest boards (because each character has their own separate board), but I’m not sure how legal that is. I would have to download all the images from it that I wanted to use, and sometimes I just get really paranoid about copyright laws. Instead, I’ll give you the links to each character’s board. The things I’ve pinned will hopefully help you get an idea of the character’s personality. Please forgive any minor spoilers, but there won’t be any major ones.

Roland (main character):  Roland is… honestly, hard to describe. He’s a very complex character, as two sides of him are constantly dueling one another. He refuses to explain this to anyone else. Although he is the “leader” of the quest, he does not possess many leadership skills. Or social skills, really. Aside from these flaws, he is very adventurous. Here is a link to Roland’s Pinterest board.

Shea: Originally I had aimed to base Shea off of Sherlock Holmes. Somehow, in the writing process, this didn’t happen, and instead she is now somewhat based off of myself. She is quiet and observant, and always has something on her mind. She keeps many of her thoughts to herself, but likes to figure things out – solving riddles, translating unknown languages… you get the picture. Here is a link to Shea’s Pinterest board.

Kirk: Kirk is definitely one of my favorite characters I have ever written. He is an ESTP, which is about as opposite from me as you can get. (I’m not sure if it’s exactly opposite, but almost.) He is openly rebellious, sarcastic, and conceited. None of the other characters like him, but he serves as the comic relief for the reader. Here is a link to Kirk’s Pinterest board.

George: The last character I am going to share is George. I love him almost as much as I love Kirk. George is there to make sure everyone behaves themselves, and to ensure that logic is always being considered. He and Kirk are foils of each other. (If you don’t know what a foil is, it’s a character who possesses opposite traits of another character, in order to highlight the other character’s traits.) George is calm and diplomatic, and serves as a secondary leader next to Roland. Here is a link to George’s Pinterest board.

And finally, some excerpts:

(I made fancy graphics for these!)

“Fine,” he said, much more softly this time. “I suppose if your little secret is more important to yo

How about a memorable quote? I’ve always thought of this one as the “inspiring Gandalf quote” of my book. It doesn’t sound nearly as awesome out of the context of the story, though, so just keep that in mind.

Courage,

And here is the last excerpt I will share today:

another exerpt

 

Confession: I actually edited this one a bit before I posted it. And please excuse that run-on sentence at the end.

That’s it for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed everything I shared. Please note that anything I said is subject to change, because I am still in the revision process.

Are you working on a book or a story you would like to share? What do you do to combat writing-related fears?

What Is Love? – Part 3

Today, as you probably know, is Valentine’s Day. And today, I am posting the final part in my blog series about love and romance. (If all this sounds new to you, you can read Part 1 and/or Part 2.)

valentines-day-2042048_640Today I’m talking about what it means to love one another. I have even MORE Scripture passages to go through than I did last time, but hopefully it won’t be quite as long. Jesus, in all of his teachings, tells us a lot about how we ought to love. He never mentioned giving people pink hearts and chocolate, but that sometimes works too, especially today…

Anyway. Like I said, romance is awesome, but if you’re only looking at romance, you’re missing something. If you look at how Jesus loves us, you’re getting the picture of true love. But, now that we know what true love is, how on earth are we supposed to love each other?

I’m going to start in exactly the same place I left off last time. In John 15:12, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Now I’m going to jump right in to today’s verses; but don’t worry, I’ll come back to this one.

The first verse is from Matthew 5, which is called “The Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus says a lot of things here, including the command to love our enemies. Most of the sections in this chapter start with the phrase “You have heard that it was said…” and then Jesus gives a common saying, such as “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Then he proceeds to explain exactly why the particular saying is wrong. Such as:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (ESV)

If that command doesn’t go against human nature, I don’t know what does. Love our enemies? Pray for people who hurt us and maybe even want us dead? Humans naturally love those who love them and hate those who hate them. But Jesus commands us to love even the people who do not love us back.

And did Jesus himself love his enemies? Oh yes. Last time I referenced the verse in Romans that says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And if you’ll remember, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, he cried out to his Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. And so, if we believe in him, He will help us to love our enemies.

Another passage (and this pertains directly to Valentine’s Day) is Ephesians 5, part of which says:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

human-1215160_640I would suggest reading all of Ephesians 5, because the whole chapter talks about love, but this is the main part I wanted to share because it talks about husbands and wives. Again, we see a mirror. (I just love mirrors! Don’t you?) Love between a husband and wife is meant to mirror Christ’s love for the church. Once again, I would like to direct you to the Circle series. Dekker illustrates this beautifully, both between a husband and wife and between God and his church. Unfortunately, I’m refraining from actually using it as an example, because I don’t want to spoil anything about it in case someone out there is actually reading it.

My next verse (man, I’m really flying through these this time) is 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very well-known chapter, and it’s all about love. What are all the qualities of love? If we are to act in a loving way, how should we act? These are the things it talks about. And this time, rather than quoting the chapter and explaining what it means, I’m going to go through it and list all the things it says about love. I love lists.

Love:

-Is patient and kind

-Does not envy or boast

-Is not arrogant or rude.

(So far this list is looking pretty bad for Kirk, one of my characters.)

-Does not insist on its own way

-Is not irritable or resentful

-Does not rejoice at wrongdoing

-Rejoices with the truth

-Bears all things

-Believes all things

-Hopes all things

-Endures all things

-Never ends.

What a nice conclusion; I’d never noticed the way it ended before. And if you look at Jesus’s life, you’ll see that he perfectly fulfilled all of those things. Once again, our love for others is meant to mirror Jesus’s love. This is where it all ties back to that verse in John. If there’s one thing I want to say in this post, it’s that Jesus commands us to love others in the same way he loved us. I’m going to wrap this up with one more verse, and it’s from Colossians 3:14.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

I love that verse. The use of the phrase “above all these” is just like “the greatest of these” at the end of 1 Corinthians 13. And love binds everything together. In perfect harmony. So poetic. *dreamy sigh*

So. This concludes my first Monthly Theme! I’ll be back in a few days or so with another post about who-knows-what. Maybe I’ll blog about music. We’ll have to see though. Meanwhile… if you have any suggestions about what next month’s Monthly Theme should be, please let me know! I’m still looking for ideas. Again, if you have anything else you’d like to say about the verses I shared, please feel free to do so. Or you may add verses you thought of but that I didn’t list here. I’d love to hear from you!

What is Love? – Part 2

Welcome back to my first-ever blog series, entitled “What is Love?” Last time I explored the theme of romance in books and looked at how romance is different from true love. (If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.) Today, I’m going to be looking at what exactly true love is. There is plenty of Scripture that talks about it, and there are plenty of books out there that illustrate it.

I cannot write anything else in this post without mentioning the Circle Series (by Ted Dekker, if you don’t know). If you’ve never read this series, do it. Read it now. I’ll wait for you. Go ahead. The minute you’re done with it, tell me and we will have ourselves a nice, long conversation. It’s definitely one of my most favorite book series ever. It has lots of different themes within it, but the main theme is the Gospel, which is of course about love. In fact, the series pretty much changed my entire outlook on the Gospel. I’m not going to spoil anything about it… but it illustrates God’s love for us and our love for each other, and it’s just such a good series YOU HAVE TO READ IT.

Now I’m going to share some Scripture passages and talk about what they have to say about love. As I was looking through all the passages I want to share, I was debating which ones I should do today and which ones I should do next time. Should I open with what God says about loving one another, and end with God’s awe-inspiring love for us? Or should I open with the Gospel and conclude the series with how we ought to love one another? After a long debate with myself (I tend to overthink things…), I remembered the verse found in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” So, then, it would make sense to start with God’s love for us, and end with our love for each other. Because our love mirrors God’s perfect love.

merry-christmas-590226_640Jesus is the ultimate example of love because he died for us. I touched on this the other day. An obvious verse is John 3:16. Practically everyone knows this verse, but in case you don’t, here is what it says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Since this is such a well-known verse that all young Christian children probably memorize, the words can sometimes become empty. I know they can for me. It’s like, “Oh yeah, John 3:16. That verse that talks about God’s love and eternal life.”

Have you ever had that problem with writing before? Maybe you’ve written a simply amazing sentence or paragraph, and you read what you’ve written and you just sit there basking in its awesomeness. Then you go back and read it again. And again. And again. As you keep rereading it, it starts to lose its flare. After a while, you’re not even reading the words anymore because you know exactly what they say. And because you’re not reading them, you’re not really hearing them. And so all meaning is lost.

art-painting-285919_640But if you read, if you really read those words as if it were your first time reading them, they suddenly have meaning again. It’s the same with John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.” If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. In the beginning, God created the entire world and everything in it was perfect. There was no sin, no death, and Adam and Eve had direct access to God their Creator. But after they sinned (in other words, after they completely turned their backs on the very person who breathed life into them), sin entered the world, they no longer had direct access to God, and the universe was then in disarray and chaos. BUT. God so loved the world.

One little thing here before I go on, because my mind just works like this. John’s choice of conjunction here is very specific. I just said “but” (to make a point), but John said “FOR.” If you connect the end of verse 15 with the beginning of verse 16, it makes perfect sense: “Whoever believes in him may have eternal life, for God so loved the world.” The reason we can have eternal life is because God so loved the world. John goes on to explain this. God loved us so much that he gave us his one and only precious Son, who died for us. If we simply believe in him, we will have eternal life.

Have you ever known anyone else with love like this? Who would give up so much for a world that hates him? Who would turn his back on his only son in order to save a bunch of sinful rebels? There is only one person like that, and his name is God.

Another verse is from Romans 5:6-8. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And shortly after, Paul adds, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23.)

These verses illustrate the immensity of Jesus the Son’s love for us. Like Paul said, not many people would die for someone else. And even if you did, you’d have to really love that person. So if it takes great love to die for someone who is very close to you, how much more love did Jesus have? He died for us before we ever loved him. He chose to love us while we were still turning away from him. (Again, I would like to direct you toward the Circle Series.)

The last passage I’m going to share today acts as a bridge between this post and my next post. And you can see why:

“‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.'” (John 15:12)

church-535155_640So we have just seen how Jesus loved us. And now he commands us to love others in that same way. Love unconditionally. Love without expecting anything else in return. Love sacrificially. Love others as Christ has loved you.

There is a lot more than that in this verse, though. To truly understand all of it, we need to look at the context. This is part of a long conversation Jesus is having with his disciples. I literally filled an entire page with everything that happens before this verse and all the events that lead up to it. Unfortunately… this post is already way longer than I wanted it to be, so I’ll share a few things and leave the rest for you to find.

The conversation takes place after the Last Supper and after Judas had already left. One thing I find very interesting is that Jesus begins his speech with the words “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) He goes on to say lots of other things, but comes back to the commandment to love one another. Then after that, he says finally, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” Shortly after that he is arrested and then crucified.

Perhaps another time I will talk about this more in-depth, but for now I’m going to leave you with Jesus’s command to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And… my next (and final) post in this series will be about how Jesus instructed us to love each other. By the way, if you have anything you’d like to add about the verses I shared, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear from you!

What Is Love? – Part 1

Today, I am happy to announce something exciting for this blog. I’m going to (hopefully) start having a Monthly Theme. One of my best friends actually suggested it to me. (Thanks, Alison!) Every month, I’ll choose a theme that is commonly found and explored in books and write one or two posts on it… or three… or however many it takes to satisfy my geeky writer’s analytical something-or-other. The part of me that likes to analyze things and connect them to other ideas.

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am only a writer who has a passion for the Truth that sets you free, and I love studying the Bible to see what it has to say about themes commonly found in stories. Themes like love.

love-794333_640Love is a fairly common theme in books. There is an entire genre dedicated to love: the romance genre. The entire plot is about the relationship between two people. Take Romeo and Juliet, or Pride and Prejudice. (I suppose that Romeo and Juliet could be considered a tragedy rather than a romance, but for my purposes, I am calling it a romance.) The plot is about love itself. The premise of each of these books is slightly different. Is it forbidden love; do two characters fall for each other but they are forbidden to marry? Or do they hate each other at first, and then over the course of the story, they fall in love?

Of course, there is more to love themes than the romance genre. If romance isn’t the main plot, it is almost certain that it will be a side plot. Take pretty much any book ever written. Like The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Romance subplots are actually pretty rare in the Sherlock Holmes books, unless the mystery has to do with a love affair, but in The Sign of the Four, Mary Morstan is a main character, and Dr. Watson ends up falling in love with her. Another example is The Lord of the Rings. It is in the fantasy genre, but look at Arwen and Aragorn. At one point Éowyn loved Aragorn too, creating a love triangle. Even my current novel has a romance subplot. The main male character is in love with the main female character from the very first scene, and as the story goes along, their love blossoms into something beautiful. I won’t give anything away, but by the end of the story, the climax hinges on their love for each other.

But there is more to love than romance. Romance implies feelings of attraction; it implies the fluttering of the heart whenever you are together; it implies flirting and courting and soft-spoken conversations under the twilit sky; it implies constant thoughts of the person of interest and of future marriage; and perhaps it even implies marriage itself. Romance is reliving conversations in your mind word-for-word; it is the heating of the cheeks whenever he looks at you (or she, if you’re a guy), it is the desire for physical contact and special attention; it is a friendship with something more in mind. A romance plot is the progression of a romantic relationship; it is two people who may or may not love each other in the beginning but end up together in the end (except in the case of Romeo and Juliet); it is obstacles getting in the way of the relationship but love prevailing in the end. Romance is a relationship between two people. But romance implies nothing more than feelings.

And feelings are not the source of truth, are they? True love implies something more than just feelings. More than just a relationship.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love romantic stories. I love it when two characters are in a relationship with each other and I get to see their relationship progress until the end of the story. Romance is good. God created it when he created Adam and Eve. He created men and women to love each other, and he created emotions, and he created marriage. Romance makes for an excellent story, and yet when it comes to love, if you’re only looking at romance, you’re missing something. You’re missing something important.

What are we missing? Let’s look in the Bible.

cross-66700_640

I’m not going to go into all of the passages today, but I will mention a few. Let’s start with the Gospels. Jesus is the ultimate example of love. He loved us so much, he died for us. And did we deserve it? No. Of course not. We turned away from him. We rebelled. We didn’t deserve to be saved; in fact, we all deserved death. But, because God loved us, he sent his Son – his Son – to die and save us. That, my friend, is true love.

The Bible also talks about other aspects of love. It contains passages pertaining to what marriage should look like, it shows us God’s love for us and how we should follow his example, and in places Jesus tells us some pretty unexpected things about loving one another. And of course, what blog post about love would be complete without mentioning 1 Corinthians 13?

But I don’t have time for all of this today. This is a three-part blog series, so during the next two posts I’ll be sharing some of my favorite passages that talk about love. And I’ll talk about what God’s love looks like and how it is the perfect example of perfect love. Appropriately, I will be posting the third and final part on Valentine’s Day. And yes, I did plan it that way. I plan everything.

In the meantime, let’s talk romance books. Which ones are your favorite? And do any of them have a theme of true love? I’d love to hear from you!