God

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Creative Control.

Published January 15, 2013 by Ashley Townsend

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved creative writing—thus why I became an author!—especially since it was the one thing that I had total control over as a kid. Even as I grew older, the biggest draw to writing was being able to create without any outside influence, which was also part of the reason why I kept most of my work a secret for so long. Then when Kirkdale Press picked up “Rising Shadows,” I knew I would need a lot of outside help—this was no longer something that I could just do on my own. However, it was actually very encouraging and insightful to bring others into the mix, getting their opinions as readers to help edit and shape the book into something more than what my eighteen-year-old hands could manage. But it was still mine. Hate to make a Lord of the Rings reference, but I was a little like Gollum (if that’s even how you spell it), all “My precious! My precious!” Maybe not that creepy, and I have more hair on my head, and I don’t have a hump, but I see now that that’s where my head was at.

Anyway, as I write the sequel, I’ve been looking for that same inspiration and encouragement. But about halfway through the story, I kind of got stumped. I mean, I knew exactly how I wanted it to end and a few scenes in between that would fill in the gaps. But I was stuck at one point in the writing process, trapped in this boring hole of filler I had dug myself into. I honestly wasn’t used to getting creatively stuck, since I had written “Rising Shadows” on a whim and managed never to write myself into a total dead-end. Hoping for the best and knowing I had to try, I attempted to force myself out of the pit of a storyline that was going nowhere, having no way to get to this fantastically dramatic and fascinating ending that I had envisioned for several months. But it felt forced, and I knew I was getting nowhere.

Maybe this is just me, but have you ever tried to get God on your terms and fit him into your schedule? Guilty! So I kind of told God, “Hey, I’ll ‘give’ this story up to you.” Months later, I realized that under the guise of letting God inspire me, what I was really thinking was, “I’m going to let you touch the corner of this page, but I still want to hold it, and if you could inspire me and give me the perfect segue between scenes while still maintaining the guidelines I’ve already established and taken the time to plot out, that would be super.” I honestly was not aware of how hard I was still clinging to and relying on my own mind to get me through, because if God took total control, then I would no longer be in the one holding the reins—what if He completely messed it up? (I know, I know. Silly thought) I plucked along for a few more weeks, waiting for God’s “inspiration” that would get this sequel on the best-seller list, earn me international fame in the literary community, get me the rights to the movies they want to turn the trilogy into, etc. Because I was going to make it on my terms. . . . Wow. Reading that makes me realize how ridiculous my assumptions were, and, well, “me, me, me.”

Epiphany time! After writing and rewriting the same scene over and over and still managing to get absolutely nowhere, I paused in my writing and suddenly thought of a verse I hadn’t considered in a while: “It is better to trust in God than to put your confidence in man.” I actually remember sighing and rolling my eyes at myself as I thought of verse eight of Psalm 118, knowing that God was very gently giving me a hint (thank goodness He does it gently and repeatedly, because I can be a little oblivious and headstrong sometimes). Though I sort of begrudgingly told God in that moment that I could no longer do this on my own and really needed His inspiration, my heart was in the right place, and I was finally ready to let go. I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has trouble letting go and letting God take control, even when we know He’ll be gentle. But I took a deep breath, walked away from my laptop, made a cup of Joe, and returned to the writing board more clear-headed than I had been in weeks. As hard as it was for me, I chose to scrap that scene and start afresh, suddenly inspired with a totally new idea for the next two, four, and then twelve scenes. I wasn’t inspired all at once; some came on pretty gradually or built upon the others, and sometimes I had to exercise faith and walk away for a few days to clear my head. But I am ridiculously excited to tell you that the sequel to “Rising Shadows” has been completely plotted out and is nearly twice as large and inspired as Book 1! I’ve been trying not to jump ahead, but there have been some scenes that have come up so suddenly that I had to write a little something in the moment of inspiration. My Word doc kind of looks like a completed story that ends in a bunch of bold, italics, highlights, arrows, notes, and random scenes that I’ve arranged in a timeline. Haha. But to me it’s beautiful and makes total sense. Even though I loved working on “Rising Shadows,” I have been blown away with entertainment and excitement while writing the sequel. And now that I’ve let go, I have a much clearer picture of the special plan that God had in mind all along for this story, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I am LOVING writing it, which is also part of the reason why I’ve been a little neglectful to this blog. *grins sheepishly*  

Oh! And my amazing friends completed the “Rising Shadows” book trailer. I just couldn’t wait to share it, so hopefully it comes through! Check out the trailer and the book, and always, always feel free to contact me with your thoughts on the series. This is as much yours as it is mine!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNIzJ5OTul8&feature=youtu.be

Oh, Finals, You Evil Temptress

Published November 30, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

finals

Ah, yes—the month of December (please note that I did not lose my calendar and am totally aware that it is still November for one more day). A time of unity among the factions, when freshman, sophomores, juniors, AND seniors come together for a few weeks, seeming to understand each other as they share a common goal: Survive finals at all costs. Those last two weeks where you long for the end, but don’t feel that there is enough time to complete everything, where emotions conflict and tensions heighten, where students can’t manage to drink enough caffeine and begin concocting extra-coffee cakes, coffee eggs (protein AND caffein!), and pour some strong Joe over their Cheerios. Meanwhile, Starbucks is secretly snickering and rejoicing behind the stacks of empty paper cups! For those of you who graduated high school or college quite some time ago, let me refresh your memory.

Yes, sometimes it literally feels that teachers do this.

Yes, sometimes it literally feels that teachers do this.

finals 1If you have been living under a rock or on an island for several months, then go to a college, and if it looks like zombies have taken over the earth—congratulations! It’s either the beginning of December or the end of May. The week before finals brings to mind the last fight scene in the movie Timeline, which, consequently, is my favorite time travel film ever; I watched it a bunch of times when I was writing “Rising Shadows,” as well as read a lot of time travel books for inspiration. . . . And Paul Walker and Gerard Butler are in it, but that’s just a perk. ~__^ Anyway, that scene involves a lot shouting, screaming, some weeping might be involved, things are bursting into flames, people are engaging in swordplay and acting totally insane, flaming balls of fire are being launched through the air, and people are trying to tunnel their way out to freedom. Yeah, this pretty much sums up finals in an eight minute scene, except we don’t get the cool medieval garb.finals 4

I drove onto campus at the start of this week and was like, “What the heck is wrong with everybody?!” after nearly being hit six or seven times as cars careened madly through the exit and students fought over parking spots, even though there were four more further down the row—some food for thought, though I’m sure you already know this: If someone is graciously packing up quicker than usual to give you their spot, try not to run them off the road as you attempt to take said space before they have properly vacated it. Thank you for your consideration. I was also crawling through the lot, not only so I could swerve out of the way if a driver blacked out whilst careening towards me Speed style, but also so I could slam on my brakes if a student juggling a stack of books taller than their head and attempting to scribble notes on the top of the stack jetted across the street without warning. Sheesh! Then I remembered that finals is in two weeks and gave a little chuckle as I steered around a group of arguing students, whom I can only assume were working on a group project together and who also looked like they hadn’t slept in four days.

I actually might have seen this girl the other day....

I actually might have seen this girl the other day….

For some reason, though, finals have never really bothered me. Maybe it’s because I’m burned out by the end of the semester and just don’t care anymore. That’s not to say I don’t study or put in effort, because I take a lot of time to really know the material as best I can. But I just don’t stress it that much, and a lot of times my final tests end up being my best scores for the semester! I still take naps and read books, which is obvious from my Goodreads page, and my sister Katie and I just bought new video games—yes, I am a total gaming nerd—and we cannot wait until the newest Tomb Raider arrives, which will probably happen on finals week. That could be tempting. Hmm. Anyway, by some freak happinstance, my constant procrastination during the rest of the semester ceases for that fourteen-day stretch, and I start time-managing better and get everything done beforehand, without sacrificing my mental health or “fun time.” But when my guitar teacher announced to the class yesterday that we have to play Minuet in G for the final and I saw the panicked looks on my fellow classmates’ faces, I, too, felt a moment’s panic as my eyes took in the packed notes on the page; I have no issue taking written tests or doing essays–in fact they are quite the delight, in my strange and honest opinion. However, I am not a fan of performing in front of people! Sweaty palms, a small, shaky voice, and nausea are generally involved in presentations and performances. That’s kind of why I love being an author so much; I never have to directly present anything!!! finals

Then as I felt my shoulders tensing up and my stomach churning, I remembered the weeks of Peace and Faithfulness that we all worked so hard on and took a deep breath. And the more I thought about it, I just kind of shrugged it off and thought, “Well, I’ll practice and do my best, and that’s really all I can do.” Let me tell you, it felt really good to let it go and know that I could work hard and have Faith that if I had put in the effort and still struggled with something, then God would help me through. Honestly, stressing it is NOT going to make it any easier; actually, it muddles up your mind quite a bit and makes it so much harder to study. And it doesn’t just apply to school, either; whatever you’re stressing, whatever’s making you feel like you’re one of the extras who get blown to bits in Timeline, just take a deep breath and let it go. Yes, easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere. I’ve had to walk away from an unfinished story countless times when I get writer’s block and have to do something else for a while. Sometimes a little “fun time” of your own is just the thing to free up your mind enough that you can come back to the problem with fresh eyes. Do you really want to be one of those anxious zombies I see sitting in the stairwell, staring off at nothing? Didn’t think so.       

Week 7: Faithfulness

Published October 19, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the sky.” Psalm 57:10

Unlike a few of the previous weeks, I knew exactly what Faithfulness was: God is Faithful in his promises to me (like the verse above), and I would be Faithful and come through for those around me. I didn’t have to do any great research, ponder Faith for a time, and I did not expect any great discoveries for these seven days. Then Sunday morning, I literally had an epiphany (hey! Only two days in instead of the usual six. Progress!). I wasn’t even thinking about the challenge when it hit me that I have only really been practicing these Fruits on those around me, not God. Sure, I know I was showing Him Love when I emulated it in my life, but what about the others I’ve been working on? Did I work on being Patient when He told me to wait? Had it even crossed my mind to be Faithful to Him? I know Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of these, we do unto Him, but there is a difference when we focus on others and completely forget to be Faithful to God.

“May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness…” 1 Samuel 26:23

This completely changed my perspective for the entire week, and also the rest of this challenge. I wish I had come to this realization earlier on, but it’s never too late to start. And don’t be intimidated by this concept, either. Just start small—give an addiction up to God, watch what you say, whatever. It doesn’t have to be huge! But He’s Faithful to us all the time, even when we don’t realize it, so why can’t we return the favor?    

“You only live once, but if you live it right, once is enough.” –Adam Marshall

Week 6: Goodness

Published October 12, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Surely Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

Goodness … Goodness … Goooood-nessssss. I did this for about six days, emphasizing the word, going syllable by syllable, as if this would help me discover the meaning of the word and what I’m supposed to do with it this week. I mean, I know what Goodness is, essentially, but how was it any different from the rest? What set it apart that made is so important to be defined in the Fruits of the Spirit, rather than just being lumped in with Kindness or Gentleness?  Then I remembered the dictionary. Oh, yes, that special little book that most of us don’t have a use for these days that’s filled with pages covered in wonderful, magical words and definitions (Warning! Fellow lexophiles like me may experience swooning in the presence of a dictionary or thesaurus). Here is what I found when I did a little digging:

Good-ness

-noun:

-the state or quality of being good

-moral excellence; virtue

-kindly feeling; kindness; generosity

-the best art of anything; essence; strength

-a euphemism for God

Huh. I feel like I could just end this post with the above definition, but I really want to share what stuck out to me the most. The first one I was already aware of, it’s so obvious. But the rest of them … Well, they really caused me to stop and think and try to understand. I thought this week was going to be a bit of a wash out, so to speak; it was just supposed to be about being “Good” and seemed far less important than some of the other Fruits. I really did not expect it to be so impacting. Moral excellence and virtue are the farthest things from my mind when I think of Goodness, yet they’re right at the top. Those are some pretty strong character qualities for such a “weak” word. Proverbs 31 describes a woman’s virtue as being more precious than rubies, something to be praised. Wow. Apparently, there’s quite a bit of stock in virtue, and the fact that Goodness is the essence and “best part of anything” is unbelievable! And are you telling me that Goodness is a display of strength? How many people view Goodness or Kindness as some form of weakness? But it’s the complete opposite! Oftentimes it takes great strength to exhibit Goodness and self-control. I was already gung-ho and all fired up to put some serious effort into practicing Goodness up to this point, and then I read the final part of the definition. It isn’t a word that I would generally think of when describing God—strong, caring, and loving; yes. But it’s been there the whole time, and all of these are wrapped up in that single word: He IS Good, and He said it was Good! This is the only word where it really refers to God in its definition, and the fact that we can be more like Him by exhibiting this quality is incredible.           

I had no expectations for this week and didn’t expect for it to have such an impact on me, so this newfound wisdom was a nice surprise. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be proven wrong.

Week 1: Love

Published September 7, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Hey, everyone! Okay, so with school forcing me back into finding my “groove” again and working (babysitting, housekeeping, data entry for the Christian Coalition, etc. Yikes-A-Bee!), I have been a teensy bit busy this past week—hence my lack of a post on my usual Tuesday. Forgive me, loyal followers! But I also decided to start a Fruit of the Spirit Challenge, and so I wanted to wait until Friday so I had the whole week to let my fruit ripen (oh, yes; I intend to produce quite a few fruit puns … Did you get the “produce” joke?). I got the idea when I was writing my “Lend Me Your Ears” post and thought that this might be another fun adventure. Okay, so every Friday for nine weeks I will post about my efforts to practice each one of the Fruits of the Spirit and let you know what I discover. This isn’t so much of a show-and-tell as it is a New Years’ resolution to see if I can improve my outlook on life, exercise more patience and self-control, and, essentially, show more kindness and love to others. I’m also not just going to practice Love or Patience or Kindness for seven days, though: I will do my best to keep these Fruits with me for life and continue to demonstrate them day to day. Easy, right? We’ll find out!

“Faith, Hope, and Love remained. And the greatest of these is Love.” 

1 Corinthians 13:13

When I decided to start this particular challenge, I didn’t really have to ask myself what Love was. I mean, the definition of Love is pretty obvious, and so I assumed that I was going to start this off with an easy-peezy challenge. Most of you are aware how often I chow down on some humbling pie (or crow; whatever), so you can just add this one to the list. The small bump I ran into—on day 1, I might add—had more to do with how to emulate Love more in my life outside of saying it to family and friends. How could I show more Love? Didn’t I already show it in my actions? Wasn’t it just the same as exhibiting Kindness and Goodness to others? And I really, really did not want to go up to a random person at the store or school and tell them I loved them, so I hoped expressing it more verbally wasn’t what I needed to do. Actually, Day 1 of this little experiment to better myself came and went without any progress being attainted; I spent the entire day trying to figure out the how. By Day 2, I decided I just needed to do something. Period. But what could I do differently?

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

I started off slow—holding the door open for strangers, even if I had to stand there for longer than my patience allowed, and helping my mom with the groceries and dinner without being asked. Then I worked at being more forgiving when people made a mistake or interfered. I tried not to be so easily offended, to be a better listener, come through with my promises, pay attention more, laugh and smile more often with people, and be more sensitive to their needs. One of my biggest issues is that I don’t generally think before I speak, so then I decided to practice holding my tongue more and trying—really trying—to only say positive things. I was very surprised when toward the end of the week, I didn’t have to remind myself to stop and think as often, but sometimes I just knew whether or not it was a positive thing to voice. Now, keep in mind, I am the farthest thing from perfect, so I still slipped-up constantly during the week, but if I recognized it, I did my best to correct it afterwards. Don’t beat yourself up if you try to do this challenge with me and struggle with this part (or every part, if you’re like me), because it’s all about progress and growth; habits don’t change overnight! You gotta keep at it!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for that whoever believes in Him shall not parish

but have eternal life in heaven.” John 3:16

Hmm. Did you notice some of the things I put into practice to exhibit Love? I didn’t even realize it until yesterday, but to show Love—the first of the Fruits of the Spirit and the most important Commandment—I had to emulate Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control. It almost makes the rest of this challenge null, because we’ve already covered all nine of the Fruits in one week! But I really want to focus on each of these individually, because obviously I learn more when I break it down. I really don’t have anything profound to say about this first week other than my realization that Love is at the center of it all. I also think that this will end up being my most challenging week because it forced me to put all the other qualities into practice, and that was not easy. I feel like Week 1 was preparing me for the following weeks and giving me a sort of “crash course” in what to expect. I don’t know about you, but I am very interested to see what happens between now and next Friday. Stay tuned for Joy!

“The road to true love never did run smooth.” –Shakespeare

Arise, Beloved!

Published August 7, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

Poem time again! I was sitting in church with my family and we were singing “We’re the People of God,” and I just started to doodle some of the lyrics. Then I added a little here and there without really thinking about it, brought my pathetically confused little scribbles back home, and spent the afternoon singing and mulling possible next lines over and over until this came about. Even though I love to read and write poetry, I am far from skilled at it, so once again, bear with me! But I thought today might as well be a good enough day to share this with you all. Oh! And Friday I’ll have my favorite books of all time up here to inspire some more reading fun. Brace yourselves for further Reading Extravaganzas and stay tuned for Friday!  

 Arise, Beloved!

I have called you by name

I fought back the darkness

That clothed you in shame

With the sword of truth

I battled those lies

To show you your worth

I have fought for and loved you

Even before your birth

Come to life, O’ Precious One!

See what I have in store for you

You have been ransomed by love

And washed in words of truth

I do not lie like flesh and bone

I profess over you only what’s true

My love, my heart, my home

Be still, Beautiful Child!

Know that I am True Love

Can any of those whose love you seek

Compare to that of the One Above?

They see you as their eyes perceive

But in My eyes I see the one you were meant to be

All of your faults and falters are plain to me

Even more so than what others can find

But a child cherished by the Holy One

Is your portrait in my mind

Take heart, Sweet Treasure!

My love is everlasting

It never falters or fades

It is not favoring

Since before your conception

I knew you by name

And the truth is, the sweetest reception

Was the joy you felt over being so changed

Be patient, Everlasting Soul!

Your name has been written since the beginning

So enjoy this life and have faith that

You will live forever with Me beyond this world’s ending

I have clothed you in white

So you will not just see it

But can at last embrace the Light

Arise, Beloved!

As the sun ascends toward the heavens

So shall you be lifted into eternal light

Because I have promised, it is so

And you are one of the few chosen lambs

For whom My Love will always grow

E=MC+Some Sort of Shape

Published July 25, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

School was never really this toe-curling, torture chamber of stress for me. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle sometimes, or that I was simply without a care for my education; there were some things that I just did not understand no matter how hard I tried, and then my mom would take hours to patiently explain and quiz me until I got it. And I am drawn to discovery and new things like a woman trapped in a vegan health spa is drawn to a Butterfinger, so I always loved learning and studying things that surprised and amazed me—I had to know how the world ticked, and I loved discovering all the intricacies that God had taken the time to dazzle us with on this planet. Studying these things was fun …

But math has never been my thing. Okay, that’s a very mild and vague explanation of the total love-hate­ relationship I have with it. It was the only subject that could dissolve me into tears when a concept refused to make camp in my head. Sometimes it seemed as though I was doomed to fail in the sea of endless numbers and symbols that tried to choke me and make shopping into a form of schoolwork instead of enjoyment. And yet somehow I always managed to jump up in the nick of time and grab hold of the lifeline of comprehension that was dangling in front of my face, though I didn’t fully understand nor see it until the very last second. That was how it went every time, but I always pulled through it and even got good grades in high school math, which restored my confidence in the subject as I went off to college, feeling fully prepared to face whatever my math teacher might throw this freshman’s way.

That confident stride was my companion for the first week, though it became more of a drunken stagger as I walked to class each morning in a daze. I was doing really well in the other four classes I was taking and felt like I was learning so much, but math … well, suffice it to say that it liked to play with my head and remind me of past mathematical failures. While the teacher was fantastic and passionate about helping her students understand the subject (love you for that, Mrs. Wheelock!), the mass of online homework was astounding. Even the students who understood and loved math—naturally, I was not part of this select group—were having a hard time keeping up with the overwhelming number of extremely difficult problems each week, so I didn’t feel too bad. We pretty much looked like this guy on the right. It was nightmare each time I sat down at the computer, and I remember the angry tears resurfacing each time problem seven of 408 said “Wrong Answer” when I was desperately trying to get them done before class the next morning. I think it was a week before the final drop date that I caught a glimpse of my grade, which had been drastically effected by my homework grade. Yeah, not good. I calculated and recalculated six or so times, because obviously my math wasn’t that good, and that couldn’t possibly be right. But, alas, those puny little numbers more befitting a good golf score than my unfortunate class grade were the same every time, and I knew I had a choice to make.

Originally, my goal for that class was a low A or any sort of B, but then it suddenly turned into “Must. Survive!” I was still unsure if I could pull my grade up to even pass the class, but I had never failed a class before, and I was no quitter (just ask my sisters about my penchant for finishing horrid books because I believe they have to get better—I’m usually wrong and just end up wasting my time). So I spent several days wondering what I should do and prayed about it a lot. I told God that if He really wanted me to stay in that class, then He would have to make it clear and help me get a perfect score on the next quiz before the drop deadline. I thought this was a pretty good idea … until circumstances prevented me from studying that week, and the only info I gleaned on that subject was from the few hours spent in class. I was about ready to rescind my previous agreement with God, but I kept feeling like I had to just try this last time before giving up. So, completely unprepared, I stepped into the computer lab, sat down, and got a perfect score on that quiz, something I hadn’t managed to do with any previous quizzes. I was shocked and ridiculously pleased. What’s more, my teacher called out to me in the middle of the lab and gave me a thumbs up and an “Awesome, girl!” I later found out that I was the only one in the entire class to get a perfect score on that quiz.

Now I was feeling like this kid.

Here are the facts: Panicky freshman on the verge of class dropping hysteria + absolutely no study time – any left brain function + a looming deadline = A perfect score. Hmm. Even for those of you more mathematically-inclined people, it doesn’t really seem to add up, does it? I hadn’t thought of this instance for a while, but I figured that maybe someone out there needed a little encouragement that God can perform miracles, even when the odds seem stacked against you. Oh, and I stayed in the class after that, more confident than before with the reminder that God was looking out for me, and even when things got tough, I knew that God wanted me there. So I pushed through and managed to pull a B+ by the end of the class. That might not seem like some incredible achievement for some of you, but I like to call it my little miracle B, and with it came a little more faith. I’m still working on trusting God with my whole life—I’m human, and I stumble constantly—but when I do give it up to Him, the situation always seems to turn around for the better. Don’t believe me? Give it a try yourself.

“Wisdom is better than wit, and in the long run will certainly have the laugh on her side.” –Jane Austen

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