Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Exciting Announcement

Celebrate with us! This is my 100th post for Healthy and Hopeful. Photo cour-
tesy of Melinda Phillips at our Nantahala Stay-cation 2013. Food and wine by
David Haley. From this place, on this weekend, did this blog originate.
The sound machine stopped raining, and David's alarm went off. As I do every morning, I reached to the phone on my nightstand:

2 NEW E-MAILS.

Before I reveal their contents, please allow me to explain the context in which I received them....

* * *

Thomas Nelson Publishers requested and published Barren among the Fruitful as part of the InScribed Collection. It was an exciting time that ultimately ended in my own and other authors' heartbreak.*

As David and I left Colorado in 2015, I was professionally rudderless and wounded. I found myself in a new place I knew could become my lifelong home, but where I could not envision my professional future. I prayed for direction and peace.

I carried with me from Denver one particular enduring friendship with Stephanie. We were coauthoring a manuscript based on her experiences as a news anchor with the aim of encouraging young women to find success and contentment not in worldly achievements but in their relationships with God. But our work had begun to feel like a pipe dream as I returned to my years of freelance proofing, editing, and ghostwriting. The only yes we'd had was from a vanity publisher who would print our book as long as we paid a ridiculous sum for him to do so. Stephanie had a publicist who was still shopping our book to traditional publishers, but I was just jaded enough to assume that would fizzle to nothing.

To pull myself out of the melancholy, I decided to abandon writing (unless I could help my friend), and I signed up for a class at the local college that would result in my contractor's license. David and I agreed--it was time to start a new chapter of our lives. I would take my love of and skills in restoration and become a residential contractor, if for no other reason than to work confidently on our own house.

* * *

Those 2 e-mails were a full stop to our new plans.

The first was a very polite rejection letter for our coauthored book. It was more than polite--it was helpful. The acquisitions editor who wrote it took the time to explain why our book wasn't a fit for their publisher, and she offered some suggestions. This is practically unheard of; writers are typically lucky to receive even a form letter of rejection.

The second email was from the same acquisitions editor, but sent only to me. She had "cyber stalked" me after receiving our book proposal based on my bio and curriculum vitae. She wondered what my plans were for a follow-up to Barren and asked to chat.

I was shocked. Thrilled. Nervous. This had all come about because of Stephanie's efforts to get our book published, but now I had a publisher coming directly to me. As soon as David got out the door to work, I called Stephanie. She answered the phone in her usual energetic way that makes even saying "hello" a challenge! She agreed with me that the rejection was so nice--even encouraging. But she went on to say, "The whole time I was reading about what they are looking for in their authors, I kept thinking, They just need to sign Amanda!"

"Well, Stephanie, as a matter of fact..." I told her about the other email. She was (and continues to be) over-the-moon thrilled for me.

So here is the exciting announcement: I have indeed signed with Harvest House Publishers for my next book. I will turn over my manuscript on June 30, 2018, and the book will be published Summer 2019. Its title is tentative, but its contents are not. I'll tell you all about it in my next post...

*Since I wrote that blog post, the InScribed Collection has been rebooted with new authors.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Embracing Transition in 2018

At the end of this month, David and I will mark 3 years as Chattanooga residents. That doesn't feel like a very long time as we compare it to our 20-plus years in the Nashville area. We still think of ourselves as newbies in both our neighborhood and our church, and as newbies, we haven't required ourselves to be as involved in our communities as "older" members should be.

In today's face-paced society, time should be counted in dog years. That would
make Copper--and our residence in Chattanooga--21 years!
David and I live in a so-called transitional neighborhood. It was built between 1890 and 1930 by lumber barons, railroad magnates, and their socialite wives. Most architecture is Victorian or Arts and Crafts, now in varying levels of dilapidation or renovation. Today's residents are diverse in age, race, and socioeconomic levels. College students party on one side of us in a poorly maintained rental property; 80-year-old "original" residents are behind us in a neat-but-needy house their parents built. Across the street is what I call the Blue Behemoth: a brand-new three-story craftsman-style row house built by a young family. Diagonal from us is one of many group homes in our neighborhood serving the mentally challenged, and down the block is a public magnet boarding school for at-risk girls from surrounding neighborhoods.

Our church is likewise diverse; we are majority minority, serve all ages, and count both the homeless and a millionaire private-collection wine buyer (how do I get that job?) as our brothers and sisters.

Maybe it is because the diversity of our Chattanooga life barely resembles all our years in suburbia that we didn't notice when we "transitioned" from newbies to minted residents. In just three years we've become the longest residents on our entire block; and in our 5-year-old church, we've attended longer than maybe 80% of the congregation. David and I realized this at a Thursday-night gathering where we sat at a table for 10 and discovered we have lived in Chattanooga more than a year longer than anyone else there. We were shocked. And convicted.

We have spent our Chattanooga time consumed by our personal transitions, most notably my work restoring this house and my 3 surgeries. We have not used our spiritual gifts of hospitality to serve our neighbors (new and old) as we should have, and we are resolving to correct that in 2018. It is past time that we go out and serve our neighbors instead of waiting for them to welcome us.

Consider: What gifts have you been neglecting?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Backhanded by Infertility

Teal ribbons represent ovarian cancer awareness.
Yesterday was my birthday, and all the sweet Facebook messages from people I haven't interacted with since my last birthday made me realize just how lonely I've been lately.

For the last few years I've developed  more and more female problems. Last November, my doctors scheduled a surgery for January that led them to schedule another surgery for April. Based on pathology and radiology results, they believed (incorrectly, it would turn out) that I had ovarian cancer.

I vividly remember the October morning when the Today Show reported on a then-new study that had found infertile women who undergo treatment are 60% more likely to have ovarian cancer. The risk is even higher for the women in that group who never have a live birth, they said.

That report made an impression on me, maybe because it came out on Barren's 1-year anniversary. It left me thinking how unfair it is that women who suffer the physical pain, emotional drain, and financial stress of fertility treatments are then more likely to fight the most fatal of gynecological cancers.

For 3 months I thought I was one of those women. My team of gynecologists had me visit a psychologist and scheduled an oncologist to be present at the second surgery. The hospital requested that I update my will and designate a power of attorney.

We didn't want to tell anyone what was happening until we had definite answers ourselves, but as time went on, circumstances caused us to tell family members and a few close friends. We ended up with about 40 people praying that I would be healed and spared months of chemotherapy.

When David and I spoke with my primary gynecologist about April's results, she showed us pictures from the surgery and talked for about 10 minutes about the ugliness they had removed from inside me, but she never said, "You have Stage thus-and-such cancer."

David finally asked her directly, "Does Amanda have cancer?"

"No," she laughed. "I would have led with that!"

When she left the room to schedule me for more post-op tests and whatnot, David and I sat in stunned silence for 20 minutes.

I had spent the previous 3 months preparing to be sick. Yes, I had updated our wills, but I had also repointed the house, replaced a toilet, painted my office, replaced the tires on our Subaru, bought a new guest mattress, wrote a blog announcing my cancer (at the psychologist's suggestion), and contracted a company to tear down and rebuild the entire exterior of our addition (that should finally start any day now). In hindsight, I wasn't planning to be sick. I was planning to disappear.

In spite of the prayers of our loved ones and an expressed belief in God's healing power, I never actually expected to be cancer free. I was hoping to be Stage II or lower and expecting to survive because those same doctors who once told me, "you're too old to get pregnant," were now saying, "you're too young to have ovarian cancer."

The shock turned into guilt--why had we worried everyone unnecessarily?--and then embarrassment.

I don't think we had a moment of joy or thankfulness. It was weeks before it occurred to me that maybe God had actually answered all those prayers. Maybe He literally transformed malignant cells into benign cells.

I would argue there is precedence for this; I am not the first woman to endure years of gynecological pain:

Now a certain woman [traditionally called Veronica] had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” 
Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” 
But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 
And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34, NKJV)

Thanksgiving 2017 will mark 4 years since all this began. But I don't have even a third of the faith of Veronica, who endured three times as much pain as I have. And the loneliness, guilt, and embarrassment I've felt has been self-induced whereas hers was culturally motivated. I now realize the tragedy of my situation is not the illness itself but the lack of faith and abundance of self-consciousness that illness has exposed.

The surgeries have not helped--the constant anemia is physically debilitating and socially awkward--and I expect to schedule a final surgery at my appointment in July. Between now and then I won't be able to literally touch Jesus' clothes, but I desire to have Veronica's faith that He will heal me when I reach out to Him.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Wildfires and Politics

My world is on fire. Literally. Every ridge surrounding our city has a wildfire burning on top of it, and the smoke is settling on the streets of Chattanooga. It's suffocating and headache-inducing. As I write (and as I dread going back to editing that Greek exegesis waiting on my desk) the pain in and behind my eyes is intense.

Copper is not pleased that the smoky streets are
keeping him from getting a walk this morning.
Our figurative world is burning these days too. If you found this post because of a social media link, then you've also read posts and articles all about how America is going down in flames if Candidate X is elected. Maybe you've even shared a few stories, commented on a few others.

My Granny would have been right there with you. Back when there was an alarmingly high number of cable channels--50, as I remember--she watched just CNN. It was on 24 hours a day. She listened to talk radio and wrote letters to our congressmen. She spent hours in AOL political-themed chat rooms every night. She was the most informed woman I've ever known, and some of her passion "caught fire" in me.

So people who have known me longest may be surprised that I've stayed out of all the political squabbling. In fact, I've been avoiding Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else for the last six months. (Though to be honest, I started to pull away well over a year ago. Social media blurs the lines between opinion and truth, and the older I get the less willing I am to put up with that.) 

The election has only fired up the animosity that pervades our society, so once we've all cast our votes tomorrow, the arguing won't end. Why? Because we're all so selfish.  We vote for who we think will improve our own lives, regardless of how others may be impacted.

If we are all going to live with each other after tomorrow, then we need to stop trying to change others' opinions and start changing our own actions toward others. 

I've been spending a lot of time in Luke lately (thanks to that exegesis weighing down my desk right now). In chapter 10, a scholar tries to trick Jesus into contradicting the Hebrew scriptures when he asks how one can attain eternal life. He answers his own question: 
You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”—and “love your neighbor as yourself (v. 27, The Voice).
And who is that "neighbor"? Jesus answers with a story:
This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.
     The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” (Luke 10:30-35, The Voice)
The neighbor is "the one who showed mercy" (v. 37). Not the priest and Levite who were literal neighbors--presumably sharing the victim's Jewish faith and living in his community--but the Samaritan. He would have believed and worshiped and lived differently than the victim. Regardless of all his social differences, his actions made him the true neighbor. The one we are commanded to love as ourselves.

On Wednesday morning, I hope the election won't have left you feeling as if you've been "mugged" and left "in critical condition"; but it looks like about half the country will feel that way.

It is time for us to start loving each other, regardless of our social differences. It is time for us to stop thinking so highly of ourselves and our own opinions that we can justify our disregard of others, or worse, we can justify attacking and hating others. Not just during election season--when America is on fire--but every day of our lives.

No matter what happens in the next 48 hours, let's go out into our smoke-filled streets and AOL chat rooms and show some mercy. (If that happens, I just might be able to reengage with social media!)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Truth Will Set You Free

I would correct that to say, "When there is no truth, there is only perception."
I first studied philosophy in high school as part of an advanced English class. We read L'Etranger and No Exit, and memorized the principles of relativism and existentialism and other long-forgotten-by-me -isms. I remember one thing well: I don't enjoy philosophy.

Twenty years later, philosophy penetrates my life (and yours). Take a look at your social media feeds. What are most people posting about? Their perceptions of politics. And many are ready to have knock-down drag-out fights to prove to everyone else that their perceptions are right. And factual. And true.

Every knock-down drag-out David and I have ever had resulted from differing perspectives of truth.

My best friend, Melinda, likes to tell everyone that David and I are a psychology experiment--the one where two people watch a video of the same car crash but have completely different recollections of what happened: "The car was blue." "No, the car was green." That's us, and those different perceptions of truth make for heated but pointless arguments. How relieved we both are when we can find the truth by rewatching the car crash: The car was actually red. We can stop arguing now.

Rarely (thankfully) our arguments result from actual untruth...meaning one of us has lied. Those are the conversations that both begin and end with pain, because a lie is a betrayal. You can't rewatch a video or Google the truth to settle a lie-spawned argument once and for all. Feelings have been hurt, and the relationship needs time to mend.

I think we as a society have largely lost the ability to distinguish between perception and truth, and that is one of the reasons politics are so ugly--particularly in 2016. My opinion about a candidate or a policy is not truth, so people who disagree with me aren't technically wrong (even though I think they are!) or lying.

Many philosophies, and most of this postmodern secular society, state that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Christianity disagrees. In the gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about truth, and it pretty much boils down to this:
I tell you the truth, anyone who hears My voice and keeps My word will never experience death. (John 8:51, The Voice).
If you are a Christian, then you believe one absolute truth: Jesus is the Savior of humanity. It is rare (though not unattested) that I see knock-down drag-out fights over that statement.

If you follow a philosophy that declares there is no absolute truth, then your perception becomes your truth. So when someone else disagrees with that perception, then you feel personally affronted. A "car crash argument" becomes a "lie-spawned argument," a betrayal.

We should follow Jesus' example in John. When He declared truth and others disagreed, He countered by speaking the same truth in different ways. In that conversation, He did not back down. But when he encountered people who behaved or believed differently or even incorrectly (as in, Romans and Samaritans), He always responded the same way: by revealing the truth in love. He didn't argue over the semantics of where the temple should be (John 4) or even about the punishment for adultery (John 8:1-11).

We would rather argue over the semantics. In a climate where opinions and perceptions are elevated and advertised on social media, Christians need to remember that there is only one absolute truth--that Jesus is the savior of humanity--and that all Christians, by definition, agree on it.

Then we need to respond to disagreements as Jesus did: in love and with the one absolute truth. For if we show love, the world will see the absolute truth.