The Most Persnickety Writer You Might Know

CC BY, Drew Coffman, Flickr

Drew Coffman, Flickr

Kevin Daniel of The Number Kevin has turned the tables on me by asking “What is your writing process?” as part of a blogroll. As you know, here lately I’m the one asking the questions…this one particularly. Nevertheless, after retracing my writing history—something you don’t care to know—I’m happy to give you a look at how I compose for A ‘Mike’ for Christ.

Whatcha Got, Stephens?

An idea: that’s how it starts—the way it does for most of us. But that idea is produced one of three ways: I’m inspired; I need to work the skill; or I have an opinion.

I prefer inspired writing. My blog is devotional, so usually my content derives from scripture. There’s nothing like being gripped by a verse or spiritual concept. This writing flows easily.

CC BY-NC, Jonathan Kim, Flickr

Jonathan Kim, Flickr

I should probably add that although my blog is devotional, it’s very much the outlet for a serious writing avocation. I write to edify, but I also write to practice writing. I am one who reads books on writing and completes online writing courses. I’m not the best writer, by far, but I take the craft seriously and I’m picky about it. (Ever noticed your comment nipped and tucked?)

When the inspiration faucet isn’t running, I obligate myself to write. Sometimes that’s tough and I have taken time off; but I’ve learned ways to combat the ho-hums. For instance, I will require myself to explore the verse of the day (“Wow! What a Head!”) or I will reimagine or restyle something from Scripture (“The Book of Malchus” and “The Many Faces of Jesus”).

My most creative and most commented posts often spring from these drought seasons. I also like to use magazines—any kind—to jumpstart my mind. My fragrance series…well it was inspired by a Martha Stewart Living!

Opinion pieces are rarer. I hold opinions like everyone else, and I don’t shy away from expressing them. But opinion hardly appears on The ‘Mike’ since my intent is devotional. Plus, I’ve discovered that Christians can be defensive and unloving in their conservatism and prove themselves to be stranded of deep thought on matters. Discussion is always a growth opportunity. Still, this usually means little-to-no current news or hot-button topics…just let Scripture speak.

You, Words—Out of My Head!

CC BY-SA, Ritesh Nayak, Flickr

Ritesh Nayak, Flickr

I may tote ideas around for days or weeks until I know how I wish to approach them. This means I maintain a small stack of ideas and prompts at all times. In-depth Bible study may or may not be part of the process. It depends on what I’m writing and how much I care to say.

Outlining comes next, which can be very formal and has been, usually for large pieces, or it can be chicken-scratched notes of things pouring out of my head.

Then, I talk out what I wish to say—yes, aloud. Call me looney, but that probably helps me most. It pulls everything out of my head and off the memos to be organized verbally. This is the point when I can write, but not without a good hook, or evocative sentence that throws everything into gear. Many posts have been stalled or scrapped because I couldn’t get the first line right.

Man, You’re Picky!

Now the hard but rewarding work begins. The best writing always appears in the revision stage. C’mon, it’s the most creative and enjoyable part of writing! For me this includes extensive dictionary and thesaurus use, copy and content editing, fact-checking, Bible version selection—the whole kit and caboodle. And I must state that writing is as much about “fondling” words and hearing their cadence as it is communicating an idea. Thus, diction is very important.

It’s not uncommon for me to spend full days revising a single post. Yet any lover of words and decent writer will tell you that a composition is never “finished.”

Joan M. Mas, Flickr

Joan M. Mas, Flickr

You write to make it look simple and common, but it’s rewarding when someone notices the skill and effort. Nathaniel Hawthorne says it best: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

I try to start the week’s posts on the previous Friday and be done by Sunday afternoon. Ideally, all the major editing should be completed. I write in total silence and by word processor; then I transfer the work to WordPress and start a second phase of revision. I can only guess how many times an article is read and reviewed. Then, having a post scheduled for 12:01 a.m., I watch it go live, reread it and give a final look, and then go to bed.

Blogroll Call-ing

Now it would be nice to learn the writing process of the following writers: J.D. Blom of A Devoted LifeMel Wild of In My Father’s House, and Heather Jenkins of Inside Heather’s Head. Let’s hope they’re reading!

* Read about Heather’s writing process: “Writer in Training”

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10 Questions for Jordan Palser of Orphan’s Promise

Jordan in Ukraine

Jordan in Ukraine

I’d like to introduce you to Jordan Palser, a former college wingmate of mine who now serves as International Humanitarian Manager with Orphan’s Promise. (Photos by Jordan Palser)

Jordan, what is Orphan’s Promise and what is your role there?  

Orphan’s Promise is a global orphan care ministry founded by Terry Meeuwsen and birthed out of her personal life and family. We advocate adoption awareness, foster care, family, and more. For eight years we have worked in over 60 countries; and we currently work in over 50 countries and impact more than 100,000 children annually. Our mission comes from Jesus’ promise in John 14:18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

After serving in the humanitarian field for nine years, I joined Orphan’s Promise a year ago to help our partners in several countries. I’ve spent much time assisting with projects in Africa. In a Joseph-like situation, however, the Lord has once again required my humanitarian experience for the benefit of Orphan’s Promise’s endeavors.

What types of events or crises determine Orphan’s Promise’s mobilization?

Orphan’s Promise supports organizations, missionaries, and churches that are working to reach orphans and vulnerable children, as well as families, in their communities. We assure them that they will be able to continue their work with further provision. We believe in empowering others to do what they are already doing well.

Where in the world have you traveled?

I had only been to Latin American countries in my previous work. Since joining Orphan’s Promise I’ve visited seven countries on three other continents: Thailand, Ukraine, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Kenya, and South Africa. During those times I’ve been able to observe culture and travel within countries more than the average tourist. The things my eyes have seen have been both incredible and life-changing.

Jordan with soldier

In Kenya

What type of risk is involved? Have you ever faced real danger?

I have been fortunate to have not faced real danger; however, there have been some travels that required caution. Last year I traveled with colleagues to Nigeria at the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. We prayed together before leaving the States and throughout our time there. Recently, I was in rural Kenya and our partner was a pastor who had to hire an armed guard to ride with us from the airport for the two-hour drive to his town.

What is something the average Christian layperson should know about this type of mission work? What can you tell us to dispel the myth of the luxury of doing missions?

Some governments are trying to reduce or eliminate orphanages in their countries; and some organizations and ministries are striving to provide other solutions for taking care of children. Institutional care may be an option for shelter, but it’s not always the best long-term solution.

International travel always sounds glamorous because there are some beautiful places, even in third-world and developing countries. But there is much more that people don’t realize. There are physical, emotional, and spiritual issues to deal with that Americans don’t think about regularly.

Jordan in slum

In Ukraine

Tell us about a moment when you were completely broken by something you observed.

I expected poverty in Asia and Africa, and I saw it in most places. But it was a day in western Ukraine when we visited a gypsy village that caught me by surprise. I will never forget it.  A single mother and her family had been kicked out of their home; the children had been left alone by an alcoholic father. The kids were dirty and only God knew how long it had been since their last meal. It was a sobering realization about children’s needs in many of these places.

How does your study of the scriptures and missions work enhance each another?

Working for a Christian organization can easily become routine. The Word and prayer are not just helpful; they are essential. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord refreshes our soul; He comforts us; and He guides our path.” It is so important in ministry and humanitarian work to not allow things to become casual. I view this path as a calling. God has called us in different ways according to how he designed us. I am passionate about missions and sharing what I do because God commanded us to help the oppressed, the fatherless, and the widow (Isaiah 1:17).

What is the most amazing thing you’ve witnessed God do or orchestrate?

The best thing I’ve witnessed is the smiles of all the children and people I have met simply in visiting them! The expressions on their faces are priceless and unforgettable. To be a vessel of God’s love, hope, and peace—that is a humbling gift (John 14:27).

How can people learn more about Orphan’s Promise and support it?

So glad you asked this question! We just updated our website: OrphansPromise.org. There is as much information as you have time for there. Also, there are social media links with updates and video stories. We would appreciate you following us!

What are two things people would be surprised to know about you?

In Kenya

In Kenya

First, it is an extraordinary privilege to serve children and people of the world.  As a pastor’s son, I considered non-profit work for later in my life; and I had completely different career aspirations in college. Thankfully, God intervened. This has truly been a walk of faith for me for over ten years. I’ve learned the significance of obedience to God. His path is best.

Second, I got my first passport only a few years before my initial international experience on a church mission trip. I met missionaries growing up and wanted to visit some international cities; but I never had a compelling desire to go abroad until more recently.

What questions do you have for Jordan? 

Learn more about Orphan’s Promise and follow Jordan on Twitter at @jordanpalser

10 Questions for Ted Luoma of Mercy Chefs

Ted LuomaTed Luoma is writer of cateritforward and a volunteer chef with Mercy Chefs, a nonprofit disaster relief organization. Here he shares his experiences with Mercy Chefs. (Photos by Ted Luoma) 

What is Mercy Chefs?

Mercy Chefs is a nonprofit organization that serves people restaurant-quality meals in disaster areas. All staff—from the CEO to the dishwashers—is volunteers. Nobody receives a salary and Mercy Chefs relies 100 percent on donations.

Are you a chef?

Not even close! Mercy Chefs appeals to me because I get to rub elbows with real chefs. I have no training. My chef friends give me direction to hone my skills, and they treat me as an equal. At best, I would consider myself an apprentice.

What made you learn how to cook?

I began teaching myself how to cook about a week after I met my wife 17 years ago. She invited me over for dinner, and I was treated to a hearty plate of Hamburger Helper. Now, I’m not knocking Hamburger Helper, nor am I denigrating my lovely wife; but cooking for someone is very intimate. You expend your love and creativity to create something to please and comfort others. I realized that I wanted more in life than meat slop.

Where have you served with Mercy Chefs?

In Vilonia, AR

In Vilonia, AR

I served two weeks in Chambrun, Haiti. I served in LaPlace and Kenner, Louisiana, in response to Hurricane Isaac. Numerous tornadoes hit the Oklahoma City area last year, and we served in Moore as a result. I spent a couple of days in West, Texas, after the fertilizer plant explosion. The Red Cross actually chased us off. I guess they wanted to be in the spotlight since President Obama came to visit. I just returned from Vilonia, Arkansas, where a half-mile wide tornado ravaged the area. We were immensely blessed on that trip. One business gave us 60 pounds of live crawfish.

What is a typical deployment like?

There is nothing typical on these trips. There is a lot of hard work and you generally work from 5:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m. I buy my own gas to drive to the disaster site. Sometimes we stay at hotels, but normally a church will make room for us.

What was your most memorable deployment?

Greeley, Colorado. I met Chef John in Dallas and we jumped in the truck and began towing Mercy 1, the very first kitchen trailer. It is a 37-foot trailer complete with a six-burner range, tilt skillet, commercial sink, two convection ovens, and all the cookware required to feed an army.

It was my turn at the wheel. As we passed through Amarillo, Texas, the fuel gauge showed we only had about a quarter-tank. John and I decided that we had enough diesel to get some more miles behind us before we stopped. The motor acted up periodically and I sniffed something that faintly smelled like burning antifreeze. A quick check of the gauges revealed nothing; we didn’t have much choice but to press on.

Serving in Kenner, LA

In Kenner, LA

We rolled into Dumas, Texas, on nothing but fumes. As I began turning into a truck stop, steam began to rise from the hood. I was caught off-guard and cut the wheel too sharp. I took out the trash cans next to a gas pump with our mobile kitchen. I could barely contain my laughter. I finally brought our rig to a stop next to the fuel pump. Antifreeze had drained all over the ground and it appeared we were in trouble.

This was a Sunday evening and we were surprised to find a mechanic to investigate. The radiator was shot and one had to be ordered from Amarillo. Our only option was to hole up at the Quality Inn and wait—for two days. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful—except for the blowout on the trailer after we left Colorado. We learned a valuable lesson on that journey: Dumas is a glorified truck stop. We will not go back…too many radiator memories.

Aside from Mercy Chefs, what do you do?

In a word: housewife. At least that’s what I tell people when they ask that question. I do the cooking; as for the cleaning, not so much. There is the catering thing, too.

Have you always volunteered?

I never wasted my time thinking about others before my conversion. Now a Christian, I’m much more concerned with others than I used to be. I can thank my church for that because it encourages serving.

What is your favorite Bible verse?

Mercy ChefsJohn 14:6 is probably my favorite. Jesus Christ sums up his position as “the way, the truth, and the life.” His “club” is very exclusive. It’s nice to have that clarity in a postmodern age in which there are many truths.

Have you ever had a job besides cooking that you enjoyed?

I was a disc jockey for 12 years. I’m not a natural when it comes to radio. It took years of effort to grow into just as it has to be a competent “chef.” I could have worked in a major market, but radio isn’t conducive to having a stable family. The thought of moving every couple of years wasn’t appealing to my wife. I just put that effort into cooking. I figure I’ll be pretty good after another 10 years of practice.

What questions do you have for Ted? 

Learn more about Mercy Chefs at MercyChefs.com. Read more by Ted at cateritforward.

10 Questions for Melissa Lingard of Destiny Rescue

Mel and Kids

Mel and Kids

I am pleased to introduce my dear friend Melissa Lingard with whom I worked while in Japan. Melissa now serves with Destiny Rescue, a Christian-based non-profit dedicated to rescuing children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. She is based in Chaing Rai, Thailand.

What is your job at Destiny Rescue and how long have you been doing it?

I am Child Sponsorship Director for Destiny Rescue. I have been working in sponsorship for over six years now.

You and I were co-workers in Japan. I know that you enjoy children. In Japan you taught kids English and worked with children at church. Now you’re rescuing youth from trafficking. Do you feel that you are called to young people in some way?

I definitely believe that I have been called to work with young people. I’ve always loved kids. When I was young, I loved playing with the littler kids and babysitting them when I was older. When I finished high school, I dreamed of working in an orphanage overseas one day or something similar. God put that desire there; I knew way back then that this was the plan he had for me. I have been blessed with an amazing family and have grown up with a loving mum, dad, and two sisters. I always felt loved and protected, supported and encouraged. So one of my burning desires is to show kids who have not had this what true love—the love of God—looks like.

How does a person enter human trafficking and sexual exploitation?

This isn’t a simple question to answer because there are many reasons why a child or teenager may enter trafficking and exploitation. For the sake of brevity, I will use one example, which is the story of many of the girls we have rescued in Thailand.

In quite a few cases we have found that abuse may have started at home by a family member, a friend of the family, or a member of the village or town before the child ever left home. The child feels like she has no worth after being abused and thinks she deserves anything else that happens to her later. In most cases, poverty or large family debts, often incurred through a family member’s gambling, drinking, or drug addiction, means that the family desperately needs money to provide for basic needs or addictions. So a child will be sent to look for a job to help pay off family debts.

Yet with little education and no skills and often no citizenship to make it legal for her to get a job, she is left with little choice but to work illegally in karaoke bars, strip joints, and brothels. Often recruiters go to villages and talk to families, particularly the children, about promising jobs in the city. The kids get excited thinking they can help support their families; but when they arrive at their places of employment, they find out that the recruiters have lied to them.

Once they are there, they often find it hard to get out because the bar owners claim that money is owed to them and that it needs to be worked off, or they take away any ID the child possesses. The girl usually feels trapped and sometimes she is [trapped] physically; but she is always trapped monetarily, if not from the debt the bar owner holds over her, then from the pressure of her family to send money home. Familial loyalty, no matter how misplaced it may be sometimes, is extremely strong in the countries where we work.

What has been your best and worst ministry experience in the field?

The worst experience, by far, is when a girl who has been with us that I have gotten to know chooses to go back into the dark place where she was rescued due to family pressure, low self-worth, or other reasons. My heart aches for her. These girls have been through so many traumas that they are often incapable of making good decisions and have trouble accepting that they have worth.

Mel and GirlsThe best times for me here are our Youth Worship nights on Fridays. All the kids from all of our homes come together for games, music, and loud, all-out, top-of-the lungs singing to God. I cannot express how much I love these nights. To see all these kids, each of them with their own story of brokenness, singing praises to God with huge smiles on their faces. Not all of them have given their hearts to God, but they LOVE to sing his praises. I know this makes God smile so much!

Another “best is seeing the girls who have graduated from the program starting small businesses and getting jobs and living normal lives again.

Is there anyone in scripture you try to emulate in your work or a biblical scene that spurs you on in your efforts?

I have always been able to relate to Moses. I am not naturally an overly confident person; and, like Moses, I have been known to have conversations with God telling him how I am not equipped to do something. But God has taught me through Moses and my experience that he is the one who gives me the ability to do things.

You speak fluent Japanese and helped me out greatly in Japan. Now you’re learning Thai. Which is tougher: Japanese or Thai?

Thai is definitely more difficult for me. I have been here for six years, longer than I lived in Japan, yet Japanese is still more comfortable for me and more fluent than Thai. But I had studied Japanese before I went to Japan and was immersed in it when I was 18. Also, I used Japanese every day for three years on my job with a Japanese tour company before coming to Thailand

My work here in Thailand consists of much administration done in English. So apart from eating, socializing, and shopping, I don’t use Thai much. One more thing: Thai is a tonal language and Japanese is not, another factor that makes Thai more difficult. You may know the word but if you don’t say it with the right tone, nobody knows what you are saying!

You are from Queensland, Australia. Do you wish to return to Australia and live a more normal life, or is international ministry a lifelong desire for you?

What is normal! While I love my family and my native Australia, I can’t really see myself living there long-term again anytime in the future. I’d never say never, as you can’t know the plans that God has for you and things can change in an instant. But right now I see myself in international ministry for the rest of my life in some capacity. It may not always be in Thailand, but my heart is definitely for the nations.

How do you get away from the stresses of your job?

Massages. Weekends away with the girls. Reading. Watching movies. Hiding out in my house on the weekends. Listening to worship music. Coffee dates. Going home once a year.

Where can readers learn more about trafficking, Destiny Rescue, and donating; and how can people support and pray for leadership and those being rescued?

Mel & TigerThey can check out our website and blog at DestinyRescue.org and like our Facebook page. Also, our 2020 Vision Campaign is to rescue 100,000 kids from sexual slavery by 2020. To accomplish this leaders need wisdom, guidance in strategy, finances, and the right people in the right places. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Being a volunteer organization, it is not always easy to fill the needed positions. I ask readers to pray that God would guide the leadership in each of these areas and give us volunteers for all the positions needed to fulfil this vision.

What are two things people would be surprised to know about you?

Well I like watching Japanese TV dramas. And I have ridden bareback on an elephant more than once and hugged a tiger.

What questions do you have for Melissa?

Learn more about Destiny Rescue at DestinyRescue.org

10 Questions for Mark Myers

This week’s “10 Questions” go to Mark Myers of Life in Portsong. If you’re not familiar with Mark’s fun and folksy style, well what are you waiting for!

Mark, your April Fools’ ploy might be the ultimate ruse with readers. Yet you seem to unintentionally trick people into believing that Portsong is not only a real place but you are its mayor. How great is that for a writer! From where do Virgil Creech and this fictional world derive? 

I’ve been plotting and scheming stories for years. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I sat down and began writing. A mentor of mine by the name Jack Frost—I kid you not—struggled and eventually passed from cancer. He had pushed me to pursue my passion.

The world of Portsong evolved as a story about the old man Colonel Birdwhistle relating to a new environment where he continually crosses paths with some boys he can’t shake. My original intent was to have the colonel be a little bit of a huckster; but I fell in love with his character and changed course.

How seriously do you take your writing? What is your writing process?

I love to write and I take it quite seriously. That said, I can only do it a few hours in the morning because it has yet to pay the bills…even the little water one. I don’t know how to describe my style. I typically chart the story, main theme, and moral I’m trying to display; but I wander like a Beagle after that. Nothing turns out the way I started.

The word humorous will probably be used by most readers to describe you. What’s your take on Mark Myers? Was he ever the humorous son or class clown, or was he altogether different?

Remember that scene from Good Morning, Vietnam where Lieutenant Steve says, “In my heart, I know I’m funny,” but he isn’t? I’m probably that guy. I caused a good deal of trouble as a lad. My report cards bear out that I talked too much and was too stupid to keep from getting caught. I’m told now that I am incredibly immature. My daughters say I act like a seven year-old, which I like.

Many readers may not know that you are a Desert Storm veteran. Have you chronicled your war stories, or do you use writing to process your feelings from that time?

CC BY-NC, Enokson Flickr

CC BY-NC, Enokson Flickr

My service was anything but distinguished. I love that I was in the Army, but I didn’t always love being in the Army at the time. I had been out for a year when Desert Storm came up and got called back to serve. I never did more than defend the shores of South Carolina. I got orders to go over when the ground war started; but since that only lasted a couple of days, my unit got sent home instead.

You’ve recently shared with readers about your daughter’s serious illness, something many people might choose not to do. Why did you feel you could share that news and how are you dealing with it?

My blog is all about what is going on in my life and my warped take on it. As I say in the “About Me” section, I find humor in most things and God in everything. There is no way I can blog about my life without sharing about the cancer that has forced its way in. There is no manual on how to fight this thing, no playbook. So we are fighting cancer with a smile in our house. If you haven’t checked out her site—smileyforkylie.com—I think you’ll see what I mean. The kid averages about 2,000 hits a day on a two week-old site while I am happy with a fraction of that. (Note: If you’ll recall, Mark is “newly bald” in the video. He cut his hair to support his daughter.)

You live in Georgia and seem to have a good handle on all things Southern. What do you like about the South?

I like the gentility of the South. It’s still here, especially when you go to some of the smaller towns. People tend to have a little more time to speak and acknowledge each other and use manners. Also, being a believer, it’s nice to be in a place where we still have a foothold.

Are you a big reader? Who is your favorite author?

I am a huge reader. I’m the nerd who reads through his lunch. I typically have two to three books going at a time. I love classic English and Russian literature. Charles Dickens is my favorite author; a close second is Leo Tolstoy. And if you go modern, I love the works of Markus Zusak.

Tell us about your publications and where we can find them. Further, what are your writing aspirations? How actively do you query publishers?

I have written five books. Thus far, Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption is the only one in publication. I should be releasing the rest of Virgil’s trilogy this year. The others probably aren’t ready.

As for publishers, I have queried agents but not seen success there. But I’m a take charge type of person and don’t mind doing it myself. I like the fact that I have control over what goes into the book. I would love to find my niche with a publisher; however, it hasn’t happened yet…maybe someday.

CC BY-NC, Brandon Flickr

CC BY-NC, Brandon, Flickr

Mark, what does Heaven look like?

Oh! Heaven will be a wonderful place: new colors, [musical] notes, smells…things we can’t even dream of. All of our frailties will fade away, and we will see Jesus and sing his praises for eternity. I’m sold!

What are two things people would be surprised to know about you?

First, I have sung onstage wearing a coconut bra and grass skirt (in the South Pacific). Second, although I consider myself a confident man and am a salesman by trade, I am deathly afraid of car salesmen.

What questions do you have for Mark? 

Read more by Mark at his blog Life in Portsong.

11 Questions for Michael

Well this is convenient! There was no “10 Questions” post for today because neither of the two interviews that are forthcoming was ready. But my buddy Chef Ted Luoma of the blog cateritforward pulled a fast one on me.

Ted was nominated for a Liebster Award and, in-turn, nominated me; however, I’m already a recipient. I decided to respond to the questions he asked anyway, and that nicely satisfies this week’s “10 Questions” feature. Also, make sure you stop by Ted’s blog. I know you’ll enjoy it. I read it daily.

CC BY-NC, Zeyang, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Zeyang Flickr

Is there anything you hope to accomplish with your blog?

I hope readers leave The ‘Mike’ provoked to think deeply about God and the scriptures. I’m a thinker and I often stress the importance of thinking about life “with and through” the scriptures; so that characterizes my writing. I also use my blog as ritual writing practice. I spend an unspeakable amount of time on each article.

What is your current occupation? What do you wish it was?

I’m unemployed right now and it’s been a vicious and life-changing experience. What I wish it was? Pastor or writer, or both.

What is the stupidest thing you have ever done?

When I was a young boy, I told my teen sister who was ironing clothes that I was going to put the iron to my face. I didn’t believe it was hot. So when she walked out of the room, I kept my promise. I still have a faint scar. Does this count for stupid?

What is your favorite 70’s sitcom?

That’s tough. But one of my favorites has always been The Jeffersons. I could sit and watch George, Weezie, and Florence all day.

Are there any obstacles in your life that make you not want to get out of bed in the morning?

None. There have been tough times that were relatively nothing compared to what others experience. Further, when I’ve been down, my persistence just won’t die. Have you ever been in a place where you wanted to give up but the Lord stirs you and won’t let you quit? That’s been me many times.

If you could put one band on a bus that careens off a cliff, which band would it be and why? (Not that I advocate violence, but there has got to be a band that annoys you.)

Honestly, I don’t know only because if they annoy me, I don’t listen to them. But I would put most rap music on that bus—with a bomb—and send it on its merry way. I feel that Rap is an incredibly destructive music. Still, I couldn’t tell you a particular artist or band.

If you could live in any time period, which would it be and why?

I’m not sure…for different reasons. Many appeal to me with their various pros and cons; however, the present one is probably best for me.

Do you talk to your neighbors? Why or why not?

I do when the chance comes. We just shoot the breeze or talk about jobs or yard work. I’m a big neighbor guy, the kind who enjoys welcoming new neighbors and who helps out shoveling snow or cleaning up storm debris. Being a neighbor is a good thing.

CC BY-NC-ND, Michael Verhoef, Flickr

CC BY-NC-ND, Michael Verhoef Flickr

What is your favorite and least favorite food?

My favorite food is homemade macaroni-and-cheese—always has been and always will be. My least favorite is probably liver. My mom used to try to trick my brother and me with it, calling it beef; it never worked.

If you had to choose between phantom pain from an amputated pinky finger or a hip replacement, which would you choose and why?

Gosh! I’d want all my digits, so let’s go with the hip replacement. My mom just had one of those last year, and she’s trucking along nicely again. Most folk I’ve talked to who’ve had a replacement have said it was the best decision of their lives. I’ll keep my fingers.

What is your number one priority in life?

Enjoying it until it’s time to leave. By that I mean understanding that human life is a gift to us (humans) and every part of it should be explored and cherished. This honors God who gave it all to us.

10 Questions for Kate Bortell

Our friend, Kate Bortell

Our friend, Kate Bortell

This week’s interview features Kate Bortell, writer of Serious Thoughts Taken Not So Seriously.

The name of your blog really is a giveaway of the charm and humor in your writing. If not that, then moments like these are: “Man does not live on bread alone. But on every word that comes from the mouth of God. And pasta.” Or, when you praise your daughter for becoming a vegetarian at an early age, now nearly 10 years ago; then you write, “…it has been a royal pain in the neck.” Are you as laidback and playful as your writing suggests?

It depends on who you ask. But since you’re asking me, I would have to say yes, of course.  Okay, I’ll admit to the laidback portion of the question causing me some discomfort—but playful? Heck yeah!

People who read your blog get to know some things about you quickly: your proud Irish heritage; your love for family; and your love for Target, bargain books, and Barry’s Gold Blend tea, the only kind allowed in your house. What other brand loyalties and personal taste choices can you share with us?

Well I’m a big Starbucks fan. And I only like to patronize Barnes and Noble when it comes to large chain bookstores. Oh—regarding personal taste choices, I love several of the English police dramas on Netflix. My favorite is Midsomer Murders.

You are a devout Catholic and deeply spiritual. What does God mean to you?

God means everything to me. My relationship with him is the most important one in my life. And to set the record straight, I am a Catholic and I love many of the Catholic traditions; but I also question some of their teachings.

What are your opinions of Pope Francis?

I think Pope Francis is a wonderful person and will do great things for the Catholic religion. In a perfect world I’d love to see him bring Catholics closer to the Bible.

CC BY-NC, Sebastian Küpper, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Sebastian Küpper, Flickr

Kate, how does one raise kids who appreciate God, or should they be allowed to decide for themselves on religion?

The best thing you can do is lead by example when it comes to loving God and desiring your children to do the same. It can be quite a challenge. They have minds of their own. You wish nurture to that in other areas, so forcing them to believe anything can become a struggle. When they are very young, I think they should be taught about Jesus Christ; when they get older, they may choose their own beliefs. We just need to trust that the truth will become apparent to them eventually.

You have a nice readership. Have you ever considered becoming a professional Christian blogger?

You can do that?

What is your writing process?

When I get home from work, I put on my pajamas, relax on the couch, and yell to whoever is around—“What should I blog about today?” It’s very scientific.

Of the posts you’ve written, which is the most meaningful to you and why?

I would have to say the post about my father is the most meaningful to me…the things I wish I had said to him. (“Things I Wish I Had Said to My Father”) I honestly felt like I was writing to him as I wrote it. Anything that may have gone unsaid just melted away. I cried when I reread it. I miss my dad.

If you were jailed for the rest of your days for your faith, what one book that you’ve read would have to be in your possession and why?

Well I’d absolutely want it to be the Bible, but I haven’t read that in its entirety. So, sticking to the rules, I’d have to say Fearless by Max Lucado. He discusses all different avenues where we experience fear and how to combat it. It would probably come in handy in prison, am I right?

What are two things readers would be surprised to know about you?

I played a viola solo in a quartet in elementary school. And, my 17 year-old daughter and I have a little made-up song we sing together every night when she goes to bed that we’ve been singing since she was six. 

What questions do you have for Kate? 

Read more by Kate at Serious Thoughts Taken Not So Seriously. 

10 Questions for Chris Hendrix

Today The ‘Mike’ begins a weekly interview segment called “10 Questions” featuring fellow bloggers, professionals, and other folk you might be interested to know. Here I chat with my blog buddy Chris Hendrix of Devotions by Chris who welcomes you in the video.

Chris, your readers are familiar with a series of events in your life that influences the character of your blog; you’ve also shared those details on this blog. So what happened to you on and around September 25, 2003?

I hit rock bottom in my life. In the previous five months my wife ran off with another man; the building I leased for my business didn’t renew my agreement; I had to find and build out another rental space while being gouged on rent where I was; I had to take on a business partner to help; I continually ran into issues with the build-out; the IRS came after me for back taxes; and I faced bankruptcy. On September 25th my partner, seeing I was against the ropes, took my business from me.

My brother called me hourly to make sure I was alive. He told me that he couldn’t have survived everything that was happening to me and would have ended his life. I actually considered it when the business was taken from me. That’s when I laid on my living room floor, crying, and told God, “I can’t do it anymore. This has got to be the bottom. I won’t survive if it falls out again.” I felt God say, “Finally.” He reminded me of his words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

I went to the calendar and wrote “The Bottom” on it and vowed that no matter what happened or how long it took, I would climb out of that hole. Each year I celebrate September 25th as the day I learned to fully trust God’s strength in my life. It reminds me that I can’t make it through life alone. I wasn’t created to; I was created to need God. I fail in my own strength, but in his strength I am more than a conqueror.

What is the purpose of Devotions by Chris?

The purpose of my site is to bring daily encouragement to other believers who struggle how I once did. I use everyday life stories, analogies, and God’s Word to help believers grow in their relationship with God. I want readers to start their day thinking about God by reading one of these short devotionals. I hope they find practical advice for taking that next step of faith.

How do you respond to the question “Why does God allow pain?”

I wrote about this in a piece called “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”. I believe God uses these times of pain in our lives like a gardener uses pruning shears. In order to grow, we must be pruned. In order to fully trust God, we have to come to the point where we trust his strength more than our own. I like to say that the amount of pain you endure is proportionate to the amount of joy you are capable of experiencing. I know joy because I’ve known pain.

You’ve led several mission trips to Haiti, including one from which you’ve just returned. What is the focus of these missions?

James 1:27 says that pure and undefiled religion is caring for orphans and widows. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Between the 2010 earthquake, the AIDS epidemic, and 70 percent unemployment, there are over 400,000 orphans in Haiti. Parents have to choose whether they will live or their kids will live. In every case, the parents choose themselves.

Coreluv.org

Coreluv.org

I work with an organization called Coreluv. What I do is take teams and introduce them to the problem. I put them to work in the orphanages and show them how the little they have in their hands is enough to be used by God.

We work all day painting, feeding, building, or whatever is needed to make life better for these orphans. I call it putting sweat equity in the Kingdom of God. We love on the kids, play with them, and share the hope that Jesus brings. We also visit one of poorest communities to feed kids whose parents can’t feed them. We’ve built a school to educate these children and hopefully help them break the cycle of poverty.

How else do you serve in ministry?

I’ve always considered myself a part-time minister, but my pastor called me out on it a few weeks ago. He told me about his ordination; my grandfather was the presbyter of his ordination. My grandfather told him, “There is no such thing as a part-time minister. You can have a full-time job on the side; but if you are called to ministry, you should be doing it full-time.”

That said, I blog daily, I volunteer with Coreluv, and recently I assumed leadership of a young couples group at my church. Also, I connect with people through church or my website and pray daily for them. I have a rule that if you ask me for prayer, I stop everything that I’m doing and pray for you right then. That way you know for certain that I’ve prayed for you.

You say that your drive to work is a prayer time in which you focus on a blog topic. What is your writing process?

I spend several hours a day in prayer as part of my daily routine. I once heard that D.L. Moody prayed for eight hours a day. That’s been my goal. I start each day with a quick prayer thanking God for the day and asking him to speak through me in his word. Then, I read scripture for thirty minutes. After that, I continue praying as I get ready for work.

I commute an hour each day, so I use that time to pray instead of listening to the radio. Once I get to work, I pray that God would speak through me so I can write the right words; then he can bring the right people to read them at the right time. Thereafter, I sit in silence until I hear from God, and I write once I do. I post to my site and use HootSuite to time tweets and Facebook posts throughout the day.

What are “Free Fridays” on your blog?

I got the idea for “Free Fridays” at a writer’s conference last year. I kept hearing how fearful writers felt putting their work out there for others to read. I realized how much fear plays a role in keeping so many Christians from doing what they are called to do. I decided to write a post each Friday that would help Christians get free of something that holds them back. Then, I decided that I would drive traffic to these posts by offering a free book to one reader. So not only do people get practical advice, they also get the opportunity to win a book.

What Christian WordPress blogs do you regularly read?

Bea MusesUnshakeable HopeDirector B, Deeply Rooted in Himand A ‘Mike’ for Christ

Where do you see yourself ministry-wise in 10 years?

In full-time evangelism. I believe I am called to be a part of the next Great Awakening and will be instrumental in winning, training, and utilizing laborers to bring in the final harvest. My first post, “The Vision”, is about this.

What are two things readers would be surprised to know about you?

I do all my writing on an iPad. I don’t do any of it on a laptop or desktop. Also, after three years of marriage, my wife and I invited her parents to move in with us. So my in-laws and my wife’s two sisters live with us. 

What questions do you have for Chris? 

Read more by Chris at his blog Devotions by Chris.