Why the Crucifix?

Many thanks to my friend and sometimes critique partner, John Brunson, for the following guest post. It is most appropriate for this Holy Week.

by John Brunson

Crucifix in public domain
16th century Crucifix, National Museum in Warsaw. Photo by Michael Pacher, CCO 1.0, public domain.

In my experience growing up, there weren’t many Good Friday services being Protestant. It wasn’t until I came to where I am now that I got a chance to attend one. And most churches I’ve attended display an empty cross. So why the crucifix?

Consider for a moment what you are looking at: A man, who has had his arms and legs attached to wood by driving a railroad-like spike through his wrists and his feet. No doubt the victim is in wordless agony. The pain is so bad that there’s a word for it: excruciating (literally “out from the cross”).

Consider again that the man on the cross is taking our punishment. The wages of sin is death. And here death is, in all of its repugnant horror, before us. So much so, that we are led to gasp, “Christ on the altar!”

Some will say, “But Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore.” And they are right. But without a Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday. Without the Cross, there is no resurrection, there is no hope. Woe unto us because we should be pitied above all other men. And yet the cross is where sorrow and hope meet. Sorrow because the innocent God-man dies in order to save his creation. And hope because this isn’t the end of the story.

In the gospel of John, the writer makes an interesting point. He stated that Jesus “gave up his spirit” when he died. It’s a turn of a phrase that has always made me pause until… I remember Jesus’ words: “No man takes my life from me. I lay down my life and I take it up again.”

And that’s why the cross isn’t just a sorrowful memory. It’s a hint of the resurrection. Not even death could claim victory. It’s Jesus willingly laying down his life. His life wasn’t taken; his life was given. Meaning Jesus holds all the cards. Jesus is doing things his way. And he’s doing them on his terms. The Messiah is dealing decisively with Israel’s greatest nemesis. Not The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks or even the Romans. Jesus is dealing decisively with death itself. It’s here that Jesus takes his place as the king without equal.

The crucifix, the place where sorrow and hope meet.

Kathy here again. What are your thoughts on the crucifix? Do you display an empty cross, a cross with the figure of Jesus, or no cross at all? Why? Explain your thoughts in the comments section.

See also: Easter-Only Churchgoers Want More
How do you celebrate spring holidays?

Have a blessed Easter. Christ is Risen!


Celebrating Purim includes these 4 things.

Party background 805 from publicdomainpicturesdotnet
Picture by Sabine Sauermaul from publicdomainpictures.net

Purim begins Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at sunset and continues until sunset Thursday, March 24.

Purim is a freewill offering holiday, not commanded by the LORD under the Law of Moses, but rather instituted by the Jews to commemorate deliverance from a planned systematic genocide, as recorded in the Bible book of Esther. (See Esther 9:27-28)

Celebrating Purim includes four parts:

  1. Read the entire book of Esther (the “Megillat Esther”) aloud in one sitting. You’ve heard the expression, “the whole megillah.” This is where it came from. The Hebrew word megillah means “scroll.” Bible books were originally written on scrolls, and are still hand-printed onto scrolls for ceremonial purposes.If you want to make your reading fancy, print this printable Hebrew/English book of Esther on parchment paper, then tape the pages together, and make a scroll for your Megillat Esther reading. Or you can read Esther from your everyday Bible. It isn’t very long. During the reading, noisemakers (called groggers) are used to drown out the sound of the name of Haman, the hateful one who plotted to kill the Jews. Sometimes children put on Purim plays or pantomime as Esther is read. This play is called a Purim spiel.
  2. Party! Rejoice because of God’s deliverance. Eat and drink, because the events of the book of Esther center around feasting and wine. Dress up in costume to disguise your identity, just as Esther kept her true identity hidden and Haman kept his true character hidden. And because costumes are fun.
    Scruffy sweater
    Scruffy Dog is ready to PAR-TAY!

    Optional: Get rip-roaring drunk. The Talmud (not the Bible) says, “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’” (Meghilla 7b). Maimonides wrote, “That one should …drink wine until he is drunk and falls asleep from drunkenness” on Purim (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah 2:15). Tradition tells us to get drunk on this one day only, to strip away all pretense of social etiquette and reveal our true hidden natures.

    I personally think we can skip the tradition of drinking altogether, or at least drink in moderation. In my opinion, too much harm occurs when rage, arrogance, or recklessness reveals itself through alcohol. And there is only the whisper of a line between getting drunk enough to “fall asleep from drunkenness” and getting drunk enough to die from alcohol poisoning or asphyxiation.

  3. Give gifts to the poor. The tradition is to share with two people who are less fortunate than yourself: one gift for each person, during the day, after the reading of the book of Esther. Even if you are also poor, you can find something to share: food, an article of clothing, a blanket, wildflowers, time, etc.
  4. Give food gifts to one another. Send a food or drink that consists of at least two portions to at least one person, or to as many people as you wish, through a messenger. It should be something that either needs no preparation, or is already prepared and ready to eat.
Purim drunk baby hammantaschen

A traditional food that is eaten and given away on Purim is called hamantaschen, literally, “Haman’s ears.” Haman got into trouble by eavesdropping, but Haman’s ears are delicious! They’re three-pointed cookies filled with jams, poppy seeds, chocolate, or whatever you like.

hamantaschen cropped from wikimedia commons
Hamantaschen by Yoninah CC BY 2.5


Traditional Hamantaschen recipe
1 1/3 cup shortening (Fleischmann’s vegetable oil spread is pareve, if you’re cooking kosher)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour + a little to dust the rolling surface
6 tablespoons water or orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
filling of your choice, such as poppy seeds, Nutella, jam, orange marmalade
plastic wrap, baking sheet, mixing bowl, spoon

Directions: (1) Blend shortening and sugar together until creamy. (2) Blend in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. (3) Stir in water (or juice) and vanilla extract until well mixed. (4) Stir in flour, a little bit at a time, until blended. (5) Put the mix onto plastic wrap, cover and chill thoroughly. (6) When chilled, dust a rolling surface, and gently roll or pat the dough to ¼ inch thickness. Use a round cookie cutter or the top of a glass to cut out circles. (7) In each circle, place a teaspoon of filling. Pinch into three corners, with the filling peeking out from the center. (8) Bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Makes about two dozen.

Shortcut Hamantaschen
Use refrigerated, ready-to-bake, sugar cookie dough (Pillsbury sugar cookies is a good pareve choice). Roll out the dough and cut into circles with either a cookie cutter or the open end of a drinking glass. Brush the cookie circles with orange juice, or sprinkle with orange zest, if you like. Then fill each cookie circle with a teaspoon of filling, and pinch the sides to form a three-cornered tart.What does your family or congregation do for Purim? Do you get drunk? Give gifts? Dress up? Stuff your face? All of the above?

Chag Sameach!
(“Happy Holiday!”)



To cut or not to cut? Use this editing trick to decide.

typing on computer

Photo by Francisco Farias, Jr at publicdomainpictures.net

Ola, readers! I have an eye thing and have to limit screen time for a couple of weeks, so today’s post will be short and sweet. It’s an editing trick I learned years ago, and still use today to help me decide whether or not to cut a line,  a scene, or whatever.

In your manuscript, mouse over and highlight the text in question. Then change the text color to white. It will “disappear.” Don’t delete the space this creates, or you’ll delete all your work. Leave the white space. Go get a cup of coffee or take your dog for a walk. When you get back, reread that section without the text that’s been whited out. If it works better without it, delete the space (or cut and paste to somewhere else, if you think you’ll use it elsewhere). If you want it back, just mouse over it and change the text color back to automatic, and the text reappears.

Hugs, Kathy


No one lied to us.

This post was originally published April 11, 2011. (I’ve got an eye thing and have to limit screen time for a couple weeks, so I’m posting reruns.)
Photo by Nheyob. CC BY-SA 3.0

“Why don’t you go to another church?”

“Because I’m Catholic,” Harold answered.

“You’re not Catholic,” I argued, “if you don’t believe what they teach.”

Harold just smiled. “I’m Catholic.”

My friend and I were in high school–those extraordinary years of challenging our parents and forming opinions of our own.

In some ways, adolescents must vilify authority in order to become independent adults. I rejected the secularism of my upbringing, and believed in Jesus. Harold, raised Catholic, questioned the tenets of his church, but as far as I know, he never entertained the thought of leaving.

During Lent, the Catholic/Protestant issue invariably surfaces. Protestants insist that “it doesn’t take all that” to please God. Catholics just smile. They’re Catholic.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.(1 John 4:15-16, NIV)

I believe God appreciates our questions. “Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD…” (Isaiah 1:18). How else can we know Him for ourselves?

Like teenagers wrestling with childhood uncertainties, people of all faiths struggle with conflicting doctrines, especially during holiday seasons. When questioning, however, adults sometimes resort to the ways of adolescence, and accuse their spiritual predecessors of deliberate fraud. Vilifying their parents or church leaders is the only way that some people know how to cope with an opposing viewpoint.

I say it is time to put away childish things. No one lied to us. Right or wrong, our ancestors shared what they believed, mostly with good intentions. No man or woman can hand us pure truth. Only God is all-knowing. It’s up to each one of us to pray, study, listen, and learn for ourselves. That means we won’t all agree. And that’s okay.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20, NIV)

Last I heard, Harold was still Catholic. I’m still not. He embraced the beauty and truth in his church, and didn’t worry about the parts he disagreed with. By staying in the church that he loved, Harold has seen opportunities to reach out and make a difference in the lives of people I will never meet.

How do you handle doctrinal and denominational differences with your brothers and sisters in Jesus?

Avoid these 7 writing mistakes by listening.

hey girl I'm listening
My granddoggy, Owen


We writers refer to our writing personalities as voice, because readers “hear” us when they read our words. For the same reason, many of our writing mistakes can be corrected by simply listening to our own voices. With our ears.

You can write every word, sentence, and paragraph grammatically correctly, and still have errors in your manuscript. That’s why you must hear it. If it’s a short piece, ask someone to read it to you. Your kid could probably use the practice. If it’s long, read it aloud to yourself. And listen.


  1. Inconsistent tone–switching mood or attitude without reason. This is usually caused by either
    • Not having a specific audience in mind. The words you whisper to your husband are not meant for your grandmother, and the shorthand slang you exchange with your bestie isn’t meant for your boss. Know your readers, and write for them only.
    • Not trusting your gut. Be yourself. Don’t overthink it. If you don’t trust yourself, you’ll end up saying something that doesn’t sound like you, and it will sound out of place in your writing.
  2. Mismatched language–using language or vocabulary that doesn’t fit the situation. For example, writing fast-paced action, such as a horse race, using long, descriptive sentences, instead of quick sentences with active verbs. Stay in the moment.
  3. Awkward cadence–using words or phrases that don’t naturally flow with ease. This one’s a little harder to catch by yourself, because you know what you meant to say. If you stumble over a sentence when reading aloud, take that to heart. If you have to read it more than once to understand, rewrite the sentence for better flow.
  4. Alliteration–a string of words that repeats the same sound. These can sneak up on you, if you don’t read your work aloud, because repeating sounds are not always spotted with the eyes. Example: Chris cranked the boom box. The music of Queen echoed across the corridor. 
  5. Rhyme, near rhyme, and other sound-alikes. An unintended rhyme can turn a serious moment into silliness, and break the spell on your readers.
  6. Tongue twisters. If you can’t say it, don’t write it.
  7. Double entendre–words or phrases that can have more than one meaning, especially when one of those meanings is “naughty.” Example: Jenny wasn’t enjoying the fishing trip until Allen let her handle his pole.

Did I miss any? Do you already read your work aloud? Let us know how that’s working for you in the comment section. We’re all in this together. Oh, and by the way, isn’t my granddoggy Owen a handsome fellow?







Pretty Secrets

wooden-chest edited  from publicdomainpicturesdotnet
Original photo by George Hodan, courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

During this Lenten season, and as we prepare for the spring holidays,  I’m purposely reflecting on what I call “Pretty Secrets.” Pretty Secrets are truths, experiences, memories, whatever, that refresh our spirits. They’re not necessarily things that we can share with others, but they make us smile when we think about them.

One of my Pretty Secrets is the presence of God. As a Christian, I believe that God is everywhere, and that his Holy Spirit literally inhabits the physical bodies of believers (of me!). Still, I lose sight of him. I get distracted by the shiny baubles of this world, or drawn into negative thinking by the outrages of this world (both legitimate and ridiculous), and I simply forget God. Then I remember. And it makes me smile.

I often pray that God will keep  me aware of his presence throughout my day. And he does! And that awareness brings me such joy. Whatever you do today, wherever you go, may God make his presence known to you, and bring to your remembrance all the Pretty Secrets you hold  in your heart.

Hugs, Kathy

See also Easter-Only Churchgoers Want More

Levity: It’s not just for Levites on Purim

10 Ways to Remember Passover if You Don’t Celebrate


More tips for flat-broke indie authors

money by Junior Libby public domain pictures dot net
Photo courtesy of Junior Libby at publicdomainpictures.net


Indie publishing is becoming more mainstream, more professional, and leading to more money in the author’s pocket than ever before. Self-publishers earned 40% of all money earned by authors from e-books at Amazon.com in 2015 [See report].

But before you can get any of that cash into your pocket, you’ll need to polish up your work. With so many indies publishing, the competition is stiff. Readers are wary of self-publishing. They’ve been disappointed by indie authors who don’t write well or don’t use professional support, so it’s hard for them to trust an unknown. If readers give your indie book a chance, you have one job: Don’t disappoint them. So take the time to do it right the first time.

Use professional software. You can download Open Office word processing software, which is compatible with MS Word, for free at www.openoffice.org. Scrivener, which I love, love, love, costs  only $40 per year. And if you get together with some of your writer friends and buy it together, you can get Scrivener’s  discounted group rate.

Hire professional help. Before you publish, you’ll need a structural editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader to clean up your manuscript, someone to format your manuscript for either print or e-book (or both), and someone to design and format your book cover. And possibly a photographer, if your cover design includes a photo. (That will be up to the cover designer. She may have a photographer that she works with.)

You know you need these professional services, but you’re broke. Never fear; I’m here for you.  If you can’t afford to pay for professional services, consider the following.

  1. Hire students. Ask your friends and coworkers if they know responsible students who can edit, proof, take photos, or format your manuscript or book cover. Students looking to gain experience or plump up their portfolios are often able and willing to work for lower pay and a good reference from you. (And maybe a pizza.)
  2. Get competitive prices on professional services at Guru.com. Choose from among freelancers who bid for your job. Hiring a freelancer can be a gamble, but Guru.com has a service called SafePay, where your advanced payment is held in a separate account until you approve of the job. Certainly, there are cheats out there, but if you carefully hire someone with good experience and positive feedback, you can usually get a basic, professional-level job for a fair price.
  3. Barter. Your critique group is a good place to start. See who might be willing to edit or proofread for you. In exchange, you do the same for them. Or offer another skill or goods that you may provide. I’m a professional copy editor, and while I usually only work for money (because the electric company won’t take home-grown tomatoes), I will barter on occasion for something I’d be paying for anyway. It never hurts to ask.

Order a proof copy before ordering a bunch of print books. If you find mistakes, you can fix them before they go out with errors to hundreds of readers.

Pay as much attention to your book’s  summary as you do to the manuscript. I’ve seen self-published books on Amazon that I know are well-written and polished, because I’ve read them, but the summaries seem hastily slapped on. They lack organization, contain errors, or are just plain boring. The reader looks to your summary as a sample of your writing. Make it your very best.

You know that expression, “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Make sure you come out of the box looking as good as possible and never offer up a badly written book.

What have you done to cut costs and up your professional status? Have you tried Scrivener? What do you think?

Hugs, Kathy





Sabbath as an Immersive Learning Opportunity

Traditional Sabbath bread. Photo by Schwäbin. CC BY-SA 3.0 de

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book series on holidays.

Long before Moses and the Law, God created the seven-day week, and with very few exceptions, people from all cultures since the beginning of time have kept it. Our solar system moves in such a way that a seven-day week makes the most sense.

Within that week, God established a day of rest.

“By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:2-3, NIV

The One who spoke the universe into existence did not need six days to do it. And he wasn’t worn out and needing a break when he finished. He created the seven-day week for us, for all humans, as a natural, immersive learning opportunity, to teach us how to live and how to die.

Instead of bringing everything into existence at once, God lived out a pattern of building one accomplishment upon another over time, sticking with a task to its completion, showing us how to pace our lives. Then he deliberately set apart one day, demonstrating the optimal ratio of work to rest, and reminding us that our days of creating on earth will end at the appointed time, and our creations will be left in the hands of others.

The New Testament grants us freedom to consider every day alike. But when we number our days, and yield to creation’s six-day work/one-day rest pattern (even if only sometimes), all of our senses participate in the demonstration that God made specifically for our benefit. It’s worth playing out, at least once.

A traditional Sabbath greeting is Shabbat shalom (pronounced shah-BAHT shah-LOHM). It means literally, “Sabbath peace.” I am convinced that the key to a peaceful Sabbath lies in working like crazy the first six days of the week. You might remember the scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, where Jewish villagers pack up to leave Russia by order of the czar. They reminisce about the home they are forced to leave, asking, where else but in Anatevka, where they were underfed and overworked, could Sabbath be so sweet?

I have spent many Friday afternoons scrambling to finish chores before sunset, already tired out from the week, and frustrated with the extra workload of the day. The smell of bread rising in the oven pushes me on, encouraging me to stick with it just a little bit longer, because the time for rest is nearing.

In the same way, during busy and difficult seasons of our lives, if we stop to reflect, the sweet aroma of heaven pushes us on, encouraging us to stay faithful just a little bit longer, because the time of eternal rest and rejoicing is nearer now than ever before.

“There remains, then, [an eternal] Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-10, NIV

Do you observe one day above another, or do you consider every day alike? How do you find balance and peace in your life?


Legitimate writing contests open doors for new writers.

business woman computer from publicdomainpictures.net
Photo courtesy of axelle b at publicdomainpictures.net

In 2007, for a class assignment, I entered a writing contest. And everything changed.

At first, I didn’t like the idea. I didn’t know what contest to enter, and I didn’t have anything prepared for submission. I didn’t like deadlines, and what if–gasp!–I didn’t win? What would that do to my self-esteem? (Imagination can mess me up, like it does to a lot of creative types.) I gulped back the fear and went for it, deliberately choosing a local, county-wide contest because fewer entrants equals less competition. I wrote a poem, entered the contest, and won the grand prize–$200, four tickets to a comedy club, and an invitation to read my entry at a local poetry event. I was too scared to attend, and someone else read for me.

Read about my do-over, when I conquered fear and read my poetry in public!

Even though I’d placed too much importance on that one contest, winning it gave me something to mention in query letters. More important, it gave me confidence. In that confidence, I submitted articles to magazines, and I dared to enter a bigger contest. That contest paid for my attendance, room, and meals at the Colorado Christian Writers’ Conference, which included lots of classes, encouragement, feedback, and a one-on-one critique of my work with an editor from a national glossy magazine. I also met a writer friend that I still hold dear. (Hi, Beth! ::waving::)

With direction and a handful of published articles, more doors opened, both in writing and in editing. By the end of 2009, I was getting steady writing and editing work with steady pay.

If you’re a newbie writer, winning a writing contest–even a small, local contest without much competition–can plump your portfolio, give you confidence, earn you a little money, and help get your foot in the door with publishers. If you’re invited to join an event with other writers and publishers, that can turn into an opportunity to make friends in the industry.

I’ve found that not winning has its benefits, too. Sometimes judges scribble hand-written advice on contest entries before returning. That advice is gold. And those straight-out rejections with no feedback will either strengthen our determination or send us spiraling into the depths of anguished self-doubt. Either one makes for good writing fuel.

All this, of course, if the contest is legitimate.


Lots of scammers target writers, so watch out! Legitimate writing contests may charge a small entry fee (around $15-$100), but no legitimate contest will require you to pay anything to receive your prize. Not one.

Before entering a writing contest, check out this list of writing contests and services to avoid, compiled by Winning Writers. And see also 13 Warning Signs of a Bad Literary Contest.

If you live in the US, and you’ve been the victim of a writing contest scam, report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission.

A good source for information on legitimate writing contests is Poets & Writers Magazine.

Some current contests: 

Keep up to date on the latest writing contests at Poets & Writers.

Have you ever been targeted for a writing scam? Entered a legitimate contest and won? Lost? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment section. Please. I’m so lonely. 😉


Hugs, Kathy

The Seal of the Spirit

church public domain junior libby
Photo by Junior Libby, courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net.

Whoever you are, right this minute, imagine that God accepts you, and that He calls you holy, pure, blameless. And not because He’s just tolerant, but because you are holy to Him. Not after you clean up. Not after you deal with some things. Right now. This minute. What would that feel like?

Now imagine that whatever you have to offer to God, however flawed, imperfect, or rejected in this world, what if that offering turned into–in truth–a holy, perfect offering, highly valuable. How would that feel?

In the days of Moses, and the Ark of the Covenant, and the Tabernacle, God established a priesthood to stand as the go-between for His Spirit and regular folks like you and me. The priests were required to wear a seal upon their foreheads, which made the guilt of the people go away, and made their gifts acceptable to God.

“Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord.” Exodus 28:36-38, NIV

In those days, if an offering was brought to God by a guilty person, the priest absorbed that guilt, and the person was no longer guilty. The priest’s seal was worn continually, so there was never a time when a person’s guilt could slip by. Whatever gift a person brought for God, that gift became acceptable and holy.

Now, here’s the best part. When you believe that Jesus, God in the flesh, is the go-between for God and yourself, you too are sealed: HOLY TO THE LORD. Jesus absorbs your guilt, and whatever your gifts may be, they are acceptable to God.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel [good news] of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV

God’s seal is not made of gold. It is made of the Holy Spirit Himself. And He continually stays with us, declaring us guilt-free, making all of our gifts acceptable to Him. There is never a time when guilt can slip in.

The seal of the Holy Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing your inheritance in heaven. When you believe in Jesus, your fate is sealed forever.

Jesus said: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3, NIV

Right this minute, in the quiet of your own mind, ask yourself if you have believed in Jesus. If you never have, now is the time.

Once you believe in Jesus, you are sealed. You don’t have to imagine anymore. You are HOLY TO THE LORD. If any guilt lingers or recurs, it is absorbed by the seal of God. It is not yours to bear. And your offerings to God, whatever they may be, are acceptable.

If you want to talk about this, or you have questions, feel free to comment and I will answer.

Hugs, Kathy

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