Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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bad-hair-dayLet your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. ~ Colossians 4:6 ESV

A while back, I got some interesting reactions to my Facebook post, which read, “First, why don’t women check the back of their hair before going to church? Second, could my noticing this trend be the start of my new ministry?”

Although it was meant to bring a chuckle, it got me to thinking. When is it appropriate to point out a faux pas or oddity? In ninety seconds flat, I thought I had a sound two-prong theory.

1) It IS acceptable to say something if you believe the person is NOT aware of the situation.

2) It is NOT acceptable to speak up if you believe the person IS aware.

Sounds simple, huh? Upon further review, I discovered simple isn’t always easy.

Let’s take the case of the woman with the church-hair in the front and bed-head in the back. I don’t think she knows, so I should tell her, right? Not so fast.  Ask yourself a few questions. Does her hair-do complement her wrinkled wardrobe? A style of her own, maybe? Or, is her half-hearted comb-out the end result of getting a passel of kids to church on time? Think before you stop her in the foyer and hand her a comb.

I’ve come up with some additional Church Courtesy Guidelines to help in these awkward situations.

What’s on Your Face? Feel free to point out milk mustaches, chin drippings, and spinach in teeth — but not tea stains or tartar. Yes to boogers, but no to moles.

When It Comes to Kids: When children are noisy in church, don’t turn around and give their parents an evil eye. We can learn from their joyful noises!

comb-over

Comb-overs: Seriously, a comb-over doesn’t happen by accident. It involves the skill of a weaver, firm-hold hair spray, and an extra half hour.  Look away and keep silent.

Hairpieces: Say nothing unless the hair piece is flipped up in the back or on backwards. I’ll let your relationship determine what you say and where you say it.

in my pew

Conversation: Do not verbally correct a statement made by someone, especially if you’re not part of the conversation. If someone mispronounces a word or uses incorrect grammar, just snicker and correct them mentally.

Pew Etiquette: When someone is sitting in your usual pew, let them figure it out for themselves. Tip: It’ll go quicker if you hover over them and glare.

Accidental Accessories: Yes to saying something about the glob of food on front of their blouse and the toilet paper stuck to their shoe or tucked in the waistband of their pants. However, you might want to hold off mentioning a wedgie.

Singing Voices: Sometimes voices are off key and loud. Leave these people alone—me included. God’s perfect hearing has a motive filter.

pats fan_300_225_90 (1)

Clothing Issues: Although not a huge deal, it might be helpful to mention the ripped seam in a congregant’s slacks, their inside-out sweater, mismatched footwear, or hem coming undone. But, unless you’re in leadership, say nothing about sports team jerseys and hats. You could get booed or beat up.

Make-up: This can be tricky. What you may think is too much make-up may not be too much for them. Unless the lipstick is on her teeth and magnetic eyelashes stuck to her braces, I’d ignore it.

However, if your comments are sincere, a person may be grateful. As proof, I give you this conversation with my ten-year-old grandson, Max:

Max, greeting me with a chin-nod: “Hi. So, what’s with all the make-up?”

Me, searching for my compact mirror: “I always wear make-up.”

Max, chuckling: “Yeah, but this time you’ve got way more on one eye than the other.”

Me, frazzled: “Why thank you, sweetie, for pointing that out. I love you too.”

On the Other Hand: Maybe I should take advantage of every chance I get to keep my mouth shut … and maybe my eyes.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

~ 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV

 

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Helping My Husband Find His Ministry

Our Unique Gifts & TalentsWe have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach, if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. ~ Ro 12:6-8 (NIV)

I’d been praying about using my spiritual gifts in a more effective way, but I wanted to be sure I had them right. The pastor’s sermon on Romans 12 was the confirmation I needed.

Though the gifts are present in several Scripture passages, I’ll stick to the seven gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leading, and Showing Mercy.

My primary gift is Encouragement; my secondary gift is Service.

In years past, I may have coveted other gifts like Prophecy or Leadership. But 33 years of walking with Christ has shown me two things: I’m no prophet and to be a leader you need followers. I have none—and I don’t think God counts Twitter.twitter-follow-achiever

Now that I had my gifts in order, as any good helpmate would do [good may not be the correct word, but meddling doesn’t sound as nice], I decided to help my mate find his.

My husband is not  joiner, nor is he as social as I am. He’s pretty much a homebody; therefore you can see why he would need my wisdom in this area.

After church, over breakfast, I brought up the sermon. “So what do you think your gifts are?”

“Not sure,” he said, as he took a sip of his coffee.

I announced, “Mine are Encouragement and Service.”

He put his coffee down. “Sounds right.”

banner-prophetic-declarationsI pushed on. “Well, do you ever feel like you have a Prophetic Word for people—besides me, I mean?” I confess I knew the answer all ready.

“Nope.” He took a forkful of scrambled eggs.

“Okay, what about Service? You’re always doing things for me like shopping, running errands, laundry, and helping me with my computer stuff.  Service could be your spiritual gift.”

He swallowed his bite and washed it down with juice. “Could be.”

“Wait. Let’s look at Teaching. You know how you’re good at explaining things to me– like on my blog or website or around the house– maybe you could teach others? You’re smarter than anyone I know.”

“Not so sure about that.” He bit into a sausage and said, “Hmm. Jimmy Dean?”

“Hey, perhaps we have the same gifts. You’re always telling me to do things that I don’t think I can do. Maybe you’re an Encourager.”

“Could be.” He wiped his mouth. “Can you please pass the jam?”

“Don’t panic, we’re not in a jam. We still have Giving, Leading, and Showing Mercy left. We’re not rich, but you give to many different causes, right? I’m always getting sidetracked, so I  certainly look to you to lead us. And we both know you have a lot of mercy.”

“Why do you say that?”  He got up and refilled our mugs.

“For starters, you’re patient with me when I’m sick. Me, with you, not so much.”

“Let’s not worry about all this right now,” he said. “God will reveal my gifts in His time.”

“I know, but this is important! We need to know what your gifts are so you can plug into a ministry.”

2014-10-20 -300-150Determined to solve this mystery, I mentally reviewed what we’d learned so far.  Suddenly it struck me. I looked at my husband and said, “Uh, oh. I think God just gave me a revelation.”

He finished clearing the dishes and sat down. “And what might that be?”

“I think He told me that your ministry is ME!”

My husband smiled and patted my hand.

I think he knew that already.


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Without Small Beginnings, There Would Be No Big Ends

Like most writers, whether pre-published, newly published, or multi-published, we often wish we were further along our career path —no matter how far down that path we are. “After all, growth is natural,” we say.

Let’s admit it. We don’t really want growth to be natural; we wanted it to be rapid and explosive.

We begin a story and can’t wait to type “The End.” When the end arrives, we agonize over our book proposal and one-sheet. (Whether anyone actually reads them, we don’t know.)

We can’t be happy until we find an agent. When we do, we can’t be happy until we find a publisher. Then, “Hooray! We have a publisher!” We sign a two-book contract then spend weeks, sometimes months, editing our manuscript according to our publisher’s preferences, all the while scrambling for a new storyline for the second book.

When our debut novel arrives, we enter contests, hoping to add “award-winning” and “best selling” in front of our names. Then we’re off to book signings, conferences, and speaking events to sell, sell, sell! And I haven’t even touched on social media. [Sigh.]

While I’m not saying any of this is bad, I am wondering if the “one day at a time” axiom has morphed into “I can’t wait until tomorrow?” In our mad race to cross an imaginary finish line, do we appreciate the strides we’ve made to date? Have we forgotten to enjoy the present? Do we have any guarantees the future will be better?

In Zechariah 4:10, we are encouraged: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line [pen?] in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (NLT)

Without small beginnings, there would be no big ends. Small beginnings are more personal; they usually involve working closely with others. During these formative years, we hone our craft and develop good habits. We also have more time to read, learning much from those who’ve gone on before us.

I remember when angst grabbed hold of me as soon as I decided I wanted to write for publication. I fretted over query letters, elevator statements, and pitches to agents and editors—as if I were in charge of the outcome.

I thought back on the small beginnings I had so enjoyed: 1) Creating and presenting humorous “roasts” for my friends and family. 2) Writing and editing a monthly church newsletter. 3) Creating website copy for my employers. In all these cases, the feedback was immediate and more intimate, and the experiences encouraged me to keep writing.

What are your small beginnings? Are you rejoicing with the Lord over them?

Do you finally have the time to write after raising your children? Has an article you wrote been accepted for publication? Does someone other than your mother love your writing? Have you employed the plot twist that came to you in the middle of a sleepless night? Have you created an outline for your non-fiction book? Have you figured out how to apply the three-act structure to the first draft of your novel? (If so, write to me privately and tell me how.)

God’s word says, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I [Jesus] say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42 NASB). So, whenever I find myself absorbed in self and steeped in my projects alone, I break the pattern by focusing on someone else. Encouraging other writers excites me, humbles me, and brings me joy.

Getting rid of negative internal dialogue helps, too:  I wish I was as prolific as he is … If only I had a different agent … What if my publishing house closes? … I wish I had her sales … If only I had his platform …What if I get a bad review?

Listen up, Clarice! Whining is selfish, comparison is ungrateful, and fear is doubt.  

Eventually, I learned to listen more closely for God when I wrote, mainly because I had no idea what to write. When my novel Double Header debuted in 2015, a reader told me, “I feel like you wrote that story just to help me and my family.” When Party of One came out last year, others wrote basically the same thing. Just this past week, someone said, “I love your blogs. They’re so funny and uplifting.” I knew God was using me. Whether my books minister to one or thousands is in his hands. He is the ultimate marketing genius.

Zechariah 4:6 (NASB) declares, “Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit.” God has a personal and perfect plan for each of us. If you’re using your writing gift to the best of your ability for God’s glory, he’ll get you where you’re supposed to be on time. You can’t rush the Holy Spirit.

Let’s all enjoy the moment we have right now. It’s all good ’cause it’s all God.


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Bungee Jumping to Conclusions

bungee jumber

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.” ~ Php 4:6 (TLB)

 

I leap before I look, speak before I think, and bungee jump to conclusions. If you don’t believe me, then you probably don’t know me.  Anyway, here’s what I’m talking about.

Overreaction One:

One day, a year or so into our marriage, my husband David and I stopped at Home Depot. David needed some fasteners for one of his projects. I decided to wait in the car.

Now, at this point in our relationship, I already knew David wasn’t fast. (My nickname for him is Pokey-man.) But, I reasoned, the parking lot’s half-empty, the store aisles are clearly marked, and he knows exactly what he needs. He’ll be out in a flash, albeit a slow flash.

After ten minutes, I looked at my watch. What could be taking him so long?

Another five minutes passed. Maybe they’re short-handed at the registers?

Three more minutes went by. What’s the hold-up?

My brain froze. Hold-up? Like a robbery? What if …?

 A few more cars pulled in; people hopped out. Should I warn them to stay back or to get down?

Before I could shout out to them, I heard a siren. Yes! Someone called 9-1-1 about the 211 in progress. Home Depot Police

I whipped my head left and right and twisted back and forth in my seat, waiting for the law to arrive.

When an ambulance pulled into the parking lot, I was semi-relieved. Phew, it’s not a robbery. Maybe someone in the store had a heart attack? … David? … No, it couldn’t be him. His cholesterol is 40 points lower than mine.

More time ticked by. Maybe I’m the one having a heart attack? I began to hyperventilate. 

Before I could say “baby aspirin,” David sauntered out of the store, holding a bag the size of his shirt pocket.

“What on earth took you so long? You scared me half to death!”

He stared at me with a blank look. (He does that a lot.) “Um, I had a hard time finding the right screw length.”

From that day forward he’s made those harrowing trips to Home Depot alone.

Overreaction Two:

A friend invited me to a choral performance at her church. We arrived early enough to get good seats—third row, center aisle. Since it was one of their most popular events of the year, the room filled up fast.

Although the audience remained seated for the first few numbers, the conductor invited us to participate. Depending on the song, we were alternately asked to stand or sit.

As the show progressed, I noticed something odd: The gentleman seated to my right seemed to be getting closer to me. I checked to be sure I was  lined up with the chair in front of me. Then, more than once, I repositioned myself in my chair, claiming non-verbally, “This is my seat, buster!”

After another song and another few inches of him getting closer, I turned to my friend on the left. “I’m think I’m sitting next to a pervert.”

She leaned over to me, “What did you say?”

Before I could repeat myself, the conductor asked us to stand for the finale. When it was over, I turned to sit, sneaking a peek at the weirdo to my right.

chairs off set

As I did so, I noticed my chair was not lined up with the row behind mine. I scanned the auditorium. The placement of the chairs in each row was OFF-SET.

My Epiphany: I had one cheek on my chair and the other cheek on his the whole time.

[Sigh.]

Overreaction Three:

After a long year of treatment and hospitalization for Acute Myleloid Leukemia, my husband’s visits with his oncologist were always a bit unnerving. The clinical trial he’d been enrolled in was just that, a trial. So we never knew exactly what to expect.

After months of weekly, then bi-weekly, follow-up appointments, the doctor announced at the end of one visit, “We’re going to send you away for three months.”

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.I sat there stunned and confused. In the half minute before the doctor could say another word, my mind took off in all different directions.

Where are they sending him? Is it close? Will I be able to find my way? Is this like some lab rat experiment? Can he have visitors? Conjugal or otherwise? I don’t remember reading about this in the clinical trial manual. Shoot. If only I’d read the clinical trial manual.

The doctor continued, “By that I mean, go home. Relax. I don’t need to see you back here for three months.”

Well, why didn’t he just say that in the first place?

“Now, friends, read these next words carefully. Slow down and don’t go jumping to conclusions regarding the day when our Master, Jesus Christ, will come back and we assemble to welcome him. Don’t let anyone shake you up or get you excited over some breathless report or rumored letter from me that the day of the Master’s arrival has come and gone. Don’t fall for any line like that.” ~ 2Thess 2:1-3 (MSG)


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Meet Author Christy Brunke

In the winter of 2015, I met Christy Brunke at the Writer to Writer Conference in Hershey, PA.  I was smitten by her smile, enthusiasm, and sincerity. We were both finalists in the Jerry Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest. I thought, “Lord, I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if she won.” The Lord was gracious! We both won book publishing contracts that year–along with our soon-to-be-friend Linda Brooks Davis! 

CJ:  When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who first supported you in this dream? 

CB: When I was born, my parents named me Christy after Catherine Marshall’s bestselling novel. You might say Marshall and her famous heroine were my first inspirations. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading, especially inspirational fiction.  

As a little girl, I was always dreaming up stories. I remember going into a patch of woods near our house and pretending I was the queen of a small kingdom. When my brother Jeremy was born, I was disappointed he couldn’t walk or talk. My solution? Create an imaginary friend named “Eremy.” In sixth grade, I won a short story contest and was rewarded with a Butterball turkey. From then on, I dreamed of writing novels, memoirs, and children’s books.

My mom, another avid reader, was the first to suggest I write novels. But I probably inherited by creativity from my dad. A former singer and songwriter, he helped me plot Snow Out of Season.

CJ: What did you do before you became a writer?  

CB: Penning Snow Out of Season was an incredible experience, but, before that, the Lord led me on other adventures. I completed a bachelor of arts in English and moved to China to study Mandarin and teach at a university. When I returned to the States, I attended seminary and taught drama and music.  

Then God called me to Chicago to work at a multi-site church where I fell in love with a zany youth pastor. After we got married, a story grew in my heart, one I felt compelled to share. Now was the time to pursue that long-delayed dream.  

snow-out-of-sesasonCJ: Tell us a little bit about your debut novel Snow Out of Season.

CB: Two pregnant women separated by time . . . Are they more connected than they know? 

Shannon Henry is just starting to put her life back together after the death of her infant daughter when she discovers she’s pregnant again. When her doctor presents her with the choice of either raising a child with Down syndrome or terminating the pregnancy, Shannon is torn. 

Leslie Gardner is a high-school senior in 1979 who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, but discovers she is pregnant. If she has the child, her chances of a dancing career and college are over …

CJ: What inspired you to write this particular book? 

KB: As a teen and young adult, I longed for a God-scripted love story. I devoured books like Elisabeth Elliot’s Quest for Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity. Realizing my Creator knew me better than anyone, and knew every man as well, I asked Him to choose my husband.  And He did.  

Mark complements me perfectly and has been an incredible blessing to me and many others. But when his mom was pregnant with him, her circumstances would have led many women to have an abortion. I started wondering what my life would have been like if she’d made a different choice. 

So began Snow Out of Season, the dual stories of two women of two generations who struggle with the same questions. Is the child each carries worthy of life? What will it cost to keep the child? What will happen if each decides not to? 

CJ: How have your readers responded?

CB: Fiction lovers, book reviewers, and other novelists have blessed me with their reactions to Snow Out of Season. 

  • The Library Journal called it “. . . an astonishing tale with a gratifying ending . . . completely engrossing.” 
  • Award-winning author Brandy Vallance said Snow Out of Season is . . . a beautifully poignant and much-needed story.”  
  • Bestselling author Sandra Byrd said, “The story caught me with characters so real I feel I might see them on the street, and it held me with breathtakingly clever storytelling.” 

Amazon readers have encouraged me greatly with their 5-star reviews, including: 

  • “Best book I have read in years.” 
  • “Great New Author!” 
  • “Couldn’t put it down!” 
  • “I cried!”
  • “Fantastic  – A Must Read!!!”

CJ: What writing projects are you currently working on? 

CB: During this season of my life, I’m focusing on book events, blogging weekly, and writing articles for online newspapers. In 2017, I hope to begin writing my next book. Between novels, creative nonfiction, and children’s picture books, I have over a dozen ideas. 

On my website, I plan to share teasers for my best tales and ask readers to help me decide. Subscribe to my blog at ChristyBrunke.com, so you can tell me which one you’d like to read next!

christy-brunkes-author-photo

MORE ABOUT CHRISTY: Three months after her second daughter was born, she entered her manuscript in the Operation First Novel contest. In January 2015, Jerry Jenkins announced her story was a winner. In November, the Library Journal named Snow Out of Season the Christian Fiction Debut of the Month. By January, it topped Amazon bestseller lists. Christy Lives in Maryland with her husband, Mark, and their two adorable daughters. When she’s not at church or with her family, you can often find her blogging, writing articles, or dreaming up her next story.

Click HERE and scroll down to order all three winners of the last Jerry Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest: The Calling of Ella McFarland by Linda Brooks Davis, Double Header by Clarice G.  James, and Snow Out of Season by Christy Brunke.


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So Very Thankful: Remission Accomplished

so-very-thankfulHands down, this year’s major to-be-thankful-for item is my husband David’s remission from cancer. His diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia early in January was a jumpstart to a year of extreme faith.

I remember the first prayer we prayed: “Lord, cancer does not define us! Our faith in you does. Help us to remember that as you carry us through this journey.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Our hope is in God, our future is with God—whether here on earth or in Heaven.

We shook off our pre-planned 2016 agendas and headed to Boston, thankful we lived in close proximity to some of the best hospitals in the world. We are grateful for the expertise and experience of the caring medical teams who still treat David. We were blessed with help from family and friends—most especially the perfectly-matched stem cells from David’s sister, Darleen.

peace-lloyd-jonesWe didn’t fret or fear.We prayed and trusted God—not necessarily for David’s healing, but for God’s perfect will for our lives. We’re not naive. We know bad things happen to all people—whether they have faith in God or not. It’s hard to understand sometimes.

But Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) puts it this way: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LordAs the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’

We had no idea how this would turn out, yet we lived in the midst of a peace that goes way beyond our mere mortal comprehension. When you know God in a personal way, He does that sort of thing for you.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the midst of cancer, grief, marital strife, emotional turmoil, physical pain, failure, job loss, financial stress, or loneliness. He’s within a prayer’s reach–and it doesn’t have to be a fancy prayer either. Just open your heart to him; you’ll see.

We are so very thankful for our family and friends–for your prayers, moral support, kind words, warm hearts, open arms, and for taking the time to listen.

remission-accomplishedDavid still has a couple more months of a semi-quarantined lifestyle. He’ll start the re-immunization process after the first of the year. Until we see you again, we’ll continue to celebrate a remission accomplished!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

 


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I Have Questions. Where is King Solomon?

QuestionsWhen the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem . . . she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. ~ 1Kings 10:1-3 (NIV)

The US is a complicated place, and the people who live here even more so. I have a few questions. If there’s a King Solomon out there, give me a call.

Do you have questions too?

  1. When a company advertises its frozen chicken product as having “ingredients like all meat chicken,” what exactly do they mean by like?Strawberry-Roll-ups
  2. Why do we say “You’re only [pick any age] once” and “You’re not getting any younger” as if it’s a lost nugget of Solomon’s wisdom?
  3. Why were consumers caught unawares when it was disclosed that strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups contain no strawberries?
  4. One day, a doctor can tell a woman smoking may harm the baby in her womb. The next day, another doctor can end that same baby’s life in that same womb. What kind of choice is that?
  5. Yes, bacon soap is real—but why?
  6. Speaking of soap, what happens to soap scum that doesn’t stick to your tile?
  7. Why does the news media blame drug addiction on everyone except the person who started taking the drugs? I know the problem is complicated, but shouldn’t we hold the addict accountable too?da14_bacon_soap_closeup
  8. Who decides what to do when an endangered animal eats another endangered species?
  9. That brings me to this: Why do sharks get more respect (and news coverage) than the seals they eat?
  10. Why can’t gruntled people get as much attention as their disgruntled counterparts? Sheesh. The word’s not even recognized by spell-check.
  11. Have you seen the ad for the Preparation H Totables which come in a “discreet, convenient travel size”? Pardon me, but isn’t all use of any Preparation H product meant to be discreet?PH
  12. If, for unknown reasons, either and/or both of our presidential nominees were unable to continue their race for office, how would a replacement candidate be chosen?  No, seriously, how?