Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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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Christmas Giving All Year Round: Slavery vs. Freedom

ChristmasGivingIt’s the Christmas season. I want to talk about giving—perhaps not in the way you want to hear.

As a new Christian 34 years ago, I learned about the principle of paying my tithe (10%). Although I didn’t quite understanding how this principle worked, I don’t think I spent too much time whining about it. I just did it.

You see, I’m a list-maker, you know, one of those people who creates lists for everything. I had my “Things-To-Do-Now-That-I’m-A- Christian-List.” I think it went something like this:

    1. Read the Bible, at least once, so I know what it’s about.
    2. Stop smoking.
    3. Pray in tongues.
    4. Find out what tongues is.
    5. Be a perfect wife.
    6. Get husband saved.
    7. Be nice to everyone I know.
    8. Then get them all saved.
    9. Lose weight and exercise.
    10. Tithe.

When I reviewed my new list, I saw that I was in trouble. Since we list-makers get our thrills from crossing items off our lists once they are completed, compared to the other items, tithing began to look like the easiest. You might say it was my first real victory in my Christian walk – even if by default. (It took me five years to quit smoking.)

Yet, despite my obedience in my giving, I continued to worry about money. I’d think of how little or how much I had; how and how not to spend it; how and how not my husband should spend it; and where it would come from and how I would get more. I’d sit mulling over the household bills, adding and re-adding, then fretting and wringing my hands. I was as much a slave to my will and to my fears as I was to money.

A few years later, when the Lord thought I was ready spiritually, he showed me that my tithing had become a legalistic ritual, a ritual to which I was in bondage. Yes, I was being obedient to the law, but I hadn’t surrendered my will with that obedience. I was giving out of fear and doubt rather than trust and love.

God We TrustGalatians 5:1 says: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

I was tired of being a slave. I prayed to the Lord as in Psalm 118:5-6: “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid.”

Gradually, I began to surrender my control over my finances. Paying my tithe and giving my offerings became exciting to me again. It also became more about my relationship with the Lord than an obligation.

My obedience to the biblical principles of giving opened the door to more of God’s grace. He showed me that this type of obedience was not always reflected in other areas of my life. By his mercy, he began changing me from the inside out. My desire to give to the Lord with abandon grew, not only with my tithes and my offerings, but with my will.

Psalm 119:32 speaks of the type of obedience I want to exhibit: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

Just so you know, paying my tithe and giving my offerings has very little to do with my church membership responsibilities or any denominational by-laws or doctrine – or even the IRS. It’s personal — just between God and me. And I love that about it now. And this love of giving has spread to other areas of my giving.

How about you? During this season of giving, I think it’s always a good idea to check our attitude.

Here’s a list to check off. 🙂

  1. Do we remember to give to those in need?
  2. Are we giving out of obligation?
  3. Are we giving so others will see us?
  4. Is our heart stingy or generous?
  5. Are we overspending to impress?
  6. Do we give to get something in return?
  7. Do we receive with gratefulness?
  8. Do we fit the person to an odd gift we have hanging around, or do we tailor the gift to the person?

Join Me in Prayer: Lord, please help us to appropriate the freedom you have given us through your Son Jesus Christ. Let our giving serve as a symbol of that freedom. Help us to release our anxieties and fears, relinquish our control and open our arms and our hearts in surrender to you. Show us how to give to you and to others with abandon! Then fill our souls with a joy and peace that money cannot buy. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.