Copper Coins of Sacrifice

The Phillipines

 

In 2009, I visited the Philippines where my brother has lived for over 30 years. He is a missionary, seminary professor, and church planter. I was privileged see where and how he lives in a suburb of Manila, and it changed the way I think about the world…and the way I think about my faith.


There was so much about that Asian foreign land that is good…and yet there was so much abject poverty it broke my heart. I understand why my brother has chosen to live there and I admire him for his sacrifice. I am so very glad that there are people in this world who give up so much to follow God’s leading. But could I ever be one of those people? Could I give up all of the creature comforts I have come to love so well?

In my novella, Manila Marriage App, there is a passage that talks about a creek community located upstream from the fictional seminary. The following is an excerpt:

 

The shanty was made of plywood covered with a corrugated metal roof. The room we stepped into was clean, but that was all there was—just the one room. An old wooden cushion-less couch leaned against the back wall. In the corner, on the rough concrete floor, was a narrow bunk bed with folded up mats underneath. Timothy had mentioned that seven people resided in this structure. From the size of the place, the residents lived all crammed together.

I was offered a seat on a wooden chair pulled up to a white plastic table. On the wall to the right, scant measures of rice, a few vegetables, half-a-chicken, and two lonely bottles of hot sauce sat on a pantry shelf. The only water available seemed to be a rain barrel full of brackish liquid placed outside under the eaves. And where was the bathroom?

I couldn’t help but be distraught at the lack of, well, everything I regarded as essential in a home. My arms wrapped around me, my breath hitching.
A tiny gray mouse huddled in a shadowy corner while two big, fat mosquitoes circled around the room. My skin prickled, just thinking about the creepy critters.

Timothy settled Pinky on the mattress-less bottom bunk, covering her with a threadbare scrap of blanket. He squatted down, whispering who knows what into her ear. Whatever he said had her giggling before she fell headlong into dreamland.

Despite the dilapidated dwelling, Liwayway and Pinky seemed to have many friends and support from the neighbors. One at a time, a dozen or so people popped their heads in to say a quick hello and drop off food, a few pieces of fruit, a plate of rolls—Timothy called the bread pan de sal—a coconut, and a tin of something called Skyflakes.

Liwayway’s hands fluttered as she busied herself, obviously determined to make us feel welcome. She switched on the two-burner propane stove and heated water for instant coffee—the very best in the Philippines, too. When the coffee was ready, she sliced a mango and broke out the Skyflakes. I was waiting for something unusual, but they were ordinary saltine crackers. The fruit and crackers hit the spot. What moved me more was her willingness to share the little she had. Wasn’t there some verse in the Bible about that?

 

In the New Testament, passages in both Mark and Luke tell how Jesus observed as people gave money to the collection boxes. Many of the wealthy were throwing in large sums, so very proud of their generosity. A poor widow came by with an offering of two small copper coins. That was all she had, and yet she gave it away. How was that widow going to live? How was she going to eat? She sacrificed all she had because she had faith God would take care of her.

The rich gave much more and yet the widow’s gift meant more? Interesting concept. A song from my childhood plays through my mind—Little is Much When God Is in It. The chorus goes like this:

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ name.

I have so many material possessions here in the States, so much food, so much comfort, so much I take for granted on a daily basis. As I write in my warm, snug little house, I look around me and see more wealth than the people of that creek community will ever have. In the Philippines, a person’s gift of a dollar might mean a great deal more than all the checks I write to my local church. That’s humbling.

In Manila Marriage App, the heroine, Shay Callahan, has a choice to make at the end of the book. Stay or go? I like to think that if God called me to serve in the mission field I would have the courage to listen to his command. I haven’t had to choose, although my brother did. But I do have a choice as to how I live here in the good old U.S.A. We have the homeless, the poor, and the downtrodden right here in the town where I live. I am trying to be more mindful of that.

Dear Lord, I pray you continue to break my heart for the people right here at home. Keep my eyes open and help me to be your hands and feet in the world where you have placed me. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Writing a Novella – A Different Kind of Animal

There were other reasons why I was enamored with the concept of writing my first novella. A very big plus, was that Pelican was accepting open submissions so I didn’t need an agent. Another reason this was a great opportunity is that I would be writing something completely different. The heroine had to be spunky—something I am not, (I’m more of a laidback kinda girl), and she had to be a woman in the 25 to 35 year range—also something I’m not anymore (although I like to think I still remember…)

In addition, for each of the countries listed, three items must be worked into the book. The list is different for each location so I checked out the items listed for Manila, the Philippines.

Now, if you have perused the About Jan section of this website, you will no doubt notice pictures of my two cats. In my bio, I talk about my first cat, Snowball. Animals are near and dear to my heart. And…one of the items on the list for Manila was…a tailless cat. Add in the intriguing addition of a stick of gum and a faded photograph, and you can see why I was excited.

You’ll have to read the book to see how I worked them in, but I was up for a challenge. The perfect country, the perfect ingredients, and I was off and running.

Pelican was looking for novellas between 30,000 and 35,000 words. After writing my first, “plus-sized” novel of 109,000, writing a novella couldn’t be too hard, right? It was sure to be a walk in the glorious sunshine, right?

Wrong.

Walk in the scorching heat of the Sahara was more like it. Not as easy as I thought. Think sheltie rather than collie. Both fine companions, both fuzzy and furry, both good tempered and fun to play with, great family dogs, but there are enormous differences. Whereas, with that full-length novel, I could expand my storyline, introduce a large number of characters, and flesh out the book with nuances and subplots, a novella was a totally different animal.

I won’t bore you with the process, but suffice it to say, I needed to write this one with more thought in mind. Has anyone out there heard the term “pantser?” Author Steven James prefers the term “organic writer,” as do I, and I was used to writing a story the way a person reads the story. When I compose, I have no idea what’s coming up next until my fingers type the words and commit the thought onto my computer screen. To write tighter, with a “less is more” attitude would require (gasp) some kind of an outline (ugh). Not a happy thought.

For all of you organized people out there, I just want to let you know that writing an outline can be quite a painful endeavor, at least it is for me. It would surely inhibit my creativity. Box me in and keep my story from flowing in the direction my characters wanted to go. For goodness sake, the dear souls TELL me things. My characters whisper in my ear (sometimes in the middle of the night which, by the way, is certainly a sleep deterrent but I do wake up with some good ideas.) What if they wanted me to turn left and my outline said turn right? Nevertheless, I tried it, in a loose fashion, mind you.

Surprisingly, it worked for the most part. I kept my outline thoughts a bit vague with few parameters, and while the ending was clear (it was a ROMANCE after all), I added in a “wiggle room” in which to stretch out. My outline might have been a box, but it was a big box with air holes.       

By the time I’d finished, and written those magic words “The End” for the second time, I was feeling relatively confident that Pelican would be thrilled with my work. But Houston we had a problem. It had to be as perfect as I could make it, and that meant I needed a real, live, professional editor.

So… (continued next post)…

An aside for writers, Pelican is still actively seeking submissions for the Passport to Romance series. If you are interested in reading more, go to:

http://pelicanbookgroup.com/ec/index.php?main_page=page&id=61#passport

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So While I Was Waiting…

I started another book while I was trying to figure out what to do with the first book.

As a new writer, I’d been looking for the perfect tale to tell, the perfect story to share, the perfect novel to pen for the masses. When I heard about Pelican Book Group’s Passport to Romance series, I was intrigued and excited. Could I do that? Write a book set in a foreign country with different customs and perhaps a different language? A writer friend of mine pointed me toward the website and I found what I was looking for.

What wonderful, exotic land could I write about? I’ve heard time and time again, that a writer (especially a new writer) should write what they know, so I decided on The Philippines. Why? My brother lives there, he has lived there for more than 30 years, and I have been privileged to visit. What better resource than a person who actually resides in this tropical country?

In Manila Marriage App, I even modeled my hero after my brother, using a premise he has joked about for years. He’s single, relatively good-looking (okay, he’s a handsome guy, but don’t tell him I said so or it’ll go to his head), and as a seminary professor/missionary/minister, to say that he is busy is like saying longhaired cats shed in the summer. Duh. He has no time to meet women he might potentially consider for the sacred position of wife. He only has rare opportunities to meet an educated, outgoing lady, with compatible interests, and a similar calling. What he needed was a marriage application so that interested women could apply in an easy, straightforward manner, and so he could select likely candidates at his leisure. He would pick the best of the bunch, fly them to him, and choose a “winner.” Easy as a Sunday morning…or at least it could be.

What a concept in this day and age! Of course he didn’t mean a word of it (he has a strange sense of humor), but what if he did? He had only to put an ad in a Christian magazine asking for submissions. He has a lot to offer, and as we all know, there are many more females in this world than males, and some of them are mighty desperate. Dating sites can be dangerous, church socials have fallen by the wayside, and what better way to find a good Christian man? He’s a missionary for crying out loud. How much more spiritual can you get?

Great. I had book two started. Now what?

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