The Bright Side of Atheism (part 1)

The Bright Side of Atheism (part 1)

In eleventh-grade English we had to read an essay called “The Bright Side of Pessimism” [by H.L. Mencken?] in which the author claimed that is was good to be pessimistic about the future. If the worst came to pass, you would feel vindicated for being right. If something wonderful happened, you would be pleasantly surprised.

Recently, I have been feeling that there is a bright side to my having been an atheist for the first 38 years of my life.

As a kid, I felt privileged to have total freedom on Sundays. Other kids had to go to church, but I didn’t. My Sunday was as footloose as my Saturday, until the upper grades made me hate having to cram homework into Sunday nights. I continued hating Sunday nights into my adulthood since I chose to be a teacher and an English teacher at that. The thought of facing a pile of essays to grade gives me the heaves to this day. But even church-going English teachers feel this way, so it’s really irrelevant.

My parents had been forced to attend church (Dad the Methodist, Mom the Baptist), even though their parents didn’t attend. I despised the hypocrisy of the grandparents and rather liked the integrity of my parents. They would not send my brother and me to church when they themselves didn’t go. I twice asked my dad if he believed in God. The first time he said, “Well, I’ve never seen him.” The second time, as he neared death, he said, “Yes.” Both of these answers had profound effects on me. Kids go to their parents for the truth about God. My truth was that God probably didn’t exist, but for sure church was not the place to find him.

I did, however, feel left out. All my friends went to some kind of church. One was Jewish, one Unitarian, one Congregational, one Baptist, one Episcopalian, and one went to the Church of the Brethren. We didn’t talk about God at all. It was not a cool subject. When a bunch of Jesus freaks tried to tell us that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel was about Jesus, we scoffed. The public school was not a place to learn about God, even though the English teachers had to teach Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Blake and other writers who can’t keep from mentioning God. I actually tried to fill the gap in my knowledge by taking “Bible as Literature” in both high school and college. I figured I needed to know the stories of the Bible even if I didn’t believe.


God Hooks Up Nicole and Me (part 2)

God Hooks Up Nicole and Me (part 2)

As we were emailing and Facebook messaging back and forth, I asked Nicole if she would like to illustrate my book Labyrinth Wedding. She said yes, and there began our second project together. I told her what the book contained, and she painted away. You will see her joyful wedding scenes as part of the non-fiction book coming out soon on Amazon: A Spiritual Guide to the Labyrinth Wedding.

But God wasn’t finished with his Pam-and-Nicole project. I wanted to do something with those lovable Jesus pictures that just kept pouring out from Nicole’s brush. At first, I thought of an inspirational art book, similar to Blessing to Go. I am always thinking of the unchurched, since I was one for 38 years, and I found the joyful Jesus paintings spoke to my soul. Though the theology of the bleeding, suffering, crucified Christ may be true, the ugliness of those images can hardly draw in the seeker. Why would you follow such an unappealing mentor? But you would follow Nicole’s vision of Jesus. In fact, you would want to hug him, laugh with him, fall in love with him. Her paintings pulled at my heart, and I knew they would draw others. We had to share him somehow.

Enter Shelley Hitz. At the Colorado retreat, I mentioned my ideas to Shelley, and she said, “I like to make my books interactive. What about making it a journal for people to write their responses in?” Light-bulb moment! So that is what we made: a journal with Jesus on one page, a related scripture, and space to write a response to the painting, the verse, or both, or neither. I wrote a little introduction on various types of journaling the reader can use, in case they are just learning the practice. I am very excited about this project, and I will think you will be too, when you see our Jesus in Jeans Journal.

God Hooks Up Nicole and Me (part 1)

God Hooks Up Nicole and Me (part 1)

Nicole Schiffers lives in The Netherlands. She started posting a painting a day on Facebook, calling it Blessing to Go. Her paintings were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and often they included pictures of Jesus in modern dress with a friendly, joyful expression on his face. I loved them, and I told her so.

One day, she said her dream was to publish her Blessing to Go paintings in books she could give as gifts, and maybe others would like them enough to buy them, too. I offered to publish her books for her, since I have a self-publishing business and was between projects of my own. On September 1, Blessing to Go, volumes 1, 2, and 3 came out on Amazon.

But that’s not all. My husband Don volunteered to learn how to format books on Createspace (now absorbed into Kindle Direct Publishing). He said, “How hard can it be?” So, we owe it to God and Nicole for giving us courage to leap over a hurdle that had been frustrating us and costing us money. Now, we can do our own formatting and our books can be published faster.

So, if you are looking for inspirational gifts for Christmas, birthdays, get well, or any other reason, please find Blessing to Go on amazon. If you like the books, a review would be much appreciated by Nicole and me.


The Genesis of Labyrinth Wedding

The Genesis of Labyrinth Wedding

During my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2009, I wrote a mostly autobiographical novel called Avocado Highway. At the end of the book, I got an inspired idea to stage the main character’s wedding on a labyrinth under walnut trees at the monastery. I didn’t even know there WAS a labyrinth at my fictional monastery, but now I did. In 2009, I was not practicing centering prayer yet, was not journaling consistently, and certainly didn’t know about hearing God’s voice through two-way journaling. Still, I had a solid sense that the idea was from the Holy Spirit. The smooth flow of the writing of that scene confirmed it.

Looking over that novel draft, I decided it was not worth revising, and I set it aside. Nine years later, Matt Tommey asked during the Created to Thrive experience course, “What is already in your hand?” And a clear answer lit up in my mind: “That chapter on the labyrinth wedding.” I was being urged to resurrect that scene somehow. I considered writing a whole new novel around it, but that idea left me cold. I placed the scene on the back burner and went on to other projects.

Then, I felt called to sign up for a Colorado writing retreat offered by Shelley Hitz in September of 2018. For three days I would write with five other Christian women, in view of the Rocky Mountains. Shelley Hitz mentors writers of all stripes, but advertised this retreat as a chance to get a non-fiction book done. I thought, “I don’t have a non-fiction book in mind,” then the idea struck: Write the labyrinth book as a non-fiction how-to book. Brilliant!

I started off with the idea that brides will buy anything if it has the word “wedding” on it. I dreamed of capitalizing on the prodigal way women throw money away when planning for their big day. I wrote for two hours in a breathless, retail tone, then I hit the wall. I could not write any more. I confessed this to my fellow writers, and Shelley said, “Try journaling about it.”

Too tired to journal, I went to bed discouraged and fraught. An altitude headache woke me at 4am, and I journaled by flashlight, hoping not to wake my roommate, Teresa. God encouraged me to change my tone and not give up. He asked me if I had felt a twinge of guilt about playing the commercial game with my book. I answered yes. I realized that I didn’t want to feed into the wedding industry. I had seen the effect of their marketing on my own daughter and on myself in the build-up to her wedding the past March. I wanted my message to be about giving marriage a chance by planning a more spiritual, realistic, humble, God-centered ceremony using the labyrinth as an aid.

The next day, with my heart back in it and God’s blessing, I knocked out the draft of the book titled A Spiritual Guide to the Labyrinth Wedding. It is still in process, but will be available on Amazon soon.

Links to my mentors:

What God Says to Me

What God Says to Me

This is part 2 of a blog about two-way journaling. If you missed last week’s, go to and find the blog titled “Will God Write Back?”

Putting my fears and doubts aside, I have been having a great time hearing from God through two-way journaling. I started off using the guided meditation called “A Stroll along the Sea of Galilee” that Virkler provides with his workshop. I didn’t like the details in the script. I thought they were too dictatorial, not allowing me to see the scene as my imagination guided. For example, a “warm breeze on my back” is not pleasant to me. I know that the Sea of Galilee is in a hot, desert climate, and I do not enjoy hot desert breezes. I want to picture walking with Jesus along a beach in California or under the shade of trees. So, sometimes I use the music without the narration, and sometimes I journal in silence.

At first, I struggled, thinking it was all me. I must be making up these answers out of my own mind. Then I thought, “Of course. How else will God speak to you? Do you expect clouds to part and a big, booming voice to say STOP GROVELLING?” Now I just let the words come, and they often surprise me and make things clear. For example, I have been told again and again to stop worrying, to stop berating myself, and to use my talents without fear. That sounds like God to me: loving, correcting, and encouraging.

I have also broken through daddy-trust issues, sin-fear issues, and parental-anger issues with the help of the straightforward but kind messages I have accessed by opening my journal to God’s voice. A verse in scripture says, “Be still and know that I am God.” So I stopped whining so much in my journal and silently let God speak. It has strengthened my belief that God is real and that God wants to have a relationship with me. So goes another step on the spiritual journey.

Will God Write Back?

Will God Write Back?

I have been using journaling for several years as part of my spiritual journey. Usually I vent to God about things that make me doubt, make me angry, or confuse me. It is helpful, getting these things off my chest, and occasionally I come to see something I had not seen before.

The problem is that when I take time to read back over, say, a year or two of journals, I keep seeing the same complaints, the same questions, the same whining repeated over and over. I am a broken record, going round and round in the same spot, hitting the same cracks over and over, making no progress.

For a time, I gave up on journaling since it didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. I was sharing my pains with the page but not moving on from them significantly. Then I learned a new method of journaling from an online workshop led by Mark Virkler. He calls the method Two-Way Journaling because it leaves room for God to write back in answer to all those whiny questions.

Here’s how it works: You get quiet and centered, tuned into God (this is easier for contemplatives and those with an established meditation practice). You ask God a question like, “God, how do you see me?” or “Lord, what do you want to tell me today?” I write my question in the journal. Then, you open your mind and heart to the flow of the Holy Spirit, and freely write down the answer that comes.

I know. I was skeptical, too. It felt like I was making it up. Like it was all my imagination. But I silenced those voices of intellectual doubt and went with the method. The results were life-changing.

More detail coming next week. For now, check out the Mark Virkler free online courses:

Colorado Crucible

Colorado Crucible

I just got back from a three-day retreat for writers at a beautiful log-built chalet in Buena Vista, Colorado. I went there hoping to get encouragement to finish writing the first draft of my book about labyrinth weddings. I had intensive periods of writing and actually got done a rough first draft. That was good. The food, view, weather, and company were also good. But God had bigger ideas.

A crucible is a little ceramic pot we used in chemistry class to heat substances over a Bunsen burner. The heat melted and refined the substance, burning off any dross that might be clinging to the specimen. It can also be a situation where a person is subjected to forces that cause change. That’s what happened at the retreat.

I am sure we all arrived with expectations, but I was willing myself to remain open to whatever came. We all had our burdens and our wounds when we arrived, but some of us (like me) hoped to keep them hidden—just relax and have a nice time. Little did we know that God would subject us to the pressure of confession, tears, honesty, and challenge in the guise of prayer, sharing, laughter, and discussion.

Some of us got clear messages that were contrary to what we thought. Others had breakthroughs and made big life decisions. Others got a “kick in the butt” to embark on a scary project they had held back from before. We all had a great time and bonded with the others.

We had been told that God would “show up” at our retreat. He did, and being so close to him transformed each of us in some way. One had a glowing face. One had a shoulder wrenched out of place. One was pregnant with a project in gestation. One heard the call to Nineveh. No one remained the same. Now that’s what I call a good retreat! Thanks, God.

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