March 9, 2018

God's crazy love for us

In my Bible study group this week, we discussed Luke 20, which includes the parable of the tenant farmers, who wanted to keep everything for themselves.

As the story goes, the Owner of the Vineyard planted vines then let the land out to vine-keepers, while He went away for a while. When harvest time arrived, the Owner (aka God) sent servants (aka prophets) to collect some of the fruit, but the farmers beat the servants and sent them away empty-handed.

God then sent more servant-prophet-messengers, but they, too, were treated horribly and sent away. When the same thing happened a third time, God sent His Own Son.

By then, however, the renters-tenants-ones-who-didn’t-own-anything agreed they wanted the land for themselves, so they killed The Son Who Owns and Inherits All Things.

The bottom line of the story is typically told with the parable’s ending, which focuses on the wrath the Father-Owner-of-All must now unleash on the leasers. But studying the story this week and looking it up again in various translations on Bible Gateway, I can’t help but recall something I’ve heard elsewhere: The definition for crazy.

Crazy = doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

Our all-wise, intelligent-to-the-max, infinitely brilliant, perfectly Holy Lord God cannot possibly be crazy, but, from all biblical accounts, our Holy Father God is crazy in love with us.

Mary Harwell Sayler
, ©2018

February 19, 2018

Giving up or adding up: Lent

My first acquaintance with Lent brought the idea of giving up something - usually a pleasure of some kind. My thought, then and now, is that giving up something harmful is a good idea year round, but giving up pleasure for piety’s sake might make us proud or, worse, unappreciative of the good gifts God lavishes upon us!

The whole idea seems somewhat irrelevant to me (maybe irreverent!), assuming I understand the true purpose behind Lent: to draw closer to God and prepare ourselves for the joyful celebration of Easter.

If that’s the case, the question is: Is there an obstacle such as overly busyness I can give up in order to spend more time with God? Or, would I get closer to the Lord by adding a daily devotional reading, a longer or more frequent prayer time, a service to others less fortunate, a regular attendance to worship, a stronger participation in church activities, or _________________ (fill in the blank with whatever God puts on your mind, heart, and spirit)?

Since I grew up being part of Sunday School classes and, later, Bible study groups in almost every church denomination, I’ve had the privilege of studying all sorts of Bible topics, verse, and books of the Bible. These opportunities to plunge deeply into God’s Word help us to broaden our understanding of scripture and the diverse interpretations Christians find.

Studying the Bible only in bits and pieces, however, can prevent us from seeing the enormous view God has of us, the world, and our relationship with the Lord, ourselves, and one another. Therefore, my Lent challenge became the goal of reading the whole Bible, cover to cover, during the 40 days before Easter.

To do this meant putting aside my study Bibles for Lent and finding a contemporary reader’s edition with no commentary or other additions that might (okay, inevitably will!) distract me from the biblical text.

Studying, discussing, and applying the Bible throughout the year is an ongoing blessing, but for Lent, I highly recommend reading the Bible straight through as you would with any beautiful, blessed book. The difference is, the Word of God gives you the Mind of Christ and the sweeping view of God’s compelling purpose and ongoing love.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

P.S. This year I’ve chosen the CSB Giant Print Reference Bible from Holman to read for Lent. For other options, see my reviews of the many amazing translations available to us on the Bible Reviewer blog. May God bless and guide you in all you’re to do and be in Jesus’ Name.

February 10, 2018

Misery and good company

A Christian in one of my social media groups just admitted to being dissatisfied with the Lord! While appreciating the gift of eternal life he’s been given, he feels his present life has mainly brought misery and suffering with no end in sight.

If we're honest, most of God's people have had similar feelings at one hard time or another. Perhaps we then discovered how the Bible offers many, many, many examples of complaints and laments!

With that certainty in mind, I looked up “Joy,” “Misery,” and “Suffering" on my "go-to" site, Bible Gateway.

Misery may be a warning.

When the Prophet Jeremiah realized the inevitability of war, his whole body experienced the misery of that knowledge, so he could not keep quiet about it! He had to speak and warn the people:

“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war,
Jeremiah 4:19, English Standard Version (ESV.)

Misery might also be warning us to let go of old habits and grudges at war with our new nature in Christ.

Misery loves the company of Prophets.

In Jeremiah 20:18, the Prophet asked:

“Why did I come forth from the womb,
to see sorrow and pain,
to end my days in shame?”

New American Bible (Revised Edition), NABRE

Misery might come to sensitive people who not only “see” the sorrow and pain around them but feel it too.

Similarly, Micah 7 begins with these sad words as translated in the Common English Bible (CEB):

“I’m doomed!
I’ve become like one who,
even after the summer fruit has been gathered,
after the ripened fruits have been collected,
has no cluster of grapes to eat,
no ripe fig that I might desire.”

This ability to perceive the plights of others and readily empathize can be a mark of a prophet, then and now. If so, we can follow the example of the Prophet in Micah 7:7 as he resolves to get beyond the misery by trusting and focusing on the Lord.

“But me! I will keep watch for the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.”

Misery loves the company of prayer.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,”
James 5:13-16, New International Version, NIV.

Misery eventually ends with joy to follow.

As James reminds us:

“Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome that the Lord brought about—the Lord is compassionate and merciful,” James 5:10-11, Christian Standard Bible (CSB.)

And, as my favorite Bible verse strongly declares:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28, New American Standard Bible (NASB.)

Again and again, the Bible lets us know to expect suffering but encourages us to keep faith in God and the promises He gives in Christ Jesus - The One Who Suffered and died for us but then was raised from the dead!

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed,” Romans 8:18-19, New International Version (NIV.)

Misery can draw us closer to God and one another as we recognize, believe in, and accept the Lord’s loving hand in our lives.

Let it be so! So be it. Amen.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

January 30, 2018

Branching from Christ, The Vine

As I stared at a picture of a leaf, the sight jolted me into a new awareness, recalling what Jesus said: “I Am The Vine. You are the branches,” John 15:5. Branches - not a leaf!

A leaf is a singular thing - independent, not communal.

A leaf cannot bear fruit. It does not spread or reproduce, and, eventually, it falls. A leaf leaves!

“I Am the vine; ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing,”
John 15:5, King James Version (KJV.)

Jesus Christ The Vine has life, has power.

As branches grow in a healthy manner, they stay in communion with the vine and with other branches, entwining themselves around one another, staying strong, producing fruit, and spreading - making a difference wherever they go.

That’s us! Praise the Lord in Whom we have our life, our power, our fruit, our being.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

January 8, 2018

Perspectives: A Novel View

A big decision in novel-writing concerns which perspective you'll present to unfold the story and/or develop the characters you have in mind.

To find what will work best for your book, consider these questions:

• Whose story is this?

• Can your main character tell the story well or will someone else’s view be needed?

• Would a single viewpoint or multi-perspective be better?

• As a reader, which do you prefer?

My favorite novels almost always center around the viewpoint of a single person I identify with or admire such as Anne of Green Gables, Mary in The Secret Garden, and Christy. In addition, I like to observe people and discover what shapes, guides, and motivates them. So, it’s pretty much a done-deal for me to write from a single viewpoint, staying in the eyes, ears, knowledge, and feelings of one main character who intrigues me and has her or his own story to tell. Therefore, I mainly have to decide whether to use first person (I, me, we us); second person (you) which isn’t likely in my case; or third person (she/he, them, they.)

Regardless of persons, the advantage of this single view is intimacy and immediacy. i.e., You feel as though you’re there as the story unfolds and primary character matures. This makes the book your story too as you read. Or, equally important, this gives you an idea of what goes on in the heads of people like and unlike yourself.

In describing my book, Hand Me Down the Dawn, which I recently revised for its second printing, I’d have to call the novel “character driven.” i.e., The motivations, choices, introspection, and action come from one main character, who’s dealing with a theme of trust as she overcomes hard times and enjoys life-changing experiences in this inspirational romance novel set in Florida in 1895.

That’s the story behind my story, but let’s look at a different perspective on perspectives. In his newest novel, Dancing King, Glynn Young needed multi-viewpoint characters to keep his action-driven story in motion. Besides expanding the view for readers to get a fuller picture of the story movement, this treatment effectively produced a potential television mini-series, especially since the book is the third in a trilogy.

But I wanted to know what Glynn’s thoughts were and why a multi-viewpoint story came to him. When I emailed to ask, he wrote, “It's a big story, ‘big’ in the sense of complex. It's the story of a young man unexpectedly finding himself and his family in an exalted position.”

The size of your story and its theme, purpose, and reach can help you determine the perspective that will work best for your novel.

In my novel, for instance, a young woman grows up and learns what love is. And so, telling her story from her point of view makes sense.

In Glynn’s trilogy, the story of the main character – a priest-turned-king “is the heart of all three novels. In the first, it's part of a larger group of characters' stories, but he remains at the center. In the second, there is a period in which someone else must tell the story because he's incapacitated. In the third, the story is so large that it can't be told by just one narrator. To tell it properly requires the key players.”

The overall effect reminds me of an action movie that cuts from one character and scene to another as each episode interlocks to create a larger story with a huge theme: the need for political and religious reform. If, however, a single character had presented such a global story, it would most likely come across as either too cerebral or too slanted to maintain balance, and so Glynn's novel is well-suited to a multiple view.

Character-driven or story-driven (action)…? Knowing which category your novel best fits will help you to find perspective and get your writing off to a good start. Then, you can let your main character or main story idea lead you to The End.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

Dancing King, paperback

Hand Me Down the Dawn, paperback

January 1, 2018

No Trespassing into the New Year

This first day of the New Year presents us with the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate the past, let go of anything that needs forgiving, and resolve to keep our relationships with God, ourselves, and others free of obstructions.

The Lord’s Prayer or Our Father reminds us to do this every day. Indeed, Jesus teaches us to ask for God’s forgiveness with the understanding (condition?) that we, too, must forgive.

Most translations of the Matthew 6 version of the prayer call us to forgive “debts,” but that connotation of a monetary obligation can be confusing. To clarify, Jesus goes on to say:

“If you forgive others their trespasses against you, your heavenly Father will forgive yours too, but if you do not forgive them for their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours,” Matthew 6:14-15.

In addition, Christians in many church denominations regularly pray the Our Father, asking God to:

“Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.”

In my church, we not only pray the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday, we end each Bible study session with this prayer Jesus gave to His followers. But, this Sunday, one of our newer members told me he couldn’t think of any trespasses against him!

I had to laugh. Moments earlier he had expressed concern for a woman who lived in one of his rental properties. When she couldn’t pay her rent one month, he lowered it from $800 to $500, which she reportedly could handle. But then, when she didn’t pay even that lesser amount the next month, he told her $100 would be okay.

When she made no attempt to pay anything toward her rent or make any arrangements at all or even discuss the matter, he reluctantly told her she would have to move. The deadline came and went, and she remained – rent-free – in his house, despite the financial responsibility this put on him. But here’s the thing:

It did not even occur to him that she had trespassed against him!

Although it’d become clear that the woman was taking advantage of him by staying in his house, she continued to trespass on his property. She kept increasing her debt. And yet, this man took no offense. He did not see himself as being victimized or put upon.

Seeing this Christlike response, I realized that forgiving those who trespass against us is the bare minimum we’re to do!

Greater than our need to forgive is the God-given ability for giving others empathy, kindness, the benefit of the doubt, and the generosity of a loving spirit that isn’t even offended!

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

December 22, 2017

Joy to the world!

Oh, come! Let us celebrate
the birth of the Christ-Child
Who rejoices at our rebirth.

The Holy Infant Jesus –
on us for His care –
shows us
how we must
come to Him
like trusting children.

Hold Him on your lap
with love,
and let Him hug you,
heal you,
and hum a lullaby.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, from the poetry book PRAISE!

November 25, 2017

Saving your files and updates

First, we had floppy disks then hard disks then CDs and DVDs to backup copies of our word processing files. Then flash drives came along with yet another option. Despite the many choices still usable for the safekeeping of manuscripts, there is a problem: We have to remember every step involved and do it!

Often, I don’t. Or, even if I do think about saving my updates and new files on a flash drive, I might not have a spare one on hand, and the nearest store is 30 miles away.

After investigating DropBox and Google Docs as online storage options, which many people use and like, I uploaded my Word files to Docs and uploaded the digital photos stored on my hard drive to Google Photos.

Eventually I discovered that, with Microsoft Word for my writing projects, the newer versions include OneDrive, which can keep off-line work in sync with each update stored on the Cloud. At first I couldn’t find my off-line files as easily, but I’m very grateful for this way to keep my poems, blogs, books, and bio intact because, a couple of weeks ago, my hard drive crashed, wiping out all of the files and programs stored in my computer.

With a new hard drive ready to repopulate files with the backups stored on Google Docs, Photos, and OneDrive, I considered doing all of my writing online from now on. But then, the Internet went out!

For several hours I could do no work because what I needed wasn’t yet in my Word files. I had to go online to get them, but with no Internet connection, I couldn’t. Nevertheless, I’m glad this happened at my moment of indecisiveness - not as a coincidence but a God-incidence meant to guide me into doing my writing off-line then backing up to a Cloud.

The next decision concerned whether to continue with Microsoft Word as my sole word processing software. Prior to my computer crash, I had Word 2010, which came with my computer. With that program gone, the local technician who fixed my computer installed a retro copy of Word. So I had to decide whether to buy an upgrade or go another route.

The problem with upgrading software is that it’s a never-ending and often expensive choice, but if too many years lapse between word processing versions, glitches inevitably occur with no patches to close the gap.

This may change, but at the moment, I’m enjoying the FREE word processing download from WPS. Not only does it remind me of earlier programs that better suited my needs as a writer, but with each “save,” it asks me if I want to save a copy to the Cloud! Yeah!

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

October 31, 2017

Marketing your book in person

When the Crescent City public library hosted “Meet & Greet the Authors” at the Crescent City Woman’s Club last weekend, this well-organized event gave me an opportunity to meet other writers and readers in my area. I sold more books in our small town than I’d sold over the past few months on Amazon, and I also learned a lot!

People want to get to know you before they buy your books.

Since most readers also want to know more about the area in which they live, book browsers seemed especially interested in my poetry from a natural Florida perspective. And, they hung around book tables where other authors had histories and mysteries set in our state or county.

Books on your locale will be most apt to sell.

Although it’s not yet November, I made a point of mentioning how some of my books might make nice gifts for Christmas. Then, I asked if the buyer wanted me to sign a book with the name of the person for whom they’d bought the gift or, in case they seemed unsure, if they wanted an autograph with a greeting appropriate for anyone.

Children’s books do particularly well as gifts.

Generic signings might be “God bless” or “Happy reading!” followed by an autograph.

Did I mention that I sign in pencil? My handwriting has deteriorated a bit, plus I’m apt to misspell my own name! An ink pen would have marred 3 signings, but as it was, I could easily erase.

Having someone (in my case, my supportive husband) to take monies, make change, and note which titles sold was another big plus as this left me free to chat with people, answer questions, and simply ask, “What do you like to read?” That latter question helped me to direct buyers toward titles that might interest them the most – even though they said they don’t normally buy poetry!

In addition to this event, which featured about a dozen writers and their books, our public library often invites locals poets and writers to give readings, which can be another opportunity to market a book. Those occasions also give a chance to answer questions and talk about what evoked a subject, scene, or poem, which inevitably interests potential book buyers even more.

Besides investigating what your local library has to offer, other opportunities for marketing your books in person can occur when you’re a guest speaker in a public school, bookstore, community building, church fellowship hall, or club meeting. If no such events have been planned, consider asking about the possibilities or organizing an event yourself.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017, poet-author

October 14, 2017

The imperfect life of perfectionism

This morning I woke up thinking about the difference between perfectionism and Jesus’ appeal to us to be perfect. I suspected the thought meant God wanted me to write about these differences, but, to be sure, I prayed for a word of confirmation.

When I checked my email for the Daily Bible Verse from Bible Gateway, I did not see Matthew 5:48 as expected: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” King James Version (KJV.) But….

Today’s verse came from Romans 12:2:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Or to put it another way:

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect,” New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE.)

As you can see, both translations say the same thing, just with slightly different choices of synonyms, and both emphasize a connection between discernment and the kind of perfection intended. In other words...

To be perfect means clearly knowing and acting on God’s will.

Contrast that understanding with definitions for perfectionism found in Word software:


The “nicest” word in the list is “conscientiousness,” but then, that begs the question, “Of what or Whom are we constantly conscious or aware?” If ourselves, we’ll not only be apt to be nitpicking but self-absorbed and, oh, self-conscious!

Jesus’ call to perfection asks us to be God-conscious.

We’re to be so in-tune with God’s Word that scripture begins to transform our minds from the world’s ways to The Way of Christ. Then, we continue this transformation throughout our lives by choosing to renew our minds as we regularly read the Bible, pray, and worship the Lord in communion and church fellowship with others.

What joy! What grace we receive as we put aside our own need for personal acceptance and perfection and, instead, accept the wisdom, way, and will of our Most Perfect Lord.

by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

October 6, 2017

Poetry Editor and Poetry: Living the poem

Poetry Editor and Poetry: Living the poem:

After several years of reviewing poetry books by other poets on the Poetry Editor & Poetry blog, a new phase begins today with lines from my own poetry books and a few words about the text and/or context of each poem. 

As I hesitated to get started, I took my coffee onto our deck where "a sign" caught my attention. I grabbed my camera and wrote this new post.

'via Blog this'