Tag Archives: Christian

Threads and Moles

IMG_1838.JPG
Honey and Cinnamon Latte from Camino Bakery in Downtown Winston…Still thinking about this one.

 

I have a lot of things running through my mind on a daily basis, as I’m sure you all do. But every once in a while, just like in a great work of literature, I start to see a common thread. A theme if you will, running through each area, popping in and out like those little moles in the arcade game. They tuck their little heads out just long enough to tease you and then just when you are about to whack them, they are gone again and generally laughing manically in the process. If you’re lucky (or maybe if you just have good reflexes), however, you get one and the ‘doiiiiing’ that echos throughout the arcade is quite satisfying.

That’s how I feel when I see one of these themes—Doiiiiing. Gotcha. Quite satisfying.

It started with Macbeth. I teach it every year, but timing, as they say, is everything. So despite the fact that I talk about these things with a new group of students every few months, I always learn something new from my kids (I guess that’s part of why I like teaching) and so the material is always fresh. This week we did our Brown Bag Exam. I love this test for two reasons. 1) I love the look on my students’ faces when they realize that I’m not joking and this actually their test on the novel. And 2) I love what it teaches the students, deeper levels of critical thinking and synthesis of motif, theme, character, plot, and all elements of narrative. Watching them pull it all together is, well, brilliant. So, despite the fact that one class had to play “Simon Says” at the end because following directions was a little too much for some of them (that’s a story for another time), the test ended and I began grading them. Many of the students were focused on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s inability to ‘cleanse’ or ‘purify’ themselves of their crimes because they had been ‘soiled’ by evil and covered in blood. I love some of the comments they made. One student, who had soap in her bag said she immediately thought of the old saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth could never achieve because of their trafficking with evil. No matter how hard they ‘scrubbed’ as Macbeth said “all of Neptune’s Oceans” would not rinse the blood from his hands.

Which brings me to thread number two. In our Bible study this week we were talking about Anna and Elizabeth, as we read through Dynamic Women of the Bible by Ruth A. Tucker. This was a fascinating discussion, from some pretty dynamic women in our church. The thread continued with our discussion of Elizabeth, who becomes the mother of John the Baptist. Since our previous discussion of Sarah the month before was still pretty fresh in our minds, this connected pretty well as both women were well advanced in years when they became pregnant with their children. But where this took a turn is when we began a discussion of the purification process for women after childbirth in Jewish culture. Following the birth of a female child, a woman must undergo an 80 day purification process whereas following the birth of a male child a woman must undergo a 40 day purification process. All feminist arguments about why such a discrepancy must exist aside, we began to discuss when the process would begin given that Elizabeth was present at John’s circumcision (which occurs 8 days after the birth). If she is still being ‘purified’ how is it possible that she can be present? Well, of course, I did some research and I found out, that the “impure” period means that she can simply not be with her husband sexually for the period of 40 days after having a male child and until she goes through the Mikveh process (a period of ritual cleansing in which she bathes in a collective water—doesn’t have to be living water). This then makes her “clean”. The eight day waiting period is also because of a purity and cleansing period, which is why circumcision is done on the eighth day I believe, and is when she is able to enter the temple after undergoing a cleansing process as well (there are many cleansing processes for men too, by the way, just in case you are wondering about all this!). Elizabeth, unlike the Macbeths, brought life into the world—she didn’t take it away, yet she still had to be cleansed. I ruminated on this for days trying to figure out why my brain couldn’t let go of the thread.

And then I remembered Esther.

I’m doing a Bible study with some friends on Esther and we were talking about Chapter two this week, and my thread just got LONGER. Especially verses 8-9: “When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought into the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.”

Okay, I know what you are thinking: “Ashley, that’s not a mole, that’s a skunk. Let it go.” I know, this doesn’t look like it connects to the Macbeths or to Elizabeth at all, but bear with me. There is a thread.

In the harem, Hegai provided her with beauty treatments. Let’s skip down a few verses to 12: “Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Now do you seem my thread? I’m pretty sure that sounds like cleansing to me. And she was already beautiful to begin with, so what in the world was she being cleansed from? Maybe for Esther it wasn’t about being cleansed from anything, but being prepared for something greater. And boy did she get prepared for something…unbelievable (bless her heart).

So what in the world is happening here? Why is my life suddenly filled with stories and ideas and conversations about purity and cleansing?

Honestly, I have no idea. But, I do think it invites me to take a look at my own life and ask myself some hard questions about my motivations and self-interests. Sometimes the threads in our lives take on a theme for a reason, to point out something that need to be cleansed, to point out that we are not perfect, to point out that perhaps those slippery moles can be caught and examined.

And sometimes, it just gives us one more thing to write about.

Whatever the case may be, I don’t ignore them. Because if you ignore the threads, you’re likely to get caught on a nail and unravel. And if you ignore a mole…well, they’re worse than rabbits about multiplying and if you have them in your yard for too long—well, say goodbye to your infrastructure. Whack those moles, and whack them good. It really is quite satisfying.

 

With your head in the Dryer…

This week was kind of a disaster.

I dried a pen. Yes, you heard that right. I put a pen in the dryer (not on purpose, I’m not that dumb, people), but as you can imagine, the results were pretty horrendous).

IMG_1831.JPG
All that blue…yeah that’s the ink. It did eventually come out…but when your heads down in there you don’t think it ever will. Just ask my mom.

Then I walked into a painted doorway. Yes, you heard that right too. A painted doorway. Paint all down my arm. The doorway had no damage. My sweater on the other hand, DOA.

The printer at work decided to stop working, I was late to a meeting, I fell—twice (that’s not really uncommon, but it still sucked), and to be frank, I was tired all week long for no real reason.

And yet, I’m still alive. I have a great place to live. I’m healthy. I’m having brunch after church with my best friends. I had breakfast yesterday with my parents and grandparents (yes, my grandfather who had surgery just a couple of weeks ago on his stomach had breakfast with me yesterday morning!) and I still managed to write 13,000+ words in Clara’s Chance (and I’ll be a toothless monkey if I don’t hit 20,000 today by gum! I had an AWESOME dream last night!). Jimmy, my aloe plant, is even still alive and kicking and growing another little sprig!

IMG_1833.JPG
Jimmy and his new sprig–can you see it?

My point is this: Yes, some weeks seem to be mired in the dregs of disaster with your head stuck in a dryer scrubbing for hours (thanks Mom for helping out with that yesterday—she’s really the only reason I didn’t throw the whole thing out–yes I did consider this. I went through a whole lot of scrubbing before she fixed it. And that’s kind of what Moms do.), but your heads only in the dryer for so long. Once you pull it out, you realize how bright the world is outside and there is so much more to life than ink stains and scrubbing.

And that’s what we really have to live for.

IMG_1610.JPG
Mom, Dad and me at my book launch in August–heads out of the dryer (a picture of our heads in the dryer really wouldn’t have been very flattering)

 

 

It’s Tough Being a Woman…

This is the title of one of my favorite Bible studies by Beth Moore (Living Proof Ministries). If you have the opportunity to participate in this study at any time, I highly recommend it. This week I started studying Esther, the book of the Bible the study focuses on, and I realized how much Biblical hope the book gives us—even though, ironically, God is not mentioned in the book—ever.

So why is it tough being a woman?

If we were honest, we’d probably say it’s tough being a human, but I know more about being a woman, so I’m going to focus on that.

  • It’s tough being a woman when you feel like the whole world rests on your shoulders alone.

The struggle of modern womanhood is feeling as though you have to do it all—24/7. The feminist movement had a lot of positive outcomes, but one of the negative effects was this belief that to show weakness and dependence on a man—or even other women—is a bad thing.

But to be weak is human.

We all have weakness. Men do, and so do women. Neither is “better” or “worse” kind of weakness—it is dependent on the individual—but the fact of the matter is we are all weak. And we might as well start admitting it to ourselves, because as much as we want to believe that we are all Wonder Women, eventually those gold bracelets and white boots get tarnished and dirty. Some of us do a great job of proving that we are…for a while. And then we get tangled in our own lasso of truth. We can’t DO IT ALL. Humans are dependent on one another and we might as well admit it.

Now, I’m the pot, and I’m calling the kettle black right now. I know this to be true because this week alone I was trying to be about 6 people: I was a teacher teaching and grading research papers (4-5 a night baby), I was a “synchronized swimming participant” (we had practice this week for the talent show next week!), I was a program volunteer for Winston Salem Writers (organized and executed a program; 20 attendees, thank you very much), I was a Sunday School teacher (Found a great new lesson book, but I have to modify it, because it’s just not 100% right for my kids), I was a granddaughter/daughter/niece (had a family dinner before my grandfather’s surgery), I was a devoted granddaughter (visited my grandfather in the hospital), I was a Key Club Sponsor and UNICEF fundraiser ($930 dollars raised so far toward our $2000 goal), and I was a writer (not a very good one; I only wrote about 1000 words this week blech).

Okay, 7 people. And now I’m tired. Because it’s tough being a woman.

  • It’s tough being a woman when your destiny seems out of your hands.

As I was reading Esther 1 this week, I looked specifically at Xerxes and his party hardy attitude. SO he holds this party that lasts for 180 days (that’s a school year btw) which is totally insane and he invites not only the nobles, but all the military leaders, and I think anyone involved in the military would agree with me that there are some really fine military officers out there, but there are also some notoriously crude military officers out there. Not to mention the spoiled brats that would have been the princes and leaders. So when I put it into this context and the fact that “as much wine as he wished” is mentioned 3x I wonder if Vashti’s refusal is  more than just being tired of her trophy status–I wonder if she isn’t terrified. Do I really believe that all the men would be polite in this kind of setting–especially the King? After all, this is the man who takes all the beautiful virgins of the kingdom into his harem later.

But that’s not really what they’re worried about. They’re upset that she refused, but they’re more upset that other wives—their wives may follow her example and refuse them as well. OMG! What if MY wife refuses MY demands?! They think. And I see that this isn’t a story just about power, it’s a story of finding our own feminine power (not in a let’s stop shaving our legs way–but in the sense that we have a purpose in God’s kingdom as well). Because what they are really afraid of is a feminine rebellion and that is typical for the ruler Xerxes who was having a hard enough time keeping control of his military holdings, the last thing he needed was domestic uprising. That would just add to his fear, thus, I suppose his irrational decisions.

Vashti and the other women are dependent on the men and their decisions and when they make their own decisions, the men start acting like spoiled children. And that, my friends, is tough.

And sometimes I’ve felt that other people are in control of my destiny. Obviously I have a lot more freedom than Vashti and the other women of Susa, but I’m still dependent on a lot of things in my society. I teach in a public school and I have to depend on the elected officials in the NC House and Senate who are fairly clueless as to what it is like in the school system to make decisions that affect my entire fate—and I’m not just talking about pay. They also determine class sizes and resources and curriculum. And that is tough. I get emotional, upset and angry and yes I can vote against the people who are doing things I don’t like, but then usually they are for something else I don’t like and so I’m caught it this perpetual state of inner conflict about what the right choice is for the greater good. And that is tough too.

At any rate, I don’t know why Vashti refused. Maybe she was just being a spoiled brat. Maybe she was scared. Maybe she was tired of being shown off. Regardless, what it shows us is that men and women—humans–need to communicate and they need to do it with clear heads and minds. If they don’t things become muddied very quickly.

  • It’s tough being a woman when society’s expectations are too high for you to live up to.

I’m not really going to expand on this one much, because I think it speaks for itself. Society expects a lot from women and it’s why we have a multi-billion dollar beauty industry. It’s exhausting.

So, my point: It’s tough being a woman—it’s tough being a human, but we just keep trucking and every once in a while we find those beautiful moments that make it all worth it.

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.


 I would wager to guess that many of us go to work each day and spend at least a small (though often it is large) percentage of time complaining about something.

There is no coffee in the pot.

 Someone ate the last donut.

 There is a weird smell.

 My boss…OMG, my boss…

 The children are wild.

 My subordinates are needy.

 I don’t get paid enough.

I could go on for days, because I’ve been there. Stress with a capital STRESS, can cause us to be cranky with a capital CRANK and IE just to add an extra letter in there for emphasis. But what if it’s not our jobs, or the people, or the place or even the money that leads to the feelings and emotions stacking up one on top of the other day after day? What if it’s about perspective?

Buy Linda Dillow’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/Linda-Dillow/e/B001JS2DXO

While reading Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, by Linda Dillow I’ve been challenged in many ways. Dillow challenges readers to wake up to the many ways in which we worship—or should worship—each and every day of our lives. Often the term ‘worship’ is misused. It is not a synonym for music. Worship is any way we pay reverence or homage to God. Dillow expands this definition by exploring how we as individuals can worship with our lives, our words, our attitudes—and, as in the chapter I most recently read, our work.

 

I spend a lot of time at work. And now I have two jobs.

 

My first job is at school—I do a lot of complaining at this job. More than I wish I did, but less than most because while I do get frustrated I do honestly love what I do. Do I believe things could be better? Absolutely. Do I believe it is a demanding profession? You betcha. Am I often disheartened and disillusioned by the thanklessness of the teenagers who I spend hours of my time trying to help just to hear them say: ‘this is stupid’? Of course. But complaining really doesn’t do any good. In fact, all it does it stress me and the people around me out. And who wants that. So why do I do it?

 

I call it “venting”. That makes it sound better, right?

 

But what if I train myself to look at my work differently? What if instead of getting frustrated that the teenager still doesn’t have his homework—what if I turn my work into praise?


 

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.


Dillow uses this phrase in her book, but it actually comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, a book of precepts written around 529 CE. This is not a new concept. Work is worship (or prayer); Worship is work. For centuries, Monks have used this concept to help keep balance in the monastery (when it wasn’t corrupted I suppose). The point is, everything you do is worship—and work should not be an exception. So if I can shift my perception and see my work as worship then perhaps I can help bring more joy to not only my life, but the people around me as well.

 

But how do I do this? On Friday one of my kids came racing down the hall as the final bell rang and into my classroom. He jumped over a couple of desks in a hurry to sit down. I was tired. And frankly not in the mood to deal with rambunctious teenagers. I frowned at him and scolded a little about his lack of propriety, but in retrospect all he was doing was what I had asked–showing energy and that he was trying to get to class on time. I could have fed off that energy and made the class, all of whom were a bit riled up by the act, more energetic and engaging as a result. Instead I was cranky. “Ms Carmichael you seem a bit cranky. You ok?” Another student asked. I responded as you might imagine a cranky teacher might respond. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t allow students to climb on the desks like monkeys or anything, but the attitude I have when I respond to it is what makes or breaks my class and quite frankly distinguishes me as a teacher, which leads me back to bowing my work, something I don’t do nearly as often as I need to. Especially the last 2 years. I’ve had these battles and I need to lay them at the cross each morning when I get up. I am a teacher.

 

But I can’t do it on my own. Nor should I try. As it happens, I was also reading Francis Chan’s book this week  Forgotten God. I don’t think it was a coincidence that much of what Chan writes applied directly to what I learned from Dillow. Chan points out that James 4:3 tells us that we can ask for wisdom, guidance, direction and the Holy Spirit all day long, but if we ask for the wrong reasons, God’s answer is going to be no. Our reasons have to be to bring him glory, not to bring our self glory or as the verse says to “spend it on our passions.” As a teacher I know that I have the opportunity to touch so many lives each and every day, but I have to understand that “our desire to live should be for the sake and glory of the God who put us on this earth in the first place” (Chan). And I think I too often forget that—which is where I fail most often.

Find out more about Francis Chan at www.Crazylove.org

 

And so I come to my second job, writing—which is where I really have to be careful not to want to spend all my askings on my own passions. Teaching gives me a daily reminder that there are others out there—writing is not as straight forward. Now that I have published Valerie’s Vow, I know I have readers; my publisher gave me the good news about my book this weekend. It’s selling at the top (tied with another book—A Ripple in the Water by Donna Small) of their books on the site and on Amazon. Even so, it’s not a constant reminder. Currently I working on novel that is not a sequel to Valerie’s Vow, but is written in a very similar style—the working title is Clara’s Chance. While I outlined the story and I know where I want it to go, it still has a life of its own. What I keep reminding myself is that my writing is not just for me. I write because I want to use the talent I have been blessed with to bring glory to God, and if I’m not then I have to stop. Vanity and pride are close beside me as I become a creator of something new. It’s beautiful, but ultimately I have to squash them. Because it can’t be about me.

 

Laborare est orare; orare est laborare.

Buy my book here: http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vow-Ashley-M-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B00MV36X32/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410133771&sr=8-1&keywords=valerie%27s+vow or at www.secondwindpublishing.com

Why I used a couple curse words in my Christian Fiction novel

download

Last week I released my first book, and there are many reasons why this is exciting for me, but it also makes me nervous. I’m anxious about how it will be received, and even more so, how I will be judged for some of the choices I made about the content of the novel.

 But that’s okay.

As a writer, well, as a human, I have to make hard choices every day about what I think, feel and believe and when that is put into the context of writing I make those choices for my characters as well.  

By going with a small publisher I was able to maintain a lot of control over the content of my novel. As a result, though, I know there will be a lot of questions. Not the least of which will be: but this this is a CHRISTIAN novel—why are there curse words? Let me set the record straight first—the novel isn’t filled with profanity. In fact, I think there may be 5 curse words in the whole novel, but people—especially the target audience—will notice and I want to make sure I go on record with my reasons why.

photo

1) I want to make the characters and situations real.


 

Many of the situations and people that the main character, Valerie, meets are not Christian. She is put into the ‘real world’ in some pretty amazing ways. For example, at one point she is in a biker bar. To make that setting seem realistic, the dialogue has to match that which she might encounter. Just because a Christian character goes into an un-Christian place, that doesn’t immediately corrupt the character nor does it ‘cleanse’ the place. For a Christian novel to be real, some of that has to be exposed. God told us to be in the world (not of it). I wanted my characters to reflect that. As Christians, we can’t deny being in the world and these are places that we are a part of every day.


 

2) I want people to empathize with the character’s grief and pain.


 

Valerie is processing the death of a close friend—someone who had been a soul sister to her. She experiences deep, soul crushing grief and pain. The anger manifests in her dialogue and interactions with other people. I would love to say that as a Christian I have never used foul language in my grief and pain, but that would be a lie. Again, to connect to the character I added to her humanity. She makes mistakes—including some of her language.


 

3) I want people to understand that just because something is “Christian” doesn’t mean that it is “perfect”—that goes for people, setting, situations, and language.


 

The themes and lessons in the novel are distinctly Christian, which is what makes this “Christian Fiction”, an interesting phenomenal genre that has really only developed in the last fifty years or so (I mean think about it. Charles Dickens had many Christian themes—yet he is not a “Christian Fiction” writer…). I don’t want to alienate the Christian reader by using curse words, but I also don’t want to lie to them either. My story called for them, so I used them.


 

download (2)

The funny thing about it is, I worry—not about using them, but about being judged for that decision. Hopefully, my readers will understand and accept the choices that I made, but if not I hope they can at least present some counterarguments to me that are logical and well-thought out enough so that as I continue to write I can keep them in mind for my future endeavors.

download (1)

Buy my novel at any of these locations: 

Amazon: 

http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vow-Ashley-M-Carmichael-ebook/dp/B00MV36X32/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409596752&sr=8-1&keywords=valerie%27s+vow

http://www.amazon.com/Valeries-Vows-Ashley-M-Carmichael/dp/163066040X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1409596752&sr=8-2&keywords=valerie%27s+vow

Barnes and Noble: 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/valeries-vow?store=allproducts&keyword=valeries+vow

Second Wind Publishing:

http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!product/prd15/2506087281/valerie’s-vow

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468297