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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Shepherding people through the Baltimore riots – a letter to our courageous small group leaders

Below is a letter from one of the pastors of my church to the small group leaders. I think it's a good message to us all, so I asked if I could share it with my readers. Mitchell said yes!

Those of you who have read my fiction know my characters live near Baltimore ... as do I. This crisis has wearied me because it seems so vast and I feel so powerless against it. I've worked near these areas with families in need and have friends who currently work in the affected neighborhoods. Please pray for this city and those who work and live in it. Thank you!

Here's Mitchell ...


Dear small group leader,

The violence that has hit so close to home is both saddening and unnerving. We all know people directly affected – family and friends who live/work in the city, ministry partners valiantly seeking its welfare, and law enforcement officers seeking to uphold peace and order. Almost as troubling as the riots, has been the variety of perspectives, sentiments, and reactions that our people are expressing and posting. I want to encourage you to lead through these times. All of us have uncertainties and fears. He’s placed you in your group, and placed your group members under your care. The role of a small group leader is to cultivate a community that is becoming like Jesus and living out his mission. Our responses, postures and gestures toward what is happening in Baltimore are opportunities to be instruments of grace as well as recipients. At the risk of oversimplification, I’ve tried to summarize a few ways you can shepherd your people this week and next. 

1. Do not fear. 

It’s one of the most oft-repeated commands in the Bible. Do not let your hearts be trouble. Do not be afraid.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Ps 46:1-3
Life has always been hard. It has always been unpredictable. There have always been those who would seek to stir unrest and trouble for personal gain. The world of the Bible is no stranger to such calamity and danger.
Baltimore riots near Hopkins in 1968
Baltimore riots near Hopkins in 1968
God’s people have always been in the midst of it both as intercessors and peace-keepers, even when the circumstances were beyond their control. Listen to the sentiments of your people. When they express fear, ask them what they are afraid of.

Of course, don’t do this in a condescending way. We all have fears. In fact, as you read this, you may want to think about the fears that have been exposed in your own heart. Fear often reveals what we are looking to for security and safety for our lives. Most times, that security and safety is not in God. We can place it in our zip code, in law enforcement, in our perceptions of control, even in a particular race or socioeconomic level. All of these things will fail to provide the security and safety we desire because they don’t last and can’t control the human heart.

Fear makes us say and do all sorts of desperate things. Things we don’t mean. We can take extreme positions that don’t make sense. The sooner we recognize, name, and repent of our fears (after all, whatever we trust in for our security and safety outside of God is an idol), we will begin to see through the eyes of faith – fixing our eyes on what is unseen and eternal. It doesn’t mean we won’t feel afraid, but it does mean that we won’t react based on that fear. We know who holds us and Baltimore.

2. Keep an open mind. 

Guard your people from the business of blaming. When turmoil hits, especially threatening our perceptions of control and security, we want to blame someone or something. Why doesn’t someone do something? How could we have prevented this? We blame city officials, broken systems, thugs, police, laws, you name it. What is happening in Baltimore is the result of so much sin – on both sides of whatever line you draw. It’s been generations in the making. There is no easy fix to this. Listen for statements like, “if people would just…” or “if leaders would only…” “if they would…” We must guard our people (and ourselves) from an US vs. THEM mentality. There is so much that is indeed wrong with the current situation. Resist the urge to reduce the matter down to a few answers. Too often we can fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve done something about the problem by just critiquing it or discussing it.

Related to this, I think by blaming or looking for causes first, we skip the necessary role of God’s people to lament. There’s so much to say about the discipline of lament, but I’ll leave it at this. Until we can learn to really cry and hurt with those who are hurting, any solutions we offer or causes we identify will be condescending at best and patronizing at worst. Encourage your community to participate with the Spirit of Christ through humble, reflective (and even angry) tears. This is not how the world should be. This is not the glory of the city or the beauty of man on display. We are heartbroken over this.

3. Pray, don’t just post. 

In our social media world, we have to deal with this. Too many people are voicing their emotions and sentiments over the cyber airwaves with little thought to the context or way in which their frustrations might be received. Some are saying mean things. Some are just posting videos. Some are ranting and criticizing. Refrain from this. There’s already so much noise, so many media channels trying to spin this. Everyone wants someone to blame (see above). We recognize that what is happening is a world that is out of control. We won’t fix this with a post or a status. (Ironic that you’re probably reading this via some social media channel, isn’t it?) If you must post something, will you stop to pray before you post? If you are engrossed in reading the various takes and reports, will you stop to pray after each one?

As you lead your group, and various members share what they’ve read/heard/seen, stop and pray. Use each piece of added data as a way to pray more specifically. This way you’ll steer the conversation away from over-analysis or even worse, gossip.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

4. Beware the suburban bubble.

I’m troubled by the number of people I’ve heard say, “I’m so glad I’m not there.” The temptation is all too real to isolate ourselves off from the trouble, to simply shrug off the plight of Baltimore with a sigh of relief that we’re not there. Christians have never taken that stance. They run to the battle, not away from it. Why? Because that’s what God did. He ran to face the great enemy, death, and he was victorious…at great cost. Encourage your small group to reconsider such language in light of the Gospel. What if God had taken the same stance towards us?
We must not think that the problem is just “over there”. Systemic inequality, oppression, injustice is everywhere, and the suburbs are no exception. We can watch the news and think that we are somehow walled off in safety, and fall into a false sense of peace and security, totally oblivious to the great evils around us…some of which we knowingly or unknowingly participate in. What if what we see in Baltimore is an opportunity for us to take an inventory of the kinds of lives we are living today? Are we living justly? Righteously?
Remember Jeremiah 29:7, in the welfare of the city, we find our welfare. God has so tied us to the plight of our neighbors that it’s impossible to contain what is happening to just one block or one zip code. To think that we can be immune and unaffected by the burning of the city is naive and irresponsible. I’d figure out a better way to say that to your group, but we must not ignore the kind of callous, “sucks to be you”, sort of privileged mentality that contributes to the problem.

5. Remember the heavenly city.

The most important encouragement I will give to you as a shepherd is to be a hope-giver. Though the streets should rumble, though the people should roar, though the looters should prosper, though the police should brutalize, we know that this is not what God intended, and that it is not what will be.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:4-7
The final picture of God’s triumph in Revelation 21-22 is that of a heavenly city. It’s a beautiful, large, majestic city. God is in the midst of her, ruling over and dwelling with His redeemed people. John describes this city with so much detail, and then makes a startling observation. God fills this city.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” Revelation 21:22-26
Cities have gates because they have threats. Gates keep people in and people out. This city never shuts its gates. There are no threats. There’s not even a cover of night to pose a possible threat. That means no curfews. No state of emergency. No national guard. No riot police. No SWAT. No burning buildings. Not even a protestor. No brutality. No young men killed way too young. No mothers grieving. No communities at odds. No tension. Just a city with light shown by a Lamb.
If nothing else sticks in the above, remember the heavenly city. Meditate on it until you can draw a picture of it on a napkin for your small group. Let a vision of the heavenly city permeate you and redirect your tears. I think you’ll find yourself talking to your group differently, and maybe in seeing what’s going on in you, your group will experience the same.
We have a tough task ahead of us, leaders, but the grace of God affords us hope that no city official can give. Do your best, love your people, and God will show up.
Love you all and so proud to stand alongside you,


Feel free to add your prayers in the comments section.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Change and the Future

If you were a regular reader of this blog, you will notice that though I used to write weekly (and more), it’s been a loooooong time since my last post. Well, that’s because there have been a lot of changes going on in this author’s life. I think it’s time I tell you about them.

First, I released my debut novel, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, a while back. I did this as an independent author with a little help from some friends. It was only meant to be a small way to get my fiction on a stage where it could be found, but it has become so much more. I have since discovered the benefits of indie publishing that are not only good for me, as an author, they are also good for me as a reader. I have recently become part of a community of other independent authors who have chosen this route not because their work wasn’t good enough, but because someone in the publishing world told them they could not sell a book on the topic to which God led them. These authors, who write what God has laid on their hearts, are crafting beautiful stories with a greater depth than what they would have produced following the lead of a marketing team, and discovering there are readers who’ve been waiting for it.

That’s what I want to do.

I’d never taken this path with the expectation of becoming rich or famous (tho’ if God chose to curse me in such away, I would bear it willingly—sigh!). I chose it in the hopes of sharing stories that I love to write with people who may enjoy and be inspired by them. In fact, I sometimes fear things like riches and fame, due to the temptations that often come with them. That’s where independent publishing suits me. I don’t need to be known to many in order to get the coveted contract or even make a living. I just need to publish the book God has laid on my heart and hope enough people are inspired to pay me to continue.


I’ve also discovered, through my indie author community, that the best platform to reach an audience is not through social media or blogging, but offering more books. I currently have three almost ready to go, so I like this idea. And this is where I feel God has gifted me—fiction. I’ve loved blogging over the past few years. God has shown me many things as I journaled “out loud,” but now I feel it is time to focus on my gift.

So what will I be doing next? First, I will be working on getting my next three novels out. Two of these were set on a university campus, which according to some publishers is a non-starter for them—another reason to indie publish. The other is a spin-off from the second in that series. The long-awaited, One Among Men (about a female Christian grad-student living in and running a hard-partying all-male dorm), will be released in January 2015, followed every 3-4 months by the other two. I also have ideas to continue the stories from the Dark Forest which will feature Manny, the holey-jean-wearing chauffer, in a modern-day retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and I hope to find a girl for Sam Sakamoto, the hippo-therapist from At the Edge of a Dark Forest, as well—no ideas for him yet.

I will continue to post author interviews and articles on InfiniteCharacters.com, and will post here when God inspires me to. I have a new author website I’d love for you to visit www.ConnieAlmony.com, where you can sign up for my newsletter (or you can sign up for it in the right-hand sidebar here), and I am developing a search site to help readers find good Christian fiction written from the heart—IndieChristianFictionSearch.Blogspot.com. I’d love for you to check it out. Lots of great books to see there.

I am so excited about this new direction. Never before have I felt I was heading where God wanted me as I do today. I hope, when you read my fiction, you will feel the same.

For those of you who have come to this website to view my most-read post, Can God Heal Autism, I want you to know, though I have never felt called to write on this subject alone, God has led me to intersperse issues surrounding this disorder in some of my fiction. I have not forgotten you and will continue to pray for those who ask it of me. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement over the years.

God Bless!!!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kym McNabney Shares about Prison Ministries

One of the greatest things about becoming a blogger is the connections I’ve made with other authors/bloggers and the various ministries I’ve come across to serve our big and powerful God. This week I had the great fortune to e-meet Kym McNabney and find out about her involvement in prison ministries through Willow Creek Community Church. I bet she has some stories to tell. In fact, she does, and thirteen are shared in the book, Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison, by Connie Cameron and Jeff Peck.
Find out more …
clip_image001Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison, is an inspirational collection of true stories laid out in a daily format; one per day for 365 days. Each story will tell about a work of God in the lives of those who have experienced some aspect of prison. A single scripture verse will accompany each writing, pointing to the hope and truth found in God’s word.

While incarcerated, many inmates spiritually hit bottom and come face-to-face with the choices they have made. Thankfully, God uses Christian volunteers, prison chaplains, family members, outside friends, Christian pen pals, and other inmates, to share His love and truth with the lost behind bars. Regardless of how they are offered hope, inmate’s testimonies, along with their daily walk challenges, are moving and inspirational.

You will read amazing stories including Brandon, a prisoner who had a prayer warrior mother, and was also visited by a Christian volunteer. Brandon came to Christ while incarcerated, and witnessed constant gang activity behind bars, including preying upon the youth on the outside. Since his release, Brandon often risks his life in his ministry of intervening in the lives of youth who are at risk to become involved in gang activity.

The battle for the souls of inmates is fierce. One female prisoner said, “When I first arrived at prison in 2002, Christianity was openly practiced and Satanic practices were underground. Now it is just the opposite.” This inspirational book will remind Christians of their admonishment by Jesus to visit the imprisoned, to pray for them, and to share the gospel with them (Matthew 25:36). These collective, true stories will especially touch those who are uncomfortable with prison ministry, helping them to develop compassion for the shunned souls of society.

Quotes from inmate letters:
I was deeply moved by receiving the blessing of the gifts Willow sent. Being that I don’t have support from family and friends, I’ve come to understand my real family comes from God. God had showed me over the years that He’s the only one I need to depend on. Even though I didn’t hear from family and friends, I was relieved knowing that God always thinks of His people, by utilizing your church and staff to reach out to people such as myself. I want to thank you all personally for doing the work of our Father.

James, Pontiac CC

My purpose for writing you is to inform you that I have received the Christmas bag Willow sent to the prison, and wanted to say to all that worked on this touching idea, thank you, thank you, thank you.
To put all of your judgment about those in prison to the side, and sacrifice your time and money to send something that is helpful, was very heartwarming. 
A.J., Pontiac CC

Thank you so much for the gifts Willow gave me on Christmas, and your thoughts and prayers. It is because of all of you that I have finally decided to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Johnathon, Ogle County Jail

Thank you so very much for thinking of us in prison. You put a huge smile on our faces. That was very thoughtful and I’m very grateful. I feel like the Spiritual Survival book was meant for me.

Samantha, Logan CC

I wish to offer my words of gratitude. What you did was more than give us snacks and trinkets. You even did more than speak to our spirituality. You showed us that you cared about us, despite our faults. You brought us some semblance of a Christmas season. Receiving those packages and digging through them with wonder and anticipation gave us a chance to remember how Christmas use to be. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. To take up your time and money to do that for us, without even knowing who we are, this is not something that will be soon forgotten.

Brian, Pontiac CC

Thank you for the Christmas cards. I thought I was not going to be able to send a Christmas card to my mom, but thanks to you I was able to. This is my first Christmas away from my family and no one send me a card. I was mad until I got this from you. It made my day.

Rayvone, Vienna CC

When I returned to my housing unit on December 18th, I found a package on my desk that was donated by your congregation. This was the first time in 11 years that anyone has given me any type of gift for the Christmas holiday.
Ken, Pontiac CC

I am writing from Massachusetts to thank you for all that Willow dose with the prison ministry there in IL. I have a nephew that’s incarcerated in Cook County Jail. He asked for a Bible, and received one. He’s now exploring his faith.

Teresa G, aunt of an incarcerated nephew

Thank you all for thinking about us in here. So often society looks at us as expandable, incorrigible, evil, wicked, undesirable, etc. In fact most of us are not any of those things. We are guilty of our crimes 90% of the time, but our crimes are not the sum total of who we are. The gifts you send are Gods love in action.

Patrice, Pontiac CC

clip_image003Kym McNabney is wife and mother. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and the treasurer for the ACFW Chicago Area Chapter. She fosters for Collie Rescue of Greater IL, and writes for their newsletter. The Coordinator for the pen pal program through Willow Creek Community Church, and involved in other areas of the prison and jail ministry. She had thirteen stories published in, Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison. When she’s not writing she loves to read, listen to music, and watch movies.

Blog, http://kymmcnabney.blogspot.com/
twitter, http://twitter.com/kymmcnabney
facebook, https://www.facebook.com/#!/AuthorKymMcNabney
pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/kymmcnabney/
Other posts you might like:
3rdDay Rocker—Making Ministry from a Passion

March of the Minions

My Prayer Shawl Ministry

Friday, June 20, 2014

Does Your Man Slay Dragons for You?

Whenever I begin to write a story it always starts as a romance. Of course, my characters take off and do things I’d never have expected when I first “birthed” them (they’re like children that way). But in the beginning, it’s always JUST a romance. With this in mind, I know there will need to be a defining moment where the man must slay a dragon (of some sort) for his lady.

You may think this idea is sexist and old fashioned. “Why can’t the woman slay a dragon for him?” You ask.

Well that’s fine and dandy, and most of my heroines do some slaying too, but if I’m going to fall in love with the man (which is unnecessary for me with the ladies I write) he will need to be willing to take a personal risk to get the heroine what she needs. clip_image002

In my novella, At the Edge of a Dark Forest, my female protagonist, Carly, explains this idea to her counterpart, Cole, when he teases her about her penchant for reading the genre. He, being a double amputee, wonders if he could measure up as a dragon slayer.

He does!


Because dragons come in many forms.

Early in my marriage, I’d scheduled one of those free offers to check our heating and air conditioning to clear it for winter service. FREE, I thought, who could pass up FREE? I was a little na├»ve back then. Of course, after the check, the technician handed me a very long list of repairs we could have done at a “reduced” price by their company if I signed NOW. I was warned, if not done soon, the whole unit would blow, costing me thousands of dollars in the end. My heart pounded. What should I do? I don’t want to miss this opportunity, and I didn’t want to risk the larger expenditure that would surely come.

I called my husband as the technician huffed loudly and tapped his toe in front of me. I could hear the comforting smile in my husband’s voice as he asked to speak to the man. I handed him the phone. They chatted. A few minutes later, the man gave me back the phone and packed his things as my husband told me not to worry. He’d consult a friend who could advise us and potentially do the work for much less than this company. He did, costing a third of what I’d been quoted.

I don’t know why this seemed a big deal to me, but I felt like a dragon had been slayed that day. A dragon in the shape of a scam-artist who’d infiltrated my home and planned to drain me of my life’s blood … or at least some cash. It gave me great peace to know my husband knew how to interrogate this man to get to the truth, to call on resources, and to ensure his family’s home was properly cared for.

My husband slays dragons every day in his office, where he manages employees, ensures goals are met and a salary is gained to feed his family. He is my hero. My knight in shining armor. He is also the biggest encourager in my writing. I am blessed.

I once listened to a woman complain that her husband never thanked her for the work she did in the home. I hear ya lady—it can be a thankless job. But I was stopped cold when she recounted how he asked of her, “When have you thanked me for going to my job every day?”

I wondered, “Had I ever thanked my husband for his provision?” I hadn’t. I try to rectify that now … To thank him for the work he does and most of all delaying HIS dream of being a writer (for which he is very gifted) to provide for his family so I can pursue MY dreams.

Thank you, Rick Almony, for slaying all those dragons!

Have you thanked your dragon-slayer today?

Friday, June 6, 2014

An Empty Vessel and the Metaphor of a Tree

Do you ever have those moments where you feel truly inspired by God and know you are on the right track? Many authors talk about writing the story God gave them. It’s a wonderful feeling as the Holy Spirit flows through your fingertips onto the page. But there’s another kind of Holy Spirit experience that’s even better than knowing it as it happens. It’s the moment you read back what you thought was a mundane, common-place scene and find the gems He left behind. That’s when you know you are being used as an Empty Vessel of the Lord. And there’s no greater feeling in the world, because the emptier you are of yourself, the more room you have for Him. And the more Him, the better!

I have many moments in my life I look back to and see God’s work in play, even times I’d put Him aside for what I’d deemed more important things. Though I’d neglected Him, He never treated me as though I were of lesser importance. I think that’s why those moments are so special to me now.

He still gives me these wonderful revelations of His presence in my life. One most recent was as I wrote the last scene of my novella, At the Edge of a Dark Forest.

In writing fiction, it’s important to get the pacing of the story just so. That way, the reader can feel they are in the moment with the character. In the final scene, my female protagonist, Carly, is going to a spot in the forest to see the male protagonist, Cole, for the first time in many months. I felt this walk in the woods needed to take a little time so the reader could feel Carly’s nervousness about seeing Cole again. I wanted to drag it out just a bit so as to heighten the suspense of what she’d find. So I added lots of details of the woods she traveled and thoughts of past moments there.

I asked myself, “What would she be thinking?”

She’d be thinking of the tree her father’s car hit when he meant to commit suicide. That was the moment where Cole and Carly’s two worlds intertwined.

“What would the tree look like now?”

I wrote the answer into the story, “New growth in broken spots and animals finding shelter in the holes.”

I added the crunch of the leaves under her feet and the exertion of the climb and ended the story. Phew! It always feels so good to type “The End” even when you know there are reams of edits to make afterwards. So I read through the scene several times, clarified points, elaborated on ideas and …

Then it hit me!

New growth in broken spots and animals finding shelter in the holes.

Wow, God!

That phrase, unbeknownst to me as I typed the words, was a perfect metaphor for Cole’s story. You see, Cole is a double amputee after having been injured from an IED in the Iraq War. Carly came into his life to provide him with her prototype prosthetics and train him how to use them.

New growth in broken spots …

But that was not the part that really shocked me. It was the last words of the sentence …

… and animals finding shelter in the holes.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Could the metaphor be more perfect? I sobbed at the realization, because I had nothing to do with its use. It was all God … when I wasn’t looking. There’s nothing more extraordinary then the feeling of being an Empty Vessel of the Lord. Thank you, God!

Oh yeah, if you’re wondering how the animals finding shelter in the holes relates to the story, well, there’s only one way to find out <wink>.

Other Posts you might like:

God on the Line

Let Him Steal Your Show

Do You Ever Feel Your Offering Is Too Small?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Blog Visiting and Third Day Video Fun


Today, I'm visiting Jo Huddleston's blog.

Come see what happens when you watch too female smileymany musicals as a kid, and find out what a 3D Gomer is.

There’s also a giveaway!!!

But before you do …

Watch this video and find out what color Tai Anderson's eyes are (3:00)


Friday, April 18, 2014

A Really Good Day

We call this day "Good Friday." It always seems funny to me to celebrate the day Jesus died a horrible death on a cross and call it "Good."

But it is.

That is the day our sins were washed away for good. Past tense. Were washed away. For Good.

I guess today really is a good day, even for Jesus, because it's the day we became good enough to spend eternity with Him. I think He likes that too. In fact, He gave His life for the idea.

So have a very GOOD Friday!


And to prepare you for the celebration of the Resurrection, I want to share a music video with you, by a wonderful group I only just found out about today. I hope you love them as much as I do. If you can't see the imbed, try this link. Here's The Western Den: