6 Things I Learned Being an Online Prof

It’s been since March, the 18th to be exact, when our classrooms went dark, when tearful goodbyes were said (especially by seniors), when all of the faculty at Taylor University looked around at first with a sense of odd horror. Spring break had begun three days early, and that gave us about 12 days to pivot and move all our classes to an online format.

Since I live a half hour from campus and have good internet, I decided to teach from home. So I vacated as well, packing up files and books and planners. We still live in half a house, so I spent a day of spring break clearing out boxes that were stored on our upstairs landing and creating a desk space for myself. Getting physically organized helped me get emotionally and mentally organized.

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I have to say, by the time I posted final grades on May 26, I was exhausted. And I know I’m not alone. I know my fellow faculty and students were exhausted as well.

To all of you out there — students, parents, teachers — I salute you. This was weird, but we did it the best we could. I know it wasn’t easy; it was downright difficult.

Here are 6 things I learned about myself during this time:

1. I really do enjoy the classroom and interaction with my students — and this is a God-thing.

Ask me 15 years ago about where I’d be today, I never never never would have put myself at the front of a classroom talking for a career. I’m an introvert. I don’t talk in groups. I don’t like having attention on me. Yet here I am. God can work in mysterious ways.

2. Despite my insecurity, I can do tough things with lots of support and lots of prayer.

Even though I’ve taught online classes before, this was obviously a new challenge. Syllabi had already been carefully prepared, group projects planned, assignments set. The challenge was repurposing the rest of the semester to make sense to my students while still allowing for the learning outcomes I hoped to achieve. I started with the hoped-for outcomes and worked backward — determining how to revise assignments, changing group projects to individual ones, making the needed teaching videos, and creating benchmarks of smaller pieces to keep everyone on track in the larger assignments. Taylor worked hard to support us in every possible way, and this was an encouragement. Oh, and I prayed … a lot.

3. Sometimes difficulty forces improvement.

A few times my class adjustments showed me improvements that I want to carry into my regular classes. That’s a good thing.

4. I’m not very tech savvy, so I opted for K.I.S.S. and that was okay.

“Keep it simple, stupid” was my mantra. So many of my fellow faculty had great ideas and apps and programs they shared in our private Facebook group. After feeling overwhelmed and techno-phobic, I realized I just needed to do what I felt comfortable doing. I did have our Blackboard specialist help me learn how to record videos and share my screen so I could do some lectures. Zoom worked great, but I used it mostly for one-on-one advising appointments. The simpler, the better, which gave me a lot less stress. But at the same time …

5. I need to invest time in training to use the tools at my disposal.

Our university uses Blackboard and it’s a pretty powerful program, but I realized this spring that I’ve only scratched the surface. I struggled with grading columns and discussion boards. I’m sure I can make use of other features if I know about them. I intend to get some training this fall.

6. Nothing beats clear organization and expectations.

My students appreciated my daily checklists of assignments. Laying out each day’s work and clearly listing due dates in red helped them keep up (and, seriously, it helped me just as much). Adjusting expectations helped as well — some students had difficulty with internet reliability or broadband strength (especially if siblings were also doing school and/or parents were working); others struggled with a variety of home situations. As crazy as college life can be, there’s a schedule to everything that helps keep life on track. Judging by the fact that my students were turning in work on time (mostly) and seemed to understand what I wanted from them means I maybe did something right!

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Yes, it’s over, but who’s to say when something unexpected will hit us again? I hope I learned a few things to make the next transition easier.

Whatever you’ve been doing these last couple months, what have you learned about yourself?

6 Tips for Parents to Help Their Kids Survive as Virtual College Students

Last week’s post about surviving as a virtual college student offered some basic info for many students heading home to finish their semester. I (and all my colleagues at Taylor University and teachers pretty much everywhere) have been trying to comfort students and rework courses so we can deliver the desired learning outcomes in an online format.

Then I came across a post on Facebook by Lori Heinrichs Cahill. I don’t yet know the source of this material (indeed it may be her), but it’s so helpful that I want to repost much of it. If this is coming from another source, as soon as I know if there is an origin beyond Ms. Cahill, I will happily add that source here.

And, also happily, there are … wait for it … 6 tips! The advice here is really only going to be workable if (1) your student does what I’ve suggested in the previous blog about creating a schedule and being in the school mindset, and if (2) parents and their student(s) figure this out together. Start the communication now and figure this out together now. Trust me. There will be a whole lot less stress later if you lay the groundwork now and then adjust along the way over the coming weeks.

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So here you go with credit to the original author (and additional comments from me in purple):

A message from a faculty member to parents of students now doing college from home:

Many of us are navigating new terrain beginning this week, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts as we move forward.

1. Your student is not home for break, and don’t treat it as such.

Your student is still carrying a full course load and class schedule. They may have a class scheduled during your normal family dinnertime. They are not going to be able to supervise younger siblings all day. They may not be available to drop off groceries for Grandma. That’s not to say they shouldn’t help with things around the house. . . . But make sure that you are making requests when they are truly available and respect their schedule.

[Author’s note: While some teachers will be allowing students to do their own work at their own pace (hence, the need for them to create a schedule that forces them to do the credit-hours-worth of work each week), some teachers will be creating a few classes that will require students to log in at the same time for a virtual class. It is going to be vital that your student be able to do this–both in terms of schedule and in terms of capability. Many Internet services are offering help during this time of great need. Check with your provider.]

2. Realize that they are under A LOT of stress.

We are entering the most stressful time of the semester with final projects, papers, and course material that is at its peak difficulty. We are asking them to navigate new online systems that they may not have used before. On top of that they have been displaced from their normal routine, their social interactions, their campus resources, etc. Many of them (especially seniors) are grieving the loss of anticipated spring performances, sporting events, and campus activities that they have been working toward all semester/year. Some of them have lost the opportunity to say goodbye to their senior friends.

3. Make sure they have the resources they need to be successful.

To the best of your ability, make sure they have a place to work where the rest of the family knows to leave them alone. Do they have the computer/Internet connection they need to do their work? Have they retrieved all of the necessary textbooks, notes, etc. from their dorm room? If that’s not feasible, have them check with their professor about online access to the text. Many publishers are providing free Ebook access during the pandemic.

4. Remember, they are not in high school anymore.

They do not need you to remind them when they have assignments due, and you don’t need to tell them when they should start studying for the next exam or writing that paper that is due tonight. They are adults and fully capable of managing their workload.

[Author’s note: But as is mentioned above, they are indeed grieving, feeling confused, and worried. We’ve been through a lot in our lives (our grandparents remember rationing during WWII, our parents remember the draft during the Vietnam War, we remember 9/11). Our kids don’t have a way to process this since they’ve never experienced anything like this. They might need a little bit of encouragement. You know your young person. Help out as needed and be available, but don’t be a helicopter parent.]

5. Just a warning, college students have really weird working and sleep schedules.

It is not uncommon for them to schedule a meeting with team members at 9 or 10 pm, and prime study time for most is after dark. Just let them do what works for them and remind them to shut the lights off when they finally do go to sleep.

[Author’s note: They may still be working on group projects that will require them to work together on some form of group communication platform (if your broadband can handle it). This may mean some late nights. Let them do what they need to do when they need to do it.]

6. Discourage them from getting together with local college and old high school friends.

. . . Reassure them that in a few weeks, when the coronavirus cases start to decline, they will be able to go out and do things with friends. For now, stay home as much as possible. And (I never thought I’d say this) encourage social interaction through the phone that’s always attached to their hands for the immediate future.

Most of all, enjoy having your kids back under your roof for a while.

Stay healthy!

P.S. Remind them to be kind to their professors. Most of us have had a week or less to completely revise our classes, assignments, and assessments to an online platform. We are using technology that we have never used or never used in this way. Many of us also have children home from college, school, or daycare — or elderly parents that we are concerned about. We will do our absolute best to provide your students with the quality education they deserve, but we will make some mistakes and some things we try are going to fall flat. Be patient, we’ll get through it together.

[Author’s note: Amen and amen.]

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I’d love to hear from you. What are you doing to help make this transition work for your college student?

6 Tips for Surviving as a Virtual College Student

With the current closing and moving to online classes of many schools and universities (including mine), I’ve realized the challenge that many of my students will be facing and want to offer some pieces of advice.

(1) Remember that you’re still “in school”

As you head away from campus — whether you’re going home or elsewhere or staying on campus due to other travel restrictions — your mind will shift into “break” mode. It will take some mental gymnastics to force yourself to realize that isn’t the case. Just because you’re changing your venue doesn’t mean you’re not in school anymore.

It’s a location shift, not a vocation shift.

And since for our school, spring break begins early, and then we’re back to virtual school, then a couple days off for Easter break, and then potentially still online (if things don’t change in the next two weeks), everyone will need to mentally shift at least twice.

Tell yourself that as soon as the next “in school” date rolls around: I am not on break! Then tell yourself again after the next break when school is again on your own. I am not on break!

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(2) Make sure you pack everything you need

At my school, the students are packing up to leave on Tuesday; I realize many of you at other schools are already gone from your campus. If you’re still in packing mode, remember that this time, you need to take all class materials. Spend a few moments at your desk thinking about what you normally carry to class each day and the materials you’ve been collecting all semester —

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  • textbook(s)
  • notebook
  • folder with handouts
  • study cards
  • syllabus
  • other resources

Do this for each class and pack these up to take with you.

(3) Create a schedule

It’s not going to be easy to maintain a study schedule when you don’t have to arrive at classes at certain times. Depending on how your prof sets up the online learning class, you may be on your own. If you’re required to log in at certain times, set your phone alarm to remind you. In any case, for all your classes, create a schedule and stick to it.

  • For your 3-credit classes, you’re in class for 3 hours a week and you have homework for at least that many hours.
  • Create a weekly schedule — if it helps, plan to work during the same time that you would be in class anyway. For your 9:00 class, set aside Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 9:00 and sit down to work on your class assignments.
  • If that doesn’t work or if you need to work around your family’s schedule to find quiet study time, do so, but find those needed hours somewhere.
  • Remember that you usually sat in class at that time and then did homework, so set aside another couple of hours during your week (at least) to work on those class assignments.
  • Give your family that schedule so they’ll understand your need to not be interrupted (see point #4).

(4) Find a quiet spot to work & limit distractions

Again, this is the concept of not being in “break” mode. Make your family aware that siblings can’t be interrupting nonstop; you’re trying to simulate school because you need to keep up with homework. (You may run into the same problem with interruptions at school, so whatever you do there should work at home.)

Wherever your work spot is (and it may well be the kitchen table!), you’ll need to be especially focused. Younger siblings may be home as well with their own school closings. You’re going to be tempted to do what you normally do on break, so it’s going to take focus and discipline to keep up with your classes (see points #1 and #2).

(5) Work ahead & beyond

Realize how many hours you spend on campus going to and from class, goofing off in the dorms, spending time at meals. All of that time is now yours. Don’t waste it. Now is the time to make headway on that end-of-the-year project, do some extra reading or practicing, or get a handle on that one concept that you’ve been struggling with all semester.

Use the online resources your university library offers. If you’ve not been in the habit of online research (beyond Google), now is the time to experience what your school library has to offer through their online portal.

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(6) Keep calm

Don’t let this semester get away from you or fall apart because you’re not planning well during this enforced online learning time. This is all part of the adulting you’ll soon be doing. Life often throws curve balls, and you’ll need to adjust and keep moving.

Stay calm. Be organized. Take advantage of the opportunities these coming weeks may offer in terms of revised schedules, time with family, or extra time to do the things you already love.

See you sometime soon! (I hope!)

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An Ode to My Typewriter

Sitting here typing away on my laptop has become second nature. There are moments, however, when I fondly recall my old Smith-Corona typewriter. What a treat it was to carry it to college in its snazzy case — my first electric typewriter. Toggle the on button, listen for the whir, insert bright white paper, roll down to an inch from the top margin. And type.

typewriterThe force needed to push the keys on my old manual typewriter gave way to easier tapping. But alas, errors had to be either carefully erased with a clean eraser or whited out with the ever-present bottle of appropriately named Wite-Out or with Liquid Paper. (Fun fact: Did you know Liquid Paper was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith — member of 1960s band The Monkees?) I loved to use “onion-skin” paper because it was so much easier to erase — the surface just didn’t hold the ink as well. Teachers hated it because it also made the papers extremely difficult to read. (As a college prof now always reading printed papers, I publicly apologize to all my own college profs who suffered through such papers from me!)

Ribbons would run out and need to be replaced, causing your paper to appear in two tones. Not paying attention could cause you to type for several words with nothing appearing on the page. Not paying attention might also cause you to type right off the bottom of the sheet of paper, which meant either retyping the page or slathering Wite-Out across the entire bottom of the sheet of paper and blowing on it until it would (eventually) dry. Same thing with making sure you heard the ding at the right margin and reached up to push the carriage back to start the next line.

Some days, when I’m writing and backspacing with ease on my laptop (no clumsy erasers or Wite-Out bottles in sight), when I’m moving paragraphs around and changing my mind only to move them somewhere else, I think how different my college papers would have been with this amazing machine instead of my clunky Smith-Corona. Would I have done a final revision, knowing I should move a new paragraph to the beginning but also knowing that would mean retyping the entire paper? I’m sure, too often, the pages were just left as they were because it would have been far too much trouble and too time-consuming to retype.

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What might have been Hemingway’s typewriter, as seen at The Atlantic, “The Hidden World of Typewriters.”

Which also gives me awe for the likes of Hemingway and, indeed, those classic writers, who worked by hand and on manual typewriters. Hemingway once told The Paris Review that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Whether he did this on a notepad or on a trusty typewriter, I honestly am amazed at picturing him yanking the paper out of the typewriter, scrolling in a new piece, taking a drag on a cigarette, and trying again and again and again until he was satisfied.

All of this makes me happy to report that typewriters are apparently making a comeback. Young people have always had screens and easy-to-push keys. I wonder if they are finding some kind of tangible joy in the feel of a typewriter and getting one that “fits” them individually — has the right angles, the right tension, even the right lines and color.

I have a couple of old typewriters that merely decorate my office, although my 11-year-old grandson is fascinated and attempts to type against the ancient ribbon each time he visits.

Now I’m thinking I need to clean it up, try to find a usable ribbon, and work my hand and wrist muscles a bit.

Nah. Writing is hard enough. But I still admire Hemingway.

Those of you readers who typed on typewriters, what do you miss (or not)?

 

Close Reading — It’s Good for You

Back in June of 2015, I wrote a post about how excited I was to teach a class in our Professional Writing major called The Writer’s Craft. As it turns out, I’m teaching the same class again this spring semester, five years later. I have enjoyed recasting this class with some new writing to explore, new pedagogies to try, and five more years of teaching confidence under my belt.

As I noted in the earlier post, this class does not look at the why of a piece of writing. Instead, we focus on the mechanics, the how, the craft. What words does the writer use? How are those words making this piece sing? What about sentence structure? Paragraphing? How is this dialogue telling us the story without telling us the story? We’re still using some tried and true greats (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck), but I’ve added a few titles still classic but not as old (Tim O’Brien, E. B. White, John Updike, Flannery O’ Connor), along with diversity (Joy Harjo, Jame McBride, and a few names I’m still researching), plus some YA and fantasy genre pieces (also still researching).

Seriously, the class is planned, but in the short time frame between closing out J-term capstone class and beginning the spring semester (3 days), I found myself with a few TBDs on the reading schedule that I’ll fill in as we go along.

College teaching is just sometimes like that.

In addition, we’re still using Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writerbut this time I’ve also added Anne Lamott’s delightful Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeIt may be 25 years old, but I know it will speak volumes to my students about being writers.

 

The essence of the class is what Prose calls “close reading.” Usually when we read for pleasure, we skim along, anxious to discover who falls in love, or whodunit, or how to solve that problem the book promises to solve.

With close reading, however, we linger over the words. The students receive printed copies of the pieces they’ll be “close reading” so they can write all over them — commenting, highlighting, underlining, circling. This kind of reading helps us to read, as Prose says,

. . . more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. . . . I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls ‘putting very word on trial for its life.’

As writers, our currency is the words we string together. We write our first drafts and then go back and revise, putting every word on trial, forcing it to explain why it should stay, removing or replacing it if the case isn’t made — if the lyricism or characterization or structure or foreshadowing requires something else.

As we read these masterful writers, we stand in awe at how they make look so simple a scene that we know required dozens of small perfect choices.

And even as I continue to journal Scripture, close reading is causing me to slow down on familiar passages and read them more carefully, seeing them anew.

In our busy culture with quick social media posts and constant bombardment of words, it’s almost a relief to be forced to slow down and delight in the world an author so carefully crafted for us.

Try a little close reading. It’ll do you good.

What’s your favorite book that has delighted and astounded you with its writing?

In Love with God’s Word: Bible Reading Plans

The Bible is a funny book. Imagine if publishers today were trying to consider various books of the Bible on their own terms and whether or not to publish them:

Gospel of John: “Really too much like three other books already on the market. And a bit too esoteric compared to the biographical and chronological approaches of the others.”

Hosea: “While we like the titillating back story of the wife turned prostitute, the author simply doesn’t finish the plot arc and tie up her story. And the female character’s name is ‘Gomer.’ We can’t take that seriously.”

Revelation: “The style of writing in this book fits well into our spec fic line, but the author is insistent that this is not fiction. We feel that he has spent way too much time alone on that island and thus takes his writing too seriously. Could publish if he’s willing to put it in our fiction line.”

Speaking of the book of Revelation:

I am enjoying my experiment with the Scripture engagement plan of journaling Scripture, as I described in my last post. I used the Christmas story in Luke 2, and then moved on the Matthew 1 to read about Joseph and the magi and Herod (who subsequently sent soldiers to kill the little ones in Bethlehem–a horror story if there ever was one).

I’m going to spend the next couple of days in Revelation 12, which tells the same story.  The woman (nation) giving birth to the male child (Messiah), the dragon (Satan) waiting to destroy the male child (as Satan used Herod), chasing the child and the nation attempting to destroy both (all of history bears this out).

Fascinating. I wonder what God has for me as I journal these passages . . .

But then, what’s next? I’m still stuck with the same problem of “what to read now.” And I’ve been-there-done-that with the through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans. But now I’ve found something new. Again at Bible Gateway, you can choose any of several reading plans. This time, I want to do a Bible reading plan that takes me through the Bible chronologically.

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I signed up for a free account at Bible Gateway so I can have the daily reading delivered to my email box. The “what to read” question is answered with the added highlight of studying God’s Word in a different way. I can spend time journaling through these passages. I’m excited to pair my Cultural Backgrounds Bible with reading Scripture chronologically.

And as I read, I can check off my reading and the program will keep up with me. Perhaps I want to take a couple of days on a passage. Perhaps I miss some days (and I will). All is not lost . . . I can just pick it up the next time and finish when I finish. Start when I want (as in now) and finish when I want (as in, whenever–maybe a year, probably not).

So what about you? With the new year approaching, many of us have plans to “be more consistent” or “try to do better.” What will you be doing to stay in God’s Word (and stay in love with God’s Word)?

And while you’re at it, what might be a current publisher response to a book of the Bible?

 

 

In Love with God’s Word: Scripture Engagement & Journaling

I have a strange problem. As much as I love God’s Word and as important as I know it is for me in my daily life (and as much as I talk and write about that), I have struggled with my daily quiet time with God.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been deep in the Bible for almost thirty years, daily editing notes or articles or devotionals for various types of study and devotional Bibles. I have read it in its entirety over and over and over. So when I want to have a quiet time, I don’t know where to start without feeling like I’m on the clock and editing. When I try various devotional books thinking I’ll get some new insights, I’m frankly bored by them.

Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time. Maybe you, like me, are trying to find a way to come to Scripture with fresh eyes and open heart without feeling the same-old same-old that too often blinds us.

Then I have a treat for you, something I just discovered that I want to share.

It’s called “Scripture Engagement,” and it’s over at the BibleGateway website in a section created by the Christian Educational Ministries faculty and students at Taylor University.

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As I learned more about these many types of Scripture engagement, I discovered some new ways to “engage” with God’s Word. The link for Scripture Engagement gives an overview of 14 types of Scripture engagement techniques, and then sublinks guide you to various helps and videos that show you how to incorporate that new kind of Scripture engagement into your own quiet time. Many of them are good for individual study; some will work with group study.

I am starting with the Scripture engagement practice of “Journaling Scripture.” I watched the accompanying video, taking notes in my new notebook where I want to capture my thoughts as I experiment with these various types of engagement. I read all the tips and helps; I wrote down the questions and thoughts where I should focus. Basically, Journaling Scripture means to read a passage and begin by asking God, “What do you have for me today?” Then write:

  • verses that stand out
  • questions that arise
  • truths to hold onto
  • personal action steps
  • praises, prayers, confession

It’s a time to listen to God speak to me through His Word and a time for me to write what I sense God is saying to me.

I’m a student at heart, and so I really want to study the passage for a bit more depth. So when I read the passage for the day, I also read the study notes in both my Life Application Study Bible and my brand-new Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Reading these helps me keep that “wow” factor alive as I learn something new or relearn something I forgot. Then I begin the process of journaling, sitting quietly, and seeking God. As the pages in my journal slowly fill with my handwritten thoughts, I get a sense of God and I engaging together.

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To get into the Christmas spirit in our decidedly un-Christmasy situation, I read Luke 2 and Matthew 1. I studied about Bethlehem (where Rachel is buried, Gen. 35:19; the story in the book of Ruth takes place; David was anointed, 1 Sam. 16; Micah prophesied as Jesus’ birthplace, Micah 5:2). I read the notes. I thought about Mary and Joseph basically putting their reputations on the line for their entire lives by their willingness to obey God’s call. I imagined the long trip to Bethlehem. I asked God,

  • “Why do you seem to do everything the hard way?”
  • “Why does obedience so often lead to difficulty?”

And those questions led me to much introspection about God’s working in my own life. Several pages’ worth, actually.

I encourage you to try Journaling as a method of Scripture engagement. And stay with me as I experiment with this and a few others in the weeks to come.

Like me, you might find a brand new way to listen to God.

 

 

 

Catching Up …

From the fire at the end of August to our now sadly undecorated and still unfinished restoration that will not happen before Christmas (we’re living in two rooms and a kitchen), life has managed to be an adventure.

Another school semester has passed.

At the end of September, I had the privilege of teaching at the Maranatha Christian Writers’ Conference and taking seven of my Professional Writing students along. It’s a joy to watch them network, meet authors they admire (like Travis Thrasher and Steven James), bond together as a group, and learn how to navigate a writers’ conference.

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Enjoying Lake Michigan!
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Meeting author Travis Thrasher (above) and Steven James (below).

 

October found my husband and me visiting Washington D.C. Highlights included the Library of Congress, seeing the Gutenburg Bible, all the wonderful monuments, and meeting up with several dear high school friends I haven’t seen in over 40 years.

 

But the main reason for visiting was to attend a celebration at the Museum of the Bible honoring the release of the third edition of the Life Application Study Bible. (Read more about the event here.)

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Thirty years ago, this group (pictured above) worked together on what would become the bestselling study Bible of all time (I discussed the process here.) We didn’t know then that God would use our prayerful labors to sell 20 million copies so far of the Life Application Study Bible. I am humbled to have worked with this group and appreciate the honors we received on the evening of October 16 as the pioneers on the project, now also celebrating those who completed work on the third edition of this Bible that has been updated for a new generation. We so enjoyed hearing from special speakers Ed Stetzer (director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton) and Dr. Barry Black (chaplain of the US Senate). It was a wonderful evening of celebration of the power of God’s Word.

Finally, in November, Tom and I drove to Nashville to attend the meeting of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. I recently became a member of this group, knowing that in my teaching about publishing, I need to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. Was fun to see a former student, Amy Green, publicist at Bethany House, who helped to plan the Christy awards celebration.

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Enjoyed hearing from musician and author Andrew Peterson. His book, Adorning the Dark, will be a text in my senior capstone class this January.

Now I’m prepping for final exams and papers and decidedly NOT decorating for Christmas. But we’ll get in the spirit. I’m looking forward to sharing how I’m working on that. Stay tuned!

How was fall for you? What are you doing to get into the holiday spirit?

In love with God’s Word—even thru fiery trials

We sat in our typical living room spots, my husband and I, bingeing something on Netflix as we unwound that late August evening.

“Do you smell something?” he asked.

I did. A slight husky smell of smoke. He looked out the back door and noticed our neighbors’ bonfire.

“It’s next door.” He shrugged and added, “Let’s go get the mail.”

We live in a tiny town, so tiny that we only have a P.O. box and need to go there to get our mail. It takes about seven minutes to walk the few blocks to the post office. We chatted as we walked through the cool end-of-summer evening. It was still light, 6:30ish.

The post office is next door to the local fire house. As we passed, the big doors were opening and our local volunteers were loading into trucks and pulling out.

We waved cheerily.

We collected our mail and ambled down the side streets heading home. The volunteer fire fighters were squealing into town, the blue lights on their varied pickup trucks flashing.

“Wow! Wonder where they’re headed?” we asked each other.

Two minutes later and around the corner onto our street we discovered that the fire was – US! Our garage was burning.

Long story short, the small blaze had started on the outside of our garage, perhaps from a stray ember. The fire traveled up across the garage ceiling and then into the great room ceiling. I located a kind neighbor who rescued our terrified Shih Tzu (those big men in yellow suits with oxygen masks tromping into her domain!). Then I could do nothing more than hold her and sit helplessly in the back yard swing  watching smoke pour from our new roof, firemen bashing their axes through the great room ceiling, smoke ascending, water descending.

What does all of this have to do with God’s Word, you ask?

Well, for several days we waited for the restoration company to do their work and for the freedom to make our way into the destroyed great room. The overturned furniture bulged from under wet smelly insulation and soaked drywall. The computer I’d been working on was soaked. Books, papers, everything lost.

My Bible had been on a ledge under the coffee table.

This is the Bible that carried me through marriage and child-raising. The Bible that has pages stained with tears. It has underlinings, comments, thoughts, prayers, and dates when a particular verse resonated with a particular situation. It’s the past 30-plus years between blue leather covers. I purchased this Bible right after we had completed the Life Application Study Bible in the NIV.

I expected the poor book to be soaked—a congealed mess of thin, Bible-paper pages.

Only it wasn’t. It survived. Its place under the table must have protected it from the worst of the cascading water from the firemen’s powerful hoses.

It has a slight smoky smell and its cover shows a few new dents. But the moment I saw it, I was overjoyed. Don’t get me wrong; I have other Bibles. I can buy more. But THIS one, this one holds much of my life between its covers, and it holds the promises that have helped me live that life to the best of my ability to honor God.

I’m not claiming anything miraculous; I’m just very thankful.

Even through fiery trials.

In Love with God’s Word: The LASB Commentaries

After we completed several versions of the Life Application Study Bibles (as I’ve mentioned in the last couple of posts, here and here), someone came up with the idea of creating actual commentaries—one for each book of the New Testament. Seventeen red volumes—some including two or three of the smaller books in one volume.

Several more years of intense work. Our study notes for the Life Application Study Bible had been necessarily limited by word counts and physical space on Bible pages, so we couldn’t include much of the material that we had gathered in the course of writing the notes. And, in the process of writing the notes and working our way through the piles of commentaries in the middle of our conference room table, we learned that most commentaries are extremely difficult to read and, while they offer information, they lacked that vital “so what?” element that had become our mantra.

LASB commentaries

Our team set out on another five years of work, making our way through a verse-by-verse commentary of every verse in the New Testament. I was still at home, working as a freelancer. My job was to create the skeleton of a note for every verse. I would start with what we did on that verse in the LASB (if, indeed, we addressed it there). If not, I worked as we had in our meetings—checking every commentary, reading what it said, condensing it to something readable, tying it to the context, making it interesting, applying it to today. With my home office desk piled high with commentaries, I began the process of doing, on my own, what we had done in a group. Bible chapter by Bible chapter, my rough material would go to the same guys to do their own edits and additions.

Some have asked me in the past how I could possibly work on the Bible this way, actually writing commentaries. “You’re not trained. You’ve not been to seminary. I don’t see how they could let you loose on something this important.”

I took this to heart and at first was really frustrated. Working with the Bible is a huge responsibility. It has to be right. And some passages have many interpretations by sincere believers. Why were they trusting me with this?

Then it struck me. Part of my work had to do with the fact that I knew our process. We had honed it in those hundreds of hours working together in the conference room writing the notes for the Bible. And my part? I had to be able to read and understand, and then I had to be able to rewrite in a readable way.

That was it. And I was by no means the final voice. What I wrote as a rough draft was read by our team of pastors and M.Divs. and Bible scholars for their revisions and edits—piles of pages coming back to me with my skeleton often intact but lots of red markings.

I realized that I didn’t have to be a Bible scholar to do what I was doing. Of course, all of the reading was giving me a vast education—I might as well have been in seminary. But in the end, it came down to being able to write well. To take a tough topic and condense it down for an unscholarly audience (like me) to be able to understand it. Simplifying scholarly material for an unscholarly audience seemed to come naturally to me.

It’s the same with anything I edit. I don’t have to be an expert in the topic of the book I’m editing—indeed, there would be no way to do so. I just need to read each manuscript with fresh eyes (as a reader would) and make sure that I as reader am following, getting what I need, understanding, not getting lost.

That’s the key to being a good editor.