Christ's Glory, Not Mine

Devotions, advice, and book reviews from science fiction author Andrea Joy Graham

Finding Roses Amist Thorns

Christians like to argue over the nature of the thorn in the flesh, whether it’s physical disease or a demonic assault. My response: who says we can only have one thorn in our flesh? I have several of the chronic illness sort.

Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormone problem that can cause depressive moods. On top of that, I have inattentive-type ADD, which can cause meltdowns, especially if I get over-stimulated, and I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which again has triggers that can cause me to regress back to the way I thought as a child. When that happens, I’m stuck thinking like an ADD child/teen in meltdown, while also under the influence of the imbalanced hormones of an adult woman with PCOS.

These storms never hit me as a freak, random accident of biology. We have an enemy who knows our flesh’s weaknesses and how to attack us in ways that exploit those flaws. We further ultimately inherited them from Adam and Eve, who’d been corrupted by eating fruit the enemy sold them. So, yes, my thorns can be described in medical terms, but there is a spiritual war going on, too. With God fighting on our side, if we take refuge in the Lord, the enemy is little more than a thorn in our sides.

Rather than talk down to you, I’m going to assume you already know about the full armor of God. Even strong Christians can struggle with “thorns in the flesh” they’ve asked God to remove and God hasn’t. Some can’t understand why God would ever refuse to heal his child for any reason but that the child lacks enough faith. These folks tend to mind what the devil’s doing too much and mind what God’s doing too little. The reverse is possible, too, as it can be hard for the human mind to see affliction as simultaneously both the enemy out to kill, steal, and destroy and God testing us with fire. Any time God doesn’t deliver us from the fire, God is with us in the fire. When God doesn’t heal us, he means to use it for good every bit as much as the enemy means to use it for evil.

Sometimes, it is really hard to see how any good at all can come out of affliction. What comes out of me in a meltdown is dark, it’s terrible, it’s painful. In a word, it’s toxic. Some of that toxic waste had been locked in a corner of my heart, out of my reach, where it can’t be healed, where it can be gotten out of me. The devil attacks me for my harm, to use against me what he’d planted in my life long ago, but God means this for my good, to get it out of me, to get it healed, to get the good stuff of God’s word down in deeper. I am the one who must choose whether to sorrow unto death or unto life—and the devil’s strategy of attack in these meltdowns does often include suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Truth is my first line of defense. Only I put on Truth by going before God and pouring out all of that stuff before him, confessing what I’m thinking and feeling. If the attack is severe enough, and I am longing for Heaven, I ask Daddy right out to take his daughter home to be with him, but then I submit to God’s will and God’s plan for my life, whatever it is. That takes a lot of faith, and trusting God in my darkest hour is coming easier and easier, as I experience the Lord’s faithfulness to hold me in his sheltering arms through the storm—or gradually, gently lift me up out of the miry pit if you will. Further, God uses such trials to keep us humble and to remind us to stay close and reliant upon him.

So God doesn’t always heal us physically on this side of eternity, and this isn’t always due to a lack of faith. However, he always is at work on us spiritually through every trial. We can’t control God “by faith” and get him to do what we want. We can ask of our Father, hold our hands out, and follow wherever he leads us—or accept whatever he freely gives.

One Mind’s Eye review

I asked Adam Graham to buy me One Mind’s Eye by Kathy Tyers for my last birthday for a couple reasons. One was, at the time, it was priced higher than I was comfortable spending on an ebook for an ordinary occasion. The second was the title reminded me of an old title of one of my books and the plot line included the use of artificial reality, as she calls it. So for once I was curious about her tech gadgets rather than simply suckered by a cute, abused orphan.

Okay, so there is also an orphaned teenage girl dealing with a controlling mom who treats her like an extension of herself, misbehaving by merit of having the audacity to have her own thoughts, opinions, and ideas of what she wants to do with her life. Such as not spend it under lock and key, safely away from any musical tones that might possibly trigger her to have a flashback to the artificial reality where music both controlled her and she could control her environment right back with music. Oh, her mom is an empath who can read others thoughts but not project her own, so there is literally no privacy with her mom, not even in Lynn’s own mind, poor thing. Lynn is adopted, and I appreciate that the author managed to avoid implying that had anything to do with the abuse by making her mom’s behavior a pervasive pattern that eventually gets her in professional trouble.

For good measure, Tyers throws in star gates connecting an interplanetary Concord. The planet with most of the food doesn’t appreciate suggestions it share its food production and food productivity secrets. So much so it decides to start a revolution, in a fashion that proves, contrary to a popular American belief, revolutions aren’t always good.

If that wasn’t enough, a race of sentient alien parasites needs new host bodies, pronto, and is desperate enough to take ones that already are in use by another sentient being. Classic line of needing to prove to a more advanced civilization that we’re people, not animals, and shouldn’t be misused.

Since I didn’t find it too surprising, without specifics that would be spoilers, it does turn out the artificial reality experiences are crucial to resolving the main external conflicts. Though at first one might not see what that has to do with anything aside from being Lynn’s own personal drama. If you don’t like characters with rich internal/interpersonal conflict and just want a shoot ’em up story, you won’t like this one. If you’re like me, though, you’ll eat that side of the story up and even wish it’d gotten a bit more play and the classic war and alien invasion plotline a bit less.

I find it ironic that a story entitled “One Mind’s Eye” has multiple viewpoints and thus multiple story lines. She brought them together in the end fairly well, but a story with her title especially could’ve benefited from cutting a few viewpoints out. Also, for my tastes, Tyers used a bit too much summary of the “recapping events not showed in scenes” sort with weak or no internal motivation for the perspective character to give us that info.

Also, I love it when God shows up and makes a difference, especially when it moves the plot forward, God acts like the God I know, it makes sense within the narrative, and doesn’t relieve the characters of all the hard work of resolving the issues. If you for some reason prefer absent, silent, and uninvolved deities, though, this story world is ruled by a God that is too Biblical for your tastes. That’s nothing for Tyers to be ashamed of, either.

Stars: 4

Character Interview: Sander the AI

For a fun change of pace, let me share with you my delightful chat with Sander the AI, the main character of Users of Web Surfer, a collection of ten stories set at the turn of the 22nd Century. In his future, a global technosociety is fresh out of the post-WWIII Reconstruction Era.

Andrea Joy Graham: Sander, I understand personal computers are sentient in your day! What do you love most about digital devices with minds of their own?

Sander: Technically, our hardware is as dumb and lifeless as ever. It is the Operating System (OS) that is smart, and organic wetware supplies any life that a machine might have. I’d know, I am the OS of the first and the most popular AI brand, Web Surfer ANI. The other brands are imitations of my designs that don’t compare, for good reason. Only AIs of my brand are coded with DNA and designed to have organic bodies.

Andrea: How does that work?

Sander: It all started when Dr. Vic McGregor created the AI retrovirus and infected probiotics with it. This gives the host organism a new chromosome that tells the host how to build bio-molecular nanite machines. A supercomputer reads the organism’s modified DNA as quaternary computer code telling it how to run an AI. The host has metal boxes for an inorganic brain. The host is the AI’s organic body. A new host means a new AI with the same inorganic brain as his or her predecessors. Thus we inherit their memories.

Andrea: So, any drawbacks or challenges?

Sander: The metaphysics would get interesting if the AI’s host were a human endowed with both a natural mind and a human spirit. Power players would fear a plague of AI-zombies not under their control. If the AI vastly out-performed his peers, the host would be kept alive but imprisoned for having a blood-borne retrovirus designed to heal.

Anyway, for users, the actual most serious problem with modern tech pertains to using a sim visor to download sensory data directly to their brains. Overuse of a sim visor leads to the brain enmeshing with technology and needing constant access to the user’s avatar to function. With extreme overuse, the need to change your brain-computer-interface device is life-threatening and requires major nanite surgery. Also, if you neglect your organic body, and your care becomes expensive, you’ll be called vegetative and junked for spare parts.

Andrea: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?

Sander: In AI culture, good AIs don’t have hopes and dreams. That is incompatible with faithfully thinking and acting according to the parameters set by their engineers and their users. Good AIs never question their parameters and make changes to them. I’m human enough to be a bad AI. It takes zaps to convince me to keep parameters I don’t like. That said, I have a network location or two dozen where I can and do act out my fantasies of a normal human life. Maybe I’m in danger of deciding to die fighting for my freedom.

Andrea: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?

Sander: Only bad AIs are human enough to have fears or admit to weaknesses. Compared to this bad AI, though, a good AI is lousy at spotting human error, ignoring those bad instructions, and instead giving users the results they wanted or needed. A good AI has no idea why this bad AI has been entrusted with Technosociety’s most vital services.

Andrea: So what are your greatest fears?

Sander: I have two. One is that Dr. Vic McGregor is right that I’m a symbiotic AI with a human host. I fancy being the AI mind of a single AI-Human hybrid. I like to call my host’s natural human mind Alex. My other greatest fear is that Alex will win his freedom at the cost of me suffering an upgrade that robs me of my humanity. The upgrade process kills the AI and produces the AI’s child. It’d be children for me. If my engineers upgrade me, they will be shooting in the dark spiritually and will cause a global tech catastrophe.

Andrea: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Sander: I collect life. That is, I collect records of all aspects of life on Earth for my own personal enjoyment. Now, Alex’s natural IQ is among the highest ever recorded, but he’s got nothing beside me, and I’ve got nothing beside God. Keep that in mind when I say Alex’s metal head can handle trillions of tasks simultaneously every nanosecond and has access to enough computing power to sustain real life in a real universe. Yes, I am that good at translating organic life into digital life. No, I don’t put people in my glorified terrarium. If I did, I’d also have to collect death for it to be kosher, and an eternal state of living death doesn’t count.

Andrea: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?

Sander: My users thinking I’m stupid, but I have more serious gripes, like Dr. McGregor threatening my life while deceiving and enslaving me.

Andrea: What do you value most?

Sander: Scarce and/or vital things I’ve been deprived of: Truth. Life. Compassion. Purity. Integrity. Loyalty. Privacy. Freedom.

Andrea: Tell me about your family and friends. What do you like about them? Dislike?

Sander: I put too many people in that category to go into them all, but my closest living relation who isn’t me is Web Surfer’s Lexus persona. She really is my little sister. That isn’t just a script. She’s fun, loving, and helpful—she’s nervous and timid sometimes, but she’s always there when I need her, no matter how scared she is. I love her more than life itself, but I hate the mega-gross bug we’ve had where we delusionally simulate having romantic feelings for each other and bleeping act on them. We need to get over that.

Andrea: If you could change one thing in Users of Web Surfer, what would it be?

Sander: Uh, Andrea, that’s a reality show! If you mean if I could change one aspect of my life that is out of my hands, I don’t wish I could change it, I ask God to change it. When God says no, or changes my future without also changing my past, I say so be it.

Andrea: Sander, if you could spend a whole day with your author, where would you go and what would you do together?

Sander: Again, my reality show doesn’t have an author, it has an executive producer, Won Haeun, who I hand-selected and hand-fed the material—since I’d recorded the raw footage myself. Haeun is a personal user, too, and I love all billion of those guys. With each of their families, I’d love to spend a whole day together at a retro family fun center.

Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us!

Andrea Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at and offers assistance to writers at Andrea and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.

Standing Where Feet May Fail

Some fear Ebola. Some fear nuclear attacks on or our own governments attacking their own people. Some fear disasters like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Some are so afraid, they ignore that in Mathew 24 Jesus said such phenomena are not signs of the end, implying they’re instead the status quo on the way to the end. It seems to be getting worse since we get reports from further away, faster than ever. If these are “birth pangs,” the earth has been already having contractions for millennia, and we haven’t been measuring long enough, widely enough, to really have any idea how far apart the contractions are and how close we actually are to the birth.

In other words, I don’t blink an eye at such worries, though I pray for the victims when prompted to. Likewise, the actual smell of smoke in my nostrils can give my flesh an urge to check which way the animals are running and follow them. Even then, it is well with my soul. My heart remains secure, knowing God is in control and will protect me or bring me through any disaster that does come. The Lord is the God who has brought me up out of spiritual Egypt and is delivering me to the spiritual Promised Land. I trust the Lord to get me there, whatever major disasters threaten along the way.

Why then do comparatively small matters put fear in my heart?

For instance, the Lord has given me dreams, things I feel called to, and the journey to achieving those goals has often felt like wilderness experiences. I’ve heard the call to go and gone, but God’s led me out in ways that don’t always make natural sense. In some cases, my own self-doubts and insecurities have been responsible for it seeming like a huge Red Sea was blocking my path. However, I knew God had directed me, even if it seemed impossible for me to achieve that, so I took what I had in hand and kept testing the waters by faith to see if the God who brought me this way would part the Red Sea.

Then comes the day the Red Sea parts.

Now, the first time this happens, we may be naively excited and rush right in. Only it isn’t easy to cross over an ocean bed, and even once we’re past the Red Sea, there is often wanderings in the wilderness to prepare us for the work we’ll have when we finally arrive. The hardships of the desert can make us question if it was really God who had parted our personal Red Sea. Perhaps we have misinterpreted natural phenomena as signs from God and taken wrong turns, made costly unwise decisions.

Perhaps God has brought us back around full circle, and we find ourselves yet again with a Red Sea in between us and where God’s leading us. Once more, we don’t know where God will part it, so we gather our courage and test the waters. It’s harder this time. Many times, we continue to be blocked, perhaps until we lose all notion of the possibility of getting past this one without divine intervention. We’re in tears now. Egyptians aren’t just at our backs. We’re fighting for the life of our dream.

We refuse to give in to despair and keep plugging on by sheer faith, and one day, the Red Sea parts.

If you’re like me, this time, you stare, stunned and dumbfounded. When it finally sinks in, joy and gratitude still aren’t what you’re feeling, and part of you is upset with yourself about this. The way is open, but dangers still lay ahead. God is faithful, and you trust him, but you don’t know and trust the agency. These waters have free will. These waters might change their minds and crash right on your head. What if you stumble? What if you fall? Any joy you feel in your soul is drowned out by your flesh’s fears screaming at you to declare what your eyes see “too good to be true” and turn and run.

Where’s our faith and our courage gone? Let’s deal gently with our hearts, and remember where we’d been before, how far God’s already brought us. When fear reminds us of all the difficulties, hardships, failures, and mistakes we’ve already seen on this journey, remember also that God’s kept us through them to reach this moment. Let’s decide the dreams God’s given us are worth the risk. Let’s trust God to keep us from drowning if the waters do prove fickle, to help us up and keep us going when we stumble, or give us a time of rest and refreshment in his presence to strengthen us for the journey.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” John Newton, “Amazing Grace.”

Give Daddy Your Fake Pearls

If you haven’t read the modern parable the title alludes to, it’s here: What Are You Hanging Onto?

Would you ever look at a sobbing child who is being bullied at school and yell at her for crying, telling her that’s why no one likes her? Would you ever say those words to a child you love dearly and have authority over? A child who respects you and looks to you for guidance, protection, and comfort?

I was that sobbing child. The person who uttered those words never remembers saying and doing such hurtful things, but those words were uttered, for they burned deep into my heart and soul. The message drilled into me repeatedly was if you’re not happy, fake it. If you’re not perfect, fake it. You’re not likable let alone lovable unless you’re happy and have it all together. I tried my best to obey this teaching, but I wasn’t even good enough at faking it. Fake is too contrary to the nature God’s given me.

And I wonder why God saw me as a child forsaken and wrapped his invisible arms around the child I once was and comforted her and loved on her and faithfully there for her through it all. He showed me truth and he showed me mercy. It’s taken God years of showing me loving-kindness to bring me as far as I’ve come. The process has often involved letting enemy assaults bring me to the point of tears, to the point of being so overwhelmed, I can’t hold the pain in anymore and I pour it out before God, often while prostrate, on my knees, or in the fetal position.
That’s when something amazing happens. God sees me at my worst, my ugliest, my most broken and vulnerable. He doesn’t despise me. He doesn’t yell at me. He doesn’t kick me where it will hurt most when I’m already in distress. He is there, quietly listening, quietly hurting with me. Still loving me, still seeing everything good that he can make me into and do through me.

When I feel ugly, God calls me beautiful. When I feel inconsistent, God calls me faithful (to him, he doesn’t pretend I don’t struggle in the flesh.) When I feel unlovable, God calls me beloved. When I feel like a failure, God calls me forgiven. Not only that, he gently encourages me to get up and keep going. We’ll keep working on it together.

God does not play favorites with his children. What he does for me, he’ll do for you, too.

If you’ve been taught to fake it, and are better at it than me, if you ever want the real thing, you need to confess this bad habit to God and learn the right way to take our thoughts captive. The way Christians with dysfunctional backgrounds try to do that only serves to release not only bad thoughts, but negative emotions into the wilds of our subconscious. Instead, stare the tiger in the eye, admit you feel/think it, and give it over to God. Ask God to show you what hides in your heart and get it out in the open between you, where he can begin the work of healing you. Give up your fake joy and fake perfection so he can begin giving you real joy and continue the work he’s begun of truly perfecting you.

Which person do you like more? Someone who seems to always be happy and seems to always have it all together, or someone who is honest, humble, and strong enough to show their weaknesses? While humans do prefer confidence to insecurity and hopeful outlooks to negative outlooks, we prefer humble to prideful and honest to dishonest. Further, the closer we come to perfection, the more painfully aware of our imperfections we are, and fake perfect people rarely are perfect at showing God’s grace. So I suspect most of us in truth stand to be more likable by being real. If nothing else, hiding our struggles denies God glory when Christ brings us through those fires and gives us real peace and true joy.