A Christmas Wish

As the year draws to a close, I’m once again drawn to thoughts of what is truly important in this beautiful, brief life we’re given.  The world events of the last year have shown us all, regardless of what anyone may be tempted to believe, the world is a dark and messed-up place.  On a personal level, I’ve seen friends who have had their hearts broken, their bodies racked with disease, their dreams dashed.  Sometimes–oftentimes–things make very little sense.

But I have hope.  Hope that the God who made the heavens and the earth will one day return and judge it, as He promised.  I know He will keep that promise.  He has already freed this captive from the burden of a condemned heart, as He promised that He would do–set the captives free.  He is the only worth living for.  He is Immanuel–God with us.  That is what gives me hope–that in the midst of the broken awfulness of the world, God is with me.  God did not just send an emissary and say, “Go fix that mess down there.”  He came Himself as a man, fellowshipped with people, got hungry and thirsty.  He conquered death so we can too.  Christmas is the ultimate expression of God’s love–that God would become part of a lonely, poor family in the midst of political and social upheaval to the misunderstanding of those around them, to the scorn of their countrymen, to the hatred of the religious leaders when Jesus became a man.  Jesus did not live a problem-free life.  Nor does God does promise to fix our lives.  He promises to be with us through life and let those who come to Him stay with Him forever.  He promises His presence.

And that, my friends and readers, is a powerful promise.

On that note, I will say happy holidays and goodbye to you all.  To say I have enjoyed writing this blog would be untrue.  Minus the funny posts, most blogging came out of a deep struggle to share my faith and address the brokenness of the world.  To say I have enjoyed writing for you, however, is definitely true.  You are the reason I have continued.  I am a much different person than I was when I started this blog.  My writing has taken a different turn over the past several years and my thoughts are often too long for a blog post.  Thank you for sticking with me.  Thank you for reading.  I pray that you will find peace this holiday season with the One who calms storms, the LORD your Maker.

Merry Christmas.


All my love,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”–II Corinthians 6:16b-18 (ESV)

A Moment’s Thought: Let God Speak

The story goes in my family that two of my siblings went with  my grandma to cut down a Christmas tree at a Christmas tree lot.  One jabbered all the way there, discussing what Christmas gifts, songs, and surprises.  When the two re-entered the car to drive home with Grandma, the younger one put his hand over the other’s mouth and said, “It’s my turn to talk.”

The more I talk to people and think about my own theological views, I learn that people in general depend on what other people say about God.  This leads to all sorts of distorted views on who God is and what He says.  I remember talking with one young lady in college who, after I said I was a Christian, slightly frowned and asked tentatively, “Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible that if a man visits your house you have to give him your daughter?” I told her soundly, “No.”  Other friends won’t listen to anything about the Christian faith after growing up with distorted pictures of the Bible presented to them as law.  To them, God is a cold, distant perfectionist who is incapable of understanding the humans He created.  In the Christian circles I grew up in, it became easy to depend on what the Pastor, Youth Leader, Teacher said about God and treat that as unalienable truth. But the Bible never teaches for people to blindly follow our human leaders.  Trust our spiritual leaders, yes.  Blindly trust everything they say, no.  A group of religious Jews in Berea heard Paul speak about Jesus being the Messiah and instead of instantly rejecting or accepting it, they searched the Scriptures to see if what he said was true.

So let me encourage you:  let God speak for Himself.  Don’t rely solely on His messengers.  Search the Scriptures for yourself with a prayerful heart and ask God to speak to you.

Boldly Go

It has become apparent to me over the past few months that God does not call us to live safe lives.

In America, most of us have the great blessing of feeling safe, physically and emotionally. American culture makes us feel comfortable. We are familiar with its inner workings, our place in it. But God does not call us to be comfortable–not to say that physical comforts are evil, but that is not the end goal of a Christian’s life.

In the book of I Kings, Elijah, God’s prophet, has been in hiding for 3 years because he has brought the message of drought and judgment to Israel and King Ahab is not happy. At the end of three years, God tells Elijah: “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (I Kings 18:1)*. This is not a safe or comfortable thing. Elijah had to face his mortal enemy before God brought back the rain. God didn’t tell him what exactly would go down between the two of them yet. But Elijah obeys anyways. Obadiah, God’s inside man at the palace, understands the danger of this decision when Elijah instructs him to let the king know he is there: “As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you….And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the LORD will carry you I know now where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth” (I Kings 18:10, 12)*. Bold obedience has consequences and we don’t always get to know the consequences ahead of time. But God is not only greater than our fears, He is also greater than the possible dangers. He doesn’t tell us, “Do what I say and everything will be okay.” He says, “Do what I say because I am with you.”

It has been said that well-behaved women rarely make history. When it comes to living boldly, it couldn’t be more true. It takes courage to live as a Christian and that will at times call us to do things outside of our comfort zone, outside of where we feel safe. Women (and men) who live for comfort will never risk and never gain. I should know–I’ve spent most of my life scared of something. But fear is the enemy of love and I cannot love people the way God calls me to when I am fearing for myself. God has not given us the spirit of fear. So let’s not live that way. It’s time to live our lives with the power, love, and sound mind God has granted to us.

Live life for real and be bold,

*All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright 2007.

The Best Words

There are moments in life where you hear something and it truly touches you.  We often respond in these moments with, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”  I remember feeling this way when a college friend said, “When I’m an old lady, I hope they put me in the same nursing home as you.”  Random comment, but it meant a lot.

Another one of those moments came on a day when I was anything but agreeable or even coherent.  Stressed out, I consistently misunderstood what others were trying to tell me and spoke before thinking in some pretty ridiculous ways.  Another foolish statement had come out of my mouth when I stopped and said, “I’m sorry.  I’ve been saying a lot of stupid stuff today.”  A friend looked at me and countered almost instantly, “I’m not keeping track.”

I was struck.  God used this man who didn’t even know Him to teach me something very important.

You see—my family uses humor to get through tough situations, which we’ve had plenty of.  Telling funny stories is our antidote to getting overwhelmed or taking ourselves too seriously.  And we don’t take other people too seriously either.  But there can be a downside to this habit of remembering mistakes and turning them into funny stories—like when we actually keep track of each other’s wrongs or when we keep track of our own failures.

Satan is a master at reminding us of our mistakes.  He wants us to keep count—remembering all our stumbles—whether spiritual or relational.  He wants us to keep a record and try to constantly pay up for our wrongs.  It’s kind of like the phrase “bury the hatchet.”  Satan wants us to bury the hatchet with the handle sticking up to remind us of every time we screw up.

But that is pointless for a child of God.  It keeps our eyes focused on our failures instead of Christ’s greatness.  We can never atone for our own sin.  We can’t even undo our mistakes in judgment, much less outright sins.  But Christ knows our weakness and He is strong.  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4).

How astounding it is that God loves everyone, even people who will never love Him back.  No one—not even the “nicest” people you know—will ever be “good enough” to be God’s child.  We do not earn God’s favor.  He gives it anyways.  He wants us to love Him back and all our good works are to honor Him, not to make Him love us.  He does that on His own.

God is the only one with the right to judge us for our sins.   Jesus tells his disciples in the book of Matthew, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (7:1).   For those of us in Christ, God is the only one who has the right to judge you and He has chosen not to, because of the blood of Christ (Romans 8:1).  God is not keeping track of your sins to taunt you with them.  If you are feeling haunted by your past mistakes, give them up to God.  “For as high as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”  (Psalm 103:11-12). How beautiful that Jesus forgives us not only seven times, not even seventy times seven, but whenever we humbly confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  He forgives, and He doesn’t keep count.

2014: A Good Year for Reading

I think awesome books deserve awards.  Yes, I know there are American Library Association awards and National Book Awards and Pulitzers and Nobel Prize Winners.  But mostly, amazing books get far less press than amazing movies.  And honestly, there are many un-amazing movies that get a bigger following and more publicity than many fine works of written art.

2014 was a good reading year for me.  Instead of posting my reading list as in previous years, I will share the highlights of my reading experience with you.  I wish I could award these books real awards but the best I can give is my recommendation and hearty praise.

Best Reads this Year:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book was beautiful, surprising, and poignant.  It wins “Most Surprising” Book in my opinion.  It tells the story of a reserved British butler in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and how his personal story intertwined with history.  This book was my favorite of all the ones I read this year.  This book was adapted into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, but the film doesn’t have time to revel in the beauty of the characters the way the book does.  I highly recommend this read.

Gilead Trio by Marilynne Robinson
There is little commendation of these books that I could write that has not already been written.  The first of the series, Gilead, is my favorite, despite moving slowly at times.  Reverend Ames is one of my favorite characters out of all my reading this year.  These books are quiet, thoughtful, and intentional.  They are inspiring, but sometimes ambiguous and bittersweet.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart absolutely fascinated me through the entire book.  It’s tragic, beautiful, and compelling.  I would classify it as a tragedy, so if you are looking for a happy book, you’ll want to look elsewhere in the list.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
This 21st century twist on Daddy Long Legs centers on an intellectual misfit named Samantha with a rough past and an uncertain future.  I loved how Reay’s characters demonstrated God’s grace throughout the story.  Sam’s growth into a strong, independent, and healthy woman is inspiring and fun.  I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second half when it became more of a love story and employed certain plot turns in order to stay true to its origin story, Daddy Long Legs.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani
Adriana Trigiani’s name is hailed as one of the greats in my locale.  So when I found one of her books for fifty cents at a yard sale, I snatched it up.  This book is intriguing.  While this book is a light read and much of the plot reflects the warm, Italian  family-centered world Trigiani is famous for, the setting makes it unique.  Trigiani does a wonderful job of making the glamorous world of the 50s’ live in the mind of the reader.  Lucia herself is a compelling, multi-faceted character, though I wanted more of her character development.  If you are interested in Trigiani’s work, check out Lucia, Lucia.

Well, that’s just a sample of what I read this year.  What did you read this year?

Stay healthy,

If At First, You Don’t Succeed…

Well, readers, I tried to write my screenplay in one month…and failed.

I did write 20 pages of a screenplay, but fell short of finishing it.  Maybe next year, NaNoWriMo.

The experiment was still helpful and really made me want to plug away at that lopsided story because I wanted to produce something good.  I still have ideas, and now that the crush of madness at my work is over for a little while, I will be able to pursue a few more pages to that screenplay.

Thank you, readers, for sticking with me over the years.  I appreciate your patience and support.  The blog may be changing in focus over the next few months.  So stay tuned!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas,

Now What?

There is nothing like the satisfaction of writing “The End” at the bottom of a page.  It’s almost as memorable as the numbness that soon follows when you think:  “Okay, now what?”

I’ve been working on two fairy tales for the last 3 months.  They are both past the initial draft–that’s the stage where I scribble notes to myself in the margins, change character names mid-story, and re-think my ending a gazillion times before it gets written down.  Once I get past this initial draft stage, my work goes electronic–where I can keep as many versions of the story I want.  I can keep deleting that sentence and re-writing it–a task I would never have time for when hand-writing.  Anyways, with my two stories securely on to the next stage of revision, I suddenly realized with that recurring numbness that I had no projects in Stage 1.  So, okay, now what?

Last year, NaNoWriMo was all the rage.  Nearly every writer friend I had across the country took part.  I miss the NaNoWriMo bus, once I figured out what it was.  It took me a few days to figure out that NaNoWriMo was not a new technology or anime character. I was a little sad, but without a writing community nearby, I doubt I could keep my motivation up to finish a novel.  Novel writing is a work of love or a work of excruciating pain or both.  I’ve tried novel writing before.  It takes me much longer than a month.  So, I’ve decided instead to declare NaScreenWriMo–National Screenplay Writing Month.  My goal this month is to write in a screenplay every day of the month, with the secondary goal of finishing an entire full-length screenplay.  I would like to get about 100 pages out of it, but I think a more realistic goal is 60.  I have an idea that I’m pretty excited about, but I don’t know who the bad guy will be yet.  As I look as my screenplay so far, I think: “Okay, 4 and half pages down.  Now what?”

Trying to think creatively,

Open Letter to Art Students

Dear Art Students,

The art world is a strange and fickle place–something you know far better than I do.  My exposure to your world began in a trash can–a barrel-size, paint-splattered trash can I emptied every night as part of my janitorial job.  Imagine my surprise when instead of paint cans, orange peels, and pencil shavings, I found beautiful prints, pencil sketches, and paintings.  My co-workers loved them too.  Eventually, all beautiful trash was pinned up in our custodial closet.  It gave us such pleasure to find the things you threw away and admire them.

For a little while, our closet was so filled with canvas it was probably a fire hazard. But we didn’t care.  We loved the pictures we found.  And when there were too many, we returned most of them to the trash.  I still have a handful, though–prints and sketches rescued from the trash bin over two years ago.  I wish I knew who painted, sketched, designed these pieces of art that I got out of a trash can.  I don’t know why you threw them away–if the colors were not just right.  If you got discouraged.  If you were bored.  Only two are signed.  The rest are anonymously beautiful.

I feel guilty sometimes, like I stole your art.  Like an identity thief who instead of stealing electronic signatures and e-mail accounts took your discarded works of imagination.  I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.  Because overall, I am glad I kept these remnants of the trashbin–they were worth saving.  Yes, dear Art Students, you will grow and you will mature in your art.  But your art now has worth and gives people joy.  So, please don’t throw it away.  Learn from it, pass it on, and move on.  But don’t throw it away.

The art world may change its mind on what is chic, what is good form, what is stylish or challenging or relevant.  But please remember, the critics won’t get your work out of the trash.  But a curious custodian might.  She might find joy in the figure of narwhal in the sea, amusement in a policeman in the dark, and inspiration in the calm serenity of two trees side by side.

So don’t stop.  Please don’t.  This world is full of people who are important and prestigious and rich.  The world is also filled with confusion and suffering and pain.  We need art.  And we need you.  Keep on.  And don’t throw any more away.


The Deep, Deep Well of Words

If your schooling was anything like mine, every other week brought a new vocabulary list to memorize.  I enjoyed these, for the most part.  The spelling part of the exercises were not so fun for me, but the vocabulary was enjoyable to learn.  My friends, however, did not agree.  Studying the classics broadens a reader’s vocabulary to include older words and older styles.  But there are so many words–beautiful words–that are still fresh and new and are never used.

Last week, I readThe Maytrees by Annie Dillard which used an amazing expanse of vocabulary.  I have never read someone with the depth of vocabulary that she uses in her works.  The story, though not my favorite, was charming and refreshing in its own way.  But the vocabulary was the real beauty of the book.  Dillard used words so fresh and bracing that you could actually feel the wind by the Maytrees’ shack and see the mudpits and feel the sea-salt in the air.  Beyond descriptive words, Dillard delved deeper into the realm of words to discuss the many nuances of her characters.  I nearly consulted a dictionary once or twice but chose not to.  (But I didn’t want to leave the book to look up the words.)  

A writer’s strength may be found in different arenas.  Some are amazing at building structures.  Some craft deep, nuanced characters.  But all writers can benefit expanding our vocabularies.  We really do constrict the beauty of language by narrowing our vocabulary.  So, let’s delve deep into the well of words and enrich our writing with what we find.

Take care,

Novel-Writing–I love thee. I love thee not…

For over a year, I have been writing a young adult novel. I originally planned to write a chapter a month, sending it off in regular installments to my cousin, for whom it was intended. But then, as stories often do, it grew, becoming bigger and clumsier than I ever imagined. By the fall 2013, I had about 25,000 words (which for some of you is a paltry sum, but you are reading the words of a girl who struggles with 200 words a day). I assumed by the length that I was almost done. Oh–how wrong I was.

It is very humbling to put together all the scraps of writing you have done across multiple notebooks, desktops, and corkboards and realize that the book you’ve written makes no sense. The characters don’t develop. Your villain is cheesy and has no motive. The worst for me is my poor bland protagonist. When I first sat down in January 2013 and scribbled off a list of character traits, I loved this character–a funky, quiet high-school senior with a penchant for art fairs and comic books. He was quirky, intelligent, and likable. The character in my book is–boring.

This is possibly the worst case of writer’s block blues I have ever had.

Having writer’s block is detrimental to satisfying writing sessions, but it makes other parts of your life so interesting. For example, you will suddenly decide to read a great epic you have always wanted to read. After all, reading is essential to becoming a better writer. Or perhaps you will be inspired to take up a new hobby–baking is practical. How about tennis–canoeing–bird-watching. Or you will become very concerned about your health. How much vitamin D do writers really get anyways? Or, like me, you may suddenly realize that now is the perfect chance to write about your wretched novel instead of re-writing the wretched novel.

Writer’s block magnifies the love-hate relationship of a writer and her craft like nothing else. But in the end, writing is a work of love. You do it because you want to. No one is twisting your arm. You write because to ignore the mess and shove it out the window would cause more agony than to painstakingly re-work the entire story in your brain, fill up more notebooks, and revise–again.  It can be very discouraging to look at the mountain of work you’ve done, the struggles you’ve passed through, and not to see any substantial improvement or any approval of your work. Ray Bradbury, one of the finest American writers ever, once said the following:

“You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality. How so? Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come. All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of the concise declaration. The artist learns what to leave out. His greatest art will often be what he does not say, what he leaves out, his ability to state simply with clear emotion, the way he wants to go. The artist must work so hard, so long, that a brain develops and lives, all of itself, in his fingers.”*

That statement says more than I can about why to keep writing–through writer’s block, through temporary obsessions with baking and tennis, through momentary hatred of one’s own work. Keep writing. You’ll get there.

Signing off,

*Bradbury, Ray. “21 Ray Bradbury Quotes.” Writer’s Digest. electronic. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/21-ray-bradbury-quotes-your-moment-of-friday-writing-zen

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