Falling in love with the Word

Hey all,

I have been falling in love with the Bible recently, and it is changing my life.

It started on DTS. Well, I’m sure it started earlier than that, but perhaps it’s when I most acutely started to notice.

I was trying to decide whether or not I wanted to stay on for more time at my base. It had been one of the most difficult seasons in my life already, but I thought perhaps God wanted me to stay longer, to persevere or adjust my attitude or push through or, well, something.

That’s entirely a different post.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life, a “calling,” as it were (a term I increasingly dislike, but that’s another post as well. I digress). And I wanted to know what God wanted me to do, but I was also terrified that He was going to make me stay longer when I really wanted to go home. So, what did I do?

Googled it, of course.

Not what God wanted for me specifically obviously, but articles on calling or how to know what God is saying to you. Every quiet time I had, I was searching the web, trying to find something that God would use to tell me what He wanted. I had been afraid for a while that if I read my Bible I would just find something else I was doing wrong. I would read sections on the wicked or those with false intentions and think it applied to me. I was going to be the one gnashing my teeth out in the dark, the one Jesus never knew. And even though I knew staying longer at my base might just be me trying to earn grace, to prove I loved God enough, I was also frightened of what might happen if I was too “weak” to stay.

In case you haven’t picked up on it already, that wasn’t what God was trying to say, and the true source of those thoughts was not a good one.

In any case, I knew that no matter what I chose, I couldn’t keep avoiding my Bible forever, so I pushed through my fear and started to read.

Lo and behold, there wasn’t a verse in there outlining my life plan and everything I was doing wrong to prevent it from fruition. In fact, the more I actually read my Bible, the more I realized how misguided my whole understanding of the situation had become. And, the more comforted and confident I became of following my heart and going home.

And, as I have already mentioned elsewhere, I’m so glad that I did.

Phase one of learning to love my Bible and actually go to it directly, check.

Phase two began with the Bible Project. I’ve mentioned them a couple times already, but they’re a non-profit dedicated to teaching about the Bible and revealing how it all points to Jesus. And while I love their explanatory videos on the Bible’s different books or themes, some of the most valuable takeaways I’ve gotten from their work have been lessons in learning how to read my Bible. Some of that involves the different types of literature in it, some of it in how the historical context affects things, structure, finding themes, and even literally, how to read it. Mainly, out loud and in large pieces. I’ve also realized more fully that it’s okay to wrestle with the Bible and its beautiful complexity as a literary work. Two particularly useful analogies that have helped with this have been the concept of the Bible’s structure as a grocery store (just as you can get a general sense of where things might be in relation to each other in the aisles, so too with themes or topics in the Bible), and the idea of reading over your Bible with the same mulling intensity of a bear with a good meal (I don’t remember when or how this idea came up, but both are featured in recent episodes of their podcast), specifically as the noises a bear makes while enjoying food relating to our reading the bible out loud and taking the same pleasure and nourishment from it.

All of this has radically changed my relationship with my Bible, and God. In the past, I would look up other people’s opinions on how God works and speaks and struggle to read my Bible for fear that it would just tell me what I was doing wrong or that I wouldn’t feel or sense enough. I would assume I already knew what it had to say, so I wouldn’t read it at all, or at least not to any great depth.

Now I approach it knowing that I really don’t know everything it has to say. I know that if I want to hear from God reading the Bible is actually the easiest way to do it. I know it’s not only okay, but a pleasure to work through what it’s trying to say, and I no longer read it expecting condemnation, but love, and am seeing it in the words. I am no longer afraid to suddenly find out that God has the characteristics I most fear He might have, but am finding Him more and more attractive the more I read. I get more out of my reading, am challenged in healthy, uplifting ways, and am learning to really cherish and take pleasure in the time I get to spend with Him.

Jesus says in Matthew 4:4 “…It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” I thought about that verse while reading my Bible today, and was so glad to be fed.


So, what’s your journey with the Bible been like? Have you ever wrestled with it, or avoided it? When have you been surprised by it or realized you had things wrong? Have you ever had misconceptions about God, His character or how He speaks? How did you turn around or realize? Who’s helped you on the way?

Advertisements

Lessons from Magic School Bus

I recently finished reading my main novel to my writing group, and at our last meeting, we did a final debrief on it. Final consensus? The writing itself is great, but some of the bones, well, they don’t always fit. Especially in regards to some of the world building elements and more importantly, well, what the book is about. Now, I’m already planning on rewriting the book, having come to this same conclusion months ago myself, but some of those weird bones, those world-building extras have been specifically on my mind as of late.

Which brings me to this clip from the childhood classic Magic School Bus. (You’ll have to travel to YouTube for it, but please come back!)

Machine, in a lot of ways is and always has been like Carlos’ instrument. Great concept, lots of ideas…bloopy sound. In the rest of the episode (included at the bottom), the class learns about sound, how it’s made from vibration, how it bounces off of surfaces, that adding extras that disrupt the vibration is a quick way to ruin an instrument.

And boy have I had extras.

Some of them got cut early, some of them affect the plot, some of them, well, let’s just say deep roots are hard to cut.

So, now that I’m planning a rewrite, how am I deciding what to keep and what to axe?

So glad you asked.

First, by listening to feedback. Some of the first changes I made in Machine were because of reader feedback. Now, it’s always wise to take critiques with a grain of salt, to consider its source and how that relates to what you want to accomplish, your audience, etc., but if everyone but you thinks it doesn’t work, that’s probably a clue it doesn’t work, no matter how much of a “true artist” you are (been there, done that). If you really want to keep it, consider what it does for your story, why it’s important, and why other people say it doesn’t work. Maybe the problem isn’t with the idea itself but in how it’s presented. Alternatively, look at different ways the same thing could be accomplished. Could the plot/world element be toned down, tweaked, or replaced by something better? Talk to your critique partners and work through it together. Most importantly, don’t bite their heads off (sorry, Mom…). They can see things you can’t, and they’re trying to help.

Second, test your mind’s eye. If you’re on a planet where everyone is ten feet high and has six arms, but you’re picturing them as six foot six with two, there’s probably a problem. Also look out for whether or not you’re actually using your extras. Does it advance the plot for them to have extra arms? Do they actually use them? Does it affect their culture, clothing, tools, etc.? If not, you probably don’t need them (or need to tweak your plot to make sure they do).

Third, check for purpose. Similar to point two, if your extras don’t have purpose in the plot, you probably don’t need them. More specifically, if they aren’t advancing the plot, they’re probably slowing it down. One of the things I did in Machine over the course of sharing it with my writing group was to go back in and make sure I was calling attention to my extras because they were having trouble keeping them in mind. And they liked that I was doing that, but in the end, they were also confused as to why I did it because none of those extras made a real difference to the story itself. It was shifting attention away from where it needed to be.

Four, search your motivations. If you’ve been working on your project for a long time like I have, it’s easy to lose objective focus. This can take a few different forms, the main two being fixedness and sentiment. The first is the idea that things are the way they are because that’s the way they’ve always been and therefore should remain so. The second is the idea that because you like something it deserves to stay (a close cousin to this is “because it looks cool”). Both are rich enemies of creativity and improvement. Both can be equally difficult to root out. If you find yourself thinking “it has to be this way because…” or not wanting to get rid of something even when you suspect it’s not good or could be better, you might have them on their hands. Another motivation to dig out is fear. If you’re hiding behind an extra to avoid reality or research (for example, they don’t have, says, dogs on your planet because you don’t know anything about dogs), you might have a fear problem.

Fifth, make a list of pros and cons. This was the last step I took in making some of my current decisions regarding what to keep or lose. This is partly because I felt like a lot of my extras could make the bar for the previous points, and partly because I needed that hard proof to confirm that really, as I suspected deep down, they couldn’t. Hey ho, sentimentality. This is a really practical way to root out some of those hidden factors, too. For example, on my lists of pros, most of them had things like “Easy way to set mood” or “Advances plot,” but when I really looked at them, I realized that “Easy way to set mood” was really code for “Lazy shortcut to create mood” and that the plot advancements these extras made could really be accomplished through more simple and practical means. On my cons were even worse reasons, mostly tied in to fears of getting things wrong. So if you’re on the fence, make a list, and most importantly, be honest.

Sixth, relax, because you can always change things back. Because editing is like throwing stones in a pond and can create a lot of unexpected ripples, it’s easy to get cowed into not wanting to change things. But your job is to throw stones, to make as many ripples as you can until you reach that perfect resonance with your story, that perfect mirrored lake that says what you want to say. So in the wise words of Miss Frizzle, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy,” because your novel deserves it. Bonus, once you do, you’ll get that thrill of victory that Carlos does somewhere around the 21:10 mark in the video below when he finally gets it.

So, what about you? Have you ever had extras get in your way? What about sentiment or fixedness? How did you find it, and what helped you to cut it out? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Getting back to craft

One of the greatest kinds of seasons you can enter in life is the one immediately after confusion.

I’m very happy to report that I think I’m there. After a long season of indecision, fear, confusion, and hurt with writing, I’ve decided, it’s time to go for it.

Which, oddly enough for me, means taking a step back.

It’s time to get back to craft.

I think for a long time I got so caught up in indecision, whether or not I should do writing at all, that I forgot why I liked it at all. I remembered times when I could just sit and wrestle with my writing for hours and be so satisfied, even when it was hard, and I couldn’t get to that place anymore. I would have a bad writing day and think it was because I wasn’t supposed to be a writer, that God didn’t want me to work on that story, that he was trying to redirect me.

Talk about being off base. Now, I don’t doubt God can redirect us if we start getting off track. I know he can close doors, but this? This was getting unmanageable, and it was not bringing me peace, joy, or any of the other things God promises.

Besides that, I was forgetting one of the greatest tenets of writing, which is that writing is hard. Anyone who writes knows this. I know this. It’s work, it’s time, it’s blood, sweat, and tears, and to think that if I were perfectly aligned with God’s that I could somehow avoid that, that He would somehow just give me my book word for word is absurd, and besides that, well, really…un-fun.

After all, the whole point of the Bible is that God will go to scandalous measures just to have relationship with all of us jacked-up, broken, shattered folk, and now I was thinking the reason He sent Jesus to die for us was divine dictation? For me to just work and pray and whatever else enough that He would finally cave and give me a novel without any further work, challenge, or interchange?

Talk about unhealthy. But I digress.

Now that I’ve decided to really go for writing, one of the things I’ve figured out is just how much more I have to learn. Case in point, realizing that up until recently I haven’t really understood third person point of view as much as I thought, which as one might expect for someone who has written three books in that POV, is crucial. Now I’ve started doing more research about the things I don’t understand. I’ve started listening to more writing podcasts (DIY MFA, and Seated at the Writer’s Table being two examples), am looking into getting some more books, and am even looking into taking some classes (some Coursera classes from Wesleyan University for Nanowrimo being my first step) and getting a mentor.

I’ve also been getting down to the nuts and bolts of my work: examining plots with a fine-tooth comb, taking to hefty paragraphs with a cleaver, searching for what works and getting rid of what doesn’t, even if I am cutting off the literary flourish I loved the best. Instead of worrying so much about whether or not I should be writing at all, I’ve been focusing on doing it well. Not “should I write this story,” but “is it a good one?” Does it have the right elements of plot, character, and setting? Is it riveting? Does it have good themes? Instead of getting lost in the esoteric, I’m just focusing on the tangible, what’s there and if, just by standards of writing and story, whether or not it’s good.

It’s been awesome. I haven’t enjoyed writing this much in years.

And that’s not to say that those other questions aren’t important, that I shouldn’t be concerned with what God wants me to do, but, like I said, that door is always open if this isn’t it, and spinning in circles always being afraid of doing the wrong thing sounds a lot more like the guy downstairs than it does my Jesus.

So for now, I’m trusting the passions He’s given me, that God is more concerned with our relationship and my character than what I do, and taking the steps I really need to get there.

It’s time to get back to craft.

 

Living that Beatles life

 

“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone and I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors”

Growing up I always thought that being an adult meant being more independent. Staying up late, eating whatever and whenever I wanted, video games for days, all that and so much more could be mine as an adult.

Now, besides the fact my ideal benchmarkers for sleep, eating, and video games have all radically changed, I’ve also found my understanding of being an adult and independence have changed as well.

Because whether in the realm of my family, friends, faith, or work, I really do need people.

So thank you, people.

The simplest example of this in my life is probably in my writing.

When I was in high school, if you would have asked me what I was going to be, I would have told you world famous author. I also would have told you I was specially gifted by God for just such a thing. It was practically fate.

And maybe it is. Only He knows. But I can also tell you now, many years of work, sweat, and tears later, that if it does happen, if I get published at all, it will not be without hours of work, sweat, and tears from other people as well (hopefully properly acknowledged!), something that might only have occurred to me previously as some kind of obvious, throwaway fact, and that an honor for those involved. (Yes, I was a monster.)

A lot has changed since then, mostly a severe uptick in my respect and honor for those people and a steady downward trend in the bloated opinion I had of myself.

There are other monumental examples of this in my life as well, whether the friends I am slowly learning to love correctly, the family I am learning to appreciate, and greatest of all of course, God, whose patience with my running, ducking, and outright willfulness is beyond all measure.

It’s taken a long and humbling journey to get here though, with many more miles down the road. It’s hard to admit you need help, that you really can’t do anything you want (or at least not as well as you’d like). But there’s something nice about it too. It’s a grand thing to learn to celebrate others for what they can do that you can’t, to find the beauty in their uniqueness, to learn from those who know more, and yes, to realize that even you have your own little nook in this universe too.

So again, to all who have helped me get where I am today, to those I have helped and for all those I meet in future, thanks. I hope I can live to be someone worthy of all the things that have been poured into my life (though I have the suspicion I won’t, for which I am all the more thankful).

P.S. If you didn’t watch the video, you should. Paul is so excited and happy looking. What a ride that must have been. It’s adorable.


So, are there any examples in your life where you’ve found joy in reliance? Have you had a similar story? Who are people who have really helped you or people you’ve helped? Where could you grow? Let me know in the comments!

 

Writing with writers

writing-work-person-color-friend-talk-chat-speak-sense-human-positions-130618
These seems sufficiently hipster-y enough for my tastes. Not shown: What I actually look like writing with my friends, on our laptops, in a library…

Hi all,

Just a quick post to talk about something I’ve just discovered in my own writing life: writing with other writers.

It all happened when a friend of mine asked if I wanted to join her for lunch and some writing time. I’ve never been one to study or work with others around, and I had some reservations about how much I would get done with the ready distraction of a friend around, but it was a writing day for me, and she’s great, so I thought I’d give it a try.

We started with lunch, talking about life and writing and such, and then when we were finished, we moved to a local coffee shop.

We were there for nearly four hours, almost all of that spent on consistent, profitable work.

It was amazing. I struggle with focus a lot in my writing, getting distracted by Facebook, research, nitpicky details, discouragement, or whatever else, but having her there, knowing she was working too, made my focus so much better. Since then I’ve written with her or a few other writing friends a few different times, and each time I’ve gotten so much more done than I would have on my own, even on bad writing days.

In addition to better focus, I also feel more accountable. Not only just in feeling accountable to work while they’re working, but also in feeling accountable for sticking to the time I set aside for it and actually making progress. After all, I can spend a lot of time “working” and not get a lot done, but knowing that when we’re done, I’ll be asked what I accomplished helps me to remember my goals and to take the steps I need to achieve them, whether I’m working with that person or not.

On top of that, it’s also just nice to have company and quick access to feedback. Whether trying to find the right word or working through a plot problem, having someone on hand to help –and getting to help them in return–is really rewarding. And when that person knows you, your work, and your craft, it’s even better.

Now, there are a few downsides to this strategy, mainly in having to work out scheduling, having less workspace (which can be rough if you take up as much space as I do when I’m working on editing and world-building), and the danger of being too over-reliant on others to get you to work, but thus far the trade-off for me has landed in favor of writing with others, at least some of the time. At the very least, as I continue to manage the balance, it’s another great tool in my writer’s tool belt.

So, what about you? What have been your experiences working either by yourself or with others (it doesn’t have to be writing)? Do you find one or the other more helpful  in being productive, accountable, or otherwise? Is it situational to the job? Personality-based (I’m an introvert too, by the way)? What about larger scale groups or designated times like Nanowrimo’s write-ins or Night of Writing Dangerously? Collaborative stories?

Tell me about it below!

Spiritual lessons from Thor

Hi All!

One of my greatest pleasures in life is getting to spend time with my sugar glider, Thor (if you thought this was about Marvel’s hero, sorry, but please keep reading!). Part of this is because he’s hilarious, super soft, a great heater in winter, etc., etc., brag, brag, brag, but it is also because I learn loads about how God feels about me when I spend time with him. So, without further ado, some spiritual lessons from having Thor.

11692_737483639640487_8088680241465679790_n

Delight

First off, I should say that I don’t learn about any of these things just from Thor. My family and friends have taught me much about all of these as well, as well as God himself. However, it’s also worth noting that as a human, it’s pretty easy for me to muddy those other relational waters with all sorts of unfair and stupid human junk, whereas with Thor, his motives are usually much easier to navigate, mainly: eat, rub tiny chest on random things, get to tea, explore, and cuddle, which thereby makes it easier for me to keep the waters clear. Also, I adore animals, so I really think God just uses them to talk to me.

In any case, one of the first and most important lessons I’ve learned from having this little nugget is how much God delights in me. How? Well, easy. I just watch Thor and smile. That’s it. He just makes me happy by his very existence, and that’s how God feels about me. It’s great.

Persistence

One of my favorite things about Thor is his tenacity. I’ve seen him climb to the top of things I’d never imagine, open containers I never thought he’d crack and more, all just because he wanted it. And while that’s certainly a lesson to me as I try to accomplish my own goals in life, I also learn about God from my own reactions to Thor’s endeavors. See, it’d be easy for me to just pick him up and put him on top of my bookshelf, or to pop open the top to his food container when he starts tugging at the lid, but every time I watch him wrestle with these tasks, I get the sense it would be cheating him to do so. It is better for him to have to face his own challenges because that’s how he learns. And the rewards, such as reaching the top or sneaking some pre-dinner snacks, seem so much more rewarding for him for the fact.

As a side note, that’s not to say that I never help him, just like how God doesn’t just leave us on our own, but it does help put things in perspective when I’m wondering why God isn’t stepping in directly to put my life completely straight on a regular basis.

Quality Time

Sugar gliders don’t make a lot of noises, but one of them is a small meeping noise called a “bark” (see below). It’s usually used to get somebody’s attention, such as if they’re bored or lonely.

Thor, whose bark is particularly piercing, typically does it in the middle of the night.

And yet, when he does it, when I know he wants my attention, there is very little I wouldn’t do to make sure he knows I’m there. I’ve spent more than one night sleeping on the floor just so he can see me, and believe me, the feeling I get when my presence calms him is amazing. And sure, I’m not likely to get back to sleep most nights unless I talk to him barring just letting him bark himself out (I tried it maybe once or twice and it was a terrible, terrible feeling. I haven’t even considered it in years), but even when I’m exhausted I know that’s not my only–or often my main–motivation for tending him. The fact is, I want him to know that I’m there, that he’s not alone. My heart is stirred at his cry. How often have I assumed God wasn’t there, that He didn’t want to be with me, when in fact it is the opposite? God doesn’t sleep of course, but even if He did, He wouldn’t care if I woke Him up in the middle of the night. He loves me and hears my cry.

Compassion

The only other time Thor really barks is if he gets spooked. Now he’s a little blind in one eye and sometimes darts in front of me, so I know the causes of some barking fits (Sorry Thor!), but other times he just does it, and I have no idea why. It’s during these fits that I can’t really do anything to stop it, either. I can reach into his cage, give him a treat, and offer to let him out, but usually it doesn’t help, or at least not for long. He just huddles up in the back of his cage or behind his exercise wheel, refusing to be comforted. And it sucks, because I know that once I’m there, he doesn’t have to worry. I will take care of him. If he needs anything, I can provide.

It’s a humbling reminder of my own refusal to accept God’s comfort sometimes, but it’s also a reminder of God’s heart behind wanting to help. It’s not like I just want Thor to shut up or stop whining (although, I’ll admit I do sometimes find it frustrating, whoops). Rather, it pains me to see him unhappy or scared, for him not to feel safe and cared for when I’m right there ready and willing to help.

I could certainly stand to remember who’s in front of me when I’m scared more often too. Thanks, God!

Unconditional love

If I were a sugar glider, I’d probably look a bit like Thor. Mostly blind in one eye from a cataract, missing some tail fur from when I was gone for a week, and missing a toe from taking on a pet he shouldn’t have, the point is that even during his short life so far, he’s gotten a little banged up. And the funny thing is, I adore him for it. Rather than making him less lovable, it adds character to him and his story that I just love, even if it makes him a little less lovely by worldly standards. He’s precious to me, and while there are things I wish he hadn’t done or wouldn’t do (like trying to take on a rat or biting me), I don’t think of that when I look at him or think about him, I think of how much I love him, and of all of the good things I associate with him (like spunk or courage). It’s pretty easy for me to assume God just loves staring down at all my mistakes and flaws. Thor helps remind me of the good that God chooses to see instead.

So yeah, those are some lessons I’ve learned over the last five years. What lessons have you learned from your pets (or wild animals or precious house plants)? How have you grown spiritually as a result of having them?

Have a great Fourth of July everybody!

 

Recommendation Roundup

Hey all,

I’ve been thinking a lot about influences lately, so I thought I’d throw out some shout outs to artists who have been encouraging to me as an artist/writer. For this round I’m just going to do Christian artists, just because finding my place as one has been a journey (and also because if I expanded it, this would be much, much longer), and because they’ve been specifically helpful to me in this regard. So in no particular order, here we go!

Daniel Warren Johnson (@danielwarrenart)

http://www.danielwarrenart.com/
http://www.space-mullet.com/
https://imagecomics.com/comics/releases/extremity-1

Daniel Warren Johnson is a comic book writer/illustrator/web comic artist, perhaps most well known for his webcomic Space Mullet, “an episodic style comic about a washed up, Ex-Space Marine trucker named Jonah, and his alien co-pilot, Alphius,” and his new comic Extremity, which explores the varying impacts of pursuing revenge as a collective family unit. Not only is his work beautiful (fyi, it is pretty violent, so if that’s not your jam, I wouldn’t follow this up), but his writing is also thoughtful and complex in its introduction and exploration of its themes. My favorite example of this is issue #3 of Extremity. I love his characters for their complexity and heart (Alphius, Bobbi, Shiloh, and Rollo being some prime examples), and for the artfulness of his compositions, especially in their subtle echoing and support of his themes (a good example is this page of Space Mullet http://www.space-mullet.com/comic/chapter-4-pg-35/ and all of the third issue of Extremity.)

Anyway, you should check out his work (he’s got more than just those two projects for sure), order it at your local comic book store, and if you ever get the chance, snag a commission.

Meg Syverud (@BluDragonGal)

http://megsyv.com/
http://www.daughterofthelilies.com/dotl/part-1-a-girl-with-no-face

Meg Syverud is the writer and illustrator of Daughter of the Lilies, a beautiful webcomic that follows adventurers Thistle, Orrig, Brent, and Lyra. From her site:

What happens when a man who kills monsters falls in love with a girl who thinks she is one?

Brent, a brutish, freelancing adventurer, realizes that he’s fallen for his coworker, Thistle: a shy, talented Mage who considers herself a monster, and who is relentlessly pursued by a tyrannical dictator.

Daughter of the Lilies is a comic largely about the importance self-worth, the different forms love can take, how it can redeem and empower us, as well as issues relating to anxiety. (There are also unicorns, manticores, ghouls, goblins, cannibalistic elves, and so on.)

One of the things I love about this comic (besides the fact it’s really pretty) is one of the goals behind it, which is to have open dialog about Christianity in the webcomic sphere.

One of the things I really love about it is how she actually does it, through story and community discourse. It’s lovely (and a great story and concept too!).

The Bible Project (@JoinBibleProj)

https://thebibleproject.com/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVfwlh9XpX2Y_tQfjeln9QA

I’ve mentioned these guys before. They’re a Portland based non-profit whose “mission is to help people see the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus,” and they do it through a variety of resources, including YouTube videos, books, and, my personal favorite, their podcast. I’ve only known about them since fall of last year, and only started listening to their podcast a few weeks ago, but I’ve seen a lot of growth come out of even that short period of time. They do a great job of mixing intellect, history, and literary knowledge to reveal what the Bible is and how to read it properly, and I’m really grateful for their thoughtful and varied approach.

N.D. Wilson (@ndwilsonmutters)

N.D. Wilson is a non-fiction and Middle Grade fiction author from Idaho. I’ve read his 100 Cupboards trilogy, following home grown adventurers from Kansas trying to save basically everything from an evil witch, and most of Death by Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent, and the more I read, the more I appreciate his work (I’ll admit, I wasn’t terribly sure of him when I first read 100 Cupboards. Thank goodness I came back!). It’s very poetic, which is lovely, but it also does a great job of calling evil what it is. I know on my writing journey, one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn is to acknowledge evil and its power without either glorifying or magnifying it–that is to take it seriously but always recognize there is a greater and better power still, and that’s something that I think N.D. Wilson does very well. I love both the purity and humanity of his characters (I think of Henry, who can one minute be squabbling with his cousin, and the next flinging himself in the line of danger to save her), and the poetry of his writing (the opening to Dandelion Fire is a great example of this, if I recall). I’ve been so encouraged by the strangeness of his stories (weird books do matter!), and have learned much from his example of maintaining good in the face of evil within an invented world. I am reminded of broader scopes and Tolkien-esque adventures when I read his work, and am encouraged to think such stories can and do happen in our day to day lives.

Alma (@hearalma)

http://www.hearalma.com/

I’ve mentioned my friend Alma a few times before, but I just wanted to call attention to her again, partly because she has a new podcast (@voicescast) regarding people who use their voices in life and how to do so well, and partly because if we’re talking about artistic influences, she’s definitely on my list. She’s a neo-soul singer, so there’s not a lot of overlap in our trades, but she has encouraged and inspired me in her thoughtfulness and wrestling with what it means to be a Christian artist, for her quality in craft, for her outspokenness in, well, many things, for her great love for cultivating meaningful conversation, and for actually going out and getting things done! She’s lovely. Check her out.

Honorable mentions

To finish off, I’d like to highlight just a few other artists that I like, those who might have had lesser influence (so far), or just that I feel are worthy of mentioning as great artists.

Kyle Culver (@kulver), a friend of mine with a passion for art, film, and storytelling who constantly inspires me with the volume of projects he works on, and his enthusiasm for story and self improvement. https://www.youtube.com/user/akaneo17/playlists

Mutemath (@MUTEMATH), a band you might know whose lyrics bring comfort.

Rivers & Robots (@riversandrobots), another great band whose lyrics bring perspective.

The intimacy of being unique

How do I know that the red that I see is the same red that you see?

It’s kind of a disturbing question, not only because most people would say color has a fairly important impact on their lives, but also because it points to a reality we all struggle with, which is that, in a sense, we’re all kind of alone within our own experience. There really is no way to confirm this isn’t the matrix, and no way to really be sure what we experience is “true,” that our red really is red.

As naturally social folk, this is hard.

After all, why do you think Buzzfeed lists really are so popular, or gifs or hashtags? It’s because we like to relate, to be in the “in” crowd, with the people that “understand” or “get it.” We see that gif of David Tennant crying in the rain, Brad Pitt pumping his arms and think, yes, that is what I feel right now. The ever present caption: “This is my life.” Nobody really wants to be the outsider, to be the Stitch in the family (even if they say they do. Been there, done that).

 

(If you’re wondering, yes, I did search for sad gifs, and yes, it did make me sad.)

Except, you are not Jean Luc Picard face-palming (although to be fair, we all probably wish we were at least a little), nor are you high-fiving Tina Fey, that super psyched kid at that birthday party, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Batman, or *insert any other super famous gif person (many pardons if you actually are Tina, Tom, Britney, Beyonce, Brad, David, Patrick or birthday party kid. Welcome to my blog!),* and that is not your life.

Which is great.

Because here’s the thing. Your life experience is entirely unique, and while that does mean you might have times where you feel like nobody understands what you’re going through, it also means there are beautiful, powerful experiences that God, the creator of the entire universe, has given to you and only you, to just one person out of the billions and billions of creations that have stemmed from His Holy hands, and what could ever be more intimate than that?

Think of the times in your life that you can’t explain to others. The feeling you had in your greatest accomplishment, times when you felt something divine, all of your most beautiful, exquisite moments and feelings–all while being alone, outside, the only one seeing your red. It’s hard to put the feeling down in words, right? And God made that for you, a story, a journey, that only He and you will ever really take, experience, and understand.

“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Proverbs 14:10

It’s hard to feel lonely, and it’s not always easy to believe that God is with you in the midst, but just remember, you’re the only one who’s ever going to experience those things, the only one who’ll ever get your amazing, beautifully crafted life, so enjoy it for all the strange craziness this life can bring and cling to Him when things get tough.


Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got. So, what do you think? Do you see your uniqueness as a gift? When have you struggled with this, and what has helped? How do you think our society could benefit or struggle as a result of this understanding, and do you even think it’s true?

If you liked this post, always feel free to subscribe, comment or share. Talk to you all soon, lovelies!

 

Embracing the fog

The Bible Project recently came out with a new series on the Wisdom books, that is, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. I was in London at the time, wrestling with quite a few decisions that could use some wisdom, and I thought I’d give them a try.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the video on Ecclesiastes to be one of the most comforting and encouraging things I’d seen in a while.

Proverbs

Job

One of the main points the video makes is that the “meaninglessness” that Ecclesiastes often espouses isn’t exactly the best interpretation, fog, vapor or smoke being a better analogy. Basically, even though you do the best you can, we’re all still kind of stumbling around in the dark to a certain degree, and life is strange.

And in a world that seems so focused on pinning life down, whether by politics, click-bait lists, twitter mobs, self-help or more, I can hardly think of anything more comforting than that.

I think about this often, both as a writer and a Christian. For one thing, in a world where issues can be so convoluted, intertwined and polarized, it can be intimidating to join a conversation, let alone make a piece of art related to it. When you don’t want to lead someone astray spiritually by being wrong (though yes, God can definitely overcome any harm I could do), when you know just how corrupted, biased, or flat out wrong you can and likely will be, it can be even worse. I certainly know only a fraction of the darkness that still lives in me. Why would I want that out there?

But that’s also why I think I found this video so refreshing, because it reminds me just how inadequate I am to understand the vast complexities of the world around me, and the grace and humility and wonder that it forces me to recognize and receive and offer to others as a result.

There are so many things that have happened in my life that I don’t understand, so many things that I think I may never understand, and being able to admit that, both to myself, and others, is incredibly freeing.

In many ways, I think it comes down to this.

In a world obsessed with being right, I’m finally ready to admit that I am, and often will be, wrong, as a writer, as a voter, as a friend, a Christian, a sibling, etc.

As a writer, this means having the courage to put my work out there, to be humble enough to accept correction and change and to admit to the world that I’m still trying to learn and grow, as a human and a creative. It also means writing characters who are struggling and don’t know everything and have to run through the fog too. It means not preaching at people through perfect characters, but showing, exploring, asking questions and not always providing the answer.

As a Christian, well, it kind of means much the same, admitting my faults, accepting His thoughts are higher, and trusting Him for the rest. Now that doesn’t mean I intend to stop seeking knowledge or wisdom, I willingly admit I could do much against my own insecurities by simple research and engagement and we should seek knowledge and wisdom, but it does mean that I am free to admit that I’m not there yet, that there’s still work to do. I can also better trust my Heavenly Father when things are hard, when I don’t understand what’s going on inside of me, or when I don’t understand things in general.

I think the most beautiful thing about this is that it’s making me cling more to my Abba. Admitting I can’t understand His grand logic and understanding means surrendering a certain part of me, that pride of knowing (or having to know) it all, and clinging to Him and His grace alone.

So, let’s talk about it. Let’s admit we can be wrong, love with grace, and jump into the fog.

P.S. What about you? Do you find this encouraging or upsetting? Have you had similar experiences/epiphanies? Where are areas where you’ve gone into the fog, and how did you grow/learn as a result? How could you see this applying to what you do, either personally or professionally?

Finding the eternal thread

5241459773_8fc26ddf07_b
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/5241459773

I’ve been working on a theory. Let me know what you think.

It has to do with some of the stories and characters that I find most compelling and why. I’ll give you an example: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.

It’s the last in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Plant sci-fi trilogy, and features a young college fellow’s slide towards darkness and his wife’s efforts to rescue him. I read it several years ago, and while I don’t remember a lot of the plot specifically, I do remember being invested in their stories to the point of practically physical distress.

I remember thinking about this specifically while I was reading. I don’t remember when it happened, but at one point, I actively questioned why I was so invested while I was reading. It’s not that it wasn’t good writing by any means, I’m very fond of Lewis and especially this trilogy, but I do remember being surprised because of how, well, normal it was. I mean, there are definitely elements of the strange–something sinister as my friend Sarah put it–but the story was also, in some ways, plain, at least in comparison to the world-hopping high stakes novels I’m used to.

Then I realized, I wasn’t just interested because of what was happening on the surface. No, I was interested because what I was reading had a soul on the line. It wasn’t just Mark’s marriage or career. It was Mark himself, and what would happen to him not just in the next few days, months, or years, but for eternity.

This, I think, is the eternal thread, that knife’s edge between death and life, good and evil, and when I see people tread it, see them danging in the balance, I’m captured.

I think of other examples of this in literature, the men of Rohan in The Two Towers, George in Of Mice and Men, heck, even Kylo Ren plays with this. In each, you see the inevitable march towards decisions that will mark a lifetime, those turning points towards good or evil, freedom versus chains. They open me up to a larger reality, a vaster scope, and it isn’t just in writing. Many other kinds of art or day to day life have it too.

Which brings me to the question of what exactly it looks like when woven into a story. How does one wind it into the great tapestries of their creative work, and when? There are many, many stories I adore that don’t outright hinge on a singular point of salvation for example, many that I find just as impactful and meaningful as those listed above, and still others that try and do so without success.

So what is it that really earmarks something as having that thread, even if it’s buried deep beneath layers and layers of other stitches? At first, I’ll admit, I found the question frustrating. Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t mention Jesus at all, and I used to cry telling people about it. Likewise, our good friends George and Lenny don’t find some happy ending (at least that we see), and yet I see the thread there too.

Except, that’s kind of how life works, which is the beauty of the thread.

You see, ultimately, all human lives end in tragedy or comedy. There are, sadly, some of both. This is why happy endings and sad ones can be equally True, and it’s also why, to a certain degree, all stories have this thread. Are characters turning to good or evil, light or darkness? This, though sometimes as foggy and gray as Solomon’s vapors, it always true, and something that with wisdom, we can begin to discern.

That being said, even with this understanding, what does it actually mean? What does it tell us about the stories that most draw us in, and how to tell stories ourselves? Personally, I think I’ve found it useful in reminding myself what I am uplifting in the stories I tell. Am I celebrating and hoping for a turn towards the light (as my Father does), or am I beautifying evil, justifying what is wrong as right, when in fact I should compassionately cling to good with love and understanding in sight for the lost? That is perhaps one practical function of it from a strictly technical perspective. Another perhaps just to remind us of the journey we are all on.

I suspect there is much more to be gained.

So, what do you think, friends? Does my theory hold up? Do you see the eternal in what you read? Hinge points for a soul? If not (or even if, I suppose), what else do you see? What most captures you, in writing or in other forms of art and why? What examples do you have, and if you’ve had any success in capturing it in your own work, how did you do it? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to know.