Saving Atlan

Hi everyone,

I know I’m cutting it close again on posts this year, but I promise that at least this time, it’s going to be a little more in depth post.

So, I recently had a fairly big breakthrough on writing, which was, more or less, fixing a problem I had caused for myself over a year ago.

What happened was this:

In the book I’m working on now, there’s a character named Atlan. I’ve talked about him here before, and the main problem I was having is that, well, I was pretty scared about what people would think of him. He’s basically the heir to an empire that has enslaved another species, and while he doesn’t know that at the start of the book, he’s also not tremendously caring about it when it’s first brought to his attention. Albeit, there are reasons he starts off in denial, but still, he’s not the easiest sell as a character, and he’s the second major lead behind Mira, one of the people enslaved by his species. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about it.

Then, it happened. I got feedback about him that was pretty harsh. And because I was already worried about it, and the feedback came from someone I would consider a pretty reliable sounding board for this kind of thing, well, I basically panicked. Going back, I made him a lot more sympathetic and easily influenced from the start, took out a lot of his denial, and basically made him side with Mira right away.

Except, the problem with that is that once I started making changes, he just didn’t work anymore. All of the actions that he took that drove the plot no longer made sense, the times when he would challenge Mira and fight with her seemed wrong, and well, ultimately he didn’t have anywhere to go as a character. As soon as he was confronted, he realized he was wrong, and that was that.

That, my friends, is not a story.

Now, after more than a year of putzing around trying to make it work, I think I’ve finally managed to undo the damage, returning him, mostly, to his initial state.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is to share the two lessons I’ve learned as a writer from this experience.

Trust your instincts

I’ve done a lot of editing on this book in the last year or so, both in having committed to using it for my first book to get published and in using it as a test/case study for my deep dive into story structure that I did this year. And the funny thing is, the more I’ve worked on it, the more that I’ve realized that what I had to start isn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, I’ve had to tweak the structure, yes, I’ve made improvements and cut a lot, but the bones of the story, the spine of the characters and the changes they go through, isn’t bad.

Author Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

And that’s true. As a writer, I’m always surprised by first drafts, especially as a pantser. For me, though I always need a beginning and to know where I’m ending, the middle is always a surprise. You’d think that would end with a hot mess. But it doesn’t, and when I edit, even if the line by line writing isn’t the smoothest or there are big loops of story that need to be trimmed or added or better woven in, I’m almost always surprised by the intuition I seem to have put into the story, specifically for the characters and where they need to go. This isn’t to brag by any means. Any writer is capable of this, and many will tell you stories of readers enforcing the same. I think it’s just to say that when you’re a writer and you tell that first draft story to yourself, I think there’s something inside you that really does know what the story is. Like Stephen King’s analogy of unearthing a dinosaur or Michaelangelo’s story about chiseling out some already pre-formed David hidden in a hunk of stone, a lot of writing or editing is, in a way, just unearthing what you already know is there, the story you’re already going to tell.

So, when you start questioning that story, whether or not it’s the right one to tell or why you wrote something that you just can’t seem to get away from, just be wary and remember that while some characters or plots may need to change, while you should be mindful of structure and story rules, and you should be open to critique, those first seeds you planted should not be ignored. Sometimes you just need to dig deeper and trust your gut.

Be sympathetic to your characters

Of the two lessons, I think this one is more important.

In sum, it’s that characters can and sometimes should be unlikable, even heroes can be unheroic, and that’s okay.

Now, I’m not talking about just your average chain-smoking, foul-mouthed anti-hero (not that I don’t love me a good anti-hero, because I do). Because, usually, anti-heroes are at least likable.

What I mean is that if you’re going to have a story about humans (or humanoids or sentient beings or whatever you have), they’re not going to be perfect. That means, like Atlan, they’re going to start off with flaws that aren’t pleasant. And, depending on the story you’re telling, that might not even change.

But that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that they’re bad.

Because that, my friends, is life.

Every person you meet is only partway through their story. And since art and story attempts to capture, in some way, life, your characters should be too.

For me, well, that means that Atlan is prejudiced. Honestly, Mira is too.

And that, to a certain non-moral degree, is okay. We’re all shaped by the histories, cultures, experiences, and God-given talents and personalities we have/have had, and this world isn’t perfect. That means the people in it aren’t going to be perfect. So if I need to face criticism or flack to give these characters the time and space they need to grow and change and get better, well, that’s fine by me. That’s a risk all writers have to take.

To be honest, I think this is a flaw in Western writing (I’m not as experienced with other culture’s writing, so don’t want to speak to that one way or another), that we always have to have the hero, that their way is always the right way, their moral the right way to live.

But life is more complicated than that, and I want to make space for that in my writing.

To quote Into the Woods, “Witches can be right, giants can be good.”

Life is more complicated than we can imagine. And learning to love people, to give them grace, in the midst of it, is one of life’s greatest journeys, goals, and callings (Mark 12:29-31).

The irony in this whole situation is that this story, as I’ve been discovering, is ultimately about grace. And I nearly destroyed the whole novel because I was afraid of writing characters who need it.

So yeah, maybe Atlan won’t hit the mark with everyone. Maybe it will even spark uncomfortable conversations, for my readers or myself.

But I’m only a human, puzzling this out like everyone else, and if that means I get it wrong or it takes time or patience or grace for me as well as the characters, well, that’s why I’m writing the book.

Thanks for reading.


So, what about you? Have you ever had times when you’ve struggled with people or characters being both bad and a little good? Read any good books that handle this well? What about struggling to forgive? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, about my writing, faith, or nerdy recommendations, please feel free to follow me here or on social (please note I’m currently on a break from these) using the links below or in the sidebar.

Are you willing: A year of wandering

Hey friends,

It’s that time of year again, where we reflect on the past twelve months and look forward, perhaps with fear, perhaps with hope, to the next. And cliché as it might be, this post is no different.

This year, as I have said several times already, has been a strange one. It has been one of wandering, of distance, and in some ways, even resistance.

But, it has also in its slow, meandering fashion, been one of breakthrough. Because in many ways, it has been the year where–most profoundly since my DTS, I have been challenged in what I believe, precisely because of the attributes that have most felt like they were keeping me from God.

A gif of Baymax hugging Hiro from the movie Big Hero 6.
End of year feels.

A few key lessons learned:

  1. Love is not transactional.
  2. God loves me and won’t let go, even in my wandering.
  3. Until you are willing to give up performance, you will never be sure of the love you have.

Let me explain.

See, I have always been a perfectionist. I have also always had a sort of performance-based mentality. And because of both of those things, I have often been plagued by doubt throughout the years. Not of God or his goodness, per se, but of His love for me, that it really could and does extend to me. I am often hard on myself, and get frustrated that I’m not “better,” am still struggling with the same selfish- or childish-ness that I’ve been trying to shake for years. If I weren’t doing something wrong, if God really did love me and was with me in the way He says, surely I would be farther along by now, I’ve thought. Certainly things would be different.

So enter discouragement. Loss of focus. 2018.

Also enter why I so desperately needed 2018.

Because the problem with perfectionism is that until you’re willing to let it go, you can never really experience grace. And this year, after nearly a decade of working towards my dreams with what feels like little to show, of trying to be perfect and failing, of having institution after institution of stability in my life crumble and shake, I have had to admit, more fully and finally than ever, that I can’t do this on my own. I don’t understand life, I don’t understand love, and most of the time, I don’t even know what I should be doing in the moment.

White flag. Hands up. I surrender.

Which I think, as you might have guessed, is exactly what God has been waiting for.

Because it’s not about what I can do or perform, and God isn’t some tit for tat vending machine, throwing out candy for those who do good. He is a lover, fully devoted, and willing to chase and love and hold even when we’re straight up running away.

It is an attitude, a lifestyle, that if I’m being completely honest, most days I don’t feel I understand at all.

But, God is, as ever, faithful, and even in my wandering, He’s been chasing after me.

One of the questions I feel He’s been asking me a lot lately in light of all this, a question that I’ve been asking myself, is “Are you willing?”

Am I willing to admit I don’t know how to live or love? Am I willing to ask for help?

Am I willing to love those I’d rather not? To forgive where I’d rather hold a grudge?

Am I willing to trust God in the darkness? Am I willing to surrender my all?

And here, on the edge of 2019, I think I have my answer.

Yes, Father, I am willing. Please, help me to do it.


So, what about you? What lessons have you learned in 2018 and what are you looking ahead to in 2019? Are there lessons you are still learning? If so, what are they? Let me know in the comments below, and if you’d like to see more from my journey, feel free to follow me here on the blog or using the social media links. Happy New Year!

Closing the creative gap

Ira Glass has a quote on creativity, as follows:

Now, I know I’ve mentioned this quote before on here, but it’s been floating through my mind again lately, and I wanted to share a few strategies I’ve been using to actually close that gap, to create the volume of work he mentions above.

Make time

This one sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how easy it is for life to tug your time away. Make a schedule for yourself. Find gaps in your calendar, and make them if they don’t exist. If you can, try to find the times that work best for your natural creative rhythms and work doing those.

Protect your time

Once you’ve worked out your creative schedule, stick to it. Now, I know things come up. They do, and that’s fine. But you are the only person who is going to advocate for this time. Nobody else will. So set boundaries. Enforce them. Go someplace else if you’re being distracted or pulled away where you normally work. Don’t feel guilty for following your passion, either. You are the only person who can do your work, and it’s important. Keep holding your boundaries, and eventually other people will learn to respect them too.

Be flexible

All that being said about boundaries and schedules, remember that no matter what your work is, people are ultimately more important. It’s good to maintain healthy boundaries and to be diligent and work hard, but if you’re missing every important event in the lives of those you love, you probably need a break. People will always matter more.

Set goals

For me, this can look like a variety of different things. One example is writing two blog posts a month. Another is having something ready for my writing group whenever we meet. Sometimes it’s as simple as setting a timer and making sure that I write for a solid thirty minutes at a time. Whatever your goal looks like, make sure that it’s reasonable, and give yourself the tools you need to achieve it (for example, scheduling enough time, having people to hold you accountable, or buying a timer). Also, as writer Steven James points out in this helpful article (no really, read it. It’s short), try not to set your goals by something that may not be realistic or within your control. After all, diligence can only go so far when the creative juices run dry, and there’s no reason for you to feel discouraged when it’s just an off day.

Rest

Another obvious one that’s easy to miss, sometimes your brain or body just needs a rest. For me, as a writer, this could mean eye strain, hunger, a lack of tea (of course), needing more sleep, or simply running out of creative steam for the day. For you, it might look different, but learn your signs that you need to take a break. Be especially aware of when you need to take a longer break. For example, when I was younger, I used to get so knotted up and frustrated when I was trying to get something to work on Machine that I would drive myself crazy. When that would happen, when I knew I was forcing everything and getting nowhere, that was when I knew I needed to step back and take a break not just for a few minutes, but for a couple of days, sometimes longer. If your creativity is swallowing you alive and making you miserable, if you’re throwing yourself at the wall until your head is bleeding, consider giving yourself time to recharge. Anne Lamott has a great analogy about the subconscious, a sort of child living inside you that knits things together before passing them up to your mind. Sometimes, you just need to give that child time to work.

Refuel

Tied into the idea of rest is the idea of refueling. For me, that means spending time with family, friends, Jesus, and good art. Each one of these fills me up in a unique way, not only creatively, but also as a person. They also remind me why I do what I do, getting me back to center when I start to stray, and setting the standard for what I hope to do or be. As a recent example, I’ve recently been discovering some new (to me) YA books that I like, and reading them has been reminding me of things like the pleasure of reading (part of what I want to give), why I like YA (purpose), and what good writing looks like (what I hope to do). Other kinds of art stretch my horizons, challenge my thinking, and otherwise fill me up too.

Be accountable

I’ve only discovered the importance of this one in recent years, but it has definitely changed my writing life. If you want to do creative work, having people hold you accountable to do it is one of the easiest ways to make sure you actually get it done. This can look different for everyone. For me, it looks like a list of blog posts on the sidebar, ordered and numbered by month, a writing group that meets monthly, and writing friends that sit in the same room as me to get work done. The last two have been especially helpful in helping me meet deadlines and get work done. This can also look like you holding yourself accountable. Looking at your goals, make sure you’re taking the steps you need to achieve them, and be specific. Make deadlines, tell others what you plan to do, and remind yourself why it’s important that you do it.

Give grace

 

Perhaps most importantly, remember to give yourself grace. As the video says above, you need to work, and work hard, but don’t give up in the middle. Be okay with it if you don’t get in quite as much writing as you’d hoped to, or it isn’t as good as you want yet, or you’ve been rejected again. Keep pushing through, keep trying. Someday, it will come.


What strategies do use to create your volume of work? Anything I missed? Any tricks or helpful hints? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, feel free to follow me here on the blog or on social media using the links in the sidebar.

With Jesus there is no unless

Today I wanted to talk to you about a topic that God has been working on with me lately. That topic is the word “unless.”

This year has been a big year of growth for me. I’ve had a lot of processing to do, and a lot of it has been regarding issues/experiences that have been very close to my heart. There have been people this year that I’ve had to fight to forgive, situations where I’ve felt angry (both at others and myself), and worse, times when I’ve felt (wrongly) justified in that anger. I’ve had to do a lot of digging to figure out the whys behind a lot of those feelings and experiences, some of it unpleasant, some painful, all of it revealing and leading to more goodness, forgiveness, and grace.

Thankfully God has been gracious throughout all of this (as always), both in helping me to forgive and in forgiving me.

Which brings me to my main point, the lesson I’ve been learning: that with Jesus, there is no unless, which is both a great and terrible thing.

For example, the Bible doesn’t say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life unless they struggle with addiction, lied last Tuesday, or don’t wish their mother a happy birthday.”

There is no sin that can keep you away from God if you’re willing to repent and ask forgiveness (and by the way, no, I don’t think not wishing someone happy birthday is a sin).

But by the same token, the Bible also doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor as yourself unless they made you angry on Facebook, come from a different ethnic background or class, or aren’t making the decisions that you think they should were you in their shoes.”

Jesus is very clear on these. Forgive your enemies, love your neighbor, care for the orphan and widow. There are no stipulations on these, no caveats that make you or me special when we try to plead our case.

And I’m not saying that you can’t or won’t struggle to do it. Lord knows this last year has been a case study in the same for me.

However, having seen the immense damage that comes in through these justifications, both in my relationships with others, my relationship with God, and my relationship with myself, I will say that fighting to follow his commands, putting aside my own opinions on who deserves what and when, is worth the fight. God’s discipline is a mercy, and the longer we fight it, the harder things will be, the blinder we will become to the wickedness in our hearts.

More often than not, the very thing that can stir me up to a rage in others is the very thing I do in return. For example, settings conditions on love, shutting out others, being judgmental or passive-aggressive. And even when I don’t see myself doing the same things (or at least haven’t figured it out yet), these situations still reveal other things in me of equal evil. Resentment, condemnation, wishing for others to fail. All of these are deep, hurtful problems I’ve found and the damage they cause can be and has been catastrophic.

And yet, God doesn’t say unless. He stays, He loves, He convicts, and He coaches, His kindness leading me to repentance.

God has forgiven me of more than I could ever imagine. He sees the true condition of my heart, sees the mirrored problems I don’t, sees the wounds I dig in myself and others. His forgiveness is a scandal.

And if He can do that for me, for someone who does the same things I loathe in others, how could I not do the same? How could my response, my worship, be anything less than to extend that same forgiveness to others, to love, to care?

God calls us to love, to do these things for everyone, no matter the circumstances, no matter the condition.

This Christmas season, the time for celebration, family, and friends, it’s time we stop adding “unless.”


So, have you ever struggled with this? When have you made excuses and what was the result? Do you have strategies that help keep you on track to avoid problems like these? Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below and if you’d like more content from me, feel free to subscribe and follow at any of the links in the sidebar.

Starting over, a novel approach

Hey all,

So, I’ve got a huge, slightly scary, but mostly super exciting announcement to make.

Are you ready?

I’m going to re-write Machine.

What? That’s crazy! I’ve been working on it forever!

Yeah, I know.

But the problem is, for the longest time, I’ve been working backwards. Terrible first draft aside (kind of hard to miss that step), first I was polishing, then in stages I started making small changes, then larger ones, and even larger ones until now where I’m finally willing to admit that maybe the bones I’ve been trying to jam together for so long just aren’t meant to work that way. And I’ll admit that’s kind of frustrating (and significantly more embarrassing for as much as I’ve run my mouth about my little monster), but now that I’m starting to let go of it a bit more, now that I’m more willing to admit I was wrong and to let God and the advice of others in, it’s actually getting a lot more exciting, not only because I’m rediscovering the potential of something that I’ve increasingly been seeing as hopeless, but also because I’m finding some of the bones that do stick together (and where some of the other ones that don’t might actually go).

And it’s great.

So, if you’re looking at a massive rewrite like me, what does that actually look like?

Well, let me tell ya. Basically, (or at least at a first stab since this kind of edit is still new to me) I’m actually doing my work in order.

First, I’m going to do world-building. That’s the stage I’m in right now, figuring out weather, politics, education, creatures, etc. I’ve made some progress on this front already. Several problems I’ve had basically since the beginning have started to shift and crack, others resolving completely. I’ve also made some surprising discoveries, both about the world itself and the characters that live in it. Honestly, though it’s been daunting sometimes, it’s also been really fun. I used to be afraid of locking anything into solid fact because I was so worried about getting it wrong, so afraid someone would question me and I’d have to change things (if you’ve ever had to deal with my unwillingness to edit before, I am so sorry. I’m getting better!), but now I’m really discovering how much fun research can be. It’s exciting to see how these different aspects can lock into place, and even though it doesn’t always work like I’d initially expected or hoped, it’s also been fun to start deconstructing story elements I’ve (sometimes needlessly) clung to, to ask the important questions about how things relate to make sure this story becomes the best it can be, which brings me to my next point, which is…

…taking a good look at my plot. Before I plunge ahead with a rewrite, I want to take time to think about what this story really is, what it is I’m really trying to say. God is helping me a lot with that (when I listen, which is still hard), and I’m trying to take the time, though I’ll admit I’m not super far on this one yet. I am asking a lot of questions though, and taking advantage of some advice I just read from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. Speaking about the first stories we tell, she says, “Beginners … always write blatantly about themselves…even if they make the heroine of their piece a championship racehorse with an alcoholic mother who cries a lot.”

And while Machine certainly hasn’t been about either of those two things specifically, it is a lot about my story (something I’ve mentioned before on this blog), my testimony, and when I consider that, it helps me to figure out not just what Machine is about, but where I want it to go, where I want to go. Because the fact of the matter is, if you’re writing about yourself and your main character gets hit by a bus or winds up a hermitic alcoholic, that doesn’t bode well for your own personal outlook, and as I’ve been looking at how Machine reads, I’ve been finding more and more telling things about how I perceive myself, especially when I look at the arc of it over time. And that’s not to say that I’m going to make this truly autobiograpical, even in an allegorical sense, but as I keep pushing towards more love, compassion, grace and especially hope for myself and others–especially the others I want to reach with this book, I think it’s going to show.

The other half of this step is to take a close look at my structure, what works and what doesn’t. Machine was the second-ish book that I wrote, the first in even more dire need of a rewrite, so I’ve learned a lot about plot in the books I’ve written since then. I’ve also heard a lot more from other authors, agents, etc., on what publishers are looking for, and gotten feedback that I think I’m finally ready to start taking into account. I’ve started taking better notes with my critique group and will soon be ready to get feedback from them on the whole thing (well, a few months down the road, but soon for the book publishing world, haha). I’m also considering taking some classes, or at least getting some extra books from the library about things like structure, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Step three is going to be, rather obviously, writing it. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be a full re-write or if there are going to be pieces I’m going to be able to keep, but hopefully after steps one and two I’ll have a clearer picture.

After that, I’m going to take a look at it, see what needs to be fixed, fix it (rinse and repeat those maybe a couple of times), and then polish and scrub. You know, all of the steps I’ve already been doing out of order for the last eight or nine years, haha.

So, I’m not sure yet how long all of this is going to take. Life has been crazy, and though I’d like to say I’m going to be determined enough to plow through this all by next spring (or at least have a first draft), I just don’t know that that’s true, and with another book or two that are not in such desperate need of makeovers, I might be switching gears to start working on them while Machine takes a backseat to simmer. As ever, time and the Lord will tell.

In the meantime, I’m going to be working on some short stories, gathering feedback, researching, working on some other projects (like Twice Born!), and of course, blogging. As to the rest, we’ll find out! Tally-ho!


So, do you have any advice? Any times you’ve had to start over or do a lot of back work on a big project? What did that look like? How did you do it? Did you have other things that inspired you or kept you going on the way? Tell me all about it below and if you’re not already subscribed, follow me here, on Facebook or Twitter to keep in touch.

Thank you!

 

 

 

My unpopular novel

On November 4th, 2015, I finished my fifth novel. I’ve talked about it briefly in a couple of my previous posts, and now that it’s finished, I find myself in that increasingly familiar post-book place. The place where I am both satisfied and restless, pleasantly tired and full of creative energy which no longer has that immediate outlet.

I am also in the place where I can look at my work for the first time as a finished whole, even if it is unpolished, and find answers to the questions I have had since its initial conception, a particularly significant fact given the immense strain I have felt several times throughout the writing of this book in specific regards to its themes and purpose.

You see, at first I thought it was about community, the importance and need for others. Then race, a topic which I have never felt particularly qualified to speak of in the first place, and even more so within the context of this book, which features a slaver and slave as two of the main characters. This was the first pressure point I felt in writing this novel, but surprisingly not the hardest.

The hardest was the realization that, at the end of the day, this book is about sovereignty, positional authority, and with equal importance, grace, and while the last of these themes is wildly popular in our society (a topic I wanted to approach for just such a reason), the first two are not only unpopular topics, but also often wildly rejected. In a society where we are told constantly that our own authority and truths are the most valid, true or authoritative, where if we disagree with something on almost any ground, we can fight or ignore it, the idea that others might simply have authority over us, that they might by the authority of their position be in a place to ordain or command our decisions, is at the very least uncomfortable if not extremely unpleasant for many today, especially within my target market of young and new adult readers.

Compounding this trouble is the fact that the one in my novel who has this control is the slaver, the one who is forced to obey the slave. And while in the context of the novel, one finds the slaver (who is at least somewhat unaware of his complicity, besides his repentance and attempts to fix the inherent problems at their root) to be of a much greater character than the blood thirsty portraits one immediately jumps to given the term, to say nothing of the real parallels I want to strike, given the current racial tensions in our society today, I question how readers might interpret my work.

Now, this is the most overtly Christian book I think I’ve ever written. The themes, correctly interpreted, will hopefully call to attention the importance of God as sovereign, especially in the context of its position in His plan of redemption and grace. Outside of the context of Christianity, outside of this framework for understanding the novel, you wind up with something that is much more easy to misinterpret. Further, though the characters involved do fulfill a somewhat representative role of our relationship with God, none of them actually are God. Atlan, though he shares certain characteristics of God–sovereignty as a King, positional authority, a desire for grace–he certainly doesn’t carry any of them to the same degree. Nor does he have other aspects of God–his perfection, omniscience, omnipotence. Atlan is flawed–seriously flawed–and of course, even if I tried to write him to be perfect, I couldn’t do it. He is at best a flawed picture, a picture as in a dull mirror, as it were.

Which gets us to our summary: I have written a novel for young adults (originally middle grade and I’m still on the fence) which through portraits of a benevolent slaver and his feisty slave seeks to show in part, the importance of positional authority and sovereignty in God’ s plan for redemption.

Essentially, I have written what might be one of my most unsaleable novels.

Except, when I think of what I could do instead, could change, nothing comes to mind. Atlan does want to rescue Mira, is willing to do whatever it takes to free her. Mira will equally resist his friendship until…well…you’ll have to read the book for that. Point is, there’s nothing I can change about the story’s heart. It is what it is, and though smaller things might change, there are others that I’m not sure can, whether it’s popular or not.

Besides that, as an artist–and furthermore and more importantly as a Christian–I believe I am called to ask questions of others, to explore topics and ideas that point to truth whether or not they are seen as worthy in the public’s eye, whether or not people wish to discuss them, or agree with what I think. I am called to ask questions, to start dialogue, to tell stories. There is a great call to tell diverse stories in today’s publishing world. And while I’m not sure how this story will fare in the long run, I feel at the very least that this answers that call. I guess in the end, only God will be able to tell if I’ve answered the others.

Anyway, these are the things I’ve been musing over in this initial post-novel phase.

So, how about you? Have you ever written or created something you felt would be unpopular? Have you ever struggled with the great tension between worldly popularity and the call of God? What do you even think of this novel? Would you read it? Would you ban it? How could you interpret it? How do you think people would?

Back in the saddle

Hello Darlings,

I have about a zillion and a half things to tell you. I will try to keep it brief, so I’ll just give you a couple of small updates on things I’ve mentioned before and then maybe when my thoughts are more congealed in my brain I can talk about some of the things I’ve learned.

First of all, thank you to all of you who have been thinking of, praying for, and/or sending good vibes to me as I’ve been working through my anxiety struggles. I had a major breakthrough on Monday and am now standing in victory.

Secondly, I am almost done with Cog’s horns on the cross-stitch pattern. I will be finishing that today as well as starting the next piece (Rick’s arm, I think), so yay on progress. Also yay on having the sense to stop when I did last night because cross-stitching for hours in the light that I did really did oogy things to my eyeballs and I really don’t want to go blind.

Now, on to the meat of this post.

As many of you know, the past few months have been a rough patch for me. I felt for a while like I lost a lot of the things that make me who I am, and without them I felt like I didn’t know who I was or was supposed to be or what on Earth I should do. About anything. I often felt paralyzed by fear of doing the wrong thing or being the wrong person or all other kinds of some such nonsense.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot. Or, to put it more truthfully, I’ve re-learned or learned to live by things I already knew. I might talk about some of them in another post someday (actions vs. intentions, relationship vs. tasks, true humility, true identity, etc.) but they are not the main point of this post.

The main point is this:

I’m done being timid. Bring it on, world.

This realization has been slowly building in me, finally bursting into life in a confusing explosion of emotion not unlike when Giselle realizes she’s angry at Robert in the incredibly adorable movie Enchanted. Except instead of a handsome soulmate, Robert is a bunch of preposterous, mostly untrue and crippling things I’ve let myself think or feel and Giselle is normal me, only more pretty and adorable.

Angry Giselle
Mmkay, so I kind of want to be her. I feel this is not weird.

It’s like I finally got fed up with all of these lies I’d been telling myself. I let myself feel so wretched and let myself think I couldn’t do even simple tasks. I let telling others how I feel and setting simple boundaries seem like a giant mountain to climb and let looking at jobs be overly depressing because every listing had at least one thing I didn’t already know how to do. I let myself feel under-qualified for all of them, as if not already having all of the skills needed meant there was no chance I could be a capable employee.

Worse still, almost hilariously so, I started blaming the good things in my life for my inability to do other things. I have been incredibly blessed with many, many things. I can write really well, I can sing nicely, I am a good dancer. I am to varying degrees funny, intelligent, quirky, nerdy, charming, witty, creative and pretty. Outside of personal traits, nobody super close to me has ever died, I have a wonderful home, a loving family, amazing friends, plenty of books, an education and up until recently have always been consistently employed, for long stretches of time at each job, too. Life for me has been, all considered, very, very easy.

And I started blaming some of my blessings for my problems. I was still grateful for them, but it was like I was angry for being so lucky. I ran into problems and moaned, “GEEZ. If I hadn’t been so ridiculously blessed all my life these probably wouldn’t even BE problems.” As if my always having been employed had cursed me with an inability to get a job on my own once they stopped falling into my lap (which is not really an accurate description anyway). As if my never having had a major life crisis before now had made me woefully inadequate to endure a life crisis now (when again, really, this is not even a crisis). I mean, sure, I didn’t view it in exactly those terms at the time, but looking back, that is essentially what the thought process was. What an absolutely ridiculous way to think.

With that mentality slinking into place, it was only a matter of time before inner Giselle went off. I was not raised in a family where self-pity is acceptable. Thinking the way I was did and still does seem disgraceful to me. Am I under grace for those times when I am weak or struggle or get twisted up inside? Yes. Can I forgive myself for thinking that way for a time like I did? Yes. Does that mean it can continue? No, no, nope, no, no, no, no. I am blessed. I am a capable human being. The blessings I have are not some kind of life-atrophying shield meant to soften me up for hard blows, they are people, experiences, objects, values, skills and knowledge meant to build me up and help support me as I face the blows that come up (as well as all of the wonderful things that they do and bring to my life, because there is a LOT of that).

I am tired of being anxious or thinking I can’t do things or that I’m not good enough. 2 Timothy 1:7 says we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I am ready to stop being timid and be bold. To do things that are scary or intimidating because they are worth it and I am not alone and I can do them.

So here’s to more writing. To more dancing and singing, reading, boundary setting and the leaping of obstacles. I’m ready to learn more things, to reclaim gifts that were slipping away, to do things that challenge me and to grow because it’s fun. All this time I’ve been thinking this is a great chance to be excited. Well, here I go, and I AM EXCITED.

Can I get a witness?

Hey all,

Let’s talk about being Christian witnesses through the lens of what witnesses do.

Ideally speaking, witnesses:

  1. See something happen
  2. Change their lives based on what they see
  3. Are questioned about it
  4. Tell others honestly about it
  5. Are scrutinized for honesty and caught if they lie
  6. May still be unreliable
  7. Are not the jury
  8. Are not the judge
  9. Are not the executioner

I think it’s really easy for us as Christians generally (and certainly specifically for myself) to think that somehow we need to do a lot more than we’re actually called to do. I have many times put more responsibility on my shoulders than God ever wanted me to have, thinking if I don’t do this or that or if I screw up someone is going to Hell or I’m not doing enough or something along those lines. I feel like this is truly not God’s intention for us. We are called as witnesses, so let’s dive real quick into some of what I think that means. If you disagree or think I’m missing something, please let me know! Let’s make this a discussion!

We see something happen

If God moves in our lives, it’s our job to witness it. This means being aware and sensitive to noticing when His presence is with us, when He steps in to rescue or protect us (even from if not especially from ourselves!), when He blesses or provides for us, when He disciplines us, when He gives us peace or comfort, and certainly when He speaks to us. God is everywhere all the time. We cannot go a day without seeing something His hand has touched (Romans 1:20). So witness it! It doesn’t have to be some big profound experience. It could be as simple as snowflakes or a phone call from a friend.

We change our lives based on what we see

Someone who has witnessed a robbery may be more likely to take a course in self defense or not walk alone at night. Someone who witnesses a random act of kindness may hold open a door for the next person they see when normally they wouldn’t wait. It changes the way they see the world and therefore, usually, in some way, their behavior. Likewise, when we see God move in our lives, it changes the way that we live (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2). It broadens our understanding of the world around us, of Him and of ourselves, and naturally will change our daily behaviors. I know this is true because I used to be a misanthropic cynic who was mean and cutting to other people, thought there was something innately wrong or broken about me as a human being and despaired of being alone, and am now a radically changed person through my relationship with Christ, who taught me to love and delight in others, to show kindness in my words and actions and to know that no matter where I am, I am never alone. And it doesn’t have to happen overnight or in some big blast of understanding, as someone who is sheltered from harm until a robbery might be changed, but may come through small day by day changes as a child shown daily the manners of their parents may one day learn to say please and thank you of their own accord.

We are questioned about it

When people know we’ve seen something important and/or when they see the way our lives change, they will notice. It’s the same as in a police case. Eventually, if you’re not trying to hide what you know (or even if you are, perhaps!), they’ll ask.

We tell others the truth

When the opportunity arises, we can tell about what we saw. This could be in a response to a direct question, as is the case when a witness is being examined in court, or it could be just a conversational topic, like when somebody sees a rainbow and points it out to a friend or when you tell a funny story about something you once did. It’s not something we have to force down people’s throats. We’re not called to dominate or derail conversations (1 Peter 3:15-16), nor are witnesses ignored if they have something to share. It’s just something natural that comes out of being a witness.

We are scrutinized for honesty and caught if we lie

Witnesses are authorities on what they’ve seen. That’s why they’re asked the questions. But if a witness says they saw somebody mugged in a dark alley and later shows no concern walking down that same alley alone at night, people are going to suspect that something is wrong. Either that person did not see what they said (no mugger at all), are pretending to be something they are not (perhaps they themselves are the mugger), are faking something for ulterior motives (bravery for the sake of impressing others) or are very, very foolish. In any of these cases, the others around them are not likely to believe them very much on that original matter or in future, or at the very least not as much as if that person had truly changed their behavior based on what they saw. The same applies to us as Christians. If we say God is love and that we are in relationship with Him and yet are not loving, what does that say? If we say God promises peace, but live in constant fear or anxiety, what reason do others have to believe that what we’re saying is true? In many ways other people are like the jury, trying to find truth in what we say and do. If our lives don’t line up with what we’re saying, what reason do they have to believe us? Especially when there is another “attorney” working against us who is trying all the time to dissuade us from telling the truth and to prove that we are unreliable and false?

We may still be unreliable

Despite being authorities on what they see, a well-intentioned witness may still be wrong from time to time. They may think there was only one mugger when there were in fact two because a dumpster blocked their way. They may think someone was the mugger because they missed a distinguishing feature or were led astray be leading questions. I’m not saying this as an excuse for people to get away with being inaccurate witnesses in real life or in this analogy to Christianity, I’m just saying that humans are limited. There’s no way to see or know everything there is to know, which is actually pretty relieving when you think about what that means. Regardless, the point is that even the best witness is going to stumble sometimes. Even the best Christian is not going to live out a completely Godly life. In the same way as we are to have grace for a witness who couldn’t see properly in the middle of the night, we need to have grace to know that Christians can’t always see clearly in the middle of their night either. They have histories and baggage that can color their understanding of different situations. They have corners they can’t see around because they haven’t quite reached the step to turn. They have the same kind of problems that a regular witness can, because they’re human. That’s what humans do. The trick is to right that wrong when we realize the truth, accept the grace offered us for it, and be sure to offer that same grace to others when the same happens to them. To be the most honest witnesses we can be in our limited understanding and hope that God steps in to broaden our understanding to reveal the places where we’ve unwittingly slipped up or to discipline and correct us in the places where we’ve done so on purpose, changing our hearts so that we will not continue in that line.

We are not the jury

Witnesses already know the truth. The jury is there to see if they tell it honestly and after that they decide for themselves. Likewise we know the truth of what God is doing in our lives. We can tell others about it, but it is not our place to decide for them whether or not they believe us.

We are not the judge

Witnesses don’t make final calls on the sentences of prisoners. God knows more than we could ever know about a situation. It’s his place to make the calls and for us just to witness. Tell what you know and trust Him to reveal the rest, including what could be (and probably is, there is always something we don’t know!) missing from your own perspective.

We are not the executioner

Proverbs 20:22, Proverbs 25:22. The witness is not the warden of the prison or the prison guard, ensuring the prisoner stays inside his cell. They are not the one ensuring they complete their community service. They are not the one who would serve as executioner. The same goes for us. I’m not saying God is bloodthirsty or can’t wait to punish people or enslave them or anything like that. He is in fact the complete opposite. What I mean is if someone hurts you, don’t avenge yourself. Turn the other cheek. Pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). Hope that the way you react shows them God’s love so that they as a jury member themselves may see truth. God knows the situation. He weeps and grieves for your pain and loss and suffering far more than you ever could. And equally, for theirs. This is one of those situations where this analogy kind of falls through, because our human justice systems are not and could never be as perfect as God’s. See, God is perfect. He is perfectly loving of all of his creations, but He is also equally perfectly just. And that means he can’t abide sin and evil going unpunished. He can’t even abide such evils in his presence (see pretty much the entire struggle of the Old Testament). In this we are all on an equal playing field, having all, jury member, witness and prisoner, fallen short of those perfect standards and all therefore being guilty before God and worthy of death, Romans 6:23.  That is why he sent his Son Jesus to die for us. So that his blood could pay the sentence on our heads and save us from damnation and punishment. That is also why it is equally important for us, as witnesses who have already been saved in our own court date by that same blood, not to try to play parts in others lives that we weren’t meant to play. By playing judge and executioner, we undermine God’s love and plan for others. Our limitations mean we often don’t see the situation correctly and never fully, our pride in placing ourselves in God’s place grieves him and harms others and our hypocrisy turns others away. We are witnesses. Let’s just focus on that.

Anyway, now that the main bulk of this post is over, I’d just like to throw in a few little comments and such so that there isn’t confusion (or at least a little less).

  1. I am sorry that this analogy is not always the most clear thing. I do not know the intricacies of the court for one thing, which makes this kind of thing difficult, and again, as I said, our human courts are not the same as God’s. Trying to act as though ours are a complete and honest model of His would be a foolish mistake because obviously even the highest level members of our court systems here are limited humans. I also understand that much of this is based on what would be an ideal version of our current court system. I know not all judges, jury members, attorneys, and witnesses are honest. I know that sometimes witnesses could be ignored despite having something important to say. I get all that. This analogy is based on a kind of ideal.
  2. I know I didn’t have specific verses for all of these, but I did try to base everything on what I have found to be biblical truths or truths I have found in my own life (or my understandings of them, as an unreliable witness myself). Some of the reason I don’t have specifics is because the point was too broad and my knowledge of where things are in the Bible too small. Some was because this is a very, very long post and I’m very tired from the writing of it and because this is a blog post and not an actual sermon or some combination of all of the above. But, if you know any verses that back this up specifically (or refute it! Please correct me if this is wrong!!!), please feel free to add it in the comments and I’ll edit the post and give you a shout out. Even general stories (parables or stories about hypocrisy being a prime example) and references would be adored. I know not everyone who reads this will have the same Biblical knowledge I do and certainly that many will have much much more, so I want to have as much Biblical backup as I can get, firstly because it is important to me to show that there are Biblical roots to what I believe and say, secondly to encourage others to look this stuff up themselves and thirdly for me to have guidance as I write, knowing that left to my own devices I can easily get things wrong for any number of reasons. I am also certain the Bible can reveal more truth in reading than any post of mine, so if you have questions about this and want to know what the Bible really says about it, please read it and find out for yourselves! And once you know, come back to me! I’d love to hear what you find.
  3. I know there’s a balance in finding when to speak and when to not and how we witness and what that means as pertains to our job choices, ministries and such. I know there’s a balance to be found when deciding how much we say and how we say it and when to take initiative and when to rest in the Lord and the balance between all of the roles above. I am trying daily myself to find that balance and it is something that’s really been a focus for me lately, so be aware I really don’t have the answers myself, even that those answers may be different for each person. I tried my best to avoid coming across as either taking too much or too little into our hands and to speak somewhat generally, but if you have thoughts, advice, arguments, questions, comments, etc. on the matter, please let me know.
  4. If you’re looking for general verses about witnessing and being called to be a witness and such, I found this helpful page here which has many of that sort in one convenient place.
  5. Thank you so, so much for making it this far! I am so blessed to have you as a reader and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. I will do my best to answer them in the comments below!

From chocolate to fire and water

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Romans 7:15-24

Main point of this post: God is redirecting me, and it kind of really hurts, and, it just might be one of the best places I have ever been in my life.

Details: As you probably know, over the past eight months or so, God has taught me some really amazing things. You can read about some of them in previous posts, but needless to say, God has really been moving in my life to show me things that have brought about greater freedom, grace, joy and love in ways I hadn’t expected. The lessons He taught were easy and I delighted to learn them.

Now I’m in a place that’s just a little bit different.

God is challenging me.

He is tearing down walls, renovating, clearing out closets, beating rugs, polishing up and refining. He is building a new foundation. He is teaching me about things that have been wheedled so far down into my heart that I did not know they were there. And to be honest there have been times where I have thought, this really sucks.

But, ultimately, it doesn’t. I’m in a place that is both difficult and exciting, heart-breaking and encouraging, impossibly hard and overwhelming and yet simultaneously natural and exactly as it should be. I’m still learning, and being refined, it’s just now the fire is actually starting to burn. It’s like the past months were God melting things away from the heat in His hands, kind of like if you held chocolate in your hand with a small nugget of gold inside. Now it’s like he’s taking that piece of gold, and chucking it into the flames. And the only way to truly purify that metal into what it ought to be is going to be for it to burn.

In having most of what I thought I valued or thought mattered or felt capable or confident in stripped down, dimmed or shelved to some degree in the last three-ish weeks, God has revealed a lot to me. Things such as how I tend to identify myself in fairly rigid absolutes, how I struggle to accept the same grace and love from others that I would like to extend myself, how many of the good things I value about myself are in fact rooted in pride, and how I will destroy myself over and over and over again for the sake of defending said pride.

There are a lot of things that we assume or take for granted about ourselves sometimes. I don’t think that this is how we should live, or in fact how we were created to live.

For example, if I say, “I am shy,” then it is very easy for me to avoid going up to someone new and say hello because I can always fall back on the simple excuse of “I am shy.” By doing this I will miss out on meeting a great many lovely people who could have been friends. I tend to do this to myself quite often, attaching to myself many things that, though they may be true now, may not or perhaps even should not be a part of  my identity later, especially as God sees and wants it to be. A few examples I have clung to at various points in my life, or may be still clinging to include: “I am shy,” or “I am not good socially,” or “I am a ballroom dancer,” or even “I am a Wisconsinite.” Now, some of these may not change. I will always have been born and raised in Wisconsin and thereby be considered a Wisconsinite in many ways, and I should like to think that the idea of myself as a writer will always be true, but the fact is, I need to be open to the fact that it might not be. God knows His plans for me, He knows me better than myself, He sees me with eyes unclouded by presuppositions, biases, lies, wounds, wrong motivations, cultural and societal influences, expectations or any of the other things that may affect the way that I or others may see myself. He wants to live in relationship with me, for me to rely on Him for everything, for my identity to be rooted in what He sees. This is not because he wants to take things I enjoy away from me or because he wants a power trip where I can’t do anything without Him, it is because it is simply the natural order of things. God created everything, everything stems from and belongs to Him, and everything good in my life comes from Him as the source. I, on the other hand, am a human being, prone to mistakes that will, given time, not only bring me to the brink of utter ruin but also–with a laugh and a gleeful shout–push me over that final edge to said desolation (see Romans excerpt above). It should not be surprising given these circumstances that it is easier for us to live in right relationship with and to him–as in constant relationship with him–than it is for us to live in conflict with Him, much as it is easier for a child to live with parents he is obedient and in relationship with than for him to constantly fight and throw tantrums, not because the parents want the children not to have fun, but because they love him.

I know that brings up cans of worms that are too large and tangled to even attempt to open here, and that even if I did I do not have the answers to all of the questions that would arise from doing so, but I wanted to explain why I’m starting to see the importance of not making these assumptions. After all, some handful or two of years ago, you could not have convinced me that someday I would be comfortable going out on a dance floor with somebody that I don’t know, or even that I would end up at a studio learning to ballroom dance at all. Because of God’s work in my life, I have become something new, someone who is confident enough to be able to do those things. By that same token, I am learning that I must be careful not to simply replace these old understandings of myself with new ones that are no less rigid, such as the idea (now somewhat shattered, in ways) that “I am a ballroom dancer.” Life is about balance, and we need to be careful to be liquid enough to go where He directs us, even when it hurts.

This has been difficult for me. One of the absolutes I’ve held on to for a long time is that “I know myself,” primarily through the use of these kinds of absolutes. It’s why I still tell people I am socially incapable when I am not nearly so bad as this suggests, why I still think I can’t do things when I probably can and why I have a 40+ page Abby Handbook fairly accurately describing myself. I have set up walls of identity to “protect” the person that I imagine myself to be. These, as it turns out, are primarily just excuses for me not to do or be something other than what I currently think I am. To be shy, to not try new things, to excuse behaviors in me that I really shouldn’t have.

God is redirecting me.

Things that worked for me before are no longer working. Fallbacks and escape routes I had before are being sealed up and buried. God is transforming me into something that I was not before from something that I will never be able to be again. It is incredibly hard, and unfathomably more good.

Oh, and please don’t mistake this as me saying we should not have any boundaries or anything like that. I am not saying that at ALL. I’m just saying sometimes we can trap ourselves in places we don’t need to be because we listen to or believe things about ourselves that are not really true for whatever reason that may be.

Anyway, I hope that this post was helpful to you in some way. If it is not, that’s alright too. As I continue this journey of figuring out where and who I ought to be, it certainly was to me.

Peace.

P.S. I just finished reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. It definitely influenced this post and has some pretty mind-blowing stuff in it, though it may not be for everyone. Give it a read if you like and let me know what you think!

Oops I did it again

I’m not going to promise that’s the only Britney Spears reference I’ll ever make, but don’t imagine this becoming a regular thing.

Anyway, lately my life has rather been exploding in a weird and painful but ultimately really good and healthy way, in no small part because I’m a human and humans have a habit of doing silly things that get them into more trouble than was necessary (hence the title of this post) and in no lesser part because that’s just kind of the stage of life I’m in being a young person who is trying to figure out life and find a new job. I’ll spare some details as I’m still a bit in the thick of it and because I don’t want this post to be a zillion miles long, but the basic story is: girl does lots of things, girl starts feeling anxious about all of the things as they start to fall apart a little, girl continues to try to win against anxiety by sheer force of will, girl’s anxiety gets way out of hand, everything crumbles and falls apart, girl feels terrible for several days but then starts learning a lot of things, learning lots of things makes girl feel better, tentatively excited and even happy about everything falling apart because of what it’s revealing and life lessons abound.

So, things I’m learning (or re-learning. I don’t always learn things all the way through the first time.)

  1. I am not God. This is as it should be. Thank goodness I am not.
  2. I should not expect to know what is going to happen to me every day.
  3. The fact I don’t know what is going to happen to me every day is okay.
  4. It’s rather absurd to think you know what’s going to happen every day.
  5. Taking things minute by minute and day by day can be exceedingly difficult if you are impatient.
  6. You learn patience by going through things that take time, minute by minute and day by day. This is especially true when they are difficult things to do.
  7. Before beginning any large endeavor it is perhaps best to consider if it’s an endeavor you are a good candidate for in the first place. It is also particularly wise to check with God before you assume it is for you, because sometimes it is not and sometimes the way you see things is not the way they actually are.
  8. People are not projects. It is exceedingly prideful to think that you need to be the person to help people change or even to assume they want your help. That is not why we are placed in people’s lives.
  9. Sometimes it’s good to step back from things–even things you enjoy–for a time.
  10. Sometimes stepping back from things–especially things you enjoy–will make people sad, including but not limited to, yourself. But if they love you, they will understand. If they do not, that’s rather another matter.
  11. It’s hard to admit you were wrong, but grace allows us the understanding that we often will be and leads to the humility that stifles the pride that says that we never should be.
  12. For as much as I think I know things, I really know pretty much none of the things.
  13. It’s pretty okay that I don’t know a lot of things, because there are a lot of things to know and even if I lived to be 3,045 that would still be the case.
  14. I really, REALLY like Johnny Cash.
  15. God uses really weird things to show us things about ourselves sometimes.
  16. I really like C.S. Lewis.
  17. Worship, reading the Bible and surrounding yourself with people who love you and want to seek out God with you is pretty much never a bad plan when you’re freaking out.
  18. God loves blowing my mind.
  19. I still have a long ways to go.

Anyway, hopefully this list helps you a little bit or fills you in about where I am right now in some sense. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the list will change. I’m sure a lot of the things I am learning still need to be balanced out with other things, but that’s a balance I will continually be trying to strike because that’s sort of how life works. And that’s okay. And so am I.

P.S.

20. My dad can TOTALLY shred it up on guitar. I never knew the full extent of this until yesterday and I am incredibly proud to call him my own.