Sunday, September 26, 2010

Building My World

The difference between me and a normal person is that when they see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and/or experience something seemingly trivial, the normal person usually just thinks about it for a moment, or maybe even not at all, and then goes on with his/her life.

I often experience something seemingly trivial and obsess over it. Usually this obsession comes out in writing. If something moves me--even something seemingly trivial--I HAVE to write about it.

Today, whilst hanging out (Really, am I allowed to write the phrase "whilst hanging out? No? Too bad! I just did!) with an amazing family from my church (and some other friends), I spent some time with their 4.5 year old son "J." I happen to think "J" is one of the coolest kids ever (and the feeling is mutual--he thinks I'm one of the coolest kids ever, too, although I'm a bit taller than most of his little friends). I picked him up and pretended he was an accordion (including all the "WAH-WOO-WAH-WOO" sounds a real pretend accordion might make), which for some STRANGE reason he thought was absolutely hilarious. Then he ran off and did something else for a few minutes because he's a kid and kids do that. While he was gone, I got involved in a grown up conversation (it's been known to happen from time to time), when suddenly "J" just came up beside me and impoloringly said, "Miss Ruth, I need help building my world."

A normal person would probably chuckle at the cuteness and innocence of such a statement, if they even understood why it was funny. OF COURSE he was talking about building a "world" AKA "city" AKA "house" AKA "randomly shaped indiscernable object of some sort" out of his legos, and he wanted me to come play with him. A normal person would get that and go play with him (or a mean normal person might say, "Not now kid. I'm too busy talking about grown up things. Blah blah blah grownup talk blah." No one at the gathering this afternoon would have EVER been mean like that to precious "J"--but I've seen grown ups in other places who are that mean. They make me sad.) My first reaction was to laugh at the cuteness of the statement and especially the cuteness of "J." My next reaction was to think "Wow, 'J,' I need help building MY world, too," and then I thought, "Oh, I am SO blogging about this later." I'm not a normal person. I'm more than okay with that.

I played legos. I helped "J" build his world. For a while, I was slightly concerned that I wouldn't build according to his specifications--because honestly, some of these 4.5 year old boys are SERIOUS about their lego worlds. But after a while, I began to realize that he didn't really care about HOW I played with the legos. He just wanted me to play legos WITH HIM. And I began to realize as I played legos with "J," in a very small yet important way, I WAS building his world. And he was building mine.

When you look at the task of building the WHOLE WORLD (one that's NOT just made out of legos), it's so easy to get discouraged. There are countless needs out there. It's impossible to even begin to imagine them. It's so easy to get discouraged when you think of it like that.

But we aren't called to build the whole world. We're called to build what has been placed right in front of us. Sometimes that's as simple as spending a little bit of time with an awesome 4.5 year old boy who for some unknown reason thinks I'm awesome, too.

Sometimes it's a little harder than that. Sometimes what we're given to do isn't something we're comfortable with. It's easy to get discouraged or frightened that we can't do it the way we're expected to do it--we're afraid of failing--but there's more than just ourselves guiding where we place each block. See, I, like "J," need help building my world. I can't do it alone.

But today I got one of those rare glimpses of what it must be like to be God. When "J" asked me for help, I didn't roll my eyes and act like he was wasting my time. I think sometimes we treat God like that. We have some silly "Why would God care about me?" attitude. But when "J" asked for my help, I was delighted just to get to spend some time with him. And I know God is delighted when we spend time with Him. He wants us to seek His help; He wants us to seek Him.

Block by block by block God is helping me build my world. He's putting others alongside me so we can help one another build, and He Himself is guiding the building. I got all of that from one simple, beautiful statement from a child. "Miss Ruth, I need help building my world."

Thank God I'm not normal.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Work and Worship Part 2

Sometimes I think I've said all I have to say on a subject, and then I realize that I didn't say all I wanted to. This is one of those times.

In my Bible study class on Sunday morning, we were reading from Ephesians 2:1-10. This is one of my favorite passages, but I'm weird. A lot of Christians I know read this passage and really set their focus on the verses that deal with grace and being alive in Christ. I get that. I really do. This whole passage is so amazing. All the verses are so important and tie together well. God inspired Paul to write them and they're incredible words of truth. But I'm weird, as I mentioned before. The verses that stand out to me are not the same ones that seem to stand out to everyone else.

My favorite verse from this passage is verse 10: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." In verse 3 of this passage, Paul refers to his readers (the Ephesians, as well as all Christians) as formerly being "by nature OBJECTS of wrath." I like the contrast this plays with verse 10. We go from being objects of wrath to God's workmanships--other translations state we are "God's masterpieces." That's through God's grace. I love the way some translations word this whole passage. In the first few verses, Paul talks about how we were once dead in our sin and gratifying our own sinful desires--we were objects of wrath. Then in verse four comes the turning point: BUT GOD made us alive in Christ. I love those words. "BUT GOD." Those words are full of such hope and promise. Mmm. I get cold chills thinking about it. It really is only by His grace that we can be or do anything.

That brings me to my point. Maybe. I tend to ramble, haven't you noticed? I'll bet you have. AHEM.

In verse 9, Paul reemphasizes that it's only by grace that we are saved, alive, etc. He points out that it is NOT BY OUR WORKS so that we can't boast about it.

And then in the very next verse, verse 10 (see above), Paul states that God gave us work to do. Hold up. Didn't he JUST say in the previous verse that our works are basically meaningless in regards to our salvation? It's not a contradiction. It's a clarification.

Works don't save us. I could write brilliant novels and lovingly take care of children and mow lawns for the elderly and make gourmet meals for the homeless or do any number of things that would qualify as work. They wouldn't do a thing for me. The thing is, though, that God did make work. According to Eph. 2:10, he prepared work for us to do.

Work doesn't save us, but it glorifies Him. I don't *think* that I'm counting on all the work I do to save me, but I think every Christian from time to time finds him/herself in that trap of wanting to "do things for God." God doesn't need us to do things for Him. God doesn't need anything.

God desires us. He chooses us. He uses us because He is good, not because there's anything good in us. The work He's given you and me doesn't have anything to do with saving us. It's what He's given us to do to glorify Him and further His Kingdom.

As I said in the previous post, my failing is that I am lazy. I want to do the things that honor me and build my kingdom(like sit around and wait for people to post on my facebook wall) instead of the work that honors God and builds His Kingdom. Nothing we have belongs to us, and when we really start to understand that, I think that's when we really start honoring God with our time, talents, and money.

Thank you, Lord, for making me--for making me Your masterpiece. I thank you for reminding me that I have no right to boast--all I have is from You. I ask that You keep breathing your creativity into me that I can spread the breath of You into the work that I do. Thank you for grace. I'm ever always in need of it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Work and Worship

I'm a working girl. I have three jobs (supplimented with other sporadic babysitting opportunities and other random childcare gigs). I also am in the process of trying to balance these jobs with writing/editing--and maybe even some more querying in the near future. I know what work is (even though I'm not nearly as busy as the average stay-at-home mom). At least, I thought I knew.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how God gave Adam and Eve work to do, how that was part of the perfect world before The Fall of humanity. After Adam and Eve sinned, work became toilsome. I wonder what it was like before; I can only assume it was a pleasant thing. It was something God intended.

I love working with kids. I love my coworkers. I love my jobs. Please don't get me wrong there. It's just that sometimes when that alarm clock goes off in the morning, I don't like the idea of work. Sometimes when that child is throwing a tantrum (or throwing something else--AT MY HEAD!!!) I don't like the idea of work. Sometimes when I want to go do something fun with my friends and I can't do it because I'm a slave to someone else's schedule, I don't like the idea of work.

But work was never meant to be something we dreaded. Work was something God gave us. Right now, my problem isn't with my paying jobs. I'm LOVING all of them at the moment--even if I don't always want to do them. I'm blessed with amazing coworkers and precious children and wonderful parents--some of whom I think love me as much as I love them. I'm still adjusting to the stress of having three jobs pull at my time, but all in all, I'm very blessed in this wretched economy to have three jobs.

I wish things were going as well with my writing. I just started writing and editing again after a month or so of taking a break. It's been a lot harder to get back into it than I imagined. I'm not sure exactly what the problem is. I think that a part of it is just that I'm so busy working at paying jobs that I have little time to write. But that doesn't exactly excuse me. I get home from work and what's the first thing I do? I get online. I check my email. I check facebook. I check my blogs. I check twitter. I check facebook again. I check twitter again. I write a blog (or two). I check facebook again. I take a short break for dinner. I check facebook again. I check twitter again. I check my blogs again. I go back to facebook. It's amazing how I can waste 2-3 hours online and not even realize it.

The thing is, there is nothing wrong with social networking or blogging, just as there is nothing wrong with watching an occasional tv show. Nothing at all. The problem with it for me is that I spend too much time doing it when I could be doing more important things. Honestly, I've come to the realization that the reason I spend too much time online is because I'm very much interested in seeing what other people have to say to me or about me. I'm building MY kingdom.

...and all the while there's my writing. I believe God has given me my writing. I believe He's called me to it. It doesn't pay anything now, but it's important. It's something that God has given me to do, and I have faith that He will use it to build HIS Kingdom. Wasting time on the internet (furthering MY kingdom) is stealing time that could be used doing something that God's given me to do (furthering HIS Kingdom). How I work has a lot to do with how I worship.

This has been on my mind for some time. God has an interesting way of sending the same message to His children over and over and over until He gets it through our heads. I'm finally listening.

I ask you to pray for me as I learn how to balance my time. I ask you to pray that I make a concious effort to serve God with my time and talents. I ask that you pray that God will convict me when I try to further my kingdom instead of His.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Flowers for Jesus

I started a new job today (in addition to my two other childcare jobs) at my church's preschool. I'm working with one-year-olds (and some younger twos), which makes me VERY happy. I spent three summers of my life working with one-year-olds at a summer preschool program. Though I love kids of all ages, one-year-olds just hold a special place in my heart. There's something about the way they are still so new, yet they're learning SO MUCH about themselves and about the world around them. Most of them haven't learned how to throw tantrums for the sake of throwing tantrums. They cry when they're hurt or sad or scared. They laugh when they're happy. If they fight sleep, it's because they're learning SO MUCH and they don't want to miss anything. They dance and don't care who is watching. They get food all over their faces and delight when we laugh with them about it. In a lot of ways, one-year-olds are the most honest human beings around. I think that's why I get along with them so well.

Today with the kids was good therapy for me. Yesterday was not such a good day. I ended my "writing break" yesterday by literally breaking one of my Dragon Muses...again. (If you're confused, click HERE --and please follow Pneuman! He's getting depressed at the lack of followers!) I fixed him up all right, but yesterday was discouraging for other reasons. I started out with such high hopes yesterday. They crumbled when I started reading over my previous writing. For some reason, it just looked utterly dreadful to me yesterday. Now, today when I read over it, it wasn't as bad as it seemed yesterday. But yesterday I went from being on top of the world to the depths of despair in about 20 seconds.

That's probably one of the occupational hazards of being a writer.

I gave myself a lot of pep talks last night. I prayed through it this morning. I know it's a trust issue. I was trusting in myself again instead of trusting in God. Of COURSE things are going to look hopeless if I'm depending on me. That's because things ARE hopeless if I'm depending on me. Even with this knowledge, Satan still attacked. I remember driving to work this morning wondering, "Lord, why do You even want me to keep writing? It's not like I have anything to give You."

Then I went and hung out with those precious little children whom God made. And one of the little girls brought this picture book about Jesus to me. I don't get to share Jesus with the kids at one of my other jobs, so it's such an exciting thing when I'm actually encouraged to share Jesus with the kids. And I know these kids are so young that there's not much they can understand, but I think kids this age understand love better than a lot of adults I know.

So I was looking at the pictures of Jesus in the book and talking to the little girl about how much Jesus loved her. I turned to one of the pages. It was a picture of a little brown-eyed girl holding out three flowers to Jesus as he hugged her. The little girl I held also had brown eyes, and I was in the process of telling her how she looked like that little girl bringing flowers to Jesus. I was in the process of telling her how she could give things to Jesus, too. I was in the process of telling her how Jesus would love anything she brought Him because He loved her. I was in the process--but I had to stop because my eyes were starting to tear up.

That drawing of the little girl in that picture book all of the sudden became something deeply Spiritual to me. The little girl didn't make those flowers; God did. And when she was taking those flowers to Jesus, she was giving to Jesus something that essentially He had made--something that was already His. Yet it was evident from the smile on Jesus' face in the picture, it was evident from the way he embraced that little girl that He was immensely pleased with her gift. Perhaps the little girl was too innocent to understand that she was giving back to Jesus something that was already His. It doesn't matter whether she knew or not. Jesus was still pleased with the gift. More than that, He was pleased with His child.

This morning I read in Matthew 11: 25-26 "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.'"

It's so hard for me to understand the good pleasure of God. The things that make sense to us don't make sense to Him. His folly is wiser than any of man's wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20-31). And I'm fond of saying that I'm nothing more than a weak fool. I have nothing to give.

Yet God still gives me breath, and I still have to exhale. All I have is flowers to give to Jesus. It's nothing I made. But it still gives Him good pleasure when I offer it to Him. And those flowers become something much more precious in His hands than they ever were in mine.

The first line of a song I wrote a while back goes like this: "Countless watercolor paintings line Your refridgerator door for in Your eyes our worthless praises, they become something more."

Our offerings are as worthless as we are because we didn't make them anymore than we made ourselves. If anything, we've spent most of our lives unmaking what God originally made to be good. But our offerings have worth because He values them. He values them because He values us.

We're His kids.

Father, help me keep bringing my flowers to You, and may their fragrance be sweet because of Your good pleasure.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Breaking the Break

I'm planning to end my break from writing on Monday. I have a day off, which will be my only day off for a while. I'll need to use that day to come up with a pretty decent game plan of how I'm going to handle my writing and editing and querying for the rest of 2010.

The really interesting thing is that on Tuesday, I start a new job. I'm going to be working with my church's preschool three days a week. That will mean I'll be working THREE jobs in the childcare field. I'm going to be doing this while also trying to balance writing/editing/querying into the mix. In other words, you might want to stick around and watch me over the next few months. I have a feeling my brain will soon explode and cause a fairly impressive display of some kind.

Yay! Fireworks! Ooh. Pretty.

The thing is, I'm not really sure if I've learned much from this writing break that I can put into words. I was able to read a few books and get some different perspective. I was able to really think about whether I wanted to just try to self-publish or continue to try to find a literary agent. But really, regarding querying, I still have little clue of what I need to do or how I need to do it.

I don't think taking a break was a bad idea. I needed to reevaluate some things. The thing is, though, writing is just like everything else. There isn't a step-by-step process of how to do it. It took me thirty years to realize that people who achieve what they want didn't start out knowing how to achieve it. Maybe the way to succeed when I don't know what I'm doing is to research as much as possible, then just do something and see what happens. If I make mistakes, I learn. If I do something right, I learn. The way someone else did it isn't necessarily the way it's going to work for me.

I decided to go through several of my old disorganized notebooks the other night. These notebooks contained some forgotten short stories and some truly wretched poetry...and also many, many prayers. I write down my prayers because I communicate and focus better when I'm writing. When I write, I think I might be more myself than when I'm not writing. It only makes sense that my most intimate communication with God should be written. Anyway, I came across some of my prayers from a couple of years ago--back when I'd just gotten done with my first draft of my first book. I prayed then that the Lord would do with my writing what He wanted to do with it IN HIS TIMING and IN HIS WAY. That book has gone through SEVERAL revisions. It's much shorter and much better than it was originally. It's changed and I've changed. God hasn't changed. I believe He's still working in these stories and working in me. I believe that IN HIS TIMING and IN HIS WAY He will honor my efforts to reveal my writing to the world.

It will most likely not be how I expect.

It will most likely be in a way I can't imagine.

It will most definitely only be possible with His help.

I'm not sure what the next few months will bring. I really hope the next few months do not involve my head exploding or bursting into stress-induced flames. I don't know if I'll find an agent or just learn a lot by trying.

But Monday is coming, and even though I'm not sure I'm ready, I'm going to face it head on. I don't know what will happen, but I know something will happen. I can be a passive writer no longer. The break is almost over.