Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Update: Old Skool Amy Grant was Right

I worked a lot this week.  Just sayin'.  It's also been a hugely emotional week.  I don't want to go into it here because it's not my story to tell, but I will say that it's always hard seeing old friends because of sad circumstances.   I'll also say that life is precious, and if God's given life to me and you, it's a pretty sure thing that He wants us to live it.  It's just hard sometimes getting that head knowledge into my heart.

When I see old friends, all of which who are a few years younger than I am, it's hard to see them as adults.  But they are adults...and believe it or not, so am I.  Most of my old friends are married.  Most of them have real jobs. Some of them have kids.  It's easy to start playing the comparison game so I can feel guilty about what I haven't accomplished that I think I'm supposed to have accomplished.  It's also easy to fall into the trap of comparing myself to those who seem to have it less together than I do.  Up front I'm all smiles, but in my head I can be thinking, "I may not have a real job, but at least I'm not like so and so...."

Such thinking is judgemental.  Such thinking is prideful.  Such thinking is also a distraction from the truth.    And if I'm honest with myself, then I have to admit that I've been playing this kind of game for most of my life.  And it's successfully distracted me from the truth time and time again.

When I was a freshman in college, I compared myself to all the other Biblical studies majors.  I knew I didn't want to be a missionary.  I knew I didn't want to be a pastor (it wasn't allowed there anyway because I'm a girl).  I did want to be a pastor's wife back in the day, but even then I knew it was unlikely to happen because I was never quite the pastor's wife type.  I didn't fit in with the Biblical studies people.  They all had this language and lingo that I didn't speak.  And I let Satan fool me for a little while.  I let him trick me into believing that I couldn't do ministry if I wasn't like everyone else. 

And it's weird how this happened.  I found a really old cassette tape.  Do you know what those are?  The six year old I currently watch didn't know what a cassette tape was.  She saw one in my car's tape deck (I leave my "The King and I" soundtrack in there at all times, partly because I occasionally want to hear the dulcet tones of Yul Brenner, and partly because it's like the only cassette tape I still own) and said, "WHAT'S THAT?"  I said, "It's a cassette tape."  She continued to stare at it in wonder.  "What does it DO?"  I said, "It plays music.  It's what I listened to when I was a little girl before cds and mp3 players came out."  She wanted me to demonstrate, so I popped the tape in.  "Shall We Dance" blasted on my car's speakers.  She said, "I don't like this song. (ME: WHAT? HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THAT SONG!?)  Skip to the next one."  I said, "I can't skip it.  We'll have to wait for it to fast forward."  She was dumbfounded.

Anyway, when I was an insecure 18 year old college freshman, as opposed to the insecure 31 year old wanna be author that I am now, I found this old Amy Grant cassette tape.  That's right.  Amy Grant: The Collection.  When I was like 8 years old, I used to do a pretend musical to this tape.  I rocked my own socks off, let me tell you.  Of course, now if I heard it, I'd start screaming in agony about how she totally screwed up "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" by Rich Mullins--but at that time my musical taste was pretty much geared towards whatever tapes or cds my sister bought.  Since she didn't like Rich Mullins, I didn't know who the guy was. 

When I found the tape as an 18 year old, I just put it in for kicks.  And I heard that old song, "All I Ever Have to Be."  I'll just go ahead and post the lyrics, just for your Classic Contemporary Christian enjoyment:

When the weight of all my dreams

Is resting heavy on my head,
And the thoughtful words of health and hope
Have all been nicely said.
But I'm still hurting,
Wondering if I'll ever be
The one I think I am.

I think I am.

Then you gently re-remind me
That you've made me from the first,
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst.
And I realize the good in me,
Is only there because of who you are.

Who you are...

And all I ever have to be
Is what you've made me.
Any more or less would be a step
Out of your plan.
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do
What I can find.

And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you've made me.

When I was 18 years old, this song was a reminder to me that I don't have to be like everyone else.  It was a reminder to me that God made me the way He made me because He had a plan for me that was different than what He had for anyone else--He had a way He wanted to minister through me that wasn't like the way He wanted to minister through others.  So I couldn't fairly compare myself to anyone.  And if I tried to be like someone else, that would be a loss. 
Now, all these years later, it's still a reminder to me.  It's a reminder to me that I don't have to compare myself to anyone.  This doesn't give me an excuse to be lazy.  This doesn't give me an excuse not to try.  What it does, though, is give me freedom from the silly games I play--trying to compete for a prize that none of us are going to win.  It doesn't matter if I never achieve anything lofty.  If I never get married or never have kids, or if I never hook a literary agent, or if I never finish that cd I hoped to finish, or if I just stay in childcare forever and ever and ever--it doesn't matter.  If I do accomplish those great things and more--it still doesn't matter.  There's always going to be someone who seems to have things better than I do.  And there's really no reason to compare myself to them.  
Because God only made one me.  God only made one you.  Role models are fine, but in the grand scheme of things, the only person any of us has to be is the person that God made.  And the pressure is off us, anyway, because God is the only one who's worthy.  We're just worthy because of His worth--because He is worthy and because He wants us.  But, thankfully, that's a pretty big deal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ficton Friday: Is This Real Life?

I forgot it was Friday.  I forgot I was supposed to write a blog.  So it's almost 11 pm, but that's still technically Friday, so I guess I'm still okay as long as I get this thing out before midnight!

I was watching a movie tonight (when I was supposed to be writing a blog).  It's probably my second favorite movie.  Shadowlands.  It's a movie based on the later life of C. S. Lewis, when he met and married Joy Gresham.  I love this movie 1) because it's about C. S. Lewis, 2) because it explores a lot of themes I appreciate--like pain, love, life, grief, and honesty (to name a few), 3) because it has amazing lines, amazing acting, amazing directing, and UH-MAY-ZING music, and 4) because it's a really sweet love story. 

But despite the words "This is a True Story" that flash across the screen near the beginning of the film, I realize that it's not really a true story.  Yes, it is based on actual events that happened in the lives of C. S. (Jack) Lewis, his friend and eventual wife, Joy Gresham, and her son, Douglas Gresham.  But it's highly dramatized to the point that "true story" isn't really a fair or accurate description.

I'm pretty much obsessed with C. S. Lewis, and I've read a few biographies (including my favorite one, which was written by Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham.  It's called Jack's Life, and I highly highly recommend it).  I know that Joy Gresham wasn't drop dead gorgeous like she was in the movie.  I know that she had two sons instead of just one.  I know a lot of random little details that aren't really that important--like the fact that Jack Lewis couldn't drive a car like he did in the movie, or that the honeymoon trip he took with his wife was much different than what happened in the movie. 

I like biographies about people I'm obsessed with, but otherwise, biography isn't my favorite genre.  Therefore, the only biographies I've really read are about Lewis, Rich Mullins, and Madeline L'Engle.  I have probably skimmed through some others, but I can only afford to have a few unhealthy obsessions with dead people. 

Memoirs, though, are different.  I really like them, if they're well-written.  I think my favorite is Rocket Boys (AKA October Sky).  Homer Hickam (the author of Rocket Boys) isn't all that interesting to me (in fact, I had to google him for his last name), but his story was interesting to me.  It was a "true story," but it wasn't a biography.  It was a memoir.  And memoirs are different because not all of the details have to be accurate.  It's okay to lie a little in the name of good literature.

I do the same thing--not so much with this blog, but I embellish things all the time in my socially awkward blog.  That's not to say I'm completely making stuff up, but I'll often exaggerate or add somewhat fictitious details to "true stories" to make them funnier or more interesting.  Storytelling is not the same thing as lying, and memoir is storytelling.  It's just storytelling that's based on something real. 

And I think that's why I can still appreciate Shadowlands so much.  I know the characters/events are exaggerated or altered from reality.  Watching/Reading a completely (or as close as they could get to it) accurate portrayal of someone's life would be boring (unless you're the sort who likes reading biographies).  There's really just no harm in watching a film or reading a book that's based on real people and real events, even if a lot of what happens to those people and events in the movie/book wasn't real.  I mean, I might be disappointed when I get to heaven and realize that C. S. Lewis and Anthony Hopkins are NOT the same person, probably won't matter at that point.

But I have to say that if I ever become a wildly famous author with a life tragic enough to make a movie out of, I really hope they get someone fabulous to portray me.  I'm thinking a younger version of Julianne Moore.  Because in my "based on a true story" movie, I'm SO going to have red hair.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Spoilers ahead. Don't read any further if you haven't watched the movie (and preferably also read the book).  Also, this is not a movie where I sap on about how much I'm going to miss Harry Potter.  You can find THAT post here.

About a decade ago, I got into Harry Potter. And I remember going to that first movie (which also came out about a decade ago) thinking, "What will it be like when the seventh movie is over? The kids will be all grown up." Yes, the kids are all grown up. And there were actually eight movies.

I'm glad there were eight movies. They took their time adapting the last book. I'm not sure they could have done an adequate job of telling the story in one movie. Well, maybe. But I like what they did. Plus, it dragged Harry Potter out a little longer. And's over.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. I loved it. I loved the Gringotts scene--of course with the Dragon! I'd been looking forward to seeing the Dragon escape the bank since the book came out. There are some things that are awesome in print, but seeing it on screen is a whole new experience.

I also loved loved loved the Hogwarts battle scenes--especially getting to see McGonagall take on Snape and Molly Weasley take on Bellatrix (even if Bellatrix's death was a little hokey and CGI'd). The only time the battle scenes got tedious were near the end--after Harry had already gone to meet Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, "died," and come back to life. To me, that was kind of the big major climax. Yes, Voldemort actually dying was also a big major climax, but it wasn't as important as Harry's sacrificial acts, of his meeting and speaking with Dumbledore at "King's Cross."

In fact, I think the whole "death of Voldemort" thing was really overplayed. Sometimes books don't transfer well into movies and need a little help. Sure, okay. Nothing wrong with spicing things up a little visually. But they took it too far. I'm sure the filmmakers were going for more drama, more suspense. They took it past the dramatic and suspenseful and made it just plain boring. I was having to bite my tongue to keep from screaming, "OH JUST SHOW NEVILLE SLICING OFF NAGINI'S HEAD ALREADY SO WE CAN GET ON WITH THIS!" Because, honestly, watching Neville slice off Nagini's head was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing.  I heart Neville so much.

But, no no, there was this big, long, drawn-out battle between Harry and Voldemort where the latter chased the former through Hogwarts for no apparent reason. It was boring. I was ready for Voldemort to just die, since we all knew that was coming. And when Voldemort did die, I was a little underwhelmed. I don't like comparing books and movies too much, but in this case, I really think the filmmakers missed something important. In the book, Voldemort didn't crumble into pixie dust or whatever that was that he did in the film. No. Harry's signature defensive "Expelliarmus" spell caused Voldemort's killing curse to rebound, and he just kind of fell down dead. Anticlimactically. He just died. No fanfare. No big dramatic death scene.

I really liked the fact that in the book, Voldemort, the greatest dark wizard ever, who went to great, tremendously evil lengths to preserve his own life, died a ridiculously simple, lackluster death. And I guess the filmmakers thought it too simple, so they spiced it up with some more silly fake CGI. But that wasn't too big of a deal--just something that irked me slightly.

I'm also slightly irked by the "King's Cross" scene. For one thing, the whole backstory on Dumbledore was not revealed. Anyone who hasn't read the books still doesn't know a thing about Ariana other than some vague idea from Aberforth that Albus gave her "everything except his time." It reminded me slightly of the film "Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban" where they left out a lot of important background information about the Marauder's Map and Harry's dad, Sirius, Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. And I'm not sure if the filmmakers just didn't see Dumbledore's family history as being pertinent information to the story they wanted to convey, or if they didn't think there was time for it, or if perhaps they wanted the movie-going audience to still see Dumbledore as a bright shiny character without any personal demons. Maybe it was a combination of all those things.

But what really bothers me more than it probably should was something movie Dumbledore said in "King's Cross" that wasn't in the book at all. Something like (definitely paraphrasing here--only saw the movie once): "I once said that help would always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. I'd like to amend that. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who deserve it."

Dumbledore didn't say that in the book. I'm pretty sure the Dumbledore of the book WOULD NOT EVER say that. I don't know exactly what the filmmakers were trying to convey by that. I think it was perhaps a halfhearted attempt to show that Voldemort didn't deserve help or that Snape really did deserve help...or something (I really need to see the film again and hear the line in its proper context). But see, one of the major themes near the end of the book (and probably running through all the books) was that there might still be some hope for Voldemort if he showed a little remorse.

Rowling revealed that there are intentional Christian themes in Harry Potter, especially in the seventh book.  I don't want to go too deep into something she might not have meant to be this deep, but being the Christian reader/writer that I am, I can't help but wonder.  Metaphorically, is that idea of remorse akin or even figuratively equal to salvation?  I don't know how far Rowling wanted to carry that out.

But it doesn't really matter how deep she meant that idea to go.  The fact remains, she did seem to want to communicate that Voldemort was not beyond help and hope if he would simply show remorse.  And the Dumbledore of the books was always ready to see the best in others--and to offer second chances.  He HAD a personal history that was less than perfect.  He knew first hand that HE didn't deserve help.  He was ready to offer help to others whether they deserved it or not.  And that's probably why he was able to see that there was hope for Voldemort...if Voldemort was willing to let go of his pride and confidence in himself...and ask for help.

And it bugs me that the filmmakers completely missed that.  They fudged it over.  Maybe it's because I want to see Christian themes (dragging them out kicking and screaming), or maybe they really are there in the book, or maybe it's a little of both.  But the fact is, redemption and salvation don't depend on how much someone deserves it.  No one deserves it.  But if we ask for it, it's given.  Ask, and it shall be given.  Seek, and you shall find.  Knock, and the door will be opened unto you.  So no.  Dumbledore would not have said anything about help being given to those who deserve it. 

But that's the biggest issue I have with an otherwise wonderful movie.  I shed lots of tears--starting with Snape's death (everything about Snape in this movie was stinking amazing) and pretty much not ending until I got bored watching Voldemort chase Harry through Hogwarts.  Some things could have been done in a less cheesy manner (Ron and Hermione's kiss just made me giggle in a not good way).  The epilogue was cute and touching, but I was underwhelmed with the "aging makeup/CGI," (sidenote--the makeup/CGI anti-aging on Snape was fantastic!) but it was a good way to end a great series--just looking into the faces of Ron, Hermione, and Harry Potter.

Even without the bad aging CGI, those kids really have grown up.

Monday, July 25, 2011

MONDAY Update: Courage

I'm not really sure if my main problem is that I'm too smart, or if I'm not smart enough.  Most of the time, I'm going to lean towards the latter.  I mean, I'm no idiot, but I lack a lot of common sense that could really come in handy from time to time.  I often figure I should at least be smart enough to know when to shut up, to know when and how to use tact, to know how to look like I'm interested, when I, in fact, am not. 

The thing I really can't figure out is why a lot of people have said that I'm hard to get to know.  I guess it could be that I'm shy around strangers, but the thing with me is, what you see is usually what you get.  I've learned how to employ small bits of professionalism--even some tact here and there, but I really just don't know how to be fake.  I've tried it a few times, because fake people usually do better in this world for whatever reason, but I can't do it.  And you know, I really think it would be a tragedy if I were able to accomplish fakeness.  I don't like fakeness.  I don't know why anyone does.

But then there are times when it would be nice if I could pretend to be something I'm not.  It would be nice to appear confident when I'm really not that confident at all.  It would be nice to appear to have it all together, when the truth is, I almost never do.  It would be nice if I could fool myself into believing that other people's opinions don't matter to me.  But I'm not smart enough to be able to get past what other people think.

And I had a moment the other day when I really let something that someone said get to me.  I got discouraged.  And it made me start thinking about courage.  Maybe it's this way for most people, or maybe I'm more prone to it since I am emotionally transparent, but it really doesn't take much at all for me to get discouraged.  One perceived discouraging comment can send me into the depths of despair.  On the other hand, one encouraging comment can send me soaring.  Maybe it's because I'm a writer (we're weird like that), but that's just how I am. 

But thinking along those lines only made me more discouraged.  I like root words.  At the root of "discourage" and "encourage" is "courage."  To discourage is to take courage away.  To encourage is to give courage to.  And I couldn't help but feel really unstable if my courage could be given and taken away so easily.

I flip flop back and forth so often in my emotions.  One day I feel strong.  The next day I feel weak.  Some days I feel ready to take on the publishing world, and other days I just want to give up and stop trying.  Lately I've just felt so defeated.  I read all the verses in Scripture about being strong and courageous--and I just wonder what's wrong with me that I can't muster up strength and courage.

So I wrestled with that a little over the weekend.  Finally, I just took my concerns straight to God.  "I'm not able.  I'm not courageous.  I'm not strong.  I'm weak."

I'm not sure how Kosher it would be to state the overall impression I got from the Holy Spirit's response, but my closest interpretation of His response to the confession of my weakness was:


Those times when I feel strong--they're illusions.  I'm not strong.  I am weak.  All the time.  Even when I feel my strongest and most confident, I'm still completely reliant on God.  Apart from Him, I can do nothing.  The flip side to that, however, is that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  I just get it backwards and think I have to be strong before I can actually be strong.  That's just not true.  Never was.  I just like the idea of having control, when the basic reality is, I don't have any.

So my trouble is not that I'm too weak or too cowardly.

My trouble is, I'm too smart.

I really like the movie "Rudy" and I like the character of Rudy.  If you don't know about Rudy because you have lived under a rock your whole life, Rudy was a boy who wanted nothing more than to play football for Notre Dame.  But his grades and athletic skill were sub par.  Still, he persevered and was able to be on the team and play in one game.

I admired Rudy's tenacity and perseverance.  But what I really appreciated about Rudy is that he was simply too dumb to know that he couldn't possibly succeed in attaining his dreams.  He was too dumb to know any better, so he tried anyway.  He tried hard, knocking himself out and facing all sorts of persecution, not even realizing that it was impossible for him to succeed.  And you know what?  He actually succeeded.

The odds against anyone finding a literary agent and becoming a published author are ridiculously slim.  I think that's why a lot of people are turning to self-publishing--not that there's anything wrong with it.  For some people, it's a great option.  But I've had a dream of being a traditionally published author.  I've had it for years.  Self-publishing, to me, seems like a short cut--an easy way into a business that simply shouldn't be easy to get into.  And I'm smart enough to realize that getting traditionally published is a hard thing to accomplish.  Maybe it's even impossible. 

So I keep talking myself out of trying.  If I weren't too smart, maybe I would try because I didn't know any better...but, I am too smart.

And, on the other hand, I'm also too dumb. 

If I don't have control, and since I know I don't have control, it would make logical sense to turn to one who does have control.  God has proven Himself to be faithful.  God has proven Himself to be loving.  God has proven Himself to be good.  God has proven Himself to be able.  God has proven Himself to be strong.  I don't, at least on the surface, doubt these things.  So if I believe all these things about God are true, it should be easy--ridiculously easy--to trust Him.

Trusting Him should give me all the courage I need to try just about anything.  Whether I succeed or fail, I still have what is most important in Him.  And that should give me more courage to keep trying, because ultimately I have nothing to lose.

But I am not smart enough to trust Him.  At least not completely.  I fear the opinions of others.  I fear failure.  I fear so much because I'm not smart enough to trust.

So I guess I'm back to where I started.  I'm not sure if I'm too smart or too dumb.  I figure I'll still be working this one out for a while.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Sunday Update

I've not been feeling well today and have decided to just spend most of the day sleeping.  Aside from that, I can't properly articulate (or, rather, write out) all the things that are going through my head at the moment.  Expect the usual Wednesday blog if I don't update before then!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fiction Friday: Dragons!!!

When I was five years old, there was this two-part made for tv version of "Alice in Wonderland."  I watched the first part with my family.  However, I didn't see the second part until I was practically an adult and they were showing it again on the Disney Channel (back when the Disney Channel was awesome and not drizzled in Hannah Montana and Suite Life reruns).  The reason why I didn't watch the second part when I was five was because at the end of the first part, this dude in a ridiculous looking Jabberwocky costume came out and scared Alice, me, and about a gazbillion other young children completely out of our wits.

Now, I've watched this movie in the past year, and I have to say that the only thing I find remotely frightening about the Jabberwocky now is that he slightly resembles Barney the Dinosaur.  The costume was so fake it was laughable.  Only, when I was a kid, it was terrifying.  It scared me so badly that I refused to watch the second part with my family.  Instead, I locked myself inside my bedroom and hid under the covers.  I probably had my fingers in my ears, too.  There was no way I was going to see or hear that DRAGON.

Because that's what I thought it was.  I think my mom tried to explain it to me that the creature was a Jabberwocky, and not a Dragon.  But you can't fool a five year old.  That was no Jabberwocky.  That thing had scaly skin and big wicked eyes.  It had spikes down it's spine and leathery wings on its back.  It had a cruel tail that dragged the floor as the actor waddled across the screen--but in my child's mind, that tail was huge and deadly.  And it breathed smoke and growled.  I didn't care how many times my mother pled Jabberwocky.  That thing was a Dragon.

And Dragons are scary.

It didn't matter how fake that thing looked.  To an imaginative five year old, it was the scariest creature on the face of the earth.  That's the impression it made on me.  That's the impression Dragons still kinda sorta make on me.  Only now I think being scared out of my wits can sometimes be a good thing.

I remember seeing other Dragons in other movies.  The Disney Sleeping Beauty (best scene in the whole movie) is classic.  You've got a purely evil (how's that for an oxymoron) character who becomes a creature that is typically thought of as the ultimate evil creature.  Then she's defeated through the Shield of Virtue and the Sword of Truth--and Prince Phillip's shield has a cross on it--the Christian imagery is undeniable.  I like that.

And then there's one of my old favorites--Smaug, the Dragon from Tolkien's classic The Hobbit.  I didn't read The Hobbit until I was an adult, but I remember watching the old Rankin-Bass cartoon.  I'm not sure why Smaug didn't scare me like the silly Jabberwocky.  Maybe it was because the animated Gollum scared the willies out of me, so the Dragon was no biggie compared to him.  Anyway, Smaug was probably my first introduction to the idea of a Dragon having a hoard--something that became a VERY important theme in the first novel I ever wrote, but I'm getting way ahead of myself.  I remember being so fascinated by this creature.  I don't even know if I can put it all into words.  He was inside a mountain that could only be entered via a secret cave.  He protected gold that he had stolen.  His eyes were like lamps (at least in the cartoon) that tried to seek out Bilbo, who was hidden by the magic of the Ring.  And when Bilbo "burgled something" from Smaug, the Dragon's rage was so incredible.  And he could only be killed if an arrow struck him in the one weak spot in his hard Dragon flesh.  I think my true love of Dragons began with him.

But I never was too keen on the whole all Dragons are the pinnacle of evil idea.  One of my favorite movies as a kid was "Pete's Dragon."  Elliot isn't the stereotypical Dragon at all.  In fact, he's kind of ridiculous and silly.  But Elliot did something important for me, because even as a child, I realized that Dragons weren't just scary.  Sometimes they were protectors.  This also became a theme in my writing about Dragons, but yeah...still getting ahead of myself.

I could say that I'm not sure what led to my eventual Dragon obsession, but that would be a lie.  I know exactly what led to my obsession.  In my early twenties, I had a dream about a Dragon that changed my life.  In this dream, I had to face a Dragon that, now that I think about it, looked a lot like that silly fake Jabberwocky.  I don't want to go too much into it, but the dream had to do with me facing my fears.  This dream greatly inspired my first book, and it remains an important theme in my life.  And that's all I want to say about that at the moment.

But after became truly OBSESSED with Dragons, I read the Eragon books (or the ones that have come out.  Still working on that Inheritance Trilogy Cycle, Paolini??).  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader became my favorite Narnia book (not just because of the Dragon, but it certainly helped).  I got WAY excited that there was a Dragon in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (can't wait to see it in theaters next week--yes, I know I'm a little behind the rest of the world).  I even read a Christian series about Dragons that my friend Stefanie recommended (and let me borrow).  I highly recommend Donita K. Paul's Dragon Keeper Chronicles.

And then, of course, I have my Dragon-Muses, my team of SIX Dragons that inspire my writing.  I haven't been spending much time with them lately, and I know they're very mad at me for not writing and editing much.  The only one who's been talking to me much at all lately is Dravaena, and that's because she's my lyrical Muse and I'm on some kind of cool song-writing kick.  These songs?  Also about fear.  Just sayin'.

So far my Dragon-Muses have helped me write three books.  All three have been in some way about Dragons.  I have tried writing other books that weren't about Dragons, and so far that hasn't worked out so well (but I'm not sure if that's because the Dragon-Muses don't like it, or just because I suck as a writer, or both).  I guess I'm just obsessed, and well, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.  Because Dragons are mysterious, awesome creatures.  And I intend to keep reading and writing about them as much as possible.

Do you like Dragons?  (Yes, Trogdor counts.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

War and Peace

I've never read any Tolstoy, and I have a pretty good idea that I just won't be reading "War and Peace" unless I get really bored someday.  The Final Jeopardy "answer" from yesterday was about "War and Peace"...and that was the first time I learned the book had multiple epilogues.  If a book is so long that it needs more than one epilogue, I'm probably not going to have the attention span to read it.

But over the past few months, I've been learning a lot about peace.  And just when I think I've finally gotten the gist of what God has been trying to teach me, He teaches me something that gives me all sorts of new questions. 

This past Sunday I was subbing for one of the people on the praise team at my church.  Since I was subbing, I didn't figure out what songs we were singing until I showed up for the sound check that Sunday morning.  To my surprise, I discovered we weren't just singing that morning, but all members of the praise team were participating in a responsive reading sort of thing.  That's when the leader (or, in our case, leaders) reads Scripture or perhaps something based on Scripture, and the congregation responds by reading another Scripture (or something based on Scripture) in unison. 

I don't do public speaking.  If I had known that I would be expected to do "solo reading" in front of people, I would have told them "NO WAY" when they asked me to be on praise team.  But as it was, I was stuck.  So I did the reading...and just like with singing, the reading wasn't about me anyway.  But it was interesting.  I had to read two Scriptures from Psalms.  Both of them dealt with preparing for war.

And I was thinking about it as we were rehearsing.  I was thinking, "God, why are You teaching me so much about peace, and then giving me these Scriptures about how You strengthen my arms for war?"

I kept thinking about this as I went to Sunday School Adult Bible Study.  We've been reading through 1 and 2 Kings.  We're almost done.  But the passage was about Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah.  Now Ahaziah had been the king of Judah until he was killed, and when Athaliah found out he was dead, she killed off the entire royal family so that she could be queen.  But Ahaziah's son, Joash, was rescued and hidden for seven years. 

Then Jehoiada, the priest, took action by hiring hundreds of guards to protect Joash.  He crowned Joash as king publicly, which caught Athaliah's attention.  When she came out, they seized her and she was put to death.

And as the class' teacher was reading this, he stopped and asked us about Jehoiada's actions.  I'm not entirely sure what point he was making (though he probably made a really good one--he usually does) because I was too busy thinking about what I was getting out of it.  Because I realized that while Jehoiada was not perfect, he absolutely did the right thing by hiring men to protect the true king and to dispose of the false queen.  And as a side note, I just have to say that I love it when Scripture has more suspense and intrigue than any novel you could find on a shelf today.

But I think I'm learning even more about peace.  See, when I was a kid, I really loved the Beattitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God."  It was my favorite Beattitude, and I guess it was because I figured peace was something I could handle.  And I liked the idea of being a child of God. 

But peace isn't easy.  And peace isn't what I thought it was when I was a kid.  Peace doesn't always mean you back down when there is conflict.  Sometimes that is what it means.  And after also reading some passages in James last week (a very convicting book of the Bible), I was reminded that most of our conflict in life comes when we don't get our own way. 

When a conflict arises just because I'm not getting what I want when I want it how I want it, then the path to peace is as simple and as complex as surrendering to whatever it is I think I want.  If someone offends me over something trivial, peace means overlooking that offense.  If there's only enough coffee in the pot for one person, and both I and another person want it, then peace means letting that other person have the coffee (or compromising and both having half a cup).  If someone is arguing with me over something that doesn't matter, then peace means dropping the argument (sometimes by swallowing pride) and finding something more pure, noble, and praiseworthy to talk about. 

But then there are times when peace means something more than surrender.  Sometimes the only way to get true peace is to fight for it.  The difference is that when peace is something worth fighting for, it usually has something more to do than just me and what I want.  Now, there are times when personal conflicts arise and ignoring them isn't an option.  I like to avoid conflict, but I also sometimes let things bother me, and then they fester.  So I've learned that sometimes I have to confront a situation so that a minor offense doesn't turn into a major grudge.  It's hard to know the difference sometimes, which is why I need a lot of wisdom and a LOT of grace (again--James is a very convicting book).

But usually, when peace is something worth fighting for, it's not about me.  As a depraved human, I often see injustice in terms of myself.  If I can't have something the way I want it when I want it, then I tend to see that particular situation as unfair.  The truth is, injustice goes a lot deeper than the silly things I desire.

What Jehoiada did was not for himself.  He was fighting injustice.  He was fighting for peace by restoring the proper king to the throne. 

And I don't have anything like that to fight for.  Even if I were in a position where I could return a king to power while ridding the government of a corrupt ruler, I have absolutely no brain for politics.  But injustice is all around us in different forms.

Injustice is when a mother watches her baby starve to death because she can't afford to feed him.

Injustice is when a four year old dies from a disease that could have been easily treated with simple medication.

Injustice is when a homeless person has to sleep out on the streets, hungry and cold.

Injustice is when a kid can't sleep at night because she's afraid of bullies at school.

Injustice is when a 12 year old is sold into prostitution.

Injustice is when we fail to meet the needs of orphans and widows. 

So I'm still learning.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly what peace means.  Every time I think I've figured something out, I'm bombarded with more questions about a concept that is far too lofty for me to understand.  All I know is that peace is definitely something worth pursuing.

And sometimes it's something worth fighting for.

Sometimes Christians like to sit around and just pretend everything is okay, and we easily forget that there is a Spiritual battle RAGING around us at all times.  And I know I forget to put on my armor.  I forget to prepare for battle.  It's because I've believed the lie--the lie that there is no battle, that we're at peace as long as we don't open our eyes.

It's easy to pretend that we have peace if we ignore that injustice exists.  My question for myself and for my readers is: Are we brave enough to face reality and fight for peace?

I don't know that I am least not on a higher level than the little things I'm already doing.  But I'm learning....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Update: Milestone

Where did the word "milestone" come from?  I'm pretty sure I could come up with the answer in just a few minutes by going to wikipedia, but I don't wanna.  I'd rather just take an educated guess because that's more fun.  So if I were to take a nice educated guess, I'd say that perhaps people in ye olden times probably used stones to mark miles...and people in ye olden times probably referred to such stones as "milestones" because they were clever like that.  And over the years, the meaning of the word "milestone" was changed to mean anything that marked a significant change or passage of time/events/etc. in the life of a person, place, or thing.  In this case, "milestone" refers to a significant passage of time and events in the life of a blog.  My blog.  This blog.  The blog that you're currently reading unless I bored you to tears with all the ridiculousness about my imagined etymology of milestones.

Last week, this blog had two big milestones.  I posted my 100th post, and the blog turned a year old.  And before I start spazzing about how this blog is less than a month older than my adorable and intelligent youngest niece, I'll continue....  But seriously.  That kid is stinkin' adorable.  And intelligent.  Like her brother and sisters.

A year or so ago, I remember debating for a good month or more about whether or not I should even start a blog.  I had blogs back in college and stuff, but they were filled with whiny posts about nothing.  Eventually, I got very tired writing about my boring life.  And I'm pretty sure everyone else was tired of reading it--if anyone was even reading it.  The problem was, I wanted to be an author--a published author--still do.  And a lot of aspiring authors write blogs.  A lot of agents look for aspiring authors with blogs.  I'm not one to just do what everyone else is doing just because they're doing it, but I'm learning that sometimes it's a good idea to emulate what other people are doing right.  And part of me kinda sorta really wanted to start writing a blog again.  But I didn't want it to be just another daily log of me whining about something stupid that didn't matter.  I knew that if I wanted to start blogging again, I would have to blog with purpose.

As soon as I realized this, I knew what I wanted to do with this blog.  I wanted a blog that was specifically geared towards my writing and my writing journey, but more than that, I wanted a blog that was meaningful.  Only I knew at the time (as I still know now) that there's really nothing all that important about what I have to say.  Unless you're Jon Acuff, then a blog probably means more to the blogger than to the readers.  I blog so people will read it (THANK YOU TO MY READERS!!!), but that's not the only reason.  I blog because I need to write it.  And I can hope that people will read it, and I'm vain enough to think it's good enough for people to read.  But when you get down to it, by writing this blog, I'm basically just looking at my own reflection.  Other people might come to take a look at it, too, and hopefully they'll get something out of it.  But all I have to offer in this blog are my poor reflections.

And so, "Poor Reflections" was born.  To be honest, I've used the same idea in other blogs.  One of my earlier whiny blogs had a paraphrased Bible verse from 1 Corinthians 13: 12--"Now we see but a poor reflection...then we shall see face to face."  And I'm not trying to take Scripture out of context by my play on the words "poor reflections."  I'm awaiting a time when all the things we strive for on earth will be pretty much meaningless.  Right now, we think we have good stuff, but it's not what it should be.  It's not perfect.  And the thing is, when the perfect comes--then all the imperfect is going to disappear.  I have a lot of things I want to say.  I have a lot of poor reflections I want to reveal.  The thing is, when that dark glass is shattered and I see Jesus face to face--when I know Him as fully as He knows me--all the things (like becoming a published author) I hope for here on earth aren't going to matter.  At all.

But the glass hasn't been shattered.  And I'm still striving for things that I want in this life.  I've set goals for myself.  I've succeeded and I've failed.  In a lot of ways, this blog has been a reflection of some of my failings.  There was a time around the start of this year that I realized my blogs were becoming little more than daily logs of whining--which was exactly what I didn't want.  And I had to stop, take a deep breath, and refocus.  Sometimes, life is like that, too.  Sometimes we need to stop, take a deep breath, and refocus.

I am not where I want to be.  And I'm learning that that's okay.  I'm learning that there are beautiful things in even the low times of the journey.  I'm learning that sometimes things just aren't going to work the way I had planned.  Sometimes I have to be creative and find new ways and new plans and new goals.  Sometimes I just have to wait for whatever it is God has for me--wait and trust.  Wait and trust.  Wait and trust. 

One thing I'm very sure about is that I'm going somewhere.  I don't exactly know where it is yet.  Even if I did know, I don't know how to get there.  I'm learning that, as far as this life is concerned, there's not just one way to get anywhere.  And maybe the path I'm taking isn't the shortest path.  And maybe there are shortcuts I don't know about yet, and I just have to wait for the right opportunities.  I'm learning not to make judgments about things too quickly--what seems like a dead end might be right where I need to be in order to take me to the next place I need to go.  I'm learning that sometimes I have to walk in darkness and just put one foot in front of the other--and that's all I can be expected to do until someone comes to turn on the lights.  I'm learning to take risks.  I'm learning to ask for help.  I'm learning how to live.  And I don't think I'm going to stop learning how to live until this life is over.  Till the dark glass shatters.

So you're invited to keep journeying with me.  We'll see what the next year of my poorly reflected life brings.  You're invited to read any of my future posts--whether it be another 100 or just another dozen...or maybe 1000.  I really can't say.

But, God willing, I don't think this will be the last milestone for this blog...

...or for me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fiction Friday: The End

A some misguided people thought the world was going to end on May 21, 2011.  I think more people really believe that today, July 15, 2011, is the true end of the world as we know it.  I have a few words to say in honor of this historic day, and those words are:

Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

(That's a reference from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, if you didn't know.  And if you don't know anything about Harry Potter and would eventually like to read the books someday, don't read any further.  This blog is for the family of readers who, like me, have been forever changed by a book series by J. K. Rowling.)

I have yet to see the second part of the seventh (and last??) installment of the Harry Potter films.  I probably won't see it for a couple of weeks because that's about how long it will take for the hype to die down so I can see it in peace.  But I'm pretty sure I know how it ends, unless the filmmakers decided to go crazy.  I've known how Harry Potter ends since the day after the last book came out.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself...

I was 21 when I read the first Harry Potter book.  It was September.  That means that Harry Potter has been part of my life for almost a full decade.  A decade.  Wow. 

As a Christian, I definitely heard all the warnings that Harry Potter was evil and promoted witchcraft.  As a Christian who tries to think before she makes judgments, I knew that I was going to have to eventually read a Harry Potter book before I decided if it were really evil or not.  For some reason, I just hadn't gotten around to reading it yet.  Then my parents--my Christian parents--intervened.  While most good Christian parents were trying to shield their children (and young adults--which is what I was at the time--AND STILL AM) from Harry Potter, mine thrust the books into my hands and said, "YOU HAVE TO READ THESE." 

At the time, the first four books were out, and, at my parents' insistence, I read them all.  In about three days.  I don't know if I slept.  I don't know if I ate.  I just know that I lived and breathed Harry Potter for three days.  And I decided they weren't evil.  Later, when I did some research, I discovered that J. K. Rowling actually claims to be a Christian--and that there's Christian imagery throughout the series, including actual Scripture references in the last book.  But I don't want to get into that right now...

J. K. Rowling's style is so descriptive that I can remember my first cognitive and emotional reactions to so many of the elements of her books.  I remember the mystery of Dumbledore deluminating the lights up and down Privet Drive.  I sympathized with the orphaned boy who lived under the stairs.  I wondered about his scar.  I delighted in the letters that chased his "family" all the way out to an abandoned shack in the middle of an island.  I remember the shudder of fear that came the first time I ever read the name Voldemort.  I remember the wonder and FUN of my first views of Diagon Alley.  I remember the silliness of the idea of Platform 9 3/4 and the enjoyment of the Hogwarts Express.  I remember my immediate love of Hagrid and Dumbledore, my immediate loathing of Draco Malfoy and Snape.  I remember the simple sweetness of Harry, Ron, and Hermione's friendship (along with one of the greatest lines in literature: "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them").  I remember the delight of escaping into the mind of eleven year olds who were experiencing the wonders of living and going to school in a magical castle.  I remember the spookiness of the Forbidden Forest.  I remember the thrill of "watching" my first Quidditch match.  I remember the yearning I felt for poor Harry when he saw his parents in the Mirror of Erised.

But mostly I remember the total and utter shock of learning that Snape was not evil.

Rowling created a fun, magical world full of interesting, believable characters who do silly, sweet, heroic things.  And she knows how to make a good twist ending.

In book six, Rowling fooled a lot of people into thinking Snape was evil again.  She didn't fool me on that note, though she did fool me several other times.  I was shocked to find it was Ginny Weasley (under the influence of the horcrux diary--which also surprised me later to learn it was a horcrux) that opened the Chamber of Secrets.  I was shocked to discover that Sirius Black was really an awesome dude all along.  I was shocked to discover that Mad-Eye Moony was an impostor--and I was devastated when Cedric Diggory died. 

I was a little older (had to wait for them to come out) when I read the last three books.  Maybe that's why they didn't shock me as much.  Don't get me wrong, I was very shocked when Dumbledore died.  I had to read over that sentence about five times before it sunk in.  But even then, I knew that Rowling was trying to trick us again.  I knew that Snape had to be good.  The reason I knew this was because I knew Dumbledore.  I didn't learn about his past until book seven, but I knew him.  I knew him so well because Rowling wrote him so well. 

And I knew that Dumbledore was not a man who would ever EVER plead for his own life.  I knew that when he said, "Severus, please," he was asking Snape to kill him.

And I think I shed some tears when Snape died.  I loved to hate him, but I also just loved him.  He was a brilliant character.  So was Dumbledore.  So were Draco, and Dobby, and Hagrid, and Ron, and Hermione, and Neville, and Luna...and I could go on and on.  These characters have been part of my life for a decade. 

And now I feel like I'm sayng goodbye.  Only I really already know how it ends.  Seeing it on the big screen is just like an afterthought to the goodbye I said a few years ago when book seven came out.  And I stood in line at Walmart.  And got a free Gryffindor arm band.  Though I'd probably be in Hufflepuff.

But the great thing about great books is that you never really have to say goodbye.  They're there to read over and over and over again, revisiting old friends and discovering things that you'd either missed the first time or just plain forgotten. 

So, I'm not saying goodbye.  I'm saying, till we meet again, Harry James Potter.  Thanks for being awesome.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Settling VS. Contentedness

I don't have a glamorous job.  In fact, I have three (or four, depending on how you look at it) rather unglamorous jobs.  Today, I was covered in snot, drool, tears, pee, applesauce, and Greek yogurt.  The Greek yogurt was my own doing, but the rest was the result of caring for multiple children at the same time.  Actually, the reason I spilled my own yogurt on myself was because a kid distracted me by whining obnoxiously, but I'll let that one go. 

I haven't been able to buy a new pair of running shoes because I can't afford them.  Now, I do plan on going to Walmart tomorrow and getting a very cheap pair to use until I CAN afford to go get fitted for a nice (AKA expensive) pair, but I'd really like to be able to afford something as simple as a pair of nice running shoes so I don't mess up my knees/hips/feet too much.  Other times it would be nice to not have to worry about the tires on my car or the dwindling food supply in my fridge.  It would be nice to not worry about the little what ifs that come from living from paycheck to paycheck on a very tight budget. 

Sometimes people feel the need to have discussions with me regarding what I do for a living, because they can't figure out why in the world I keep working such random hours with germy, whiny kids for such little pay and NO benefits.  Sometimes, I ask myself the same question.  I come up with a few good answers that sound like excuses, and they might even be excuses.  Like..."I don't have experience in any fields other than childcare," or "In this economy, I really should just be grateful that I have work," or "I'm just doing this until I become a wildly famous published author."  There's another answer I have for the question, "Why in the world do I keep working such random hours with germy, whiny kids for such little pay and NO benefits?"  The answer I have is kind of surprising. 

It's because I love it. 

I did get tears and snot and slobber on my shirt and in my hair today.  It was because a kid I just so happen to LOVE was crying, so I picked him up and cuddled him while he snotted all over me.  Did I appreciate the snot?  Of course not, but it didn't matter that much to me because I got snotted when I was caring for a kid I love.  I was so grateful for that opportunity.

Does it stink that I often struggle to have enough to get by?  Yes.  But let me tell you--when I walked into work this morning and had FIVE kids attack me in a wonderful group hug, that was worth more to me than any income. 

This all isn't to say that I probably shouldn't aim higher in all areas of my life--including my career (for lack of a better term).  I sometimes just don't know the difference between settling for something and being content with what I have.  I do think that there are a lot of people out there who set their expectations far too high.  For instance, I could care less about the American Dream.  The car I have has some flaws, but it's a nicer car than I ever imagined myself having.  Sometimes I feel guilty about having a car so nice--even if at the moment it needs some repair work that I can't afford.  The apartment I live in is ancient.  Most of the people that visit it call it "quaint," and it is quaint.  But I have a roof over my head--a fan to keep me cool in the summer and an electric blanket to keep me warm in the winter.  Eventually it would be nice to have a nice house of my own so I wouldn't have to keep paying rent, but I could live quite happily in something very small.  In fact, the smaller the house, the less I'd have to keep clean.  Retirement fund?  What's that?  I plan on working until I'm dead or just completely unable to work (either mentally or physically).  Health insurance?  That would be VERY nice--but unless I have some kind of freak accident or appendicitis or something, I'm doing quite well without it.  Someday I'll get it.  I think that someday will come in a few short years--after I get my student loans paid off.  I'm okay with waiting for that.

Maybe it's because I haven't experienced a lot of the stuff that a lot of Americans think they need, but I really don't have that much of a problem with the life I have.  Sometimes it would be nice to not have to worry about finances, but God has taught me so much about trust through those struggles.  Sometimes it would be nice not to want to rip my hair out because kids are driving me crazy, but God has blessed me with these wonderful kids...and I love them so much, (even despite the snot)!  I kinda sorta think I've gotten to the point that even if I do become a wildly famous published author, I still would like to work with kids in some capacity.

Eventually I might get sick of the rat race.  Eventually I might get sick of being covered in kid goo.  Right now, I just can't seem to justify complaining about it.  When I consider that the VAST majority of the world's population lives on LESS THAN $2.00 PER DAY, it kind of makes me feel grateful for the amazing things I DO have instead of worrying or getting upset over the things I don't have.  Maybe sometimes the difference between settling for something and being content with what you have is a matter of perspective.

And you know, my current financial state gives me some small motivation to keep working towards that goal of becoming a published author.  I'm pretty sure I DO need to set my expectations higher with that. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Update: Unlovable

This is going to be a short post.  I don't know why I feel like warning my readers about that.  Given the fact that most of my posts are ridiculously long, I guess I was preparing all five or so of my readers that this post isn't going to be ridiculously long so they wouldn't be looking for the other three hundred paragraphs of it.

So...last week was bad.  The apathy kicked in full gear and I didn't exercise and ate whatever I wanted and didn't write anything and didn't care and didn't want to care and just sat around doing nothing because that's all I felt like doing...

And then last night I started dreading Sunday morning because I knew I would have to stand up in front of the congregation at church and sing songs to God like I meant them.  And I knew that in my current state, I would have to be a hypocrite, because somewhere in the course of last week, I forgot how to sing like I meant it.  So I started praying as much as my feeble heart could pray.  I went to bed still waiting and wondering if I would be able to really sing.  I woke up this morning still waiting and wondering if I would be able to really sing. 

But God came through at the last minute.  He likes to do that.  He likes to make me wait because I don't like to wait, and I have a feeling it's good for me.  And He reminded me that there's nothing I can do to make Him stop loving me.  I try sometimes.  I put up a good fight and try to sabatoge my relationship with God.  I'm rebellious.  I want to be God, and since I can't be God, I rebel against Him in an attempt be something on my own.  But I can't be anything on my own.  So in my attempts to become something I can't be, I lose the purpose He planned for me.  And I become worthless.  I become unlovable.  And I start wallowing in that unlovableness because I know I don't deserve God's love. 

But the truth of the matter is, God still loves me.  He doesn't love me because I'm lovable.  I'm not lovable.  He doesn't love me because I deserve it.  I don't deserve it. 

He loves me because He is loving. 

And the love and grace He gives me lends breath to my lungs and hope to my heart.  And I find that I can sing--because His love trumps my unlovableness.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fiction Friday: The OTHER L'Engle Series

Madeleine L'Engle is one of my favorite authors.  She's most well-known for penning the Newbery Award winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time, which just so happens to be my favorite work of fiction.  L'Engle wrote a lot of YA novels, but she also wrote several novels for adults, some books for younger readers, as well as some non-fiction and autobiography.  The Crosswick Journals contain some of the most interesting Spiritual reading I've ever encountered.  I definitely don't agree with L'Engle on every theological view she ever had, but when she got it right, she got it right.

It seems that anyone who has heard of L'Engle automatically starts thinking about A Wrinkle in Time, which is only natural, since I do the same thing.  I think it's sad, however, that a lot of people who have read (or at least heard of) A Wrinkle in Time haven't read anything else by her.  There are three other books in the Time Quartet series (A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters) that are incredible.

Another YA series she wrote often crossed over into the Time Quartet, even though it was centered around another family.  More precisely, it was centered around another character--Vicky Austin.  The majority of the Austin Family books are told in first person from her perspective.  The most widely-known book featuring Vicky Austin is A Ring of Endless Light (which was a Newbery Honor Book, just sayin').

While A Wrinkle in Time (and the other books in the series) dealt with time travel and other science fiction/fantasy themes, most of what happened in the lives of the Austins was much more realistic.  Even without the fantastical elements, L'Engle managed to weave together a series of stories about a remarkable character within a remarkable family. 

Vicky Austin (who, incidently, spells Vicky the right way--the way my mama does) didn't have to travel halfway across the universe to experience adventure (though she did travel across the country in The Moon By Night).  She experienced all the struggles of growing up--sibling rivalry, first lust and/or love, grief, death, finding one's own faiths and beliefs.  While the socially awkward sci fi nerd in me has to love Meg Murray just a little bit more than any other fictional character, I have to say that I'm impressed (and insanely jealous) at how genuine and believable of a character Vicky Austin is.  L'Engle had a way of honestly expressing herself through her characters that made them live. 

The other members of the Austin family were also believable and interesting.  What I also appreciated was how different characters (like Canon Tallis, Adam Eddington, and the darkly intriguing Zachary Gray--read L'Engle books if you want to know more about them) would appear in stories about the Murray family and in stories about the Austin Family.  It's like when you're talking to a friend and suddenly that friend mentions another one of your friends, and you didn't even realize those two people knew each other. 

If you've never read anything by Madeleine L'Engle, or if you have only read the obligatory A Wrinkle in Time, I strongly recommend the Austin Family books (starting, oddly enough, with Meet the Austins).  And while you're at it, make sure you've read the rest of the Time Quartet.  They're pretty much amazing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Film Adapations of Books

I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader for the second time today.  I hadn't seen it since the day it came out in theaters.  I only saw it today because they were showing it for free at the local theater as part of their free "Summer Kid's Movie Series" program, which is an ingenious way the local movie theater can make a lot of money by selling overpriced popcorn and soda.  I felt silly coming to a "kids' movie" without any kids, and since kidnapping is still illegal, I tagged along with the family I nanny for...on my day off.

Now, I've already written a blog about my thoughts on the third Narnia movie, and I really don't want to go into it again.  But the movie made me think about how some film adaptations of books are really well done, and how some of them really stink. 

Some people confuse me for one of those people who expect film adaptations to be almost identical to the book.  This just isn't the case.  I took a class called Lit and Film in college, which was one of the most interesting classes I've ever had.  And I agree with what the professor said--that a good film adaptation is one that properly captures the essence of a book.  That doesn't mean a good film adaptation has to cover every intricate detail of a book in exactly the same way the book handled it.  Sometimes things have to be changed for time (a 500 page book doesn't always fit well into a 90 minute movie) or because what works in print might not work well on screen.  I know some people who like to nitpick over minor details that don't change the basic themes of the story.  I'm not one of those people.

I am, however, one of those people who will get upset if I think a film did a bad job of translating a book on screen--particularly if I LOVED the book.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader wasn't horrible, but I do have some major problems with it because I think the filmmakers missed the point of the book (FYI, I LOVED the book).

There are a lot of film adaptations that I really don't like because I feel that the filmmakers didn't really grasp the main themes of the books they were trying to adapt.  At the top of this list is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the third one).  Not only did the filmmakers try to cram the theme of "time" into the movie, when the book really didn't have that overarching theme, but they left out all sorts of important themes and details that made the story understandable.  If I hadn't read the book and were just relying on the film, I'd have no idea what was going on.  And this was a common complaint I heard from people who hadn't read the book.  They didn't understand the movie.

A Wrinkle in Time is another film adaptation that leaves a lot to be desired.  It was a made for tv movie, but that doesn't give it the right to suck as much as it did.  The movie got several small details wrong--which might have been redeemable if they had been done well.  But almost nothing about this movie was done well.  The vast majority of the actors were miscast (so even the good actors like Alfre Woodard gave dreadful performances).  The writing was choppy and incoherent.  It makes me a little angry because A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite book, but the film version made it look dreadful.  So all of those people who like to see the movie first to see if they might like the book are now under the impression that it's a dreadful book.  If you're one of these people, I urge you to go read the book.  I promise it is SO much better than the movie.  I'm hoping that eventually someone picks up the whole Time Quartet series and does some major motion pictures that don't stink.  I do have to say, the music wasn't bad.  And the kid they got to play Charles Wallace was cute.  And Mrs Who was actually pretty likable.  Other than that...meh.  I've also heard that the Disney made-for-tv version of A Ring of Endless Light (another Madeleine L'Engle book) was also dreadful.  Maybe I'll see it for myself one day.

I don't want to spend much more time griping about film adaptations I don't like, but here is a list of others that really bother me (I still might watch these movies from time to time, as I often still watch A Wrinkle in Time, if only because I like to relive parts of the story when I don't have time to read the book):

Tuck Everlasting
The Black Cauldron
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the 2005 movie version--which was not redeemable even with Zooey Deschanel as Trillian AND Alan Rickman as Marvin.  The cheesy 1980 BBC version, however, is epic!)
First Knight
The Little Mermaid (Okay, I like the songs.  And Sebastian.  But Disney turned the self-sacrificing (and unnamed) Hans Christian Anderson protagonist into a selfish spoiled brat named Ariel)
The Flight of Dragons (based off the book The Dragon and the George)

There are a lot of film adaptations of books that I really don't like, but there are probably a lot more that I do like.  The Princess Bride is my favorite film, and it's one of my favorite books.  I think one of the reasons I'm such a big fan of both the film and the book is that William Goldman wrote both of them (the book and the screenplay).  Not every detail was the same.  There were lots of omissions and changes in the film version, but the film was a hilarious and touching story that paid true homage to the book.

Some of the film adaptations I like are very different from the books, but they're still enjoyable AND they retain the basic thematic essences of the books.  Pollyanna is one of these.  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (in case you're confused, I mean the Gene Wilder one) is another.  I do like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the Johnny Depp version), and it IS closer to the book than the Gene Wilder version "Willy Wonka," but I don't like it as much.  The Neverending Story is another film I love that doesn't follow the book very well, and it makes me sad that they tried to make it more like the book by making an absolutely horrendous sequel.  And another sequel--which thankfully, I have not seen.

Here's a list of film adaptations I really like:

Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park: The Lost World
October Sky (based on a memior originally published as Rocket Boys--it's an anagram)
All of the Harry Potter films except for Prisoner of Azkaban (I just can't forgive it)
Ramona and Beezus  (I would love to see more Ramona movies!)
The Hobbit (the Rankin Bass cartoon version, since the live action one hasn't come out yet)
The Return of the King (again, the Rankin Bass version)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (the Peter Jackson ones)
The Bridge to Terebithia (both the 80s version and the more recent version of this)
Winnie the Pooh (even after Disney mutilated A. A. Milne, I still like it)
The Phantom Tollbooth
2001: A Space Odyssey (the book was written at the same time as the film, but I think it still counts)
The BBC versions of The Chronicles of Narnia (they only did up to the Silver Chair...which makes me sad)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
A Christmas Carol (while almost any version--including Mickey's Christmas Carol and Scrooged--is likable, my favorite version is the Patrick Stewart one)
10 Things I Hate About You (based on Taming of the Shrew.  True story.)
Alice in Wonderland (again, pretty much any version of this would do--including the Johnny Depp version which was very unlike the original Lewis Caroll story.  I like what they did with it)
Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea
Hook (which was based off Peter Pan, which was a book)
The Little Prince
The Secret of NIMH (Based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH--they changed a lot, but the movie was still amazing!)
The Face on the Milk Carton (made for tv and really cheesy, but it's not too bad)
The Jungle Book

I'm sure I could name more, but...that would take longer than I want to spend on typing a blog. 

There are rare occurrences when I actually prefer the film version of a story to the book.  The Wizard of Oz is one of these.  Perhaps if I had read the book before seeing the Judy Garland/Ray Bolger rainbow-riffic classic movie from 1939 (the same year my daddy was born--which makes me extra sentimental about it), I might feel differently.  But I tried to read the book as a grown up.  I found it dreadful and unimaginative.  I get that it was a political commentary and all that, but that didn't increase my enjoyment of it.  I much preferred the musical film version. 

Another musical movie I preferred to the book was Phantom of the Opera.  The book wasn't the worst thing I've ever read, but it couldn't compete with the haunting genius of Andrew Lloyd Weber. 

I also preferred the happy ending Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Victor Hugo's classic where everybody dies (hopefully didn't ruin that for you).  The incredible songs, again, didn't hurt either. 

I have to admit I also liked the 90's version of The Three Musketeers way better than the book.  Rebecca De Mornay.  Keifer Sutherland.  Chris O'Donnell.  Tim Curry.  Oliver Platt.  Oh, and Charlie Sheen LONG BEFORE he went crazy.  Ah, what a great flick!  I had a cassette tape of the song "All For Love." Yep.  I was awesome.

Right now I'm anxiously awaiting a couple of film adaptations.  I've read that they're probably going to do "Magician's Nephew" (Chronicles of Narnia) before "Silver Chair" (and that "MN" isn't coming out until 2014).  So I'm not holding my breath for those.  I wouldn't be surprised if they got dumped.  Which is sad.  But after seeing what they did with "Dawn Treader," I'm not sure I want them messing with Puddleglum.

But I'm getting a little excited (along with a lot of people) about The Hunger Games, which is set to come out in March of next year.  I'm thinking that The Hunger Games is the new Harry Potter, at least in terms of waiting for the next movie to come out.  Oh...and I'm waiting for the final HP movie, too...but it will be here VERY soon! 

Other books I'd love to see made into good major motion pictures are:

A Wrinkle in Time and the other books in the Time Quartet (as I said before)
A Ring of Endless Light and the other Austin Family books by Madeleine L'Engle (actually starting with Meet the Austins)
The Chronicles of Prydain (The Black Cauldron was based on the first two books, but it fell sadly, sadly short.  I would love to see the whole series done in epic live action LOTR style.)
The Bunnicula Series
The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis

Again, there are probably others, but this blog is long enough. 

How about you?  Are there film adaptations you LOVE?  Are there film adaptations you HATE?  Are there movies you like better than the books?  Are there any books/series you would LOVE to see made into movies?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Update: Wrestling

I'm not going to talk much about last week.  It was disappointing on so many levels.  I wasted a lot of time and energy on stupid stuff that doesn't really matter.  I could have used that time and energy for things that built up God's Kingdom instead of bulding up my own. That's all I have to say about that.

But church was very good today.  I almost didn't go.  I was having some wardrobe malfunctions (have you ever had an epic battle with a zipper?  I have.  Me-1, Zipper-0!).  I was running horribly late.  But every time I thought, "I might as well just go back to sleep," I had this inkling that Satan was trying to keep me from going to church today.  I'm not sure if that's the case (though I really have to wonder if there's ever a time when Satan doesn't want to discourage people from going to church--if it's a God-honoring, Christ-centered church and not just a glorified social club).  But I defeated the zipper and made it to church twenty minutes late.

We're going through 2 Kings right now in Sunday School Adult Bible Study, and today we talked about Elisha and different ways God provided for different people.  One of the women we talked about was wealthy, respected, and generous, but she had no children.  Elisha prophesied that she would have a son.  The woman's reaction revealed that she was afraid to even hope for this--which leads me to believe she had hoped for it for quite some time.  She desperately wanted children, but she had been hoping for so long that she had come to the point where she was afraid to hope anymore. 

I understand this.  I think my apathy is centered around this idea of being afraid to hope.

The thing is, this woman did have a child.  And a few years later, the child died.  The woman's reaction was pretty remarkable.  She put the boy's body in a closed room, and without telling anyone what had happened, she immediately made preparations to journey to Elisha.  She acted as if all was well.  When she was coming near, Elisha sent a servant to meet her, but she remained calm until she actually reached Elisha's side.  Only after coming to Elisha did she show her desperation, her need.  Elisha sent his servant to the boy, but the woman would not leave Elisha's side.  She knew that her child had not been given to her just to be taken away again, and she knew that Elisha was the man of God who would bring her son back to her.

When her child was only a promise, she was afraid to hope.  After her child had been given to her, she fought for him...because she knew there was a reason he had been promised. 

While studying this, I was reminded of Abraham and Isaac.  God had promised this child.  Then God commanded Abraham to sacrifice the promised child.  Abraham obeyed, believing that God would provide in one way or another.  He believed that if Isaac died, God would be able to bring him back to life.  Because God had made the promise that Isaac would be the first of Abraham's many, many, many, many (etc. etc. etc.) descendants.

I'm sensitive to stories about promised children because, while I've never been promised children at all, I have wanted to be a mom for many years now.  It's not happened.  It might never happen.  And if it doesn't, I'm okay with that.  I have a lot of borrowed children, so I'm good.  In a weird way, God has given me a lot of kids, just like I asked Him.  So it's okay.  Better than okay.  I have far more than I deserve.

But there are things that I desire besides children.  I don't know if I can really say that I have been promised these things.  God has never sent me a lightning bolt or shining angel to tell me that one day I'll be a published author.  But I can't help but believe that He's given me my passions and gifts for writing for a reason--or for many reasons.  I can't help but believe that He's given me the stories that live in my brain (some of which even live on paper).  It's not a promise, really, but it's a hope.

Lately...I think I've gotten tired or fearful of hoping. 

A lot of good little Christians probably don't like the fact that I think that it's a good thing to wrestle with God sometimes.  I really like the story in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with the angel.  Scripture says that Jacob wrestled with God and man and overcame.  But do I think for one minute that Jacob, a mere man, could overcome God?  Well, there's only one way that could ever be possible, and that's if God let him win.  God could strike Jacob down in a heartbeat, with just a thought.  He didn't have to wrench Jacob's hip out of place in a feeble attempt to make Jacob release Him.  He could have wiped Jacob out with no effort at all.  But there was something God was doing in the midst of that wrestling match.  And I think it showed a lot about Jacob's character that he held out and held on for that blessing. 

Jacob was a deceiver, a grasper.  He hadn't rightfully earned anything he'd gained.  He still had the nerve to wrestle with God and say, "I'm not letting go until you bless me." 

Now, if we didn't know what happened, the good little Christian would probably assume that God would react to Jacob's audacity with lots of good ol' fashioned smiting.  But God didn't smite Jacob.  God blessed Jacob. 

Why?  Why would God grant Jacob what he wanted?  I think the answer is pretty simple.  Jacob had faith.  Just like Abraham had faith.  And that faith was credited to him as righteousness.

And while we all need to surrender to God, I truly believe there are times when God calls us to wrestle with Him.  There are times when all we have is a faint, frail hope.  In these times, it's easy to get discouraged and just stop trying.  But it takes far more faith to hold on to that hope, holding on to God, wrestling while waiting for that blessing.

I'm at this place now.  Well, I've been here for a while.  I've been waiting and working for some things, but I've gotten to that place where I'm just so afraid to hope.  I'm so afraid of getting my hopes crushed, so I don't want to risk believing.  But the Lord has reminded me...again (I need lots of reminders)...that He is faithful.  And I need to be more like that woman who knew everything was going to be all right, even when all hope seemed lost.  She rushed to Elisha, wouldn't leave his side, until she had what she believed she was meant to have.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved child, knowing God would not go back on His promise.  Jacob had the faith and boldness to actually wrestle with the God, demanding a blessing, though he had no natural right to it.

And I need to get back to the point where I'm working towards my goals.  I need to get back to the point where I'm working as if I actually believe I'm going to have what I believe I'm meant to have.  I need to wrestle with God as strongly as I wrestled with that blasted zipper this morning.  God's made me stubborn for a reason, and I need to rediscover that stubbornness.  I need to audaciously wrestle with God, holding on to Him until I get my blessing.

...and I really don't have to fear hope, because the truth of the matter is, His hold on me is even stronger.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fiction Friday: Christian Fiction

I have not read a lot of Christian fiction.  I'm actually still in the process of getting over a personal bias I've built up against Christian fiction.  I'm not sure where this bias has come from.  Maybe I read some bad Christian fiction in my teenage years and forgot about it, but have subconsciously built up a mental and emotional block against Christian fiction.  I think a more likely cause is that the sort of people who come up to me raving about the latest Christian romance novel they just read are not the sort of people with whom I see myself sharing literary taste.

 However this bias came into existence, I'm learning that I really need to get over it (at least somewhat--because let's face it: there is a lot of BAD Christian fiction out there).  I don't have a lot of time for reading, but last summer I did manage to read through the Dragon Keeper series by Donita K. Paul.  These are Christian fantasy books centering around a girl named Kale Allerion, who (this might come as quite a shock, given the title of the series) keeps Dragons.

Okay, so these books were actually really good.  And I'm not just saying that because I kinda sorta have a wild obsession with Dragons.  They reminded me of a Christian version of Eragon (and let me take this opportunity to say that Christopher Paolini is sitting in my literary naughty corner until I have the final book of the Inheritance Trilogy Cycle in my hands--gettr done!).

I also took the time to finally read the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis.  But honestly, C. S. Lewis doesn't really fit the category of Christian fiction in my head.  I know that it IS Christian fiction on a basic level, but it doesn't fit the category that I still hold a little bit of bias against.  I've read plenty of C. S. Lewis' fiction and always loved it, but that's kind of because he's C. S. Lewis and amazing.

I also read a book by a Christian author named C. S. Lakin called The Wolf of Tebron. It was good and I would like to read a little more by this author, but her books aren't typically in libraries (at least not ones in po-dunk towns), and doesn't take "I'll babysit your kids for free if you give me books" as acceptable payment.

So in the next few months, I'm hoping to read some of the Christian fiction that's available at the library in the po-dunk town where I live.  I've been meaning to read "Redeeming Love" by Francine Rivers for a LONG time.  I'm not sure if I'll like it, not because it's not good.  I'm sure it is.  I'm just not sure it's going to be my style.  But I love the book of Hosea in the Bible, and apparently it's based heavily on that, so it's got a good fighting chance.  I'm only skeptical because a lot of those people who have recommended it to me are the type of people with whom I doubt I share literary taste.

I'm also hoping to be able to save up to buy some of the newer Christian fiction that is available.  I've read an interesting blog about a Christian fantasy/sci fi novel entitled A Dream Before Dying: The Initiation.  That's one I am looking into reading in the near future.  You know...when I actually have spare time for reading....

I really think, though, that I need to get over this bias about Christian authors.  The reason?  Well, I think that whether I like it or not, I'm going to end up being a Christian author.  So I'd better start getting used to the idea, and I'd better start figuring out what's going on in the industry.

Do you read Christian fiction?  What are some of your favorites?  I need to build up a reading list!