Friday, September 30, 2011

Fiction Friday: This Space for Rent

I've got a couple of confessions.

1) This isn't really Friday.  Yes, this will be published on a Friday, but I'm actually writing it on a Thursday night.  I've started doing that because my Fridays have been fairly hectic.  So if I've wanted to get the blog out before late Friday night, I've had to write it on Thursday night and schedule it for Friday morning.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.  Big time bloggers do it all the time.  In fact, if I were smart, I'd start writing TONS of Fiction Friday blogs and stockpiling them for moments like these.

2) This moment, and most other Thursday nights lately, have been difficult.  I've been dreading them.  It's because lately I've been having to rack my brain to come up with a topic.  It's not that I don't read fiction.  I definitely do.  But, for the most part, I've already blogged about the fiction that I want to blog about.  That's not to say that I won't want to write blogs on fiction in the future, but it's becoming clear to me that Fiction Friday is slowly dying. 

So I'm putting it out of its misery.

I think this is the beginning of some changes for this blog.  Sometimes I start thinking of myself as a bad blogger if I keep making changes, but maybe I've got the wrong attitude about it.  My life keeps changing, so maybe the way I blog should also change.  And, if things go the way I'm hoping, I might have a new "real" blog soon, and I'll be devoting a little more time to that.

I won't be getting rid of this blog, though.  I need a place to blog about what's going on in my life.  I need a place to just write something random that makes me feel happy.  Sometimes I even need a place to write about a work of fiction that I love/hate/think about.  I just don't necessarily need to do that in an alliterative weekly fashion.

I still plan on blogging mainly on just Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  It's been a pretty good system, and I've gotten used to it.  Sundays are the updates of what's going on in my life and writing.  Wednesdays are kind of a wild card where I blog about whatever I feel like at the time.  I'm just not sure what to do with Fridays, at the moment.

I'll let you know when I figure that out.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Learning to Walk

One-year-olds are my favorite.  They cry sometimes and don't always communicate well, and sometimes their diapers are messy.  Sometimes they bite each other.  Sometimes they bite me.  All in all, though, they're really a lot of fun.  They are still learning about life and how it works, so everything is exciting and super cool.  The sound of a cricket is the most interesting thing ever.  A sticker is cooler than anything.  Everything is new.  Everything is worth noticing.  And one-year-olds notice because they've just gotten to that age where they are physically and mentally able to notice.

I've worked with a lot of one-year-olds, but it's been a few years since I've worked (long-term) with a child who hasn't learned how to walk yet.  There are a couple of kids in my preschool class who are still learning to walk.  I've forgotten how much fun it is to help a child learn to walk.

I like the feeling of their little fingers grasping mine as they teeter uncertainly across the floor.  I like it when they let go, attempting to walk a few feeble steps on their own.   When they succeed to walk those few steps, it's one of my favorite things in life.

Because here is what happens, and it's so cute and amazing to watch.  The kid finally works up the courage to let go of my fingers.  She teeters a few steps forward on her own.  She gets even more confident and takes a few real strides.  Then she gets so excited and proud of herself that she does this bouncing up and down happy dance.  Then her legs proceed to give out and she falls down on her little bum bum. 

I love this.  It's a great learning time that comes before the kid eventually learns how to control her legs and support herself with them.  I know in a few short weeks, the kids in my class will all be walking, and these fun times will be a happy memory. 

And right now I'm also learning to walk.  There are things I'm about to attempt (and in some small ways am already attempting) that I've not attempted before.  Sometimes I get so excited about my plans that I want to just take off soaring into the sky.  But I can't fly yet.  In fact, I haven't even learned to walk.

I have to learn to take the baby steps before I learn how to walk.  I'm taking them now by talking to some people, getting my ideas out there so I can get feedback/prayer, trying to figure out what I need to do and how I need to go about doing it.  It's scary, and sometimes I just want to hold someone's hand as they help me awkwardly stumble forward.  Sometimes I'm going to have to let go and take a few steps forward on my own.  Sometimes I'm going to fail, sometimes I'm going to succeed.  And when I succeed, I'll probably have a few moments where I get overconfident, do a happy dance, and then proceed to fall on my not so little bum bum.

And that's okay.  This is a great time of my life, and I almost missed it because I was trying to envision the end of the road before I started living in the beginning.  I don't know where my dreams will end.  I don't know if I'll learn to fly someday.  I do know that learning to walk is enough of an adventure for me at the moment.  I'm going to enjoy it as much as possible, have as much fun as possible.

Maybe someday I'll look back on this time as one of the best times of my life.  Right now, I'm taking it one baby step at a time....

Thanks for praying and taking this journey with me!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Update: Enough

Yesterday, I was an absolute moron.

Last week was a brutally long week.  Then Friday, I donated blood after working 2 jobs.  I gobbled up a pack of crackers and went grocery shopping afterwards.  I didn't get to bed until midnight, and I still needed to get some things done to prepare for my long Saturday filled with jogging and work and then rushing straight to a babysitting gig.

Then I had this brilliant moronic idea.  I figured I'd get up even earlier than usual to go jog.  I'm with a group ( that usually meets up at on Sat. morning at 7:30 to talk and pray, and then we go run/waddlejog/walk.  Well, I figured I'd just go there at 6:30 and do my jogging, then I could meet with the people and go home to get some stuff done before work.  Except, I didn't get there at 6:30 because I was tired and didn't want to get out of bed.  But I forced myself to get up, scarfed down some trail mix, sloshed some water down my throat, and started jogging at 6:45.

I planned on doing 4 miles.  It was insanely humid.  I hadn't eaten or hydrated well.  I HAD GIVEN BLOOD THE NIGHT BEFORE.  After a valiant pathetic effort, I only managed to run about 2 3/4 miles before I almost puked my guts out and almost passed out.  Neither of these things happened because I finally had common sense enough to stop trying to run, and I dragged myself back to my car.

I met with my group, went home, and showered.  I did a few things that needed to be done.  I went to work.  Rush rush rush.  My body was SCREAMING at me to rest, but I didn't listen until it was almost too late.  I started feeling slightly nauseated as I turned the lights on at work.  I knew I wasn't sick (and in danger of infecting anyone).   I was just so exhausted my body was rebelling.  The nausea got a little worse as I unlocked the front door and turned on the OPEN sign.  Then I sat down at the computer, waiting for the first child to come to the drop-in center, and suddenly I was so overwhelmed by nausea that I thought I was going to toss my trail mix all over the keyboard. 

I picked up the trash can and lowered my head over it, just in case I was going to 1) hurl, 2) faint, 3) both at the same time.  All the while I was intently praying that no parents/kids would walk through the door until the nausea passed.

Thankfully, no kids came.  The nausea did pass in just a few minutes.  But the weirdest thing happened as I lowered my head over that trash can. 

The word "enough" is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.  Earlier this week, I somehow found time to finish reading Quitter by Jon Acuff (, and he wrote about how before you can be successful with your dreams, you have to define your "enough."  And I hadn't really sat down to define it, but I'd been thinking about it all week. 

So then, when I was sitting in an office chair praying for the sweet release of death that I wasn't so tired that I would have to scramble to find someone to cover my shift, contentedness snuck up on me.  Now, I wasn't happy, because honestly, happiness and being on the verge of puking aren't really things that typically go together.  But all of the sudden I just came to the realization that while I'm broke all the time and life isn't perfect and there are still things for which I hope and dream, the life I have RIGHT NOW is enough.  If I had to live the rest of my life with things being just as they are right now, I would be content.  The jobs I have, the friends I know, my family, my church, the kids I have the AMAZING opportunity to love--these things are so much more than I deserve, and they enrich my life so much beyond what I absolutely need. 

Though I was insanely tired, yesterday ended well with babysitting four fantastic kids who made me feel awesome (and chatting afterwards with their incredible parents who also made me feel awesome).

Today, I've had a little time to think this through.  I'm probably still going to be thinking it through, but here's where my thoughts are headed at the moment.

There's a reason I am content, and that reason is not so I can sit basking in my contentedness.  About a year ago, God brought me out of an insanely long season of Spiritual winter.  The spring and summer have gone by quickly, and I really do believe that I'm at the beginning of autumn.  Autumn means harvest.  The spring that followed that winter was an amazing time of growth.  I don't know if others have seen it, but I know that God has radically changed my heart over the past year.  If there was that much growth, I know the harvest is probably going to be something pretty big.

I've been anticipating some big changes to come in my life, and I sense the arrival of these changes even more clearly right now.  Some of the changes are starting to take form, and I'm a little bit afraid because I still don't know what to do with them.  In a very small way, I feel like Moses.  I need an Aaron.  I can't do this myself.  I need to ask for help, and that's not my forte.

Also, I am typically just not one who likes change, even if it's good change.  I feel like I finally got to the point where I'm not looking for anything else to fulfill me.  What I have is enough--more than enough.  Now that I've reached that point, I am afraid that through change, I'm going to lose something that has taken a long time to be gained. 

I'm reminded that when we are faithful in small things, God is faithful to give us charge over bigger things.  That requires more work and effort and responsibility.  I'm afraid that I'm not going to be able to handle the tasks that God's given me to do.

But yesterday, in the midst of everything else He showed me, God reminded me of my weakness.  I was hovering over a trash can, completely at the mercy of my own exhausted body. 

'Cause see, I'm a moron.  In fact, I'm a weak moron.  But if God is giving me something to do, then He's going to work through me, and He has more than enough strength and wisdom.  One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 1:27: "...but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong...."

There's only One in whom I can boast.  He will provide for what I need when I need it, and I have to trust that.  I have to trust Him. 

I have a strong suspicion that will be enough.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fiction Friday: "Redeeming" Christian Fiction

I'm still not sure whether or not I'd like to be a Christian author.  I'd like to be an author (despite what my mom says, I'm not an author until I'm published).  I am a Christian.  Since God seems to sneak up on me into several of my blog posts here, I guess I already qualify as a Christian writer.  I just don't know if I want to have any of my books published with that kind of stigma label. 

One of my reasons for this is because I don't just want Christians reading my books.  Honestly, I just don't see some average nonChristian Joe...or Joe-ette...walking into a book store or library and picking up something from the "Inspirational" section. 

The other reason is because I really don't know whether or not I'd like to be classified as a Christian author is because there's a LOT of Christian fiction out there  I've had this conversation with several of my friends, and most of them agree with me.  Christian fiction doesn't have a good reputation.

But I've decided I need to actually read a little bit of Christian fiction before saying it all stinks.  I'd been meaning to read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers for many years, and I finally did read it a few weeks ago.

I was actually a little stunned (in a good way) at the honesty of this book.  The book plays on the story of Hosea from the Bible, which is really the only reason I was interested in reading it.  I don't like romance for the sake of romance, but this book wasn't mainly a romance--at least not one between two people.  This story was a very honest story about God drawing His children back to Himself.

The main female character, Angel, is a prostitute.  While there was nothing at all graphic or crude, Rivers didn't make light of her horrible past/present situations.  There were times when it was uncomfortable for me to read, but I actually appreciated those times because they made the book/characters more real.

The human love story (as well as the Divine) begins with a man named Michael Hosea.  He was also a very real character.  Rivers didn't make him just some lovey-dovey man who easily forgave Angel.  He did forgive her, but he dealt with the pain and anger realistically, all the while loving this woman who felt entirely unlovable.

There are other characters and situations that were difficult to read, but they were so honest that I couldn't help but love this book.  There were some stylistic problems I had--such as Rivers jumping the point of view from character to character without any notice.  Sometimes I had to figure out whose brain I was reading.   I also was underwhelmed by a very matter-of-fact and unnecessary epilogue. 

But I think Rivers has shown that there can be such a thing as good Christian fiction, and perhaps even good Christian romance.  This wasn't just another book about the hero or heroine loving someone to Christ.  This was a honestly written story about a woman who desperately needed the love and redemption of God.  It was about what God can do with a changed life.  It was a very hopeful book.

I was actually a little surprised to read parts of this book, though.  The last entire book I managed to write was a Christian sci-fi romance thing.  The main character has this Hosea theme going throughout her struggles and successes.  Without ever having read Redeeming Love, it sounds as though I drew inspiration from it.  I didn't, but it doesn't matter.  I realized through reading Redeeming Love that my story lacks a lot of honesty and needs even more editing than I originally believed. 

I guess that's why Francine Rivers is a full-fledged published Christian author, and I'm just a wanna-be.  Uh...whatever it is I wanna be...?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Impractical Moments

There's a painting right above the table where my roommate's computer rests.  It's also my roommate's painting.  I think one of her relatives got it for her at an art sale.  It's a rather large panoramic sort of painting, if the adjective "panoramic" can even be applied to paintings.  I don't know because I pretty much stink at all forms of visual art, and therefore never had the desire to learn about adjectives that can be applied to paintings.

The painting is mostly a muted blue, which is why I like it, though my roommate insists that it used to be much brighter and the colors must have faded over time.  I really like the faded quality, though.  It's peaceful.  It's unassuming.  It just IS. 

The first thing I notice about the painting, other than the lovely mellow shades of blue, are two figures standing slightly to the left of the center.  One of the figures is a lady in an old-fashioned white dress and bonnet.  The dress has a blue sash, and she is shading herself beneath an open parasol.  Next to her is a shorter figure, a girl in a white dress with a pink sash.  She also has a bonnet, but no parasol.  The pair of them are standing amongst a lovely overgrowth of muted green and white wildflowers.  These wildflowers are on the shore of a river, and an arched stone bridge is in the not-too-far distance.  There are two swans swimming near to the opposite shore of the river.  The woman and girl are looking out over this river, and they appear to either be looking at the swans or at the bridge (their faces are not visible).  Overhead is a sky that my roommate says once was pink and orange and blue.  Now it's mostly a very pale blue, gray, and white, with clouds that look as though they are about to bring forth rain.  There are also trees, covered by a mist that was either intentional or caused by the fading of the artist's original colors.

I wish I could paint sometimes, but I can't, so I don't.  I'm not an art critic, either, and honestly, this painting probably isn't anything spectacular.  But I like it.  I like looking at the woman and child, wondering who they might be.  The most obvious assumption would be that the woman and girl are a mother and daughter, out looking at the bridge, perhaps waiting for the child's father to come home.  Perhaps it's an older sister and a younger sister out for a stroll along the river bank.  Maybe the woman is a governess who never married, who loves the child she teaches as if she were her own daughter.  She sees that it is about to rain, but she allows the little girl to tarry, knowing the child delights in seeing the swans.

I like this painting very much.  I don't look at it too often; I probably don't even notice it most days.  But sometimes I just look up and it's there waiting for me to wonder about it.  I guess sometimes that seems like a waste of time when there's so much going on around us.  Art, writing, theater, music--are these things wastes of time?

The world is a practical place filled with practical things.  It's only Wednesday, and I've already had a full week.  It's going to get fuller.  Between the jobs and the carpools and the meetings and trying to feed the kids and get in exercise and plan my meals for the next day and setting aside time for prayer and Bible reading, it's hard to think about anything besides the practical stuff. 

Maybe that's why we need the impractical.

Sometimes, the practical doesn't leave a lot of room for the impractical.  I'm not even a wife or mom, so I can't imagine the urgency of actually living with other people who make constant demands on my time.  Still, my time is valuable.  I don't always make good decisions with the time I have, but then there are the times when I just don't seem to HAVE time to make any decisions with. 

But on my way to work this morning I was listening to this song about praising God and being mindful of Him throughout the day.  At the climax of the song, this beautiful bird just swooped down directly above and in front of my car.  It almost swooped low enough for me to hit it, and I could see the fear in its eyes.  Indeed, for a split second, I saw that bird very clearly.  I saw its gray feathers spread wide as it tried to regain control of its plummet.  I saw its small beak open slightly as it released an even smaller cry.  I saw its tiny, black eye focused on me, on the ground, on the car, on the heavens.  Yes, there was fear in that bird's eye.  There was also joy.  The wind gloriously caught its wings and lifted it up, just as it was about to splatter all over my windshield.  It flew away, unharmed, and I believe both of us soared.

That all happened in less than a second.

And then life kept going. 

And I figure that sometimes you have to grab those impractical moments when you can.  If you blink, you might miss them.  But there are other times when you have to just force in those impractical times whenever you can, even when the practical schedule isn't impractical-friendly.

I barely have time this week to even keep up with myself.  The practical things keep demanding my attention, and I'm tempted to just chuck all the impractical things out the window.  But just because writing might not be a practical thing to do, at least not compared to the immediate need of making sure the kids I watch get dinner, it doesn't mean I shouldn't make some time for it.  This blog isn't a waste of time.  Writing isn't a waste of time.  Playing my songs on the guitar for a few minutes isn't a waste of time.  Getting temporarily lost inside a painting isn't a waste of time.  These are the little impractical moments that allow me to mute the colors of my sometimes all too vividly bright life.  In these moments, I don't have to worry about being a good worker, a good nanny, a good child care provider, a good teacher, a good friend, or a good whatever. 

I can just be.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Update: So It Begins

I have discovered that I can't read and write at the same time.  Well, I figure most people can't do that--meaning they can't literally be reading something and be writing something completely different at the same time.  Unless, of course, one were a two-headed monster, with two brains--which, in my opinion, that monster would constitute as two people, if, in fact, monsters could be considered people.  I'm not going to venture an opinion on that because I don't want to inadvertently insult any monsters, two-headed or otherwise.

Sometimes, I think I'm like the Mad Hatter in the Johnny Depp version of "Alice in Wonderland."  In that case, you should read all of my rants as though I suddenly developed a Scottish accent.


Well, when I say that I can't read and write at the same time, I mean something more than just simultaneously writing and reading.  I mean that while I'm actively working on a writing project, I find it hard to read other books.  If I'm reading a book by someone else, I want to devote all my spare time to that book.  If I'm writing or editing a major project of my own, I want to devote all my spare time to that.  I can't keep both going at the same time.  So for a couple months, I went crazy and checked out about 3 dozen books from the library, and I let my major writing projects simmer on the back burner for a while.  I've read my way through all of these books, and I'm finishing up a book I purchased.  When I get done with "Quitter" by Jon Acuff, I'm going to stop reading for a while so that I can focus on the writing and editing.

Regular work schedule has started at the drop-in centers.  The kids I watch in the afternoons are now in school.  Preschool has started.  I'm about to start incorporating "writing stuff" into my day to day life, too.  I need to work on some goals, but that scares me, because I am really bad about meeting them.  But if I were to make some goals, they might look something like this:

1) Make some minor adjustments to first book.  Make major adjustments to synopsis for first book.  Stop being a pansy and send queries about first book.  As soon as possible.

2) Edit second book like crazy.  Figure out how you want to think about marketing second book, b/c that's going to affect how you edit it.  Produce a decent second draft by, say, the end of the year.

3) Um.  Project?  Experiment?  Idea?  Yeah.  You're on your own here, because I don't have a clue what to do with this project idea you have.

Here's the deal.  I'm not much of a goal-setter.  I never have been.  I like to be prepared, especially when I don't know how to handle a particular situation, but even then, I don't know how to organize my life and my plans into tangible goals.  So it's strange that I've actually had a couple bursts of project planning this week.  It's also strange that I've taken everything I've planned and pretty much figuratively thrown it out the figurative window.

If you've read any of my posts over the past week (with the exception of a rather silly post about me eating a can of soup), then you have probably read something about a project idea I've been thinking about for a couple years now.  I think it's time to act on this idea and try to make something out of it, but I also believe I need to pray a little more about it before doing anything.  I ask that you would continue to pray for wisdom as I pray/work through this.

I do think that if I proceed with this project, I'm going to have a couple of "preview blogs" for it on "Poor Reflections" before embarking on a new blog.  I do have a name for the project--and really, I need to stop calling it a project.  It's more of an experiment right now.  I'm going to call it "Singled In." I'm not sure, at this point, what my blog posts for "Singled In" will look like, but I expect a lot of them are going to be short.  In fact, I don't think many of them are going to include my thoughts (at least not in great detail).  Rather, I want to ask a lot of questions, some of them pointed, some of them more general, so that I and other readers can see what other people think, what other people have to say.  That's not to say that I will never post a blog about something that's on my heart or mind, but I really want this experimental blog to be a community effort.  That's why it's just not going to work unless I am able to gain some sort of a following.  And that's scary, because it's really not in my hands. 

So please be in prayer.  Please "get on board." Please tell other people about this.  Please feel free to go ahead and give me suggestions, advice, comments, concerns, snide remarks, etc.  I am still not sure what the Lord is leading me to do with this, and I'm asking Him to help me trust Him more, rather than to simply ask for His direction.  I do ask for direction, too.  I mean, if God isn't leading this, then there's no point in even going forward.  It's just that, in my experience, God doesn't like to give me a cheat sheet.  I can't know the answers before I take the test.  Sometimes, I just have to do something and trust that He's leading me.  Sometimes that means I'm going to fail, and maybe even failure is a good thing if I learn from it. 

And this isn't about me anyway.  If I do continue with this plan, one of my first blogs will probably be an explanation of what "Singled In" is (or some of the things it could potentially be, since I really don't know how much control I will have over the experiment) and why I've envisioned the "Singled In" experiment.  It's not about me.  It's not about single people.  It's not about married people.  It's about glorifying God by creating unity, by breaking down barriers, by figuring out together how we can lift one another up, by figuring out together how we can honor God by honoring and learning from one another.

So, as I finish up this reading, I have a lot of expectations for my writing projects.  I'm just not sure what shape all those expectations are going to take.  I'm not much of a goal-setter, and maybe that's a bad thing in a lot of situations--all I know is that I have trouble being something I'm not.  If I'm not a goal-setter, I'm just not a goal-setter.  In this particular instance, as I attempt to plan and pray for an experiment that, quite frankly, scares me a little bit, maybe it's a good thing that I'm not a goal-setter.  I have a feeling that this experiment/project/etc. is going to be something like me--it's not going to be something it's not.  It's just going to be what it is.  And I don't have a clue what that something is or will be, yet.  I have a feeling that it's gonna be something good, but I'm going to need help.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Soup Friday

I don't have a Fiction Friday for you this week.  Why?  Oh, I just don't feel like writing one.  I always get a little apathetic when the weather gets colder.  Anyway, please accept this picture of me eating soup as an apology.

Fiction Friday will be back next week.  Maybe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Impulsively Hesitant

It's hard to know what to do sometimes.  As a fairly impulsive person who knows she is fairly impulsive, sometimes when there is something I get the inclination to do, I have to pull the reins, slow myself down, and stop to think before I act.  Sometimes this means I never act at all, and sometimes that's a good thing.

But I also happen to be a fairly hesitant person when it comes to trying new things, and I also know that about myself.  Sometimes I have to take a flying leap and force myself to do something.  Sometimes I fall flat on my face, and sometimes that's also a good thing.

Balance is that dreaded word which signifies a concept that I'm just not very good at.  I can be impulsive.  I can be hesitant.  Is it possible to be hesitantly impulsive or impulsively hesitant?

It's only been a couple of days since I started asking for feedback about an idea.  I guess I haven't given it much time, but the response was underwhelming.  In fact, it was a little depressing.  About five people ever got back to me about it at all.  Including my mom, who is awesome, but...she's my mom.  And I do plan on giving it a little more time, but I don't want to keep posting links about it on facebook when it's apparent that people don't care.  But seriously, I'd rather people just come right out and say, "Ruth, your idea is stupid and no one cares," than to just ignore me and hope I'll go away.  I mean, I'm trying to gauge how much people would be interested in my idea.  I'm trying to see if there's a need for it.  So while I'd prefer a direct response, maybe the answer to those questions is: it's not even an intriguing enough idea to capture people's attention, so get over it.

So if my idea is THAT ignorable, I should lean towards being hesitant to act on it.  Yet I have to admit that the impulsive part of me wants to just go ahead and start a new blog focusing on this idea, asking questions, hoping that I'll slowly start to amass a following. 

And really, the only risk involved there is that no one will ever read the new blog.  The risk is that I'll continue to be ignored.  The blog and my idea could just result in one failure that few people will ever know about, but the problem is: I'll know about it.  And if that were my only concern, well, I guess I could live with it.  But I'm hesitant too because I'm sick of starting projects and then seeing them fizzle down to nothing.  And I'm afraid that I might not have the endurance to follow this spark of an idea through to the end--especially if I don't have people who are backing me up.  And right now, it doesn't look like I have many people backing me up.  I'm appreciative of those who have given support (yes, you too, mom), but right now it's not encouraging.  And I don't want to start something else I don't finish. 

I haven't made any decisions.  I really want to try this, just to see what happens.  That's the impulsive part of me.  But I'm afraid it will start in a glorious fire that will soon fizzle down to a dying ember.  That's the hesitant side of me.  So I'm going with another option.

Prayer.  Lately, my prayer life has been good.  It's amazing, first of all, that sinful people even have access to something as incredible as prayer.  We get to talk to God.  We get to talk to a holy, righteous, good God.  We should not have that opportunity.  It's amazing, second, that God has everything we need.  He's the King of Kings.  We can ask Him for what we need, and He will provide what we need.  That doesn't mean that if I ask God for a football or even something more serious like a husband, I'm going to get it.  What it does mean is that God will provide for me according to what I need and according to His purposes for me.  And prayer is amazing also because God actually desires our prayer.  He longs for us to come to Him with our needs.  He longs to give us what we need.  He delights in us.  So I can pray fervently about this situation.  I'm learning not to ask God so much for His guidance as I ask Him for trust in the midst of situations I don't understand.  Sometimes I'm more eager to seek God's direction than I am to seek His face, and that's one of those sneakier forms of idolatry.

The other day, when praying, I had a really great moment.  I prayed, "Lord, all you really want from us is us.  You just want us.  And the remarkable thing about that is that we're not really giving anything up, because You're giving us Yourself.  And just between You and me, God, I really think we're getting the much better end of that deal."

And we are. 

There's no reason to worry.  Some things work themselves out.  Waiting and trusting are hard sometimes, but I think that's the only way an impulsively hesitant person like me can figure out obedience.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ideas are Noisy: Possible New Project Idea

It's not a Sunday, Wednesday, nor Friday, yet I am blogging.  I have something to say.

There's been an idea bouncing around in my head for awhile.  It keeps bouncing--boing! boing! boing!  I'm not ready to act on it, I don't think.  I've got a lot of stuff I need to do, and I'm really sick of starting projects that I never finish.  So I'm not trying to get anyone too excited about anything...yet. 

But I'd like to request prayer and maybe even some preliminary thoughts on this idea that I'm thinking about.  I'd like to delve a little into the scary scary world of nonfiction.  The idea that's been boinging around in my head is about the role of single adults in the church. 

I've jotted down a few things, but really, there are so many directions this project could go.  I'm not sure if I'm ready to do much more than just let the idea bounce around some more, but I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on the subject.

I don't know how much honest literature exists out there about real-life single adults who are striving to find a place in the church.  I certainly haven't seen much--if any.  I'm not talking about some seventeen step program to finding the perfect godly mate, nor am I talking about a new way of doing "singles ministry."  My ideas are more about bridging the supposed differences between married adults and single adults.  Sometimes I get the impression that churches invent imaginary barriers between single people and married people. 

Possible ways of addressing this whole topic would include discussing misconceptions some married people seem to have about single people (ie. the "call to singleness," the idea that something is wrong with single people, the idea that single people are selfish), ways that married people can realistically help single people feel more included, but mostly I'd like to honestly address singles about how they can get involved without feeling as though there has to be an active "singles ministry."  Maybe there's not a great need for this, and if there isn't, then I shouldn't write about it.  But I, personally, have seen some need.  That's why the idea keeps bouncing around, just loudly enough so I don't forget it.

I'm asking for prayer and comments, if you have any.  There are a lot of different ways this idea could bounce, and I"m trying to keep an open mind.  Do you think there's a need for such a project, or has this idea been done to death?  If there is a need for it, why?  Are there any other things you think should be addressed, any other issues you think could be explored?  Are you a single person with examples of problems/issues/etc. you would like to share about your involvement with the church or with married people?  Are you a married person who has something to say about ministry and singlehood or things that you discovered after you got married?  What about kids?  What about single parents?  What about divorced singles?  Really, if this idea is going to become anything more, I know I'm going to need help.  I'm going to need more experiences than just the ones bouncing around with the half-baked ideas in my head.  So I would appreciate anything you have to say. 

And I greatly desire your prayers for this and all of my other creative endeavors.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Update: Looking Forward

I wasn't going to do it.  I wasn't going to write a 9/11 post.  I'm not calloused against the events that happened a decade ago.  I'm just not big on this idea that everyone has to feel a certain way just because it's been 10 years since the terrorist attack that devastated America--and the rest of the world, too.  I can't turn on the radio without hearing some sort of reminder that we should remember.  Thanks for reminding me to remember.  Check.  Got it.  I haven't forgotten.  It's not like any of us could.

I'm not calloused at all about 9/11, but I'm also not one to jump on the "let's all talk about what happened that day" bandwagon, either.  But yesterday I was talking to someone who is over a decade younger than I am, and it made me think about who I was a decade ago.  So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm about to write a post about 9/11, but not really.

I've heard it said that everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, but NO ONE remembers what they were doing the day before.  That's not true.  I remember exactly what I was doing the day before.

9/10/01 was a Monday.  It was my first day at a new job.  I was a recent college drop-out, having just made that decision near the end of the previous spring semester.  I finished up that semester and just decided not to reregister for classes.  I'm sure there was something else I was supposed to do in order to officially drop out of school, but I didn't do it.  The school sent me some reminders that I hadn't yet signed up for classes, but that's all they ever sent.  I was done with them, and I knew it was the right decision, but it still kind of sucked that I didn't have a degree or anything else lined up.  But over the summer of 2001, I worked at Ridgecrest, a Baptist conference center in western NC.  I'd worked there the summer before that, too, and expected them to put me in the same department (Laundry) for my second summer.  Instead, much to my dismay, they put me in preschool.  But God had a plan in that, because I figured out that I actually liked kids a lot more than I knew I did.

So when I found myself back in KY at my parents' house in August, I didn't have a job or anything.  Someone told my mom they needed help at their church's daycare, so I went in for an interview.  Next thing I knew, I had a job.  I was very excited.  I thought it was going to be amazing. 

It wasn't.

Turns out, this daycare job was not what I expected.  To say that we were understaffed was a gross understatement.  There were times when I was the only "grown up" at the entire facility, watching many different ages of kids all lumped together.  There was little to no security--which meant parents or anyone else could have walked in at any time.  I'm not saying this to put down the daycare.  The funds were just not great, and this little church was doing the best they could to love on these kids and their families.  But at this point in my life, I, personally, wasn't mature or experienced enough to handle it.  For one thing, up to this point, I'd only worked with 4 and 5 year olds.  Officially, I was in the 2 and 3 year old class (even though I kind of had to help out everywhere), and I had no idea how to deal with their biting and tantrums.  And the 21 year old me was not very confident (you think I'm socially awkward now?  You have no idea...).

It was my second day of working here that the tragic events of 9/11 happened.  I remember hearing about it on the radio while feeding kids their lunch.  Then I went home for my lunch break and just sat with my mom and stared in disbelief at the images on the tv.  Then I had to go back to work and deal with a room full of kids that didn't listen and had potty accidents and just generally made me feel helpless and hopeless.  I remember going home every night and crying my eyes out, partly because the world was in chaos, and partly because I was in chaos.  When I came home from work every night, I dreaded going back the next day.  I dreaded it so much that I was physically sick.

I lasted about 3 weeks there.  It was when I started having mild panic attacks that I realized I wasn't healthy.  I did not need to be around kids.  I explained this to the day care director, who only hadn't fired me at that point because they were so desperate for help.

So, at 21, I was a college drop-out.  I couldn't handle a job for more than three weeks.  I was an emotional wreck. 

Eventually, I learned that the gym at my church needed help for exactly one hour a week.  An hour.  I took this "job" because I needed some source of income, even if it was a measly $5.15 a week.  Minus taxes.  But in the state I was in, I don't really know if I could have handled too much more than that. 

I think it's safe to say, that was one of my lowest points. 

It's also the time in my life that I started writing my first book.  It took about six or seven years to get finished, and it's only been edited well in the past couple of years.  And I guess it's kind of a good thing that it took me a while to get the book done, because it meant that I eventually started doing other things again.

I picked up more hours at the gym at the church.  For a few months, I worked at a restaurant.  I topped my "let's see how short of a time I can work at a job" record by lasting all of ONE DAY at a factory where I was required to push insanely large air compressors down a conveyor belt (after specifically telling my employer that I couldn't do heavy lifting--which was why I quit).  Maybe I've gotten some of these events out of order because honestly, they are now just one big blur of the "two wasted years" of my life.  But during those two years, I was thinking about North Greenville College--a college I had heard about that second summer at Ridgecrest.  As soon as I heard the name of that school, I knew I'd go there someday.  But it wasn't time yet.  And I figure that while I could have done a LOT more with those two years, they weren't really as wasted as I make them out to be.

When I dropped out of my first college, it was because I realized that I wasn't going for the right reasons.  Some people know what they want to do, who they want to be, where they want to go at the age of 18.  I just wasn't one of those people.  I went to college the first time around because it was expected of me.  I knew everyone wanted me to go, and since I didn't really want to be there for any particular reason, I figured I'd just go to class and simultaneously try to find a nice guy who wanted to be a pastor, fall in love, and live happily ever after just being a pastor's wife.  That didn't happen, and two years into college, I was through pretending that it was going to happen.  So I dropped out because I was wasting time and (my parents') money not going anywhere.

And two years after I dropped out, I did go to North Greenville.  I went because I'd spent two years trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do and what God wanted me to do, and not just doing what other people expected.  When I went to NGC, I wasn't a clueless 18 year old.  I was a 22 year old who knew herself a lot better and who had at least an idea of what she wanted.  I still didn't know everything I wanted out of life.  I still didn't even really know what I wanted to do career-wise (does anyone EVER really figure that out?  Maybe...?).  But I knew I wanted an education.  I'm STILL paying for it, but I got that education.  Those years were NOT wasted.

There are times when I do end up (for whatever reason) watching a room full of kids of various ages all by myself.  It's never an ideal situation, but the difference now is that I'm mature and experienced enough to handle it if it happens.  I went from being someone who could barely hold down a job to someone who has worked the same job for almost 6 years.  I look back 6 years ago and laugh, because it was my original goal to just be able to say that I'd worked the same place for one year.  Things are a lot better than they were a decade ago.

But yesterday, I talked to a 19 year old.  She was telling me about all the things she's accomplished and all the things she wants to do.  And I just remember thinking, "Dang.  When I was your age, I could never have handled all the stuff you've done or want to do."  I remember thinking, "I'm 31 years old and working in a child care center.  That's so much lamer than a 19 year old who's working in a child care center."

And part of me starts really regretting those "two wasted years."  Part of me starts regretting other things I have or haven't done.

The thing about regret is, it doesn't really do much good.  I guess it could be argued that regret might help you make better choices in the future, but sometimes I think you just have to toss regret out the window.  When bad things happen, like terrorist attacks that shake the whole world, it's good to look back and remember.  I'm not saying we shouldn't look back and remember 9/11/01.  We definitely should, because, as I said--how could we forget?

But sometimes when we look too closely at things in the past, or when we look too far back, we neglect to look forward.  And when I was talking to that 19 year old girl yesterday, there wasn't anything redeeming about the internalized pity party I was throwing myself.  Thing is, God is just as in control of my life as He was 10 years ago.  And maybe I'll never understand the things I did a decade ago, just as right now I don't completely understand why I'm working all these jobs and making crappy pay.  I do know that I love the jobs I work.  I love the kids.  I love the people I work with.  And if I don't start worrying too much about others' expectations of me (again), it doesn't occur to me to feel that life is anything besides stinkin' awesome.  I'm blessed far beyond what I deserve.  I love my life.  And because God is in control, I have so much hope for the future.

Edit: I got some details wrong, when I really started to think about it.  When I started the job at the daycare on 9/10/01, I had already been a college drop out for a year.  I dropped out after my spring semester in 2000, not 2001.  In 2000, I had my first summer at Ridgecrest, THEN came home and got the aforementioned job at the restaurant.  It was also during this time that I worked that one day at the air compressor factory.  It was after this that I had my second summer at Ridgecrest, found out I liked kids, and then had the miserable experience at the struggling daycare.  Then I had a small breakdown, began working that one hour a week at my church's gym, and started writing my first novel.  But it was less than a year after all that when I began attending NGC. It doesn't truly matter, but I wanted to correct the sequence of things, since my fuzzy memory messed them up the first time I wrote this blog.  Kthx!

P.S. I just realized that I've officially been working on the same novel for a decade.  That makes me feel somewhat depressed, but--gotta keep looking forward!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fiction Friday: You are NOT J. R .R. Tolkien

I've only read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy once.  It was actually years ago, and I've very much wanted to read them again, but, dude!  Those books are long.  I would probably have to devote an entire summer to reading them, so maybe next year?

Even if I haven't read them in a while, they remain some of my favorite books.  Samwise Gamgee is my second favorite fictional character.  I can't watch the end of the last movie (Return of the King) without weeping.  The book The Return of the King made me weep, too.  After journeying along with Samwise and Frodo (and believe me, with as long and as well-written as those books are, you literally feel like you're journeying with them), it broke my heart to have to see them part at the end.  Hopefully I didn't ruin that ending for you.

Tolkien was a genius, and eventually I'd like to delve into some of his other work.  I have a copy of The Silmarillion that I have yet to read.  Why?  Because I'd probably have to devote a good month to that thing in order to give it proper attention, and I don't have that kind of time at the moment.  Tolkien's works need time to properly digest.  They deserve every bit of that time. 

Other books, however, don't deserve that kind of time and devotion.
There was a time when readers wanted to read books full of descriptive landscapes, wordy settings, lengthy passages about various unimportant objects that happen to be sitting around in a room.  A lot of these books are wonderful.  I have nothing against them.  It's just that most of them were written in the 1800s, and it seems to me that a lot of today's authors are suffering under some kind of delusion.  Either they believe they're still living in the 1800s, or they believe they are, in fact, J. R. R. Tolkien.

Tolkien did not write LOTR in the 1800s.  He wrote LOTR in the earlier half of the 1900s.  In the case of this work, however, it doesn't really matter, because it was ground-breaking.  LOTR was pretty much the first of its kind, which means it would have done well in whatever particular time it was written.  Just about every fantasy author since Tolkien has ripped off been inspired by LOTR.  If Tolkien had not written this work, I seriously doubt modern literature would be the same.

I'd also like to point out that Tolkien's use of the written language was amazing.  I haven't read the books in many years, but I have skimmed through them, just to relive the beauty of the language.  Tolkien knew how to weave words together.  The following is a brief excerpt from Return of the King:

The great shadow descended like a falling cloud.  And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank.  A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, lingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil.  And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed.  Down, down it came, and then, folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled...digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck.

Wonderful!  Ooh.  I might have nightmares!

I've read a few more modern authors who seem to think that they have a similar grasp of the written language (Christopher Paolini and Cornelia Funke immediately come to mind), and well, they just don't.  I'm not saying that they aren't good.  In fact, I enjoy their work.  I simply enjoy their work for the stories, and not the long, detailed, and completely unnecessary descriptions and/or situations that I have to work through in order to read the stories.  The problem is, sometimes I'm not sure if I think stories like this are worth all the effort and time involved to actually read them.  And that's sad.

I'm not saying description is a bad thing.  Not at all.  Small details are nice. Is it vitally important that the main character is wearing a blue shirt? No, but it's okay if an author wants me to know that, as long as he/she doesn't, for no good reason, tell me that the main character is wearing a tagless, pocketless cotton blend periwinkle blue polo with a yellow stripe on the sleeves.  If the lengthy detail about the main character's shirt was to make some kind of clear point or was necessary to the story somehow, that's fine.  Otherwise, leave it out!  See, what I really don't like is when an author goes on and on about nonessential details that don't make the story more enjoyable.

What today's authors have to understand is that most of today's readers aren't interested in major detail that 1) isn't essential or at least relevant to the plot, or 2) doesn't significantly add to the enjoyment of reading.  That means that not all excessive descriptions have to be integral to the plot, but if they're not, then they had better be stinkin' good. 

Readers, for the most part, are not stupid.  They do not need an author to figuratively hold their hand.  It insults a reader's intelligence if an author includes too many non-essential descriptions. 

Maybe it's sad that society is all about instant gratification.  Maybe it's sad that we can't sit down and enjoy a lengthy book with incredible descriptive scenes.  But honestly, I haven't read many modern books that have long descriptions that take my breath away.  Most of them just make me want to put the author in the Literary Naughty Corner.  The most enjoyable literature (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games immediately come to mind) I've read lately has a good balance of description and pace.  The authors know what they need to include without putting in too much.  They know how to keep the story flowing without getting stuck in some kind of pointless drudgery that no one wants to read.  They know how to make the characters interesting and relatable without telling us a million little details that aren't relevant to the plot.  Believe me, Paolini, I could care less that Eragon likes to shave using magic.  If it's not important, or otherwise really good, don't include it.

And just so everyone knows I'm not picking on anyone, I'm going to go ahead and say that I was once quite guilty of believing that I was J. R. R. Tolkien.  I believed I had every right to write a 175,000 word YA fantasy novel, because I was just THAT good.  No.  I wasn't.  After much, MUCH, editing, that book is now under 75,000 words.  I still have some minor editing to do, but it'll probably stay under 75,000 words.  That means that about 100,000 of the words I originally included were unnecessary. 

I'm not Tolkien.

Neither are you.

Which kind of takes the pressure off every fantasy writer out there.  I mean, no matter how awesome we are, we'll never be as awesome as Tolkien.  Just something to think about.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Would Jesus Blog?

This blog doesn't have anything to do with Jesus. 

Okay, so technically speaking, everything has to do with Jesus, so it does.

But it really doesn't.

Or it does.

I just thought "What Would Jesus Blog?" would be a cute title.  Maybe a better title would be "What Would Jesus Do for a Klondike Bar*?" but that is borderline silly ridiculous.  Not just silly.  Not just ridiculous.  Silly ridiculous.  In a borderline sort of way.

Basically, I've been staring at my blank blogging window thingy for a few minutes, and I really just don't know how to make it unblank without blogging about something completely uninteresting.  I'd like to believe that people would read my blog even if I just typed up the ingredients on the back of my Febreeze Thai Dragon Fruit Air Freshener.  Did you know the people who make that stuff claim that it was "inspired by the winding canals of Thailand that are lined with dragon fruits, mangoes, and papayas"?  Yeah, that's what they claim.  I don't buy it.  I don't buy it because I bought it.  I bought a can of that stuff, expecting to be taken away like a bottle of Calgon, only if I sprayed this stuff on my body like Calgon, it would probably give me a rash.  Plus, I don't really want to spray it on my body, because this stuff smells nothing like Thailand--not that I'd really like to smell like Thailand, anyway. I've been to Thailand.  It smells like Thai food and washed masses.  Not unwashed masses, mind you, but the washed variety.  Asians and stupid Western tourists all lumped together, even washed, tend to not smell like a can of air freshener.

And even then the whole dragon fruit thing bugs me, because dragon fruits don't actually smell anything like actual Dragons, and I would know.

This is getting silly ridiculous.  And not just borderline, anymore.

Besides, if I did list the ingredients on this air freshener can I have here in front of me (yes, really), you wouldn't read my blog.  As much as I'd like for it to be true, I am simply NOT that awesome. 

So I'm left with my original problem.  What do I blog about?  What would Jesus blog about?  Well, that's easy.  Jesus wouldn't blog.  Jesus wouldn't blog because the interwebz hadn't been invented when he walked the earth.  Oh, okay--hypothetically speaking, Jesus would blog about....  No, I'm still gonna go with "Jesus wouldn't blog."  Should I be blogging, then?  I don't know.  I am blogging, so you can consider that some kind of Spiritual vice if you want to.

Or you can tell me what YOU would blog about.  If you had a blog, would it have a cool theme, or would you just ramble on about air freshener or ponies?  What would you like to see me blog about?  Ask me a question, if you want.  If it doesn't include mathematical equations, bright lime green, The Smurfs movie, or fried chicken, then you stand a good chance of actually getting an answer to your question.

Or not. 

*I wish I could claim credit for the brilliance of the question, "What Would Jesus Do for a Klondike Bar?" but I took it from the name of a facebook group.  It makes me giggle.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Update: Hope

We have started studying Luke in my Sunday School Adult Bible Study class at church.  So today we talked about Christmas, since part of the Christmas story from the Bible is told in the first two chapters of Luke.

I love Christmas.  I love Christmas so much that I don't like confining to one day out of the year.  In fact, I don't even like confining it to one week or one month out of the year.  I don't even like confining it to a season.  My brother has a birthday in mid December, so my mom always delayed putting up Christmas decorations until AFTER his birthday.  I understand that she did this to keep my brother's birthday as separate from Christmas as possible, but it drove me nuts (still does).  For me, it's okay to start celebrating Christmas in late August or early September.  That's when we start working on Christmas music for the choir at my church.  So it's not uncommon for me to start listening to Christmas music in September--even stuff that's not related to the music we're singing in choir.  I try to keep it toned down a little since (for SOME reason) a lot of people seem to think that you can't celebrate Christmas until after Thanksgiving.  What's THAT about?  Thanksgiving is PART of Christmas.  So is Halloween.  So is all of fall.  It all leads up to Christmas.  It's like a whole wonderful time of the year when stores are filled with candy corn, cranberry sauce, and Christmas lights. 

I love it.  To some extent, I even love the commercialism--which seems strange, but let me try to explain that.   I don't like the whole idea that everyone needs to spend exorbitant amounts of money on tons of gifts that people don't really need.  I don't like the idea of wastefulness--because let's face it, your kids will live if they don't get the latest new toy.  Your grandma will live if you don't get her a new pair of isotoner slippers.  Aunt Bertha doesn't need another Cracker Barrel gift card.  There is a lot of silliness that comes with the "Christmas season" that kind of irks me.  BUT I like the busyness that comes as a result of people going out to buy presents, and I do think it's possible for people to give presents without being wasteful.  Christmas is a time to say "I love you" with gifts, and no, there's not really any clear mandate in Scripture for that.  We can try to justify it all by saying, "Oh, but the wise men gave gifts to Jesus," or even "God gave Jesus to the world."  Really, there's no Scriptural reason for Christmas to be a time to give presents.  I just don't think there's anything wrong with sharing gifts with someone you love.  I do think it's unnecessary to give/receive HUGE presents that put people into debt, but it's the little things that make me tremendously happy--both giving and receiving them.  I like making cookies and chocolate-dipped pretzels and giving them to families who mean a lot to me.  I like saying "Thank you" to people who have supported or helped me by knitting them a scarf (the only thing I'm really good at knitting--because I knit like I play the guitar...I can fool people who don't know anything about it into thinking I'm good at it).  And yes, I like getting unexpected surprises, tokens of love and appreciation, from others.  It's part of the "magic" of the season, the shared love in the form of gifts.  But that's not even close to being the main reason why I love Christmas.

So what is the main reason why I love Christmas?  Is it the music?  Is it the food?  Is it the weather (I actually hate cold and snow, unless it's at Christmas!)?  Is it the movies?  Is it something I inherited from my grandmother, who LOVED Christmas and celebrated it all year long? 

What's the Sunday School answer here?  What am I supposed to say?  I'm supposed to say, "I love Christmas because it's Jesus' birthday!"  But...that's not the main reason why I love Christmas.  Why?  I guess it's because I'm selfish.

When I was about four years old, my mom told me something I never forgot.  She probably doesn't even remember saying this, but I remember it vividly.  I was unwrapping Christmas presents at my grandparents' house on Christmas afternoon.  I'd already gotten the "Santa haul" from home, and now it was time to get the "relatives' haul."  I remember the scene very clearly.  I was sitting on the floor by the ottoman of the chair by the sliding glass door that overlooked the front porch.  One or two of their seventy bazgillion feral cats (they lived out in the country) were probably out on that porch, looking through that door at me, trying to soak in some of the indoor warmth through the glass.  I had just opened my last present, and was surrounded by boxes, toys, wrapping paper, and the comic strips my aunt used to wrap presents in.  And I turned to my mom and said something.  I don't remember what I said, but her response was unforgettable.  I was either complaining about how I didn't have any more presents or bragging about how much I'd gotten or something like that, and my mom said something profound.  She said, "Ruth, the older you get, the more you're going to want to give things than get things."

I remember that so clearly because it was impossible for my four year old brain to understand that logic.  What?  How could I EVER be happier giving than getting?  Getting stuff is AWESOME; giving stuff means I'll...have to sacrifice.  Sacrifice doesn't make sense to most four year olds.  In fact, it doesn't make much sense to most adults, either. 

And maybe I should be ashamed of myself for admitting this, but my favorite part about Christmas is still NOT about what I give.  It's still about what I get.  The difference between the four year old me and the thirty-one year old me is that I'm no longer so tremendously excited about getting stuff.  The most important part of Christmas is that God gave Himself to me.  And I guess that does make me selfish, but the fact is, I need to be selfish, here.  I need God.  I don't always understand sacrifice, but God understands it well.  Giving, love, sacrifice, mercy--that's kind of what He's about.  So I do get excited about receiving Him, all the while praising Him for being the holy and righteous Giver, both just and merciful.  It takes a certain degree of humility to realize that we don't really have anything to give.  We can't be the Giver.  But there can be so much joy in taking what we're offered, and God offers what we need.  And Christmas is the celebration of the culmination of all the promises of God, which came in the form of a weak, human baby.  No...I don't really think I understand the concept of sacrifice at all.

And for the past several Christmases, I've been focusing on words associated with Christmas.  It's been a different word every year.  Last year, it was Peace.  The year before, it was Joy.  The year before that, it was Star.  And I know this is weird for some people since it's so early in the year, but I already have a theme word for this upcoming Christmas.  And that word is Hope.

I have nothing.  I am nothing.  God changed that forever with the gift of Himself, which is why someone as hopeless and helpless as I am can have such great and unfailing Hope.

I've said all of this because I'm about to start my new routine.  I've got a day off for Labor Day tomorrow.  Within reason, I can do pretty much whatever I want to do tomorrow.  But come Tuesday, I start preschool.  I start a regular weekly work schedule (and filling in gaps where I can) with the drop-in childcare centers where I work.  I will continue to watch the girls two-three afternoons a week.  I'm also going to make regular time to edit my writing (not starting any new projects at the moment because that's not going to help me become a published writer--I gotta focus more on editing and preparing queries).  So for me, the fall is about to begin, and the only reason for fall to begin is that fall will eventually lead to Christmas.  Sorry, that's just how I think.  Calendar wise, everything eventually leads back to Christmas.

But as this summer has ended and this new season has begun, I've already started feeling this strong sense of hopefulness.  I know that feelings aren't always reliable, but sometimes there's a sense of something that just can't be shaken.  I'm expectant without even really knowing what to expect--just that something good, possibly life-changing, is coming if I'll work and wait for it, something that's coming soon in the advent of this new fall routine.  And I'm learning that because of the "upper-case H" Hope I have in Christ, it's okay to "lowercase h" hope for smaller things.  If I'm disappointed in something I've hoped for, that's okay.  It's okay because the greatest Hope I'll ever have won't disappoint.  No matter what happens to me, I am still God's, and He is still mine.  Oh, I love Christmas!  Lol!

So I'm entering this fall/Christmas season with my head lifted up.  I don't know what I'm looking for, but I'm looking.  I still have a feeling whatever happens will take me by happy surprise.  That's usually how it works. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fiction Friday: De-Light-Ful Dystopian

I've been reading quite a bit of dystopian literature lately.  It's been fun, for the most part.  Among the series that I've read is the City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau.  This series is one that I would recommend to twelve or thirteen year olds before I'd recommend it to older young adults, but I really enjoyed reading them.

I think I had a greater appreciation for these books because I started reading them right after I experienced a 36 hour power loss at my apartment.  The first book, The City of Ember, takes place in, well, the City of Ember.  This is an underground city that was built some 250 years ago by the Builders, and it is powered by a generator that is beginning to break down, threatening to leave the city's inhabitants in total darkness. 

The night before starting these books, I had to use a lot of candles, and let me tell you, candlelight doesn't really cut it.  I'm not sure what people did before electricity, but I'm pretty sure they went to sleep earlier than I typically do.  I needed three candles just to be able to have enough light to read.  When the lights finally came back on, I did a major happy dance.  I've never been so glad to see an illuminated light bulb in my life.

And so I was really thinking about what it would be like to be dependent on a power source that was breaking down.  The main characters of The City of Ember, Lina and Doon, were just twelve years old when they had to face this problem.  They were both a little naive (a lot of the attitudes in this book seemed a little naive, which is why I would recommend it for younger "young adults"), but they were both courageous and hopeful--and in a lot of ways, much wiser than the corrupt adults in control of the city.  I'm not going into any further detail about the plot, because I think you should read these for yourself.

I like science fiction.  I like it a lot.  So dystopian literature is usually right up my proverbial alley.  I like fiction that takes place in the future after some kind of disaster has taken place, but only if the characters involved in such a situation end up with some sort of happy, yet realistic ending.  I'm not looking for a "happily ever after" necessarily; I'm looking for a "hopefully ever after."  The City of Ember and the following books, ending in The Diamond of Darkhold, do end hopefully.  Themes of hope and light are woven through them, so even if they are a little naive at times, I am glad I took the time to read them.

I also managed to read the whole four book series in about 4-5 days, which also leads me to believe they'd be better for younger readers.  And there was a LOT of description, which was sometimes very good.  I was able to see many of the scenes very clearly.  I just often felt a little intellectually insulted by the author's descriptions, as if she felt the need to explain how things worked or what things looked like too much.  Perhaps she did this intentionally because her target audience was younger readers.  In that case, the overkill of description was probably a good thing. 

I also want to say that I'm not sure I agree with all the author's philosophies on religion (they were ambiguous, and I'm not always sure what point she was trying to make), which were included in all of the books, but mostly in the prequel (book three of the series) the Prophet of Yonwood.  If you're interested in the series, I don't think it's entirely necessary to read the Prophet of Yonwood.  It was a good story, but the other three books could exist very easily apart from it. 

I plan on seeing if Redbox has the movie version of The City of Ember that came out a few years ago, but I heard it wasn't very good.  Still, Bill Murray's in it, so I figure it's worth a shot.