Monday, December 8, 2014

On Christmas Music

So far this year, nothing makes me feel more grinchy than Christmas music on the radio. I love Christmas, and I love Christmas music. Well, most of it. There are a few songs that I just don't like, and most of them would fall into the category of "Christmas classics." The worst of these offenders is that old-timey hit from Burl Ives, Holly Jolly Christmas. Every time the fuzzy-vinyl recording starts up (which is every time I have the radio on in the car, even if I'm just driving ten minutes to the grocery store) I have to turn it off. Even my four-year-old daughter knows I hate that song. She asked me about it the other day.

This is not a rant against the secularization or commercialization of Christmas. It's nothing as anti-cultural or sanctimonious as that. This is all about my personal preference. One of the Christian radio stations I listen to starts playing non-stop Christmas music at the beginning of November, and the other one I listen to started it last weekend. And when it comes to Christian contemporary music, these stations have a good thirty years of songs to pick from. There are always several new Christmas albums from Christian artists that come out every year. So why is it that just because it's Christmas, they feel the need to suddenly start playing these seasonal classics that have nothing to do with Christ? If I wanted to listen to mainstream Christmas music, including those awful vinyl recordings of Silver Bells and White Christmas as well as stupid newer songs like All I Want For Christmas Is You, I could listen to a mainstream station. They're playing all those songs, too.

Holly Jolly Christmas isn't the only song I turn off every time I hear it. There are "Christian" Christmas songs that I hate, too. Christmas Shoes and Happy Birthday Jesus come to mind. Like I said, it's not really about the content of the lyrics, it's just about what I like and what I don't. I know, I should just make a Christmas mix CD for my car (yeah, it doesn't have an MP3 player option) and make my own playlist to listen to at home and just stop whining. But hey, I have a blog, and that's what blogs are for, right? And sometimes I get bored with my own music selections, too.

Who's with me? Who else wants to turn on a Christian radio station and just hear Christmas music, no matter what time of year it is? Any other musical grinches out there?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

On THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

So here's a lesson in life: Don't swear that you'll never do something. Because then if you do it, you'll feel kind of stupid. I swore repeatedly that I would never read The Hunger Games or its sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I had perfectly good reasons for not wanting to read them. They're dystopian, and I'm not a fan of the genre. I've only read a few dystopians and I haven't liked any of them. They're written in first person present tense, a writing style that I find extremely annoying. And worst of all, they break my rule: don't mess with kids. For those reasons and probably a few others, I shrugged them off and said I wouldn't read them. And then I read them.

Why did I read them? Well, people kept talking about them, and the movies, and they've pretty much become a cultural icon, and I was tired of feeling out of the loop. I'd heard enough about them that I figured I pretty much knew how they went, but I was intrigued by this tough, arrow-shooting female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. And there's the fact that they've quickly become one of those standard series that other Young Adult books are compared to and judged by, and since I write YA, I figured I ought to go ahead and see what all the fuss was about.

With such high expectations going in, I can say that although I didn't like the trilogy, I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. Many people that I've talked to devoured all three books in a week or less. I checked them out through Amazon's Prime Owners Lending Library, which is limited to one book a month. Even at that, it took me four or five months to get through all three of them. They are emotionally draining, and sometimes I could guess (more or less accurately) what was going to happen next, and I just didn't want to read it. But finally, with Mockingjay Part 1 out in theaters this week, there was enough buzz going around that I picked Mockingjay back up, after setting it aside about a third of the way through, and finished it.

My issues with the book are pretty much what I expected. The setting of Panem, a dismal, post-apocalyptic nation of oppressed Districts ruled by a pleasure-loving, totally corrupt Capitol, is not a place where you expect good things to happen. And for the most part, they don't. The writing style is compelling, but I'm not comfortable reading in first person present tense, and I don't know that the author was completely comfortable writing in it, either. It slips into past tense frequently as Katniss revisits memories or events that happened earlier in the day. It interrupts the flow of the story and can come across as jarring, and anytime the writing does that, for any reason, I find it annoying. And of course, the premise is awful. Obviously this is a screwed up society, and the more you read the more you realize just how screwed up it really is. But basically the Hunger Games are a form of child sacrifice, where the Capitol forces each of the twelve Districts to offer up two kids between the age of 12 and 17 to kill each other off in an arena rigged with various horrors until only one survives and is declared the victor. The games are televised with great pomp and ceremony, so that every resident of Panem is basically forced to watch this horrible event take place every year.

At the beginning of the story, Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place in the games. We then get to experience the lead-up and the games themselves, plus all the aftermath, through her perspective. I wanted to like Katniss, I really did. She does have a very naturally humble, self-sacrificing aspect to her personality combined with a certain magnetism that somehow inspires people to adore her, despite the fact that she's also an abrasive, anti-social, lost soul. So despite really wanting to like her, I never did. She has moments of extreme selfishness. She tends to act and think like the entire world revolves around her, and she's surprisingly clueless about things that should be fairly obvious. The fact that she's very human and pretty flawed makes her a sympathetic character, easy to relate to, but not quite a hero. She is young, and she experiences things that would probably destroy anyone, so it's not surprising that as the story goes along she unravels. One of my friends pointed out that she clearly suffers from extreme PTSD. She's also hopelessly naive. She allows people to use and manipulate her for their own ends until almost the end of the story, when she finally decides she's had enough, and takes matters into her own hands in a way that anyone could have seen coming.

Ultimately, I reconciled myself to moderately liking these books because in the end, the author states the very thing that bothers me about the whole story: A society that sacrifices its children for power or entertainment or to end a war is fundamentally flawed, and certainly not a place where any sane person would want to live. No one comes through the story whole and healthy. So many people die. Many of them are children. At times it's deeply disturbing to read. In fact, I find it slightly horrifying that it's written for "young adults," or in other words, teenagers. I know there is worse, more graphic stuff out there, and that kids these days are probably used to that sort of thing, but it bothered me. It really shows a lot of what's bad about people, the horrible things we could be capable of if we allow our own culture to continue down the path we're on. There's a lot of the dark depth of human nature in these stories, without very much of the light of God's glory and grace. I know they're not Christian books so I didn't expect to find much of that anyway, but in my opinion, the best stories still reveal the truth of God, and the image of God in the human beings He created. I'm not sure these books ever get there.

I haven't seen the movies. Of course, I swore I wouldn't. Now I'm not so sure, but at any rate I can't comment on how the movies are the same or different or whatever. I've heard from several people who think the movies are better, that Katniss is more heroic, that some of the other characters aren't quite as passive as they seem to be in the books. At this point, I'm not going to recommend seeing the movies or reading the books. I read them, I didn't hate them, but I'm glad I'm done with them and I never have to read them again. That is all.

Monday, November 24, 2014

On Why I Love Scrivener

It occurs to me that I should have posted this at the beginning of November, for anyone attempting to write an entire novel during National Novel Writing Month, although if you are a NaNo participant, you may be eligible for special offers this month. I didn't discover Scrivener until after my first NaNoWriMo journey. I wish I had known about it then, and I'm definitely glad I have it now, as I prepare for a rewrite that is going to require rearranging several scenes, deleting some, and adding new ones.

Scrivener is a writing software, available for both Windows and Mac, at Unlike a regular word processor, it allows me to write my novel in chunks (I call them scenes) rather than in one long file. It eliminates the annoying need to scroll forever through a multipage document when I realize I made a typo in the middle of say, chapter 12. It's much easier than cut and paste if I decide that a scene I put at the end of chapter 10 really would go better at the beginning of chapter 11. It also allows me to keep notes, research, and deleted scenes all in the same project file rather than searching my computer for that piece of backstory or that scene I deleted and now decided I want to put back in.

Here are some of my favorite Scrivener features:
  • There is a handy search function, so that when I realized in a read-through that I use some form of the word "irritating" too much, I could list all the spots where I used it and edit them.
  • The Project Targets, which shows a total word count for the project as well as my current session, and gives me red, yellow, and green bars to tell me how close I am to my targets. Statistics also give interesting information like an approximate page count and how many times certain words are used.
  • The ability to Snapshot the current version of a scene before editing it. That way, if I make a change I'm not certain about and then I decide I don't like it, I can just Rollback to the previous version with a click, or cut and paste bits and pieces out of previous versions. Scrivener saves as it goes, so this is one way to keep a log of previous versions of scenes.
  • The extremely valuable Compile function, which allows me to compile all of my manuscript, or just parts of it, into various file formats. So if I want to send a PDF of my latest chapter to a reader, no problem. If I want to compile the entire thing to archive it before a major edit, done. I can create a Word file and touch that up for submission to an agent or publisher. And my latest, most exciting discovery: I can create a .mobi file and read my own book on my Kindle, or send it to beta readers in that format if they want.
In my opinion, writers are much better off using writing software than word processors to create their manuscripts. Word processors have their place, but since Scrivener can compile into a .rtf file, why not wait until the manuscript is complete and then use the word processor for final editing and formatting? I haven't even taken advantage of all the amazing features Scrivener offers. It has different templates for novels, non-fiction, scripts, etc. It's not very expensive, and adding the license to multiple computers is simple, so once you've bought it you shouldn't have to ever purchase it again. I know there are other software options out there. I tried several before choosing Scrivener several years ago, and I've never regretted it.

Do you have any questions I can try to answer about this amazing tool? If you've used it, do you have any comments to share? Maybe you can tell me about a feature I haven't tried yet!

**I purchased Scrivener at the full retail price and I am posting this blog without the knowledge or permission of Literature and Latte Ltd. I have not received any promotional discounts or other compensation in exchange for my opinion of the product. It is simply something I use and enjoy.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Writing: The End

Yes, the rumors are true. I finished my book this week. I'm just going to stop for a moment and celebrate the fact that I have actually written an entire book. It's 112,000 words, so about the length of Twilight or The Golden Compass, and if you've read either of those stellar works of literature, well, good for you. Anyway, it's a full-on, novel-length book, and I hope you can forgive me for feeling pretty pleased with myself.

After writing my last post about reaching 100,000 words, I struggled for several weeks to reach the ending I was aiming for. And then on Sunday, I got mad, gave up on that ending, and took a completely different direction. Two days later, I was writing furiously and suddenly I realized I was at the end. I'm not sure yet if I love it or hate it, or even if I'll keep it, but for now, it works. It's actually pretty good.

Now for the bad news.

While I was struggling through those last few chapters this month, I realized (thanks in part to input from friends who will remain nameless) that part of the problem with getting to the ending is that the middle of the book lags pretty badly. The story just sort of meanders along aimlessly for a few chapters and doesn't really build to a good ending. So now that I've finished this draft, I'm going to take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling for a week or so, and then go back and rewrite most of the middle. Because yeah, I wrote a book, and there are good parts to it, and I really like the characters, but the story as a whole still isn't very good. So, I'll let it rest for a little bit and then it'll be time to open it back up, rip it apart (again) and see what I can salvage from it this time.

Writing a book is definitely a learning experience for me. It's not as though I've ever done this before. Yeah, I've written bits and pieces of various stories over the years, but an entire novel that carries one plot from the beginning through the end, that's new. I'm still not very good at it, but I think I'm getting better. I'm enjoying the process, despite occasionally panicking and deciding that I hate my book and I can't actually write and I'm wasting a whole lot of time and effort on a completely useless pursuit. It's fun.

I appreciate all of you who have been asking how my book is going. It's really sweet to know that there are people who actually care, or are curious, at least. No news yet on when anyone (except those nameless few) will actually get to read it, though. It still needs lots of work and lots of love from lots of people I haven't met yet. But for today I'll just say I wrote a book, and I'm pretty happy about that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On My Best Friend's Book

If by some chance you've had your head under a rock and didn't realize it, Inseparable by Ashley Linne released this week. Ashley has been my BFF since before that was a thing. We met in first grade and have been best friends ever since. We were even roommates for a year in college, before I ditched her to get married. Over the years we've had ups and downs and disagreements, like friends do, but if I'm being perfectly honest I have to admit that the vast majority of those were my fault. But the beauty of this friendship that has lasted for over twenty-five years (Crazy!) is that it is based on the fact that we both have very deep beliefs about God and His word that are very similar. And because of that, I can wholeheartedly endorse this book that she has written. In fact, as I read through it I kept thinking, wow, that's exactly how I would have said that.

In college, Ashley and I shared a mentor who took us through a study on our identity in Christ. I know that made a profound impact on both of us. Based on concepts found in the book of Romans, Inseparable really dives into the truth of who God has declared his children to be. Walking the path of the Christian life from the moment of being made right in Christ through eternity, Ashley draws on her experience in studying theology (she has a Bachelor's degree in Religion and has master's level work on the subject) and her studies in human behavior (her Master's degree is in Family Life Education), as well as her deeply personal struggles with questioning God's love for her, to craft a book that is deeply theological, very practical, and intensely emotional. She doesn't pull punches, and she doesn't hide her pain. If you embark on this study with her, you will find much more than a "how to" manual on the Christian life. You will look deep into God's truth and contemplate what it means in your own life. You might even find yourself changed by the experience.

This is an undeniably girly book. From the purple cover to the butterflies that adorn every page, the language, and the approach, it definitely fits the "by women, for women" image of the InScribed Studies. But it does contain scriptural truth that is applicable for everyone, and I'd guess that any brave guys out there who can get past the girly presentation would be encouraged by the message, as well. I like how the InScribed books are put together (I also have Dive Deeper by Jenifer Jernigan), with the end flaps that conveniently help keep your place, and the personal notes written on the front flap. Ashley is not only an author in the series, but she had a pivotal role in bringing it all together, and I couldn't be more proud of all that she has accomplished. Definitely check out this study, for yourself or a woman in your life. You'll be glad you did.

Keep up with Ashley by following her blog:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

On Writing: 100,000 words

This week my novel tipped the word count at over 100,000 words. I've found that while writers tend to think in terms of word count and automatically have an idea of what 100,000 means, readers often want to know how many pages that is. Word count is a solid, tangible number, while page count is rather ambiguous in an unpublished work. The number of pages in a book depends on several factors, including format (paperback or hardcover), font, print size, front matter, back matter, chapters, sections... That being said, not that anyone is counting, but if my book were published in its current state, it would be somewhere around 300 pages, give or take 50 or so. But let's not talk about my book being published in its current state. I'm already breaking out in hives.

Honestly, I never thought I could write a book that was 100,000 words long. Don't get me wrong, I know I can be pretty wordy. I decided when I was ten years old that I would never be a short story writer. Novels are my thing. I love action and drama and fast-paced, quick-moving stories... in movies. In a book, I like to take my time to get to know characters and love them before things happen in their lives, while things are happening, and after the things happen. That's what I love, so that's what I write.

Characters take time to develop. Just like first impressions in real life, where you can make a snap judgment in five minutes and decide whether or not you're going to like a person, very often you can tell within five pages of a book if you're going to like a character enough to invest in them for the next 300 pages or so. But then there's the fun of really diving in to what makes this person tick, watching relationships unfold and stretch and change, seeing how they respond in various situations and wondering if you would react the same way. That's what's fun about stories, isn't it? Escaping your own life and immersing yourself in someone else's, just for pure entertainment. Sometimes you even learn something along the way. Again, that's what I love, so that's what I write.

Still, when your novel is limping along at 55,000 words (barely a novella by most standards), which is where mine was a year and a half ago, 100,000 seems like an impossible target. When I embarked on this major rewrite, adding important things like a plot to my story, I set 80,000 as my target goal. Surely I couldn't add 45,000 additional words to what I thought was already a fairly complete story, but 25,000 seemed reasonable. Then as I kept writing, and the plot and the characters kept developing, and one minor character kept demanding more of a role, I looked at my outline (yes, I do look at it sometimes) and thought, "This thing could go massive. Like, I'm not sure if it will be less than 130,000 words." But I kept writing because I figured, hey, if I can add that many words, I can just as easily cut out that many when it's time to get it into shape to try to submit it for publication. Then a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, I wrote a short piece of a scene that just popped into my head and thought, "Hey, you know what? This sounds like an ending." So now I've been writing toward that, and I'm only a chapter or two away, so 110,000 is sounding like a really good total number of words for this draft. And let me be clear: it's a draft. The kind of thing that only a few patient people who really love me would be willing to read through. It needs lots of work, still. But I'm much, much happier with it now than I was a year and a half ago. Who knows, maybe in another year and a half (or less!) I might have something that I'd be ready to let the whole world read. We'll see. For now, I'm going to enjoy this moment, knowing that I've written more words in a single story than I ever have before, and focus on writing on to that ending!

(In case you're wondering, this entire post is about 730 words)

Friday, September 12, 2014

On GOSPEL by J.D. Greear (and why everyone should read it)

I admit, I don't often read nonfiction, and when I do, it's usually because Greg recommended that I read it. Sometimes after I've read several novels, I feel like I need to read something real and true, just to get myself grounded in reality before diving back into fiction again. As usual, I asked Greg what I should read, and as usual, he suggested a winner.

I honestly think everyone should read this book. No joke. If you only read one book this year, read the Bible. If you read two, read the Bible and Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. (And if you read three, add my BFF's upcoming book, Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be In Christ.) In Gospel, J.D. Greear says a lot of things I've heard and read in the last few years, but I love the way he says it. He's a smart guy, he's got degrees and he pastors a big church, but he talks and writes like a dude that I could be friends with if I knew him.

If you've read this blog at all (other than my silly posts about movies and stuff) you'll probably understand why this book spoke to my heart. It makes the claim, very simply, that everything we do as Christians is inspired by the gospel, motivated by the gospel, and empowered by the gospel. Put simply: it's all about Jesus. Not about following a bunch of rules to check off all the boxes to make sure that we're saved and that God loves us. Not about being a good example to the rest of the world about how we ought to live. Not about living in fear that God will strike us down if we obey. Because of Christ's completed work on the cross, we can live in freedom to do the good things that God actually created us to do, because He loves us and we love Him, and because Christ made all of that possible. Greg just started a sermon series on Romans and one of the verses that keeps sticking in my mind is Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The gospel is the power that saves us and makes us new. The gospel. Not our own lame efforts.

Greear's theology is definitely what people would call "Reformed," that is, among other things, he has a very high view of God and His sovereignty.  He believes that everything God does is for His own good, that He is in control of all circumstances, and that He has a plan and purpose in every event that unfolds. Some people have issues with the Reformed crowd, but if I'm being honest I count myself as one of them in most points. This perspective that God is big enough to handle my issues, my inconsistencies, and my circumstances, whether or not I understand what He is doing, is okay with me. I don't expect to understand God, so it doesn't bother me that sometimes I don't. I like things to make sense, to have a logical order to them, to be scientific and formulaic, so I can explain them. But some things defy explanation. My faith tells me that even when things don't make sense to me, they make sense to God. If I could see things the way He does, I would understand why they are the way they are. I can't always see them that way, but I have faith that He does, and sometimes that just has to be enough. The gospel is God's plan for the world, the central theme of His story, and an incredible picture of who He is and why He is so great and unfathomable that we simply must call Him God.

The book is arranged in three parts: A basic introduction into the gospel and what Greear calls "The Gospel Prayer," a detailed look at the parts of The Gospel Prayer, and ways that the gospel answers some of the questions we often have about life and Christianity. It also addresses how we often come at the gospel from a backward perspective, focusing on actions and behavior rather than on God's work in Christ. It suggests caution toward many of the ideas we have been taught in churches about "doing things for God," noting that while it is good to do good things, the reason why we do them should be motivated on our love for God which flows from our belief in the work He has done, not because we want God to love us for what we do.

In the chapter on gospel-centered churches, Greear does a masterful job of breaking down many of the "types" of churches that exist today, while ignoring confusing denominational labels. With each type of church, he points out the areas those churches often focus on instead of the gospel. While most of those areas of emphasis are not bad, and Greear actually agrees with and applauds many of them, the problem happens when churches replace the gospel with their favorite sacred cow, whether it be prosperity theology, the filling of the Holy Spirit, Calvinism, or anything else. The chapter on the church is, in my opinion, one of the most important chapters in the book. But if you skip the other chapters and read it first, or alone, I think you'll miss the point.

Now for the part where I tell you why everyone should read this book. It's not because it's brilliantly written. The writing is good but I'm rather particular about such things and I found several problem spots (also I read it on Kindle and the formatting isn't spectacular). It's not because I agree with everything Greear says, although throughout most of the book, he says what I would like to say, only he says it better. A few times I thought, "Well, I'm not quite sure about that ..." but I believe he's right on in his presentation of the gospel and its vital importance in the lives of both believers and unbelievers. This book lays out, relatively simply, what the gospel is, how it changes our hearts and lives, and what that change can look like when it's lived out in our homes and job and communities. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, if you've ever wondered what Christians believe or why they do the things they do, read this book. I think (and I pray) that if you read it all the way through with an open mind and a humble heart, it might just change your life. It might just change mine.

What about you? Have you read this book? What did you think? Any recommendations for what I should read next?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Trouble

I almost titled this post "On Suffering" but then I thought, do I even know what it means to suffer? There have been hard, hard times in my life, but when I look at people I know, or know of, or people I've never even heard of across the world who really, truly know how suffering looks and feels, I realize that I have no idea what suffering really means. Now, trouble is something else. I know a few things about that.

In my recent post On Waiting and Working, I quoted John 16:33, where Jesus promises His disciples: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world." Since I posted that I can't stop thinking about that verse. It's like it's on repeat in my head and I just keep thinking about the implications of it.

Trouble. I quoted the verse the way I learned it, in the old NIV. Other versions say "tribulations," "trials and sorrows," etc. But you get the idea. Trouble. That one word can encompass everything from the little inconveniences and disappointments to the great, tragic, horrible things that I don't even want to talk about because I can't imagine dealing with them. We all have trouble, some more than others, because we live, ever so briefly, in this world. It is a natural hazard of living and breathing every day. Now, one thing I keep asking myself is, why is that when we come to Jesus, who told us very clearly that in this world we will have trouble, we expect Him to take it all away? And then we're disappointed when He doesn't. Or even worse, we stumble into even more trouble and then blame it on Him. We wonder if He's abandoned us, or if He's punishing us, or if He hates us, or if He's somehow refining us by putting us through hell on earth before bringing us home to heaven. I can't condemn that kind of thinking because I've been there. But I think that maybe when we're focusing on the trouble or how we are feeling in the midst of it or how we wish God would just intervene and take it away, maybe we're focusing on the wrong thing.

I feel like I've been harping on this kind of thing lately but I suppose it's because I'm so convicted about it. I have a real problem with thinking that my life is all about me. Or that it's my life at all. Because well, it isn't. It belongs to Christ. The trouble I have isn't just mine, it's His. All that pain and frustration and questioning and doubting is just part of the sin and pain and death that He bore on the cross. Everything that makes us feel overwhelmed and horrified and crushed, He felt it all when He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" And what did He do with all that? He overcame it. He died, He was buried, He rose again, and He overcame this world and all the trouble that goes along with it.

I am so small-minded and present-focused. All I know is what I've learned and experienced in my 34 years in this world, and my poor little brain can't even begin to imagine the vastness of eternity, but that is what Jesus promises is in store for those who believe in Him. Forever with Him, in His presence, at His feet, basking in the light of His glory, because He is worthy. It's no wonder the Apostle Paul asked, what are the tiny troubles of our little lives in comparison to that (2 Cor. 4:15-18)? The good gifts that God showers on us every day, the troubles that darken our days and make us long for heaven, they are all for one purpose: So that we can shine God's light into the lives of as many people that we possibly can, extend His grace to a world that needs it so desperately, and one day fall at His feet knowing that we brought as many souls with us as we could.

I'm not trying to minimize or ignore the pain that trouble causes us. It can break our hearts, rob us of loved ones, destroy our health, and strip us of everything that we value. That's big stuff. Heart-rending, awful stuff. It can drive us from God or bring us to our knees. But whether our troubles make us feel closer to God or wonder why He feels so far away, reality is, He's there. And He does have a greater purpose in it, to grow His Kingdom for His glory.

Our troubles are not about us. They are not what God is doing to us, what He is allowing in our lives for some reason that we hope He understands because we can't, they don't happen because God forgot about us or hates us. When we walk with Christ, when He is in us and we are in Him in this unfathomable life that He bought with His blood, they are His troubles, too. When I can't figure out anything in life and I don't know how I'm going to get through it, I know one thing: He's got this. He has overcome the world. I don't have to.

God, give me an eternal perspective, even if my mind can't grasp it all. Let me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, knowing that one day, everything else will fade away and I will see Him, not through eyes of faith, but through my very own eyes, transformed by His glory forever.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D)

My eyes hurt. 3D is not my preferred format for watching a movie. This is because I am old-school, and I believe my on-screen entertainment should be viewed in only two dimensions, as it was originally intended. All this 3D stuff with things jumping out at you and making you think a knife is going to hit you in the face or whatever...meh. In the past they only made a movie in 3D if they knew it was so bad no one would ever see it anyway. "Sure, it's a sequel to a horrible kids' sci-fi spy action movie...BUT IT'S IN 3D, PEOPLE! You know you want to see it now." I will say that 3D is better than it used to be, now that they actually film in 3D and IMAX to the max and all that, but it makes me dizzy, gives me a headache, and my vision is still blurry, hours later.

So. Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D) is visually stunning eye candy that made me laugh and I think there was actually a halfway decent story in there somewhere. The characters are so flawed they are endearing, the plot is epic and ridiculous, and oh my word, it's hilarious. So many fun lines and laugh-out-loud moments. I mean, this movie is stupid, but not so completely stupid that you want your money back at the end of it because you totally wasted two hours of your life. It's just stupid fun, like me and my friends sitting around and being idiots and laughing at each other. That is, if my friends were aliens and tree-creatures and genetically-engineered raccoons.

If you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy until this year and when you first heard about it you thought, "Eh, that's a pass," and then you started catching all the murmurings from the geek community and were intrigued enough to check it out, then you can understand how I felt about this movie. For the non-comic-book-geeks, like me, here's a summary, based on what I know, which is sketchy at best: The movie is based on an obscure Marvel comic book series and it's not like the Avengers, with superheroes and stuff. It happens in space and Earth is not really anyone's concern. In some ways, it feels more like a space opera (think Star Wars) than a comic book, but it has that fast-paced, edgy Marvel action and humor that is just fun to watch. If you want to see an introduction to the characters, watch the previews on YouTube. They are a group of lost causes who initially all try to kill each other, maybe more than once, but ultimately come together for the very noble cause of saving a planet and also, incidentally, the entire galaxy. There are creepy bad guys and annoying government protocol and some ugly prison scenes. It's very satirical and hard to take seriously. I liked it.

Please note that this movie is rated PG-13 and the content is not appropriate for younger audiences, or people who like good clean rom coms or family films. If you like sci-fi violence, with lots of weird-looking, seemingly pain-resistant and even regenerative creatures getting brutally beaten and dismembered and pulverized and stuff, you'll like this movie. If you can stomach some ugly language and jokes and gestures mixed in with your fun in space, you'll like this movie. If you like tree-creatures that can only say one line (spoiler: it's "I am Groot") over and over and occasionally beat people up but then turn around and do something sweet and beautiful, you'll like this movie. If those things bother you, you won't like this movie. As I said, I liked it. I'd be willing to see it again in two dimensions, but I'll probably wait for Blu-Ray and the comfort of my living room to do that.

My take: Go see this movie, and go see it with friends who will laugh out loud with you, because the epic films of summer are just more fun with friends.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On Waiting and Working

Do you ever feel like you're just waiting for God to show up, wondering if He ever will? Do you ever long to see God at work in a mighty way, like He did in the Bible? If you grew up in church, like I did, surely you know the stories. God sending plagues on the Egyptians, parting the Red Sea, providing manna in the wilderness, letting Moses see His glory as He passed by, wetting the fleece for Gideon and then keeping it dry, Jesus feeding 5,000 men with a little boy's lunch, turning water into wine, raising the dead, Peter and the apostles preaching and people hearing in their own languages 3,000 and coming to Christ in a single day. This is big stuff. Life-changing, earth-shattering, history-altering stuff. Do you ever read about that and wonder, what's the deal today? Here in 2014 in America, are we getting the shaft? What is God doing now? Is He doing anything? And if He is, do we get to be a part of it?

I've heard these questions in many forms. I've asked them myself. I remember specifically one time reading in Acts about the thousands of people who were being added to the church on a daily basis, and right in that moment I asked in prayer, "God, why don't we see things like this now? Why aren't You working like this today?" And in that moment, an answer came to my heart. God is at work just like that today. Across the world, thousands of people believe in Him and follow Him every day. Just because I don't see the Kingdom growing by leaps and bounds in my own life, in my own church, doesn't mean it isn't happening. God is active. God is always working. So what is our role in this work?

There is this idea that when we don't understand something we read in God's Word, or when we have questions about who God is or what He is doing, we need to just wait on God to show up and reveal Himself or deliver a plan for what we should do next. This is a concept that is fairly common and sounds very spiritual, but I wonder if it is truth. A friend of mine suggested that it might be just an excuse for people who don't want to work, or who have given up hope of ever seeing God at work. That may be true in many cases. Maybe they don't see Him at work because they're not looking for Him, and maybe they're not seeing it because they are refusing to do the work God has called them to do. 

This is what I know: God works through people. He always has. I don't know why He chooses to do that, He doesn't have to, but He does. If you want to see God, look closely at the people around you. I see Him everywhere. I see Him in my husband. I see Him in my friends who come over on Thursday nights to eat pancakes and ask questions about God and the Bible. I see Him in the endless questions my daughter asks. I even see Him working in surprising places, that maybe shouldn't be so surprising. I see Him in the faithful servants in our church, who might look old and gruff but who still have hearts that are tender toward God and are learning from His Word. A troll might tell a princess in a movie that "People don't really change," and in most cases, that's true. But God can change a human heart, mind, and soul. I've seen Him do it many times, in other people and in me, and each time He does it, I know I've seen a miracle. Oh sure, I'd like to see Him do the "big stuff," the earth-shaking, mountain-moving, mighty acts of wonder and healing and provision. I'd like to see Him heal my son's heart condition. But sometimes I think we overlook the great, eternal, constant work of God because we're looking for something that we think is bigger. What if we're looking for the wrong thing? 

Jesus told the people in John 6 that their fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died, but He was offering eternal life. In order to get it, all they had to do was believe in Him, accept His offer of His flesh and His blood to cover their sins, and take hold of eternal life. Most didn't understand. What Jesus was talking about was too radical. A few stayed with Him because they caught a glimpse of who He truly was, and they knew they could never be satisfied with anything else. Those few, filled the with Holy Spirit, went on to start an organization known as the church. That church changed the world, and it grew and continues to grow and is still changing the world today by impacting people, one life at a time, for eternity. This is the work of God. This is what He calls us to do. How is this too "small" for us?

I think we went through this phase in the church (I mean the Church as a whole, as a culture, not one specific body of believers) where we settled for less than what God offers. And then we got used to less. And then we expected less. Now the false flimsy faith we were fed doesn't satisfy, and we want more. We want the real thing. We want all of God, here and now. And that's a good thing. But when we set aside God in all His fullness for the culture of the church, we also forgot about the cost of knowing Him. He demands everything. Every hope, dream, desire, possession, and relationship you have must be laid at the feet of Christ. When we come to Him we give up our old, dead, sinful lives, and He gives us His life. We cannot imagine what that looks like, but He gives us clues in the Bible. For one, when our lives are no longer our own, we are wasting time when we focus on ourselves. Our ultimate purpose is to give our lives to serve Christ, serve others, and grow His Kingdom for His glory.

If you have this idea that serving God, trying to be good and then be extra good to make up for times when you're bad, then God will eventually make your life better, that's a nice idea based on a false view of God. There is no scale you have to balance out before He can bless you. There is no punishment left to serve. There's a line in an old song, "Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe." All of God's promises are fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). If you do a bunch of good things and avoid a bunch of bad things and call that the Christian life, then you can claim some of the credit for what you've done. If you look for where God is working, engage in what He has called and uniquely gifted you to do, and allow Him to do His work through you by the power of His Spirit, He gets the glory. Being in Christ, that is the blessing. That is the abundant life. To all outward appearances, your life might suck as long as you're alive. It might not. That's just part of living in this fallen world. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). So what is our hope? Christ. Forever. 

When I write a post like this, it's always tempting to make it sound like I really know what I'm talking about, like somehow I've figured out this Christian life thing and how it works. Really, I feel pretty clueless most of the time. I struggle with things I thought I'd figured out, lessons I thought I'd already learned, temptations and failures that I never imagined I'd deal with. In the middle of all that, here's what I've got: Jesus. He is enough. Even on days when I question whether or not He's enough for me, He is. 

Is he enough for you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On My Anniversary

This week I've seen several blogs with interesting, thoughtful, perspectives on marriage. One was from a girl who was married when she was 19, about all the things she "gave up" when she got married. Another was from someone who's been married 20 years, offering wise words to her girls about the importance of a marriage vs. a wedding. So with that and the fact that today is my 14th wedding anniversary, I've been thinking about marriage. I don't know if my perspective is interesting or thoughtful, but here it is.

First, a word to my single friends: I know being single sucks sometimes. I remember what it's like to long for someone to just live life with. I remember wondering, every time I met a guy, "Is he the one? Could I marry him?" Every. Time. As someone who married young and has now been married almost half my life, I may not be the best person to deliver advice to the single crowd, but what I have to say is this: Remember, there is no human being who will fill every void in your life, meet every need, be your rock, your everything, complete you, whatever. Only Jesus can do that. Whether you're married or single or in a relationship or it's complicated, believe me, Jesus is the One you want. Rest in that. Rest in Him. Someday He might bring someone along who you can spend the rest of your life with, but nothing in this world compares to spending eternity with Him.

Fourteen years ago today, I married Greg Duke, the love of my life. I was 19. I know all the questions. I heard them.
"You were so young! How could you possibly know he was the one for you?"
"Are you crazy? You think you'll be happy with that one person forever?"
"You didn't live together first? So how can you know it will work out?"
"Was something going on? Were you pregnant?"
"Weren't you just, you know, in love with the idea of love?"
There were more.

Now I've been married fourteen years, and I hear other things.
"Wow, that's a long time! Good for you!"
"So how's that working out?"
"So are you...happily married?"
"Only 36 to go, and then it'll really be something."
There is more.

For some reasons, I think I was too young to get married. Mostly because I was pretty irresponsible and barely grown up. I didn't have good habits for handling money, taking care of a house, being a wife and a student and sharing my life and my stuff and my bed with someone else. It took some adjustment, and that wasn't easy. There were frustrations and tears and arguments and feeling like I wasn't good enough. But we got through that, and although I'm still not good at handling money and taking care of a house, it seems to have worked out anyway.

Still, there were lots of reasons why I did get married when I did, and I think they were good ones. I had found someone I loved and who loved me, who I could spend hours and hours with and laugh and have a good time and not wish I were somewhere else. Someone who was as smart as me, who had a deep faith and commitment to ministry, who was more mature and responsible than I was, who could deal with my crazy quirks, who would take care of me and protect me and just be there for me. Someone I was happy to make dinner for, talk to, be with. He was graduating from college and I still had three years left, and I didn't want him to move away without me. I was planning to be a camp counselor for the summer and God made it pretty clear that He wanted us to get married instead. So we did. No, I wasn't crazy, or stupid, or pregnant. In fact, I was a virgin. Yep. That happened.

Being married for fourteen years does not make me an expert. It means I have experience, and I have learned a few things about commitment and choices and feelings. One thing I have learned is that I have to put him first. (What? Shouldn't you put God first? I don't know. Is God a priority for me? Is He #1? No, He's everything. So He's not exactly first, He IS) I have to put Greg before my kids, my friends, my parents, even myself. So the things I want don't matter to me as much as the things he wants. When I pray for others, I start with him. When I need an opinion or I have a question, I go to him. I am not good at this, not by any means. I am so inherently selfish. But I've learned that if I don't put Greg first, things go downhill. Quickly.

I'm not really a "feelings" person. Yeah, I have feelings, but I'm not really one to focus on them or let them interfere much with my life. I often find that they are inconvenient. Feelings can change. They can lie. If we're not careful, they can lead us down paths in life that we would be better off avoiding altogether. But they are real, and sometimes they're good. Going through life with a person for fourteen years means I've run a whole gamut of feelings. Have I felt 100% head-over-heels in love with Greg the whole time? Nope. Have I been an awesome wife the whole time? Nope. We've had some rough times, and a few moments when I wondered if I had it in me to make this whole thing work. But I have been his wife, and I know what it means to choose him. I chose him fourteen years ago, and in some ways, I keep choosing him every day. Most days, it's not hard. He's the best man I know, very likely the only person in the world who could deal with me every day, a godly man and great pastor, and he does dishes. He's a catch. Most days, I'm totally in love with him. Those happy, "in love" feelings are nice, but love is a choice. Fourteen years ago I chose to love Greg, for better or for worse, forsaking all others, until death parts us. And today, more than ever, by the grace and power of God and the love He has for me, for Greg, and for marriage, I am still making that choice. So far, life with this guy has been good. I'm looking forward to sharing the rest of our lives together.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Star Trek Reboot

A couple of quick notes: If you're looking for a blog that's all up to date on current culture and stuff, this is not the one for you. When it comes to the metaphorical cultural party, I tend to come late and leave early. Although I actually did see both the movies that I'm about to talk about when they were in theaters, I have no new information about the franchise and I'm not an expert. Oh yeah that's the other thing. I'm not a Trekkie. Like, at all. And I'm not really that into science fiction or space opera or spaceships or whatever. I just like movies, and I've watched Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Star Trek (2009) - yeah, in that order - in the last couple of weeks, and I have thoughts about them. That's all.

For the sake of you AR types (you know who you are) I'll go ahead and start with Star Trek. The 2009 reboot, not to be confused with the Original Motion Picture. One is a movie. The other to put this delicately...forget it. The Original Motion Picture is crap. Making it was a waste of film and watching it was a waste of time. Two nights of my life I'll never get back. So from now on, for the purposes of this blog, we will do ourselves a favor and forget it was ever made. When I say "Star Trek" I'm talking about the movie. And it's a good one. It's funny and campy but big-budget and big-action enough that you almost don't notice unless you're actually paying attention and not distracted by all of J.J. Abrams' lens-glare-happy cinematography. It pulls what is, in my opinion, a really fun bait-and-switch where you think the hero of the film is one guy but in fact it's the other guy. In case that seems confusing, I'll clarify. And oh yeah, there are "spoilers" in the post because seriously, Star Trek is five years old and Into Darkness came out last year so at this point you've either seen them so the spoilers aren't spoilers or you haven't seen them and you don't care. And if that's the case, why are you still reading this? Anyway, there are all these character introductions and backstory and messing with the space-time continuum so it can get confusing and it's possible the movie is about Jim Kirk but Spock is the hero. So in that sense I suppose it's like other Star Trek movies of a bygone era. It's not "classic" Star Trek, whatever that means. In many ways it's much more like Star Wars, which is ironic for so many reasons. But the "fact" is, when you mess with the space-time continuum you get an alternate reality, and if you can't figure that out on your own the characters blatantly point it out for you (thank you, Spock and Uhura, for that one). I mean, if you're going to do a reboot, this is how to do it. Just mess with everything and reference everything else. And make it fun and beautiful. Who cares if it's full of clich├ęs and anomalies and plot holes and bad science? There are great lines and gorgeous effects and lens glare and come on, what more could you want? It's a good movie, not a great movie, but it's fun and there are some really great moments and it is absolutely beautiful on Blu-Ray.

Now on to Into Darkness, which is definitely my favorite of the two. In fact I'd rank it somewhere among my favorite movies ever. It's the total package. Great plot, great hero, two ugly villains, one who is really mean and nasty and one who is all complex and evil and awesome and stuff. It kind of pulls the bait-and-switch with the villain. (Hey, it's this guy. No wait, it's this other guy. No, it's definitely the first guy. Isn't it?) With most of the character introductions out of the way, you get right into the action, which almost never stops. I joke that I didn't breathe for two hours the first time I saw it. Oh and for the guys, you also get the token shot of a girl in her underwear. I don't know why this is essential but apparently it is. Anyway. It stands alone as a good movie, in my opinion, but it's also a great sequel. In Star Trek, Kirk thinks he knows everything and can handle any situation. In Into Darkness, he is forced into the realization that he doesn't and he can't. He can only do what he knows he can do, what he has to do. I love it when those moments happen for any character. I never liked Captain Kirk as a character before this movie. And don't even get me started on William Shatner. Ick. Into Darkness is the kind of movie I can watch lots and lots of times and enjoy it every time. That's the kind of movie I like best. Oh and there's plenty of lens glare in this one too, and it's also stunningly gorgeous on Blu-Ray.

So for any Trekkies out there who are still reading this, I apologize for my almost total ignorance and lack of respect for Star Trek canon. These movies are fantastic and I'd take them over any of the old ones, any cast, any day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On The Writing Process (Blog Tour Post)

Let me start off by thanking Matthew Wilbur, one of my #WritersRoad friends, for inviting me to post this as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. Check out his blog at and follow him on Twitter, @Nightveil. He's cool.

So now I'm supposed to talk about what I do as a writer and why and how and all that. Since I have no idea what I'm doing, really, this should be fun.

1. What am I working on?

My current work in process (or WIP) is a YA (teen) fantasy set in a world where history and myth have become blurred to the point that no one really knows which is which. My main character has some nifty knife skills and a horse that she will do anything to protect...including maybe magic. It's about 85,000 words (300ish pages) right now and I'm moving toward the ending, which scares me because I don't exactly know how the ending will go at this point. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Is anyone even writing YA fantasy right now? Seems like just about everything is paranormal or urban fantasy or dystopian or steampunk or something these days, and what I'm writing is just plain fantasy, with other worlds and magic and trees and mythical creatures and that sort of thing. It's what I love and maybe it's not selling right now but I don't really care. I write from a very Christian worldview, which is different from mainstream fantasy, for sure. I don't write allegory and I try not to preach but what I believe about God and the world is my life, so of course that's a huge part of what I write.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Writing about God and universal truth in a different world is a strange sort of experiment, and honestly, I'm attempting to write it because I thought it would be a fun challenge. It is a challenge. I hope that the end result is a faithful representation of the story that I believe we all want to be a part of: something good, something bigger than ourselves, with beauty, community, and sacrifice, and an attempt to explain the unexplainable. This is a story I believe in, and it's the story I feel compelled to write. It has not been easy for me, but I love it.

4. How does my writing process work?

In a word, chaos. I enjoy organization and outlines but my brain just won't settle down and follow them. I do start with an outline, which I follow more closely than I think I do, and then I revise it when I really stray. I'm on the second(ish) draft of this book but probably the eighth or ninth draft of the outline. When I started the current rewrite, I added a plot. That was a big deal. I had these characters that I loved but nothing really happened to them and they didn't do much. Now I have things like story arcs and villains. I am very pleased with that.

To borrow an old analogy, this process has been like building an airplane in the air. Everything I read and everything I write teaches me something new about writing, so my WIP has been in this shifting state of flux for several years now. I think it keeps getting better, but it's not good yet. I write when I have time and someone else is watching my kids. So maybe two hours a week. It's slow going, especially when I keep going back to the beginning to incorporate changes I made because of a brainstorm I had in the shower. I'm not getting paid for this, I don't have deadlines, and although I really want people to read it, I'm not ready for that yet. I want it to be good. I hope I will know when it is.

The Writing Process Blog Tour continues next week! Let me tell you about the friends I invited to join:

In addition to being my BFF, Ashley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel, She has been writing and leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years and cute her ministry teeth as a collegiate campus minister in her home state of New Mexico. Ashley has a Master of Arts in Family Life Education from the Oxford Graduate School and studied at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA. Find her at
Amber Stokes works in marketing services at Harvest House Publishers and writes inspirational fiction depicting the seasons of life and love. Her passion for books compelled her to earn a bachelor's degree in English and to run her own freelance editing and publicity business for over a year. Happily, the next step in her career lies in the Pacific Northwest - a part of the world she has always considered home.

Blog Link:
Go check out their blogs and hunt down the other posts on the tour. This has been fun!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On Reading the Bible in a Year

July 1st is an important day for me. Long ago I gave up making resolutions to start the new year, because sometimes, to be honest, just surviving the new year is an accomplishment enough. I mean, the holiday season is a thrill ride and I love it, but when it's over I just want to sleep. So then in July, I wake up and realize that half the year is over and if I want to get something done I'd better get it started. That's what July 1st is for.

Several years ago, I was making my July 1st goals and I asked myself, "By this time next year, what is something that I really want to accomplish?" As is often the case halfway through the year, I was feeling a little down and I really needed something I could commit to and that I would really feel good about finishing. It occurred to me that I had never actually read all the way through the Bible. I had started several times, always at the beginning of the year, but had always given up on it at some point. Usually it was in Leviticus or 1 Chronicles, although once I persevered through the One Year Bible for about a year and a half when I got hit with Ezekiel and Revelation at the same time, and I just couldn't finish. Anyway, I had just gone through a study by George Guthrie called Read the Bible for Life and one of the things we were encouraged to do was to actually read the Bible. I know, crazy, right? So I printed out the chronological plan he suggests in his book, stuck it in my Bible, and committed to it. I don't know if it was because of that particular plan, because I really needed a "win" in my life, or because I fell in love with the Word of God, or perhaps because of all of that, but I finished it on June 30th of the next year. By then I had an iPhone and the YouVersion app which has all kinds of plan options that make it easy to read and check off every day, so I just picked a plan and started again. Today starts my fourth year of reading through the Bible from July 1st-June 30th.

It's not hard to read through the Bible in a year. It only takes 3-4 chapters a day, which for me means about 10-20 minutes, six or seven days a week. I'm not talking about intense study or anything, I'm just talking about reading it. Study is important too, but it's amazing what God has done in my life and my relationship with Him when I simply take the time every day (or almost every day - I do miss some days) to read His word. I have a new appreciation for the way the Bible is written, for the truth it contains, and for the way it all points to God's amazing work of salvation.

You don't have to believe the Bible is true in order to read it, but it helps if you do. And if you do believe the Bible is true but you haven't read it, and I mean all of it, then why not? You don't have to have an app or a special Bible or even a checklist or any other excuse. Get out your Bible and start reading. You can start at Genesis 1:1 and read straight through, three or four chapters a day. You can start in the New Testament, Matthew 1:1, and then read the Old Testament. You can get fancy, pull out three bookmarks or index cards or random slips of paper, and read two chapters in the Old Testament, one Psalm or Proverb, and one chapter in the New Testament. Just read the Bible. Start today. And then next July 1st, we can start over together.

Monday, June 23, 2014

On the Zombie Apocalypse

An important lesson to remember in life is this: Follow-up is key.  My last post, On Being a Pastor's Wife, was my most-read post so far this year. So it only makes sense that I would follow up that post with a topic I'm equally passionate and expressive about: the supposedly inevitable zombie apocalypse. Yes, there is some sarcasm there. I give you permission to groan.

I've never understood our culture's obsession with zombies, vampires, ghosts, and various other paranormal undead/immortal creatures. I like to keep my fiction and reality very clearly separated, for the sake of my own sanity. It drives me crazy when people bring up this zombie apocalypse thing like it's something that will actually happen, as though we need real strategies for how to survive it and conquer the walking dead that are out to eat our brains or whatever it is that zombies supposedly do. The images are horrible, the very thought makes my stomach turn, and I generally like to point out Hebrews 9:27, " is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (ESV). So there. Clearly, zombies are completely fictional, made up by some crazy people for some sort of sick entertainment or to horrify children and women with appallingly vivid imaginations. The "inevitable" zombie apocalypse will never, ever happen, as I have frequently and emphatically declared in conversations and on social media.

Then, as part of my daily Bible reading, I came across this fascinating description in Zechariah 14:12, "And the Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths" (NLT). Eek. I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds a lot like zombies. I should probably note that when I pointed this verse out to my husband, a pastor and Bible scholar, he rolled his eyes and shook his head. However, that verse has forced me to rethink my dogmatic belief that the zombie apocalypse will never, ever, happen.

And now for a word on biblical interpretation. It is possible to take any singular verse of Scripture, or an isolated passage, or a few scattered verses that seem to deal with the same topic, and make them say just about anything. In support of zombies, one could also point to the passage in Ezekiel 37, where the prophet records his vision of a pile of bones becoming a great army, or the brief, strange account of graves being opened and many bodies coming out and appearing to people immediately after Jesus' death in Matthew 27:52-53. I think it's important to point out that none of these passages (or any others you might know about that I've missed) are actually about zombies. I believe Ezekiel is painting a dramatic visual of the fact that when it comes to restoration, God is capable of anything. The passage in Matthew shows some of the immediate, powerful, literally earth-shaking effects of Jesus' death on the cross. And Zechariah is pronouncing judgment on the nations and restoration of the nation of Israel. Of course, that passage is actually apocalyptic, so the zombie plague is, in my opinion, a possibility. It could be suggesting something like biological warfare or nuclear fallout, which Zechariah obviously would not have understood, but he could have described the effects. Or maybe it's symbolic, a picture of something that won't actually happen, but which warns of the seriousness of opposing the people of God. Zionists could read the passage and declare, "See! Don't mess with Israel!" The fact is, the Bible talks about a lot of things, but it's not about zombies. So to build an entire zombie doctrine on this one verse would be foolish. This is why my husband rolled his eyes. It's important to be very careful when interpreting Scripture.

That said, the Bible does provide abundant fodder for a fertile imagination. I've also caught references to what I believe are dragons and unicorns (prompting additional eye-rolls from Greg). It's amazing what you catch when you actually read it. I'm just a few days from finishing my latest year-long read-through of God's Word, and it's always interesting when I find things I don't remember ever reading before. The book of Zechariah has some fascinating parts to it. Even if you don't have time for careful analysis and and study, reading through the whole Bible every year is a worthwhile endeavor, and I highly recommend it. I'm going to start a new plan on July 1st. I'll post the link if anyone is interested in joining me.

So, I have to admit that a zombie apocalypse might actually happen someday. Does it matter? Probably not. Do I care? Definitely not. Am I going to start stockpiling weapons and planning how to defend my family and my brain? No. If it does happen, or if something similar happens, from what I read in Zechariah it will be part of God's judgment on his enemies, so I'm safe. Whew.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On Being a Pastor's Wife

Every once in awhile something will come out in a magazine or on the Internet about all the things pastor's wives deal with, and when that happens, I'm always tempted to write a blog post. Today I'm succumbing to the temptation. So here goes.

I suppose I could call this post "5 Simple Truths About Pastor's Wives...and Everyone Else" and it would maybe go viral or something. People seem intrigued by this special and rare creature often called "The Pastor's Wife" as if that is the sum total of her identity. I've been described as "not your typical pastor's wife," whatever that means. I've heard people say, "I forget you're a pastor's wife! You're so normal!" And I've also been asked, "So you're a pastor's wife? Wow! What's that like?" And I want to ask, "What's it like being an engineer's wife? Or a computer guy's wife? Or a doctor's wife?" Because being a pastor's wife can't be very different from any of those. Let me clear up some of the mystery: Being a pastor's wife means being married to a man whose life is defined by his calling. Does that mean my life is also defined by his calling? I don't know. I've never thought of it that way. The way I see it, my life is defined by my calling. Not so different from anyone else, really. It's just that my calling is to be married to a man in ministry, specifically, to Greg Duke. Right now that calling means I'm a pastor's wife. It's that simple. Really.

Please hear my heart: My intent is not to belittle the struggles and hardships that pastor's wives face. All those things you read in articles and on blogs are true. Life as a pastor's wife can be difficult and sometimes it's not very rewarding. But isn't that just life? Life is hard. In many ways life as a Christian is even harder, like we're struggling to stay afloat while we swim against the current of the culture. Seeking to be a Christ-following, God-honoring, Kingdom-growing wife and mother brings a new set of challenges every day. Some days I look back over the day and think of all the things I could have done better, things I shouldn't have said, or things that I should have said but didn't, ways that I think I failed, and all I can do is thank God that He got me through it and we're all still alive and mostly unharmed. I am always thankful that I have the resurrection power of Christ working through me, giving me the strength for that swim upstream. And I'm thankful for the roles He's given me in this life, one of which is the role of a pastor's wife.

Did I always feel comfortable with the idea of being a pastor's wife? To be honest, no. I struggled with the idea when Greg first brought it up. But it's not like he came home one day and said, "God is calling me to be a pastor," and I groaned and said, "Great. This is not what I signed up for." I know that happens to some women, but that's not my story. I always knew I was called to marry a minister, and Greg has been in ministry the whole time we've been married. I just thought he'd be a music guy, or a college campus minister, or a church planter. The journey to his calling as Senior Pastor (and currently the only pastor) at Aberdeen Baptist Church is a long story, maybe for another post. But it's a journey that we took together, and we knew that God was leading us every step of the way. I believe with all my heart that we're where we're supposed to be, doing what we're supposed to be doing.

I am so incredibly blessed. I have deep connections in my community of friends. I have the privilege of investing in the lives of many people around me through prayer, through conversations about God and His Word, through just hanging out and enjoying life. The wonderful people in our church take really good care of us. They've watched our kids, taken us out to eat, given us generous gifts when we needed them most - whether they knew that or not. My husband is a treasure and I thank God for him constantly. Sure he's busy, but he does good work, and although he sometimes has meetings or has to visit with people at times that might be inconvenient for me, and yeah, those middle-of-the-night calls happen and they're not fun, his flexible schedule allows him time to spend with his family that many men don't have. Our family doesn't suffer because Greg is a pastor; we're blessed because he's a pastor. And that's the truth.

So I'm a pastor's wife. I really think the most important part of that "title" is "wife." Just like every Christian wife, I'm called to support, respect, and help my husband in any way I can, submitting to his authority over me just as we both submit to Christ's authority over us. I have struggles, and I have victories. Sometimes I control my temper, my tongue, my thoughts, and sometimes I don't. I try to be open and honest, but I do have things I don't tell certain people, and even some things that I won't tell anyone. I love and adore my kids, but there are moments when I don't like them very much. I have lots of friends but sometimes I'm lonely. Sometimes I just long for a few minutes of adult conversation. Sometimes I wish I could get away. But most of the time, I'm happy with who I am, where I am, what I'm doing, and who I'm with. This is who I am. If that makes me a unique, strange creature known as a "pastor's wife," I guess I'm okay with that. I just have this feeling that I'm really not so different from anyone else.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Joy...No Matter What

This week I've been thinking about joy. And grace. I often think about grace, because it's a topic I'm totally passionate about. So this week my thoughts about grace have manifested themselves in thoughts about joy, and about how it's really hard to live a life of joy and freedom unless I'm living in grace. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. (And yes, that was a reference to The Princess Bride. You're welcome)

In life, there are always ups and downs. There are times when everything seems to be going right, and times when it just...isn't. There are times when I look around at my life, my circumstances, my occupation, and think, "Yes. This is the life. This is right where I want to be," and times when I think, "How did I end up here?" Circumstances change. Goals and dreams change. If you had asked me five years ago where I thought I'd be, what my life might look like, in five years, I probably would not have described a scenario of constant chaos, chasing around a strong-willed four-year-old and a one-year-old with a heart problem (not that you would know that from his energy level. He makes me tired), pouring my heart into a couple of ministries that have a lot of potential but can definitely be described as struggling, still buried under a mountain of debt, still writing that same novel. I would have painted a glowing picture of my idea of success - in life, in motherhood, in business, in writing. Instead, the picture looks more like someone who struggles to get up before her kids in the morning. Who sometimes feels depressed, angry, discontent, frustrated with who she is, with what she feels she has accomplished, with her circumstances.

So what does this have to do with joy? Well, like I said, circumstances change. People change. I'm not the same person I was five years ago. I want different things. I've learned some things. And here's one of them: Joy isn't found in circumstances, but in what is constant, what doesn't change. No matter how my life shifts, how I change as a person, how many failures and frustrations I experience, God remains the same. His love remains the same. His grace is always there, making me into something I could never be on my own. Complete. Justified. Forgiven. Content. Joyful. In Christ.

The character of the Almighty, Most Holy God is a fascinating thing. He is both just and merciful. He is full of love, and full of wrath. He created humans to be pure and perfect, living eternally with Him, but allows us to follow our prideful hearts down a path of sin that leads to death and separation from Him. He created a code of behavior, called the Law, that He knew we could never live up to, but then grace entered the scene in the form of Jesus. The pure and perfect God-man, the only one who could live up to the Law and then sacrifice Himself on behalf of all humanity so that in one transaction, we can look to Him as the means of our salvation and be covered in His sinless, righteous perfection for all of eternity. This isn't God throwing His hands in the air and agreeing to overlook our faults because we'll never get it right. This is the judge taking on his own judgment. This is the executioner turning the axe on himself. This is God doing what I could never do, because He can. This is grace. This isn't about me. It's all about Him. My circumstances, my failures, my aches and pains that I complain about when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night, fade to nothing when I get just a glimpse of who God is and what His grace means. Grace means I can get up in the morning. Grace means I get to go on living even when I fail. Grace means I have a lifetime to share this good news with everyone I can on this earth, and then I get eternity with the grace-giver, to really get to know Him and maybe begin to understand His grace. When I start thinking about all that, I find joy. Deep, heady, delighted, excited, joy. There are many things in this world that make me happy, and just as many things can take away that happiness in an instant, but nothing can ever take God's grace from me, and nothing can ever take my joy.

Do you understand this? I hope so. I hope my meandering thoughts make a little sense to someone out there. As Christians, saved by God's amazing grace, we've got the market on joy. We really do. And yet too often we don't live it. We live sad little lives, afraid to have too much fun, afraid we might offend God with our inadequacies, afraid He'll zap us when we fail, afraid we'll ruin our reputations, miserable because we still can't live up to God's standard, even while we're trying to follow in His steps. Here's my advice: Quit trying and start living. Jesus gives us His life. Let's surrender our lives to Him, every moment of every day, set aside our pride, our desires, our agendas, our dreams, and offer the broken, empty vessels of our lives to Him, so that He can mend us and fill us to overflowing with the very grace He wants us to preach to the rest of the world. Does that sound easy? It's not. It's simple, but it's work. It's the best and the hardest work we'll ever do. It's what we were made for. I don't know about you, but for me, doing what I was made to do sure feels a lot like joy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

This month for my book club, I had the dubious privilege of picking our selection. Because I like to call myself a rebel, and I wanted to read something a little different and a little quirky, I picked STARDUST. It's not a new novel, and it has been made into a strange little movie, and I thought it would be a fun read. It was fun, and surprising at moments, and largely satisfying overall.

STARDUST is a fairy tale for adults. Because of language, thematic elements, and the general tone of the book, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone younger than 16. Of course, this is coming from the same person who doesn't think people should read Harry Potter books if they are younger than the characters in the books. So take that as you will. Still, there is a certain dark abstract feel to the story that I don't think younger readers would find very appealing. And if you're one of those "save the unicorns" types, you might want to think twice about picking up this book.

The premise of the story is what happens when you get your heart's desire - whether or not you realize at the time what that is. It starts out with a young man named Dunstan Thorne - not to be confused with the main hero of the tale, who turns out to be Dunstan's son, Tristran. Tristran sets off on a quest to retrieve a fallen star for his true love, and learns along the way that he has greatly misjudged the nature of stars (in the land of Faerie, at least) and of true love itself. There are villains, and helpful companions, and magic, and all the things that make a delightful fairy tale, including some moderately graphic details and a bittersweet ending.

The book has some faults. I found the style to be quaint and charming, but the modern writer in my head was counting off all the rules that the author broke in the telling of it. However, I don't mind a few broken rules on the way to a good story, so this wasn't a problem for me. It gets a little confusing at times, there are lost of strands that seem disconnected from the main story at first, but then Gaiman ties them all together so brilliantly that I was completely satisfied by the end.

Immediately after finishing the book, I made the mistake of mentioning that I might like to watch the movie sometime, so we ended up watching it that night. Do not watch the movie before reading the book. It will ruin all those abstract connections and the feeling of satisfaction when they all come together. That said, the movie isn't terrible, and it follows the plot of the book for the most part, with some obvious license, until the ending, which is all completely made up by the filmmakers for additional drama.

So, if you're an adult, or you think like an adult, or maybe if you think like a child but people think you're an adult, and you enjoy fairy tales, I think you'll like this book. I did, and I definitely fall into one of those three categories. I'll let you guess which one.

Have you read STARDUST? Do you have any comments you'd like to add? Or any recommendations for what I should read next?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

On Why I Hate My Novel Right Now

Yes, that's right, I used the word hate.

I have been writing this book for longer than I care to admit. Okay, I'll admit it: I have files from this story that go back to 2006. For those of you who don't realize how long ago that really is, I'll do the math for you. It's eight years. I have been writing this story for eight years. And I'm no closer to having a finished product now than I was eight years ago. I have written, rewritten, and written it again. I have outlined it, trashed my outline, attempted to write it without an outline, realized that in writing without an outline I had forgotten to include a plot, added a plot, wrote another outline, and now I'm rewriting it again. And I hate it. On days like today, when I'm pretty sure it's time to throw out at least half of the manuscript and start over, I wonder, "Why am I torturing myself over this? Why can't I just write something else? Or not write at all?"

Because I can't, that's why. Because if I don't figure out what this story really is, and how it develops, and how it ends, it will bother me for the rest of my life. Because in the last eight years, I've fallen in love with these characters, and this world, and this idea I have of writing fantasy that honors God and communicates a biblical worldview, even though no one in that world knows that the Bible exists. And just to be clear, no one in that world actually exists. It's fantasy. But somehow, I love them anyway.

On this journey, I've learned a lot about writing, and a lot about myself as a writer. Most of the time, I'm not very good at this. There are moments when I think I might be able to produce a whole book that will be worth reading someday, and other moments, like today, when I think it's impossible. It may never happen. But I'll keep at it because maybe someday, it just might.

So for today, I hate my novel. I feel like nothing is working, and I don't know how to make it work, and it's probably not worth the attempt anyway. And that's okay, because it's not as though anyone is paying me to write it, or expecting me to actually finish it. I'm not published, I don't have a fanbase, I have 140 followers on Twitter and a handful of people who read this blog. You are good people, by the way. Thanks for putting up with me. Anyway, I think I'm allowed to hate my novel. I'm probably allowed to delete it and start over, as I've threatened to do repeatedly. But instead I'll keep plugging away, hoping to someday craft it into a real story that I can be happy with.

And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow I'll love it again.

Have you ever felt the same way? To be honest, I need an intervention today. Yes, I am begging shamelessly for encouraging comments. We all need encouragement sometimes, and today is my day.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Time

I have had several posts bobbing around in my head for the last month or so, and yet if you actually follow this blog you'll know that I haven't posted any of them. There are several reasons for that, but the main one is that I simply haven't had the time. Or made the time, or taken the time, or whatever it is we're supposed to do with the time that we're given every day.

I suppose this could be a rant about being overly busy, or a whine about having two children under four, or excuses about why my house is messy and I usually refuse to clean it up, or something educational about time management or inspirational about priorities, but I don't feel like writing any of those things. I just feel like talking about time. And writing.

We all have 24 hours in a day. I think, if we're being honest, most of us sleep for about 6 of them. I now have an app (which drives my husband crazy) that tells me exactly how much time I spent in bed and what percentage of that time was spent in deep, restful sleep. At least, that's what I think the percentage is. Honestly I really don't know, except that the higher it is, the better I slept, supposedly. Sometimes it's as low as 47% and sometimes it's as high as 88%. I do know that out of the last 36 nights, I've spent 1.4 weeks in bed. So maybe that's why I haven't been blogging. I've slept for a week and a half.

When I'm not sleeping, I spend lots of time doing lots of other things, and lots of that time wishing I were writing instead. I have many roles in life, the primary ones being a Christ follower, wife, mother, and friend, but when I think, "who am I?", what immediately pops into my head, almost every time, is: a writer. Not that I think any of the other things are less important. In fact, I think they're immensely important, certainly more important than this little writing thing that I do whenever I get a spare hour or two, usually only once or twice a week. I spend much more time feeding kids, changing diapers, answering the deep questions of life presented by my almost-four-year-old, texting friends, reading my Bible, tweeting, talking to my husband, cooking, driving, going to church, running errands, and even grocery shopping, which I abhor. So then I ask myself: if I spend so much more time doing other things, why do I identify myself as a writer? I don't really even make any money at it, maybe $1000 in my whole life.

The simple fact is, I've always been a writer. I've stated this before (This Is Who I Am) so I'm not going to labor the point, but when I think about me, just me, apart from anything else I've ever done or ever been, I am a writer. Whether I do it full-time or for one or two hours a week. It's my identity. Would I like to spend more time at it? Sure. Do I have to do it full-time in order for it to be truly who I am? No. At different seasons in my life I believe God has called me to set aside writing for a time in order to focus on some other role or calling, and that's just fine. Because ultimately my identity is in Christ and who He has called and equipped me to be. Writing will always be a part of that, but meanwhile, I have other things to do. I have years of my life to spend sleeping, after all.

Some day, I think it would be nice if I am able to spend enough time writing that when other people think of me, they think "She's a writer." Maybe even a good writer. But if what they think instead is, "she's a mom," or a wife, or a good cook, or a friend, that's just fine too.

Who are you? What do you spend the most time doing? Are you okay with that?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On How I Met Your Mother (no spoilers)

So I guess How I Met Your Mother ended last night. I didn't see it. I haven't watched the show in at least a year and a half, and I stopped caring about it long before that. But there was a time when I wholeheartedly endorsed it as probably the best show on television. So what happened?

How I Met Your Mother was a well-written show with a cast of well-developed cast of characters, unfortunately based on a ridiculous premise that was doomed to failure. Some of the episodes were so funny I thought I'd die laughing, and some of the moments were so poignant and real that I'm not sure they belonged in a comedy at all.  For the first five or six seasons, it was fun to watch the relationships develop between the characters, see them grow and change as people, and get fun glimpses at their lives before (and sometimes after) the years chronicled by the show. There were running gags and "inside" jokes that made the characters feel like real people who I really knew, and that was the brilliance of the show. Unfortunately, it was not set up to be successful for more than five or six seasons because at that point, no one really cared about who these kids' mother was and the jokes started getting overdone and stale. But that's not exactly why stopped caring about it.

Like I said, I felt like these were real people who I was getting to know better as the show went on. Eventually, I began to realize how little I had in common with any of them. And then, as they got older and more crass and obnoxious, I stopped liking them at all. So I really didn't care who married who or how they met or if they all were still friends years later because I didn't care about them as people. This is truth in real life and in TV shows: there is only so long you can live a life completely focused on self, pleasure, and fun, before it starts to wear thin and get really old, really sad, and really ugly. That is what happened with How I Met Your Mother. At some point I realized I was no longer entertained by the ridiculously self-focused lives of the characters. And that's when I was done with the show.

I've seen some of the reactions to the finale. I actually don't know what happened, but I'm not worried about spoilers because I'm not even remotely curious about it, and I don't care. I used to be a fan of How I Met Your Mother, and now I'm just glad that I never have to hear about it again. And you know, maybe that says more about me than it says about the show. I guess I'm okay with that.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

On Spinach Dip

I love spinach artichoke dip. It's yummy, creamy, and it's good for you because it's got spinach, right? Well, no. Greg read an article in some bicycle magazine or something that said spinach artichoke dip is the worst thing to ever happen to spinach and artichokes and no one should ever eat it because it might actually kill you. That said, I'm going to go ahead and post my favorite recipe for the deadly stuff. I adapted it from a couple recipes. Next time I make it I'll add a picture to this post. Oh, and just for fun, I'm including the recipe for really delicious pita chips that are definitely not as bad for you as the dip. Who knows, maybe they'll counter the effects and save your life. If not, and you die from eating it, I promise you'll die happy.

Yummy Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip
1 pkg (8 oz) Neufchatel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), softened
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well drained
1 jar (7.5 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, drained, chopped
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup plain lowfat or nonfat yogurt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Dash of cayenne pepper or a few drops of hot sauce such as Tabasco
1/4 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients except parmesan until blended. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with crackers or pita chips.

Easy Baked Pita Chips
1 pkg whole-wheat pita rounds
2-4 TBSP Italian dressing (I like KRAFT Tuscan House Italian)

Heat oven to 350. With a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut each pita round into eight pieces (like a pizza). Separate the halves and arrange the pieces on a cookie sheet. Each round will make 16 chips, so make as many as you need. You may need to do several batches or use more than one cookie sheet. Brush lightly with dressing. Bake for 10 minutes or until browned. Serve warm with dip or hummus.

If you make this and love it, or hate it, or have questions about the recipe, or take a nice photo of it that you'd like to share, please comment. Enjoy!

Friday, February 21, 2014

On An Orphaned Baby Dragon

As much as I love typing out my random thoughts in this blog, fiction is still my true love. I am now 60,000 words into my current work in progress, a fantasy novel that is threatening to become a scale-tipping tome. In my current revision I'm working in some short stories, old-world fables that may or may not actually be true (in that world). Just for fun, I thought I'd paste one in here, to offer a peek at what goes on in my imagination. You've been warned: here be dragons.

     It was in the days when the Ancients and the dragons were at war. The King had come across a great golden dragon and her young, a half-grown blue male and a tiny female, only a few years old, who glowed with the soft purple of the amethyst. The mother dragon heard the King coming and warned her son, who immediately took flight, but the baby was too young to fly well. Quickly, the mother hid her baby beneath a huge gold wing and turned to face the King of the Ancients, who was armed with a bow and arrows designed to pierce dragon armor. She tried to Speak to him, to tell him she was not an enemy but a Servant of the One as he was, but he would not listen. As she reared up to defend her baby, he shot the bow with the skill of the master, piercing her heart. She fell, and as she did, her wing knocked the baby’s head and she fell too,unconscious, one leg trapped beneath her mother’s dying body. 
     Hours later, the baby awoke in confusion. Her leg hurt terribly, crushed underneath her mother, who by that time had grown cold. She keened in pain and mourning, a terrible, lonely sound that only dragons can make. Her brother had fled, her mother was gone, and she knew she would most likely die there, orphaned and injured in one of those terrible twists of fate that sometimes happen when the servants of the One pursue their own crusades instead of paying attention to His desires and interests. The little dragon did not know much, but she did know that her mother had fought against the evil dragons and did not deserve to die. The keening continued until her throat ached almost as much as her leg. She was so distraught, she didn’t hear the rustling in the nearby undergrowth.
     “Hush, little one. Do not be afraid. If you let me, I will help you.” Despite the gentleness in the voice, the baby was filled with terror when she recognized the language of the Ancients. She choked and looked around in horror, but her vision was blocked by her mother’s wing. Then the wing was lifted, and she looked for the first time into the face of the King’s daughter. Tears filled the girl’s eyes and tracked down her cheeks.
     “Oh little one, I am so sorry. Please let me help you. My father does not know that I followed him on his patrol. I was pretending I was one of his warriors, strong and able to help him if he should need me. But at the first sign of trouble, I hid. I heard your mother try to speak to him, but he was filled with fear at the thought that a dragon had found its way so near to our home. He reacted without listening. I tried to stop him, too, but I was too far away and he still does not know I am here. He is gone now, and I swear I will not hurt you. You do not have to fear.”
     With strong arms and gentle hands, the girl lifted the dead dragon’s body enough to free the baby’s leg. “It is broken badly. I do not have a gift for healing, but I will do what I can,” she promised. As she worked, the baby was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that only grew as the days went by. The King’s daughter hid the little dragon in a clearing miles from the city but came to visit her every day, bringing food and herbs to help with her injured leg. Unfortunately, she had spoken the truth when she said she did not have skill in healing, for the leg developed a twist and the dragon never could walk without a limp. However, with the guidance and encouragement of her friend, she did learn to fly well. Once she had grown strong enough to fly away and make her home wherever she chose, she insisted on staying near her friend. Long after the dragon war ended, their friendship continued as an enduring symbol of the truth that the One an take even the worst of circumstances, the most bitter enemies, and make something beautiful from the pain.