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.