the Maker lays down His crown
God was birthed in blood
the Judge and Justifier
is the Three in One
the Ruler came to redeem
bring the dead to life
When another year peels away,
like a husk of corn,
I break and bleed:
shedding youth is shedding dreams
some die quietly, but others go out with
a knife fight.
I revel and rejoice:
age wrinkles the heart first,
in a slow suicide of naivete,
pressing in the sorrow and sweetness,
like a double-edged sword
carving into me more longing and life
forming in me the image of Christ.
I have never felt the invincibility
of the young
but fragility is a familiar friend:
a sailboat spinning in the storm,
a bruised reed beaten by the winds,
an unspoken fear of dead ends.
Sometimes, the hammer has to fall
on my castles in the sand
these flimsy fortresses
that I might know, in every season,
the only Rock that stands.
Mark my days with delight and desire
for the one true God
If all else fades
and the darkness does not lift
make my smoldering wick
a brilliant flame
that testifies to His goodness
and the glory of His Name.
Deconstruction is a loaded, yet deceptively calm, word for the shattering spiritual reality it equates to. I’ve seen this topic exhausted in recent weeks, but I have been reflecting and ruminating on this, even before Josh Harris’ news broke across the Christian sphere. It’s sad and disheartening to see, but his story is no more shocking or less heartbreaking than any other Christian I know who has walked away. His faith may have seemed more sure, because of his stature or his wisdom or his conviction in speaking gospel truth, so his abandonment shakes us more. But in the end, he is a man and a sinner. The church today is (rightfully) shocked and hurt when another pastor falls to adultery or scandal. But remember that the great men of God did not have squeaky clean records, even after they had demonstrated genuine faith: David was an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon had a harem of women along with their idols. Still, David was called a “man after God’s own heart” and Solomon wrote books of Spirit-inspired wisdom. This isn’t to soften anyone’s sin, but to remind us that we cannot stake our faith in any man, and God can use any wretched sinner.
I know no one’s heart but my own, and even then, I know how easy it is to self-deceive. But I dare say the line between faith and apostasy is perilously thin – some of us, perhaps more introspective or sensitive, feel it more keenly. Slip, slide, party a few weeks away, and we feel far off the beaten path. It is the sheer grace of God that keeps any of us. Here is another one of the great tensions in the Christian life: to take care and examine ourselves & to rest in the assurance that Christ loses none of His own.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Then, why do some walk away? I have seen 1 John 2:19 deployed, sometimes coldly, in the face of deconversion. It is a true verse, first because it’s God’s Word, and it’s reality is evidenced in the world. There are plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing. But I trust there are also many who, as sincerely as they can tell, believed in Christ at one point and stopped at another. Were they self-deceived? Will they come back one day? All I know is that there is hope while life endures. God knows the truth of every heart and judges righteously. Solomon did his share of wandering and returned in old age to write Ecclesiastes.
These are just some personal musings on the perils of the pilgrim’s journey.
Is it the warmth of friendship with the world? Not the cruel, bullet-ridden and bloody face of it, but the sound of social justice marching down our streets and knocking on church doors. How we crave the praise of man, and no people-pleaser ever wanted to live on the wrong side of history. John Lennon’s words in Imagine sound like a balm for today’s divisive rhetoric: no heaven, no hell, and a brotherhood of man.
Or a knife in the back from a Christian who treated you far worse than any of your so-called pagan friends? At least they have never worn the mask of holiness over a heart of hypocrisy.
Or a man who won you over with his love, though he loved not Christ? Surely, you could still press onward to the prize. Surely, you will change him, and not the other way around.
Did suffering slash into your life without warning, and your old theology felt like the house on sand, washed away in agony? Everyone quotes Job, but words don’t stop the pain. You would rather have relief than answers, but God is silent in both.
Did Scripture seem foolish in science class or rudimentary in philosophy? Supposedly, they are blinded by sin and unable to believe, but they seem like the enlightened ones. You don’t want to be the butt of their jokes, or the lone defender of Scripture every time.
Or the mindless cycle of work, parties, gym, rinse and repeat, simply (and devilishly smoothly) made you forget? An empty life can feel good when it forgets about the emptiness.
Maybe the endless immersion in Christian activities and service ballooned in your life, and the cost was quietly sitting at the foot of the cross. How frightening to be close to Christian things and far from Christ.
I’m not enumerating an exhaustive list, or suggesting any singular reason causes someone to walk away. These are just some of the things I’ve observed, and most I have felt the alluring tug of to some degree, in my own life.
We are a people always and desperately seeking to answer the Why? When an awful shooting happens, we need to understand the motives. We always assume there is one. There is some confluence of psychological and circumstantial reasons as to why people do what they do.
In the end, we are limited in what we can determine. I believe there is validity in some analyses of people who abandon their faith in patterns, attitudes, or influences in their life. But we cannot see into another person’s heart of hearts. There are telltale signs in the fruit they bear and the conduct of their life, but that is the extent of human measure we have. We coin words like “deconstruction” and “deconversion,” because on a horizontal level, that is how we’re able to describe the phenomenon we see. We don’t know the authenticity of every apparent conversion, or the true end of anyone’s story.
The watching world may use stories of deconversion to scoff at Christianity, that Christians who are “in deep” can “wake up” and free themselves from bondage to religion. The reality is, testimonies are powerful both ways – those who come to faith, and those who walk out of it. But we do not stake our faith in any person’s story, but the finished work of Christ. There is no true freedom outside of it. We all adhere to some authority, we all worship something, we all construct a worldview to live by after deconstructing another one. Let us not fall for the arrogance of our culture: it crowns the Self as the supreme authority on morality and truth, and cloaks that in a guise of humility and tolerance.
For Christians, I hope the shockwave of public deconstructions is the impetus for critically examining our own hearts. As the Psalmist cried, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24) That is a scary prayer for any sinner to pray.
But thanks be to God, that even as we see the wickedness and wandering of our own hearts, Jesus promises that He does not lose any of His own. We must be steadfast in our faith, but He is the one who holds us fast.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 20-25)
As I said, I’ve seen this topic exhausted in recent weeks by many writers. If you happen to be here reading, I should point you to a few others who wrote insightfully on this, from a couple of different angles.
Faith Without Sight is the Only Kind There Is at Sayable
An Open Letter to Someone Considering Renouncing Their Faith by Brad Hambrick
How Not to Fall Away at Reformation21
On Caution and Keeping: Friends Reflect on Joshua Harris’ Deconversion at The Gospel Coalition
I keep imagining the raw truths I’ll tell you
as our Suzuki burns through sunlit mountain roads
where the gravel path snakes to the horizon,
and ours is the only engine humming
in the wild world that spills out around us.
I think I’ll unbury my soul
with a shovel or words or pickax—whatever works
—and make sense of life in 2019
inside our dusty silver SUV, crammed
with suitcases and instant ramen and
people who share my blood and genes.
Maybe I’ll tell you about the trials:
how I’ve cried and rejoiced and felt
the brokenness, the beauty of life
and quietly hoped this escape would harden me,
like the bold hills of Vestrahorn, against my fragility.
Or about Christ:
my Savior God who keeps me
and in my weakness, I know His faithfulness
and all these days will melt away
along with the glacier pillars of Jökulsárlón
but His Kingdom alone will endure
so repent, believe, stop chasing wind.
In the end, I said much less than all of that
but found there’s more than one kind of intimacy,
like the ways we make peace with silence
and loud snores,
pass around a dwindling bag of apples and chips,
pee in a freezing, forsaken snow field,
and push / pull each other up the mountains.
I know there are stories hidden inside all of us,
scars that carved deep caves, like lava chambers,
some still burning,
some covered with bitter ash.
God, we are so human—
and it’s here I find softness and strength:
that the shadows have not won,
that we are marveling at creation, gulping arctic air,
far from home but home with each other,
chasing away our unspoken ghosts with laughter,
in this land of ice and myths and fire.
Then I know
—when I’m stuck down on all fours,
my foot on the edge of a cliff,
but I’m cackling at your jokes—
that some of the scars
are sealing up inside.
Ratljóst (n.) – an old Icelandic word that means ‘enough light to find your way by’
If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame, stop reading. Spoilers will follow!
I don’t read the comics, but I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They built something magical over the last ten years, with a cast of oddball characters and films that crossed genres from space opera to spy thriller to high school dramas. The stories may continue indefinitely, but the curtains are closing on what (I predict) is the best run the MCU will have. I believe there’s plenty of potential to take existing and new characters in exciting directions, but the original cast of Avengers, helmed by Iron Man and Captain America, will be a tough one to top.
I went to see Endgame opening weekend, excited and somewhat surprised by how gushing the early reviews were. The expectations on this film were unbelievably high, and it had the difficult job of picking up after Infinity War’s mic drop and wrapping up the arcs of core characters. The opening sequence [spoilers are legitimately ahead so abort now], where Thor kills Thanos and there’s a five year time jump, reminded me of The Last Jedi in the subversion of expectations. (I could hear Luke’s voice: “This isn’t going to go the way you think.”) It felt like a concerted effort to make viewers realize this isn’t the movie they thought it would be. So, why was Endgame incredibly well-received, while The Last Jedi garnered so much backlash from fans (though critics applauded it as a brilliant film)?
Fan service? Pandering to the masses?
I don’t mean it as a negative thing. I loved Endgame. (But then, I’m a huge fan, and maybe it’s because I was pandered to…) While Endgame kicked off with an unlikely opening and came with its share of surprises, it undeniably was packed with throwbacks to fan favorites and easter eggs. They may or may not have really served the plot, but they certainly got cheers. There was a lot of speculation that they would employ time travel, which they did, and the time heist was a really fun romp, if you don’t think too hard about the logic. It did its job for the story (get the stones, reverse Thanos’ snap), but it definitely felt like a highlight reel of MCU’s Best Moments. Maybe minus Thor: Dark World. My favorite was Cap’s “hail hydra” in the elevator scene, reminiscent of Winter Soldier. Classic.
Endgame had it’s truly spectacular moments: when Cap gets Thor’s hammer, when the portals opened (Sam’s “on your left” was perfect) and everyone and their mother reappeared, and when Iron Man re-delivered his classic line before the snap. As apprehensive as I was about how they would close Tony and Steve’s stories, I thought the film did them both justice. In many ways, the two leading characters have had opposite arcs. Tony began as an egotistical, genius, playboy billionaire, and he ends with the greatest act of self-sacrifice. His off-script reveal of “I am Iron Man” at a press conference becomes a hero’s anthem. Steve began as a selfless soldier, a mascot of American ideal, and ran the serious risk of being a boring goody-two-shoes. His character arc has been one of my favorite parts of the Avengers’ stories. The core of who he is, selfless and noble, remains steadfast (and I love how they highlight that through his ability to wield Mjolnir). But he grows to be more than the face of a country or system that created him. When his convictions ran against the grain, he didn’t back down. His grand finale was a deeply personal choice, for himself rather than for the world. Just as “I am Iron Man” hearkened back to Iron Man 1, Steve’s ending closed the circle on Captain America 1. He’s a man of his word – and he made it back for his dance with Peggy.
However, Endgame was not the strongest Marvel movie in terms of story. It took a hit from having to close out many loose ends. In comparison, Infinity War pulled an even more massive cast together with a tighter plot. Endgame felt like it had multiple “starts” and multiple “endings.” Perhaps that was necessary and unavoidable, but it lacked the relentless forward drive of Infinity War and the narrative strength some of the best MCU films have brought, like Winter Soldier or Civil War. The core threading of the story was the time heist, which was more revisiting old turf than breaking new ground.
Unlike Endgame, The Last Jedi did no fan service. Or, if they tried to, it failed terribly. Star Wars fan were turned off, and a petition to remake and discount this as canon gathered steam (some people, like Steve and Nat, need to get a life). But I would argue, with general critical backing, that Last Jedi was a well-done story. The backlash wasn’t against a weak plot, but unmet expectations – Luke Skywalker wasn’t the hero we all wanted; Rey wasn’t a Skywalker, Solo, Kenobi, et al.; and Snoke was suddenly killed in the middle act of a trilogy. Personally, I loved the subverting of expectations: it’s a clever turn when you’re making a film that has every wild variation of Internet theories. People thought The Force Awakens was too similar to the original, but now they complain Last Jedi is not true to the spirit of Star Wars. You can’t have it both ways. Why not takes Star Wars down a new path?
Maybe it’s just me, but if you tell a solid story, I won’t complain because the characters didn’t become what I wanted. Luke is one of my favorite characters, and while I would’ve loved to see him bust off his island and take down the First Order, I believed in the direction they took his character. The nephew he trained turned into a monster, bringing back the shadow of Darth Vader. While The Force Awakens introduces Kylo Ren as the scion of the Skywalker-Solo bloodline, Last Jedi really explores the darkness that perpetually haunts the family, including Luke. In the originals, he was a hero, but he was also a whiny, impulsive farmboy. Now, he’s a legend to the next generation, but Last Jedi shows Rey and us that he’s human, and legends do not always match reality. This is a strange (maybe a stretch) comparison, but it reminds me of Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. People hated what Harper Lee did to Atticus. While Mockingbird made Atticus a nigh untouchable hero, this second book’s protagonist was Scout, and she has to mature and learn that her heroes are fallible. Same goes for Rey in Last Jedi. It’s on her to pick up the mantel now.
The Last Jedi was an impressive follow-on to the first film. It pulls the mask back and digs hard into the characters. The backdrop of the film, like every Star Wars story, is still this fight between the good guys and bad guys. But this one begins to explore those shades of grey. The old Jedi Order is gone, and Luke has no interest in reviving it. Whether or not Kylo will ultimately have a redemption arc, the exploration of the light tempting someone in the dark is more nuanced in his character than it was in Vader’s. And the connection between him and Rey was one of the highlights of the film. Do you really care that they took some liberties with “the Force” to add this to the story? Last Jedi made some audacious moves in how it handled Star Wars. I’m ready to sacrifice some technicalities of Force powers to indulge a better plot and characters.
There’s not much of a thesis to all this – it’s just a reflection on some big films, a minor (major?) geek-fest, and an informal exploration of the intriguing parallels between and vastly different reactions to Endgame and Last Jedi. Endgame is smart on its formula. It makes a decided effort to be unpredictable while giving fans what they want. The great thing about most Marvel movies is they have a keen sense of self-awareness – while the heist plot has its holes, they make fun of time travel movies enough that you cut them some slack. It’s like saying, “Don’t take this too seriously. Just laugh with us and accept it.” So we do.
Thanks for the great ride, Disney. Let’s hope you close out Star War IX strong too.
Popping in with a quick announcement: my flash fiction story, “Bullet Train to London,” is live on Havok! It’s available and free for all today only (you can become a paid member, and access all the stories from this year so far).
If you want a quick (and hopefully fun) read, take a peek! And leave me a comment / rating if you’re able to. Thanks friends!
You are the One from all eternity
who joined the fabric of stars and seas,
rolled out the carpet of galaxies
yet all the brilliance of the newborn universe
is but one flicker of Your majesty
Still the height of Your design
was in humble, glorious, image-bearing man
though You knew he’d come to lead a rebel band
Your curse would slash through skies and land
Our eyes are dimmed and hearts are stone,
so a glimpse of holiness made the prophet know
before the Throne, we’re undone and damned
But like a knife that opens the mother’s womb
You cut through time and God was born
in Bethlehem, with no cradle or room
You taught repentance and a kingdom coming soon
but the way is through the cross and tomb
Come behold the Lord of law and grace
Veiled in flesh, the Son unveiled the Father’s face
the God who judges is the One who saves
You will strip the darkness in an unbroken blaze
and resurrection glory will ignite that day
“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” Isaiah 46:9-10
The last two years I summed up my top reads in three fiction and three non-fiction picks. The amount of reading I did took a dip in 2018, and a good portion of it was caught up in re-reading old books. I also find that I’ve become increasingly picky and impatient, so I’m much more comfortable with discontinuing a book that doesn’t hold my attention 1-2 chapters in. As a result, I only read three new non-fiction books, and while they were all good, it seems pointless to do a top three out of three options.
Instead, I just chose my top four overall. Coincidentally, each of them represents a different genre, so perhaps something will pique your interest. Maybe this means I’m reading more broadly (see, Mom? I’m not only reading books about made-up-worlds now), though I need to read more in general. Here’s hoping I stick it through some good, meaty books this year. Please send recommendations!
1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I wrote about this book briefly in my post on WWII historical fiction. Two sisters fight for their family and country in Nazi-occupied France. Isabelle is the fiery, rebellious one, deadset on joining the Resistance. Vianne begins as a fragile woman, even more helpless after her husband goes off to war. But the war comes to her home too, and she must find the strength to protect the ones she loves. Usually, war stories are about the men on the front. This is a heartbreaking, beautiful story of the women at home, and the quiet battles they had to fight. Kristin Hannah shines a light on humanity at its best and worst through a complex cast of characters.
“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
2. The Absurdity of Unbelief by Jeffrey D. Johnson
This is my one non-fiction pick, and it’s a little-known gem. Johnson sets quite a task for himself – he runs through a series of non-Christian worldview systems (naturalism, evolution, existentialism, postmodernism, non-theistic religions, Islam, Judaism, Unitarianism, and more) and drives home each one’s core fallacies and inconsistencies. He then proceeds to present the case for Christianity, and why it is the only believable, consistent worldview of reality, answering the fundamental questions of, “What is real?” “What is right?” and “What is true?”
Funny enough, last night at Bible Study, we were discussing how no airtight argument can definitively prove God’s existence. Many of them are convincing, but you can still poke a hole somewhere. The reality is, there’s no “neutral” starting ground where we can lay aside our biases and start stacking the evidence on both sides. We all come with our presuppositions. The Bible doesn’t make a case for God by a string of arguments – it begins with the presupposition that God exists, and all creation is loudly declaring that truth.
That said, Johnson’s book is formidable. He employs his God-given gifts of logic, reason and biblical knowledge to make an extremely convincing case for Christianity. It’s not perfect, and some chapters are weaker than others, but it’s a great apologetic primer. And he ends with a call to repent and believe. Read this if you’re a Christian. Read it if you’re a skeptic.
“With this in mind, the biblical worldview offers three basic truths that are necessary to a cohesive system of thought. These truths are logic, moral distinctions, and God. These things are inherent because they are necessary conditions preprogrammed within our thinking so that we can construct meaningful thought and cognitive beliefs as we interact with the external world.”
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I’m late to this bandwagon, and I was very hesitant about climbing on. I hate gratuitous sex, violence, swearing, and darkness. And I warn you, this book has some very disturbing parts of all the aforementioned elements, so I do not recommend this to everyone. I honestly expected to hate this book, or at least, find it way over-hyped. And maybe it is over-hyped, but it’s also chillingly good – in the excellent writing, the way Flynn digs deep into the characters, and in the mother of all plot twists. I haven’t read a ton of thrillers, but my sense is, you don’t usually get the whole package like that.
I won’t bother with a summary, since you probably know what this story is about. Imagine your worst nightmare of a toxic marriage. Then triple the catastrophe. Honestly, I wonder if Gillian Flynn’s husband should be concerned. I’m sure she could be a normal, nice lady, but the fact that she had it in her to write this story so well … well, I’d be worried.
Anyway, it was very well done, but I probably wouldn’t re-read it because it was a gruesome picture of depravity. If you’re sensitive, I repeat, do not attempt.
“I’ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore. I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script. It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.”
4. Grisha Verse Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Yes, I cheated, because a trilogy is three books. But it’s really one continuous story, and I can’t pick a favorite out of them. Finally, some YA fiction that takes a step above the heap of mediocrity. I burned through this series in a matter of days while traveling. Alina is a poor girl with nothing but her handsome and more capable best friend, Mal. That is, until she awakens a dormant power within herself that has the potential to save their kingdom from war. She is taken away to train as a Grisha, the magical elite force led by the enigmatic Darkling.
So yes, it has your usual YA tropes, but I have nothing against them if they’re used well. It’s an epic tale of adventure, suspense, intrigue/politics, and romance in an exotic Russian-inspired setting, and Bardugo writes with a vivid, poetic style that’s not overkill. She also pulls off some pretty slick plot twists. While I’m rather indifferent to Alina and Mal (they’re likable enough, but not outstanding), I love the ensemble of characters Bardugo builds over the course of the series. It’s rare to find a good villain in YA lit, but I have to say, hers takes the cake. The story follows the typical fantasy arc in many ways, but does so with heart, high stakes, and a dash of humor: all the things I like best.
“This was his soul made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.”
Happy 2019! I know I’ve done a dismal job of blogging regularly, which I will try to improve upon. (I know what Yoda says about trying, but I have commitment issues and a day job). I did a fair amount of story writing last year but most of it was offline, and I prefer to use this space for actual writing instead of updates on what I’m writing. Unless something huge happens, i.e. I’m going to publish, I’m joining the Avengers, etc. However, since I’ve been quiet around here for awhile and we’re at the start of another year, I thought it’d be fitting to share a few highlights and reflections on the journey.
So, the highlights:
My science fiction / space opera novella, Pilot Tide, was a finalist in Rooglewood’s Five Poisoned Apples Snow White retelling contest. Even though I didn’t win, I got some great feedback from the judges, and it was just a fun story to write. I’m grateful to these contests for pushing me to create, with a deadline and a word limit. I’m also keeping an eye out for what I can do with this piece, because I don’t want it to die on my hard drive.
I published my first-ever piece in print and received an author payment for it! (Never mind that the $$ was about the cost of a salad where I live, and I promptly spent it plus some on buying print copies). While I prefer novels, I’ve come across some impressive flash fiction and I wanted to try my hand at it. I wish I discovered Splickety earlier; I just snuck into their last issue here. But it’s been reborn as Havok, an online flash fiction zine with a seasonal themes and a daily story. Check them out, especially if you like speculative fiction.
I also finished my first-ever novel-length story, a fantasy, at 98,000 words. (I was curious how that stacked up against typical novel lengths, so as a point of comparison, I found the first and shortest Harry Potter book was 77,000 words and Order of the Phoenix was the longest at 257,000 words. Maybe that one could’ve used more editing). I vacillate between thinking I wrote something half-decent and thinking it’s total rubbish. Regardless, I’ve started the process of querying agents, which is like an alien world I’m learning about.
My current project is expanding my Beauty and the Beast novella retelling, a sci-fi political drama, into a novel. It’s turning out to be a pretty unabashed mashup of things I love, i.e. literary references, Mission Impossible-esque suspense scenes, sarcastic androids, lots of Chinese food, the enemies-to-friends-and-maybe-more trope, and space. I feel like I’m just having a personal nerd-fest writing this.
All in all, some of my key takeaways:
Half the battle of writing is perseverance. I made a resolution in 2018 to finish that novel after tinkering with it for a few years. I’m done now. It may still not see the light of day, but at least now, there’s a non-zero probability it might. I write very slowly, and it can be hard to see the glorious end (it felt that way a few chapters in, at the halfway mark, and even coming to the final chapter). But every bit is progress. I learned to think of each chapter as a meaningful vignette that could stand on its own: each one needed to have its own kind of impact, whether it was in quiet character development or high-stakes action. In that way, each chapter felt like the birth of a mini-story rather than a mere tick mark in a long slog to the finish line.
The discipline of writing demands balance. As much as I joke that I’d throw in the towel on my current career if I could publish a bestseller, I don’t think I would. I’d go crazy writing full-time. I write in spurts – most recently, I spent an afternoon at the library, lost in a short story I was working on. If someone stole my stuff, I may not have noticed. Then, I go a few weeks without time or motivation to write. And I’m grateful that I can’t sit around, paralyzed, waiting for inspiration to strike. I need to go to work and be productive. I enjoy writing as side pursuit, where it’s one, but not the only, outlet for creative energy. Also, I have found that as much as good books have taught me about sharp writing and human hearts, I have learned more through experiencing life in the world – through soul-baring hours of conversation, tasting foreign cultures, navigating office politics. More than handbook theories, a real, earthy zest for life gives a writer a fuller voice and better stories.
Everyone says writers need thick skin because you’ll get a lot of rejections. Honestly, I think stepping out your front door in our crazy world requires thick skin. But point taken. Rejection always stings, but I probably haven’t felt that to its greatest extent because 1) I haven’t submitted that much writing to that many places, and 2) I’m not depending on this to pay any bills. It’s less the rejections, and more my limitations, that have been teaching me humility. It takes maturity and plain life experience to be capable of writing certain topics well. When I was working on my fantasy novel, there were many moments I felt like I was writing out of my depth, wrestling with how to handle certain themes or relationships and do them justice. Give me twenty more years of life on earth and I could probably do this better. A realistic acknowledgment of what I’m capable of and not is humbling. Though I would never have the audacity to say (or believe!) that I have some story or idea inside me (an average, twenty-something girl who used to win a lot at Never Have I Ever) that is genius, I find my inherent pride grasping for that greatness.
But for the most part, I’d be pretty happy if I wrote something enjoyable and not cringe-worthy. Plus points if it makes you think a bit or inspires you a smidgen. I’m not going to be Tolkien, or Lewis, or Jane Austen. Even a hundred years won’t fix that, and that’s totally fine.
In the end, I write for the thrill of it. A few years ago, I wrote this in my journal: “I once used words to soothe my loneliness. I once used words to prove my worth. Today, I want to use words to set the world ablaze with the glory of eternal things.”
Okay, I occasionally get overly dramatic.
But I still resonate with that. I have learned that our employment of words is a stewardship. Like an adept swordsman can use his skill to either cut down or defend the weak, a wordsmith wields similar power. Words weave stories, and of the many reasons I am convinced about the truth of the Gospel of Christ, one of the main ones is the power of story. We did not come from a vacuum, sprung into a meaningless existence. God has made us for Himself, and the stories we tell, though tarnished by our sinfulness and framed in the context of the Curse, still echo His eternal story: creation, fall, redemption, renewal. Some of our stories are more original than others, but they are ultimately all remixes. Only God creates ex nihilo, and we are imaging his inexhaustible creativity in our finite imaginations, building from the dirt and words and reality He has given to us.
So what’s your story?
chiseled by a hard knife, like the one that split Job’s world
and cut ridges of holiness on a broken cistern,
where glory poured in.
I see you, alone in the crowd,
melting into the shadow
your mouth smiles: a fragile pencil line
but your eyes say
how long, o Lord?
as you melt into the shadows, retreating
from sideways looks and rote theology
into your shell, with a rabble of ghosts.
Joy wrung dry, like an ironed sponge,
loosens your grip on this earth, a dim orb,
slippery between your fingers
ready for release.
Suffering has burned the blinders,
the dross from your eyes, so you see
the jasper walls and golden city
the King in His unveiled glory.
You have a bittersweet blessing.
Your frail shoulders bruise beneath these burdens
and I oft lack words and wisdom and divine lovingkindess
but there is enough for you
in our God enfleshed,
who blistered His feet on the hot sand of Samaria
and made His dwelling with us,
a tabernacle inside our unholy ruins.
not one falls that He does not know,
He numbers the hairs of your head,
So take heart
He has overcome the world.