May those with children feel appreciated,
May those grieving empty arms be comforted,
May those mourning and missing the one who gave them life
Be wrapped in goodness and love today.
Happy Mother’s Day, friends.
A huge life change—a move from California to Washington state—has kept me from the blog this summer. There was too much to say. Too many emotions, too many moments of sadness and lightening rods of hope to put into feeble words. (And words could never do it justice anyway.) I can’t describe what it was like to finally live somewhere long enough for it to become home, then experience enough pain to want to leave it all anyway. I can’t really explain why the move was so amazing and so awful at the same time, a bittersweet mile marker on the road of life.
Do I write a post about the walls I looked at through depression and cancer that I took family heirlooms off, pulled nails from, and left behind? Do I write about the friends I unexpectedly lost or the friends I found in a long goodbye? Do I write about a family’s grief over dreams that crumbled or their joy over the fresh dreams unearthed in the rubble?
Too many posts, too little time, not enough words. I decided not to try. And to be absent from the blog was to be present in my life, something I wasn’t in a hurry to write away. Maybe the muse left me or maybe I left the muse, but slowly over the last few days, I’ve finally begun to see that I do have more to say. The muse is not gone forever.
So I am changed, but I am still here. In a new season, but not yet a new year.
The following is a statement released by G.R.A.C.E. today. I hope you’ll consider clicking on the link at the bottom and adding your voice to be counted among those who will stand with the abused over institutions and public personas: Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public […]
So much has been said online lately about the emotional price many women have paid for the modesty movement. (Which, BTW, I suggest googling if you’re blessed enough to not know what I’m talking about.) So much has been said, in fact, that I often don’t know what I could possibly add, and yet here […]
It wasn’t always quite like this. I used to have ideas about who was president and who was vice-president of this household, and I didn’t see much practicality to a true partnership. I was young, and I’d been taught that there was only one way for marriage to “work.” But words have different meanings as […]
Heads up: Graphic discussion of breast reconstruction I might enjoy an Angelina Jolie film now and then—in fact she was brilliant in Girl, Interrupted—and I’m glad she has given her name and face to some good causes and that she has filled her family with children who might not otherwise have had a loving home, but […]
Who could have predicted that one very rational alien, a fussy Scottish mechanic, a dramatic doctor nicknamed Bones, a Russian you can barely understand, a genius with great legs and a cocky, starry-eyed captain would still be entertaining us almost 50 years after Gene Roddenberry first dreamed them up? And, yet, I think they’ve never been better than in the current Star Trek, and such a familiar story has never felt fresher. It’s remarkable, isn’t it? How some stories just capture our imaginations again and again, no matter how many times we watch them play out. Take Spiderman and Superman—better yet, Batman. Each time they are reinvented, we seem to love them more. And in case you think this post is just for sci-fi nerds, think again. We could also talk about the way James Bond just gets better (nearly) every time, and whether or not any novel has had more literary and big-screen adaptations than Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (No really, I’m asking you. Help me think of one that has.)
We love these stories and so many, many others that I could list here—stories that just never seem to get old no matter how many times we read them re-written into a fresh era or see them played out on screen with different faces. These stories are so familiar, we almost know them by heart, and yet we can be taken with them all over again every time with just the slightest creative twist, which gives me a lot of hope, frankly. As a writer it is easy to walk through a bookstore and feel quite heavily that every good idea I have ever had has already been somehow brought to life by someone else. If you think you have an idea that is truly, truly groundbreaking, I challenge you to research it, as all writers should, before the proposal ships off to an agent’s desk. Very few writers will find that there is no one remotely like them, no story that resembles theirs, already out there stocked on shelves and popping up on Amazon. Maybe you’ve been influenced by them, maybe you’ve never touched them, still they are there. Even some of the greatest bestsellers of our time might seem at a glance to be unique and original, but are not in fact totally without the influence of other works. (But what about Hunger Games—EEEEH! Sorry. Thanks for playing. Not as original as you might think. It draws from all kind of sources.)
There is just nothing new under the sun.
And this can get you down if you let it. Thinking of writing a blog post on how your iPhone is your best friend? Sorry. Taken.
Thinking of writing a ground-breaking article that mines Doctor Who for its subtle and not-so-subtle messages about race? Oh, boy. Yeah. Sorry, you. You have no idea how so totally done that is.
But here’s the thing, friends: It’s okay. No, really. It is. You write that post about your iPhone. You write an entire book on the Doctor and race. Because the reality is, what you have to say will have its own unique spin and tone and brilliance because it’s coming from you. And who’s to say your work won’t be the one we all remember? The one that outshines the rest? The one that sells a million copies or gets 40,000 Facebook shares. My husband has read a book called Steal Like an Artist that talks about this very thing. (See? Even this blog post. Not very original—and, yes, that was the first thing the witty man I’m married to said upon reading it.)
Don’t let the familiarity of your story stop you from telling it, whether it’s fiction, opinion, memoir, etc. A little familiarity never hurt anyone. Your story is still yours. Go tell it.
To the survivors of abuse in Sovereign Grace Ministry (SGM) churches, who are enduring heartache as men (who should know better) defend the indefensible and choose to stand with the man whose spiritual responsibility it was to rid his flock of evil … SGM Survivors, your cries are heard today and you are not alone. Survivors of abuses within other faith communities, for whom this turn of events triggers old wounds, your cries are heard today and you are not alone.
Trigger Warning: Child abuse and spiritual abuse
How long will the wounded sheep stumble? How long will they be beaten down unjustly? How long will your justice be stayed, oh Lord?
As for me, I wish that the wolves would be slaughtered—I have no use for those who use children to satisfy their lusts. Take them away. Lock them up tightly, and throw away the key, for they do not deserve to freely roam. They anger me, yes. I abhor their wicked deeds and the blood that drips from their mouths. But, God, I have to tell you, it is the errant shepherd who turns my blood cold and keeps me up at night.
The man armed with his staff and your Word, who binds tongues instead of wounds. He looks the other way as the wolf enters the pen. He busies himself plucking fleas from the fold, while a ravenous beast gnaws away the very souls of the smallest sheep. And then, only when the cries can no longer be ignored, he will survey the damage, shoo the wolf to his neighbor’s farm, and nudge the injured to keep on keeping on.
This is the enemy, God. This is the enemy, and my soul aches that sheep still trail after his sandals, never questioning, never realizing that a better shepherd exists.
The wolf will always be a wolf, but the shepherd, God, the shepherd has a higher calling. He was called to follow in your footsteps, God the Shepherd of All. To provide green pastures, protection and comfort—not a cozy-on-the-couch comfort, God, but the comfort of compassion and safety. That was his calling. And he failed. He failed to be a good shepherd. He failed to protect the sheep, but it was so much more than a momentary lapse in judgement. He failed to stop the wolf from hunting again and he failed to gently treat the tiny sheep whose life blood seeped from ragged gashes both seen and unseen.
A few good shepherds have noticed, Lord. I know they have. They wave the wounded into the safety of their own flocks where healing can begin. They are watchful for the wolves and they keep a steady eye on the shepherds who lack a gentle hand. But I long for a day when you will set the errant shepherds before you and unleash your holy judgment. I long for the day you will remind them that their duty was to the sheep, not the fence, because they love their fences, God, they really do. And they will brag for all to hear about the quality of their fences, the walls between them and the rest of the world, even though these walls fail to keep out the wolves. And I long for the day you will remind them that their duty was to keep the wolf from biting another, even if it meant facing off with the beast. Even if it meant losing the fight. Because there will always be another shepherd, God, waiting to take in their sheep. A good shepherd. A better shepherd, as those who come after us usually are. And the sheep will not forget the sacrifice of a good shepherd. No, the sheep will remember, just as they remember the shepherd who busied himself with pesky fleas while the wolves had their way
I have loved writing from a very young age. (No, seriously. Since before I could write in full sentences.) As a five-year-old, I’m pretty certain I defaced every writing surface in the house with what I thought was a pretty awesome little line of poetry: Love, love, love is hot.
Two years later, I rewrote the ending to Gone with the Wind on a single page of my father’s stationary. (No offense, Margaret Mitchell, but it had to be done.) Then my first writing classes came shortly after, as Christian devotional writer Jeannette Lockerbie was the mother of one of my teachers when I was growing up on the mission field in Bangladesh. Every time Mrs. Lockerbie visited the country she would bless us with her writing wisdom, which for me was from about second grade onward. Though I don’t remember all her rules of the craft, she had some that stuck with me. The first and most important was read, read, read. If anyone said to her (or her daughter, my teacher, who was also a great writer) that they would like to write, her response was always the same: What are you reading? If they couldn’t answer, she was likely to tell them quite politely that something had to be done about that or they’d get nowhere.
The truth is, yes, technically you could write without a love of reading, but you are quite likely to be shoddy at it. Fantastic writers are in love with words and can’t get enough of them. Fantastic writers are also students of the best authors in the world. I would add to this widely heralded rule of reading and writing that great writers don’t just read, they read with pen in hand. (I’ve broken a separate writing rule from another mentor in that sentence, but I’ll save it for another post. If you can spot it in the comments, you win.)
While not every book you read will be pen- or highlighter-worthy, it’s a practice worth developing. A lot of people will make the mistake of assuming all the circling and underlining is only for non-fiction, marking words to live by or facts to win an argument. However, fiction—provided you are reading authors worth your time—should also be read with pen in hand. As you come across beautiful sentences or paragraphs, those that move you or inspire you to write better, mark them. Memorize them. I don’t care if it’s as silly as the brilliantly witty line from Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It—“There is no god but Mummy, and Daddy is her prophet”—or something much more moving and intricate.
The first fiction I recall memorizing was a line from the original ending of Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations. (Yes, there is an original ending, of which Dickens’ idiot novelist friend did not approve, because he had no taste and thus in my humble opinion was a crap writer. Never heard of Edward Bulwer-Lytton? He’s credited with the line: “It was a dark and stormy night.” As well as: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” But I still think he should have been tarred and feathered for the blaspheme he perpetuated by talking Dickens out of the most beautiful ending of all time.)
It went like this (SPOILER ALERT: Pip and Estella don’t end up together) and, yes, I still know it be heart, 25 years after my first reading:
“For, in her face and in her touch, and in her voice,
she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching,
and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.”
The beauty of it was both the poetic justice, the true-to-real-life lack of a neatly happy ending (sorry, Ms. Mitchell, I learned my lesson), and the way Dickens deftly uses repetition and rhythm to soothe his readers as they come to the very last line. I wrote this out and pinned it to my wall at age 14 like the nerdy word lover that I was, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Sure, now and then everyone needs to read something altogether un-quotable. I’ve gone through phases where all I wanted was silly chick lit, plain and simple. (I’m not gonna lie to you, friends, Bridget Jones’ Diary changed my life in 2001, and remains the pinnacle achievement of the genre.) But currently I’m on a UK mystery kick that just won’t die. (Kate Atkinson and Tana French are only marginally quotable, but they have amazing vocabularies and—trust me—they are to die for.) As you can see, get me out of my head for two hours, please, is often my reading motto.
But the world is still brimming with incredible fiction talent and I adore learning at their feet for the simple price of a book: Khaled Hosseini, Jude Morgan, Ian McEwan—just to name a few. So when you come across memorable sentences, take note. Read them repeatedly until you understand exactly what makes them work. Write them in your own hand. Say them out loud. Love them until you tire of them. (But we both know you won’t.)
I promise you, this won’t just make you an obnoxiously well-read bibliophile who quotes Jude Morgan at dinner parties, it will make you a better writer, no matter what your genre.
So, my friends, do tell. Name one of your favorite authors (because, puh-lease, I know you have more than just one), and do share what books you are currently reading. Better yet, share a wonderful line that has stuck with you from a book. I can’t wait to read all about your love affair with words!
Quote by Barbara Kingsolver. From Animal Dreams (Harper Perennial). I hope you enjoy this quote from prize-winning author Barbara Kingsolver as much as I did. Let’s not admire hope from a distance. Let’s live under its roof …