Wednesday, January 30, 2013

National Novel Write Month, Two months later

Participation in the 2012 National Novel Write Month was one of the most useful exercises I have undertaken as a writer. I think it should be required of every literature/writing student in the country.

Again, National Novel Write Month (Nanowrimo, as we call it on the streets) is a program in which writers commit to completing a 50,000 word novel in the expanse of 30 days--a daunting task to be sure  In that time, the participants are encouarged simply to write without their inner editor, to allow themselves the freedom of a horrible but finished first draft, to get the book out of their system and accomplished, albeit poorly at first. It may be one of the most freeing and enjoyable writing activities presently available in a widespread community model.

So, I participated, and I completed a first draft of a novel.  Frankly, my first draft was far more of an extended treatment than a solid novel. What it needs is twice as much real content of things happening rather than things being described as happening. Regardless of when the next drafts are completed, I took some great experiences from my first Nanowrimo. Here's are three bullet points.

* Nanowrimo reignited the joy of writing as discovery. Without an outline for my NanoWrimo book, I was just running toward an unknown destination, generating whatever story I could muster at a given moment. This process pulled influences from the recesses of my mind in ways I did not expect and opened a wonderful outlet to dormant ideas. I have a good number of myths, stories, themes, and motifs sitting in the dusty closet of my soul and during Nanowrimo, many of these items were put in a blender and returned to the surface (which has provided fodder for even more work in addition to the aforementioned somewhat bearable first draft).

*Nanowrimo reignited the joy of writing as expression. I began Nanowrimo while doing a simultaneous 4th and 5th revision of my first novel, and the freedom of writing without editing was essential to keeping my love of this of work. As I kinda said here "the work of writing is editing", and that is true--thus, being able to simply write without an outline or expectation was a blast. In as much as editing involves finding the best way of saying a given thing, it also involves murdering your most beloved phrases and anecdotes when they serve the self instead of the story. Nanowrimo provided some much-needed embellishment to just say something how I felt like saying it in a given moment--I don't even allow myself that luxury here on the blog.

*Nanowrimo gave me a sense of accomplishment. Being unemployed and having my first novel in something of a holding pattern during November, I was in need of a win. If nothing else, NanoWrimo gave me that. In addition, telling folks I've written a novel makes me sound like every self-publishing blogger who thinks they have the next Harry Potter in their desk drawer. Telling them that I have completed one novel, written another to be edited, and, now, I am in the process of completing another while outlining more; well, it just makes me feel like more of an author and not a fly-by-night vanity writer (although the very fact that I am blogging may challenge that very statement).

So, anyway, we are only ten months away from the next NanoWriMo, and I am obviously looking forward to it. I encourage any of the would-be authors or writers reading this to send me a line, and let's plan to keep in touch during Nano2013. Maybe we can even exchange horrible first drafts after the fact.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Joy of Christian Disappointment

I wrote this Friday afternoon, but I didn't want to double post in a single day, so it is coming this morning.

Since our move from southern California to northern Delaware, my life has been full of disappointments. Both small and large, these developments have been one of the few constants of our journey here in the east. Some slide off my back with little thought thereafter, others have kept me awake at night, still more have proven to be the breeding for resentment for which I have had to repent.

In spite of these down's I've experienced--and their have been many more than I anticipated--another constant has emerged. While not as dramatic as rejection, frustration, and angst, this constant is worth discussing, if for no other reason than I feel it beneficial for me to acknowledge and for you to read.

The other constant I am referencing is joy. A certain, untainted joy in the face of uncertainty and hurt. This a strong joy, one that comes from knowing my wife and I are where the Lord has placed us for this season of life. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is disappointing. But, no, it is not hopeless--I would say it's not even discouraging, not for any extended period of time, anyway. Those moments pass, so quickly, and the peace returns with as much strength as it had prior to whatever bad news was received. And hope wells again quickly with a renewed strength so potent, you'd have thought that no such disappointment had come.

That's the joy. The real joy. It is not fleeting but endearing, not stifled but stalwart--everlasting joy in eternal promises.  To even write of it fills me with pleasure and satisfaction, and be assured the latest disappointment to befall us is raw. That wound is upon, but the medicine is at work. Cleaning it, mending it, making it whole.

I preach a big game on this blog from time to time. I encourage honesty, and I demand it of myself. . I have said that the Lord is good and at work, in the forefront and in shadow, blessing, renewing, preparing, refining. When I consider this, I cannot help but ask the psalmist's question once again, "What is man, O God in Heaven, what is man that You are mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4) But he is. He is. And that is a most encouraging thought.

Some weeks he whispers to us. Some weeks he shouts. This week, I had wonderful experiences of prayer and Scriptural memorization and reflection with the Lord. We spent time together. But the realities of life also hit hard in these days. Life came at me with an uppercut right at the opening, popped a few jabs over the next days, and finished the week with a left hook--BAM--right in the temple. But all those minutes with Christ beforehand, all those mornings in Scripture, they brought me back to my feet. And they softened the blow. Events that could have shattered my spirits came, and they passed; and I stood with my gloves raised, black-eye and all, saying, "Alright. I got another round".

And having that ability, that hope in the promise of the Lord's work in the present and his promises in the future, that is something about which to rejoice.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, January 25, 2013

Your Only Message On Earth

What if God gave you the opportunity to speak to a crowd of people, and you had their undivided attention for 25 minutes. What would you tell them? Why?

I ask this because I am something of an active dreamer, and my present hope and dream is that in the future I will be asked to speak to congregations and youth groups about the mercies of God and his bringing us through the wasteland of sin (as I address in Stronghold). For good or ill, I spend some time investing in this dreams coming to fruition (hence my constant writing while looking for a 9-5 gig); and as such, I have begun to contemplate specific ways I would present this message.

Where and when do I begin?
How deep do I get?
What must be said?
What shouldn't be said?

I wrote my testimony over the last week, and I engaged these questions among others in hopes of designing a solid message that I could begin to rehearse with the intention of sharing it in the next few months (or whenever God allows).

What have I found most enlightening when considering my relationship with God is how good the Lord has been over the course of my entire life. I have had high's and low's, as all people do, but throughout both the times of want and times of plenty, I have seen God's hand at work, whether he was drawing me closer to myself in one area even while I was failing in another or using my past mistakes to better inform compassion in the man who I've become in the present.

When I look at my life, I see a great many failures. I see folly. I see selfishness. I see ignorance, pride, and sin. But I also see teachability. I see intentionality. I see brokenness over sin and longing for righteousness. Frankly, my life has been frighteningly cyclical with all of the above. Previously unknown patterns emerge when I engage my story on paper. I see key points of commonality in the mental and emotional state of myself at thirteen and thirty. Strangely, too, I see habits that are questionable at best and downright locked in arrested development at worst.

What is more telling, however, is that other persons have seen these issues well before I have. I spoke to my wife about the practice I undertook--the free-associative writing of my ongoing romance with the Lord--and after sharing my findings with her, I was humbled at her astute recognition of what I shared, even as the words were still on my mouth. More telling, however, is her keen insight into the human condition (or perhaps merely "the Christian condition") in that most lives follow patterns like my own, perhaps not with its cyclical, recurring timeline but with its general ebb-and-flow. Seasons of personal growth are also coupled with seasons of great trial. Years of work result in balance, but said balance is often undone soon thereafter--if not by personal choice than by outside forces. Periods of burn-out follow periods of immense productivity, and months in confusion are nearly always the children of major disappointment or calamity. This is life.

And, frankly, mine is not overly special. I have no great achievements nor abysmal failures. I have not had the highest heights of success nor the lowest points of defeat. My life has, in so many ways, been mundane--perhaps, even dull.

And I begin to wonders, perhaps if that is the point?

When I think of the message I would tell if I were given the chance to share my story with people who were eager to hear it, what would really be the thrust or driving arc that makes it worth telling? I can come to no other conclusion but Christ--to God and his consistent pursuit and mercy and love despite my cyclical follies, poor habits, and foolish patterns. God has seen and used me in spite of them--perhaps because of them--and while my active pursuits have left me wanting and wounded, my pursuit of him has been a point of constancy and satisfaction. He has given my life a thread. My story has become inevitably bound not to what I have done but what he has been doing and continues to do. And that is a very encouraging thought--far more encouraging than my own rise of shallow self-fulfillment (or lack thereof).

And it is in this realization that I believe I have my answer to the earlier question. What message would I tell, were I to share my story. Simple. My story is God's story, wherein Christ is the hero, the protagonist pursuing a selfish shrew who was once destined to self-destruction and now destined for something greater, despite periods of losing focus. Now that make for something worth telling (though I don't know how I will keep it to 25 minutes).

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The 9-point outline.

As I discussed here, I am doing a "30x30" list (thirty tasks in the first year of my thirties), and one of the items is that I will take thirty writing ideas to the 9-point outline stage.  When i am outlining a project, I begin with the simple, single sentence encompassing the whole thing. Then I write the hook, the paragraph long text you might see on the back cover or book jacket. From there, I do the old 3-Act outline--beginning, middle, and end. I then take a paragraph to establish the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist as well as define their key conflict in detail. After that, I follow that with the 9-point Outline.

The 9-point outline is my favorite moment in the outlining process. In fact, until I hit the actual penning stage, it may be my most fulfilling point of development in a project. I love it for three reasons.

First, if you got nine points, you have something. If your beginning, middle, and end are set, and each of those acts has a solid arc, then you are on your way. Your story is more than
boy runs up tree (beginning);
boy stuck in tree (middle);
boy gets out of tree (end).
boy enjoys the day (beginning's beginning),
boy gets chased (beginning's middle),
boy finds and climbs tree (beginning's end).
boy survives in tree, (middle's beginning)
boy finds advantage in tree, (middle's middle) (midpoint/changeover)
boys pursuer invades tree (middle's end)
boy is pursued further up tree (end's beginning)
boy leaps from tree, (end's middle)
boy escapes, lives happily ever after (end's end)
The story has some meat on it at this point--granted, it's no magnum opus, but if you can at least make each act have an arc, you've got something.

Second, the 9-point gives you some real flavor for your pacing. We all know that stories hold attention by pacing, even if it is methodically slow but thematically engaging; and the 9-point gives you a glimpse into what aspects of the story should be shorter or longer. For example, the climb up the tree might be a bit longer than the leap from the tree, and once the boy has leaped, you will not want to oversell his flight, either (after all, the story is about a kid stuck in a tree, not a kid running away from a tree---once he's on firm ground, get out!). Your 9-point shows you at least a glimpse of this, if not showing you it in full.

Third, the 9-point, while it gives a good base outline with which to run, really does not confine you to anything. Inasmuch as you have found your general idea and its basic form, you still have a great deal of leeway to develop your world and your story. For example, how does the boy find the tree? Is this the only option? If not, why choose that one? What keeps his pursuer from reaching him? What does the boy find in the tree? Does the tree produce hazards of its own?  A beehive? A jaguar? Another kid in hiding? How does he manage to leap without injury? Once he does, how can he now outrun his pursuer? What did he find in the middle of the middle that make the middle of the end so compelling?At the 9-point stage, you have created all these good, important story questions, and you have a wealth of possiblities with which to answer them. Oh, and if your 9-point does not have you interested to the point that it creates these kinds of questions, you may not have a story worth telling--if it does not get your attention, you can be assured will get no one else's either.

Oh and for a bonus, the 9-point outline can also help give you insight as to mistakes you've made up to this point in the process. Maybe the story doesn't end with the boy escaping the tree. Maybe he needs to be rescued. Maybe the boy is not the protagonist but the tree is? Maybe the real point you are trying to explore is not the cleverness of the boy but the steadfastness of the tree? Maybe? I have experienced many lessons from developing the nine-point outline, and I am sure that I will continue to learn from it as I do it over the years.

Anyone else out there outline? If so, how do you and what is your favorite part of the process?

Thanks for Reading,

Monday, January 21, 2013

Spiritual Stats

I like to track things in my life: time, money, my LEGO collection. I like to see where I am investing my resources and how and to what ends. One might almost feel like I treat my life with a sort of corporate attitude--I monitor my behavior, attempt to live profitably, and take vacation days. I develop strategies, plan to meet them, and budget accordingly. But, of course, I also leave a great many things unmonitored or untracked, and I began to wonder about some of them. Granted, I do not plan to ever begin cataloguing this type of minutae, but I think it was food for thought.

I wonder how much time I spent in prayer over the course of my life. Is it more time than I've spent gossiping or overhearing gossip and doing nothing about it? How bout time I've spent chattering about nonsense?

I wonder how much time I've spent on listening to preaching. Is it more time than I've spent watching movies or TV?

I wonder how much time I've spent reading the Bible and spiritually valuable texts versus how much time I've spent reading comics or graphic novels.

I wonder how much time I've spent in actual service to others. Was it more than the time I spent shopping? How bout the time playing video games?

Ah, one may say, the time is irrelevant. The quality of the time is what matters. What good is reading a Bible without musing on it after, or praying for selfish things, or listening to preaching and doing nothing about it?  Tis not the time but the integrity of the time that matters." In one sense I would agree with them. That's a fine point.

But my point is this: either way I slice it, whether I consider the quantity or the quality of the time, I am still convicted. When I think about these things, something becomes quite clear. On a ledger, anyway, my life would look typically Western, if not wholly worldly--not "in the world" but "of the world". Fortunately, I don't believe God works on such a scale (which is probably the best reason to consider it irrelevant). Jesus Christ covers over all sins and shortcomings before God for those who believe. When God sees one redeemed and justified by the blood of Christ, he sees one with Christ's stats.

And Because of that fact, I think the ledgers do matter or, at the very least, are worth further consideration. If God sees me as pure and pursuing righteousness because of Christ's righteousness, should I not want to use more of my time to pursue God rather than earthly pleasures? Just food for thought (and I need to take a big bite, I think).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Memorization: 2 Samuel 22:1-4

The latest passage I am memorizing comes from an organic and expected place: a song, to which I cannot remember the lyrics, less a few, that are as follows:

I will call upon the Lord,
(echoed) I will call upon the Lord,
who is worthy to praised.
(echoed) who is worthy to praised.
So shall I be saved from mine enemies.
I will call upon the Lord.

Come to think of it, that may be the entire song.

Anyway, I sang these words countless times in youth group during my teen years, and I have always loved the song but never known its Scriptural origins. Now I do, for they are in 2 Samuel 22:1-4.

And David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of  all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God and my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my Savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

I love this. I recall that my affinity for Jeremiah 29:11 and Proverbs 3:5-6 also began with the love of songs that were drawn from those verses. When I do the digging and find the Scripture behind such useful and valuable worship, I cannot help but also love the verses, and love them a great deal more than the songs, for that matter.

How bout you?  Any songs based on direct texts of Scripture that move you?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More Sequel News.

The hard, nose-to-the-grindstone work of writing Stronghold's sequel continues, and I must admit that  it has been taxing. My enthusiasm for the project has not waned (on the contrary, I find myself more invested in it with each sitting), but the pre-writing process has begun to prove itself unproductive. I feel as though every session re-tooling the outline and filling it with new details has become circular--with each aspect I feel I am fixing, I am making something else less effective (or so it seems, anyway)

While two very specific personal incidents drove the narrative of Stronghold, the sequel has no organic event from which to draw; and though I am sure of the themes and overall concept, I feel that reverse-engineering a narrative to match those ideas feels stilted and almost false. As a result, I have very strong, specific thoughts to express but no story to carry them. I think I can sum up in two words what that means: Bad News.

The story design process for a sequel is strange. The writer is beholden to connect with a former story or concept while also needing to create something different (and supposedly better). The writer must constantly remember the former tale while not being slave to it--providing something accessible and connected yet also original and fresh. The balancing act is a difficult one as the writer develops something familiar yet new, the same but unique. Like I said here, sequels can quickly spiral into bigger, more embellished versions of an original thing, and one wants to make an intentional effort to avoid such a mistake.

But, as per usual on the writing front, I am encouraged. Placing these demands on the sequel will make it more fluid and multi-faceted; and I would rather have a more difficult go of things on the design/outline/treatment stage than at the redrafting stage down the line. Cutting a paragraph out of a treatment or outline is far less painful than dropping a 3,500 word chapter from a book.

All that being said, I am still excited about the sequel, and I intend to have it out within the next 18 months of the first's book publication, but in the meantime I am sending out a request for aid. Has anyone out there written a sequel, and if so, do you have any insights on how to balance all the aforementioned elements, the old and new, the familiar and the fresh?

Monday, January 14, 2013

2013: Another Year of Intentional Living

So, I know I am about three weeks late with the whole New Year's Resolutions thing, but I have a reason for that: I spent the lat two weeks reflecting on 2012 in order to better design my goals and expectations for 2013. Before I delve into this year's items, I need to share two thoughts really quickly.

I am not a huge of New Years' Resolutions. I believe that every day is the day in which you turn a corner in life, alter behavior, and improve. If you feel you need to lose weight, learn to cook, or begin a project, I see no reason to start later than the present simply for the calendar's sake. Your own life is one of the few things not bound to the calendar cycle, so why bother letting it be a determining factor in your betterment. If you are going to turn a corner, begin today--even if that means planning or brainstorming today and actually dieting or cooking on Thursday. Start planning the minute you decide to get it going, not necessarily in the New Year (that's how I try to live, anyway, but who says I am an example of anything).

That being said, the second thought was that I already have some in-process resolutions; or rather, a list that I call my "30x30": Thirty-things-to-do-following-my-thirtieth-year-of-living. I began this list prior to my birthday back in June, as a series of things about which I would be mindful in the first year of my thirties. I realize that this is essentially doing exactly what I said not to do in the prior paragraph, but in reality, these were things I had already begun to start prior to turning thirty but wanted to proactively continue and achieve prior to my next birthday (yeah, I didn't sell myself on that explanation either. I am basically doing the "New Years' Resolution Thing", just on a different annual basis).  I do not intend to share the list of the 30x30 in full right now, but I will give some highlights:

Begin Membership Process in New Church
Get Passport
Stay under 195 despite no Gym
Put 15K in Bank
Complete Children's Novella "Franklin Finnigan: The Fiddlin' Frog"
Complete Studyguide for Stronghold
Read 30 Books
Memorize 30 passages of Scripture
Develop 30 writing ideas to the stage of the 9-point outline
Develop Online Brand/Mission Strategy for Writing
Learn How to Grow Tomatoes
Learn How to Make Oatmeal-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies

For the last six months I have been working on things, and we'll revisit them come June 2013 to see how I stacked up. In the meantime, however, I have reflected on some of the stats I posted about 2012 Here and Here, and as a result, I have considered three items of intentionality for 2013.

Love my wife better by spending more time with her. Frankly, the fact that I must admit my need to be intentional about this is somewhat embarrassing, but truth be told, this in an area in which I need to improve. Bottom line. I'm not a lousy husband, but I'm no exemplar of Christ in relation to the church, either (sorry, best and most appropriate analogy I could hit on the spot). Anyway, I need to love my wife more intentionally in regard to her love language of quality time. My love language is stuff and encouragement...and stuff. I need to give her more of what she needs and fewer books, flowers, and kind words (though I don't intend to now hold those back). I just feel that, in this new year, I need to intentionally cultivate better habits of spending time engaged with her, not simply in the same room with her (we are very good at "proximity time" on our phones without having quality time face-to-face).

Be Generous toward others and stingy with myself (or at least, less generous with myself). I have a hobby budget. In 2012, I got $1 for every day that I did writing. I spent about $50 of it over the course of the year. So I have a carry forward balance. In 2013, I am giving myself a $.01 per minute, or 60 cents an hour. Now, last year, I spent that $50 on stuff for me that I didn't need but I wanted. Most of it found its way into a box for the better part of the year. In 2013, I would like to be more intentional with that money by doing for others what I love done for me--random gifts and impromptu fun. You know what would really be the ultimate test for me, actually, to use my fun/hobby budget to only make purchases for others. I know that sounds easy, but for me it would prove extremely difficult. Perhaps I will cross that hurdle in 2014. In the present, however, I will maintain intentionality on a 1:1 basis, for every item I buy myself with these funds, I will also buy a random gift for another. We'll see how that goes. Hold me to it come December.

Here is another doozy. Watch films with others, read while alone. About 7 years ago, I had a different blog, and a former youth leader of mine publicly criticized me for valuing entertainment over Christ. What developed thereafter is a major discussion that could take a whole post, but the bottom line is that he was right, in a sense; and I have tried to curb my media intake as a result over the last several years. Based on the information posted here, you may think that I have failed, but if you think so, you have no idea where I was at in 2005. Needless to say, however, this is an area in which I still need to work. Hence, in 2013, I simply won't watch TV or films alone. I will watch them with persons with whom I can discuss them, or I will not watch them at all. Rather, I will read. Writers need to do that don't they? I want to see how that cuts down my intake.

Now, I know some people may read these items of intentionality and cry from the rooftops, "legalism!" and to them, I respond, "yes!". Fact is, the legalistic nature of the Old Testament was a specific model given by God for a specific people in a specific time, and Christians live under grace before God now. I agree with this; however, I also feel that the American church has reacted to our previously legalistic community standards in the states in such a fashion as to diminish the value of legalism as course correction and discipline. I am wholly aware that legalism can lead to pharisaic judgmentalism, pride, and unnecessary stress; but I believe that a mature individual can set for themselves parameters, goals, and standards on specific issues in order to further their personal relationship with God, better develop habits of value, and increase their love of others. Legalism, in that sense anyway, can prove wholly useful.

I think that these three things, in addition to my 30x30 will lead to a very productive 2013. At least that is my desire. Readers, God has given us a great gift in life. To live, and have health on top of it, is such an immense blessing, and I must admit that the closer I draw to God, the more I have a sense of ethical responsibility to live my life well, with intentionality and purpose in his kingdom work. I hope you feel the same.

Thank you for reading,

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Week in Heaven: 5 Thoughts Revisited

All this week, I have done a series of musings on heaven. Below I sum up all 5 days very briefly while linking back to each. 

1) I know that we as Christians have assurance of our salvation, but the assurance of something and the fulfillment of it are wholly different things. When I first arrive in Heaven, I believe I will spend the first million or so years expressing my thanks and praise and joy just for finally being there.

2) In heaven, I believe Christians will enjoy food, fellowship, and functionality together. Based on my personal reading of Scripture and understanding of God's purposes (inasmuch as I can understand them, anyway), I feel that these facets of life on earth may, in some fashion, transfer to heaven.

3) Heaven may be beyond earth and hell; but will we still see the material universe as we know it? Would we even want to?

4) Some thoughts of heaven outside the usual box: Is it possible that we could encounter beings from other planets, creatures we have never imagined, or moments of reconciliation we did not expect.

5) The Bible itself must be our source for our beliefs and expectations about heaven, and it has much to say. Here are a few things.

All that being said, and it must have been plenty considering it took a whole week, I want to end this series with two verses:

The first I leave as something of a critique against any human ideas about heaven (mine included). We are told in Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth,

But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of men imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him'.

The Bible has given us some concepts, but we humans tend to be gap-fillers, and as such we have developed our own expectations about what is coming in heaven. Just so we're all clear, the Bible assures us that heaven is beyond human conception. We cannot put it into a box of what it may or may not include. We cannot demand that it feature this or that. We simply are incapable of knowing how good it truly is.

But let's be honest. Looking toward heaven and imagining what could be there is a joyful exercise. I will certainly admit that. I've dedicated the whole week on the blog to it. But we must not focus on the future at the expense of the present. We have another, more pressing task ahead of us. As Paul told the church in his letter to the Philippians,

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.

Christians, for now, while we are here, let us live in fruitful labor. Let us do good. Let us seek to grow in kindness and mercy. Let us love unabashedly and give radically. Let us labor in such a way as to God and not to earthly pleasures or comforts or even supposed needs. All these will be met by the Lord in his time. Our call is to labor; our rest is to come. To my non-Christian readers, I hope that my sentiments about The Great Destination, a place with God, has been a place in which you're interested--not for its sake but because of God himself. If you have any desire to go to heaven, but you do not know what that means, please e-mail me immediately, and I will gladly dialog with you about this very subject. Your finding this blog was not by happenstance, and your desire to ultimately be by God's side is a powerful longing, one that I would love to discuss with you further.

Thanks all for stopping here more often this week. My hope is that this series has made you more anticipatory for heaven and greater fellowship with God himself. If that was not the result, than I have failed you, but please do not let my shortcomings as a writer deter you from gaining a renewed and joyous hope for heaven and all that it may entail!

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Week in Heaven: What the Bible says, which is better than what I said

This week, I have been reflecting on heaven. I have considered how I might spend my initial time before the Throne of God and how some aspects of life on earth may be echoed in heaven. I also mused briefly on heaven's relationship to earth and provided some other random ideas about surprises in heaven. Today, I get down to brass tacs.

After all my brainstorming this week, I thought I should bring us back to something more concrete than my musings. Below are some clear conclusions we can draw about heaven, directly from the Scriptures:

John 14:1-2
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"
Heaven is a place of many "rooms", prepared by Christ himself for his bride, the church. Please note my language here. I am neither saying that Christ is preparing individual, cookie-cutter homes for each Christian person, nor am I am implying that we will have our own little kingdoms. We only know that a number of unique places will exist in heaven, prepared by Christ himself. What they will be exactly, I do not know; but believers can be assured that if Christ is preparing them, they will be perfect.

Philippians 1:21-23 
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."
2 Corinthians 5:8
"Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Heaven is far better than earth, a place where those who believe will be home. I know that over the course of my life, I have felt like I was not meant for this world any longer, that my joy was not in earthly things, that my hope was not here but elsewhere--still I feel that very thing, more often than I ever expected. For the believer, heaven is a destination for which to yearn, a place to be with Christ; and I am assured more and more each day, that such a place is better than this one, if for no other reason than its enabling more abundant fellowship with God himself.

Luke 23:34
"And [Jesus] said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'."
This is my single favorite verse about heaven in all of Scripture. If I were to boil all my thoughts about the afterlife for the believer into one thought, it would be simply this. "Christ called heaven, 'Paradise'." If Christ himself refers to a place as paradise, then surely it must be a grand place, indeed. His standards are beyond any standard we can imagine; his view of beauty is higher than any human's. Christ would know when something is not only good but great, and when he describes heaven as "paradise", my longing for that future destination deepens further.

And from what I glean from Scriptures, the heaven to which the dead go now, the paradise of which Christ speaks, is merely the beginning...

2 Peter 3:13 
"But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells."
Revelations 21:1
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."

And what is that new heaven going to be...

Revelations 21:3-4
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
Revelations 22:1-5
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city: also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." 

So be it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Week in Heaven: Letting my Imagination Run Wild

Today I explore some other ideas regarding heaven, and this is a bit of a doozy...

Okay folks, here it goes. I am going crazy now. If you have been tracking with me throughout the week, this will likely be the day when you say, "Okay, he is a loon. His conjecture before was fun, but this crosses a line into insanity." As is my custom, let me give you yet another disclaimer. These are ideas, nothing more. They are not even beliefs. I am not saying below, "I think heaven will be like X". I know I did that here, here, and kind of here, but I am not doing that today. Today, I am just having a little bit of writer's brainstorming and asking the question "is it possible?" Not "likely", not even "based in an obscure Scripture reference". Today, I am simply pitching ideas that have arisen in conversation and been food for thought, and I felt them worth sharing. So, please read them with a grain of salt.

1) We are not alone.  I know that I am about to leave church tradition here, but I am going to propose something both wild and yet, not so wild at all. What if, over the course of the entire universe, God, in his infinitude and majesty, is replaying the entire passion history over and over and over across countless worlds, with countless peoples, all in the same natural universe, all with the same problems, all with the same sin and need for redemption. And what if those worlds will never meet in this present existence but will all culminate into an even larger intergalactic family of Christ when all was said and done. What if the "little green men" were all endowed with the reasoning and understanding capacities of God's image, and all peoples were together in one accord before his throne? Sounds like some kind of party to me.

2) Amends will be made within the family of God. I know that once we get to heaven, we will not harbor the wrongs done to us on earth, and we may not even remember the wrongs we did others. However, a certain beauty exists in the transaction of reconciliation; and let's be fair, many of us will leave earth with unresolved hurts--done to us and done by us. What if an aspect of eternal love, worship, and unity involves the reuniting of brothers and sisters of the faith who have hurt one another but never made amends on earth? What if, in heaven, they have the opportunity to assure each of their longstanding forgiveness and love? I would cherish the opportunity to reconnect with those who have hurt me but who I cannot find on this side of things, affirm that I have forgiven them, and assure them of my joy over seeing them. Likewise, I think of those who I wounded but with whom I have lost contact, and our need for reconciliation. I imagine our sitting together on a porch overlooking fields of grain, drinking a beverage so good it could not exist in the fallen world, and our conversing about our lives in light of truth. Strange thing, I think we will have this eternal love for each regardless, but something about the acts of forgiving and being forgiven seems like something we could do up there.

3) The cherubim and seraphim were just the beginning. At various points in the Scripture, individuals have had visions before God's throne, and they have seen things there that sound confusing but also awesome. I wonder if there will be even greater, more unique creatures than these. Anyone who knows me knows I love mythical creatures like the unicorn, the pegasus, and of course the griffon (my number one draft pick for greatest composite creature, ever), but I wonder if heaven will offer us creatures that we never could have imagined here on earth.

How bout you? Any crazy ideas you've had about The Great Destination?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Week in Heaven: Quick Sojourns Back

Today I continue my series on musings and ideas about heaven. Monday I wrote in regards to how I think I would spend my initial time there. Yesterday I spent time discussing some elements of present existence that may also occur in a heavenly existence. Today, I explore some thoughts of heaven in relation to returning to earth. 

Will we see the earth from heaven? Like the view from the moon, will we be able to look upon the blue and green marble resting in the deep black expanse? Will we see hell? Will we see justice enacted, eternally? If we could look on them, would we even bother? Or, if we did, how well would we see them? What if we saw the earth as we see distant planets now-- another world amongst millions of worlds in which God may be watching, moving, and working? What if hell was somewhere in the distant haze, and we knew it existed but God alone bore the sight of it?

What if heaven exists just beyond the known universe, on some other plain, wherein its borders meet that of the natural world? What if, in heaven, we walk to a shoreline of soft turf and overlook the great expanse of the ever-reaching universe in all its wonder and brilliance--not as the sky above us but as a sea before us. At present, we look upward to see the great spread of space, but what if, from heaven's perspective, it is not to the sky we look but to an ocean of stars and an abyss of black that boasts wondrous celestial bodies. And what if one could jump into this sea and swim (or fly) through nebulae or galaxies?

Do you ever wonder how the angels passed from the heavenly realm to this one? Is their a portal or door? Are human souls ever put to the same tasks, do you think? Are we "stuck" in heaven once we arrive? Are we free to go where we please? And again, I ask, would you want to?

I am sure that if the possibility existed to leave heaven to return to earth or to explore the natural universe, I would eventually take advantage, even if for curiosity's sake alone. But here's the weird thing (and you probably gleaned this from the brevity of this post), I  don't really give it a great deal of thought. I ask questions like the ones above, and I think about the possibilities. In fact, I once heard John Piper claim that during eternity, the universe would be our playground. The sentiment is very neat, I think; but I don't linger on it. Inasmuch as I find the universe to be beautiful, inasmuch as I enjoy the earth, I don't feel like I am going to miss this world once I hit the other. I cannot imagine having a great desire to leave God's throne once I reach it. As my relationship with the Lord deepens, my longing to be near him and stay near him increases. Once I am actually there, directly before his throne, I am unsure I will want to be anywhere else.

How bout you?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Week in Heaven: Echoes from Life on Earth

This is the second in a series of posts about heaven that I will be presenting this week. The first was posted yesterday, here.

Have you ever seen those shirts, "If they don't have [insert pleasure] in heaven, then I'm not going?" I find these to be preposterous (probably as preposterous as those wearing the shirts actually find the idea of heaven to be). Heaven is so incredibly better than any human mind can imagine. Believers there are with God forever, in his presence, without sin or brokenness, living an existence of worship and exaltation to their Creator. Heaven is wonderful in ways I cannot fathom.

Despite knowing this, however, I wonder what life is like in heaven. One popular view (that I believe is wholly inaccurate) is that of walking on clouds alongside angels whilst playing harps.  Frankly, I find this notion to be compelling to few individuals, and of those few, only a percentage are Christian. Rather, I believe that heaven contains many "echoes of earth", not the least of which being food, fellowship, and function. I use this third term carefully, both for the purposes of alliteration (which I enjoy despite claims that is "lazy") and definition (which I will further discuss later).

I will speak to each of these matters with some detail, but let me first stress that I am not a schooled Theologian but a layperson who loves Christ deeply and sincerely. I put no intellectual stake in these proposals less their being ideas and concepts (not concrete conclusions), drawn less from exegesis of Greek and Hebrew texts than from overall literary analysis of the biblical canon and universal human experience. Should these ideas be wrong (and they likely are), heaven would be no less wonderful. In fact, despite my lack of official training, I am certain that whatever heaven entails is greater than anything I might suggest or propose. That being said, here are some things that I expect in some form or manner (oh, and in these descriptions I will be changing my verb tense to the future tense rather than the present since those reading this are looking toward heaven not experiencing it in the present).

I think that food is a regular part of heaven. The Bible has a great deal to say about food. Dietary laws, annual feasts, last suppers, mass feedings, fruits of the spirit, reaping harvest, speeches of hunger and thirst--these seem to be something of a motif throughout the canon of Scripture. Food is the fuel for our bodies, and our bodies are the last physical entities God directly created in the Old Testament. Our bodies are also the temples of the Holy Spirit in the New Testamant. Food is also universal to all peoples and is a source of joy and pleasure when it is obtained at need. While I don't believe we will have the same bodies in eternity that we have on earth, I believe that we will have some form of being, and I believe that some type of food for that form will be a component of heavenly life. I also believe that this food will be limited in two very good ways. First, food will be available in abundance, and second, food will be consumed in balance. I believe that we will have a great amount of food on which to feast while in heaven, that food will be more delicious than we could possibly imagine and more delectable than even Tolkien could describe. All will eat to their fill and with great pleasure, but this abundance will be shared correctly; persons in heaven will eat in balance--without sin, without greed, and without gluttony.  While we eat to our fill, we will not eat a morsel beyond it. I don't believe we will all selfishly want to vie for the last biscuit or use false modesty to offer the last piece of cheese when we in fact want it for ourselves (cause let's face facts, we've all been guilty of both of these things at some point). None will go hungry at the expense of another's hoarding. No, in heaven, our eating will be without sin or selfishness. We will be glad to share. Will it be vegan? I don't know, but if it is, it will be the best. Will we all eat together at every meal? I doubt it, but if we do, it will make for some wonderful parties. Will God eat? That is a great mystery, but I think so, if for no other reason than to create another point of connection between us and himself. Oh, and because I gather at least one person is wondering, I believe that we will process this food wholly and have no need of restrooms or relieving ourselves =).

I also believe and hope that fellowship will be a large part of heaven, both with God and with others. Frankly, I look forward to connection with others less than with God, but I still anticipate the former level of relationship with great expectation. My guess is that we'll be able to sit and talk without the constraints of time or fear or weather or exhaustion. Christian siblings will simply be able to enjoy each other unabashedly, in a way that they'll never know here. But what will we talk about? Well, I've considered that also, but I am unsure. I believe that we'll have similar conversations to those we've had here on earth, but we will have those conversations in light of the fullness of truth. For example, we may remember a time of great sorrow, but we will also recognize with more clarity God's hand in that event--so that our discussion of it will be without pain, regret, or sorrow but rather in joy and exultation to Christ over the ways in which he was working in it. I believe we will be able to speak about things knowing not necessarily the fullness of them but the truth of them--so we may not know every facet of the hummingbird's life, but we will recognize the creature as God's handiwork, designed with purpose, to accomplish specific things, and we will love God for it all the more. I also believe that we will have expression in light of truth, in that we will be able to express what we mean clearly and without hiddenness and without misunderstanding. We will say what we intend to say in the manner in which we mean to say it, and we will be heard and understood. Our thoughts and words, of course, will also be without sin--our words will encourage, glorify God, and deepen relationship. Let's be honest, communication on earth is something of a mess. In heaven, this will not be the case. I believe we will be able to spend time together in light of knowing full well who God is, who we are, and having no baggage, only love and a desire to exalt Christ. How marvelous!

Finally, I believe that each person will also serve functions in our heavenly, non-earthly life. Now, this is not toil or labor for wages. On the contrary, I think that heaven will be free of money and, if any economy were to exist, not that it would be needed, it would be a giving-based resource economy free of profits, deadlines, overhead, royalties or residuals. What I mean to say, is that in heaven, I believe that people will have roles, roles they are exuberant to have, roles without stress, roles without busywork, roles for which they are wholly suited and will wholly fulfill. No one will have need, and we will all be content, but I believe people will still create art and goods and meals and gardens and works simply out of the sheer pleasure of doing so. We will simply be able to do it at our leisure, to God's glory, drawing our pleasure from his allowing us to be active and productive, from his enabling us to complete things, and from his enjoying our efforts. I believe that people will be able to create and build and design and realize projects and give their works away without any thought of self and desire for compensation. We will "do" simply for the joy of "doing", in God's presence and to his glory.

What if you could walk through the heavenly spaces and meet a fellow believer you have never seen, and you could talk with them for a thousand years and learn a great deal of one another by sharing your stories of God's glory, grace, and faithfulness--bringing you both even closer to God even as you are brought closer to one another; and what if you could part ways without awkwardness or sorrow, knowing that at any time you could reconnect and take as much pleasure in one another as you had already, for any given amount of time? Even better, what if Christ introduced you? What if he took a man born in Syria in 3200 B.C. and introduced him to a Canadian in 1996 and simply said to them, "I think you two have a great deal to discuss.", and they did--without language barriers, without skepticism or caution, without pretense or self-importance. They could simply meet and love each other well and love Christ more for bringing them together as brothers. That sounds heavenly to me.

Or what if, in heaven, you could take a millenium to master an instrument, and someone who loves to teach could spend those years teaching you; and someone who loves to build instruments could build one for you to play, perhaps not to own, but to enjoy along with everyone else in all of heaven; and what if everyone in that scenario did their best because God is their witness and they are finally and truly doing everything to his glory. No money changes hands. No practices run too long or too short. No one feels neglected, unappreciated, undervalued, or unimportant. We will have patience to learn well (and teach well) and create together, for glorious, majestic worship of one who is worthy. Yeah, I long for that, too.

I really don't know if anything I am suggesting will be part of the perfect equation. I honestly don't, but I know that God is good, and I truly believe this earth and the fellowship, food, and functionality we enjoy in the present will have some bearing on our existence in eternity. I realize that each of these thoughts creates with it another million-or-so questions. In fact, I think that is part of my purpose in writing these posts--to stimulate one's mind to think of what heaven might be, what it might mean, and why it is such a destination toward which we can look so passionately. As long as Christ is there, I will be eternally alive and grateful. That is a given.

What "Echoes of Earth" do you think we will we encounter in heaven? Please share, as I am always hoping to increase my own vision for that place!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Week in Heaven: The First Million Years

A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on heaven, and having taken great delight in that post, I thought it may be worth spending more time on the subject in 2013. Each day this week, I will post an article with a few thoughts on the topic of heaven and my ideas, hopes, and expectations about it. I hope my reflections will be as pleasant for you to read as they have been for me to write.

As a Christian, I believe heaven to be a real place. While certainly not material nor discernible by our present scientific instruments, I believe that heaven exists in grandeur and magnificence far beyond anything our feeble minds can comprehend. I believe heaven is the place wherein God dwells in a visible form, along with those whose souls have passed from this material realm into the solely ethereal one; and I believe that upon my passing, I will be invited into this location, not by virtue of my own merit but due to my deeply-held and desperate belief in Christ Jesus as the Son of God and my personal savior, who came to earth as a human being to die so that many other human beings, unable to know God of their own accord, would be rescued from their own depravity, adopted into God's family, and brought into eternal communion with him. That is a large statement to deconstruct, and I won't do so here, but I wanted to assure the reader from where my hope comes in Christ. I don't believe heaven is the imminent end for all human beings, nor do I believe that is a place within myself (despite the popularity of both of these beliefs in our culture).

That being said, I have often thought of what I would do when I first arrive in heaven. I have had many thoughts about this over the course of my life, and my past conclusions were often silly or selfish, a category into which my current belief may also fall given time. Nevertheless, I shall share it.

When I first arrive in heaven, I believe I will spend the first million or so years simply kneeled at the feet of God, at his throne, in joyous and rapturous tears, overcome with gratitude to find myself there in front of Him. I know that Christians have assurance that if our repentance is real (a fact only God can judge), we are God's children, but in our present lives we still contend with fear and doubt. While on earth, we are trapped in conflict, and as near to Christ as we can be in the present, we are still separate from him in a sense. When first arriving in heaven, knowing that I am finally home--that my life was neither fruitless nor lived in vain, that I was not simply matter but soul, that justice is an ultimate reality that will be secured--having final, confirmed assurance that I am there, right there, that is my greatest hope and longing; and frankly, I really think it will take a million years or more just to express my thanks and praise and joy at my arriving.

I cannot express the deep peace I feel simply writing about that coming experience. Being in heaven, being with God, I am certain that I will lose sense of time--if there will even be such a thing (which I know by asking makes this whole post kind of silly--didn't I say something to that effect at the beginning?). To consider the fact that I will be in God's full presence--without my sin or my fallenness keeping me at any distance from him--well, just fills me with jubilant expectation. I can think of nothing more exciting or more valuable to desire. A deeper more direct relationship with God is what I want most in my existence; and when I have it, finally assured without separation, I will be eternally grateful, and I will spend a good deal of effort showing that gratitude (whether or not time exists). I could re-write those sentiments another dozen times with ever-more flowery language, but I will refrain for now and simply leave you with a question. If you believe you are going to heaven, what will be the first thing you will hope/expect to do upon arrival?

Tomorrow, I will discuss another aspect of my expectation for heaven, related not only to my relationship with God but with others.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Twelve Things I Learned in 2012, Part 2: The Back Half-Dozen

I posted six things I learned in 2012 on Wednesday, but as you can tell from the title, I owed you all six more. These are very different lessons than those already presented, and they too will inform my decisions regarding intentional living in 2013.

7) I have developed the discipline of writing, though I have not yet perfected it. I wrote for at least 20 minutes or more on 239 days of 2012 (taking off July and August due to the move), hitting 65% of days in the calendar year. While some of these were barely over the 20-minute mark, others were over 4-hours, and I hit a variety of sessions in between those lengths. Not bad. My overall hours, however, were lacking. Bear in mind for two-thirds of the year, I had a full-time job, so my writing time was more limited, and I took time off in July and August; but in total, if I were to have made a job of my writing, I would have worked 568.5 hours for the year, only 11.6 hours a week on average, 49 weeks out of the year. Not great for someone who thinks himself self-disciplined. In fact, when you look at the hours in perspective, I would have been working less than a half-time position. I will need to step that up in 2013.

8) Which brings me to my second point, I know I have more than one novel in me. Though I spent the bulk of my writing time from October 2011-November 2012 completing Stronghold, I also wrote a full-length 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Like I said here, the work is neither altogether good nor promising, but given the manner in which it was created, it's not altogether awful either. In fact, I may be able to salvage major portions of this second outing and create something of genuine merit, if  can "go to back formula" and really make the type of difficult, time-consuming edits that are necessary. That being said, I really think I may be able to make something of writing if I continue to maintain my discipline. If I can get a good agent, a stable of readers who can provide constructive and timely feedback, and a solid editor, I truly believe I could release a book a year (completing a first draft each November for NanoWriMo and refining it the following 12 months for a Christmastime release the following year). This could serve as an ancillary revenue stream and ministry opportunity, even if I cannot make writing my full time gig (inasmuch as I would enjoy doing so).

9) Life-choices tend to be harder than we expect. You can see posts regarding this effect here, here, here, and here; but overall, the bottom line is that I have learned in a very real, daily sense that being led by the Lord is not all sunshine and roses. In fact it feels often like clouds and thistles, but Christ is there to cover you in the storm and bandage your spiritual, emotional, and social wounds. As I seek to serve and love Christ more intentionally with each passing day from now through eternity, I am very grateful for this lesson learned in 2012.

10) Given the amount of those aforementioned wounds I have sustained in the last four months, I have also realized that my heart breaks more often than I expect. I would not call myself a person of great depth; but in my shallowness, things strike me and affect me in severe ways. I feel things, and the pain I carry takes root. It can, if unchecked, filter into my life holistically, at times to my detriment. While I do not shed tears as often as I would like (for I find crying to be immensely valuable), I do sit and brood with a certain level of intensity, and those feelings tend to have a very real effect on my overall attitude. I am not entirely sure what this means, but I have tried to harness it constructively in 2012, writing during these times rather than moping. We shall see how I fare in the coming year.

11) Some of this turmoil I have described has come from something I did not expect: fellow Christians and their response to my sharing about my relationship with the Lord. I have a grave warning, as much for myself as anyone reading this: people do not believe you when you tell them the truth about your fellowship with God. Whether this is skepticism, cynicism, or ignorance, I do not know; but you will speak to people about your meaningful and formative spiritual experiences, and they will downplay them. This is a given with non-believers clearly; but with persons who claim to be Christian, I find this unsettling. Should not fellow believers be the individuals who back one another on this sort of thing? One would assume so but find themselves discouraged. On more than one occasion, I have told professing Christians what God is doing in my life, only to have them either downplay or rationalize it as not spiritually authentic but simply personally significant, as if God is not really working but I am just using him as a cover for some other motivator or a blanket go-to in the face of uncertainty. Frankly, I find said reaction to be not only insulting to me but God also, and I am amazed and somewhat wounded that I have encountered said sentiment among those who claim to be believers. Regardless, I will keep telling the truth as best I know how and trust God to use it as he chooses.

12) Finally, and this is something of a blanket statement, but I feel both closer to God and more sinful than I have in 2012 than perhaps any other year of my life. I have learned very clearly that for every sanctified step forward, I am twenty steps from where I want and ought to be; and I oftentimes take steps backward without even realizing it in the moment. This applies to an endless list of vices and follies, not the least of which are my unkind jests at another's expense, my immense greed and covetousness, my pride and self-aggrandizement, and my envy. It's a funny thing, really. I have spent 2012 writing a text on battling a stronghold of lust in a believer's heart, but I have seen that other sins also have their foothold firmly planted within me; and I have a great many more battles to wage ahead (though I don't plan to write a book on each). If nothing else (and frankly, little else matters), I have seen God's grace displayed more deliberately this year than in any other, in that I have seen a constant stream of my own sin with which he deals with mercy and patience and corrective discipline; and I adore him all the more for it. Please don't mistake my self-abasing as false modesty; I really believe that were it not for the grace of God in my life, I would be something of a monster--perhaps not a criminal nor an outright villain but certainly a wholly selfish, terribly uncaring, deeply hate-filled narcissistic coward, harboring dark and unseemly thoughts while being too timid to carry them to fruition. Thank the Lord for his intervention in my life, for without it, I do not know what kind of man I would not only be today but be on the road to becoming. I need Christ daily, desperately; and I am so grateful for his miraculous regeneration of my soul despite its inclinations toward evil and temerity.

So, that was not short.

Sorry, as I said previously, this has been a milestone year. I want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me since I launched the blog in August, and I want to encourage your continued feedback through the comments section or direct e-mail, tweet, or facebook message to me. While I may not respond to every reaction I receive, I read each one; and I value your sharing with me.

I hope that 2012 has been as blessed for you as it has for me, and I pray that your 2013 will find you drawn closer to the Lord and, as a result, drawn closer to others. Be full of love, kind words, loving gestures, and bold honesty throughout your days and rest in the peace and knowledge, that God, who is perfect, has all things within his powerful but tender care.

Once again, thank you for reading. Next week I hope to touch on my hopes and goals for 2013.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Twelve Things I Learned in 2012, Part 1: The First Half-Dozen

First things first. I wanted to spend 2012 very intentionally in regard to time, creative efforts, and media consumption, as a result, I tracked any media I watched or heard, provided it was 20 minutes in length or longer. Please keep in mind as I share the numbers that I almost always have something playing in the background while working, doing chores, or completing household finances, etc.  I also tracked the money we spent as a household, less cash purchases prior to the move (for at that time we were essentially putting everything on credit to rack up the points). Looking back on all my tracking, I learned the following:

1) I love me some motion pictures. In 2012, I watched over 370 Hours of motion pictures plus an additional 146 hours of featurettes, podcasts, and behind-the-scenes material, all of which would have been playing in the background while doing other things. Of the 366 days of 2012, I spent almost 22 days watching movies or listening to media about movies (and again, that is only movies and film-related content over 20 minutes, not to mention the brief movie-reviews I watched on youtube and the hours of trailers I saw). I can assuredly say my love of cinema has continued well beyond my coursework at school.

2) I do not love television as I once did. In 2012, I watch 238 hours of television (including sports broadcasts and lots of news), which may sound like a lot, until you consider that the average American person watched 168 minutes per day in 2011 (according to the Bureau of Labor) and I averaged 40 minutes. I think I am finding that the medium too time-consuming these days. Given the current programming climate, if one finds a scripted show they truly like and want to follow, they are essentially required to watch it from the pilot forward, which may include upwards of 20, 45-minutes episodes per season, which is a fair of time once tallied. I have a feeling this interest in television will continue to wane in 2013, until it dwindles to the point that I only watch programs specifically recommended to me by multiple trusted parties (or someone else is watching something and I happen to be in the room).

3) I have been spoiled by good teaching. Not including the times I was actually seated in a physical church pew, I heard or watched 429 sermons or religious lectures in 2012, for a total running time of 305 hours (a significantly lower amount than I spent on film and film-related content, I know). I have received an immense amount of excellent training and exhortation straight from the pulpit and lecture stage. While this category includes Q&A's, debates, and sermons, I am pleased to see that I digested a fair amount of non-entertainment-related media. This is encouraging, except that I feel like I should be doing alot more in life given the amount of instruction I have acquired.

4) I may have budgetary controls in place, but I still spend a fair amount on collectibles; however, I am also surprisingly unattached to them. What I mean is that, though I bought a number of new items this year, I also sold a number of those items and others gathering dust in my collection. Including the gift money I received this year, I spent $535 on toys, mostly on Lego but some on a handful of collectible figures here and there. That's not a huge portion of money as far as American hobbies go nor our overall household AGI, but it is not negligible either. Contrasting this, however, I also sold a great deal of my collection in the pre-move purge and post-move scurry for cash. I only made a $230 net from online from toy sales, (accounting for fees and original carried cost of items), but we actually pulled closer to $700 gross, with my selling more than 175 pieces from my collection, some of which were acquired in the same calendar year but flipped due to their present fair value. Net collection increase based on personal purchases:  was -80 items. That number notwithstanding, I have recognized this year that my greed for earthly treasures is still something against which I should rally with more intentionality.

5) Speaking of which, I have come to better understand why Lego is my new hobby--frankly, it hits all my quadrants in one nicely bundled package. I could write about this in a series of posts (and I likely will), but for now I will just hit some quick points. Lego provides a tactile experience that is creative, can be communal, lends itself to detail and provides scaled replicas of both licensed properties I enjoy and original ideas/custom creations. It's likely going to be my new hobby for the foreseeable future. For those who enjoyed "Stunk's Bricks Pics" in the last quarter of 2012, you can expect more to come in 2013 and hopefully further years thereafter.

6) I still enjoy finding music, both new and old, but I also get frustrated when I get too much new content too quickly. This year I discoved Noisetrade, and I started to download every free album they recommended. This was too much for me. The process of listening to all the new music became more of a chore than a leisurely pursuit as 100s of tracks backed up in my unplayed library, wating to be heard who-knows-when. By the end of the year,  I would simply check the Noisetrade recommendations, download an album or track and just pass on all the others. I have kept a runing total of the artists I have decieded to keep and who will receive a donation from me in the future when I get some coin to spend, but I do not foresee myself hunting for new bands in 2013. Offline, I have heard some great old tunes from the Carpenters at my parents' house ("Yesterday Once More" and "I Believe You" are new favorites) and also became taken with the score to the anime, Rurouni Kenshin, as recommended by niece  This year's big winner on the "new band" front was Beautiful Eulogy, with their debut album, Satellite Kite. 

So, that's something. Or six things I suppose. Looking forward to 2013, I am trying to decide what I want my next year to look like given what I know of myself, my habits, my interests, and my goals. I'm thinking that I will continue to track my media consumption, as I found this to be a useful tool throughout the year, particularly in regard to the disparity of film and television to sermons/teaching; and of course, I will continue to track my spending. The question now is, "To what end?" Do I want to spend twice as much time listening to sermons as I spend watching television? Do I want to set more stringent constraints on my spending to ensure I only buy a certain amount of new items and that my collection continues to decrease rather than grow? I don't know. As I synthesize this information with that of my next post, I will begin to develop a gameplan for 2013.