Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writers as World Builders

Writers are world-builders. We must be. Whether the world is a microcosm of our modern society, an extension of it composed of hidden creatures, or a wholly different planet and civilization than our own--the writer must create the world of their story. Consider works like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, and the depth of the worlds created in those tales; inasmuch as they are not our own, they are. They have that same quality of vivid detail, complexity, and inherent contradiction and drama.

I love world building. In some ways, I love world building as much as I love telling the stories within my created worlds. The process of world building is exciting and full of surprises--whether they relate to social structures, creatures, character histories, or new concepts about the mundane tasks of that culture, the act of world-building is incredibly rewarding. I like to think of the joy I take in world building as an echo of the joy God must have taken when creating our universe.

World building involves not only creating the canvas on which a story can unfold but also allowing some level of darkness or evil or drama to exist in that world for a time, that heroes can rise and the greater good can be served. The greater the evil that is allowed into the built world, the greater the joy in its being overcome (this too, I believe, reflects and echoes a deeper spiritual reality).

But where does one begin this process? How do writers discover the world in which their story takes place. Well, I am wrapping up the first draft of my third novel, and I'd like to propose three methods by which I have developed the worlds of the three stories I've completed. These are not the only means by which one can do this, but they are proven methods as far as I'm concerned.

1) Create a character you love then develop everything around their plight. This is something of a concentric circle system wherein you start with a single character and then define their family, their community, their wider society, their world and the various structures within all those groups. This is a wonderful means of contextualizing your character into a fictional framework while also providing them some possible backstory and conflict with the world around him. This was the way I wrote The Traveler's Tales for National Novel Write Month. I wrote two prologues about two characters with whom I identified and about whom I cared, and then I built the world in which they existed around them, by first defining the local society, then the national culture, then the world, then the time and place in history.

2) Work in reverse of (1). Begin with a concept: The prom. Now, put that prom into the context into a school, then a class, then a specific person within that class--maybe it's not even a senior but a younger student invited to it or a college student attending with their as-yet-in-high-school sweetheart. Build from the outside world inward in order to find the best character through which to tell your readers what you have to share. This was the method I employed for writing my romance about a church high school youth retreat. I simply began with that concept and focused the story to a girl attending said event, and then I told her story, hitting the notes I thought necessary to explore the general youth retreat experience. In the process I fell in love with the kids in her youth group and the experience of the youth retreat all over again.

3) Simply run down the rabbit hole. Begin with a premise: An overweight man changes his life as well as that of many others when he is moved to help starving children surviving in poverty in another area of his hometown. Then just brainstorm scene ideas that take place over that journey. Hit events and moments that are deeply resonant to the character's journey, goals, and discovery. See what sticks, what carries with it truth, goodness, and beauty--then use those as a guide to create your outline, arc, etc. In this method, you are wholly focused on the events of the story, and the world designs itself based on fulfilling the needs of the protagonist. As the requirements of the story become clear, the world in which they could occur becomes more vivid and narrow. This was in-part the method used for the creation of Stronghold and is being employed for the sequel.

Like I said, these are only three possible options. What methods do you use? Please share, as I am always looking for new models to implement and integrate into my own process.

Thanks for Reading,

Monday, February 25, 2013

Matthew 7:21-23

I had a hard time naming this post, so I just went with the Scripture reference. Thank you for checking this out despite the vague title.

Please read these words of Christ, as he is teaching his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew 7:21-23.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord , Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

Read it again. Does that scare you? Does it give you pause in the slightest? I will be honest with you, that passage terrifies me. If I hear or read this passage and engage it on any contemplative level, I just--I cannot help but pause and reflect. And fear strikes me. If I am reading this passage correctly, Christ is telling his disciples that not everyone who calls on him will be saved; furthermore, not everyone who believes they are doing great, spiritual works in his name will be saved. Only those who actually work toward the furthering of God's kingdom through their actions, motivated by a love of God and others are known by Christ. Who then can be assured of their salvation? Can any of us?

Now, I am guessing that many of you reading this will be very quick to say, "C.J., you don't need to be scared. I totally see the Spirit at work in your life, and I have seen you doing the work of the Father, so you have nothing to be scared of."

First, let me say that I really, really appreciate this sentiment. I do. I am always humbled when people look at me and see Christ--that means that wherever else I am in life, I am getting the most important thing right at least some of the time. Second, let me say that I am the type of person who actually needs that type of encouragement. The world inside my head is intensely self-critical, and I often fall into the trap of despair, depression, and regret. But third, inasmuch as I value this response (and, again, I truly do), I always curb it in my mind with the very somber truth of Matthew 7--that in the end, at the very point when it matters, the opinions of men are not the deciding factor, but Christ alone will determine who is known and who is not known. The final decision rests with him, and a major part of that decision will be the record of works that resulted from a person's true knowledge of God and faith in Christ. In these three verses, Christ reconciles the works-heavy teaching of the apostle James and the believe-and-be-saved admonitions of Paul. In the end, Christ will know who was truly his disciple and who was not, and those who were will have completed "kingdom work" as a manifestation of their knowledge of God.

I call this is a somber thought, but I also believe--very deeply--that it is perhaps one of the most encouraging truths of salvation ever revealed in the text of the Bible for one simple reason: Christ knows who is real, and he cannot be deceived, and therefore, the determination of those who are in his kingdom and those who are not will be perfect. Perhaps a better way to say that may be this: the final judgment will be flawless, regardless of who goes where.

I find this encouraging because I believe that Christ will be a far more merciful judge than we expect but also be much more fair judge than we can understand. We humans see things with such limited minds, such narrow perspectives, and such a selfish haze that our attempts at justice, valiant as they may be, are always tainted and incomplete.

According to Matthew 7:21-23, however, we can be sure that ultimate cosmic justice will be determined by a perfect judge who sees existence in a far more complex, versatile, and "true" fashion, and that judge will render his verdict with complete and total clarity of fairness and virtue, without anything clouding his vision or affecting his discernment. Those who were serving Christ for their own ends or in name only will be shown to be the charlatans that they truly were. Those who truly desired to further the kingdom of God will be known and welcomed into inheritance. I love that, and when I accept that and believe that truth, the terror I feel is overshadowed by peace.

But to be honest, the terror is not gone. I do not feel it for myself nearly as much as I feel it for others. Our human tendency is to say that we deserve heaven. We say, "Hey I'm a good person; I should get it", "Who is God to exclude me?", or my favorite from my early twenties, "I'm awesome. Who wouldn't want me in heaven?". These are the normal attitudes of millions of men and women, and they just show how much those individuals do not know God and how they are not known by him either. For these persons, I am terrified. I hurt for them when I engage this passage. Because when they are before Christ, what will they say? How devastated will they be to learn the truth of their own self-glorification? What will they do when Christ says "Depart from me"? For them, this passage is terrifying.

Personally, I am very secure in my salvation, that when I come before Christ I will find my name among his followers, and I will be called into my inheritance. Strangely, it was this whole idea of Christ's judgment in Matthew 7 that made me so secure. For I have come to a place in my heart wherein I truly believe that if I was sent to hell, God will have done me no wrong and justice will have been served, and I don't think you can come to that point of faith without believing Christ is who he claims to be--so good and high above oneself that should he pronounce ultimate judgment against one, he is still just and perfect. If Chist judges one's friends, family, admired peers, he will do no wrong. This is a hard truth, and I believe accepting it requires a certain acceptance of who God is that can only come for the Holy Spirits work in one's heart.

When I come before Christ, if I can say anything, I am likely going to say something like this, "Please, you alone are my hope. If my debt is not covered through your righteousness, I have nothing--my works alone are as filthy rags, less those motivated for love of you, your kingdom, and others. I know where I deserve to go without you, so do justly, as you will, for you are good." In that moment, the call will be made--the perfect and just verdict will be rendered. And as I said before, I take great peace in that somber truth. I hope and trust my faith will be rewarded, but if I have been among the self-deceivers and I am sent where I deserve to go, ultimate justice will still be complete. God will have done no wrong. In that, I take great solace.

How bout you?  What do those verses do to you when you read them? How will they affect how you live this week?

Thanks for reading, guys. Another verse to check out for today - Phillipians 2:12.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why Not Smile

I love to smile. To quote the wise and now-iconic film character Buddy the Elf, one could say "smiling's my favorite". The older I get, the more I like the act of a decent, real smile, particularly with a stranger. You know what I mean, a full smile that kind of squints your eyes, that conveys with it a great deal more than simple courtesy. Not a pose-for-a-picture-smile or a smile-cause-I'm-supposed-to smile--I'm not a huge fan of those. No, I'm talking about a genuine smile toward a person with whom one may have no other interaction.

I didn't realize the value of the smile until recently, when I began to notice the affect of it on folk. As something of an introvert, I usually dodged eye-contact and the smile as a child. I am unsure of what I was afraid, but regardless I would often avoid people's gaze and evade their visual communication as best I could. I looked away when someone smiled in my direction, and to be honest, I cannot fathom why. Needless to say, this stopped in my adolescence. In my formative years, the smile became more of a cursory act of social courtesy, and oftentimes, said action was done without any intent beyond the old motivation, "I'm supposed to do this, so I am doing it". I would see people, make eye contact, not want to be creepy, so I'd smile. You know the drill; no big, right? This, of course, carried into adulthood (as so many strange adolescent behaviors do) and adapted into a sign of emotional stability and a sort of communication tool. The cursory smile toward strangers on a college campus or folks at the store seemed to suggest little more than "Yeah, I'm human; you're human. Let's not make a big deal of this". It's a strange dynamic, and I am sure that some scientists who are smarter than me have collected and crunched the details to better understand why and how we smile the way we do.

The reason I bring up these developmental stages is because something changed in me as an adult in regard to the smile. I do not know why it happened or when or how, but I have developed a real sense of "meaning it" when I smile these day, particularly when doing so toward strangers. What do I mean when I say "meaning it"? Well, I'm not sure exactly. It's so hard to put into words, but I suppose I mean any number of things, depending on the situation. Maybe when I give hearty, full smile, I mean "I am glad you exist!", or "I really value what you do" or "Welcome to the Lego toy aisle; I hope your time here is as fun as mine has been"--I mean these types of things, but that's not really it either.

I don't know; I am really having a hard time with the verbiage on this; and while I do not know the origin of how I came to this outlook, I have full clarity as to why I maintain it. People have value. And I don't mean value in and of themselves because they are sentient beings. People have real value far beyond their molecular construction or brain waves or ability to make and assess their choices. I believe, very strongly, that human beings carry in them an inherent, deeply-rooted value, that comes from having a non-biological but wholly real soul, a component of them that makes them who they are regardless of biology. As a follower of Christ, I like to think of it as an "eternal value of one created", meaning that the soul of this person carries with it an eternal weight and as such has some level of real significance. For me, this outlook has cultivated in me is a love that says, "I really want your best, not for my sake or humanity's sake in general, but for your sake specifically, because God made you, uniquely and individually."

And with that as my motivator, the full smiles I have beeng giving lately have yielded, more often than not, a similar response. What motivates the other individual, I am not sure; but the returned gesture is always beautiful, regardless of the age or gender from whom it comes. I have seen skeptical eyes alight with genuine gladness over reading the expression on my face, and I have seen a visage of apathy over existence itself transform into one of delight, as if the person felt they received a compliment. Actually, that's not it, I think it may run deeper--as if we've shared a conversation containing nothing more than a certain awareness of each other's significance and worth without having even exchanged names.

Dah!  I feel like I am not conveying this well. I guess my bottom line on this post--which may have been better tweeted as a single statement--is this, when I make eye contact with a stranger, when we connect briefly in that way, I want to convey to that person that I believe they have value, and I feel that a big, honest grin does that (though I believe the sincerity of the smile is more so conveyed through the eyes than the mouth), and I have been warmed and delighted at the response others have to such a gesture. In a way, the real smile is an expression of love telling someone that I am glad for our crossing paths, albeit briefly, because they have real value and eternal significance. Man, why is that so hard to explain? I don't know. Perhaps I'm not even fully aware of why I find these connections so meaningful to me. Perhpas it's because the smile carries with it a certain truth that cannot be described with words (least of all not by those of a novice writer). Or perhaps it's because I am trying to be brief, but a sincere smile is like a great picture, and we all know how many words that is worth.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

7 things you won't get from writing...

I am something of a megalomaniac, and by "something of", I mean "very likely certified but not clinically labeled as". Some days my dreaming runs wild. I'll admit that. I begin to think of what it would mean for one of my books to hit big. I consider how wonderful it would be to have literary respect and value as a novelist and speaker. I revel in the success I have not and may never attain.

Frankly, on those days, I need a reality check before hitting the keyboard. I really do. As a Christian, my desire should be for God's glory and Christ's exaltation, not my own. My pride, selfishness, and greed for the praise of men are all of great danger to my soul, and if I'm honest, money and power and praise could do me a great deal of hurt in the long run if I fail to consider them in context of my walk with the Lord. Accolades can take my eyes from my true purpose, and they also may keep me from telling the truth should it be unpopular. Success and the desire to gain or maintain fame could very quickly stall my willingness to give my energies to the Lord and thereby diminish the value and worth of the very skill he has provided me.

Thus, I must recalibrate my mind before I set down to the keys. I must be honest as to the reasons I am writing--for my readers and their benefit, whether that benefit be instructional, entertaining, or a bit of both. In order to do this, sometimes I must remind myself of some, if not all, of the following:

"Remember, if you're going to write, you will not get..."

1) Validation - If you need other people to tell you how brilliant and talented you are, and you write so that they do...stop. Every negative comment you get will stick to you and overshadow ten compliments you receive. You may even get more negative feedback altogether. Therefore, write because something must be said, and you can say it. Get validation in Christ, where you should. 

2) Rock Star Wealth & Status - For every J.K. Rowling (billionaire author), there's about 50,000 C.J. Stunkards (poor authors), just like for every Michael Jackson, there's a million "guys who made a song one time". If you are very fortunate, you might land somewhere in the middle. Therefore, be content wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of wealth and power so long as you are telling the truth through your words.

3) An Easy life with Lots of Free Time. HA HA HA HA HA. Sorry, I had to laugh at my 20-year-old self for having such foolish expectations. Writing is a job, and you will have "those Mondays" as a writer, just like everyone else. You will also need to be motivated to go to work when you don't want to, just like everyone else. You may even have days where you hate your job, just like everyone else. Plus, chances are, you will need to be more adaptable to change in your schedule by virtue of the fact that most will not understand that your "writing time" should make you as off-limits as they are during their "time in the office". Oh, and if you do plan to write, you will likely need to "make time" to do so, and if that time is stripped from you, you will need to use otherwise "free time" to make up for the "lost time". Get it. Therefore, be prepared to work hard, adapt, and work some more--this is no early retirement if you want to make a real go at it. 

4) Respect - This is kinda coupled with Validation, but not. Let's all just be honest, a slew of non-writers think that a slew of real writers are into writing for these reasons, so they won't respect you outright...unless of course you get item 2, then they may respect you or pretend to, possibly to get something from you. Oh, unless you have runaway success, then they may very well envy and hate you altogether, because people tend to do that. Therefore, forget about obtaining the respect you desire. Write. Write well, and if you are fortunate, the respect will come (but do not bank on it).

5) Revenge - Remember all those people who said you couldn't do it, and then you did it. Well, you proved them wrong, haven't you...and now...well, now...well that's it. That's it. You have proven them wrong. But guess what? You've been wrong too, so you're not really elevated in the whole experience. You are just having them join you on the pedestal of "being human". Congratulations on getting your sweet revenge but not really, since it means nothing. Therefore, never write to prove someone else wrong. Write in order to make that which is right look more beautiful. 

6) Unbridled Creative Freedom - Okay, this is not wholly true. If you are the only one reading your work, and you don't care, you can have unbridled creative freedom. On the other hand, if you are hoping another human being can access what you are putting on the page, you will have some boundaries within which to play. You can be creative within those boundaries, but you will feel stifled at times (and please don't get me wrong, the stifling is good, because it usually demands you create something better, within the boundaries). Therefore, use the proven skills and tools of the craft to operate creatively while also making your work accesible to the audience for whom you are writing it. If you want unbridled creative freedom. get out your Lego.

7) Anything Beyond The Writing Itself - And that's the rub. This is a hard reality, but I realize now that it's the truth. At the end of the day, the only guarantee from all your labor at the keyboard is that you have done labor at the keyboard. You will not be handed anything. You will not be given any rewards. If you spend twelve hours completing that last master stroke before deadline, you have no assurance that the first person to read it will enjoy it. You have no assurance that even you will enjoy it. All you will have, for certain, at the end of this writing session is what you completed during said writing session. Therefore, make this session count. If it were your last, ensure that your last was a doozy, that you told the truth without expecting something you should never have thought it would get you in the first place.

So, there you have it. If you are going to write, don't do it for what you will not get from it. Frankly, when I look at that list, I feel put in my place--and my place is often here at the keyboard, trying to tell the truth, however I can. Makes me feel like writing now...cause I have something to say, and I can say it for its own sake without needing any of the above as reward for my time and energy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are you praying? Tell them.

Christians pray. Alot. Prayer is part of the daily routine in a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ, like talking to any friend or your spouse or, even, one's boss at work. Frankly, I don't know how one lives as a Christian without daily prayer. The more I consider my relationship with Christ in its proper interpersonal context, the more I see the need for constant communication--as I would with any good companion. Furthermore, I find that I need prayer in order to simply recalibrate my focus from simply the horizontal to both the horizontal and the vertical, ensuring that while I am looking at the world around me, I am also considering if not focusing on heaven and eternity. In doing this, I look at this world through the filter of Christ, trying to see this life and those I encounter in it as he would. Truthfully, this can be heartbreaking, as this world is a wounded place, desperate in its need for redemption. Christ was a man of sorrows, and our joining him in lamentation over not only the world's depravity but our own sin can be spiritually healthy.

And it is in that brokenness that we see an element of prayer that we often overlook. The need to share with others when it happens--when we pray for them in their brokenness. Frankly, this is a new revelation for me--one that came, not surprisingly, during prayer itself. I was driving and praying in regard to a college buddy and his ministry. I asked for  the Lord to encourage him through the Holy Spirit, to exhort him to stay his course and continue his work. The Spirit, of course, had its own plan and, though inaudibly, spoke to me to do the same--that is, encourage this man in his work. 

Such an idea is not foreign to me.  As one who has struggled with a great many sins, one of which required direct accountability to Christian brothers, I know the importance of being told, specifically while in distress, that I am being lifted in prayer, that I am being loved through prayer, that I am being remembered in prayer. While these concepts may sound foolish to the unbeliever, they bring to the Christian a great deal of comfort. It is not unlike having a brother or sister saying, "I went to dad to talk to him about what you're going through. He's looking out for you." or even a co-worker saying "I went to the boss; he knows you're struggling. I asked him to help you out as he saw fit." These are wonderful sentiments, and what's more, we hold them to be true, and we hold to their truth with great hope, for prayer has repercussions far greater than we can even see. Countless stories from countless Christians attest to this fact, and I look forward to, hopefully, seeing this tapestry more clearly once in God's direct presence (how fascinating would it be to sit in an arena, while Christ tells his followers how the prayers of one in South America affected the lives of those in Africa, who in turn prayed for others in Asia who later lifted up those Americans). 

That being said, I am going to try a new experiment and just see how it goes. For the next two weeks, as I remember folk in prayer, I will try to let at least one person per day know that they are being prayed for and loved, not only by me but by a Holy God. I am guessing that for nine out of ten people, this will be a small, if negligible  boost in their day, but for that last person, it may just be the one thing they needed to hear. Who knows. The Lord works in mysterious ways. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Links for Living, Writing, and More

I appreciate everyone's willingness to continue stopping at this little corner of the internet to see what is happening with me, but I have a confession to make. Ready? A substantial number of better writers are available to you. I know they exist, because I read their stuff sometimes. As such, I felt I should take an opportunity to direct you to some of the articles I have had the pleasure of reading in recently. Here's a handful of them, somewhat similar to my usual topics. My hope is to eventually offer recommendations on the regular. For now I will attempt to do so once a month. Enjoy!

On Faith & Christian Culture
An exhortation for professing Christians to be more friendly in their online courtesy My Take: A Word to Chrsitains - Be Nice

An analysis of the reasons kids leave the church following their teen years and active youth group involvement. "Top Ten Reasons Our Kids Leave Church"

On Writing
How to take rejection well and continue to press forward. "Regarding Rejection"

Though written specifically to professional writers, a great little piece for anyone hoping to communicate better in any written form: "7 Tips for Great Sentences"

Some great insight on editing from one of my new favorite authors/bloggers, Jody Hedlund "Unleashing the Internal Editor: A Self-Editing Checklist"

The key ingredient to success according to a very successful person (and it's not what you'd think). The One Thing You Must Do to Achieve Break-Through Results

A few words on thriving in the dull tasks of the day-today Grace for Monotonous Work

Friday, February 15, 2013

It's Been Hard...But Hope Endures

When my wife and I moved in August 2012, we had an enthusiasm unlike any I can remember us sharing before that time. We believed that the Lord had led us to make a huge change, and we were making it, together, hand-in-hand with great expectations. We arrived, and life was very good for a time. I was writing; my wife was adjusting. We were applying for work. I was seeing old friends, and I even met a few new ones. We were visiting with family, and we knew we were gonna make it here.

Seasons change. The sun sets. The honeymoon phase of a new life fades. My wife started working part-time while I continued to receive rejections. The harder realities of our situation became clearer, and the social dynamics of our new life became more complicated and difficult. And yet we were sure we were gonna make it.

We entered winter, both figuratively and literally. We thought we hit a major break. I was given two job offers but had no peace in regard to both, and I declined them with my wife's support. The holidays came, and for Christmas we were divided--she visited family; I stayed here. New Years' we spent together uneventfully. I ended the year jobless, while her work continued to prove constantly taxing upon her return. But we endured it, and we knew were gonna make it.

The mornings grew colder in the New Year. Our car began to have more problems. The pet peeves of this new social situation began to emerge more obviously, and finances became more pressing. The rejections continued; the realities of making a go at self-publishing became more demanding. My wife was asked to take on a full-time schedule, even as my latest job fell through the cracks. She accepted, and we hoped something would work out for me, because we knew we were gonna make it.

This week, I hit a wall. I was exhausted by mid-Monday, before I had barely put in time on writing. This week I applied for more jobs--one of which rejected me within 48-hours. I had a different potential gig, and I stayed up very late to put together samples for it. The caffeine rush from doing so even carried through the following day, so I could write and get stuff done on few hours of sleep. But by the middle of the week, I crashed. I overslept 4 hours, and I woke up depressed, exhausted, and listless. At one point, I was considering investing in a bunch of clearanced toy items that I knew I could flip online for fifty bucks or so just to feel I was contributing...but that's a story for another day. Other stuff happened, some interesting some not. Satan tried to his advantage while I was alone in the daytime but fortunately to no avail; I stood my ground, albeit drained and worn after the fact. And today I found myself sitting on a stool cutting up sticks for parents outside, wondering how we were gonna make it.

Cause I just don't know.

And at times, I'm forlorn and frustrated and discouraged. The truth is that I am all of those things far more often than I'd like. This week, I felt debilitated by them. We're both hurting more than we wish to admit. But despite the pain, I am so thankful in this: never once have either of us blamed God or doubted him, even as I've doubted myself. On the contrary, we have still felt peace when we should have had none, and we have given God praise and glory in all of it. That is just as true as the hardship itself, if not more so, that in it all I see God as more beautiful, more gracious, and more wonderful, because though so many of our desires, hopes, and expectations have gone unmet, our faith has remained untainted, and our hope in Christ has endured.

I feel like I'm becoming a bit of a broken record here on the blog. In a sense, I am glad that I am. I am glad that the hardship of the present is on record. Frankly, I write about these raw emotions in this post because it's necessary that I do so. I go here and share with all of you how hard it's really been because when it gets easier, we can look back and say, "We came to a point where we weren't sure how we would make it. We were there, and we just clung to Christ like a a life preserver in storming waters, and he delivered us".

I'm sorry. I know this is no fun to read--I know some of you reading this will hurt because we hurt. I don't mean to cause you stress or pain, but you have to know, now, as it's happening. If I am going to share the journey with you, I have bring you into the valleys as much as the peaks.  Because that day on the peak is coming, a day wherein I'll have work, maybe we'll be active in ministry, maybe we'll even have children; and I need to have weeks like this one on the record, so that when I speak to someone hurting and broken and unsure of how they are going to survive the next day, I can say to them, "See!  I was there. I know the pain. It's right there. I know it's real, and it tears at you like a beast trying to strip you of your very life, but God was still good and faithful and loving then--and he is still as good and faithful and loving now. So, cling to him. Hold fast to who he is. Hold fast to him for your life. He can deliver. He is deliverance. I know your heart is hurting, but God can revive it, breathe life into it anew, and lead you where he needs you to go. He can. We are proof of that."

That's what living life loving Christ is all about, our lives being a testimony to the world that the God they don't see is real, that he is alive and good and true. Oh how I want the world to see that in us. If at some point, the Holy Sprit uses this trial we're enduring to bring one more person--even one--to saving faith in Christ Jesus, it is all worth it. May it be more. Here's hoping.

Yeah. That's right. We are hoping. God bless you all, enjoy the weekend!

Behind the Blog: “What’s in a Name?”

This was one of the first posts I composed when I decided to jump back into blogging last fall, but I failed to post it for whatever reason. I held onto it because I though it worth sharing eventually...and I guess eventually became today. Full disclosure, I am providing it now because the post that I was planning to publish this morning needs more work. Hopefully this is still worth a read. 

Blogging is an odd beast. In a sense I feel that it is an entirely self-indulgent waste of not only the author’s time but the reader’s also. A great many blogs (like my prior one and arguably this one, for example) seem designed to do nothing but provide a soapbox from which an individual (or group of individuals) can share with the world a shallow and completely self-involved outlook that they feel is of utmost importance, whether it be on a very serious specific subject, consistent utter nonsense, or a little bit of both. On the other hand, blogs, even banal ones, can be immensely useful in enriching the lives of both the author and his/her readership depending on whom fulfills those roles. 

Considering this opinion on blogs in and of themselves, I found myself at a bit of an impasse when creating a new one. I wanted to create a blog that certainly pinpointed my highest value (encouraging others in their pursuit of Jesus while also reflecting on my own) but also left the door open for the random tangents and occasional oddities that I knew I would want to share (for example, that I am working toward publishing novels and that I am a Lego enthusiast).

So, what to name it?  Well, “livin’ life lovin’ Jesus” was the name of the now-abandoned blog my wife and I began in March 2012 to chronicle life in preparation of the move, but our use of that name was done with little thought at the time, other than I thought it kind of catchy. I was very saddened to see the name go to waste when the blog was deleted. Therefore, I salvaged it in late Spring as a placeholder while trying to develop a new name for this blog.

But upon further reflection, the name worked really well for what I intended to do here. I wanted a name that reflected not myself but my highest value and the focus of my endeavor. Additionally, I wanted to avoid putting my own name into the title as a means of further self-elevation but also wanted to convey a certain amount of individual connection to the previously identified highest value.  Thus, inserting the Christ-for-Jesus name swap and using “Living Life Loving Christ” seemed to work. "Living Life" is certainly an activity I am doing that also lends itself to certain surprises and less serious pursuits. "Loving Christ" is the heart of not only this matter but all matters while I am living life (yes, even during the less serious times). The conjunction of these two concepts truly captures the essence of what I am intending to express here—what living life looks like in light of loving Christ, at least for me (and others to whom I link on occasion).  

Not really sure why I felt like sharing this but that is that,

Funny thing. As I look back at this post composed so many months ago, I feel like I have been very guilty of the self-indulgence mentioned in the first paragraph. If I were to look at the full content provided here in the last few months, who would be the focus: me or Christ? I think we all know the answer to that question, and it's one worth examining as I develop posts and look toward wrapping up the sixth month of publishing here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Color-Coding: A better way to see your Story Threads

In the midst of working on the sequel to Stronghold, the study guide to Stronghold, my NANOWRIMO project, and various shorts, I had a day of free-associative writing wherein I just began to type a story, and I began to fall in love with the idea, and I kept writing. And writing. And writing. After two-three sessions' time, I had a promising opening to a new, very different book from my first two. I had begun a young-adult romance. 

I've had a blast writing it. Frankly, I don't know why I have waited so long to do so. In essence, this novel is a lover-letter to my high school youth group, to its leaders, and to the whole experience of the weekend retreat. In some sense, the work also serves also something of an apology letter to several young ladies whose attendance at said retreats was complicated by my unwelcome romantic pursuits and gestures. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and I have spread my own loathsome proclivities over a number of different characters of either gender. I've tweeted about the process of writing this book--the re-opening of old wounds to pull meaningful and deep emotional moments and also the joys of doing so, being removed from them as I am these days. 

Strangegly, however, I have not touched on one of the most fulfilling aspect of this latest process. I think it's because I'm somewhat embarrassed to have come to this realization so late in my writing career (novice, though it is). I am referring to a means of organizing data and subplots at the outline stage of the story by color-coding arcs and conflicts. I cannot believe how much easier it is to track subplots or story threads when they are designated by color. It makes them pop throughout an outline, shows their constancy (or lack thereof) throughout the storyline, and In the end, provides a wonderful tapestry for the work, making it feel dynamic and complex, despite how intentionally straightforward the plot design is. As an example, I am going to provide you with two portions from my outline, one with color coding, one without. Please note that everything presented here is in shorthand as this comes from the outline, and the final, actual text will have more meat to it. =)

  1. The group arrives at the campground, and an encounter occurs between Ryan and Michelle. He grabs her bag and takes it for her (all the guys do this for all the ladies, but he looks for hers). She wants to focus on God and friends, and she is both obtuse and uninterested in him, though she has some level of odd attraction.
    1. Brian makes the boys grab the women’s luggage.
    2. Julia comments to this effect.
    3. Tom tries to grab it but Ryan Thwarts him.
    4. Ryan returns, also grabs Leanne’s bag also
    5. Charity watches. Reaches out to Michelle
    6. Ryan and Kenneth comedic encounter 1
  2. The youth attend their first service, during which Ryan is undeterred in his interest. HIn fact, his opinion for her only increases. And he sits near Michelle but next to her. The speaker calls to the students to join the “Eternal Romance”.
    1. Brian sits with arm around Cindy. Had Held.
    2. Julia sits next to Ryan
    3. Tom sits by Michelle. K on other side. Paige sits next to him.
    4. Leanne sits on other side of Ryan
    5. Charity sits behind Michelle

  1. The group arrives at the campground, and an encounter occurs between Ryan and Michelle. He grabs her bag and takes it for her (all the guys do this for all the ladies, but he looks for hers). She wants to focus on God and friends, and she is both obtuse and uninterested in him, though she has some level of odd attraction.
    1. Brian makes the boys grab the women’s luggage.
    2. Julia comments to this effect.
    3. Tom tries to grab it but Ryan Thwarts him.
    4. Ryan returns, also grabs Leanne’s bag also
    5. Charity watches. Reaches out to Michelle
    6. Ryan and Kenneth comedic encounter 1
  2. The youth attend their first service, during which Ryan is undeterred in his interest. HIn fact, his opinion for her only increases. And he sits near Michelle but next to her. The speaker calls to the students to join the “Eternal Romance”.
    1. Brian sits with arm around Cindy. Had Held.
    2. Julia sits next to Ryan
    3. Tom sits by Michelle. K on other side. Paige sits next to him.
    4. Leanne sits on other side of Ryan
    5. Charity sits behind Michelle
Notice how in the second one, we see better how to connect the threads. They are easier to locate, and we can be sure that they are not dropped later in the outline or 90 pages into the book, becuase we can track that green text over 7-8 pages of outlining very quickly to ensure they are there. In addition  if a later chapter has only three subplots in play, then the subpoints of the outline are not confusing (like if a thread is labeled subpoint "a" in one chapter and "c" two chapters later. I love it, and I cannot believe I never applied such a method to subploting. In the past I always used the "Lettered Threads" method, so that subplot A was called SPA, and Subplot B called SPB and so forth, but I gotta say, I am dropping that system altogether. Beyond the issue I already mentioned with the confusion over the letters in varying chapters of the outline, the lettering does not "pop" like the coloring does. . This color-coding is the money melon. Anybody else use it? 

Thanks for reading, 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sharing Enhances Love

I recently was working on my romance novel, and I came to a chapter I thought worth sharing, if prematurely. The context of the below passage is as follows: a public speaker is addressing a crowd of teenagers on the importance of sharing their faith in order to deepen their love for and relationship with Christ. The language is contextualized to that audience, but here's what I developed for his sermon on the topic (again, this is the second draft WIP):

“...So, we pray for insight into the Bible, and we read the Bible, and we discuss with others what we see and find. Do you guys do that? If you don’t do it, do you want to? Do you want to share with others what Christ is teaching you and what he’s revealed to you in your personal study of Scriptures? If it’s true and beautiful, then why would you not? One of my favorite preachers, a pastor out of New York named Tim Keller, is quoted as having said, ‘The observer of beauty always receives a passion to share the beauty with others’. I love that quote, because it captures so concisely what I am trying to express to you guys. 
"Think with me for a second about this and you’ll get what I mean; think of a movie, song, book, whatever. If you find something you really like, you always want to share it, don’t you?  And don’t you find that when you share that song or book and see another enjoying it, you like it even more? When another person enjoys that same thing you do and sees the same truth and beauty in it, it makes the connection between you and that thing stronger as well as the connection between you and that person stronger. When you see their love for it in the same manner you love it, than that thing becomes more valuable and beautiful to you, doesn't it? The joke becomes more funny. Or the lyrics become more meaningful. The emotional moment of the film, that makes them cry when it made you cry, becomes more poignant. When you like something—you really enjoy that thing—you have to share it, and when you do and someone else sees in it what you see, it automatically becomes more beautiful to you. 
"Such it is with Christ. At least it should be. If you come to know him more and love him more, it should compel you to share him more. And, likely, Christ will lead you to share it with people who have had or are having similar experiences; and so together you both see more evidence of your own conviction. That's why we should share him more both in daily lives and dialog with community--to further honor and affirm his own work within the whole body. 
"So, what are the three ways we deepen our relationship with Christ? Prayer, or talk; Scripture, or words; and sharing our faith in community, or walk. Talk. Words. And Walk. Talk, words, walk.
So, now, we are going to do these very things and dive into Scripture together. ..."

What is so funny about my composing the above text, is that I've never actually considered it until prepping the sermon series that the speaker was giving throughout the book, but it became so obvious I was almost embarrassed. The Keller quote I believe actually comes from a sermon (though I pulled it from Twitter), and it's a sentiment that is necessary for us to not only recall but institute in our daily lives with others. 

I am big into sharing art. I love sharing art, and finally, I am at a point in my spiritual walk wherein I love to share my faith--it's what this blog is for after all (that, and some self-indulgence, from time-to-time, if I'm being honest). I hope you all are at this place of comfort in sharing also, or nearing it, for it is a wonderful place in which to find oneself. The practice of sharing your growth enchances and deepens relationships with fellow believers, making you not only friends or earthly family but making in you true, spiritual kin; as you can both see the love and grace of your spiritual father more clearly evidenced in the lives around you. And with non-believers, this sharing, when done in gentleness and respect, can be a valuable testimony, an assurance of your faith's reality beyond a series of tenants but rather a testament to your daily reality as a servant and lover of Christ Jesus. 

Thanks for reading, and please share (not necessarily this post but your faith)!

Friday, February 8, 2013

eBinds: Ethics in Online Sales

Dealing with one's own error is a difficult matter. The path of least resistance is always to pass the buck or dismiss the wrong parties with a "better luck next time". This is easy and effective in the short term, but it can (not "does" but can) come back to haunt one for their failure to own their mistakes. The imminent difficulty comes in eating the crow up front, in acknowledging one's fault, accepting the loss and working to remedy the wrong that's been done. Over the years, I have found that in as much as the easier road solves a short-term crisis, the personal toll on my soul is far too costly, and I simply cannot do it, nor do I wish to as it seems cowardly and unloving. I ache when I feel I have compromised my integrity. This makes it no less difficult to accept responsibility when these situations arise, and I must eat my mistakes like sour milk that not only tastes awful but turns my stomach as well.

I recently had a test of character in an online sales transaction. The story is long, and it is complicated; but I will try to give you a glimpse of the issue, and you can weigh in with your opinion as to how I might have handled the situation better. I am looking for corrective, constructive criticism here.

The dilemma began in the fall, when I was handed a box of items to list for a friend on an auction site. He knew he would not make the time to do it, and I was not working, so selling the items for him was a favor I willingly undertook. At the time I also had no intention of receiving a payment for assisting him; I was just helping a brother out. I listed an item for him, but before it ended, I realized I had listed it incorrectly. Whereas I believed and listed the item as complete, it was not; rather, it was packaged wrongly and included incorrect parts. I attempted to remove the auction, but I was unable. Someone had bid on it, and the time frame when the item was to end was too near. The auction ended; the buyer attempted to pay; I, however, asked him to cancel the transaction, informing him that I could not sell the item as listed, for I had listed it incorrectly. I informed him that the item was a factory defect and could not be sold as is. I did not, however, express to him the full truth--that the item could be worth more than the original listing price given the error. The buyer canceled as I requested.

Time passed, I left the item disregarded until recently, when I decided to research it and relist it anew. As I conducted my research, I recognized a certain, possible value that the figure may carry, significantly more than I had originally thought. So, I relisted it. Before 24 hours had passed, the former buyer, who had canceled the item at my request but apparently still wanted it, then sent me an e-mail, asking why the item was relisted at the higher price after he was denied it last season. I expressed to him the dilemma in which I found myself, that due to my error in the original listing I had him cancel the auction, for the item I had listed was not what I actually had in-hand to sell. The fact is, at the time I discovered that what I had to sell was possibly worth far more, and I felt that I would be wronging my friend by selling the item at the low price given my mistake. Of course, I now realized I had wronged the buyer by not expressing as much to him more clearly and failing to offer it to him first at a reasonable price prior t re-listing.

He then proceeded to inform me that research, thorough as I felt to be, was completely misguided. He, being a collector of this particular brand of item, was well-versed in the fair values of items like the one I was selling at my friend's request; and he stated the error as I noted in the auction was insignificant and the item worth no more than the original selling price, which he graciously offered to pay, should I be willing to sell the item at that value.

I contacted my friend and told him of the development, further informing him that the value I placed on the item was highly inflated based despite what I had researched. Further, I went our local comic book shop and discussed the item with its owner, who also felt that my estimate was incorrect and a lower price far more reasonable. This information before us, my friend and I came to a conclusion, to lower the price on the item to the original cost, so that were it still worth that amount, despite the rarity of the defect, the buyer could still procure it at the original cost. In addition, I offered the buyer free shipping should he win the item, out of his gratitude for his still doing business (and, if I am honest, a sense of needing to do right by him for my prior mistakes).

The auction is pending.

Those are the facts, and I feel like I've erred on multiple fronts as I relay them to you. First, of course, I blew the listing. I was not thorough, and thus, I am responsible for this whole dilemma. Second, I feel I screwed up on the cancellation by not being wholly clear with the buyer--by not expressing to him the full details, my fear over losing value on another person's item, with which I was entrusted. Third, I feel like I failed the buyer further by relisting the item without first discussing the new findings with him and reaching an agreement on a new, agreeable price, before listing it.

To be honest, I really am torn. At first, I felt the desire to say to the buyer upon his first contacting me, "That auction ended. We agreed to cancel it. The item is now listed correctly at a fair price, and you are welcome to bid on it.".  Nothing about that statement is a lie. Frankly, by business standards, it may even be wholly fair and just, but I just felt it terribly unsympathetic and lacking in love toward the buyer. After all, he was just shopping; the error was mine. He was good enough to cancel the auction at my request, and I failed to pay him the courtesy of a follow-up. I feel that I have wronged him, for certain; and I could not treat him with such contempt. But have I? Even with the new price we have placed on the auction so that he might get the item at the same price, I feel poorly about his plight.

Then of couse, I have my friend on the other side. Regardless of his response in this, I will feel poorly if he receives less than the value of the item. Frankly, my error was the issue. Now, in an attempt to alleviate some of my self-abasement, some might say, "Ah, but his error was in refusing to list the items himself. Had he done the work, this error may have been avoided." And that may be true but it does not absolve me of my own failure. Yes, he could and perhaps should have done the labor on his own, and he is getting what he has worked for in the lesser amount. But what that really means is that he is getting what he deserves for trusting me. If my error is a means for his loss, than it is still my fault, is it not? I was entrusted to complete the sale of the items, and if I sell one for a portion of its value, have I not wronged him? If anything, the loss to him is twofold--the loss of the item's value and the loss of trust in me.

So, we return to the question at hand. What should have been done? At this point, what can be done? I am in a lose-lose. Someone is going to be left unhappy by my error. What do you think? If you were a judge hearing this case, what would you do. Send me to the pillory? Dismiss the buyer and treat the event as having never happened? Punish my friend and require the item be sold at the original, possibly lower value to the buyer? I am really asking, cause frankly, I am trying to learn from this situation.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What are you writing, again?

So, over the last few weeks, I have written in regard to a number of projects. I know it may seem like I have become a bit frantic, but I assure you all, I have a method to my madness. The method is two-fold. One facet is staying busy despite a lack of paid employment, and the other is building a portfolio for my writing career while I have the time to invest. I am trying to invest my time as though I were doing exactly what I would like to do--getting paid to write. Frankly, the only issue right now is that lack of funding; were I making a steady living at this, I would feel secure in my present position and striving to use such a platform for the purpose of glorifying Christ and encouraging others in him, Full Time. I'm not there just yet--got the latter without the former, which is fine. If I am lucky, a decade or two from now, I may have the former also. Besides, that's not the point of this post.

Today I thought it worthwhile to take time at the beginning of the month just to provide you with a condensed update of what I am doing. I hope to set-up a newsletter to give these sorts of updates on the regular in the future, but I will cross that bridge in the later. For now, here's what is happening:

First, from week to week, I am trying to get into the habit of producing daily, online content during the workweek. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday I provide content here on the blog. I try to do one spiritually focused post, one writing update, and one general interest post each week. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I create Stunks-Bricks-Pics on Instagram/Flickr and Facebook. On Saturdays, I try to update Flickr with other Lego shots. If you are on any of these social networks, I always value and appreciate your "liking" these posts, as the "likes"direct the social algorithms to further display the links on my other friends' feeds. 

Second, I have completed the manuscript for Stronghold, received positive feedback from reviewers, and I have sent it for an agent's consideration. If they pass on it, I will still self-publish as intended, releasing that work on a variety of platforms this spring. 

Third, I am still developing the outlines for two follow-up works to Stronghold. The first will be a study-guide I hope to have ready by Christmas 2013, and the second is a sequel to the novel that I have tentatively planned to complete and publish in Christmas 2014. 

Fourth, I have begun the editing and re-writing process for my National Novel Write Month (NanoWrimo) novel, of which I have completed first draft. As I said, the novel is not really good, but it provided some very interesting blocks on which to build, and I am confident that it can greatly improve with time. At present, I intend to e-publish/launch it just before or around the 2013 Nanowrimo. 

Fifth, I have recently had a bout of inspiration; and as a result have fully outlined and begun an initial young adult romance novel, tentatively entitled, To Retreat From Romance. The book is something of a love letter to my junior high and high school youth group, and while it draws vaguely from personal experience, the story, point of view, and overall concept are very new and challenging to me as a writer--I am telling the story in the third-person, limited perspective with a female protagonist--which in some ways is the exact opposite of my work on Stronghold. Furthermore, this work of great importance to me, as it has enabled me to develop and outline a "sermon series" that I could present were I to have the privilege of speaking at a high school/college youth retreat. While the voice of the speaker is certainly not my own, the content reflects my convictions. As a result, I am killing two birds with one stone on this one. 

Sixth, I am still developing a number of 9-point outlines in regard to me goal for my 30x30, as discussed here. These projects include a variety of short stories, a screenplay, and another novel. 

Seventh, I am still playing the idea of a children's book, and while I have the outline completed, I seem to have over-developed it into a novella and nullified some of its charm. As a result, I need to condense it considerably and also make the content more friendly to pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. This, too, is a growing exercise. 

And, of course, as always happens, a fluke joke made between a friend and me has sent my mind a flutter with a new idea that I just cannot quit, so I am jotting pre-writing notes for that, which I would like to turn into an ongoing lego comic in the future, but that is very, very far from now. This project would be my comic-book-esque hero story (and let's face it, if you know me, you know I need to do one of those). 

So, where does that leave me. Here we go:

Generating weekly content for the web in a variety of places. (non-book, Blog/FB Lego pics)
Developing/Pre-writing possible Hero Story (online comic starting 2015 or 2016)
Outlining Two follow-ups to Stronghold, a study-guide and a sequel (hopefully for release in 12/2013 and 12/2014 respectively)
Re-Outlining Children's book (unknown release)
Completing First draft of my young adult romance novel (unplanned release)
 Re-writes/revisions on My NanoWrimo fantasy novel (Planned for 12/2013 release).

So, basically, I am working at all points of the writing process--development, initial completion, and editing--all at the same time but on a variety of different projects. Should make for an interesting schedule once I start full-time work. Thank you for joining me on this journey; I truly hope that my efforts are and will continue to be a source of entertainment and encouragement for you. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Memorization: Daniel 4:18-37

Okay, full disclosure. I am memorizing this passage for two reasons:
First, Francis Chan preached on it once, and it totally struck me.
Second, Nebuchadnezzar basically becomes a werewolf, which is pretty awesome (please note my embelishment here, I don't actually think he became a wolfman).

In all seriousness, this is a very compelling and interesting passage of Scripture. Earlier in the chapter, the mighty rule of immense kingdom of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had a dream, and the prophet Daniel interpreted it. The dream was of a great tree, cut to its stump then bound; the interpretation is that the tree is Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel pleads with Nebuchadnezzar to turn from his pride and oppressive, selfish ways before God carries this judgment against him, lowering Nebuchadezzar's stature and power. Daniel's belief that the vision's fulfillment is both imminent and dreadful in its fulness is evident when reading the text, and after his exhortations to Nebuchadnezzar, the text reads as follows:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months, the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty hand as a royal residence for the glory of my majesty?" While the words were still on the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven. "O Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be made among the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and he gives it to whom he will."
Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers and his nails were like birds' claws.
At the end of the days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
For his dominion is an everlasting dominion
And his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing.
And he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;
And none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and my splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

I love Nebuchanezzar's turn here...because I am Nebuchadnezzar. Or an echo of him anyway. Are not we all? Do we not look over our lives and take great pride in the little kingdoms that we have established for ourselves--the friends, the money, the homes, the cars. Do we not think we "built them" by "our mighty hands". How foolish we are to think such a thing. Like that great king of old we too must acknowledge the hands of the Most High, who grants to men what he will. He gives and takes away, and he wrongs no one. May we never forget it. May none of us ever need to undergo so great a humbling as Nebuchadnezzar. I know I have been humbled time and time again, may I never need it to such a degree as this once great king, especially having memorized these verses.

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.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Love as Encouragement: A Daily Need

I must admit that this post is very late in its coming. I was going to save it for Monday, but as I should have written it months ago, I figured I'd just post it up before the weekend! Today will just be double-duty.

Many of you have commented here, sent me texts, "liked" my posts, and encouraged me in my writing over the last few months. I cannot tell you how much your kindness has meant; I do not have the words (which is saying something, cause, you know--I'm a writer). Frankly, on days when I would prefer to just give up for the afternoon and build LEGO or sleep, your unexpected but ever-welcome words have struck a nerve in my soul and assured me that my efforts have not been in vain, that this journey of writing has had kingdom value, and that God is using me as I am and in the life situation in which I find myself. You have inspired thoughts, posts, and found your way into my writing in more ways than you know.

I hope you feel a great swell of joy knowing that you are a source of encouragement and blessing to another human being, whether doing something as simple as clicking a button on a social network or sending an e-mail in response to a thought I shared. You have shown love and affection when neither were required of you, and you have made my life better in the last several months as a result.

That being said--and it was very brief given my gratitude and excitement for your kindness--I must exhort you to continue in your noble efforts, not merely toward me (though I greatly value them) but to others (even when they do not value them). I write this having just received a text from one of you. I was immediately filled with gratitude to God for our relationship and moved to pay it forward, which I did, but I also felt it necessary to extend the kindness to greater lengths by calling us all to consistent, further action.

Encouragement should be part of our daily routine. I am not referring to meeting a quota but rather to cultivating a lifestyle of meaningful interactions intended to bless. I know this is not a new sentiment, but it is certainly one of enough value to bear repeating. Let us be people of sincere, forthcoming love through consistent uplifting words. I am reminded specifically of a Scripture I memorized in the last 6 months in Colossians 3,

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another; and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Oh, how I want my thoughts to be like that--like so many of yours have been!  What a calling we have been given, to be told we should live in such a way. I once heard a sermon by John Piper wherein he defined true freedom as "wanting to do what you should do, and then being able to do what you want to do". I think that is a fine definition. If we should do the above, and we come to want to do the above, and we are able do the above, are we not free? And if we are indeed free, should we not exercise said freedom with constant, great zeal? I know that I should. I know that many of you have. And I know we can all continue doing so together, not only to each other but to those who will never repay such kindness--who will think us daft or conniving or insincere or false or foolish--but we can and should let such cynicism fall forgotten and let encouragement be our standard.

A kind word cannot change a fallen world, but a culture of encouragement can dim its sting and bring us one step nearer to the kingdom we all crave so deeply.  I ask you all to join me in taking that step. Today. Tomorrow. Always.

On Social Regret

Regret has oftentimes been a major part of my mental process, and I do not recall a time when this was not the case. As a youth in junior high, I would lament my lack of diligence at reading and penmanship at ages 8-9. In high school, I would look back at the mistakes of my junior high years. In college, I was looking back at my poor choices at university, and since I graduated college, well, let's just stay I have leveled a great deal of criticism at myself for life choices in every stage to the present (less this most recent move, strangely enough)

What I find most frustrating about this type of reflection is that I have tried to live with intentionality, diligence, and self-discipline at many stages of life that are filled with regret. People say that I am terribly hard on myself, and I don't wholly disagree with them. I demand much of myself, as much has been given to me--mental capacities, creative tendencies, vision, hearing, taste, touch, two-hands, two-legs, a reasonable constitution, and a certain level of charisma (though I will let the reader determine just how much of that I possess). I think of the gift of life, and I cannot help be filled with a certain sense of responsibility.

And I think regret stems from having said sense but failing to capitalize on it. Frankly, in my thirty-plus years of life, I have not used the gift of time as well as I should have. Even by modern American standards that seem to embrace sloth and consumerism, I know that I have wasted time and potential. Furthermore, I believe have been placed in a position of privilege as a white person born into a middle class family in America, and to whom much is given, much is required.

But I think the regret that hits me the most is not wholly related to my personal shortcomings so much as my social shortcomings. What I mean by that is this, I've wronged more people than I ever thought I would have; and in more than one case, I was aware that I was doing it on some level, even while I was doing it. Now, I know that some may assume I am talking about romantic failings, and you are not wrong; but the vast majority of my social regret stems from two things beyond the romantic.

The first is that my shortcomings, whatever they were, for the better part of high school, made Christ look less attractive to many of my peers. As an outspoken Christian in public school, I was watched and held to a standard by those who felt I should have lived a certain way--and I cannot help but wonder how much damage was done to Christ's reputation on account of my failings. I cannot help but regret the youthful chasing after popularity, approval, and certain clothes. I cannot help but regret the instances in which my pride made Christ look foolish--and frankly, those times were often--more often than I care to admit.

The second aspect of social regret that hits me is that I failed to stand for others when I should have, both in their presence and out of it. I recall a handful of instances wherein I could have put myself in the line of fire for another being teased or cajoled, but I failed to do so due to pride, fear, and a lack of love. I would give a great deal to be back in certain classrooms, able to speak on behalf of those to emotionally beaten to speak for themselves. I think of where they may be today. I wonder if the scenes are as vivid to them as they are to me (and they are vivid)

But what is the point?  Regret for its own sake is sadistic. If we do look at the past and seek to act in such a way that we do not repeat it, then regret becomes nothing more than pain for its own sake. The point, really, is that if we are going to acknowledge regret, we should also strive to ensure that our behavior changes so as to avoid facing the same regret in the future. This does not mean that we may not have other, new regrets in the process of living, but the same regret should not manifest itself over and over again (that's seems the very definition of folly).

That being said, I look forward to the next time I am challenged in such a fashion--the next time I stand for Christ in a place where he is unwelcome, the next time I see a person in need. I hope and pray that I handle it with more aplomb, that more of Christ the bold and loving emerges and less of "C.J. the insecure and cowardly" appears. Such hope demands preparation, and so we have come full circle--to live intentionally, to seek Scripture and identity in Christ now, so that when opportunity to show him more manifest arises, acting in love is a reflex and regret can find no footing. So be it.

Thanks for reading,