We Need a Hero…

As I think about my life, I’m ever grateful for the hero in the story. When I was young, I watched The Adventures of Letterman on television. He was a cartoon, but he saved the day nonetheless!

Faster than a rolling ‘O’
Stronger than silent ‘E’
Able to leap capital ‘T’ in a single bound!
It’s a word, it’s a plan…it’s Letterman! (The Adventures of Letterman, The Electric Company. PBS. 1971-1977.)

A damsel in distress needs a hero, doesn’t she! How many times does the hero swoop in at just the right time to save the girl trapped in the villain’s dastardly plan? Thankfully, every time. And what kind of terrible villain was at work in my life? The worst enemy imaginable: the one who wants to see me destroyed— body, mind, and soul—forever. For-ev-er.

Once upon a time, I was a petite young lady looking to wake up and conquer each new day in some fresh way. Home life. School life. Social life. Life was all about me, and I had the ability to meet the challenges in creative ways. But the skills I used were entirely mine. There was no need to look for the hero in the story then. Oh, I did that when I was younger, but the hero never came. I was able to meet my own challenges and succeed well enough. Good enough. Smart enough. And—bonus!—a decent number of people liked me.

Isn’t that how most people handle the world? Is there any other way?

Maybe there is, but back then, I didn’t know any other way.

Speeding down the highway in a ’71 Pontiac Catalina in 1990, music blaring. Later speeding down the highway in an ’96 Chevette, music blaring. Queen of the road—my own road.

Something was happening, though, behind the curtain in the realm I couldn’t see.

All the pain. All the hurts. Some I chose, and some others recklessly dumped on me. I had to take it all somewhere. Without resolution, the wounds festered, cancerous to my soul. Where could a girl take the pain of life and know there could be healing? Tumbling through the villain’s cycle for my life, I stuffed the emotion until implosion or explosion. Then I started again. No release. I wreaked havoc on my own life, but targeted others as often as I could to lessen the pain.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;  Isaiah 43:1-3a

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

My pain was real, and I acted out of that pain for years. But the God of the universe was willing to rescue me when I was still an angry, spiteful, pain-driven woman for so many years. Knowing I would hate Him (and any other male figure in society)…

He took the beating, the long walk to the hill carrying that crossbeam, and the nails in his hands and feet. The wood slivers shredded his skin as he rose to draw each breath and sunk to rest between. The spear pierced his side.

He didn’t have to endure that. Jesus was perfectly innocent and powerful enough to make things happen differently, if he wanted. He could have chosen to remain at a distance. He could have left me (and all of us) to the consequences and justice deserved. But love motivated every step to the cross. And love held him there.

We have no right to be even acknowledged, let alone in the presence of Holy God, in our sin-ravaged state.

But God…

Rescued.

Redeemed.

In relationship.

Thanks for reading along.

~j

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Hey Writer, Create Character Sketches: Stranger Things

I’ve been thinking about writing interesting characters with depth, the kind that draw a reader into the story. There’s something in the details. There are precious details that shouldn’t be overlooked, and then there are the things that tell too much. Yeah, I’m probably guilty of “TMI” more often than not. If nothing is left to the imagination, there’s not much left for the reader to do than scan the words on the page. There’s no engagement there.

So, I made up a little exercise. I’ll nonchalantly take in the scenes around me (and the people in them). Each person I see is now a character, but there are rules—

  1. The person must be a complete stranger.
  2. Jot notes on the physical appearance (physique, posture, clothing, movement).
  3. Include notes on the person’s presence in the place (sound, language, gestures).
  4. Imagine the internal workings of the mind (choices, values, self-esteem).
  5. Quick “day in the life” sketch of the stranger.

I wonder how this kind of exercise will change my writing skill. It might be helpful, but I’ll let you know. I think the benefit is having a jotted list first and selecting from that. Rather than starting with a written piece, I can whittle down what I really need: a basic description and puzzle pieces for a story line, dialogue, and character interaction in relationship to others.

If you’ve done an exercise of this nature, how did it develop your skill in the craft?

What kinds of information would useful in an exercise like this to develop characters?

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you feel like sharing below.

Thanks for reading along!

~j

Water, Water, Everywhere…

As I reflect on my life, I’m sensitive to something I’ve glossed over more recently. As I explore it, bear with me. Maybe we’ll discover something unique and useful as we go.

I was thinking about water—different kinds of water. Water can be completely still in stagnant puddles. It can be strong and forceful in  the motion of white-capped waves. There’s something between those two that has always been the topic of my archived blog—gentle motion as the result of an impact, ripples.

Stagnant water has some appeal at first glance. It’s smooth like glass, nonthreatening, and looks peaceful. But something else is going on. Check out stagnant water areas, and the ecology is pretty consistent. While certain kinds of life can found there, some general rules apply:

Stagnant: adj

1. (of water, etc.) standing still; without flow or current
2. brackish and foul from standing still
3. stale, sluggish, or dull from inaction
4. not growing or developing; static (Dictionary.com)

Spiritually speaking, I hope I am never in the stagnant water category for long. Not to be confused with periods of rest, times of slowing down, or seeking direction—stagnation is an eventual standstill leading to something foul. The closest thing in Scripture related to stagnant water is the “sluggard” (Proverbs 6:6,9; 10:26; 13:4; 19:24; 20:4; 26:14). Over and over, we are warned about complacency and laziness. Our stagnant condition, when we find ourselves in it, can be our responsibility to a certain extent. We absolutely must be active. The stagnant condition is detrimental. I’ve experienced it, and it was a tearful wake up call—a wake up call I hope always happens whenever I settle into this state.

The other extreme water condition that came to mind was the strong, forceful motion of white-capped waves. So much is going on with this water. It’s in motion, impacts everything it touches, and can be heard a long way off. Captivating, exciting, and maybe overwhelming—waves can be so impressive! Some of us dream of riding one. Others wait for one to crash near on the beach. I can stand watching them pound the beach all day, awestruck!

Wave: 
1. a disturbance on the surface of a liquid body, as the sea or a lake, in the form of a moving ridge or swell. n.
2. to move freely and gently back and forth or up and down, as by the action of air currents, sea swells, etc. v. (Dictionary.com)

Dictionary.com listed more than a dozen definitions of wave on the site, so I picked the two that made the most sense in this context. A disturbance on the surface, a swell, back and forth or up and down movement. There is untamed power in the foamy wave’s crash on the beach, and maybe there’s something soothing in the repetition. The motion is consistent. Forward and back. Forward and back. Powerful advance…followed by retreat. I don’t want to be known for that kind of life. I want to be known for a life that moves more forward than back, one that progresses and matures. No one really wants the life characterized by fear at the sight of a little conflict, or the one that languishes and dies. The only retreat I want to be known for is something like Luke 5:16 (withdrawing to spend time alone with my heavenly Father).

No, I’ll take the little splash that leads to the ripples on the surface. The beauty of it is that there is a specific cause and effect. In my case, it’s Truth causing a disturbance in the surface as it hits. It doesn’t seem like a lot of power, but it travels outward, impacting the water in every direction. Truth advances outside of my small world, and it’s a matter of simple hearing and living according to the truth I know—sometimes sharing with words.

Thanks for reading along. This post is a rewrite of an older one, and I like it so much more this time around. I hope you enjoyed it. Water is a theme in my life much of the time.

~j

Remembering with Purpose

Do you wonder how a collection of my memories could be useful in your life? I’ve walked circles around that question and come to a sweet pause—the path diverges right there. I’ve gawked at the train wrecks in my storyline, captivated by the damage and long-term consequences. That never led to healing, transformation, or victory. The myopic perspective emptied the story of any sweetness, light, or power.

Story is powerful. We can experience refreshing, exhilaration, and even healing when we take time to read about others’ victories and deep soul transformation. How much greater the impact when the story reveals the presence of the Lover and Rescuer of the soul through the highs and lows! During the good, bad, and desperate moments in our lives it takes special eyes to see Him. (He is there, I promise.)

For me, to lean in or not to lean in; that’s the question!

Today I’m thinking about my story in a little coffee shop in Iowa. (I love to write in little, caffeinated hidey-holes.) The opportunity to share the beautiful plot twist written into my story by the Author of faith sprawls in front of me, and I’m taking it.

When I sat with little vignettes and tried to capture them, the purpose emerged from the shadows. I remembered details, but I took extra time to find three things: the power in the memory, the plans of the Enemy, and the presence of Jesus. These three pieces are important to the transformation that follows. They are also common elements in every story. Mine. Yours. Everyone’s.

Then I began to think about two questions that have the ability to shift perspective on nearly any life story.

What do I believe about God based on what has happened to me?
What is true about God based on what is written in Scripture?

Something settled in my soul in those two questions. I almost heard and felt Kachunk! in my spirit. These questions begged to be answered, and I understood why. My perspective about God is critical. It’s only in relationship to Him that I can understand some of the story details, events, and characters. I may never understand the hows and whys in my story in this life, but I have no hope of a healthy viewpoint or healing without God.

I hope you’ll have keener insight into your own story after reading White Wave Crashing. When my eyes took in the scenes of my life at a glance, I overlooked the presence of Jesus. I was angry He overlooked the indelible ink falling to the pages of my life. Was He invisible? Unconcerned? (The answer is, “No!” but it took time to discover that.) I hope you find that to be true as well. He loves us. Deeply. And He wants to sit with us in the exuberant joy, the deep sorrow, and the painful grief.

When you begin to remember, I hope you’ll find healing for your soul, too. There is victory over the enemy of our souls when we step forward and tell of the things God has done.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on remembering…and its purposeful place. Share below or at my  Author Page.

Blessings!

~j

Hidden Gems in Unlikely Places

If we sat down for coffee and got to know one another, you’d learn something about me very quickly. I love a bargain when I can get one. Much to my husband’s chagrin, this leads to rifling through the racks, stacks, and shelves at my favorite spot: the thrift store. (Somebody tell me I’m not alone!)

And if we shopped together, at some point you’d see me moving at a snail’s pace by the book shelves. Treasures are just waiting to be found on those shelves, I’m convinced. I’ve found wonderful reads for a buck or two, and since writers read, I’ve got a good excuse to peruse the shelves very carefully.

As it happened, my last trip ended as most do—with a book shelf “crawl”—and a book caught my attention. The title was interesting, but then a cute little card boasting an adorable kitten and puppy photo op fell from the inside and drifted to the floor. Filling the inside and spilling to the back was a personal note from one woman to another. And yes, you guessed it. I chose to eavesdrop on the half of the conversation that had been passed along. (You would have done it, too, right?)

I immediately knew I wanted to take the book and the card home with me. I purchased a book I will definitely read, but I really purchased the beautiful, cursive encouragement that overflowed the card. It was perfect for me to read, and I was a little thankful the woman who first received it lost track of it. Then I thought, “Maybe this is something I could share…” 

We are stepping into an example of correspondence the way it used to be. So, from my anonymous friend to you all—puppy20kitten20card_zpsyws0ztte

Dear [friend]:

I am praying God will show you how to have victory in your present family conflicts + show you how to be an overcomer, even if no one else changes.

Remember [in] Eph 6:12, that these are spiritual battles + they will not be mastered by fleshly means. Also your victory or progress in the Lord is not dependent on what others do.

In Matt 6:33 we are told to seek first the Kingdom of God + its righteousness + all the rest we need will be given.

We know we cannot force people to fulfill our ideas of right + wrong. We can only hope to influence them by our Godly example + let God do the rest. I found the scripture I was mentioning to you the other day—I think it is God’s way for us to have influence, in your particular case Godly. I read it in the amplified Bible + it reads as follows

1 Pet 3:1
“In like manner, you married women, be submissive to your own husbands, subordinate yourselves as being secondary to + dependent on them, + adapt yourselves to them so that even if any do not obey the word, they may be won over, not by discussion but by godly lives of their wives.”

But of course all people have free will so we are not sure of any outcome but I think God’s advice for any problem will be the best chance for a victory.

I pray for you + your family always for Godly wisdom to know how best to deal with all situations we find our self in. But take heart in what God will do for you as you keep working on the person he wants you to be no matter what others around you are doing
(over)

Because in the end God knows the only person we can control is ourself + that is the one we will be accountable for some day. In the meantime have faith that God will do his work in others lives also—doing all He can to bring them to a sanctified end.

Love,
R

So here we all sit, eavesdropping on the conversation between two women, and I want to imagine what their friendship looks like in real life. Do they sit at a kitchen table with tea or coffee? Maybe they stand in the lobby chatting just a little longer than the rest of the busy people shuffling in and out on a Sunday. Are they joined in heart and separated by generations?

We’ll never know, but I love the idea of imagining these two women doing life together. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all part of the package. Sitting patiently with one another during tough times is the real deal. Tears and a box of kleenex seems to be woven into this season of friendship between these two women. Providing encouragement and tangible resources is, too. One lends hope to the other with her words. I love that!

I said we needed to find our tribe in a previous post, and we sure do. But we need to find our real friends, too, whether they are part of our “creative clique” or not. More importantly, I wonder if it’s not crucial for us to find someone near us and pass the tissues to her when she needs them….

What do you think about this little half-conversation we’ve overheard in this card? I’m curious to hear what you think.

Thanks for reading!

~j

 

My Story: a Name and Its Power

Continuing in the “name vein,” I thought I’d share more thoughts on the impact a name can have. In The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan said, “Names have power.” And how right he may be. No more power than we allow them to have, but we can grant them as much power over ourselves as we please.

“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” ~ W. C. Fields

A little more of my own story…

When I first walked on the chilly Pacific Northwest shore one summer, I was reminded of my name. Powerful, crashing waves pounded the beach. I didn’t dare go close. Each foamy swell seemed icier and more overwhelming than the last. Too much, I thought. Am I too much?

Waves have rhythm and pattern, like breathing. In and out. As the tides play, the waves on the beach move to the music. Far away, low tide pianissimo ripples contrast the astounding high tide crescendo crashes! Snapshot visits to the shore won’t reveal the cycle. Only repeated and extended time offers a big picture view of the tide’s reliable nature. I didn’t live near the beach, so my experience taught me waves were too unpredictable. I remember thinking, Am I unpredictable?

At some point I was introduced to symbolism, and that tended to add confusing layers to meaning. When I learned that white often suggested purity, I wrestled with something new. With a few more years’ worth of water under the bridge and a string of tough life choices, pure waves couldn’t possibly be an option. After all that has happened to me and all I’ve done, I’m anything but pure!

By then, I’d attended Life University and taken Experience 301. Overwhelming waves pounded my soul, and finally “White Wave” crashed.

I like the W.C. Fields quote above. Think about it; we give power to our name. We choose to come or go or obey in response to it when we are very young. Soon enough we become familiar with the power of the added middle name. (Doesn’t that add just a bit of emphasis and heft when it’s said just the right way?) We all know the way we hear our name makes all the difference. Have you heard your name said in a particular way that evokes strong emotion? It could be any where on the spectrum—love, joy, frustration, even anger. Suddenly layers of meaning pile onto a word or two.

In our individual development something begins to happen. Our thoughts, words, and actions become part of who we are. Likes, dislikes, and choices become part of the package that is our identity. Our name is the bow on the outside that ties it all up, the first thing a someone sees and gently tugs to open the gift that is us.

I chose names for my children that rolled off the tongue easily because I knew whatever I picked might be the most frequent puff of air to escape my lips. I knew it would be the most frequently heard and written word for their whole lives. It made sense to think about each name carefully. The frequency would increase the load a name would carry. When my sons’ names were spoken, heard, and signed, I wanted a gentle reminder to drift through their minds.

In the previous post I thought about the meaning of a name—but really—there will be identity attached to every name (whatever the meaning). Have you thought about the package decorated with a “name bow” that is you? Maybe you’ve had moments to think about who you were in connection to your name, but maybe you haven’t. Your name is more than letters on a page. Try describing the identity that has become attached to your name. Did you ever wrestle with your identity? Do you like who you are? Would you change anything about it? What is precious about your identity to you?

Thanks for reading along. I’d love to read your thoughts here in the comments…

~jennifer